For he had recollected, look you, that at the time of that stone-throw into the rapids above Niagara he was a married man somehow separated from his wife. And the way that he knew this was that he could remember plainly that the reason he did not make an offer of marriage, there by the great torrent that was rushing to the Falls, to a French girl (whose name he got clearly) was that he did not know if his wife was dead or living. He did not know it now. The oddity of it was that, though he remembered clearly this incident hinging on the fact that he was then a married man, he could remember neither the wife he had married nor anything connected with her. He strove hard against this partial insight into his past, which seemed to him stranger than complete oblivion. But he soon convinced himself that a slight hazy vision he conjured up of a wedding years and years ago was only a reflex image—an automatic reaction—from his recent marriage. For did not the wraith of his present wife quietly take its place before the altar where by rights he should have been able to recall her predecessor? It was all confusion; no doubt of it.
But his mind had travelled quickly too; for when Rosalind looked in at his door he knew what he had to say, for her sake.
"Gerry darling, have you never been to bed?"
"For a bit, dearest. Then I found I couldn't sleep, and got up."
"Isn't it awful, the noise? One hears it so in this house.... Well, I suppose it's the same in any house that looks straight over the sea."
"Haven't you slept?"
"Oh yes, a little. But then it woke me. Then I thought I heard you moving."
"So I was. Now, suppose we both go to bed, and try to sleep. I shall have to, because of my candle. Is that all you've got left?"
"That's all, and it's guttering. And the paper will catch directly." She blew it out to avoid this, and added: "Stop a minute and I'll take the paper off, and make it do for a bit."
"You can have mine. Leave me yours." For Fenwick's was, even now, after burning so long, the better candle-end of the two. He took it out of the socket, and slipped its paper roll off, an economy suggested by the condition of its fellow.
But as he did so his own light flashed full on his face, and Rosalind saw a look on it that scarcely belonged to mere sleeplessness like her own—unrest that comes to most of us when the elements are restless.
"Gerry, you've been worrying. You know you have, dear. Speak the truth! You've been trying to recollect things."
"I had nobody here to prevent me, you see." He made no denial; in fact, thought admission of baffled effort was his safest course. "I get worried and fidgeted by chaotic ideas when you're not here. But it's nothing." Rosalind did not agree to this at all.
"I wish Mrs. Lobjoit could have put us both in one room," she said.
"Well, we didn't see our way, you know," he replied, referring to past councils on sleeping arrangements. "It's only for a week, after all."
"Yes, darling; but a week's a week, and I can't have you worried to death." She made him lie down again, and sat by him, holding his hand. So unnerved was he by his glance back into his past, so long unknown to him, and so sweet was the comfort of her presence and the touch of her living hand after all those hours of perturbation alone, that Fenwick made no protest against her remaining beside him. But a passiveness that would have belonged to an invalid or a sluggish temperament seemed unlike the strong man Rosalind knew him for, and she guessed from it that there was more behind. Still, she said nothing, and sat on with his hand grasping hers and finding in it his refuge from himself. To her its warm pressure was a sure sign that his memory had not penetrated the darkness of his earlier time. If God willed, it might never do so. Meanwhile, what was there for it but patience?
As she sat there listening to the roaring of the gale outside, and watching with satisfaction the evident coming of sleep, she said to herself that it might easily be that some new thing had come back to him which he would be unwilling she should know about, at least until his own mind was clearer. He might speak with less reserve to Vereker. She would give the doctor leave to talk to him to-morrow. Fear of what she would hear may have influenced her in this.
So when, sooner than she had expected, she caught the sound of the first breath of indisputable sleep, she rose and slipped away quietly, and as she lay down again to rest again asked herself the question: Was it the galvanism that had done it?
HOW FENWICK AND VEREKER WENT FOR A WALK, AND MORE MEMORIES CAME BACK. HOW FENWICK WAS A MILLIONAIRE, OR THEREABOUTS. OF A CLUE THAT KILLED ITSELF. HARRISSON'S AFFAIR NOW! BOTHER THE MILLIONS! IS NOT LOVE BETTER THAN MONEY? ONLY FENWICK'S NAME WASN'T HARRISSON NEITHER
"We thought it best to let you have your sleep out, dear. Sally agreed. No, leave the pot alone. Mrs. Lobjoit will make some fresh coffee."
"Who's the other cup?"
"Vereker. He came in to breakfast; to see if we were blown away."
"I see. Of course. Where are they now?"
"They?... oh, him and Sally! They said they'd go and see if Tishy and her husband were blown away."
"Well, I have had my sleep out with a vengeance. It's a quarter to ten."
"Never mind, darling. So much the better. Let's have a look at you...." And the little self-explanatory colloquy ends with Rosalind kissing her husband and examining him with anxious eyes. She sees a face less haggard than the one she saw last night, for is it not daylight and has not the wind fallen to a mere cheerful breeze you can quite stand upright in, leaning slightly seawards? And are not the voices and the footsteps of a new day outside, and the swift exchanges of sunlight and cloud-shadow that are chasing each other off the British Channel? And has not a native of eighty years of age (which he ignores) just opened the street door on his own responsibility and shouted along the passage that pra'ans are large this morning? He is more an institution than a man, and is freely spoken of as "The Shrimps." A flavour of a Triton who has got too dry on the beach comes in with the sea air, and also a sense of prawns, emptied from a wooden measure they have been honourably shaken down into, falling on a dish held out to receive them by an ambassador of four, named by Sally little Miss Lobjoit, the youngest of her race.
But for all that the rising life of the hours and the subsiding gale may do to chase away the memory of the oppressions of the night from one who was defenceless in its solitude, Rosalind can see how much they leave behind. Her husband may do his best to make light of it—to laugh it off as nothing but the common bad night we all know so well; may make the most of the noises of the storm, and that abominable banging door; but he will not conceal from her the effort that it costs him to do so. Besides, had he not admitted, in the night, that he "got worried and fidgeted by chaotic ideas"? What were these ideas? How far had he penetrated into his own past? She was not sorry for the few words she had had time to exchange with Dr. Conrad while Sally went to seek her hat. She had renewed and confirmed her permission to him to speak to her husband freely about himself.
"Are Mr. and Mrs. Paganini gone to sea?" This is said as Fenwick opens negotiations rather mechanically with the fresh coffee Mrs. Lobjoit has produced, and as that lady constructs for removal a conglomerate of plates and effete eggs.
"Gone to sea, Gerry? Not very likely. What's the meaning of that? Explain."
"Why, Sally and her doctor are staring out at the offing...."
"And didn't you say they had gone to find out if they were blown away?"
"I supposed they changed their minds." Rosalind talks absently, as if they didn't matter. All her thoughts are on her husband. But she doesn't fancy catechizing him about his experiences in the night, neither. She had better let him alone, and wait new oblivion or a healthy revival.
He is also distrait, and when he spoke of Sally and the doctor he had shown no interest in his own words. His eyes do not kindle at hers in his old way, and might be seeing nothing, for all there is in them to tell of it. He makes very short work of a cup of coffee, and a mere pretence of anything else; and then, suddenly rousing himself with a shake, says this won't do, and he must go out and get a blow. All right, says Rosalind, and he'd better get Dr. Conrad, and make him go for a walk. Only they are not to fall over the cliff.
"Fall over the cliff!" repeats Fenwick. He laughs, and she is glad at the sound. "You couldn't fall over the cliff against such a wind as this. I defy any one to." He kisses her and goes out, and she hears him singing, as he hunts for a stick that has vanished, an old French song:
"Aupres de ma blond-e Comme c'est bon—c'est bon—c'est bon...."
Only, when he has found the stick and his hat, he does not go at once, but comes back, and says, as he kisses her again: "Don't fidget about me, darling; I'm all right." Which must have been entirely brain-wave or thought-reading, as Rosalind had said never a word of her anxiety, so far.
Fenwick walked away briskly towards the flagstaff where Sally and Vereker had been looking out to sea. In the dazzling sunshine—all the more dazzling for the suddenness of its come and go—and the intoxicating rush of well-washed air that each of those crested waves out yonder knew so much about—and they were all of a tale—and such a companion in the enjoyment of it as that white sea-bird afloat against the blue gap of sky or purple underworld of cloud, what could he do other than cast away the thoughts the night had left, the cares, whatever they were, that the revival of memory had brought back?
If he could not succeed altogether in putting them aside, at least he could see his way to bearing them better, with a kiss of his wife still on his face, and all St. Sennans about him in the sunshine, and Sally to come. However, before he reached the flagstaff he met the doctor, and heard that Miss Sally had actually gone down to the machines to see if Gabriel wouldn't put one down near the water, so that she could run a little way. She was certain she could swim in that sea if she could once get through what she called the selvage-wave. If Gabriel wouldn't, she should take her things up to the house and put them on and walk down to the sea in a cloak. It was quite ridiculous, said the merpussy, people making such a fuss about a few waves. What was the world coming to?
"She'll be all safe," was Fenwick's comment when he heard this. "They won't let her go in, at the machines. They won't let her leave the Turkey-twill knickers and the short skirt. She always leaves them there to dry. She's all right. Let's take a turn across the field; it's too windy for the cliff."
"You had a bad night, Fenwick."
"All of us had. About three in the morning I thought the house would blow down. And there was a door banged, etc...."
"You had a worse night than the rest of us. Look at me straight in the face. No, I wasn't going to say show me your tongue." They had stopped a moment at the top of what was known as The Steps—par excellence—which was the shortest cut up to the field-path. Dr. Conrad looks a second or so, and then goes on: "I thought so. You've got black lines under your eyes, and you're evidently conscious of the lids. I expect you've got a pain in them, one in each, tied together by a string across here." That is to say, from eyebrow to eyebrow, as illustrated fingerwise.
Fenwick wasn't prepared to deny it evidently. He drew his own fingers across his forehead, as though to feel if the pain were really there. It confirmed a suspicion he couldn't have sworn to.
"Yes; I suppose I did have a worse night than the rest of you. At least, I hope so, for your sakes." His manner might have seemed to warrant immediate speculation or inquiry about the cause of his sleeplessness, but Vereker walked on beside him in silence. The way was along a short, frustrated street that led to the field-pathway that was grass-grown, more or less, all but the heaps of flints that were one day to make a new top-dressing, but had been forgotten by the local board, and the premature curb-stones whose anticipations about traffic had never been fulfilled. The little detached houses on either side were unselfish little houses, that only wanted to be useful and afford shelter to the wanderer, or provide a refuge for old age. All made use, on placards, of the cautious expression "Apartments"; while some flung all reserve to the winds and said also they were "To let" outright. The least satisfactory one of the lot was almost invisible owing to its egotism, but distinguishable from afar because the cross-board on a standard that had been placed in the garden-front had fallen forward over the palings like Punch's gallows. It didn't much matter, because the placard attached was dissolving off in the rains, and hanging down so low that a goat was eating it with relish, standing against the parapet of the garden-fence.
They reached the point at which Albion Villas had been thwarted by a hedge, rich in unripe sloes and green abortive blackberries, in their attempt to get across a stubble-field to the new town, and passed in instalments through its turnstile, or kissing-gate. Neither spoke, except that Fenwick said, "Look at the goat," until, after they had turned on to the chalk pathway, nearly dry in the warm sun and wind, he added a question:
"Did you ever taste a sloe?"
"That is what every one says if you ask him if he ever tasted a sloe. Nobody ever does it again."
"But they make sloe-gin of them?"
"That, my dear Vereker, is what everybody always says next. Sally told me they did, and she's right. They console themselves for the taste of the sloe by an imaginary liqueur like maraschino. But that's because they never tasted sloe-gin."
Vereker thinks he may conclude that Fenwick is talking for talk's sake, and humours him. He can get to the memory-subject later.
"A patient of mine," he says, "who's been living at Spezzia, was telling me about a fruit that was very good there, diosperi he called them. They must be very unlike sloes by his description."
"And naturally sloes made you think of them. I wonder what they are—diosperi—diosperi——" He repeated the word as though trying to recall it. Dr. Conrad helped the identification.
"He said they are what the Japs call jelly-plums—great big fruit, very juicy."
"I know. They're persimmons, or a sort of persimmons. We used to get lots of them in California, and even up at the Klondyke...."
He stopped abruptly and remained silent. A sudden change in him was too marked to escape notice, and there could be no doubt about the cause. The doctor walked beside him, also silent, for a few paces. Then he spoke:
"You will have to bear this, Fenwick, and keep your head. It is just as I told you it would be. It is all coming back." He laid his left hand on his companion's shoulder as they stood side-by-side on the chalk pathway, and with his right felt the wrist that was nearest him. Fenwick was in a quiver all through his frame, and his pulse was beating furiously as Dr. Conrad's finger touched it. But he spoke with self-control, and his step was steady as they walked on slowly together the moment after.
"It's all coming back. It has come back. I shall remember all in time." Then he repeated Vereker's words, "I must keep my head. I shall have to bear this," and walked on again in silence. The young man beside him still felt he had best not speak yet. Just let the physical perturbation subside. Talking would only make it worse.
They may have walked so for two minutes before Fenwick spoke again. Then he roused himself, to say, with but little hint in his voice of any sense of the oddity of his question: "Which is my dream?—this or the other?" Then added: "That's the question I want to ask, and nobody can answer."
"And of course all the while each of us knows perfectly well the answer is simply 'Neither.' You are a man that has had an accident, and lost his memory. Be patient, and do not torment yourself. Let it take its own time."
"All right, doctor! Patience is the word." He spoke in an undertone—a voice of acquiescence, or rather obedience. "Perhaps it will not be so bad when I remember more." They walked on again.
Then Vereker, noting that during silence he brooded under the oppression of what he had already recovered from the past, and to all appearance struck, once or twice, on some new unwelcome vein of thought, judging from a start or a momentary tension of the arm that now held his, decided that it would be as well to speak to him now, and delay no longer.
"Has anything come back to you, so far, that will unsettle your present life?"
"No, no—not that, thank God! Not so far as I can see. But much that must disquiet it; it cannot be otherwise."
"Do you mind telling me?"
"No, surely, dear fellow!—surely I will tell you. Why should I not? But what I say to you don't repeat to Sally or her mother. Not just now, you know. Wait!"
There was a recess in the wall of mortar-bedded flints that ran along the path, which would give shelter from the wind to light a cigar. Fenwick stopped and took two from a cigar-case, Sally's present to him last Christmas, and offered one to Dr. Conrad, who, however, didn't want to smoke so early. He lighted his own in the recess, with only a slight tremor of the hand, barely visible even to Vereker's experienced eye; and then, as he threw away the match, said, without anything that could be called emotion, though always with an apparent sense of his bewilderment at his own words:
"I am that man Harrisson that was in all the newspapers just about the time of the—you remember—when I...."
Vereker failed for the moment to grasp the degree of his own astonishment, and used the residuum of his previous calmness to say:
"I remember. The time of your accident."
"Am I that man? I mean ought I to say 'I am that man'? I know I was that man, in my old dream. I know it now, in this one."
"Well, but—so much the better! You are a millionaire, Fenwick, with mines at Klondyke...."
Dr. Conrad had been so taken aback at the suddenness of the extraordinary revelation that his amazement was quite at a loss for means of expression. A delayed laugh, not unmixed with a gasp, expressed nothing—merely recorded a welcome to the good side of it. For, of course, when one hears of Golconda one is bound to think it good, failing evidence to the contrary.
"Yes, I was that man—Algernon Harrisson. Now, the question is—and you'll have to help me here, Vereker. Don't look so thunderstruck, old chap—Shall I be that man again or not?"
"Why not, in Heaven's name? How can you help it?" The speaker is too dumbfounded, so far, to be able to get the whip hand of the circumstances. But the pace may be slacker presently.
"Let's be steady!" Fenwick's voice, as he says this, has a sense of ease in it, as though he were relieved by his disclosure. He takes Vereker's arm in his again, and as they walk on together is evidently on good terms with his cigar—so the doctor thinks—and the tremor has gone from his hands. A short pause, and he goes on speaking: "Until we pitched on the Klondyke just now I knew nothing of this. I shall get it all back in time. Let me see!..."
The doctor recovered his presence of mind. "Stop a minute," said he. "Do you know, Fenwick, if I were you I shouldn't try to tell anything until you're clearer about the whole thing. Don't talk to me now. Wait till you are in a state to know how much you wish to tell." But Fenwick would have none of this. He shook his head decidedly.
"I must talk to some one about it. And my wife I cannot...."
"You will see. You need not be frightened of too many confidences. I haven't recollected any grave misdemeanours yet. I'll keep them to myself when they come. Now listen to what I can and do recollect pretty clearly." He paused a second, as if his first item was shaky; then said, "Yes!—of course." And went on as though the point were cleared up.
"Of course! I went up to the Klondyke almost in the first rush, in '97. I'll tell you all about that after. Others besides myself became enormously rich that summer, but I was one of the luckiest. However, I don't want to tell you about Harrisson at Klondyke—(that's how I find it easiest to think of myself, third person singular!)—but to get at the thing in the dream, that concerns me most now. Listen!... Only remember this, Vereker dear! I can only recall jagged fragments yet awhile. I have been stunned, and can't help that...." He stopped the doctor, who was about to speak, with: "I know what you are going to say; let it stand over a bit—wait and be patient—all that sort of game! All very good and sensible, but I can't!"
"No! Can't—simply can't. Because, look you! One of the things that has come back is that I am a married man—by which I mean that Harrisson was. Oh dear! It is such an ease to me to think of Harrisson as somebody else. You can't understand that." But Vereker is thoroughly discomposed.
"But didn't you say—only just now—there was nothing—nothing—to unsettle your present life? No; I can't understand—I can't understand." His reply is to Fenwick's words, but the reference is to the early part of his speech.
"You will understand it better if I tell you more. Let me do it my own way, because I get mixed, and feel as if I might lose the clue any moment. All the time I was with the Clemenceaux at Ontario I was a married man—I mean that I knew I was a married man. And I remember knowing it all that time. Indeed, I did! But if you ask me who my wife was—she wasn't there, you know; you've got all that clear?—why, I can't tell you any more than Adam! All I know is that all that time little Ernestine was growing from a girl to a woman, the reason I felt there could be no misunderstanding on that score was that Clemenceau and his wife knew quite well I had been married and divorced or something—there was something rum, long before—and you know Papists would rather the Devil outright than have their daughter marry a divorced man. But as to who the wife had been, and what it was all about...."
He stopped again suddenly, seizing Vereker by the arm with a strong hand that trembled as it had done before. His face went very white, but he kept self-possession, as it were mechanically; so completely that the long ash on his half-smoked cigar remained unbroken. He waited a moment, and then spoke in a controlled way.
"I can remember nothing of the story; or what seems to come I know is only confusion ... by things in it...." Vereker thought it might be well to change the current of his thoughts.
"Who were the Clemenceaux at Ontario?" said he.
"Of course, I ought to tell you that. Only there were so many things. Clemenceau was a jeweller at Ontario. I lived in the flat over his shop, and used to see a great deal of his family. I must have lived almost entirely among French Canadians while I was there—it was quite three or four years...."
"And all that time, Fenwick, you thought of yourself as a married man?"
"Married or divorced—yes. And long before that."
"It is quite impossible for me—you must see it—to form any picture in my mind of how the thing presents itself to you."
"It seems—to me—perfectly incredible that you should have no recollection at all of the marriage, or divorce, or whatever it was...."
"I did not say I had no recollection at all. Listen. Don't you know this, Vereker?—of course you do, though—how one wakes from a hideous dream and remembers exactly the feeling it produced, and how the same feeling comes back when one recalls from the dream some fragment preserved from all one has forgotten of it—something nowise horrible in itself, but from its associations in the dream?"
"Oh yes, perfectly!"
"Well—that's my case. When I try to bring back the memories I know I must have had at that time in Canada, nothing comes back but a horror—something like a story read in boyhood and shuddered at in the night—but all details gone. I mean all details with horror in them. Because, do you know?..."
"Yes——?" Vereker stopped beside him on the path, as Fenwick stopped and hesitated. Utter perplexity almost forbidding speech was the impression the doctor received of his condition at this moment. After a moment's silence he continued:
"You will hardly believe me, but almost the only thing I can revive—that is, have revived so far—is an occurrence that must needs at the time have been a happiness and a delight. And yet it now presents itself to me as an excruciating torment—as part of some tragedy in which I had to be an actor, but of which I can seize no detail that does not at once vanish, leaving mere pain and confusion."
"What was it? You don't mind...."
"Mind telling you? Oh no!—why should I? I may be happier if I can tell it. It's like this. I am at a railway-station in the heat somewhere, and am expecting a girl who is coming to marry me. I can remember the heat and our meeting, and then all is Chaos again. Then, instead of remembering more, I go over and over again the old thing as at first.... No! nothing new presents itself. Only the railway-station and the palm-trees in the heat. And the train coming slowly in, and my knowing that she is in it, and coming to marry me."
"Do you mean that the vision—or scene—in your mind stops dead, and you don't see her get out of the carriage?"
They had walked on slowly again a short distance. Fenwick made another halt, and as he flicked away a most successful crop of cigar-ash that he had been cultivating—so it struck Vereker—as a kind of gauge or test of his own self-control, he answered:
"I couldn't say that. Hardly! I see a girl or woman get out of the carriage, but not her...!"
Vereker was completely at a loss—began to be a little afraid his companion's brain might be giving way. "How can you tell that," said he, "unless you know who she ought to have been?"
Fenwick resumed his walk, and when he replied did so in a voice that had less tension in it, as though something less painful had touched his mind:
"It's rum, I grant you. But the whole thing is too rum to bear thinking of—at least, to bear talking about. As to the exact reason why I know it's not her, that's simple enough!"
"What is it?"
"Because Mrs. Fenwick gets out of the train—my Rosey, here, Sally's mother. And it's just the same with the only other approach to a memory that connects itself with it—a shadowy, indistinct ceremony, also in the heat, much more indistinct than the railway-station. My real wife's image—Rosey's, here—just takes the place at the altar where the other one should be, and prevents my getting at any recollection of her. It is the only thing that makes the dream bearable."
Vereker said nothing. He did not want to disturb any lull in the storm in his companion's mind. After a slight pause the latter continued:
"The way I account for it seems to me sufficient. I cannot conceive any woman being to me what ... or, perhaps I should express it better by saying I cannot connect the wife-idea with any image except hers. And, of course, the strong dominant idea displaces the feeble memory."
Vereker was ready with an unqualified assent at the moment. For though Sally, as we have seen, had taken him into her confidence the day after her mother's wedding—and, indeed, had talked over the matter many times with him since—the actual truth was far too strange to suggest itself offhand, as it would have been doing had the doctor connected the fact that Sally's mother went out to India to be married with this meeting of two lovers at a simmering railway-station, name not known. The idea of the impossible per se is probably the one a finite intelligence most readily admits, and is always cordially welcome in intellectual difficulties—a universal resolution of logical discords. In the case of these two men, at that moment, neither was capable of knowing the actual truth had he been told it, whatever the evidence; still less of catching at slight connecting-links. Fenwick went on speaking:
"I don't know whether you will understand it—yes! I think, perhaps, you might—that it's a consolation to me this way Mrs. Fenwick comes in. It seems to bring fresh air into what else would be—ugh!" He shuddered a half-intentional shudder; then, dropping his voice, went on, speaking quickly: "The thing makes part of some tragedy—some sad story—something best forgotten! If I could only dare to hope I might remember no more—might even forget it altogether."
"Perhaps if you could remember the whole the painfulness might disappear. Does not anything in the image of the railway-station give a clue to its whereabouts?"
"No. It hardly amounts to an image at all—more a fact than an image. But the heat was a fact. And the dresses were all white—thin—tropical...."
"Then the Mrs. Fenwick that comes out of the train isn't dressed as she dresses here?"
"Why, n-n-no!... No, certainly not. But that's natural, you know. Of course, my mind supplies a dress for the heat."
"It doesn't diminish the puzzlement."
"Yes—yes—but it does, though. Because, look here! It's not the only thing. I find myself consciously making Rosey look younger. I can't help my mind—my now mind—working, do what I will! But as to where it was, I fancy I have a clue. I can remember remembering—if you understand me—that I had been in Australia—remembered it at Ontario—talked about it to Tina Clemenceau...."
If Vereker had had any tendency to get on a true scent at this point, the reference to Australia would have thrown him off it. And the thought of the Canadian girl took Fenwick's mind once more to his American life: "It was my thinking of that girl made all this come back to me, you know. Just after you left us, when we were throwing stones in the sea, last night...."
"Throwing stones in the sea?..."
"Yes—we went down to the waves on the beach, and my throwing a stone in reminded me of it all, after. I was just going to get to sleep, when, all of a sudden, what must I think of but Niagara!—at least, the rapids. I was standing with Mademoiselle Tina—no one else—on a rock overlooking the great torrent, and I threw a stone in, and she said no one would ever see that stone again. I said, 'Like a man when he dies and is forgotten,' or something of that sort. I recollect her now—poor child!—turning her eyes full on me and saying, 'But I should not forget you, Mr. Harrisson.' You see how it was? Only it seems a sort of disloyalty to the poor girl to tell it. It was all plain, and she meant it to be. I can't remember now whether I said, 'I can't marry you, Tina, because I don't know that my wife is dead,' or whether I only thought it. But I know that I then knew I was, or had been, married and divorced or deserted. And it was that unhappy stone that brought it all back to me."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Quite sure that began it. I was just off, and some outlying scrap of my mind was behindhand, and that stone saw it and pounced on it. I remembered more after that. I know I was rather glad to start off to the new gold river, because of Ernestine Clemenceau. I don't think I should have cared to marry Ernestine. Anyhow, I didn't. She seems to me Harrisson's affair now. Don't laugh at me, doctor!"
"I wasn't laughing." And, indeed, this was true. The doctor was very far from laughing.
They had walked some little way inland, keeping along a road sunk in the chalk. This now emerged on an exposed hill-side, swept by the sea wind; which, though abated, still made talk less easy than in the sheltered trench, or behind the long wall where Fenwick lit his cigar. Vereker suggested turning back; and, accordingly, they turned. The doctor found time to make up his mind that no harm could be done now by referring to his interview with Rosalind, the day before.
"Your wife told me yesterday that you had just had a tiresome recurrence when you came out after us—at the jetty-end, you know."
"Surely! So I had. Did she tell you what it was?" Evidently, in the stress and turmoil of his subsequent experience in the night, it had slipped from him. The doctor said a reminding word or two, and it came back.
"I know, I know. I've got it now. That was last night. But now—that again! Why was it so horrible? That was dear old Kreutzkammer, at 'Frisco. What could there be horrible about him?..." A clear idea shot into the doctor's mind—not a bad thing to work on.
"Fenwick!—don't you see how it is? These things are only horrible to you because you half recollect them. The pain is only the baffled strain on the memory, not the thing you are trying to recover."
"Very likely." He assents, but his mind is dwelling on Kreutzkammer, evidently. For he breaks into a really cheerful laugh, pleasant in the ears of his companion. "Why, that was Diedrich Kreutzkammer!" he exclaims, "up at that Swiss place. And I didn't know him from Adam!"
"Of course it was. But look here, Fenwick—isn't what I say true? Half the things that come back to you will be no pain at all when you have fairly got hold of them. Only, wait! Don't struggle to remember, but let them come."
"All right, old chap! I'll be good." But he has no very strong convictions on the subject, clearly. The two walk on together in silence as far as the low flint wall, in another recess of which Fenwick lights another cigar, as before. Then he turns to the doctor and says:
"Not a word of this to Rosey—nor to Sallykin!" The doctor seems perplexed, but assents and promises. "Honest Injun!—as Sally says," adds Fenwick. And the doctor repeats that affidavit, and then says:
"I shall have to finesse a good deal. I can manage with Mrs. Fenwick. But—I wish I felt equally secure with Miss Sally." He feels very insecure indeed in that quarter, if the truth is told. And he is afflicted with a double embarrassment here, as he has never left Sally without her "miss" in speaking to Fenwick, while, on the other hand, he holds a definite licence from her mother—is, as it were, a chartered libertine. But that's a small matter, after all. The real trouble is having to look Sally in the face and conceal anything.
"Miss who?" says Fenwick. "Oh—Sally, you mean! Of course she'll rush the position. Trust her!" He can't help laughing as he thinks of Sally, with Dr. Conrad vainly trying to protect his outworks.
The momentary hesitation about how to speak of Sally may have something to do with Vereker's giving the conversation a twist. It turns, however, on a point that has been waiting in his mind all through their interview, ever since Fenwick spoke of his identity with Harrisson.
"Look here, Fenwick," he says. "It's all very fine your talking about keeping Mrs. Fenwick in the dark about this. I know it's for her own sake—but you can't."
"And why not? I can't have Rosey know I have another wife living...."
"You don't know she's alive, for one thing!"
"H'm!... I don't know, certainly. But I should have known, somehow, if she were dead. Of course, if further memory or inquiry proves that she is dead, that's another matter."
"But, in the meanwhile, how can you prove your identity with Harrisson and claim all your property without her knowing?... What I mean is, I can't think it out. There may be a way...."
"My dear boy"—Fenwick says this very quietly—"that's exactly the reason why I said you would have to help me to settle whether I should be that man again or not. I say not, if the decision lies with me."
"Not?—not at all?" The doctor fairly gasps; his breath is taken away. Never perhaps was a young man freer from thought and influence of money than he, more absorbed in professional study and untainted by the supremacies of property. But for all that he was human, and English, and theoretically accepted gold as the thing of things, the one great aim and measure of success. Of other men's success, that is, and their aim, not his. For he was, in his own eyes, a humble plodder, not in the swim at all. But he ascribed to the huge sums real people had a right to, outside the limits of the likes of him, a kind of sacredness that grew in a geometrical ratio with their increase. It gave him much more pain to hear that a safe had been robbed of thousands in gold than he felt when, on opening a wrapped-up fee, what seemed a guinea to the touch turned out a new farthing and a shilling to the sight. It was in the air that he lived in—that all of us live in.
So, when Fenwick made in this placid way a choice of conduct that must needs involve the sacrifice of sums large enough to be spoken of with awe, even in the sacred precincts of a bank, poor Dr. Conrad felt that all his powers of counsel had been outshot, and that his mind was reeling on its pedestal. That a poor man should give up his savings en bloc to help a friend would have seemed to him natural and reasonable; that he should do so for honest love of a woman still more so; but that a millionaire should renounce his millions! Was it decent? was it proper? was it considerate to Mammon? But that must have been Fenwick's meaning, too. The doctor did not recover his speech before Fenwick spoke again:
"Why should I claim all my property? How should I be the gainer if it made Rosey unhappy?"
"I see. I quite see. I feel with you, you know; feel as you do. But what will become of the money?"
"The poor darling money? Just think! It will lie neglected at the bank, unclaimed, forsaken, doing no more mischief than when it was harmless dust and nuggets in the sand of the Klondyke. While it was there, gold was a bit—a mighty small bit—dearer than it has become since. Now that it is in the keeping of chaps who won't give it up half as easily as the Klondyke did, I suppose it has appreciated again, as the saying is. The difference of cost between getting it out of the ground and out of the bank is a negligible factor...." Fenwick seemed to find ease in chatting economics in this way. Some of it was so obviously true to Vereker that he at once concluded it would be classed among fallacies; he had had experience of this sort of thing. But he paid little attention, as he was thinking of how much of this interview he could repeat to Sally, to whom every step they took brought him nearer. The roar of a lion in his path was every moment more audible to the ears of his imagination. And it left him silent; but Fenwick went on speaking:
"We won't trouble about the darling dust and nuggets; let them lie in pawn, and wait for a claimant. They won't find Mr. Harrisson's heir-at-law in a hurry. If ever proof comes of the death of Mrs. Harrisson—whoever she was—I'll be Mr. Harrisson again. Till then...."
"Till then what?"
"Till then, Vereker dear"—Fenwick said this very seriously, with emphasis—"till then we shall do most wisely to say nothing further to Mrs. Fenwick or to Sally. You must see that it won't be possible to pick and choose, to tell this and reserve that. I shall speak of the recurrences of memory that come to me, as too confused for repetition. I shall tell lies about them if I think it politic. Because I can't have Rosey made miserable on any terms. As for the chick, you'll have to manage the best you can."
"I'll do my best," the doctor says, without a particle of confidence in his voice. "But about yourself, Fenwick?"
"I shall do very well, as long as I can have a chat with you now and again. You've no idea what a lot of good it has done me, this talking to you. And, of course, I haven't told you one-tenth of the things I remember. There was one thing I wanted to say though just now, and we got off the line—what was it now? Oh, I know, about my name. It wasn't really Harrisson."
"Not really Harrisson? What was it then?" What next, and next?—is the import of the speaker's face.
"I'll be hanged if I know! But it's true, rum as it seems. I know I knew it wasn't Harrisson every time I signed a cheque in America. But as for what it was, that all belongs to the dim time before. Isn't that them coming to meet us?"
Yes, it was. And there was something else also the doctor had had it on his tongue to say, and it had got away on a siding. But it didn't matter—it was only about whether the return of memory had or had not been due to the galvanic battery on the pier.
OF THE DOCTOR'S CAUTIOUS RESERVE, AND MRS. FENWICK'S STRONG COMMON-SENSE. AND OF A LADY AT BUDA-PESTH. HOW HARRISSON WAS ONLY PAST FORGOTTEN NEWSPAPERS TO DR. VEREKER. OF THE OCTOPUS'S PULSE, HOW THE HABERDASHER'S BRIDE WOULD TRY ON AT TWO GUAS. A WEEK, AND OF A PLEASANT WALK BACK FROM THE RAILWAY STATION
"You never mean to say you've been in the water?"
It was quite clear, from the bluish finger-tips of the gloveless merpussy—for at St. Sennans sixes are not de rigueur in the morning—that she has been in, and has only just come out. But Fenwick, who asked the question, grasped a handful of loose black hair for confirmation, and found it wet.
"Haven't I?" says the incorrigible one. "And you should have heard the rumpus over getting a machine down."
"She's a selfish little monkey," her mother says, but forgivingly, too. "She'll drown herself, and not care a penny about all the trouble she gives." You see, Rosalind wouldn't throw her words into this callous form if she was really thinking about the merpussy. But just now she is too anxious about Gerry to be very particular.
What has passed between him and Dr. Conrad? What does the latter know now more than she does herself? She falls back with him, and allows the other two to go on in front. Obviously the most natural arrangement.
"What has he told you, Dr. Conrad?" This is not unexpected, and the answer is a prepared one, preconcerted under pressure between the doctor and his conscience.
"I am going to ask you, Mrs. Fenwick, to do me a very great kindness—don't say yes without hearing what it is—to ask you to allow me to keep back all your husband says to me, and to take for granted that he repeats to you all he feels certain of himself in his own recollections."
"He has told you more?"
"Yes, he has. But I am far from certain that anything he has said can be relied upon—in his present state. Anyway, I should be very sorry to take upon myself the responsibility of repeating it."
"He wishes you not to do so?"
"I think so. I should say so. Do you mind?"
"I won't press you to repeat anything you wish to keep back. But is his mind easier? After all, that's the main point."
"That is my impression—much easier." He felt he was quite warranted in saying this. "And I should say that if he does not himself tell you again whatever he has been saying to me, it will only show how uncertain and untrustworthy all his present recollections are. I cannot tell you how strongly I feel that the best course is to leave his mind to its own natural development. It may even be that the partial and distorted images of events such as he has been speaking of to me...."
"I mustn't ask you what they were?... Yes, go on."
"May again become dim and disappear altogether. If they are to do so, nothing can be gained by dwelling on them now—still less by trying to verify them—and least of all by using them as a stimulus to further recollection."
"You think I had better not ask him questions?"
"Exactly. Leave him to himself. Keep his mind on other matters—healthy occupations, surrounding life. I am certain of one thing—that the effort to disinter the past is painful to him in itself, quite independent of any painful associations in what he is endeavouring to recall."
"I have seen that, too, in the slight recurrences he has had when I was there. I quite agree with you about the best course to pursue. Let us have patience and wait."
Of course, Vereker had not the remotest conception that the less Fenwick remembered, the better his wife would be pleased. So the principal idea in his mind at that moment was, what a very sensible as well as handsome woman he was talking to! It was the way in which most people catalogued Rosalind Fenwick. But her ready assent to his wishes had intensified the doctor's first item of description. A subordinate wave of his thought created an image of the girl Fenwick must have pictured to himself coming out of the railway carriage. He only repeated: "Let us have patience, and wait," with a feeling of relief from possible further catechism.
But in order to avoid showing his wish to abate inquiry, he could talk about aspects of the case that would not involve it. He could tell of analogous cases well known, or in his own practice. For instance, that of a Frenchwoman who wandered away from Amiens, unconscious of her past and her identity, and somehow got to Buda-Pesth. There, having retained perfect powers of using her mother-tongue, and also speaking German fluently, she had all but got a good teachership in a school, only she had no certificate of character. With a great effort she recalled the name of a lady at Amiens she felt she could write to for one, and did so. "Fancy her husband's amazement," said Dr. Conrad, "when, on opening a letter addressed to his wife in her own handwriting, he found it was an application from Fraeulein Schmidt, or some German name, asking for a testimonial!" He referred also to the many cases of the caprices of memory he had met with in his studies of the petit-mal of epilepsy, a subject to which he had given special attention. It may have crossed his mind that his companion had fallen very thoroughly in with his views about not dissecting her husband's case overmuch for the present. But he put it down, if it did, to her strong common-sense. It is rather a singular thing how very ready men are to ascribe this quality—whatever it is—to a beautiful woman. Especially if she agrees with them.
Nevertheless the doctor was not very sorry when he saw that Sally and Fenwick, on in front, had caught up with—or been caught up with by—a mixed party, of a sort to suspend, divert, or cancel all conversation of a continuous sort. Miss Gwendolen Arkwright and her next eldest sister had established themselves on Fenwick's shoulders, and the Julius Bradshaws had just intersected them from a side-alley. The latter were on the point of extinction; going back to London by the 3.15, and everything packed but what they had on. It was a clear reprieve, till 3.15 at any rate.
There could be no doubt, thought Rosalind to herself, that her husband's conversation with Vereker had made him easier in his mind than when she saw him last, just after breakfast. No doubt he was all the better, too, for the merpussy's account of her exploit on the beach; of how she managed to overrule old Gabriel and get a machine put down, contrary to precedent, common caution, and public opinion—even in the face of urgent remonstrance from her Swiss acquaintance, almost as good a swimmer as herself; how she had picked out a good big selvage-wave to pop in under, and when she got beyond it enjoyed all the comfort incidental to being in bed with the door locked. Because, you see, she exaggerated. However, one thing she said was quite true. There were no breakers out beyond the said selvage-wave, because the wind had fallen a great deal, and seemed to have given up the idea of making any more white foam-crests for the present. But there would be more wind again in the night, said authority. It was only a half-holiday for Neptune.
Sally's bracing influence was all the stronger from the fact of her complete unconsciousness of anything unusual. Her mother had said nothing to her the day before of the revival of Baron Kreutzkammer, nor had Dr. Conrad, acting under cautions given. And all Sally knew of the wakeful night was that her mother had found Fenwick walking about, unable to sleep, and had said at breakfast he might just as well have his sleep out now. To which she had agreed, and had then gone away to see if "the Tishies," as she called them, were blown away, and had met the doctor coming to see if she was. So she was in the best of moods as an antidote to mind-cloudage. And Fenwick, under the remedy, seemed to her no more unlike himself than was to be expected after not a wink till near daylight. The object of this prolixity is that it may be borne in mind that Sally never shared her mother's or her undeclared lover's knowledge of the strange mental revival caused—as seemed most probable—by the action of the galvanic battery on the previous day.
* * * * *
Vereker walked back to his Octopus, whom he had forsaken for an unusually long time, with his brain in a whirl at the strange revelation he had just heard. His medical experience had put him well on his guard anent one possibility—that the whole thing might be delusion on Fenwick's part. How could such an imperfect memory-record be said to prove anything without confirmation from without?
His habits of thought had qualified him to keep this possibility provisionally in the background without forgetting it. There was nothing in the mere knowledge of its existence to prevent his trying to recall all he could of the story of the disappearance of Harrisson, as he read it in the newspapers a year and a half ago. There had been a deal of talk about it at the time, and great efforts had been made to trace Harrisson, but without success. The doctor lingered a little on his way, conscious that he could recall very little of the Harrisson case, but too interested to be able to leave his recollections dormant until he should get substantial information. The Octopus could recollect all about it no doubt, but how venture to apply to her? Or how to Sally? Though, truly, had he done so, it would have been with much less hope of a result. Neither Sally nor her mother were treasure-houses of the day's gossip, as his mother was. "We must have taken mighty little notice of what was going on in the world at the time," so thought the doctor to himself.
What did he actually recollect? A paragraph headed "Disappearance of a Millionaire" in a hurried perusal of an evening paper as he rode to an urgent case; a repetition—several repetitions—on the newspaper posters of the name Harrisson during the fortnight following, chiefly disclosing supposed discoveries of the missing man, sandwiched with other discoveries of their falsehood—clue and disappointment by turns. He could remember his own perfectly spurious interest in the case, produced by such announcements staring at him from all points of the compass, and his own preposterous contributions to talk-making about them, such as "Have they found that man Harrisson yet?" knowing himself the merest impostor all the while, but feeling it dutiful to be up-to-date. How came no one of them all to put two and two together?
A gleam of a solution was supplied to the doctor's mind when he set himself to answer the question, "How should I have gone about suspecting it?" How, indeed? Ordinary every-day people—you's and me's—can't lightly admit to our minds the idea that we have actually got mixed up with the regular public people in the newspapers. Have not even our innocent little announcements that we have been born, or died, or got married, always had a look of having got in by accident, or under some false pretence? Have we not felt inflated when a relation of ours has had a letter to a newspaper inserted, in real print, with his own name as bold as brass? Vereker was not surprised, on thinking it over, that he personally had missed the clue. And if he, why not others? Besides, all the Harrisson talk had been superseded by some more exciting matter before it had been recognised as possible that Fenwick's memory might never come back.
Just as he arrived at Mrs. Iggulden's a thought struck him—not heavily; only a light, reminding flick—and he stopped a minute to see what it had to say. It referred to his interview with Scotland Yard, some six weeks after Fenwick's first appearance.
He could recall that in the course of his interview one of the younger officials spoke in an undertone to his chief; who thereon, after consideration, turned to the doctor and said, "Had not your man a panama hat? I understood you to say so;" and on receiving an affirmative reply, spoke again in an undertone to his subordinate to the effect, half-caught by Vereker, that "Alison's hat was black felt." Did he say by any chance Harrisson, not Alison? If so, might not that account for a rather forbidding or opposive attitude on the Yard's part? He remembered something of fictitious claimants coming forward, representing themselves as Harrisson—desperate bidders for a chance of the Klondyke gold. They might easily have supposed this man and his quenched memory another of the same sort. Evidently if investigation was not to suffer from overgrown suspicion, only young and guileless official instinct could be trusted—plain-clothes ingenus. Dr. Conrad laughed to himself over a particularly outrageous escapade of Sally's, who, when her mother said they always sent such very young chicks of constables to Glenmoira Road in the morning, impudently ascribed them to inspector's eggs, laid overnight.
* * * * *
"My pulse—feel it!" His Goody mother greeted the doctor with a feeble voice from inarticulate lips, and a wrist outstretched. She was being moribund; to pay him out for being behindhand.
He skipped all interims, and said, with negligible inaccuracy, "It's only a quarter past."
"Don't talk, but feel!" Her failing senses could indulge a little impatience; but it was like throwing ballast out of a balloon. She meant to be all the worse directly.
Her son felt the outstretched wrist, and was relieved to find it normal—almost abnormally normal, just before lunch! But he had to pretend. A teaspoonful of brandy in half a glass of water, clearly! He knew she hated it, but she had better swallow it down. That was right! And he would hurry Mrs. Iggulden with lunch. However, Mrs. Iggulden had been beforehand, having seen her good gentleman coming and the table all laid ready, so she got the steak on, only she knew there would something happen if too much hurry and sure enough she broke a decanter. We do not like the responsibility of punctuation in this sentence.
"I thought you had forgotten me," quoth the revived Goody to her son, assisting her to lunch. But the excellent woman said me (as if it was the name of somebody else, and spelt M double E) with a compassionate moan.
Rosalind was glad to see her husband in good spirits again. He was quite like himself before that unfortunate little galvanic battery upset everything. Perhaps its effect would go off, and all he had remembered of the past grow dim again. It was a puzzle, even to Rosalind herself, that her natural curiosity about all Gerry's unknown history should become as nothing in view of the unwelcome contingencies that history might disclose. It spoke well for the happiness of the status quo that she was ready to forego the satisfaction of this curiosity altogether rather than confront its possible disturbing influences. "If we can only know nothing about it, and be as we are!" was the thought uppermost in her mind.
It certainly was a rare piece of good luck that, owing to Sally's leaving the house before Fenwick appeared, and running away to her madcap swim before he could join her and the doctor, she had just avoided seeing him during the worst of his depression. Indeed, his remark that he had not slept well seemed to account for all she had seen in the morning. And in the afternoon, when the whole party, minus the doctor, walked over to St. Egbert's Station for the honeymoon portion of it to take its departure for town, and the other three to say farewells, Fenwick was quite in his usual form. Only his wife watched for any differences, and unless it was that he gave way rather more freely than usual to the practice of walking with his arm round herself or Sally, or both, she could detect nothing. As the road they took was a quiet one, and they met scarcely a soul, no exception on the score of dignity was taken to this by Rosalind; and as for Sally, her general attitude was "Leave Jeremiah alone—he shall do as he likes." Laetitia's mental comment was that it wasn't Oxford Street this time, and so it didn't matter.
* * * * *
"I shall walk straight into papa's library," said that young married lady in answer to an inquiry from Sally, as they fell back a little to chat. "I shall just walk straight in and say we've come back."
"What do you suppose the Professor will say?"
"My dear!—it's the merest toss up. If he's got some very interesting Greek or Phoenician nonsense on hand, he'll let me kiss him over his shoulder and say, 'All right—I'm busy.' If it's only the Cosmocyclopaedia work—which he doesn't care about, only it pays—he may look up and kiss me, or even go so far as to say: 'Well!—and where's master Julius?' But I don't expect he'll give any active help in the collision with mamma, which is sure to come. I rather hope she won't be at home the first time."
"Why? Wouldn't it be better to have it over and done with?" Sally always wants to clinch everything.
"Yes, of course; only the second time mamma's edge will be all taken off, and she'll die down. Besides, the crucial point is Paggy kissing her. It's got to be done, and it will be such a deal easier if I can get Theeny and Classy kissed first." Classy was the married sister, Clarissa. "After all, mamma must have got a shred of common-sense somewhere, and she must know that when things can neither be cured nor endured you have to pretend, sooner or later."
"You bottle up when it comes to that," said Sally philosophically. "But I shouldn't wonder, Tishy, if you found your Goody aggravating, too. She'll talk about haberdashers."
"Oh, my dear, haberdashers are a trifle! If that was all she might talk herself hoarse. Besides, I can stop that by the mantle department."
"What about it? Oh, I know, though!—about your being worth two guineas a week to try on. She would know you were not serious, though."
"Would she? I'm not so sure about it myself—not sure I'm not serious, I mean."
"Oh, Tishy! You don't mean you would go and try on at two guineas a week?"
"I really don't know, Sally dear. If I'm to have my husband's profession flung in my face at every turn, I may just as well have the advantage of it by a side-wind. Think what two guineas a week means! A hundred and four guineas a year—remember! guineas, not pounds. And Paggy thinks he could get it arranged for us to go out and dine together in the middle of the day at an Italian restaurant...."
"I say, what a lark!" Sally immediately warms up to the scheme. "I could come, too. Do you know, Tishy dear, I was just going to twit you with the negro and his spots. But now I won't."
* * * * *
The Julius Bradshaws must have reached home early, as our story will show later that the anticipated collision with the Dragon took place the same evening. No great matter for surprise, this, to any one who has noticed the energetic impatience for immediate town-event in folk just off a holiday. These two were too keen to grapple with their domestic problem to allow of delays. So, after getting some dinner in a hurry at Georgiana Terrace, Bayswater, they must needs cab straight away to Ladbroke Grove Road. As for what happened when they got there, we shall know as much as we want of it later. For the present our business lies with Fenwick and his wife; to watch, in sympathy with the latter, for the next development in the strange mental state of the former, and to hope with her, as it must be confessed, for continued quiescence; or, better still, for a complete return of oblivion.
It seemed so cruelly hard to Rosalind that it might not be. What had she to gain by the revival of a forgotten past—a past her own share of which she had for twenty years striven to forget? Utterly guiltless as, conceivably, she may have known herself to be, she had striven against that past as the guilty strive with the memory of a concealed crime. And here was she, at the end of this twenty years, with all she most longed for at the beginning in her possession, mysteriously attained with a thoroughness no combination of circumstances, no patience or forbearance of her own, no self-restraint or generosity of her young husband's could possibly have brought about. Think only of what we do know of this imperfect story! Conceive that it should have been possible for the Algernon Palliser of those days to know and understand it to the full; indulge the supposition, however strained it may be, that his so knowing it would not have placed him in a felon's dock for the prompt and righteous murder of the betrayer—we take the first convenient name—of the woman he loved. Convince yourself this could have been; figure to yourself a happy wedded life for the couple after Miss Sally had made her unconscious debut with the supremest indifference to her antecedents; construct a hypothetical bliss for them at all costs, and then say if you can fill out the picture with a relation between Sally and her putative father to be compared for a moment to the one chance has favoured now for the stepfather and stepdaughter of our story.
Our own imagination is at fault about the would-have-beens and might-have-beens in this case. The only picture our mind can form of what would have followed a full grasp of all the facts by Algernon Palliser may be dictated or suggested by a memory of what sent Mr. Salter, of Livermore's Rents, 1808, to the hospital. Rosalind knew nothing of Mr. Salter, but she could remember well all Gerry's feats of strength in his youth—all the cracking of walnuts in his arm-joints and bending of kitchen-pokers across his neck—and also, too well, an impotence against his own anger when provoked; it had died down now to a trifle, but she could detect the trifle still. Was such an executive to be trusted not to take the law into its own hands, to fall into the grasp of an offended legislative function later—one too dull to be able to define offence so as to avoid the condemnation, now and again, of a culprit whose technical crime has the applause of the whole human race? Had the author of all her wrongs met his death at the hands of her young husband, might not this husband of her later life—beside her now—be still serving his time at the galleys, with every compulsory sharer in his condemnation thinking him a hero?
It was all so much better as it had turned out. Only, could it remain so?
At least, nothing was wrong now, at this moment. Whatever her husband had said to Vereker in that morning walk, the present hour was a breathing-space for Rosalind. The Kreutzkammer recurrence of the previous evening was losing its force for her, and there had been nothing since that she knew of. "Chaotic ideas"—the phrase he had used in the night—might mean anything or nothing.
They came back from the railway-station by what was known to them as the long short cut in contradistinction to the short short cut. The latter, Sally said, had the courage of its opinions, while the former was a time-serving cut. Could she have influenced it at the first go-off—when it originally started from the V-shaped stile your skirts stuck in, behind the Wheatsheaf—it might have mustered the resolution to go straight on, instead of going off at a tangent to Gattrell's Farm, half a mile out of the way. Was it intimidated by a statement that trespassers would be prosecuted, nailed to an oak-tree, legible a hundred years ago, perhaps, when its nails were not rust, and really held it tight—instead of, as now, merely countenancing its wish to remain from old habit? It may have been so frightened in its timid youth; but if so, surely the robust self-assertion of its straight start for Gattrell's had in it something of contempt for the poor old board, coupled with its well-known intention of turning to the left and going slap through the wood the minute you (or it) got there. It may even have twitted that board with its apathy in respect of trespassers. Had the threat ever been carried out?
The long short cut was, according to the aborigines, a goodish step longer than the road, geometrically. But there was some inner sense—moral, ethical, spiritual—somehow metaphysical or supraphysical—in which it was a short cut, for all that. The road was a dale farther, some did say, along of the dust. But, then, there was no dust now, because it was all laid. So the reason why was allowed to lapse, and the fact to take care of itself for once. Helped by an illusion that a path through an undergrowth of nut-trees and an overgrowth of oak on such a lovely afternoon as this wasn't distance at all—even when you got hooked in the brambles—and by other palliative incidents, it was voted a very short cut indeed. Certainly not too long for Rosalind's breathing-space, and had it been even a longer short cut she would have been well contented.
Every hour passed now, without a new recurrence of some bygone, was going to give her—she knew it well beforehand—a sense of greater security. And every little incident on the walk that made a change in the rhythm of event was welcome. When they paused for refreshments—ginger-beer in stone bottles—at Gattrell's, and old Mrs. Gattrell, while she undid the corks, outlined the troubles of her husband's family and her own, she felt grateful for both to have kept clear of India and "the colonies." No memories of California or the Arctic Circle could arise from Mrs. Gattrell's twin-sister Debory, who suffered from information—internal information, mind you; an explanation necessary to correct an impression of overstrain to the mind in pursuit of research. Nor from her elder sister Hannah, whose neuralgic sick headaches were a martyrdom to herself, but apparently a source of pride to her family. Of which the inflation, strange to say, was the greater because Dr. Knox was of opinion that they would yield to treatment and tonics; though the old lady herself was opposed to both, and said elder-flower-water. She was a pleasant old personage, Mrs. Gattrell, who always shone out as a beacon of robust health above a fever-stricken, paralysed, plague-spotted, debilitated, and disintegrating crowd of blood-relations and connexions by marriage. But not one of all these had ever left the soil they were born on, none of Mrs. Gattrell's people holding with foreign parts. And nothing whatever had ever taken place at St. Egbert's till the railway come; so it wasn't likely to arouse memories of the ice-fields of the northern cold or the tiger-hunts of the southern heat.
Rosalind found herself asking of each new thing as it arose: "Will this bring anything fresh to his mind, or will it pass?" The wood-path the nut-tree growth all but closed over on either side she decided was safe; it could taste of nothing but his English school-boyhood, before ever she knew him. But the sudden uprush of the covey of partridges from the stubble, and their bee-line for a haven in the next field—surely danger lay that way? Think what a shot he was in the old days! However, he only said, "Poor dears, they don't know how near the thirty-first is," and seemed to be able to know that much from past experience without discomfort at not knowing more.
When Sally proposed fortune-telling in connexion with a bona-fide gipsy woman, who looked (she said) exactly like in "Lavengro," her mother's first impulse was to try and recall if she and the Gerry of old times had ever been in contact with gipsies, authentic or otherwise, and, after decision in the negative, to feel that this wanderer was more welcome than not, as having a tendency to conduct his mind safely into new channels. Even the conclave of cows he had to disperse that they might get through a gate—cows that didn't mind how long they waited at it, having time on their hands—suggested the same kind of query. She was rapidly getting to look at everything from the point of view of what it was going to remind her husband of. She must struggle against the habit that was forming, or it would become insupportable. But then, again, the thought would come back that every hour that passed without an alarm was another step towards a safe haven; and who could say that in a week or so things might not be, at least, no worse than they were before this pestilent little galvanic battery broke in upon her peace?
The fact that he had spoken of new memories to Vereker and had not repeated them to her was no additional source of uneasiness; rather, if anything, the contrary. For she could not entertain the idea that Gerry would keep back from her anything he could tell to Vereker. What had actually happened was necessarily inconceivable by her—that a recollected recollection of his own marriage with her should be interpreted by him as a memory of a marriage with some other woman unknown, who might, for anything he knew, be still living; that his inference as to the bearing of this on his own conduct was that he should refrain, at any cost to himself, from claiming, so to speak, his own identity; should accept the personality chance had forced upon him for her sake; should even forego the treasure of her sympathy, more precious far to him than the heavy score to his credit at the banks of New York and San Francisco, rather than dig up what needs must throw doubt on the validity of their marriage, and turn her path of life, now smooth, to one of stones and thorns. For that was the course he had sketched out for himself; and had it only been possible for oblivion to draw a sharp line across the slowly reviving record, and to say to memory: "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther," Fenwick might have persevered in this course successfully till now. And then all our story would have been told—at least, as far as Rosalind and Fenwick go. And we might say farewell to them at this moment as the cows reluctantly surrender passage-way of the long short cut, and Gerry saunters on, seemingly at ease from his own mind's unwelcome activities, with Sally on one arm and his wife in the other, and Mrs. Grundy nowhere. But no conspiracies are possible to memory and oblivion. They are a couple that act independently and consult nobody's convenience but their own.
It may easily be that Rosalind, had she been mistress of all the facts and taken in the full position, would have decided to run the risks incidental to confronting her husband with his own past—taken him into her confidence and told him. With the chance in view that his reason might become unsettled from the chronic torment of constant half-revivals of memory, would it not almost be safer to face the acute convulsion of a sudden eclaircissement—to put happiness to the touch, and win or lose it all? Sally could be got out of the way for long enough to allow of a resumption of equilibrium after the shock of the first disclosure and a completely established understanding that she must not be told, come what might. Supposing that she could tell, and he could hear, the whole story of twenty years ago better than when a terrible position warped it for teller and hearer in what had since become to her an intolerable dream—supposing this done, and each could understand the other, might not the very strangeness of the fact that the small new life that played so large a part in that dream had become Sally since, and was the only means by which Sally could have been established, might not this tell for peace? Might it not even raise the question, "What does a cloud of twenty years ago matter at all?" and suggest the answer, "Nothing? For did not Sally come to us out of the cloud, and could we do without her?"
But Rosalind's half-insight into the patchwork of her husband's perceptions warranted no step so decisive. Rather, if anything, it pointed to a gradual resumption of his status quo of a few days ago. After all, had he not had (and completely forgotten) recurrences like that of the Baron and the fly-wheel? Well, perhaps the last was a shade more vivid than the others. But then see now, had he not forgotten it already to all outward seeming?
So that the minds of the two of them worked to a common end—silence. Hers in the hope that the effects of the galvanic current—if that did it—would die away and leave him rest for his; his in the fear that behind the unraised curtain that still hid his early life from himself was hidden what might become a baleful power to breed unrest for hers.
But it all depended on his own mastery of himself. Except he told it, who should know that he was Harrisson? And how he felt the shelter of the gold! Who was going to suspect that a man who could command wealth in six figures by disclosing his identity, would keep it a secret? And for his wife's sake too! A pitiful four-or five-figure man might—yes. But hundreds of thousands!—think of it!
OF AN EXPEDITION AGAINST A GOODY, AND THE WALK BACK TO LOBJOIT'S. AND THE WALK BACK AGAIN TO IGGULDEN'S. HOW FENWICK TOOK VEREKER'S CONFIDENCE BY STORM. OF A COLLIER THAT PUT TO SEA. SUCCESSFUL AMBUSCADE OF THE OCTOPUS. PROVISIONAL EQUILIBRIUM OF FENWICK'S MIND. WHY BOTHER ABOUT HORACE? WHY NOT ABOUT PICKWICK JUST AS MUCH? THE KITTEN WASN'T THERE—CERTAINLY NOT!
So it came about that during the remainder of that day and part of the next Fenwick either made no further exploration of his past; or, if he did so, concealed his discoveries. For he not only kept silence with Rosalind, but even with Vereker was absolutely reserved, never alluding to their conversation of the morning. And the doctor accepted this reserve, and asked no questions.
As for Rosalind, she was only too glad to catch at the support of the medical authority and to abstain from question or suggestion; for the present certainly, and, unless her silence—as might be—should seem to imply a motive on her part, to maintain it until her husband revived the subject by disclosing further recollections of the bygone time. Happily Sally knew nothing about it; that her mother was convinced of. And Sally wasn't likely to know anything, for Vereker's professional discretion could be relied on, even if her suspicions were excited. And, really, except that Fenwick seemed a little drowsy and reflective, and that Rosalind had a semitone of consolation in her manner towards him, there was nothing to excite suspicion.
* * * * *
After the cows—this is an expression borrowed from Sally, later in the afternoon—conversation flagged through the rest of the walk home. Except for regrets, more than once expressed, that it would be much too late for tea when we got in, and a passing word on the fact that at the seaside one got as greedy as some celebrated glutton—a Roman emperor, perhaps—very few ideas were interchanged. But a little conversation was made out of the scarcity of a good deal, for the persistent optimism of Sally recognised that it was awfully jolly saying nothing on such a lovely evening. Slight fatigue, combined with the beauty of sky and sea and distant downland, the lengthening shadows of the wheatsheaves, and the scarlet of poppies in the stubble, seemed good to justify contemplation and silence. It was an hour to caress in years to come, none the less that it was accepted as the mere routine of daily life in the short term of its existence. It was an hour that came to an end when the party arrived at the hedge of the unripe sloes that had checked the onset of Albion Villas towards the new town, and passed through the turnstile Fenwick and Vereker had passed through in the morning. Then speech came back, and each did what all folk invariably do after a long spell of silence—revealed what they were being silent about, or seemed to be. Most likely Fenwick's contribution was only a blind, as his mind must have been full of many thoughts he wished to keep to himself.
"I wonder when Paganini's young woman's row with her mother's going to come off—to-day or to-morrow?"
"I was wondering whether it would come off at all. I dare say she'll accept the inevitable." Thus Rosalind, and for our part we believe this also was not quite candid—in fact, was really suggested by her husband's remark. But Sally's was a genuine disclosure, and really showed what her mind had been running on.
"I've been meditating a Crusade," she said, with remoteness from current topics in her voice. And both her companions immediately made concessions to one that seemed to them genuine as compared with their own.
"Against whom, kitten?" said her mother.
And Fenwick reinforced her with, "Yes, who's the Crusade to be against, Sarah?"
"Against the Octopus." And Sally says this with the most perfectly unconscious gravity, as though a Crusade against an octopus was a very common occurrence in every-day life. The eyes of her companions twinkle a little interchange across her unseen, but are careful to keep anything suggesting a smile out of their voices as they apply for enlightenment.
"Because of poor Prosy," Sally explains. "You'll see now. She won't allow him to come round this evening, you see if she does!" She is so intent upon her subject-matter that they might almost have smiled aloud without detection, after all.
"When's it to come off, Sarah—the Crusade?"
"I was thinking of going round this evening if he doesn't turn up."
"Suppose we all go," Fenwick suggests. And Rosalind assents. The Crusade may be considered organized. "We'll give him till eight-forty-five," Sally says, forecasting strategy, "and then if he doesn't come we'll go."
Eight-forty-five came, but no doctor. So the Crusade came off as arranged, with the result that the Christian forces, on arriving in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, found that the Octopus responsible for the personation of the Saracens had just gone to bed. It was an ill-advised Crusade, because if the Christians had only had a little patience, the released prisoner would have looked round as soon as his janitor was asleep. As it turned out, no sooner were the visitors' voices audible than the Octopus became alive to the pleasures of society, and renounced sleep in its favour. She would slip something on and come down, and did so. Her doing so was out of keeping with the leading idea of the performance, presenting the Paynim as an obliging race; but a meek and suffering one, though it never aired its grievances. These, however, were the chief subjects of conversation during the visit, which, in spite of every failure in dramatic propriety, was always spoken of in after days as "the Crusade." It came to an end in due course, the Saracen host retiring to bed, with benedictions.
* * * * *
Vereker walked back with our friends to Mrs. Lobjoit's through the sweet night-air a considerate little shower of rain, that came down while they were sympathetically engaged, had just washed clean. Vapour-drifts that were wavering between earth and sky, and sacrificing their birthright of either cloudship or foghood, were accompanying a warm sea-wind towards the north. Out beyond, and quite clear of all responsibility for them and theirs, was a flawless heaven with the stellar and planetary universe in it, pitiless and passionless eyes perhaps—as Tennyson calls them—and strange fires; but in this case without power to burn and brand their nothingness into the visitors to St. Sennans, who laughed and talked and smoked and took no notice; and, indeed, rather than otherwise, considered that Orion's Belt and Aldebaran had been put there to make it a fine night for them to laugh and talk and smoke in.
It was pleasant to Vereker, after his walk with Fenwick in the morning, to find the latter like his usual cheerful self again. The doctor had had rather a trying time with his Goody mother, so that the day had been more one of tension than of peace, and it was a heavenly respite to him from filial duties dutifully borne, to walk home with the goddess of his paradise—the paradise that was so soon to come to an end and send him to the release of his "locum," Mr. Neckitt. Never mind. The having such a time to look back to in the future was quite as much as one general practitioner, with a duty to his mother, could in reason expect. Was Dr. Conrad aware, we wonder, how much the philosophical resignation that made this attitude of thought possible was due to the absence of any other visible favoured applicant for Miss Sally, and the certainty that he would see her once or twice a week at least after he had gone back to his prescriptions and his diary of cases?
Probably he wasn't; and when, on arriving at Lobjoit's, Fenwick announced that he didn't want to go in yet, and would accompany the doctor back to Iggulden's and take a turn round, the only misgiving that could try for an insecure foothold in the mind now given up to a delirium it called Sally was one that Fenwick might have some new painful memory to tell. But he was soon at rest about this. Fenwick wasn't going to talk about himself. Very much the reverse, if one's own reverse is some one else. He was going to talk about the doctor, into whose arm he slipped his own as soon as he had lighted his second cigar. For they had not walked quick from Iggulden's.
"Now tell me about Sir Dioscorides Nayler and the epileptiform disorders."
"Miss Sally's been telling you...."
"No, she didn't—Sally did." Both laughed. The doctor will make it Sally next time—that's understood. "You told Sally and she told me. What's the damage to be?"
"How much did Sally tell you?" The little formality comes easier to the doctor's shyness as it figures, this time, quotation-wise. It is a repeat of Fenwick's use of it.
"Sally said three thousand."
"Yes, that's what I told her. But it's not official. He may want more. He may let me have it for three. Only I don't know why I should have it for less than any one else."
"Never you mind why! That's no concern of yours, my dear boy. What you've got to think of is of yourself and Mrs. Vereker. Dioscorides will take care of himself—trust him!"
"Yes, of course, I have to think of my mother." One can hear in the speaker's voice what may be either self-reproach for having neglected this aspect of the case, or very tolerant indictment of Fenwick for having mistakenly thought he had done so.
"What's the man thinking of? Of course you have, but I didn't mean your mother. She's a dear old lady"—this came grudgingly—"but I didn't mean her. I meant the Mrs. Vereker that's to come. Your wife, dear fellow, your wife."
The way the young man flushed up, hesitated, stammered, couldn't organize a sane word, amused Fenwick intensely. Of course he was, so to speak, quite at home—understood the position thoroughly. But he wasn't going to torment the doctor. He was only making it impossible for him to avoid confession, for his own sake. He did not wait for the stammering to take form, but continued:
"I mean the young lady you told Sally about—the young lady you are hesitating to propose to because there'll be what you call complications in medicine—complications about your mamma, to put it plainly.... Oh yes, of course, Sally told me all about it directly." Vereker cannot resist a laugh, for all his embarrassment, a laugh which somehow had the image of Sally in it. "She would, you know. Sally's the sort of party that—that, if she'd been Greek, would have been the daughter of an Arcadian shepherdess and a thunderbolt."
"Of course she would. I say, Fenwick, look here...."
"Have another cigar, old man."
"No, I've smoked enough. That one's lasted all the time since we came out. Look here—what I want to say is ... well, that I was a great fool—did wrong in fact—to talk to Sally about that young lady...."
"And to that young lady about Sally," Fenwick says quietly. For half a second—such alacrity has thought—Vereker takes his meaning wrong; thinks he really believes in the other young lady. Then it flashes on him, and he knows how his companion has been seeing through him all the while. But so lovable is Fenwick, and so much influence is there in the repose of his strength, that there is no resentment on Vereker's part that he should be thus seen through. He surrenders at discretion.
"I see you know," he says helplessly.
"Know you love Sally?—of course I do! So does her mother. So does yours, for that matter. So does every one, except herself. Why, even you yourself know it! She never will know it unless she hears it on the best authority—your own, you know."
"Ought I to tell her? I know I was all wrong about that humbug-girl I cooked up to tell her about. I altogether lost my head, and was a fool."
"I can't see what end you proposed to yourself by doing it," says Fenwick a little maliciously. "If Sally had recommended you to speak up, because it was just possible the young lady might be pining for you all the time, you couldn't have asked her her name, and then said, 'That's hers—you're her!' like the fat boy in 'Pickwick.' No!—I consider, my dear boy, that you didn't do yourself any good by that ingenious fiction. You know all the while you wouldn't have been sorry to think she understood you."
"I don't know that I didn't think she did. I really don't know what I did or didn't think. I quite lost my head over it, that's the truth."
"Highly proper. Quite consistent with human experience! It's the sort of job chaps always do lose their heads over. The question now is, What are we going to do next?" Which meant what was Vereker going to do next? and was understood by his hearer in that sense. He made no answer at the moment, and Fenwick was not going to press for one.
A Newcastle collier had come in to deliver her cargo some days since, before the wind sprang up, and the coal-carts had been passing and repassing across the sands at low water; for there was a new moon somewhere in the sky when she came, as thin as a sickle, clinging tight round the business moon that saw to the spring-tides, a phantom sphere an intrepid star was daring to go close to. This brig had not been disappointing her backers, for wagers had been freely laid that she would drag her moorings in the wind, and drift. Fenwick and Vereker stopped in their walk to lean on the wooden rail above the beach that skirted the two inclines, going either way, up which the waggons had been a couple of hours ago scrambling over the shingle against time, to land one more load yet while the ebb allowed it. They could hear the yeo-yeo! of the sail-hoisters at work on the big mainsail abaft, and wondered how on earth she was going to be got clear with so little sea-way and the wind dead in shore. But they were reassured by the ancient mariner with the striped shirt, whose mission in life seemed to be to stand about and enlighten land-minds about sea-facts. The master of yander craft had doon that much afower, and he'd do it again. Why, he'd known him from three year old, the striped shirt had! Which settled the matter. Then presently the clink-clink of the windlass dragging at the anchor. They watched her in silence till, free of her moorings, any one could have sworn she would be on shore to a certainty. But she wasn't. She seemed mysteriously to be able to manage for herself, and just as a berth for the night on the shingle appeared inevitable, leaned over to the wind and crept away from the land, triumphant.
Then, the show being over, as Fenwick and Vereker turned to look the lateness of the hour in the face, and get home to bed, the latter answered the question of the former, as though he had but just asked it.
"Speak to Sally. I shall have to." And then added, with an awestruck face and bated breath: "But it's awful!" A moment after he was laughing at himself, as he said to his companion, referring to a very palpable fact, "I don't wonder I made you laugh just now."
They walked on without much said till they came to Iggulden's; when the doctor, seeing no light in the sitting-room, hoped his worthy mother had fulfilled a promise made when they came away, and gone to bed. It was then past eleven. But he was reckoning without his host.
Fenwick said to him, as they stood on Iggulden's threshold and doormat respectively—presuming rashly, on imperfect information, to delay farewells—"Now look here, Conrad, my dear boy (I like your name Conrad), don't you go and boil over to Sally to-morrow, nor next day. You'll only spoil the rest of your stay, maybe.... What! well—what I mean is that nothing I say prejudices the kitten. You'll understand that, I'm sure?"
"Perfectly. Of course, if Sally were to say she knew somebody she would like a deal better, there's no reason why she shouldn't.... I mean I couldn't complain."
"Yes—yes! I see. You'd exonerate her. Good boy! Very proper." And indeed the doctor had felt, as the words passed his lips, that he was rather a horrid liar. But the point didn't matter. Fenwick laughed it off: "Just you take my advice, and refer the matter to the kitten the last day you're here. Monday, won't it be? And don't think about it!"
"Oh no! I'm a philosophical sort of chap, I am! Never in extremes. Good-night!"
"I see. Sperat infestis metuit secundis alteram sortem bene praeparatum pectus—Horace." Fenwick ran this through in a breath; and the doctor, a little hazy in school-memories of the classics, said, "What's that?" and began translating it—"The bosom well prepared for either lot, fears...." Fenwick caught him up and completed the sentence:
"Fears what is good, and hopes for what is not. Cut away to bed, old chap, and sleep sound...." Then he paused a moment, as he saw the doctor looking a question at him intently, and just about to speak it. He answered it before it came:
"No, no! Nothing more. I mean to forget all about it, and take my life as it stands. Bother Mr. Harrisson!" He dropped his voice to say this; then raised it again. "Don't you fret about me, doctor. Remember, I'm Algernon Fenwick! Good-night!"
"Good-night!" And then the doctor, with the remains of heart-turmoil in him, and a brain reeling, more or less, went up into what he conceived to be an empty dark room, and was disconcerted by an ill-used murmur in the darkness—a meek, submissive voice of one accustomed to slights:
"I told her to blow it out and go to bed. It is all—quite—right, my dear. So do not complain. Now help me with my things, and I will get to bed."
"My dear mother! I am so sorry. I had no idea you had not gone long ago!"
"My dear!—it does not matter in the least now. What is done, is done. Be careful with the grease over my work. These candles drop dreadfully, unless you hold them exactly upright. And gutter. Now give me your arm, and I will go to bed. I think I shall sleep." And the worthy woman was really—if her son could only have got his eyes freed from the scales of domestic superstition, and seen it—intensely happy and exultant at this fiendish little piece of discomfort-mongering. She had scored; there was no doubt of it. She was even turning it over in her own mind whether it would not bear repetition at a future time; and quite intended, if so, to enjoy herself over it. Now the doctor was contrite and heavy at heart at his cruel conduct; walking about—just think!—and talking over his own affairs while his self-sacrificing mother was sitting in the dark, with the lamp out! To be sure there was no visible reason why she should have had it put out, except as a picturesque and imaginative way of rubbing her altruism into its nearest victim. Unless, indeed, it was done in order that the darkened window should seem to announce to the returning truant that she had gone to bed, and to lull his mind to unconsciousness of the ambush that awaited him.
Anyhow, the doctor was so impressed with his own delinquency that he felt it would be impossible, the lamp having been put out, to take his mother into his confidence about his conversation with Fenwick. Which he certainly would have done—late as the hour was—if it had been left in. So he said good-night, and carried the chaos of his emotions away to bed with him, and lay awake with them till cock-crow.
* * * * *
As Fenwick walked back home, timing his pace by his expectation of his cigar's duration, he wondered whether, perhaps, he had not been a little rash. He felt obliged to go back on interviews with Sally, in which the doctor had been spoken of. He recalled for his justification one in particular. The family conclave at Krakatoa Villa had recurred to a remark of Rosalind's about the drawback to Vereker's practice of his bachelorhood. He was then, as it were, brought up for a second reading, and new clauses added to him containing schedules of possible wives. Fenwick had noticed, then, that Sally's assent to the insertion of any candidate's name turned on two points: one, the lady's consent being taken for granted; the other, that every young single female human creature known by name or describable by language was actually out of the question, or inadmissible in its answer. She rejected almost all applicants for the post of a doctor's wife without examining their claims, on the ground of moral or physical defect—as, for instance, you never would go and tie up poor Prosy to a wife that golloped. Sylvia Peplow, indeed! Interrogated about the nature of "golloping," Sally could go no nearer than that Miss Peplow looked as if she couldn't help it. And her sister was worse: she was perfectly pecky, and shut up with a click. And as for the large Miss Baker—why, you knew how large she was, and it would be quite ridiculous! Besides, her stupidity!
The only candidates that got the least consideration owed their success to their names or expectations. Caroline Smith had, or would have sometime, a thousand a year. But she squinted. Still, she might be thought over. Mrs. Pollicitus Biggs's cousin Isabella would have two thousand when her mother died, but the vitality of the latter was indescribable. Besides, she was just like her name, Isabella, and did her hair religiously. There was Chariclea Epimenides, certainly, who had got three thousand, and would have six more. She might be worth thinking of....
"Why don't you have him yourself, Sarah?" Fenwick had asked at this point. Rosalind had just left the room to speak to Ann. But he didn't want Sarah to be obliged to answer, so he went on: "Why are all these young ladies' incomes exactly in round thousands?"
To which Sally had replied: "They always are, when you haven't got 'em." But had fallen into contemplation, and presently said—out of the blue—"Because I'm an unsettled sort of party—a vagrant. I shouldn't do for a G.P.'s wife, thank you, Jeremiah! I should like to live in a caravan, and go about the country, and wood fires out of doors." Was it, Fenwick wondered, the gipsies they had seen to-day that had made her think of this? and then he recalled how he afterwards heard the kitten singing to herself the old ballad:
"What care I for my goose-feather bed? What care I for my money oh?"
and hearing her so sing had somehow imputed to the parade of bravado in the swing of its rhythm a something that might have belonged to a touched chord. Like enough a mistake of his, said Reason. But for all that the reminiscence played its part in soothing Fenwick's misgivings of his own rashness.
"The kitten's all right," said he to himself. "And if she doesn't want Master Conrad, the sooner he knows it the better!" But he had little doubt of the course things would take as he stopped to look at that venturesome star, that seemed to be going altogether too near the moon for safety.
In a few moments he turned again towards home. And then his mind must needs go off to the thing of all others he wished not to think of—himself. He had come to see this much clearly, that until the veil floated away from between him and his past and left the whole atmosphere transparent, there could be no certainty that a recrudescence of that past would not be fatal to his wife's happiness. And inevitably, therefore, to his own. Having once formulated the idea that for the future he was to be one person and Harrisson another, he found its entertainment in practice easier than he had anticipated. He had only to say to himself that it was for her sake that he did it, and he did not find it altogether impossible to dismiss his own identity from the phantasmagoria that kept on coming back and back before his mind, and to assign the whole drama to another person; to whom he allowed the name of Harrisson all the easier from his knowledge that it never had been really his own. Very much the easier, too, no doubt, from the sense that the function of memory was still diseased, imperfect, untrustworthy. How could it be otherwise when he still was unable to force it back beyond a certain limit? It was mainly a vision of America, and, previous to that, a mystery of interminable avenues of trees, and an inexplicable horror of a struggle with death. There he always lost himself. In the hinterland of this there was that vision of a wedding somewhere. And then bewilderment, because the image of his living wife, his very soul of the world he now dwelt in, the woman whose daughter had grown into his heart as his own—yes, not only the image, but the very name of her—had come in and supplanted that of the forgotten wife of that forgotten day. So much so that more than once, in striving to follow the clue given by that railway-carriage, his mind had involuntarily called the warm living thing that came into his arms from it "Rosey." In the face of that, what was the worth of anything he should recollect now, that he should not discard it as a mere phantasm, for her sake? How almost easy to say to himself, "that was Harrisson," and then to add, "whoever he was," and dismiss him.