But he was neither unseen nor unheard, as you will know if we have not failed in showing the succession of events. Sally never hesitated an instant as she caught sight of the delirious man's involuntary plunge into the green waves that had no terrors for her. She threw off as she ran, fast, fast down the wooden stairway, the only clothes she could get rid of—her hat and light summer cloak—and went straight, with a well-calculated dive, to follow him and catch him as he rose. If only she did not miss him! Let her once pinion his arms from behind, and she would get him ashore even if no help came. Why, there was no sea to speak of!
* * * * *
The man Jacob Tracy, the father of Benjamin, saw something to quicken his speed as he walked along the pier to help in the discovery of the life-belt. Why did the swimming young lady from Lobjoit's want to be rid of her wrap-up at that rate as she turned so sharp round to run down the ladder? He increased a brisk walk to a run as the lad, who had followed the young lady down the steps, came running up again; for there was hysterical terror in his voice—he was a mere boy—as he shouted something that became, as distance lessened, "In t' wa-ater! in t' wa-ater! in t' wa-ater! in t' wa-ater!" And he was waving something in his hand—a lady's hat surely; for with an instinct of swift presence of mind—a quality that is the breath of life to all that go down to the sea in ships, mariners or fisher-folk—he had seen that the headgear Sally threw away would tell its tale quicker than any words he could rely on finding.
"Roon smart, yoong Benjamin—roon for the bo'ats and call out 'oars'! Roon, boy—you've no time to lose!" And as the father dashes down the steps he spoke of as "the ladder" the son runs for all he is worth to carry the alarm to the shore. He shouts, "Oars, oars, oars!" as he was told. But it is not needed, for his thought of bringing up the hat has done his work already for him. The coastguard, though the pier itself hid the two immersions from him, is quick of apprehension and ready with his glass, and has seen the boy's return from below; and at the same time heard, not his words, but the terror in them, and by some mysterious agency has sent a flying word along the beach that has brought a population out to help.
A bad time of the tide to get a boat off sharp, and a long shelving run of sandy shingle before we reach the sea; for all the boats are on the upper strand of the beach, above the last high-water mark, and the flow of the tide is scarcely an hour old. There is a short squat cobble, flat-bottomed and of intolerable weight, down near the waters, and its owner makes for it. Another man drives him out seawards, against the constant lift of breaking waves, large enough to be troublesome, small enough to be numerous. They give no chance to the second man to leap into the boat, so deep has he to go, pushing on until the pads are out and the boat controlled; but he has barely time to feel the underdraw of the recoiling wave when the straight scour of a keel comes down along the sand and pebbles—the Ellen Jane, St. Sennans—half-pushed, half-borne by a crew three minutes have extemporised. You two in the bows, and you two astarn, and the spontaneous natural leader—the man the emergency makes—at the tiller-ropes, and Ellen Jane is off, well drenched at the outset. An oar swings round high in the air, not to knock one of you two astarn into the water, and then, "Give way!" and then the short, quick rhythm of the stroke, and four men at their utmost stress, each knowing life and death may hang upon the greatness of his effort.
The cobble is soon outshot, but its owner will not give in. He bears away from the course of the boat that has passed him, to seek their common object where the tide-drift may have swept it, beyond some light craft at their moorings which would have hidden it for a while. He has the right of it this time, for as he passes, straining at his sculls, under the stern of a pleasure-yacht at anchor, his eye is caught by a black spot rising on a wave, and he makes for it. Not too fast at the last, though, but cautiously, so as to grasp the man with the life-belt and hold him firm till help shall come to get him on board. He might easily have overshot him; but he has him now, and the four-oar sights him as she swings round between the last-moored boat and the pier; and comes apace, the quicker for the tide.
"What is it ye say, master? What do ye make it out the gentleman says, Peter?" For Fenwick, hauled on board the cobble with the help of a man from the other boat, who returns to his oar, is alive and conscious, but not much more. A brandy-flask comes from somewhere in the steerage, where a mop and a tin pot and a boathook live, and its effect is good. The half-drowned man becomes articulate enough to justify the report. "It's his daughter he's asking for—overboard, too!" and then the man who spoke first says: "You be easy in your mind, master; we'll find her. Bear away a bit, and lie to, Tom." Tom is the man in the cobble, and he does as he is bidden. He ships his sculls and drifts, watching round on all sides for what may be just afloat near the surface. The four-oar remains, and the eyes of her crew are straining hard to catch a sight of anything that is not mere lift and ripple of a wave.
Then more boats one after another, and more, and the gathering crowd that lines the shore sees them scatter and lie to, some way apart, to watch the greater space of water. All drift, because they know that what they seek is drifting, too, and that if they move they lose their only chance; for the thing they have to find is so small, so small, and that great waste of pitiless sea is so large. It is their only chance.
The crowd, always growing, moves along the beach as the flotilla of drifting boats move slowly with the tide. They can hear the shouting from boat to boat, but catch but little of the words. They follow on, with little speech among themselves, and hope dying slowly out of their hearts. Gradually towards the jetty, where the girl they are seeking sat, only a few days since, beside the man whose heart the memory of yesterday is still rejoicing; the only trouble of whose unconscious soul is the thought that he and she must soon be parted, however short the term of their separation may be. He will know more soon.
Suddenly the shouting increases in the boats, and excited voices break the silence on the shore. It won't do to hope too much, but surely all the boats are thickening to one spot.... No, it's nothing!... Yes, it is—it is something—one knows what—sighted abaft the Ellen Jane, whose steersman catches it with a boathook as the oars we on the beach saw suddenly drop back water—slowly, cautiously—and only wait for him to drag the light weight athwart the gunwale to row for the dear life towards the town. The scattered crowd turns and comes back, trampling the shingle, to meet the boat as she lands, and follow what she brings to the nearest haven.
AN ERRAND IN VAIN, AND HOW DR. CONRAD CAME TO KNOW. CONCERNING LLOYD'S COFFEEHOUSE, AND THE BATTLE OF CAMPERDOWN. MARSHALL HALL'S SYSTEM AND SILVESTER'S. SOCIAL DISADVANTAGES. A CHAT WITH A CENTENARIAN, AND HOW ROSALIND CAME TO KNOW. THOMAS LOCOCK OF ROCHESTER. ONE O'CLOCK!
"Is that you, Dr. Conrad?" It was Rosalind who spoke, through the half-open window of her bedroom, to the happy, expectant face of the doctor in the little front garden below. "I'm only just up, and they're both gone out. I shall be down in a few minutes." For she had looked into her husband's room, and then into Sally's, and concluded they must have gone out together. So much the better! If Sally was with him, no harm could come to him.
"I don't see them anywhere about," said the doctor. Sally had not been gone ten minutes, and at this moment had just caught sight of Fenwick making for the pier. The short cut down took her out of sight of the house. Rosalind considered a minute.
"Very likely they've gone to the hotel—the 'beastly hotel,' you know." There is the sound of a laugh, and the caress in her voice, as she thinks of Sally, whom she is quoting. "Gerry found a friend there last night—a German gentleman—who was to go at seven-fifty. Very likely he's walked up to say good-bye to him. Suppose you go to meet them! How's Mrs. Vereker this morning?"
"Do you know, I haven't seen her yet! We talked rather late, so I left without waking her. I've been for a walk."
"Well, go and meet Gerry. I feel pretty sure he's gone there." And thereon Dr. Conrad departed, and so, departing towards the new town, lost sight for the time being of the pier and the coast. He went by the steps and Albion Villas, and as he caught a glimpse therefrom of the pier-end in the distance, had an impression of a man running along it and shouting; but he drew no inferences, although it struck him there was panic, with the energy of sudden action, in this man's voice.
He arrived at the hotel, of course without meeting either Sally or Fenwick. He had accepted them as probably there, on perhaps too slight evidence. But they might be in the hotel. Had the German gentleman gone?—he asked. The stony woman he addressed replied from her precinct, with no apparent consciousness that she was addressing a fellow-creature, that No. 148, if you meant him, had paid and gone by last 'bus. She spoke as to space, but as one too indifferent on all points to care much who overheard her.
Vereker thanked her, and turned to go. As he departed he caught a fragment of conversation between her and the waiter who had produced the brandy the evening before. He was in undress uniform—a holland or white-jean jacket, and a red woollen comforter. He had lost his voice, or most of it, and croaked; and his cold had got worse in the night. He was shedding tears copiously, and wiping them on a cruet-stand he carried in one hand. The other was engaged by an empty coal-scuttle with a pair of slippers in it, inexplicably.
"There's a start down there. Party over the pier-end! Dr. Maccoll he's been 'phoned for."
"Party from this hotel?"
"Couldn't say. Porcibly. No partic'lars to identify, so far."
"They're not bringing him here?"
"Couldn't say, miss; but I should say they wasn't myself."
"If you know you can say. Who told you, and what did he say? Make yourself understood."
"Dr. Maccoll he's been 'phoned for. You can inquire and see if I ain't right. Beyond that I take no responsibility."
The Lady of the Bureau came out; moved, no doubt, by an image of a drowned man whose resources would not meet the credits she might be compelled to give him. She came out to the front through the swing-door, looked up and down the road, and seemed to go back happier. Dr. Conrad's curiosity was roused, and he started at once for the beach, but absolutely without a trace of personal misgiving. No doubt the tendency we all have to impute public mishaps to a special class of people outside our own circle had something to do with this. As he passed down an alley behind some cottages—a short way to the pier—he was aware of a boy telling a tale in a terrified voice to a man and an elderly woman. It was the man with the striped shirt, and the boy was young Benjamin. He had passed on a few paces when the man called to him, and came running after him, followed by the woman and boy.
"I ask your pardon, sir—I ask your pardon...." What he has to say will not allow him to speak, and his words will not come. He turns for help to his companion. "You tell him, Martha woman," he says, and gives in.
"My master thinks, sir, you may find something on the beach...."
"Something on the beach!..." Fear is coming into Dr. Conrad's face and voice.
"Find something has happened on the beach. But they've got him out...."
"Got him out! Got whom out? Speak up, for Heaven's sake!"
"It might be the gentleman you know, sir, and...." But the speaker's husband, having left the telling to his wife, unfairly strikes in here, to have the satisfaction of lightening the communication. "But he's out safe, sir. You may rely on the yoong lad." He has made it harder for his wife to tell the rest, and she hesitates. But Dr. Conrad has stayed for no more. He is going at a run down the sloped passage that leads to the sea. The boy follows him, and by some dexterous use of private thoroughfares, known to him, but not to the doctor, arrives first, and is soon visible ahead, running towards the scattered groups that line the beach. The man and woman follow more slowly.
Few of those who read this, we hope, have ever had to face a shock so appalling as the one that Conrad Vereker sustained when he came to know what it was that was being carried up the beach from the boat that had just been driven stern on to the shingle, as he emerged to a full view of the sea and the running crowd, thickening as its last stragglers arrived to meet it. But most of us who are not young have unhappily had some experience of the sort, and many will recognise (if we can describe it) the feeling that was his in excess when a chance bystander—not unconcerned, for no one was that—used in his hearing a phrase that drove the story home to him, and forced him to understand. "It's the swimming girl from Lobjoit's, and she's drooned." It was as well, for he had to know. What did it matter how he became the blank thing standing there, able to say to itself, "Then Sally is dead," and to attach their meaning to the words, but not to comprehend why he went on living? One way of learning the thing that closes over our lives and veils the sun for all time is as good as another; but how came he to be so colourlessly calm about it?
If we could know how each man feels who hears in the felon's dock the sentence of penal servitude for life, it may be we should find that Vereker's sense of being for the moment a cold, unexplained unit in an infinite unfeeling void, was no unusual experience. But this unit knew mechanically what had happened perfectly well, and its duty was clear before it. Just half a second for this sickness to go off, and he would act.
It was a longer pause than it seemed to him, as all things appeared to happen quickly in it, somewhat as in a photographic life-picture when the films are run too quick. At least, that remained his memory of it. And during that time he stood and wondered why he could not feel. He thought of her mother and of Fenwick, and said to himself they were to be pitied more than he; for they were human, and could feel it—could really know what jewel they had lost—had hearts to grieve and eyes to weep with. He had nothing—was a stupid blank! Oh, he had been mistaken about himself and his love: he was a stone.
A few moments later than his first sight of that silent crowd—moments in which the world had changed and the sun had become a curse; in which he had for some reason—not grief, for he could not grieve—resolved on death, except in an event he dared not hope for—he found himself speaking to the men who had borne up the beach the thing whose germ of life, if it survived, was his only chance of life hereafter.
"I am a doctor; let me come." The place they had brought it to was a timber structure that was held as common property by the fisher-world, and known as Lloyd's Coffeehouse. It was not a coffeehouse, but a kind of spontaneous club-room, where the old men sat and smoked churchwarden pipes, and told each other tales of storm and wreck, and how the news of old sea-battles came to St. Sennans in their boyhood; of wives made widows for their country's good, and men all sound of limb when the first gun said "Death!" across the water, crippled for all time when the last said "Victory!" and there was silence and the smell of blood. Over the mantel was an old print of the battle of Camperdown, with three-deckers in the smoke, flanked by portraits of Rodney and Nelson. There was a long table down the centre that had been there since the days of Rodney, and on this was laid what an hour ago was Sally; what each man present fears to uncover the face of, but less on his own account than for the sake of the only man who seems fearless, and lays hands on the cover to remove it; for all knew, or guessed, what this dead woman might be—might have been—to this man.
"I am a doctor; let me come."
"Are ye sure ye know, young master? Are ye sure, boy?" The speaker, a very old man, interposes a trembling hand to save Vereker from what he may not anticipate, perhaps has it in mind to beseech him to give place to the local doctor, just arriving. But the answer is merely, "I know." And the hand that uncovers the dead face never wavers, and then that white thing we see is all there is of Sally—that coil and tangle of black hair, all mixed with weed and sea-foam, is the rich mass that was drying in the sun that day she sat with Fenwick on the beach; those eyes that strain behind the half-closed eyelids were the merry eyes that looked up from the water at the boat she dived from two days since; those lips are the lips the man who stands beside her kissed but yesterday for the first time. The memory of that kiss is on him now as he wipes the sea-slime from them and takes the first prompt steps for their salvation.
The old Scotch doctor, who came in a moment later, wondered at the resolute decision and energy Vereker was showing. He had been told credibly of the circumstances of the case, and gave way on technical points connected with resuscitation, surrendering views he would otherwise have contended for about Marshall Hall's and Silvester's respective systems. Perhaps one reason for this was that auscultation of the heart convinced him that the case was hopeless, and he may have reflected that if any other method than Dr. Vereker's was used that gentleman was sure to believe the patient might have been saved. Better leave him to himself.
* * * * *
Rosalind returned to her dressing, after Dr. Conrad walked away from the house, with a feeling—not a logical one—that now she need not hurry. Why having spoken with him and forwarded him on to look for Sally and Gerry should make any difference was not at all clear, and she did not account to herself for it. She accepted it as an occurrence that put her somehow in touch with the events of the day—made her a part of what was going on elsewhere. She had felt lapsed, for the moment, when, waking suddenly to advanced daylight, she had gone first to her husband's room and then to Sally's, and found both empty. The few words spoken from her window with her recently determined son-in-law had switched on her current again, metaphorically speaking.
So she took matters easily, and was at rest about her husband, in spite of the episode of the previous evening—rather, we should have said, of the small hours of that morning. The fact is, it was her first sleep she had waked from, an unusually long and sound one after severe tension, and in the ordinary course of events she would probably have gone to sleep again. Instead, she had got up at once, and gone to her husband's room to relieve her mind about him. A momentary anxiety at finding it empty disappeared when she found Sally's empty also; but by that time she was effectually waked, and rang for Mrs. Lobjoit and the hot water.
If Mrs. Lobjoit, when she appeared with it, had been able to give particulars of Sally's departure, and to say that she and Mr. Fenwick had gone out separately, Rosalind would have felt less at ease about him; but nothing transpired to show that they had not gone out together. Mrs. Lobjoit's data were all based on the fact that she found the street door open when she went to do down her step, and she had finished this job and gone back into the kitchen by the time Sally followed Fenwick out. Of course, she never came upstairs to see what rooms were empty; why should she? And as no reason for inquiry presented itself, the question was never raised by Rosalind. Sally was naturally an earlier bird than herself, and quite as often as not she would join Gerry in his walk before breakfast.
How thankful she felt, now that the revelation was over, that Sally was within reach to help in calming down the mind that had been so terribly shaken by it; for all her thoughts were of Gerry; on her own behalf she felt nothing but contentment. Think what her daily existence had been! What had she to lose by a complete removal of the darkness that had shrouded her husband's early life with her—or rather, what had she not to gain? Now that it had been assured to her that nothing in the past could make a new rift between them, the only weight upon her mind was the possible necessity for revealing to Sally in the end the story of her parentage. What mother, to whom a like story of her own early days was neither more nor less than a glimpse into Hell, could have felt otherwise about communicating it to her child? She felt, too, the old feeling of the difficulty there would be in making Sally understand. The girl had not chanced across devildom enough to make her an easy recipient of such a tale.
Oh, the pleasure with which she recalled his last words of the night before: "She is my daughter now!" It was the final ratification of the protest of her life against the "rights" that Law and Usage grant to technical paternity; rights that can only be abrogated or ignored by a child's actual parent—its mother—at the cost of insult and contumely from a world that worships its own folly and ignores its own gods. Sally was hers—her own—hard as the terms of her possession had been, and she had assigned a moiety of her rights in her to the man she loved. What was the fatherhood of blood alone to set against the one her motherhood had a right to concede, and had conceded, in response to the spontaneous growth of a father's love? What claim had devilish cruelty and treachery to any share in their result—a result that, after all, was the only compensation possible to their victim?
We do not make this endeavour to describe Rosalind's frame of mind with a view to either endorsing or disclaiming her opinions. We merely record them as those of a woman whose life-story was an uncommon one; but not without a certain sympathy for the new definition of paternity their philosophy involves, backed by a feeling that its truth is to some extent acknowledged in the existing marriage-law of several countries. As a set-off against this, no woman can have a child entirely her own except by incurring what are called "social disadvantages." The hare that breaks covert incurs social disadvantages. A happy turn of events had shielded Rosalind from the hounds, or they had found better sport elsewhere. And her child was her own.
But even as the thought was registered in her mind, that child lay lifeless; and her husband, stunned and dumb in his despair, dared not even long that she, too, should know, to share his burden.
"Those people are taking their time," said she. Not that she was pressingly anxious for them to come home. It was early still, and the more Gerry lived in the present the better. Sally and her lover were far and away the best foreground for the panorama of his mind just now, and she herself would be quite happy in the middle distance. There would be time and enough hereafter, when the storm had subsided, for a revelation of all those vanished chapters of his life in Canada and elsewhere.
It was restful to her, after the tension and trial of the night, to feel that he was happy with Sally and poor Prosy. What did it really matter how long they dawdled? She could hear in anticipation their voices and the laughter that would tell her of their coming. In a very little while it would be a reality, and, after all, the pleasure of a good symposium over Sally's betrothal was still to come. She and Gerry and the two principals had not spoken of it together yet. That would be a real happiness. How seldom it was that an engagement to marry gave such complete satisfaction to bystanders! And, after all, they are the ones to be consulted; not the insignificant bride and bridegroom elect. Perhaps, though, she was premature in this case. Was there not the Octopus? But then she remembered with pleasure that Conrad had represented his mother as phenomenally genial in her attitude towards the new arrangement; as having, in fact, a claim to be considered not only a bestower of benign consent, but an accomplice before the fact. Still, Rosalind felt her own reserves on the subject, although she had always taken the part of the Octopus on principle when she thought Sally had become too disrespectful towards her. Anyhow, no use to beg and borrow troubles! Let her dwell on the happiness only that was before them all. She pictured a variety of homes for Sally in the time to come, peopling them with beautiful grandchildren—only, mind you, this was to be many, many years ahead! She could not cast herself for the part of grandmother while she twined that glorious hair into its place with hands that for softness and whiteness would have borne comparison with Sally's own.
In the old days, before the news of evil travelled fast, the widowed wife would live for days, weeks, months, unclouded by the knowledge of her loneliness, rejoicing in the coming hour that was to bring her wanderer back; and even as her heart laughed to think how now, at last, the time was drawing near for his return, his heart had ceased to beat, and, it may be, his bones were already bleaching where the assassin's knife had left him in the desert; or were swaying to and fro in perpetual monotonous response to the ground-swell, in some strange green reflected light of a sea-cavern no man's eye had ever seen; or buried nameless in a common tomb with other victims of battle or of plague; or, worst of all, penned in some dungeon, mad to think of home, waking from dreams of her to the terror of the intolerable night, its choking heat or deadly chill. And all those weeks or months the dearth of news would seem just the chance of a lost letter, no more—a thing that may happen any day to any of us. And she would live on in content and hope, jesting even in anticipation of his return.
Even so Rosalind, happy and undisturbed, dwelt on the days that were to come for the merpussy and poor Prosy, as she still had chosen to call him, for her husband and herself; and all the while there, so near her, was the end of it all, written in letters of death.
They were taking their time, certainly, those people; so she would put her hat on and go to meet them. Mrs. Lobjoit wasn't to hurry breakfast, but wait till they came. All right!
It looked as if it would rain later, so it was just as well to get out a little now. Rosalind was glad of the sweet air off the sea, for the night still hung about her. The tension of it was on her still, for all that she counted herself so much the better, so much the safer, for that interview with Gerry. But oh, what a thing to think that now he knew her as she had known him from the beginning! How much they would have to tell each other, when once they were well in calm water!... Why were those girls running, and why did that young man on the beach below shout to some one who followed him, "It's over at the pier"?
"Is anything the matter?" She asked the question of a very old man, whom she knew well by sight, who was hurrying his best in the same direction. But his best was but little, as speed, though it did credit to his age; for old Simon was said to be in his hundredth year. Rosalind walked easily beside him as he answered:
"I oondersta'and, missis, there's been a fall from the pier-head.... Oh yes, they've getten un out; ye may easy your mind o' that." But, for all that, Rosalind wasn't sorry her party were up at the hotel. She had believed them there long enough to have forgotten that she had no reason for the belief to speak of.
"You've no idea who it is?"
"Some do say a lady and a gentleman." Rosalind felt still gladder of her confidence that Sally and Gerry were out of the way. "'Ary one of 'em would be bound to drown but for the boats smart and handy—barring belike a swimmer like your young lady! She's a rare one, to tell of!"
"I believe she is. She swam round the Cat Buoy in a worse sea than this two days ago."
"And she would, too!" Then the old boy's voice changed as he went on, garrulous: "But there be seas, missis, no man can swim in. My fower boys, they were fine swimmers—all fower!"
"But were they?..." Rosalind did not like to say drowned; but old Simon took it as spoken.
"All fower of 'em—fine lads all—put off to the wreck—wreck o' th' brig Thyrsis, on th' Goodwins—and ne'er a one come back. And I had the telling of it to their mother. And the youngest, he never was found; and the others was stone dead ashore, nigh on to the Foreland. There was none to help. Fifty-three year ago come this Michaelmas."
"Is their mother still living?" Rosalind asked, interested. Old Simon had got to that stage in which the pain of the past is less than the pleasure of talking it over. "Died, she did," said he, almost as though he were unconcerned, "thirty-five year ago—five year afower ever I married my old missis yander." Rosalind felt less sympathy. If she were to lose Sally or Gerry, would she ever be able to talk like this, even if she lived to be ninety-nine? Possibly yes—only she could not know it now. She felt too curious about what had happened at the pier to think of going back, and walked on with old Simon, not answering him much. He seemed quite content to talk.
She did not trouble herself on the point of her party returning and not finding her. Ten chances to one they would hear about the accident, and guess where she had gone. Most likely they would follow her. Besides, she meant to go back as soon as ever she knew what had happened.
Certainly there were a great many people down there round about Lloyd's Coffeehouse! Had a life been lost? How she hoped not! What a sad end it would be to such a happy holiday as theirs had been! She said something to this effect to the old man beside her. His reply was: "Ye may doubt of it, in my judgment, missis. The rowboats were not long enough agone for that. Mayhap he'll take a bit of nursing round, though." But he quickened his pace, and Rosalind was sorry that a sort of courtesy towards him stood in her way. She would have liked to go much quicker.
She could not quite understand the scared look of a girl to whom she said, "Is it a bad accident? Do you know who it is?" nor why this girl muttered something under her breath, then got away, nor why so many eyes, all tearful, should be fixed on her. She asked again of the woman nearest her, "Do you know who it is?" but the woman gasped, and became hysterical, making her afraid she had accosted some anxious relative or near friend, who could not bear to speak of it. And still all the eyes were fixed upon her. A shudder ran through her. Could that be pity she saw in them—pity for her?
"For God's sake, tell me at once! Tell me what this is...."
Still silence! She could hear through it sobs here and there in the crowd, and then two women pointed to where an elderly man who looked like a doctor came from a doorway close by. She heard the hysterical woman break down outright, and her removal by friends, and then the strong Scotch accent of the doctor-like man making a too transparent effort towards an encouraging tone.
"There's nae reason to anteecipate a fatal tairmination, so far. I wouldna undertake myself to say the seestolic motion of the heart was...." But he hesitated, with a puzzled look, as Rosalind caught his arm and hung to it, crying out: "Why do you tell me this? For God's sake, speak plain! I am stronger than you think."
His answer came slowly, in an abated voice, but clearly: "Because they tauld me ye were the girl's mither."
In the short time that had passed since Rosalind's mind first admitted an apprehension of evil the worst possibility it had conceived was that Vereker or her husband was in danger. No misgiving about Sally had entered it, except so far as a swift thought followed the fear of mishap to one of them. "How shall Sally be told of this? When and where will she know?"
Two of the women caught her as she fell, and carried her at the Scotch doctor's bidding into a house adjoining, where Fenwick had been carried in a half-insensible collapse that had followed his landing from the cobble-boat in which he was sculled ashore.
* * * * *
"Tell me what has happened. Where is Dr. Vereker?" Rosalind asks the question of any of the fisher-folk round her as soon as returning consciousness brings speech. They look at each other, and the woman the cottage seems to belong to says interrogatively, "The young doctor-gentleman?" and then answers the last question. He is looking to the young lady in at the Coffeehouse. But no one says what has happened. Rosalind looks beseechingly round.
"Will you not tell me now? Oh, tell me—tell me the whole!"
"It's such a little we know ourselves, ma'am. But my husband will be here directly. It was he brought the gentleman ashore...."
"Where is the gentleman?" Rosalind has caught up the speaker with a decisive rally. Her natural strength is returning, prompted by something akin to desperation.
"We have him in here, ma'am. But he's bad, too! Here's my husband. Have ye the brandy, Tom?"
Rosalind struggles to her feet from the little settee they had laid her on. Her head is swimming, and she is sick, but she says: "Let me come!" She has gathered this much—that whatever has happened to Sally, Vereker is there beside her, and the other doctor she knows of. She can do nothing, and Gerry is close at hand. They let her come, and the woman and her husband follow. The one or two others go quietly out; there were too many for the tiny house.
That is Gerry, she can see, on the trestle-bedstead near the window with the flowerpots in it. He seems only half conscious, and his hands and face are cold. She cannot be sure that he has recognised her. Then she knows she is being spoken to. It is the fisherman's wife who speaks.
"We could find no way to get the gentleman's wet garments from him, but we might make a shift to try again. He's a bit hard to move. Not too much at once, Tom." Her husband is pouring brandy from his flask into a mug.
"Has he had any brandy?"
"Barely to speak of. Tell the lady, Tom!"
"No more than the leaving of a flask nigh empty out in my boat. It did him good, too. He got the speech to tell of the young lady, else—God help us!—we might have rowed him in, and lost the bit of water she was under. But we had the luck to find her." It was the owner of the cobble who spoke.
"Gerry, drink some of this at once. It's me—Rosey—your wife!" She is afraid his head may fail, for anything may happen now; but the brandy the fisherman's wife has handed to her revives him. No one speaks for awhile, and Rosalind, in the dazed state that so perversely notes and dwells on some small thing of no importance, and cannot grasp the great issue of some crisis we are living through, is keenly aware of the solemn ticking of a high grandfather clock, and of the name of the maker on its face—"Thomas Locock, Rochester." She sees it through the door into the front room, and wonders what the certificate or testimonial in a frame beside it is; and whether the Bible on the table below it, beside the fat blue jug with a ship and inscriptions on it, has illustrations and the Stem of Jesse rendered pictorially. Or is it "Pilgrim's Progress," and no Bible at all? Who or what is she, that can sit and think of this and that, knowing that a world—her world and her husband's—is at stake, and that a terrible game is being played to save it, there within twenty yards of them? If she could only have given active help! But that she knows is impossible. She knows enough to be satisfied that all that can be done is being done; that even warmth and stimulants are useless, perhaps even injurious, till artificial respiration has done its work. She can recall Sally's voice telling her of these things. Yes, she is best here beside her husband.
What is it that he says in a gasping whisper? Can any one tell him what it is has happened? She cannot—perhaps could not if she knew—and she does not yet know herself. She repeats her question to the fisherman and his wife. They look at each other and say young Ben Tracy was on the pier. Call him in. It is something to know that what has happened was on the pier. While young Ben is hunted up the opportunity is taken to make the change of wet clothes for extemporised dry ones. The half-drowned, all-chilled, and bewildered man is reviving, and can help, though rigidly and with difficulty. Then Ben is brought in, appalled and breathless.
The red-eyed and tear-stained boy is in bad trim for giving evidence, but under exhortation to speak up and tell the lady he articulates his story through his sobs. He is young, and can cry. He goes back to the beginning.
His father told him to run and hunt round for the life-belt, and he went to left instead of to right, and missed of seeing it. And he was at the top o' the ladder, shooat'un aloud to his father, and the gentleman—he nodded towards Fenwick—was walking down below. Then the young lady came to the top stair of the ladder. The narrator threw all his powers of description into the simultaneousness of Sally's arrival at this point and the gentleman walking straight over the pier-edge. "And then the young lady she threw away her hat, and come runnin' down, runnin' down, and threw away her cloak, she did, and stra'at she went for t' wa'ater!" Young Benjamin's story and his control over his sobs come to an end at the same time, and his father, just arrived, takes up the tale.
"I saw there was mishap in it," he says, "by the manner of my young lad with the lady's hat, and I went direct for the life-belt, for I'm no swimmer myself. Tom, man, tell the lady I'm no swimmer...." Tom nodded assent, "... or I might have tried my luck. It was a bad business that the life-belt was well away at the far end, and I had no chance to handle it in time. It was the run of the tide took them out beyond the length of the line, and I was bound to make the best throw I could, and signal to shore for a boat." He was going to tell how the only little boat at the pier-end had got water-logged in the night, when Rosalind interrupted him.
"Did you see them both in the water?"
"Plain. The young lady swimming behind and keeping the gentleman's head above the water. I could hear her laughing like, and talking. Then I sent the belt out, nigh half-way, and she saw it and swam for it. Then I followed my young lad for to get out a shore-boat."
It was the thought of the merpussy laughing like and talking in the cruel sea that was to engulf her that brought a heart-broken choking moan from her mother. Then, all being told, the fisher-folk glanced at each other, and by common consent went noiselessly from the room and lingered whispering outside. They closed the outer door, leaving the cottage entirely to Rosalind and her husband, and then they two were alone in the darkened world; and Conrad Vereker, whom they could not help, was striving—striving against despair—to bring back life to Sally.
* * * * *
A terrible strain—an almost killing strain—had been put upon Fenwick's powers of endurance. Probably the sudden shock of his immersion, the abrupt suppression of an actual fever almost at the cost of sanity, had quite as much to do with this as what he was at first able to grasp of the extent of the disaster. But actual chill and exposure had contributed their share to the state of semi-collapse in which Rosalind found him. Had the rower of the cobble turned in-shore at once, some of this might have been saved; but that would have been one pair of eyes the fewer, and every boat was wanted. Now that his powerful constitution had the chance to reassert itself, his revival went quickly. He was awakening to a world with a black grief in it; but Rosey was there, and had to be lived for, and think of his debt to her! Think of the great wrong he did her in that old time that he had only regained the knowledge of yesterday! Her hand in his gave him strength to speak, and though his voice was weak it would reach the head that rested on his bosom.
"I can tell you now, darling, what I remember. I went off feverish in the night after you left me, and I suppose my brain gave way, in a sense. I went out early to shake it off, and a sort of delusion completely got the better of me. I fancied I was back at Bombay, going on the boat for Australia, and I just stepped off the pier-edge. Our darling must have been there. Oh, Sally, Sally!..." He had to pause and wait.
"Hope is not all dead—not yet, not yet!" Rosalind's voice seemed to plead against despair.
"I know, Rosey dearest—not yet. I heard her voice ... oh, her voice!... call to me to be still, and she would save me. And then I felt her dear hand ... first my arm, then my head, on each side." Again his voice was choking, but he recovered. "Then, somehow, the life-belt was round me—I can't tell how, but she made me hold it so as to be safe. She was talking and laughing, but I could not hear much. I know, however, that she said quite suddenly, 'I had better swim back to the pier. Hold on tight, Jeremiah!'..." He faltered again before ending. "I don't know why she went, but she said, 'I must go,' and swam away."
That was all Fenwick could tell. The explanation came later. It was that unhappy petticoat-tape! A swimmer's leg-stroke may be encumbered in a calm sea, or when the only question is of keeping afloat for awhile. But in moderately rough water, and in a struggle against a running tide—which makes a certain speed imperative—the conditions are altered. Sally may have judged wrongly in trying to return to the pier, but remember—she could not in the first moments know that the mishap had been seen, and help was near at hand. Least of all could she estimate the difficulty of swimming in a loosened encumbered skirt. In our judgment, she would have done better to remain near the life-belt, even if she, too, had ultimately had to depend on it. The additional risk for Fenwick would have been small.
After he had ended what he had to tell he remained quite still, and scarcely spoke during the hour that followed. Twice or three times during that hour Rosalind rose to go out and ask if there was any change. But, turning to him with her hand on the door, and asking "Shall I go?" she was always met with "What good will it do? Conrad will tell us at once," and returned to her place beside him. After all, what she heard might be the end of Hope. Better stave off Despair to the last.
She watched the deliberate hands of the clock going cruelly on, unfaltering, ready to register in cold blood the moment that should say that Sally, as they knew her, was no more. Thomas Locock, of Rochester, had taken care of that. Where would those hands be on that clock-face when all attempt at resuscitation had to stop? And why live after it?
She fancied she could hear, at intervals, Dr. Conrad's voice giving instructions; and the voice of the Scotsman, less doubtfully, which always sounded like that of a medical man, for some reason not defined. As the clock-hand pointed to ten, she heard both quite near—outside Lloyd's Coffeehouse, evidently. Then she knew why she had so readily relinquished her purpose of getting at Dr. Conrad for news. It was the dread of seeing anything of the necessary manipulation of the body. Could she have helped, it would have been different. No, if she must look upon her darling dead, let it be later. But now there was that poor fellow-sufferer within reach, and she could see him without fear. She went out quickly.
"Can you come away?"
"Quite safely for a minute. The others have done it before."
"Is there a chance?"
"There is a chance." Dr. Conrad's hand as she grasps it is so cold that it makes her wonder at the warmth of her own. She is strangely alive to little things. "Yes—there is a chance," he repeats, more emphatically, as one who has been contradicted. But the old Scotch doctor had only said cautiously, "It would be airly times to be geevin' up hopes," in answer to a half-suggestion of reference to him in the words just spoken. Rosalind keeps the cold hand that has taken hers, and the crushing weight of her own misery almost gives place to her utter pity for the ash-white face before her, and the tale there is in it of a soul in torture.
"What is the longest time ... the longest time...?" she cannot frame her question, but both doctors take its meaning at once, repeating together or between them, "The longest insensibility after immersion? Many hours."
"But how many?" Six, certainly, is Dr. Conrad's testimony. But the Scotchman's conscience plagues him; he must needs be truthful. "Vara likely you're right," he says. "I couldna have borne testimony pairsonally to more than two. But vara sairtainly you're more likely to be right than I." His conscience has a chilling effect.
Fenwick, a haggard spectacle, has staggered to the door of the cottage. He wants to get the attention of some one in the crowd that stands about in silence, never intrusively near. It is the father of young Benjamin, who comes being summoned.
"That man you told me about...." Fenwick begins.
"Ah! How long was he insensible?"
"Eight hours—rather better! We got him aboard just before eight bells of the second dog-watch, and it was eight bells of the middle watch afore he spoke. Safe and sure! Wasn't I on the morning-watch myself, and beside him four hours of the night before, and turned in at eight bells? He'll tell you the same tale himself. Peter Burtenshaw—he's a stevedore now, at the new docks at Southampton." Much of this was quite unintelligible—ship's time is always a problem—but it was reassuring, and Rosalind felt grateful to the speaker, whether what he said was true or not. In that curious frame of mind that observed the smallest things, she was just aware of the difficulty in the way of a reference to Peter Burtenshaw at the new docks at Southampton. Then she felt a qualm of added sickness at heart as she all but thought, "How that will amuse Sally when I come to tell it to her!"
The old Scotchman had to keep an appointment—connected with birth, not death. "I've geen my pledge to the wench's husband," he said, and went his way. Rosalind saw him stopped as he walked through the groups that were lingering silently for a chance of good news; and guessed that he had none to give, by the way his questioners fell back disappointed. She was conscious that the world was beginning to reel and swim about her; was half asking herself what could it all mean—the waiting crowds of fisher-folk speaking in undertones among themselves; the pitying eyes fixed on her and withdrawn as they met her own; the fixed pallor and tense speech of the man who held her hand, then left her to return again to an awful task that had, surely, something to do with her Sally, there in that cramped tarred-wood structure close down upon the beach. What did his words mean: "I must go back; it is best for you to keep away"? Oh, yes; now she knew, and it was all true. She saw how right he was, but she read in his eyes the reason why he was so strong to face the terror that she knew was there—in there! It was that he knew so well that death would be open to him if defeat was to be the end of the battle he was fighting. But there should be no panic. Not an inch of ground should be uncontested.
Back again in the little cottage with Gerry, but some one had helped her back. Surely, though, his voice had become his own again as he said: "We are no use, Rosey darling. We are best here. Conrad knows what he's about." And there was a rally of real hope, or a bold bid for it, when his old self spoke in his words: "Why does that solemn old fool of a Scotch doctor want to put such a bad face on the matter? Patience, sweetheart, patience!"
For them there was nothing else. They could hinder, but they could not help, outside there. Nothing for it now but to count the minutes as they passed, to feel the cruelty of that inexorable clock in the stillness; for the minutes passed too quickly. How could it be else, when each one of them might have heralded a hope and did not; when each bequeathed its little legacy of despair? But was there need that each new clock-tick as it came should say, as the last had said: "Another second has gone of the little hour that is left; another inch of the space that parts us from the sentence that knows no respite or reprieve"? Was it not enough that the end must come, without the throb of that monotonous reminder: "Nearer still!—nearer still!"
Neither spoke but a bare word or two, till the eleventh stroke of the clock, at the hour, left it resonant and angry, and St. Sennans tower answered from without. Then Rosalind said, "Shall I go out and see, now?" and Fenwick replied, "Do, darling, if you wish to. But he would tell us at once, if there were anything." She answered, "Yes, perhaps it's no use," and fell back into silence.
She was conscious that the crowd outside had increased, in spite of a fine rain that had followed the overclouding of the morning. She could hear the voices of other than the fisher-folk—some she recognised as those of beach acquaintance. That was Mrs. Arkwright, the mother of Gwenny. And that was Gwenny herself, crying bitterly. Rosalind knew quite well, though she could hear no words, that Gwenny was being told that she could not go to Miss Nightingale now. She half thought she would like to have Gwenny in, to cry on her and make her perhaps feel less like a granite-block in pain. But, then, was not Sally a baby of three once? She could remember the pleasure the dear old Major had at seeing baby in her bath, and how he squeezed a sponge over her head, and she screwed her eyes up. He had died in good time, and escaped this inheritance of sorrow. How could she have told him of it?
What was she that had outlived him to bear all this? Much, so much, of her was two dry, burning eyes, each in a ring of pain, that had forgotten tears and what they meant. How was it that now, when that Arkwright woman's voice brought back her talk upon the beach, not four-and-twenty hours since, and her unwelcome stirring of the dead embers of a burned-out past—how was it that that past, at its worst, seemed easier to bear than this intolerable now? How had it come about that a memory of twenty years ago, a memory of how she had prayed that her unborn baby might die, rather than live to remind her of that black stain upon the daylight, its father, had become in the end worse to her, in her heart of hearts, than the thing that caused it? And then she fell to wondering when it was that her child first took hold upon her life; first crept into it, then slowly filled it up. She went back on little incidents of that early time, asking herself, was it then, or then, I first saw that she was Sally? She could recall, without adding another pang to her dull, insensate suffering, the moment when the baby, as the Major and General Pellew sat playing chess upon the deck, captured the white king, and sent him flying into the Mediterranean; and though she could not smile now, could know how she would have smiled another time. Was that white king afloat upon the water still? A score of little memories of a like sort chased one another as her mind ran on, all through the childhood and girlhood of their subject. And now—it was all to end....
And throughout those years this silent man beside her, this man she meant to live for still, for all it should be in a darkened world—this man was ... where? To think of it—in all those years, no Sally for him! See what she had become to him in so short a time—such a little hour of life! Think of the waste of it—of what she might have been! And it was she, the little unconscious thing herself, that sprang from what had parted them. If she had to face all the horrors of her life anew for it, would she flinch from one of them, only to hear that the heart that had stopped its beating would beat again, that the voice that was still would sound in her ears once more?
Another hour! The clock gave out its warning that it meant to strike, in deadly earnest with its long premonitory roll. Then all those twelve strokes so quick upon the heels of those that sounded but now, as it seemed. Another hour from the tale of those still left but reasonable hope; another hour nearer to despair. The reverberations died away, and left the cold insensate tick to measure out the next one, while St. Sennans tower gave its answer as before.
"Shall I go now, Gerry, to see?"
"I say not, darling; but go, if you like." He could not bear to hear it, if it was to be the death-sentence. So Rosalind still sat on to the ticking of the clock.
Her brain and powers of thought were getting numbed. Trivial things came out of the bygone times, and drew her into dreams—back into the past again—to give a moment's spurious peace; then forsook her treacherously to an awakening, each time deadlier than the last. Each time to ask anew, what could it all mean? Sally dead or dying—Sally dead or dying! Each time she repeated the awful words to herself, to try to get a hold she was not sure she had upon their meaning. Each time she slipped again into a new dream and lost it.
Back again now, in the old days of her girlhood! Back in that little front garden of her mother's house, twenty odd years ago, and Gerry's hand in hers—the hand she held to now; and Gerry's face that now, beside her, looked so still and white and heart-broken, all aglow with life and thoughtless youth and hope. Again she felt upon her lips his farewell kiss, not to be renewed until ... but at the thought she shuddered away, horror-stricken, from the nightmare that any memory must be of what then crossed her life, and robbed them both of happiness. And then her powers of reason simply reeled and swam, and her brain throbbed as she caught the thought forming in it: "Better happiness so lost, and all the misery over again, than this blow that has come upon us now! Sally dead or dying—Sally dead or dying!" For what was she, the thing we could not bear to lose, but the living record, the very outcome, of the poisoned soil in that field of her life her memory shrank from treading?
What was that old Scotchman—he seemed to have come back—what was he saying outside there? Yes, listen! Fenwick starts up, all his life roused into his face. If only that clock would end that long unnecessary roll of warning, and strike! But before the long-deferred single stroke comes to say another hour has passed, he is up and at the door, with Rosalind clinging to him terrified.
"What's the news, doctor? Tell it out, man!—never fear." Rosalind dares not ask; her heart gives a great bound, and stops, and her teeth chatter and close tight. She could not speak if she tried.
"I wouldna like to be over-confeedent, Mr. Fenwick, and ye'll understand I'm only geevin' ye my own eempression...."
"Yes, quite right—go on...."
"Vara parteecularly because our young friend Dr. Vereker is unwulling to commeet himself ... but I should say a pairceptible...."
He is interrupted. For with a loud shout Dr. Conrad himself, dishevelled and ashy-white of face, comes running from the door opposite. The word he has shouted so loudly he repeats twice; then turns as though to go back. But he does not reach the door, for he staggers suddenly, like a man struck by a bullet, and falls heavily, insensible.
There is a movement and a shouting among the scattered groups that have been waiting, three hours past, as those nearest at hand run to help and raise him; and the sound of voices and exultation passes from group to group. For what he shouted was the one word "Breath!" And Rosalind knew its meaning as her head swam and she heard no more.
WAS IT THE LITTLE GALVANIC BATTERY? THE LAST CHAPTER RETOLD BY THE PRESS. A PROPER RAILING. BUT THEY WEREN'T DROWNED. WHAT'S THE FUSS? MASTER CHANCELLORSHIP APPEARS AND VANISHES. ELECTUARY OF ST. SENNA. AT GEORGIANA TERRACE. A LETTER FROM SALLY. ANOTHER FROM CONRAD. EVERYTHING VANISHES!
Professor Sales Wilson, Mrs. Julius Bradshaw's papa, was enjoying himself thoroughly. He was the sole occupant of 260, Ladbroke Grove Road, servants apart. All his blood-connected household had departed two days after the musical evening described in Chapter XL., and there was nothing that pleased him better than to have London to himself—that is to say, to himself and five millions of perfect strangers. He had it now, and could wallow unmolested in Sabellian researches, and tear the flimsy theories of Bopsius—whose name we haven't got quite right—to tatters. Indeed, we are not really sure the researches were Sabellian. But no matter!
Just at the moment at which we find him, the Professor was not engaged in any researches at all, unless running one's eye down the columns of a leading journal, to make sure there is nothing in them, is a research. That is what he was doing in his library. And he was also talking to himself—a person from whom he had no reserves or concealments. What he had to say ran in this wise:
"H'm!—h'm!—'The Cyclopean Cyclopaedia.' Forty volumes in calf. Net price thirty-five pounds. A digest of human knowledge, past, present, and probable. With a brief appendix enumerating the things of which we are still ignorant, and of our future ignorance of which we are scientifically certain ... h'm! h'm!... not dear at the price. But stop a bit! 'Until twelve o'clock on Saturday next copies of the above, with revolving bookcase, can be secured for the low price of seven pounds ten.'..." This did not seem to increase the speaker's confidence and he continued, as he wrestled with a rearrangement of the sheet: "Shiny paper, and every volume weighs a ton. Very full of matter—everything in it except the thing you want to know. By-the-bye ... what a singular thing it is, when you come to think of it, that so many people will sell you a thing worth a pound for sixpence, who won't give you a shilling outright on any terms! It must have to do with their unwillingness to encourage mendicancy. A noble self-denial, prompted by charity organizations! Hullo!—what's this? 'Heroic rescue from drowning at St. Sennans-on-Sea.' H'm—h'm—h'm!—can't read all that. But that's where the married couple went—St. Sennans-on-Sea. The bride announced her intention yesterday of looking in at five to-day for tea. So I suppose I shall be disturbed shortly."
The soliloquist thought it necessary to repeat his last words twice to convince himself and the atmosphere that his position was one of grievance. Having done this, and feeling he ought to substantiate his suggestion that he was just on the point of putting salt on the tail of an unidentified Samnite, or a finishing touch on the demolition of Bopsius, he folded his newspaper, which we suspect he had not been reading candidly from, and resumed his writing.
Did you ever have a quarter of an hour of absolutely unalloyed happiness? Probably not, if you have never known the joys of profound antiquarian erudition, with an unelucidated past behind you, and inexpensive publication before. The Professor's fifteen minutes that followed were not only without alloy, but had this additional zest—that that girl would come bothering in directly, and he would get his grievance, and work it. And at no serious expense, for he was really very partial to his daughter, and meant, au fond de soi, to enjoy her visit. Nevertheless, discipline had to be maintained, if only for purposes of self-deception, and the Professor really believed in his own "Humph! I supposed it would be that," when Laetitia's knock came at the street door.
"Such a shame to disturb you, papa dear! But you'll have to give me tea—you said you would."
"It isn't five o'clock yet. Well—never mind. Sit down and don't fidget. I shall have done presently.... No! make yourself useful now you are here. Get me 'Passeri Picturae Etruscorum,' volume three, out of shelf C near the window ... that's right. Very good find for a young married woman. Now sit down and read the paper—there's something will interest you. You may ring for tea, only don't talk."
The Professor then became demonstratively absorbed in the Sabellians, or Bopsius, or both, and Laetitia acted as instructed, but without coming on the newspaper-paragraph. She couldn't ask for a clue after so broad a hint, so she had to be contented with supposing her father referred to the return of Sir Charles Penderfield, Bart., as a Home Rule Unionist and Protectionist Free Trader. Only if it was that, it was the first she had ever known of her father being aware of the Bart.'s admiration for herself. So she made the tea, and waited till the pen-scratching stopped, and the Sabellians or Bopsius were blotted, glanced through, and ratified.
"There, that'll do for that, I suppose." His tone surrendered the grievance as an act of liberality, but maintained the principle. "Well, have we found it?"
"The heroic rescue—at your place—Saint Somebody—Saint Senanus...."
"No! Do show me that." Laetitia forms a mental image of a lifeboat going out to a wreck. How excited Sally must have been!
"Here, give it me and I'll find it.... Yes—that's right—a big lump and a little lump. I'm to take less sugar because of gout. Very good! Oh ... yes ... here we are. 'Heroic Rescue at St. Sennans' ... just under 'Startling Elopement at Clapham Rise'.... Got it?"
Laetitia supplied the cup of tea, poured one for herself, and took the paper from her father without the slightest suspicion of what was coming. "It will have to wait a minute till I've had some tea," she said. "I'm as thirsty as I can be. I've been to see my mother-in-law and Constance"—this was Julius's sister—"off to Southend. And just fancy, papa; Pag and I played from nine till a quarter-to-one last night, and he never felt it, nor had any headache nor anything." The topic is so interesting that the unread paragraph has to wait.
The Professor cannot think of any form of perversion better than "Very discreditable to him. I hope you blew him well up?"
"Now, papa, don't be nonsensical! Do you know, I'm really beginning to believe Pag's right, and it was the little galvanic battery. Shouldn't you say so, though, seriously?"
"Why, yes. If there wasn't a big galvanic battery, it must have been the little one. It stands to reason. But what does my musical son-in-law think was the little galvanic battery?"
"Oh dear, papa, how ridiculous you are! Why, of course, his nerves going away—as they really have done, you know; and I can't see any good pretending they haven't. Yesterday was the fourth evening he hasn't felt them...."
"Stop a bit! There is a lack of scientific precision in the structure of your sentences. A young married woman ought really to be more accurate. Now let's look it over, and do a little considering. I gather, in the first place, that my son-in-law's nerves going away was, or were, a little galvanic battery...."
"Dear papa, don't paradox and catch me out. Just this once, be reasonable! Think what a glorious thing it would be for us if his nerves had gone for good. Another cup? Was the last one right?"
"My position is peculiar. (Yes, the tea was all right.) I find myself requested to be reasonable, and to embark on a career of reasonableness by considering the substantial advantages to my daughter and her husband of the disappearance of his nervous system...."
"Oh, I wish you wouldn't! Do be serious...." The Professor looked at her reflectively as he drank the cup of tea, and it seemed to dawn on him slowly that his daughter was serious. The fact is, Tishy was very serious indeed, and was longing for sympathy over a matter for great elation. She and Julius had been purposely playing continuously for long hours to test the apparent suspension or cessation of his nervous affection, and had not so far seen a sign of a return; but they were dreadfully afraid of counting their chickens in advance.
"I noticed the other evening"—the Professor has surrendered, and become serious—"that Julius wasn't any the worse, and he had played a long time. What should you do?" Tishy looked inquiringly. "Well, I mean what steps could be taken if it were...?"
"If we could trust to it? Oh, no difficulty at all! Any number of engagements directly."
"It would please your mother." Tishy cannot help a passing thought on the oddity of her parents' relations to one another. Even though he spoke of the Dragon as a connexion of his daughter he was but little concerned with, the first thought that crossed his mind was a sort of satisfaction under protest that she would have something to be pleased about. Tishy wondered whether she and Julius would end up like that. Of course they wouldn't! What pity people's parents were so unreasonable!
"Yes; mamma wouldn't be at all sorry. Fiddlers are not Baronets, but anything is better than haberdashing. I'm not ashamed of it, you know." She had subjected herself gratuitously to her own suspicion that she might be, and resented it.
Her father looked at her with an amused face; looked down at these social fads of poor humanity from the height of his Olympus. If he knew anything about the Unionist Home Ruler's aspirations for Laetitia, he said nothing. Then he asked a natural question—what was the little galvanic battery? Tishy gave her account of it, but before she had done the Professor was thinking about Sabines or Lucanians. The fact is that Tishy was never at her best with her father. She was always so anxious to please him that she tumbled over her own anxiety, and in this present case didn't tell her story as well as she might have done. He began considering how he could get back to the shreds of Bopsius, if any were left, and looked at his watch.
"Well, that was very funny—very funny!" said he absently. "Now, don't forget the heroic rescue before you go."
Tishy perceived the delicate hint, and picked up the paper with "I declare I was forgetting all about it!" But she had scarcely cast her eyes on it when she gave a cry. "Oh, papa, papa; it's Sally! Oh dear!" And then: "Oh dear, oh dear! I can hardly see to make it out. But I'm sure she's all right! They say so." And kept on trying to read. Her father did what was, under the circumstances, the best thing to do—took the paper from her, and as she sank back with a beating heart and flushed face on the chair she had just risen from read the paragraph to her as follows:
"HEROIC RESCUE FROM DROWNING AT ST. SENNANS-ON-SEA.—Early this morning, as Mr. Algernon Fenwick, of Shepherd's Bush, at present on a visit at the old town, was walking on the pier-end, at the point where there is no rail or rope for the security of the public, his foot slipped, and he was precipitated into the sea, a height of at least ten feet. Not being a swimmer, his life was for some minutes in the greatest danger; but fortunately for him his stepdaughter, Miss Rosalind Nightingale, whose daring and brilliant feats in swimming have been for some weeks past the admiration and envy of all the visitors to the bathing quarter of this most attractive of south-coast watering-places, was close at hand, and without a moment's hesitation plunged in to his rescue. Encumbered as she was by clothing, she was nevertheless able to keep Mr. Fenwick above water, and ultimately to reach a life-buoy that was thrown from the pier. Unfortunately, having established Mr. Fenwick in a position of safety, she thought her best course would be to return to the pier. She was unable in the end to reach it, and her strength giving way, she was picked up, after an immersion of more than twenty minutes, by the boats that put off from the shore. It will readily be imagined that a scene of great excitement ensued, and that a period of most painful anxiety followed, for it was not till nearly four hours afterwards that, thanks to the skill and assiduity of Dr. Fergus Maccoll, of 22A, Albion Crescent, assisted by Dr. Vereker, of London, the young lady showed signs of life. We are happy to say that the latest bulletins appear to point to a speedy and complete recovery, with no worse consequences than a bad fright. We understand that the expediency of placing a proper railing at all dangerous points on the pier is being made the subject of a numerously signed petition to the Town Council."
"That seems all right," said the Professor. And he said nothing further, but remained rubbing his shaved surface in a sort of compromising way—a way that invited or permitted exception to be taken to his remark.
"All right? Yes, but—oh, papa, do think what might have happened! They might both have been drowned."
"But they weren't!"
"Of course they weren't! But they might have been."
"Well, it would have proved that people are best away from the seaside. Not that any further proof is necessary. Now, good-bye, my dear; I must get back to my work."
* * * * *
That afternoon Julius Bradshaw went on a business mission to Cornhill, and was detained in the city till past five o'clock. It was then too late to return to the office, as six was the closing hour; so he decided on the Twopenny Tube to Lancaster Gate, the nearest point to home. There was a great shouting of evening papers round the opening into the bowels of the earth at the corner of the Bank, and Julius's attention was caught by an unearthly boy with a strange accent.
"'Mail and Echo,' third edition, all the latest news for a 'apeny. Fullest partic'lars in my copies. Alderman froze to death on the Halps. Shocking neglect of twins. 'Oxton man biles his third wife alive. Cricket this day—Surrey going strong. More about heroic rescue from drowning at St. Senna's. Full and ack'rate partic'lars in my copies only. Catch hold!..." Julius caught hold, and thought the boy amusing. Conversation followed, during cash settlements.
"Who's been heroically rescued?"
"Friend of mine—young lady—fished her governor out—got drownded over it herself, and was brought to. 'Mail' a 'apeny; torkin' a penny extra! Another 'apeny." Julius acquiesced, but felt entitled to more talking.
"Where was it?"
"St. Senna's, where they make the lectury—black stuff.... Yes, it was a friend o' mine, mister, so I tell you, and no lies! Miss Rosalind Nightingale. I see her in the fog round Piccadilly way.... No, no lies at all! Told me her name of her own accord, and went indoors." Julius would have tried to get to the bottom of this if he had not been so taken aback by it, even at the cost of more pence for conversation; but by the time he had found that his informant had certainly read the paragraph, or at least mastered Sally's name right, the boy had vanished. Of course, he was the boy with the gap in his teeth that she had seen in the fog when Colonel Lund was dying. We can only hope that his shrewdness and prudence in worldly matters have since brought him the success they deserve, as his disappearance was final.
Even the Twopenny Tube was too slow for Julius Bradshaw, so mad was he with impatience to get to Georgiana Terrace. When he got there, and went upstairs two steps at a time, and "I say, Tishy dearest, look at this!" on his lips, he was met half-way by his young wife, also extending a newspaper, and "Paggy, just fancy what's happened! Look at this!"
They were so wild with excitement that they refused food—at least, when it took the form of second helpings—and when the banquet was over Laetitia could do nothing but walk continually about the room with gleaming eyes and a flushed face waiting furiously for the post; for she was sure it would bring her a letter from Sally or her mother. And she was right, for the rush to the street door that followed the postman's knock resulted firstly in denunciations of an intransitive letter-box nobody but a fool would ever have tried to stuff all those into, and secondly in a pounce by Laetitia on Sally's own handwriting.
"You may just as well read it upstairs comfortably, Tish," says Julius, meanly affecting stoicism now that it is perfectly clear—for the arrival of the letter practically shows it—that nobody is incapacitated by the accident. "Come along up!"
"All right!" says his wife. "Why, mine's written in pencil! Who's yours from?"
"I haven't opened it yet. Come along. Don't be a goose!" This was a little cheap stoicism, worth deferring satisfaction of curiosity three minutes for.
"Whose handwriting is it?" She goes on devouring, intensely absorbed, though she speaks.
"It looks like the doctor's."
"Of course! You'll see directly.... All right, I'm coming!"
Take your last look at the Julius Bradshaws, as they settle down with animated faces to serious perusal of their letters. They may just as well drink their coffee, though, and Julius will presently light his cigar for anything we know to the contrary; but we shall not see it, for when we have transcribed the two letters they are reading we shall lay down our pen, and then, if you want to know any more about the people in this story, you must inquire of the originals, all of whom are still living except Dr. Vereker's mother, who died last year, we believe. Here are the letters:
"MY DEAREST TISHY,
"I have a piece of news to tell that will be a great surprise to you. I am engaged to Conrad Vereker. Perhaps, though, I oughtn't to say as much as that, because it hasn't gone any farther at present than me promising not to marry any one else, and as far as I can see I might have promised any man that.
"Now, don't write and say you expected it all along, because I shan't believe you.
"Of course, tell anybody you like—only I hope they'll all say that's no concern of theirs. I should be so much obliged to them. Besides, so very little has transpired to go by that I can't see exactly what they could either congratulate or twit about. Being engaged is so very shadowy. Do you remember our dancing-mistress at school, who had been engaged seven years to a dancing-master, and then they broke it off by mutual consent, and she married a Creole? And they'd saved up enough for a school of their own all the time! However, as long as it's distinctly understood there's to be no marrying at present, I don't think the arrangement a bad one. Of course, you'll understand I mean other girls, and the sort of men they get engaged to. With Prosy it's different; one knows where one is. Only I shouldn't consider it honourable to jilt Prosy, even for the sake of remaining single. You see what I mean.
"The reason of pencil (don't be alarmed!) is that I am writing this in bed, having been too long in the water. It's to please Prosy, because my System has had a shake. I am feeling very queer still, and can't control my thumb to write. I must tell you about it, or you'll get the story somewhere else and be frightened.
"It was all Jeremiah's fault, and I really can't think what he was doing. He admits that he was seedy, and had had a bad night. Anyhow, it was like this: I followed him down to the pier very early before breakfast, and you remember where the man was fishing and caught nothing that day? Well, what does Jeremiah do but just walk plump over the edge. I had all but got to him, by good luck, and of course I went straight for him and caught him before he sank. I induced him not to kick and flounder, and got him inside a life-belt they threw from the pier, and then I settled to leave him alone and swim to the steps, because you've no idea how I felt my clothes, and it would have been all right, only a horrible heavy petticoat got loose and demoralised me. I don't know how it happened, but I got all wrong somehow, and a breaker caught me. Don't get drowned, Tishy; or, if you do, don't be revived again! I don't know which is worst, but I think reviving. I can't write about it. I'll tell you when I come back.
"They won't tell me how long I was coming to, but it must have been much longer than I thought, when one comes to think of it. Only I can't tell, because when poor dear Prosy had got me to[A]—down at Lloyd's Coffeehouse, where old Simon sits all day—and I had been wrapped up in what I heard a Scotchman call 'weel-warmed blawnkets,' and brought home in a closed fly from Padlock's livery stables, I went off sound asleep with my fingers and toes tingling, and never knew the time nor anything. (Continuation bit.) This is being written, to tell you the truth, in the small hours of the morning, in secrecy with a guttering candle. It seems to have been really quite a terrible alarm to poor darling mother and Jeremiah, and much about the same to my medical adviser, who resuscitated me on Marshall Hall's system, followed by Silvester's, and finally opened a vein. And there was I alive all the time, and not grateful to Prosy at all, I can tell you, for bringing me to. I have requested not to be brought to next time. The oddity of it all was indescribable. And there, now I come to think of it, I've never so much as seen the Octopus since Prosy and I got engaged. I shall have to go round as soon as I'm up. (Later continuation bit—after breakfast.) Do you know, it makes me quite miserable to think what an anxiety I've been to all of them! Mother and J. can't take their eyes off me, and look quite wasted and resigned. And poor dear Prosy! How ever shall I make it up to him? Do you know, as soon as it was known I was to,[B] the dear fellow actually tumbled down insensible! I had no idea of the turn-out there's been until just now, when mother and Jeremiah confessed up. Just fancy it! Now I must shut up to catch the post.
"Your ever affect. friend,
[Footnote A: Part of a verb to get to, or bring to. Not very intelligible!]
[Footnote B: See note, p. 563.][Transcriber's Note: This footnote refers to Footnote A]
"MY DEAR BRADSHAW,
"I am so very much afraid you and your wife may be alarmed by hearing of the events of this morning—possibly by a press-paragraph, for these things get about—that I think it best to send you a line to say that, though we have all had a terrible time of anxiety, no further disastrous consequences need be anticipated. Briefly, the affair may be stated thus:
"Fenwick and Miss Nightingale were on the pier early this morning, and from some unexplained false step F. fell from the lower stage into the water. Miss N. immediately plunged in to his rescue, and brought him in safety to a life-buoy that was thrown from the pier. It seemed that she then started to swim back, being satisfied of his safety till other help came, but got entangled with her clothes and went under. She was brought ashore insensible, and remained so nearly four hours. For a long time I was almost without hope, but we persevered against every discouragement, with complete final success. I am a good deal more afraid now of the effect of the shock on Mrs. Fenwick and her husband than for anything that may happen to Miss N., whose buoyancy of constitution is most remarkable. You will guess that I had rather a rough time (the news came rather suddenly to me), and all the more (but I know you will be glad to hear this) that Miss N. and your humble servant had only just entered on an engagement to be married at some date hereafter not specified. I am ashamed to say I showed weakness (but not till I was sure the lungs were acting naturally), and had to be revived with stimulants! I am all right now, and, do you know, I really believe my mother will be all the better for it; for when she heard what had happened, she actually got up and ran—yes, ran—to Lloyd's Coffeehouse (you remember it?), where I was just coming round, and had the satisfaction of telling her the news. I cannot help suspecting that her case may have been wrongly diagnosed, and that the splanchnic ganglion and solar plexus are really the seat of the evil. If so, the treatment has been entirely at fault.
"I shall most likely be back to-morrow, so keep your congrats. for me, old chap. No time for a letter. Love from us all to yourself and Mrs. J. B.
"P.S.—I reopen this (which I wrote late last night) to say that Miss N., so far from having acquired a horror of the water (as is usual in such cases), talks of 'swimming over the ground' if the weather clears. I fear she is incorrigible."
* * * * *
BY WILLIAM DE MORGAN
A novel of life near London in the 50's. $1.75.
"The best thing in fiction since Mr. Meredith and Mr. Hardy; must take its place, by virtue of its tenderness and pathos, its wit and humor, its love of human kind, and its virile characterization, as the first great English novel that has appeared in the twentieth century."—LEWIS MELVILLE in New York Times Saturday Review.
"If the reader likes both 'David Copperfield' and 'Peter Ibbetson' he can find the two books in this one."—The Independent.
The story of a London waif, a friendly artist, his friends and family, with some decidedly dramatic happenings. $1.75.
"Really worth reading and praising.... If any writer of the present era is read a half century hence, a quarter century, or even a decade, that writer is William De Morgan."—Boston Transcript.
"It is the Victorian age itself that speaks in these rich, interesting, overcrowded books.... Everywhere are wit, learning and scholarship.... Will be remembered as Dickens's novels are remembered."—Springfield Republican.
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
* * * * *
WILLIAM DE MORGAN'S SOMEHOW GOOD
After years of separation from his wife, the hero, during a complete suspension of memory and loss of identity, accidentally finds shelter in her home. This situation seems very simple, but the developments are far from simple, and form a story of complicated motives and experiences which holds the reader closely.
An almost grown-up daughter, ignorant of the situation, heightens the tension of the plot, and furnishes her share of two charming stories of young love.
"Somehow Good" is, in the unanimous opinion of the publishers' readers, an advance upon anything of Mr. De Morgan's yet publisht. $1.75.
WILLIAM DE MORGAN'S ALICE-FOR-SHORT
The story of a London waif, a friendly artist, his friends and family, with some decidedly dramatic happenings. Sixth printing. $1.75.
"'Joseph Vance' was far and away the best novel of the year, and of many years.... Mr. De Morgan's second novel ... proves to be no less remarkable, and equally productive of almost unalloyed delight.... The reader ... is hereby warned that if he skims 'Alice-for-Short' it will be to his own serious loss.... A remarkable example of the art of fiction at its noblest."—Dial.
"Really worth reading and praising ... will be hailed as a masterpiece. If any writer of the present era is read a half century hence, a quarter century, or even a decade, that writer is William De Morgan."—Boston Transcript.
WILLIAM DE MORGAN'S JOSEPH VANCE
A novel of life near London in the 50's. Sixth printing. $1.75.
"The book of the last decade; the best thing in fiction since Mr. Meredith and Mr. Hardy; must take its place, by virtue of its tenderness and pathos, its wit and humor, its love of human kind, and its virile characterization, as the first great English novel that has appeared in the twentieth century."—LEWIS MELVILLE in New York Times Saturday Review.