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Deadham Hard, Book IV.

Through Shadows Towards the Dawn by Lucas Malet

 

CHAPTER I. WHICH CARRIES OVER A TALE OF YEARS, AND CARRIES ON

The last sentence was written. His work finished. And, looking upon his completed creation, Charles Verity saw that it was good. Yet, as he put the pen back in the pen-tray and, laying the last page of manuscript face downwards upon the blotting-paper passed his hand over it, he was less sensible of exultation than of a pathetic emptiness. The book had come to be so much part of him that he felt a nasty wrench when he thus finally rid himself of it.

He had kept the personal pronoun out of it, strictly and austerely, desiring neither self-glorification nor self-advertisement. Yet his mind and attitude towards life seasoned and tempered the whole, giving it vitality and force. This was neither a “drum-and-trumpet history" designed to tickle the vulgar ear, nor a blank four-wall depository of dry facts, names, dates, statistics, such as pedants mustily adore; but a living thing, seen and felt. Not his subconscious, but that much finer and—as one trusts—more permanent element in our human constitution, his super-conscious self found expression in its pages and travelled freely, fruitfully, through them amid luminous and masterful ideas. At times the intellectual sweep threatened to be overdaring and overwide; so that, in the interests of symmetry and balance of construction, he had been forced to clip the wings of thought, lest they should bear him to regions too remotely high and rare. Race, religion, customs and the modifications of these, both by climate and physical conformation of the land on the face of which they operate, went to swell the interest and suggestion of his theme. In handling such varied and coloured material the intellectual exercise had been to him delicious, as he fashioned and put a fine edge to passages of admirable prose, coined the just yet startling epithet, perfected the flow of some graceful period, and ransacked the English language for fearless words in which to portray the mingled splendour and vileness of a barbaric oriental Court, the naked terrors of tribal feuds and internecine war.

The occupation had, indeed, proved at once so refreshing and so absorbing that he went leisurely, lengthening out the process of production until it came nearer covering the thirty months of elephantine gestation than the normal human nine.

With but two brief sojourns to England, for the consultation of certain authorities and of his publishers, the said near on thirty months were passed in wandering through Southern France, Central Italy, and, taking ship from Naples to Malaga, finally through Eastern and Northern Spain. Charles Verity was too practised a campaigner for his power of concentration to depend on the stability or familiarity of his surroundings. He could detach himself, go out into and be alone with his work, at will. But the last chapter, like the first, he elected to write in the study at The Hard. A pious offering of incense, this, to the pleasant memory of that excellent scholar and devoted amateur of letters, his great-uncle, Thomas Clarkson Verity, whose society and conversation awakened the literary sense in him as a schoolboy, on holiday from Harchester, now nearly five decades ago. He judged it a matter of good omen, moreover,—toying for the moment with kindly superstition—that the book should issue from a house redeemed by his kinsman from base and brutal uses and dedicated to the worship of knowledge and of the printed word. That fat, soft-bodied, mercurial-minded little gentleman—to whom no record of human endeavour, of human speculation, mental or moral experiment, came amiss—would surely relish the compliment, if his curious and genial ghost still, in any sort, had cognizance of this, his former, dwelling-place.

The Hard, just now, showed a remarkably engaging countenance, the year standing on the threshold of May.—Mild softly bright weather made amends for a wet and windy April, with sunshine and high forget-me-not blue skies shading to silver along the sea-line. The flower-beds, before the garden house-front, were crowded with early tulips, scarlet, golden, and shell-pink. Shrubberies glowed with rhododendrons, flamed with azaleas. At the corner of the battery and sea-wall, misty grey-green plumes of tamarisk veiled the tender background of grey-blue water and yellow-grey sand. Birds peopled the scene. Gulls, in strong fierce flight, laughed overhead. Swallows darted back and forth, ceaselessly twittering, as they built their cup-shaped mud nests beneath the eaves. Upon the lawn companies of starlings ran, flapping glossy wings, squealing, whistling; to the annoyance of a song thrush, in spotted waistcoat and neatly fitting brown surtout, who, now tall, now flattened to the level of the turf, its head turned sideways, peered and listened, locating the presence of the victim worm.—Three or four vigorous pecks—the starlings running elsewhere—to loosen the surrounding soil, and the moist pink living string was steadily, mercilessly, drawn upward into the uncompromising light of day, to be devoured wriggling, bit by bit, with most unlovely gusto.—The chaff-chaff sharpened his tiny saw tipping about the branches of the fir trees in the Wilderness, along with the linnets, tits, and gold-finches.

Such, out of doors, was the home world which received Damaris after those many months of continental travel, on the eve of her twenty-first birthday. To pass from the dynamic to the static mode must be always something of an embarrassment and trial, especially to the young with whom sensation is almost disconcertingly direct and lively. Damaris suffered the change of conditions not without a measure or doubt and wonder. For they made demands to which she had become unaccustomed, and to which she found it difficult to submit quite naturally and simply. A whole social and domestic order, bristling with petty obligations, closed down upon her, within the bounds of which she felt to move awkwardly, at first, conscious of constraint.

Sympathetic Mrs. Cooper, comely and comfortable Mary, and the Napoleonic Patch, still reigned in house and stable. Laura had returned to her former allegiance on the announcement of “the family's” arrival, and other underlings had been engaged by the upper servants in conclave. To these latter entered that Ulysses, Mr. Hordle, so rendering the establishment once again complete.

The neighbours duly called—Dr. and Mrs. Horniblow, conscious of notable preferment, since high ecclesiastical powers had seen fit to present the former to a vacant canonry at Harchester. For three months yearly he would in future be resident in the cathedral city. This would necessitate the employment of a curate at Deadham, for the spiritual life of its inhabitants must by no means suffer through its vicar's promotion. At the moment of Sir Charles and Damaris' return the curate excitement was at its height. It swept through the spinster-ranks of the congregation like an epidemic. They thrilled with unacknowledgeable hopes. The Miss Minetts, though mature, grew pink and quivered, confessing themselves not averse to offering board and lodging to a suitable, a well-connected, well-conducted paying guest. To outpourings on the enthralling subject of the curate, Damaris found herself condemned to listen from every feminine visitor in turn. It held the floor, to the exclusion of all other topics. Her own long absence, long journeys, let alone the affairs of the world at large, were of no moment to these very local souls. So our young lady retired within herself, deploring the existence of curates in general, and the projected, individual, Deadham curate in particular, with a heartiness she was destined later to remember. Had it been prophetic?—Not impossibly so, granted the somewhat strange prescience by which she was, at times, possessed.

For the psychic quality that, from a child, now and again had manifested itself in her—though happily unattended by morbid or hysteric tendencies, thanks to her radiant health—grew with her growth. To her, in certain moods and under certain conditions, the barrier between things seen and unseen, material and transcendental, was pervious. It yielded before the push of her apprehension, sense of what it guards, what it withholds within an ace of breaking through.

Affairs of the heart would, so far, seem to have begun and ended with the winter spent at St. Augustin. Now and again Damaris met an Englishman, or foreigner, who stirred her slightly. But if one accident of travel brought them together, another accident of travel speedily swept them apart. The impression was fugitive, superficial, fading out and causing but momentary regret. Colonel Carteret she only saw in London, during those two brief visits to England. He had been captivating, treating her with playful indulgence, teasing a little; but far away, somehow—so she felt him—though infinitely kind. And the dear man with the blue eyes—for she could use her old name for him again now, though she couldn't quite tell why—looked older. The sentimental passage at St. Augustin assumed improbability—a fact over which she should, in all reason, have rejoiced, yet over which she, in point of fact when safe from observation, just a little wept.

From Henrietta some few letters reached her. One of them contained the news that Marshall Wace, surmounting his religious doubts and scruples—by precisely what process remained undeclared—had at last taken Holy Orders. Concerning this joyful consummation Henrietta waxed positively unctuous. “He had gone through so much”—the old cry!—to which now was added conviction that his own trials fitted him to minister the more successfully to his brethren among the sorely tried.

“His preaching will, I feel certain, be quite extraordinarily original and sympathetic—full of poetry. And I need hardly tell you what an immense relief it is both to the General and to myself to feel he is settled in life, and that his future is provided for—though not, alas! in the way I fondly hoped, and which—for his happiness' sake and my own—I should have chosen,” she insidiously and even rather cynically wrote.

But, if in respect of the affections our maiden, during these two years, made no special progress and gained no further experimental knowledge of the perilous workings of sex, her advance in other departments was ample.

For faith now called to her with no uncertain note. The great spiritual forces laid hold of her intelligence and imagination, drawing, moulding, enlightening her. In the library of a somewhat grim hotel at Avila, in old Castile, she lighted upon an English translation of the life of St. Theresa—that woman of countless practical activities, seer and sybil, mystic and wit. The amazing biography set her within the magic circle of Christian feminine beatitude; and opened before her gaze mighty perspectives of spiritual increase, leading upward through unnumbered ranks of prophets, martyrs, saints, angelic powers, to the feet of the Virgin Mother, with the Divine Child on her arm.—He, this last, as gateway, intermediary, between the human soul and the mystery of God Almighty, by whom, and in whom, all things visible and invisible subsist. For the first time some dim and halting perception, some faintest hint and echo, reached Damaris of the awful majesty, the awful beauty of the fount of Universal Being; and, caught with a great trembling, she worshipped.

This culminating perception, in terms of time, amounted to no more than a single flash, the fraction of an instant's contact. An hour or so later, being very young and very human, the things of everyday resumed their sway. A new dress engaged her fancy, a railway journey through—to her—untrodden country excited her, a picturesque street scene held her delighted interest. Nevertheless that had taken place within her—call it conversion, evocation, the spiritual receiving of sight, as you please—upon which, for those who have once experienced it, there is no going back while life and reason last. Obscured, overlaid, buried beneath the dust of the trivial and immediate, the mark of revelation upon the forehead and the heart can never be obliterated quite. Its resurrection is not only possible but certain, if not on the near side, then surely on the farther side of death.

And not only did faith thus call her, at this period, but art, in its many forms, called her likewise. The two, indeed, according to her present understanding of them, moved—though at different levels—side by side, singularly conjoined, art translating faith into terms of sound, form and colour, faith consecrating and supplementing art. All of which, as she pondered, appeared to her only fitting and reasonable—the object of art being to capture beauty and touch reality, the substance of faith being nothing less than beauty and reality absolute.

With Sir Charles sometimes, but more often with her aunt, Miss Felicia—most enthusiastic, diligent and ingenuous of sightseers—she visited buildings of historic interest, galleries of statuary and of pictures. For here, too, in architecture, in marble god or hero, upon painted panel or canvas, she caught, at moments, some flickering shadow of the everlasting light, touched at moments both by its abiding terror and the ecstasy of its everlasting youth. But this appreciation of the height and grandeur of man's endeavour was new in her. To Nature she had from childhood, been curiously near. She sought expression and confirmation of it with silent ardour, her mind aflame with the joy of recognition. And, as daily, hourly background to these her many experiments and excursions, was the stable interest of her father's book. For in the pages of that, too, she caught sight of beauty and reality of no mean order, held nobly to ransom through the medium of words.

And while this high humour still possessed her, alive at every point, her thoughts—often by day, still oftener in dreams or wakeful intervals by night—rapt away beyond the stars, she was called upon, as already noted, to pass abruptly from the dynamic to the static mode. Called on to embrace domestic duties, and meet local social obligations, including polite endurance of long-drawn disquisitions regarding Canon Horniblow's impending curate. The drop proved disconcerting, or would have eminently done so had not another element—disquieting yet very dear—come into play.

Meantime the change from the stimulating continental atmosphere to the particularly soft and humid, not to say stagnant, English one, acted as a drop too. She drooped during the process of acclimatization. The fetid sweet reek off the mud-flats of the Haven oppressed and strangely pursued her, so that she asked for the horses to take her to the freshness of the high lying inland moors, for a boat to carry her across the tide-river to the less confined air and outlook of the Bar. Sight and sense of the black wooden houses, upon the forbidden island, hanging like disreputable boon companions about the grey stone-built inn, oppressed and strangely pursued her too. She could see them from her bedroom between the red trunks of the bird-haunted Scotch firs in the Wilderness. First thing, on clear mornings, the sunlight glittered on the glass of their small windows. Last thing, at night, the dim glow of lamp-light showed through open doorway, or flimsy curtain from within. They stood alone, but curiously united and self-sufficing, upon the treeless inhospitable piece of land, ringed by the rivers, the great whispering reed-beds and the tide. Their life was strangely apart from, defiant of, that of the mainland and the village. It yielded obedience to traditions and customs of an earlier, wilder age; and in so much was sinister, a little frightening. Yet out of precisely this rather primitive and archaic environment came Darcy Faircloth, her half-brother, the human being closest to her by every tie of blood and sentiment in the world save one—the father of them both. The situation was startling, alike in its incongruities and in its claims.

During those two years of continental wandering—following upon her meeting with him at Marseilles—the whole sweet and perplexing matter of Faircloth had fallen more or less into line, taking on a measure of simplicity and of ease. She thought of him with freedom, wrote to him when he could advise her of his next port of call.—To him at Deadham, by his request, he being very careful for her, she never wrote.—And therefore, all the more perhaps, being here at Deadham, his home and all the suggestive accessories of it so constantly before her eyes, did her relation to him suffer a painful transformation. In remembrance she had come to picture him on board his ship, governing his little floating kingdom with no feeble or hesitating sway. But here every impeding fact of class and education, every worldly obstacle to his and her intercourse, above all the hidden scandal of his birth sprang into high relief. All the dividing, alienating influences of his antecedents, his social position and her own, swung in upon her with aggravated intensity and pathos.

Away, she felt sweetly secure of him. Sure his and her bond remained inviolate. Sure his affection never wavered or paled, but stood always at the flood, a constant quantity upon which she could draw at need; or—to change the metaphor—a steady foundation upon which her heart could safely build. He would not, could not, ever fail her. This had been sufficient to stay her longing for sight and speech of him, her longing for his bodily presence. But now, in face of the very concrete facts of the island, the inn, which bore his name and where his mother lived and ruled, of the property he owned, the place and people to which—by half at least of his nature and much more than half his memory—he belonged, the comfort of this spiritual esoteric relation became but a meagre evasive thing. It was too unsubstantial. Doubts and fears encircled it. She grew heart-sick for some fresh testimony, some clear immediate assurance that time and absence had not staled or undermined the romance.

If only she could speak of it! But that was forbidden by every obligation of filial piety. Never had her relation to her father been more tender, more happy; yet only through sudden pressure of outward circumstance could she speak to him of Faircloth. To do so, without serious necessity, would be, as she saw it, a wanton endangering of his peace.—If only the dear man with the blue eyes hadn't removed himself! She had counted upon his permanent support and counsel, on his smoothing away difficulties from the path of her dealings with Faircloth; but he appeared to have given her altogether the go-by, to have passed altogether out of her orbit. And meditating, in the softly bright May weather beneath those high forget-me-not blue skies, upon his defection, our maiden felt quite desperately experienced and grown up, thrown back upon her own resources, thrown in upon her rather solitary life.

Throughout the summer visitors came and went; but never those two desired figures, Faircloth or Carteret. Dr. McCabe, vociferous in welcome, affectionate, whimsical and choleric, trundled over from Stourmouth on a bicycle of phenomenal height.

“On the horse without wheels I'm proficient enough,” he declared. “Know the anatomy of the darlin' beast as well as I do my own, inside and out. But, be dashed, if the wheels without the horse aren't beyond me quite. Lord love you, but the skittish animal's given me some ugly knocks, cast me away, it has, in the wayside ditch, covering me soul with burning shame, and me jacket with malodorous mud.”

At intervals Aunt Harriet Cowden and Uncle Augustus drove over in state the twelve miles from Paulton Lacy—the lady faithful to garments dyed, according to young Tom Verity, in the horrid hues of violet ink. She expressed her opinions with ruthless frankness, criticized, domineered, put all and sundry in—what she deemed—“their place”; and departed for the big house on the confines of Arnewood Forest again, to, had she but known it, a chorus of sighings of relief from those she left behind her and on whose emotional and intellectual tastes and toes she so mercilessly trod.

Garden parties, tennis tournaments, the Napworth cricket week, claimed Damaris' attendance in turn, along with agreeable display of her foreign spoils in the matter of Paris hats and frocks. Proofs arrived in big envelopes perpetually by post; first in the long, wide-margined galley form, later in the more dignified one of quire and numbered page. The crude, sour smell of damp paper and fresh printer's ink, for the first time assailed our maiden's nostrils. It wasn't nice; yet she sniffed it with a quaint sense of pleasure. For was it not part of the whole wonderful, beautiful business of the making of books? To the artist the meanest materials of his art have a sacredness not to be denied or ignored. They go to forward the birth of the precious whole, and hence are redeemed, for him, from all charge of common or uncleanness.

Finally Miss Felicia, arriving in mid-June, paid an unending visit, of which Damaris felt no impatience. Miss Felicia during the last two years had, indeed, become a habit. The major affairs of life it might be both useless and unwise to submit to her judgment. She lost her way in them, fluttering ineffectual, gently hurried and bird-like. But, in life's minor affairs, her innocent enthusiasm was invaluable as an encouraging asset. It lent point and interest to happenings and occupations otherwise trivial or monotonous. If silly at times, she never was stupid—distinction of meaning and moment.—A blameless creature, incapable of thinking, still more of speaking, evil of the worst or weakest, her inherent goodness washed about you like sun-warmed water, if sterile yet translucently pure.

And so the months accumulated. The clear colours of spring ripened to the hotter gamut of mid-summer, to an August splendour of ripening harvest in field, orchard and hedgerow, and thence to the purple, russet and gold of autumn. The birds, their nesting finished, ceased from song, as the active care of hungry fledglings grew on them. The swallows had gathered for their southern flight, and the water-fowl returned from their northern immigration to the waters and reed-beds of the Haven, Sir Charles Verity's book, in two handsome quarto volumes, had been duly reviewed and found a place of honour in every library, worth the name, in the United Kingdom, before anything of serious importance occurred directly affecting our maiden. Throughout spring, summer and the first weeks of autumn, she marked time merely. Her activities and emotions—in as far, that is, as outward expression of these last went—were vicarious, those of others. She glowed over and gloried in the triumph of her father's book, it is true, but it was his adventure, after all, rather than her own.

Then suddenly, as is the way with life, events crowded on one another, the drama thickened, sensation was tuned to a higher pitch. And it all began, not unludicrously, through the praiseworthy, if rather ill-timed moral indignation of Canon Horniblow's newly installed curate, Reginald Sawyer.

CHAPTER II. RECALLING, IN SOME PARTICULARS, THE EASIEST RECORDED THEFT IN HUMAN HISTORY

He was short, neat, spectacled, in manner prompt and perky, in age under thirty, a townsman by birth and education, hailing from Midlandshire. Further, a strong advocate of organization, and imbued with the deepest respect for the obligations and prerogatives of his profession upon the ethical side. He took himself very seriously; and so took, also, the decalogue as delivered to mankind amid the thunders of Sinai. Keep the Ten Commandments, according to the letter, and you may confidently expect all things, spiritual and temporal, to be added unto you—such was the basis of his teaching and of his private creed.

He came to Deadham ardent for the reformation of that remote, benighted spot, so disgracefully, as he feared—and rather hoped—behind the times. He suspected its canon-vicar of being very much too easy-going; and its population, in respect of moral conduct, of being lamentably lax. In neither of which suppositions, it must be admitted, was he altogether incorrect. But he intended to alter all that!—Regarding himself thus, in the light of a providentially selected new broom, he applied himself diligently to sweep. A high-minded and earnest, if not conspicuously well-bred young man, he might in a suburban parish have done excellent work. But upon Deadham, with its enervating, amorous climate and queer inheritance of forest and seafaring—in other words poaching and smuggling—blood, he was wasted, out of his element and out of touch. The slow moving South Saxon cocked a shrewd sceptical eye at him, sized him up and down and sucked in its cheek refusing to be impressed. While by untoward accident, his misfortune rather than his fault, the earliest of his moral sweepings brought him into collision with the most reactionary element in the community, namely the inhabitants of the black cottages upon the Island.

The event fell out thus. The days shortened, the evenings lengthened growing misty and secret as October advanced. The roads became plashy and rutted, the sides of them silent with fallen leaves under foot. An odd sense of excitement flickers through such autumn twilights. Boys herded in little troops on wickedness intent. Whooping and whistling to disarm their elders' suspicion until the evil deed should be fairly within reach, then mum as mice, stealthily vanishing, becoming part and parcel of the earth, the hedge, the harsh dusky grasses of the sand-hills, the foreshore lumber on the beach.

Late one afternoon, the hour of a hidden sunset, Reginald Sawyer called at The Hard; and to his eminent satisfaction—for social aspirations were by no means foreign to him—was invited to remain to tea. The ladies—Damaris and Miss Felicia—were kind, the cakes and cream superlative. He left in high feather; and, at Damaris' suggestion, took a short cut through the Wilderness and by a path crossing the warren to the lane, leading up from the causeway, which joins the high-road just opposite the post office and Mrs. Doubleday's shop. By following this route he would save quite half a mile on his homeward journey; since the Grey House, where he enjoyed the Miss Minetts' assiduous and genteel hospitality, is situate at the extreme end of Deadham village on the road to Lampit.

Out on the warren, notwithstanding the hour and the mist, it was still fairly light, the zigzagging sandy path plainly visible between the heath, furze brakes, stunted firs and thorn bushes. The young clergyman, although more familiar with crowded pavements and flare of gas-lamps than open moorland in the deepening dusk, pursued his way without difficulty. What a wild region it was though! He thought of the sober luxury of the library at The Hard, the warmth, the shaded lights, the wealth of books; of the grace of Damaris' clothing and her person, and wondered how people of position and education could be content to live in so out of the way and savage a spot. It was melancholy to a degree, in his opinion.—Oh! well, he must do his best to wake it up, infuse a spirit of progress into it more in keeping with nineteenth-century ideas. Everyone would be grateful to him—

A little questioning pause—assurance in momentary eclipse. Then with renewed cheerfulness—Of course they would—the upper classes, that is. For they must feel the disadvantages of living in such a back-water. He gave them credit for the wish to advance could they but find the way. All they needed was leadership, which Canon Horniblow—evidently past his work—was powerless to supply. He, Sawyer, came as a pioneer. Once they grasped that fact they would rally to him. The good Miss Minetts were rallying hard, so to speak, already. Oh! there was excellent material in Deadham among the gentlefolk. It merely needed working, needed bringing out.

From the lower, the wage-earning class, sunk as it was in ignorance, he must, he supposed, expect but a poor response, opposition not impossibly. Opposition would not daunt him. You must be prepared to do people good, if not with, then against their will. He was here to make them rebel against and shake off the remnants of the Dark Ages amid which they so extraordinarily appeared still to live. He had no conception so low a state of civilization could exist within little over a hundred miles of the metropolis!—It was a man's work, anyhow, and he must put his back into it. Must organize—word of power—organize night classes, lectures with lantern slides, social evenings, a lads' club. Above all was there room and necessity for this last. The Deadham lads were very rowdy, very unruly. They gathered at corners in an objectionable manner; hung about the public-house. He must undersell the public-house by offering counter attractions. Amongst the men he suspected a sad amount of drinking. Their speech, too, was so reprehensibly coarse. He had heard horrible language in the village street. He reproved the offenders openly, as was his duty, and his admonitions were greeted with a laugh, an insolent, offensive, jeering laugh.

Sawyer cut at the dark straggling furzes bordering the path with his walking-stick. Recollection of that laugh made him go red about the ears; made his skin tingle and his eyes smart. It represented an insult not only to himself but to his cloth. Yet he'd not lost control of himself, he was glad to remember, though the provocation was rank—

He cut at the furze again, being by nature combative. And—stopped short, with a start, a tremor running through him. Something rustled, scuttled away amongst the bushes, and something flapped upward behind him into the thick lowering sky above. A wailing cry—whether human, or of bird or beast, he was uncomfortably ignorant—came out of the mist ahead, to be answered by a like and nearer cry from a spot which he failed, in his agitation, to locate.

Under ordinary conditions the young cleric was neither troubled by imagination nor lacking in pluck. His habitual outlook was sensible, literal and direct. But, it must be owned, this wide indistinct landscape, over which pale vapours trailed and brooded, the immense loneliness of the felt rather than seen, expanse of water, marsh and mud-flat of the Haven—the tide being low—along with the goblin whispering chuckle of the river speeding seaward away there on his left, made him oddly jumpy and nervous. No human being was in sight, neither did any human dwelling show signs of habitation. He wished he had gone round by the road and through the length of the village. He registered a vow against short cuts—save in broad daylight—for his present surroundings inspired him with the liveliest distrust. They were to him positively nightmarish. He suffered the nastiest little fears of what might follow him, what might, even now, peer and lurk. Heretofore he had considered the earth as so much dead matter, to be usefully and profitably exploited by all-dominant man—specially by men of his own creed and race. But now the power of the earth laid hands on him. She lived, and mankind dwindled to the proportions of parasitic insects, at most irritating some small portions of her skin, her vast indifferent surface. Such ideas had never occurred to him before. He resented them—essayed to put them from him as trenching on blasphemy.

Starting on again, angry alike with himself for entertaining, and with the unknown for engendering, such subversive notions, his pace unconsciously quickened to a run. But the line of some half-dozen ragged Scotch firs, which here topped the low cliff bordering the river, to his disordered vision seemed most uncomfortably to run alongside him, stretching gaunt arms through the encircling mist to arrest his flight.

He regarded them with an emotion of the liveliest antipathy; consciously longing, meanwhile, for the humming thoroughfares of his native industrial town, for the rattle and grind of the horse-trams, the brightly lighted shop-fronts, the push all about him of human labour, of booming trade and vociferous politics. Even the glare of a gin palace, flooding out across the crowded pavement at some street corner, would have, just now, been fraught with solace, convinced prohibitionist though he was. For he would, at least, have been in no doubt how to feel towards that stronghold of Satan—righteously thanking God he was not as those reprehensible others, who passed in and out of its ever-swinging doors. While towards this earth dominance, this dwarfing of human life by the life of things he had hitherto called inanimate, he did not know how to feel at all. It attacked some unarmoured, unprotected part of him. Against its assault he was defenceless.

With a sense of escape from actual danger, whether physical or moral he did not stay to enquire, he stumbled, a few minutes later, through a gap in the earth-bank into the wet side lane. Arrived, he gave himself a moment's breathing space. It was darker here than out upon the warren; but, anyhow, this was a lane. It had direction and meaning. Men had constructed it for the linking up of house with house, hamlet with hamlet. Like all roads, it represented the initial instinct of communal life, the basis of a reasoned social order, of civilization in short. He walked forward over the soft couch of fallen, water-soaked leaves, his boots squelching at times into inches of sucking mud, and his spirits rose. He began to enter into normal relations both with himself and with things in general. A hundred yards or so and the village green would be reached.

Then on his left, behind an ill-kept quick-set hedge that guarded a strip of garden and orchard, he became aware of movement. Among the apple trees three small figures shuffled about some dark recumbent object. For the most part they went on all fours, but at moments reared up on their hind legs. Their action was at once silent, stealthy and purposeful. Our young clergyman's shortness of sight rendered their appearance the more peculiar. His normal attitude was not so completely restored, moreover, but that they caused him another nervous tremor. Then he grasped the truth; while the detective, latent in every moralist, sprang to attention. Here were criminals to be brought to justice, criminals caught red-handed. Reginald Sawyer, having been rather badly scared himself, lusted—though honestly ignorant of any personal touch in the matter—to very badly scare others.

Standing back beside the half-open gate, screened by the hedge, here high and straggling, he awaited the psychological moment, ready to pounce. To enter the orchard and confront these sinners with their crime, if their activities did by chance happen to be legitimate, was to put himself altogether in the wrong. He would bide his time, would let them conclude their—in his belief—nefarious business and challenge them as they passed out.

Nor had he long to wait. The two smaller boys, breathing hard, hoisted the bulging, half-filled sack on to the back of their bigger companion; who, bowed beneath its weight, grunting with exertion, advanced towards the exit.

Sawyer laid aside his walking-stick, and, as the leader of the procession came abreast of him, pounced. But missed his aim. Upon which the boy cast down the sack, from the mouth of which apples, beets, turnips rolled into the road; and, with a yelp, bolted down the lane towards the causeway, leaving his accomplices to their fate. These, thrown into confusion by the suddenness of his desertion, hesitated and were lost. For, pouncing again, and that the more warily for his recent failure, Sawyer collared one with either hand.

They were maladorous children; and the young clergyman, grasping woollen jersey-neck and shirt-band, the backs of his hands in contact with the backs of their moist, warm, dirty little necks, suffered disgust, yet held them the more firmly.

“I am convinced you have no right to that fruit or to those vegetables. You are stealing. Give an account of yourselves at once.”

And he shook them slightly to emphasize his command. One hung on his hand, limp as a rag. The other showed fight, kicking our friend liberally about the shins, with hobnailed boots which did, most confoundly, hurt.

“You lem' me go,” he cried. “Lem' me go, or I'll tell father, and first time you come along by our place 'e'll set the ratting dawgs on to you. Our ole bitch 'as got 'er teeth yet. She'll bite. Ketch the fleshy part of your leg, she will, and just tear and bite.”

This carrying of war into the enemy's country proved as disconcerting as unexpected, while to mention the sex of an animal was, in Reginald Sawyer's opinion, to be guilty of unpardonable coarseness. The atmosphere of a Protestant middle-class home clung to him yet, begetting in him a squeamishness, not to say prudery, almost worthy of his hostesses, the Miss Minetts. He shook the culprits again, with a will. He also blushed.

“If you were honest you would be anxious to give an account of yourselves,” he asserted, ignoring the unpleasant matter of the dogs. “I am afraid you are very wicked boys. You have stolen these vegetables and fruits. Thieves are tried by the magistrates, you know, and sent to prison. I shall take you to the police-station. There the constable will find means to make you confess.”

Beyond provoking a fresh paroxysm of kicking, these adjurations were without result. His captives appeared equally impervious to shame, contrition or alarm. They remained obstinately mute. Whereupon it began to dawn upon their captor that his position risked becoming not a little invidious, since the practical difficulty of carrying his threats into execution was so great. How could he haul two sturdy, active children, plus a sack still containing a goodly quantity of garden produce, some quarter of a mile without help? To let them go, on the other hand, was to have them incontinently vanish into those trailing whitish vapours creeping over the face of the landscape. And, once vanished, they were lost to him, since he knew neither their names nor dwelling place; and could, with no certainty, identify them, having seen them only in the act of struggle and in this uncertain evening light. He felt himself very nastily planted on the horns of a dilemma, when on a sudden there arrived help.

A vehicle of some description turned out of the main road and headed down the lane.

Laocooen-like, flanked on either hand by a writhing youthful figure, Reginald Sawyer called aloud:

“Hi!—Stop, there—pray, stop.”

Darcy Faircloth lighted down out of a ramshackle Marychurch station fly, and advanced towards the rather incomprehensible group.

“What's happened? What's the matter?” he said. “What on earth do you want with those two youngsters?”

“I want to convey them to the proper authorities,” Sawyer answered, with all the self-importance he could muster. He found his interlocutor's somewhat abrupt and lordly manner at once annoying and impressive, as were his commanding height and rather ruffling gait. “These boys have been engaged in robbing a garden. I caught them in the act, and it is my duty to see that they pay the penalty of their breach of the law. I count on your assistance in taking them to the police-station.”

“You want to give them in charge?”

“What else?—The moral tone of this parish is, I grieve to say, very low.”

Sawyer talked loud and fast in the effort to assert himself.

“Low and coarse,” he repeated. “Both as a warning to others, and in the interests of their own future, an example must be made of these two lads.”

“Must it?” Faircloth said, towering above him in the pale bewildering mist.

The little boys, who had remained curiously and rather dangerously still since the advent of this stranger, now strained together, signalling, whispering. Sawyer shook them impatiently apart.

“Steady there, please,” Faircloth put in sharply. “It strikes me you take a good deal upon yourself. May I ask who you are?”

“I am the assistant priest,” Reginald began. But his explanation was cut short by piping voices.

“It's Cap'en Darcy, that's who it is. We never meant no 'arm, Cap'en. That we didn't. The apples was rotting on the ground, s'h'lp me if they wasn't. Grannie Staples was took to the Union last Wednesday fortnight, and anyone's got the run of her garden since. Don't you let the new parson get us put away, Cap'en. We belongs to the Island—I'm William Jennifer's Tommy, please Cap'en, and 'e's Bobby Sclanders 'e is.”

And being cunning, alike by nature and stress of circumstance, they pathetically drooped, blubbering in chorus:

“We never didn't mean no 'arm, Cap'en. Strike me dead if we did.”

At which last implied profanity Reginald Sawyer shuddered, loosening his grasp.

Of what followed he could subsequently give no definite account. The dignities of his sacred profession and his self-respect alike reeled ignominiously into chaos. He believed he heard the person, addressed as Captain Darcy, say quietly:

“Cut it, youngsters. Now's your chance.”

He felt that both the children violently struggled, and that the round hard head of one of them butted him in the stomach. He divined that sounds of ribald laughter, in the distance, proceeded from the driver of the Marychurch station fly. He knew two small figures raced whooping down the lane attended by squelchings of mud and clatter of heavy soled boots.

Knew, further, that Captain Darcy, after nonchalantly picking up the sack, dropping it within the garden hedge and closing the rickety gate, stood opposite him and quite civilly said:

“I am sorry I could not give you the sort of assistance, sir, which you asked. But the plan would not have worked.”

Sawyer boiled over.

“You have compounded a felony and done all that lay in your power to undermine my authority with my parishioners. Fortunately I retain the boys' names and can make further enquiries. This, however, by no means relieves you of the charge of having behaved with reprehensible levity both towards my office and myself.”

“No—no,” Faircloth returned, goodnaturedly. “Sleep upon it, and you will take an easier view of the transaction. I have saved you from putting unmerited disgrace upon two decent families and getting yourself into hot water up to the neck. I know these Deadham folk better than you do. I'm one of them, you see, myself. They've uncommonly long memories where they're offended, though it may suit them to speak you soft. Take it from me, you'll never hound them into righteousness. They turn as stubborn as so many mules under the whip.”

He hailed the waiting flyman.

“Good evening to you, sir,” he said. And followed by the carriage, piled with sea-chest and miscellaneous baggage, departed into the mysteriousness of deepening dusk.

Had the young clergyman been willing to leave it at that, all might yet have been well, his ministry at Deadham a prolonged and fruitful one, since his intentions, at least, were excellent. But, as ill-luck would have it, while still heated and sore, every feather on end, his natural combativeness almost passionately on top, turning out in the high-road he encountered Dr. Cripps, faring westward like himself on the way to visit a patient at Lampit. The two joined company, falling into a conversation the more confidential that the increasing darkness gave them a sense of isolation and consequent intimacy.

Of all his neighbours, the doctor—a peppery disappointed man, struggling with a wide-strewn country practice mainly prolific of bad debts, conscious of his own inefficiency and perpetually smarting under imagined injuries and slights—was the very last person to exercise a mollifying influence upon Sawyer in his existing angry humour. The latter recounted and enlarged upon the insults he had just now suffered. His hearer fanned the flame of indignation with comment and innuendo—recognized Faircloth from the description, and proceeded to wash his hands in scandalous insinuation at the young sea-captain's expense.

For example, had not an eye to business dictated the sheltering from justice of those infant, apple-stealing reprobates? Their respective fathers were good customers! The islanders all had the reputation of hard drinkers—and an innkeeper hardly invites occasion to lower his receipts. The inn stood in old Mrs. Faircloth's name, it is true; but the son profited, at all events vicariously, by its prosperity. A swaggering fellow, with an inordinate opinion of his own ability and merits; but in that he shared a family failing. For arrogance and assumption the whole clan was difficult to beat.

“You have heard whose son this young Faircloth is, of course?”

Startled by the question, and its peculiar implication, Reginald Sawyer hesitatingly admitted his ignorance.

The Grey House stands flush with the road, and the two gentlemen finished their conversation upon the doorstep. Above them a welcoming glow shone through the fanlight; otherwise its windows were shuttered and blank.

“This is a matter of common knowledge,” Dr. Cripps said; “but one about which, for reasons of policy, or, more truly, of snobbery, it is the fashion to keep silent. So, for goodness' sake, don't give me as your authority if you should ever have occasion to speak of it”—

And lowering his voice he mentioned a name.

“As like as two peas,” he added, “when you see them side by side—which, in point of fact, you never do. Oh! I promise you the whole dirty business has been remarkably well engineered—hush-money, I suppose. Sometimes I am tempted to think poverty is the only punishable sin in this world. For those who have a good balance at their bankers there is always a safe way out of even the most disgraceful imbroglios of this sort. But I must be moving on, Mr. Sawyer. I sympathize with your annoyance. You have been very offensively treated. Good night.”

The young clergyman remained planted on the doorstep, incapable of ringing the bell and presenting himself to his assiduously attentive hostesses, the Miss Minetts, for the moment.

He was, in truth, indescribably shocked. Deadham presented itself to his mind as a place accursed, a veritable sink of iniquity. High and low alike, its inhabitants were under condemnation.—And he had so enjoyed his tea with the ladies at The Hard. Had been so flattered by their civility, spreading himself in the handsome room, agreeably sensible of its books, pictures, ornaments, and air of cultured leisure.—While behind all that, as he now learned, was this glaring moral delinquency! Never had he been more cruelly deceived. He felt sick with disgust. What callousness, what hypocrisy!—He recalled his disquieting sensations in crossing the warren. Was the very soil of this place tainted, exhaling evil?

He made a return upon himself. For what, after all, was he here for save to let in light and combat evil, to bring home the sense of sin to the inhabitants of this place, convincing them of the hatefulness of the moral slough in which they so revoltingly wallowed. He must slay and spare not. He saw himself as David, squaring up to Goliath, as Christian fighting single-handed against the emissaries of Satan who essayed to defeat his pilgrimage. Yes, he would smite these lawbreakers hip and thigh, whatever their superficial claims to his respect, whatever their worldly position. He would read them all a lesson—that King Log, Canon Horniblow, included.

He at once pitied and admired himself, not being a close critic of his own motives; telling himself he did well to be angry, while ignoring the element of personal pique which gave point and satisfaction to that anger.

He was silent and reserved with the Miss Minetts at supper; and retired early to his own room to prepare a sermon.

CHAPTER III. BROTHER AND SISTER

Upon the Sunday morning following, Damaris went to the eleven o'clock service alone. Miss Felicia Verity attended church at an earlier hour to-day, partly in the interests of private devotion, partly in those of a person she had warmly befriended in the past, and wanted to befriend in the present—but with delicacy, with tact and due consideration for the susceptibilities of others. She wished earnestly to effect a reconciliation; but not to force it. To force it was to endanger its sincerity and permanence. It should seem to come about lightly, naturally. Therefore did she go out early to perfect her plans—of which more hereafter—as well as to perform her religious duties. Sir Charles Verity was from home, staying with Colonel Carteret for partridge shooting, over the Norfolk stubble-fields. The habit of this annual visit had, for the last two seasons, been in abeyance; but now, with his return to The Hard, was pleasantly revived, although this autumn, owing to business connected with the publication of his book, the visit took place a few weeks later than usual.

Hence did Damaris—arrayed in a russet-red serge gown, black velvet collar and cuffs to its jacket of somewhat manly cut, and a russet-red upstanding plume in her close-fitting black velvet hat—set forth alone to church. This, after redirecting such letters as had arrived for her father by the morning post. One of them bore the embossed arms of the India Office, and signature of the, then, Secretary of State for that department in the corner of the envelope. She looked at it with a measure of respect and curiosity, wondering as to the purport of its contents. She studied the envelope, turning it about in the hope of gleaning enlightenment from its external aspect. Still wondering, slightly oppressed even by a persuasion—of which she could not rid herself—that it held matters of no common moment closely affecting her father, she went out of the house, down the sheltered drive, and through the entrance gates. Here, as she turned inland, the verve of the clear autumn morning rushed on her, along with a wild flurry of falling leaves dancing to the breath of the crisp northerly breeze.

A couple of fine days, with a hint of frost in the valley by night, after a spell of soft mists and wet, sent the leaves down in fluttering multitudes, so that now all trees, save the oaks only, were bare. These—by which the road is, just here, overhung—still solidly clothed in copper, amber and—matching our maiden's gown—in russet-red, offered sturdy defiance to the weather. The sound of them, a dry crowded rustling, had a certain note of courage and faithfulness in it which caused Damaris to wait awhile and listen; yet a wistfulness also, since to her hearing a shudder stirred beneath its bravery, preluding the coming rigours of winter.

And that wistfulness rather strangely enlarged its meaning and area, as the reiterated ting, tang, tong of Deadham's church bells recalled the object of her walk. For English church services, of the parochial variety such as awaited her, had but little, she feared, to give. Little, that is, towards the re-living of those instants of exalted spiritual perception which had been granted to her at distant Avila.

In overstrained and puritanic dread of idolatory, the English Church has gone lamentably far to forfeit its sacramental birthright. It savours too strongly of the school and class-room, basing its appeal upon words, upon spoken expositions, instructive no doubt, but cold, academic. It offers no tangible object of worship to sight or sense. Its so-called altars are empty. Upon them no sacrifice is offered, no presence abidingly dwells. In its teaching the communion of saints and forgiveness of sins are phrases rather than living agencies. Its atmosphere is self-conscious, its would-be solemnity forced.—This, in any case, was how Damaris saw the whole matter—though, let us hasten to add, she was modest enough to question whether the fault might not very well be in herself rather than in our national variant of the Christian Faith. Many sweet, good persons—dear Aunt Felicia among them—appeared to find Anglican ministrations altogether sufficient for their religious needs. But to Damaris those ministrations failed to bring any moment of vision, of complete detachment. She must be to blame, she supposed—which was discouraging, a little outcasting and consequently sad.

In a somewhat pensive spirit she therefore, pursued her way, until, where the prospect widened as she reached the village green, a larger sky disclosed itself flaked with light cirrus cloud. This glory of space, and the daring northerly breeze blowing out from it, sent her fancy flying. It beckoned to journeyings, to far coasts and unknown seas—an offshore wind, filling the sails of convoys outward bound. And, with the thought of ships upon the sea, came the thought of Darcy Faircloth, and that with sharp revolt against the many existing hindrances to his and her intercourse. Freedom seemed abroad this morning. Even the leaves declared for liberty, courting individual adventure upon the wings of that daring wind. And this sense of surrounding activity worked upon Damaris, making her doubly impatient of denials and arbitrary restraints. She sent her soul after Darcy Faircloth across the waste of waters, fondly, almost fiercely seeking him. But her soul refused to travel, curiously turning homeward again, as though aware not the prodigious fields of ocean, nor any loud-voiced foreign port of call, held knowledge of him, but rather the immediate scene, the silver-glinting levels of the Haven and lonely stone-built inn.

Deadham church, originally a chapelry of Marychurch Abbey, crowns a green monticule in the centre of Deadham village, backed by a row of big elms.—A wide, low-roofed structure, patched throughout the course of centuries beyond all unity and precision of design; yet still showing traces of Norman work in the arch of the belfry and in the pillars supporting the rafters of the middle aisle. At the instance of a former vicar, the whole interior received a thick coat of whitewash, alike over plaster and stone. This, at the time in question, had been in places scraped off, bringing to light some mural paintings of considerable interest and antiquity.

In the chancel, upon the gospel side, is a finely-carved tomb, with recumbent figures of an armoured knight and richly-robed lady, whose slippered feet push against the effigy of a particularly alert, sharp-muzzled little hound. The two front pews, in the body of the church, at the foot of the said tomb, are allotted to the owner and household at The Hard. The slender, lively little hound and the two sculptured figures lying, peaceful in death, for ever side by side, touched and captivated Damaris from the first time she set eyes on them. She reverenced and loved them, weaving endless stories about them when, in the tedium of prayer or over-lengthy sermon, her attention, all too often, strayed.

This morning the three bells jangled altogether as she reached the churchyard gate. Then the smallest tolled alone, hurrying stragglers. She was indeed late, the bulk of the congregation already seated, the Canon at the reading-desk and Mrs. Horniblow wheezing forth a voluntary upon the harmonium, when she walked up the aisle.

But, during her brief passage, Damaris could not but observe the largeness of the assembly. An uncommon wave of piety must have swept over the parish this morning! The Battyes and Taylors were present in force. Farmers and tradespeople mustered in impressive array. Even Dr. Cripps—by no means a frequent churchgoer—and his forlorn-looking, red-eyed little wife were there. The Miss Minetts had a lady with them—a plump, short little person, dressed with attempted fashion, whose back struck Damaris as quaintly familiar, she catching a glimpse of it in passing. Most surprising of all, William Jennifer headed a contingent from the Island, crowding the men's free seats to right and left of the west door. An expectancy, moreover, seemed to animate the throng. Then she remembered, the new curate, Reginald Sawyer, had informed her and Miss Felicia two evenings ago when he had called and been bidden to stay to tea, that he would preach for the first time at the eleven o'clock service. So far he had only occupied the pulpit on Sunday afternoons, when a country congregation is liable to be both scanty and somnolent. To-day he would prove himself before the heads of tribes, before the notables. And Damaris wished him well, esteeming him a worthy young man, if somewhat provincial and superfluously pompous.

In the servants' pew directly behind, Mary and Mrs. Cooper were duly ensconced, supported by Mr. Patch, two small male Patches, white-collared and shining with excess of cleanliness, wedged in between him and his stable sub-ordinate Conyers, the groom. The Hard thus made a commendably respectable show, as Damaris reflected with satisfaction.

She stood, she knelt, her prayer book open upon the carved margin of the tomb, the slender crossed legs and paws of the alert little marble dog serving as so often before for bookrest. Canon Horniblow boomed and droned, like some unctuous giant bumble-bee, from the reading-desk. The choir intoned responses from the gallery with liberal diversity of pitch. And presently, alas! Damaris' thoughts began to wander, making flitting excursions right and left. For half-way through the litany some belated worshipper arrived, causing movement in the men's free seats. This oddly disturbed her. Her mind flew again to Faircloth, and the strange impression of her own soul's return declaring this and no other to be his actual neighbourhood. And if it indeed were so?—Damaris thrust back the emotions begotten of that question, as unpermissibly stormy at this time and in this place.

She tried to fix her thoughts wholly upon the office. But, all too soon they sprang aside again, now circling about the enigmatic back beheld in the Miss Minetts' pew. Of whom did that round, dressy little form remind her? Why—why—of Theresa, of course. Not Theresa, genius and saint of Spanish Avila; but Theresa Bilson, her sometime governess-companion of doubtfully amiable memory. She longed to satisfy herself, but could only do so by turning round and looking squarely—a manoeuvre impossible during the prayers, but which might be accomplished later, when the congregation rose to sing the hymn before the sermon.

She must wait. And during that waiting light, rather divertingly, broke in on her. For supposing her belief as to the lady's identity correct, must not dear Aunt Felicia be party to this resurrection? Had not she known, and stolen forth this morning to perfect some innocent plot of peace-making? In furtherance of which she now cunningly remained at home, thus leaving Damaris free to offer renewal of favour or withhold it as she pleased. Was not that deliciously characteristic of Aunt Felicia and her permanent effort to serve two masters—to make everybody happy, and, regardless of conflicting interests, everybody else too?—Well, Damaris was ready to fulfil her wishes. She bore Theresa no ill-will. An inclination to grudge or resentment seemed to her unworthy. Whatever Theresa's tiresomenesses, they were over and done with, surely, quite immensely long ago.

The hymn given out and the tune of it played through, the assembly scraped and rustled to its feet. Damaris standing, in height overtopping her neighbours, discreetly turned her head. Let her eyes rest an instant, smiling, upon the upturned polished countenances of the two small Patches—shyly watching her—and then seek a more distant goal. Yes, veritably Theresa Bilson in the flesh—very much in the flesh, full of face and plump of bosom, gold-rimmed glasses gleaming, her mouth opened wide in song. It was a little astonishing to see her so unchanged. For how much had happened since the day of that choir-treat, at Harchester, which marked her deposition, the day of Damaris' sleep in the sunshine and awakening in the driving wet out on the Bar.—The day wherein so much began, and so much ended, slashed across and across with an extravagance of lasting joy and lasting pain!—In the sense of it all Damaris lost herself a little, becoming forgetful of her existing situation. She looked past, over Theresa and beyond.

At the extreme end of the church, in the last of the free seats where the light from the west door streamed inward, a man's figure detached itself with singular distinctness from the background of whitewashed wall. He, too, overtopped his fellows, and that by several inches. And from the full length of the building, across the well-filled benches, his glance sought and met that of Damaris, and held it in fearless, high security of affection not to be gainsaid.

The nice, clean-shining little Patches, still watching shyly out of their brown, glossy, mouse-like eyes, to their extreme mystification saw the colour flood Damaris' face, saw her lips tremble and part as in prelude to happy speech. Then saw her grow very pale, and, turning away, clutch at the head of the alert little hound. Mrs. Cooper delivered herself of a quite audible whisper to the effect—“that Miss Damaris was took faint-like, as she feared.” And Mary leaned forward over the front of the pew in quick anxiety. But our maiden's weakness was but passing. She straightened herself, stood tall and proudly again, looking at the knight and his lady lying so peacefully side by side upon their marble couch. She gathered them into her gladness—they somehow sympathized, she felt, in her present sweet and poignant joy. Her soul had known best, had been right in its homing—since Faircloth was here—was here.

That sweet, poignant joy flooded her, so that she wordlessly gave thanks and praise. He was in life—more, was within sight of her, hearing the same sounds, breathing the same air. Across the short dividing space, spirit had embraced spirit. He claimed her.—Had not his will, indeed, far more than any curiosity regarding the identity of poor, plump little Theresa, compelled her to look around?

She demanded nothing further, letting herself dwell in a perfection of content—without before or after—possible only to the pure in heart and to the young.

The hymn concluded, Damaris knelt, while Reginald Sawyer, having mounted into the pulpit, read the invocation; mechanically rose from her knees with the rest, and disposed herself in the inner corner of the pew, sitting sideways so that her left hand might rest upon the carven marble margin of the tomb. She liked touch of it still, in the quietude of her great content, cherishing a pretty fancy of the knight and his lady's sympathy and that also of their sprightly little footstool dog.

Otherwise she was deaf to outward things, deliciously oblivious, wrapped away sweetly within herself. Hence she quite failed to notice how awkwardly Sawyer stumbled, treading on the fronts of his long surplice when going up the pulpit stairs. How he fumbled with his manuscript as he flattened it out on the cushioned desk. Or how husky was his voice, to the point of the opening sentences being almost inaudible. The young clergyman suffered, indeed, so it appeared, from a painfully excessive fit of nervousness. All this she missed, not awakening from her state of blissful trance until the sermon had been under way some good five to ten minutes.

Her awakening even then was gradual. It was also unpleasant. It began in vague and uneasy suspicion of something unusual and agitating toward. In consciousness of a hushed and strained attention, very foreign to the customary placid, not to say bovine, indifference of the ordinary country congregation. The preacher's voice was audible enough now, in good truth, though still under insufficient control. It roared, cracked upward, approaching a scream. Sentences trod on one another's heels, so rapid was his delivery; or bumped and jolted so overlaid was it with emphasis. He, dealt in ugly words, too—“lies, drunkenness, theft, profanity;” and worse still, “uncleanness, adultery, carnal debauchery.” For not venial sins only, but mortal sins likewise were rife in Deadham, as he averred, matters of common knowledge and everyday occurrence—tolerated if not openly encouraged, callously winked at. The public conscience could hardly be said to exist, so indurated was it, so moribund through lack of stimulation and through neglect. Yet such wickedness, sooner or later, must call down the vengeance of an offended God. It would be taken upon these lawbreakers. Here or hereafter these evil-livers would receive the chastisement their deeds invited and deserved. Let no man deceive himself. God is just. He is also very terrible in judgment. Hell yawns for the impenitent.

Breathless, he paused; and a subdued sigh, an instinctive shuffling of feet ran through the assembly.—Yet these were but generalities after all, often heard before, when you came to think, though seldom so forcibly put. Every man made liberal gift of such denunciations to his neighbours, rather than applied their lesson to himself. But Reginald Sawyer was merely gathering energy, gathering courage for more detailed assault. He felt nervous to the verge of collapse—a new and really horrible experience. His head was hot, his feet cold. The temptation simply and crudely to give in, bundle down the pulpit stairs and bolt, was contemptibly great. His eyesight played tricks on him. Below there, in the body of the church, the rows of faces ran together into irregular pink blots spread meaninglessly above the brown of the oaken pews, the brown, drab, and black, too, of their owners' Sunday best. Here and there a child's light frock or white hat intruded upon the prevailing neutral tints; as did, in a startling manner, Damaris Verity's russet-red plume and suit.

Time and again, since he began his sermon, had that dash of rich colour drawn his reluctant attention. He recoiled from, oddly dreaded it—now more than ever, since to him it rather mercilessly focussed the subject and impending climax of his denunciatory address.

The pause began to affect the waiting congregation, which stirred uneasily. Some one coughed. And Sawyer was a sufficiently practised speaker to know that, once you lose touch with an audience, it is next to impossible successfully to regain your ascendency over it. Unless he was prepared to accept ignominious defeat he must brace himself, or it would be too late. He abominated defeat. Therefore, summoning all his native combativeness, he took his own fear by the throat, straightened his manuscript upon the desk, and vehemently broke forth into speech.

—Did his hearers deny or doubt the truth of his assertions, suppose that he spoke at random, or without realization of the heavy responsibility he incurred in advancing such accusations? They were in error, so he told them. He advanced no accusations which he could not justify by examples chosen from among themselves, from among residents in this parish. He would be false to his duty both to them—his present audience—and to his and their Creator, were he to abstain from giving those examples out of respect of persons. Other occupants of this pulpit might have—he feared had—allowed worldly considerations to influence and silence them.

A nasty cut this, at the poor vicar-canon, increasingly a prey to distracted fidgets, sitting helpless in the chancel.

But of such pusillanimity, such time-serving, he—Reginald Sawyer—scorned to be guilty. The higher placed the sinner, the more heinous the sin.—He would deal faithfully with all, since not only was the salvation of each one in jeopardy, but his own salvation was in peril likewise, inasmuch as, at the dread Last Assize, he would be required to give account of his stewardship in respect of this sinful place.

Thus far Damaris had listened in deepening distaste. Surely the young man very much magnified his office, was in manner exaggerated, in matter aggressive and verbose? Notwithstanding its attempted solemnity and heat, his sermon seemed to be conventional, just a “way of talking,” and a conceited one at that. But, as he proceeded to set forth his promised examples of local ill-living, distaste passed into bewilderment and finally into a sense of outrage, blank and absolute. He named no names, and wrapped his statements up in Biblical language. Yet they remained suggestive and significant enough. He spoke, surely, of those whose honour was dearest to her, whom she boundlessly loved. Under plea of rebuking vice, he laid bare the secrets, violated the sanctities of their private lives. Yet was not that incredible? All decencies of custom and usage forbade it, stamped such disclosure as unpermissible, fantastic. He must be mad, or she herself mad, mishearing, misconceiving him.

“Adulterous father, bastard son—publican sheltering youthful offenders from healthy punishment in the interests of personal gain.”—Of that last she made nothing, failed to follow it. But the rest?—

It was true, too. But not as he represented it, all its tragic beauty, all the nobleness which tempered and, in a measure at least, discounted the great wrong of it, stripped away—leaving it naked, torn from its setting, without context and so without perspective. Against this not only her tenderness, but sense of justice, passionately fought. He made it monstrous and, in that far, untrue, as caricature is untrue, crying aloud for explanation and analysis. Yet who could explain? Circumstances of time and place rendered all protest impossible. Nothing could be done, nothing said. Thus her beloved persons were exposed, judged, condemned unheard, without opportunity of defence.

And realizing this, realizing redress hopelessly barred, she cowered down, her head bowed, almost to the level of the marble couch whereon the figures of knight and lady reposed in the high serenity of love and death. Happier they than she, poor child, for her pride trailed in the dust, her darling romance of brother and sister and all the rare pieties of her heart, defiled by a shameful publicity, exposed for every Tom, Dick and Harry to paw over and sneer at!

Horror of a crowd, which watches the infliction of some signal disgrace, tormented her imagination, moreover, to the temporary breaking of her spirit. Whether that crowd was, in the main, hostile or sympathetic mattered nothing. The fact that it silently sat there, silently observed, made every member of it, for the time, her enemy. Even the trusted servants just behind, comfortable comely Mary, soft Mrs. Cooper, the devoted Patch, were hateful to her as the rest. Their very loyalty—which she for no instant doubted—went only to fill the cup of her humiliation to the brim.

Reginald Sawyer's voice continued; but what he said now she neither heard nor cared. Her martyrdom could hardly suffer augmentation, the whole world seemed against her, she set apart, pilloried.—But not alone. Faircloth was set apart, pilloried, also. And remembering this, her courage revived. The horror of the crowd lifted. For herself she could not fight; but for him she could fight, with strength and conviction, out of the greatness of her love for him, out of her recognition that the ignominy inflicted upon him was more bitter, more cruel, than any inflicted upon her. For those who dare, in a moment the worst can turn best.—She would make play with the freedom which this breach of convention, of social reticence, of moral discretion, conferred upon her. The preacher had gone far in demolition. She would go as far, and further, in construction, in restitution. Would openly acknowledge the bond which joined Faircloth to her and to her people, by openly claiming his protection now, in this hour of her disgrace and supreme dismay. She would offer no excuse, no apology. Only there should be no more attempted concealment or evasion of the truth on her part, no furtiveness in his and her relation. Once and for all she would make her declaration, cry it from the house-top in fearless yet tender pride.

Damaris stood up, conspicuous in her red dress amid that rather drab assembly as a leaping flame. She turned about, fronting the perplexed and agitated congregation, her head carried high, her face austere for all its youthful softness, an heroic quality, something, indeed, superlative and grandiose in her bearing and expression, causing a shrinking in those who saw her and a certain sense of awe.

Her eyes sought Faircloth again. Found him, and unfalteringly spoke with him, bidding him claim her as she, claimed him, bidding him come. Which bidding he obeyed; and that at the same rather splendid level of sentiment, worthily sustaining her abounding faith in him. For a touch of the heroic and superlative was present in his bearing and expression, also, as he came up the church between the well-filled pews—these tenanted, to left and right, by some who figured in his daily life, figured in his earliest recollections, by others, newcomers, to him, even by sight, barely known; yet each and all, irrespective of age, rank, and position, affecting his outlook and mental atmosphere in some particular, as every human personality does and must, with whom one's life, ever so transiently, is thrown. Had he had time to consider them, this cloud of witnesses might have proved disturbing even to his masterful will and steady nerve. But he had not time. There was for him—so perfectly—the single object, the one searching yet lovely call to answer, the one act to be performed.

Reaching the front pew upon the gospel side, Darcy Faircloth took Damaris' outstretched hand. He looked her in the eyes, his own worshipful, ablaze at once with a great joy and a great anger; and then led her back, down the length of the aisle, through the west door into the liberty of the sunshine and the crisp northerly wind outside.

Standing here, the houses and trees of the village lay below them. The whole glinting expanse of the Haven was visible right up to the town of Marychurch gathered about its long-backed Abbey, whose tower, tall and in effect almost spectral, showed against the purple ridges of forest and moorland beyond. Over the salt marsh in the valley, a flock of plovers dipped and wheeled, their backs and wide flapping wings black, till, in turning, their breasts and undersides flashed into snow and pearl.

And because brother and sister, notwithstanding diversities of upbringing and of station, were alike children of the open rather than of cities, born to experiment, to travel and to seafaring round this ever-spinning globe, they instinctively took note of the extensive, keen though sun-gilded prospect—before breaking silence and giving voice to the emotion which possessed them—and, in so doing, found refreshment and a brave cleansing to their souls.

Still holding Faircloth's hand, and still silent, her shoulder touching his now and again in walking, Damaris went down the sloping path, hoary lichen-stained head-and-foot stones set in the vivid churchyard grass—as yet unbleached by the cold of winter—on either side. The sense of his strength, of the fine unblemished vigour of his young manhood, here close beside her—so strangely her possession and portion of her natural inalienable heritage—filled her with confident security and with a restful, wondering calm. So that the shame publicly put on her to shed its bitterness, her horror of the watching crowd departed, fading out into unreality. Though still shaken, still quivering inwardly from the ordeal of the past hour, she already viewed that shame and horror as but accidents to be lived down and disregarded, by no means as essential elements in the adventurous and precious whole. Presently they would altogether lose their power to wound and to distress her, while this freedom and the closer union, gained by means of them, continued immutable and fixed.

It followed that, when in opening the churchyard gate and holding it back for her to pass, Faircloth perforce let go her hand and, the spell of contact severed, found himself constrained to speak at last, saying:

“You know you have done a mighty splendid, dangerous thing—no less than burned your boats—and that in the heat of generous impulse, blind, perhaps—I can't but fear so—to the heavy cost.”

Damaris could interrupt him, with quick, sweet defiance:

“But there is no cost!”

And, to drive home the sincerity of her disclaimer, and further reassure him, she took his hand again and held it for an instant close against her bosom, tears and laughter together present in her eyes.

“Ah! you beautiful dear, you beautiful dear,” Faircloth cried, brokenly, as in pain, somewhat indeed beside himself. “Before God, I come near blessing that blatant young fool and pharisee of a parson since he has brought me to this.”

Then he put her a little way from him, penetrated by fear lest the white love which—in all honour and reverence—he was bound to hold her in, should flush ever so faintly, red.

“For, after all, it is up to me,” he said, more to himself than to her, “to make very sure there isn't, and never—by God's mercy—shall be, any cost.”

And with that—for the avoidance of the congregation, now streaming rather tumultuously out of church—they went on across the village green, hissed at by slow waddling, hard-eyed, most conceited geese, to the lane which leads down to the causeway and warren skirting the river-bank.

CHAPTER IV. WHEREIN MISS FELICIA VERITY CONCLUSIVELY SHOWS WHAT SPIRIT SHE IS OF

Her attraction consisted in her transparency, in the eager simplicity with which she cast her home-made nets and set her innocuous springes. To-day Miss Felicia was out to wing the Angel of Peace, and crowd that celestial messenger into the arms of Damaris and Theresa Bilson collectively and severally. Such was the major interest of the hour. But, for Miss Felicia the oncoming of middle-age by no means condemned the lesser pleasures of life to nullity. Hence the minor interest of the hour centred in debate as to whether or not the thermometer justified her wearing a coat of dark blue silk and cloth, heavily trimmed with ruchings and passementerie, reaching to her feet. A somewhat sumptuous garment this, given her by Sir Charles and Damaris last winter in Madrid. She fancied herself in it greatly, both for the sake of the dear donors, and because the cut of it was clever, disguising the over-narrowness of her maypole-like figure and giving her a becoming breadth and fulness.

She decided in favour of the coveted splendour; and at about a quarter-past twelve strolled along the carriage-drive on her way to the goose green and the village street. There, or thereabouts, unless her plot lamentably miscarried, she expected to meet her niece and that niece's ex-governess-companion, herded in amicable converse by the pinioned Angel of Peace. Her devious and discursive mind fluttered to and fro, meanwhile, over a number of but loosely connected subjects.

Of precisely what, upon a certain memorable occasion, had taken place between her brother, Sir Charles, and poor Theresa—causing the latter to send up urgent signals of distress to which she, Miss Felicia, instantly responded—she still was ignorant. Theresa had, she feared, been just a wee bit flighty, leaving Damaris unattended while herself mildly gadding. But such dereliction of duty was insufficient to account for the arbitrary fashion in which she had been sent about her business, literally—the word wasn't pretty—chucked out! Miss Felicia always suspected there must be something, she would say worse—it sounded harsh—but something more than merely that. Her interpretations of peculiar conduct were liable to run in terms of the heart. Had Theresa, poor thing, by chance formed a hopeless attachment?—Hopeless, of course, almost ludicrously so; yet what more natural, more comprehensible, Charles being who and what he was? Not that he would, in the faintest degree, lend himself to such misplaced affection. Of that he was incapable. The bare idea was grotesque. He, of course, was guiltless. But, assuming there was a feeling on Theresa's side, wasn't she equally guiltless? She could not help being fascinated.—Thus Miss Felicia was bound to acquit both. Alike they left the court without a stain on their respective characters.

Not for worlds would she ever dream of worrying Charles by attempting to reintroduce poor Theresa to his notice. But with Damaris it was different. The idea that any persons of her acquaintance were at sixes and sevens, on bad terms, when, with a little good will on their part and tactful effort upon hers, they might be on pleasant ones was to her actively afflicting. To drop an old friend, or even one not conspicuously friendly if bound to you by associations and habit, appeared to her an offence against corporate humanity, an actual however fractional lowering of the temperature of universal charity. The loss to one was a loss to all—in some sort. Therefore did she run to adjust, to smooth, to palliate.

Charles was away—it so neatly happened—and Theresa Bilson here, not, it must be owned, altogether without Miss Felicia's connivance. If darling Damaris still was possessed of a hatchet she must clearly be given, this opportunity to bury it. To have that weapon safe underground would be, from every point of view, so very much nicer.

At this point in her meditations beneath the trees bordering the carriage drive, their bare tops swaying in the breeze and bright sunshine, Miss Felicia fell to contrasting the present exhilarating morning with that dismally rainy one, just over three years ago, when—regardless of her sister, Mrs. Cowden's remonstrances—she had come here from Paulton Lacy in response to Theresa's signals of distress. Just at the elbow of the drive, so she remembered, she had met a quite astonishingly good-looking young man, brown-gold bearded, his sou'wester and oilskins shining with wet. She vaguely recalled some talk about him with her brother, Sir Charles, afterwards during luncheon.—What was it?—Oh! yes, of course, it was he who had rescued Damaris when she was lost out on the Bar, and brought her home down the tide-river by boat. She had often wanted to know more about him, for he struck her at the time as quite out of the common, quite remarkably attractive. But on the only occasion since when she had mentioned the subject, Damaris drew in her horns and became curiously uncommunicative. It was all connected, of course, with the dear girl's illness and the disagreeable episode of Theresa's dismissal.—How all the more satisfactory, then, that the Theresa business, in any case, was at this very hour in process of being set right! Miss Felicia had advised Theresa how to act—to speak to Damaris quite naturally and affectionately, taking her good-will for granted. Damaris would be charming to her, she felt convinced.

Felicia Verity held the fronts of her long blue coat together, since the wind sported with them rather roughly, and went forward with her quick, wavering gait.

It was a pity Damaris did not marry she sometimes felt. Of course, Charles would miss her quite terribly. Their love for one another was so delightful, so really unique. On his account she was glad.—And yet—with a sigh, while the colour in her thin cheeks heightened a little—lacking marriage a woman's life is rather incomplete. Not that she herself had reason for complaint, with all the affection showered upon her! The last two years, in particular, had been abundantly blessed thanks to Charles and Damaris. She admired them, dear people, with all her warm heart and felt very grateful to them.

Here it should be registered, in passing, that the resilience of Felicia Verity's inherent good-breeding saved her gratitude from any charge of grovelling, as it saved her many enthusiasms from any charge of sloppiness. Both, if exaggerated, still stood squarely, even gallantly upon their feet.

Her mind switched back to the ever fertile question of the married and the single state. She often wondered why Charles never espoused a second wife. He would have liked a son surely? But then, were it possible to find a fault in him, it would be that of a little coldness, a little loftiness in his attitude towards women. He was too far above them in intellect and experience, she supposed, and through all the remarkable military commands he had held, administrative posts he had occupied, quite to come down to their level. In some ways Damaris was very like him—clever, lofty too at moments. Possibly this accounted for her apparent indifference to affairs of the heart and to lovers. Anyhow, she had ample time before her still in relation to all that.

Miss Felicia passed into the road. About fifty yards distant she saw the servants—Mary, Mrs. Cooper and Patch—standing close together in a quaint, solemn, little bunch. The two small Patches circled round the said bunch, patiently expectant, not being admitted evidently to whatever deliberations their elders and betters had in hand.

Felicia Verity's relations with the servants were invariably excellent. Yet, finding them in mufti, outside the boundaries of her brother's demesne thus, she was conscious of a certain modesty, hesitating alike to intrude upon their confabulations and to pass onward without a trifle amiable of talk. She advanced, smiling, nodded to the two women, then—

“A delicious day, isn't it, Patch?” she said, adding, for lack of a more pertinent remark—“What kind of sermon did the new curate, Mr. Sawyer, give you?—A good one, I hope?”

A pause followed this guileless question, during which Mary looked on the ground, Mrs. Cooper murmured: “Oh! dear, oh, dear!” under her breath, and Patch swallowed visibly before finding voice to reply:

“One, I regret to say, ma'am, he never ought to have preached.”

“Poor young man!” she laughed it off. “You're a terribly severe critic, I'm afraid, Patch. Probably he was nervous.”

“And reason enough. You might think Satan himself stood at his elbow, the wicked things he said.”

This statement, coming from the mild and cow-like Mrs. Cooper, caused Felicia Verity the liveliest surprise. She glanced enquiringly from one to the other of the little group, reading constraint and hardly repressed excitement in the countenance of each. Their aspect and behaviour struck her, in fact, as singular to the point of alarm.

“Mary,” she asked, a trifle breathlessly, “has anything happened? Where is Miss Damaris?”

“Hadn't she got back to The Hard, ma'am, before you came out?”

“No—why should she? You and the other servants always reach home first.”

“Miss Damaris went out before the rest,” Mrs. Cooper broke forth in dolorous widowed accents. “And no wonder, pore dear young lady, was it, Mr. Patch? My heart bled for her, ma'am, that it did.”

Miss Felicia, gentle and eager, so pathetically resembling yet not resembling her famous brother, grew autocratic, stern as him almost, for once.

“And you allowed Miss Damaris to leave church alone—she felt unwell, I suppose—none of you accompanied her? I don't understand it at all,” she said.

“Young Captain Faircloth went out with Miss Damaris. She wished it, ma'am,” Mary declared, heated and resentful at the unmerited rebuke. “She as good as called to him to come and take her out of church. It wasn't for us to interfere, so we held back.”

“Captain Faircloth? But this becomes more and more extraordinary! Who is Captain Faircloth?”

“Ah! there you touch it, you must excuse my saying, ma'am.” Mrs. Cooper gasped.

But at this juncture, Patch, rising to the height of masculine responsibility, flung himself gallantly—and how unwillingly—into the breach. He was wounded in his respect and respectability alike, wounded for the honour of the family whom he had so long and faithfully served. He was fairly cut to the quick—while these three females merely darkened judgment by talking all at cross purposes and all at once. Never had the solid, honest coachman found himself in a tighter or, for that matter, in anything like so tight a place. But, looking in the direction of the village, black of clothing, heavy of walk and figure, he espied, as he trusted, approaching help.

“If you please, ma'am,” he said, touching his black bowler as he spoke, “I see Canon Horniblow coming along the road. I think it would be more suitable for him to give you an account of what has passed. He'll know how to put it with—with the least unpleasantness to all parties. It isn't our place—Mrs. Cooper's, Mary's, or mine—if you'll pardon my making so free with my opinion, to mention any more of what's took place.”

Felicia Verity, now thoroughly frightened, darted forward. The fronts of her blue coat again flew apart, and that rich garment stood out in a prodigious frill around and behind her from the waist, as she leaned on the wind, almost running in her agitation and haste.

“My dear Canon,” she cried, “I am in such anxiety. I learn something has happened to my niece, who I had come to meet. Our good servants are so distractingly mysterious. They refer me to you. Pray relieve my uncertainty and suspense.”

But, even while she spoke, Miss Felicia's anxiety deepened, for the kindly, easy-going clergyman appeared to suffer, like the servants, from some uncommon shock. His large fleshy nose and somewhat pendulous cheeks were a mottled, purplish red. Anger and deprecation struggled in his glance.

“I was on my way to The Hard,” he began, “to express my regrets—offer my apologies would hardly be too strong a phrase—to your niece, Miss Verity, and to yourself. For I felt compelled, without any delay, to dissociate myself from the intemperate procedure of my colleague—of my curate. He has used, or rather misused, his official position, has grievously misused the privileges of the pulpit—the pulpit of our parish church—to attack the reputation of private individuals and resuscitate long-buried scandals.”

The speaker was, unquestionably, greatly distressed. Miss Felicia, though more than ever bewildered, felt for him warmly. It pained her excessively to observe how his large hands clasped and unclasped, how his loose lips worked.

“Let me assure you,” he went on, “though I trust that is superfluous—”

“I am certain it is, dear Dr. Horniblow,” she feelingly declared.

“Thanks,” he replied. “You are most kind, most indulgent to me, Miss Verity.—Superfluous, I would say, to assure you that my colleague adopted this deplorable course without my knowledge or sanction. He sprang it on me like a bomb-shell. As a Christian my conscience, as a gentleman my sense of fair play, condemns his action.”

“Yes—yes—I sympathize.—I am convinced you are incapable of any indiscretion, any unkindness, in the pulpit or out of it. But why, my dear Canon, apologize to us? How can this unfortunate sermon affect me or my niece? How can the scandal you hint at in any respect concern us?”

“Because,” he began, that mottling of purple increasingly deforming his amiable face.—And there words failed him, incontinently he stuck. He detested strong language, but—heavens and earth—how could he put it to her, as she gazed at him with startled, candid eyes, innocent of guile as those of a babe? Only too certainly no word had reached her of the truth. The good man groaned in spirit for, like Patch, he found himself in a place of quite unexampled tightness, and with no hope of shunting the immense discomfort of it on to alien shoulders such as had been granted the happier Patch.

“Because,” he began again, only to suffer renewed agony of wordlessness. In desperation he shifted his ground.

“You have heard, perhaps, that your niece, Miss Damaris, left the church before the conclusion of the sermon? I do not blame her”—

He waved a fatherly hand. Miss Verity acquiesced.

“Or rather was led out by—by Captain Faircloth—a young officer in the mercantile marine, whose abilities and successful advance in his profession this village has every reason to respect.”

He broke off.

“Let us walk on towards The Hard. Pray let us walk on.—Has no rumour ever reached you, Miss Verity, regarding this young man?”

The wildest ideas flitted through Miss Felicia's brain.

—The figure in shiny oilskins—yet preposterous, surely?—After all, an affair of the heart—misplaced affection—Damaris?—Did this account for the apparent indifference?

—How intensely interesting; yet how unwise.—How—but she must keep her own counsel. The wind, now at her back, glued the blue coat inconveniently against and even between her legs, unceremoniously whisking her forward.

“Rumours—oh, none,” she protested.

“None?” he echoed despairingly. “Pray let us walk on.”

A foolish urgency on his part this, she felt, since she was already almost on the run.

“None that, by birth, Captain Faircloth is somewhat nearly related to your family—to your—your brother, Sir Charles, in fact?”

There, the incubus was off his straining chest at last! He felt easier, capable of manipulating the situation to some extent, smoothing down its rather terrible ascerbities.

“Such connections do,” he hastened to add, “as we must regretfully admit, exist even in the highest, the most exalted circles. Irregularities of youth, doubtlessly deeply repented of. I repeat sins of youth, at which only the sinless—and they, alas! to the shame of my sex are lamentably few—can be qualified to cast a stone.—You, you follow me?”

“You mean me to understand”—

“Yes, yes—exactly so—to understand that this young man is reputed to be”—

“Thank you, my dear Canon—thank you,” Felicia Verity here interposed quickly, yet with much simple dignity, for on a sudden she became singularly unflurried and composed.

“I do, I believe, follow you,” she continued.—“You have discharged your difficult mission with a delicacy and consideration for which I am grateful; but I am unequal to discussing the subject in further detail just now.—To me, you know, my brother is above criticism. Whatever incidents may—may belong to former years, I accept without cavil or question, in silence—dear Dr. Horniblow—in silence. His wishes upon this matter—should he care to confide them to me—and those of my niece, will dictate my conduct to—towards my nephew, Captain Faircloth.—Believe me, in all sincerity, I thank you. I am very much indebted to you for the information you have communicated to me. It simplifies my position. And now,” she gave him her hand, “will you pardon my asking you to leave me?”

Walking slowly—for he felt played out, pretty thoroughly done for, as he put it, and beat—back to the vicarage and his belated Sunday dinner:—

“And of such are the Kingdom of Heaven,” James Horniblow said to himself—perhaps truly.

He also said other things, distinctly other things, in which occurred the name of Reginald Sawyer whose days as curate of Deadham were numbered. If he did not resign voluntarily, well then, pressure must, very certainly, be employed to make him resign.

Meanwhile that blue-coated, virginal member of the Kingdom of Heaven sped homeward at the top of her speed. She was conscious of immense upheaval. Never had she felt so alive, so on the spot. The portals of highest drama swung wide before her. She hastened to enter and pour forth the abounding treasures of her sympathy at the feet of the actors in this most marvellous piece. That her own part in it must be insignificant, probably not even a speaking one, troubled her not the least. She was out for them, not for herself. It was, also, characteristic of Miss Felicia that she felt in nowise shocked. Not the ethical, still less the social aspects of the drama affected her, but only its human ones. These dear people had suffered, and she hadn't known it. They suffered still. She enclosed them in arms of compassion.—If to the pure all things are pure, Felicia Verity's purity at this juncture radiantly stood the test. And that, not through puritanical shutting of the eyes or juggling with fact. As she declared to Canon Horniblow, she accepted the incident without question or cavil—for her brother. For herself, any possibility of stepping off the narrow path of virtue, and exploring the alluring, fragrant thickets disposed to left of it and to right, had never, ever so distantly, occurred to her.

She arrived at The Hard with a bright colour and beating heart. Crossed the hall and waited at the drawing-room door. A man's voice was audible within, low-toned and grave, but very pleasant. It reminded her curiously of Charles—Charles long ago on leave from India, lightening the heavy conventionalities of Canton Magna with his brilliant, enigmatic, and—to her—all too fugitive presence. Harriet had never really appreciated Charles—though she was dazzled by his fame at intervals—didn't really appreciate him to this day. Well, the loss was hers and the gain indubitably Felicia's, since the elder sister's obtuseness had left the younger sister a free field.—At thought of which Felicia softly laughed.

Again she listened to the man's voice—her brother Charles's delightful young voice. It brought back the glamour of her girlhood, of other voices which had mingled with his, of dances, picnics, cricket matches, days with the hounds. She felt strangely moved, transported; also strangely shy—so that she debated retirement. Did not, of course, retire, but went into the drawing-room with a gentle rush, a dart between the stumpy pillars.

“I hoped that I should find you both,” she said. “Yes,” to Damaris' solemn and enquiring eyes—“I happened to meet our good, kind Canon and have a little conversation with him. I hope”—to Faircloth—“you and I may come to know one another better, know one another as friends. You are not going?—No, indeed, you must stay to luncheon. It would grieve me—and I think would grieve my brother Charles also, if you refused to break bread in this house.”

CHAPTER V. DEALING WITH EMBLEMS, OMENS AND DEMONSTRATIONS

Deadham resembled most country parishes in this, that, while revelling in internal dissensions, when attacked from without its inhabitants promptly scrapped every vendetta and, for the time being, stood back to back against the world.

As one consequence of such parochial solidarity, the village gentry set in a steady stream towards The Hard on the Monday afternoon following the historic Sunday already chronicled. Commander and Mrs. Battye called. Captain and Mrs. Taylor called, bringing with them their daughter Louisa, a tight-lipped, well instructed High School mistress, of whom her parents stood—one couldn't but notice it—most wholesomely in awe. As is the youthful cuckoo in the nest of the hedge sparrow, so was Louisa Taylor to the authors of her being.—Mrs. Horniblow called also, flanked by her two girls, May and Doris—plain, thick-set, energetic, well-meaning young persons, whom their shrewd mother loved, sheltered, rallied, and cherished, while perfectly aware of their limitations as to beauty and to brains. Immediately behind her slipped in Mrs. Cripps. The doctor abstained, conscious of having put a match to the fuse which had exploded yesterday's astounding homiletic torpedo. The whole affair irritated him to the point of detestable ill-temper. Still, if only to throw dust in the public eye, the house of Cripps must be represented. He therefore deputed the job—like so many another ungrateful one—to his forlorn-looking and red-eyed spouse. This vote of confidence, if somewhat crudely proposed and seconded, was still so evidently sincere and kindly meant that Damaris and Miss Felicia felt constrained to accept it in good part.

Conversation ran upon the weather, the crops, the migratory wild fowl now peopling the Haven, the Royal Family—invariably a favourite topic this, in genteel circles furthest removed from the throne—in anecdotes of servants and of pets interspersed with protests against the rise in butcher Cleave's prices, the dullness of the newspapers and the surprising scarcity of eggs.—Ran on any and every subject, in short, save that of sermons preached by curates enamoured of the Decalogue.

Alone—saving and excepting Dr. Cripps—did the Miss Minetts fail to put in an appearance. This of necessity, since had not they, figuratively speaking, warmed the viper in their bosoms, cradled the assassin upon their hearth? They were further handicapped, in respect of any demonstration, by the fact of Theresa Bilson's presence in their midst. Owing to the general combustion, Miss Felicia and the Peace Angel's joint mission had gone by the wall. Theresa was still an exile from The Hard, and doomed to remain so as the event proved. With that remarkable power—not uncommon in her sex—of transmuting fact, granted the healing hand of time, from defeat to personal advantage, she had converted her repulse by Sir Charles Verity into a legend of quite flattering quality. She had left The Hard because—But—

“She must not be asked to give chapter and verse. The position had been extremely delicate. Even now she could barely speak of it—she had gone through too much. To be more explicit”—she bridled—“would trench upon the immodest, almost. But just this she could say—she withdrew from The Hard three years ago, because she saw withdrawal would be best for others. Their peace of mind had been her object.”

The above guarded confidences the Miss Minetts, hanging upon her lips, received with devout admiration and fully believed. And, the best of it was, Theresa had come by now, thanks to frequent rehearsal, fully to believe this version herself. At the present juncture it had its convenience, since she could declare her allegiance to her former employer unimpaired. Thereby was she at liberty to join in the local condemnation of Reginald Sawyer and his sermon. She did so with an assumption of elegant, if slightly hysterical, omniscience. This was not without its practical side. She regretted her inability to meet him at meals. In consequence the Miss Minetts proposed he should be served in his own sitting-room, until such time as it suited him to find another place of residence than the Grey House. For their allegiance went on all fours with Theresa's. It was also unimpaired. Propriety had been outraged on every hand; matters, heretofore deemed unmentionable, rushed into the forefront of knowledge and conversation; yet never had they actually enjoyed themselves so greatly. The sense of being a storm centre—inasmuch as they harboured the viper assassin—produced in them an unexampled militancy. Latent sex-antagonism revealed itself. The man, by common consent was down; and, being down, the Miss Minetts jumped on him, pounded him, if terms so vulgar are permissible in respect for ladies so refined. For every sin of omission, committed against their womanhood by the members of his sex, they made him scapegoat—unconsciously it is true, but effectively none the less. From being his slaves they became his tormentors. Never was young fellow more taken aback. Such revulsions of human feeling are instructive—deplorable or diverting according as you view it.

Meanwhile that portion of the local gentry aforesaid, whom awkward personal predicament—as in the case of Dr. Cripps and the Miss Minetts—did not preclude from visiting The Hard, having called early on Monday afternoon also left early, being anxious to prove their civility of purest water, untainted by self-seeking, by ulterior greed of tea and cakes. It followed that Damaris found herself relieved of their somewhat embarrassed, though kindly and well-intentioned, presence before sunset. And of this she was glad, since the afternoon had been fruitful of interests far more intimate and vital in character.

While Captain and Mrs. Taylor, with their highly superior offspring Louisa, still held the floor, Damaris received a telegram from her father announcing a change of plans involving his immediate return.

“Send to meet the seven-thirty at Marychurch,” so the pink paper instructed her. “Carteret comes with me. When we arrive will explain.”

On reception of the above, her first thought was of the letter forwarded yesterday from the India Office, bearing the signature of the Secretary of State. And close on the heels of that thought, looking over its shoulder, indeed, in the effort—which she resisted—to claim priority, was the thought of the dear man with the blue eyes about to be a guest, once again, under this roof. This gave her a little thrill, a little gasp, wrapping her away to the borders of sad inattention to Louisa Taylor's somewhat academic discourse.—The girl's English was altogether too grammatical for entire good-breeding. In that how very far away from Carteret's!—Damaris tried to range herself with present company. But the man with the blue eyes indubitably held the centre of the stage. She wore the pearls to-day he gave her at St. Augustin. In what spirit did he come?—She hoped in the earlier one, that of the time when she so completely trusted him. For his counsel, dared she claim it in that earlier spirit, would be of inestimable value just now. She so badly needed someone in authority to advise with as to the events of yesterday, both in their malign and their beneficent aspects. Aunt Felicia had risen to the height of her capacity—dear thing, had been exquisite; but she would obey orders rather than issue them. Her office was not to lead, but rather to be led. And that the events of yesterday opened a new phase of her own and Faircloth's relation to one another appeared beyond dispute. Where exactly did the curve of duty towards her father touch that relation, run parallel with or intersect it? She felt perplexed.

After tea, Miss Felicia having vanished on some affair of her own—Damaris asked no question, but supposed it not unconnected with the now, since Sir Charles was about to return, permanently exiled Theresa—our maiden went upstairs, in the tender evening light, on domestic cares intent. She wished to assure herself that the chintz bedroom, opening off the main landing and overlooking the lawn and front garden, had been duly made ready for Colonel Carteret. She took a somewhat wistful pleasure in silently ministering to his possible small needs in the matter of sufficient wealth of towels, candles and soap. She lengthened out the process. Lingered, rearranged the ornaments upon the mantelpiece, the bunch of sweet-leafed geranium—as yet unshrivelled by frost—and belated roses, placed in a vase upon the toilet-table.

In so doing she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror, and paused, studying it. Her looks were not at their best. She was wan.—That might, in part, be owing to the waning light. Around her eyes were dark circles, making them appear unnaturally large and solemn. So yesterday's emotions had left their mark! The nervous strain had been considerable and she showed it. One cannot drink the cup of shame, however undeserved, with physical any more than with mental impunity. She still felt a little shattered, but hoped neither her father nor Carteret would remark her plight. If the whole affair of yesterday could, in its objectionable aspects, be kept from Sir Charles's knowledge she would be infinitely glad. And why shouldn't it be? Without permission, Aunt Felicia certainly would not tell. Neither would the servants. The parish had given testimony, this afternoon, both of its good faith and its discretion.

So much for the objectionable side of the matter. But there was another side, far from objectionable, beautiful in sentiment and in promise. And, still viewing her reflection in the glass, she saw her eyes lose their solemnity, lighten with a smile her lips repeated. This was where Carteret's advice would be of so great value. How much ought she to tell her father of all that?

For, from amidst the shame, the anger, the strain and effort, Faircloth showed, to her thinking, triumphant, satisfying alike to her affection and her taste. In no respect would she have asked him other than he was.

She moved across to the window, and sat down there, looking out over the garden and battery, with its little cannons, to the Bar, and sea beyond which melted into the dim primrose and silver of the horizon. Such colour as existed was soft, soothing, the colour of a world of dreams, of subdued and voiceless fancies. It was harmonious, restful as an accompaniment to vision.—Damaris let it lap against her consciousness, encircling, supporting this, as water laps, also encircling and supporting—while caressing, mysteriously whispering against a boat's side—a boat lying at its moorings, swinging gently upon an even keel.—And her vision was of Faircloth, exclusively of him, just now.

For he had stayed to luncheon yesterday. A meal, to him in a sense sacred, as being the first eaten by him in his father's house. So graciously invited, how, indeed, could he do otherwise than stay? And, the initial strangeness, the inherent wonder of that sacred character wearing off, he found voice and talked not without eloquence. Talked of his proper element, the sea, gaining ease and self-possession from the magnitude and manifold enchantments of his theme.

To him, as to all true-born sailor-men—so Damaris divined—the world is made of water, with but accident of land. Impeding, inconvenient accident at that, too often blocking the passage across or through, and constraining you to steer a foolishly, really quite inordinately divergent course. Under this obstructive head the two Americas offend direfully, sprawling their united strength wellnigh from pole to pole. The piercing of their central isthmus promised some mitigation of this impertinence of emergent matter; though whether in his, the speaker's lifetime, remained—so he took it—open to doubt. The “roaring forties,” and grim blizzard-ridden Fuegian Straits would long continue, as he feared, to bar the way to the Pacific. Not that his personal fancy favoured West so much as East. Not into the sunset but into the sunrising did he love to sail some goodly black-hulled ship.—And as he talked, more especially at his mention of this eastward voyaging, those manifold enchantments of his calling stirred Damaris' imagination, making her eyes bright as the fabled eyes of danger, and fathomless as well.

But the best came later. For, Mary having served coffee, Miss Felicia, making an excuse of letters to be written, with pretty tact left them to themselves. And Faircloth, returning after closing the door behind her fluttering, gently eager figure, paused behind Damaris' chair.—Jacobean, cane-panelled, with high-carved back and arms to it. Thomas Clarkson Verity had unquestionably a nice taste in furniture.—The young sea-captain rested his right hand on the dark terminal scroll-work, and bending down, laid his left hand upon Damaris' hand, covering it as it lay on the white damask table-cloth.

“Have I done what I should, and left undone what I shouldn't do, my dear and lovely sister?” he asked her, half-laughing and half-abashed. “It's a tricky business being here, you know—to put it no higher than that. And it might, with truth, be put far higher. I get so horribly fearful of letting you down in any way—however trivial—before other people. I balance on a knife-edge all the while.”

“Have no silly fears of that sort,” Damaris said quickly, a trifle distressed.

For it plucked at her sisterly pride in him that he should, even by implication, debase himself, noting inequality of station between himself and her. She held the worldly aspects of the matter in contempt. They angered her, so that she impulsively banished reserve. Leaning forward, she bent her head, putting her lips to the image of the flying sea-bird—which so intrigued her loving curiosity—and those three letters tattooed in blue and crimson upon the back of his hand.

“There—there”—she murmured, as soothing a child—“does this convince you?”

But here broke off, her heart contracting with a spasm of wondering tenderness. For under that pressure of her lips she felt his flesh quiver and start. She looked up at the handsome bearded face, so close above her, in swift enquiry, the potion—as once before—troubling her that, in touching this quaint stigmata, she inflicted bodily suffering. And, as on that earlier occasion, asked the question:

“Ah! but have I hurt you?”

Faircloth shook his head, smiling. Words failed him just then and he went pale beneath the overlay of clear brown sunburn.

“Then tell me what this stands for?” she said, being herself strangely moved, and desirous to lower the temperature of her own emotion—possibly of his as well. “Tell me what it means.”

“Just a boy's fear and a boy's superstition—a bit morbid, both of them, perhaps—that is as I see things now. For I hold one should leave one's body as it pleased the Almighty to make it, unblemished by semi-savage decorations which won't wash off.”

Faircloth moved away, drew his chair up nearer the head of the table, the corner between them, so that his hand could if desire prompted again find hers.

“By the way, I'm so glad you don't wear ear-rings, Damaris,” he said. “They belong to the semi-savage order of decoration. I hate them. You never will wear them? Promise me that.”

And she had promised, somewhat diverted by his tone of authority and of insistence.

“But about this?” she asked him, indicating the blue and crimson symbol.

“As I say, fruit of fear and superstition—a pretty pair in which to put one's faith! All the same, they went far to save my life, I fancy—for which I thank them mightily being here, with you, to-day.”

And he told her—softening the uglier details, as unfit for a gently-nurtured woman's hearing—a brutal story of the sea. Of a sailing ship becalmed in tropic waters, waiting, through long blistering days and breathless sweltering nights, for the breeze which wouldn't come—a floating hell, between glaring skies and glaring ocean—and of bullyings, indignities and torments devised by a brain diseased by drink.

“But was there no one to interfere, no one to protect you?” Damaris cried, aghast.

“A man's master in his own ship,” Faircloth answered. “And short of mutiny there's no redress. Neither officers nor men had a stomach for mutiny. They were a poor, cowed lot. Till this drunken madness came on him he had been easy going enough. They supposed, when it passed, he'd be so again. And then as he reserved his special attentions for me, they were willing to grin and bear it—or rather let me bear it, just stupidly letting things go. It was my first long voyage. I'd been lucky in my skippers so far, and was a bit soft still. A bit conceited, I don't doubt, as well. He swore he'd break my spirit—for my own good, of course—and he came near succeeding.—But Damaris, Damaris, dear, don't take it to heart so. What does it matter? It did me no lasting harm, and was all over and done with—would have been forgotten too, but for the rather silly sign of it—years and years ago. Let us talk no more about it.”

“Oh, no!—go on—please, go on,” she brokenly prayed him.

So he told her, further, how at Singapore, the outward voyage at last ended, he was tempted to desert; or, better still, put an end, once and for all, to the whole black business of living. And how, meditating on the methods of such drastic deliverance—sitting in the palm-shaded verandah of a fly-blown little eating-house, kept by a monkey-faced, squint-eyed Japanese—he happened to pick up a Calcutta newspaper. He read its columns mechanically, without interest or understanding, his mind still working on methods of death, when a name leapt at him weighted with personal meaning.

“It hit me,” Faircloth said, “full between the eyes, knocking the cry-baby stuff out of me, and knocking stuff of very different order in. For I wanted something stronger than mother-love—precious though that is—to brace me up and put some spunk into me just then.—Sir Charles was campaigning in Afghanistan, and this Calcutta paper sang his praises to a rousing tune. Lamented the loss of him to the Indian Government, and the lack of appreciation and support of him at home which induced him to take foreign service. Can't you imagine how all this about a great soldier, whose blood after all ran in my veins, pulled me clean up out of the slime, where suicide tempted the soft side of me, into another world?—A sane world, in which a man can make good, if only he's pluck to hold on.—Yes, he saved me; or at all events roused the spirit in me which makes for salvation, and which that drunken brute had almost killed. But, because I was only a boy as yet, with a boy's queer instincts and extravagancies, I made the monkey-faced, Japanese eating-house keeper—who added artistic tattooing to other and less reputable ways of piling up a fortune—fix the sea-bird, for faith in my profession—and those three initials of my own name and a name not altogether my own, right here.—Fix them for remembrance and for a warning of which I could never get free. Always I should be forced to see it. And others must see it too. Through it my identity—short of mutilation—was indestructibly established. From that identity, henceforward, there wasn't any possible running away.”

Faircloth had ended on a note of exultation, calmly sounded yet profound.

And upon that final note Damaris dwelt now, sitting on the chintz-covered window-seat of the room which Carteret would to-night inhabit. She went through the cruel story again, while the transparent twilight drew its elfin veil over all things, outdoor and in.

The crescent moon, a slender, upright wisp of a thing, climbed the southern sky. And Damaris' soul was strangely satisfied, for the story, if cruel, was one of restitution and the healing of a wrong. To her father—his father—the boy had turned in that bad hour, which very perfectly made for peace between them. The curve of her duty to the one, as she now apprehended, in nowise cut across or deflected the curve of her duty towards the other. The two were the same, were one. And this, somehow, some day, when time and sentiment offered opportunity for such disclosure, she must let her father know. She must repeat to him the story of the eating-house and its monkey-faced proprietor—of questionable reputation—away in tropic Singapore. It could hardly fail to appeal to him if rightly told. About the events and vulgar publicity of yesterday nothing need be said. About this, within careful limits, much; and that, with, as she believed, happiest result. She had succeeded in bringing father and son together in the first instance. Now, with this pathetic story as lever, might she not hope to bring them into closer, more permanent union? Why should not Faircloth, in future, come and go, if not as an acknowledged son, yet as acknowledged and welcome friend, of the house? A consummation this, to her, delightful and reasonable as just. For had not the young man passed muster, and that triumphantly—she again told herself—in small things as well as great, in things of social usage and habit, those “little foxes” which, as between class and class, do so deplorably and disastrously “spoil the grapes?”

Therefore she began to invent ingenious speeches to Carteret and to her father. Hatch ingenious schemes and pretty plots—in the style of dear Aunt Felicia almost!—Was that lady's peace-making passion infectious, by chance? And supposing it were, hadn't it very charming and praiseworthy turns to it—witness Felicia's rather noble gathering in and acceptance of Faircloth yesterday.

Arriving at which engaging conclusion, Damaris felt minded to commune for a space with the restful loveliness of the twilight, before going downstairs again and seeking more definite employment of books or needlework. She raised the window-sash and, kneeling on the chintz-covered cushioned window-seat, leaned out.

The gardeners to-day had rooted up the geraniums and dug over the empty flower beds, just below, preparatory to planting them with bulbs for spring blossoming. The keen, pungent scent of the newly-turned earth hung in the humid air, as, mingling with it—a less agreeable incense—did the reek of the mud-flats. On the right the twin ilex trees formed a mass of soft imponderable gloom. Above and behind them the sky was like smoked crystal. The lawn lay open and vacant. Upon it nothing hopped or crept. The garden birds had eaten their suppers long since, and sought snug bosky perching places for the night. Even the unsleeping sea was silent, the tide low and waveless, no more than a languid ripple far out upon the shelving sands. All dwelt in calm, in a brooding tranquillity which might be felt.

Damaris listened to the silence, until her ears began to suspect its sincerity. Sounds were there in plenty, she believed, were her hearing sharp enough to detect them. They naughtily played hide-and-seek with her, striking a chord too deep or too thinly acute for human sense. Sights were there too, had her eyes but a cat's or an owl's keener faculty of seeing. Behind the tranquillity she apprehended movement and action employing a medium, obeying impulses, to us unknown. Restfulness fled away, but, in place of it, interest grew. If she concentrated her attention and listened more carefully, she should hear; looked more steadily, she should see.

Just because she was tired, a little shattered still and spent, did this predominance of outward nature draw her, imposing itself. It beckoned her; and, through passing deficiency of will, she followed its beckoning, making no serious effort to resist. With the consequence she presently did hear sounds, but sounds surely real and recognizable enough.

Coming from the shore eastwards, below the sea-wall along the river frontage, ponies walked, or rather floundered, fetlock deep in blown sand—a whole drove of them to judge by the confused and muffled trampling of their many hoofs. The drop from the top of the sea-wall to the beach was too great, and the space between the foot of the wall and the river-bank and breakwater too confined, for her to see the animals, even had not oncoming darkness rendered all objects increasingly ill-defined.

But the confused trampling instead of keeping along the foreshore, as in all reason it should, now came up and over the sea-wall, on to the battery, into the garden, heading towards the house, Damaris strained her eyes through the tranquil obscurity, seeking visible cause of this advancing commotion, but without effect. Yet all the while, as her hearing clearly testified, the unseen ponies hustled one another, plunging, shying away from the swish and crack of a long-thonged whip. One stumbled and rolled over in the sand.—For although the mob was half-way up the lawn by now, the shuffling, sliding sand stayed always with them.—After a nasty struggle it got on to its feet, tottering forward under savage blows, dead lame. Another, a laggard, fell into its tracks, and lay there foundered, rattling in the throat.

By this time the foremost of the drove came abreast the house front, where Sir Charles Verity's three ground-floor rooms, with the corridor behind them, ranged out from the main building. The many-paned semicircular windows of these rooms dimly glistened, below their fan-shaped, slated roofs. The crowding scurry of scared, over-driven animals was so indisputable that Damaris expected a universal smashing of glass. But the sound of many hoofs, still muted by sliding sand, passed straight on into and through the house as though no obstacle intervened barring progress.

The many-paned windows remained intact, undemolished, dimly glistening beneath their slated roofs. The garden stretched vacant, as before, right away to the battery, in the elusive twilight, a sky of smoked crystal—through which stars began to show faintly, points of cold blurred light—above the gloom of the ilex trees to the west, and in the south, above the indistinguishable sea, the slender moon hanging upright, silver and sickle-shaped.

Thus far Damaris' entire consciousness had resided in and been limited to her auditory sense; concentration being too absorbed and intense to allow room for reasoning, still less for scepticism or even astonishment. She had watched with her ears—as the blind watch—desperate to interpret, instant by instant, inch by inch, this reconstructed tragedy of long-dead man and long-dead beast. There had been no thinking round the central interest, no attempted reading of its bearing upon normal events. Mind and imagination were fascinated by it to the exclusion of all else. It acted as an extravagant dream acts, abrogating all known laws of cause and effect, giving logic and science the lie, negativing probability, making the untrue true, the impossible convincingly manifest.

Not, indeed, until she beheld Mary Fisher, deep-bosomed and comely, in black gown, white apron and cap, moving within those rooms downstairs—still echoing, as they surely must, to that tumultuous and rather ghastly equine transit—did the extraordinary character of the occurrence flash into fullness of relief.

Mary, meanwhile, set down her flat candlestick upon the big writing-table in Sir Charles's study, lighted lamps and drew blinds and curtains. Went into the bedroom next door and dressing-room beyond, methodically performing the evening ritual of “shutting up.” Her shadow marched with her, as though mockingly assisting in her operations, now crouching, now leaping ahead, blotting a ceiling, extending itself upon a wall space. Other shadows, thrown by the furniture, came forth and leapt also, pranced, skipping back into hiding as the candle-light shifted and passed. But save this indirect admission of the immaterial and grotesque, everything showed reassuringly ordinary, the woman herself unconcerned, ignorant of disturbance.

Damaris rose from her kneeling posture upon the window-seat and, standing, lowered the sash. Once was enough. It was no longer incumbent upon her to listen or to look. If these ghostly phenomena were repeated they could convey nothing more to her, nothing fresh. They had delivered their message—one addressed wholly and solely to herself, so she judged, since Mary had so conspicuously no suspicion of it.

Our maiden's lips were dry. Her heart beat in her ears. Yet she was in no degree unnerved. Seldom indeed had she been more mistress of her powers, self-realized and vigilant. Nor did she feel tired any more, infirm of will and spent. Rather was she consciously resolute to encounter and withstand events—of what order she did not know as yet but events of moment and far-reaching result, already on the road, journeying toward her hotfoot. They were designed to test and try her. Would do their utmost to overwhelm, to submerge her, were she weak. But she didn't intend them to submerge her. She bade weakness quit, all her young courage rising in arms.

The marvellous things she just now heard, so nearly saw—for it had come very near to seeing, hadn't?—were avant couriers of these same journeying events, their appointed prelude. She could explain neither how nor why—but, very certainly, somehow. Nor could she explain the relation—if any—coupling together the said marvels heard and the events. Nevertheless, she knew the former rode ahead, whether in malignity or mercy, to forewarn her. This place, The Hard, in virtue of its numerous vicissitudes of office and of ownership, of the memories and traditions which it harboured, both sinister, amiable, erudite, passionate, was singularly sentient, replete with influences. In times of strain and stress the normal wears thin, and such lurking influences are released. They break bounds, shouting—to such as have the psychic genius—convincing testimony of their existence.

All this Damaris perceived, standing in the middle of the room while the silver crescent moon looked in at her. The stillness once again was absolute. The dusk, save where the windows made pale squares upon the carpet, thick. The four-post bed, gay enough by day with hangings and valences patterned in roses on a yellow ground, looked cavernous. Carteret would lie under its black canopy to-night if—

“If all goes well.”

Damaris said the words aloud, her thought becoming personal and articulate.

Once before she had heard the smugglers' ponies, waiting in this same room. Waiting at the open window to catch the first rumble of the wheels of a returning carriage. Her poor dear Nannie, Sarah Watson, was returning home after a summer holiday spent with her own people in the north. And Damaris, younger then by nearly five years, had listened impatiently, ready to skirmish down into the front hall—directly the carriage turned the elbow of the drive—and enclose her faithful nurse and foster-mother in arms of child-like love. But destiny ruled otherwise. In vain she waited. Sarah Watson returned no more, death having elected to take her rather horribly to himself some hours previously amid the flaming wreckage of a derailed express.

What did this second hearing presage? A like vain waiting and disclosure of death-dealing accident? Notwithstanding her attitude of high resolution, the question challenged Damaris in sardonic fashion from beneath the black canopy of the great bed. Her hand went up to the string of pearls which, on a sudden, grew heavy about her throat.

“But not—not—pray God, the dear man with the blue eyes,” she cried.

She was glad to be alone, in the encompassing semi-dark, for a warm wave of emotion swept over her, an ardour hardly of the spiritual sort. Had she deceived herself? Was she, in truth, desirous Carteret should approach her solely according to that earlier manner, in which she so simply trusted him? Did she hail his coming as that of a wise counsellor merely—or—

But here Mary—still pursuing the time-honoured ritual of shutting up—entered candle in hand, the landing showing brightly lit behind her.

“Dear heart alive!” she exclaimed, “whoever's that? You, Miss Damaris? Alone here in the dark. You did make me jump. But there,” she added, repentant of her unceremonious exclamation, “I don't know what possesses us all to-night. The least thing seems to make you jump. Mrs. Cooper's all of a twitter, and Laura—silly girl—is almost as bad. I suppose it's the weather being so quiet after yesterday's gale. For my own part I always do like a wind about. It seems company, particularly these long evenings if you're called on to go round the house by yourself.”

All of which amounted to an admission, as Damaris was not slow to detect. She was still under the empire of emotion. The abrupt intrusion affected her. She, too, needed to carry off the situation.

“Poor Mary,” she said, “you have been frightened—by what? Did you hear anything you could not account for when you were down in the library just now?”

The answer came after a pause, as though the speaker were suspicious, slightly unwilling to commit herself.

“No, Miss Damaris, not in Sir Charles's rooms or in the west wing either. Whatever unaccountable noises there ever is belong to this old part of the house.”

She set her candlestick on the dressing-table, and went to each window in turn, drawing blinds down and curtains across. So doing she continued to talk, moving to and fro meanwhile with a firm, light tread.

“Not that I pay much attention to such things myself. I don't hold it's right. It's my opinion there's no sort of nonsense you can't drive yourself into believing once you let ideas get a root in you. I've seen too much of Mrs. Cooper giving away like that. The two winters you and Sir Charles was abroad I'd a proper upset with her—though we are good friends—more than once. After sundown she was enough to terrify you out of your life—wouldn't go here and wouldn't go there for fear of she didn't know what. Tempting Providence, I call it, and spoke to her quite sharp. If ever I wanted to go over to spend an hour or two with father and mother in Marychurch, I was bound to ask Mrs. Patch and the children to come in and keep her company. There's no sense in putting yourself into such a state. It makes you a trouble to yourself and everybody else. And in the end, a thousand to one if anything comes of all the turmoil and fuss—Mrs. Cooper, to be only fair to her, when she's in a reasonable humour, allows as much.”

Mary stepped across to the bed and doubled back the quilt, preparatory to turning down the fine linen sheet. She felt she had extracted herself from a somewhat invidious position with flying colours; and, in the process, had administered timely advice. For it wasn't suitable Miss Damaris should be moping alone upstairs at odd times like this. It all came of yesterday's upset.—Her righteous anger blazed against the clerical culprit. In that connection there was other matter of which she craved to deliver herself—refreshing items of local gossip, sweet as honey to the mouth did she but dare retail them. She balanced the question this way and that. Would satisfaction outweigh offence, or offence satisfaction, on the part of Miss Damaris? You could not be sure how she'd take things—quite. And yet she ought to know, for the affair certainly placed Captain Faircloth in a pleasant light. Only one who was every inch a gentleman would behave so handsomely as he had.

She stretched across the bed to smooth the slightly wrinkled surface of the sheet. This gymnastic feat necessitated the averting of her face and turning of her back.

“There's a fine tale going round of how the Island lads—wild young fellows ready for any pranks—served Mr. Sawyer, the curate,” she began. “They say William Jennifer put them up to it, having a grudge against him for trying to get his youngest boy taken up for stealing apples last week. They planned to give him a ducking in the pool just above the ferry, where the water's so deep under the bank. And if Captain Faircloth hadn't happened to come along, for certain they'd have made Mr. Sawyer swim for it. Mr. Patch hears they handled him ever so rough, tore his coat, and were on the very tick of pitching him in. But Captain Faircloth would not suffer it. He took a very high line with them, it is said. And not content with getting Mr. Sawyer away, walked with him as far as the Grey House to protect him from any further interference.”

She gave the pillows sundry judicious strokings and pats.

“I hope Mr. Sawyer's properly thankful, for it isn't many that would have shown him so much leniency as that.”

She would have enjoyed labouring the point. But comment appeared to her, under the circumstances, to trench on impertinence. Facts spoke for themselves. She restrained herself, fetched her candlestick from the dressing-table, and stood by the open door, thereby enjoining her young lady's exit.

Thus far Damaris maintained silence, but in passing out on to the landing, she said—“Thank you. I am glad to know what has happened.”

Encouraged by which acknowledgment, the excellent woman ventured further advice.

“And now, miss, you must please just lie down on the schoolroom sofa and get a little sleep before the gentlemen and Mr. Hordle arrive back. There is a good two hours to wait yet, and I'll call you in plenty of time for you to dress. You don't look altogether yourself, miss. Too much talking with all that host of callers. You are properly fagged out. I'll get Mrs. Cooper to beat up an egg for you in a tumbler of hot milk, with a tablespoonful of sherry and just a pinch of sugar in it. That will get your circulation right.”

CHAPTER VI. SHOWING HOW SIR CHARLES VERITY WAS JUSTIFIED OF HIS LABOURS

Which homely programme being duly executed, worked restorative wonders. Matter, in the sublimated form of egg-flip, acted upon mind beneficially through the functions of a healthy, if weary, young body. Our maiden slept, to dream not of ghostly ponies or other uncomfortably discarnate creatures; but of Darcy Faircloth in his pretty piece of Quixotism, rescuing a minister of the Church of England “as by law established” from heretical baptismal rites of total immersion. The picture had a rough side to it, and also a merry one; but, beyond these, generous dealing wholly delightful to her feeling. She awoke soothed and restored, ready to confront the oncoming of events—whatever their character—in a spirit of high confidence as well as of resolution.

With the purpose of advertising this brave humour she dressed herself in her best. I do not deny a love of fine clothes in Damaris. Yet in her own home, and for delectation of the men belonging to her, a woman is surely free to deck herself as handsomely as her purse allows. “Beauty unadorned” ceased to be practicable, in self-respecting circles, with the expulsion of our first parents from the paradisaic state; while beauty merely dowdy, is a pouring of contempt on one of God's best gifts to the human race. Therefore I find no fault with Damaris, upon this rather fateful evening, in that she clothed herself in a maize-coloured silk gown flowered in faint amber and faint pink. Cut in the piece from shoulder to hem, according to a then prevailing fashion, it moulded bosom, waist and haunches, spreading away into a demi-train behind. The high Medici collar of old lace, at the back of the square decolletage, conferred dignity; the hanging lace of the elbow sleeves a lightness. Her hair, in two wide plaits, bound her head smoothly, save where soft disobedient little curls, refusing restriction, shaded her forehead and the nape of her neck.

After a few seconds of silent debate she clasped Carteret's pearls about her throat again; and so fared away, a creature of radiant aspect, amid sombre setting of low ceilings and dark carpeted floors, to await the advent of the travellers.

These arrived some little while before their time, so that the girl, in her gleaming dress, had gone but half-way down the staircase when they came side by side into the hall.—Two very proper gentlemen, the moist freshness of the night attending them, a certain nobility in their bearing which moved her to enthusiasm, momentarily even bringing a mist before her eyes. For they were safe and well both of them, so she joyously registered, serene of countenance, moreover, as bearers of glad tidings are. Whatever the ghostly ponies foretold could be no evil shadowing them—for which she gave God thanks.

Meanwhile, there without, the light of the carriage lamps pierced the enclosing gloom, played on the silver plating of harness, on the shining coats of the horses, whose nostrils sent out jets of pale steam. Played over the faces of the servants, too, Mary and Laura just within the open door, Hordle and Conyers outside loading down the baggage from the back of the mail-phaeton, and on Patch, exalted high above them on the driving-seat.

As Damaris paused, irradiated by the joy of welcome and of forebodings falsified, upon the lowest step of the staircase, Sir Charles turned aside and tenderly kissed her.

“My darling,” he said.

And Carteret, following him an instant later, took her by both hands and, from arm's length, surveyed her in smiling admiration he made no effort to repress.

“Dear witch, this is unexpected good fortune. I had little thought of seeing you so soon—resplendent being that you are, veritably clothed with sunshine.”

“And with your pearls,” she gaily said.

“Ah! my poor pearls,” he took her up lightly. “I am pleased they still find favour in your sight. But aren't you curious to learn what has made us desert our partridge shooting at an hour's notice, granting the pretty little beggars unlooked-for length of life?”

His blue eyes laughed into hers. There was a delightful atmosphere about him. Something had happened to him surely—for wasn't he, after all, a young man even yet?

“Yes—what—what has brought you, Colonel Sahib?” Damaris laughed back at him, bubbling over with happy excitement.

“Miracles,” he answered. “A purblind Government at last admits the error of its ways and proposes to make reparation for its neglect of a notable public-servant.”

“You?” she cried.

Carteret shook his head, still surveying her but with a soberer glance.

“No—no—not me. In any case there isn't any indebtedness to acknowledge—no arrears to pay off. I have my deserts.—To a man immensely my superior. Look nearer home, dear witch.”

He made a gesture in the direction of his host.

“My Commissioner Sahib?”

“Yes—your Commissioner Sahib, who comes post haste to request your dear little permission, before accepting this tardy recognition of his services to the British Empire.”

“Ah! but that's too much!” the girl said softly, glancing from one to the other, enchanted and abashed by the greatness of their loyalty to and prominent thought of her.

“Has this made him happy?” she asked Carteret, under her breath. “He looks so, I think. How good that this has come in time—that it hasn't come too late.”

For, in the midst of her joyful excitement, a shadow crossed Damaris' mind oddly obscuring the light. She suffered a perception things might so easily have turned out otherwise; a suspicion that, had the reparation of which Carteret spoke been delayed, even by a little, its beloved recipient would no longer have found use for or profit in it. Damaris fought the black thought, as ungrateful and faithless. To fear disaster is too often to invite it.

Just at this juncture Miss Felicia made hurried and gently eager irruption into the hall; and with that irruption the tone of prevailing sentiment declined upon the somewhat trivial, even though warmly affectionate. For she fluttered round Sir Charles, as Mary Fisher helped divest him of his overcoat, in sympathetic overflowings of the simplest sort.—“She had been reading and failed to hear the carriage, hence her tardy appearance. Let him come into the drawing-room at once, out of these draughts. There was a delightful wood fire and he must be chilled. The drive down the valley was always so cold at night—particularly where the road runs through the marsh lands by Lampit.”

In her zeal of welcome Miss Verity was voluble to the point of inconsequence, not to say incoherence. Questions poured from her. She appeared agitated, quaintly self-conscious, so at least it occurred to Damaris. Finally she addressed Carteret.

“And you too must be frozen,” she declared. “How long it is since we met! I have always been so unlucky in just missing you here! Really I believe I have only seen you once since you and Charles stayed with us at Canton Magna.—You were both on leave from India. I dare not think how many years ago that is—before this child”—her candid eyes appealingly sought those of Damaris—“before this child existed. And you are so wonderfully unaltered.”

Colour dyed her thin face and rather scraggy neck. Only the young should blush. After forty such involuntary exhibitions of emotion are unattractive, questionably even pathetic.

“Really time has stood still with you—it seems to me, Colonel Carteret.”

“Time has done better than stand still,” Damaris broke in, with a rather surprising imperiousness. “It has beautifully run backwards—lately.”

And our maiden, in her whispering gleaming dress, swept down from the step, swept past the sadly taken aback Miss Felicia, and joined her father. She put her hand within his arm.

“Come and warm yourself—come, dearest,” she said, gently drawing him onward into the long room, where from above the range of dark bookshelves, goggle-eyed, pearl-grey Chinese goblins and monsters, and oblique-eyed Chinese philosophers and saints looked mysteriously down through the warm mellow light.

Damaris was conscious of a singular inward turmoil. For Miss Felicia's speeches found small favour in her ears. She resented this open claiming of Carteret as a member of the elder generation. Still more resented her own relegation to the nullity of the prenatal state. Reminiscences, in which she had neither lot nor part, left her cold. Or, to be accurate, bred in her an intemperate heat, putting a match to jealousies which, till this instant, she had no knowledge of. Touched by that match they flared to the confusion of charity and reverence. Hence, impulsively, unscrupulously, yet with ingenious unkindness, she struck—her tongue a sword—to the wounding of poor Miss Felicia. And she felt no necessity for apology. She liked to be unkind. She liked to strike. Aunt Felicia should not have been so self-assertive, so tactless. She had brought chastisement upon herself. It wasn't like her to behave thus. Her enthusiasms abounded; but she possessed a delicate appreciation of relative positions. She never poached. This came perilously near poaching.—And everything had danced to so inspiring a tune, the movement of it so delicious! Now the evening was spoilt. The first fine alacrity of it could not be recaptured—which was all Aunt Felicia's fault.—No, for her unkindness Damaris felt no regret.

It may be remarked that our angry maiden's mind dwelt rather upon the snub she had inflicted on Miss Verity, than upon the extensive compliment she had paid, and the challenge she had delivered, to Carteret. Hearing her flattering declaration, his mind not unnaturally dwelt more upon the latter. It took him like a blow, so that from bending courteously over the elder lady's hand, he straightened himself with a jerk. His eyes followed the imperious, sun-clad young figure, questioning and keenly alert. To-day he had liberally enjoyed the pleasures of friendship, for Charles Verity had been largely and generously elate. But Damaris' outburst switched feeling and sentiment onto other lines. They became personal. Were her words thrown off in mere lightness of heart, or had she spoken deliberately, with intention? It were wiser, perhaps, not to ask. He steadied his attention on to Miss Felicia once more, but not without effort.

“You always said kind and charming things, I remember,” so he told her. “You are good enough to say them still.”

Damaris stood by her father, upon the tiger skin before the hearth.

“Tell me, dearest?” she prayed him.

Charles Verity put his hand under her chin, turned up her face and looked searchingly at her. Her beauty to-night was conspicuous and of noble quality. It satisfied his pride. Public life invited him, offering him place and power. Ranklings of disappointment, of detraction and slight, were extinguished. His soul was delivered from the haunting vexations of them. He was in the saddle again, and this radiant woman-child, whom he so profoundly loved, should ride forth with him for all the world to see—if she pleased. That she would please he had no doubt. Pomp and circumstance would suit her well. She was, moreover, no slight or frothy piece of femininity; but could be trusted, amid the glamour of new and brilliant conditions, to use her judgment and to keep her head. Increasingly he respected her character as well as her intelligence. He found in her unswerving sense of right and wrong, sense of honour likewise. Impetuous she might be, swift to feel and to revolt; but of tender conscience and, on occasion, royally compassionate. Now he could give her fuller opportunity. Could place her in circumstances admittedly enviable and prominent. From a comparative back-water, she should gain the full stream—and that stream, in a sense, at the flood.

Rarely, if ever, had Charles Verity experienced purer pleasure, touched a finer level of purpose and of hope than to-day, when thinking of and now when looking upon Damaris. He thankfully appraised her worth, and in spirit bowed before it, not doatingly or weakly but with reasoned conviction. Weighed in the balances she would not be found wanting, such was his firm belief. For himself he accepted this recall to active participation in affairs, active service to the State, with a lofty content. But that his daughter, in the flower of her young womanhood, would profit by this larger and more distinguished way of life, gave the said recall its deeper values and its zest.

Still he put her off awhile as to the exact announcement, smiling upon her in fond, yet stately approval.

“Let the telling keep until after dinner, my dear,” he bade her. “Pacify the cravings of the natural man for food and drink. The day has been fertile in demands—strenuous indeed to the point of fatigue. So let us comfort ourselves inwardly and materially before we affront weighty decisions.”

He kissed her cheek.

“By the way, though, does it ever occur to you to think of the Bhutpur Sultan-i-bagh and wish to go East again?”

And Damaris, with still uplifted chin, surveyed him gravely and with a certain wistfulness, Miss Felicia's attempted poaching forgotten and an impression of Faircloth vividly overtaking her. For they were so intimately, disturbingly alike, the father and the son, in voice as well as in build and feature.

“Go East?” she said, Faircloth's declared preference for sailing into the sunrise present to her. “Why, I go East in my dreams nearly every night. I love it—love it more rather than less as I grow older. Of course I wish to go—some day. But that's by the way, Commissioner Sahib. All that I really want, now, at once, is to go wherever you go, stay wherever you stay. You won't ask me to agree to any plan which parts us, will you?—which takes you away from me?”

“Ruth to a strange Naomi, my dear,” he answered. “But so be it. I desire nothing better than to have you always with me.—But I will not keep you on tenter-hooks as to your and my projected destination. Let them bring in dinner in half an hour. Carteret and I shall be ready. Meanwhile, read this—agreeing to relegate discussion of it to a less hungry season.”

And taking the letter she had forwarded to him yesterday, bearing the imprint of the Indian Office, from the breast pocket of his shooting coat, he put it into her hand.

The appointment—namely, that of Lieutenant-Governor of an Indian presidency famous in modern history, a cradle of great reputations and great men, of English names to conjure with while our Eastern Empire endures—was offered, in terms complimentary above those common to official communications. Sir Charles Verity's expert knowledge, not only of the said mighty province but of the turbulent kingdom lying beyond its frontiers, marked him as peculiarly fitted for the post. A campaign against that same turbulent kingdom had but recently been brought to a victorious conclusion. His influence, it was felt, might be of supreme value at this juncture in the maintenance of good relations, and consolidation of permanent peace.

Damaris' heart glowed within her as she read the courteous praiseful sentences. Even more than through the well-merited success of his book, did her father thus obtain and come into the fullness of his own at last. Her imagination glowed, too, calling up pictures of the half-remembered, half-fabulous oriental scene. The romance of English rule in India, the romance of India itself, its variety, its complexity, the multitude of its gods, the multitude of its peoples, hung before her as a mirage, prodigal in marvels, reaching back and linking up through the centuries with the hidden wisdom, the hidden terror of the Ancient of Days.

To this land of alien faiths and secular wonders, she found herself summoned, not as casual sightseer or tourist, but as among the handful of elect persons who count in its social, political and administrative life. In virtue of her father's position, her own would be both conspicuous and assured. An intoxicating prospect this for a girl of one-and-twenty! Intoxicating, yet, as she envisaged it, disquieting likewise. She balanced on the thought of all it demanded as well as all it offered, of all it required from her—dazed by the largeness of the purview, volition in suspense.

Carteret was the first to reappear, habited in the prescribed black and white of evening male attire. In the last six months he had, perhaps, put on flesh; but this without detriment to the admirable proportions of his figure. It retained its effect of perfect response to the will within, and all its natural grace. His fair hair and moustache were still almost untouched with grey. His physical attraction, in short, remained unimpaired. And of this Damaris was actually, if unconsciously, sensible as he closed the door and, passing between the stumpy pillars, walked up the long narrow room and stood, his hands behind him, his back to the pleasantly hissing and crackling fire of driftwood.

“Alone, dear witch?” he said, and, seeing the open letter in her hand—“Well, what do you make of this proposition?” And yet again, as she raised serious pondering eyes—“You find it an extensive order?”

“I find it magnificent for him—beautifully as it should be, adequate and right.”

“And for yourself?” Carteret asked, aware of a carefulness in her language and intrigued by it.

“Magnificent for me, too—though it takes away my breath.”

“You must learn to breathe deeper, that's all,” he returned, gently teasing her.

“And who is to teach me to breathe deeper, dear Colonel Sahib,” she quickly, and rather embarrassingly, asked. “Not my father. He'll have innumerable big things to do and to do them without waste of energy he must be saved at every point. He must not fritter away strength in coaching me in my odds and ends of duties, still less in covering up my silly mistakes.”

“Oh! you exaggerate difficulties,” he said, looking not at her but at the fierce yellow and black striped tiger skin at his feet.—Bless the lovely child, what was she driving at?

Carteret started for Deadham under the impression he had himself thoroughly in hand, and that all danger of certain inconvenient emotions was passed. He had lived them down, cast them out. For over two years now he had given himself to the superintendence of his estate, to county business, to the regulation of his sister's—happily more prosperous—affairs, to the shepherding of his two elder nephews in their respective professions and securing the two younger ones royally good times during their holidays at home. Throughout the hunting season, moreover, he rode to hounds on an average of three days a week. Such healthy sport helps notably to deliver a man from vain desires, by sending his body cleanly weary to bed and to sleep o' nights.

By such varied activities had Carteret systematically essayed to rid himself of his somewhat exquisite distemper, and, when coming to Deadham, honestly believed himself immune, sane and safe. He was proportionately disturbed by finding the cure of this autumn love-madness less complete than, fool-like, he had supposed. For it showed disquieting signs of resurrection even when Damaris, arrayed in the sheen of silken sunlight, greeted him at the staircase foot, and an alarming disposition finally to fling away head-cloth and winding-sheet when she petulantly broke in upon Miss Verity's faded memories of Canton Magna with the flattering assertion that time had run backward with him of late.

Now alone with her, confident, moreover, of her maidenly doubts and pretty self-distrust, he felt at a decided disadvantage. The detached, affectionately friendly, the avuncular—not to say grandfatherly—attitude escaped him. He could not play that part.

“Oh! you exaggerate difficulties,” he therefore told her, with a singular absence of his habitual mansuetude, his tone trenching on impatience. “Instinct and common sense will teach you-mother-wit, too-of which, you may take it from me, you have enough and to spare.-Let alone that there will be a host of people emulous of guiding your steps aright, if your steps should stand in need of guidance which I venture to doubt. Don't underrate your own cleverness.” Hearing him, sensible of his apparent impatience and misconceiving the cause of it, Damaris' temper stirred. She felt vexed. She also felt injured.

 “What has happened to you, Colonel Sahib?” she asked him squarely. “I
 see nothing foolish in what I have said. You wouldn't have me so
 conceited that I rushed into this immense business without a qualm,
 without any thought whether I can carry it out creditably—with credit
 to him, I mean?”

 Thus astonishingly attacked, Carteret hedged.

 “Miss Verity, of course, will be”—he began.

 Damaris cut him short.

 “Aunt Felicia is an angel, a darling,” she declared, “but—but”—

 And there stopped, pricked by a guilty conscience. For to expose Miss
 Felicia's inadequacies and enlarge on her ineligibility for the position
 of feminine Chief of the Staff, struck her as unworthy, a meanness to
 which, under existing circumstances, she could not condescend to stoop.

 Carteret looked up, to be entranced not only by the fair spectacle of
 her youth but by her delicious little air of shame and self-reproach.
 Evidently she had caught herself out in some small naughtiness—was both
 penitent and defiant, at once admitting her fault and pleading for
 indulgence. He suspected some thought at the back of her mind which he
 could neither exactly seize nor place. She baffled him with her changes
 of mood and of direction—coming close and then slipping from under his
 hand. This humour was surely new in her. She would not leave him alone,
 would not let him rest. Had she developed, since last he had converse
 with her, into a practised coquette?

“Look here, dear witch,” he said, making a return upon himself, and manfully withstanding the sweet provocation of her near neighbourhood. “We seem to be queerly at cross purposes. I can't pretend to follow the turnings and doublings of your ingenious mind. I gather there is something you want of me. To be plain, then, what is it?”

“That—that you shouldn't desert me—desert us—in this crisis. You have never deserted me before—never since I can first remember.”

“I desert you—good Lord!” Carteret exclaimed, his hands dropping at his sides with an odd sort of helplessness.

“Ah! that's asking too much, I suppose,” she said. “I'm selfish even to think of it. Yet how can I do otherwise? Don't you understand how all difficulties would vanish, and how beautifully simple and easy everything would be if you coached me—if you, dear Colonel Sahib, went with us?”

The man with the blue eyes looked down at the tiger skin again, his countenance strained and blanched.

More than ever did he find her humour baffling. Not once nor twice had he, putting force upon himself, resisted the temptation to woo her—witness his retirement from St. Augustin and his determined abstinence from intercourse with her since. But now, so it might veritably appear, the positions were reversed and she wooed him. Though whether pushed to that length merely by wayward fancy, by some transient skittish influence or frolic in the blood, or by realized design he had no means of judging.—Well, he had bidden her be plain, and she, in some sort at least, obeyed him. It behooved him, therefore, to be plain in return, in as far as a straightforward reading of her meaning would carry.

“So you think all would be simple and easy were I to go with you and your father?” he said, both speech and manner tempered to gentleness. “I am glad to have you think so—should be still more glad could I share your belief. But I know better, dearest witch—know that you are mistaken. This is no case of desertion—put that out of your precious mind once and for all—but of discretion. My being in attendance, far from simplifying, would embroil and distort your position. An elderly gentleman perpetually trotting”—

“Don't,” Damaris cried, holding up both hands in hot repudiation. “Don't say that. There's distortion if you like! It's ugly—I won't have it, for it is not true.”

In the obvious sincerity of which denunciation Carteret found balm; yet adhered to his purpose.

“But it is true, alas; and I therefore repeat it both for your admonition and my own. For an elderly gentleman trotting at a young girl's heels is a most unedifying spectacle—giving occasion, and reasonably, to the enemy to blaspheme—bad for her in numberless ways; and, if he's any remnant of self-respect left in him, is anything better than a fatuous dotard, damnably bad for him as well. Do you understand?”

Damaris presented a mutinous countenance. She would have had much ado to explain her own motives during this ten minutes' conference. If her mental—or were they not rather mainly emotional?—turnings and doublings proved baffling to her companion, they proved baffling to herself in an almost greater degree. Things in general seemed to have gone into the melting-pot. So many events had taken place, so many more been preshadowed, so many strains of feeling excited! And these were confusingly unrelated, or appeared to be so as yet. Amongst the confusion of them she found no sure foothold, still less any highway along which to travel in confidence and security. Her thought ran wild. Her intentions ran with it, changing their colour chameleon-like from minute to minute. Now she was tempted to make an equivocal rejoinder.

“To understand,” she said, “is not always, Colonel Sahib, necessarily to agree.”

“I am satisfied with understanding and don't press for agreement,” he answered, and on an easier note—“since to me it is glaringly evident you should take this fine flight unhandicapped. My duty is to stand aside and leave you absolutely free—not because I enjoy standing aside, but”—he would allow sentiment such meagre indulgence—“just exactly because I do not.”

Here for the second time, at the crucial moment, Felicia Verity made irruption upon the scene. But though her entrance was hurried, it differed fundamentally from that earlier one; so that both the man and the girl, standing in the proximity of their intimate colloquy before the fire, were sensible of and arrested by it. She was self-forgetful, self-possessed, the exalted touch of a pure devotion upon her.

“I have been with my brother Charles,” she began, addressing them both. “I happened to see Hordle coming from the library—and I put off dinner. I thought, darling”—this to Damaris, with a becoming hint of deference—“I might do so. I gathered that Charles—that your father—wished it. He has not been feeling well.”

And as Damaris anxiously exclaimed—

“Yes”—Miss Felicia went on—“not at all well. Hordle told me. That was why I went to the library. He hoped, if he waited and rested for a little while, the uncomfortable sensations might subside and it would be needless to mention them. He did not want any fuss made. We gave him restoratives, and he recovered from the faintness. But he won't be equal, he admits, to coming in to dinner. Colonel Carteret must be hungry—your father begs us to wait no longer, I assured him we would not. Hordle is with him. He should not be alone, I think, while any pain continues.”

“Pain—pain?” Damaris cried, her imagination rather horribly caught by the word. “But is he hurt, has he had some accident?”

While Carteret asked tersely: “Pain—and where?”

“Here,” Felicia answered, laying her hand upon her left side over the heart. She looked earnestly at Carteret as she spoke, conveying to him an alarm she sought to spare Damaris.

“He tries to make little of it, and assures me it was only the heat of the house which caused him discomfort after the cold air out of doors. It may be only that, but I think we ought to make sure.”

Again, and with that same becoming hint of deference, she turned to her niece.

“So I sent orders that Patch should drive at once to Stourmouth and fetch Dr. McCabe. I did not stop to consult you because it seemed best he should take out the horses before they were washed down and stabled.”

“Yes—but I can go to him?” Damaris asked.

“Darling—of course. But I would try to follow his lead, if I were you—treat it all lightly, since he so wishes. Your father knows best in most things—and may know best in this. Please God it is so.”

Left alone with Carteret.

“I am anxious—most cruelly anxious about my brother,” she said.

While Damaris, sweeping across the hall and down the corridor in her sunshine silken dress, repeated:

“The ponies—the smugglers' ponies,” a sob in her throat.

CHAPTER VII. TELLING HOW CHARLES VERITY LOOKED ON THE MOTHER OF HIS SON

“Which is equivalent to saying, 'Hear the conclusion of the whole matter,' isn't it, McCabe?”

Dr. McCabe's square, hairy-backed hands fumbled with the stethoscope as he pushed it into his breast pocket, and, in replying, his advertised cheerfulness rang somewhat false.

“Not so fast, Sir Charles—in the good Lord's name, not so fast. While there's life there's hope, it's me settled opinion. I'm never for signing a patient's death-warrant before the blessed soul of him's entirely parted company with its mortal tenement of clay. The normal human being takes a mighty lot of killing in my experience, where the will to live is still intact. Let alone that you can never be quite upsides with Nature. Ah! she's an astonishing box of tricks to draw on where final dissolution's concerned. She glories to turn round on your pathological and biological high science; and, while you're measuring a man for his coffin, to help him give death the slip.”

Charles Verity slightly shifted his position—and that with singular carefulness—against the pillows in the deep red-covered chair. His hands, inert and bluish about the finger-tips, lay along the padded arms of it. The jacket of his grey-and-white striped flannel sleeping-suit was unfastened at the throat, showing the irregular lift and fall of his chest with each laboured breath. His features were accentuated, his face drawn and of a surprising pallor.

The chair, in which he sat, had been brought forward into the wide arc of the great window forming the front of the room. Two bays of this stood open down to the ground. Looking out, beyond the rich brown of the newly-turned earth in the flower-beds, the lawn stretched away—a dim greyish green, under the long shadows cast by the hollies masking the wall on the left, and glittering, powdered by myriads of scintillating dewdrops, where the early sunshine slanted down on it from between their stiff pinnacles and sharply serrated crests.

In the shrubberies robins sang, shrilly sweet. A murmur of waves, breaking at the back of the Bar, hung in the chill, moist, windless air. Presently a handbarrow rumbled and creaked, as West—the head gardener, last surviving relic of Thomas Clarkson Verity's reign—wheeled it from beneath the ilex trees towards the battery, leaving dark smudgy tracks upon the spangled turf.

Arrived at his objective, the old gardener, with most admired deliberation, loaded down long-handled birch-broom, rake and hoe; and applied himself to mysterious peckings and sweeping of the gravel around the wooden carriages of the little cannon and black pyramid of ball.—Man, tools, and barrow were outlined against the pensive brightness of autumn sea and autumn sky, which last, to southward, still carried remembrance of sunrise in a broad band of faint yellowish pink, fading upward into misty azure and barred with horizontal pencillings of tarnished silver cloud.

Thus far Charles Verity had watched the progress of the bowed, slow-moving figure musingly. But now, as the iron of the hoe clinked against the gravel flints, he came back, so to say, to himself and back to the supreme question at issue. He looked up, his eyes and the soundless ironic laughter resident in them, meeting McCabe's twinkling, cunning yet faithful and merry little eyes, with a flash.

“The work of the world is not arrested,” he said. “See, that octogenarian, old West. He wheeled ill-oiled, squeaking barrows and hacked at the garden paths when I was a Harchester boy. He wheels the one and hacks at the other even yet—a fact nicely lowering to one's private egotism, when you come to consider it. Why, then, my good friend, perjure yourself or strive to mince matters? The work of the world will be done whether I'm here to direct the doing of it or not.—Granted I am tough and in personal knowledge of ill-health a neophyte. My luck throughout has been almost uncanny. Neither in soldiering nor in sport, from man or from beast, have I ever suffered so much as a scratch. I have borne a charmed life—established a record for invulnerability, which served me well in the East where the gods still walk in the semblance of man and miracle is still persistently prevalent. Accident has passed me by—save for being laid up once, nearly thirty years ago, with a broken ankle in the house of some friends at Poonah.”

He ceased speaking, checking, as it seemed, disposition to further disclosure; while the soundless laughter in his eyes found answering expression upon his lips, curving them, to a somewhat bitter smile beneath the flowing moustache.

“In to-day's enforced idleness how persistently cancelled episodes and emotions rap, ghostly, on the door demanding and gaining entrance!” he presently said. “Must we take it, Doctor, that oblivion is a fiction, merciful forgetfulness an illusion; and that every action, every desire—whether fulfilled or not—is printed indelibly upon one's memory, merely waiting the hour of weakness and physical defeat to show up?”

“The Lord only knows!” McCabe threw off, a little hopelessly. This was the first utterance approaching complaint; and he deplored it for his patient's sake. He didn't like that word defeat.

Then, to his hearer's relief with a softened accent, Charles Verity took up his former theme.

“Save for a trifling go of fever now and again, illness has given me the go-by equally with accident. But, for all my ignorance of such afflictions I know, beyond all shadow of doubt, that a few repetitions of the experience of last night must close any man's account. Experiment is more enlightening than argument. There is no shaking the knowledge you arrive at through it.”

McCabe, standing at ease by the open window, untidy, hirsute, unkempt, rammed his hands down into his gaping trouser pockets and nodded unwilling agreement.

“The attack was bad,” he said. “I'm not denying it was murderously bad. And all the harder on you because, but for the one defaulting organ, your heart, you're as sound as a bell. You're a well enough man to put up a good fight; and that, you see, cuts both ways, be danged to it.”

“A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.—You know as well as I do the Indian appointment will never be gazetted.”

“There you have me, Sir Charles, loath though I am to admit as much. I'd be a liar if I denied it would not.”

“How long do you give me then? Months, or only weeks?”

“That depends in the main on yourself, in as far as I can presume to pronounce. With care”—

“Which means sitting still here”—

“It does.”

Charles Verity raised his shoulders the least bit.

“Not good enough, McCabe,” he declared, “not good enough. There are rites to be duly performed, words to be said, which I refuse to neglect. Oh, no, don't misunderstand me. I don't need professional help to accomplish my dying. Were I a member of your communion it might be different, but I require no much-married parsonic intermediary to make my peace with God. I am but little troubled regarding that. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?—Nevertheless, there remain rites to be decently performed. I must make my peace with man—and still more with woman—before I go hence and am no more seen. But, look here, I have no wish to commit myself too soon, and risk the bathos of an anti-climax by having to perform them twice, repeat them at a later date.—So how long do you give me—weeks? Too generous an estimate? A week, then or—well—less?”

“You want it straight?”

“I want it straight.”

“More likely days. God grant I am mistaken. With your fine constitution, as I tell you, you are booked to put up a good fight. All the same, to be honest, Sir Charles, it was touch and go more than once last night.”

In the room an interval of silence, and without song of the robins and murmur of the sea, nearer now and louder as the rising tide lapped up the sands at the back of the Bar. The faint yellow-pink after-thought of sunrise and pencillings of tarnished cloud alike had vanished into the all-obtaining misty blue of the upper sky. Heading for the French coast, a skein of wild geese passed in wedge-shaped formation with honking cries and the beat of strong-winged flight. The barrow creaked again, wheeled some few yards further along the battery walk.

“Thanks—so I supposed,” Sir Charles Verity calmly said.

He stretched himself, falling into a less constrained and careful posture. Leaned his elbow on the chair-arm, his chin in the hollow of his hand, crossed the right leg over the left.

“Twenty-four hours will give me time for all which is of vital importance. The rest must, and no doubt perfectly will, arrange itself.—Oh! I'll obey you within reasonable limits, McCabe. I have no craving to hurry the inevitable conclusion. These last hours possess considerable significance and charm—an impressiveness even, which it would be folly to thrust aside or waste.”

Once more he looked up, his tone and expression devoid now of all bitterness.

“I propose to savour their pleasant qualities to the full. So make yourself easy, my good fellow,” he continued with an admirable friendliness. “Go and get your breakfast. Heaven knows you've most thoroughly earned it, and a morning pipe of peace afterwards.—The bell upon the small table?—Yes—oh, yes—and Hordle within earshot. I've everything I require; and, at the risk of seeming ungrateful, shall be glad enough of a respite from this course of food and drink, potions and poultices—remedial to the delinquent flesh no doubt, but a notable weariness to the-spirit.—And, see here, report to the two ladies, my sister and—and Damaris, that you leave me in excellent case, free of discomfort, resting for a time before girding up my loins to meet the labours of the day.”

Charles Verity closed his eyes in intimation of dismissal, anxious to be alone the better to reckon with that deeper, final loneliness which confronted him just now in all its relentless logic.

For, though his mind remained lucid, self-realized and observant, his control of its action and direction was incomplete owing to bodily fatigue. Hence it lay open to assault, at the mercy of a thousand and one crowding thoughts and perceptions. And over these he desired to gain ascendency—to drive, rather than be driven by them. The epic of his three-score years, from its dim, illusive start to this dramatic and inexorable finish—but instantly disclosed to him in the reluctant admissions of the good-hearted Irish doctor—flung by at a double, in coloured yet incoherent progression, so to speak, now marching to triumphant blare of trumpet, now to roll of muffled drum. Which incoherence came in great measure of the inalienable duality of his own nature—passion and austerity, arrogance and self-doubt, love—surpassing most men's capacity of loving—and a defacing strain of cruelty, delivering stroke and counter-stroke. From all such tumult he earnestly sought to be delivered; since not the thing accomplished—whether for fame, for praise or for remorse—not, in short, what has been, but what was, and still more what must soon be, did he need, at this juncture, dispassionately to contemplate.

That sharp-toothed disappointment gnawed him, is undeniable, when he thought of the culminating gift of happy fortune, royally satisfying to ambition, as unexpectedly offered him as, through his own unlooked-for and tragic disability, it was unexpectedly withdrawn. But disappointment failed to vex him long. A more wonderful journey than any possible earthly one, a more majestic adventure than that of any oriental proconsulship, awaited him. For no less a person than Death issued the order—an order there is no disobeying. He must saddle up therefore, bid farewell, and ride away.

Nor did he flinch from that ride with Death, the black captain, as escort, any more than, during the past night, he had flinched under the grip of mortal pain. For some persons the call to endurance brings actual pleasure—of a grim heroic kind. It did so to Charles Verity. And not only this conscious exercise of fortitude, this pride of bearing bodily anguish, but a strange curiosity worked to sustain him. The novelty of the experience, in both cases, excited and held his interest, continued to exercise it and to hold.

Now, as in solitude his mental atmosphere acquired serenity and poise—the authority of the past declining—this matter of death increasingly engrossed him. For it trenches on paradox, surely, that the one absolutely certain event in every human career is also the most unexplored and practically incredible.—An everyday occurrence, a commonplace, concerning which there remains nothing new, nothing original, to be written, sung or said; yet a mystery still inviolate, aching with the alarm of the undiscovered, the unpenetrated, to each individual, summoned to accept its empire! He had sent others to their death. Now his own turn came and he found it, however calmly considered, a rather astounding business. An ending or a beginning?—Useless, after all, to speculate. The worst feature of it, not improbably, this same preliminary loneliness, this stripping naked, no smallest comfort left you of human companionship, or even of humble material keepsake from out the multitude of your familiar possessions here in the dear accustomed human scene.

The gates of death open. You pass them. They close behind you. And what then?—The whole hierarchy of heaven, the whole company of your forerunners thither—beloved and honoured on earth—may be gathered to hail the homing soul within those amazing portals; or it may drop, as a stone into a well, down the blank nothingness of the abyss.—Of all gambles invented by God, man or devil—so he told himself—this daily, hourly gamble of individual dissolution is the biggest. Man's heart refuses the horror of extinction, while his intellect holds the question in suspense. We hope. We believe. From of old fair promises have been made us; and, granted the gift of faith, hope and belief neighbour upon assurance. But certainty is denied. No mortal, still clothed in flesh, has known, nor—the accumulated science of the ages notwithstanding—does know, actually and exactly, that which awaits it.

Thus, anyhow, in the still, tender brightness of the autumn morning, while Nature and men alike pursued their normal activities and occupations, did this singular matter appear to Charles Verity—he, himself, arbitrarily cut off from all such activities and occupations in the very moment of high fruition. Had death been a less eminent affair, or less imminent, the sarcasm of his position might have seemed gross to the point of insult. But, the longer he envisaged it, the more did the enduring enigma and its accompanying uncertainty allure. Not as victim, but rather as conqueror of the final terror, did he begin to regard himself.

Meanwhile, though reason continued to hold the balance even between things positively known and things imagined only and hoped for, the god-ward impulse strengthened in him. Not by conscious or convincing argument from within, but by all-powerful compulsion from without, was his thought borne onward and upward to increasing confidence. So that he asked himself—as so many another, still unwearied, still enamoured of attainment, has asked in like case—whether impending divorce of soul and body may not confer freedom of a wider range and nobler quality, powers more varied and august than the mind, circumscribed by conditions of time and sense, has yet conception of?

To him such development seemed possible—certainly. Probable?—Ah, well, perhaps—perhaps. Which brought him back to his former contention, that its inherent loneliness constitutes the bitterest sting of death. Smiling, he quoted the ancient, divinely tender saying: “There is a child in each one of us which cries at the dark.”

While, in swift reaction, he yearned towards battle where amid the fierce and bloody glory of the fight, souls of heroes troop forth together, shouting, into everlasting day or—sceptical reason shaking a sadly sage head once again—into everlasting night.

He stretched out his hand instinctively for the bell on the little table at his elbow. Hordle answered his summons, grey of countenance from alarm, anxiety, and broken rest.

“Let Miss Damaris know I shall be glad to see her when she is free to come to me,” he said.

And here, although our damsel's reputation for courage and resource may, thereby, sustain some damage, I am constrained to state that while in the sick-room Miss Felicia shone, Damaris gave off but a vacillating and ineffective light.

Imagination is by no means invariably beneficent. The very liveliness of the perceptions which it engenders may intimidate and incapacitate. Upon Damaris imagination practised this mischief. Becoming, for the time, that upon which she looked, sharing every pang and even embroidering the context, she weakened, in some sort, to the level of the actual sufferer, helpless almost as he through the drench of overwhelming sympathy. She had been taken, poor child, at so villainous a disadvantage. Without preparation or warning—save of the most casual and inadequate—her humour wayward, she a trifle piqued, fancying her pretty clothes, her pretty looks, excited, both by the brilliant prospect presented by the Indian appointment and by her delicate passage of arms with Carteret, she was compelled of a sudden to witness the bodily torment of a human being, not only by her beloved beyond all others, but reverenced also. The impression she received was of outrage, almost of blasphemy. The cruelty of life lay uncovered, naked and open to her appalled and revolted consciousness. She received a moral, in addition to a physical shock, utterly confounding in its crudity, its primitive violence.

The ravage of pain can be, in great measure, surmounted and concealed; but that baser thing, functional disturbance—in this case present as heart spasm, threatening suffocation, with consequent agonized and uncontrollable struggle for breath—defies concealment. This manifestation horrified Damaris. The more so that, being unacquainted with the sorry spectacle of disease, her father, under the deforming stress of it, appeared to her as a stranger almost—inaccessible to affection, hideously removed from her and remote. His person and character, to her distracted observation, were altered beyond recognition except during intervals, poignant to the verge of heart-break, when passing ease restored his habitual dignity and grace.

Thus, while Miss Felicia and Carteret—with Hordle and Mary Fisher as assistants—ministered to his needs in as far as ministration was possible, she stood aside, consumed by misery, voluntarily effacing herself. Backed away even against the wall, out of range of the lamp-light, stricken, shuddering, and mute. Upon Dr. McCabe's arrival and assumption of command, Carteret, finding himself at liberty to note her piteous state, led her out into the passage and then to the long drawing-room, with gentle authority. There for a half-hour or more—to him sadly and strangely sweet—he sat beside her, while the tears silently coursed down her cheeks, letting her poor proud head rest against his shoulder, his arm supporting her gracious young body still clothed in all the bravery of her flowered silken sunshine dress.

Later, Mary bringing more favourable news of Sir Charles—pain and suffocation having yielded for the time being to McCabe's treatment—Carteret persuaded her to go upstairs and let the said Mary put her to bed. Once there she slept the sleep of exhaustion, fatigue and sorrow mercifully acting as a soporific, her capacity for further thought or feeling literally worn out.

During that session in the drawing-room Damaris, to his thankfulness, had asked no questions of him. All she demanded child-like, in her extremity, had been the comfort and security of human contact. And this he gave her simply, ungrudgingly, with a high purity of understanding, guiltless of any shadow of embarrassment or any after-thought. Their lighter, somewhat enigmatic relation of the earlier evening was extinguished, swamped by the catastrophe of Charles Verity's illness. Exactly in how far she gauged the gravity of that illness and its only too likely result, or merely wept, unnerved by the distressing outward aspect of it, Carteret could not determine. But he divined, and rightly, that she was in process of ranging herself, at least subconsciously, with a new and terrible experience which, could she learn the lesson of it aright would temper her nature to worthy issues.

Hence, with a peculiar and tender interest, he watched her when, coming down in the morning, he found her already in the dining-room, the pleasant amenities of a well-ordered, hospitable house and household abundantly evident.

Whatever the tragic occurrences of the last twelve hours, domestic discipline was in no respect relaxed. The atmosphere of the room distilled a morning freshness. Furniture and flooring shone with polish, a log fire, tipped by dancing flames, burned in the low wide grate. Upon the side-table, between the westward facing windows, a row of silver chafing-dishes gave agreeable promise of varied meats; as did the tea and coffee service, arrayed before Damaris, of grateful beverage. While she herself looked trim, and finished in white silk shirt and russet-red suit, her toilet bearing no sign of indifference or of haste.

That her complexion matched her shirt in colour—or rather in all absence of it—that her face was thin, its contours hardened, her eyebrows drawn into a little frown, her eyes enormous, sombre and clouded as with meditative thought, increased, in Carteret's estimation, assurance of her regained self-mastery and composure. Nor did a reticence in her manner displease him.

“I have persuaded Aunt Felicia to breakfast upstairs,” she told him. “Dr. McCabe sends me word he—my father—wishes to rest for the present, so I engaged Aunt Felicia to rest too. She was wonderful.”

Damaris' voice shook slightly, as did her hand lifting the coffee-pot.

“She stayed up all night. So did you, I'm afraid, didn't you, Colonel Sahib?”

“Oh, for me that was nothing. A bath, a change, and ten minutes out there on the battery watching the sun come up over the sea,” Carteret said. “So don't waste compassion on me. I'm as fit as a fiddle and in no wise deserve it.”

“Ah! but you and Aunt Felicia did stay,” she repeated, her hands still rather tremulously busy with coffee-pot and milk jug. “You were faithful and I no better than a shirker. I fell through, miserably lost myself, which was selfish, contemptible. I am ashamed. Only I was so startled. I never really knew before such—such things could be.—Forgive me, Colonel Sahib. I have been to Aunt Felicia and asked her forgiveness already.—And don't think too meanly of me, please. The shirking is over and done with for always. You may trust me it never will happen again—my losing myself as I did last night, I mean.”

In making this appeal for leniency, her eyes met Carteret's fairly for the first time; and he read in them, not without admiration and a twinge of pain, both the height of her new-born, determined valour and the depth of her established distress.

“You needn't tell me that, you needn't tell me that, dear witch,” he answered quickly. “I was sure of it all along. I knew it was just a phase which would have no second edition. So put any question of shame or need of forgiveness out of your precious head. You were rushed up against circumstances, against a revelation, calculated to stagger the most seasoned campaigner. You did not shirk; but it took you a little time to get your bearings. That was all. Don't vex your sweet soul with quite superfluous reproaches.—Sugar? Yes, and plenty of it I am afraid.—But you, too, must eat.”

And on her making some show of repugnance—

“See here, we can't afford to despise the day of small things, of minor aids to efficiency, dearest witch,” he wisely admonished her.

Whereupon, emulous to please him, bending her will to his, Damaris humbled herself to consumption of a portion of the contents of the chafing-dishes aforesaid. To discover that, granted a healthy subject, sorrow queerly breeds hunger, the initial distaste for food—in the main a sentimental one—once surmounted.

Later McCabe joined them. Recognized Damaris' attitude of valour, and inwardly applauded it, although himself in woeful state. For he was hard hit, badly upset. Conscious of waste of tissue, he set about to restore it without apology or hesitation, trouble putting an edge to appetite in his case also, and that of formidable keenness. Bitterly he grieved, since bearing the patient, he feared very certainly to lose, an uncommon affection. He loved Charles Verity; while, from the worldly standpoint, his dealings with The Hard meant very much to him—made for glory, a feather in his cap visible to all and envied by many. Minus the fine flourish of it his position sank to obscurity. As a whist-playing, golf-playing, club-haunting, Anglo-Indian ex-civil surgeon—and Irishman at that—living in lodgings at Stourmouth, he commanded meagre consideration. But as chosen medical-attendant and, in some sort, retainer of Sir Charles Verity he ranked. The county came within his purview. Thanks to this connection with The Hard he, on occasion, rubbed shoulders with the locally great. Hence genuine grief for his friend was black-bordered by the prospect of impending social and mundane loss. The future frowned on him, view it in what terms he might. To use his own unspoken phrase, he felt “in hellishly low water.”

One point in particular just now worried him. Thus, as fish, eggs, porridge, hot cakes, honey, and jam disappeared in succession, he opened himself to Damaris and Carteret. A difficult subject, namely that of a second opinion.—Let no thought of any wounding of his susceptibilities operate against the calling in of such. He was ready and willing to meet any fellow practitioner they might select—a Harley Street big-wig, or Dr. Maskall, of Harchester, whose advice in respect of cardiac trouble was wide sought.

He had, however, but just launched the question when Hordle entered and, walking to the head of the table, addressed Damaris.

“Sir Charles desires me to say he will be glad to see you, miss, when you are at liberty,” he told her in muffled accents.

She sprang up, to pause an instant, irresolute, glancing wide-eyed at Carteret.

He had risen too. Coming round the corner of the table, he drew back her chair, put his hand under her elbow, went with her to the door.

“There is nothing to dread, dearest witch,” he gently and quietly said. “Have confidence in yourself. God keep you—and him.—Now you are quite ready? That's right.—Well, then go.”

Carteret waited, looking after her until, crossing the hall followed by Hordle, she passed along the corridor out of sight. Silent, preoccupied, he closed the door and took a turn the length of the room before resuming his place at the opposite side of the table to McCabe, facing the light.

The doctor, who had ceased eating and half risen to his feet at the commencement of this little scene, watched it throughout; at first indifferent, a prey to his own worries, but soon in quickening interest, shrewd enquiry and finally in dawning comprehension.

“Holy Mother of Mercy, so that's the lay of the land, is it?” and his loose lips shaped themselves to a whistle, yet emitted no sound. To obliterate all signs of which tendency to vulgar expression of enlightenment he rubbed moustache, mouth and chin with his napkin, studying Carteret closely meanwhile.

“In the pink of condition, by Gad—good for a liberal twenty years yet, and more—bar accident. Indefinite postponement of the grand climacteric in this case.—All the same a leetle, lee-tie bit dangerous, I'm thinking, for both, if she tumbles to it.”

Then aloud—“Has the poor darling girl grasped the meaning of her father's illness do you make out, Colonel grasped the ugly eventualities of it?”

Carteret slowly brought his glance to bear on the speaker.

“I believe so, though she has not actually told me as much,” he said—“And now about this question of a second opinion, McCabe?”

The easily huffed Irishman accepted the reproof in the best spirit possible, as confirming his own perspicacity.

“Quite so. Flicked him neatly on the raw, and he winced. All the same he's a white man, a real jewel of a fellow, worthy of good fortune if the ball's thrown his way. I wonder how long, by-the-by, this handsome game's been a-playing?”

With which, as requested, he returned to the rival claims of Harley Street and Harchester in respect of a consulting physician.

Carteret proved a faithful prophet, for in truth there was nothing to dread the beloved presence once entered, as Damaris thankfully registered.

The sun by now topped the hollies and shone into the study, flinging a bright slanting pathway across the dim crimson, scarlet and blue of the Turkey carpet. Charles Verity stood, in an open bay of the great window, looking out over the garden. Seen thus, in the still sunlight, the tall grey-clad figure possessed all its accustomed, slightly arrogant repose. Damaris thrilled with exalted hope. For the young are slow to admit even the verdict of fact as final. His attitude was so natural, so unstrained and unstudied, that the message of ghostly warning yesterday evening was surely discounted; while the subsequent terror of the night, that hideous battle with pain and suffocation, became to her incredible, an evil dream from which, in grateful ecstasy, she now awoke.

Her joy found expression.

“Dearest, dearest, you sent for me.—Is it to let me see you are really better, more beautifully recovered than they told me or I ventured to suppose?”

Her voice broke under a gladness midway between tears and laughter.

“The envious blades of Atropos' scissors have not cut the mortal thread yet anyhow,” he answered, smiling, permitting himself the classic conceit as a screen to possible emotion. “But we won't build too much on the clemency of Fate. How long she proposes to wait before closing her scissors it is idle to attempt to say.”

He laid his hands on Damaris' shoulders. Bent his head and kissed her upward pouted lips—thereby hushing the loving disclaimer which rose to them.

“So we will keep on the safe side of the event, my wise child,” he continued. “Make all our preparations and thus deny the enemy any satisfaction of taking us unawares.—Can you write a business letter for me?”

“A dozen, dearest, if you wish,” Damaris assented eagerly. Yet that image of the scissors stayed by her. Already her joy was sensibly upon the wane.

“Oh! one will be sufficient, I think—quite sufficient for this morning.”

Charles Verity turned his head, looking seaward through the tranquil sunshine.

“That Indian appointment has to be suitably thanked for and—declined.”

Damaris drew back a step so as to gain a clearer view of him. The hands resting on her shoulders were oddly inert, so she fancied, forceless and in temperature cold. Even through the thickness of cloth jacket and silk shirt she was aware of their lifelessness and chill. This roused rebellion in her. Her instinct was for fight. She made a return on McCabe's suggestion regarding further advice. She would demand a consultation, call in expert opinion. The dear man with the blue eyes—here her white face flushed rosy—would manage all that for her, and compel help in the form of the last word of medical science and skill.

“Might not your letter be put off for just a few days?” she pleaded, “in case—until”—

But Charles Verity broke in before she could finish her tender protest, a sadness, even hint of bitterness in his tone.

“You covet this thing so much,” he said. “Your heart is so set on it?”

She made haste to reassure him.—No, no not that way, not for her. How could it signify, save on his account? She only cared because greedy of his advancement, greedy to have him exalted—placed where he belonged, on the summit, the apex, so that all must perceive and acknowledge his greatness. As to herself—and the flush deepened, making her in aspect deliciously youthful and ingenious—she confessed misgivings. Reported her talk with Carteret concerning the subject, and the scolding received from him thereupon.

“One more reason for writing in the sense I propose, then,” her father declared, “since it sets your over-modest doubts and qualms at rest, my dear. That is settled.”

His hands weighed on her shoulders as though he suddenly needed and sought support.

“I will sit down,” he said. “There are other matters to be discussed, and I can, perhaps, talk more easily so.”

He went the few steps across to the red chair. Sank into it. Leaned against the pillows, bending backward, his hand pressed to his left side. His features contracted, and his breath caught as of one spent with running. And Damaris, watching him, again received that desolating impression of change, of his being in spirit far removed, inaccessible to her sympathy, a stranger. He had gone away and rather terribly left her alone.

“Are you in pain?” she asked, agonized.

“Discomfort,” he replied. “We will not dignify this by the name of pain. But I must wait for a time before dictating the letter. There's something I will ask you to do for me, my dear, meanwhile.”

“Yes”—He paused, shifted his position, closed his eyes.

“Have you held any communication with—”

He stopped, for the question irked him. Even at this pass it went against the grain with him to ask of his daughter news of his son.

But in that pause our maiden's scattered wits very effectually returned to her.

“With Darcy Faircloth?” she said. And as Charles Verity bowed his head in assent—“Yes, I should have told you already but—but for all which has happened. He was here the day before yesterday. He came home from church with me.—That was my doing, not his, to begin with. You mustn't think he put himself forward—took advantage, I mean, of your being away. If there is any blame it is mine.”

“Mine, rather—and of long standing. God forgive me!”

But Damaris, fairly launched now upon a wholly welcome topic, would have none of this. To maintain her own courage, and, if it might be, combat that dreaded withdrawal of his spirit into regions where she could not follow, she braced herself to reason with him.

“No—there indeed you are mistaken, dearest,” she gently yet confidently asserted. “You take the whole business topsy-turvy fashion, quite wrong way round. I won't weary you with explanations of exactly what led to Darcy Faircloth coming here with me on Sunday. But you ought to know that he and Aunt Felicia met. I hadn't planned that. It just happened. And she was lovely to him—lovely to us both. She made him stay to luncheon—inviting him in your name.”

“I seem to possess a singular gift for saddling my relations with the payment of my bad debts,” Charles Verity remarked.

“But there isn't any bad debt—that's what I so dearly want you to believe, what I'm trying so hard, Commissioner Sahib, to tell you,” Damaris cried. “Afterwards, when he and I were alone by ourselves, the ice broke somehow, he gave himself away and said beautiful things—things about you which made me delightfully happy, and showed how he has felt towards you all along.”

Simply, without picking of her words, hesitation or artifice, Damaris repeated that somewhat sinister tale of the sea. Of a sailing ship, becalmed through burning days and stifling nights in tropic waters. Of the ill-doings of a brutal, drunken captain. Of a fly-blown eating-house in Singapore. Of the spiritual deliverance there achieved through sight of Charles Verity's name and successful record in the columns of a Calcutta newspaper; and the boy's resultant demand for the infliction of some outward and visible sign, some inalienable stigmata, which should bear perpetual witness to the fact of his parentage.

“So you see”—

Damaris kindled, standing before him, flamed indeed to a rare carelessness of convention, of enjoined pruderies and secrecies.—

“You gave him the beautiful gift of life to begin with; and saved his life later when he was so miserably tempted to end it. As he loves life, where then is the debt?—Not on your side certainly, dearest.”

Listening to which fondly exalted sophistries—for sophistries from worldly and moral standpoint alike must he not surely pronounce them?—Charles Verity still received comfort to his soul. They ought to be reckoned mistaken, of course, transparently in error, yet neither son nor daughter condemned him. Neither did his sister, in the pathetic innocence and purity of her middle-age maidenhood.

This moved him to thankfulness, none the less genuine because shot with self-mockery. For he was curious to observe how, as the last urgings of ambition and thirst of power fell away from him,—he riding under escort of Death, the black captain—all tributes of human tenderness and approval gained in value.—Not the approval of notable personages, of those high in office, nor even that of sympathetic critics and readers; but of persons in his own immediate voisinage, bound to him by friendship, by association, or the tie of blood.—Their good-will was precious to him as never before. He craved to be in perfect amity with every member of that restricted circle. Hence it vexed and fretted him to know the circle incomplete, through the exclusion of one rather flagrantly intimate example. Yet to draw the said member, the said example, within the circle, yielding it the place which it might rightfully aspire to occupy, amounted—after half a lifetime of abstention and avoidance—to a rather tremendous demonstration, one which might well be hailed as extravagant, as a courting of offence possible only to a sentimental egoist of most aggravated kind.

And he was tired—had no smallest inclination towards demonstrations. For the threatening of heart spasm, to which he lately denied the title of pain, though of short duration, affected him adversely, sapping his strength. His mind, it is true, remained clear, even vividly receptive; but, just as earlier this morning, his will proved insufficient for its direction or control. He mused, his chin sunk on his breast, his left hand travelling down over the long soft moustache, his eyes half closed. Thought and vision followed their own impulse, wandering back and forth between the low-caste eating-house in the sweltering heat and perfumed stenches of the oriental, tropic seaport; and the stone-built English inn—here on Marychurch Haven—overlooking the desolate waste of sand-hills, the dark reed-beds and chill gleaming tides.

For love of Damaris, his daughter, while still in the heat of his prime, he had foresworn all traffic with women. Yet now, along with the tacitly admitted claims of the son, arose the claim of the mistress, mother of that son—in no sensual sort, but with a certain wildness of bygone romance, wind and rain-swept, unsubstantial, dim and grey. Ever since conviction of the extreme gravity of his physical condition dawned on him, the idea of penetrating the courts of that deserted sanctuary had been recurrent. In the summing up of his human, his earthly, experience, romance deserved, surely, a word of farewell? Damaris' story served to give the idea a fuller appeal and consistency.

But he was tired—tired. He longed simply to drift. It was infinitely distasteful to him definitely to plan, or to decide respecting anything.

Meanwhile his continued silence and abstraction wore badly upon Damaris. She had steeled herself; had flamed, greatly daring. Now reaction set in. Her effort proved vain. She had failed. For once more she recognized that an unknown influence, a power dark and incalculably strong—so she figured it—regained ascendency over her father, working to the insidious changing of his nature, strangely winning him away. Waiting for some response, some speech or comment on his part, fear and the sense of helplessness assailed, and would have submerged her, had she not clung to Carteret's parting “God bless you” and avowed faith in her stability, as to a wonder-working charm. Nor did the charm fail in efficacy.—Oh! really he was a wonderful sheet-anchor, “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land,” that dear man with the blue eyes! Consciously she blessed him.—And, thanks to remembrance of him, presently found voice and purpose once again.

“You aren't displeased with me, dearest?” she asked.

“Displeased?” Charles Verity repeated, at first absently. “Displeased, my dear, no—why?”

“We didn't do wrong?”—labouring the point, the more fully to recall and retain him—“Didn't take too much upon ourselves—Aunt Felicia, I mean, and I—by persuading Darcy Faircloth to stay on Sunday, by entertaining him when you were away? Or—or have I been stupid, dearest, and thoughtlessly wearied you by talking too much and too long?”

“Neither,” he said. “On the contrary, all you have told me goes to lessen certain difficulties, make the crooked, in some degree, straight and rough places plain.”

For, if Faircloth had been here so recently, broken bread too in the house, so he argued, it became the easier to bid him return. And Charles Verity needed to see him, see him this morning—since purpose of farewells, to be spoken in those long-deserted courts of romance, stiffened, becoming a thing not merely to be turned hither and thither in thought, but to be plainly and directly done.—“Send for him in your own name,” he said. “Explain to him how matters stand, and ask him to talk with me.”

And, as Damaris agreed, rejoiced by the success of her adventurous diplomacy, making to go at once and give the required instructions—

“Stay—stay a moment,” her father said, and drew her down to sit on the chair-arm, keeping her hand in his, and with his other hand stroking it wistfully. For though certain difficulties might be sensibly lessened, they were not altogether removed; and he smiled inwardly, aware that not even in the crack of doom are feminine rights over a man other than conflicting and uncommonly ticklish to adjust.

“Before we commit ourselves to further enterprises, my darling, let us quite understand one another upon one or two practical points—bearing in mind the blades of Atropos' envious scissors. My affairs are in order”—Damaris shrank, piteously expostulated.

“Oh! but must we, are we obliged to speak of those things? They grate on me—Commissioner Sahib, they are ugly. They hurt.”

“Yes—distinctly we are obliged to speak of them. To do so can neither hasten nor retard the event. All the more obliged to speak of them, because I have never greatly cared about money, except for what I could do with it.—As a means, of vast importance. As an end, uninteresting.—So it has been lightly come and lightly go, I am afraid. All the same I've not been culpably improvident. A portion of my income dies with me; but enough remains to secure you against any anxiety regarding ways and means, if not to make you a rich woman. I have left an annuity to your Aunt Felicia. Her means are slender, dear creature, and her benevolence outruns them, so that she balances a little anxiously, I gather, on the edge of debt. The capital sum will return to you eventually. Carteret and McCabe consented, some years ago, to act as my executors. Their probity and honour are above reproach.—Now as to this place—if you should ever wish to part with it, let Faircloth take it over. I have made arrangements to that effect, about which I will talk with him when he comes.—Have no fear lest I should say that which might wound him. I shall be as careful, my dear, of his proper pride as of my own.—Understand I have no desire to circumscribe either your or his liberty of action unduly. But this house, all it contains, the garden, the very trees I see from these windows, are so knitted into the fabric of my past life that I shrink—with a queer sense of homelessness—from any thought of their passing into the occupation of strangers.—Childish, pitifully weak-minded no doubt, and therefore the more natural that one should crave a voice, thus in the disposition of what one has learned through long usage so very falsely to call one's own!”

“We will do exactly what you wish, even to the littlest particular, I promise you—both for Faircloth and for myself,” Damaris answered, forcing herself to calmness and restraint of tears.

He petted her hands silently until, as the minutes passed, she began once more to grow fearful of that dreadful unknown influence insidiously possessing him and winning him away. And he may have grown fearful of it too, for he made a sharp movement, raising his shoulders as though striving to throw off some weight, some encumbrance.

“There is an end, then, of business,” he said, “and of such worldly considerations. I need worry you with them no more. Only one thing remains, of which, before I speak to others, it is only seemly, my darling, I should speak to you.”

Charles Verity lifted his eyes to hers, and she perceived his spirit as now in nowise remote; but close, evident almost to the point of alarm. It looked out from the wasted face, at once—to her seeing—exquisite and austere, reaching forward, keenly curious of all death should reveal, unmoved, yet instinct with the brilliance, the mirthfulness even, of impending portentous adventure.

“You know, Damaris, how greatly I love and have loved you—how dear you have been to me, dearer than the satisfaction of my own flesh?”

Speech was beyond her. She looked back, dazzled and for the moment broken.

“Therefore it goes hard with me to ask anything which might, ever so distantly, cause you offence or distress. Only time presses. We are within sight of the end.”

“Ah! no—no,” she exclaimed, wrenching away her hands and beating them together, passion of affection, of revolt and sorrow no more to be controlled. “How can I bear it, how can I part with you? I will not, I will not have you die.—McCabe isn't infallible. We must call in other doctors. They may be cleverer, may suggest new treatment, new remedies. They must cure you—or if they can't cure, at least keep you alive for me. I won't have you die!”

“Call in whom you like, as many as you like, my darling, the whole medical faculty if it serves to pacify or to content you,” he said, smiling at her.

Damaris repented. Took poor passion by the throat, stifling its useless cries.

“I tire you. I waste your strength. I think only of myself, of my own grief, most beloved, my own consuming grief and desolation.—See—I will be good—I am good. What else is there you want to have me do?”

“This—but recollect you are free to say me nay, without scruple or hesitation. I shall not require you to give your reasons, but shall bow, unreservedly, to your wishes. For you possess a touchstone in such questions as the one now troubling me, which, did I ever possess it, I lost, as do most men, rather lamentably early in my career. If you suffer me to do so, I will ask Darcy Faircloth to bring his mother here to me, this evening at dusk, when her coming will not challenge impertinent observation—so that I may be satisfied no bitterness colours her thought of me and that we part in peace, she and I.”

Damaris got up from her seat on the arm of the red-covered chair. She stood rigid, her expression reserved to blankness, but her head carried high.

“Of course,” she said, a little hoarsely, and waited. “Of course. How could I object? Wasn't it superfluous even to ask me? Your word, dearest, is law.”

“But in the present case hardly gospel?”

“Yes—gospel too—since it is your word. Gospel, that is, for me. Let Darcy Faircloth bring his mother here by all means. Only I think, perhaps, this is all a little outside my province. It would be better you should make the—the appointment with him yourself. I will send to him directly. Patch can take a note over to the island. I would prefer to have Patch go as messenger than either of the other men.”

She walked towards the door. Stopped half-way and turned, hearing her father move. And as she turned—her eyes quick with enquiry as to his case, but inscrutable as to her own—Charles Verity rose too and held out his arms in supreme invitation. She came swiftly forward and kissed him, while with all the poor measure of force left him, he strained her to his breast.

“Have I asked too much from you, Damaris, and, in the desire to make sure of peace elsewhere, endangered the perfection of my far dearer peace with you?”

She leaned back from the waist, holding her head away from him and laid her hand on his lips.

“Don't blaspheme, most beloved,” she said, “I have no will but yours.”

Again she kissed him, disengaged herself very gently, and went.

CHAPTER VIII. CHAPTER THE EIGHTH WHICH IS ALSO CHAPTER THE LAST

At Lady's Oak—an ancient forest boundary—where the main road forks, Damaris swung the dog-cart to the left, across the single-arch stone bridge spanning the Arne; and on, up the long winding ascent from the valley-bottom to the moorlands patched with dark fir plantations, which range inland from behind Stourmouth. This constituted the goal of her journey; for, the high-lying plateau reached, leagues of open country are disclosed north and west, far as the eye carries, to the fine bare outline of the Wiltshire Downs. She asked for wide prospects, for air and ample space; but as floored by stable earth rather than by the eternal unrest and “fruitless, sonorous furrows” of the sea.

Ever since the day of the funeral, now nearly a fortnight ago, Damaris had kept within the sheltering privacy of the house and grounds. That day, one of soft drizzling rain and clinging ground fog, had also been to her one of hardly endurable distraction. Beneath assumption of respectful silence, it jarred, boomed, took notes, debated, questioned. Beneath assumption of solemnity, it peeped and stared. Her flayed nerves and desolated heart plagued her with suspicions of insincerity.

In as far as Colonel Carteret controlled proceedings all had been marked by reverent simplicity. But where the carcass is, the eagles, proverbially, gather. And unfeathered fowl, in their own estimation eminently representative of that regal species, flocked to Deadham church and to The Hard.

If—to vary our metaphor—some, in the past, inclined to stone the living prophet, these now outvied one another in their alacrity to bedeck his tomb. Dr. Cripps, for example, hurried to offer himself as pall-bearer—a request the more readily disposed of that there was no pall. While Archdeacon Verity, to cite a second example and from a higher social level, supported by his elder son Pontifex—domestic chaplain to the Bishop of Harchester—insisted on sharing with Canon Horniblow the melancholy honour of reading the burial service.

For the rest, the head, and lesser members of the family, from the big house at Canton Magna, were solidly, not to say rather aggressively in evidence. With them Mrs. Cowden and her husband-satellite, the Honourable Augustus joined forces on arriving from Paulton Lacy.—Lord Bulparc drove over from Napworth Castle. The country, indeed, showed up with commendable indifference to depressing atmospheric conditions. Marychurch sent a contingent. Stourmouth followed suit in the shape of General Frayling—attended by Marshall Wace in full clerical raiment—bearing a wreath of palm, violets, and myrtle wholly disproportionate in bulk and circumference to his own shrivelled and rather tottery form.—Of this unlooked for advent more hereafter.—Other distinguished soldiers came from Aldershot and down from town. A permanent Under Secretary, correct but visibly bored, represented the India Office.

The parish, neglecting its accustomed industries and occupations, mustered in strength; incited thereto, not only by the draw of recently resurrected scandal, but by news of the appointment recently offered Sir Charles Verity, which had somehow got noised abroad. The irony of his illness and death occurring precisely when he was invited to mount nothing less—according to local report—than an oriental throne, sufficed to stir the most lethargic imagination. Moralists of the Reginald Sawyer school might read in this the direct judgment of an offended deity. Deadham, however, being reprehensibly clannish, viewed the incident otherwise; and questioned—thanks to an ingeniously inverted system of reasoning—whether the said Reginald Sawyer hadn't laid himself open to a charge of manslaughter or of an even graver breach of the Decalogue.

Theresa Bilson—in whose hat artificial buttercups and daisies hastily made room for bows of crape—lurked in the humble obscurity of the free seats near the west door. To right and left she was flanked by a guardian Miss Minett; but these ladies to-day were but broken reeds on which to lean. They still laboured under a sense of having been compromised, and of resultant social ostracism. This, although their former parsonic lodger had vanished from the scene on the day following his threatened immersion—a half-hearted proposition on his part of “facing out the undeserved obloquy, living down the coarse persecution" meeting with as scant encouragement from his ecclesiastical superior, the vicar, as from themselves. Theresa—it really was hard on her—shared their eclipse. Hence the humble obscurity of the free seats, where she sniffed, dabbed her eyes and gurgled, unheeded and unseen.

Finally young Tom Verity—home on his first long leave—having accompanied the family party from Canton Magna and feeling his sense of humour unequal to the continued strain of their sublime insularity, benevolently herded two stately, though shivering, turbanned native gentlemen, who reached Deadham during the early stages of the ceremony no one quite knew whence or when. In the intervals of his self-imposed duties, he found time to admire the rich unction of his father, the Archdeacon's manner and voice.

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose,” he quoted gleefully. “What a consummate fraud the dear old governor is; and how deliciously innocent of the fact, that he imposes upon no one half so successfully as he does upon himself!”

Our young man also found time, from afar, to admire Damaris; but, let it be added, to a very different tune. Her beauty came as surprise to him as having much more than fulfilled its early promise. He found it impressive beyond that of any one of the many ladies, mature or callow, with whom it was his habit largely to flirt. So far he could congratulate himself on having successfully withstood the wiles of matrimony—but by how near a shave, at times by how narrow a squeak! If that fine parental fraud, the Archdeacon, had but known!—Tom, undeterred by the solemnity of the occasion, hunched up his shoulders like a naughty boy expecting his ears boxed.—But then—thank the powers, the Archdeacon so blessedly and refreshingly didn't, and, what was more, didn't in the very least want to know. He never asked for trouble; but, like the priest and Levite of sacred parable, carefully passed by on the other side when trouble was about.

Our young friend looked again at Damaris. Yes—she had beauty and in the grand manner, standing there at the foot of the open brick-lined grave, calm, immobile, black-clad, white-faced, in the encircling melancholy of the drizzling mist. With the family grouped about her, large-boned, pompous, well-fed persons, impervious to general ideas as they were imperviously prosperous, he compared her to a strayed deer amongst a herd of store cattle. Really, with the exception of his cousin Felicia and—naturally—of himself, the Verity breed was almost indecently true to type. Prize animals, most of them, he granted, still cattle—for didn't he detect an underlying trace of obstinate bovine ferocity in their collective aspect?

Damaris' calm and immobility exceeded theirs. But in quality and source how far removed, how sensitive and intelligent! Her mourning was in the grand manner, too, her grief sincere and absolute to the extent of a splendid self-forgetfulness. She didn't need to pose; for that forgotten self could be trusted—in another acceptation of the phrase—never to forget itself.

And here Tom Verity's agreeable frivolity, the astute and witty shiftiness of mind and—in a degree—of practice, for which he so readily found excuses and forgave himself, made place for nobler apprehensions. Not merely Damaris', just now, rather tragic beauty moved and impressed him; but some quality inherent in her upon which he felt disposed to confer the title of genius. That was going far.—Mentally he pulled himself up short.—For wasn't it going altogether too far—absurdly so? What the dickens did this excessive admiration portend? Could he have received the coup de foudre ?—He had to-day a fancy for French tags, in reaction from the family's over-powering Englishness.—That wouldn't suit his book in the very least. For in the matters of the affections he held it thriftless, to the confines of sheer lunacy, to put all your eggs into one basket. He, therefore, politicly abstained from further observation of Damaris; and, with engaging assiduity, reapplied himself to herding the two native gentlemen through the remainder of the ceremony and, at the conclusion of it, into the mildewed luxury of a Marychurch landau.

Deadham parish went home to its tea that evening damp, not to say dripping, but well pleased with the figure it had cut in the public eye. For it had contributed its quota to contemporary history; and what parish can, after all, do more! Reporters pervaded it armed with note-books and pencils. They put questions, politely requested a naming of names. The information furnished in answer would reach the unassailable authority of print, giving Deadham opportunity to read the complimentary truth about itself. Still better, giving others opportunity to read the complimentary truth about Deadham. Hence trade and traffic of sorts, with much incidental replenishing of purses. Great are the uses of a dead prophet to the keepers of his tomb! Not within the memory of the oldest inhabitant had any funeral been so largely or honourably attended. Truly it spelled excellent advertisement—and this although two persons, calculated mightily to have heightened interest and brought up dramatic and emotional values, were absent from the scene.

For Lesbia Faircloth, giving her barman and two women servants a holiday, closed the inn at noon. Alone within the empty house, she locked the outer doors. Drew the blinds, reducing the interior to uniform, shadow-peopled obscurity, with the exception of her own bed-chamber. There she left one small square window—set deep in the stone work of the wall—open and uncurtained.

It faced the causeway and perspective of lane skirting the warren and leading to the high road and village. Looking out thence, in winter when the trees were bare, she could see Deadham church, crowning its monticule, part of the sloping graveyard and, below these in the middle distance, the roofs and gables of the village street.

To-day the view was obliterated. For here, at the river level, mist and drizzle took the form of fog. Opaque, chill and dank, it drifted in continuous, just perceptible, undulations past and in at the open casement. Soon the air of the room grew thick and whitish, the dark oak furniture and the floor boards furred with moisture. Yet, her methodical closure of the house complete, Lesbia Faircloth elected to sit in full inward sweep of it, drawing a straight-backed chair, mounted on roughly carpentered rockers, close to the window.

A handsome woman still, though in her late fifties, erect and of commanding presence, her figure well-proportioned if somewhat massive. Her dark hair showed no grey. Her rather brown skin was clear, smooth and soft in texture. Her eyes clear, too, watchful and reticent; on occasion—such as the driving of a business bargain say, or of a drunken client—hard as flint. Her mouth, a wholesome red, inclined to fullness; but had been governed to straightness of line—will dominant, not only in her every movement, but in repose as she now sat, the chair rockers at a backward tilt, her capable and well-shaped hands folded on her black apron in the hollow of her lap.

Putting aside all work for once, and permitting herself a space of undisturbed leisure, she proceeded to cast up her account with love and life in as clear-headed, accurate a fashion as she would have cast up the columns of cash-book or ledger—and found the balance on the credit side. So finding it, she turned her head and looked across the room at the wide half-tester wooden bed, set against the inner wall—the white crochet counterpane of which, an affair of intricate fancy patterns and innumerable stitches, loomed up somewhat ghostly and pallid through the gloom. A flicker of retrospective victory passed across her face, attesting old scores as paid. For there, through sleepless nights, nursing the ardours and disgust of her young womanhood, she lay barren beside her apple-cheeked, piping-voiced spouse, his wife in name only. There later, times having, as by miracle, changed for her, she gave birth to her son.

If somewhat pre-christian in instinct and in nature, the child of a more ancient and a simpler world, she was in no sort slow of intelligence or wanton. What had been, sufficed her. She cried out neither for further indulgence of passion, nor against barriers imposed by circumstance and class. That which she had done, she had done open-eyed, counting and accepting the cost. Since then wooers were not lacking; but she turned a deaf ear to all and each. A frank materialist in some ways, she proved an idealist in this. No subsequent love passage could rival, in wonder or beauty, that first one; since, compared with Charles Verity, the men who subsequently aspired to her favours—whether in wedlock or out—were, to her taste, at best dull, loutish fellows, at worst no more than human jackasses or human swine.

And, through it all, she possessed the boy on whom to spend her heart, in whose interests to employ her foresight and singular capacity of money-making. For love's sake therefore, and for his sake also, she had lived without reproach, a woman chary even of friendship, chary, too, of laughter, chary above all of purposeless gaddings and of gossip. Business, and the boy's sea-going or returning, might take her as far as Southampton, Plymouth, Cardiff, more rarely London or some northern port. But Deadham village rarely beheld her, and never, it is to be feared, did the inside of Deadham church.

Yet Deadham church bell plaintively, insistently tolling, the sound reaching her muted by the thickness of the fog, kept her attention on the stretch for the ensuing hour. Startling as it was poignant, Charles Verity's demand to see her, six days ago, brought the story of her love to full circle. Their meeting had been of the briefest, for he was exhausted by pain. But that he had sent, and she had gone, was unlocked for largesse on the part of fortune, sufficient to give her deep-seated and abiding sense of healing and of gain. And this stayed by her now, rather than any active call for mourning.

She inhaled the dank chillness of the fog gratefully. It suited the occasion better far than sunshine and bright skies. For winter, darkness, sullen flowing waters and desolate crying winds furnished the accompaniment of those earlier meetings. Hearing the tolling bell she strove to relive them, and found she did so with singularly mounting wealth and precision of detail. Not only vision but sense pushed backward and inward, revitalizing what had been; until she ached with suspense and yearning, shrewdly evaded dangers, surmounted obstructions by action at once bold and wary and tasted the transfiguring rapture of the end attained.

In the soberness of her middle years, occupied as she was with the rough, exacting business of the inn, and with the management of accumulating landed and other property—anxiety born of her son's perilous calling never absent from her thought—Lesbia Faircloth inclined to live exclusively in the present. Hence the colours of her solitary passion had somewhat faded, becoming clouded and dim. Recent events—led by the ugly publicity of Reginald Sawyer's sermon—served to revive those colours. To-day they glowed rich and splendid, a robing of sombre glory to her inward and backward searching sight.

The bell tolled quicker, announcing the immediate approach of the dead. Lesbia listened, her head raised, her face, turned to open window, felt over by the clammy, impalpable fingers of the fog.

Now they bore the coffin up the churchyard path, as she timed it. She wondered who the bearers might be, and whether they carried it shoulder high? The path was steep; and Charles Verity, though spare and lean, broad of chest and notably tall. Bone tells. They would feel the weight, would breathe hard, stagger a little even and sweat.

And with this visualizing of grim particulars, love, bodily love and desire of that which rested stark and for ever cold within the narrow darkness of the coffin—shut away from all comfort of human contact and the dear joys of a woman's embrace—rushed on her like a storm, buffeted and shook her, so that she looked to right and to left as asking help, while her hands worked one upon the other in the hollow of her lap.

Nor did Darcy Faircloth figure in Deadham's record funeral gathering. Upon the day preceding it, having watched by Charles Verity's corpse during the previous night, he judged it well to take his new command—a fine, five-thousand-ton steamer, carrying limited number of passengers as well as cargo, and trading from Tilbury to the far East and to Japan, via the Cape.

In his withdrawal, at this particular date, Miss Felicia hailed a counsel of perfection which commanded, and continued to command, alike her enthusiastic approval and unfeigned regret. For that he should so seasonably efface himself, argued—in her opinion—so delightful a nature, such nice thought for others, such chivalrous instincts and excellent good taste!—All the more lamentable, then, effacement should be, from social, moral or other seasons, required.—Yet for the family to gain knowledge of certain facts without due preparation—how utterly disastrous! Think of her half-sister, Harriet Cowden, for instance, with a full-grown and, alas! wrong-way-about, step-nephew bounced on her out of a clear sky, and on such an occasion too.—The bare notion of what that formidable lady, not only might, but quite certainly would look and say turned Miss Felicia positively faint.—No—no, clearly it had to be—it had to be—or rather—she became incoherent—had not to be, if only for dearest Charles's sake. Yet what a ten thousand pities; for notwithstanding the plebeian origin on the mother's side, didn't Faircloth—these reflections came later—really surpass every male Verity present, young Tom included, though she confessed to a very soft spot in her heart for young Tom?—Surpass them, just as her brother Charles had always surpassed them in good looks and charm as in inches, above all in his air of singular good-breeding? And how extraordinarily he had transmitted this last to Faircloth, notwithstanding the—well, the drawback, the obstacle to—Miss Felicia did not finish the sentence, though in sentiment becoming sweetly abandoned. For how she would have revelled, other things being equal—which they so deplorably weren't—in shaking this singularly attractive nephew in the family's collective face, just to show them what dearest Charles—who they never had quite understood or appreciated—could do in the matter of sons, when he once set about it, even against admittedly heavy odds!

As it was, she had to pacify her gentle extravagance by subjecting the said nephew's hand to a long tremulous pressure at parting.—He, worn, blanched, a little strange from the night's lonely and very searching vigil; she patchily pink as to complexion, fluttered, her candid eyes red-lidded.—Pacify herself by assuring him she could never express how deeply she had felt his unselfish devotion during this time of trouble—felt his—his perfect attitude towards her dearest brother—his father—or the consideration he had shown towards Damaris and herself.

“You can count on my unswerving affection, my dear Darcy,” she had said. Adding with, to him, very touching humility—“And any affection you have to give me in return I shall cherish most gratefully, be very sure of that.”

All which, as shall presently be shown, brings our narrative, though by devious courses, back to Damaris sweeping the dog-cart to the left across the bridge spanning the Arne, and on up the long winding ascent, from the woods and rich meadows in the valley to the wide prospects and keener air of the moorland above.

Until now, as already chronicled, she had remained in house or garden, prey to an apathy which, while not amounting to definite ill-health, refused interest and exertion. She could not shake it off. To her all things were empty, blank, immensely purposeless. Religion failed to touch her state—religion, that is, in the only form accessible. The interior of some frowning Gothic church of old Castile, or, from another angle, of some mellow Latin basilica, might have found the required mystic word to say to her. But Protestantism, even in its mild Anglican form, shuts the door on its dead children with a heavy hand.—And she suffered this religious coldness, although any idea that death of the body implies extinction of the spirit, extinction of personality, never occurred to her. Damaris' sense of the unseen was too ingrained, her commerce with it too actual for that. No—the spirit lived on. He, her most beloved, lived on, himself, his very self; but far away from her. In just this consisted the emptiness, the unspeakable and blank bitterness—he was somewhere and she could not reach him. The dreadful going away of his spirit, against which she had fought during the thirty-six hours of his illness, had reached its ordained consummation—that was all.

The body which had contained and by that beloved spirit been so nobly animated, in its present awful peace, its blind dumb majesty, meant scarcely more to her than some alabaster or waxen effigy of her dead. It was so like, yet so terrifyingly unlike Charles Verity in life!—She had visited it morning and evening, since to leave it in solitude appeared wanting in reverence. Throughout each night she thankfully knew that either Carteret, McCabe or Faircloth watched by it. Yet to her it hardly retained as much of her father's natural presence as the clothes he had worn, the books and papers littering his writing-table, the chair he preferred to sit in, his guns and swords upon the wall, or the collection of fishing-rods, walking-sticks and his spud stacked in a corner.

After the strain and publicity of the funeral her apathy deepened, perplexing and saddening Carteret and bringing Miss Felicia near to veritable wailing. For while thanking them both she, in fact, put them both aside. This in no sour or irritable humour; but with a listlessness and apartness hopeless to overcome. She prayed them to give her time. Soon she would begin again; but not just yet. She “couldn't begin again to order—couldn't make herself begin again. They must not trouble, only be patient with her, please, a little longer—she wasn't, indeed she wasn't, pretending”—a statement which, in its simplicity, cut Carteret to the quick—for “she meant to begin again directly she could.”

To-day the weather took an encouraging turn for the better. Following the spell of fog and wet a northerly wind at last arose. It swept the sky clear of clouds, the land of melancholy vapours, begetting a brilliance of atmosphere which wooed our maiden to come forth and once more affront the open. She therefore ordered the dog-cart at two o'clock. Would herself drive; and, “if Aunt Felicia didn't mind and think her unsociable, would take Patch for sole company, because then”—renewed apologies—“she needn't talk and she felt disinclined to do so.”

During the first half mile or so, as must be confessed, each prick of the black horse's ears and change in his pace sent a quake through her, as did the sight of every vehicle upon the road she passed or met. Her nerve was nowhere, her self-confidence in tatters. But, since this parlous state was, in the main, physical, air and movement, along with the direct call on her attention, steadied the one and knit up the ravelled edges of the other. By the time the plateau was reached and the hill lay behind her, she could afford to walk the horse, tentatively invite her soul, and attempt to hold communion with Nature. Sorrow—as well as the Napoleonic Patch—still sat very squarely beside her; but the nightmare of mortality, with consequent blankness and emptiness, was no longer omnipresent. Interest again stirred in her, the healthy instinct of going on.

Except in the foreground, where foxy browns of withered bracken and pink-shot browns of withered heather gave richness of tone, the colouring of the great view was somewhat cold. It dealt in thin, uncertain green, the buff of stubble, in sharp slate-like blues blended in places with indigo, the black purple of hawthorn hedges and grey-brown filigree of leafless trees.—This did her good, she asking to be strengthened and stimulated rather than merely soothed. To feel the harsh, untainted wind break against her, hear it shrill through the dry, shivering grasses of the roadside and sturdy spires of heath, to see it toss the dark crests and tufted branches of the outstanding firs at the edge of the plantation, brought up her morale. Brought her resignation, moreover—not of the self-indulgent order, of bowed head and languidly folded hands; but of the sort which acknowledges loss and sorrow as common to the sum of human experience, places it in its just relation to the rest, and, though more heavily weighted than before, takes up the onward march, sobered perhaps yet undismayed.

Sins of omission began to prick her. The domestic establishment ran on wheels, even during the recent stress and agitation, though she had ceased to exercise control over it. Now it must be reorganized—and probably on a less liberal footing.—But these were minor questions, comparatively simple to cope with. Her life had been full, it must find fresh purpose, fresh interest and occupation, in a word, be refilled.

Literature allured her. She dreamed of wonderful tellings, dreamed of the engrossing joys of the written word. But in what form—poetry, essay, history, novel?—The extreme limitation of her own knowledge, or rather the immensity of her own ignorance, confronted her. And that partly through her own fault, for she had been exclusive, fastidious, disposed to ignore both truths and people who offended her taste or failed to strike her fancy. Hitherto she had been led by fancy and feeling rather than by reasoned principle. She must at once simplify, broaden and democratize her outlook. Must force herself to remember that respect is, in some sort, due to everything—however unbeautiful, however even vile or repugnant—which is a constant quantity in human affairs and human character, due to everything in the realm of Nature also, however repellent, if it is really so, actually exists.

In this connection the mysterious and haunting question of sex obtruded itself. And, along with it, the thought of two eminently diverse persons, namely Lesbia Faircloth and the dear, the more than ever dear, man with the blue eyes. That, in his agony, her father should have desired the visit of the former, once his mistress, had been very bitter to bear, provoking in Damaris a profound though silent jealousy. This had even come in some degree between her and Faircloth. For, in proportion as that visit more effectually united father and son, it abolished her position as intermediary between the two.

Recalling the incident jealousy moved her now, so that she gathered up the reins hastily and touched the horse with the whip. It sprang forward, danced and behaved, before settling down to the swinging trot which, in so handsome a fashion, ate up the blond road crossing the brown expanse of moor.

Damaris was surprised and distressed by the vehemence of her own emotion. That her jealousy was retrospective, and belonged to a past now over and done with, she admitted. Yet, thinking of her father's demand to see Lesbia, how amazingly deep it went, how profound, and lasting is the empire of “feeling in that way”—so she put it, falling back on her phrase of nearly three years ago, first coined at St. Augustin.

And this was where Carteret came in.—For he alone, of all men, had made her, Damaris, ever consciously “feel in that way.”—A fact of immense significance surely, could she but grasp the full, the inner meaning of it—and one which entered vitally into the matter of “beginning again.” Therefore, so she argued, the proposed simplifying, broadening, democratizing of her outlook must cover—amongst how much else!—the whole astonishing business of “feeling in that way.”

She shrank from the conclusion as unwelcome. The question of sex was still distasteful to her. But she bade herself, sternly, not to shrink. For without some reasoned comprehension of it—as now dawned on her—the ways of human beings, of animals, of plants and, so some say, even of minerals, are unintelligible, arbitrary, and nonsensical. It is the push of life itself, essential, fundamental, which makes us “feel in that way”—the push of spirit yearning to be clothed upon with flesh, made visible and given its chance to enter the earthly arena, to play an individual part in the beautiful, terrible earthly scene. Therefore she must neglect it, reject it no longer. It had to be met and understood, if she would graduate in the school of reality; and in what other possible school is it worth while to graduate?

Reaching which climax in her argument, the selfishness of her recent behaviour became humiliatingly patent to her. From the whole household, but especially from Carteret and Aunt Felicia, she had taken all and given nothing in return. She had added to their grief, their anxieties, by her silence, her apathy, her whimsies.

“Patch,” she asked suddenly, “which is the shortest way home, without going through Stourmouth and Marychurch? ”—And, under his instructions, turned the dog-cart down a grassy side-track, heading south-east—her back now to the wind and inland country, her face to the larger horizon, the larger if more hazardous freedom of the sea.

Conversation, started thus by her enquiry, flourished in friendly, desultory fashion until, about three-quarters of an hour later, the front gates of The Hard came in sight. By then afternoon merged itself in early evening. Lights twinkled in the windows of the black cottages, upon the Island, and in those of Faircloth's inn. The sky flamed orange and crimson behind the sand-hills and Stone Horse Head. The air carried the tang of coming frost. Upon the hard gravel of the drive, the wheels of the dog-cart grated and the horse's hoofs rang loud.

Another Damaris came home to the Damaris who had set forth—a Damaris rested, refreshed, invigorated, no longer a passive but an active agent. Nevertheless, our poor maiden suffered some reaction on re-entering the house. For, so entering, her loss again confronted her as an actual entity. It sat throned in the lamp-lit hall. It demanded payment of tribute before permitting her to pass. Its attitude amounted, in her too fertile imagination, to a menace. Here, within the walls which had witnessed not only her own major acquaintance with sorrow, but so many events and episodes of strange and, sometimes, cruel import—super-normal manifestations, too, of which last she feared to think—she grew undone and weak, disposed to let tears flow, and yield once more to depression and apathy. The house was stronger than she. But—but—only stronger, surely, if she consented to turn craven and give way to it?—Whereupon she consciously, of set purpose, defied the house, denied its right to browbeat thus and enslave her. For had not she this afternoon, up on the moorland, found a finer manner of mourning than it imposed, a manner at once more noble and so more consonant with the temper and achievements of her beloved dead? She believed that she had.

On the hall table lay a little flight of visiting cards. Her mind occupied in silent battle with the house, Damaris glanced at them absently and would have passed on. But something in the half-deciphered printed names caught her attention. She bent lower, doubting if she could have read aright.

“Brig.-General and Mrs. Frayling.”—Two smaller cards, also bearing the General's name, ranged with two others bearing that of “The Rev. Marshall Wace.” A written inscription, in the corner of each, notified a leading hotel in Stourmouth as the habitat of their respective owners.

This little discovery affected Damaris to a singular extent. She had small enough wish for Henrietta Frayling's society at this juncture; still less for that of her attendant singer-reciter-parson. Yet their names, and the train of recollections evoked by these, made for the normal, the average, and, in so far, had on her a wholesome effect. For Henrietta, of once adored and now somewhat tarnished memory—soulless, finished, and exquisitely artificial to her finger-tips, beguiling others yet never herself beguiled beyond the limits of a flawless respectability—was wonderfully at odds with high tragedies of dissolution. How had the house received such a guest? How put up with her intrusion? But wasn't the house, perhaps, itself at a disadvantage, its sting drawn in presence of such invincible materialism? For how impress a creature at once so light and so pachydermatous? The position lent itself to rather mordant comedy.

In this sense, though not precisely in these phrases, did Damaris apprehend matters as, still holding Henrietta Frayling's visiting card in her hand, she crossed the hall and went into the drawing-room.

There, from upon the sofa behind the tea-table, through the warm soft radiance of shaded lamps and glowing fire, Felicia Verity uplifted her voice in somewhat agitated greeting. She made no preliminary affectionate enquiries—such as might have been expected—regarding her niece's outing or general well-being, but darted, not to say exploded, into the declaration:

“Darling, I am so exceedingly glad you weren't at home!—Mrs. Frayling's card?”

This, as the girl sat down on the sofa beside her.

“Then you know who's been here. I didn't intend to see anyone—unless poor little Theresa—But no, truly no one. Both Hordle and Mary were off duty—I ought not to have let them be away at the same time, perhaps, but I did feel they both needed a holiday, don't you know.—And either they had forgotten to give Laura my orders, or she lost her head, or was talked over. I daresay Mrs. Frayling insisted.”

“Henrietta is not easily turned from her purpose,” Damaris said.

“Exactly.—A very few minutes' conversation with her convinced me of that. And so I felt it would be unfair to blame Laura too severely. I should suppose Mrs. Frayling excessively clever in getting her own way. Poor Laura—even if she did know my orders, she hadn't a chance.”

“Not a chance,” Damaris repeated.

Once convalescence initiated, youth speedily regains its elasticity; and Aunt Felicia with her feathers ruffled, Aunt Felicia upon the warpath thus, presented a novel spectacle meriting observation. Evidently she and Henrietta had badly clashed!—A nice little demon of diversion stirred within Damaris. For the first time for many days she felt amused.

“Excessively clever,” Miss Felicia continued.

—Without doubt the dear thing was finely worked up!—

“And, though I hardly like to make such accusation, none too scrupulous in her methods. She leads you on with a number of irrelevant comments and questions, until you find she's extracted from you a whole host of things you never meant to say. She is far too inquisitive—too possessive.”

Miss Felicia ended on an almost violent note.

“Yes, Henrietta has a tiresome little habit of having been there first,” Damaris said, a touch of weariness in her tone remembering past encounters.

Miss Felicia, caught by that warning tone, patted her niece's rather undiscoverable knee—undiscoverable because still covered by a heavy fur-lined driving coat—lovingly, excitedly.

“If you choose to believe her, darling,” she cried, “which I, for one, emphatically don't.”

Following which ardent profession of faith, or rather of scepticism, Miss Felicia attempted to treat the subject broadly. She soared to mountain-tops of social and psychological astuteness; but only to make hasty return upon her gentler self, deny her strictures, and snatch at the skirts of vanishing Christian charity.

“Men aren't so easily led away,” she hopefully declared. “Nor can I think Mrs. Frayling so irresistible to each and all as she wishes one to imagine. She must magnify the number and, still more, the permanence of her conquests. No doubt she has been very much admired. I know she was lovely. I saw her once ages ago, at Tullingworth. Dearest Charles,” the words came softly, as though her lips hesitated to pronounce them in so trivial a connection—“asked me to call on her as I was staying in the neighbourhood. She had a different surname then, by the way, I remember.”

“Henrietta has had four in all—counting in her maiden name, I mean.”

“Exactly,” Miss Felicia argued, “and that, no doubt, does prejudice me a little against her. I suppose it is wrong, but when a woman marries so often one can't help feeling as if she ended by not being married at all—a mere change of partners, don't you know, which does seem rather shocking. It suggests such an absence of deep feeling.—Poor thing, I dare say that is just her nature; still it doesn't attract me. In fact it gives me a creep.—But I quite own she is pretty still, and extraordinarily well dressed—only too well dressed, don't you know, that is for the country.—More tea, darling. Yes, Mrs. Cooper's scones are particularly good this afternoon.—I wish I liked her better, Mrs. Frayling, I mean, because she evidently intends to be here a lot in future. She expressed the warmest affection for you. She was very possessive about you, more I felt than she'd any real right to be. That, I'm afraid, put my back up—that and one or two other things. She and General Frayling think of settling in Stourmouth for good, if Mr. Wace is appointed to the Deadham curacy.”

“The curacy here?” Damaris echoed, a rather lurid light breaking in on her.

Miss Felicia's glance was of timid, slightly distressed, enquiry.

“Yes,” she said, “Mr. Wace has applied for the curacy. He and General Frayling were to have an interview with Canon Horniblow this afternoon. They dropped Mrs. Frayling here on their way to the vicarage, and sent the fly back for her. She talked a great deal about Mr. Wace and his immense wish to come here. She gave me to understand it was his one object to”—

The speaker broke off, raised her thin, long-fingered hands to her forehead.

“I don't know,” she said, “but really I feel perhaps, darling, it is better to warn you. She implied—oh! she did it very cleverly, really, in a way charmingly—but she implied that things had gone very hard with Mr. Wace that winter at St. Augustin, and that all he went through has remarkably developed and strengthened his character—that it, in fact, was what determined him to take Holy Orders. His difficulties melted before his real need for the support of religion. It would have all been most touching if one had heard a story of such devotion from anyone but—but her, about anyone but him—under the circumstances, poor young man—because—darling—well, because of you.”

“Of me?” Damaris stiffened.

“Yes—that is just the point. Mrs. Frayling left me in no doubt. She was determined to make me understand just what Mr. Wace's attitude had been towards you—and that it is still unchanged.”

Damaris got up. Pulled off her driving coat, gloves and hat. Threw them upon the seat of a chair. The act was symbolic. She felt suffocated, impelled to rid herself of every impediment. For wasn't she confronted with another battle—a worse one than that with the house, namely, a battle with her long-ago baby-love, and her father's love too—Henrietta.—Henrietta, so strangely powerful, so amazingly persistent—Henrietta who enclosed you in arms, apparently so soft but furnished with suckers, octopus arms adhering, never letting you go? She had played with the idea of this intrusion of Henrietta's and its effect upon Miss Felicia, at first as something amusing. It ceased to be amusing. It frightened her.

“And my attitude is unchanged, too,” she said presently, gravely proud. “I didn't want to marry Marshall Wace then. I was dreadfully sorry when Henrietta told me he cared for me. I don't want to marry him or have him care for me one bit more now. I think it very interfering of Henrietta to trouble you with this. It is not the moment. She might at least have waited.”

“So I felt,” Miss Felicia put in. She watched her niece anxiously, as the latter went across to the fire-place and stood, her back to the room, looking down into the glowing logs.

For she had—or rather ought she not to have?—another communication to make which involved the fighting of a battle on her own account, not against Henrietta Frayling, still less against Damaris, but against herself. It trembled on the tip of her tongue. She felt impelled, yet sorrowed to utter it. Hence her wishes and purposes jostled one another, being tenderly, bravely, heroically even, contradictory. In speaking she invited the shattering of a dream of personal election to happiness—a late blossoming happiness and hence the more entrancing, the more pathetic. That any hope of the dream's fulfilment was fragile as glass, lighter than gossamer, the veriest shadow of a shade, her natural diffidence and sane sense, alike, convinced her. For this very cause, the dream being of the sweetest and most intimate, how gladly would she have cherished the enchanting foolishness of it a trifle longer!—Her act of heroism would earn no applause, moreover, would pass practically unnoticed. No one would be aware of her sacrifice. She would only gain the satisfaction of knowing she had done the perfectly right and generous thing by two persons who would never share that knowledge.—She blushed.—Heaven forbid they ever should share it—and thank her.

“Mrs. Frayling—I don't want”—

Miss Felicia stopped.

“What don't you want?”—This from Damaris over her shoulder, the pause being prolonged.

“To set you against her, darling”—

“I think,” Damaris said, “I know all about Henrietta.”

“She insinuates so much,” Miss Felicia lamented.—“Or seems to do so. One grows wretchedly suspicious of her meaning. Perhaps I exaggerate and misjudge her.—She is quite confusingly adroit; but I extremely disliked the way in which she spoke of Colonel Carteret.”

Damaris bent a little forward, holding her skirt back from the scorch of the fire, her eyes still downcast.

“How did she speak of him?”

“Oh! all she said was very indirect—but as though he had not played quite fair with her on some occasion. And—it's odious to repeat!—as if that was his habit with women, and with unmarried girls as well—as if he was liable to behave in a way which placed them in a rather invidious position while he just shuffled out of all responsibility himself. She hinted his staying on with us here was a case in point—that it might give people a wrong idea altogether. That, in short—at least thinking it over I feel sure this is the impression she meant to convey to me—that he is indulging his chronic love of philandering at your expense.”

“And thereby standing in the light of serious lovers such as Marshall Wace?”

After a moment Damaris added:

“Is that your idea of Colonel Carteret, Aunt Felicia?”

“Ah! No, indeed no,” the poor lady cried, with rather anguished sincerity. Then making a fine effort over herself:

“Least of all where you are concerned, my darling.”

And she drifted hastily on to her feet. The curtains were still undrawn; and, through the window opposite, she caught sight of a tall figure coming up across the lawn in the frosty twilight.

“Pardon me if I run away. I've forgotten a note I meant to send to poor little Theresa Bilson.—I must let Laura have it at once, or she mayn't catch the postman,” she said with equal rapidity and apparent inconsequence.

As Felicia Verity passed out into the hall, at one end of the avenue of stumpy pillars, Carteret came in at the other end through the garden door. He halted a moment, dazzled by the warmth and light within after the clair-obscure of the frosty dusk without, and looked round the room before recognizing the identity of its remaining occupant. Then:

“Ah! you—dear witch,” he said. “So you're home. And what of your drive?”

Damaris turned round, all of a piece. Her hands, white against the black, the fingers slightly apart, still pressed back the skirt of her dress as though saving it from the fire scorch, in quaintly careful childish fashion. Her complexion was that of a child too, in its soft brightness. And the wonder of her great eyes fairly challenged Carteret's wits.

“A babe of a thousand years,” he quoted to himself. “Does that look grow out of a root of divine innocence, or of quite incalculable wisdom?”

“I told you if you would be patient with me I should begin again. I have begun again, dear Colonel Sahib.”

“So I perceive,” he answered her.

“Is it written so large?” she asked curiously.

“Very large,” he said, falling in with her humour. “And where does the beginning lead to?”

“I wish you'd tell me.—Henrietta has begun again too.”

“I know it,” he said. “Our incomparable Henrietta overtook me on her way from here to the Vicarage, and bestowed her society on me for the better part of half an hour. She was in astonishing form.”

Carteret came forward and stood on the tiger skin beside Damaris. Mrs. Frayling's conversation had given him very furiously to think, and his thoughts had not proved by any means exhilarating.

“Does this recrudescence of our Henrietta, her beginning again, affect the scope and direction of your own beginning again, dearest witch?” he presently enquired, in singularly restrained and colourless accents.

“That depends a good deal upon you—doesn't it, Colonel Sahib?” our maiden gravely answered.

Carteret felt as though she dealt him a blow. The pain was numbing. He could neither see, nor could he think clearly. But he traced Mrs. Frayling's hand in this, and could have cursed her elaborately—had it been worth while. But was anything worth while, just now? He inclined to believe not—so called himself a doating fool. And then, though tormented, shaken, turned his mind to making things easy for Damaris.

“Oh! I see that,” he told her. “And now you have got hold of your precious little self again and made a start, it's easy enough to manage your affairs—in as far as they need any management of mine—from a distance. This beginning again is triumphant. I congratulate you! You're your own best physician. You know how to treat your case to a marvel. So I abdicate.”

“But why? Why abdicate? Do you mean go away? Then Henrietta was right. What she said was true. I never believed her. I”—

Damaris grew tall in her shame and anger. The solemn eyes blazed.

“Yes—pray go,” she said. “It's unwarrantable the way I kept you here—the way I've made use of you. But, indeed, indeed, I am very grateful, Colonel Sahib. I ought to have known better. But I didn't. I have been so accustomed all my life to your help that I took it all for granted. I never thought how much I taxed your forbearance or encroached on your time.—That isn't quite true though. I did have scruples; but little things you said and did put my scruples to sleep. I liked having them put to sleep.—Now you must not let me or my business interfere any more.—Oh! you've treated me, given to me, like a prince,” she declared, rising superior to anger and to shame, her eyes shining—“like a king. Nobody can ever take your place or be to me what you've been. I shall always love to think of your goodness to—to him—my father—and to me—always—all my life.”

Damaris held out her hands.

“And that's all.—Now let us say no more about this. It's difficult. It hurts us both, I fancy, a little.”

But Carteret did not take her proffered hands.

“Dear witch,” he said, “we've spoken so freely that I am afraid we must speak more freely still—even though it pains you a little perhaps, and myself, almost certainly very much more. I love you—not as a friend, not as an amiable elderly person should love a girl of your age.—This isn't an affair of yesterday or the day before yesterday. You crept into my heart on your sixth birthday—wasn't it?—when I brought you a certain little green jade elephant from our incomparable Henrietta, and found you asleep in a black marble chair, set on a blood-red sandstone platform, overlooking the gardens of the club at Bhutpur. And you have never crept out of it again—won't do so as long as body and mind hang together, or after. It has been a song of degrees.—For years you were to me a delicious plaything; but a plaything with a mysterious soul, after which I felt, every now and again, in worship and awe. The plaything stage came to an end when I was here with you before we went to Paris, four years ago. For I found then, beyond all question of doubt, that I loved you as a man only loves once, and as most men never love at all. I have tried to keep this from you because I have no right to burden your youth with my middle-age.”

Carteret smiled at her.

“It has not been altogether easy to hold my peace, dearest witch,” he said. “The seven devils of desire—of which you knew nothing, bless you”—“I'm not sure that I do know nothing,” Damaris put in quietly. She looked him over from head to heel, and the wonder of her great eyes deepened.

“It isn't wrong?” she said, brokenly, hoarsely. “I don't think it can be wrong?”

Then, “You will be good to my brother, to Darcy Faircloth, and let me see him quite, quite often!”

And lastly, her lips trembling:

“It is beautiful, more beautiful than I ever knew about, to have you for quite my own, Colonel Sahib.”

 
 
 

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