"Of course not, dear!"
"There, now! You're being imperturbable! I knew you would. But you may say what you like—there really was nothing in it. Nothing whatever that time! However, of course mother does like Mr. Fenwick very much—everybody knows that."
Laetitia says time will show, and Sally says, "Show what?" For the remark connects with nothing in the conversation. Its maker does not reply, but retires into the fastnesses of a higher philosophy, unknown to the teens, but somehow attainable in the early twenties. She comes down, however, to ask after Dr. Vereker. Sally has as good as held her tongue about him. Have they quarrelled?
"My dear Tishy! The idea! A perfect stranger!"
"I thought you were such good friends."
"I've nothing against Dr. Vereker. But fancy quarrelling with him! Like bosom friends. Kissing and making it up. What next!" Laetitia seems to have discovered that Sally, subjected to a fixed amused look, is sure to develop, and maintains one; and Sally follows on:
"One has to be on an intimate footing to fall out. Besides, people shouldn't be hen's sons. Not if they expect that sort of thing!"
"You know perfectly well, Tishy dear! And they shouldn't be worthy, either, people shouldn't. I'm not at all sure it isn't his worthiness, just as much as his mother. I could swallow his mother, if it came to that!"
Laetitia, without relaxing the magnetism of her look, is replacing a defective string. But a stimulating word will keep Sally up to the mark. It would be a pity she should die down, having got so far.
"Not at all sure what isn't his worthiness!"
"Now, Tishy dear, what nonsense! As if you didn't understand! You may just as well be penetrating outright, if you're going to go on like that. All I know is that, worthiness or no, if Dr. Vereker expects I'm going to put him on a quarrelling footing, he's mistaken, and the sooner he gives up the idea the better. I suppose he'll be wanting me to cherish him next."
And then what does that irritating Laetitia Wilson do but say suddenly, "I'm quite ready for the scherzo, dear, if you are." Just as if Sally had been talking all this for her own private satisfaction and amusement! And she knew perfectly well, Laetitia did, that she had been eliciting, and that she meant to wait a day or two, and begin again ever so far on, and make believe Sally had said heaps of things. And Sally had really said nothing—nothing!
However, Miss Wilson was certainly a very fine violin figure, and really striking in long sostenuto notes, with a fine throat and handsome fingers on her left hand with broad bones, and a handsome wrist on her bowing-arm where it was wanted. Only now, of course, she hadn't got her Egyptian bracelet that looked so well, and her hair wasn't done in a coronet, but only just twisted up anyhow. Besides, when it's a difficult scherzo and you take it quick, your appearance of having the concentration of Bonaparte and Julius Caesar, and the alacrity of a wild cat, doesn't bring out your good points. Give us an andante maestoso movement, or a diminuendo rallentando that reaches the very climax and acme of slowness itself just before the applause comes! It was rather as a meditation in contrasts, though, that Sally thought thus to herself; for detached musical jerks of diabolical rapidity, that have to be snapped at with the punctuality of the mosquito slayer, don't show your rounded lines to advantage, and make you clench your teeth and glare horribly.
* * * * *
Our story is like the scherzo in one respect: it has to be given in detached jerks—literary, not musical—and these jerks don't come at any stated intervals at all. The music was bad enough—so Sally and Laetitia thought—but the chronicle is more spasmodic still. However, if you want to know its remaining particulars, you will have to brace yourself up to tolerating an intermittent style. It is the only one our means of collecting information admits of.
This little musical interlude, and the accidental chat of our two young performers, gives us a kind of idea of what was the position of things at Krakatoa Villa six months after Fenwick made his singular reappearance in the life of Mrs. Nightingale. We shall rely on your drawing all our inferences. There is only one belief of ours we need to lay stress upon; it is that the lady's scheme to do all she could to recapture and hold this man who had been her husband was no mere slow suggestion of the course of events in that six months, but a swift and decisive resolution—one that, if not absolutely made at once, paused only in the making until she was quite satisfied that the disappearance of Fenwick's past was an accomplished fact. Once satisfied of that, he became to her simply the man she had loved twenty years ago—the man who did not, could not, forgive her what seemed so atrocious a wrong, but whom she could forgive the unforgiveness of; and this all the more if she had come to know of the ruinous effect her betrayal of him had had—must have had—upon his after-life. He was this man—this very man—to all appearance with a mysterious veil drawn, perhaps for ever, over the terrible close of their brief linked life and its hideous cause—over all that she would have asked and prayed should be forgotten. If only this oblivion could be maintained!—that was her fear. If it could, what task could be sweeter to her than to make him such amends as lay in her power for the wrong she had done him—how faultfully, who shall say? And if, in late old age, no dawn of memory having gleamed in his ruined mind, she came to be able to speak to him and tell him his own story—the tale of the wreck of his early years—would not that almost, almost, carry with it a kind of compensation for what she had undergone?
But her terror of seeing a return of memory now was a haunting nightmare to her. She could only soothe and alleviate her anxiety by suggesting efforts at recollection to Fenwick, and observing with concealed satisfaction how utterly useless they all were. She felt guilty at heart in being so happy at his ill-success, and had to practise an excusable hypocrisy, an affectation of disappointment at his repeated failures. On one particular occasion a shudder of apprehension passed through her; she thought he had got a clue. If he did, what was to prevent his following it up? She found it hard to say to him how sorry she was this clue led to nothing, and to forecast from it encouragement for the future. But she said to herself after that, that she was a good actress, and had played her part well. The part was a hard one.
For what came about was this. It chanced one evening, some three months after the railway adventure, when Fenwick had become an accepted and constant visitor at Krakatoa Villa, that as he took a very late leave of Sally and her mother, the latter came out with him into the always quiet road, while Sally ran back into the house to direct a letter he was to post, but which had been forgotten for the moment, just as he was departing.
They had talked a great deal, and with a closer familiarity than ever before, of the problem of Fenwick's oblivion. Both ladies had gone on the lines of suggesting clues, trying to recall to him the things that must have been in his life as in others. How about his parents? Well, he remembered that, as a fact, he had a father and mother. It was themselves he could not recollect. How about his schooldays? No, that was a blank. He could not even remember having been flogged. Yet the idea of school was not unfamiliar; how, otherwise, could he laugh as he did at the absurdity of forgetting all about it, especially being flogged? But his brothers, his sisters, how could he forget them? He did, although in their case, as in that of his parents, he somehow knew that some definite identities had existed that he had forgotten. But any effort to recall any specific person came to nothing, or else he only succeeded in reviving images manifestly confused with characters in fiction or history. Then Sally, who was rather incredulous about this complete vacuity of mind, had said to him: "But come now, Mr. Fenwick, you don't mean to say you don't know if you ever had a sweetheart?" And he had replied with a laugh: "My dear Miss Sally, I'm sure I must have had plenty of sweethearts. Perhaps it's because I had so many that I have forgotten them all—all—all! They are all gone with the rest. I can do sums, and can speak French, but what school I learned to keep accounts at I can't tell you; and as to where I lived (as I must have done) among French people to speak French, I can tell no more than Adam." And then he had become rather reserved and silent till he got up to go, and they had not liked to press him for more. The pained look they had often been distressed to see came on his face, and he pressed his fingers on his eyelids as though shutting out the present world might help him to recall the past; then with a rough head-shake of his thick hair, like a big dog, and a brushing of it about with both hands, as though he would rouse this useless head of his to some sort of action, he put the whole thing aside, and talked of other matters till he left the house.
But when he and Mrs. Nightingale found themselves alone in the road, enjoying the delicious west wind that meant before the morning to become an equinoctial gale, and blow down chimney-pots and sink ships, he turned to her and went back to what they had been talking of. She could see the fine strong markings of his face in the moonlight, the great jaw and firm lips, the handsome nose damaged by a scar that lay true across the bridge of it, and looked white in the gleam of the moon, the sad large eyelids and the grave eyes that had retaken the look he had shaken off. She could note and measure every change maturity had stamped upon him, and could see behind it the boy that had come to meet her at the station at Umballa twenty years before—had met her full of hope, met her to claim his reward after the long delay through the hideous days of the pestilence, to inaugurate the anticipated hours of happiness he had trembled to dream of. And the worst of the cholera wards that had filled the last months of his life with horror had held nothing for him so bad as the tale she had to tell or conceal. She could see back upon it as they stood there in the moonlight. Do not say she was not a strong woman.
"Do you know, Mrs. Nightingale," Fenwick said, "it's always a night of this sort that brings back one's youth? You know what I mean?"
"I think I understand what you mean, Mr. Fenwick. You mean if"—she hesitated a moment—"if you could recollect."
He nodded a complete yes.
"Just that," said he. "I don't know if it's the millions of dry leaves sweeping about, or the moon scudding so quick through the clouds, or the smell of the Atlantic, or the bark coming off the plane-trees, or the wind blowing the roads into smooth dust-drifts and hard clear-ups you could eat your dinner off—I don't know what it is, but something or another on a night of this sort does always seem to bring old times back, when, as you say, they can be got back on any terms." He half-laughed, not in earnest. She found something to say, also not very much in earnest.
"Because we remember nights of the sort when we were small, and that brings them back."
"Come, I say now, Mrs. Nightingale! As if we couldn't remember all sorts of nights, and nothing comes back about them. It's this particular sort of night does the job."
"Did you think you remembered something, Mr. Fenwick?" There was anxiety in her voice, but no need to conceal it. It would as readily pass muster for anxiety that he should have remembered something as that he shouldn't.
"I can hardly go so far as that. But that joke of your little pussycat about the sweethearts got mixed with the smell of the wind and the chrysanthemums and dahlias and sunflowers." He pressed his fingers hard on his eyes again. "Do you know, there's pain in it—worse than you'd think! The half-idea that comes is not painful in itself—rather the contrary—but it gives my brain a twist at the point at which I can recall no more. Yes, it's painful!"
"But there was a half-idea? Forgive me if it gives you pain, and don't try. Only I'm not sure you ought not to try when the chance comes, for your own sake."
"Oh, I don't mind trying. This time it was something about a front garden and a girl and a dog-cart." He had not taken his hands from his eyes. Now he did so, brushing them on his hair and forehead as before. "I get no nearer," said he.
"A front garden and a girl and a dog-cart," thus Miss Sally saucily, coming out with the letter. "Did you have a very touching parting, Mr. Fenwick? Now, mind you don't forget to post it. I wouldn't trust you!" He took the letter from her, but seemed too distrait to notice her little piece of levity; then, still speaking as if in distress or pain, he said:
"It must have been some front garden, long ago. This one brought it back—this and the leaves. Only there was nothing for the dog-cart."
"And only mamma for the girl"—thus Sally the irrepressible. And then mamma laughed, but not Mr. Fenwick at all. Only Sally thought her mother's laugh came hard, and said to herself, now she should catch it for chaffing! However, she didn't catch it, although the abruptness with which her mother said good-night and went back into the house half confirmed her impression that she should.
On the contrary, when she followed her a few minutes later, having accompanied Fenwick to near the road end, and scampered back to the house, turning to throw Parthian good-nights after him, she found her mother pale and thoughtful, and surely the lips and hands she used to kiss her with were cold. She wasn't even sure that wasn't a tear. Perhaps it was.
For mamma had had a bad ten minutes—scarcely a mauvais quart d'heure—and even that short interim had given her time to see that this kind of thing would be incessant with her recovered husband, granting that she could recover him. Only of that she felt nearly secure—unaccountably, perhaps; certainly not warrantably. But how to bear this kind of thing through a life?—that was the question.
What was this kind of thing, this bad ten minutes, that had made her tremble, and turn white, and glad to get away, and be alone a minute before Sally came up jubilant? But oh, how glad, for all that, to get at her daughter's lips to kiss!—only not too hard, so as to suggest reflection and analysis.
What had upset Mrs. Nightingale was a counter-memory of twenty years ago, a clear and full and vivid recollection of the garden and the girl and the dog-cart. And then also there "had only been mamma for the girl." But oh, the relation the lassie who said those words bore to those past days, her place in the drama that filled them out! Little wonder her mother's brain reeled.
She could see it all vividly now, all over again. A glorious night like this; a dazzling full moon sailing in the blue beyond the tumbled chaos of loose cloud so near the earth; the riot of the wind-swept trees fighting to keep a shred of their old green on their bareness, making new concessions to the blast, and beating their stripped limbs together in their despair; the endless swirl of leaves at liberty, free now at last to enjoy a short and merry life before becoming food for worms. She could see the face she had just parted from, but twenty years younger—the same bone-structure with its unscarred youth upon it, only a lesser beard with a sunnier tinge, but all the thickness of the hair. She could remember the voices in the house, the farewells to the young man who was just starting for India, and how she slipped down to say a last good-bye on her own account, and felt grateful to that old Dean Ireson (the only time in her life) for begging her mother (who, of course, was the Rosalind Nightingale Fenwick spoke of in the train) on no account to expose herself to the night-air. Why, she might have come down, too, into the garden, and spoiled it all! And then she could remember—oh, how well!—their last words in the windy garden, and the horse in the dog-cart, fresh from his stall, and officiously anxious to catch the train—as good as saying so, with flings and stamps. And how little she cared if the groom did hear him call her Rosey, for that was his name for her.
"Now, Gerry, remember, I've made you no promises; but I'll play fair. If I change my mind, I'll write and tell you. And you may write to me."
"Silly boy, be reasonable! Once a month! You'll see, you'll get tired of it."
"Come, Rosey, I say! The idea!"
"Yes, you will! Now go! You'll lose the train."
"Oh, Rosey dearest!"
"Yes, what?—you'll lose the train."
"Oh, my dearest, I can't! Just think—I may never see you again!"
"You must go, Gerry dear! And there's that blockhead of a boy outside there."
"Never mind him; he's nobody! Only one more.... Yes, dearest love, I'm really going.... Good-bye! good-bye! God bless you!"
And then how she stood there with the memory of his lips dying on hers, alone by the gate, in the wild wind, and heard the sharp regular trot of the horse lessen on the hard road and die away, and then the running of a train she thought was his, and how he would surely miss it, and have to come back. And it would be nice just to see him again! But he was gone, for all that, and he was a dear good boy. And she recollected going to her bedroom to do up her hair, which had all come down, and hiding her face on her pillow in a big burst of tears.
Her mind harked back on all this as he himself, the same but changed, stood there in the moonlight striving to recollect it all, and mysteriously failing. But at least, he did fail, and that was something. But oh, what a wrench it gave to life, thought, reason, to all her heart and being, to have that unconscious chit cut in with "only mamma for the girl!" What and whence was this little malaprop? Her overwrought mind shut away this question—almost in the asking it—with "Dearer to me, at least, than anything else in this world, unless——" and then shut away the rest of the answer.
But she was glad to get at Sally, and feel her there, though she could not speak freely to her—nor, indeed, speak at all. And as soon as the tension died down, she went back as to a source of peace to the failure of his powers of memory, obvious, complete. All her hopes lay in that. Where would they be if the whole past were suddenly sprung on him? He might be ready to bury bygones, but——
She woke next day fairly at ease in her mind, but feeling as one does after any near-run escape. And then it was she said to herself that she was a good actress. But the part was hard to act.
* * * * *
The relations between Fenwick and the Nightingales, mother and daughter, seem to us to have been acquiring cohesion at the time of the foregoing interview. It is rather difficult to say why. But it serves to pave the way to the state of things that Sally accepted as the "spooneyness" of Fenwick, and her mother's observation of his "going on," without the dimmest idea of the underlying motives of the drama. Another three months, bringing us on to these discriminations of Sally's, may also have brought about appearances that justified them.
THE DANGERS OF AN UNKNOWN PAST. NETTLE-GRASPING, AND A RECURRENCE. WHO AMONG US COURTS CATECHISM ABOUT HIMSELF? A UNIVERSALLY PROVIDED YOUNG MAN. HOW ABOUT THE POOR OLD FURNITURE?
We defy the acutest of psychologists to estimate precisely the hold love has on a man who is diagnosed, in the language of the vulgar child Sally, as "spooney." Probably no patient has ever succeeded in doing this himself. It is quite another matter when the eruption has broken out, when the crater is vomiting flames and the lava is pouring down on the little homesteads at the mountain's base, that may stand in the metaphor for all that man's duties and obligations. By that time he knows. But, while still within the "spooney" zone he knows no more than you or I (or that most important she) what the morrow means to bring. Will it be a step on or a step back? An altogether new she, or the fires of the volcano, let loose beyond recall?
Fenwick was certainly not in a position to gauge his own feelings towards Mrs. Nightingale. All previous experience was cut away from him, or seemed so. He might have been, for anything he knew, a married man with a family, a devoted husband. He might have been recently wedded to an adoring bride, and she might now be heart-broken in her loneliness. How could he tell? The only thing that gave him courage about this was that he could remember the fact that he had had parents, brothers, sisters. He could not recollect anything whatever about sweetheart, wife, or child. Unearthly gusts of half-ideas came to him at times, like that of the girl and the dog-cart. But they only gave him pain, and went away unsolved, leaving him sick and dizzy.
His situation was an acutely distressing one. He was shackled and embarrassed, so to speak, by what he knew of his relations to existence. At any moment a past might be sprung on him, bringing him suddenly face to face with God knows what. So strongly did he feel this that he often said to himself that the greatest boon that could be granted to him would be an assurance of continued oblivion. He was especially afflicted by memories of an atrocious clearness that would come to him in dreams, the horror of which would remain on into his waking time. They were not necessarily horrible things at all, but their clearness in the dream, and their total, if slow, disappearance as the actual world came back, became sometimes an excruciating torment. Who could say that they, or some equivalents, might not reach him out of the past to-day or to-morrow—any time?
For instance, he had one morning waked up in a perfect agony—a cold perspiration as of the worst nightmares—because of a dream harmless enough in itself. He had suddenly remembered, in the dream-street he could identify the houses of so plainly, a first-floor he had occupied where he had left all his furniture locked up years ago. And he had found the house and the first-floor quite easily, and had not seen anything strange in the landlord saying that he and his old woman often wondered when Mr. Fenwick would come for his things. It was not the accumulation of rent unpaid, nor that of the dirt he knew he should find on the furniture (all of which he could recollect in the dream perfectly well), but the fact that he had forgotten it all, and left it unclaimed all those years, that excruciated him. Even his having to negotiate for its removal in his shirt did not afflict him so much as his forgetfulness for so long of the actual furniture; his conviction of the reality of which lasted on after his discovery about his costume had made him suspect, in his dream, that he was dreaming.
To a man whose memory is sound, who feels sure he looks back on an actual past in security, such a dream is only a curiosity of sleep. To Fenwick it was, like many others of the same sort, a possible herald of an analogous revelation in waking hours, with a sequel of dreadful verification from some abysm of an utterly forgotten past.
His worst terror, far and away, was the fear that he was married and a father. It might have been supposed that this arose from a provisional sense of pity for the wife and children he must have left; that his mind would conceive hypothetical poverty for them, or sorrow, disease, or death, the result direct or indirect of his disappearance. But this was scarcely the case. They themselves were too intensely hypothetical. In this respect the blank in his intellect was so unqualified that it might never have occurred to him to ask himself the question if they existed had it not been suggested to him by Mrs. Nightingale herself. It was, in fact, a question she almost always recurred to when Miss Sally was out of the way. It was no use trying to talk seriously when that little monkey was there. She turned everything to a joke. But the Major was quite another thing. He would back her up in anything reasonable.
"I wish more could be done to find out," said she for the twentieth time to Fenwick one evening, shortly after the musical recital of last chapter. "I don't feel as if it was right to give up advertising. Suppose the poor thing is in Australia or America."
"The poor thing is my hypothetical wife?"
"Exactly so. Well, suppose she is. Some people never see any newspapers at all. And all the while she may have been advertising for you."
"Oh no; we should have been sure to see or hear."
"But why? Now I ask you, Mr. Fenwick, suppose she advertised half a dozen times in the 'Melbourne Argus' or the 'New York Sun,' would you have seen it, necessarily?"
"I should not, because I never see the 'Melbourne Argus' or the 'New York Sun.' But those agents we paid to look out go steadily through the agony columns—the personal advertisements—of the whole world's press; they would have found it if it had ever been published."
"I dare say they only pocketed the money."
"That they did, no doubt. But they gave me something for it. A hundred and twenty-three advertisements addressed to Fenwicks—none of them to me!"
"But have we advertised enough?"
"Oh, heavens, yes. Think of the answers we've had! I've just received the hundred and forty-second. From a lady in distressed circumstances who bought a piano ten years ago from a party of my name and initials—thought I might be inclined to buy it back at half-price. She proposes to call on me early next week."
"Poor Mr. Fenwick! It is discouraging, I admit. But, oh dear! fancy if there's some poor thing breaking her heart somewhere! It's easy enough for you—you don't believe in her."
"That's it; I don't!" He dropped a tone of pleasantry, and spoke more seriously. "Dear Mrs. Nightingale, if my absence of conviction of the existence of this lady did not rise to the height of a definite disbelief in her altogether—well, I should be wretched. But I feel very strongly that I need not make myself a poor miserable about her. I don't believe in her, that's the truth!"
"You don't believe a man could forget his wife?"
"I can't believe it, try how I may! Anything—anybody else—but his wife, no!"
Fenwick had come in late in the evening, as he was in the habit of doing, often three or four times in the week. He looked across from his side of the hearthrug, where he had been standing watching the fire, but could not see the face opposite to him. Mrs. Nightingale was sitting with her back to the light sheltering her eyes from the blaze with a fire-screen. So Fenwick saw only the aureole the lamp made in her hair—it was a fine halo with a golden tinge. Sally was very proud of mamma's hair; it was much better fun to do than her own, said the vulgar child. But even had she not been hidden by the screen, the expression on her face might have meant nothing to him—that is, nothing more than the ready sympathy he was so well accustomed to. A little anxiety of eye, a tremor in the lip, the birth of a frown without a sequel—these might have meant anything or nothing. She might even have turned whiter than she did, and yet not be said to show the cross-fire of torments in her heart. She was, as we told you, a strong woman, either by nature, or else her life had made her one.
For, think of what the recesses of her memory held; think of the past she looked back on, and knew to be nothing but a blank to him. Think of what she was, and he was, as he stood there and said, "Anybody else, but his wife;" and then rather shaped the "No" that followed with his lips than said it; but shook an emphasis into the word with his head.
"When are you going to get your hair cut, Mr. Fenwick?" said she; and he did think she changed the subject abruptly, without apparent cause. "It's just like a lion's mane when you shake it like that."
"To-morrow, if you think it too disreputable."
"I like it. Sally wants to cut it...."
The last few words showed the completeness of Fenwick's tame cattitude in the family. It had developed in an amazingly short time. Was it due to the old attachment of this man and woman—an attachment, mind you, that was sound and strong till it died a violent death? We do not find this so very incredible; perhaps, because that memory of their old parting in the garden went nearer to an actual revival than any other stirring in his mind. But, of course, there may have been others equally strong, only we chance to hear of this one.
That was not our purpose, however, in recording such seeming trivial chat. It was not trivial on Mrs. Nightingale's part. She had made up her mind to flinch from nothing, always to grasp her nettle. Here was a nettle, and she seized it firmly. If she identified as clearly as she did that shaken lion-mane of Fenwick's with that of Gerry, the young man of twenty years ago, and seeing its identity was silent, that would be flinching. She would and did say the self-same thing she could recall saying to Gerry. And she asked Fenwick when he was going to get his hair cut with a smile, that was like that of the Indian brave under torture. A knife was through her heart. But it was well done, so she thought to herself. If she could be as intrepid as that, she could go on and live. She tried experiments of this sort when the watchful merry eyes of her daughter were not upon her, and even felt glad, this time, that the Major was having a doze underneath a "Daily Telegraph." Fenwick took it all as a matter of course, mere chaff....
Did he? If so, why, after a few words more of chat, did he press his hands on his eyes and shake a puzzled head; then, after an abrupt turn up and down the room, come back to where he stood at first and draw a long breath?
"Was that a recurrence, Mr. Fenwick?" she asked. They had come to speak of these mental discomforts as recurrences. They would afflict him, not seldom, without bringing to his mind any definite image. And this was the worst sort. When an image came, his mind felt eased.
"A sort of one."
"Can you tell when it came on?" All this was nettle-grasping. She was getting used to it. "Was it before or after I said that about your hair?"
"After. No, before. Perhaps just about then." Mrs. Nightingale decided that she would not tempt Providence any further. Self-discipline was good, but not carried to danger-point.
"Now sit down and be quiet," she said. "We won't talk any more about unpleasant things. Only the worst of it is," she added, smiling, "that one's topics—yours and mine, I mean—are so limited by the conditions. I should ask any other man who had been about the world, as you must have done, all sorts of questions about all sorts of places—where he had been, whom he had seen. You can't answer questions, though I hope you will some day...."
She paused, and he saw the reason. "You see," said he, with a good-humoured laugh, "one gets back directly to the unpleasant subject, whether one will or no. But if I could remember all about my precious self, I might not court catechism about it...."
"I should not about mine." This was said in a low tone, with a silent look on the unraised eyes that was almost an invitation not to hear, and her lips hardly moved to say it, either. He missed it for the moment, but finished his speech with the thought in his mind.
"Still, it's an ill-wind that blows nobody good. See what a clear conscience I have! But what was that you said?"
She dropped the fire-screen and raised her eyes—fine eyes they were, which we might have likened to those of Juno had the eyes of oxen been blue—turning them full on him. "When?" said she.
"Just this minute. I ought to have apologized for interrupting you."
"I said I should not court catechism about myself. I should not." Fenwick felt he could not assign this speech its proper place in the dialogue without thinking. He thought gravely, looking to all seeming into the fire for enlightenment; then turned round and spoke.
"Surely that is true, in a sense, of all mankind—mankind and womankind. Nobody wants to be seen through. But one's past would need to be a very shaky one to make one wish for an oblivion like mine to extinguish it."
"I should not dislike it. I have now all that I wish to keep out of the past. I have Sally. There is nothing I could not afford to forget in the past, no one thing the loss of which could alter her in the least, that little monkey of a daughter of mine! And there are many, many things I should like to see the last of." From which speech Fenwick derived an impression that the little monkey, the vulgar child, had come back warm and living and welcome to the speaker's mind, and had driven away some mists of night, some uglinesses that hung about it. How he wished he could ask: "Was one of them her father?" That was not practicable. But it was something of that sort, clearly. His mind could not admit the idea of a haunting remorse, a guilty conscience of an action of her own, in the memory of the woman who spoke to him. He was too loyal to her for that. Besides, the wording of her speech made no such supposition necessary. Fenwick's answer to it fell back on abstractions—the consolation a daughter must be, and so forth.
"There she is!" said her mother; and then added, as perturbation without heralded Miss Sally's approach: "I will tell you what I meant some other time." For there she was, no doubt of it, wild with excitement to report the splendid success of the great sestet, the production of which had been the event of the musical gathering she had come from. And you know as well as we do how it is when youth and high spirits burst in upon the sober stay-at-homes, intoxicated with music and lights and supper and too many people talking at once. Sally's eyebrows and teeth alone would have been enough to set all the birds singing in the dullest coppices decorum ever planted, let alone the tales she had to tell of all the strange and wonderful things that had come to pass at the Erskine Peels', who were the givers of the party, and always did things on such a scale.
"And where do you think, mother, Mrs. Erskine Peel gets all those good-looking young men from that come to her parties? Why, from the Stores, of course. Just fancy!... How do I know? Why, because I talked to one of them for ever so long, and made him tell me all about it. I detected him, and told him so straight off. How did I recognise him? Why, of course, because he's that young man that came here about the letter. Oh, you know, Mr. Fenwick! Gracious me, how slow you are! The young man that brought you the letter to translate. Rather tall, dark eyes."
"Oh yes, certainly. I remember him quite well. Well, I expect he made a very good young man for a small tea-party."
"Of course he did, and it's quite ridiculous." By which the vulgar child meant that class distinctions were ridiculous. She had this way of rushing subjects, eliding the obvious, and relying on her hearers. "He told me all about it. He'd been universally provided, he said; and I promised not to tell. Miss Erskine Peel—that's Orange, you know, the soprano—went to the manager and said her mother said they must get more men, though it wasn't dancing, or the rooms looked so bad; only they mustn't be fools, and must be able to say Wagner and Liszt and things. And he hoped I didn't think he was a fool."
"What did you say?"
"Said I couldn't say—didn't know him well enough. He might be, to look at. Or not, accordingly. I didn't say that, you know, mamma."
"I didn't know, darling. You're very rude sometimes."
"Well, he said he could certainly say Wagner and Liszt, and even more, because—it was rather sad, you know, mamma dear——"
"Sally, you've told that young man he may call; you know you have!"
"Well, mamma dear, and if I have, I don't see that anybody's mare's dead. Because, do listen!" Fenwick interposed a parenthesis.
"I don't think you need to be apprehensive, Mrs. Nightingale. He was an educated young man enough. His not knowing a French phrase like that implies nothing. Not one in a hundred would." The way in which the Major, who, of course, had come out of his doze on the inrush of Miss Sally, looked across at Fenwick as he said this, implied an acquired faith in the judgment of the latter. Sally resumed.
"Just let me tell you. His name's Bradshaw. Only he's no relation to the Bradshaw—in a yellow cover, you know. We-e-ell, I don't see anything in that!" Sally is defending her position against a smile her mother and Fenwick have exchanged. They concede that there is nothing in it, and Sally continues. "Where was I? Oh, Bradshaw; yes. He was an awfully promising violinist—awfully promising! And what do you think happened? Why, the nerves of his head gave way, and he couldn't stand the vibration! So it came to being Cattley's or nothing." Sally certainly had the faculty of cutting a long story short.
She thought the story, so cut, one that her mother and Mr. Fenwick might have shown a more active interest in, instead of saying it was time for all of us to be in bed. She did not, however, ascribe to them any external preoccupation—merely an abstract love of Truth; for was it not nearly one o'clock in the morning?
Nevertheless, a little incident of Mr. Fenwick's departure, not noticed at the moment, suddenly assumed vitality just as Sally was "going off," and woke her up. What was it she overheard her mother say to him, just as he was leaving the house, about something she had promised to tell him some time? However, reflection on it with waking faculties dissipated the importance it seemed to have half-way to dreamland, and Sally went contentedly to sleep again.
Fenwick, as he walked to his lodgings through the dull February night, did not regard this something, whatever it was, as a thing of slight importance at all. He may have been only "spooney," but it was in a sense that left him no pretence for thinking that anything connected with this beautiful young widow-lady could be unimportant to him. On the contrary, she was more and more filling all his waking thoughts, and becoming the pivot on which all things turned. It is true, he "dismissed from his mind"—whatever that means—every presumptuous suggestion that in some precious time to come she might be willing to throw in her lot with his own, and asked himself what sort of thing was he that he should allow such an idea to come even as far as contradiction-point? He, a poor inexplicable wreck! What was the Self he had to offer, and what else had he? But, indeed, the speculation rarely got even to this maturity, so promptly was it nipped in the bud. Only, there were so many buds to nip. He became aware that he was giving a good deal of attention to this sort of gardening.
Also, he had a consciousness that he was growing morbidly anxious for the maintenance of his own oblivion. That which was at first only a misgiving about what a return of memory might bring to light, was rapidly becoming a definite desire that nothing should come to light at all. How could he look forward to that "hypothetical" wife whom he did not in the least believe in, but who might be somewhere, for all that! He knew perfectly well that his relations with Krakatoa Villa would not remain the same, say what you might! Of course, he also knew that he had no relations there that need change—most certainly not! At this point an effort would be made against the outcrop of his thoughts. Those confounded buds were always bursting. It was impossible to be even with them.
Perhaps it was on this evening, or rather early morning, as he walked home to his lodgings, that Fenwick began to recognise more fully than he had done before Mrs. Nightingale's share in what was, if not an absolute repugnance to a revival of the unknown past, at least a very ready acquiescence in his ignorance of it. But surely, he reasoned with himself, if this cause is making me contented with my darkness, it is the more reason that it should be penetrated.
An uncomfortable variation of his dream of the resurrected first-floor crossed his mind. Suppose he had forgotten the furniture, but remembered the place, and gone back to tenant it with a van-load of new chairs and tables. What would he have done with the poor old furniture?
MORE GIRLS' CHATTER. SWEEPS AND DUSTMEN. HOW SALLY DISILLUSIONED MR. BRADSHAW. OUT OF THE FRYING-PAN
It is impossible to make Gluck's music anything but a foretaste of heaven, as long as there is any show of accuracy in the way it is rendered. But, then, you must go straight on, and not go over a difficult phrase until you know it. You must play fair. Orpheus would probably only have provoked Cerberus—certainly wouldn't have put him to sleep—if he had practised, and counted, and gone back six bars and done it again.
But Cerberus wasn't at 260, Ladbroke Grove Road, on the Tuesday following Mrs. Erskine Peel's musical party, which was the next time Sally went to Laetitia Wilson. And it was as well that he wasn't, for Sally stuck in a passage at the end of one page and the beginning of the next, so that you had to turn over in the middle; and it was bad enough, goodness knew, without that! It might really have been the north-west passage, so insuperable did it seem.
"I shall never get it right, I know, Tishy," said the viola.
And the violin replied: "Because you never pay any attention to the arpeggio, dear. It doesn't begin on the chord. It begins on the G flat. Look here, now. One—two—three. One—two—three."
"Yes, that's all very well. Who's going to turn over the leaf, I should like to know? I know I shall never do it. Not because the nerves of my head are giving way, but because I'm a duffer."
"I suppose you know what that young man is, dear?" Sally accepts this quite contentedly, and immediately skips a great deal of unnecessary conversation.
"I'm not in love with him, Tishy dear."
"Didn't say you were, dear. But I suppose you don't know what he is, all the same." Which certainly seems inconsecutive, but we really cannot be responsible for the way girls talk.
"Don't know, and don't want to know. What is he?"
"He's from Cattley's." This throws a light on the conversation. It shows that Sally had told Laetitia who she was going to meet at her mother's next evening. Sally is not surprised.
"As if I didn't know all about this! As if he didn't tell me his story!"
"Like the mock-turtle in Alice?"
"Now, Tishy dear, is that an insinuation, or isn't it? Do be candid!"
"The mock-turtle told his story. Once, he was a real turtle."
"Very well, Tishy dear. That's as much as to say Julius Bradshaw is mock. I can't see where the mockness comes in myself. He told me all about it, plain enough."
"Yes—and you know what a rage Mrs. Erskine Peel is in, and says it was an eclaircissement."
"Why can't she be satisfied with English?... What! Of course, there are hundreds of English equivalents for eclaircissement. There's bust-up."
"That's only one."
"Tishy dear, don't be aggravating! Keep to the point. Why mustn't I have Julius Bradshaw to play with if I like because he's at Cattley's?"
"You may, if you like, dear! As long as you're satisfied, it's all right."
"What fault have you to find with him?"
"I! None at all. It's all perfectly right."
"You are the most irritating girl."
"Suppose we take the adagio now—if you're rested."
But Sally's back was up. "Not until you tell me what you really mean about Julius Bradshaw."
So Laetitia had her choice between an explicit statement of her meaning, and an unsupported incursion into the adagio.
"I suppose you'll admit there are such things as social distinctions?"
Sally wouldn't admit anything whatever. If sociometry was to be a science, it must be worked out without axioms or postulates. Laetitia immediately pointed out that if there were no such things as social distinctions of course there was no reason why Mr. Julius Bradshaw shouldn't take his violin to Krakatoa Villa. "Or here, or anywhere," concluded Laetitia, with a touch of pride in the status of Ladbroke Grove Road. Whereupon Sally surrendered as much of her case as she had left.
"You talk as if he was a sweep or a dustman," said she.
"I don't see why you should mind if I do, dear. Because, if there are to be no social distinctions, there's no reason why all the sweeps and dustmen in Christendom shouldn't come and play the violin at Krakatoa Villa.... Now, not too slow, you know. One—two—three—four—that'll do." Perhaps Sally felt it would be a feeble line of defence to dwell on the scarcity of good violinists among sweeps and dustmen, and that was why she fell into rank without comment.
This short conversation, some weeks on in the story, lets in one or two gleams of side-light. It shows that Sally's permission to the young man Bradshaw to call at her mother's had been promptly taken advantage of—jumped at is the right expression. Also that Miss Wilson had stuck-up ideas. Also that Sally was a disciple of what used to be called Socialism; only really nowadays such a lot of things get called Socialism that the word has lost all the discriminative force one values so much in nouns substantive. Also (only we knew it already) that Sally was no lawyer. We do not love her the less, for our part.
But nothing in this interchange of shots between Sally and her friend, nor in anything she said to her mother about Mr. Bradshaw, gives its due prominence to the fact that, though that young gentleman was a devout worshipper at the shrine of St. Satisfax, he had only become so on the Sunday after Miss Sally had casually mentioned the latter as a saint she frequented. Perhaps she "dismissed it from her mind," and it was obliging enough to go. Perhaps she considered she had done her duty by it when she put on record, in soliloquy, her opinion that if people chose to be gaping idiots they might, and she couldn't help it. She had a happy faculty for doing what she called putting young whippersnappers in their proper places. This only meant that she managed to convey to them that the lines they might elect to whippersnap on were not to be those of sentimental nonsense. And perhaps she really dealt in the wisest way with Mr. Bradshaw's romantic adoration of her at a distance when he fished for leave to call upon her. The line he made his application on was that he should so like to play her a rapid movement by an unpronounceable Slav. She said directly, why not come and bring his violin on Wednesday evening at nine? That was her mother's address on the card on the fiddle-case. He must recollect it—which he did unequivocally.
Now, if this young lady had had a fan, she might have tittered with it, or blushed slightly, and said, "Oh, Mr. Bradshaw!" or, "Oh, sir!" like in an old novel—one by Fanny Burney, or the like. But she did nothing of the sort, and the consequence was that he had, as it were, to change the venue of his adoration—to make it a little less romantic, in fact. Her frank and breezy treatment of the subject had let in a gust of fresh air, and blown away all imagination. For there naturally was a good deal of that in a passion based on a single interview and nourished by weekly stimulants at morning services. In fact, when he presented himself at Krakatoa Villa on Wednesday evening as invited—the day after Laetitia's remarks about his social position—he was quite prepared to be introduced to the young woman's fiance, if.... Only, when he got as far as the if, he dropped the subject. As soon as he found there was no such person he came to believe he would not have been much disconcerted if there had been. How far this was true, who can say?
He was personally one of those young men about whom you may easily produce a false impression if you describe them at all. This is because your reader will take the bit in his teeth, and run away with an idea. If you say a nose has a bridge to it, this directly produces in some minds an image like Blackfriars Bridge; that it is straight, the AEginetan marbles; that it is retrousse, the dog in that Hogarth portrait. Suggest a cheerful countenance, and you stamp your subject for ever as a Shakespearian clown. So you must be content to know that Mr. Bradshaw was a good-looking young man, of dark complexion, and of rather over medium height and good manners. If he had not been, he would never, as an article of universal provision for parties, have passed muster at Cattley's. He was like many other young men such as one sees in shops; but then, what very nice-looking young men one sometimes sees there! Sally had classed him as a young whippersnapper, but this was unjust, if it impugned his stature. She repeated the disparaging epithet when, in further justification to Miss Wilson of her asking him to her mother's house, she sketched a policy of conduct to guide inexperienced girls in their demeanour towards new male friends. "You let 'em come close to, and have a good look," said the vulgar child. "Half of 'em will be disgusted, and go away in a huff."
Mrs. Nightingale had known Mr. Bradshaw for a long time as a customer at a shop knows the staff in the background, mere office secretions, who only ooze out at intervals. For Bradshaw was not strictly a counter-jumper, although Miss Wilson more than once spoke of him so, adding, when it was pointed out to her that theoretically he never went behind counters, by jumping or otherwise, that that didn't make the slightest difference: the principle was the same.
Sally's mother did not share her friend's fancies. But she had not confidence enough in the stability of the earth's crust to give way freely to her liberalism, drive a coach-and-six through the Classes, and talk to him freely about the shop. She did not know what a Social Seismologist would say on the point. So she contented herself with treating him as a matter of course, as a slight acquaintance whom she saw often, merely asking him if that was he. To which the reply was in the affirmative, like question-time in the Commons.
"Is this the Strad? Let's have it out," says Sally. For Mr. Bradshaw possessed a Strad. He brought it out of its coffin with something of the solicitude Petrarch might have shown to the remains of Laura, and when he had rough-sketched its condition of discord and corrected the drawing, danced a Hungarian dance on it, and apologized for his presumption in doing so. He played so very well that it certainly did seem rather a cruel trick of fate that gave him nerves in his head. Sally then said, might she look at it? and played chords and runs, just to feel what it was like. Her comment was that she wished her viola was a Strad.
We record all this to show what, perhaps, is hardly worth the showing—a wavering in a man's mind, and that man a young one. Are they not at it all day long, all of them? Do they do anything but waver?
When Sally said she wished her viola was a Strad, Mr. Bradshaw's mind shortly became conscious that some passing spook, of a low nature, had murmured almost inaudibly that it was a good job his Strad wasn't a viola. "Because, you see," added the spook, "that quashes all speculation whether you, Mr. Bradshaw, are glad or sorry you needn't lay your instrument at this young lady's feet. Now, if immediately after you first had that overwhelming impression of her—got metaphorically torpedoed, don't you know?—such a wish as hers had been expressed, you probably would have laid both your Strad and your heart at her feet, and said take my all!" But now that he had been so far disillusioned by Sally's robust and breezy treatment of the position, he was not quite sure the spook had not something to say for himself. Mr. Bradshaw was content to come down off his high horse, and to plod along the dull path of a mere musical evening visitor at a very nice house. Pleasant, certainly, but not the aim of his aspirations from afar at St. Satisfax's. His amour propre was a little wounded by that spook, too. Nothing keeps it up to the mark better than a belief in one's stability—in love-matters, especially.
He was not quite sure of the exact moment the spook intruded his opinion, so we can't be expected to know. Perhaps about the time Miss Wilson came in (just as he was showing how carefully he had listened to Joachim) and said could he play those? She wished she could. She was thrown off her guard by the finished execution, and for the moment quite forgot Cattley's and the classitudes. Sally instantly perceived her opening. She would enjoy catching Tishy out in any sort of way. So she said: "Mr. Bradshaw will show you how, Tishy dear; of course he will. Only, not now, because if we don't begin, we shan't have time for the long quartet." If you say this sort of thing about strangers in Society, you really ought to give them a chance. So thought Laetitia to herself, and resolved to blow Sally up at the first opportunity.
As for that culprit, she completed her work, from her own position of perfect security, with complacency at least. And she felt at the end of her evening (which we needn't dwell on, as it was all crotchets, minims, and F sharps and G flats) that her entrenchments had become spontaneously stronger without exertion on her part. For there were Tishy and Mr. Bradshaw, between whom Sally had certainly understood there was a great gulf fixed, sitting on the very same sofa and talking about a Stradivarius. She concluded that, broadly speaking, Debrett's bark is worse than his bite, and that he is, at heart, a very accommodating character.
"I hope you saw Tishy, mamma dear." So spoke Sally to her mother, after the musicians first, and then Fenwick, had dispersed their several ways. Mrs. Nightingale seemed very distraite and preoccupied.
"Saw Tishy what, kitten?"
"Tishy and Mr. Bradshaw on that sofa."
"No, darling. Oh yes, I did. What about them?"
"After all that rumpus about shop-boys!" But her mother's attention is not easy to engage this evening, somehow. Her mind seems somewhere else altogether. But from where it is, it sees the vulgar child very plainly indeed, as she puts up her face to be kissed with all its animation on it. She kisses it, animation and all, caressing the rich black hair with a hand that seems thoughtful. A hand can. Then she makes a little effort to shake off something that draws her away, and comes back rather perfunctorily to her daughter's sphere of interest and the life of town.
"Did Laetitia call Mr. Bradshaw a shop-boy, chick?"
"Very nearly—at least, I don't know what you call not calling anybody shop-boy if she didn't." Her mother makes a further effort—comes back a little more.
"What did she say, child?"
"Said you could always tell, and it was no use my talking, and the negro couldn't change his spots."
"She has some old-fashioned ideas. But how about calling him a shop-boy?"
"Not in words, but worse. Tishy always goes round and round. I wish she'd say! However, Dr. Vereker quite agrees with me. We think it dishonest!"
"What did Dr. Vereker think of Mr. Bradshaw?" We have failed to note that the doctor was the 'cello in the quartet.
"Now, mamma darling, fancy asking Dr. Prosy what he thinks! I wasn't going to. Besides, as if it mattered what they think of each other!... Who? Why, men, of course!"
"Mr. Fenwick's a man, and you asked him."
"Mr. Fenwick's a man on other lines—absolutely other. He doesn't come in really." Her mother repeats the last four words, not exactly derisively—rather, if anything, her accent and her smile may be said to caress her daughter's words as she says them. She is such a silly, but such a dear little goose—that seems the implication.
"We-e-ll," says Sally, as she has said before, and we have tried to spell her. "I don't see anything in that, because, look how reasonable! Mr. Fenwick's ... Mr. Fenwick's ... why, of course, entirely different. I say, mother dearest...."
"What were you and Mr. Fenwick talking about so seriously in the back drawing-room?" The two are upstairs in the front bedroom at this minute, by-the-bye.
"Did you hear us, darling?"
"No, because of the row. But one could tell, for all that." Then Sally sees in an instant that it is something her mother is not going to tell her about, and makes immediate concession. "Where was the Major going that he couldn't come?" she asks. "He generally makes a point of coming when it's music."
"I fancy he's dining at the Hurkaru," says her mother. But she has gone back into her preoccupation, and from within it externalises an opinion that we should be better in bed, or we shall never be up in the morning.
WHAT FENWICK AND SALLY'S MOTHER HAD BEEN SAYING IN THE BACK DRAWING-ROOM. OP. 999. BACK IN THAT OLD GARDEN AGAIN, AND HOW GERRY COULD NOT SWIM. THE OLD TARTINI SONATA
As soon as ever Mr. Bradshaw touched his violin, and before ever he began to play his Hungarian Dance on all four strings at once, Mrs. Nightingale and Mr. Fenwick went away into the back drawing-room, not to be too near the music. Because there was a fire in both rooms.
In the interval of time that had passed since Christmas Sally had contrived to "dismiss from her mind" Colonel Lund's previsions about her mother and Mr. Fenwick. Or they had given warning, and gone of their own accord. For by now she had again fallen into the frame of mind which classified her mother and Fenwick as semi-elderly people, and, so to speak, out of it all. So her mind assented readily to distance from the music as a sufficient reason for a secession to the back room. Non-combatants are just as well off the field of battle.
But a closer observer than Sally at this moment would have noticed that chat in an undertone had already set in in the back drawing-room even before the Hungarians had stopped dancing. Also that the applause that came therefrom, when they did stop, had a certain perfunctory air, as of plaudits something else makes room for, and comes back again after. Not that she would have "seen anything in it" if she had, because, whatever her mother said or did was, in Sally's eyes, right and normal. Abnormal and bad things were conceived and executed outside the family. Nor, in spite of the sotto voce, was there anything Sally could not have participated in, whatever exception she might have taken to something of a patronising tone, inexcusable towards our own generation even in the most semi-elderly people on record.
Her mother, at Sally's latest observation point, had taken the large armchair quite on the other side of the rug, to be as far off the music as possible. Mr. Fenwick, in reply to a flying remark of her own, she being at the moment a music-book seeker, wouldn't bring the other large armchair in front of the fire and be comfortable, thank you. He liked this just as well. Sally had then commented on Mr. Fenwick's unnatural love of uncomfortable chairs "when he wasn't walking about the room." She fancied, as she passed on, that she heard her mother address him as "Fenwick," without the "Mr." So she did.
"You are a restless man, Fenwick! I wonder were you so before the accident? Oh dear! there I am on that topic again!" But he only laughed.
"It doesn't hurt me," he said. "That reminds me that I wanted to remind you of something you said you would tell me. You know—that evening the kitten went to the music-party—something you would tell me some time."
"I know; I'll tell you when they've got to their music, if there isn't too much row. Don't let's talk while this new young man's playing; it seems unkind. It won't matter when they're all at it together." But in spite of good resolutions silence was not properly observed, and the perfunctory pause came awkwardly on the top of a lapse. Fenwick then said, as one who avails himself of an opportunity:
"No need to wait for the music; they can't hear a word we say in there. We can't hear a word they say."
"Because they're making such a racket." Mrs. Nightingale paused with a listening eye, trying to disprove their inaudibility. The examination confirmed Fenwick. "I like it," she continued—"a lot of young voices. It's much better when you don't make out what they say. When you can't hear a word, you fancy some sense in it." And then went on listening, and Fenwick waited, too. He couldn't well fidget her to keep her promise; she would do it of herself in time. It might be she preferred talking under cover of the music. She certainly remained silent till it came; then she spoke.
"What was it made me say that to you about something I would tell you? Oh, I know. You said, perhaps if you knew your past, you would not court catechism about it. And I said that, knowing mine, I should not either. Wasn't that it?" She fixed her eyes on him as though to hold him to the truth. Perhaps she wanted his verbal recognition of the possibility that she, too, like others, might have left things in the past she would like to forget on their merits—cast-off garments on the road of life. It may have been painful to her to feel his faith in herself an obstacle to what she wished at least to hint to him, even if she could not tell him outright. She did not want too much divine worship at her shrine—a ready recognition of her position of mortal frailty would be so much more sympathetic, really. A feeling perhaps traceably akin to what many of us have felt, that if our father the devil—"auld Nickie Ben"—would only tak' a thought and mend, as he aiblins might, he would be the very king of father confessors. If details had to be gone into, we should be sure of his sympathy.
"Yes, that was it. And I suppose I looked incredulous." Thus Fenwick.
"You looked incredulous. I would sooner you should believe me. Would you hand me down that fire-screen off the chimney-piece? Thank you." She was hardening herself to the task she had before her. He gave her the screen, and as he resumed his seat drew it nearer to her. Mozart's Op. 999 had just started, and it was a little doubtful if voices could be heard unless, in Sally's phrase, they were close to.
"I shall believe you. Does what you were going to tell me relate to——"
"To your husband?"
"Yes." The task had become easier suddenly. She breathed more freely about what was to come. "I wish you to know that he may be still living. I have heard nothing to the contrary. But I ought to speak of him as the man who was my husband. He is no longer that." Fenwick interposed on her hesitation.
"You have divorced him?" But she shook her head—shook a long negative. And Fenwick looked up quickly, and uttered a little sharp "Ah!" as though something had struck him. The slow head-shake said as plain as words could have said it, "I wish I could say yes." So expressive was it that Fenwick did not even speculate on the third alternative—a separation without a divorce. He saw at once he could make it easier for her if he spoke out plain, treating the bygone as a thing that could be spoken of plainly.
"He divorced you?" She was very white, but kept her eyes steadily fixed on him over the fire-screen, and her voice remained perfectly firm and collected. The music went on intricately all the while. She spoke next.
"To all intents and purposes. There was a technical obstacle to a legal divorce, but he tried for one. We parted sorely against my will, for I loved him, and now it is over nineteen years since I saw him last, or heard of him or from him. But he was absolutely blameless. Unless, indeed, it is to be counted blame to him that he could not bear what no other man could have borne. I cannot possibly give you all details. But I wish you to hear this that I have to tell you from myself. It is painful to me to tell, but it would be far worse that you should hear it from any one else. I feel sure it is safe to tell you; that you will not talk of it to others—least of all to that little chick of mine."
"You may trust me—indeed, you may—without reserve. I see you wish to tell me no more, so I will not ask it."
"And blame me as little as possible?"
"I cannot blame you."
"Before you say that, listen to as much as I can tell you of the story. I was a young girl when I went out alone to be married to him in India. We had parted in England eight months before, and he had remained unchanged—his letters all told the same tale. I quarrelled with my mother—as I now see most unreasonably—merely because she wished to marry again. Perhaps she was a little to blame not to be more patient with a headstrong, ill-regulated girl. I was both. It ended in my writing out to him in India that I should come out and marry him at once. My mother made no opposition." She remained silent for a little, and her eyes fell. Then she spoke with more effort, rather as one who answers her own thoughts. "No, I need say nothing of the time between. It was no excuse for the wrong I did him. I can tell you what that was...." It did not seem easy, though, when it came to actual words. Fenwick spoke into the pause.
"Why tell me now? Tell me another time."
"I prefer now. It was this way: I kept something back from him till after we were married—something I should have told him before. Had I done so, I believe to this moment we should never have parted. But my concealment threw doubt on all else I said.... I am telling more than I meant to tell." She hesitated again, and then went on. "That was my wrong to him—the concealment. But, of course, it was not the ground of the divorce proceedings." Fenwick stopped her again.
"Why tell me any more? You are being led on—are leading yourself on—to say more than you wish."
"Well, I will leave it there. Only, Fenwick, understand this: my husband was young and generous and noble-hearted. Had I trusted him, I believe all might have gone well, even though he...." She hesitated again, and then cancelled something unsaid. "The concealment was my fault—the mistrust. That was all. Nothing else was my fault." As she says the words in praise of her husband she finds it a pleasure to let her eyes rest on the grave, handsome, puzzled face that, after all, really is his. She catches herself wondering—so oddly do the undercurrents of mind course about—where he got that sharp white scar across his nose. It was not there in the old days.
She looks at him until he, too, looks up, and their eyes meet. "Well, then," she says, "I will tell you no more. Blame me as little as possible." And to this repetition of her previous words he says again, "I cannot blame you," very emphatically.
But Mrs. Nightingale felt perplexed at his evident sincerity; would rather he should have indulged in truisms, we were not all of us perfect, and so forth. When she spoke again, some bars of the music later, she took for granted that his mind, like hers, was still dwelling on his last words. She felt half sorry she had, so to speak, switched off the current of the conversation.
"If you will think over what I have told you, Fenwick, you will see that you cannot help doing so."
"How can that be?"
"Surely! My husband sought to divorce me, and was himself absolutely blameless. How can you do otherwise than blame me?"
"Partly—only partly—because I see you are keeping back something—something that would exonerate you. I cannot believe you were to blame."
"Listen, Fenwick! As I said, I cannot tell you the whole; and the Major, who is the only man alive who knows all the story, will, I know, refuse to tell you anything, even if you ask him, and that I wish you not to do."
"I should not dream of asking him."
"Well, he would refuse. I know it. But I want you to know all I can tell you. I do not want any groundless excuses made for me. I will not accept any absolution from any one on a false pretence. You see what I mean."
"I see perfectly. I am not sure, though, that you see my meaning. But never mind that. Is there anything further you would really like me to know?"
She waited a little, and then answered, keeping her eyes always fixed on Fenwick: "Yes, there is."
But at this moment the first movement of Op. 999 came to a perfect and well thought out conclusion, bearing in mind everything that had been said on six pages of ideas faultlessly interchanged by four instruments, and making due allowance for all exceptions each had courteously taken to the other. But Op. 999 was going on to the second movement directly, and only tolerated a pause for a few string-tightenings and trial-squeaks, to get in tune, and the removal of a deceased fly from a piano-candle. The remark from the back-room that we could hear beautifully in here seemed to fall flat, the second violin merely replying "All right!" passionlessly. The instruments then asked each other if they were ready, and answered yes. Then some one counted four suggestively, for a start, and life went on again.
Mrs. Nightingale and Fenwick sat well on into the music before either spoke. He, resolved not to seem to seek or urge any information at all; all was to come spontaneously from her. She, feeling the difficulty of telling what she had to tell, and always oppressed with the recollection of what it had cost her to make her revelation to this selfsame man nineteen years ago. She wished he would give the conversation some lift, as he had done before, when he asked if what she had to tell referred to her husband. But, although he would gladly have repeated his assistance, he could see his way to nothing, this time, that seemed altogether free from risk. How if he were to blunder into ascribing to her something more culpable than her actual share in the past? She half guessed this; then, seeing that speech must come from herself in the end, took heart and faced the position resolutely. She always did.
"You know this, Fenwick, do you not, that when there is a divorce, the husband takes the children from their mother—always, when she is in the wrong; too often, when she is blameless. I have told you I was the one to blame, and I tell you now that though my husband's application for a divorce failed, from a technical point of law, all things came about just as though he had succeeded. Don't analyse it now; take it all for granted—you understand?"
"I understand. Suppose it so! And then?"
"And then this. That little monkey of mine—that little unconscious fiddling thing in there"—and as Mrs. Nightingale speaks, the sound of a caress mixes with the laugh in her voice; but the pain comes back as she goes on—"My Sallykin has been mine, all her life! My poor husband never saw her in her childhood." As she says the word husband she has again a vivid eclat of the consciousness that it is he—himself—sitting there beside her. And the odd thought that mixes itself into this, strange to say, is—"The pity of it! To think how little he has had of Sally in all these years!"
He, for his part, can for the moment make nothing of this part of the story. He can give his head the lion-mane shake she knows him by so well, but it brings him no light. He is reduced to mere slow repetition of her data; his hand before his eyes to keep his brain, that has to think, clear of distractions from without.
"Your husband never saw her. She has been yours all her life. Had she been your husband's child, he would have exercised his so-called rights—his legal rights—and taken her away. Are those the facts—so far?"
"Yes—go on. No—stop; I will tell you. At the beginning of this year I should have been married exactly twenty years. Sally is nineteen—you remember her birthday?"
"Nineteen in August. Now, let me think!" Just at this moment the second movement of Op. 999 came to an end, and gave an added plausibility to the blank he needed to ponder in. The viola in the next room looked round across her chair-back, and said, "I say, mother"—to a repetition of which Mrs. Nightingale replied what did her daughter say? What she said was that her mother and Mr. Fenwick were exactly like the canaries. They talked as hard as they could all through the music, and when it stopped they shut up. Wasn't that true? To which her mother answered affirmatively, adding, "You'll have to put a cloth over us, chick, and squash us out."
Fenwick was absorbed in thought, and did not notice this interlude. He did not speak until the music began again. Then he said abruptly:
"I see the story now. Sally's father was not...."
"Was not my husband." There is not a trace of cowardice or hesitation in her filling out the sentence. There is pain, but that again dies away in her voice as she goes on to speak of her daughter. "I do not connect him with her now. She is—a thing of itself—a thing of herself! She is—she is Sally. Well, you see what she is."
"I see she is a very dear little person." Then he seems to want to say something and to pause on the edge of it; then, in answer to a "yes" of encouragement from her, continues, "I was going to say that she must be very like him—like her father."
"Very like?" she asks—"or very unlike? Which did you mean?"
"I mean very like as to looks. Because she is so unlike you."
"She is like enough to him, as far as looks go. It's her only fault, poor chick, and she can't help it. Besides, I mind it less now that I have more than half forgiven him, for her sake." The tone of her voice mixes a sob and a laugh, although she utters neither, and is quite collected. "But she is quite unlike him in character. Sally is not an angel—oh dear, no!" The laugh predominates. "But——"
"She is not a devil." And as she said this the pain was all back again in the dropped half-whisper in which she said it. And in that moment Fenwick made his guess of the whole story, which maybe went nearer than we shall do with the information we have to go upon. In this narrative, as we tell it now, that story is known only to its chief actor, and to her old friend who is now dining at the Hurkaru Club.
* * * * *
The third movement of Op. 999 was not a very long one, and, coming to an end at this point, seemed to supply a reason for silence that was not unwelcome in the back drawing-room. The end of a trying conversation had been attained. Both speakers could now affect attention to what was going on in the front. This had taken the form of a discussion between Mr. Julius Bradshaw and Miss Laetitia Wilson, who was anxious to transfer her position of first violin to that young gentleman. We regret to have to report that Miss Sally's agreement with her friend about the desirability had been sotto voce'd in these terms: "Yes, Tishy dear! Do make the shop-boy play the last movement." And Miss Wilson had then suggested it, saying there was a bit she knew she couldn't play. "And you expect me to!" said the owner of the Strad, "when I haven't so much as looked at it for three years past." To which Miss Sally appended a marginal note, "Stuff and nonsense! Don't be affected, Mr. Bradshaw." However, after compliments, and more protestations from its owner, the Strad was brought into hotchpot, and Laetitia abdicated.
"Won't you come and sit in here, to be away from the music?" said the back-drawing-room. But Laetitia wanted to see Mr. Bradshaw's fingering of that passage. We are more interested in the back drawing-room.
Like many other athletic men—and we have seen how strongly this character was maintained in Fenwick—he hated armchairs. Even in the uncomfortable ones—by which we mean the ones we dislike—his restless strength would not remain quiet for any length of time. At intervals he would get up and walk about the room, exasperating the sedate, and then making good-humoured concession to their weakness. Mrs. Nightingale could remember all this in Gerry the boy, twenty years ago.
If it had not been for that music, probably he would have walked about the room over that stiff problem in dates he had just grappled with. As it was, he remained in his chair to solve it—that is, if he did solve it. Possibly, the moment he saw something important turned on the date of Sally's birth, he jumped across the solution to the conclusion it was to lead to. Given the conclusion, the calculation had no interest for him.
But the story his mind constructed to fit that conclusion stunned him. It knitted his brows and clenched his teeth for him. It made the hand that had been hanging loose over the uncomfortable chair-back close savagely on something—a throat, perhaps, that his imagination supplied? How like he looked, thought his companion, to himself on one occasion twenty years ago! But his anger now was on her behalf alone; it was not so in that dreadful time she hoped he might never recollect. If only his memory of all the past might remain as now, a book with a locked clasp and a lost key!
She watched him as he sat there, and saw a calmer mood come back upon him. Each wanted a raison d'etre for a silent pause, and neither was sorry for the desire each might ascribe to the other of hearing the last movement of the music undisturbed. Op. 999 was prospering, there was no doubt of it! Laetitia Wilson was a very fair example of a creditable career at the R.A.M. But she was not quite equal to this unfortunate victim of a too nervous system, who could play like an angel for half an hour, mind you—not more. This was his half-hour; and it was quite reasonable for Fenwick to take for granted that his hostess would like to pay attention to it, or vice-versa. So both sat silent.
But as she sat listening to Op. 999, and watching wonderingly the strange victim of oblivion, of whom she knew—scarcely acknowledging it always, though—that she had once for a short time called him husband, her mind went back to an old time when he and she were young: before the tragic memory that she sometimes thought might have been lived down had come into her life and his. And a scene rose up before her out of that old time—a scene of young men, almost boys, and girls who but the other day were in the nursery, playing lawn-tennis in a happy garden, with never a thought for anything in this wide world but themselves, and each other, and the scoring, and how jolly it would be in the house-boat at Henley to-morrow. And then this garden-scene a little later in the moonrise, and herself and one of the players, who was Gerry—this very man—left by the other two to themselves, on a garden-seat his arm hung over, just as it did now over that chair-back. How exactly he sat then as he sat now, his other hand in charge of the foot he had crossed on his knee, just as now, to keep it from a slip along his lawn-tennis flannels! How well she could remember the tennis-shoe, with its ribbed rubber sole, in place of that highly-polished calf thing! And she could remember every word they said, there in the warm moonlight.
"What a silly boy you are!"
"I don't care. I shall always say exactly the same. I can't help it."
"All silly boys say that sort of thing. Then they change their minds."
"I never said it to any girl in my life but you, Rosey. I never thought it. I shall never say it again to any one but you."
"Don't be nonsensical!"
"I'm not! It's true."
"Wait till you've been six months in India, Gerry."
And then the recollection of what followed made it seem infinitely strange to her that Fenwick should remain, as he had remained, immovable. If the hand she could remember so well, for all it had grown so scarred and service-worn and hairy, were to take hers as it did then, as they sat together on the garden-seat, would it shake now as formerly? If his great strong arm her memory still felt round her were to come again now, would she feel in it the tremor of the passion he was shaken by then; and in caresses such as she half reproved him for, but had no heart to resist, the reality of a love then young and strong and full of promise for the days to come? And now—what? The perished trunk of an uprooted tree: the shadow of a half-forgotten dream.
As he sat silent, only now and then by some slight sign, some new knitting of the brow or closing of the hand, showing the tension of the feeling produced by the version his mind had made of the story half told to him—as he sat thus, under a kind of feint of listening to the music, the world grew stranger and stranger to his companion. She had fancied herself strong enough to tell the story, but had hardly reckoned with his possible likeness to himself. She had thought that she could keep the twenty years that had passed clearly in her mind; could deal with the position from a good, sensible, matter-of-fact standpoint.
The past was past, and happily forgotten by him. The present had still its possibilities, if only the past might remain forgotten. Surely she could rely on herself to find the nerve to go through what was, after all, a mere act of duty. Knowing, or rather feeling, that Fenwick would ask her to marry him as soon as he dared—it was merely a question of time—her duty was plainly to forewarn him—to make sure that he was alive to the antecedents of the woman he was offering himself to. She knew his antecedents; as many as she wished to know. If the twenty years of oblivion concealed irregularity, immorality—well, was she not to blame for it? Was ever a better boy than Gerry, as she knew him, to the day they parted? It was her fault or misfortune that had cast him all adrift. As to that troublesome question of a possible wife elsewhere, in the land of his oblivion, she had quite made up her mind about that. Every effort had been made to find such a one, and failed. If she reappeared, it would be her own duty to surrender Fenwick—if he wished to go back. If he did not, and his other wife wished to be free, surely in the chicane of the law-courts there must be some shuffle that could be for once made useful to a good end.
Mrs. Nightingale had reasoned it all out in cold blood, and she was, as we have told you, a strong woman. But had she really taken her own measure? Could she sit there much longer; with him beside her, and his words of twenty years ago sounding in her ears; almost the feeling of the kisses she had so dutifully pointed out the lawlessness, and allowed the repetition of, in that old forgotten time—forgotten by him, never by her! Was it possible to bear, without crying out, the bewilderment of a mixed existence such as that his presence and identity forced upon her, wrenching her this way and that, interweaving the woof of then with the weft of now, even as in that labyrinth of musical themes and phrases in the other room they crossed and recrossed one another at the bidding of each instrument as its turn came to tell its tale? Her brain reeled and her heart ached under the intolerable stress. Could she still hold on, or would she be, after all, driven to make some excuse, and run for the solitude of her own room to live down the tension as best she might alone?
The music itself came to her assistance. Its triumphant strength, in an indescribable outburst of hope or joy or mastery of Fate, as it drew near to its final close, spoke to her of the great ocean that lies beyond the crabbed limits of our stinted lives, the boundless sea our rivulets of life steal down to, to be lost in; and while it lasted made it possible for her to be still. She took her eyes from Fenwick, and waited. When she raised them again, in the silence Op. 999 came to an end in, she saw that he had moved. His face had gone into his hands; and as she looked up, his old action of rubbing them into his loose hair, and shaking it, had come back, and his strong identity with his boyhood, dependent on the chance of a moment, had disappeared. He got up suddenly, and after a turn across the room he was in, walked into the other one, and contributed his share to the babble of felicitation or comment that followed what was clearly thought an achievement in musical rendering.
"Oh dear, oh dear!" said Laetitia Wilson. "Was ever a poor girl so sat upon? I feel quite flat!" This was not meant to be taken too much au pied de la lettre. It was merely a method of praise of Mr. Bradshaw.
"But what a jolly shame you had to give it up!" This was Sally in undisguised admiration. But in Mr. Julius Bradshaw's eyes, Sally's identity had undergone a change. Her breezy frankness had made hay of a grande passion, and was blowing the hay all over the field. He had come close to, and had a good look; but he will hardly go away in a huff, although he feels a little silly over his public worship of these past weeks. Just at this moment of the story, however, he is very apologetic towards Miss Wilson; on whom, if she reports correctly, he has sat. He tries no pretences with a view to her reinstatement, even on a par with himself. He knows, and every one knows, they would be seen through immediately. It is no use assuring her she is a capital player, of her years. Much better let it alone!
"Are you any the worse, Mr. Bradshaw?" says Dr. Vereker. Obviously, as a medical authority, it is his duty to "voice" this inquiry. So he voices it.
"N—no; but that's about as much as I can do, with safety. It won't do to spoil my night's rest, and be late at the shop." It was easy to talk about the shop with perfect unreserve after such a performance as that.
"Oh dear! we are so sorry for you!" Thus the two girls. And concurrence comes in various forms from Vereker, Fenwick, and the pianist, whom we haven't mentioned before. He was a cousin of Miss Wilson's, and was one of those unfortunate young men who have no individuality whatever. But pianists have to be human unless you can afford a pianola. You may speak of them as Mr. What's-his-name, or Miss Thingummy, but you must give them tea or coffee or cake or sandwiches, or whatever is brought in on a tray. This young man's name, we believe, was Elsley—Nobody Elsley, Miss Sally in her frivolity had thought fit to christen him. You know how in your own life people come in and go out, and you never know anything about them. Even so this young man in this story.
"I was very sorry for myself, I assure you"—it is Bradshaw who speaks—"when I had to make up my mind to give it up. But it couldn't be helped!" He speaks without reserve, but as of an unbearable subject; in fact, Sally said afterwards to Tishy, "it seemed as if he was going to cry." He doesn't cry, though, but goes on: "At one time I really thought I should have gone and jumped into the river."
"Why didn't you?" asks Sally. "I should have."
"Yes, silly Sally!" says Laetitia; "and then you would have swum like a fish. And the police would have pulled you out. And you would have looked ridiculous!"
But Sally is off on a visit to her mother in the next room.
"Tired, mammy darling?"
She kisses her, and her mother answers: "Yes, love, a little," and kisses her back.
"Doesn't he play beautifully, mother?" says Sally.
But her mother says "Yes" absently. Her attention is taken off by something else. What is wrong with Mr. Fenwick? Sally doesn't think anything is. It's only his way.
"I'm sure there's something wrong," says Mrs. Nightingale, and gets up to go into the front-room rather wearily. "I shall go to bed soon, poppet," she says, "and leave you to do the honours. Is anything wrong, doctor?" She speaks under her voice to Vereker, looking very slightly round at Fenwick, who, after the movement that alarmed her—a rather unusually marked head-shake and pressure of his hands on his eyes—is standing looking down at the fire, on the rug with his back to her, as she speaks to Vereker.
"I fancy he's had what he calls a recurrence," says the doctor. "Nothing to hurt. These half-recollections will go on until the memory comes back in earnest. It may some time."
"Are you talking about me, doctor?" His attention may have been caught by a reflection in a glass before him. "Yes, it was a very queer recurrence. Something about lawn-tennis. Only it had to do with what Miss Wilson said about the police fishing Sally out of the water." He looks round for Miss Wilson, but she is at the other end of the room on a sofa talking to Bradshaw about the Strad, as recorded once before. Sally testifies:
"Tishy said it wouldn't work—trying to drown yourself if you could swim. No more it would."
"But why should that make me think of lawn-tennis? It did." He looks seriously distressed by it—can make nothing out.
"Kitten," says Sally's mother to her suddenly, "I think I shall go away to bed. I'm feeling very tired."
She says good-night comprehensively, and departs. But she is so clearly the worse for something that her daughter follows her to see that the something is not serious. Outside she reassures Sally, who returns. Oh no, she is only tired; really nothing else.
But what drove her out of the room was a feeling that she must be alone and silent. Could her position be borne at all? Yes, with patience and self-control. But that "why should it make me think of lawn-tennis?" was trying. Not only the pain of still more revived association, but the fear that his memory might travel still further into the past. It was living on the edge of the volcano.
Her own memory had followed on, too, taking up the thread of that old interview in the garden of twenty years ago. She had felt again the clasp of his arm, the touch of his hand; had heard his voice of passionate protest—protest against the idea that he could ever forget. And she had then pretended to make a half-joke of his earnestness. What would he do now, really, if she were to tell him she preferred his great friend Arthur Fenwick to him? That was nonsense, he said. She knew she didn't. Besides, Arthur wanted Jessie Nairn. Why, didn't they waltz all the waltzes at the party last week?... Well, so did we, for that matter, all-but.... And just look how they had run away together! Wasn't that them coming back? Yes, it was; and artificial calm ensued, and more self-contained manners. But then, before the other two young lovers could rejoin them, she had time for a word more.
"No, dear Gerry, seriously. If I were to write out no to you in India—a great big final NO—then what do you think you would do?"
"I know what I think I should do. I should throw myself into the Hooghly or the Ganges."
"You silly boy! You would swim about, whether you liked or no. And then Jemadars, or Shastras, or Sudras, or something would come and pull you out. And then how ridiculous you would look!"
"No, Rosey, because I can't swim. Isn't it funny?"
Then she recollected his friend's voice striking in with: "What's that? Gerry Palliser swim! Of course he can't. He can wrestle, or run, or ride, or jump; and he's the best man I know with the gloves on. But swim he can't! That's flat!" Also how Gerry had then told eagerly how he was nearly drowned once, and Arthur fished him up from the bottom of Abingdon Lock. The latter went on:
"It was after that we tattooed each other, his name on my arm, my name on his, so as not to quarrel. You know, I suppose, that men who tattoo each other's arms can't quarrel if they try?" Arthur showed "A. Palliser," tattooed blue on his arm. Both young men were very grave and earnest about the safeguard. And then she remembered a question she asked, and how both replied with perfect gravity: "Of course, sure to!" The question had been:—Was it invariable that all men quarrelled if one saved the other from drowning?
She sits upstairs alone by the fire in her bedroom, and dreams again through all the past, except the nightmare of her life—that she always shudders away from. Sally will come up presently, and then she will feel ease again. Now, it is a struggle against fever.
She can hear plainly enough—for the house is but a London suburban villa—the strains from the drawing-room of what is possibly the most hackneyed violin music in the world—the Tartini (so-called) Devil Sonata—every phrase, every run, every chord an enthralling mystery still, an utterance none can explain, an inexhaustible thing no age can wither, and no custom stale. It is so soothing to her that it matters little if it makes them late. But that young man will destroy his nerves to a certainty outright.
Then comes the chaos of dispersal—the broken fragments of the intelligible a watchful ear may pick out. Dr. Vereker won't have a cab; he will leave the 'cello till next time, and walk. Mr. Bradshaw wants to get to Bayswater. Of course, that's all in our way—we being Miss Wilson and the cousin, the nonentity. We can give Mr. Bradshaw a lift as far as he goes, and then he can take the growler on. Then more good-nights are wished than the nature of things will admit of before to-morrow, Fenwick and Vereker light something to smoke, with a preposterous solicitude to use only one tandsticker between them, and walk away umbrella-less. From which we see that "it" is holding up. Then comes silence, and a consciousness of a policeman musing, and suspecting doors have been left stood open.