"Whom do you mean by she, Sally?"
"Why, of course! Who could I mean but the girl you told me about that you think wouldn't agree with your mother?"
"I thought so. See what a mess I made of it! No, Sally, there's no such person. Now I shall have to speak the truth, and then I shall have to go away from you, and it will all be spoiled...." But Sally interposes on the tense speech, and sound of growing determination in the doctor's voice:
"Oh no, don't—no, don't! Don't say anything that will change it from now. See how happy we are! How could it be better? I'll call you Conrad, or anything you like. Only, don't make it different."
"Very well, I won't. I promise!" The doctor calms down. "But, Sally dearest—I may say Sally dearest, mayn't I?..."
"Well, perhaps. Only you must make that do for the present."
But there is a haunting sense of the Octopus in the conscientious soul of her son, and even though he is allowed to say "Sally dearest," the burden is on him of knowing that he has been swept away in the turmoil of this whirlwind of self, and he is feeling round to say peccavi, and make amends by confession. He makes "Sally dearest" do for the moment, but captures as a set-off the hand that slips readily enough into the arm he offers for it, with a caressing other hand, before he speaks again. He renews his promise—but with such a compensation in the hand that remains at rest in his! and then continues:
"Dearest Sally, I dare say you see how it was—about mother. It was very stupid of me, and I did it very badly. I got puzzled, and lost my head."
"I thought it was a real young lady, anyhow."
"I saw you did. And I do think—just now—I should have let you continue believing in the real young lady ... only when you said that...."
"Said that about your husband, and calling me Conrad. I couldn't stand it. It was just like a knife ... no, I'm in earnest, it was. How could I have borne it—gone on at all—with you married to any one else?" He asks this in a tone of serious conviction, of one who is diagnosing a strange case, conscientiously. Sally declines consultation—won't be too serious over it.
"You would have had to. Men get on capitally when they have to. But very likely I won't marry you. Don't be too sure! I haven't committed myself, you know." Nevertheless, the hand remains passive in the doctor's, as he continues his diagnosis:
"I shouldn't deserve you. But, then, who could?"
Sally tacitly refuses to help in answering this question.
"I vote for neither of us marrying anybody else, but going on like now," says she thoughtfully.
Sally, you see, was recovering herself after a momentary alarm, produced by the gust of resolution on Dr. Conrad's part. She had shut her window on the storm in his soul, and felt safe in resuming her identity. All through this walk, ever since the hand-incident, she had been hard at work ignoring suggestions of her inner mind that her companion was a loaded gun, and not quite safe to play with. Now she felt she had established a sort of modus vivendi which would not involve her in the horrors of a formal engagement, with the concomitants of dissension and bitterness that she had noticed in friends' families on such occasions. Why shouldn't she and poor Prosy walk about together as much as they liked—yes, even call in at a church and get married if they liked—and have no one else fussing over them? The sort of semi-trothplight she had just hushed into silence would do for a good long time to come, because she understood Prosy down to the ground, and, of course, she knew that his mistrusting her was out of the question.
As for the doctor, his was the sort of temperament one often meets with in very fair men of his type—intensely shy, but with a backing of resolution on occasion shown, bred of a capacity for high-strung passion. He had formed his intention fully and clearly of telling Sally the whole truth before they arrived at St. Sennans that evening, and had been hastened to what was virtually an avowal by a premature accident, as we have seen. Now the murder was out, and he was walking home slowly beside the marvel, the mystery, that had taken possession of the inmost recesses of his life—very much in her pocket, if the truth must be told—with an almost intolerable searching fire of joy finding every moment a new untouched recess in his innermost heart. He could have fallen at her feet and kissed them, could have poured out his very soul in passionate protestations, could and would have done anything that would have given a moment's respite to the tension of his love for this all-absorbing other creature that was absolutely here—a reality, and no dream—beside him. But he was going to be good, at her bidding, and remain a sane and reasonable general practitioner, however much his heart beat and his head swam. Poor Prosy!
No! On consideration, Agur, the son of Jakeh, didn't know all about it. He only knew the Oriental temperament. He was quite up to date, no doubt, but neither he nor Ithiel nor Ucal nor King Solomon could reckon with spiritual volcanoes. Probably nothing in the world could have explained to either of them the meaning of one or two bits of music Schubert wrote on this subject of Love—we don't flinch from our phraseology; we know that all will understand it whom we care should do so. By-the-bye, Dr. Vereker was partly German, and a musician. Agur can have had no experience of either. The ancestors of Schubert and Beethoven were splendid savages in his day, sleeping on the snow-wreaths in the forests of the north; and somewhere among them there was a germ of a love-passion that was one day to ring changes on the peals that were known to Agur, the son of Jakeh.
But this is wandering from the point, and all the while Sally and her lover have been climbing that hill again, and are now walking over the lonely down above, towards the sun, and their shadows are long behind them—at least, their shadow; for they have but one, and we fancy we have let some of our record slip, for the man's arm is round the girl's waist. Yes, some further clearer understanding has come into their lives, and maybe Sally sees by now that the vote she passed nem. con. may be rescinded in the end.
If you had been near them then, invisible, we know you would not have gone close and listened. You would have been too honourable. But you would only have heard this—take our word for it!
"Do you know what I always call you behind your back? I always call you Prosy. I don't know why."
"Because I am prosy—level-headed, slow sort of card—but prosy beyond a doubt."
"No, you're not. I don't think you know the least what you're like. But I shall call you Prosy, all the same, or whatever I choose!"
"You don't take to Conrad, somehow?"
"It sounds so reproachful. It's like William."
"Does William sound reproachful?"
"Of course it does! Willy-yum! A most reproachful name. No, Prosy dear, I shall call you Prosy, whatever the consequences may be. People must put their own construction upon it."
"Mother calls me Conny very often."
"When she's not taking exception to you ... oh, no! I know. I was only joking ... there, then! we won't quarrel and go home opposite ways about that. Besides, I'm the young lady...."
"Oh, Sally darling, dearest, it does make me feel such a fool. Please don't!"
"Stuff and nonsense, Prosy dear! I shall, if I choose. So there!... No, but seriously—why did you think I shouldn't get on well with your mother?" Poor Prosy looks very much embarrassed at this point; his countenance pleads for respite. But Sally won't let him off. And he is as wax in her hands, and she knows it, and also that every word that passes her coral lips seems to the poor stricken man a pearl of wisdom. And she is girl enough to enjoy her power, is Sally.
"Why do you think I shan't get on with her?" Note the slight variation in the question, driving the nail home, leaving no escape. The doctor's manner in reply is that of one who appeals to Truth herself to help him, before a court that acknowledges no other jurisdiction.
"Because ... I must say it because it's true, only it seems so ... so disloyal, you might say, to mother...."
"Well! Because what?"
"Because then it won't be the same as your mother. It can't be."
"Oh, Sally—dearest love—how can it?"
"Well! Perhaps why not was fibs. And, of course, mother's an angel, so it's not fair. But, Prosy dear, I'll tell you one thing I do think—that affectionate sons make very bad medical attendants for their ma's; and I should say the same if they had all the degrees in Christendom."
"You think a nervous element comes in?..."
* * * * *
And so the conversation ripples on, a quiet undertone of perfect confidence, freedom without reserve as to another self, suddenly discovered in the working identity of a fellow-creature. It ripples on just thus, all the distance of the walk along the topmost down, in the evening sunlight, and then comes a pause to negotiate the descent to their handy little forest below. Then a sense that they are coming back into a sane, dry world, and must be a lady and a gentleman again. But there must be a little farewell to the enchanted land they are leaving behind—a recognition of its story, under the beech-trees as the last gleam goes, and leaves us our inheritance of twilight.
"Do you remember, darling, how we climbed up there, coming, and had hold to the top?" His lips find hers, naturally and without disguise. It is the close of the movement, and company-manners will be wanted directly. But just a bar or two, and a space, before the music dies!...
"I remember," says Sally. "That began it. Oh, what a long time ago that does seem now! What a rum start it all is—the whole turn-out!" For the merpussy is her incorrigible self, and will be to the last.
* * * * *
When Sally reached home, very late, she was not displeased, though she was a little surprised, to find that Mrs. Lobjoit was keeping dinner back, and that her mother and Fenwick had not reappeared, having been away since they parted. Not displeased, because it gave her time to settle down—the expression she made use of, to think with; not with any admission, however, that she either felt or looked unusually exaltee—but surprised, because it was eight o'clock, and she felt that even Mrs. Lobjoit's good-nature might have limits.
But while she was settling down, in a happy, excited dream she half wondered that she did not wake from, back came the truants; and she heard from her room above Mrs. Lobjoit's report that Miss Sally was gone upstairs to get ready, with the faintest hint of reproach in the tone. Then her mother's "Don't stop to read letters, Gerry—that'll do after," and Fenwick's "All right!" not followed by immediate obedience. Then, after half a moment's delay, in which she felt some surprise at herself for not going out to meet them coming up the stairs, her mother's voice approaching, that asked where the kitten was.
"Oh, here you are, chick!—how long have you been in? Why, Sallykin! what is it, child?... Oh, Gerry—Gerry—come up here and hear this!" For the merpussy, in spite of many stoical resolutions, had merged a beginning of verbal communication in a burst of happy tears on her mother's bosom.
And when Fenwick, coming upstairs three steps at a time, filled the whole house with "Hullo, Sarah! what's the latest intelligence?" this young lady had only just time to pull herself together into something like dignified self-possession, in order to reply ridiculously—how could she have been our usual Sally, else?—"We-ell! I don't see that it's anything so very remarkable, after all. I've been encouraging my medical adviser's attentions, if you want to know, Jeremiah."
Was it only a fancy of Sally's, as she ended off a hurried toilet, for Mrs. Lobjoit's sake, or did her mother say to Fenwick, "Well!—that is something delightful, at any rate"? As though it were in some sense a set-off against something not delightful elsewhere.
OF A RECURRENCE FROM AS YOU LIKE IT AND HOW FENWICK DIDN'T. WHY A SAILOR WOULD NOT LEARN TO SWIM. THE BARON AGAIN. OF A CUTTLE-FISH AND HIS SQUIRT. OF THE POWER OF A PRIORI REASONING. OF SALLY'S CONFESSION, AND HOW FENWICK WENT TO A FIRST-CLASS HOTEL
When Fenwick turned back towards home, ostensibly to shorten Rosalind's visit to the doctor's mother, he had no intention of doing so early enough to allow of his rejoining his companions, however slowly they might walk. Neither did he mean to deprive old Mrs. Vereker of Rosalind until she had had her full allowance of her. In an hour would do—or three-quarters. He discounted twenty-five per cent., owing to a recollection of the green veil and spectacles. Then he felt unkind, and said to himself, that, after all, the old woman couldn't help it.
Fenwick felt he was making a great concession in giving up three-quarters of an hour of Rosalind. As soon as he had had exercise enough for the day, and was in a mood to smoke and saunter about idly, he wanted Rosalind badly, and was little disposed to give her up. But the old Goody was going away to-morrow, and he would be liberal. He would take a turn along the sea-front—would have time to get down to the jetty—and then would invade the cave of the Octopus and extract the prisoner from its tentacles.
His intention in forsaking Sally and the doctor was half suspected by the latter, quite clear to himself, and only unperceived by his opaque stepdaughter. As he idled down towards the old fisher-dwellings and the net-huts, he tried to picture the form the declaration would take, and the way it would be received. That this would be favourable he never doubted for a moment; but he recalled the speech of Benedict to Beatrice, "By my troth I take thee for pity," and fancied Sally's response might be of the same complexion. His recollection of these words produced a mental recurrence, a distressing and imperfect one, connected with the earlier time he could not reach back to, of the words being used to himself by a girl who ascribed them to Rosalind in As You Like It, and a discussion after of their whereabouts in Shakespeare.
The indescribable wrench this gave his mind was so painful that he was quite relieved to recall Vereker's opinion that it was always the imperfection of the memory and the effort that gave pain, not the thing remembered. And in this case there could be no doubt that it was a mere dream, for the girl not only took the form of his Rosey he was going back to directly, but actually claimed her name, saying distinctly, "like my namesake, Celia's friend, in Shakespeare." Could any clearer proof be given that it was mere brain-froth?
The man with "Bessie" and "Elinor" tattooed on his arm was enjoying a pipe and mending a net, not to be too idle. The glass might be rising—or not. He was independent of Science. A trifle of wind in the night was his verdict, glass or no! The season was drawing nigh to a close now for a bathing-resort, as you might say. Come another se'nnight, you wouldn't see a machine down, as like as not. But you could never say, to a nicety. He'd known every lodging in the old town full, times and again, to the end of September month, before now. But this year was going to fall early, and your young lady would lose her swimming.
"She's a rare lass, too, for the water," he concluded, without any consciousness of familiarity in the change of phrase. "Not that I know much myself, touching swimming and the like. For I can't swim myself, never a stroke."
"That's strange, too, for a seaman," said Fenwick.
"No, sir! Not so strange as you might think it. You ask up and down among we, waterside or seafaring, and you'll find a many have never studied it, for the purpose. Many that would make swimmers, with a bit of practice, will hold off, for the reason I tell you. Overboard in mid-ocean, and none to help, and not a spar, would you soonest drown, end on, or have to fight for it, like it or no?"
"Drown! The sooner the better." Fenwick has no doubt about the matter.
"Why, sure! So I say, master. And I've put no encouragement on young Benjamin, over yonder, to give study to the learning of it, for the same reason. And not a stroke can he swim, any more than his father."
"Well! I can't swim myself, so there's three of us!" said Fenwick. "My daughter swims enough for the lot." It gave him such pleasure to speak thus of Sally boldly, where there need be no exact definition of their kinship. The net-mender pursued the subject with the kind of gravity on him that always comes on a seaman when drowning is under discussion.
"She's a rare one, for sure. Never but three, or may be fower, have I seen in my time to come anigh to her—man nor woman. The best swimmer a long way I've known—Peter Burtenshaw by name—I helped bring to after drowning. He'd swum—at a guess—the best part of six hours afower we heard the cry of him on our boat. Too late a bit we were, but we found him, just stone-dead like, and brought him round. It was what Peter said of that six hours put me off of letting 'em larn yoong Benjamin to swim when he was a yoongster. And when he got to years of understanding I told him my mind, and he never put himself to study it."
Fenwick would have liked to go on talking with the fisherman, as his mental recurrence about Shakespeare had fidgeted him, and he found speech a relief. But some noisy visitors from the new St. Sennans on the cliff above had made an irruption into the little old fishing-quarter, and the attention of the net-mender was distracted by possibilities of a boat-to-day being foisted on their simplicity; it was hardly rough enough to forbid the idea. Fenwick, therefore, sauntered on towards the jetty, but presently turned to go back, as half his time had elapsed.
As he repassed the net-mender with a short word or two for valediction, his ear was caught by a loud voice among the party of visitors, who were partly sitting on the beach, partly throwing stones in the water. Something familiar about that voice, surely!
"I gannod throw stoanss. I am too vat. I shall sit on the peach and see effrypotty else throw stoanss. I shall smoke another cigar. Will you haff another cigar, Mr. Prown? You will not? Ferry well! Nor you, Mrs. Prown? Not for the worlt? Ferry well! Nor you, Mr. Bilkington? Ferry well! I shall haff one myself, and you shall throw stoanss." And then, as though to remove the slightest doubt about the identity of the speaker, the voice broke into song:
"Ich hatt' einen Kameraden, Einen bessern findst du nicht—"
but ended on "Mein guter Kamerad," exclaiming stentorianly, "Opleitch me with a madge," and lighting his cigar in spite of his companions' indignation at the music stopping.
Fenwick stood hesitating a moment in doubt what to do. His inclination was to go straight down the beach to his old friend, whom—of course, you understand?—he now remembered quite well, and explain the strange circumstances that had rendered their meeting in Switzerland abortive. But then!—what would the effect be on his present life, in his relation to Rosalind and (almost as important) to Sally? Diedrich Kreutzkammer had been, for some time in California, a most intimate friend. Fenwick had made him the confidant of his marriage and his early life, all that he had since forgotten, and he had it now in his power to recover all this from the past. Strange to say, although he could remember the telling of these things, he could only remember weak, confused snatches of what he told. It was unaccountable—but there!—he could not try to unravel that skein now. He must settle, and promptly, whether to speak to the Baron or to run.
He was not long in coming to a decision, especially as he saw that hesitation was sure to end in the adoption of the former course—probably the wrong one. He just caught the Baron's last words—a denunciation of the hotel he was stopping at, loud enough to reach the new St. Sennans, of which it was the principal constituent—and then walked briskly off. He arrived at Iggulden's within the hour he had first conceded to the Octopus, and got Rosalind out for a walk, as originally proposed.
There was no apparent reason why the impossibility of overtaking Sally and the doctor should be interpreted into an excuse for going in the opposite direction; but each accepted it as such, or as a justification at least. Rosalind had not so distinct a reason as her husband for wishing not to break in upon them, as he had not reported the whole of his last talk with Vereker. But though she did not know that Dr. Conrad had as good as promised to make a clean breast of it before returning to London, she thought nothing was more likely than that he should do so, and resolved to leave the stage clear for the leading parts. She may even have flattered herself that she was showing tact—keeping an unconscious Gerry out of the way, who might else interfere with the stars in their courses, in the manner of the tactless. Rosalind suspected this of Sally, that whatever she might think she thought, and whatever parade she made of an even mind no sentiments whatever prevailed in, there was in her inmost heart another Sally, locked in and unconfessed, that had strong views on the subject. And she wanted this Sally to be let out for a spell, or for poor Prosy to be allowed into her cell long enough to speak for himself. Anyhow, this was their last chance here, and she wasn't going to spoil it.
She had gone near to making up her mind—after her sufferings from Gwenny's mamma in the morning—to attempt, at any rate, a communication of their joint story to her husband. But it must depend on circumstances and possibilities. She foresaw a long period of resolutions undermined by doubts, decisions rescinded at the last moment, and suddenly-revealed ambushes, and perhaps in the end self-reproach for a mismanaged revelation that might have been so much more skilfully done. Never mind—it was all in the day's work! She had borne much, and would bear more.
"How do you know they are all nonsense, Gerry darling?" We catch their conversation in the middle as they walk along the sands the tide is leaving clear, after accommodating the few morning-bathers with every opportunity to get out of their depths. "How do you know? Surely the parts that you do seem to remember clearly must be all right, however confused the rest is."
Fenwick gives his head the old shake, dashes his hair across his brow and rubs it, then replies: "The worst of the job is, you see, that the bits I remember clearest are the greatest gammon. What do you make of that?"
Rosalind's hand closes on her nettle. "Instance, Gerry!—give me an instance, and I shall know what you mean."
Fenwick is outrageously confident of the safety of his last imperfect recollection. He can trust to its absurdity if he can trust to anything.
"Well! For instance, just now—an hour ago—I recollected something about a girl who would have it Rosalind in As You Like It said, 'By my troth I take thee for pity,' to Orlando. And all the while it was Benedict said it to Beatrice in All's Well that Ends Well."
The hand on the nettle tightens. "Gerry dearest!" she remonstrates. "There's nothing in that, as Sallykin says. Of course it was Benedict said it to Beatrice."
"Yes—but the gammon wasn't in that. It was the girl that said it. When I tried to think who it was, she turned into you! I mean, she became exactly like you."
"But I'm a woman of forty." This was a superb piece of nettle-grasping; and there was not a tremor in the voice that said it, and the handsome face of the speaker was calm, if a little pale. Fenwick noticed nothing.
"Like what I should suppose you were as a girl of eighteen or twenty. It's perfectly clear how the thing worked. It was from something else I seem to recollect her saying, 'Like my namesake, Celia's friend in Shakespeare.' The moment she said that, of course the name Rosalind made me think you into the business. It was quite natural."
"Quite natural! And when I was that girl that was what I said." She had braced herself up, in all the resolution of her strong nature, to the telling of her secret, and his; and she thought this was her opportunity. She was mistaken. For as she stood, keeping, as it were, a heartquake in abeyance, till she should see him begin to understand, he replied without the least perceiving her meaning—evidently accounting her speech only a variant on "If I had been that girl," and so forth—"Of course you did, sweetheart," said he, with a laugh in his voice, "when you were that girl. And I expect that girl said it when she was herself, whoever she was, and the name Rosalind turned her into you? Look at this cuttlefish before he squirts."
For a moment Rosalind Fenwick was almost two people, so distinctly did the two aspects or conditions of herself strike her mind. The one was that of breath drawn freely, of a respite, a reprieve, a heartquake escaped; for, indeed, she had begun to feel, as she neared the crisis, that the trial might pass her powers of endurance. The other of a new terror—that the tale, perhaps, could not be told at all! that, unassisted by a further revival of her husband's memory, it would remain permanently incredible by him, with what effect of a half-knowledge of the past God only knew. The sense of reprieve got the better of the new-born apprehension—bid it stand over for a while, at least. Sufficient for the day was the evil thereof.
Meanwhile, Gerry, absolutely unconscious of her emotion, and seeming much less disconcerted over this abortive recollection than over previous ones, stood gazing down into the clear rock-pool that contained the cuttlefish. "Do come and look at him, Rosey love," said he. "His manners are detestable, but there can be no doubt about the quality of his black."
She leaned a bit heavily on the arm she took as they left the cuttlefish to his ill-conditioned solitude. "Tired, dearest?" said her husband; and she answered, "Just a little!" But his mind was a clean sheet on which his story would have to be written in ink as black as the cuttlefish's Parthian squirt, and in a full round hand without abbreviations, unless it should do something to help itself. Let it rest while she rested and thought.
She thought and thought—happy for all her strain of nerve and mind, on the quiet stretch of sand and outcrop of chalk, slippery with weed, that the ebbing tide would leave safe for them for hours to come. So thinking, and seeing the way in which her husband's reason was entrenched against the facts of his own life, in a citadel defended by human experience at bay, she wavered in her resolution of a few hours since—or, rather, she saw the impossibility of forcing the position, thinking contentedly that at least if it was so impracticable to her it would be equally so to other agencies, and he might be relied on to remain in the dark. The status quo would be the happiest, if it could be preserved. So when, after a two hours' walk through the evening glow and the moonrise, Rosalind came home to Sally's revelation, as we have seen, the slight exception her voice took to universal rejoicing was the barest echo of the tension of her absolutely unsuccessful attempt to get in the thin end of the wedge of an incredible revelation.
Quite incredible! So hopeless is the case of a mere crude, unadulterated fact against an irresistible a priori belief in its incredibility.
Sally was reserved about details, but clear about the outcome of her expedition with Prosy. They perfectly understood each other, and it wasn't anybody else's concern; present company's, of course, excepted. Questioned as to plans for the future—inasmuch as a marriage did not seem inconsequent under the circumstances—Sally became enigmatical. The word "marriage" had not been so much as mentioned. She admitted the existence of the institution, but proposed—now and for the future—to regard it as premature. Wasn't even sure she would tell anybody, except Tishy; and perhaps also Henriette Prince, because she was sure to ask, and possibly Karen Braun if she did ask. But she didn't seem at all clear what she was going to say to them, as she objected to the expression "engaged." A thing called "it" without an antecedent, got materialised, and did duty for something more intelligible. Yes!—she would tell Tishy about It, and just those one or two others. But if It was going to make any difference, or there was to be any fuss, she would just break It off, and have done with It.
Sentiments of this sort provoked telegraphic interchanges of smile-suggestion between her hearers all through the evening meal that was so unusually late. This lateness received sanction from the fact that Mr. Fenwick would very likely have letters by the morning post that would oblige him to return to town by the afternoon train. If so, this was his last evening, and clearly nothing mattered. Law and order might be blowed, or hanged.
It was, under these circumstances, rather a surprise to his hearers when he said, after smoking half through his first cigar, that he thought he should walk up to the hotel in the new town, because he fancied there was a man there he knew. As to his name, he thought it was Pilkington, but wasn't sure. Taunted with reticence, he said it was nothing but business. As Rosalind could easily conceive that Gerry might not want to introduce all the Pilkingtons he chanced across to his family, she didn't press for explanation. "He'll very likely call round to see your young man, chick, when he's done with Pilkington." To which Sally replied, "Oh, he'll come round here. Told him to!" Which he did, at about ten o'clock. But Fenwick had never called at Iggulden's, neither had he come back to his own home. It was after midnight before his foot was on the stairs, and Sally had retired for the night, telling her mother not to fidget—Jeremiah would be all right.
OF AN OBSERVANT AND THOUGHTFUL, BUT SNIFFY, WAITER; AND HOW HE OPENED A NEW BOTTLE OF COGNAC. HOW THE BARON SAW FENWICK HOME, WITHOUT HIS HAT. AN OLD MEMORY FROM ROSALIND'S PAST AND HIS. AND THEN FACE TO FACE WITH THE WHOLE. SLEEP UPON IT! BUT WHAT BECAME OF HIS HORRIBLE BABY?
At eleven o'clock that night a respectable man with weak eyes and a cold was communing with a commanding Presence that lived in a bureau—nothing less!—in the entrance-hall of the big hotel at the new St. Sennans. It was that of a matron with jet earrings and tube-curls and a tortoise-shell comb, and an educated contempt for her species. It lived in that bureau with a speaking-pipe to speak to every floor, and a telephone for the universe beyond. He that now ventured to address it was a waiter, clearly, for he carried a table-napkin, on nobody's behalf and uselessly, but with a feeling for emblems which might have made him Rouge Dragon in another sphere. As it was, he was the head waiter in the accursed restaurant or dining-salon at the excruciating new hotel, where he would bring you cold misery from the counter at the other end, or lukewarm depression a la carte from the beyond—but nothing that would do you any good inside, from anywhere.
"Are those parties going, in eighty-nine, do you make out?" The Presence speaks, but with languid interest.
"Hapathetic party, and short customer. Takes you up rather free. Name of Pilkington. Not heard 'em say anything!"
"Who did you say was going?"
"The German party. Party of full 'abit. Call at seven in the morning. Fried sole and cutlets a la mangtynong and sweet omelet at seven-thirty sharp. Too much by way of smoking all day, in my thinking! But they say plums and greengages, took all through meals, is a set-off."
"I don't pretend to be an authority. Isn't that him, in the smoking-room?"
"Goin' on in German? Prob'ly." Both stop and listen. What they hear is the Baron, going on very earnestly indeed in German. What keeps them listening is that another voice comes in occasionally—a voice with more than mere earnestness in it; a voice rather of anguish under control. Then both voices pause, and silence comes suddenly.
"Who's the other party?"
"In a blue soote, livin' in one of the sea-'ouses down on the beach. Big customer. Prodooces a rousin' impression!"
"Is that his daughter that swims?... That's him—coming away."
But it isn't. It is the Baron, wrathful, shouting, swearing, neither in German nor English, but in either or both. Where is that tamned kellner? Why does he not answer the pell? This is an abscheuliches hotel, and every one connected with it is an Esel. What he wants is some cognac and a doctor forthwith. His friend has fainted, and he has been pressing the tamned puddon, and nobody comes.
The attitude of the lady with the earrings epitomizes the complete indifference of a hotel-keeper to the private lives of its guests nowadays. That bell must be seen to, she says. Otherwise she is callous. The respectable waiter hurries for the cognac, and returns with a newly-drawn bottle and two glasses to the smoking-room, to find that the gentleman has recovered and won't have any. He suggests that our young man could step round for Dr. Maccoll; but the proposed patient says, "The devil fly away with Dr. Maccoll!" which doesn't look like docility. The respectable waiter takes note of his appearance, and reports of it to his principal on dramatic grounds, not as a matter into which human sympathies enter.
"Very queer he looks. Doo to reaction, or the coatin's of the stomach. Affectin' the action of the heart.... No, there's nobody else in the smoking-room. Party with the 'ook instead of a hand's watching of 'em play penny-pool in the billiard-room." Surely a tale to bring a tear to the eye of sensibility! But not to one that sees in mankind only a thing that comes and goes and pays its bill—or doesn't. The lady in the bureau appears to listen slightly to the voices that come afresh from the smoking-room, but their duration is all she is concerned with. "He's going now," she says. He is; and he does look queer—very queer. His companion does not leave him at the door, but walks out into the air with him without his hat, speaking to him volubly and earnestly, always in German. His speech suggests affectionate exhortation, and the way he takes his arm is affectionate. The voices go out of hearing, and it is so long before the Baron returns, hatless, that he must have gone all the way to the sea-houses down on the beach.
* * * * *
Sally retired to her own couch in order to supply an inducement to her mother to go to bed herself, and sit up no longer for Gerry's return, which might be any time, of course. Rosalind conceded the point, and was left alone under a solemn promise not to be a goose and fidget. But she was very deliberate about it; and though she didn't fidget, she went all the slower that she might think back on a day—an hour—of twenty years ago, and on the incident that Gerry had half recalled, quite accurately as far as it went, but strangely unsupported by surroundings or concomitants.
It came back to her with both. She could remember even the face of her mother's coachman Forsyth, who had driven her with Miss Stanynaught, her chaperon in this case, to the dance where she was to meet Gerry, as it turned out; and how Forsyth was told not to come for them before three in the morning, as he would only have to wait; and how Miss Stanynaught, her governess of late, who was over forty, pleaded for two, and Forsyth did have to wait; and how she heard the music and the dancing above, for they were late; and how they waded upstairs against a descending stream of muslin skirts and marked attentions going lawnwards towards the summer night, and bent on lemonade and ices; and then their entry into the dancing-room, and an excited hostess and daughters introducing partners like mad; and an excited daughter greeting a gentleman who had come upstairs behind them, with "Well, Mr. Palliser, you are late. You don't deserve to be allowed to dance at all." And that was Jessie Nairn, of course, who added, "I've jilted you for Arthur Fenwick."
How well Rosalind could remember turning round and seeing a splendid young chap who said, "What a jolly shame!" and didn't seem to be oppressed by that or anything else; also Jessie's further speech, apologizing for having also appropriated Miss Graythorpe's partner. So they would have to console each other. What a saucy girl Jessie was, to be sure! She introduced them with a run, "Mr. Algernon Palliser, Miss Rosalind Graythorpe, Miss Rosalind Graythorpe, Mr. Algernon Palliser," and fled. And Rosalind was piqued about Arthur Fenwick's desertion. It seemed all so strange now—such a vanished world! Just fancy!—she had been speculating if she should accept Arthur, if he got to the point of offering himself.
But a shaft from Cupid's bow must have been shot from a slack string, for Rosalind could remember how quickly she forgot Arthur Fenwick as she took a good look at Gerry Palliser, his great friend, whom he had so often raved about to her, and who was to be brought to play lawn-tennis next Monday. And then to the ear of her mind, listening back to long ago, came a voice so like the one she was to hear soon, when that footstep should come on the stair.
"I can't waltz like Arthur, Miss Graythorpe. But you'll have to put up with me." And the smile that spread over his whole face was so like him now. Then came the allusion to As You Like It.
"I'll take you for pity, Mr. Palliser—'by my troth,' as my namesake Rosalind, Celia's friend, in Shakespeare, says to what's his name ... Orlando...."
"Come, I say, Miss Graythorpe, that's not fair. It was Benedict said it to Beatrice."
"Did he? And did Beatrice say she wouldn't waltz with him?"
"Oh, please! I'm so sorry. No—it wasn't Benedict—it was Rosalind."
"That's right! Now let me button your glove for you. You'll be for ever, with those big fingers." For both of us, thought Rosalind, were determined to begin at once and not lose a minute. That dear old time ... before...!
Then, even clearer still, came back to her the dim summer-dawn in the garden, with here and there a Chinese lantern not burned out, and the flagging music of the weary musicians afar, and she and Gerry with the garden nearly to themselves. She could feel the cool air of the morning again, and hear the crowing of a self-important cock. And the informal wager which would live the longer—a Chinese lantern at the point of death, or the vanishing moon just touching the line of tree-tops against the sky, stirred by the morning wind. And the voice of Gerry when return to the house and a farewell became inevitable. She shut her eyes, and could hear it and her own answer.
"I shall go to India in six weeks, and never see you again."
"Yes, you will; because Arthur Fenwick is to bring you round to lawn-tennis...."
"That won't make having to go any better. And then when I come back, in ever so many years, I shall find you...."
"Gone to kingdom come?"
"No—married!... Oh no, do stop out—don't go in yet...."
"We ought to go in. Now, don't be silly."
"I can't help it.... Well!—a fellow I know asked a girl to marry him he'd only known two hours."
"What very silly friends you must have, Mr. Palliser! Did she marry him?"
"No! but they're engaged, and he's in Ceylon. But you wouldn't marry me...."
"How on earth can you tell, in such a short time? What a goose you are!... There!—the music's stopped, and Mrs. Nairn said that must be the last waltz. Come along, or we shall catch it."
They had known each other exactly four hours!
Rosalind remembered it all, word for word. And how Gerry captured a torn glove to keep; and when he came, as appointed, to lawn-tennis, went back at once to Shakespeare, and said he had looked it up, and it was Beatrice and Benedict, and not Rosalind at all. She could remember, too, her weary and reproachful chaperon, and the well-deserved scolding she got for the way she had been going on with that young Palliser. Eight dances!
So long ago! And she could think through it all again. And to him it had become a memory of shreds and patches. Let it remain so, or become again oblivion—vanish with the rest of his forgotten past! Her thought that it would do so was confidence itself as she sat there waiting for his footstep on the stair. For had she not spoken of herself unflinchingly as the girl who said those words from Shakespeare, and had not her asseveration slipped from the mind that could not receive it as water slips from oil? She could wait there without misgiving—could even hope that, whatever it was due to, this recent stirring of the dead bones of memory might mean nothing, and die away leaving all as it was before.
* * * * *
Sally, acknowledging physical fatigue with reluctance, after her long walk and swim in the morning, went to bed. It presented itself to her as a thing practicable, and salutary in her state of bewilderment, to lie in bed with her eyes closed, and think over the events of the day. It would be really quiet. And then she would be awake when Jeremiah came in, and would call out for information if there was a sound of anything to hear about. But her project fell through, for she had scarcely closed her eyes when she fell into a trap laid for her by sleep—deep sleep, such as we fancy dreamless. And when Fenwick came back she could not have heard his words to her mother, even had they risen above the choking undertone in which he spoke, nor her mother's reply, more audible in its sudden alarm, but still kept down—for, startled as she was at Gerry's unexpected words, she did not lose her presence of mind.
"What is it, Gerry darling? What is it, dear love? Has anything happened? I'll come."
"Yes—come into my room. Come away from our girl. She mustn't hear."
She knew then at once that his past had come upon him somehow. She knew it at once from the tone of his voice, but she could make no guess as to the manner of it. She knew, too, that that heartquake was upon her—the one she had felt so glad to stave off that day upon the beach—and that self-command had to be found in an emergency she might not have the strength to meet.
For the shock, coming as it did upon her false confidence—a sudden thunderbolt from a cloudless sky—was an overwhelming one. She knew she would have a moment's outward calm before her powers gave way, and she must use it for Sally's security. What Gerry said was true—their girl must not hear.
But oh, how quick thought travels! By the time Rosalind, after stopping a second outside Sally's door, listening for any movement, had closed that of her husband's room as she followed him in, placing the light she carried on a chair as she entered, she had found in the words "our girl" a foretaste of water in the desert that might be before her.
Another moment and she knew she was safe, so far as Gerry himself went. As he had himself said, he would be the same Gerry to her and she the same Rosey to him, whatever wild beast should leap out of the past to molest them. She knew it was as he caught her to his heart, crushing her almost painfully in the great strength that went beyond his own control as he shook and trembled like an aspen-leaf under the force of an emotion she could only, as yet, guess at the nature of. But the guess was not a wrong one, in so far as it said that each was there to be the other's shield and guard against ill, past, present, and to come—a refuge-haven to fly to from every tempest fate might have in store. She could not speak—could not have found utterance even had words come to her. She could only rest passive in his arms, inert and dumb, feeling in the short gasps that caught his breath how he struggled for speech and failed, then strove again. At last his voice came—short, spasmodic sentences breaking or broken by like spans of silence:
"Oh, my darling, my darling, remember!... remember!... whatever it is ... it shall not come between us ... it shall not ... it shall not.... Oh, my dear!... give me time, and I shall speak ... if I could only say at once ... in one word ... could only understand ... that is all ... to understand...." He relaxed his hold upon her; but she held to him, or she might have fallen, so weak was she, and so unsteady was the room and all in it to her sight. The image of him that she saw seemed dim and in a cloud, as he pressed his hands upon his eyes and stood for a moment speechless; then struggled again to find words that for another moment would not come, caught in the gasping of his breath. Then he got a longer breath, as for ease, and drawing her face towards his own—and this time the touch of his hand was tender as a child's—he kissed it repeatedly—kissed her eyes, her cheeks, her lips. And in his kiss was security for her, safe again in the haven of his love, come what might. She felt how it brought back to her the breath she knew would fail her, unless her heart, that had beaten so furiously a moment since, and then died away, should resume its life. The room became steady, and she saw his face and its pallor plainly, and knew that in a moment she should find her voice. But he spoke first, again.
"That is what I want, dear love—to understand. Help me to understand," he said. And then, as though feeling for the first time how she was clinging to him for support, he passed his arm round her gently, guiding her to sit down. But he himself remained standing by her, as though physically unaffected by the storm of emotion, whatever its cause, that had passed over him. Then Rosalind found her voice.
"Gerry darling—let us try and get quiet over it. After all, we are both here." As she said this she was not very clear about her own meaning, but the words satisfied her. "I see you have remembered more, but I cannot tell how much. Now try and tell me—have you remembered all?"
"I think so, darling." He was speaking more quietly now, as one docile to her influence. His manner gave her strength to continue.
"Since you left Mr. Pilkington—your friend at the hotel—didn't you say the name Pilkington?"
"No—there was no Pilkington! Oh yes, there was!—a friend of Diedrich's...."
"Has it come back, I mean, since you left the house? Who is Diedrich?"
"Stop a bit, dearest love! I shall be able to tell it all directly." She, too, was glad of a lull, and welcomed his sitting down beside her on the bed-end, drawing her face to his, and keeping it with the hand that was not caressing hers. Presently he spoke again, more at ease, but always in the undertone, just above a whisper, that meant the consciousness of Sally, too, near. Rosalind said, "She won't hear," and he replied, "No; it's all right, I think," and continued:
"Diedrich Kreutzkammer—he's Diedrich—don't you remember? Of course you do!... I heard him down on the beach to-day singing. I wanted to go to him at once, but I had to think of it first, so I came home. Then I settled to go to him at the hotel. I had not remembered anything then—anything to speak of—I had not remembered IT. Now it is all back upon me, in a whirl." He freed the hand that held hers for a moment, and pressed his fingers hard upon his eyes; then took her hand again, as before. "I wanted to see the dear old fellow and talk over old times, at 'Frisco and up at the Gold River—that, of course! But I wanted, too, to make him repeat to me all the story I had told him of my early marriage—oh, my darling!—our marriage, and I did not know it! I know it now—I know it now."
Rosalind could feel the thrill that ran through him as his hand tightened on hers. She spoke, to turn his mind for a moment. "How came Baron Kreutzkammer at St. Sennans?"
"Diedrich? He has a married niece living at Canterbury. Don't you remember? He told you and you told me...." Rosalind had forgotten this, but now recalled it. "Well, we talked about the States—all the story I shall have to tell you, darling, some time; but, oh dear, how confused I get! That wasn't the first. The first was telling him my story—the accident, and so on—and it was hard work to convince him it was really me at Sonnenberg. That was rather a difficulty, because I had sent him in the name I had in America, and he only saw an old friend he thought was dead. All that was a trifle; but, oh, the complications!..."
"What was the name you had in America?"
Fenwick answered musingly, "Harrisson," and then paused before saying, "No, I had better not...." and leaving the sentence unfinished. She caught his meaning, and said no more. After all, it could matter very little if she never heard his American experiences, and the name Harrisson had no association for her. She left him to resume, without suggestion.
"He might have reminded me of anything that happened in the States, and I should just have come back here and told it you, because, you see, I should have been sure it was true, and no dream. It was India. I had told him all, don't you see? And I got him to repeat it, and then it all came back—all at once, the moment I saw it was you, my darling—you yourself! It all became quite easy then. It was us—you and me! I know it now—I know it now!"
"But, dearest, what made you see that it was us?"
"Why, of course, because of the name! He told me all I had told him from the beginning in German. We always spoke German. He could not remember your first name, but he remembered your mother's—it had stayed in his mind—because of the German word Nachtigall being so nearly the same. As he said the word my mind got a frightful twist, and I thought I was mad. I did, indeed, my dearest love—raving mad!"
"And then you knew it?"
"And then I knew it. I nearly fainted clean off, and he went for brandy; but I came round, and the dear old boy saw me to this door here. It has all only just happened." He remained silent again for a little space, holding her hand, and then said suddenly: "It has happened, has it not? Is it all true, or am I dreaming?"
"Be patient, darling. It is all true—at least, I think so. It is all true if it is like this, because remember, dear, you have told me almost nothing.... I only know that it has come back to you that I am Rosey and that you are Gerry—the old Rosey and Gerry long ago in India...." She broke down over her own words, as her tears, a relief in themselves, came freely, taxing her further to keep her voice under for Sally's sake. It was only for a moment; then she seemed to brush them aside in an effort of self-mastery, and again began, dropping her voice even lower. "It is all true if it is like this. I came out to marry you in India ... my darling!... and a terrible thing happened to me on the way ... the story you know more of now than I could tell you then ... for how could I tell it ... think?..."
Her husband started up from her side gasping, beating his head like a madman. She was in terror lest she had done wrong in her speech. "Gerry, Gerry!" she appealed to him in a scarcely raised voice, "think of Sally!" She rose and went to him, repeating, "Think of Sally!" then drew him back to his former place. His breath went and came heavily, and his forehead was drenched with sweat, as in epilepsy; but the paroxysm left him as he sank back beside her, saying only, "My God! that miscreant!" but showing that he had heard her by the force of the constraint he put upon his voice. It gave her courage to go on.
"I could not get it told then. I did not know the phrases—and you were so happy, my darling—so happy when you met me at the station! Oh, how could I? But I was wrong. I ought not to have let you marry me, not knowing. And then ... it seemed deception, and I could not right it...." Her voice broke again, as she hid her face on his shoulder; but she knew her safety in the kiss she felt on her free hand, and the gentleness of his that stroked her hair. Then she heard his almost whispered words above her head, close to her ear:
"Darling, forgive me—forgive me! It was I that was in fault. I might have known...."
"Gerry, dear ... no!..."
"Yes, I might. There was a woman there—had been an officer's wife. She came to me and spoke rough truths about it—told me her notion of the tale in her own language. 'Put her away from you,' she said, 'and you won't get another like her, and won't deserve her!' And she was right, poor thing! But I was headstrong and obstinate, and would not hear her. Oh, my darling, how we have paid for it!"
"But you have found me again, dear love!" He did not answer, but raised up her face from his shoulder, parting the loose hair tenderly—for it was all free on her shoulders—and gazing straight into her eyes with an expression of utter bewilderment. "Yes, darling, what is it?" said she, as though he had spoken.
"I am getting fogged!" he said, "and cannot make it out. Was it pure accident? Surely something must have happened to bring it about."
"Bring what about?"
"How came we to find each other again, I mean?"
"Oh, I see! Pure accident, I should say, dear! Why not? It would not have happened if it had not been possible. Thank God it did!"
"Thank God it did! But think of the strangeness of it all! How came Sally in that train?"
"Why not, darling? Where else could she have been? She was coming back to tea, as usual."
"And she put me in a cab—bless her!—she and Conrad Vereker—and brought me home to you. But did you know me at once, darling?"
"But why didn't you tell me?"
"If you had shown the slightest sign of knowing me I should have told you, and taken my chance; but you only looked at me and smiled, and never knew me! Was mine a good plan? At least, it has answered." A clasp and a kiss was the reply. She was glad that he should choose the line of conversation, and did not break into the pause that followed. The look of fixed bewilderment on his face was painful, but she did not dare any suggestion of guidance to his mind. She had succeeded but ill before in going back to the cause of their own early severance. Yet that was what she naturally had most at heart, and longed to speak of. Could she have chosen, she would have liked to resume it once for all, in spite of the pain—to look the dreadful past in the face, and then agree to forget it together. She was hungry to tell him that even when he broke away from her that last time she saw him at Umballa—broke away from her so roughly that his action had all the force and meaning of a blow—she only saw his image of the wrong she had done, or seemed to have done him; that she had nothing for him through it all but love and forgiveness. At least, she would have tried to make sure that he had been able to connect and compare the tale she had told him since their reunion with his new memory of the facts of twenty years ago. But she dared say nothing further as yet. For his part, at this moment, he seemed strangely willing to let all the old story lapse, and to dwell only on the incredible chance that had brought them again together. All that eventful day our story began with had leaped into the foreground of his mind.
Presently he said, still almost whispering hoarsely, with a constant note of amazement and something like panic in his voice: "If it hadn't happened—the accident—I suppose I should have gone back to the hotel. And what should I have done next? I should never have found you and Sally...."
"Were you poor, Gerry darling?"
"Frightfully rich! Gold-fields, mining-place up the Yu-kon. Near the Arctic Circle." He went on in a rapid undertone, as if he were trying to supply briefly what he knew the woman beside him must be yearning to know, if not quite unlike other women. "I wasn't well off before—didn't get on at the Bar at St. Louis—but not poor exactly. Then I made a small pile cattle-ranching in Texas, and somehow went to live at Quebec. There were a lot of French Canadians I took to. Then after that, 'Frisco and the gold...."
"Yes, love, what?"
"Have you any relations living in England?"
"Heaps, but I haven't spoken to one of them for years and years—not since then. One of them's a Bart. with a fungus on his nose in Shropshire. He's an uncle. Then there's my sister, if she's not dead—my sister Livy. She's Mrs. Huxtable. I fancy they all think I'm dead in the bush in Australia. I had a narrow squeak there...."
"Now, Gerry darling, I'll tell you what I want you to do...."
"Yes, dear, I will."
"You can't tell me all these things now, and you'll be ill; so lie down on the bed there, and I'll sit by you till you go to sleep. Or look, you get to bed comfortably, and I'll be back in a few minutes and sit by you. Just till you go off. Now do as I tell you."
He obeyed like a child. It was wonderful how, in the returning power of her self-command, she took him, as it were, in hand, and rescued him from the tension of his bewilderment. Apart from the fact that the fibre of her nature was exceptionally strong, her experience of this last hour had removed the most part of the oppression that had weighed her down for more than a twelvemonth—the doubt as to which way a discovery of his past would tell on her husband's love for her. She had no feeling now but anxiety on his behalf, and this really helped her towards facing the situation calmly. All things do that take us out of ourselves.
She stood again a moment outside Sally's door to make sure she was not moving, then went to her own room, not sorry to be alone. She wanted a pause for the whirl in her brain to stop, for the torrent of new event that had rushed in upon it to find its equilibrium. If Gerry fell asleep before she returned to him so much the better! She did not even light her candle, preferring to be in the dark.
But this did not long defer her return to her husband's room. A very few minutes in the darkness and the silence of her own were enough for her, and she was grateful for both. Then she went back, to find him in bed, sitting up and pressing his fingers on his eyes, as one does when suffering from nervous headache. But he disclaimed any such feeling in answer to her inquiry. She sat down beside him, holding his hand, just as she had done in the night of the storm, and begged him for her sake and his own to try to sleep. It would all seem so much easier and clearer in the morning.
Yes, he would sleep, he said. And, indeed, he had resolved to affect sleep, so as to induce her to go away herself and rest. But it was not so easy. Half-grasped facts went and came—recollections that he knew he should before long be able to marshal in their proper order and make harmonious. For the time being, though they had not the nightmare character of the recurrences he had suffered from before his memory-revival, they stood between him and sleep effectually. But he could and would simulate sleep directly, for Rosalind's sake. He had looked at his watch and seen that it was near two in the morning. Yes, he would sleep; but he must ask one question, or lose his reason if she left him alone with it unanswered.
"We'll forget the old story, won't we, and only think of now? That's the right way to take it, isn't it?"
She kissed his face as she answered, just as she might have kissed a child. "Quite right, dear love," she said; "and now go to sleep. Or if you must talk a little more, talk about Conrad and Sally."
"Ah yes!" he answered; "that's all happiness. Conrad and Sally! But there's a thing...."
"What thing, dear? What is it?"
"I shall ask it you in the end, so why not now?" She felt in his hand a shudder that ran through him, as his hold on her fingers tightened.
"So why not now?" she repeated after him. "Why hesitate?"
The tremor strengthened in her hand and was heard in his voice plainly as he answered with an effort: "What became of the baby?"
"What became of the baby!" There was a new terror in Rosalind's voice as she repeated the words—a fear for his reason. "What baby?"
"The baby—his baby—his horrible baby!"
"Gerry darling! Gerry dearest! do think...." His puzzled eyes, bloodshot in his white face, turned full upon her; but he remained silent, waiting to hear more. "You have forgotten, darling," she said quietly.
His free hand that lay on the coverlid clenched, and a spasm caught his arm, as though it longed for something to strike or strangle. "No, no!" said he; "I am all right. I mean that damned monster's baby. There was a baby?" His voice shook on these last words as though he, too, had a fear for his own reason. His face flushed as he awaited her reply.
"Oh, Gerry darling! but you have forgotten. His baby was Sally—my Sallykin!"
For it was absolutely true that, although he had as complete a knowledge, in a certain sense, of Sally's origin as the well-coached student has of the subject he is to answer questions in, he had forgotten it under the stress of his mental trial as readily as the student forgets what his mind has only acquiesced in for its purpose, in his joy at recovering his right to ignorance. Sally had an existence of her own quite independent of her origin. She was his and Rosalind's—a part of their existence, a necessity. It was easy and natural for him to dissociate the living, breathing reality that filled so much of their lives from its mere beginnings. It was less easy for Rosalind, but not an impossibility altogether, helped by the forgiveness for the past that grew from the soil of her daughter's love.
"You had forgotten, dear," she repeated; "but you know now."
"Yes, I had forgotten, because of Sally herself; but she is my daughter now...."
She waited, expecting him to say more; but he did not speak again. As soon as he was, or seemed to be, asleep, she rose quietly and left him.
She was so anxious that no trace of the tempest that had passed over her should be left for Sally to see in the morning that she got as quickly as possible to bed; and, with a little effort to tranquillise her mind, soon sank into a state of absolute oblivion. It was the counterswing of the pendulum—Nature's protest against a strain beyond her powers to bear, and its remedy.
OF A CONTRACT JOB FOR REPAIRS. HOW FENWICK HAD ANOTHER SLEEPLESS NIGHT AFTER ALL. WHICH IS WHICH, NOW OR TWENTY ODD YEARS AGO? HOW SALLY FOLLOWED JEREMIAH OUT. WHAT A LOT OF TALK ABOUT A LIFE-BELT!
A colourless dawn chased a grey twilight from the sea and white cliffs of St. Sennans, and a sickly effort of the sun to rise visibly, ending above a cloud-bank in a red half-circle that seemed a thing quite unconnected with the struggling light, was baffled by a higher cloud-bank still that came discouragingly from the west, and quenched the hopes of the few early risers who were about as St. Sennans tower chimed six. The gull that flew high above the green waste of white-flecked waters was whiter still against the inky blue of the cloud-curtain that had disallowed the day, and the paler vapour-drifts that paused and changed and lost themselves and died; but the air that came from the sea was sweet and mild for the time of year, and the verdict of the coastguardsman at the flagstaff, who in pursuance of his sinecure had seen the night out, was that the day was pretty sure to be an uncertain sart, with little froshets on the water, like over yander. He seemed to think that a certainty of uncertainty had all the value of a forecast, and was as well satisfied with his report as he was that he had not seen a smuggler through the telescope he closed as he uttered it.
"Well, I should judge it might be fairly doubtful," was the reply of the man he was speaking with. It was the man who had "Elinor" and "Bessie" tattooed on his arm. They were not legible now, as a couple of life-belts, or hencoops, as they are sometimes called, hung over the arm and hid them. The boy Benjamin was with his father, and carried a third. An explanation of them came in answer to interrogation in the eye of the coastguard. "Just to put a touch of new paint on 'em against the weather." The speaker made one movement of his head say that they had come from the pier-end, and another that he had taken them home to repaint by contract.
"What do you make out of S. S. P. C.?" the coastguard asked, scarcely as one who had no theory himself, more as one archaeologist addressing another, teeming with deference, but ready for controversy. The other answered with some paternal pride:
"Ah, there now! Young Benjamin, he made that good, and asked for to make it red in place of black himself! Didn't ye, ye young sculping? St. Sennans Pier Company, that's all it comes to, followed out. But I'm no great schoolmaster myself, and that's God's truth." Both contemplated the judicious restoration with satisfaction; and young Benjamin, who had turned purple under publicity, murmured that it was black afower. He didn't seem to mean anything, but to think it due to himself to say something, meaning or no. The coastguardsman merely said, "Makes a tidy job!" and the father and son went on their way to the pier.
A quarter of an hour before, this coastguard had looked after the visitor in a blue serge suit up at Lobjoit's, who had passed him going briskly towards the fishing-quarter. He had recognised him confidently, for he knew Fenwick well, and saw nothing strange in his early appearance. Now that he saw him returning, and could take full note of him, he almost suspected he had been mistaken, so wild and pallid was the face of this man, who, usually ready with a light word for every chance encounter—even with perfect strangers—now passed him by ungreeted, and to all seeming unconscious of his presence. The coastguard was for a moment in doubt if he should not follow him, inferring something in the nature of delirium from his aspect; but seeing that he made straight for the pier, and knowing that young Benjamin's father was more familiar with him than himself, he was contented to record in thought that that was a face with a bad day ahead, and leave it.
For Gerry, when Rosalind left him, was rash in assuming he could let her do so safely. His well-meant pretext of sleep was not destined to grow into a reality. He had really believed that it would, so soothing was the touch of her hand in his own. The moment he was alone his mind leapt, willy-nilly, to the analysis of one point or other in the past that had just come back to him. He tried to silence thought, and to sleep, knowing that his best hope was in rest; but each new effort only ended in his slipping back to what he had just dismissed. And that terrible last interview with Rosey at Umballa, when he parted from her, as he thought, never to see her again, was the Rome to which all the roads of recollection led. Each involuntary visit there had its rencherissement on the previous one, and in the end the image of that hour became a brain-oppression, and wrote the word "fever" large on the tablets of his apprehension.
He knew now it was not to be sleep; he knew it as he sat up in bed feeling his pulse, and stimulating it with his anxiety that it should go slow. Was there nothing he could take that would make him sleep? Certainly he knew of nothing, anywhere, except it was to be found by waking Rosalind, probably sound asleep by now. Out of the question! Oh, why, why, with all the warning he had had, had he neglected to provide himself with a mysterious thing known to him all his life as a soothing-draught? It would have been so useful now, and Conrad would have defined it down to the prosaic requirements of pharmacy. But it was too late!
So long as her hand was in his, so long as her lips were near his own, what did it matter what he recollected? The living present cancelled the dead past. But to be there alone in the dark, with the image of that Rosalind of former years clinging to him, and crying for forgiveness because his mind, warped against her by a false conception of the truth, could not forgive; to be defenceless against her last words, coming through the long interval to him again just as he heard them, twenty years ago, bringing back the other noises of the Indian night—the lowing of the bullocks in the compound, the striking of the hour on the Kutcherry gongs, the grinding of the Persian wheels unceasingly drawing water for the irrigation of the fields—to be exposed to this solitude and ever-growing imagination was to become the soil for a self-sown crop of terrors—fear of fever, fear of madness, fear at the very least of perturbation such that Sally might come, through it, to a knowledge that had to be kept from her at all costs.
He lighted his candle with a cautious match, and found what might be a solace—a lucky newspaper of the morning. If only he could read it without audible rustling, unheard by the sleepers!
The print was almost too small to be read by the light of a single candle; but there were the usual headings, the usual ranks of capitals that tell us so quick that there is nothing we shall care about in the pale undecipherable paragraphs below, and that we have spent our halfpenny in vain. There was the usual young lady who had bought, or was trying on, a large hat, and whose top-story above, in profile, had got so far ahead of her other stories below. There were the consignments of locust-flights of boots, for this young lady's friends, with heels in the instep. And all the advertisements that some one must believe, or they would not pay for insertion; but that we ignore, incredulous. Fenwick tried hard, for his own sake, to make the whole thing mean something, but his dazed brain and feverish eyes refused to respond to his efforts, and he let the paper go, and gave himself up, a prey to his own memories. After all, the daylight was sure to come in the end to save him.
He tried hard to reason with himself, to force himself to feel the reality of his own belief that all was well; for he had no doubt of it, as an abstract truth. It was the power of getting comfort from it that was wanting. If only his heart could stop thumping and his brain burning, he would have done the rejoicing that Rosalind was there, knowing all he knew, and loving him; that Sally was there, loving him too, but knowing nothing, and needing to know nothing; that one of his first greetings in the day to come would be from Conrad Vereker, probably too much intoxicated with his own happiness to give much attention to what he was beginning to acknowledge was some kind of physical or nervous fever. If he could only sleep!
But he could not—could hardly close his eyes. He said to himself again and again that nothing was the matter; that, if anything, he and Rosey were better off than they had been yet; that they had passed through a land of peril to a great deliverance. But he did not believe his own assurance, and the throng of memories that his feverish condition would not let sleep, or that were its cause, came on him more and more thickly through all those hours of the dreary night. They came, too, with a growing force, each one as it returned having more the character of a waking dream, vivid almost to the point of reality. But all ended alike. He always found himself breaking away from Rosey in the veranda in the bungalow at Umballa, and could hear again her cry of despair: "Oh, Gerry, Gerry! It is not as you think. Oh, stay, stay! Give me a chance to show you how I love you!" The tramp of his horse as he rode away from his home and that white figure left prostrate in the veranda above him, became a real sound that beat painfully upon his ears; and the voice of the friend he sought—an old soldier in camp at Sabatoo, where he rode almost without a halt—as he roused him in the dawn of the next day, came to him again almost as though spoken in the room beside him: "Left your wife, Palliser! My God, sir! what's to come next?" And then the wicked hardness of his own heart, and his stubborn refusal to listen to the angry remonstrance that followed. "I tell you this, young man! the man's a fool—a damned fool—that runs from the woman who loves him!" And the asseveration that the speaker would say the same if she was anything short of the worst character in camp, only in slightly different words. His remorse for his own obduracy, and the cruelty of his behaviour then; his shame when he thought of his application, months later, to the Court at Lahore—for "relief" from Rosey: just imagine it!—these were bad enough to think back on, even from the point of view of his previous knowledge; but how infinitely worse when he thought what she had been to him, how she had acted towards him two years ago!
Even the painful adventure he could now look back to clearly, and with a rather amused interest, as to an event with no laceration in it—his wandering in an Australian forest, for how many days he could not say, and his final resurrection at a town a hundred miles from his starting-point—even this led him back in the end to the old story. The whole passed through his mind like the scenes of a drama—his confidence, having lost the track, that his horse, left to himself, would find it again; his terror when, coming back from a stone's-throw off, he found the tree deserted he had tied his horse to; his foolish starting off to catch him, when the only sane course was to wait for his return. But the second act of the drama took his mind again to Rosey in her loneliness; for when he was found by a search-party at the foot of a telegraph-post he had used his last match to burn down, he was inarticulate, and seemed to give his name as Harrisson. As he slowly recovered sense and speech at the telegraph-station—for the interruption of the current had been his cry for help to its occupants—he heard himself addressed by the name and saw the mistake; but he did not correct it, being, indeed, not sorry for an incognito, sick of his life, as it were, and glad to change his identity. But how if Rosey wrote to him then—think of it!—under his old name? Fancy her when the time came for a possible reply, with who could say what of hope in it! Fancy her many decisions that it was still too soon for an answer, followed by as many others as time went on that it was not too late! If he had received such a letter from her then, might it not all have been different? May she not have written one? He had talked so little with her; nothing forbade the idea. And so his mind travelled round with monotonous return, always to that old time, and those old scenes, and all the pain of them.
It was curious—he noted the oddity himself—that his whole life in America took the drama character, and he became the spectator. He never caught himself playing his own part over again, with all its phases of passion or excitement, as in the earlier story. In that, his identification of himself with his past grew and grew, and as his fever increased through the small hours of the morning, got more and more the force of a waking dream. And when the dawn came at last, and the gleam from the languid sun followed it, the man who got up and looked out towards its great blue bank of cloud was only half sure he was not another former self, looking out towards another sea, twenty years ago, to see if he could identify the ship that was to take him from Kurachi to Port Jackson.
What did it all mean? Yes, sure enough he had taken his passage, and to-morrow leagues of sea would lie between him and Rosey. That would end it for ever. No reconciliations, no repentance then!... Was there not still time? a chance if he chose to catch at it? Puny irresolution! Shake it all off, and have done with it.... He shuddered as he thought through his old part again, and then came back with a jerk to the strange knowledge that he was opening a closed book, a tragedy written twenty years ago; and that there, within a few feet of where he gazed with a jaded sight out to the empty sea, was Rosey herself, alive and breathing; and in an hour or two he was to see her, feel the touch of her hand and lips, be his happy self again of three days only gone by, if he could but face masterfully the strange knowledge this mysterious revival of a former self had brought upon him. And there was Sally....
But at the name, as it came to his mind, came also the shock of another mystery—who and what was Sally?
Let him lie down again and try to think quietly. Was not this part of his delirium? Could he have got the story right? Surely! Was it not of her that Rosey had said, only a few hours since, "His baby was Sally—my Sallykin"? And was he not then able to reply collectedly and with ease, "She is my daughter now," and to feel the power of his choice that it should be so? But the strength of Rosalind was beside him then, and now he was here alone. He beat off—fought against—that hideous fatherhood of Sally's that he could not bear, that image that he felt might drive him mad. Oh, villain, villain! Far, far worse to him was—perforce must be—this miscreant's crime than that mere murder that shook Hamlet's reason to its foundation. He dared not think of it lest he should cry out aloud. But, patience! Only two or three hours more, and Rosalind would be there to help him to bear it.... What a coward's thought!—to help him to bear what she herself had borne in silence for twenty years!
Would he not be better up, now that it was light? Of course! But how be sure he should not wake them?
Well, the word was caution; he must be very quiet about it, that was all. He slipped on his clothes without washing—it always makes a noise—ran a comb through the tangled hair his pillow-tossings of four hours had produced, and got away stealthily without accident, or meeting any early riser, speech with whom would have betrayed him.
He had little trouble with the door-fastenings, that often perplex us in a like case, blocking egress with mysterious mechanisms. Housebreakers were rare in St. Sennans. He had more fear his footsteps would be audible; but it seemed not, and he walked away towards the cliff pathway unnoticed.
* * * * *
The merpussy waked to a consciousness of happiness undefined, a sense of welcome to the day. What girl would not have done so, under her circumstances? For Sally had no doubt in her mind of her own satisfaction at the outcome of yesterday. She might have treated the feelings and experience of other lovers—regular ones, prone to nonsense—with contempt, but she never questioned the advantages of her own position as compared with theirs. Her feast was better cooked, altogether more substantial and real than the kickshaws and sweetmeats she chose to ascribe to the menus of Arcadia. Naturally; because see what a much better sort Conrad was! It was going to be quite a different kind of thing this time. And as for the old Goody, she was not half bad. Nothing was half bad in Sally's eyes that morning, and almost everything was wholly good.
She had slept so sound she was sure it was late. But it was only half-past six, and the early greetings of Mrs. Lobjoit below were not to the baker, nor even to the milk, but to next door, which was dealing with the question of its mat and clean step through the agency of its proprietress, whose voice chimed cheerfully with Mrs. Lobjoit's over the surprise of the latter finding her street door had been opened, and that some one had already passed out. For Mrs. Lobjoit had made that sure, the night before, that she had "shot to" the bottom bolt that would shet, because she had ignored as useless the top bolt that wouldn't shet—the correlation of events so often appealed to by witnesses under examination; which Law, stupidly enough, prides itself on snubbing them for. Further, Mrs. Lobjoit would have flown to the solution that it was her gentleman gone out, only that it was quite into the night before they stopped from talking.
Sally heard this because she had pulled down the top sash of her window to breathe the sea air, regardless of the fact she well knew, and described thus—that the sash-weight stuck and clunkled and wouldn't come down. She decided against running the risk of disturbing Jeremiah on the strength of Mrs. Lobjoit's impressions; although, if he had gone out, she certainly would follow him. But she slipped on a dressing-gown and went half-way downstairs, to see if his hat was still on its peg. It was gone. So she went back to her room, and dressed furtively. Because if they had been talking late into the night, it would be just as well for her mother to have her sleep out.
But she had hardly finished washing when she became aware of a footstep outside—Jeremiah's certainly. She went to the window, saw him approach the house, look up at it, but as though he did not recognise that she was there, and then turn away towards the flagstaff and the old town. It was odd and unlike him, and Sally was alarmed. Besides, how white he looked!
Bear this in mind, that Sally knew absolutely nothing of the cataclysm of revived memory in Jeremiah. Remember that the incident of the galvanic battery at the pier-end is only four days old. Do not be misled by the close details we have given of these four days.
Sally's alarm at the haggard look of her stepfather's face took away her breath; at least, she did not find her voice soon enough for him to hear her call out—she did not like to shout loud because of her mother—as he turned away. Or it seemed so, for that was the only way she could account for his walking away so abruptly. In her hurry to get dressed and follow him, she caught up an undergarment that lay on the floor, without seeing that her own foot was on the tape that was to secure it, and a rip and partial disruption was the consequence. Never mind, it would hold up till she came in. Or, if it didn't, where was that safety-pin that was on her dressing-table yesterday? Not there? Again, never mind! She would do, somehow. She hurried on her clothes, and her hat and waterproof, and left the house, going quickly on what she supposed to be the track of Jeremiah, who was, by now, no longer visible.
But she caught sight of him returning, while she was still two or three minutes' walk short of the flagstaff he was approaching from the other side. He would stop to talk with the coastguard. He always did. Surely he would, this time. But no—he didn't.
He may have spoken, but he did not stop. So Sally noted as she hesitated an instant, seeing him turn off at an angle and go towards the pier. There was a shorter cut to the pier, without going to the flagstaff. Sally turned herself, and took it. She would catch him as he came back from the pier-end, if he was going to walk along it.
She saw him as she descended the slope that, part pathway and part steps, led down towards the sea. He walked straight towards the pier, passing as he went a man and boy, who were carrying what she took, at that distance, for well-made coils of rope; and then, arriving at the pier-turnstile just as they did, pass them, and, leaving them apparently in conversation with the gatekeeper, walk steadily on towards the pier-end.
* * * * *
"I shouldn't call the paint properly hardened on myself. Nor won't be yet-a-piece, if you ask my opinion." It was young Benjamin's father said these words to the veteran in charge of the pier-turnstile; who, as an early bird, was counting his tickets, so to speak, before they were hatched—his actual professional cabinet-seance not having begun. For the pier wasn't open yet, and his permission to Fenwick to pass the open side-gate was an indulgence to an acquaintance.
His reply to the speaker was that he must bide awhile in patience, then. Paint was good to dry while the grass grew, and there was plenty else to fret about for them as wanted it. He seemed only to mention this from consideration of the wants of others. He either had plenty to fret about, or was happier without anything. He ended with, "What have you to say to that, Jake Tracy?" showing that the father of Benjamin was Jacob, following precedent.
But Jacob preferred not to be led away into ethics. "I should stand 'em by, in the shadow, for the matter of a day or two," said he. "In yander." And the life-belts being safely disposed of, he added: "I thought to carry back number fower from the pier-end, and make a finish of the job. But looking to the condition of this paint, maybe better leave her for service. She'll do as well next week." But the moralist inclined to make a finish of the job. Who was going overboard afore the end of next week? And supposing they did, the resources of civilisation wouldn't be exhausted, for we could throw 'em a clean one paint or no.
"Send your lad to fetch her along, Jake. I'll make myself answerable." And young Benjamin, confirmed by a nod from his father, departed for the mysteriously feminine hencoop.
Just as the boy turned to go, Fenwick came up, and, paying no attention to greetings from the two men, passed through the side-gate and walked rather briskly away along the pier. Each of the men looked at the other, as though asking a question. But neither answered, and then both said, "Queer, too!" A nascent discussion of whether one or other should not follow him—for the look of his face had gone home to both, as he was, of course, well known to them—was cut short by Jacob Tracy saying, "Here's his daughter coming to see for him." And, just after, Sally had passed them, leaving them pleasantly stirred by the bright smile and eye-flash that seemed this morning brighter than ever. The boy shouted something from the pier-end, to which his father's shouted reply was that he must bide a minute and he would come to see himself.
"The yoong beggar's got the use of his eyes," he said, not hurrying. "I'll go bail he'll find her. She's there all right, I suppose?" He was still referring to the hencoop, not to any lady.
"Ah, she's there, quite safe. You'd best step along and find her. Boys are boys, when all's told."
But Jacob wanted Benjamin to distinguish himself, and still didn't hurry. The strange appearance of Mrs. Lobjoit's gentleman supplied materials for chat. Presently his son shouted again, and he answered, "Not there, is she? I'll come." He walked away towards the pier-end just as Sally, who had fancied Jeremiah would be somewhere alongside of the pagoda-building that nearly covered it, came back from her voyage of exploration, and looked down the steps to the under-platform, that young Benjamin had just come up shouting.
What little things life and death turn on sometimes!
OF CONRAD VEREKER'S REVISION OF PARADISE, AND OF FENWICK'S HIGH FEVER. OF AN ENGLISH OFFICER WHO WAVERED AT BOMBAY, AND OF FENWICK'S SURPRISE-BATH IN THE BRITISH CHANNEL. WHY HE DID NOT SINK. THE ELLEN JANE OF ST. SENNANS. ONLY SALLY IS IN THE WATER STILL. MORE BOATS. FOUND!
Fenwick, haunted by the phantoms of his own past—always, as his fever grew, assuming more and more the force of realities—but convinced of their ephemeral nature, and that the crisis of this fever would pass and leave him free, had walked quickly along the sea front towards the cliff pathway. Had Dr. Conrad seen him as he passed below his window and looked up at it, he would probably have suspected something and followed him. And then the events of this story would have travelled a different road. But Vereker, possessed by quite another sort of delirium, had risen even earlier—almost with the dawn—and, taking Sally's inaccessibility at that unearthly hour for granted, had gone for a long walk over what was now to him a land of enchantment—the same ground he and Sally had passed over on the previous evening. He and his mother would be on their way to London in a few hours, and he would like to see the landmarks that were to be a precious memory for all time yet once more while he had the chance. Who could say that he would ever visit St. Sennans again?
If Fenwick, in choosing this direction first, had a half-formed idea of attracting the doctor's attention, the appearance of Mrs. Iggulden's shuttered parlour-window would have discouraged him. It told a tale of a household still asleep, and quite truly as far as she herself was concerned. For Dr. Conrad, as might have been expected, was very late in coming home the night before; and his mother's peculiarity of not being able to sleep if kept up till eleven, combined with the need of a statement of her position, a declaration of policy, and almost a budget, if not quite, on the subject of her son's future housekeeping, having resulted in what threatened to become an all-night sitting, the good woman's dozes and repentances, with jerks, on the stairs overnight, had produced their consequences in the morning. Fenwick passed the house, and walked on as far as where the path rose to the cliffs; then turned back, and, pausing a moment, as we have seen, under Sally's window, failed in his dreamy state to see her as she looked over the cross-bar at him, and then went on towards the old town. It may be she was not very visible; the double glasses of an open sash-window are almost equal to opacity. But even with that, the extreme aberration of Fenwick's mind at the moment is the only way to account for his not seeing her.
In fact, his mental perturbation came and went by gusts, as his memory caught at or relinquished agitating points of reminiscence, always dwelling on that parting from Rosalind at Umballa. His brain and nervous system were in a state that involved a climax and reaction; and, unhappily, this climax, during which his identification of his present self with his memory of its past was intensified to the point of absolute hallucination, came at an inopportune moment. If he could only have kept the phantoms of his imagination at bay until he met Sally! But, really, speculation on so strange a frame of mind is useless; we can only accept the facts as they stand.
He had no recollection afterwards of what followed when he passed the house and failed to see Sally or hear her call out to him. For the time being he was back again in his life of twenty years ago. Those who find this hard to believe may see no way of accounting for what came about but by ascribing to Fenwick an intention of suicide. For our part we believe him to have been absolutely incapable of such an act from a selfish impulse; and, moreover, it is absurd to impute to him such a motive, at this time, however strongly he might have been impelled towards it by discovering the injustice and cruelty of his own unforgiveness towards his young wife at some previous time—as, for instance, in America—when she herself was beyond his reach, and a recantation of his error impossible. Unless we accept his conduct as the result of a momentary dementia, produced by overstrain, it must remain inexplicable.
It appeared to him, so far as he was afterwards able to define or record it, that he was no longer walking on the familiar track between the few lodging-houses that made up the old St. Sennans, and the still older fishing-quarter near the jetty, but that he was again on his way from Lahore to Kurachi, from which he was to embark for a new land where his broken heart might do its best to heal; for if ever a man was utterly broken-hearted it was he when he came away from Lahore, after his futile attempt to procure a divorce. He no longer saw the cold northern sea under its great blue cloud-curtain that had shrouded the coming day; nor the line of fishing-smacks, beached high and dry, and their owners' dwellings near at hand, a little town of tar and timber in behind the stowage-huts of nets and tackle, nor the white escarpment of the cliffs beyond, that the sea had worked so many centuries to plunder from the rounded pastures of the sheep above. He no longer heard the music of the waves on the shingle, nor the cry of the sea-bird that swept over them, nor the tinkle of the sheep-bell the wind knows how to carry so far in the stillness of the morning, nor the voices of the fisher-children playing in the boats that one day may bear them to their death. His mind was far away in the Indian heat, parching and suffocated on the long railway journey from Lahore to Kurachi, scarcely better when he had reached his first boat that was to take him to Bombay, to embark again a day or two later for Australia. How little he had forgotten of the short but tedious delay in that chaotic emporium of all things European and Asiatic, that many-coloured meeting-ground of a thousand nationalities! How little, that the whole should come back to him now, and fill his brain with its reality, till the living present grew dim and vanished; reviving now and again, as fiction, read in early years, revives with a suggested doubt—is it true or false?
He sat again on the Esplanade at Bombay, as the sun vanished in a flood of rosy gold, and released the world from his heat. He felt again the relief of the evening wind; heard again the chat of a group of English officers who sipped sherry-cobblers at a table a few paces off. "I always change my mind," said one of them, "backwards and forwards till the last minute; then I make it the last one." He quite understood this man's speech, and thought how like himself! For from the time he left Lahore he, too, had gone backwards and forwards, now resolving to return, come what might, now telling himself firmly there was no remedy but in distance apart, and all there might be of oblivion. Was there not yet time? He could still go back, even now. But no; the old obduracy was on him. Rosey had deceived him!
Then he seemed to have come again to his last minute. Once he was fairly on the ship that was even now coaling for her voyage, once the screw was on the move and the shore-lights vanishing, the die would be cast. The stars that he and Rosey had seen in that cool English garden that night he met her first would vanish, too, and a world would be between them. Still, the hour had not come; it was not too late yet. But still the inveterate thought came back—she had deceived him.
So his delirium ended as its prototype of over twenty years ago had ended. He hardened his heart, thrust aside all thought of forgiveness and repentance, and went resolutely down to the quay, as he thought, to embark on the little boat for the ship, and so practically put all thought of hesitation and return out of his mind. This moment was probably what would have been the crisis of his fever, and it was an evil hour for him in which the builder of the pier at St. Sennans made it so like the platform of that experience of long ago. But the boat that he saw before him as he stepped unhesitatingly over its edge was only the image of a distempered brain, and in an instant he was struggling with the cold, dark water. A sudden shock of chill, an intolerable choking agony of breath involuntarily held, an instantaneous dissipation of his dream, the natural result of the shock, and Fenwick knew himself for what he was, and fought the cruel water in his despair. Even so a drowning man fights who in old failures to learn swimming has just mastered its barest rudiments. A vivid pageant rushed across his mind of all the consequences of what seemed to him now his inevitable death, clearest of all a sad vision of Sally and Rosalind returning to their home alone—the black dresses and the silence. He found voice for one long cry for help, without a hope that it could be heard or that help could be at hand.