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Deadham Hard, Book III.

The World Beyond the Forest by Lucas Malet

 

CHAPTER I. AN EPISODE IN THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE MAN WITH THE BLUE EYES

Thus far, for the surer basing of our argument, it has appeared advisable to proceed step by step. But the foundations being now well and truly laid, the pace of our narrative may, with advantage, quicken; a twelve month be rounded up in a page, a decade, should convenience so dictate, in a chapter.

To the furthering of which advance, let it be stated that the close of the year still in question marked the date, for Damaris, of two matters of cardinal importance. For it was then Sir Charles Verity commenced writing his history of the reign of Shere Ali, covering the eleven years following the latter's accession to the very turbulent throne of Afghanistan in 1863.—Colonel Carteret may be held mainly responsible for the inception of this literary enterprise, now generally acclaimed a classic. Had not Sir William Napier, so he argued, made the soldier, as historian, for ever famous? And why should not Charles Verity, with his unique knowledge of court intrigues, of the people and the country, do for the campaigns of the semi-barbarous Eastern ruler, that which Sir William had done for Wellington's campaign in the Spanish Peninsular?

Carteret prophesied—and truly as the event richly proved—a finely fascinating book would eventually come of it. Meanwhile—though this argument, in favour of the scheme, he kept to himself—the preparation of the said book would supply occupation and interest of which his old friend appeared to him to stand rather gravely in need. For that something was, just now, amiss with Charles Verity, Carteret could not disguise from himself. He was changed, in a way a little broken—so at least the younger man's kindly, keenly observant, blue eyes regretfully judged him. He fell into long silences, seeming to sink away into some abyss of cheerless thought; while his speech had, too often, a bitter edge to it. Carteret mourned these indications of an unhappy frame of mind. Did more—sought by all means in his power to conjure them away.

“We must make your father fight his battles over again, dear witch,” he told Damaris, pacing the terrace walk topping the sea-wall beside her, one evening in the early November dusk. “His record is a very brilliant one and he ought to get more comfort out of the remembrance of it. Let's conspire, you and I, to make him sun himself in the achievements and activities of those earlier years. What do you say?”

“Oh! do it, do it,” she answered fervently. “He is sad—and I am so afraid that it is partly my fault.”

“Your fault? Why what wicked practises have you been up to since I was here last?” he asked, teasing her.

A question evoking, in Damaris, sharp inward debate. For her father's melancholy humour weighed on her, causing her perplexity and a measure of self-reproach. She would have given immensely much to unburden herself to this wise and faithful counsellor; and confide to him the—to her—strangely moving fact of Darcy Faircloth's existence. Yet, notwithstanding her conviction of Colonel Carteret's absolute loyalty, she hesitated; restrained in part by modesty, in part by the fear of being treacherous. Would it be altogether honourable to give away the secret places of Charles Verity's life—of any man's life if it came to that—even to so honourable and trusted a friend? She felt handicapped by her own ignorance moreover, having neither standards nor precedents for guidance. She had no idea—how should she?—in what way most men regard such affairs, how far they accept and condone, how far condemn them. She could not tell whether she was dealing with a case original and extraordinary, or one of pretty frequent occurrence in the experience of those who, as the phrase has it, know their world. These considerations kept her timid and tongue-tied; though old habit, combined with Carteret's delightful personality and the soothing influence of the dusky evening quiet, inclined her to confidences.

“It's not anything I've done,” she presently took him up gravely. “But, quite by chance, I learned something which I think the Commissioner Sahib would rather not have had me hear. I had to be quite truthful with him about it; but I was bewildered and ill. I blurted things out rather I'm afraid, and hurt him more than I need have done. I was so taken by surprise, you see.”

“Yes, I see,” Carteret said, regardless of strict veracity. For he didn't see, though he believed himself on the road to seeing and that some matter of singular moment.

“He was beautiful to me—beautiful about everything—everybody,” she asserted. “And we love one another not less, but more, he and I—of that I am sure. Only it's different—different. We can't either of us quite go back to the time before—and that has helped to make him sad.”

Carteret listened in increasing interest aware that he sounded unlooked-for depths, apprehensive lest those depths should harbour disastrous occurrences. He walked the length of the terrace before again speaking. Then, no longer teasing but gently and seriously, he asked her:

“Do you feel free to tell me openly about this, and let me try to help you—if it's a case for help?”

Damaris shook her head, looking up at him through the soft enclosing murk, and smiling rather ruefully.

“I wish I knew—I do so wish I knew,” she said. “But I don't—not yet, anyway. Help me without my telling you, please. The book is a splendid idea. And then do you think you could persuade him to let us go away abroad, for a time? Everything here must remind him—as it does me—of what happened. It was quite right,” she went on judicially—“for everyone's sake, we should stay here just the same at first. People,” with a scornful lift of the head Carteret noted and admired—“might have mistaken our reason for going away. They had to be made to understand we were perfectly indifferent.—I knew all that, though we never discussed it. One does things, sometimes, just because it's right they should be done, without any sort of planning—just by instinct. Still I know we can't be quite natural here. What happened comes between us. We're each anxious about the other and feel a constraint, though we never speak of it. That can't be avoided, I suppose, for we both suffered a good deal at the time—but he most, much the most because”—

Damaris paused.

“Because why?”

“I suppose because I'm young; and then, once I got accustomed to the idea, I saw it meant what was very wonderful in some ways—a wonderfulness which, for me, would go on and on—a whole new country for me to explore and travel in, quite my own—and—and—which I couldn't help loving.”

“Heigh ho! heigh ho!” Carteret put in softly. “This becomes exciting, dear witch, you know.”

“I don't want to be tantalizing,” she answered him, still pacing in the growing dimness of land and sea.

The dead black mass of the great ilex trees looked to touch the low hanging sky. A grey gleam, here and there, lit the surface of the swirling tide-river. The boom of the slow plunging waves came from the back of the Bar, and now and again wild-fowl cried, faint and distant, out on the mud-flats of the Haven.

“Listen,” Damaris said. “It is mournful here. It tells you the same things over and over again. It sort of insists on them. The place seems so peaceful, but it never lets you alone, really. And now, after what happened, it never leaves him—the Commissioner Sahib—alone. It repeats the same story to him over and over again. It wears him as dropping water wears away stone. And there is no longer the same reason for staying there was at first. Persuade him to go away, to take me abroad. And come with us—couldn't you?—for a little while at least. Is it selfish to ask you to leave your hunting and shooting so early in the season? I don't want to be selfish. But he isn't well. Whether he isn't well in his body or only in his thinkings, I can't tell. But it troubles me. He sleeps badly, I am afraid. The nights must be very long and lonely when one can't sleep.—If you would come, it would be so lovely. I should feel so safe about him. You and the book should cure him between you. I'm perfectly sure of that. To have you would make us both so happy”—

And, in her innocent importunity, Damaris slipped her hand within Colonel Carteret's arm sweetly coaxing him.

He started slightly. Threw back his head, standing, straight and tall, in the mysterious twilight beside her. Raised his deerstalker cap, for a moment, letting the moist chill of the November evening dwell on his hair and forehead.

Though very popular with women, Carteret had never married, making a home for his elder sister, Mrs. Dreydel—widow of a friend and fellow officer in the then famous “Guides”—and her four sturdy, good-looking boys at the Norfolk manor-house, which had witnessed his own birth and those of a long line of his ancestors. To bring up a family of his own, in addition to his sister's, would have been too costly, and debt he abhorred. Therefore, such devoirs as he paid the great goddess Aphrodite, were but few and fugitive—he being by nature and temperament an idealist and a notably clean liver. By his abstention, however, sentiment was fine-trained rather than extinguished. His heart remained young, capable of being thrilled in instant response to any appeal of high and delicate quality. It thrilled very sensibly, now, in response to the appeal of Damaris' hand, emphasizing her tender pleading regarding her father. She touched, she charmed him to an extent which obliged him rather sharply to call his senses to order. Hadn't he known her ever since she was a babe a span long? Wasn't she, according to all reason, a babe still, in as far as any decently minded male being of his mature age could be concerned? He told himself, at once humorously and sternly, he ought to feel so, think so—whether he did or not. And ought, in his case, was a word not to be played fast and loose with. Once uttered it must be obeyed.

Wherefore, thus conclusively self-admonished, he put his cap on his head again and, bending a little over Damaris, patted her hand affectionately as it rested upon his arm.

“Very good—I'll hold myself and my future at your disposition,” he gaily said to her. “As much hunting and shooting as I care for will very well keep. Don't bother your pretty head about them. During the Christmas holidays, my nephews will be ready enough, in all conscience, to let fly with my guns and ride my horses, so neither will be wasted. I'll go along with you gladly, for no man living is dearer to me than your father, and no business could be more to my taste than scotching and killing the demons which plague him. They plague all of us, in some form or other, at times, as life goes on.”

Very gently he disengaged his arm from her hand.

“Take me indoors,” he said, “and give me my tea—over which we'll further discuss plots for kidnapping Verity and carrying him off south. The French Riviera for preference?—Hullo—what the deuce is that?”

For, as he spoke, the two cats appearing with miraculous suddenness out of nowhere—as is the custom of their priceless tribe—rushed wildly past. Fierce, sinuous, infinitely graceful shapes, leaping high in air, making strange noises, chirrupings and squeakings, thudding of quick little paws, as they chased one another round the antiquated, seaward-trained cannon and pyramid of ball.

For a minute or so Damaris watched them, softly laughing. Then, in the content bred of Carteret's promise and the joy of coming travel, something of their frisky spirit caught her too—a spirit which, for all young creatures, magically haunts the dusk. And, as they presently fled away up the lawn, Damaris fled after them, circling over the moist grass, darting hither and thither, alternately pursuing and pursued.

Colonel Carteret, following soberly, revolving many thoughts, did not overtake her until the garden door was reached. There, upon the threshold, the light from within covering and revealing her, she awaited him. Her bosom rose and fell, her breathing being a little hurried, her face a little flushed. Her grave eyes sparkled and danced.

“Oh! you've made me so glad, so dreadfully glad,” she said. “And I never properly thanked you. Forgive me. I never can resist them—I went mad with the cats.”

Her young beauty appeared to Carteret very notable; and, yes—although she might disport herself in this childishly frolic fashion—it was idle to call her, or pretend her any longer a babe. For cause to him unknown, through force of some experience of which he remained ignorant, she had undeniably come into the charm and mystery of her womanhood—a very fair and noble blossoming before which reverently, if wistfully, he bowed his head.

“It's good to have you declare yourself glad, dear witch, in that case I'm glad too,” he answered her. “But as to forgiveness, I'm inclined to hold it over until you leave off being tantalizing—and, upon my word, I find you uncommonly far from leaving off just now!”

“You mean until I tell you what happened?”

Carteret nodded, searching her face with wise, fearless, smiling eyes.

“Ah! yes,” he said, “we can put it that way if you please.” Damaris hesitated detecting some undercurrent of meaning which puzzled her.

“I may never have to tell you. My father may speak of it—or you may just see for yourself. Only then, then”—she with a moving earnestness prayed him—“be kind, be lenient. Don't judge harshly—promise me you won't.”

And as she spoke her expression softened to a great and unconscious tenderness; for she beheld, in thought, a wide-winged sea-bird, above certain letters, tattooed in indigo and crimson upon the back of a lean shapely brown hand.

“I promise you,” Carteret said, and passed in at the door marvelling somewhat sadly.

“Is it that?” he asked himself. “If so, it comes early. Has she gone the way of all flesh and fallen in love?”

And this conversation, as shall presently be set forth, ushered in that second matter of cardinal importance, already referred to, which for Damaris marked the close of this eventful year.

CHAPTER II. TELLING HOW DAMARIS RENEWED HER ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE BELOVED LADY OF HER INFANCY

The windows of the sitting-room—upon the first floor of the long, three-storied, yellow-painted hotel—commanded a vast and glittering panorama of indented coast-line and purple sea. Here and there, in the middle distance, little towns, pale-walled and glistering, climbed upward amid gardens and olive yards from the rocky shore. Heathlands and pine groves covered the intervening headlands and steep valleys, save where meadows marked the course of some descending stream. To the north-east, above dark wooded foot-hills, the flushed whiteness of snow-summits cut delicately into the solid blue of the sky.

Stretched upon the sun-faded, once scarlet cushions of the window-seat, Damaris absorbed her fill of light, and warmth, and colour. Pleading imperative feminine mendings, she stayed at home this afternoon. She felt disposed to rest—here in the middle of her pasture, so to say—and resting, both count her blessings and dream, offering hospitality to all and any pleasant visions which might elect to visit her. And, indeed, those blessings appeared a goodly company, worthy of congratulation and of gratitude. She let the black silk stocking, the toe of which she affected to darn, slip neglected on to the floor while she added up the pleasant column of them.

The journey might be counted as a success—that to start with. For her father was certainly better, readier of speech and of interest in outside things. Oh! the dear “man with the blue eyes” had a marvellous hand on him—tactful, able, devoted, always serene, often even gay. Never could there be another so perfect, because so sane and comfortable, a friend. Her debt to him was of old standing and still for ever grew. How she could ever pay it she didn't know! Which consideration, for an instant, clouded her content. Not that she felt the obligation irksome; but, that out of pure affection, she wanted to make him some return, some acknowledgment; wanted to give, since to her he had so lavishly given.

Then the book—of all Carteret's clever manipulations the cleverest! For hadn't it begun to grip her father, and that quite divertingly much? He was occupied with it to the point of really being a tiny bit self-conscious and shy. Keen on it, transparently eager—though contemptuous, in high mighty sort, of course, of his own eagerness when he remembered. Only, more than half the time he so deliciously failed to remember.—And with that Damaris' thought took another turn, a more private and personal one.

For in truth the book gripped her, too, in most intimate and novel fashion, revealing to her the enchantments of an art in process of being actively realized in living, constructive effort. Herein she found, not the amazement of a new thing, but of a thing so natural that it appeared just a part of her very self, though, until now, an undiscovered one. To read other people's books is a joyous employment, as she well knew; but to make a book all one's own self, to watch and compel its growth into coherent form and purpose is—so she began to suspect—among the rarest delights granted to mortal man.

Her own share of such making, in the present case, was of the humblest it is true, mere spade labour and hod-bearing—namely, writing from Charles Verity's dictation, verifying names and dates, checking references and quotations. Still each arresting phrase, each felicitous expression, the dramatic ring of some virile word, the broad onward sweep of stately prose in narrative or sustained description, not only charmed her ear but challenged her creative faculty. She put herself to school in respect of it all, learning day by day a lesson.—This was the way it should be done. Ambition prodded her on.—For mightn't she aspire to do it too, some day? Mightn't, granted patience and application, the writing of books prove to be her business, her vocation? The idea floated before her, vague as yet, though infinitely beguiling. Whereupon the whole world took on a new significance and splendour, as it needs must when nascent talent claims its own, asserts its dawning right to dominion and to freedom.

And there the pathos of her father's position touched her nearly. For wasn't it a little cruel this remarkable gift of his should so long have lain dormant, unsuspected by his friends, unknown to the reading public, only to disclose itself, and that by the merest hazard, as a last resource?—It did not seem fair that he had not earlier found and enjoyed his literary birthright.

Damaris propounded this view to Colonel Carteret with some heat. But he smilingly discounted her fondly indignant lament.

“Better late than never anyhow, my dear witch,” he said. “And just picture the satisfaction of this brilliant rally when, as we'd reason to believe, he himself reckoned the game was up! Oh! there are points about a tardy harvest such as this, by no means to be despised. Thrice blessed the man who, like your father, finding such a harvest, also finds it to be of a sort he can without scruple reap.”

Of which cryptic utterance Damaris, at the time, could—to quote her own phrase—“make no sense!”—Nor could she make sense of it, now, when counting her blessings, she rested, in happy idleness, upon the faded scarlet cushions of the window-seat.

She remembered the occasion quite well on which Carteret thus expressed himself one afternoon, during their stay in Paris, on the southward journey. She had worn a new myrtle-green, black-braided, fur-trimmed cloth pelisse and hat to match, as she also remembered, bought the day before at a fascinating shop in the Rue Castiglione. Agreeably conscious her clothes were not only very much “the right thing” but decidedly becoming, she had gone, with him, to pay a visit of ceremony at the convent school—near the Church of St. Germain-les-Pres—where, as a little girl of six, fresh from India and the high dignities of the Bhutpur Sultan-i-bagh, she had been deposited by her father's old friend, Mrs. John Pereira, who had brought her and Sarah Watson, her nurse, back to Europe.

The sojourn at the convent—once the surprise of translation from East to West, from reigning princess to little scholar was surmounted—proved fertile in gentle memories. The visit of to-day, not only revived these memories, but added to their number. For it passed off charmingly. Carteret seemed by no means out of place among the nuns—well-bred and gracious women of hidden, consecrated lives. They, indeed, appeared instinctively drawn to him and fluttered round him in the sweetest fashion imaginable; he, meanwhile, bearing himself towards them with an exquisite and simple courtesy beyond all praise. Never had Damaris admired the “man with the blue eyes” more, never felt a more perfect trust in him, than when beholding him as Mousquetaire au Couvent thus!

As they emerged again into the clear atmosphere and resonance of the Paris streets, and made their way back by the Rue du Bac, the Pont Royal and the gardens of the Tuileries, to their hotel in the Rue de Rivoli, Carteret spoke reverently of the religious life, and the marvellous adaptability of the Catholic system to every need, every attitude of the human heart and conscience. He spoke further of the loss those inevitably sustain, who—from whatever cause—stand outside the creeds, unable to set their spiritual God-ward hopes and aspirations within a definite external framework of doctrine and practice hallowed by tradition.

“I could almost wish those dear holy women had gathered your little soul into the fold, when they had you in their keeping and made a good Catholic of you, dearest witch,” he told her. “It would have been a rather flagrant case of cradle-snatching, I own, but I can't help thinking it would have simplified many difficulties for you.”

“And raised a good many, too,” Damaris gaily answered him. “For Aunt Harriet Cowden would have been furious, and Aunt Felicia distressed and distracted; and poor Nannie—though she really got quite tame with the Sisters, and came to respect them in the end—would have broken her heart at my being taught to worship images, and have believed hell yawned to devour me. Oh! I think it was more fair to wait.—All the same I loved their religion—I love it still.”

“Go on loving it,” he bade her.—And at once turned the conversation to other themes—that of her father, Charles Verity among them, and the book on Afghanistan, the fair copy of the opening chapters of which was just completed.

Then, the stimulating, insistent vivacity of Paris going a little to Damaris' head—since urging, as always, to fullness of enterprise, fullness of endeavour, giving, as always, immense joy and value to the very fact of living—she lamented the late development of her father's literary genius. A lament which called forth Carteret's consolatory rejoinder, along with this—to her—cryptic assertion as to the thrice blessed state of the man whose harvest, when tardy, is of a description he need not scruple to reap.

“Why,” she asked herself, “should he have said that unless with reference to himself. Reference to some private harvest which he himself scrupled to reap?”

Damaris slipped her feet from the cushioned window-seat to the floor, and stooping down recovered her fallen black silk stocking. She felt disturbed, slightly conscience-stricken. For it had never occurred to her, strong, able, serene of humour and of countenance as he was, that the “man with the blue eyes” could have personal worries, things—as she put it—he wanted yet doubted whether he ought to have. Surely his unfailing helpfulness and sympathy gave him the right, in fee-simple, to anything and everything he might happen to covet. That he should covet what was wrong, what was selfish, detrimental to others, seemed incredible. And the generous pity of her youthful tenderness, her impatience of all privation, all disappointment or denial for those she held in affection, overflowed in her. She longed to do whatever would greatly please him, to procure for him whatever he wanted. Wouldn't it be delicious to do that—if she could only find out!

But this last brought her up against a disquieting lesson lately learned.—Namely, against recognition of how very far the lives of men—even those we know most dearly and closely—and the lives of us women are really apart. She thought of her father and Darcy Faircloth and their entirely unsuspected relation. This dulled the edge of her enthusiasm. For wasn't it only too probably the same with them all? Loyalty compelled the question. Had not every man a secret, or secrets, only penetrable, both for his peace of mind and for your own, at considerable risk?

Damaris planted her elbows on the window-sill, her chin in the hollow of her hands. Her eyes were solemn, her face grave with thought.—Verily the increase of knowledge is the increase of perplexity, if not of actual sorrow. Even the apparently safest and straightest paths are beset with “pitfall and with gin” for whoso studies to pursue truth and refuse subscription to illusion. Your charity should be wide as the world towards others. Towards yourself narrow as a hair, lest you condone your own weakness, greed, or error. Of temptation to any save very venial sins Damaris had, in her own person, little conception as yet.—Still to a maiden of eighteen, though she may have a generous proportion of health and beauty, sufficient fortune and by no means contemptible intelligence, noble instincts, complications and distresses, both of the practical and theoretic order, may, and do, at times occur. Damaris suffered the shock of such now; and into what further jungles of cheerless speculation she might have been projected it is impossible to say, had not persons and events close at hand claimed her attention.

The Grand Hotel at St. Augustin is situated upon a long narrow promontory, which juts out into the sea at right angles to the main trend of the coast-line. It faces east, turning its back upon the little town—built on the site of a Roman colonial city, originally named in honour of the pagan Emperor rather than the Christian Confessor and ascetic. Mediaeval piety bestowed on it the saintly prefix, along with a round-arched cathedral church, of no great size, but massive proportions and somewhat gloomy aspect.

From the terrace garden and carriage drive, immediately in front of the hotel, the ground drops sharply, beneath scattered pines with undergrowth of heather, wild lavender, gum-cistus, juniper, mastic and myrtle, to the narrow white beach a hundred feet below. Little paths traverse the rough descent. And up one of these, halting to rest now and then on a conveniently placed bench in the shade of some spreading umbrella pine, to discourse to the company of gentlemen following in her wake, or contemplate the view, came a notably graceful and telling figure.

As the lady advanced with leisurely composure, Damaris, gazing down from her point of vantage in the first floor window, received the impression of a person almost extravagantly finished and feminine, in which all irregularities and originalities of Nature had suffered obliteration by the action of art. Not art of the grosser sort, dependent on dyes, paint and cosmetics. The obliteration was not superficial merely, and must have been achieved by processes at once subtle and profound. The result obtained, however, showed unquestionably charming—if in a line slightly finical and exotic—as she picked her way through the fragrant undergrowth of the pine wood, slanting sunshine playing on her dark blue raiment, wide-brimmed white hat, and floating veil.

Coming completely into view at last, when stepping from the path on to the level carriage drive, a gold chain she wore, from which dangled a little bunch of trinkets and a long-handled lorgnette, glinted, catching the light. Damaris gave an exclamation of sudden and rapturous recognition. So far she had had eyes for the lady only; but now she took a rapid scrutiny of the latter's attendants. With two of them she was unacquainted. The other two were her father and Carteret.

Whereupon rapture gave place to a pang of jealous alarm and resentment. For they belonged to her, those dear two; and to see them even thus temporarily appropriated by someone else caused her surprising agitation. They had been so good, so apparently content, alone with her upon this journey. It would be too trying, too really intolerable to have outsiders interfere and break up their delightful solitude a trois, their delightful intercourse! Yet, almost immediately, the girl flushed, going hot all over with shame, scolding herself for even passing entertainment of such unworthy and selfish emotions.

“For it is Henrietta Pereira,” she said half aloud. “My own darling, long-ago Henrietta, who used to be so beautifully kind to me and give me presents I loved above everything.”

And, after a pause, the note of alarm sounding again though modified to wistfulness—

“Will she care for me still, and shall I still care for her—but I must care—I must—now I'm grown up?”

To set which disturbing questions finally at rest, being a valiant young creature, Damaris permitted herself no second thoughts, no vacillation or delay; but went straight downstairs and crossing the strip of terrace garden, bare-headed as she was, waited at the head of the steps leading up from the carriage drive to greet the idol of her guileless infancy.

To Colonel Carteret who, bringing up the rear of the little procession was the first to notice her advent, she made a touching and gallant picture. Her face had gone very pale and he saw, or fancied he saw, her lips tremble. But her solemn eyes shone with a steady light, and, whatever the excitement affecting her, she held it bravely in check. Noting all which he could not but speculate as to whether she had any knowledge of a certain romantic attachment—culminating on the one hand in an act of virtuous treachery, on the other in an act of renunciation—which had overshadowed and wrenched from its natural sequence so large a portion of her father's life. He earnestly hoped she was ignorant of all that; although the act of renunciation, made for her, Damaris' sake, represented a magnificent gesture if an exaggerated and almost fanatical one, on Charles Verity's part. It gave the measure of the man's fortitude, the measure of his paternal devotion. Still knowledge of it might, only too readily, prove a heavy burden to a young girl's imaginative and tender conscience. Yes—he hoped she had been spared that knowledge.

If she had escaped it thus far—as he reflected not without amusement—the other actor in that rather tragic drama, now so unexpectedly and arrestingly present in the flesh, could be trusted not to enlighten her. He knew Henrietta Pereira of old, bless her hard little heart. Not only did she detest tragedy, but positively revelled in any situation where clever avoidance of everything even remotely approaching it was open to her. She ruled the sublime and the ridiculous alike impartially out of the social relation; and that with so light though determined a touch, so convincing yet astute a tact and delicacy, you were constrained not only to submit to, but applaud her strategy.

Had she not within the very last hour given a masterly example of her powers in this line? For when he, Carteret, and Charles Verity, strolling in all innocence along the shore path back from St. Augustin, had to their infinite astonishment met her and her attendant swains face to face, she hadn't turned a hair. Her nerve was invincible. After clasping the hand of each in turn with the prettiest enthusiasm, she had introduced—“My husband, General Frayling—Mr. Marshall Wace, his cousin,” with the utmost composure. Thus making over to them any awkwardness which might be going and effectually ridding herself of it.

Carteret felt his jaw drop for the moment.—He had heard of John Pereira's death two years ago, and welcomed the news on her account, since, if report said true, that dashing cavalry officer had taken to evil courses. Gambling and liquor made him a nuisance, not to say disgrace to his regiment, and how much greater a one to his wife. Poor thing, she must have had a lot to endure and that of the most sordid! It wasn't nice to think about. Clearly Pereira's removal afforded matter for thankfulness.

But of this speedy reconstruction on her part, in the shape of a third matrimonial venture, he had heard never a word. How would Verity take it?—Apparently with a composure as complete as her own.—And then the inherent humour of the position, and her immense skill and coolness in the treatment of it, came uppermost. Carteret felt bound to support her and help her out by accepting her little old General—lean-shanked and livery, with pompously outstanding chest, aggressive white moustache and mild appealing eye—as a matter of course. Bound to buck him up, and encourage him in the belief he struck a stranger as the terrible fellow he would so like to be, and so very much feared that he wasn't. Carteret's large charity came into play in respect of the superannuated warrior; who presented a pathetically inadequate effect, specially when seen, as now, alongside Charles Verity. Surely the contrast must hit the fair Henrietta rather hard? Carteret expended himself in kindly civilities, therefore, going so far as to say “sir" once or twice in addressing Frayling. Whereat the latter's timorous step grew almost jaunty and his chest more than ever inflated.

If Henrietta carried things off to admiration in the first amazement of impact, she carried them off equally to admiration in her meeting with Damaris. It was the prettiest little scene in the world.

For reaching up and placing her hands on the girl's shoulders her chiselled face—distinct yet fragile in outline as some rare cameo—suffused for once with transparent, shell-like pink, she kissed Damaris on either cheek.

“Ah! precious child, most precious child,” she fondly murmured. “What an enchanting surprise! How little I imagined such a joy was in store for me when I came out this afternoon!”

And louder, for the benefit of the assistants.

“Yes—here are my husband, General Frayling, and Mr. Wace his cousin—he shall sing to you some day—that by the way—who is travelling with us. But they must talk to you later. I can't spare you to them now. I am greedy after our long separation and want to have you all to myself.”

And, including the four gentlemen in a gesture of friendly farewell, she put her arm round Damaris' waist, gently compelling her in the direction of a group of buff-painted iron chairs, placed in a semicircle in the shade of ilex and pine trees at the end of the terrace.

“I have so much to hear,” she said, “so many dropped threads to pick up, and it is impossible to talk comfortably and confidentially in a crowd. Our men must really contrive to play about by themselves for a little while and leave me to enjoy you in peace.”

“But won't they mind?” Damaris asked, upon whom the spell of the elder woman's personality began sensibly to work.

“Let them mind, let them mind,” she threw off airily in answer. “So much the better. It will do them good. It is excellent discipline for men to find they can't always have exactly their own way.”

Which assertion served to dissipate any last remnant of jealous alarm Damaris' mind may have unconsciously harboured. In its place shy curiosity blossomed, and quick intimate pleasure in so perfectly fashioned and furnished a creature. For wasn't her childish adoration fully justified? Wasn't her darling Henrietta a being altogether captivating and unique? Damaris loved the feeling of that arm and hand lightly clasping her waist. Loved the faint fragrance—hadn't it intoxicated her baby senses?—pervading Henrietta's hair, her clothes, her whole pretty person. Loved the tinkle of the bunch of trinkets dangling from the long chain which reached below her waist. She had feared disappointment. That, as she now perceived, was altogether superfluous. Henrietta enthralled her eyes, enthralled her affection. She longed to protect, to serve her, to stand between her and every rough wind which blew, because she was so pretty, so extraordinarily and completely civilized from head to foot.

No doubt in the generosity of her youthful inexperience Damaris exaggerated the lady's personal charm. Yet the dozen years intervening—since their last meeting—had, in truth, dealt mercifully with the latter's good looks. A trifle pinched, a trifle faded she might be, as compared with the Henrietta of twelve years ago; but immediately such damage, such wear and tear of the fleshly garment, showed at its least conspicuous. She negotiated the double encounter, as Carteret had noted, with admirable sang-froid; but not, as to the first one in any case, without considerably greater inward commotion than he gave her credit for. She was in fact keyed up by it, excited, taken out of herself to an unprecedented extent, her native optimism and egoism in singular disarray. Yet thereby, through that very excitement, she recaptured for the time being the physical loveliness of an earlier period. Beauty is very much a matter of circulation; and the blood cantered, not to say galloped, through Henrietta's veins.

The sight of Charles Verity did indeed put back the clock for her in most astounding sort. Henrietta was no victim of impulse. Each of her three marriages had been dictated by convenience, carefully thought out and calculated. Over neither husband had she, for ever so brief a period, lost her head. But over Charles Verity she had come perilously near losing it—once. That, it is not too much to say, constituted the greatest sensation, the greatest emotion of her experience. As a rule the most trying and embarrassing part of encountering a former lover is that you wonder what, under Heaven, induced you to like him so well? Here the position was reversed, so that Henrietta wondered—with a sickening little contraction of the heart—what, under Heaven, had prevented her liking him much more, why, under Heaven, she ever let him go? Of course, as things turned out, it was all for the best, since her insensibility made for righteousness, or anyhow for respectability—in the opinion of the world the same, if not an even superior article. She ought to congratulate herself, ought to feel thankful. Only just now she didn't. On the contrary she was shaken—consciously and most uncomfortably shaken to the very deepest of such depths as her shallow soul could boast—sitting here, on a buff-painted chair in the shade of the pines and ilex trees, in company with Damaris, holding the girl's hand in both her own with a clinging, slightly insistent, pressure as it rested upon her lap.

“Dearest child, I believe, though you have grown so tall, I should have recognized you anywhere,” she said.

“And I you,” Damaris echoed. “I did, I did, after just the first little minute.”

“Ah! you've a memory for faces too?”

Her glance wandered to the group of men gathered before the hotel portico—Sir Charles and General Frayling side by side, engaged in civil if not particularly animated conversation. The two voices reached her with a singular difference of timbre and of tone. Carteret spoke, apparently making some proposition, some invitation, in response to which the four passed into the house.

Henrietta settled herself in her chair with a movement of sensible relief. While they remained there she must look, and it was not quite healthy to look.—Her good, little, old General, who only asked respectfully to adore and follow in her wake—a man of few demands and quite tidy fortune—and after poor, besotted, blustering, gambling, squashily sentimental and tearful Johnnie Pereira wasn't he a haven of rest—oh, positively a haven of rest? All the same she preferred his not standing there in juxtaposition to Charles Verity. She much preferred their all going indoors—Carteret along with the rest, if it came to that.

She turned and smiled upon Damaris.

“However good your memory for faces may be, I find it very sweet you should have recognized mine after 'just the first little minute,'“ she said, with a coaxing touch of mimicry. “You haven't quite parted company with the baby I remember so well, even yet. I used to call you my downy owl, with solemn saucer eyes and fierce little beak. You were extraordinarily, really perplexingly like your father then. A miniature edition, but so faithful to the original it used, sometimes, to give me the quaintest jump.”

Henrietta mused, raising one hand and fingering the lace at her throat as seeking to loosen it. Damaris watched fascinated, in a way troubled, by her extreme prettiness. Every point, every detail was so engagingly complete.

“You are like Sir Charles still; but I see something which is not him—the personal equation, I suppose, developing in you, the element which is individual, exclusively your own and yourself. I should enjoy exploring that.”

She looked at Damaris very brightly for an instant, then looked down.

“I want to hear more about Sir Charles,” she said. “Of all the distinguished men I have been fortunate enough to know, who—who have let me be their friend, no one has ever interested me more than he. We have known one another ever since I was a girl and his career meant so much to me. I followed it closely, rejoiced in his promotion, his successes; felt indignant—and said so—when he met with adverse criticism. I am speaking of his Indian career. When he accepted that Afghan command, it made a break. We lost touch, which I regretted immensely. From that time onward I only knew what any and everybody might know from the newspapers—except occasionally when I happened to meet Colonel Carteret.”

The explanation was lengthy, laboured, not altogether spontaneous. Damaris vaguely mystified by it made no comment. Henrietta raised her head, glancing round from under lowered eyelids.

“You appreciate the ever-faithful Carteret?” she asked, an edge of eagerness in her voice.

“The dear 'man with the blue eyes?' Of course I love him, we both love him almost better than anybody in the world,” Damaris warmly declared.

“And he manifestly returns your affection. But, dearest child, why 'almost.' Is that reservation intentional or merely accidental?”

Then seeing the girl's colour rise.

“Perhaps it's hardly a fair question. Forgive me. I forgot how long it is since we met, forgot I'm not, after all, talking to the precious little downy owl, who had no more serious secrets than such as might concern her large family of dolls.”

“I am not sure the 'almost' was quite true.” Damaris put in hastily, her cheeks more than ever aflame.

“Yes it was, most delicious child—I protest it was. And I'm not sure I'm altogether sorry.”

Slightly, daintily, she kissed the flaming cheek.

“But I do love Colonel Carteret,” Damaris repeated, with much wide-eyed earnestness. “I trust him and depend on him as I do on nobody else.”

“'Almost' nobody else?”

Damaris shook her head. She felt a wee bit disappointed in Henrietta. This persistence displeased her as trivial, as lacking in perfection of breeding and taste.

“Quite nobody,” she said. And without permitting time for rejoinder launched forth into the subject of the book on the campaigns of Shere Ali, which, as she explained, had been undertaken at Carteret's suggestion and with such encouraging result. She waxed eloquent regarding the progress of the volume and its high literary worth.

“But I was a little nervous lest my father should lose his interest and grow slack when we were alone, and he'd only me to talk things over with and to consult, so I begged Colonel Carteret to come abroad with us.”

“Ah! I see—quite so,” Henrietta murmured. “It was at your request.”

“Yes. He was beautifully kind, as he always is. He agreed at once, gave up all his own plans and came.”

“And stays”—Henrietta said.

“Yes, for the present. But to tell the truth I'm worried about his staying.”

“Why?”—again with a just perceptible edge of eagerness.

“Because, of course, I have no right to trade on his kindness, even for my father's sake or the sake of the book.”

“And that is your only reason?”

“Isn't it more than reason enough? There must be other people who want him and things of his own he wants to do. It would be odiously selfish of me to interfere by keeping him tied here. I have wondered lately whether I oughtn't to speak to him about it and urge his going home. I was worrying rather over that when you arrived this afternoon, and then the gladness of seeing you put it out of my head. But how I wish you would advise me, Henrietta, if it's not troubling you too much. You and they have been friends so long and you must know so much better than I can what's right. Tell me what is my duty—about his staying, I mean—to, to them both, do you think?”

Henrietta Frayling did not answer at once. Her delicate features perceptibly sharpened and hardened, her lips becoming thin as a thread.

“You're not vexed with me? I haven't been tiresome and asked you something I shouldn't?” Damaris softly exclaimed, smitten with alarm of unintended and unconscious offence.

“No—no—but you put a difficult question, since I have only impressions and those of the most, fugitive to guide me. Personally, I am always inclined to leave well alone.”

“But is this well?—There's just the point.”

“You are very anxious”—

“Yes, I am very anxious. You see I care dreadfully much.”

Henrietta bent down, giving her attention to an inch of kilted silk petticoat, showing where it should not, beneath the hem of her blue skirt.

“I hesitate to give you advice; but I can give you my impressions—for what they may be worth. Seeing Colonel Carteret this afternoon he struck me as being in excellent case—enviably young for his years and content.”

“You thought so? Yet that's just what has worried me. Once or twice lately I have not been sure he was quite content.”

“Oh! you put it too high!” Henrietta threw off. “Can one ever be sure anyone—even one's own poor self—is quite content?”

And she looked round, bringing the whole artillery of her still great, if waning, loveliness suddenly to bear upon Damaris, dazzling, charming, confusing her, as she said:

“My precious child, has it never occurred to you Colonel Carteret may stay on, not against has will, but very much with it? Or occurred to you, further, not only that the pleasures of your father's society are by no means to be despised; but that you yourself are a rather remarkable product—as quaintly engagingly clever, as you are—well—shall we say—handsome, Damaris?”

“I am deputed to enquire whether you propose to take tea indoors, Miss Verity, or have it brought to you here; and, in the latter case, whether we have leave to join you?”

The speaker, Marshall Wace—a young man of about thirty years of age—may be described as soft in make, in colouring slightly hectic, in manner a subtle cross between the theatrical and the parsonic. Which, let it be added, is by no means to condemn him wholesale, laugh him off the stage or out of the pulpit. In certain circles, indeed, these traits, this blend, won for him unstinted sympathy and approval. He possessed talents in plenty, and these of an order peculiarly attractive to the amateur because tentative rather than commanding. Among his intimates he was seen and spoken of as one cloaked with the pathos of thwarted aspirations. Better health, less meagre private means and a backing of influence, what might he not have done? His star might have flamed to the zenith! Meanwhile it was a privilege to help him, to such extent as his extreme delicacy of feeling permitted. That it really permitted a good deal, one way or another, displaying considerable docility under the infliction of benefits, would have been coarse to perceive and unpardonably brutal to mention.—Such, anyhow, was the opinion held by his cousin, General Frayling, at whose expense he now enjoyed a recuperative sojourn upon the French Riviera. Some people, in short, have a gift of imposing themselves, and Marshall Wace may be counted among that conveniently endowed band.

He imposed himself now upon one at least of his hearers. For, though the address might seem studied, the voice delivering it was agreeable, causing Damaris, for the first time, consciously to notice this member of Mrs. Frayling's retinue. She felt amiably disposed towards him since his intrusion closed a conversation causing her no little disturbance of mind. Henrietta's last speech, in particular, set her nerves tingling with most conflicting emotions. If Henrietta so praised her that praise must be deserved, for who could be better qualified to give judgment on such a subject than the perfectly equipped Henrietta? Yet she shrank in distaste, touched in her maiden modesty and pride, from so frank an exposition of her own charms. It made her feel unclothed, stripped in the market-place—so to speak—and shamed. Secretly she had always hoped she was pretty rather than plain. She loved beauty and therefore naturally desired to possess it. But to have the fact of that possession thus baldly stated was another matter. It made her feel unnatural, as though joined to a creature with whom she was insufficiently acquainted, whose ways might not be her ways or its thoughts her thoughts. Therefore the young man, Marshall Wace, coming as a seasonable diversion from these extremely personal piercings and probings, found greater favour in her eyes than he otherwise might. And this with results, for Damaris' gratitude, once engaged, disdained to criticize, invariably tending to err on the super-generous side.

Yes, they would all have tea out here, if Henrietta was willing. And, if Henrietta would for the moment excuse her, she would go and order Hordle—her father's man—to see to the preparation of it himself. Foreign waiters, whatever their ability in other departments, have no natural understanding of a tea-pot and are liable to the weirdest ideas of cutting bread and butter.

With which, conscious she was guilty of somewhat incoherent chatter, Damaris sprang up and swung away along the terrace, through the clear tonic radiance, buoyant as a caged bird set free.

“Go with her, Marshall, go with her,” Mrs. Frayling imperatively bade him.

“And leave you, Cousin Henrietta?”

She rose with a petulant gesture.

“Yes, go at once or you won't overtake her. I am tired, really wretchedly tired—and am best left alone.”

CHAPTER III. WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF, INCIDENTALLY, WITH THE GRIEF OF A VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCE AND THE RECEPTION OF A BELATED CHRISTMAS GREETING

Henrietta Frayling left the Grand Hotel, that afternoon, in a chastened frame of mind. Misgivings oppressed her. She doubted—and even more than doubted—whether she had risen to the full height of her own reputation, whether she had not allowed opportunity to elude her, whether she had not lost ground difficult to regain. The affair was so astonishingly sprung upon her. The initial impact she withstood unbroken—and from this she derived a measure of consolation. But afterwards she weakened. She had felt too much—and that proved her undoing. It is foolish, because disabling, to feel.

Her treatment of Damaris she condemned as mistaken, admitting a point of temper. It is hard to forgive the younger generation their youth, the infinite attraction of their ingenuous freshness, the fact that they have the ball at their feet. Hence she avoided the society of the young of her own sex—as a rule. Girls are trying when pretty and intelligent, hardly less trying—though for other reasons—when the reverse. Boys she tolerated. In the eyes of young men she sunned herself taking her ease, since these are slow to criticize, swift to believe—between eighteen and eight-and-twenty, that is.—We speak of the mid-Victorian era and then obtaining masculine strain.

Misgivings continued to pursue her during the ensuing evening and even interfered with her slumbers during the night. This—most unusual occurrence—rendered her fretful. She reproached her tractable and distressed little General with having encouraged her to walk much too far. In future he swore to insist on the carriage, however confidently she might assert the need of active exertion. She pointed out the fallacy of rushing to extremes; which rather cruelly floored him, since “rushing,” in any shape or form, had conspicuously passed out of his programme some considerable time ago.

“My wife is not at all herself,” he told Marshall Wace, at breakfast next morning—“quite overdone, I am sorry to say, and upset. I blame myself. I must keep a tight hand on her and forbid over exertion.”

With a small spoon, savagely, daringly he beat in the top of his boiled egg.

“I must be more watchful,” he added. “Her nervous energy is deceptive. I must refuse to let it override my better judgment and take me in.”

By luncheon time, however, Henrietta was altogether herself, save for a pretty pensiveness, and emerged with all her accustomed amiability from this temporary eclipse.

The Fraylings occupied a small detached villa, built in the grounds of the Hotel de la Plage—a rival and venerably senior establishment to the Grand Hotel—situate just within the confines of St. Augustin, where the town curves along the glistering shore to the western horn of the little bay. At the back of it runs the historic high road from Marseilles to the Italian frontier, passing through Cannes and Nice. Behind it, too, runs the railway with its many tunnels, following the same, though a somewhat less serpentine, course along the gracious coast.

To the ex-Anglo-Indian woman, society is as imperative a necessity as water to a fish. She must foregather or life loses all its savour; must entertain, be entertained, rub shoulders generally or she is lost. Henrietta Frayling suffered the accustomed fate, though to speak of rubbing shoulders in connection with her is to express oneself incorrectly to the verge of grossness. Her shoulders were of an order far too refined to rub or be rubbed. Nevertheless, after the shortest interval consistent with self-respect, such society as St. Augustin and its neighbourhood afforded found itself enmeshed in her dainty net. Mrs. Frayling's villa became a centre, where all English-speaking persons met. There she queened it, with her General as loyal henchman, and Marshall Wace as a professor of drawing-room talents of most varied sort.

Discovery of the party at the Grand Hotel, took the gilt off the gingerbread of such queenings, to a marked extent, making them look make-shifty, lamentably second-rate and cheap. Hence Henrietta's fretfulness in part. For with the exception of Lady Hermione Twells—widow of a once Colonial Governor—and the Honourable Mrs. Callowgas nee de Brett, relict of a former Bishop of Harchester, they were but scratch pack these local guests of hers. Soon, however, a scheme of putting that discovery to use broke in on her musings. The old friendship must, she feared, be counted dead. General Frayling's existence, in the capacity of husband, rendered any resurrection of it impracticable. She recognized that. Yet exhibition of its tombstone, were such exhibition compassable, could not fail to bring her honour and respect. She would shine by a reflected light, her glory all the greater that the witnesses of it were themselves obscure—Lady Hermione and Mrs. Callowgas excepted of course. Carteret's good-nature could be counted on to bring him to the villa. And Damaris must be annexed. Assuming the role and attitude of a vicarious motherhood, Henrietta herself could hardly fail to gain distinction. It was a touching part—specially when played by a childless woman only a little—yes, really only quite a little—past her prime.

Here, indeed, was a great idea, as she came to grasp the possibilities and scope of it. As chaperon to Damaris how many desirable doors would be open to her! Delicately Henrietta hugged herself perceiving that, other things being equal, her own career was by no means ended yet. Through Damaris might she not very well enter upon a fresh and effective phase of it? How often and how ruefully had she revolved the problem of advancing age, questioning how gracefully to confront that dreaded enemy, and endure its rather terrible imposition of hands without too glaring a loss of prestige and popularity! Might not Damaris' childish infatuation offer a solution of that haunting problem, always supposing the infatuation could be revived, be recreated?

Ah! what a double-dyed idiot she had been yesterday, in permitting feeling to outrun judgment!—With the liveliest satisfaction Henrietta could have boxed her own pretty ears in punishment of her passing weakness.—Yet surely time still remained wherein to retrieve her error and restore her ascendency. Damaris might be unusually clever; but she was also finely inexperienced, malleable, open to influence as yet. Let Henrietta then see to it, and that without delay or hesitation, bringing to bear every ingenious social art, and—if necessary—artifice, in which long practice had made her proficient.

To begin with she would humble herself by writing a sweet little letter to Damaris. In it she would both accuse and excuse her maladroitness of yesterday, pleading the shock of so unlooked-for a coming together and the host of memories evoked by it.—Would urge how deeply it affected her, overcame her in fact, rendering her incapable of saying half the affectionate things it was in her heart to say. She might touch on the subject of Damaris' personal appearance again; which, by literally taking her breath away, had contributed to her general undoing.—On second thoughts, however, she decided it would be politic to avoid that particular topic, since Damaris was evidently a little shy in respect of her own beauty.—Henrietta smiled to herself.—That is a form of shyness exceedingly juvenile, short-lived enough!

Marshall should act as her messenger, she being—as she could truthfully aver—eager her missive might reach its destination with all possible despatch. A letter, moreover, delivered by hand takes on an importance, makes a claim on the attention, greater than that of one received by post. There is a personal gesture in the former mode of transmission by no means to be despised in delicate operations such as the present—“I want to set myself right with you at once, dearest child, in case, as I fear, you may have a little misunderstood, me yesterday. Accident having so strangely restored us to one another, I long to hold you closely if you will let me do so.”—Yes, it should run thus, the theme embroidered with high-flashing colour of Eastern reminiscence—the great subtropic garden of the Sultan-i-bagh, for example, its palms, orange grove and lotus tank, the call of the green parrots, chant of the well-coollie and creak of the primitive wooden gearing, as the yoke of cream white oxen trotted down and laboriously backed up the walled slope to the well-head.

Mrs. Frayling set herself to produce a very pretty piece of sentiment, nicely turned, decorated, worded, and succeeded to her own satisfaction. Might not she too, at this rate, claim possession of the literary gift—under stress of circumstance? The idea was a new one. It amused her.

And what if Damaris elected to show this precious effusion to her father, Sir Charles? Well, if the girl did, she did. It might just conceivably work on him also, to the restoration of past—infatuation?—Henrietta left the exact term in doubt. But her hope of such result was of the smallest. Exhibition of a tombstone was the most she could count upon.—More probably he would regard it critically, cynically, putting his finger through her specious phrases. She doubted his forgiveness of a certain act of virtuous treachery even yet; although he had, in a measure, condoned her commission of it by making use of her on one occasion since, namely, that of her bringing Damaris back twelve years ago to Europe. But whether his attitude were cynical or not, he would hold his peace. Such cogent reasons existed for silence on his part that if he did slightly distrust her, hold her a little cheap, he would hardly venture to say as much, least of all to Damaris.—Venture or condescend?—Again Mrs. Frayling left the term in doubt and went forward with her schemes, which did, unquestionably just now, add a pleasing zest to life.

The innocent subject of these machinations received both the note and its bearer in a friendly spirit, though she was already, as it happened, rich in letters to-day. The bi-weekly packet from Deadham—addressed in Mary Fisher's careful copy-book hand—arrived at luncheon time, and contained, among much of apparently lesser interest, a diverting chronicle of Tom Verity's impressions and experiences during the first six weeks of his Indian sojourn. The young man's gaily self-confident humour had survived his transplantation. He wrote in high feather, quite unabashed by the novelty of his surroundings, yet not forgetting to pay honour where honour was due.

“It has been 'roses, roses all the way' thanks to Sir Charles's introductions, for which I can never be sufficiently grateful,” he told her. “They have procured me no end of delightful hospitality from the great ones of the local earth, and really priceless opportunities of getting into touch with questions of ruling importance over here. I am letting my people at home know how very much I owe, and always shall owe, to his kindness in using his influence on my behalf at the start.”

Damaris glowed responsive to this fine flourish of a tone, and passed the letter across the small round dinner table to her father. Opened a fat packet, enclosed in an envelope of exaggerated tenuity, from Miss Felicia, only to put it aside in favour of another letter bearing an Italian stamp and directed in a, to her, unfamiliar hand.

This was modest in bulk as compared with Miss Felicia's; but while examining it, while touching it even, Damaris became aware of an inward excitement, of a movement of tenderness not to be ignored or denied.

Startled by her own prescience, and the agitation accompanying it, she looked up quickly to find Carteret watching her; whereupon, mutely, instinctively, her eyes besought him to ask no questions, make no comment. For an appreciable space he kept her in suspense, his glance holding and challenging hers in close observation. Then as though, not without a measure of struggle, granting her request, he smiled at her, and, turning his attention to the contents of his plate, quietly went on with the business of luncheon. Damaris meanwhile, conscience-stricken—she couldn't tell why—by this silent interchange of intelligence, this silent demand on his forbearance, on his connivance in her secrecy, laid the letter face downwards on the white table-cloth, unopened.

Later, Sir Charles Verity being busy with his English correspondence and Carteret having disappeared—gone for a solitary walk, as she divined, being, as she feared, not quite pleased with her—she read it in the security of her bedroom, seated, for greater ease, upon the polished parquet floor just inside an open, southward-facing French window, where the breeze coming up off the sea gently fanned her face.

The letter began without preamble:

“We made this port—Genoa—last night. All day we have been discharging cargo. Half my crew has gone ashore, set on liquoring and wenching after the manner of unregenerate sailor-men all the world over. The other half follows their bad example to-morrow, as we shall be lying idle in honour of the Christmas festival. On board discipline is as strict as I know how to make it, but ashore my hand is lifted off them. So long as they turn up on time they are free to follow their fancy, even though it lead them to smutty places. My own fancies don't happen to lie that way, for which I in nowise praise myself. It is an affair of absence of inclination rather than overmuch active virtue. I am really no better than they, seeing I yield to the only temptation which takes me—the temptation to write to you. I have resisted it times out of number since I bade you good-bye at The Hard. But Christmas-night turns one a bit soft and craving for sight and touch of those who belong to one. So much I dare say, though I go back on nothing I said to you then about the keeping up of decent barriers. Only being Christmas-night-soft I give myself the licence of a holiday—for once. The night is clear as glass and the city rises in a great semicircle, pierced by and outlined in twinkling lights, right up to the ring of forts crowning the hills, where the sky begins—a sky smothered in stars. I have been out, on deck, looking at it all, at the black masts and funnels of the ships ranging to right and left against the glare of the town, and at the oily, black water, thick with floating filth and garbage and with wandering reflections like jewels and precious metals on the surface of it—the rummiest mixture of fair and foul. And then, all that faded out somehow—and I saw black water again, but clean this time and with no reflections, under a close-drawn veil of falling rain; and I felt to lift you out of the boat and carry you in across the lawn and up to your room. And then I could not hold out against temptation any longer, but came here into my cabin and sat down to write to you. The picture of you, wet and limp and helpless in my arms, is always with me, stamped on the very substance of my brain, as is the other picture of you in the drawing-room lined with book-cases, where we found one another for the second time. Found one another in spirit, I mean; an almost terribly greater finding than the first one, because it can go on for ever as it belongs to the part of us which does not die. That is my faith anyhow. To-morrow morning I will go ashore and into one of those big, tawdry Genoa churches, and listen to the music, standing in some quiet corner, and think about you and renew my vows to you. It won't be half bad to keep Christmas that way.

“I don't pretend to be a great letter-writer, so if this one has funny fashions to it you must forgive both them and me. I write as I feel and must leave it so. The voyage has been good, and my poor old tub has behaved herself, kept afloat and done her best, bravely if a bit wheezingly, in some rather nasty seas. When we are through here I take her across to Tripoli and back along the African coast to Algiers, then across to Marseilles. I reckon to reach there in six weeks or two months from now. You might perhaps be willing to write a line to me there—to the care of my owners, Messrs. Denniver, Holland &Co. Their office is in the Cannebiere. I don't ask you to do this, but only tell you I should value it more than you can quite know.—Now my holiday is over and I will close down till next Christmas-night—unless miracles happen meanwhile—so good-bye.—Here is a boatload of my lads coining alongside, roaring with song and as drunk as lords.—God bless you. In spirit I once again kiss your dear feet. Your brother till death and after.

“DARCY FAIRCLOTH.”

Dazed, enchanted, held captive by the secular magic pertaining to those who “go down to the sea in ships” and ply their calling in the great waters, held captive, too, by the mysterious prenatal sympathies which unite those who come of the same blood, Damaris stayed very still, sitting child-like upon the bare polished floor, while the wind murmured through the spreading pines, shading the terrace below, and gently fanned her throat and temples.

For Faircloth's letter seemed to her very wonderful, alike in its vigour, its simplicity and—her lips quivered—its revelation of loving.—How he cared—and how he went on caring!—There were coarse words in it, the meaning of which she neither knew nor sought to know; but she did not resent them. The letter indeed would have lost some of its living force, its convincing reality, had they been omitted. They rang true, to her ear. And just because they rang true the rest rang blessedly true as well. She gloried in the whole therefore, breathing through it a larger air of faith and hope, and confident fortitude. The kindred qualities of her own heart and intelligence, the flush of her fine enthusiasm, sprang to meet and join with the fineness of it, its richness of promise and of good omen.

For a time mind and emotion remained thus in stable and exalted equilibrium. Then, as enchantment reached its necessary term and her apprehensions and thought began to work more normally, she badly wanted someone to speak to. She wanted to bear witness, to testify, to pour forth both the moving tale and her own sensations, into the ear of some indulgent and friendly listener. She—she—wanted to tell Colonel Carteret about it, to enlist his interest, to read him, in part at least, Darcy Faircloth's letter, and hear his confirmation of the noble spirit she discerned in it, its poetry, its charm. For the dear man with the blue eyes would understand, of that she felt confident, understand fully—and it would set her right with him, if, as she suspected, he was not somehow quite pleased with her. She caressed the idea, while, so doing, silence and concealment grew increasingly irksome to her. Oh! she wanted to speak—and to her father she could not speak.

With that both Damaris' attitude and expression changed, the glory abruptly departing. She got up off the floor, left the window, and sat down very soberly, in a red-velvet covered arm-chair, placed before the flat stone hearth piled with wood ashes.

There truly was the fly in the ointment, the abiding smirch on the otherwise radiant surface—as she now hailed it—of this strangely moving fraternal relation. The fact of it did come, and, as she feared, would inevitably continue to come between her and her father, marring to an appreciable degree their mutual confidence and sympathy. At Deadham he had braced himself to deal with the subject in a spirit of rather magnificent self-abnegation. But the effort had cost him more than she quite cared to estimate, in lowered pride and moral suffering. It had told on not only his mental but his physical health. Now that he was in great measure restored, his humour no longer saturnine, he no longer remote, sunk in himself and inaccessible, it would be not only injudicious, but selfish, to the verge of active cruelty, to press the subject again upon his notice, to propose further concessions, or further recognition of its existence. She couldn't ask that of him—ten thousand times no, she couldn't ask it—though not to ask it was to let the breach in sympathy and confidence widen silently and grow.

So much was sadly clear to her. She unfolded Faircloth's letter and read it through a second time, in vain hope of discovering some middle way, some leading. Read it, feeling the first enchantment but all cross-hatched now and seamed with perplexity and regret. For decent barriers must stand, he declared, which meant concealment indefinitely prolonged, the love of brother and sister wasted, starved to the mean proportions of an occasional furtive letter; sacrificed, with all its possibilities of present joy and future comfort, to hide the passage of long-ago wrongdoing in which it had its source.

Her hesitation went a step behind this presently, arguing as to how that could be sin which produced so gracious a result. It wasn't logical an evil tree should bear such conspicuously good fruit. Yet conscience and instinct assured her the tree was indeed evil—a thing of license, of unruly passion upon which she might not look. Had it not been her first thought—when Faircloth told her, drifting down the tide-river in the chill and dark—that he must feel sad, feel angry having been wronged by the manner of his birth? He had answered “yes,” thereby admitting the inherent evil of the tree of which his existence was the fruit—adding, “but not often and not for long,” since he esteemed the gift of life too highly to be overnice as to the exact method by which he became possessed of it. He palliated, therefore, he excused, but he did not deny.

By this time Damaris' mind wheeled in a vicious circle, perpetually swinging round to the original starting-point. The moral puzzle proved too complicated for her, the practical one equally hard of solution. She stood between them, her father and her brother. Their interests conflicted, as did the duty she owed each; and her heart, her judgment, her piety were torn two ways at once. Would it always be thus—or would the pull of one prove conclusively the stronger? Would she be compelled finally to choose between them? Not that either openly did or ever would strive to coerce her. Both were honourable, both magnanimous. And, out of her heart, she desired to serve both justly and equally—only—only—upon youth the pull of youth is very great.

She put her hands over her eyes, shrinking, frightened. Was it possible she loved Darcy Faircloth best?

A knocking. Damaris slipped the letter into the pocket of her dress, and rising crossed the room and opened the door.

Hordle stood in the pale spacious corridor without. He presented Marshall Wace's card. The gentleman, he said rather huffily, had called, bringing a message from Mrs. Frayling as Hordle understood, which he requested to deliver to Miss Damaris in person. He begged her to believe he was in no hurry. If she was engaged he could perfectly well wait.—He would do so in the hotel drawing-room, until it was convenient to her to allow him a few minutes' conversation.

So, for the second time, this young man's intrusion proved by no means unwelcome, as offering Damaris timely escape. She went down willingly to receive him. Yesterday he struck her as a pleasant and agreeable person—and of a type with which she was unacquainted. It would be interesting to talk to him.—She felt anxious, moreover, to learn what Henrietta, lovely if not entirely satisfactory Henrietta, could possibly want.

CHAPTER IV. BLOWING OF ONE'S OWN TRUMPET PRACTISED AS A FINE ART

The slender little Corsican horses, red-chestnut in colour and active as cats, trotted, with a tinkle of bells, through the barred sunshine and shadow of the fragrant pine and cork woods. The road, turning inland, climbed steadily, the air growing lighter and fresher as the elevation increased—a nip in it testifying that January was barely yet out. And that nip justified the wearing of certain afore-mentioned myrtle-green, fur-trimmed pelisse, upon which Damaris' minor affections were, at this period, much set. Though agreeably warm and thick, it moulded her bosom, neatly shaped her waist, and that without any defacing wrinkle. The broad fur band at the throat compelled her to carry her chin high, with a not unbecoming effect. Her cheeks bloomed, her eyes shone bright, as she sat beside Mrs. Frayling in the open victoria, relishing the fine air, the varying prospect, her own good clothes, her companion's extreme prettiness and lively talk.

This drive, the prelude to Henrietta's campaign, presented that lady at her best. The advantage of being—as Henrietta—essentially artificial, is that you can never, save by forgetful lapse into sincerity, be untrue to yourself. Hence what a saving of scruples, of self-accusation, of self-torment! Her plans once fixed she proceeded to carry them out with unswerving ease and spontaneity. She refused to hurry, her only criterion of personal conduct being success; and success, so she believed, if sound, being a plant of gradual growth. Therefore she gave both herself and others time. Once fairly in the saddle, she never strained, never fussed.

Her cue to-day was to offer information rather than to require it. Curious about many things she might be; but gratification of her curiosity must wait. Damaris, on her part, listened eagerly, asking nothing better than to be kept amused, kept busy, helped to forget.—Not Faircloth's letter—very, very far from that!—but the inward conflict of opposing loves, opposing duties, which meditation upon his letter so distractingly produced. Relatively all, outside that conflict and the dear cause of it, was of small moment—mere play stuff at best. But her brain and conscience were tired. She would be so glad, for a time, only to think about play stuff.

“I want you to go on being kind to Marshall Wace,” Henrietta in the course of conversation presently said. “He told me how charmingly you received him yesterday, when he called with my note. He was so pleased. He is exaggeratedly sensitive owing to unfortunate family complications in the past.”

Damaris pricked up her ears, family complications having latterly acquired a rather painful interest for her.

“Poor man—I'm sorry,” she said.

“His mother, a favourite cousin of my husband, General Frayling, married an impossible person—eloped with him, to tell the truth. Her people, not without reason, were dreadfully put out. The children were brought up rather anyhow. Marshall did not go to a public school, which he imagines places him at a disadvantage with other men. Perhaps it does. Men always strike me as being quaintly narrow-minded on that subject. Later he was sent to Cambridge with the idea of his taking Orders and going into the Church. My husband's elder brother, Leonard Frayling, is patron of several livings. He would have presented Marshall to the first which fell vacant, and thus his future would have been secured. But just as he was going up for deacon's orders, Marshall, rather I can't help feeling like a goose, developed theological difficulties. They were perfectly genuine, I don't doubt; but they were also singularly ill-timed—a little earlier, a little later, or not at all would have been infinitely more convenient. So there he was, poor fellow, thrown on the world at three-and-twenty with no profession and no prospects; for my brother-in-law washed his hands of him when the theological difficulties were announced. Marshall tried bear-leading; but people are not particularly anxious to entrust their boys to a non-public school man afflicted by religious doubts. He thought of making use of his really exquisite voice and becoming a public singer; but the training is fearfully expensive, and so somehow that plan also fell through. For a time I am afraid he was really reduced to great straits, with the consequence that he broke down in health. Through friends, my husband got to hear of Marshall's miserable circumstances—shortly after our marriage it was—and felt it incumbent upon him to go to the rescue.”

Henrietta paused, thereby giving extra point to what was to follow, and pulled the fur rug up absently about her waist.

“For the last eighteen months,” she said, “Marshall has practically made his home with us. The arrangement has its drawbacks, of course. For one thing the General and I are never alone, and that is a trial to us both. Two's company and three's none. When a husband and wife are really devoted they don't want always to have a third wheel to the domestic cart.”

Then, as if checking further and very natural inclination to repining, she looked round at Damaris, smiling from behind her thick white net veil with most disarming sweetness.

“No—no—I'm not naughty. I don't mean to complain about it,” she prettily protested. “For I do so strongly feel if one sets out to do good it shouldn't be by driblets, with your name, in full, printed in subscription lists against every small donation. You should plump for your protege, and that with the least ostentation possible. The General and I are careful not to let people know Marshall stays with us as a guest. It is rather a slip speaking of it even to you; but I can trust you not to repeat what I say. I am sure of that.”

Damaris laid a hand fondly, impulsively upon the elder woman's knee.

“For certain you can trust me. For certain anything you say to me is just between our two selves. I should never dream of repeating it.”

“There speaks the precious downy owl of long ago,” Mrs. Frayling brightly cried, “bustling up in defence of its own loyalty and honour. Ah! Damaris, how very delicious it is to have you with me!”

For, her main point having been made, she now adroitly discarded pathos. Another word regarding her philanthropic harbourage of the young man, Marshall Wace, remained to be spoken—but not yet. Let it come in later, naturally and without hint of insistence.

“We must be together as much as possible during the next few weeks,” she went on—“as often as Sir Charles can be persuaded to spare you to me. Whether the General and I shall ever make up our minds to settle down in a home of our own, where I could ask you to stay with us, I don't know. I'm afraid we are hopelessly nomadic. Therefore I am extra anxious to make the most of the happy accident which has thrown us together, anxious to get every ounce possible of intercourse out of it.—We quite understand you have luncheon with me on Thursday, don't we?—and that you stay and help me through the afternoon. I am always at home on Thursdays to the neighbours. They aren't all of them conspicuously well-bred or exciting; but I have learnt to take the rough with the smooth, the boring along with the gifted and brilliant. India is a good school in which to learn hospitality. The practise of that virtue becomes a habit. And I for one quite refuse to excuse myself from further exercise of it on coming back to Europe. The General feels with me; and we have laid ourselves out to be civil to our compatriots here at St. Augustin this winter. A few people were vexatiously stiff and starched at first; but each one of them has given in, in turn. They really do, I believe, appreciate our little social efforts.”

“Who wouldn't give in to you Henrietta?” Damaris murmured.

Whereupon Mrs. Frayling delicately beamed on her; and, agreeable unanimity of sentiment being thus established, conversation between the two ladies for a while fell silent.

The little chestnut horses, meantime, encouraged with “Oh he-s” and “Oh la-s” by their driver, trotted and climbed, climbed and trotted, until the woodland lay below and the Signal de la Palu was reached. A wide level space on a crest of the foot-hills—with flag staff bearing the valorous tricolor, and rustic log-built restaurant offering refreshment—opening upon the full splendour of the Maritime Alps.

Damaris stepped out of the carriage, and, patting the near horse on the neck in passing, went forward across the sparse turf, starred with tiny clear coloured flowers, to the edge of the platform.

The Provencal coachman, from his perch on the box-seat of the victoria, his rough-caste crumpled countenance sun-baked to the solid ruddy brown of the soil of his own vineyard, followed her movements with approving glances.—For she was fresh as an opening rose the young English Mees, and though most elegant, how agile, how evidently strong!

Innocent of the admiration she excited, Damaris stood absorbed, awed even, by the grandeur of the scene. Many hundred feet below, the rent chasm down which it took its course steeped in violet gloom, the milk-white waters of an ice-fed river impetuously journeyed to the fertile lowlands and the sea. Opposite, across the gorge, amazingly distinct in the pellucid atmosphere, rose the high mountains, the undefiled, untrodden and eternal snows. Azure shadow, transparent, ethereal, haunted them, bringing into evidence enormous rounded shoulder, cirque, crinkled glacier, knife-edge of underlying rock.

They belonged to the deepest the most superb of life, this rent gorge, these mountains—like Faircloth's letter. Would beautiful and noble sights, such as these, always in future give her an ache of longing for the writer of that letter, for the romance, the poetry, of the unacknowledged relation he bore to her? Tears smarted hot in Damaris' eyes, and resolutely, if rather piteously, she essayed to wink them away. For to her it just now seemed, the deepest, the most superb of life was also in great measure the forbidden. The ache must be endured, then, the longing go unsatisfied, since she could only stay the pain of them by doing violence to plain and heretofore fondly cherished, duties.

But her tears defied the primitive process of winking. Not so cheaply could she rid herself of their smart and the blurred distorted vision they occasioned. She pulled out her handkerchief petulantly and wiped them. Then schooled herself to a colder, more moderate and reasonable temper.

And, so doing, her thought turned gratefully to Mrs. Frayling. For mercifully Henrietta was here to help fill the void; to, in a manner, break her fall. Henrietta didn't belong to the depths or the heights, that she regretfully admitted. With the eternal snows she possessed little or nothing in common. But, at a lower, more everyday level, had not she a vast amount to offer, what with her personal loveliness, her social cleverness, her knowledge of the world and its ways? She might not amount to the phoenix of Damaris' childhood's adoration; but she was very friendly, very diverting, delightfully kind. Damaris honestly believed all these excellent things of her.—She had been stupidly fastidious three days ago, and failed to do Henrietta justice. What she had learned—by chance—this afternoon, of Henrietta's unselfishness and generous treatment of Marshall Wace bore effectively convincing witness to the sweetness of her disposition and kindness of her heart. Damaris felt bound to make amends for that unspoken injustice, of which she now repented. How better could she do so than by giving herself warmly, without reserve or restraint, in response to the interest and attention Henrietta lavished upon her?—At eighteen, to be wooed by so finished and popular a person was no mean compliment.—She wouldn't hold back, suspicious and grudging; but enjoy all Henrietta so delightfully offered to the uttermost.

And there, as though clenching the conclusion thus arrived at, Mrs. Frayling's voice gaily hailed her, calling:

“Damaris, Damaris, here is our tea—or rather our coffee. Come, darling child, and partake before it gets cold.”

So after a brief pause, spent in determined looking, the girl bowed her head in mute farewell; and turned her back perhaps courageously, perhaps unwisely and somewhat faithlessly, upon the mountains, and the rare mysteries of their untrodden snows. She went across the sparse turf, starred with tiny clear, coloured flowers, her face stern, for all its youthful bloom and softness, her eyes meditative and profound.

The owner of the log-built restaurant, a thick-set, grizzled veteran of the Franco-Prussian war, the breast of his rusty velveteen jacket proudly bearing a row of medals, stood talking to Mrs. Frayling, hat in hand. His right foot had suffered amputation some inches above the ankle, and he walked with the ungainly support of a crutch-topped peg-leg strapped to the flexed knee.

As Damaris approached the carriage, he swept back the fur rug in gallantly respectful invitation; and, so soon as she ensconced herself on the seat beside Henrietta, bending down he firmly and comfortably tucked it round her. He declared, further, as she thanked him, it an honour in any capacity to serve her, since had not Madame, but this moment, so gracefully informed him of the commanding military career of the Mademoiselle's father, possessor of that unique distinction the Victoria Cross—a person animated, moreover, as Madame reported, by sincere sympathy for the tragic sorrows of well-beloved and so now cruelly dismembered France.

Damaris heard, in this singing of her father's praises, a grateful reconciling strain. She found it profitable, just now, to recall the heroic deeds, the notable achievements which marked his record. Her coffee tasted the more fragrant for it, the butter the fresher, the honey the sweeter wherewith she spread the clean coarse home-baked bread. She ate, indeed, with a capital appetite, the long drive and stimulating air, making her hungry. Possibly even her recent emotion contributed to that result; for in youth heartache by no means connotes a disposition towards fasting, rather does diet, generous in quantity, materially assist to soothe its anguish.

This meal, in fact, partaken of in the open, alone with Henrietta, object of her childhood's idolatry—the first they had shared since those remote and guileless years—assumed to Damaris a sacramental character, though of the earthly and mundane rather than transcendental kind. Its communion was one of good fellowship, of agreement in cultivation of the lighter social side; which, upon our maiden's part, implied tacit consent to conform to easier standards than those until now regulating her thought and action, implied tacit acceptance of Henrietta as example and as guide.

Whether the latter would have found cause for self-congratulation, could she have fathomed the precise cause of this apparently speedy conquest and speedy surrender, is doubtful; since it, in fact, took its rise less in the fascination of devotion given, than in that of devotion denied. She happened to be here on the spot at a critical juncture, and thus to catch the young girl's heart on the rebound. That was all—that, joined with Damaris' instinctive necessity to play fair and pay in honest coin for every benefit received.

So much must be said in extenuation of our nymph-like damsel's apparent subjection to levity—a declension which, in the sequel and in certain quarters, went neither unnoticed nor undeplored. But to labour this point is to forestall history. Immediately her change of attitude announced its existence innocently enough. For the sacramental meal once consumed, and courteous parting words bestowed upon the valiant soldier broken in his country's wars, the coachman mounted the box, and gathering up the reins, with “Ho he's” and “ho la's,” swung his horses half round the level and plunged them over the hill-side, along a steep woodland track, leading by serpentine twists and curves down to join the Corniche Road—a blonde ribbon rimming the indentations of the five-mile distant coast.

Damaris steadied herself well back on the seat of the carriage as it swayed and bumped over ruts and tree-roots to the lively menace of its springs. She studiously kept her face turned towards her companion, a myrtle-green shoulder as studiously turned towards the view. For she found it wiser not even to glance in that direction, lest rebellious regrets and longings should leap on her across the violet-blotted abyss from out those shining Alpine citadels. While to strengthen herself in allegiance to Mrs. Frayling and to, what may be called, the lighter side, she pushed one hand into that lady's muff and coaxed the slender pointed-fingers hiding in the comfortable pussy-warmth within.

“Tell me stories, Henrietta, please,” she entreated, “about all the people whom you've asked to your party on Thursday. Dress them up for me and put them through their paces, so that I may know who they all are when I see them and make no mistakes, but behave to them just as you would wish me to.”

“Gradate your attentions and not pet the wrong ones?”

Mrs. Frayling gave gentle squeeze for squeeze in the pussy-warmth, laughing a trifle impishly.

“You sinful child,” she said—“Gracious, what jolts—my spine will soon be driven through the top of my skull at this rate!—Yes, sinful in tempting me to gibbet my acquaintances for your amusement.”

“But why gibbet them? Aren't they nice, don't you care for them?”

“Prodigiously, of course. Yet would you find it in the least interesting or illuminating if I indexed their modest virtues only?”

“I think the old soldier found it both interesting and illuminating when you indexed my father's virtues just now.”

“Sir Charles's virtues hardly come under the head of modest ones,” Mrs. Frayling threw off almost sharply. “Give me someone as well worth acclaiming and I'll shout with the best! But you scarcely quote your father as among the average, do you?—The people whom you'll meet on Thursday compared to him, I'm afraid, are as molehills to the mountains yonder. If I described them by their amiable qualities alone they'd be as indistinguishable and as insipid as a row of dolls. Only through their aberrations, their unconscious perfidies, iniquities, do they develop definiteness of outline and begin to live. Oh! nothing could be unkinder than to whitewash them. Take Mrs. Callowgas, for instance, with one eye on the Church, the other on the world. The permanent inconsistency of her attitude, as I may say her permanent squint, gives her a certain cachet without which she'd be a positive blank.—She is most anxious to meet you, by the way, and Sir Charles—always supposing he is self-sacrificing enough to come—because she knows connections of his and yours at Harchester, a genial pillar of the Church in the form of an Archdeacon, in whom, as I gather, her dear dead Lord Bishop very much put his trust.”

“Tom Verity's father, I suppose,” Damaris murmured, her colour rising, the hint of a cloud too upon her brow.

“And who may Tom Verity be?” Mrs. Frayling, noting both colour and cloud, alertly asked.

“A distant cousin. He stayed with us in the autumn just before he went out to India. He passed into the Indian Civil Service from Oxford at the top of the list.”

“Praiseworthy young man.”

“Oh! but you would like him, Henrietta,” the girl declared. “He is very clever and very entertaining too when”—

“When?”

“Well, when he doesn't tease too much. He has an immense amount to talk about, and very good manners.”

“Also, when he does not tease too much?—And you like him?”

“I don't quite know,” Damaris slowly said. “He did not stay with us long enough for me to make up my mind. And then other things happened which rather put him out of my head. He was a little conceited, perhaps, I thought.”

“Not unnaturally, being at the top of the pass list. But though other things put him out of your head, he writes to you?”

In the pussy-warmth within her muff, Mrs. Frayling became sensible that Damaris' hand grew unresponsive, at once curiously stiff and curiously limp.

“He has written twice. Once on the voyage out, and again soon after he arrived. The—the second letter reached me this week.”

Notwithstanding sunshine, the eager air, and lively bumping of the descent, Henrietta observed the flush fade, leaving the girl white as milk. Her eyes looked positively enormous set in the pallor of her face. They were veiled, telling nothing, and thereby—to Mrs. Frayling's thinking—betraying much. She scented a situation—some girlish attachment, budding affair of the heart.

“My father gave Tom Verity letters of introduction, and he wanted us to know how kindly he had been received in consequence.”

“Most proper on his part,” Mrs. Frayling said.

She debated discreet questioning, probing—the establishment of herself in the character of sympathetic confidante. But decided against that. It might be impolitic, dangerous even, to press the pace. Moreover the young man, whatever his attractions, might be held a negligible quantity in as far as any little schemes of her own were concerned at present, long leave and reappearance upon the home scene being almost certainly years distant.—And, just there, the hand within the muff became responsive once more, even urgent in its seeking and pressure, as though appealing for attention and tenderness.

“Henrietta, I don't want to be selfish, but won't you go on telling me stories about your Thursday party people?—I interrupted you—but it's all new, you see, and it interests me so much,” Damaris rather plaintively said.

Mrs. Frayling needed no further inducement to exercise her really considerable powers of verbal delineation. Charging her palette with lively colours, she sprang to the task—and that with a sprightly composure and deftness of touch which went far to cloak malice and rob flippancy of offence.

Listening, Damaris brightened—as the adroit performer intended she should—under the gay cascade of talk. Laughed at length, letting finer instincts of charity go by the wall, in her enjoyment of neatly turned mockeries and the sense of personal superiority they provoked. For Henrietta's dissection of the weaknesses of absent friends, inevitably amounted to indirect flattery of the friend for whose diversion that process of dissection was carried out.

She passed the whole troop in review.—To begin with Miss Maud Callowgas, in permanent waiting upon her ex-semi-episcopal widowed mother—in age a real thirty-five though nominal twenty-eight, her muddy complexion, prominent teeth and all too long back.—Her designs, real or imagined, upon Marshall Wace. Designs foredoomed to failure, since whatever his intentions—Henrietta smiled wisely—they certainly did not include Maud Callowgas's matrimonial future in their purview.

Herbert Binning followed next—the chaplain who served the rather staring little Anglican church at Le Vandou, a suburb of St. Augustin much patronized by the English in the winter season, and a chapel somewhere in the Bernese Oberland during the summer months. Energetic, athletic, a great talker and squire of dames—in all honesty and correctness, this last, well understood, for there wasn't a word to be breathed against the good cleric's morals. But just a wee bit impressionable and flirtatious, as who might not very well be with such a whiney-piney wife as Mrs. Binning, always ailing; what mind she might (by stretch of charity) be supposed to possess exclusively fixed upon the chronic irregularities of her internal organs? Recumbency was a mania with her and she had a disconcerting habit of wanting to lie down on the most inconveniently unsuitable occasions.—To mitigate his over-flowing energies, which cried aloud for work, Mr. Binning took pupils. He had two exceptionably nice boys with him this winter, in the interval between leaving Eton and going up to Oxford, namely, Peregrine Ditton, Lord Pamber's younger son, and Harry Ellice, a nephew of Lady Hermione Twells. They were very well-bred. Their high spirits were highly infectious. They played tennis to perfection and Harry Ellice danced quite tidily into the bargain.—Damaris must make friends with them. They were her contemporaries, and delightfully fresh and ingenuous.

Lady Hermione herself—here Henrietta's tone conveyed restraint, even comparative reverence—who never for an instant forgot she once had reigned over some microscopic court out in the far Colonial wilderness, nor allowed you to forget it either. Her glance half demanded your curtsy. Still she was the “real thing” and, in that, eminently satisfactory—genuine grande dame by right both of birth and of training.

“She won't condescend to tell me so, being resolved to keep me very much in my proper place,” Henrietta continued; “but I learned yesterday from Mary Ellice—Harry's sister, who lives with her—that she is intensely desirous to meet Sir Charles. She wants to talk to him about Afghanistan and North-west Frontier policy. A brother of hers it appears was at one time in the Guides; and she is under the impression your father and Colonel Carteret would have known him.—By the way, dearest child, they do mean to honour me, those two, don't they, with their presence on Thursday?”

“Of course they will, since you asked them. Why, they love to come and see you.”

“Do they?” Mrs. Frayling said—“Anyhow, let us hope so. I can trust Carteret's general benevolence, but I am afraid your father will be unutterably bored with my rubbishing little assembly.”

“But, of course, he'll be nice to everybody too—as tame and gentle as possible with them all to please you, don't you see, Henrietta.”

“Ah! no doubt, all to please me!” she repeated. And fell to musing, while the carriage, quitting at last the rough forest track, rattled out on to the metalled high road, white in dust.

Here the late afternoon sun still lay hot. The booming plunge of the tideless sea, breaking upon the rocks below, quivered in the quiet air. Henrietta Frayling withdrew her hands from her muff, unfastened the collar of her sable cape. The change from the shadowed woods to this glaring sheltered stretch of road was oppressive. She felt strangely tired and spent. She trusted Damaris would not perceive her uncomfortable state and proffer sympathy. And Damaris, in fact, did nothing of the sort, being very fully occupied with her own concerns at present.

Half a mile ahead, pastel-tinted, green-shuttered houses—a village of a single straggling street—detached themselves in broken perspective from the purple of pine-crowned cliff and headland beyond. Behind them the western sky began to grow golden with the approach of sunset. The road lead straight towards that softly golden light—to St. Augustin. It led further, deeper into the gold, deeper, as one might fancy, into the heart of the coming sunset, namely to the world-famous seaport of Marseilles.

Damaris sought to stifle remembrance of this alluring fact, as soon as it occurred to her. She must not dally with it—no she mustn't. To in anywise encourage or dwell on it, was weak and unworthy, she having accepted the claims of clearly apprehended duty. She could not go back on her decision, her choice, since, in face of the everlasting hills, she had pledged herself.

So she let her eyes no longer rest on the high-road, but looked out to sea—where, as tormenting chance would have it, the black hull of a big cargo boat, steaming slowly westward, cut into the vast expanse of blue, long pennons of rusty grey smoke trailing away from its twin rusty-red painted funnels.

Hard-pressed, the girl turned to her companion, asking abruptly, inconsequently—“Is that every one whom you expect on Thursday, Henrietta?”

For some seconds Mrs. Frayling regarded her with a curious lack of intelligent interest or comprehension. Her thoughts, also, had run forward into the gold of the approaching sunset; and she had some difficulty in overtaking, or restraining them, although they went no further than the Grand Hotel; and—so to speak—sat down there all of a piece, on a buff-coloured iron chair, which commanded an uninterrupted view of four gentlemen standing talking before the front door.

“On Thursday?” she repeated—“Why Thursday?”—and her usually skilful hands fumbled with the fastening of her sable cape. Their helpless ineffectual movements served to bring her to her senses, bring her to herself.

“Really you possess an insatiable thirst for information regarding my probable guests, precious child,” she exclaimed. “All—of course not. I have only portrayed the heads of tribes as yet for your delectation. We shall number many others—male and female—of the usual self-expatriated British rank and file.—Derelicts mostly.”

Lightly and coldly, Henrietta laughed.

“Like, for example, the General and myself. Wanderers possessed of a singularly barren species of freedom, without ties, without any sheet-anchor of family or of profession to embarrass our movements, without call to live in one place rather than another. All along this sun-blessed Riviera you will find them swarming, thick as flies, displaying the trumpery spites and rivalries through which, as I started by pointing out to you, they can alone maintain a degree of individuality and persuade themselves and others they still are actually alive.”

Shocked at this sudden bitterness, touched to the quick by generous pity, regardless of possible onlookers—here in the village street, where the hoof-beats of the trotting horses echoed loud from the house-walls on either side—Damaris put her arms round Henrietta Frayling, clasping, kissing her.

“Ah! don't, Henrietta,” she cried. “Don't dare to say such ugly, lying things about your dear self. They aren't true. They're absurdly, scandalously untrue.—You who are so brilliant, so greatly admired, who have everyone at your feet! You who are so kind too,—think of all the pleasure you have given me to-day, for instance—and then think how beautifully good you've been, and all the time are being, to poor Mr. Wace”—

Whether Mrs. Frayling's surprising lapse into sincerity and bald self-criticism were intentional, calculated, or not, she was undoubtedly quick to see and profit by the opening which Damaris' concluding words afforded her.

“How sweet you are, darling child! How very dear of you to scold me thus!” she murmured, gently disengaging herself and preening her feathers, somewhat disarranged by the said darling child's impetuous onset.

“I know it is wrong to grumble. Yet sometimes—as one grows older—one gets a dreadful sense that the delights of life are past; and that perhaps one has been overscrupulous, over-timid and so missed the best.—That is one reason why I find it so infinitely pleasing to have you with me—yet pathetic too perhaps.—Why? Well, I don't know that I am quite at liberty to explain exactly why.”

Henrietta smiled at her long, wistfully and oh! so sagely.

“And, indirectly, that reminds me I am most anxious you should not exaggerate, or run off with any mistaken ideas about my dealings with poor Marshall Wace. I don't deny I did find his constantly being with us a trial at first. But I am reconciled to it. A trifle of discipline, though screamingly disagreeable, is no doubt sometimes useful—good for one's character, I mean. And I really have grown quite attached to him. He has charming qualities. His want of self-confidence is really his worst fault—and what a trivial one if you've had experience of the horrid things men can do, gamble, for example, and drink.”

Henrietta paused, sighed. The yellow facade of the Grand Hotel came into sight, a pale spot amid dark trees in the distance.

“And Marshall, poor fellow,” she continued, “is more grateful to me, that I know, than words can say. So do like him and encourage him a little—it would be such a help and happiness to me as well as to him, dearest Damaris.”

CHAPTER V. IN WHICH HENRIETTA PULLS THE STRINGS

Mrs. Frayling's afternoon party passed off to admiration. But this by no means exhausted her social activities. Rather did it stimulate them; so that, with Damaris' amusement as their ostensible object and excuse, they multiplied exceedingly. Henrietta was in her native element. Not for years had she enjoyed herself so much. This chaperonage, this vicarious motherhood, was rich in opportunity. She flung wide her nets, even to the enmeshing of recruits from other larger centres, Cannes, Antibes and Nice. This more ambitious phase developed later. Immediately our chronicle may address itself to the initial Thursday, which, for our nymph-like maiden, saw the birth of certain illusions destined to all too lengthy a span of life.

Luncheon at the villa—or as Henrietta preferred it called, The Pavilion—set in the grounds of the Hotel de la Plage and dependent for service upon that house—was served at mid-day. This left a considerable interval before the advent of the expected guests. Mrs. Frayling refused to dedicate it to continuous conversation, as unduly tiring both for Damaris and for herself. They must reserve their energies, must keep fresh. Marshall Wace was, therefore, bidden to provide peaceful entertainment, read aloud—presently, perhaps, sing to them at such time as digestion—bad for the voice when in process—might be supposed complete. The young man obeyed, armed with Tennyson's Maud and a volume of selected lyrics.

His performance fairly started General Frayling furtively vanished in search of a mild siesta. It inflated his uxorious breast with pride to have his Henrietta shine in hospitality thus. But his lean shanks wearied, keeping time to the giddy music. Wistfully he feared he must be going downhill, wasn't altogether the man he used to be, since he found the business of pleasure so exhaustingly strenuous. And that was beastly unfair to his lovely wife—wouldn't do, would not do at all, by Gad! Therefore did he vanish into a diminutive and rather stuffy smoking-room, under the stairs, unfasten his nankeen waistcoat, unfasten his collar-stud, doze and finally, a little anxiously, sleep.

Whatever Marshall Wace's diffidence in ordinary intercourse, it effectually disappeared so soon as he began to declaim or to recite. The histrionic in him declared itself, rising dominant. Given a character to impersonate, big swelling words to say, fine sentiments to enunciate, he changed to the required colour chameleon-like. You forgot—at least the feminine portion of his audience, almost without exception, forgot—that his round light-brown eyes stared uncomfortably much; that his nose, thin at the root and starting with handsome aquiline promise, ended in a foolish button-tip. Forgot that his lips were straight and compressed, wanting in generous curves and in tenderness—an actor's mouth, constructed merely for speech. Forgot the harsh quality of the triangular redness on either cheek, fixed and feverish. Ceased to remark how the angle of the jaw stood away from and beyond the sinewy, meagre neck, or note the rise and fall of Adam's apple so prominent in his throat.—No longer were annoyed by the effeminate character of the hands, their retracted nails and pink, upturned finger-tips, offering so queer a contrast to the rather inordinate size of his feet.

For the voice rarely failed to influence its hearers, to carry you indeed a little out of yourself by its variety of intonation, its fire and fervour, its languishing modulations, broken pauses, yearning melancholy of effect. The part of the neurotic hero of the—then—Laureate's poem, that somewhat pinch-beck Victorian Hamlet, suited our young friend, moreover, down to the ground. It offered sympathetic expression to his own nature and temperament; so that he wooed, scoffed, blasphemed, orated, drowned in salt seas of envy and self-pity, with a simulation of sincerity as convincing to others as consolatory to himself.

And Damaris, being unlearned in the curious arts of the theatre, listened wide-eyed, spellbound, until flicked by the swishing skirts of fictitious emotion into genuine, yet covert, excitement. As the reading progressed Henrietta Frayling's presence increasingly sank into unimportance. More and more did the poem assume a personal character, of which, if the reader were hero, she—Damaris—became heroine. Marshall Wace seemed to read not to, but definitely at her; so that during more than one ardent passage, she felt herself go hot all over, as though alone with him, an acknowledged object of his adoring, despairing declarations. This she shrank from, yet—it must be owned—found stirring, strangely and not altogether unpleasantly agitating. For was not this protege of Henrietta's—whom the latter implored her to encourage and treat kindly—something of a genius? Capable of sudden and amazing transformation, talking to you with a modesty and deference agreeably greater than that of most young men of his age; then, on an instant, changing at will, and extraordinarily voicing the accumulated wrongs, joys and sorrows of universal humanity? Could Henrietta, who usually spoke of him in tones of commiseration, not to say of patronage, be aware how remarkable he really was? Damaris wondered; regarding him, meanwhile, with innocent respect and admiration. For how tremendously much he must have experienced, how greatly he must have suffered to be able to portray drama, express profound emotion thus! That the actor's art is but glorified make-believe, the actor himself too often hollow as a drum, though loud sounding as one, never for an instant occurred to her. How should it?

Therefore when Mrs. Frayling—recollecting certain mysteries of the toilet which required attention before the arrival of her expected guests—brought the performance to an abrupt termination, Damaris felt a little taken aback, a little put about, as though someone should be guilty of talking millinery in church.

For—“Splendid, my dear Marshall, splendid,” the lady softly yet emphatically interrupted him. “To-day you really surpass yourself. I never heard you read better, and I hate to be compelled to call a halt. But time has flown—look.”

And she pointed to the blue and gold Sevres clock upon the mantelpiece.

“Miss Verity is an inspiring auditor,” he said, none best pleased at being thus arbitrarily arrested in midcourse. “For whatever merit my reading may have possessed, your thanks are due to her rather than to me, Cousin Henrietta.”

He spoke to the elder woman. He looked at the younger. With a nervous yet ponderous movement—it was Marshall Wace's misfortune always to take up more room than by rights belonged to his height and bulk—he got on to his feet. Inattentively let drop the volume of poems upon a neighbouring table, to the lively danger of two empty coffee cups.

The cups rattled. “Pray be careful,” Mrs. Frayling admonished him with some sharpness. The performance had been prolonged. Not without intention had she effaced herself. But, by both performance and effacement, she had been not a little bored, having a natural liking for the limelight. She, therefore, hit out—to regret her indiscretion the next moment.

“Nothing—nothing,” she prettily added. “I beg your pardon, Marshall, but I quite thought those cups would fall off the table—So stupid of me.”

The fixed red widened, painfully inundating the young man's countenance. He was infuriated by his own awkwardness. Humiliated by Mrs. Frayling's warning, of which her subsequent apology failed to mitigate the disgrace. And that this should occur just in the hour of satisfied vanity, of agreeable success—and before Damaris! In her eyes he must be miserably disqualified henceforth.

But his misfortunes worked to quite other ends than he anticipated. For Damaris came nearer, her expression gravely earnest as appealing to him not to mind, not to let these things vex him.

“I have never heard anyone read so beautifully,” she told him. “You make the words come alive so that one sees the whole story happening. It is wonderful. I shall always remember this afternoon because of your reading—and shall long to hear you again—often, I know, long for that.”

Wace bowed. This innocent enthusiasm was extremely assuaging to his wounded self-esteem.

“You have but to ask me, Miss Verity. I shall be only too honoured, too happy to read to you whenever you have leisure and inclination to listen.”

But here Mrs. Frayling put her arm round Damaris' waist, affectionately, laughingly, and drew her towards the door.

“Come, come, darling child—don't be too complimentary or Marshall will grow unbearably conceited.—You'll put on flannels, by the way, Marshall, won't you?” she added as an after-thought.

“I shall not play tennis this afternoon,” he answered, his nose in the air. “There will be plenty for a change of setts without me. I am not good enough for Binning and his two young aristocrats, and I don't choose to make sport for the Philistines by an exhibition of my ineptitude. I have no pretentious to being an athlete.”

“Nonsense, Marshall, nonsense,” she took him up quickly, conscious his reply was not in the best taste. “You wilfully underrate yourself.”

Then later, as, still entwined, she conducted Damaris upstairs to her bed-chamber.

“There you have the position in a nutshell,” she said. “Still am I not right? For hasn't he charm, poor dear fellow, so very much cleverness—so really gifted isn't he?”

And as the girl warmly agreed:

“Ah! I am so very glad you appreciate him.—And you have yet to hear him sing! That takes one by storm, I confess—Unhappy Maud Callowgas!—But you see how frightfully on edge he is—how he turns off for no valid reason, imagines himself a failure, imagines himself out of it? In point of fact he plays a quite passable game of tennis—and you heard what he said? These fits of depression and self-depreciation amount to being tragic. One requires endless tact to manage him and save him from himself.”

Henrietta paused, sighed, sitting on the stool before her toilette table, neatly placing tortoiseshell hairpins, patting and adjusting her bright brown hair.

“I could have bitten my tongue out for making that wretched slip about the coffee cups; but I was off my guard for once. And like all artistic people Marshall is a little absent-minded—absorbed to the point of not seeing exactly what he is doing.—Poor young man, I sometimes tremble for his future. Such a highly strung, sensitive nature amounts almost to a curse. If he got into wrong hands what mightn't the end be?—Catastrophe, for he is capable of fatal desperation. And I must own men—with the exception of my husband who is simply an angel to him—do not always understand and are not quite kind to him. He needs a wise loving woman to develop the best in him—there is so very much which is good—and to guide him.”

“Well,” Damaris said, and that without suspicion of irony, “dearest Henrietta, hasn't he you?”

Mrs. Frayling took up the ivory hand-glass, and sitting sideways on the dressing-stool, turned her graceful head hither and thither, to obtain the fuller view of her back hair.

“Me? But you forget, I have other claims to satisfy. I can't look after him for ever. I must find him a wife I suppose; though I really shall be rather loath to give him up. His gratitude and loneliness touch me so much,” she said, looking up and smiling, with a little twist in her mouth, as of playful and unwilling resignation, captivating to see.

By which cajoleries and expression of praiseworthy sentiment, Henrietta raised herself notably in Damaris' estimation—as she fully intended to do. Our maiden kissed her with silent favour; and, mysteries of the toilette completed, more closely united than ever before—that is, since the date of the elder's second advent—the two ladies, presenting the prettiest picture imaginable, went downstairs again, gaily, hand in hand.

CHAPTER VI. CARNIVAL—AND AFTER

Tall and slim, in the black and white of his evening clothes, Colonel Carteret leaned his shoulder against an iron pillar of the verandah of the Hotel de la Plage, and smoked, looking meditatively down into the moonlit garden. Through the range of brightly lighted open windows behind him came the sound of a piano and stringed instruments, a subdued babble of voices, the whisper of women's skirts, and the sliding rush of valsing feet.

To-night marked the culmination and apex of Henrietta Frayling's social effort. It was mid-March, mid-Lent—which last fact she made an excuse—after taking ecclesiastical opinion on the subject, namely, that of Herbert Binning, the Anglican chaplain—for issuing invitations to a Cinderella dance. Damaris Verity, it appeared, had never really, properly and ceremoniously “come out”—a neglect which Henrietta protested should be repaired. Positively, but very charmingly, she told Sir Charles it must. She only wished the affair could be on a larger, more worthy scale. This was, after all, but a makeshift—the modest best she could arrange under the circumstances. But he—Sir Charles—must not refuse. It would give her such intense pleasure to have the darling child make her official debut under her, Henrietta's, auspices. The hours would of necessity be early, to avoid disturbance of the non-dancing residents in the hotel. But, if the entertainment were bound to end at midnight, it could begin at a proportionately unfashionable hour. For once table d'hote might surely be timed for six o'clock; and the dining-room—since it offered larger space than any other apartment—be cleared, aired, and ready for dancing by a quarter-past eight.—Henrietta unquestionably had a way with her; proprietors, managers, servants alike hastening obedient to her cajoling nod.—Thanks to importations by road and rail, from other coast resorts, she reckoned to muster sixteen to twenty couples.—A rubbishing apology at best, in the matter of a “coming out” ball, for a girl of Damaris' position and deserts—no one could know that better than she, Henrietta, herself did!

“A poor thing but mine own,” she quoted, when enlarging upon the scheme to Charles Verity. “But as at Easter we are fated to scatter, I suppose, and go our several roads with small promise of reunion, you must really be gracious, dear friend, and, for old sake's sake, give in to my desires. It's my last chance, for heaven knows how long—not impossibly for ever.”

Carteret happened to be present during the above conversation. Had he not, it may be doubted whether it would ever have taken place—with this dash of affecting reminiscence in any case. Allusions to a common past were barred for excellent reasons, as between these two persons, save strictly in public. Even so it struck him as a humorous piece of audacity on the lady's part. Her effrontery touched on the colossal! But it succeeded, always had done so.—In his judgment of Henrietta, Carteret never failed to remember, being compact of chivalry and of truthfulness, that he had once on a time been a good half in love with her himself.—All the same he was not sure her close association with Damaris met with his approval.

That association had grown, Jonah's gourd-like, during the last six weeks, until, as he rather uneasily noted, the two were hardly ever apart. Luncheons, teas, picnics, excursions, succeeded one another. Afternoons of tennis in the hotel grounds, the athletic gregarious Binning and his two pupils, Peregrine Ditton and Harry Ellice in attendance. Sometimes the latter's sister, Mary Ellice, joined the company—when Lady Hermione condescended to spare her—or the long-backed Miss Maud Callowgas. Afternoons of reading and song, too, supplied by Marshall Wace.—Carteret felt self-reproachful, yet knew his charity too often threatened to stop short of the young man Wace—though the beggar had a voice to draw tears from a stone, plague him!—At intervals, all-day expeditions were undertaken to Monte Carlo, or shopping raids upon Cannes or Nice.

Yes, verily—as he reflected—Henrietta Frayling did keep the ball rolling with truly Anglo-Indian frivolity and persistence, here in the heart of Europe! And was that altogether wholesome for Damaris? He delighted to have the beautiful young creature enjoy herself, spread her wings, take her place among the courted and acclaimed. But he prized her too highly not to be ambitious for her; and would have preferred her social education to be conducted on more dignified and authorized lines, in the great world of London, namely, or Paris. When all came to all, this was hardly good enough.

No one, he honestly admitted, trumpeted that last truth more loudly than Henrietta—at times. Nevertheless she went on and on, making the business of this rather second-rate pleasure-seeking daily of greater importance. How could Damaris be expected to discriminate, to retain her sense of relative values, in the perpetual scrimmage, the unceasing rush? Instinct and nobility of nature go an immensely long way as preservatives—thank God for that—still, where you have unsophistication, inexperience, a holy ignorance, to deal with, it is unwise to trust exclusively to their saving grace. Even the finest character is the safer—so he supposed—for some moulding and direction in its first contact with the world, if it is to come through the ordeal unscathed and unbesmirched. And to ask such moulding and direction of Henrietta Frayling was about as useful as asking a humming-bird to draw a water-cart.

He was still fond of Henrietta and derived much silent entertainment from witnessing her manoeuvres. But he was under no delusion regarding her. He considered her quite the most selfish woman of his acquaintance, though also one of the most superficially attractive. Hers was a cold, not a hot selfishness, refined to a sort of exquisiteness and never for an instant fleshly or gross. But that selfishness, in its singleness of purpose, made her curiously powerful, curiously capable of influencing persons of larger and finer spirit than herself—witness her ascendency over Charles Verity during a long period of years, and that without ever giving, or even seriously compromising, herself.

Into whoever she fixed her dainty little claws, she did it with an eye to some personal advantage. And here Carteret owned himself puzzled—for what advantage could she gain from this close association with Damaris? The girl's freshness went, rather mercilessly, to show up her fading.

At times, it is true, watching her pretty alacrity of manner, hearing her caressing speech, he inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, believe her self-forgetful, her affection genuine, guiltless of design or after-thought. If so, so very much the better! He was far from grudging her redemption, specially at the hands of Damaris.—Only were things, in point of fact, working to this commendable issue? With the best will in the world to think so, he failed to rid himself of some prickings of anxiety and distrust.

And from such prickings he sensibly suffered to-night, as he leaned his shoulder against the iron pillar of the verandah at the Hotel de la Plage, and looked down into the claire obscure of the moonlit gardens, while over the polished floor of the big room at his back, the rhythmical tread of the dancers' feet kept time to the music of piano and sweet wailing strings.—For that a change showed increasingly evident in Damaris he could not disguise from himself. In precisely what that change consisted it was not easy to say. He discovered it more in an attitude of mind and atmosphere than in outward action or even in words said. But she was not quite the same as the grave and steadfast young creature who had asked his help for her father, and indirectly for herself, in the moist chill of the November twilight at The Hard—and who, receiving promise of such help, had darted away over the drenched lawn in company with the wildly gambolling cats alternately pursuing and pursued. Nor was she quite the same as when he had walked with her, through the resounding Paris streets, to pay her devoirs to her former guardians and teachers at the convent school; and, later returning, had spoken to her of the safety of religion, the high worth of the doctrine and practice of a definite historic creed.

Her relation to her father appeared—and this pained Carteret—to lack its old intimacy, its intensity of consideration and tenderness. Her interest in the child of his brain, his belated literary experiment, was less sustained and spontaneous. How could it flourish in its former proportions when she was so much away, so often absent from morning till night?—Not without leave though, for she scrupulously asked permission before answering Henrietta's gay call and taking part in that lady's junketings and jaunts. Sir Charles never refused the requested permission; but, while granting it, did he not tend to retreat into his former sardonic humour, fall into long silences, become inaccessible again and remote? The book went forward; yet, more than once recently, Carteret had questioned whether his friend would ever get himself fairly delivered of the admirable volume were not he—Carteret—permanently at hand to act midwife. An unpleasant idea pursued him that Sir Charles went, in some strange fashion, in fear of Damaris, of her criticism, her judgment. Yet fear seemed a hatefully strong and ugly word to employ as between a father and daughter so straitly, heretofore, bound to one another in love.

And then—there lay the heart of the worry, proving him only too likely a graceless jealous middle-age curmudgeon, a senile sentimentalist, thus did he upbraidingly mock himself—were there not signs of Damaris developing into a rather thorough paced coquette? She accepted the homage offered her with avidity, with many small airs and graces—a la Henrietta—of a quite novel sort. Old General Frayling—poor pathetic old warrior—was her slave. Peregrine Ditton, Harry Ellice, even the cleric Binning—let alone the permanently self-conscious, attitudinizing Wace—with other newer acquaintances, English and foreign, ran at her heels. And she let them run, bless her, even encouraged their running by turns of naughty disdain and waywardness. She was fatal to boys—that was in the natural course of things. And fatal to those considerably older than boys—perhaps—

The music flew faster and faster—stopped with a shriek and a crash. Laughing, talking, the dancers streamed out of the hot brightly lighted room into the soft peace, the delicate phantasy of the colourless moonlight.

Carteret drew back, flattening himself against the iron pillar in the shadow, as they passed down the steps into the garden below; the women's pale airy forms and the men's dark ones, pacing the shining paths in groups and couples, between the flower-beds, under the flat-headed pines, the shaggy-stemmed palms and towering eucalyptus, in and out massed banks of blossoming shrubs and dwarf hedges of monthly roses.

Midway in the light-hearted procession came Damaris, Peregrine Ditton on one side of her, Harry Ellice on the other. Leaving the main alley, the trio turned along a path, running parallel to the verandah, which opened into a circle surrounding the stone basin of a tinkling fountain, immediately below Colonel Carteret's post of solitary observation.

Damaris carried the demi-train of her white satin gown over her arm, thereby revealing a wealth of lace frilled petticoat, from beneath which the toes of her high-heeled, white satin shoes stepped with a pretty measured tread. The two boys, leaning a little towards one another, talked across her, their voices slightly raised in argument, not to say dispute.

“I call it rotten mean to bag my dance like that, I tell you.—Go away?—No I swear I won't go away, won't budge one blessed inch unless Miss Verity actually orders me to. If my dance was stolen, all the more reason I should have her to talk to now as a sort of make-up. So you just clear out, if you please, my good chap, and leave the field to your elders and betters. Remove your superfluous carcass till further notice.—Vamoose, my son, do you hear?”

This excitedly from Peregrine Ditton. They reached the fountain. Damaris stayed her measured walk, and stood gazing at the jet of water in its uprush and myriad sparkling fall. Ellice answered chaffingly yet with an underlying growl; and the dispute threatened to wax warm. But the girl heeded neither disputant, her attention rapt in watching the play of the falling water.

Throughout the evening she had easily been chief centre of attraction, besieged by partners. And those not only her present rival attendants or Marshall Wace; but by Mrs. Frayling's various importations, plus Mr. Alban Titherage—a fat, smart and very forthcoming young London stock-broker, lately established, in company of a pretty, silly, phthisis-stricken wife, at the Grand Hotel. Very much mistress of herself, Damaris had danced straight through the programme with an air of almost defiant vivacity. Now, as it seemed, her mood had changed and sobered. For presently Colonel Carteret saw her bosom heave, while she fetched a long sigh and, raising her head, glanced upwards, her great eyes searching the shadowed space of the verandah.

The cool lunar brightness flooded her upturned face, her bare neck and arms, the glittering folds of her satin gown. She was exceedingly fair to look upon just now. For an appreciable length of time her glance met Carteret's and held it; giving him—though the least neurotic of men, calm of body and of mind—a strange sensation as of contact with an electric current which tingled through every nerve and vein. And this, although he perceived that, dazzled by the moonlight, she either did not see or quite failed to recognize him. An expression of disappointment, akin, so he read it, to hope defeated, crossed her face. She lowered her eyes, and moved slowly forward along the path, the boys on either side her. Again Peregrine Ditton took up his tale—in softened accents though still as one sorely injured and whose temper consequently inclines not unjustly to the volcanic.

“Upon my honour, I think you might have given me just a minute's law, Miss Verity,” he protested. “It was no fault of mine being late. Maud Callowgas kept me toddling to the most unconscionable extent. First she wanted an ice, and then a tumbler of lemon squash; and then she lost her fan, or pretended she did, and expected me to hunt for the beastly thing. I give you my word I was as rude as sin, in hope of shaking her off; but she didn't, or wouldn't, see what I was driving at. There was no getting away from her. I tell you she sticks like a burr, that girl, once she lays hold of you. Octopuses aren't in it. Her power of adhesion is something utterly frantic ”—

Here Ellice cut in with a doubtless scathing though, to Carteret, inaudible remark, at which Damaris laughed outright; and the fresh young voices trailed away in the distance alternately mocking and remonstrant.

As he listened, still conscious of contact with that surprising electric current, Carteret found himself taking stock of his own forty-nine years with swift and lively repugnance. To accept the sum of them, and the limitations and restrictions that sum is currently supposed to entail, proved just now astonishingly difficult. Damaris, as beheld in the fantastic loveliness of the moonlight, her searching, unseeing eyes meeting and dwelling upon his own, the look of disappointment and defeat crossing her sweetly serious countenance, wrought upon him begetting a dangerous madness in his blood. That it was dangerous and a madness, and therefore promptly to be mastered and ejected, he would not permit himself an instant's doubt. Yet it very shrewdly plagued him, daring even to advance specious arguments upon its own behalf.

For, when he came to consider matters, was he not in perfect health, more sound and fit than many a man but half his age? And were not his fortunes just now at a specially happy turn, his sister, Mrs. Dreydel, having lately been blessed with a windfall, in the shape of yearly income, which—did he so choose—relieved him of much expenditure on her account. Her eldest son had received his commission. The three younger boys had done well as to scholarships thereby materially reducing the cost of their education. Never had he, Carteret, been so free to consult his private desires; and never, as he knew too profoundly well, had his desires taken so definite and delicious a form. Nevertheless it remained a madness to be mastered, to be ejected.—His last thought, as his first, pronounced it that.

Unconsciously, pushed by this stress of rather turbulent sensations, Carteret walked the length of the verandah and drew up in the full glare of the moonlight. From here he could see the curve of the shore; and, beyond the quay and esplanade and last scattered houses of the little town, the lighthouse marking the tip of the western horn of the bay. He could hear the soft stealthy plunge and following rush of the sea up the white shelving beach. Could hear also—less soothing sound—through the open windows of the drawing-room of the Pavilion, just across the garden, Marshall Wace singing, with all the impassioned fervour of his rich and well-trained baritone, a ballad, then much in vogue, entitled “The Lost Chord.” The words, to Carteret's thinking, were futile, meaning anything, everything, or nothing, according to your private interpretation of them. But as to the fine quality and emotional appeal of the voice there could not be two opinions, as it palpitated thus in the mild night air. Was Damaris Verity a member of the singer's devout audience? Were her hands among those which now enthusiastically applauded the conclusion of the song? Under his breath, slowly, gently but most comprehensively, Carteret swore. And felt all the better for that impious exercise, even amused at this primitive expression of his moral and sentimental disturbance, and so on the high-road, as he fondly imagined, to capture his habitual attitude of charity and tolerance once again. But heaven had further trial of his fortitude and magnanimity, not to say his good honest horse sense, in store to-night.

For, as the clapping of hands died down, the whisper of a woman's dress, upon the asphalt of the verandah just behind him, caught his ear, and Damaris came rapidly towards him.

“So you are here after all, dear Colonel Sahib,” she cried. “I felt you were when I was down there looking at the fountain. It sort of pulled at me with remindings of you ages and ages ago, in the gardens of the club at Bhutpur—when you brought me a present—a darling little green jade elephant in a sandalwood box, as a birthday gift from Henrietta. Later there was a terrible tragedy. An odious little boy broke my elephant, on purpose, and broke my heart along with it.”

Carteret made a determined effort over himself, taking her up lightly.

“But not altogether past mending, dear witch—judging by existing appearances.”

“Ah! I'm none so sure of that,” Damaris answered him back with a pretty quickness—“if it hadn't been for you. For I was very ill, when you came again to the Sultan-i-bagh—don't you remember?—the night of the riots and great fires in the Civil Lines and Cantonments, just at the breaking of the monsoon.”

“Yes, I remember,” he said.

And wondered to himself—thereby gaining ease and a measure of tranquillity, inasmuch as he thought of another man's plight rather than of his own—whether Damaris had knowledge of other occurrences, not unallied to tragedy, which had marked that same night of threatened mutiny and massacre and of bellowing tempest, not least among them a vow made by her father, Charles Verity, and made for her sake.

“The whole story comes back in pictures,” she went on, “whenever I look at fountains playing, because of the water-jets in the canal in the Bhutpur club garden where you gave me Henrietta's present. You see it all dates from then. And it came back to me specially clearly just now, partly because I felt lonely—”

“Lonely?—How lonely,” he smilingly interjected, “with a goodly youth as a protector on either hand?”

“Yes—lonely,” Damaris repeated, ignoring the allusion to her devoted if irascible escort. “Dance music always makes one rather sad—don't you think so? It seems to ache with everything one wants and hasn't got; and the ache goes on.—I turned homesick for—for India, and for my green jade elephant I used to love so dreadfully much.—I've all that is left of him, still wrapped in the same rice paper in the same sandalwood box you brought him in, put away with my best treasures in my own room at The Hard.”

She came nearer, stood beside him, bending down a little as she rested her hands on the top of the iron balustrade of the verandah, while her eyes followed the curve of the bay to where the lighthouse rose, a black column with flashing headpiece, above the soft glitter of the moonlit sea.

“And homesick, Colonel Sahib, for you,” she said.

“For me?” he exclaimed almost involuntarily, roughly startled out of his partially recovered tranquillity and ease.

“Yes”—she said, looking up at him. “Isn't that quite natural, since you have stepped in so often to help me when things have gone rather wrong?—I knew you must be somewhere quite close by. I sort of felt you were there. And you were there—weren't you? Why did you hide yourself away?”

Carteret could not bring himself immediately to answer. He was perplexed, infinitely charmed, distrustful, all at once—distrustful, though for very different reasons, both of himself and of her.

“Are things, then, going rather wrong now?” he asked presently.

For he judged it wise to accept her enigmatic speech according to its most simple and obvious interpretation. By so doing he stood, moreover, to gain time; and time in his existing perplexity appeared to him of cardinal importance.

“That's just what I'm not sure about.” Damaris spoke slowly, gravely, her glance again fixed upon the beacon light set for the safety of passing ships on the further horn of the bay. “If I could be sure, I should know what to do—know whether it is right to keep on as—as I am. Do you see?”

But what, at this juncture, Carteret did, in point of fact, most consciously see was the return of Henrietta Frayling's scattered guests, from the Pavilion and other less fully illuminated quarters, towards the main building of the hotel. From the improvised ball-room within chords struck on the piano and answering tuning of strings invited to the renewal of united and active festivity. In the face of consequently impending interruption he hazarded a trifle of admonition.

“Dearest witch, you elect to speak in riddles,” he gently told her. “I am in the dark as to your meaning; so, if I am guilty of uttering foolishness, you must pardon me. But I own I could wish—just a bit—that, in some particulars, you wouldn't keep on—I quote your own words—as you are, or rather have been just lately.”

“Why?” she asked, without moving.

“Because, to be quite honest with you, I am not altogether satisfied about your father. I am afraid he is getting back into the habit of mind we set out to cure him of, you and I, last November.”

Damaris sprang to attention.

“And I haven't noticed it. I Wouldn't stop to notice it. I have been too busy about my own concerns and have neglected him.”

Arrayed in her spotless virgin finery, her head carried proudly, though her eyes were sombre with self-reproach, self-accusation, and her lips quivered, she confronted Carteret. And his clean loyal soul went out to her in a poignant, an exquisite, agony of tenderness and of desire. He would have given his right hand to save her pain. Given his life gladly, just then, to secure her welfare and happiness; yet he had struck her—for her own good possibly—possibly just blindly, instinctively, in self-defence. He tried to shut down the emotion which threatened to betray him and steady on to the playfully affectionate tone of their customary intercourse; but it is to be feared the effort lacked convincingness of quality.

“No—no,” he said, “you take it altogether too hard. You exaggerate, dear witch, to the point of extravagance. You have been less constantly with your father than usual—you're the delight of his life after all, as you must very well know—and inevitably he has missed you. Nothing worse than that. The damage, such as it is, can easily be repaired.”

“Ah! but the damage, as you call it, starts behind all that in something else—something older, much deeper down, of which I doubt whether any lasting reparation is possible. I did try to repair it. All my going out with Henrietta, and this rushing about lately, began in that trying—truly it did, Colonel Sahib. And then I suppose I got above myself—as poor Nannie used to say—and came to care for the rushing about just for its own sake”—

“My dance, I believe, Miss Verity.”

The speaker, Mr. Alban Titherage—well-groomed, rosy and self-complacent—pulled down the fronts of his white waistcoat. He inclined to distinct rotundity of person, and the garment in question, though admirable in cut, showed, what with the exertions of dancing, a damnable tendency, as he expressed it, to “ride up.”

“And my dance next afterwards, Miss Verity”—this from Peregrine Ditton, his youthful, well-bred, if somewhat choleric, countenance presenting itself over the top of the stock-broker's smooth and not conspicuously intelligent head.

Damaris looked from one to the other of these claimants for her favour, with instant and very becoming composure.

“I'm dreadfully sorry,” she told them collectively, “but surely there is some mistake. Both those next dances—they are the last, I'm afraid, too, aren't they?—belong to Colonel Carteret.”

“The deuce they do!” Ditton exploded, turning scarlet. With a cocked eye and a jaunty movement of the head Mr. Titherage shot out his right shirt cuff, and pointed a stout forefinger at certain hieroglyphics inscribed on its glossy surface.

“Your name, Miss Verity, and written with an indelible pencil, to the permanent embellishment of my best party-going linen and witness to your infidelity.”

“I can only repeat I am dreadfully sorry,” Damaris said, with a becoming air of concern, “if the confusion has arisen through my fault. But”—

She appealed to Carteret.

“They always were your dances, weren't they?”

“Without doubt,” he affirmed.

Amusedly and very kindly he smiled upon the angry boy and portly young man, although the beat of his pulse was accelerated and his throat felt queerly dry.

“I am sure you understand how impossible it is for me to release Miss Verity from her promise,” he said courteously. “Would you willingly do so yourselves, were the positions reversed and either of you happy enough to stand in my shoes at this moment?”

Titherage gave a fat good-tempered laugh.

“By George, you have me there, Colonel. Under such A1 circumstances catch me making way for a stranger! Not if I know it.”

With which he attempted jovially to put his arm through that of his companion in misfortune and lead Ditton away. But the latter flung off from him with a petulant, half-smothered oath; and, his back very straight, his walk very deliberate, pushed through the cheerfully discoursing throng into the ball-room.

Damaris turned about, resting her hands on the top of the iron balustrade again and gazed out to sea. Her breath came with a catch in it.

“Colonel Sahib,” she said, proudly if just a trifle brokenly, “are you angry?”

“Angry?—good Lord!”

Then recovering control of senses and of sense—“But, dear witch,” he asked her—“since when, if I may venture to enquire, have you become an adept in the fine art of—well—lying?”

Damaris looked around, her face irradiated by laughter.

“And you played up, oh! so beautifully quick! I was a teeny bit afraid you might fail me. For the idea came all of a minute, there wasn't time to warn you. And that was fortunate perhaps—for me. You might have had scruples. And I was obliged to do it. After talking about the things which really matter, I couldn't dance with that vulgar little man again—or with those jealous boys. They had an idiotic quarrel, actual quarrel, down in the garden. It displeased me. I told them so, and left them, and came here to find you—because of the fountain and the sort of home-sickness it gave me.”

Between laughing and crying, Damaris held out her hands, the white moonlight covering her.

“Oh! I am tired of rushing about,” she said. “Come and dance with me—it's nonsense to tell me you can't dance, and that you've forgotten how, because you have danced once this evening already—with Henrietta. I watched you and you dance better than anybody.”

“With Henrietta—that's rather a different matter!”

“I should hope it was,” Damaris took him up naughtily. “But dance with me, and then, then please take me home. Yes,” as he tried to speak. “I know I had arranged to stay the night at the Pavilion. But I'll find some excuse to make to Henrietta—Haven't you just told me I'm proficient in lying?—You were going to walk back? Why shouldn't I walk with you? I won't be five minutes changing into my day clothes. It would be so fascinating down on the shore road at night. And I should get quiet all inside of me. I am tired of rushing about, Colonel Sahib, it hasn't been a success.”

She stopped breathless, her hands pressed over her lace and satin swathed bosom.

“Now come and dance,—oh! so beautifully, please, come and dance.”

CHAPTER VII. TELLING HOW DAMARIS DISCOVERED THE TRUE NATURE OF A CERTAIN SECRET TO THE DEAR MAN WITH THE BLUE EYES

The beat of a tideless sea, upon the shore, is at once unrestful and monotonous; in this only too closely resembling the beat of the human heart, when the glory of youth has departed. The splendid energy of the flow and grateful easing of the ebb alike are denied it. Foul or fair, shine or storm, it pounds and pounds—as a thing chained—without relief of advance or of recession, always at the same level, always in the same place.

Suspicion of this cheerless truth was borne in upon Carteret as—bare-headed, his overcoat upon his arm, the night being singularly mild and clement—he walked with Damaris through the streets of the silent town. The dwellers in St. Augustin, both virtuous or otherwise, had very effectually retired to their beds behind drawn curtains, closed shutters, locked doors, and gave no sign. Vacancy reigned, bringing in its train an effect of suspense and eeriness, causing both our friends involuntarily to listen, with slightly strained hearing, for sounds which did not come. Once a cat, nimble and thin, streaked out of a cavernous side-alley across the pallor of the pavement and cobbled roadway, to be swallowed up in a black split—knife narrow, as it seemed—between the blank house fronts opposite. And once, as they turned into the open space of the Grand Place—unreal and stark with its spidery framework of stalls, set up ready for to-morrow's market, under the budding plane trees—they encountered a tired gendarme making his round, picturesque of aspect in kepi and flowing cloak. His footsteps brisked up, as he met and treated them to a discreetly sympathetic and intelligent observation, only to lag again wearily as soon as they had passed.

These were the sole creatures in St. Augustin, save themselves, visibly alive and awake. Yet whether other beings, other presences, unmaterial, imponderable, intangible, did not walk the streets along with them, is open to doubt. More than once Damaris shrank close to Carteret, startled by and apprehensive of she knew not what. For who dare say in such a place what leavings-over there may not be from times pre-Christian and remote, when mighty Rome ruled, and the ancient gods bore sway over that radiant coast? On the outskirts of St. Augustin you may visit a fine amphitheatre, still perfect save for some ruin along the upper tier of seats; and in the centre of the town, within a stone's throw of the somewhat gloomy cathedral church, may trace the airy columns and portions of the sculptured architrave of a reputed temple of Venus, worked into the facade of the municipal buildings.

Turning out of the Grande Place by an avenue on the right, Damaris and Carteret gained the esplanade following the curve of the bay. Here a freshness of the sea pleasantly accosted them along with that unrestful, monotonous trample of waves upon the beach.

Not until they reached this stage of the homeward journey, and, setting their faces eastward, paced the pale level asphalt of this wide promenade, did any sustained effort of conversation arise. Thus far they had proffered fugitive remarks only, lapsing speedily into somewhat constrained silence. For a coldness, or shyness, might appear to have sprung up between them, oddly holding them asunder in thought and moral attitude after the close association of the dance—a reaction from its contact so surprisingly more intimate than any they had yet experienced, from that harmonious rhythmic unity of purpose and of movement which, in dancing, alike excites emotion quasi-physical, and so alluringly serves to soothe and allay the emotion it excites.

These aspects of their association affected Damaris but dimly, since speaking a language of which she barely knew the alphabet. Carteret they took in a different measure. He read their direction and potency with clear understanding, the insidious provocations and satisfactions of them printed in large type. With a rush, his youth returned and troubled him. Or was it the phantom of youth merely? His heart-beats but the beat of a tideless sea. He feared as much.—Oh, these tardy harvests, these tardy harvests—are they not to most men a plague rather than a benison, since, in honour and fine feeling, so abominably perilous to reap!

For the greater promotion of calm and of sanity he welcomed the young girl's change of dress. The powder-blue walking suit, with belted jacket and kilted skirt, brought her more within the terms of their ordinary intercourse. But the impression of the fair young body, lately so close against his own, clothed in bride-like raiment, fresh as an opening flower and vaguely fragrant, could not easily be dispelled. Strive as he might to put it from him, the impression remained recurrent. Therefore it must not be held to Carteret's discredit if his senses took part with his nobler affections just now, against his considered judgment; or that he fared badly at the hands of the sea-born goddess—worshipped hero in her temple in ancient days, with music, with dance and with nameless rites of sex, when the moon rode high heaven at the full, even as to-night.

Her influence was still abroad, and in his flesh Carteret shrewdly suffered it; yet neither basely nor bestially, being clean of life and of spirit. He whipped himself even, with rather sorry humour, seeing, in Damaris' willingness to entrust herself thus to his sole care in the midnight loneliness, a handsomer compliment to his morals than to his manhood. How little, bless her, she knew what stuff men are made of!—therein underrating her acquaintance with fact, as her conversation presently and surprisingly proved to him.

The revelation began in all apparent innocence—for:

“I'm not ungrateful to Henrietta,” Damaris said, breaking silence softly yet abruptly, as speaking to herself rather than addressing him, in apology and argument. “And I'm dreadfully sorry to have vexed her—for she was vexed with me for not staying at the Pavilion to-night, as I promised. She was really quite cross.”

“She will get over that—never fear,” Carteret answered off the surface.

“Still it troubles me to have vexed her. I must have seemed so unreasonable, making silly sounding excuses—because I could not explain to her why I really wanted so much to go home.”

“You find a limit to the dear lady's powers of comprehension or of sympathy?” he asked, again off the surface.

“I suppose I must do so, because there are things it never occurs to one to speak of to Henrietta.”

“Whole cartloads of them,” Carteret comprehensively agreed.

“And yet I don't know why.”

“Don't you? Well, I think I do perhaps know why; and knowing, I must confess to being not altogether sorry your confidences are restricted, dear witch, in that particular direction.”

The use of the pet name, though involuntary—possibly on that very account—eased his fever. Clearly he must get back to their former relation. Rejoice in her beauty, in her sweet faith and dependence, love her—yes—he admitted the word,—but for God's sake keep the physical side out of the business. Damaris' easily-aroused loyalty, meanwhile, caught alight.

“Oh, but we've just been Henrietta's guests,” she said, with a pretty mingling of appeal and rebuke—“and it seems hardly kind, does it, to find faults in her. She has been beautifully good to me all this time, ending up with this dance which she gave on purpose to please me.”

“And herself also,” Carteret returned.

—Yes decidedly he felt better, steadier, to the point of now trusting himself to look at his companion, notwithstanding the strange influences abroad in the magical moonlight, with his accustomed smiling, half-amused indulgence. The unremitting trample of the waves, there on the right, made for level-headedness actually if a little mercilessly—so he thought.

“I don't wish to be guilty of taking Mrs. Frayling's name in vain a second time,” he went on—“you've pulled me up, and quite rightly, for doing so once already—but depend upon it, she enjoyed her ball every morsel as much as you did. In respect of the minor delights of existence, she slumbers not nor sleeps, our perenially charming and skilful Henrietta.”

“You think she enjoyed it too? I am glad.”

Then after an interval of silence, her whole figure alert, her speech eager:

“See there—see there, Colonel Sahib—yes, far, far out to sea—aren't those the lights of a ship?”

“Yes,” he answered—“creeping westward—bound for Toulon, most likely, or possibly for Marseilles.”

And he would have moved forward. But Damaris unaccountably lingered. Carteret waited a good three to four minutes to suit her convenience; but the delay told on him. The night and hour down here by the shore, on the confines of the silent town, were too full of poetry, too full of suggestion, of the fine-drawn excitement of things which had been and might not impossibly again be. It was dangerous to loiter, and in such company, though waves might beat out a constant reminder with merciless pertinacity upon the beach.

“Come, dear witch, come,” he at last urged her. “We still have more than a mile to go and a pretty stiff hill to climb. It grows late, you will be abominably tired to-morrow. Why this fascination for a passing steamer, probably some unromantic, villainously dirty old tramp too, you would not condescend to look at by daylight.”

“Because,”—Damaris began. She came nearer to him, her expression strangely agitated.—“Oh! Colonel Sahib, if I could only be sure it wasn't treacherous to tell you!”

“Tell me what? One of the many things it would never occur to you to confide to Mrs. Frayling?” he said, trying to treat her evident emotion lightly, to laugh it off.

“To Henrietta? Of course not. It would be unpardonable, hateful to tell Henrietta.”

She flushed, her face looking, for the moment, dark from excess of colour.

“You are the only person I could possibly tell.”

Carteret moved aside a few steps. He too felt strangely agitated. Wild ideas, ideas of unholy aspect, presented themselves to him—ideas, again, beyond words entrancing and sweet. He fought with both alike, honestly, manfully. Returned and took Damaris' hand quietly, gently in both his.

“Look here, dear witch,” he said, “all this evening a—to me—unknown spirit has possessed you. You haven't been like yourself. You have made me a little anxious, a little alarmed on your account.”

“Oh! it isn't only this evening,” she caught him up. “It has been going on for weeks.”

“So I have seen—and that is not good for you, isn't for your happiness. So, if I am—as you say—the only person you care to acquaint with this matter, had not you better tell me here and now? Better worry yourself no more with mysteries about it, but let us, once and for all, have the thing out?”

“I should be thankful,” Damaris said simply, looking him in the eyes—“if I could be sure I wasn't sacrificing some one else—their pride I mean—their—their honour.”

For a few seconds Carteret paused, meeting her grave and luminous glance. Then:

“I think you may risk it,” he said. “I promise you this some-one-else's honour shall be sacred to me as my own. Without your direct request no word of what you choose to tell me will ever pass my lips.”

“Ah! I'm very sure of that,”—Her smile, her voice bore transparent testimony to a faith which went, somewhat giddily, not only to her hearer's heart but to his head. “It isn't a question of your repeating anything; but of your thinking differently of some one you care for very much—and who is almost as dependent on you, Colonel Sahib, as I am myself. At least I fear you might.—Oh! I am so perplexed, I'm in such a maze,” she said. “I've nothing to go on in all this, and I turn it over and over in my mind to no purpose till my head aches. You see I can't make out whether this—the thing which began it all and happened oh! long ago—is extraordinary—one which you—and most people like you—in your position, I mean—would consider very wrong and disgraceful; or whether it often happens and is just accepted, taken for granted, only not talked about.”

Carteret felt cold all down his spine. For what, in God's name, could this supremely dear and—as he watched her grave and sweetly troubled countenance—supremely lovely child, be driving at?

“And I care so dreadfully much,” she went on. “It is the story of the darling little green jade elephant over again—like its being broken and spoilt. Only now I'm grown up I don't give in and let it make me ill. There was a time even of that—of illness, I mean—at first just before you came to The Hard last autumn. But I wouldn't suffer it, I would not let the illness go on. I got over that. But then a second crisis occurred soon after we came here; and I thought Henrietta's kindness opened a way out. So I rushed about whenever and wherever she invited me to rush. But as I told you this evening—just before we had our two dances, you remember.”

“Am I likely to forget!” Carteret murmured under his breath.

“The rushing about has not proved a success. I thought it would help to stifle certain longings and keep me nearer to my father—more at one with him. But it didn't, it made me neglect him. You see—you see”—the words were dragged from her, as by active suffering and distress of mind—“I had to choose between him and another person. One cannot serve two masters. I choose him. His claim was the strongest in duty. And I love to see him satisfied and peaceful. He always ranked first in everything I felt and did ever since I can remember; and I so want him to stay first. But I have been pulled two ways, and seem to have got all astray somehow lately. I haven't been really true to myself any more than to him—only frivolous and busy about silly pleasures.”

“Don't let the frivolity burden your precious conscience,” Carteret comfortably told her, touched by the pathos of her self-reproach. For her sincerity was surely, just now, unimpeachable and she a rare creature indeed! Love, he could less than ever banish; but surely he might utterly banish distrust and fear?—“As frivolity goes, dear witch, and greed of pleasure, yours have been innocent enough both in amount and in quality, heaven knows!”

“I should like to believe so—but all that's relative, isn't it? The real wrongness of what you do, depends upon the level of rightness you start from, I mean.”

“Insatiable casuist!” Carteret tenderly laughed at her.

And with that, by common though unspoken consent, they walked onward again.

Even while so doing, however, both were sensible that this resumption of their homeward journey marked a period in, rather than the conclusion of, their conversation. Some outside compelling force—so in any case it appeared to Carteret—encompassed them. It was useless to turn and double, indulge in gently playful digression. That force would inevitably make them face the innermost of their own thought, their own emotion, in the end. In obedience to which unwelcome conviction, Carteret presently brought himself to ask her:

“And about this other person—for we have wandered a bit from the point at issue, haven't we?—whose interests as I gather clash, for some reason, with those of your father, and whose pride and honour you are so jealously anxious to safeguard.”

“His pride, yes,” Damaris said quickly, her head high, a warmth in her tone. “His honour is perfectly secure, in my opinion.”

“Whose honour is in danger then?—Dear witch, forgive me, but don't you see the implication?”

Damaris looked around at him with unfathomable eyes. Her lips parted, yet she made no answer.

After a pause Carteret spoke again, and, to his own hearing, his voice sounded hoarse as that of the tideless sea upon the beach yonder.

“Do you mean me to understand that the conflict between your father's interests and those of this other person—this other man's—arise from the fact that you love him?”

“Yes,” Damaris calmly declared.

“Love him,”—having gone thus far Carteret refused to spare himself. He turned the knife in the wound—“Love him to the point of marriage?”

There, the word was said. Almost unconsciously he walked onward without giving time for her reply.—He moistened his lips, weren't they dry as a cinder? He measured the height to which hope had borne him, to-night, by the shock, the positive agony of his existing fall. At the young girl, svelte and graceful, beside him, he could not look; but kept his eyes fixed on the mass of the wooded promontory, dark and solid against the more luminous tones of water and of sky, some half-mile distant. Set high upon the further slope of it, from here invisible, the Grand Hotel fronted—as he knew—the eastward trending coast. Carteret wished the distance less, since he craved the shelter of that friendly yellow-washed caravanserai. He would be mortally thankful to find himself back there, and alone, the door of his bachelor quarters shut—away from the beat of the waves, away from the subtle glory of this Venus-ridden moon now drawing down to her setting. Away, above all, from Damaris—delivered from the enchantments and perturbations, both physical and moral, her delicious neighbourhood provoked.

But from that fond neighbourhood, as he suddenly became aware, he was in some sort delivered already. For she stopped dead, with a strange choking cry; and stood solitary, as it even seemed forsaken, upon the wide grey whiteness of the asphalt of the esplanade. Behind her a line of lamps—pale burning under the moonlight—curved, in perspective, with the curving of the bay right away to the lighthouse. On her left the crowded houses of the sleeping town, slashed here and there with sharp edged shadows, receded, growing indistinct among gardens and groves. The scene, as setting to this single figure, affected him profoundly, taken in conjunction with that singular cry. He retraced the few steps dividing him from her.

“Marriage?” she almost wailed, putting out her hands as though to prevent his approach. “No—no—never in life, Colonel Sahib. You quite dreadfully misunderstand.”

“Do I?” Carteret said, greatly taken aback, while, whether he would or no, unholy ideas again flitted through his mind maliciously assailing him.

“It has nothing to do with that sort of loving. It belongs to something much more beautifully part of oneself—something of one's very, very own, right from the very beginning.”

“Indeed!” he said, sullenly, even roughly, his habitual mansuetude giving way before this—for so he could not but take it—contemptuous flinging of his immense tenderness, his patient, unswerving devotion, back in his face. “Then very certainly I must plead guilty to not understanding, or if you prefer it—for we needn't add to our other discomforts by quarrelling about the extra syllable—of misunderstanding. In my ignorance, I confess I imagined the love, which finds its crown and seal of sanctity in marriage, can be—and sometimes quite magnificently is—the most beautiful thing a man has to give or a woman to receive.”

Damaris stared at him, her face blank with wonder.

Set at regular intervals between the tall blue-grey painted lamp standards, for the greater enjoyment of visitors and natives, stone benches, of a fine antique pattern, adorn St. Augustin's esplanade. Our much-perplexed maiden turned away wearily and sat down upon the nearest of these. She held up her head, bravely essaying to maintain an air of composure and dignity; but her shoulders soon not imperceptibly quivered, while, try hard as she might, setting her teeth and holding her breath, small plaintive noises threatened betrayal of her tearful state.

Carteret, quite irrespective of the prescience common to all true lovers where the beloved object's welfare is concerned, possessed unusually quick and observant hearing. Those small plaintive noises speedily reached him and pierced him as he stood staring gloomily out to sea. Whereupon he bottled up his pain, shut down his natural and admirably infrequent anger, and came over to the stone bench.

“You're not crying, dearest witch, are you?” he asked her.

“Yes, I am,” Damaris said. “What else is there left for me to do?—Everyone I care for I seem to make unhappy. Everything I do goes wrong. Everything I touch gets broken and spoilt somehow.”

“Endless tragedies of little green jade elephants?” he gently bantered her.

“Yes—endless. For now I have hurt you. You are trying to be good and like your usual self to me; but that doesn't take me in. I know all through me I have hurt you—quite dreadfully badly—though I never, never meant to, and haven't an idea how or why.”

This was hardly comforting news to Carteret. He attempted no disclaimer; while she, after fumbling rather helplessly at the breast-pocket of her jacket, at last produced a folded letter and held it out to him.

“Whether it's treacherous or not, I am obliged to tell you,” she said, with pathetic desperation. “For I can't bear any more. I can't but try my best to keep you, Colonel Sahib. And now you are hurt, I can only keep you by making you understand—just everything. You may still think me wrong; but anyhow my wrongness will be towards somebody else, not towards you.—So please read this, and don't skip, because every word helps to explain. Read it right through before you ask me any questions—that's more fair all round.—If you go across there—under the lamp, I mean—there still is light enough, I think, for you to be able to see.”

And Carteret, thus admonished—partly to pacify her, partly to satisfy a very vital curiosity which stirred in him to compass the length, breadth, and height of this queer business, learn the truth and so set certain vague and agitating fears at rest—did as Damaris bade him. Standing in the conflicting gaslight and moonlight, the haunted quiet of the small hours broken only by the trample and wash of the sea, he read Darcy Faircloth's letter from its unconventional opening, to its equally unconventional closing paragraph.

“Now my holiday is over and I will close down till next Christmas night—unless miracles happen meanwhile—so good-bye—Here is a boatload of my lads coming alongside, roaring with song and as drunk as lords.—God bless you. In spirit I once again kiss your dear feet”—

Carteret straightened himself up with a jerk. Looked at Damaris sitting very still, a little sunk together, as in weariness or dejection upon the stone bench. His eyes blazed fierce, for once, with questions he burned yet dreaded to ask. But on second thoughts—they arrived to him swiftly—he restrained his impatience and his tongue. Mastering his heat he looked down at the sheet of note-paper again. He would obey Damaris, absorb the contents of this extraordinary document, the facts it conveyed both explicitly and implicitly, to the last word before he spoke.

Happily the remaining words were few. “Your brother,” he read, “till death and after”—followed by a name and date.

At the name he stared fairly confounded. It meant nothing whatever to him.—That is, at first. Then, rising as a vision from out some subconscious drift of memory, he saw the cold, low-toned colouring of wide, smooth and lonely waters, of salt-marsh, of mud-flat and reed-bed in the lowering light of a late autumn afternoon—a grey, stone-built tavern, moreover, above the open door of which, painted upon a board, that same name of Faircloth figured above information concerning divers liquors obtainable within. Yes—remembrance grew more precise and stable. He recalled the circumstances quite clearly now. He had seen it on his way back from a solitary afternoon's wild fowl shooting on Marychurch Haven; during his last visit to Deadham Hard.

So much was certain. But the name in its present connection? Carteret's imagination shied. For, to have the existence of an illegitimate son of your oldest and dearest friend thus suddenly thrust upon you, and that by a young lady of the dearest friend's family, is, to say the least of it, a considerable poser for any man. It may be noted as characteristic of Carteret that, without hesitation, he recognized the sincerity and fine spirit of Faircloth's letter. Characteristic, also, that having seized the main bearings of it, his feeling was neither of cynical acquiescence, or of covert and cynical amusement; but of vicarious humiliation, of apology and noble pitying shame.

He came over and sat down upon the stone bench beside Damaris.

“Dear witch,” he said slowly, “this, if I apprehend it aright, is a little staggering. Forgive me—I did altogether, and I am afraid rather crassly, misunderstand. But that I could hardly help, since no remotest hint of this matter has ever reached me until now.”

Damaris let her hand drop, palm upwards, upon the cool, slightly rough, surface of the seat. Carteret placed the folded letter in it, and so doing, let his hand quietly close down over hers—not in any sense as a caress, but as assurance of a sympathy it was forbidden him, in decency and loyalty, to speak. For a while they both remained silent. Damaris was first to move. She put the letter back into the breast-pocket of her jacket.

“I am glad you know, Colonel Sahib,” she gravely said. “You see how difficult it has all been.”

“I see—yes”—

After a pause, the girl spoke again.

“I only came to know it myself at the end of last summer, quite by accident. I was frightened and tried not to believe. But there was no way of not believing. I had lost my way in the mist out on the Bar. I mistook the one for the other—my brother, I mean, for”—

Damaris broke off, her voice failing her.

“Yes,” Carteret put in gently, supportingly.

He leaned back, his arms crossed upon his breast, his head carried slightly forward, slightly bent, as he watched the softly sparkling line of surf, marking the edge of the plunging waves upon the sloping shore. Vicarious shame claimed him still. He weighed man's knowledge, man's freedom of action, man's standards of the permissible and unpermissible as against those of this maiden, whose heart was at once so much and so little awake.

“For my father,” she presently went on. “But still I wanted to deny the truth. I was frightened at it. For if that was true so much else—things I had never dreamed of until then—might also be true. I wanted to get away, somehow. But later, after I had been ill, and my father let him come and say good-bye to me before he went to sea, I saw it all differently, and far from wanting to get away I only longed that we might always be together as other brothers and sisters are. But I knew that wasn't possible. I was quite happy, especially after you came with us, Colonel Sahib, out here. Then I had this letter and the longing grew worse than ever. I did try to school myself into not wanting, not longing—did silly things—frivolous things, as I told you. But I can't stop wanting. It all came to a head, somehow to-night, with the dancing and music, and those foolish boys quarrelling over me—and then your showing me that—instead of being faithful to my father, I have neglected him.”

“Ah, you poor sweet dear!” Carteret said, greatly moved and turning to her.

In response she leaned towards him, her face wan in the expiring moonlight, yet very lovely in its pleading and guileless affection.

“And my brother is beautiful, Colonel Sahib,” she declared, “not only to look at but in his ideas. You would like him and be friends with him, though he doesn't belong to the same world as you—indeed you would. And he is not afraid—you know what I mean?—not afraid of being alive and having adventures. He means to do big things—not that he has talked boastfully to me, or been showy. Please don't imagine that. He knows where he comes in, and doesn't pretend to be anybody or anything beyond what he is. Only it seems to me there is a streak of something original in him—almost of genius. He makes me feel sure he will never bungle any chance which comes in his way. And he has time to do so much, if chances do come”—this with a note of exultation. “His life is all before him, you see. He is so beautifully young yet.”

CHAPTER VIII. FIDUS ACHATES

In which final pronouncement of Damaris' fond tirade, Carteret heard the death knell of his own fairest hopes. He could not mistake the set of the girl's mind. Not only did brother call to sister, but youth called to youth. Whereat the goad of his forty-nine years pricked him shrewdly.

He must accept the disabilities of the three decades, plus one year, which divided him in age from Damaris, as final; and range himself with the elder generation—her father's generation, in short. How, after all, could he in decency go to his old friend and say: “Give me your daughter.” The thing, viewed thus, became outrageous, offensive not only to his sense of fitness, but of the finer and more delicate moralities. For cradle-snatching is not, it must be conceded, a graceful occupation; nor is a middle-aged man with a wife still in her teens a graceful spectacle. Sentimentalists may maunder over it in pinkly blushing perversity; but the naughty world thinks otherwise, putting, if not openly its finger to its nose, at least secretly its tongue in its cheek. And rightly, as he acknowledged. The implication may be coarse, libidinous; but the instinct producing it is a sound one, both healthy and just.

Therefore he had best sit no longer upon stone benches by the sounding shore, in this thrice delicious proximity and thrice provocative magic of the serene southern night. All the more had best not do so, because Damaris proved even more rare in spirit, exquisite in moral and imaginative quality—so he perhaps over-fondly put it—than ever before. Carteret got on his feet and walked away a few paces, continuing to heckle himself with merciless honesty and rather unprintable humour—invoking even the historic name of Abishag, virgin and martyr, and generally letting himself “have it hot.”

A self-chastisement which may be accounted salutary, since, as he administered it, his thought again turned to a case other than his own, namely, that of Charles Verity. To pronounce judgment on his friend's past relations with women, whether virtuous or otherwise, was no business of his. Whatever irregularities of conduct that friend's earlier career may have counted, had brought their own punishment—were indeed actually bringing it still, witness current events. It wasn't for him, Carteret, by the smallest fraction to add to that punishment; but rather, surely, to do all in his power to lighten the weight of it. Here he found safe foothold. Let him invite long-standing friendship, with the father, to help him endure the smart of unrequited love for the daughter. To pretend these two emotions moved on the same plane and could counter-balance one another, was manifestly absurd; but that did not affect the essence of the question. Ignoring desire, which to-night so sensibly and disconcertingly gnawed at his vitals, let him work to restore the former harmony and sweet strength of their relation. If in the process he could obtain for Damaris—without unseemly revelation or invidious comment—that on which her innocent soul was set he would have his reward.—A reward a bit chilly and meagre, it is true, as compared with—Comparisons be damned!—Carteret left his pacing and came back to the stone bench.

“Well, I have formed my own conclusions in respect of the whole matter. Now tell me what you actually want me to do, and I will see how far it can be compassed, dear witch.” he said.

Damaris had risen too, but she was troubled.

“Ah! I still spoil things,” she wailed. “I was so happy telling you about—about Faircloth. And yet somehow I've hurt you again. I know I have.”

Carteret took her by the elbow lightly, gently, carrying her onward beside him over the wide pallor of the asphalt.

“Hurt me, you vanitatious creature? Against babes of your tender age, I long ago became hurt-proof”—he gaily lied to her. “What do you take me for?—A fledgling like the Ditton boy, or poor Harry Ellice, with whose adolescent affections you so heartlessly played chuck-farthing at our incomparable Henrietta's party to-night?—No, no—but joking apart, what exactly is it you want me to do for you? Take you to Marseilles for the day, perhaps, to meet this remarkable young sea-captain and go over his ship?”

“He is remarkable,” Damaris chimed in, repeating the epithet with eager and happier emphasis.

“Unquestionably—if I'm to judge both by your account of him and by the tenor of his letter.”

“And you would take me? Oh! dear Colonel Sahib, how beautifully good you are to me.”

“Of course, I'll take you—if”—

“If what?”

“If Sir Charles gives his consent.”

He slipped Damaris' hand within his arm, still bearing her onward. The last of the long line of gas-lamps upon the esplanade, marking the curve of the bay, was now left behind. A little further and the road forked—the main one followed the shore. The other—a footpath—mounted to the left through the delicate gloom and semi-darkness of the wood clothing the promontory. Carteret did not regret that impending obscurity, apprehending it would be less embarrassing, under cover of it, to embark on certain themes which must be embarked upon were he to bring his purpose to full circle.

“Listen, my dear,” he told her, “while I expound. Certain laws of friendship exist, between men, which are imperative. They must be respected. To evade them, still worse, wilfully break them is to be guilty of unpardonably bad taste and bad feeling—to put it no higher. Had your father chosen to speak to me of this matter, well and good. I should have felt honoured by his confidence, have welcomed it—for he is dearer to me than any man living and always must be.—But the initiative has to come from him. Till he speaks I am dumb. For me to approach the subject first is not possible.”

“Then the whole beautiful plan falls through,” she said brokenly.

“No, not at all, very far from that,” he comforted her. “I gather you have already discussed it with your father. You must lay hold of your courage and discuss it again. I know that won't be easy; but you owe it to him to be straightforward, owe it to his peculiar devotion to you. Some day, perhaps, when you are older and more ripe in experience, I may tell you, in plain language of a vow he once made for your sake—when he was in his prime, too, his life strong in him, his powers at their height. Some persons might consider his action exaggerated and fanatical. But such accusations can be brought against most actions really heroic. And that this action, specially in a man of his temperament, may claim to be heroic there can be, in my opinion, no manner of doubt.”

The path climbed steeply through the pine wood. Damaris' hand grew heavy on Carteret's arm. Once she stumbled, and clung to him in recovering her footing, thereby sending an electric current tingling through his nerves again.

“He did what was painful, you mean, and for my sake?”

“Say rather gave up something very much the reverse of painful,” Carteret answered, his voice not altogether under control, so that it struck away, loud and jarring, between the still ranks of the tree-trunks to right and left.

“Which is harder?”

“Which is much harder—immeasurably, incalculably harder, dearest witch.”

After a space of silence, wherein the pines, lightly stirred by some fugitive up-draught off the sea, murmured dusky secrets in the vault of interlacing branches overhead, Carteret spoke again. He had his voice under control now. Yet, to Damaris' hearing, his utterance was permeated by an urgency and gravity almost awe-inspiring, here in the loneliness and obscurity of the wood. She went in sudden questioning, incomprehensible fear of the dear man with the blue eyes. His arm was steady beneath her hand, supporting her. His care and protection sensibly encircled her, yet he seemed to her thousands of miles away, speaking from out some depth of knowledge and of reality which hopelessly transcended her experience. She felt strangely diffident, strangely ignorant. Felt, though she had no name for it, the mystical empire, mystical terror of sex as sex.

“The night of the breaking of the monsoon, of those riotings and fires at Bhutpur, your father bartered his birthright, in a certain particular, against your restoration to health. The exact nature of that renunciation I cannot explain to you. The whole transaction lies beyond the range of ordinary endeavour; and savours of the transcendental—or the superstitious, if you please to take it that way. But call it by what name you will, his extravagant gamble with the Lords of Life and Death worked, apparently. For you got well; and you have stayed well, dear witch—thanks to those same Lords of Life and Death, whose favour your father attempted to buy with this act of personal sacrifice. He was willing to pay a price most men would consider prohibitive to secure your recovery. And, with an unswerving sense of honour, he has gone on paying, until that which, at the start, must have amounted to pretty severe discipline has crystallized into habit. What you tell me of this young man, Darcy Faircloth's history, goes, indirectly, to strengthen my admiration for your father's self-denying ordinance, both in proposing and in maintaining this strange payment.”

There—it was finished, his special pleading. Carteret felt unfeignedly glad. He was unaccustomed to put forth such elaborate expositions, more particularly of a delicate nature and therefore offering much to avoid as well as much to state.

“So you are bound to play a straight game with him—dear child. Believe me he deserves it, is finely worthy of it. Be open with him. Show him your letter. Ask his permission—if you have sufficient courage. Your courage is the measure of the sincerity of your desire in this business. Do you follow me?”

“Yes—but I shall distress him,” Damaris mournfully argued.

She was bewildered, and in her bewilderment held to the immediate and obvious.

“Less than by shutting him out from your confidence, by keeping him at arm's length.”

“Neglecting him?”

“Ah! so that rankles still, does it? Yes, neglecting him just a trifle, perhaps.”

“But the neglect is over—indeed, it is over and utterly done with.”

And in the ardour of her disclaimer, Damaris pressed against Carteret, her face upturned and, since she too was tall, very close to his.

“Just because it is over and done with I begged you to bring me back with you to-night. I wanted to make a clean break with all the frivolities, while everything was quite clear to me. I wanted, while I still belonged to you, Colonel Sahib, through our so beautifully dancing together twice”—

“God in Heaven!” Carteret said under his breath. For what a past-master in the art of the torturer is your white souled maiden at moments!

“To go right away from all that rushing about worldliness—I don't blame Henrietta—she has been sweet to me—but it is worldliness, rather, isn't it?—and to be true to him again and true to myself. I wanted to return to my allegiance. You believe me, don't you? You made me see, Colonel Sahib, you brought my foolishness home to me—Oh! yes, I owe you endless gratitude and thanks. But I was uneasy already. I needed a wholesome shove, and you gave it. And now you deliver a much-needed supplementary shove—one to my courage. I obey you, Colonel Sahib, without question or reservation—not on the chance of getting what I long for; but because you have convinced me of what is right. I will tell him—tell my father—all about everything—to-morrow.”

“It is now to-morrow—and, with the night, many dreams have packed up their traps and fled.”

“But we needn't be sorry for that,” Damaris declared, in prettily rising confidence. “The truth is going to be better than the dreams, isn't it?”

“For you, yes—with all my heart, I hope.”

“But for you—why not for you?” she cried, smitten by anxiety regarding him and by swift tenderness.

They had reached the end of the upward climbing path, and stepped from the semi-darkness of the wood into the greater clarity of the gravel terrace in front of the hotel. Far below unseen waves again beat upon the beach. The sound reached them faintly. The dome of the sky, thick sown with stars, appeared prodigious in expanse and in height. It dwarfed the block of hotel buildings upon the right. Dwarfed all visible things, the whole earth, indeed, which it so sensibly enclosed. Dwarfed also, and that to the point of desolation, the purposes and activities of individual human lives. How could these count, what could they matter in presence of the countless worlds swinging, there, through the illimitable fields of space?

To Carteret this thought, or rather this sensation, of human insignificance brought a measure of stoic consolation. He lifted Damaris' hand off his arm, and held it, while he said, smiling at her:

“For me—yes, of course. Why not? For me too, dearest witch, truth is assuredly the most profitable bedfellow.”

Then, as she shrank, drawing away a little, startled by the crudeness of the expression:

“I enjoyed our two dances,” he told her, “and I shall enjoy taking you to Marseilles and making Faircloth's acquaintance, if our little scheme works out successfully—if it is sanctioned, permitted. After that—other things being equal—I think I ought to break camp and journey back to England, to look after my property and my sister's affairs. I have gadded long enough. It is time to get into harness—such harness as claims me in these all too easy-going days. And now you must really go indoors without further delay, and go to bed. May the four angels of pious tradition stand at the four corners of it, to keep you safe in body, soul and spirit. Sleep the sleep of innocence and wake radiant and refreshed.”

“Ah! but you're sad—you are sad,” Damaris cried, her lips quivering. “Can't I do anything?—I would do so much, would love so much—beyond anything—to make you unsad.”

The man with the blue eyes shook his head.

“Impossible, alas! Your intervention, in this case, is finally ruled out, my sweet lamb,” he affectionately, but conclusively said.

CHAPTER IX. WHICH FEATURES VARIOUS PERSONS WITH WHOM THE READER IS ALREADY ACQUAINTED

Some are born great, some attain greatness, and some have it thrust upon them to the lively embarrassment of their humble and retiring little souls. To his own notable surprise, General Frayling, on the morning following his wife's Cinderella dance, awoke to find himself the centre of interest in the life of the pretty pavilion situated in the grounds of the Hotel de la Plage. He owed this unaccustomed ascendency to physical rather than moral or intellectual causes, being possessed of a temperature, the complexion of the proverbial guinea, and violent pains in his loins and his back.

These anxious symptoms developed—one cannot but feel rather unjustly—as the consequence of his own politeness, his amenity of manner, and the patient attentions he paid on the previous evening to one of his wife's guests. He had sat altogether too long for personal comfort in a draughty corner of the hotel garden, with Mrs. Callowgas. Affected by the poetic influences of moon, stars, and sea, affected also conceivably by pagan amorous influences, naughtily emanating from the neighbouring Venus Temple—whose elegant tapering columns adorn the facade of the local Mairie—Mrs. Callowgas became extensively reminiscent of her dear dead Lord Bishop. Protracted anecdotes of visitations and confirmation tours, excerpts from his sermons, speeches and charges, arch revelations of his diurnal and nocturnal conversation and habits—the latter tedious to the point of tears when not slightly immodest—poured from her widowed lips. The good lady overflowed. She frankly babbled. General Frayling listened, outwardly interested and civil, inwardly deploring that he had omitted to put on a waistcoat back-lined with flannel—waxing momentarily more conscious, also, that the iron—of the hard cold slats composing the seat of his garden chair—if not entering into his soul, was actively entering a less august and more material portion of his being through the slack of his thin evening trousers. He endured both tedium and bodily suffering with the fortitude of a saint and martyr; but next morning revealed him victim of a violent chill demanding medical aid.

The native local practitioner was reported mono-lingual, and of small scientific reputation; while our General though fluent in vituperative Hindustani, and fairly articulate in Arabic, could lay no claim to proficiency in the French language. Hence probable deadlock between doctor and patient. Henrietta acted promptly, foreseeing danger of jaundice or worse; and bade Marshall Wace telegraph to Cannes for an English physician. As a nurse she was capable if somewhat unsympathetic—illness and death being foreign to her personal programme. She attended upon her small sick warrior assiduously; thereby earning the admiration of the outsiders, and abject apologies for “being such a confounded nuisance to you, my love,” from himself. Her maid, a Eurasian—by name Serafina Lousada, whom she had brought with her from Bombay a couple of years earlier, prematurely-wrinkled of skin and shrunken of figure, yet whose lustrous black eyes still held the embers of licentious fires—would readily have shared her labours. But Henrietta was at some trouble to eliminate Serafina from the sick-chamber, holding her tendencies suspect as insidiously and quite superfluously sentimental, where any male creature might be concerned.

Carteret and Sir Charles Verity, on the other hand, she encouraged with the sweetest dignity imaginable, to take turns at the bedside—and to look in upon her drawing-room, also, on their way back and forth thither. A common object and that a philanthropic one, gives unimpeachable occasions of intimacy. These Henrietta did not neglect, though touching them with a disarming pensiveness of demeanour. The invalid was, “the thing ”—the thought of him wholly paramount with her. Her anxiety might be lightened, perhaps, but by no means deleted, by the attentions of these friends of former years.—A pretty enough play throughout, as the two gentlemen silently noted, the one with kindly, the other with sardonic, humour.

Her henchman, Marshall Wace, meanwhile, Henrietta kept on the run until the triangular patch of colour, straining either prominent cheek-bone, was more than ever accentuated. There was method, we may however take it, in the direction of these apparently mad runnings, since they so incessantly landed the runner in the salon of the Grand Hotel crowning the wooded headland. Damaris she refused to have with her. No—she couldn't consent to any clouding of the darling child's bright spirit by her private worries. Trouble, heaven knows, is bound to overtake each one of us more than soon enough! She—Henrietta—could endure her allotted portion of universal tribulation best in the absence of youthful witnesses.

But let Marshall carry Damaris news daily—twice daily, if needs be. Let him read with her, sing to her; so that she, charming child, should miss her poor Henrietta, and their happy meetings at the little pavilion, the less. Especially let him seek the young girl, and strive to entertain her, when Sir Charles and Colonel Carteret were engaged on their good Samaritan visits to General Frayling.

“This break in our cherished intercourse,” Henrietta wrote, in one of those many Wace-borne bulletins, “grieves me more than I can express. Permit Marshall to do all in his power to make up for this hospital incarceration of mine. Poor dear fellow, it is such a boon to him. I really crave to procure him any pleasure I can—above all the pleasure of being with you, which he values so very highly. All his best qualities show in this time of trial. He is only too faithful and wears himself to positive fiddle-strings in my service and that of the General. I send him to you, darling child, for a little change and recreation—relaxation from the strain of my husband's illness. Marshall is so sympathetic and feels for others so deeply. His is indeed a rare nature; but one which does not, alas! always quite do itself justice. I attribute this to an unfortunate upbringing rather than to any real fault in himself. So be good to him, Damaris. In being good to him—as I have said all along—you are being good to your fondly loving and, just now, sorely tried Henrietta Frayling.”

All which sounded a note designed to find an echo in Damaris' generous heart. Which it did—this the more readily because, still penitent for her recent trifle of wild-oats sowing, our beloved maiden was particularly emulous of good works, the missionary spirit all agog in her. She was out to comfort, to sympathize and to sustain. Hence she doubly welcomed that high-coloured hybrid, Wace—actor, cleric, vocalist in one. Guilelessly she indulged and mothered him, overlooking his egoism, his touchiness and peevishness, his occasional defects of breeding and of taste. She permitted him, moreover, to talk without restraint upon his favourite subject—that of himself. To retail the despairs of an ailing and unhappy childhood; the thwarted aspirations of a romantic and sensitive boyhood; the doubts and disappointments of a young manhood conspicuously rich in promise, had the fates and his fellow creatures but shown themselves more intelligently sensible of his merits and his needs.

For this was the burden of his recurrent lament. Throughout life he had been misunderstood.

“But you, Miss Verity, do understand me,” he almost passionately declared, waving white effeminate hands. “Ah! a pure influence such as yours”—

Here, rather to Damaris' thankfulness, words appeared to fail him. He moved to the piano and exhaled his remaining emotion in song.

Affairs had reached the above point about ten days after Henrietta's party and Damaris' midnight walk with Colonel Carteret by the shore of the sounding sea. General Frayling, though mending, was still possessed of a golden complexion and a temperature slightly above the normal, while his dutiful wife, still self-immured, was in close attendance, when an event occurred which occasioned her considerable speculation and perplexity.

It came about thus. At her request Marshall Wace walked up to the station early that morning, to secure the English papers on their arrival by the mail train from Paris. After a quite unnecessarily long interval, in Henrietta's opinion, he returned with an irritable expression and flustered manner. Such, at least, was the impression she received on his joining her in the wide airy corridor outside the General's sick-chamber.

“I thought you were never coming back,” she greeted him. “What has detained you?”

“The Paris train was late,” he returned. “And—wait an instant, Cousin Henrietta. I want to speak to you. Yes, I am hot and tired, and I am put out—I don't deny it.”

“Why?” Henrietta asked him indifferently.

Her own temper was not at its brightest and best. The office of ministering angel had begun most woefully to pall on her. What if this illness betokened a break up of health on the part of General Frayling? Bath chairs, hot bottles, air-cushions, pap-like meals and such kindred unlovelinesses loomed large ahead! That was the worst of marrying an old, or anyhow an oldish, man. You never could tell how soon the natural order of things might be reversed, and you obliged to wait hand and foot on him, instead of his waiting hand and foot on you. Henrietta felt fretful. Her looking-glass presented a depressing reflection of fine lines and sharpened features. If she should wilt under this prolonged obligation of nursing, her years openly advertise their number, and she grow faded, passee, a woman who visibly has outlived her prime? She could have shaken the insufficiently dying General in his bed! Yes, insufficiently dying—for, in heaven's name, let him make up his mind and that speedily—get well and make himself useful, or veritably and finally depart before, for the preservation of her good looks, it was too late.

“I met Sir Charles Verity at the station,” Wace went on. “He was coming out of the first class salle d'attente. He stopped and spoke to me, enquired for cousin Fred; but his manner was peculiar, autocratic to a degree. He made me feel in the way, feel that he was annoyed at my being there and wanted to get rid of me.”

“Imagination, my dear Marshall. In all probability he wasn't thinking about you one way or the other, but merely about his own affairs, his own—as Carteret reports—remarkably clever book.—But why, I wonder, was he at the station so early?”

Henrietta stood turning the folded newspaper about and idly scanning the head-lines, while the wind, entering by the open casements at the end of the corridor, lifted and fluttered the light blue gauze scarf she wore round her shoulders over her white frilled morning gown.

“He didn't tell me,” the large, soft, very hot young man said. “You may call it imagination, Cousin Henrietta; but I can't. I am positive his manner was intentional. He meant to snub me, by intimating of how slight account I am in his estimation. It was exceedingly galling. I do not want to employ a vulgar expression—but he looked down his nose at me as if I was beneath contempt. You know that insolent, arrogant way of his?”

“Oh, la-la!” Henrietta cried. “Don't be so childish!”—Though she did in point of fact know the said way perfectly well and admired it. Once upon a time hadn't Sir Charles, indeed, rather superbly practised it in her—Henrietta's—defence?

She sighed; while her temper took a nasty turn towards her yellow-faced, apologetic little General, waiting patiently for sight of the English newspapers, under the veil of mosquito netting in his little bed. Even in his roaring forties—had his forties ever roared though?—she doubted it—not to save his life could he ever have looked down his nose at an offending fellow-man like that.—Ah! Charles Verity—Charles Verity!—Her heart misgave her that she had been too precipitate in this third marriage. If she had waited?—

“Of course, with my wretchedly short sight, I may have been mistaken,” Wace continued, pointedly ignoring her interruption, “but I am almost convinced I recognized Colonel Carteret and Miss Verity—Damaris—through the open door, on the other side of the salle d'attente, in the crowd on the platform about to take their places in the train from Cannes, which had just come in.”

Henrietta ceased to scan the head-lines or deplore her matrimonial precipitation.

“Carteret and Damaris alone and together?” she exclaimed with raised eyebrows.

“Yes, and it occurred to me that I there touched upon the explanation, in part at least, of Sir Charles Verity's offensive manner. He had been to see them off and was, for some reason, unwilling that we—you and I, cousin Henrietta—should know of their journey.”

Even in private life, at the very head-waters and source of her intrigues and her scheming, Henrietta cleverly maintained an effect of secrecy. She showed herself an adept in the fine art of outflanking incautious intruders. Never did she wholly reveal herself or her purposes; but reserved for her own use convenient run-holes, down which she could escape from even the most intimate of her co-adjutors and employees. If masterly in advance, she showed even more masterly in retreat; and that too often at the expense of her fellow intriguers. Without scruple she deserted them, when personal safety or personal reputation suggested the wisdom of so doing. Though herself perplexed and suspicious, she now rounded on Wace, taking a high tone with him.

“But why, my dear Marshall, why?” she enquired, “should Sir Charles object to our—as you put it—knowing? That seems to me an entirely gratuitous assumption on your part. In all probability Mary Ellice and the boys were on the platform too, only you didn't happen to catch sight of them. And, in any case, our friends at the Grand Hotel are not accountable to us for their comings and goings. They are free agents, and it does really strike me as just a little gossipy to keep such a very sharp eye upon their movements.—Don't be furious with me”—

Henrietta permitted herself to reach up and pat the young man on the shoulder, playfully, restrainingly. An extraordinarily familiar proceeding on her part, marking the strength of her determination to avoid any approach to a quarrel, since she openly denounced and detested all those demonstrations, as between friends and relations, which come under the generic title of “pawing.”

“No, pray don't be furious with me,” she repeated. “I quite appreciate how sensitive you naturally must be upon the subject of Damaris.”

“You have given me encouragement, cousin Henrietta”—this resentfully.

“And why not? Don't be disingenuous, my dear Marshall. I have given you something much more solid than mere encouragement, namely active help, opportunity. In the right direction, to the right person, I have repeatedly praised you. But the prize, in this case, is to him who has address and perseverance to win it. You possess signal advantages through your artistic tastes, your music, your reciting. But I have never disguised from you—now honestly, have I?—there were obstacles and even prejudices to be overcome.”

“Sir Charles despises me.”

“But his daughter gives ample proof that she does not. And—you don't propose to marry Sir Charles, do you?”

Henrietta laughed a trifle shrilly. The tone of that laugh pierced her hearer's armour of egoism. He stared at her in interrogative surprise—observing which she hastened to retreat down a run-hole.

“Ah!” she cried, “it is really a little too bad to tease you, Marshall. But one can't but be tempted to do so at moments. You take everything so terribly au grand serieux, my young friend.”

“You mean to convey that I am ponderous?”

“Well—perhaps—just a shade,” she archly agreed. “And of ponderosity you must make an effort to cure yourself.—Mind, though a fault, I consider it one on the right side—in the connection, that is, which we have just now been discussing. When a girl has as much intelligence as—we needn't name names, need we?—she resents perpetual chaff and piffle. They bore her—seem to her a flagrant waste of time. Her mind tends to scorn delights and live laborious days—a tendency which rectifies itself later as a rule. All the same in avoiding frivolity, one must not rush to the other extreme and be heavy in hand. A happy mien in this as in all things, my dear Marshall.”

“I cannot so far degrade myself as to be an opportunist,” he returned sententiously.

“Yet the opportunist arrives; and to arrive is the main thing, after all—at least I imagine so.—Now I really cannot stay here any longer giving you priceless advice; but must take the General his newspapers.—By the way, did Sir Charles say anything about coming to see him this afternoon?”

As she asked the question Henrietta ran her eye down over the announcements in the Court Circular. Marshall replied in the negative. She made no comment, hardly appearing to notice his answer. But, as she stepped lightly and delicately away down the airy corridor to the door of the sick-room, over her blue gauze draped shoulder she flung back at him—

“This confinement to the house is getting quite on my nerves. I must really allow myself a little holiday.—Take a drive to-morrow if Frederic is no worse. I will call at the Grand Hotel, I think, and see darling Damaris, just for a few minutes, myself.”

Information which went far to restore her hearer's equanimity. His affairs, as he recognized, were in actively astute safe-keeping.

Marshall Wace spent the rest of the morning in the drawing-room of the villa, at the piano, composing a by no means despicable setting of Shelley's two marvellous stanzas, which commence:

“Rarely, rarely comest thou,
  Spirit of Delight! Wherefore hast thou left me now
  Many a day and night?”

The rich baritone voice, vibrant with apparent passion, swept out through the open windows, across the glittering garden. Miss Maud Callowgas, walking along that portion of the esplanade immediately in front of the hotel, paused in the grilling sunshine to listen. Heaven upon earth seemed to open before her pale, white-lashed eyes. If she could only ascertain what fortune she might eventually count on possessing—but Mama was so dreadfully close about everything to do with money! The Harchester bishopric was a fat one, worth from ten to fifteen thousand a year. That she knew from the odious, impudent questions asked about it by some horrible nonconformist member, in the House of Commons, just after her father's death. Surely Mama must have saved a considerable amount out of so princely an income? She had always kept down expenses at the Palace. The servants left so often because they declared they had not enough to eat.

Then through the open window of the villa embowered in roses, there amid the palms and pines—and in a falling cadence too:

“How shall ever one like me
  Win thee back again?”

But Maud Callowgas needed no winning, being very effectually won already, so it was superfluous thus movingly to ask the question. The mid-day sun striking through her black-and-white parasol made her feel dizzy and faint.—If only she could learn the amount of her fortune, she could let Mrs. Frayling learn the amount of it too—just casually, in the course of conversation, and then—Everyone said Mrs. Frayling was doing her best to “place” her cousin-by-marriage, to secure him a well-endowed wife.

CHAPTER X. WHICH IT IS TO BE FEARED SMELLS SOMEWHAT POWERFULLY OF BILGE WATER

Warm wind, hot sun, the confused sound and movement of a great southern port, all the traffic and trade of it, man and beast sweating in the splendid glare. Rattle of cranes, scream of winches, grind of wheels, and the bellowing of a big steamer, working her way cautiously through the packed shipping of the basin, to the blue freedom of the open sea.—Such was the scene which the boatswain and white-jacketed steward, leaning their folded arms on the bulwarks and smoking, lazily watched.

The Forest Queen rode high at the quayside, having discharged much, and taken on but a moderate amount of cargo for her homeward voyage. This was already stowed. She had coaled and was bound to clear by dawn. Now she rested in idleness, most of her crew taking their pleasure ashore, a Sabbath calm pervading her amid the strident activities going forward on every hand. The ship's dog, a curly-haired black retriever, lay on the clean deck in the sunshine stretched on his side, all four legs limp, save when, pestered beyond endurance, he whisked into a sitting position to snap at the all too numerous flies.

The boatswain—a heavily built East Anglian, born within sight of Boston Stump five-and-forty years ago, his face seamed and pitted by smallpox almost to the extinction of expression and altogether to that of eyebrows, eyelashes and continuity of beard—spat deliberately and voluminously into the oily, refuse-stained water, lapping against the ship's side over twenty feet below, and resumed a desultory conversation which for the moment had fallen dead.

“So that's the reason of his giving us hell's delight, like he has all day, cleaning up?—Got a lady coming aboard to tea has he? If she's too fine to take us as we are, a deal better let 'er stay ashore, in my opinion. Stuff a' nonsense all this set out, dressing up and dressing down. Vanity at the bottom of it—and who's it to take in?—For a tramp's a tramp, and a liner's a liner; and all the water in God's ocean, and all the rubbing and scrubbing on man's earth, won't convert the one into the other, bless you.”

He pointed away, with his pipestem, to the violet-shadowed mouth of one of the narrow lanes opening between the slop-shops, wine-shops, and cheap eating-houses—their gaudy striped, flounced awnings bellying and straining in the fervid southerly breeze—which lined the further side of the crowded quay.

“As well try to wash some gutter-bred, French trollop, off the streets in behind there, into a white-souled, white-robed heavenly angel,” he grumbled on. “All this purifying of the darned old hulk's so much labour lost. Gets the men's monkey up too, putting all this extray work on 'em.”

He leaned down again, folding his arms along the top of the bulwarks.

“And, angel or trollop, I find no use for her, nor any other style of woman either, on board this 'ere blasted rusty iron coffin,” he said.

Whereat the stewart, a pert-eyed, dapper little cockney—amateur of the violin and noted impersonator of popular music-hall comedians—took him up in tones of amiable argument.

“Your stomach's so turned on the subject of females you can't do 'em justice. Gone sour, regularly sour, it is. And I don't hold with you there, Partington, never shall and never do. I'm one as can always find a cosy corner in me manly bosom for the lidies—blame me if I can't, the pore 'elpless little lovey-doveys. After all's said and done Gawd made 'em just as much as 'e made you, Partington, that 'e did.”

“And called you in, sonny, to lend 'im an 'and at the job, didn't 'e? All I can say is you'd both have been better employed putting in your time and talents somewhere else.”

After which sally the two smoked in silence, while the ship's dog alternately stretched himself on the hot boards, and started up with a yelp to snap at the cloud of buzzing flies again.

The steward merely bided his time, however, and enquired presently with a nice air of nonchalance:

“Never been married, Partington, 'ave you? I've often known that put a fellow sadly off the sex.”

“Never,” the other replied, “though I came precious near it once, when I was a youngster and greener—greener even than you with your little lovey-doveys and your manly bosom, William, which is allowing a lot. But my wife as was to 'ave been—met her down Bristol way, gone blind silly on 'er I was—got took with the smallpox the week before the ceremony was pulled off, and give me all she had to spare of the disease with her dying breath. Soft chap as I was then, I held it as a sort of a compliment. Afterwards, when the crape had worn a bit brown, I saw it was jealousy of any other female I might come to cast my eye over as made her act like that.”

“A private sore!” William commented. “To tell you gospel truth, Partington, I guessed as much. But you should learn to tike the larger view. Blimey, you should rise above that. To be marked like you are is a misfortune, I don't pretend to the contrary, looking at it along the level so to speak. But beauty's so much dust and ashes, if yer can just boost yerself up to tike the larger view. Think of all that pore dying woman mayn't 'ave saved you from by making yer outward fascinations less staring to the sex? Regular honey-pot to every passing petticoat you might 'ave been.”

He broke off, springing erect and shading his eyes with one hand to obtain a better view.

“My Sammy—whoever's the skipper a bringing 'ome 'ere with him? Dooks and duchesses and all the blamed airistorkracy?—English too, or I'm a blooming nigger.—Tea for a lidy?—I should rather think it.—Partington, I'm off to put meself inside of a clean jacket and make sure the cockroaches ain't holding a family sing-song on my best white table-cloth.—Say, that young ole man of ours don't stop 'arf way up the ladder, once 'e starts climbing. Gets to the top rung 'e does stright orf, s'elp me. And tikes 'is ease there, seemingly, as to the manner born. Looks like he does any'ow, the way 'e's behaving of hisself now.—So long, bo'sun,” he added jauntily. “I'm called from yer side to descend the companion ong route for higher spheres. Sounds like a contradiction that, but ain't so.—See you again when the docks 'as quitted this fond old floating 'earse of ours and took themselves back to their 'ereditary marble 'alls to roost.”

On the other side of the quay, meanwhile, in the brave dancing breeze and the sunshine, Darcy Faircloth stepped down on to the uneven paving just opposite to where the Forest Queen lay. Colonel Carteret followed and stood aside, leaving him to hand Damaris out of the open carriage.

For this was the younger man's day; and, as the elder ungrudgingly acknowledged, he played the part of host with a nice sense of taste, his hospitality erring neither in the direction of vulgar lavishness, nor of over-modesty and economy. Breeding tells, is fertile in social intuitions, as Carteret reflected, even when deformed by an ugly bar sinister. During the past hours he had been observant—even above his wont—jealous both for his friend Charles Verity and his dear charge, Damaris, in this peculiar association. The position was a far from easy one, so many slips of sorts possible; but the young merchant sea-captain had carried it off with an excellent simplicity and unconscious grace.—In respect of a conveyance, to begin with, he eschewed hiring a hack, and met his arriving guests, at the station, with the best which the stables of the Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix could produce. Had offered a quiet well-served luncheon at that same stately hostelry moreover, in preference to the more flashy and popular restaurants of the town. Afterwards he had driven them, in the early hours of the afternoon, up to the church of Notre Dame de la Garde, which, perched aloft on its eminence, godspeeds the outward bound and welcomes the homecoming voyager, while commanding so noble a prospect of port and city, of islands sacred to world-famous romance, and wide horizons of rich country and historic sea.

And now, before parting, Faircloth brought them to his ship. To this private kingdom of his and all it implied—and denied too—of social privilege, social distinction. Implied, further, of administrative and personal power—all it set forth of the somewhat rugged facts of his profession and daily environment. Of this small world he was undisputed autocrat, Grand Cham of this miniature Tartary—of this iron-walled two-thousand-ton empire, the great white Czar.

So far Carteret had lent himself to the extensive day's “outing” in a spirit of very sweet-tempered philosophy. He had been delightful, unfailing in courtesy and tactful address. Now, having analysed his host's character to his own satisfaction, he felt justified in giving himself a holiday from the office of chaperon and watch-dog. He had fulfilled his promise, royally done his duty by Damaris in that quasi-avuncular relation which he had assumed in place of a closer and—how profoundly more—coveted one; thereby earning temporary release from her somewhat over-moving neighbourhood. Not but what he had been keenly, almost painfully, interested in watching this drama of brother and sister, and gauging the impulses, the currents of action and of emotion which lay behind it. Gauging too the difficulties, even dangers, inherent in it, the glamour and the clouding of shame—whether conventional or real he did not pretend exactly to determine—which so strangely wrapped it about. To use Damaris' favourite word, they were very “beautiful” both in themselves and in their almost mystic affection, these two young creatures. And just on that very account he would be glad to get away from them, to be no longer onlooker, or—to put it vulgarly—gooseberry, fifth wheel to the cart.

He went with them as far as the shoreward end of the up-sloping gangway.—A tall grey-clad figure, with an equally tall blue-clad figure on the other side of the young girl's, also tall, biscuit-coloured one,—a dash of pink showing in her burnt-straw hat, pink too at her throat and waist seen between the open fronts of her dust-coat.—But at the gangway he stopped.

“Dear witch,” he said, “I have some telegrams I should be glad to send off, and another small matter of business to transact in the town, so here, I will leave you, if you permit, in our friend's safe-keeping”—he smiled upon Faircloth. “At the station, at five-thirty, we meet. Au revoir, then.”

And, without waiting for any reply, he sauntered away along the sun-flooded quay between piled up bales of merchandize, wine barrels, heaps of sand, heaps too of evilly smelling hides, towering cases and crates. His shadow—clear violet upon the grey of the granite—from his feet onwards, travelled before him as he walked. And this leading by, this following of, his own shadow, casual accident of light and of direction though in all common sense he must account it, troubled the peace of the man with the blue eyes, making him feel wistful, feel past the zenith of his allotted earthly achievement, queerly out of the running, aged and consequently depressed.

Upon Damaris the suddenness of his exit reacted in a sensation of constraint. Carteret had been very exquisite to her throughout this delicate adventure, throughout these hours of restrained yet exalted emotion. Left thus to her own resources she grew anxious, consciously diffident. The, in a sense, abnormal element in her relation to Faircloth darted down on her, so that she could not but remember how slight, after all, was her actual acquaintance with him, how seldom—only thrice in point of fact—had he and she had speech of one another.

Upon Faircloth, Carteret's withdrawal also reacted, though with different effect. For an instant he watched the tall retreating form of this, as he perceived, very perfect gentleman. Then he turned to Damaris, looking her over from head to heel, in keen somewhat possessive fashion. And as, meeting his eyes, bravely if shyly, her colour deepened.

“You are happy?” he affirmed rather than asked.

“As the day is long,” she answered him steadily.

“But the day's not been overlong, by chance, has it?”

“Not half long enough.”

“All's well, then, still.” He pressed her—“You aren't weary of me yet?”

Damaris reassuringly shook her head.

Nevertheless she was very sensible of change in the tenor of their intercourse, sensible of a just perceptible hardness in his bearing and aspect. For some cause, the nature of which she failed to divine though she registered the fact of its existence, he no longer had complete faith in her, was no longer wholly at one with her in sympathy and in belief. He needed wooing, handling. And had she the knowledge and the art successfully to handle this sun-browned, golden-bearded, rather magnificent young master mariner—out here in the open too, the shout of the great port in her ears, the dazzle of the water and the push of the warm wind upon her face?

“Ah, why waste precious time in putting questions to which you surely already know the answer?” with a touch of reproach she took him up. “Show me rather where you live—where you eat and sleep, where you walk up and down, walk quarter-deck, when you are far away there out at sea.”

“Does all that really interest you?”

Damaris' lips quivered the least bit.

“Why have you turned perverse and doubting? Isn't it because they interest me, above and beyond anything, beautifully interest me, that I am here?—It would have been very easy to stay away, if I hadn't wanted—as I do want—to be able to fancy you from morning until night, to know where you sit, know just what you first see when in the grey of the morning you first wake.”

Faircloth continued to look at her; but his expression softened, gaining a certain spirituality.

“I have questioned more than once to-day whether I had not been foolhardy in letting you come here—whether distance wasn't safest, and the hunger of absence sweeter than the full meal of your presence for—for both of us, things being between us as they actually are. What if the bubble burst?—I have had scares—hideous scares—lest you should be disappointed in me.”

“Or you in me?” Damaris said.

“No. Only your being disappointed in me could disappoint me in you—and hardly that, because you'd have prejudice, facts even, natural and obvious enough ones, upon your side. Faircloth's Inn on Marychurch Haven and your Indian palace, as basis to two children's memories and outlook, are too widely divergent, when one comes to think of it. When listening to you and Colonel Carteret talking at luncheon I caught very plain sight of that. Not that he talked of set purpose to read me a wholesome lesson in humility—never in life. He's not that sort. But the lesson went home all the more directly for that very reason.—Patience one little minute,” he quickly admonished her as she essayed to speak—“patience. You ask, with those dear wonderful eyes of yours, what I'm driving at.—This, beloved one—you see the waiting carriage over there. Hadn't we best get into it, turn the horses' heads citywards again, and drink our tea, you and I, on the way up to the station somewhere very much else than on board this rough-and-tumble rather foul-breathed cargo boat?—I'm so beastly afraid you may be disgusted and shocked by the interval between what you're accustomed to and what I am. To let you down”—

Faircloth's handsome face worked. Whereat Damaris' diffidence took to itself wings and flew away. Her heart grew light.

“Let me down?” she said. “You can't let me down. Oh! really, really you're a little slow of comprehension. We are in this—in everything that has happened since I first knew who you are, and everything which is going to happen from now onwards—in it together. What joins us goes miles, miles deeper and wider than any petty surface things. Must I tell you how much I care? Can't you feel it for yourself?”

And she stepped before him on to the upward sloping gangway plank.

CHAPTER XI. WHEREIN DAMARIS MEETS HERSELF UNDER A NOVEL ASPECT

Damaris threw back the bedclothes, her eyes still dim with slumber, and gathered herself into a sitting position, clasping her knees with both hands. She had a vague impression that something very pleasant awaited her attention; but, in the soft confusion of first awakening, could not remember exactly what it was.

To induce clearer consciousness she instinctively parted the mosquito curtains, slipped her feet down over the side of the bed; and, a little crouched together and fumbly—baby-fashion—being still under the comfortable empire of sleep, crossed the room and set back the inward opening casements of the south window. Thereupon the outdoor freshness, fluttering her hair and the lace and nain-sook of her nightdress, brought her, on the instant, into full possession of her wandering wits. She remembered the nature of that charmingly pleasant something; yet paused, before yielding it attention, held captive by the spectacle of returning day.

It was early. The disc of the sun still below the horizon. But shafts of light, striking up from it, patterned the underside of a vast dapple of fleecy cloud—heliotrope upon the back-cloth of blue ether—with fringes and bosses of scarlet flame. Against this, occupying the foreground, the pine trees, which sheltered the terrace, showed up a deep greenish purple bordering upon black.

Leaning out over the polished wooden bar—which topped the ironwork of the window-guard—Damaris sought and gained sight of the sea. This, darker even than the tufted foliation of the pines—since still untouched by sunlight—spread dense and compact as molten metal, with here and there a sheen, like that of the raven's wing, upon its corrugated surface. To Damaris it appeared curiously forbidding. Seeing it thus she felt, indeed, to have taken Nature unawares, surprised her without disguise; so that for once she displayed her veritable face—a face not yet made up and camouflaged to conceal the fact of its in-dwelling terror from puny and defenceless man.

With that the girl's thoughts flew, in longing and solicitude, to Faircloth, whose business so perpetually brought him into contact with Nature thus naked and untamed.—By now, and over as sinister a sea—since westward the dawn would barely yet have broke—the Forest Queen must be steaming along the Andalusian coast, making for Gibraltar and the Straits upon her homeward voyage. And by some psychic alchemy, an influence more potent and tangible than that of ordinary thought, her apprehension fled out, annihilating distance, bridging intervening space. For, just as certainly as Damaris' fair body leaned from the open window, so certainly did her fair soul or—to try a closer and more scientific definition—her living consciousness, stand in the captain's cabin of the ocean-bound tramp, making Darcy Faircloth turn smiling in his sleep, he having vision and glad sense of her—which stayed by him, tempering his humour to a peculiar serenity throughout the ensuing day.

That their correspondence was no fictitious one, a freak of disordered nerves or imagination, but sane and actual, both brother and sister could convincingly have affirmed. And this although time—as time is usually figured—had neither lot nor part in it. Such projections of personality are best comparable, in this respect, to the dreams which seize us in the very act of waking—vivid, coherent and complete, yet ended by the selfsame sound or touch by which they are evoked.

In Damaris' case, before the scarlet, dyeing the cloud dapple, warmed to rose, or the dense metallic sea caught reflections of the sunrise, broadening incandescence, her errant consciousness was again cognizant of, subjected to, her immediate surroundings. She was aware, moreover, that the morning sharpness began to take a too unwarrantable liberty with her thinly clad person for comfort. She hastily locked the casements together; and then waited, somewhat dazed by the breathless pace of her strange and tender excursion, looking about her in happy amazement.

And, so doing, her eyes lighted upon a certain oblong parcel lying on her dressing-table. There was the charmingly pleasant something which awaited her attention! A present, and the most costly, the most enchanting one (save possibly the green jade elephant of her childish adoration) she had ever received!

She picked up, not only the precious parcel, but a hand-mirror lying near it; and, thus armed, bestowed herself, once more, in her still warm bed.

The last forty-eight hours had been fertile in experiences and in events, among which the arrival of this gift could by no means be accounted the least exciting.—Hordle had brought the packet here to her, last night, about an hour after she and her father—standing under the portico—waved reluctant farewells to Colonel Carteret, as the hotel omnibus bore him and his baggage away to the station to catch the mail train through to Paris. This parting, when it actually came about, proved more distressing than she had by any means prefigured. She had no notion beforehand what a really dreadful business she would find it, after these months of close association, to say good-bye to the man with the blue eyes.

“We shall miss you at every turn, dear, dear Colonel Sahib,” she almost tearfully assured him. “How we are going ever to live without you I don't know.”

And impulsively, driven by the excess of her emotion to the point of forgetting accustomed habits and restraints, she put up her lips for a kiss. Which, thus invited, kiss Carteret, taking her face in both hands for the minute, bestowed upon her forehead rather than upon those proffered lips. Then his glance met Charles Verity's, held it in silent interchange of friendship needing no words to declare its quality or depth; and he turned away abruptly, making for the inside of the waiting omnibus—cavernous in the semi-darkness—distributing largesse to all and sundry as he went.

Damaris was aware of her father's arm passed through hers, holding her against his side with a steadying pressure, as they went together across the hall on their way to the first floor sitting-room. Aware of poor, pretty, coughing little Mrs. Titherage's raised eyebrows and enquiring stare, as they passed her with her coffee, cigarette, and fat, florid stock-broker husband—who, by the way, had the grace to keep his eyes glued to the patience cards, ranged upon the small table before him, until father and daughter were a good half-way up the flight of stairs. Later, when outwardly mistress of herself, the inclination to tears successfully conquered and her normal half-playful gravity regained, she went to her bedroom, Hordle had brought her this beguiling packet.

Inside the silver paper wrappings she found a red leather jewel case, and a note in Carteret's singularly definite hand, character rather than script, the severe yet decorative quality of Arabic about it.

“To the dear witch,” it read, “in memory of our incomparable Henrietta's dance, and of the midnight walk which followed it, and of our hours of pleasant sightseeing at Marseilles.”

No signature followed, only the date.

Now, sitting up in bed, while the day came into full and joyous being, Nature's face duly decked and painted by the greatly reconciling sun, Damaris read the exquisitely written note again. The writing in itself moved her with a certain home-sickness for the East, which it seemed in some sort to embody and from which to hail. Then meanings she detected, behind the apparently light-hearted words, filled her with gratitude. They reminded her gently of duties accepted, promises made. They gathered in Faircloth, too, by implication; thus assuring her of sympathy and approval where she needed them most.

She opened the case and, taking out the string of pearls it contained, turned them about and about, examining, counting, admiring their lustre and ethereal loveliness. They were graduated from the size of a hemp-seed, so she illustrated it, on either side the diamond clasp, to that of a marrow-fat pea. Not all of them—and this charmed her fancy as giving them individuality and separate life—were faultlessly perfect; but had minute irregularities of shape, tiny dimples in which a special radiance hovered. She clasped the necklace round her throat, and, holding up the hand-mirror, turned her head from side to side—with pardonable vanity—to judge and enjoy the effect.

Damaris was unlearned in the commercial value of such treasures; nor did money seem exactly a graceful or pretty thing—in some respects our maiden was possessed of a very unworldly innocence—to think of in connection with a present. Still she found it impossible not to regard these jewels with a certain awe. What the dear Colonel Sahib must have spent on them! A small fortune she feared. In the buying of this all-too-costly-gift, then, consisted that business transaction he had made the excuse for leaving her alone with Faircloth, upon the quay alongside which lay the Forest Queen.

Oh! he surpassed himself! Was too indulgent, too munificent to her!—As on a former occasion, she totted up the sum of his good deeds. Hadn't he given up his winter's sport for her sake? Didn't she—and wouldn't an admiring English reading public presently—owe to his suggestion her father's noble book? When she had run wild for a space, and sold herself to unworthy frivolities, hadn't he led her back into the right road, and that with the lightest, courtliest, hand imaginable, making all harmonious and sweetly perfect, once more, between her father and herself? Lastly, hadn't he procured her her heart's desire in the meeting with Darcy Faircloth—and, incidentally, given her the relief of free speech, now and whenever she might desire to claim it, concerning the strange and secret relationship which dominated her imagination and so enriched the hidden places of her daily life and thought?

Damaris held up the hand-mirror contemplating his gift, this necklace of pearls; and, from that, by unconscious transition fell to contemplating her own face. It interested her. She looked at it critically, as at some face other than her own, some portrait, appraising and studying it. It was young and fresh, surely, as the morn—in its softness of contour and fine clear bloom; yet grave to the verge of austerity, owing partly to the brown hair which, parted in the middle and drawn down in a plain full sweep over the ears, hung thence in thick loose plait on either side to below her waist. She looked long and curiously into her own eyes, “dear wonderful eyes,” as Faircloth, her brother, so deliciously called them. And with that her mouth curved into a smile, sight of which brought recognition, new and very moving, of her own by no means inconsiderable beauty.

She went red, and then white almost as her white nightdress and the white pillows behind her. Laid the mirror hastily down, and held her face in both hands as—as Carteret had held it last night, at the moment of parting, when he had kissed not her lips but her forehead. Yet very differently, since she now held it with strained, clinging fingers, which hurt, making marks upon the flesh.—For could it be that—the other kind of love, such as men bear the woman of their choice, which dictated Carteret's unfailing goodness to her—the love that he had bitterly and almost roughly defended when she praised the love of brother and sister as dearest, purest, and therefore above all best?

Was it conceivable this hero of a hundred almost fabulous adventures, of hair-breath escapes, and cunningly defied dangers in Oriental, semi-barbarous, wholly gorgeous, camps, Courts and cities, this philosopher of gently humorous equanimity, who appeared to weigh all things in an equal balance and whom she had regarded as belonging to an age and order superior to her own, had set his affections upon her singling her out from among all possible others? That he wanted her for his own, wanted her exclusively and as his inseparable companion, the object of—

A sentence from the English marriage service flashed across her mind.—“With my body I thee worship,” it ran, “and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”

“With my body I thee worship”—He, her father's elect and beloved friend, in whom she had always so beautifully trusted, who had never failed her, the dear man with the blue eyes—and she, Damaris? Her womanhood, revealed to itself, at once shrank back bewildered, panic-stricken, and, passion-stricken, called to her aloud.

For here Carteret's grace of bearing and of person, his clean health, physical distinction and charm, arose and confronted her. The visible, tangible attributes of the man—as man—presented themselves in fine relief, delighting her, stirring her heretofore dormant senses, begetting in her needs and desires undreamed of until now, and, even now, in substance incomprehensible. She was enchanted, fevered, triumphant; and then—also incomprehensibly—ashamed.

As the minutes passed, though the triumph continued to subsist, the shame subsisted also, so that the two jostled one another striving for the mastery. Damaris took her hands from her face, again clasped them about her drawn-up knees, and sat, looking straight in front of her with sombre, meditative eyes. To use a phrase of her childhood, she was busy with her “thinkings”; her will consciously hailing emotion to the judgment-seat of intelligence for examination and for sentence.

If this was what people commonly understand when they speak of love, if this was the love concerning which novelists write and poets sing—this riot of the blood and heady rapture, this conflict of shame and triumph in which the animal part of one has so loud a word to say—she didn't like it. It was upsetting, to the confines of what she supposed drunkenness must be. It spoilt things heretofore exquisite, by giving them too high a colour, too violent a flavour. No—she didn't like it. Neither did she like herself in relation to it—like this unknown, storm-swept Damaris. Nor—for he, alas! couldn't escape inclusion—this new, unfamiliar presentment of the man with the blue eyes. Yet—and here was a puzzle difficult of solution—even while this new presentment of him, and conception of his sentiment towards her, pulled him down from his accustomed pedestal in her regard, it erected for him another pedestal, more richly sculptured and of more costly material—since had not his manifold achievements, the whole fine legend as well as the whole physical perfection of him, manifested themselves to, and worked upon her as never before?—Did this thing, love, then, as between man and woman, spring from the power of beauty while soiling and lowering beauty—bestow on it an hour of extravagant effulgence, of royal blossoming, only to degrade it in the end?—The puzzle is old as humanity, old, one may say, as sex. Little wonder if Damaris, sitting up in her maidenly bedchamber, in the unsullied brightness of the early morning hour, failed to find any satisfactory answer to it.

Her thoughts ranged out to the other members of her little local court—to Peregrine Ditton and Harry Ellice, to Marshall Wace. Had they personal experience of this disquieting matter? Was it conceivable the boys' silly rivalries and jealousies concerning her took their rise in this? Did it inspire the fervour of Marshall Wace's singing, his flattering dependence on her sympathy?—Suspicion widened. Everywhere she seemed to find hint and suggestion of this—no, she wouldn't too distinctly define it. Let it remain nameless.—Everywhere, except in respect of her father and of her brother. There she could spend her heart in peace. She sighed with a sweetness of relief, unclasping her hands, raising her fixed, bowed head.

The hotel, meanwhile, was sensibly in act of coming awake. Doors opened, voices called. From the other side of the corridor sounded poor little Mrs. Titherage's hacking cough, increasing to a convulsive struggle before, the fit at last passing off, it sunk into temporary quiescence. Andre, the stout, middle-aged valet de chambre, hummed snatches of gay melody as he rubbed and polished the parquet flooring without. These noises, whether cheerful or the contrary, were at least ordinary enough. By degrees they gained Damaris' ear, drawing her mind from speculation regarding the nature, origin, prevalence and ethics of love. Soon Pauline, the chamber-maid, would bring her breakfast-tray, coffee and rolls, those pale wafer-like pats of butter which taste so good, and thin squares of beetroot sugar which are never half as sweet as one would like. Would bring hot water and her bath, too, and pay her some nicely turned little compliment as to the becoming effect of her night's sleep.—Everything would pick itself up, in short, and go on, naturally and comfortably just as before.

Before what?

Damaris straightened the hem of the sheet over the billowing edge of flowered down quilt; and, while so doing, her hand came in contact both with the mirror and the open jewel-case. She looked at this last with an expression bordering on reproach, unfastened the pearls from her throat, and laid them on the wadded, cream-coloured velvet lining. She delighted to possess them and deplored possessing them in the same breath. They spoke to her too freely and conclusively, told her too much. She would rather not have acquired this knowledge either of Carteret or of herself.—If it really were knowledge?—Again she repeated the question, arising from the increasing normality of surrounding things—Before what?

For when all was said and done, the dear man with the blue eyes had veritably and very really departed. Throughout the night his train had been rushing north-north-westward to Paris, to England, to that Norfolk manor-house of his, where his sister, his nephews, all his home interests and occupations awaited him. What proof had she that more intimate and romantic affairs did not await him there, or thereabouts, also? Had not she, once and for all, learned the lesson that a man's ways are different and contain many unadvertised occupations and interests? If he had wished to say something, anything, special to her, before going away, how easily—thus she saw the business—how easily he might have said it! But he hadn't spoken, rather conspicuously, indeed, had avoided speaking. Perhaps it was all a silly, conceited mistake of her own—a delusion and one not particularly creditable either to her intelligence or her modesty.

Damaris shut up the jewel-case. The pearls were entrancing; but somehow she did not seem to think she cared to look at them any more—just now.

When her breakfast arrived she ate it in a pensive frame of mind. In a like frame of mind she went through the routine of her toilette. She felt oddly tired; oddly shy, moreover, of her looking-glass.

Miss Felicia Verity had made a tentative proposal, about a week before, of joining her niece and her brother upon the Riviera. She reported much discomfort from rheumatism during the past winter. Her doctor advised a change of climate. Damaris, while brushing and doing up her hair, discovered in herself a warm desire for Miss Felicia's company. She craved for a woman—not to confide in, but to somehow shelter behind. And Aunt Felicia was so perfect in that way. She took what you gave in a spirit of gratitude almost pathetic; and never asked for what you didn't give, never seemed even to, for an instant, imagine there was anything you withheld from her. It would be a rest—a really tremendous rest, to have Aunt Felicia. She—Damaris—would propound the plan to her father as soon as she went downstairs.

After luncheon and a walk with Sir Charles, her courage being higher, she repented in respect of the pearl necklace. Put it on—and with results. For that afternoon Henrietta Frayling—hungry for activity, hungry for prey, after her prolonged abstention from society—very effectively floated into the forefront of the local scene.

CHAPTER XII. CONCERNING ITSELF WITH A GATHERING UP OP FRAGMENTS

An unheralded invasion on the part of the physician from Cannes had delayed, by a day, Henrietta's promised descent upon, or rather ascent to, the Grand Hotel.

That gentleman, whose avaricious pale grey eye belied the extreme silkiness of his manner—having been called to minister to Lady Hermione Twells in respect of some minor ailment—elected to put in the overtime, between two trains, in a visit to General Frayling. For the date drew near of his yearly removal from the Riviera to Cotteret-les-Bains, in the Ardennes, where, during the summer season, he exploited the physical infelicities and mental credulities of his more wealthy fellow-creatures. The etablissement at Cotteret was run by a syndicate, in which Dr. Stewart-Walker held—in the name of an obliging friend and solicitor—a preponderating number of shares. At this period of the spring he always became anxious to clear up, not to say clear out, his southern clienetle lest any left-over members of it should fall into the clutches of one of his numerous local rivals. And, in this connection, it may be noted as remarkable to how many of the said clientele a “cure” at Cotteret-les-Bains offered assurance of permanent restoration to health.

Among that happy band, as it now appeared, General Frayling might be counted. The dry, exciting climate of St. Augustin, and its near neighbourhood to the sea, were calculated to aggravate the gastric complications from which that polite little warrior so distressingly suffered.

“This, I fear we must recognize, my dear madam, is a critical period with your husband; and treatment, for the next six months or so, is of cardinal importance; I consider high inland air, if possible forest air, indispensable. What I should like you to do is to take our patient north by slow stages; and I earnestly counsel a course of waters before the return to England is attempted.”

Thereupon, agreeable visions of festive toilettes and festive casinos flitting through Henrietta's mind, she named Homburg and other German spas of world-wide popularity. But at such ultra-fashionable resorts, as Dr. Stewart-Walker, with a suitable air of regret, reminded her, the season did not open until too late to meet existing requirements.

“Let me think, let me think,” he repeated, head sagely bent and forefinger on lip.

He ran through a number of Latin terms, to her in the main incomprehensible; then looked up, relieved and encouraging.

“Yes, we might, I believe, safely try it. The medical properties of the springs—particularly those of La Nonnette—meet our patient's case excellently. And I should not lose sight of him—a point, I own, with me, for your husband's condition presents features of peculiar interest. Cotteret-les-Bains, my dear madam—in his case I can confidently recommend it. Lady Hermione talks of taking the cure at Cotteret this spring. But about that we shall see—we shall see. The question demands consideration. As you know, Lady Hermione is charmingly outspoken, emphatic; but I should be false to my professional honour, were I to allow her wishes to colour my judgment.—Meanwhile I have reason to know that other agreeable people are going to Cotteret shortly. Not the rank and file. For such the place does not pretend to cater. There the lucrative stock-broker, or lucrative Jew, is still a rara avis. Long may he continue to be so, and Cotteret continue to pride itself on its exclusiveness!—In that particular it will admirably suit you, Mrs. Frayling.”

To a compliment so nicely turned Henrietta could not remain insensible. Before the destined train bore Dr. Stewart-Walker back to his more legitimate zone of practise, she saw herself committed to an early striking of camp, with this obscure, if select, ville d'eaux as her destination.

In some respects the prospect did not smile on her. Yet as, next day, emancipated at length from monotonies of the sick-chamber, she drove behind the free-moving little chestnut horses through the streets of the town—sleepy in the hot afternoon quiet—and along the white glaring esplanade, Henrietta admitted the existence of compensations. In the brilliant setting of some world-famous German spa, though she—as she believed—would have been perfectly at her ease, what about her companions? For in such scenes of high fashion, her own good clothes are not sufficient lifebelt to keep a pretty woman quite complacently afloat. Your male associates must render you support, be capable of looking the part and playing up generally, if your enjoyment is to be complete. And for all that Marshall Wace, frankly, couldn't be depended on. Not only was he too unmistakably English and of the middle-class; but the clerical profession, although he had so unfortunately failed it, or it so unkindly rejected him, still seemed to soak through, somehow, when you saw him in public. A whiff of the vestry queerly clung to his coats and his trousers, thus meanly giving away his relinquished ambitions; unless, and that was worse still, essaying to be extra smart, a taint of the footlights declared itself in the over florid curl of a hat-brim or sample of “neck-wear.” To head a domestic procession, in eminently cosmopolitan circles, composed of a small, elderly, very palpable invalid and a probable curate in mufti, demanded an order of courage to which Henrietta felt herself entirely unequal. Preferable the obscurity of Cotteret-les-Bains—gracious heaven, ten thousand times preferable!

Did not Dr. Stewart-Walker, moreover, hold out hopes that, by following his advice, the General's strength might be renewed, if not precisely like that of the eagle, yet in the more modest likeness of some good, biddable, burden-bearing animal—the patient ass, if one might so put it without too obvious irony? As handyman, aide-de-camp, and, on occasion, her groom of the chambers, the General had deserved very well of Henrietta. He had earned her sincere commendation. To restore him to that level of convenient activity was, naturally, her main object; and if a sojourn at some rather dull spot in the Ardennes, promised to secure this desired end, let it be accepted without hesitation. For the proverbial creaking, yet long-hanging, gate—here Henrietta had the delicacy to take refuge in hyperbole—she had no liking whatever. She could not remember the time when Darby and Joan had struck her as an otherwise than preposterous couple, offspring of a positively degraded sentimentality.

But there, since it threatened depressing conclusions, Henrietta agreed with herself to pursue the line of reflection no further.—“Sufficient unto the day”—to look beyond is, the thirties once passed, to raise superfluous spectres. And this day, in itself supplied food for reflections of a quite other character; ones which set both her curiosity and partiality for intrigue quite legitimately afire.

The morning post had brought her a missive from Colonel Carteret announcing his “recall” to England, and deploring the imposed haste of it as preventing him from making his adieux to her in person. The letter contained a number of flattering tributes to her own charms and to old times in India, the pleasures of which—unforgettable by him—he had had the happiness of sharing with her. Yet—to her reading of it—this friendly communication remained enigmatic, its kindly sentences punctuated by more than one interjectional enquiry. Namely, what was the cause of this sudden “recall”? And what was his reason for not coming to say good-bye to her? Haste, she held an excuse of almost childish transparency. It went deeper than that. Simply he had wanted not to see her.

Since the night of the dance no opportunity had occurred for observing Carteret and Damaris when together.—Really, how General Frayling's tiresome illness shipwrecked her private plans!—And, from the beginning, she had entertained an uneasy suspicion regarding Carteret's attitude. Men can be so extraordinarily feeble-minded where young girls are concerned! Had anything happened during her withdrawal from society? In the light, or rather the obscurity, of Carteret's letter, a visit to Damaris became more than ever imperative.

Her own competence to extract the truth from that guileless maiden, Henrietta in nowise questioned. “The child,” she complacently told herself, when preparing to set forth on her mission, “is like wax in my hands.”

The above conviction she repeated now, as the horses swept the victoria along the shore road, while from beneath her white umbrella she absently watched the alternate lift and plunge of the dazzling ultramarine and Tyrian purple sea upon the polished rocks and pebbles of the shelving beach.

To Henrietta Nature, save as decoration to the human drama, meant nothing. But the day was hot, for the time of year royally so, and this rejoiced her. She basked in the sunshine with a cat-like luxury of content. Her hands never grew moist in the heat, nor her hair untidy, her skin unbecomingly red, nor her general appearance in the least degree blousy. She remained enchantingly intact, unaffected, except for an added glint, an added refinement. To-day's temperature justified the adoption of summer attire, of those thin, clear-coloured silk and muslin fabrics so deliciously to her taste. She wore a lavender dress. It was new, every pleat and frill inviolate, at their crispest and most uncrumpled. In this she found a fund of permanent satisfaction steeling her to intrepid enterprise.

Hence she scorned all ceremonies of introduction. She dared to pounce. Having ascertained the number of Sir Charles Verity's sitting-room she refused obsequious escort, tripped straight upstairs unattended, rapped lightly, opened the door and—with swift reconnoitering of the scene within—announced her advent thus:

“Damaris, are you there? Ah! yes. Darling child. At last!”

During that reconnoitering she inventoried impressions of the room and its contents.—Cool, first—blue walls, blue carpet, blue upholstering of sofa and of chairs. Not worn or shabby, but so graciously faded by sun and air, that this—decoratively speaking—most perilous of colours became innocuous, in a way studious, in keeping with a large writing-table occupying the centre of the picture, laden with manuscripts and with books. The wooden outside shutters of two of the three windows were closed, which enhanced the prevailing coolness and studiousness of effect. Red cushions, also agreeably faded, upon the window-seats, alone echoed, in some degree, the hot radiance obtaining out of doors—these, and a red enamelled vase holding sprays of yellow and orange-copper roses, placed upon a smaller table before which Damaris sat, her back towards the invader.

At the sound of the latter's voice, the girl started, raised her head and, in the act of looking round, swept together some scattered sheets of note-paper and shut her blotting-book.

“Henrietta!” she cried, and thereupon sprang up; the lady, meanwhile, advancing towards her with outstretched arms, which enclosed her in a fragrant embrace.

“Yes—nothing less than Henrietta”—imprinting light kisses on either cheek. “But I see you are busy writing letters, dearest child. I am in the way—I interrupt you?”

And, as Damaris hastily denied that such was the case:

“Ah! but I do,” she repeated. “I have no right to dart in on you thus a l'improviste. It is hardly treating such an impressive young person—absolutely I believe you have grown since I saw you last!—yes, you are taller, darling child—handsomer than ever, and a tiny bit alarming too—what have you been doing with, or to, or by yourself?—Treating her—the impressive young person, I mean—with proper respect. But it was such a chance. I learnt that you were alone”—A fib, alas! on Henrietta's part.—“And I couldn't resist coming. I so longed to have you, like this, all to myself. What an eternity since we met!—For me a wearing, ageing eternity. The duties of a sick-room are so horribly anxious, yet so deadening in their repetition of ignoble details. I could not go through with them, honestly I could not—though I realize it is a damning admission for a woman to make—if it wasn't that I am rather absurdly attached to what good Dr. Stewart-Walker persists in calling 'our patient.' Is not that enough in itself?—To fall from all normal titles and dignities and become merely a patient? No, joking apart, only affection makes nursing in any degree endurable to me. Without its saving grace the whole business would be too unpardonably sordid.”

She pursed up her lips, and shivered her graceful shoulders with the neatest exposition of delicate distaste.

“And too gross. But one must face and accept the pathetic risk of being eventually converted in garde malade thus, if one chooses to marry a man considerably older than oneself. It is a mistake. I say so though I committed it with my eyes open. I was betrayed by my affection.”

As she finished speaking Henrietta stepped across to the sofa and sat down. The airy perfection of her appearance lent point to the plaintive character of this concluding sentence. The hot day, the summer costume—possibly the shaded room also—combined to strip away a good ten years from her record. Any hardness, any faint sense of annoyance, which Damaris experienced at the abruptness of her guest's intrusion melted. Henrietta in her existing aspect, her existing mood proved irresistible. Our tender-hearted maiden was charmed by her and coerced.

“But General Frayling is better, isn't he?” she asked, also taking her place upon the sofa. “You are not any longer in any serious anxiety about him, darling Henrietta? All danger is past?”

“Oh, yes—he is better of course, or how could I be here? But I have received a shock that makes me dread the future.”

Which was true, though in a sense other than that in which her hearer comprehended it. For the studious atmosphere of the room reacted upon Henrietta, as did its many silent testimonies to Sir Charles Verity's constant habitation. This was his workshop. She felt acutely conscious of him here, nearer to him in idea and in sentiment than for many years past. The fact that he did still work, sought new fields to conquer, excited both her admiration and her regrets. He disdained to be laid on the shelf, got calmly and forcefully down off the shelf and spent his energies in fresh undertakings. Once upon a time she posed as his Egeria, fancying herself vastly in the part. During the Egerian period she lived at a higher intellectual and emotional level than ever before or since, exerting every particle of brain she possessed to maintain that level. The petty interests of her present existence, still more, perhaps, the poor odd and end of a yellow little General in his infinitely futile sick-bed, shrank to a desolating insufficiency. Surely she was worthy—had, anyway, once been worthy—of better things than that? The lavender dress, notwithstanding its still radiantly uncrumpled condition, came near losing its spell. No longer did she trust in it as in shining armour. Her humour soured. She instinctively inclined to revenge herself upon the nearest sentient object available—namely to stick pins into Damaris.

“Sweetest child,” she said, “you can't imagine how much this room means to me through its association with your father's wonderful book.—Oh! yes, I know a lot about the book. Colonel Carteret has not failed to advertise his acquaintance with it. But, what have I said?”

For at mention of that gentleman's name Damaris, so she fancied, changed colour, the bloom fading upon her cheeks, while her glance became reserved, at once proud and slightly anxious.

“Is it forbidden to mention the wonderful book at this stage of its development? Though even if it were,” she added, with a rather impish laugh, looking down at and fingering the little bunch of trinkets, attached to a long gold chain, which rested in her lap—“Carteret would hardly succeed in holding his peace. Speak of everything, sooner or later, he must.”

She felt rather than saw Damaris' figure grow rigid.

“Have you ever detected that small weakness in him? But probably not. He keeps overflowings for the elder members of his acquaintance, and in the case of the younger ones does exercise some caution. Ah! yes, I've no doubt he seems to you a model of discretion. Yet, in point of fact, when you've known him as long as I, you will have discovered he is a more than sufficiently extensive sieve.”

Then, fearing she had gone rather far, since Damaris remained rigid and silent:

“Not a malicious sieve,” the lady hastened to add, raising her eyes. “I don't imply that for a single instant. On the contrary I incline to believe that his attitude of universal benevolence is to blame for this inclination to gossip. It is so great, so all-enclosing, that I can't help feeling it blunts his sense of right and wrong to some extent. He is the least censorious of men and therefore—though it may sound cynical to say so—I don't entirely trust his judgment. He is too ready to make excuses for everyone.—But, my precious child, what's the matter? What makes you look so terrifically solemn and severe?”

And playfully she put her hand under the girl's chin, drawing the grave face towards her, smilingly studying, then lightly and daintily kissing it. In the course of this affectionate interlude, the string of pearls round Damaris' throat, until now hidden by the V-shaped collar of her soft lawn shirt, caught Henrietta's eye. Their size, lustre and worth came near extracting a veritable shriek of enquiry and jealous admiration from her. But with praiseworthy promptitude she stifled her astonishment and now really rampant curiosity. Damaris but half yielded to her blandishments. She must cajole more successfully before venturing to request explanation. Therefore she cried, soothingly, coaxfully:

“There—there—descend from those imposing heights of solemnity, or upon my word you will make me think my poor little visit displeases and bores you. That would be peculiarly grievous to me, since it is, in all probability, my last.”

“Your last?” Damaris exclaimed.

“Yes, darling child, the fiat, alas! has gone forth. We are ordered away and start for Cotteret-les-Bains in a day or two. Dr. Stewart-Walker considers the move imperative on account of General Frayling's health. This was only settled yesterday. Marshall would have rushed here to tell you; but I forbade him. I felt I must tell you myself. I confess it is a blow to me. Our tenancy of the Pavilion expires at the end of the month; but I proposed asking for an extension, and, if that failed, taking up our abode at the hotel for a while. To me Dr. Stewart-Walker's orders come as a bitter disappointment, for I counted on remaining until Easter—remaining just as long as you and Sir Charles and Carteret remained, in fact.”

Here the bloom, far from further extinction, warmed to a lovely blush. Henrietta's curiosity craned its naughty neck standing on tiptoe. But, the blush notwithstanding, Damaris looked at her with such sincerity of quickening affection and of sympathy that she again postponed cross-examination.

For over this piece of news our maiden could—in its superficial aspects at all events—lament in perfect good faith. She proceeded to do so, eagerly embracing the opportunity to offer thanks and praise. All Henrietta's merits sprang into convincing evidence. Had not her hospitality been unstinted—the whole English colony had cause to mourn.

“But for you they'd still be staring at one another, bristling like so many strange dogs,” Damaris said. “And you smoothed them all down so divertingly. Oh! you were beautifully clever in that. It was a lesson in the art of the complete hostess. While, as for me, Henrietta, you've simply spoiled me. I can never thank you enough. Think of the amusements past counting you planned for me, the excursions you've let me share with you—our delicious drives, and above all my coming-out dance.”

Whereat Mrs. Frayling disclaimingly shook her very pretty head.

“In pleasing you I have merely pleased myself, dearest, so in that there's no merit.—Though I do plead guilty to but languid enthusiasm for girls of your age as a rule. Their conversation and opinions are liable to set my teeth a good deal on edge. I have small patience, I'm afraid, at the disposal of feminine beings at once so omniscient and so alarmingly unripe.—But you see, a certain downy owl, with saucer eyes and fierce little beak, won my heart by its beguiling ways a dozen years ago.”

“Darling Henrietta!” Damaris softly murmured; and, transported by sentiment to that earlier date when the said darling Henrietta commanded her unqualified adoration, began playing with the well-remembered bunch of trinkets depending from the long gold chain the lady wore about her neck.

Watching her, Mrs. Frayling sighed.

“Ah, my child, the thought of you is inextricably joined to other thoughts upon which I should be far wiser not to dwell—far wiser to put from me and forget—only they are stronger than I am—and I can't.”

There was a ring of honest human feeling in Henrietta Frayling's voice for once.

“No, no—I am more justly an object of commiseration than anyone I leave behind me at St. Augustin.”

And again she laughed, not impishly, but with a hardness altogether astonishing to her auditor.

“Think,” she cried, “of my sorry fate!—Not only a wretchedly ailing husband on my hands, needing attention day and night, but a wretchedly disconsolate young lover as well. For poor Marshall will be inconsolable—only too clearly do I foresee that.—Picture what a pair for one's portion week in and week out!—Whereas you, enviable being, are sure of the most inspiring society. Everything in this quiet room”—

She indicated the laden writing-table with a quick, flitting gesture.

“So refreshingly removed from the ordinary banal hotel salon —is eloquent of the absorbing, far-reaching pursuits and interests amongst which you live. Who could ask a higher privilege than to share your father's work, to be his companion and amanuensis?”—She paused, as emphasising the point, and then mockingly threw off—“Plus the smart beau sabreur Carteret, as devoted bodyguard and escort, whenever you are not on duty. To few women of your age, or indeed of any age, is Fortune so indulgent a fairy godmother as that!”

Astonished and slightly resentful at the sharpness of her guest's unprovoked onslaught, Damaris had dropped the little bunch of trinkets and backed into her corner of the sofa.

“Colonel Carteret has gone,” she said coldly, rather irrelevantly, the statement drawn from her by a vague instinct of self-defence.

“Gone!” Henrietta echoed, with equal irrelevance. For she was singularly discomposed.

“Yes, he started for England last night. But you must know that already, Henrietta. He wrote to you—he told me so himself.”

But having once committed herself by use of a word implying ignorance, Mrs. Frayling could hardly do otherwise than continue the deception. Explanation would be too awkward a business. The chances of detection, moreover, were infinitesimal. There were things she meant to say which would sound far more unstudied and obvious could she keep up the fiction of ignorance. This, quickly realizing, she again and more flagrantly fibbed. The voluntary lie acts as a tonic giving you—for the moment at least—most comforting conceit of your own courage and perspicacity. And Henrietta just now stood in need of a tonic. She had been strangely overcome by the force of her own emotion—an accident which rarely happened to her and which she very cordially detested when it did.

“Someone must have omitted to post the letter, then,” she said, with a suitable air of annoyance. “How exceedingly careless—unless it has not been sent over from the hotel to the Pavilion. I have been obliged, more than once, to complain of the hall porter's very casual delivery of my letters. I will make enquiries directly, if I don't find it on my return. But this is all by the way. Tell me, dearest child, what is the reason of Colonel Carteret's leaving so suddenly? Is it not surprisingly unexpected?”

“He was wanted at home on business of some sort,” Damaris replied, as she felt a little lamely. She was displeased, worried by Henrietta. It was difficult to choose her words. “He has been away for a long time, you see. I think he has been beautifully unselfish in giving up so much of his time to us.”

“Do you?” Henrietta enquired with meaning. “If I remember right we discussed that point once before. I can repeat now what I then told you, with even firmer assurance, namely, that he struck me as remarkably well pleased with himself and his surroundings and generally content.”

“Of course he loves being with my father,” Damaris hastened to put in, having no wish to enlarge on the topic suggested by the above speech.

“Of course. Who doesn't, or rather who wouldn't were they sufficiently fortunate to have the chance. But come—to be honest— je me demande, is it exclusively Sir Charles whom Carteret loves to be with?”

And as she spoke, Henrietta bent forward from the waist, her dainty lavender skirts spread out on the faded blue of the sofa mattress, the contours of her dainty lavender bodice in fine relief against the faded blue cushions, her whole person, in the subdued light, bright and apparently fragile as some delicate toy of spun glass. She put out her hand, and lightly, mischievously, touched the string of pearls encircling the girl's throat.

“And what is the meaning of these, then,” she asked, “you sweetly deceiving little puss!”

It was cleverly done, she flattered herself. She asserted nothing, implied much, putting the onus of admission or denial upon Damaris. The answer came with grave and unhesitating directness.

“Colonel Carteret gave them to me.”

“So I imagined. They are the exquisite fruit, aren't they, of the little expedition by train of two days ago?”

Damaris' temper rose, but so did her protective instinct. For that journey to Marseilles, connected as it was with the dear secret of Darcy Faircloth, did not admit of investigation by Henrietta.

“About where and when Colonel Carteret may have got them for me, I know nothing,” she returned. “He left them to be given to me last night after he went.”

She unclasped the necklace.

“They are very lovely pearls, aren't they? Pray look at them if you care to, Henrietta,” she said.

Thus at once invited and repulsed—for that it amounted to a repulse she could not but acknowledge—Mrs. Frayling advised herself a temporary retreat might be advisable. She therefore discoursed brightly concerning pearls and suchlike costly frivolities. Inwardly covetousness consumed her, since she possessed no personal ornament of even approximate value.

The conversation drifted. She learned the fact of Miss Felicia's projected arrival, and deplored her own approaching exile the less. Only once, long ago, had she encountered Miss Verity. The memory afforded her no satisfaction, for that lady's peculiar brand of good breeding and—as she qualified it—imbecility, did not appeal to her in the least. There was matter of thankfulness, therefore, she had not elected to join Sir Charles and Damaris sooner. She would undoubtedly have proved a most tiresome and impeding element. Unless—here Henrietta's mind darted—unless she happened to take a fancy to Marshall. Blameless spinsters, of her uncertain age and of many enthusiasms, did not infrequently very warmly take to him—in plain English, fell over head and ears in love with him, poor things, though without knowing it, their critical faculty being conspicuous by its absence where their own hearts were concerned.—By the way that was an idea!—Swiftly Henrietta reviewed the possibilities it suggested.—As an ally, an auxiliary, Miss Felicia might be well worth cultivation. Would it not be diplomatic to let Marshall stay on at the Hotel de la Plage by himself for a week or so? The conquest of Miss Felicia might facilitate another conquest on which her—Henrietta's—mind was set. For such mature enamoured virgins, as she reflected, are almost ludicrously selfless. To ensure the happiness of the beloved object they will even donate to him their rival.—Yes—distinctly an idea! But before attempting to reduce it to practice, she must make more sure of her ground in another direction.

During the above meditation, Henrietta continued to talk off the surface, her mind working on two distinct planes. Damaris, off the surface, continued to answer her.

Our maiden felt tired both in body and in spirit. She felt all “rubbed up the wrong way”—disturbed, confused. The many moral turns and twists of Henrietta's conversation had been difficult to follow. But from amid the curious maze of them, one thing stood out, arrestingly conspicuous—Henrietta believed it then also. Believed Carteret cared for her “in that way”—thus, with a turning aside of the eyes and shrinking, she phrased it. It wasn't any mistaken, conceited imagination of her own since Henrietta so evidently shared it. And Henrietta must be reckoned an expert in that line, having a triad of husbands to her credit—a liberality of allowance in matrimony which had always appeared to Damaris as slightly excessive. She had avoided dwelling upon this so outstanding feature of her friend's career; but that it gave assurance of the latter's ability to pronounce upon “caring in that way” was she now admitted incontestable.

Whether she really felt glad or sorry Henrietta's expert opinion confirmed her own suspicions, Damaris could not tell. It certainly tended to complicate the future; and for that she was sorry. She would have liked to see the road clear before her—anyhow for a time—complications having been over numerous lately. They were worrying. They made her feel unsettled, unnatural. In any case she trusted she shouldn't suffer again from those odious yet alluring feelings which put her to such shame this morning.—But—unpleasant thought—weren't they, perhaps, an integral part of the whole agitating business of “caring in that way?”

Her eyes rested in wide meditative enquiry upon Henrietta, Henrietta sitting up in all her finished elegance upon the faded blue sofa and so diligently making company conversation. Somehow, thus viewing her, it was extremely difficult to suppose Henrietta had ever experienced excited feelings. Yet—the wonder of it!—she'd actually been married three times.

Then, wearily, Damaris made a return upon herself. Yes—she was glad, although it might seem ungrateful, disloyal, the man with the blue eyes had gone away. For his going put off the necessity of knowing her own mind, excused her from making out exactly how she regarded him, thus relegating the day of fateful decision to a dim distance. Henrietta accused him of being a sieve.—Damaris grew heated in strenuous denial. That was a calumny which she didn't and wouldn't credit. Still you could never be quite sure about men—so she went back on the old, sad, disquieting lesson. Their way of looking at things, their angle of admitted obligation is so bewilderingly different!—Oh! how thankful she was Aunt Felicia would soon be here. Everything would grow simpler, easier to understand and to manage, more as it used to be, with dear Aunt Felicia here on the spot.

At this point she realized that Mrs. Frayling was finishing a sentence to the beginning of which she had not paid the smallest attention. That was disgracefully rude.

“So I am to go home then, dearest child, and break it to Marshall that he stands no chance—my poor Marshall, who has no delightful presents with which to plead his cause!”

“Mr. Wace?—Plead his cause? What cause? I am so sorry, Henrietta—forgive me. It's too dreadful, but I am afraid I wasn't quite listening”—this with most engaging confusion.

“Yes—his cause. I should have supposed his state of mind had been transparently evident for many a long day.”

“But indeed—Henrietta, you must be mistaken. I don't know what you mean”—the other interposed smitten by the liveliest distress and alarm.

The elder lady waved aside her outcry with admirable playfulness and determination.

“Oh! I quite realize how crazy it must appear on his part, poor dear fellow, seeing he has so little to offer from the worldly and commercial standpoint. As he himself says—'the desire of the moth for the star, of the night for the morrow.' Still money and position are not everything in life, are they? Talent is an asset and so, I humbly believe, is the pure devotion of a good man's heart. These count for something, or used to do so when I was your age. But then the women of my generation were educated in a less sophisticated school. You modern young persons are wiser than we were no doubt, in that you are less romantic, less easily touched.—I have not ventured to give Marshall much encouragement. It would have been on my conscience to foster hopes which might be dashed. And yet I own, darling child, your manner not once nor twice, during our happy meetings at the Pavilion, when he read aloud to us or sang, gave me the impression you were not entirely indifferent. He, I know, has thought so too—for I have not been able to resist letting him pour out his hopes and fears to me now and then. I could not refuse either him or myself that indulgence, because”—

Mrs. Frayling rose, and, bending over our much tried and now positively flabbergasted damsel, brushed her hair with a butterfly kiss.

“Because my own hopes were also not a little engaged,” she said. “Your manner to my poor Marshall, your willingness to let him so often be with you made me—perhaps foolishly—believe not only that his sad life might be crowned by a signal blessing, but you might be given to me some day as a daughter of whom I could be intensely proud. I have grown to look upon Marshall in the light of a son, and his wife would”—

Damaris had risen also. She stood at bay, white, strained, her lips quivering.

“Do—do you mean that I have behaved badly to Mr. Wace, Henrietta? That I have flirted with him?”

Mrs. Frayling drew her mouth into a naughty little knot. There were awkward corners to be negotiated in these questions. She avoided them by boldly striking for the open.

“Oh! it is natural, perfectly natural at your rather thoughtless time of life. Only Marshall's admiration for you is very deep. He has the poetic temperament which makes for suffering, for despair as well as for rapture. And his disillusionments, poor boy, have been so grievously many.—But Colonel Carteret—yes—dearest child, I do quite follow.—It's an old story. He has always had des bonnes fortunes.”

Since her return to Europe, Mrs. Frayling had become much addicted to embellishing her conversation with such foreign tags, not invariably, it may be added, quite correctly applied or quoted.

“Women could never resist him in former days in India. They went down before his charms like a row of ninepins before a ball. I don't deny a passing tendresse for him myself, though I was married and very happily married. So I can well comprehend how he may take a girl's fancy by storm. Sans peur et sans reproche, he must seem to her.—And so in the main, I dare say, he is. At worst a little easy-going, owing to his cultivation of the universally benevolent attitude. Charity has a habit of beginning at home, you know; and a man usually views his own delinquencies at least as leniently as he views those of others. But that leniency is part of his charm—which I admit is great.—Heaven forbid, I should undermine your faith in it, if there is anything settled between you and him.”

“But there isn't, there isn't,” Damaris broke in, distressed beyond all calmness of demeanour. “You go too fast, Henrietta. You assume too much. Nothing is settled of—of that sort. Nothing of that sort has ever been said.”

Mrs. Frayling raised her eyebrows, cast down her eyes, and fingered the bunch of trinkets hanging from her gold chain in silence for a few seconds. The ring of sincerity was unquestionable—only where did that land her? Had not she, in point of fact, very really gone too fast? In defeat Henrietta became unscrupulous.

“Merely another flirtation, Damaris?” she said. “Darling child, I am just a wee bit disappointed in you.”

Which, among her many fibs, may rank amongst her most impudent and full-fed, though by no means her last.

Here, the door opened behind her. Henrietta turned alertly, hailing any interruption which—her bolt being shot—might facilitate her retreat from a now most embarrassing situation. After all she had planted more than one seed, which might fruitfully grow, so at that she could leave matters.—The interruption, however, took a form for which she was unprepared. To her intense disgust her nerves played her false. She gave the oddest little stifled squeak as she met Charles Verity's glance, fixed upon her in cool, slightly ironic scrutiny.

Some persons very sensibly bring their mental atmosphere along with them. You are compelled to breathe it whether you like or not. The atmosphere Charles Verity brought with him, at this juncture, was too masculine, intellectually too abstract yet too keenly critical, for comfortable absorption by Henrietta's lungs. Her self-complacency shrivelled in it. She felt but a mean and pitiful creature, especially in her recent treatment of Damaris. It was a nasty moment, the more difficult to surmount because of that wretchedly betraying squeak. Fury against herself gingered her up to action. She must be the first to speak.

“Ah! how delightful to see you,” she said, a little over-playing the part—“though only for an instant. I was in the act of bidding Damaris farewell. As it is I have scandalously outstayed my leave; but we had a thousand and one things, hadn't we, to say to one another.”

She smiled upon both father and daughter with graceful deprecation.

Au, revoir, darling child—we must manage to meet somehow, just once more before I take my family north”—

And still talking, new lavender dress, trinkets, faint fragrance and all, she passed out on to the corridor accompanied by Sir Charles Verity.

CHAPTER XIII. WHICH RECOUNTS A TAKING OF SANCTUARY

Left alone Damaris sat down on the window-seat, within the shelter of the wooden shutters which interposed a green barred coolness between her and the brilliant world without. That those two, her father and Henrietta Frayling, should thus step off together, the small, softly crisp, feminine figure beside the tall, fine-drawn and—in a way—magnificent masculine one, troubled her. Yet she made no attempt to accompany or to follow them. Her head ached. Her mind and soul ached too. She felt spent and giddy, as from chasing round and round in an ever-shifting circle some tormenting, cleverly lovely thing which perpetually eluded her. Which thing, finally, floated out of the door there, drawing a personage unmeasurably its superior, away with it, and leaving her—Damaris—deserted.

Leaving, moreover, every subject on which its nimble tongue had lighted, damaged by that contact—at loose ends, frayed and ravelled, its inwove pattern just slightly discoloured and defaced. The patterned fabric of Damaris' thought and inner life had not been spared, but suffered disfigurement along with the rest. She felt humiliated, felt unworthy. The ingenious torments of a false conscience gnawed her. Her better judgment pronounced that conscience veritably false; or would, as she believed, so pronounce later when she had time to get a true perspective. But, just now, she could only lamentably, childishly, cry out against injustice. For wasn't Henrietta mainly responsible for the character of her intercourse with Marshall Wace? Hadn't Henrietta repeatedly entreated her to see much of him, be kind to him?—Wishing, even in her present rebellion to be quite fair, she acknowledged that she had enjoyed his singing and reading; that she had felt pleased at his eagerness to confide his troubles to her and talk confidentially about himself. She not unwillingly accepted a mission towards him, stimulated thereto by Henrietta's plaudits and thanks.

And—and Colonel Carteret? For now somehow she no longer, even in thought, could call him by her old name for him, “the dear man with the blue eyes.”—Could it be true, as Henrietta intimated, that he went through life throwing the handkerchief first to one woman and then to another? That there was no real constancy or security in his affections, but all was lightly come and lightly go with him?

How her poor head ached! She held it in both hands and closed her eyes.—She would not think any more about Colonel Carteret. To do so made her temples throb and raised the lump, which is a precursor of tears, in her throat.

No—she couldn't follow Henrietta's statements and arguments either way. They were self-contradictory. Still, whose ever the fault, that the young man Wace should be unhappy on her account, should think she—Damaris—had behaved heartlessly to him, was quite dreadful. Humiliating too—false conscience again gnawing. Had she really contracted a debt towards him, which she—in his opinion and Henrietta's—tried to repudiate? She seemed to hear it, the rich impassioned voice, and hear it with a new comprehension. Was “caring in that way” what it had striven to tell her; and had she, incomparably dense in missing its meaning, appeared to sanction the message and to draw him on? Other people understood—so at least Henrietta implied; while she, remaining deaf, had rather cruelly misled him. Ought she not to do something to make up? Yet what could she do?—It had never occurred to her that—that—

She held her head tight. Held it on, as with piteous humour she told herself, since she seemed in high danger of altogether losing it.—Must she believe herself inordinately stupid, or was she made differently to everybody else? For, as she now suspected, most people are constantly occupied, are quite immensely busy about “caring in that way.” And she shrank from it; actively and angrily disliked it. She felt smirched, felt all dealings as between men and women made suspect, rendered ugly, almost degraded by the fact—if fact it was—of that kind of caring and excited feelings it induces, lurking just below the surface, ready to dart out.—And this not quite honestly either. The whole matter savoured of hypocrisy, since the feelings disguised themselves in beautiful sounds, beautiful words, clothing their unseemliness with the noble panoply of poetry and art, masquerading in wholesome garments of innocent good-comradeship.

—A grind of wheels on the gravel below. Henrietta's neat limpid accents and Charles Verity's grave ones. The flourish and crack of a whip and scrambling start of the little chestnut horses. The rhythmical beat of their quick even trot and thin tinkle of their collar bells receding into the distance.

These sounds to our sorrowfully perplexed maiden opened fresh fields of uneasy speculation. For those diverse accents—the speakers being unseen—heard thus in conjunction, seized on and laboured her imagination. Throughout the past months of frequent meeting, Damaris had never quite understood her father's attitude towards Henrietta Frayling. It was marked by reserve; yet a reserve based, as she somehow divined, upon an uncommon degree of former intimacy. Judging from remarks let drop now and again by Henrietta, they knew, or rather had known, one another very well indeed. This bore out Damaris' own childhood's recollections; though in these last she was aware of lacunae, of gaps, of spaces unbridged by any coherent sequence of remembered events. A dazzling and delicious image, the idol of her baby adoration—thus did memory paint that earlier Henrietta. Surrounding circumstances remained shadowy. She could not recall them even in respect of herself, still less in respect of her father. So that question, as to the past, ruled the present. What had parted them, and how did they to-day envisage one another? She could not make out. Had never, indeed, attempted seriously to make out, shying from such investigation as disloyal and, in a way, irreverent. Now investigation was forced on her. Her mind worked independent of her will, so that she could neither prevent or arrest it. Sir Charles showed himself scrupulously attentive and courteous to General Frayling. He offered no spoken objection to her association with Henrietta. Yet an unexplained element did remain. Subtlely, but perceptibly, it permeated both her father's and Henrietta's speech and bearing. She, Damaris, was always conscious of a certain constraint beneath their calm and apparently easy talk. Was their relation one of friendship or of covert enmity?—Or did these, just perceptible, peculiarities of it betoken something deeper and closer still?

Suspicion once kindled spreads like a conflagration.—Damaris' hands dropped, a dead weight, into her lap. She sat, strained yet inert, as though listening to catch the inner significance of her own unformulated question, her eyes wide and troubled, her lips apart. For might it not be that they had once—long ago—in the princely, Eastern pleasure palace of her childhood—cared in that way?

Then the tears which, what with tiredness and the labour pains of her many conflicting emotions, had threatened more than once to-day, came into their own. She wept quietly, noiselessly, the tears running down her cheeks unchecked and unheeded. For there was no escape. Turn where she would, join hands with whom she would in all good faith and innocence, this thing reared its head and, evilly alluring looked at her. Now it set its claim upon her well-beloved Sultan-i-bagh—and what scene could in truth be more sympathetic to its display? She felt the breath of high romance. Imagination played strange tricks with her. She could feel, she could picture, a drama of rare quality with those two figures as protagonists. It dazzled while wounding her. She remembered Faircloth's words, spoken on that evening of fateful disclosure when knowledge of things as they are first raped her happy ignorance, while the boat drifted through the shrouding darkness of rain upon the inky waters of the tide-river.—“They were young,” he had said, “and mayn't we allow they were beautiful? They met and, God help them, they loved.”

The statement covered this case, also, to a nicety. It explained everything. But what an explanation, leaving her, Damaris, doubly orphaned and desolate! For the first case, that of which Faircloth actually had spoken, brought her royal, if secret compensation in the brotherhood and sisterhood it made known. But this second case brought nothing, save a sense of being tricked and defrauded, the victim of a conspiracy of silence. For nothing, as it now appeared, was really her own, nor had really belonged to her. “Some one,” so she phrased it in the incoherence of her pain, “had always been there before her.” What she supposed her exclusive property was only second-hand, had been already owned by others. They let her play at being first in the field, original and sole proprietress, because it saved them trouble by keeping her quiet and amused. But all the while they knew better and must have smiled at her possessive antics once her silly back was turned. And here Damaris lost sight of reasonable proportion and measure, exaggerating wildly, her pride and self-respect cut to the quick.

It was thus, in the full flood of mystification and resentment, Charles Verity found her when presently he returned. Sensible of something very much amiss, since she stayed within the shadow of the closed shutters, silent and motionless, he crossed the room and stood before her looking down searchingly into her upturned face. Stubborn in her misery, she met his glance with mutinous, and hard, if misty, eyes.

“Weeping, my dear? Is the occasion worth it? Has Mrs. Frayling then taken so profound a hold?” he asked, his tone mocking, chiding her yet very gently.

Damaris hedged. To expose the root of her trouble became impossible under the coercion of that gently bantering tone.

“It's not Henrietta's going; but that I no longer mind her going.”

“A lost illusion—yes?” he said.

“I can't trust her. She—she isn't kind.”

“Eh?” he said. “So you too have made that illuminating little discovery. I supposed it would be only a matter of time. But you read character, my dear, more quickly than I do. What it has taken you months to discover, took me years.”

His frankness, the unqualified directness of his response, though startling, stimulated her daring.

“Then—then you don't really like Henrietta?” she found audacity enough to say.

“Ah! there you rush too headlong to conclusions,” he reasoned, still with that same frankness of tone. “She is an ingenious, unique creature, towards whom one's sentiments are ingenious and unique in their turn. I admire her, although—for you are right there—she is neither invariably trustworthy nor invariably kind. Admire her ungrudgingly, now I no longer ask of her what she hasn't it in her to give. Limit your demand and you limit the risks of disappointment—a piece of wisdom easier to enunciate than to apply.”

Lean, graceful, commanding under the cloak of his present gentle humour, Charles Verity sat down on the faded red cushion beside Damaris, and laid one arm along the window-ledge behind her. He did not touch her; being careful in the matter of caresses, reverent of her person, chary of claiming parental privileges unasked.

“In the making of Henrietta Frayling,” he went on, “by some accident soul was left out. She hasn't any. She does not know it. Let us hope she never will know it, for it is too late now for the omission to be rectified.”

“Are you laughing at me?” Damaris asked, still stubborn, though his presence enclosed her with an at once assuaging and authoritative charm.

“Not in the least. I speak that which I soberly believe. Just as some ill-starred human creatures are born physically or mentally defective—deformed or idiots—so may they be born spiritually defective. Why not? My reason offers no scientific or moral objection to such a belief. In other respects she is conspicuously perfect. But, verily, she has no soul; and the qualities which—for happiness or misery—draw their life from the soul, she does not possess. Therefore she sparkles, lovely and chill as frost. Is as astute as she is cold at heart; and can, when it suits her purpose, be both false and cruel without any subsequent prickings of remorse. But this very coldness and astuteness save her from misdeeds of the coarser kind. Treacherous she has been, and, for aught I know, may on occasions still be. But, though temptation has pretty freely crossed her path, she has never been other than virtuous. She is a good woman—in the accepted, the popular sense of the word.”

Silence stole down upon the room. Damaris remained motionless, leaning forward gathered close into herself, her hands still heavy in her lap. Could she accept this statement as comfort, or must she bow under it as rebuke?

“Why,” she asked at last huskily—the tears were no longer upon her cheeks but queerly in her throat, impeding utterance, “do you tell me these things?”

“To prevent you beholding lying visions, my dear, or dreaming lying dreams of what might very well have been but—God be thanked—never has been—never was.—Think a minute—remember—look.”

And once more Damaris felt the breath of high romance and touched drama of rare quality, with those same two figures as protagonists, and that same Indian pleasure palace as their stage; but this time with a notable difference of sentiment and of result.

For she visualized another going of Henrietta, a flight before the dawn. Saw, through a thick scent-drenched atmosphere, between the expiring lamp-light and broadening day, a deserted child beating its little hands, in the extremity of its impotent anguish, upon the pillows of a disordered unmade bed. Saw a man, too, worn and travel-stained from long riding throughout the night, lost to all decent dignities of self-control, savage with the animalism of frustrated passion, rage to and fro amidst the litter of a smart woman's hurried packing, a trail of pale blue ribbon plucking at and tripping him entangled in the rowels of his spurs.

All this she saw; and knew that her father—sitting on the cushioned window-seat beside her, his legs crossed, his chin sunk on his breast—saw it also. That he, indeed, voluntarily and of set purpose made her see, transferring the living picture from his consciousness to her own. And, as she watched, each detail growing in poignancy and significance she—not all at once, but gropingly, rebelliously and only by degrees—comprehended that purpose, and the abounding love, both of herself and of justice, which dictated it. Divining the root of her trouble and the nature of her suspicion he took this strange means to dissipate them. Setting aside his natural pride, he caused her to look upon his hour of defeat and debasement, careless of himself if thereby he might mend her hurt and win her peace of mind.

Damaris was conquered. Her stubbornness went down before his sacrifice. All the generosity in her leapt forth to meet and to acclaim the signal generosity in him—a generosity extended not only towards herself but to Henrietta Frayling as well. This last Damaris recognized as superb.—He bade her remember. And, seeing in part through her own eyes, in part through his, she penetrated more deeply into his mind, into the rich diversity and, now mastered, violence of his character, than could otherwise have been possible. She learnt him from within as well as from without. He had been terrible—so she remembered—yet beautiful in his fallen god-head. She had greatly feared him under that aspect. Later, she more than ever loved him; and that with a provenant, protective and, baby though she was, a mothering love. He was beautiful now; but no longer terrible, no longer fallen—if not the god-head, yet the fine flower of his manhood royally and very sweetly disclosed. Her whole being yearned towards him; but humbly, a note of lowliness in her appreciation, as towards something exalted, far above her in experience, in self-knowledge and self-discipline.

She was, indeed, somewhat overwhelmed, both by realization of his distinction and of her own presumption in judging him, to the point of being unable as yet to look him in the face. So she silently laid hold of his hand, drew it down from the window-ledge and round her waist. Slipping along the cushioned seat until she rested against him, she laid her head back upon his shoulder. Testimony in words seemed superfluous after that shared consciousness, seemed impertinent even, an anti-climax from which both taste and insight recoiled.

For a while Charles Verity let the silent communion continue. Then, lest it should grow enervating, to either or to both, he spoke of ordinary subjects—of poor little General Frayling's illness, of Miss Felicia's plans, of his own book. It was wiser for her, better also for himself, to step back into the normal thus quietly closing the door upon their dual act of retrospective clairvoyance.

Damaris, catching his intention, responded; and if rather languidly yet loyally played up. But, before the spell was wholly broken and frankness gave place to their habitual reserve, there was one further question she must ask if the gnawings of that false conscience, begotten in her by Henrietta's strictures, were wholly to cease.

“Do you mind if we go back just a little minute,” she said.

“Still unsatisfied, my dear?”

“Not unsatisfied—never again that as between us two, Commissioner Sahib. You have made everything beautifully, everlastingly smooth and clear.”

“Then why tempt Providence, or rather human incertitude, by going back?”

“Because—can I say it quite plainly?”

“As plainly as you will.”

“Because Henrietta tells me I have—have flirted—have played fast and loose with—with more than one person.”

A pause, and the question came from above her—her head still lying against his breast—with a trace of severity, or was it anxiety?

“And have you?”

“Not intentionally—not knowingly,” Damaris said.

“If that is so, is it not sufficient?”

“No—because she implies that I have raised false hopes, and so entangled myself—and that I ought to go further, that, as I understand her, I ought to be ready to marry—that it is not quite honourable to withdraw.”

Charles Verity moved slightly, yet held her close. She felt the rise and fall of his ribs as he breathed slow and deep.

“Do you want to marry?” he at last asked her.

“No,” she said, simply. “I'd much rather not, if I can keep out of it without acting unfairly by anyone—if you don't agree with Henrietta, and don't think I need. You don't want me to marry do you?”

“God in heaven, no,” Charles Verity answered. He put her from him, rose and moved about the room.

“To me, the thought of giving you in marriage to any man is little short of abhorrent,” he said hoarsely.

For fear clutched him by the throat. The gift of pearls, the little scene of last night, and Damaris' emotion in bidding Carteret farewell, confronted him. The idea had never occurred to him before. Now it glared at him, or rather he glared at it. It would be torment to say “yes”; and yet very difficult to say his best friend “nay.” Anger kindled against Henrietta Frayling. Must this be regarded as her handiwork? Yet he could hardly credit it. Or had she some other candidate—Peregrine Ditton, young Harry Ellice?—But they were mere boys.—Of Marshall Wace he never thought, the young man being altogether outside his field of vision in this connection.

Long habit of personal chastity made Charles Verity turn, with a greater stabbing and rending of repulsion, from the thought of marriage for Damaris. She asserted she had no wish to marry, that she—bless her sweet simplicity!—would rather not. But this bare broaching of the subject threw him into so strange a tumult that, only too evidently, he was no competent observer, he laboured under too violent a prejudice. He had no right to demand from others the abstinence he chose himself to practise. Carteret, in desiring her, was within his rights. Damaris within hers, were she moved by his suit. Marriage is natural, wholesome, the God-ordained law and sanction of human increase since man first drew breath here upon earth. To condemn obedience to that law, by placing any parental embargo upon Damaris' marriage, would be both a defiance of nature and act of grossest selfishness.

He sat down on the window-seat again; and forced himself to put his arm around that fair maiden body, destined to be the prize, one day, of some man's love; the prey—for he disdained to mince matters, turning the knife in the wound rather—the prey of some man's lust. He schooled himself, while Damaris' heart beat a little tempestuously under his hand, to invite a conclusion which through every nerve and fibre he loathed.

“My dear,” he said, “I spoke unadvisedly with my lips just now, letting crude male jealousy get the mastery of reason and common sense. Put my words out of your mind. They were unjustifiable, spoken in foolish heat. If you are in love with anyone”—

Damaris nestled against him.

“Only with you, dearest, I think,” she said.

Charles Verity hesitated, unable to speak through the exquisite blow she delivered and his swift thankfulness.

“Let us put the question differently then—translating it into the language of ordinary social convention. Tell me, has anyone proposed to you?”

Damaris, still nestling, shook her head.

“No—no one. And I hope now, no one will. I escaped that, partly thanks to my own denseness.—It is not an easy thing, Commissioner Sahib, to explain or talk about. But I have come rather close to it lately, and”—with a hint of vehemence—“I don't like it. There is something in it which pulls at me but not at the best part of me. So that I am divided against myself. Though it does pull, I still want to push it all away with both hands. I don't understand myself and I don't understand it, I would rather be without it—forget it—if you think I am free to do so, if you are satisfied that I haven't intentionally hurt anyone or contracted a—a kind of debt of honour?”

“I am altogether satisfied,” he said. “Until the strange and ancient malady attacks you in a very much more virulent form, you are free to cast Henrietta Frayling's insinuations to the winds, to ignore them and their existence.”

 
 
 

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