"Indeed you have! I mean, I beg your pardon for contradicting you like that—"
"Rather flatly," observed Clare, as they turned in their walk, and their eyes met.
"Well, I'm sorry, but since we are talking about it, I've got to say what I think. After all, I'm the person attacked. I have a right to defend myself."
"I haven't attacked you," answered the young girl, gravely.
"I won't be rude, if I can help it," said Brook, half roughly. "But I asked you if you disliked me for something I had done or said, and you couldn't deny it. That means that I have done or said something bad enough to make you say that you will never be my friend—and that must be something very bad indeed."
"Then you think I'm not squeamish? It would have to be something very, very bad."
"Thank you. Well, I thought it very bad. Anybody would, I should fancy."
"I never did anything very, very bad, so you must be mistaken," answered Johnstone, exasperated.
Clare said nothing, but walked along with her head rather high, looking straight before her. It had all happened before her eyes, on the very ground under her feet, on that platform. Johnstone knew that he had spoken roughly.
"I say," he began, "was I rude? I'm awfully sorry." Clare stopped and stood still.
"Mr. Johnstone, we sha'n't agree. I will never tell you, and you will never be satisfied unless I do. So it's a dead-lock."
"You are horribly unjust," answered Brook, very much in earnest, and fixing his bright eyes on hers. "You seem to take a delight in tormenting me with this imaginary secret. After all, if it's something you saw me do, or heard me say, I must know of it and remember it, so there's no earthly reason why we shouldn't discuss it."
There was again that fascination in his eyes, and she felt herself yielding.
"I'll say one thing," she said. "I wish you hadn't done it!"
She felt that she could not look away from him, and that he was getting her into his power. The colour rose in her face.
"Please don't look at me!" she said suddenly, gazing helplessly into his eyes, but his steady look did not change.
"Please—oh, please look away!" she cried, half-frightened and growing pale again.
He turned from her, surprised at her manner.
"I'm afraid you're not in earnest about this, after all," he said, thoughtfully. "If you meant what you said, why shouldn't you look at me?"
She blushed scarlet again.
"It's very rude to stare like that!" she said, in an offended tone. "You know that you've got something—I don't know what to call it—one can't look away when you look at one. Of course you know it, and you ought not to do it. It isn't nice."
"I didn't know there was anything peculiar about my eyes," said Brook. "Indeed I didn't! Nobody ever told me so, I'm sure. By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I believe it's that! I've probably done it before—and that's why you—" he stopped.
"Please don't think me so silly," answered Clare, recovering her composure. "It's nothing of the sort. As for that—that way you have of looking—I dare say I'm nervous since my illness. Besides—" she hesitated, and then smiled. "Besides, do you know? If you had looked at me a moment longer I should have told you the whole thing, and then we should both have been sorry."
"I should not, I'm sure," said Brook, with conviction. "But I don't understand about my looking at you. I never tried to mesmerise any one—"
"There is no such thing as mesmerism. It's all hypnotism, you know."
"I don't know what they call it. You know what I mean. But I'm sure it's your imagination."
"Oh yes, I dare say," answered the young girl with affected carelessness. "It's merely because I'm nervous."
"Well, so far as I'm concerned, it's quite unconscious. I don't know—I suppose I wanted to see in your eyes what you were thinking about. Besides, when one likes a person, one doesn't think it so dreadfully rude to look at them—at him—I mean, at you—when one is in earnest about something—does one?"
"I don't know," said Clare. "But please don't do it to me. It makes me feel awfully uncomfortable somehow. You won't, will you?" she asked, with a sort of appeal. "You would make me tell you everything—and then I should hate myself."
"But I shouldn't hate you."
"Oh yes, you would! You would hate me for knowing."
"By Jove! It's too bad!" cried Brook. "But as for that," he added humbly, "nothing would make me hate you."
"Nothing? You don't know!"
"Yes, I do! You couldn't make me change my mind about you. I've grown to—to like you a great deal too much for that in this short time—a great deal more than is good for me, I believe," he added, with a sort of rough impulsiveness. "Not that I'm at all surprised, you know," he continued with an attempt at a laugh. "One can't see a person like you, most of the day, for ten days or a fortnight, without—well, you know, admiring you most tremendously—can one? I dare say you think that might be put into better English. But it's true all the same."
A silence followed. The warm blood mantled softly in the girl's fair cheeks. She was taken by surprise with an odd little breath of happiness, as it were, suddenly blowing upon her, whence she knew not. It was so utterly new that she wondered at it, and was not conscious of the faint blush that answered it.
"One gets awfully intimate in a few days," observed Brook, as though he had discovered something quite new.
She nodded, but said nothing, and they still walked up and down. Then his words made her think of that sudden intimacy which had probably sprung up between him and Lady Fan on board the yacht, and her heart was hardened again.
"It isn't worth while to be intimate, as you call it," she said at last, with a little sudden sharpness. "People ought never to be intimate, unless they have to live together—in the same place, you know. Then they can't exactly help it, I suppose."
"Why should they? One can't exactly intrench oneself behind a wall with pistols and say 'Be my friend if you dare.' Life would be very uncomfortable, I should think."
"Oh, you know what I mean! Don't be so awfully literal."
"I was trying to understand," said Johnstone, with unusual meekness. "I won't, if you don't want me to. But I don't agree with you a bit. I think it's very jolly to be intimate—in this sort of way—or perhaps a little more so."
"Intimate enemies? Enemies can be just as intimate as friends, you know."
"I'd rather have you for my intimate enemy than not know you at all," said Brook.
"That's saying a great deal, Mr. Johnstone."
Again she was pleased in a new way by what he said. And a temptation came upon her unawares. It was perfectly clear that he was beginning to make love to her. She thought of her reflections after she had seen him alone with Lady Fan, and of how she had wished that she could break his heart, and pay him back with suffering for the pain he had given another woman. The possibility seemed nearer now than then. At least, she could easily let him believe that she believed him, and then laugh at him and his acting. For of course it was acting. How could such a man be earnest? All at once the thought that he should respect her so little as to pretend to make love to her incensed her.
"What an extraordinary idea!" she exclaimed rather scornfully. "You would rather be hated, than not known!"
"I wasn't talking generalities—I was speaking of you. Please don't misunderstand me on purpose. It isn't kind."
"Are you in need of kindness just now? You don't exactly strike one in that way, you know. But your people will be coming in a day or two, I suppose. I've no doubt they'll be kind to you, as you call it—whatever that may mean. One speaks of being kind to animals and servants, you know—that sort of thing."
Nothing can outdo the brutality of a perfectly unaffected young girl under certain circumstances.
"I don't class myself with either, thank you," said Brook, justly offended. "You certainly manage to put things in a new light sometimes. I feel rather like that mule we saw yesterday."
"Oh—I thought you didn't class yourself with animals!" she laughed.
"Have you any particular reason for saying horridly disagreeable things?" asked Brook coldly.
There was a pause.
"I didn't mean to be disagreeable—at least not so disagreeable as all that," said Clare at last. "I don't know why it is, but you have a talent for making me seem rude."
"Force of example," suggested Johnstone.
"No, I'll say that for you—you have very good manners."
"Thanks, awfully. Considering the provocation, you know, that's an immense compliment."
"I thought I would be 'kind' for a change. By the bye, what are we quarrelling about?" She laughed. "You began by saying something very nice to me, and then I told you that you were like the mule, didn't I? It's very odd! I believe you hypnotise me, after all."
"At all events, if we were not intimate, you couldn't possibly say the things you do," observed Brook, already pacified.
"And I suppose you would not take the things I say, so meekly, would you?"
"I told you I was a very mild person," said Johnstone. "We were talking about it yesterday, do you remember?"
"Oh yes! And then you illustrated your idea of meekness by knocking down the first man we met."
"It was your fault," retorted Brook. "You told me to stop his beating the mule. So I did. Fortunately you stopped him from sticking a knife into me. Do you know? You have awfully good nerves. Most women would have screamed and run up a tree—or something. They would have got out of the way, at all events."
"I think most women would have done precisely what I did," said Clare. "Why should you say that most women are cowards?"
"I didn't," answered Brook. "But I refuse to quarrel about it. I meant to say that I admired you—I mean, what you did—well, more than anything."
"That's a sweeping sort of compliment. Am I to return it?" She glanced at him and smiled.
"You couldn't, with truth."
"Of course I could. I don't remember ever seeing anything of that sort before, but I don't believe that anybody could have done it better. I admired you more than anything just then, you know." She laughed once more as she added the last words.
"Oh, I don't expect you to go on admiring me. I'm quite satisfied, and grateful, and all that."
"I'm glad you're so easily satisfied. Couldn't we talk seriously about something or other? It seems to me that we've been chaffing for half an hour, haven't we?"
"It hasn't been all chaff, Miss Bowring," said Johnstone. "At least, not on my side."
"Then I'm sorry," Clare answered. They relapsed into silence, as they walked their beat, to and fro. The sun had gone down, and it was already twilight on that side of the mountains. The rain had cooled the air, and the far land to southward was darkly distinct beyond the purple water. It was very chilly, and Clare was without a shawl, and Johnstone was hatless, but neither of them noticed that it was cool. Johnstone was the first to speak.
"Is this sort of thing to go on for ever, Miss Bowring?" he asked gravely.
"What?" But she knew very well what he meant.
"This—this very odd footing we are on, you and I—are we never going to get past it?"
"Oh—I hope not," answered Clare, cheerfully. "I think it's very pleasant, don't you? And most original. We are intimate enough to say all sorts of things, and I'm your enemy, and you say you are my friend. I can't imagine any better arrangement. We shall always laugh when we think of it—even years hence. You will be going away in a few days, and we shall stay here into the summer and we shall never see each other again, in all probability. We shall always look back on this time—as something quite odd, you know."
"You are quite mistaken if you think that we shall never meet again," said Johnstone.
"I mean that it's very unlikely. You see we don't go home very often, and when we do we stop with friends in the country. We don't go much into society. And the rest of the time we generally live in Florence."
"There is nothing to prevent me from coming to Florence—or living there, if I choose."
"Oh no—I suppose not. Except that you would be bored to death. It's not very amusing, unless you happen to be fond of pictures, and you never said you were."
"I should go to see you."
"Oh—yes—you could call, and of course if we were at home we should be very glad to see you. But that would only occupy about half an hour of one day. That isn't much."
"I mean that I should go to Florence simply for the sake of seeing you, and seeing you often—all the time, in fact."
"Dear me! That would be a great deal, wouldn't it? I thought you meant just to call, don't you know?"
"I'm in earnest, though it sounds very funny, I dare say," said Johnstone.
"It sounds rather mad," answered Clare, laughing a little. "I hope you won't do anything of the kind, because I wouldn't see you more than once or twice. I'd have headaches and colds and concerts—all the things one has when one isn't at home to people. But my mother would be delighted. She likes you tremendously, you know, and you could go about to galleries together and read Ruskin and Browning—do you know the Statue and the Bust? And you could go and see Casa Guidi, where the Brownings lived, and you could drive up to San Miniato, and then, you know, you could drive up again and read more Browning and more Ruskin. I'm sure you would enjoy it to any extent. But I should have to go through a terrific siege of colds and headaches. It would be rather hard on me."
"And harder on me," observed Brook, "and quite fearful for Mrs. Bowring."
"Oh no! She would enjoy every minute of it. You forget that she likes you."
"You are afraid I should forget that you don't."
"I almost—oh, a long way from quite! I almost liked you yesterday when you thrashed the carter and tied him up so neatly. It was beautifully done—all those knots! I suppose you learned them on board of the yacht, didn't you?"
"I've yachted a good deal," said Brook.
"Generally with that party?" inquired Clare.
"No. That was the first time. My father has an old tub he goes about in, and we sometimes go together."
"Is he coming here in his 'old tub'?"
"Oh no—he's lent her to a fellow who has taken her off to Japan, I believe."
"Japan! Is it safe? In an 'old tub'!"
"Oh, well—that's a way of talking, you know. She's a good enough boat, you know. My father went to New York in her, last year. She's a steamer, you know. I hate steamers. They are such dirty noisy things! But of course if you are going a long way, they are the only things."
He spoke in a jerky way, annoyed and discomfited by her forcing the conversation off the track. Though he was aware that he had gone further than he intended, when he proposed to spend the winter in Florence. Moreover, he was very tenacious by nature, and had rarely been seriously opposed during his short life. Her persistent refusal to tell him the cause of her deep-rooted dislike exasperated him, while her frank and careless manner and good-fellowship fascinated him more and more.
"Tell me all about the yacht," she said. "I'm sure she is a beauty, though you call her an old tub."
"I don't want to talk about yachts," he answered, returning to the attack in spite of her. "I want to talk about the chances of seeing you after we part here."
"There aren't any," replied the young girl carelessly. "What is the name of the yacht?"
"Very commonplace—'Lucy,' that's all. I'll make chances if there are none—"
"You mustn't say that 'Lucy' is commonplace. That's my mother's name."
"I beg your pardon. I couldn't know that. It always struck me that it wasn't much of a name for a yacht, you know. That was all I meant. He's a queer old bird, my father; he always says he took it from the Bride of Lammermoor, Heaven knows why. But please—I really can't go away and feel that I'm not to see you again soon. You seem to think that I'm chaffing. I'm not. I'm very serious. I like you very much, and I don't see why one should just meet and then go off, and let that be the end—do you?"
"I don't see why not," exclaimed Clare, hating the unexpected longing she felt to agree with him, and tell him to come and stay in Florence as much as he pleased. "Come—it's too cold here. I must be going in."
Brook Johnstone had never been in the habit of observing his sensations nor of paying any great attention to his actions. He was not at all an actor, as Clare believed him to be, and the idea that he could ever have taken pleasure in giving pain would have made him laugh. Possibly, it would have made him very angry, but it certainly had no foundation at all in fact. He had been liked, loved, and made much of, not for anything he had ever taken the trouble to do, but partly for his own sake, and partly on account of his position. Such charm as he had for women lay in his frankness, good humour, and simplicity of character. That he had appeared to be changeable in his affection was merely due to the fact that he had never been in love. He vaguely recognised the fact in his inner consciousness, though he would have said that he had been in love half a dozen times; which only amounted to saying that women he had liked had been in love with him or had thought that they were, or had wished to have it thought that he loved them or had perhaps, like poor Lady Fan, been willing to risk a good deal on the bare chance of marrying one of the best of society's matches in the end. He was too young to look upon such affairs very seriously. When he had been tired of the game he had not lacked the courage to say so, and in most cases he had been forgiven. Lady Fan might prove an exception, but he hoped not. He was enormously far removed from being a saint, it is true, but it is due to him to repeat that he had drawn the line rigidly at a certain limit, and that all women beyond that line had been to him as his own mother, in thought and deed. Let those who have the right to cast stones—and the cruelty to do so—decide for themselves whether Brook Johnstone was a bad man at heart, or not. It need not be hinted that a proportion of the stone-throwing Pharisees owe their immaculate reputation to their conspicuous lack of attraction; the little band has a place apart and they stand there and lapidate most of us, and secretly wish that they had ever had the chance of being as bad as we are without being found out. But the great army of the pure in heart are mixed with us sinners in the fight, and though they may pray for us, they do not carp at our imperfections—and occasionally they get hit by the Pharisees just as we do, being rather whiter than we and therefore offering a more tempting mark for a jagged stone or a handful of pious mud. You may know the Pharisee by his intimate knowledge of the sins he has never committed.
Besides, though the code of honour is not worth much as compared with the Ten Commandments, it is notably better than nothing, in the way of morality. It will keep a man from lying and evil speaking as well as from picking and stealing, and if it does not force him to honour all women as angels, it makes him respect a very large proportion of them as good women and therefore sacred, in a very practical way of sacredness. Brook Johnstone always was very careful in all matters where honour and his own feeling about honour were concerned. For that reason he had told Clare that he had never done anything very bad, whereas what she had seen him do was monstrous in her eyes. She had not reflected that she knew nothing about Lady Fan; and if she had heard half there was to be known she would not have understood. That night on the platform Lady Fan had given her own version of what had taken place on the Acropolis at sunset, and Brook had not denied anything. Clare did not reflect that Lady Fan might very possibly have exaggerated the facts very much in her statement of them, and that at such a time Brook was certainly not the man to argue the case, since it had manifestly been his only course to take all the apparent blame on himself. Even if he had known that Clare had heard the conversation, he could not possibly have explained the matter to her—not even if she had been an old woman—without telling all the truth about Lady Fan, and he was too honourable a man to do that, under any conceivable circumstances.
He was decidedly and really in love with the girl. He knew it, because what he felt was not like anything he had ever felt before. It was anything but the pleasurable excitement to which he was accustomed. There might have been something of that if he had received even the smallest encouragement. But, do what he would, he could find none. The attraction increased, and the encouragement was daily less, he thought. Clare occasionally said things which made him half believe that she did not wholly dislike him. That was as much as he could say. He cudgelled his brains and wrung his memory to discover what he could have done to offend her, and he could not remember anything—which was not surprising. It was clear that she had never heard of him before he had come to Amalfi. He had satisfied himself of that by questions, otherwise he would naturally enough have come near the truth and guessed that she must have known of some affair in which he had been concerned, which she judged harshly from her own point of view.
He was beginning to suffer, and he was not accustomed to suffering, least of all to any of the mental kind, for his life had always gone smoothly. He had believed hitherto that most people exaggerated, and worried themselves unnecessarily, but when he found it hard to sleep, and noticed that he had a dull, unsatisfied sort of misery with him all day long, he began to understand. He did not think that Clare could really enjoy teasing him, and, besides, it was not like mere teasing, either. She was evidently in earnest when she repeated that she did not like him. He knew her face when she was chaffing, and her tone, and the little bending of the delicate, swan-like throat, too long for perfect beauty, but not for perfect grace. When she was in earnest, her head rose, her eyes looked straight before her, and her voice sank to a graver note. He knew all the signs of truth, for with her it was always very near the surface, dwelling not in a deep well, but in clear water, as it were, open to the sky. Her truth was evidently truth, and her jesting was transparent as a child's.
It looked a hopeless case, but he had no intention of considering it without hope, nor any inclination to relinquish his attempts. He did not tell himself in so many words that he wished to marry her, and intended to marry her, and would marry her, if it were humanly possible, and he assuredly made no such promises to himself. Nor did he look at her as he had looked at women in whom he had been momentarily interested, appreciating her good points of face and figure, cataloguing and compiling her attractions so as to admire them all in turn, forget none, and receive their whole effect.
He had a restless, hungry craving that left him no peace, and that seemed to desire only a word, a look, the slightest touch of sympathy, to be instantly satisfied. And he could not get from her one softened glance, nor one sympathetic pressure of the hand, nor one word spoken more gravely than another, except the assurance of her genuine dislike.
That was the only thing he had to complain of, but it was enough. He could not reproach her with having encouraged him, for she had told him the truth from the first. He had not quite believed her. So much the worse for him. If he had, and if he had gone to Naples to wait for his people, all this would not have happened, for he had not fallen in love at first sight. A fortnight of daily and almost hourly intercourse was very good and reasonable ground for being in love.
He grew absent-minded, and his pipe went out unexpectedly, which always irritated him, and sometimes he did not take the trouble to light it again. He rose at dawn and went for long walks in the hills, with the idea that the early air and the lofty coolness would do him good, and with the acknowledged intention of doing his walking at an hour when he could not possibly be with Clare. For he could not keep away from her, whether Mrs. Bowring were with her or not. He was too much a man of the world to sit all day long before her, glaring at her in shy silence, as a boy might have done, and as he would have been content to do; so he took immense pains to be agreeable, when her mother was present, and Mrs. Bowring liked him, and said that he had really a most extraordinary talent for conversation. It was not that he ever said anything very memorable; but he talked most of the time, and always pleasantly, telling stories about people and places he had known, discussing the lighter books of the day, and affecting that profound ignorance of politics which makes some women feel at their ease, and encourages amusing discussion.
Mrs. Bowring watched him when she was there with a persistency which might have made him nervous if he had not been wholly absorbed in her daughter. She evidently saw something in him which reminded her of some one or something. She had changed of late, and Clare was beginning to think that she must be ill, though she scouted the suggestion, and said that she was growing daily stronger. She had altogether relaxed her vigilance with regard to the two young people, and seemed willing that they should go where they pleased together, and sit alone together by the hour.
"I dare say I watched him a good deal at first," she said to her daughter. "But I have made up my mind about him. He's a very good sort of young fellow, and I'm glad that you have a companion. You see I can't walk much, and now that you are getting better you need exercise. After all, one can always trust the best of one's own people. He's not falling in love with you, is he, dear? I sometimes fancy that he looks at you as though he were."
"Nonsense, mother!" and Clare laughed intentionally. "But he's very good company."
"It would be very unfortunate if he did," said Mrs. Bowring, looking away, and speaking almost to herself. "I am not sure that we should not have gone away—"
"Really! If one is to be turned out of the most beautiful place in the world because a young Englishman chooses to stop in the same hotel! Besides, why in the world should he fall in love with me? He's used to a very different kind of people, I fancy."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh—the gay set—'a' gay set, I suppose, for there are probably more than one of them. They are quite different from us, you know."
"That is no reason. On the contrary—men like variety and change—change, yes," repeated Mrs. Bowring, with an odd emphasis. "At all events, child, don't take a fancy to him!" she added. "Not that I'm much afraid of that. You are anything but 'susceptible,' my dear!" she laughed faintly.
"You need not be in the least afraid," answered Clare. "But, after all, mother—just supposing the case—I can't see why it should be such an awful calamity if we took a fancy to each other. We belong to the same class of people, if not to the same set. He has enough money, and I'm not absolutely penniless, though we are as poor as church mice—"
"For Heaven's sake, don't suggest such a thing!" cried Mrs. Bowring.
Her face was white, and her lips trembled. There was a frightened look in her pale eyes, and she turned her face quickly to her daughter, and quickly away again.
"Mother!" exclaimed the young girl, in surprise. "What in the world is the matter? I was only laughing—besides—" she stopped, puzzled. "Tell me the truth, mother," she continued suddenly. "You know about his people—his father is some connection of—of your first husband—there's some disgraceful story about them—tell me the truth. Why shouldn't I know?"
"I hope you never will!" answered Mrs. Bowring, in a low voice that had a sort of horror in it.
"Then there is something?" Clare herself turned a little paler as she asked the question.
"Don't ask me—don't ask me!"
"Something disgraceful?" The young girl leaned forward as she spoke, and her eyes were wide and anxious, forcing her mother to speak.
"Yes—no," faltered Mrs. Bowring. "Nothing to do with this one—something his father did long ago."
"Dishonourable?" asked Clare, her voice sinking lower and lower.
"No—not as men look at it—oh, don't ask me! Please don't ask me—please don't, darling!"
"Then his yacht is named after you," said the young girl in a flash of intelligence.
"His yacht?" asked the elder woman excitedly. "What? I don't understand."
"Mr. Johnstone told me that his father had a big steam yacht called the 'Lucy'—mother, that man loved you, he loves you still."
"Me? Oh no—no, he never loved me!" She laughed wildly, with quivering lips. "Don't, child—don't! For God's sake don't ask questions—you'll drive me mad! It's the secret of my life—the only secret I have from you—oh, Clare, if you love me at all—don't ask me!"
"Mother, sweet! Of course I love you!"
The young girl, very pale and wondering, kneeled beside the elder woman and threw her arms round her and drew down her face, kissing the white cheeks and the starting tears and the faded flaxen hair. The storm subsided, almost without breaking, for Mrs. Bowring was a brave woman and, in some ways, a strong woman, and whatever her secret might be, she had kept it long and well from her daughter.
Clare knew her, and inwardly decided that the secret must have been worth keeping. She loved her mother far too well to hurt her with questions, but she was amazed at what she herself felt of resentful curiosity to know the truth about anything which could cast a shadow upon the man she disliked, as she thought so sincerely. Her mind worked like lightning, while her voice spoke softly and her hands sought those thin, familiar, gentle fingers which were an integral part of her world and life.
Two possibilities presented themselves. Johnstone's father was a brother or near connection of her mother's first husband. Either she had loved him, been deceived in him, and had married the brother instead; or, having married, this man had hated her and fought against her, and harmed her, because she was his elder brother's wife, and he coveted the inheritance. In either case it was no fault of Brook's. The most that could be said would be that he might have his father's character. She inclined to the first of her theories. Old Johnstone had made love to her mother and had half broken her heart, before she had married his brother. Brook was no better—and she thought of Lady Fan. But she was strangely glad that her mother had said "not dishonourable, as men look at it." It had been as though a cruel hand had been taken from her throat, when she had heard that.
"But, mother," she said presently, "these people are coming to-morrow or the next day—and they mean to stay, he says. Let us go away, before they come. We can come back afterwards—you don't want to meet them."
Mrs. Bowring was calm again, or appeared to be so, whatever was passing in her mind.
"I shall certainly not run away," she answered in a low, steady voice. "I will not run away and leave Adam Johnstone's son to tell his father that I was afraid to meet him, or his wife," she added, almost in a whisper. "I've been weak, sometimes, my dear—" her voice rose to its natural key again, "and I've made a mistake in life. But I won't be a coward—I don't believe I am, by nature, and if I were I wouldn't let myself be afraid now."
"It would not be fear, mother. Why should you suffer, if you are going to suffer in meeting him? We had much better go away at once. When they have all left, we can come back."
"And you would not mind going away to-morrow, and never seeing Brook Johnstone again?" asked Mrs. Bowring, quietly.
"I? No! Why should I?"
Clare meant to speak the truth, and she thought that it was the truth. But it was not. She grew a little paler a moment after the words had passed her lips, but her mother did not see the change of colour.
"I'm glad of that, at all events," said the elder woman. "But I won't go away. No—I won't," she repeated, as though spurring her own courage.
"Very well," answered the young girl. "But we can keep very much to ourselves all the time they are here, can't we? We needn't make their acquaintance—at least—" she stopped short, realising that it would be impossible to avoid knowing Brook's people if they were stopping in the same hotel.
"Their acquaintance!" Mrs. Bowring laughed bitterly at the idea.
"Oh—I forgot," said Clare. "At all events, we need not meet unnecessarily. That's what I mean, you know."
There was a short pause, during which her mother seemed to be thinking.
"I shall see him alone, for I have something to say to him," she said at last, as though she had come to a decision. "Go out, my dear," she added. "Leave me alone a little while. I shall be all right when it is time for luncheon."
Her daughter left her, but she did not go out at once. She went to her own room and sat down to think over what she had seen and heard. If she went out she should probably find Johnstone waiting for her, and she did not wish to meet him just then. It was better to be alone. She would find out why the idea of not seeing him any more had hurt her after she had spoken.
But that was not an easy matter at all. So soon as she tried to think of herself and her own feelings, she began to think of her mother. And when she endeavoured to solve the mystery and guess the secret, her thoughts flew off suddenly to Brook, and she wished that she were outside in the sunshine talking to him. And again, as the probable conversation suggested itself to her, she was glad that she was not with him, and she tried to think again. Then she forced herself to recall the scene with Lady Fan on the terrace, and she did her best to put him in the worst possible light, which in her opinion was a very bad light indeed. And his father before him—Adam—her mother had told her the name for the first time, and it struck her as an odd one—old Adam Johnstone had been a heart-breaker, and a faith-breaker, and a betrayer of women before Brook was in the world at all. Her theory held good, when she looked at it fairly, and her resentment grew apace. It was natural enough, for in her imagination she had always hated that first husband of her mother's who had come and gone before her father; and now she extended her hatred to this probable brother, and it had much more force, because the man was alive and a reality, and was soon to come and be a visible talking person. There was one good point about him and his coming. It helped her to revive her hatred of Brook and to colour it with the inheritance of some harm done to her own mother. That certainly was an advantage.
But she should be very sorry not to see Brook any more, never to hear him talk to her again, never to look into his eyes—which, all the same, she so unreasonably dreaded. It was beyond her powers of analysis to reconcile her like and dislike. All the little logic she had said that it was impossible to like and dislike the same person at the same time. She seemed to have two hearts, and the one cried "Hate," while the other cried "Love." That was absurd, and altogether ridiculous, and quite contemptible.
There they were, however, the two hearts, fighting it out, or at least altercating and threatening to fight and hurt her. Of course "love" meant "like"—it was a general term, well contrasting with "hate." As for really caring, beyond a liking for Brook Johnstone, she was sure that it was impossible. But the liking was strong. She exploded her difficulty at last with the bomb of a splendidly youthful quibble. She said to herself that she undoubtedly hated him and despised him, and that he was certainly the very lowest of living men for treating Lady Fan so badly—besides being a black sinner, a point which had less weight. And then she told herself that the cry of something in her to "like" instead of hating was simply the expression of what she might have felt, and should have felt, and should have had a right to have felt, had it not been for poor Lady Fan; but also of something which she assuredly did not feel, never could feel, and never meant to feel. In other words, she should have liked Brook if she had not had good cause to dislike him. She was satisfied with this explanation of her feelings, and she suddenly felt that she could go out and see him and talk to him without being inconsistent. She had forgotten to explain to herself why she wished him not to go away. She went out accordingly, and sat down on the terrace in the soft air.
She glanced up and down, but Johnstone was not to be seen anywhere, and she wished that she had not come out after all. He had probably waited some time and had then gone for a walk by himself. She thought that he might have waited just a little longer before giving it up, and she half unconsciously made up her mind to requite him by staying indoors after luncheon. She had not even brought a book or a piece of work, for she had felt quite sure that he would be walking up and down as usual, with his pipe, looking as though he owned the scenery. She half rose to go in, and then changed her mind. She would give him one more chance and count fifty, before she went away, at a good quick rate.
She began to count. At thirty-five her pace slackened. She stopped a long time at forty-five, and then went slowly to the end. But Johnstone did not come. Once again, she reluctantly decided—and she began slowly; and again she slackened speed and dragged over the last ten numbers. But he did not come.
"Oh, this is ridiculous!" she exclaimed aloud to herself, as she rose impatiently from her seat.
She felt injured, for her mother had sent her away, and there was no one to talk to her, and she did not care to think any more, lest the questions she had decided should again seem open and doubtful. She went into the hotel and walked down the corridor. He might be in the reading-room. She walked quickly, because she was a little ashamed of looking for him when she felt that he should be looking for her. Suddenly she stopped, for she heard him whistling somewhere. Whistling was his solitary accomplishment, and he did it very well. There was no mistaking the shakes and runs, and pretty bird-like cadences. She listened, but she bit her lip. He was light-hearted, at all events, she thought.
The sound came nearer, and Brook suddenly appeared in the corridor, his hat on the back of his head, his hands in his pockets. As he caught sight of Clare the shrill tune ceased, and one hand removed the hat.
"I've been looking for you everywhere, for the last two hours," he cried as he came along. "Good morning," he said as he reached her. "I was just going back to the terrace in despair."
"It sounded more as though you were whistling for me," answered Clare, with a laugh, for she was instantly happy, and pacified, and peaceful.
"Well—not exactly!" he answered. "But I did hope that you would hear me and know that I was about—wishing you would come."
"I always come out in the morning," she replied with sudden demureness. "Indeed—I wondered where you were. Let us go out, shall we?"
"We might go for a walk," suggested Brook.
"It is too late."
"Just a little walk—down to the town and across the bridge to Atrani, and back. Couldn't we?"
"Oh, we could, of course. Very well—I've got a hat on, haven't I? All right. Come along!"
"My people are coming to-day," said Brook, as they passed through the door. "I've just had a telegram."
"To-day!" exclaimed Clare in surprise, and somewhat disturbed.
"Yes, you know I have been expecting them at any moment. I fancy they have been knocking about, you know—seeing Paestum and all that. They are such queer people. They always want to see everything—as though it mattered!"
"There are only the two? Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone?"
"Yes—that's all." Brook laughed a little as though she had said something amusing.
"What are you laughing at?" asked Clare, naturally enough.
"Oh, nothing. It's ridiculous—but it sounded funny—unfamiliar, I mean. My father has fallen a victim to knighthood, that's all. The affliction came upon him some time ago, and his name is Adam—of all the names in the world."
"It was the first," observed Clare reassuringly. "It doesn't sound badly either—Sir Adam. I beg his pardon for calling him 'Mr.'" She laughed in her turn.
"Oh, he wouldn't mind," said Brook. "He's not at all that sort. Do you know? I think you'll like him awfully. He's a fine old chap in his way, though he is a brewer. He's much bigger than I am, but he's rather odd, you know. Sometimes he'll talk like anything, and sometimes he won't open his lips. We aren't at all alike in that way. I talk all the time, I believe—rain or shine. Don't I bore you dreadfully sometimes?"
"No—you never bore me," answered Clare with perfect truth.
"I mean, when I talk as I did yesterday afternoon," said Johnstone with a shade of irritation.
"Oh, that—yes! Please don't begin again, and spoil our walk!"
But the walk was not destined to be a long one. A narrow, paved footway leads down from the old monastery to the shore, in zigzag, between low whitewashed walls, passing at last under some houses which are built across it on arches.
Just as they came in sight a tall old man emerged from this archway, walking steadily up the hill. He was tall and bony, with a long grey beard, shaggy bent brows, keen dark eyes, and an eagle nose. He wore clothes of rough grey woollen tweed, and carried a grey felt hat in one long hand.
A moment after he had come out of the arch he caught sight of Brook, and his rough face brightened instantly. He waved the grey hat and called out.
"Hulloa, my boy! There you are, eh!"
His voice was thin, like many Scotch voices, but it carried far, and had a manly ring in it. Brook did not answer, but waved his hat.
"That's my father," he said in a low tone to Clare. "May I introduce him? And there's my mother—being carried up in the chair."
A couple of lusty porters were carrying Lady Johnstone up the steep ascent. She was a fat lady with bright blue eyes, like her son's, and a much brighter colour. She had a parasol in one hand and a fan in the other, and she shook a little with every step the porters made. In the rear, a moment later, came other porters, carrying boxes and bags of all sizes. Then a short woman, evidently Lady Johnstone's maid, came quietly along by herself, stopping occasionally to look at the sea.
Clare looked curiously at the party as they approached. Her first impulse had been to leave Brook and go back alone to warn her mother. It was not far. But she realised that it would be much better and wiser to face the introduction at once. In less than five minutes Sir Adam had reached them. He shook hands with Brook vigorously, and looked at him as a man looks who loves his son. Clare saw the glance, and it pleased her.
"Let me introduce you to Miss Bowring," said Brook. "Mrs. Bowring and Miss Bowring are staying here, and have been awfully good to me."
Sir Adam turned his keen eyes to Clare, as she held out her hand.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "but are you a daughter of Captain Bowring who was killed some years ago in Africa?"
"Yes." She looked up to him inquiringly and distrustfully.
His face brightened again and softened—then hardened singularly, all at once. She could not have believed that such features could change so quickly.
"And my son says that your mother is here! My dear young lady—I'm very glad! I hope you mean to stay."
The words were cordial. The tone was cold. Brook stared at his father, very much surprised to find that he knew anything of the Bowrings, for he himself had not mentioned them in his letters. But the porters, walking more slowly, had just brought his mother up to where the three stood, and waited, panting a little, and the chair swinging slightly from the shoulder-straps.
"Dear old boy!" cried Lady Johnstone. "It is good to see you. No—don't kiss me, my dear—it's far too hot. Let me look at you."
Sir Adam gravely introduced Clare. Lady Johnstone's fat face became stony as a red granite mummy case, and she bent her apoplectic neck stiffly.
"Oh!" she ejaculated. "Very glad, I'm sure. Were you going for a walk?" she asked, turning to Brook, severely.
"Yes, there was just time. I didn't know when to expect you. But if Miss Bowring doesn't mind, we'll give it up, and I'll install you. Your rooms are all ready."
It was at once clear to Clare that Lady Johnstone had never heard the name of Bowring, and that she resented the idea of her son walking alone with any young girl.
Clare went directly to her mother's room. She had hardly spoken again during the few minutes while she had necessarily remained with the Johnstones, climbing the hill back to the hotel. At the door she had stood aside to let Lady Johnstone go in, Sir Adam had followed his wife, and Brook had lingered, doubtless hoping to exchange a few words more with Clare. But she was preoccupied, and had not vouchsafed him a glance.
"They have come," she said, as she closed Mrs. Bowring's door behind her.
Her mother was seated by the open window, her hands lying idly in her lap, her face turned away, as Clare entered. She started slightly, and looked round.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Already! Well—it had to come. Have you met?"
Clare told her all that had happened.
"And he said that he was glad?" asked Mrs. Bowring, with the ghost of a smile.
"He said so—yes. His voice was cold. But when he first heard my name and asked about my father his face softened."
"His face softened," repeated Mrs. Bowring to herself, just above a whisper, as the ghost of the smile flitted about her pale lips.
"He seemed glad at first, and then he looked displeased. Is that it?" she asked, raising her voice again.
"That was what I thought," answered Clare. "Why don't you have luncheon in your room, mother?" she asked suddenly.
"He would think I was afraid to meet him," said the elder woman.
A long silence followed, and Clare sat down on a stiff straw chair, looking out of the window. At last she turned to her mother again.
"You couldn't tell me all about it, could you, mother dear?" she asked. "It seems to me it would be so much easier for us both. Perhaps I could help you. And I myself—I should know better how to act."
"No. I can't tell you. I only pray that I may never have to. As for you, darling—be natural. It is a very strange position to be in, but you cannot know it—you can't be supposed to know it. I wish I could have kept my secret better—but I broke down when you told me about the yacht. You can only help me in one way—don't ask me questions, dear. It would be harder for me, if you knew—indeed it would. Be natural. You need not run after them, you know—"
"I should think not!" cried Clare indignantly.
"I mean, you need not go and sit by them and talk to them for long at a time. But don't be suddenly cold and rude to their son. There's nothing against—I mean, it has nothing to do with him. You mustn't think it has, you know. Be natural—be yourself."
"It's not altogether easy to be natural under the circumstances," Clare answered, with some truth, and a great deal of repressed curiosity which she did her best to hide away altogether for her mother's sake.
At luncheon the Johnstones were all three placed on the opposite side of the table, and Brook was no longer Clare's neighbour. The Bowrings were already in their places when the three entered, Sir Adam giving his arm to his wife, who seemed to need help in walking, or at all events to be glad of it. Brook followed at a little distance, and Clare saw that he was looking at her regretfully, as though he wished himself at her side again. Had she been less young and unconscious and thoroughly innocent, she must have seen by this time that he was seriously in love with her.
Sir Adam held his wife's chair for her, with somewhat old-fashioned courtesy, and pushed it gently as she sat down. Then he raised his head, and his eyes met Mrs. Bowring's. For a few moments they looked at each other. Then his expression changed and softened, as it had when he had first met Clare, but Mrs. Bowring's face grew hard and pale. He did not sit down, but to his wife's surprise walked quietly all round the end of the table and up the other side to where Mrs. Bowring sat. She knew that he was coming, and she turned a little to meet his hand. The English old maids watched the proceedings with keen interest from the upper end.
Sir Adam held out his hand, and Mrs. Bowring took it.
"It is a great pleasure to me to meet you again," he said slowly, as though speaking with an effort. "Brook says that you have been very good to him, and so I want to thank you at once. Yes—this is your daughter—Brook introduced me. Excuse me—I'll get round to my place again. Shall we meet after luncheon?"
"If you like," said Mrs. Bowring in a constrained tone. "By all means," she added nervously.
"My dear," said Sir Adam, speaking across the table to his wife, "let me introduce you to my old friend Mrs. Bowring, the mother of this young lady whom you have already met," he added, glancing down at Clare's flaxen head.
Again Lady Johnstone slightly bent her apoplectic neck, but her expression was not stony, as it had been when she had first looked at Clare. On the contrary, she smiled very pleasantly and naturally, and her frank blue eyes looked at Mrs. Bowring with a friendly interest.
Clare thought that she heard a faint sigh of relief escape her mother's lips just then. Sir Adam's heavy steps echoed upon the tile floor, as he marched all round the table again to his seat. The table itself was narrow, and it was easy to talk across it, without raising the voice. Sir Adam sat on one side of his wife, and Brook on the other, last on his side, as Clare was on hers.
There was very little conversation at first. Brook did not care to talk across to Clare, and Sir Adam seemed to have said all he meant to say for the present. Lady Johnstone, who seemed to be a cheerful, conversational soul, began to talk to Mrs. Bowring, evidently attracted by her at first sight.
"It's a beautiful place when you get here," she said. "Isn't it? The view from my window is heavenly! But to get here! Dear me! I was carried up by two men, you know, and I thought they would have died. I hope they are enjoying their dinner, poor fellows! I'm sure they never carried such a load before!"
And she laughed, with a sort of frank, half self-commiserating amusement at her own proportions.
"Oh, I fancy they must be used to it," said Mrs. Bowring, reassuringly, for the sake of saying something.
"They'll hate the sight of me in a week!" said Lady Johnstone. "I mean to go everywhere, while I'm here—up all the hills, and down all the valleys. I always see everything when I come to a new place. It's pleasant to sit still afterwards, and feel that you've done it all, don't you know? I shall ruin you in porters, Adam," she added, turning her large round face slowly to her husband.
"Certainly, certainly," answered Sir Adam, nodding gravely, as he dissected the bones out of a fried sardine.
"You're awfully good about it," said Lady Johnstone, in thanks for unlimited porters to come.
Like many unusually stout people, she ate very little, and had plenty of time for talking.
"You knew my husband a long time ago, then!" she began, again looking across at Mrs. Bowring.
Sir Adam glanced at Mrs. Bowring sharply from beneath his shaggy brows.
"Oh yes," she said calmly. "We met before he was married."
The grey-headed man slowly nodded assent, but said nothing.
"Before his first marriage?" inquired Lady Johnstone gravely. "You know that he has been married twice."
"Yes," answered Mrs. Bowring. "Before his first marriage."
Again Sir Adam nodded solemnly.
"How interesting!" exclaimed Lady Johnstone. "Such old friends! And to meet in this accidental way, in this queer place!"
"We generally live abroad," said Mrs. Bowring. "Generally in Florence. Do you know Florence?"
"Oh yes!" cried the fat lady enthusiastically. "I dote on Florence. I'm perfectly mad about pictures, you know. Perfectly mad!"
The vision of a woman cast in Lady Johnstone's proportions and perfectly mad might have provoked a smile on Mrs. Bowring's face at any other time.
"I suppose you buy pictures, as well as admire them," she said, glad of the turn the conversation had taken.
"Sometimes," answered the other. "Sometimes. I wish I could buy more. But good pictures are getting to be most frightfully dear. Besides, you are hardly ever sure of getting an original, unless there are all the documents—and that means thousands, literally thousands of pounds. But now and then I kick over the traces, you know."
Clare could not help smiling at the simile, and bent down her head. Brook was watching her, he understood and was annoyed, for he loved his mother in his own way.
"At all events you won't be able to ruin yourself in pictures here," said Mrs. Bowring.
"No—but how about the porters?" suggested Sir Adam.
"My dear Adam," said Lady Johnstone, "unless they are all Shylocks here, they won't exact a ducat for every pound of flesh. If they did, you would certainly never get back to England."
It was impossible not to laugh. Lady Johnstone did not look at all the sort of person to say witty things, though she was the very incarnation of good humour—except when she thought that Brook was in danger of being married. And every one laughed, Sir Adam first, then Brook, and then the Bowrings. The effect was good. Lady Johnstone was really afflicted with curiosity, and her first questions to Mrs. Bowring had been asked purely out of a wish to make advances. She was strongly attracted by the quiet, pale face, with its excessive refinement and delicately traced lines of suffering. She felt that the woman had taken life too hard, and it was her instinct to comfort her, and warm her and take care of her, from the first. Brook understood and rejoiced, for he knew his mother's tenacity about her first impressions, and he wished to have her on his side.
After that the ice was broken and the conversation did not flag. Sir Adam looked at Mrs. Bowring from time to time with an expression of uncertainty which sat strangely on his determined features, and whenever any new subject was broached he watched her uneasily until she had spoken. But Mrs. Bowring rarely returned his glances, and her eyes never lingered on his face even when she was speaking to him. Clare, for her part, joined in the conversation, and wondered and waited. Her theory was strengthened by what she saw. Clearly Sir Adam felt uncomfortable in her mother's presence; therefore he had injured her in some way, and doubted whether she had ever forgiven him. But to the girl's quick instinct it was clear that he did not stand to Mrs. Bowring only in the position of one who had harmed her. In some way of love or friendship, he had once been very fond of her. The youngest woman cannot easily mistake the signs of such bygone intercourse.
When they rose, Mrs. Bowring walked slowly, on her side of the table, so as not to reach the door before Lady Johnstone, who could not move fast under any circumstances. They all went out together upon the terrace.
"Brook," said the fat lady, "I must sit down, or I shall die. You know, my dear—get me one that won't break!"
She laughed a little, as Brook went off to find a solid chair. A few minutes later she was enthroned in safety, her husband on one side of her and Mrs. Bowring on the other, all facing the sea.
"It's too perfect for words!" she exclaimed, in solid and peaceful satisfaction. "Adam, isn't it a dream? You thin people don't know how nice it is to come to anchor in a pleasant place after a long voyage!"
She sighed happily and moved her arms so that their weight was quite at rest without an effort.
Clare and Johnstone walked slowly up and down, passing and repassing, and trying to talk as though neither were aware that there was something unusual in the situation, to say the least of it. At last they stopped at the end farthest away from the others.
"I had no idea that my father had known your mother long ago," said Brook suddenly. "Had you?"
"Yes—of late," answered Clare. "You see my mother wasn't sure, until you told me his first name," she hastened to add.
"Oh—I see. Of course. Stupid of me not to try and bring it into the conversation sooner, wasn't it? But it seems to have been ever so long ago. Don't you think so?"
"Yes. Ever so long ago."
"When they were quite young, I suppose. Your mother must have been perfectly beautiful when she was young. I dare say my father was madly in love with her. It wouldn't be at all surprising, you know, would it? He was a tremendous fellow for falling in love."
"Oh! Was he?" Clare spoke rather coldly.
"You're not angry, are you, because I suggested it?" asked Brook quickly. "I don't see that there's any harm in it. There's no reason why a young man as he was shouldn't have been desperately in love with a beautiful young girl, is there?"
"None whatever," answered Clare. "I was only thinking—it's rather an odd coincidence—do you mind telling me something?"
"Of course not! What is it?"
"Had your father ever a brother—who died?"
"No. He had a lot of sisters—some of them are alive still. Awful old things, my aunts are, too. No, he never had any brother. Why do you ask?"
"Nothing—it's a mere coincidence. Did I ever tell you that my mother was married twice? My father was her second husband. The first had your name."
"Johnstone, with an E on the end of it?"
"Yes—with an E."
"Gad! that's funny!" exclaimed Brook. "Some connection, I dare say. Then we are connected too, you and I, not much though, when one thinks of it. Step-cousin by marriage, and ever so many degrees removed, too."
"You can't call that a connection," said Clare with a little laugh, but her face was thoughtful. "Still, it is odd that she should have known your father well, and should have married a man of the same name—with the E—isn't it?"
"He may have been an own cousin, for all I know," said Brook. "I'll ask. He's sure to remember. He never forgets anything. And it's another coincidence too, that my father should have been married twice, just like your mother, and that I should be the son of the second marriage, too. What odd things happen, when one comes to compare notes!"
While they had walked up and down, Lady Johnstone had paid no attention to them, but she had grown restless as soon as she had seen that they stood still at a distance to talk, and her bright blue eyes turned towards them again and again, with sudden motherly anxiety. At last she could bear it no longer.
"Brook!" she cried. "Brook, my dear boy!" Brook and Clare walked back towards the little group.
"Brook, dear," said Lady Johnstone. "Please come and tell me the names of all the mountains and places we see from here. You know, I always want to know everything as soon as I arrive."
Sir Adam rose from his chair.
"Should you like to take a turn?" he asked, speaking to Mrs. Bowring and standing before her.
She rose in silence and stepped forward, with a quiet, set face, as though she knew that the supreme moment had come.
"Take our chairs," said Sir Adam to Clare and Brook. "We are going to walk about a little."
Mrs. Bowring turned in the direction whence the young people had come, towards the end of the terrace. Sir Adam walked erect beside her.
"Is there a way out at that end?" he asked in a low voice, when they had gone a little distance.
"We can't stand there and talk. Where can we go? Isn't there a quiet place somewhere?"
"Do you want to talk to me?" asked Mrs. Bowring, looking straight before her.
"Yes, please," answered Sir Adam, almost sharply, but still in a low tone. "I've waited a long time," he added.
Mrs. Bowring said nothing in answer. They reached the end of the walk, and she turned without pausing.
"The point out there is called the Conca," she said, pointing to the rocks far out below. "It curls round like a shell, you know. Conca means a sea-shell, I think. It seems to be a great place for fishing, for there are always little boats about it in fine weather."
"I remember," replied Sir Adam. "I was here thirty years ago. It hasn't changed much. Are there still those little paper-mills in the valley on the way to Ravello? They used to be very primitive."
They kept up their forced conversation as they passed Lady Johnstone and the young people. Then they were silent again, as they went towards the hotel.
"We'll go through the house," said Mrs. Bowring, speaking low again. "There's a quiet place on the other side—Clare and your son will have to stay with your wife."
"Yes, I thought of that, when I told them to take our chairs."
In silence they traversed the long tiled corridor with set faces, like two people who are going to do something dangerous and disagreeable together. They came out upon the platform before the deep recess of the rocks in which stood the black cross. There was nobody there.
"We shall not be disturbed out here," said Mrs. Bowring, quietly. "The people in the hotel go to their rooms after luncheon. We will sit down there by the cross, if you don't mind—I'm not so strong as I used to be, you know."
They ascended the few steps which led up to the bench where Clare had sat on that evening which she could not forget, and they sat down side by side, not looking at each other's faces.
A long silence followed. Once or twice Sir Adam shifted his feet uneasily, and opened his mouth as though he were going to say something, but suddenly changed his mind. Mrs. Bowring was the first to speak.
"Please understand," she said slowly, glancing at him sideways, "I don't want you to say anything, and I don't know what you can have to say. As for my being here, it's very simple. If I had known that Brook Johnstone was your son before he had made our acquaintance, and that you were coming here, I should have gone away at once. As soon as I knew him I suspected who he was. You must know that he is like you as you used to be—except your eyes. Then I said to myself that he would tell you that he had met us, and that you would of course think that I had been afraid to meet you. I'm not. So I stayed. I don't know whether I did right or wrong. To me it seemed right, and I'm willing to abide the consequences, if there are to be any."
"What consequences can there be?" asked the grey-bearded man, turning his eyes slowly to her face.
"That depends upon how you act. It might have been better to behave as though we had never met, and to let your son introduce you to me as he introduced you to Clare. We might have started upon a more formal footing, then. You have chosen to say that we are old friends. It's an odd expression to use—but let it stand. I won't quarrel with it. It does well enough. As for the position, it's not pleasant for me, but it must be worse for you. There's not much to choose. But I don't want you to think that I expect you to talk about old times unless you like. If you have anything which you wish to say, I'll hear it all without interrupting you. But I do wish you to believe that I won't do anything nor say anything which could touch your wife. She seems to be happy with you. I hope she always has been and always will be. She knew what she was doing when she married you. God knows, there was publicity enough. Was it my fault? I suppose you've always thought so. Very well, then—say that it was my fault. But don't tell your wife who I am unless she forces you to it out of curiosity."
"Do you think I should wish to?" asked Sir Adam, bitterly.
"No—of course not. But she may ask you who I was and when we met, and all about it. Try and keep her off the subject. We don't want to tell lies, you know."
"I shall say that you were Lucy Waring. That's true enough. You were christened Lucy Waring. She need never know what your last name was. That isn't a lie, is it?"
"Not exactly—under the circumstances."
"And your daughter knows nothing, of course? I want to know how we stand, you see."
"No—only that we have met before. I don't know what she may suspect. And your son?"
"Oh, I suppose he knows. Somebody must have told him."
"He doesn't know who I am, though," said Mrs. Bowring, with conviction. "He seems to be more like his mother than like you. He couldn't conceal anything long."
"I wasn't particularly good at that either, as it turned out," said Sir Adam, gravely.
"No, thank God!"
"Do you think it's something to be thankful for? I don't. Things might have gone better afterwards—"
"Afterwards!" The suffering of the woman's life was in the tone and in her eyes.
"Yes, afterwards. I'm an old man, Lucy, and I've seen a great many things since you and I parted, and a great many people. I was bad enough, but I've seen worse men since, who have had another chance and have turned out well."
"Their wives did not love them. I am almost old, too. I loved you, Adam. It was a bad hurt you gave me, and the wound never healed. I married—I had to marry. He was an honest gentleman. Then he was killed. That hurt too, for I was very fond of him—but it did not hurt as the other did. Nothing could."
Her voice shook, and she turned away her face. At least, he should not see that her lip trembled.
"I didn't think you cared," said Sir Adam, and his own voice was not very steady.
She turned upon him almost fiercely, and there was a blue light in her faded eyes.
"I! You thought I didn't care? You've no right to say that—it's wicked of you, and it's cruel. Did you think I married you for your money, Adam? And if I had—should I have given it up to be divorced because you gave jewels to an actress? I loved you, and I wanted your love, or nothing. You couldn't be faithful—commonly, decently faithful, for one year—and I got myself free from you, because I would not be your wife, nor eat your bread, nor touch your hand, if you couldn't love me. Don't say that you ever loved me, except my face. We hadn't been divorced a year when you married again. Don't say that you loved me! You loved your wife—your second wife—perhaps. I hope so. I hope you love her now—and I dare say you do, for she looks happy—but don't say that you ever loved me—just long enough to marry me and betray me!"
"You're hard, Lucy. You're as hard as ever you were twenty years ago," said Adam Johnstone.
As he leaned forward, resting an elbow on his knee, he passed his brown hand across his eyes, and then stared vaguely at the white walls of the old hotel beyond the platform.
"But you know that I'm right," answered Mrs. Bowring. "Perhaps I'm hard, too. I'm sorry. You said that you had been mad, I remember—I don't like to think of all you said, but you said that. And I remember thinking that I had been much more mad than you, to have married you, but that I should soon be really mad—raving mad—if I remained your wife. I couldn't. I should have died. Afterwards I thought it would have been better if I had died then. But I lived through it. Then, after the death of my old aunt, I was alone. What was I to do? I was poor and lonely, and a divorced woman, though the right had been on my side. Richard Bowring knew all about it, and I married him. I did not love you any more, then, but I told him the truth when I told him that I could never love any one again. He was satisfied—so we were married."
"I don't blame you," said Sir Adam.
"Blame me! No—it would hardly be for you to blame me, if I could make anything of the shreds of my life which I had saved from yours. For that matter—you were free too. It was soon done, but why should I blame you for that? You were free—by the law—to go where you pleased, to love again, and to marry at once. You did. Oh no! I don't blame you for that!"
Both were silent for some time. But Mrs. Bowring's eyes still had an indignant light in them, and her fingers twitched nervously from time to time. Sir Adam stared stolidly at the white wall, without looking at his former wife.
"I've been talking about myself," she said at last. "I didn't mean to, for I need no justification. When you said that you wanted to say something, I brought you here so that we could be alone. What was it? I should have let you speak first."
"It was this." He paused, as though choosing his words. "Well, I don't know," he continued presently. "You've been saying a good many things about me that I would have said myself. I've not denied them, have I? Well, it's this. I wanted to see you for years, and now we've met. We may not meet again, Lucy, though I dare say we may live a long time. I wish we could, though. But of course you don't care to see me. I was your husband once, and I behaved like a brute to you. You wouldn't want me for a friend now that I am old."
He waited, but she said nothing.
"Of course you wouldn't," he continued. "I shouldn't, in your place. Oh, I know! If I were dying or starving, or very unhappy, you would be capable of doing anything for me, out of sheer goodness. You're only just to people who aren't suffering. You were always like that in the old days. It's so much the worse for us. I have nothing about me to excite your pity. I'm strong, I'm well, I'm very rich, I'm relatively happy. I don't know how much I cared for my wife when I married her, but she has been a good wife, and I'm very fond of her now, in my own way. It wasn't a good action, I admit, to marry her at all. She was the beauty of her year and the best match of the season, and I was just divorced, and every one's hand was against me. I thought I would show them what I could do, winged as I was, and I got her. No; it wasn't a thing to be proud of. But somehow we hit it off, and she stuck to me, and I grew fond of her because she did, and here we are as you see us, and Brook is a fine fellow, and likes me. I like him too. He's honest and faithful, like his mother. There's no justice and no logic in this world, Lucy. I was a good-for-nothing in the old days. Circumstances have made me decently good, and a pretty happy man besides, as men go. I couldn't ask for any pity if I tried."
"No; you're not to be pitied. I'm glad you're happy. I don't wish you any harm."
"You might, and I shouldn't blame you. But all that isn't what I wished to say. I'm getting old, and we may not meet any more after this. If you wish me to go away, I'll go. We'll leave the place tomorrow."
"No. Why should you? It's a strange situation, as we were to-day at table. You with your wife beside, and your divorced wife opposite you, and only you and I knowing it. I suppose you think, somehow—I don't know—that I might be jealous of your wife. But twenty-seven years make a difference, Adam. It's half a lifetime. It's so utterly past that I sha'n't realise it. If you like to stay, then stay. No harm can come of it, and that was so very long ago. Is that what you want to say?"
"No." He hesitated. "I want you to say that you forgive me," he said, in a quick, hoarse voice.
His keen dark eyes turned quickly to her face, and he saw how very pale she was, and how the shadows had deepened under her eyes, and her fingers twitched nervously as they clasped one another in her lap.
"I suppose you think I'm sentimental," he said, looking at her. "Perhaps I am; but it would mean a good deal to me if you would just say it."
There was something pathetic in the appeal, and something young too, in spite of his grey beard and furrowed face. Still Mrs. Bowring said nothing. It meant almost too much to her, even after twenty-seven years. This old man had taken her, an innocent young girl, had married her, had betrayed her while she dearly loved him, and had blasted her life at the beginning. Even now it was hard to forgive. The suffering was not old, and the sight of his face had touched the quick again. Barely ten minutes had passed since the pain had almost wrung the tears from her.
"You can't," said the old man, suddenly. "I see it. It's too much to ask, I suppose, and I've never done anything to deserve it."
The pale face grew paler, but the hands were still, and grasped each other, firm and cold. The lips moved, but no sound came. Then a moment, and they moved again.
"You're mistaken, Adam. I do forgive you."
He caught the two hands in his, and his face shivered.
"God bless you, dear," he tried to say, and he kissed the hands twice.
When Mrs. Bowring looked up he was sitting beside her, just as before; but his face was terribly drawn, and strange, and a great tear had trickled down the furrowed brown cheek into the grey beard.
Lady Johnstone was one of those perfectly frank and honest persons who take no trouble to conceal their anxieties. From the fact that when she had met him on the way up to the hotel Brook had been walking alone with Clare Bowring, she had at once argued that a considerable intimacy existed between the two. Her meeting with Clare's mother, and her sudden fancy for the elder woman, had momentarily allayed her fears, but they revived when it became clear to her that Brook sought every possible opportunity of being alone with the young girl. She was an eminently practical woman, as has been said, which perhaps accounted for her having made a good husband out of such a man as Adam Johnstone had been in his youth. She had never seen Brook devote himself to a young girl before now. She saw that Clare was good to look at, and she promptly concluded that Brook must be in love. The conclusion was perfectly correct, and Lady Johnstone soon grew very nervous. Brook was too young to marry, and even if he had been old enough his mother thought that he might have made a better choice. At all events he should not entangle himself in an engagement with the girl; and she began systematically to interfere with his attempts to be alone with her. Brook was as frank as herself. He charged her with trying to keep him from Clare, and she did not deny that he was right. This led to a discussion on the third day after the Johnstones' arrival.
"You mustn't make a fool of yourself, Brook, dear," said Lady Johnstone. "You are not old enough to marry. Oh, I know, you are five-and-twenty, and ought to have come to years of discretion. But you haven't, dear boy. Don't forget that you are Adam Johnstone's son, and that you may be expected to do all the things that he did before I married him. And he did a good many things, you know. I'm devoted to your father, and if he were in the room I should tell you just what I am telling you now. Before I married him he had about a thousand flirtations, and he had been married too, and had gone off with an actress—a shocking affair altogether! And his wife had divorced him. She must have been one of those horrible women who can't forgive, you know. Now, my dear boy, you aren't a bit better than your father, and that pretty Clare Bowring looks as though she would never forgive anybody who did anything she didn't like. Have you asked her to marry you?"
"Good heavens, no!" cried Brook. "She wouldn't look at me!"
"Wouldn't look at you? That's simply ridiculous, you know! She'd marry you out of hand—unless she's perfectly idiotic. And she doesn't look that. Leave her alone, Brook. Talk to the mother. She's one of the most delightful women I ever met. She has a dear, quiet way with her—like a very thoroughbred white cat that's been ill and wants to be petted."
"What extraordinary ideas you have, mother!" laughed Brook. "But on general principles I don't see why I shouldn't marry Miss Bowring, if she'll have me. Why not? Her father was a gentleman, you like her mother, and as for herself—"
"Oh, I've nothing against her. It's all against you, Brook dear. You are such a dreadful flirt, you know! You'll get tired of the poor girl and make her miserable. I'm sure she isn't practical, as I am. The very first time you look at some one else she'll get on a tragic horse and charge the crockery—and there will be a most awful smash! It's not easy to manage you Johnstones when you think you are in love. I ought to know!"
"I say, mother," said Brook, "has anybody been telling you stories about me lately?"
"Lately? Let me see. The last I heard was that Mrs. Crosby—the one you all call Lady Fan—was going to get a divorce so as to marry you."
"Oh—you heard that, did you?"
"Yes—everybody was talking about it and asking me whether it was true. It seems that she was with that party that brought you here. She left them at Naples, and came home at once by land, and they said she was giving out that she meant to marry you. I laughed, of course. But people wouldn't talk about you so much, dear boy, if there were not so much to talk about. I know that you would never do anything so idiotic as that, and if Mrs. Crosby chooses to flirt with you, that's her affair. She's older than you, and knows more about it. But this is quite another thing. This is serious. You sha'n't make love to that nice girl, Brook. You sha'n't! I'll do something dreadful, if you do. I'll tell her all about Mrs. Leo Cairngorm or somebody like that. But you sha'n't marry her and ruin her life."
"You're going in for philanthropy, mother," said Brook, growing red. "It's something new. You never made a fuss before."
"No, of course not. You never were so foolish before, my dear boy. I'm not bad myself, I believe. But you are, every one of you, and I love you all, and the only way to do anything with you is to let you run wild a little first. It's the only practical, sensible way. And you've only just begun—how in the world do you dare to think of marrying? Upon my word, it's too bad. I won't wait. I'll frighten the girl to death with stories about you, until she refuses to speak to you! But I've taken a fancy to her mother, and you sha'n't make the child miserable. You sha'n't, Brook. Oh, I've made up my mind! You sha'n't. I'll tell the mother too. I'll frighten them all, till they can't bear the sight of you."
Lady Johnstone was energetic, as well as original, in spite of her abnormal size, and Brook knew that she was quite capable of carrying out her threat, and more also.
"I may be like my father in some ways," he answered. "But I'm a good deal like you too, mother. I'm rather apt to stick to what I like, you know. Besides, I don't believe you would do anything of the kind. And she isn't inclined to like me, as it is. I believe she must have heard some story or other. Don't make things any worse than they are."
"Then don't lose your head and ask her to marry you after a fortnight's acquaintance, Brook, because she'll accept you, and you will make her perfectly wretched."
He saw that it was not always possible to argue with his mother, and he said nothing more. But he reflected upon her point of view, and he saw that it was not altogether unjust, as she knew him. She could not possibly understand that what he felt for Clare Bowring bore not the slightest resemblance to what he had felt for Lady Fan, if, indeed, he had felt anything at all, which he considered doubtful now that it was over, though he would have been angry enough at the suggestion a month earlier. To tell the truth, he felt quite sure of himself at the present time, though all his sensations were more or less new to him. And his mother's sudden and rather eccentric opposition unexpectedly strengthened his determination. He might laugh at what he called her originality, but he could not afford to jest at the prospect of her giving Clare an account of his life. She was quite capable of it, and would probably do it.
These preoccupations, however, were as nothing compared with the main point—the certainty that Clare would refuse him, if he offered himself to her, and when he left his mother he was in a very undetermined state of mind. If he should ask Clare to marry him now, she would refuse him. But if his mother interfered, it would be much worse a week hence.
At last, as ill-luck would have it, he came upon her unexpectedly in the corridor, as he came out, and they almost ran against each other.
"Won't you come out for a bit?" he asked quickly and in a low voice.
"Thanks—I have some letters to write," answered the young girl. "Besides, it's much too hot. There isn't a breath of air."
"Oh, it's not really hot, you know," said Brook, persuasively.
"Then it's making a very good pretence!" laughed Clare.
"It's ever so much cooler out of doors. If you'll only come out for one minute, you'll see. Really—I'm in earnest."
"But why should I go out if I don't want to?" asked the young girl.
"Because I asked you to—"
"Oh, that isn't a reason, you know," she laughed again.
"Well, then, because you really would, if I hadn't asked you, and you only refuse out of a spirit of opposition," suggested Brook.
"Oh—do you think so? Do you think I generally do just the contrary of what I'm asked to do?"
"Of course, everybody knows that, who knows you." Brook seemed amused at the idea.
"If you think that—well, I'll come, just for a minute, if it's only to show you that you are quite wrong."
"Thanks, awfully. Sha'n't we go for the little walk that was interrupted when my people came the other day?"
"No—it's too hot, really. I'll walk as far as the end of the terrace and back—once. Do you mind telling me why you are so tremendously anxious to have me come out this very minute?"
"I'll tell you—at least, I don't know that I can—wait till we are outside. I should like to be out with you all the time, you know—and I thought you might come, so I asked you."
"You seem rather confused," said Clare gravely.
"Well, you know," Brook answered as they walked along towards the dazzling green light that filled the door, "to tell the truth, between one thing and another—" He did not complete the sentence.
"Yes?" said Clare, sweetly. "Between one thing and another—what were you going to say?"
Brook did not answer as they went out into the hot, blossom-scented air, under the spreading vines.
"Do you mean to say it's cooler here than indoors?" asked the young girl in a tone of resignation.
"Oh, it's much cooler! There's a breeze at the end of the walk."
"The sea is like oil," observed Clare. "There isn't the least breath."
"Well," said Brook, "it can't be really hot, because it's only the first week in June after all."
"This isn't Scotland. It's positively boiling, and I wish I hadn't come out. Beware of first impulses—they are always right!"
But she glanced sideways at his face, for she knew that something was in the air. She was not sure what to expect of him just then, but she knew that there was something to expect. Her instinct told her that he meant to speak and to say more than he had yet said. It told her that he was going to ask her to marry him, then and there, in the blazing noon, under the vines, but her modesty scouted the thought as savouring of vanity. At all events she would prevent him from doing it if she could.
"Lady Johnstone seems to like this place," she said, with a sudden effort at conversation. "She says that she means to make all sorts of expeditions."
"Of course she will," answered Brook, in a half-impatient tone. "But, please—I don't want to talk about my mother or the landscape. I really did want to speak to you, because I can't stand this sort of thing any longer, you know."
"What sort of thing?" asked Clare innocently, raising her eyes to his, as they reached the end of the walk.
It was very hot and still. Not a breath stirred the young vine-leaves overhead, and the scent of the last orange-blossoms hung in the motionless air. The heat rose quivering from the sea to southward, and the water lay flat as a mirror under the glory of the first summer's day.
They stood still. Clare felt nervous, and tried to think of something to say which might keep him from speaking, and destroy the effect of her last question. But it was too late now. He was pale, for him, and his eyes were very bright.
"I can't live without you—it comes to that. Can't you see?"
The short plain words shook oddly as they fell from his lips. The two stood quite still, each looking into the other's face. Brook grew paler still, but the colour rose in Clare's cheeks. She tried to meet his eyes steadily, without feeling that he could control her.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I'm very sorry."
"You sha'n't say that," he answered, cutting her words with his, and sharply. "I'm tired of hearing it. I'm glad I love you, whatever you do to me; and you must get to like me. You must. I tell you I can't live without you."
"But if I can't—" Clare tried to say.
"You can—you must—you shall!" broke in Brook, hoarsely, his eyes growing brighter and fiercer. "I didn't know what it was to love anybody, and now that I know, I can't live without it, and I won't."
"There is no 'if,'" he cried, in his low strong voice, fixing her eyes with his. "There's no question of my going mad, or dying, or anything half so weak, because I won't take no. Oh, you may say it a hundred times, but it won't help you. I tell you I love you. Do you understand what that means? I'm in God's own earnest. I'll give you my life, but I won't give you up. I'll take you somehow, whether you will or not, and I'll hide you somewhere, but you sha'n't get away from me as long as you live."
"You must be mad!" exclaimed the young girl, scarcely above her breath, half-frightened, and unable to loose her eyes from the fascination of his.
"No, I'm not mad; only you've never seen any one in earnest before, and you've been condemning me without evidence all along. But it must stop now. You must tell me what it is, for I have a right to know. Tell me what it all is. I will know—I will. Look at me; you can't look away till you tell me."
Clare felt his power, and felt that his eyes were dazzling her, and that if she did not escape from them she must yield and tell him. She tried, and her eyelids quivered. Then she raised her hand to cover her own eyes, in a desperate attempt to keep her secret. He caught it and held it, and still looked. She turned pale suddenly. Then her words came mechanically.
"I was out there when you said 'good-bye' to Lady Fan. I heard everything, from first to last."
He started in surprise, and the colour rose suddenly to his face. He did not look away yet, but Clare saw the blush of shame in his face, and felt that his power diminished, while hers grew all at once, to overmaster him in turn.
"It's scarcely a fortnight since you betrayed her," she said, slowly and distinctly, "and you expect me to like you and to believe that you are in earnest."
His shame turned quickly to anger.
"So you listened!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, I listened," she answered, and her words came easily, then, in self-defence—for she had thought of it all very often. "I didn't know who you were. My mother and I had been sitting beside the cross in the shadow of the cave, and she went in to finish a letter, leaving me there. Then you two came out talking. Before I knew what was happening you had said too much. I felt that if I had been in Lady Fan's place I would far rather never know that a stranger was listening. So I sat still, and I could not help hearing. How was I to know that you meant to stay here until I heard you say so to her? And I heard everything. You are ashamed now that you know that I know. Do you wonder that I disliked you from the first?"
"I don't see why you should," answered Brook stubbornly. "If you do—you do. That doesn't change matters—"
"You betrayed her!" cried Clare indignantly. "You forgot that I heard all you said—how you promised to marry her if she could get a divorce. It was horrible, and I never dreamt of such things, but I heard it. And then you were tired of her, I suppose, and you changed your mind, and calmly told her that it was all a mistake. Do you expect any woman, who has seen another treated in that way, to forget? Oh, I saw her face, and I heard her sob. You broke her heart for your amusement. And it was only a fortnight ago!"
She had the upper hand now, and she turned from him with a last scornful glance, and looked over the low wall at the sea, wondering how he could have held her with his eyes a moment earlier. Brook stood motionless beside her, and there was silence. He might have found much in self-defence, but there was not one word of it which he could tell her. Perhaps she might find out some day what sort of person Lady Fan was, but his own lips were closed. That was his view of what honour meant.
Clare felt that her breath came quickly, and that the colour was deep in her cheeks as she gazed at the flat, hot sea. For a moment she felt a woman's enormous satisfaction in being absolutely unanswerable. Then, all at once, she had a strong sensation of sickness, and a quick pain shot sharply through her just below the heart. She steadied herself by the wall with her hands, and shut her lips tightly.
She had refused him as well as accused him. He would go away in a few moments, and never try to be alone with her again. Perhaps he would leave Amalfi that very day. It was impossible that she should really care for him, and yet, if she did not care, she would not ask the next question. Then he spoke to her. His voice was changed and very quiet now.
"I'm sorry you heard all that," he said. "I don't wonder that you've got a bad opinion of me, and I suppose I can't say anything just now to make you change it. You heard, and you think you have a right to judge. Perhaps I shouldn't even say this—you heard me then, and you have heard me now. There's a difference, you'll admit. But all that you heard then, and all that you have told me now, can't change the truth, and you can't make me love you less, whatever you do. I don't believe I'm that sort of man."
"I should have thought you were," said Clare bitterly, and regretting the words as soon as they were spoken.
"It's natural that you should think so. At the same time, it doesn't follow that because a man doesn't love one woman he can't possibly love another."
"That's simply brutal!" exclaimed the young girl, angry with him unreasonably because the argument was good.
"It's true, at all events. I didn't love Mrs. Crosby, and I told her so. You may think me a brute if you like, but you heard me say it, if you heard anything, so I suppose I may quote myself. I do love you, and I have told you so—the fact that I can't say it in choice language doesn't make it a lie. I'm not a man in a book, and I'm in earnest."
"Please stop," said Clare, as she heard the hoarse strength coming back in his voice.
"Yes—I know. I've said it before, and you don't care to hear it again. You can't kill it by making me hold my tongue, you know. It only makes it worse. You'll see that I'm in earnest in time—then you'll change your mind. But I can't change mine. I can't live without you, whatever you may think of me now."
It was a strange wooing, very unlike anything she had ever dreamt of, if she had allowed herself to dream of such things. She asked herself whether this could be the same man who had calmly and cynically told Lady Fan that he did not love her and could not think of marrying her. He had been cool and quiet enough then. That gave strength to the argument he used now. She had seen him with another woman, and now she saw him with herself and heard him. She was surprised and almost taken from her feet by his rough vehemence. He surely did not speak as a man choosing his words, certainly not as one trying to produce an effect. But then, on that evening at the Acropolis—the thought of that scene pursued her—he had doubtless spoken just as roughly and vehemently to Lady Fan, and had seemed just as much in earnest. And suddenly Lady Fan was hateful to her, and she almost ceased to pity her at all. But for Lady Fan—well, it might have been different. She should not have blamed herself for liking him, for loving him perhaps, and his words would have had another ring.
He still stood beside her, watching her, and she was afraid to turn to him lest he should see something in her face which she meant to hide. But she could speak quietly enough, resting her hands on the wall and looking out to sea. It would be best to be a little formal, she thought. The sound of his own name spoken distinctly and coldly would perhaps warn him not to go too far.
"Mr. Johnstone," she said, steadying her voice, "this can't go on. I never meant to tell you what I knew, but you have forced me to it. I don't love you—I don't like a man who can do such things, and I never could. And I can't let you talk to me in this way any more. If we must meet, you must behave just as usual. If you can't, I shall persuade my mother to go away at once."
"I shall follow you," said Brook. "I told you so the other day. You can't possibly go to any place where I can't go too."
"Do you mean to persecute me, Mr. Johnstone?" she asked.
"I love you."
"I hate you!"
"Yes, but you won't always. Even if you do, I shall always love you just as much."
Her eyes fell before his.
"Do you mean to say that you can really love a woman who hates you?" she asked, looking at one of her hands as it rested on the wall.
"Of course. Why not? What has that to do with it?"
The question was asked so simply and with such honest surprise that Clare looked up again. He was smiling a little sadly.
"But—I don't understand—" she hesitated.
"Do you think it's like a bargain?" he asked quietly. "Do you think it's a matter of exchange—'I will love you if you'll love me'? Oh no! It's not that. I can't help it. I'm not my own master. I've got to love you, whether I like it or not. But since I do—well, I've said the rest, and I won't repeat it. I've told you that I'm in earnest, and you haven't believed me. I've told you that I love you, and you won't even believe that—"
"No—I can believe that, well enough, now. You do to-day, perhaps. At least you think you do."
"Well—you don't believe it, then. What's the use of repeating it? If I could talk well, it would be different, but I'm not much of a talker, at best, and just now I can't put two words together. But I—I mean lots of things that I can't say, and perhaps wouldn't say, you know. At least, not just now."
He turned from her and began to walk up and down across the narrow terrace, towards her and away from her, his hands in his pockets, and his head a little bent. She watched him in silence for some time. Perhaps if she had hated him as much as she said that she did, she would have left him then and gone into the house. Something, good or evil, tempted her to speak.
"What do you mean, that you wouldn't say now?" she asked.
"I don't know," he answered gruffly, still walking up and down, ten steps each way. "Don't ask me—I told you one thing. I shall follow you wherever you go."
"And then?" asked Clare, still prompted by some genius, good or bad.
"And then?" Brook stopped and stared at her rather wildly. "And then? If I can't get you in any other way—well, I'll take you, that's all! It's not a very pretty thing to say, is it?"
"It doesn't sound a very probable thing to do, either," answered Clare. "I'm afraid you are out of your mind, Mr. Johnstone."
"You've driven most things out of it since I loved you," answered Brook, beginning to walk again. "You've made me say things that I shouldn't have dreamed of saying to any woman, much less to you. And you've made me think of doing things that looked perfectly mad a week ago." He stopped before her. "Can't you see? Can't you understand? Can't you feel how I love you?"