"Perhaps you are. There she is."
Sally ran straight upstairs, leaving Ann to close the door. She at once discharged her mind of its burden, more suo.
"Prosy thinks so, too!"
"Thinks they'll go and get married one fine morning, whether or no!"
But she seemed to be the only one much excited about this. Something was preoccupying the other two minds, and our Sally had not the remotest notion what.
* * * * *
Nevertheless, it came about that before the next Monday—the day of Sally's departure with her mother to St. Sennans-on-Sea—that young person paid a farewell visit to the obese mother of her medical adviser, and found her knitting.
"That, my dear, is what I am constantly saying to Conrad," was her reply to a suggestion of Sally's that she wanted change and rest. "Only this very morning, when he came into my room to see that I had fresh-made toast—because you know, my dear, how tiresome servants are about toast—they make it overnight, and warm it up in the morning. Cook is no exception, and I have complained till I'm tired. I should be sorry to change, she's been here so long, but I did hear the other day of such a nice respectable person...."
Sally interrupted, catching at a slight pause: "But when Dr. Conrad came into your room, what did he say?"
"My dear, I was going to tell you." She paused, with closed eyes and folded hands of aggressive patience, for all trace of human interruption to die down; then resumed: "I said to Conrad: 'I think you might have thought of that before.' And then he was sorry. I will do him that justice. My dear boy has his faults, as I know too well, but he is always ready to admit he is wrong."
"We can get you lodgings, you know," said Sally, from sheer intuition, for she had not a particle of information, so far, about what passed over the toast. The old lady seemed to think the conversation had been sufficiently well filled out, for she merely said, "Facing the sea," and went on knitting.
Sally and her mother knew St. Sennan well—had been at his watering-place twice before—so she was able, as it were, to forecast lodgings on the spot. "I dare say Mrs. Iggulden's is vacant," she said. "I wish you could have hers, she's such a nice old body. Her husband was a pilot, and she has one son a coastguard and another in the navy. And one daughter has no legs, but can do shell-work; and the other's married a tax-collector."
But Goody Vereker was not going to be beguiled into making herself agreeable. She took up the attitude that Sally was young, and easily deceived. She threw a wet blanket over her narrative of the Iggulden family, and ignored any murmurs that came from beneath it. "Sea-faring folk are all alike," so she said. "When I was your age, my dear, I simply worshipped them. My father and all his brothers were devoted to the sea, and my Uncle David published an account of his visit to the Brazils. But you will learn by experience. At any rate, I trust there are no vermin. That is always my terror in these lodging-houses, and ill-aired beds."
Was it fair, Sally thought to herself, to expose that dear old Mrs. Iggulden, who lived in a wooden dwelling covered with tar, between two houses built of black shiny bricks, but consisting chiefly of bay-windows with elderly visitors in them looking through telescopes at the shipping, and telling the credulous it was brigs or schooners—was it fair to expose Mrs. Iggulden to this gilt-spectacled lob-worm? Sally didn't know that Mrs. Iggulden could show a proper spirit, because in her own case the conditions had never been favourable. They had practised no incantations.
"Very well, then, Mrs. Vereker. As soon as ever mamma and I have shaken down, we'll see about Iggulden's; and if they can't take you somebody else will."
"I am in your hands," said the Goody, smiling faintly and submissively. She leaned back with her eyes closed, and was afraid she had done too much. She used to have periodical convictions to that effect.
Sally had an appointment with Laetitia Wilson at the swimming bath, so the Goody, in an access of altruism, perceived that she mustn't keep her. She herself would try to rest a little.
* * * * *
All people, as we suppose, lead two lives, more or less—their outer life, that of the world and action, and an inner life they have all to themselves. But how different is the proportion of the two lives in different subjects! And how much less painful the latter life is when we feel we could tell it all if we chose. Only we don't choose, because it's no concern of yours or any one else's.
This was Sally's frame of mind. She would not have felt the ghost of a reserve of an inmost thought (from her mother, for instance) in the face of questions asked, though she kept her own counsel about many points whose elucidation was not called for. It may easily be that Rosalind asked no questions about some things, because she had no wish that her daughter should formulate their answers too decisively. Her relation with Conrad Vereker, for example. Was it love, or what? If there was to be marrying, and families, and that sort of thing, and possible interference with swimming-matches and athletics, and so on, would she as soon choose this man for her accomplice as any other she knew? Suppose she was to hear to-morrow that Dr. Vereker was engaged to Sylvia Peplow, would she be glad or sorry?
Rosalind certainly did ask no such questions. If she had, the answers to the first two would have been, we surmise, very clear and decisive. What nonsense! Fancy Prosy being in love with anybody, or anybody being in love with Prosy! And as for marrying, the great beauty of it all was that there was to be no marrying. Did he understand that? Oh dear, yes! Prosy understood quite well. But we wonder, is the image our mind forms of Sally's answer to the third question correct or incorrect? It presents her to us as answering rather petulantly: "Why shouldn't Dr. Conrad marry Miss Peplow, if he likes, and she likes? I dare say she'd be ready enough, though!" and then pretending to look out of the window. And shortly afterwards: "I suppose Prosy has a right to his private affairs, as much as I have to mine." But with lips that tighten over her speech, without a smile. Note that this is all pure hypothesis.
But she had nothing to conceal that she knew of, had Sally. What a difference there was between her inner world and her mother's, who could not breathe a syllable of that world's history to any living soul!
Rosalind acknowledged to herself now how great the relief had been when, during the few hours that passed between her communication to her old friend on his deathbed and the last state of insensibility from which he never rallied, there had actually been on this earth one other than herself who knew all her story and its strange outcome. For those few hours she had not been alone, and the memory of it helped her to bear her present loneliness. She could hear again, when she woke in the stillness of the night, the voice of the old man, a whisper struggling through his half-choked respiration, that said again and again: "Oh, Rosey darling! can it be true? Thank God! thank God!" And the fact that what she had then feared had never come to pass—the fact that, contrary to her expectations, he had been strangely able to look the wonder in the face, and never flinch from it, seeing nothing in it but a priceless boon—this fact seemed to give her now the fortitude to bear without help the burden of her knowledge—the knowledge of who he was, this man that was beside her in the stillness, this man whose steady breathing she could hear, whose heart-beats she could count. And her heart dwelt on the old soldier's last words, strangely, almost incredibly, resonant, a hard-won victory in his dying fight for speech, "Evil has turned to good. God be praised!" It had almost seemed as if the parting soul, on the verge of the strangest chance man has to face, lost all measure of the strangeness of any earthly thing, and was sensible of nothing but the wonderment of the great cause of all.
But one thing that she knew (and could not explain) was that this secret knowledge, burdensome in itself, relieved the oppression of one still more burdensome, and helped her to drive it from her thoughts. We speak of the collision of the record in her mind of what her daughter was, and whence, with the fact that Sally was winding herself more and more, daughterwise, round the heart of the man whose bond with her mother she, small and unconscious, had had so large a share in rending asunder twenty years ago. It was to her, in its victory over crude physical fact, even while it oppressed her, a bewildering triumph of spirit over matter, of soul over sense, this firm consolidating growth of an affection such as Nature means, but often fails to reach, between child and parent. And as it grew and grew, her child's actual paternity shrank and dwindled, until it might easily have been held a matter for laughter, but for the black cloud of Devildom that hung about it, and stamped her as the infant of a Nativity in the Venusberg, whose growing after-life had gone far to shroud the horror of its lurid caverns with a veil of oblivion.
We say all these things quite seriously of our Sally, in spite of her incorrigible slanginess and vulgarity. We can now go on to St. Sennans-on-Sea, where we shall find her in full blow, but very sticky with the salt water she passes really too much of her time in, even for a merpussy.
ST. SENNANS-ON-SEA. MISS GWENDOLEN ARKWRIGHT. WOULD ANY OTHER CHILD HAVE BEEN SALLY? HOW MRS. IGGULDEN'S COUSIN SOLOMON SURRENDERED HIS COUCH
St. Sennans-on-Sea consists of two parts—the new and the old. The old part is a dear little old place, and the new part is beastly. So Sally says, and she must know, because this is her third visit.
The old part consists of Mrs. Iggulden's and the houses we have described on either side of her, and maybe two dozen more wooden or black-brick dwellings of the same sort; also of the beach and its interesting lines of breakwater that are so very jolly to jump off or to lie down and read novels under in the sea smell. Only not too near the drains, if you know it. If you don't know it, it doesn't matter so much, because the smell reminds you of the seaside, and seems right and fitting. You must take care how you jump, though, off these breakwaters, because where they are not washed inconceivably clean, and all their edges smoothed away beyond belief by the tides that come and go for ever, they are slippery with green sea-ribbons that cling close to them, and green sea-fringes that cling closer still, and brown sea-ramifications that are studded with pods that pop if you tread on them, but are not quite so slippery; only you may just as well be careful, even with them. And we should recommend you, before you jump, to be sure you are not hooked over a bolt, not merely because you may get caught, and fall over a secluded reading-public on the other side, but because the red rust comes off on you and soils your white petticoat.
If you don't mind jumping off these breakwaters—and it really is rather a lark—you may tramp along the sea front quite near up to where the fishing-luggers lie, each with a capstan all to itself, under the little extra old town the red-tanned fishing-nets live in, in houses that are like sailless windmill-tops whose plank walls have almost merged their outlines in innumerable coats of tar, laid by long generations back of the forefathers of the men in oil-cloth head-and-shoulder hats who repair their nets for ever in the Channel wind, unless you want a boat to-day, in which case they will scull you about, while you absolutely ache sympathetically with their efforts, of which they themselves remain serenely unaware, till you've been out long enough. Then they beach you cleverly on the top of a wave, and their family circle seizes you, boat and all, and runs you up the shingle before the following wave can catch you and splash you, which it wants to do.
There is an aroma of the Norman Conquest and of Domesday Book about the old town. Research will soon find out, if she looks sharp, that there is nothing Norman in the place except the old arch in the amorphous church-tower, and a castle at a distance on the flats. But the flavour of the past is stronger in the scattered memories of bygone sea-battles not a century ago, and the names of streets that do not antedate the Georges, than in these mere scraps that are always open to the reproach of mediaevalism, and are separated from us by a great gulf. And it doesn't much matter to us whether the memories are of victory or defeat, or the names those of sweeps or heroes. All's one to us—we glow; perhaps rashly, for, you see, we really know very little about them. And he who has read no history to speak of, if he glows about the past on the strength of his imperfect data, may easily break his molasses-jug.
So, whether our blood is stirred by Nelson and Trafalgar, whereof we have read, or by the Duke of York and Walcheren, whereof we haven't—or mighty little—we feel in touch with both these heroes, for they are modern. Both have columns, anyhow; and we can dwell upon their triumph or defeat almost as if it wasn't history at all, but something that really happened, without running any risk of being accused of archaism or of deciphering musty tomes. And we can enjoy our expedition all the same to the ruined keep in the level pastures, where the long-horned black cattle stand and think and flap their tails still, just as they did in the days when the basement dungeons, now choked up, held real prisoners with real broken hearts.
But there is modern life, too, at St. Sennans—institutions that keep abreast of the century. Half the previous century ago, when we went there first, the Circulating Library consisted, so far as we can recollect it, of a net containing bright leather balls, a collection of wooden spades and wheelbarrows, a glass jar with powder-puffs, another with tooth-brushes, a rocking-horse—rashly stocked in the first heated impulse of an over-confident founder—a few other trifles, and, most important of all, a book-case that supplied the title-role to the performance. That book-case contained (we are confident) editiones principes of Mrs. Ratcliff, Sir Walter Scott, Bulwer Lytton, Currer Bell ... well, even Fanny Burney, if you come to that. There certainly was a copy of "Frankenstein," and fifty years ago our flesh was so compliant as to creep during its perusal. It wouldn't now.
But even fifty years ago there was never a volume that had not been defaced out of all knowledge by crooked marks of the most inquisitive interrogation, and straight marks of the most indignant astonishment, by the reading-public in the shadows of the breakwaters. It really read, that public did; and, what's more, it often tore out the interesting bits to take away. I remember great exasperation when a sudden veil was drawn over the future of two lovers just as the young gentleman had flung himself into the arms of the young lady. An unhallowed fiend had cut off the sequel with scissors and boned it!
That was done, or much of it, when the books were new, and the railway-station was miles away; when the church wasn't new, but old, which was better. It has been made new since, and has chairs in it, and memorial windows by Stick and Co. In those days its Sunday-folk were fisherfolk mostly, and a few local magnates or parvates—squirophants, they might be called—and a percentage of the visitors.
Was St. Sennan glad or sorry, we wonder, when the last two sorts subscribed and restored him? If we had been he, one of us would have had to have the temper of a saint to keep cool about it. Anyhow, it's done now, and can't be undone.
But the bathing-machines are not restored, at any rate. Those indescribables yonder, half rabbit-hutch, half dry-dock—a long row for ladies and a short one for gentlemen, three hundred yards apart—couldn't trust 'em any nearer, bless you!—these superannuated God-knows-whats, struggling against disintegration from automatic plunges down a rugged beach, and creaking journeys back you are asked to hold on through—it's no use going on drying!—these tributes to public decorum you can find no room in, and probably swear at—no sacrilegious restorer has laid his hand on these. They evidently contemplate going on for ever; for though their axes grow more and more oblique every day, their self-confidence remains unshaken. But then they think they are St. Sennans, and that the wooden houses are subordinate accidents, and the church a mere tributary that was a little premature—got there first, in its hurry to show respect for them. And no great wonder, seeing what a figure they cut, seen from a boat when you have a row! Or, rather, used to cut; for now the new town (which is beastly) has come on the cliff above, and looks for all the world as if it was St. Sennans, and speaks contemptuously of the real town as the Beach Houses.
The new town can only be described as a tidy nightmare; yet it is a successful creation of the brains that conceived it—a successful creation of ground-rents. As a development of land ripe for building, with more yards of frontage to the main-road than at first sight geometry seems able to accommodate, it has been taking advantage of unrivalled opportunities for a quarter of a century, backed by advances on mortgage. It is the envy of the neighbouring proprietors east and west along the coast, who have developed their own eligible sites past all remedy and our endurance, and now have to drain their purses to meet the obligations to the professional mortgagee, who is biding his hour in peace, waiting for the fruit to fall into his mouth and murderously sure of his prey. But at St. Sennans a mysterious silence reigns behind a local office that yields keys on application, and answers all inquiries, and asks ridiculous rents. And this silence, or its keeper, is said to have become enormously rich over the new town.
The shareholders in the St. Sennans Hotel, Limited, cannot have become rich. If they had, surely they would provide something better for a hungry paying supplicant than a scorched greasy chop, inflamed at the core, and glass bottles containing a little pellucid liquid that parts with its carbon dioxide before you can effect a compromise with the cork, which pushes in, but not so as to attain its ideal. So your Seltzer water doesn't pour fast enough to fizz outside the bottle, and your heart is sad. Of course, you can have wine, if you come to that, for look at the wine-list! Only the company's ideas of the value of wine are not limited, and if you decide not to be sordid, and order a three-shilling bottle of Medoc, you will find its contents to be very limited indeed. But why say more than that it is an enormous hotel at the seaside? You know all about them, and what it feels like in rainy weather, when the fat gentleman has got to-day's "Times," and means to read all through the advertisement-column before he gives up the leaders, and you have to spend your time turning over thick and shiny snap-shot journals with a surfeit of pictures in them; or the Real Lady, or the Ladylike Lady, or the Titled Lady, the portraits of whom—one or other of them—sweep in curves about their folio pages; and, while they fascinate you, make you feel that you would falter on the threshold of matrimony if only because they couldn't possibly take nourishment. Would not the discomfort of meals eaten with a companion who could swallow nothing justify a divorce a mensa?
A six-shilling volume might be written about the New Hotel, with an execration on every page. Don't let us have anything to do with it, but keep as much as possible at the Sea Houses under the cliff, which constitute the only St. Sennans necessary to this story. We shall be able to do so, because when Mrs. and Mr. Fenwick and their daughter went for a walk they always went up the cliff-pathway, which had steps cut in the chalk, past the boat upside down, where new-laid eggs could be bought from a coastguard's wife. And this path avoided the New Town altogether, and took them straight to the cliff-track that skirted growing wheat and blazing poppies till you began to climb the smooth hill-pasture the foolish wheat had encroached upon in the Protection days, when it was worth more than South Down mutton. And now every ear of it would have been repenting in sackcloth and ashes if it had been qualified by Nature to know how little it would fetch per bushel. But it wasn't. And when, the day after their arrival, Rosalind and her husband were on the beach talking of taking a walk up that way when Sally came out, it could have heard, if it would only have stood still, the sheep-bells on the slopes above reproaching it, and taunting it with its usurpation and its fruitless end. Perhaps it was because it felt ashamed that it stooped before the wind that carried the reproachful music, and drowned it in a silvery rustle. The barley succeeded the best. You listen to the next July barley-field you happen on, and hear what it can do when a breeze comes with no noise of its own.
Down below on the shingle the sun was hot, and the tide was high, and the water was clear and green close to the shore, and jelly-fish abounded. You could look down into the green from the last steep ridge at high-water mark, and if you looked sharp you might see one abound. Only you had to be on the alert to jump back if a heave of the green transparency surged across the little pebbles that could gobble it up before it was all over your feet—but didn't this time. Oh dear!—how hot it was! Sally had the best of it. For the allusion to Sally's "coming out" referred to her coming out of the water, and she was staying in a long time.
"That child's been twenty-four minutes already," said her mother, consulting her watch. "Just look at her out there on the horizon. What on earth are they doing?"
It was a little inexplicable. At that moment Sally and her friend—it was one Fraeulein Braun, who had learned swimming in the baths on the Rhone at Geneva and in Paris—appeared to be nothing but two heads, one close behind the other, moving slowly on the water. Then the heads parted company, and apparently their owners lay on their backs in the water, and kicked up the British Channel.
"They're saving each other's lives," said Gerry. He got up from a nice intaglio he had made to lie in, and after shaking off a good bushel of small pebbles a new-made beach-acquaintance of four had heaped upon him, resorted to a double opera-glass to see them better. "The kitten wanted me to get out of my depth for her to tow me in. But I didn't fancy it. Besides, a sensitive British public would have been scandalised."
"You never learned to swim, then, Gerry——?" She just stopped herself in time. The words "after all" were on her lips. Without them her speech was mere chat; with them it would have been a match to a mine. She sometimes wished in these days that the mine might explode of itself, and give her peace.
"I suppose I never did," replied her husband, as a matter of course. "At least, I couldn't do it when I tried in the water just now. I should imagine I must have tried B.C., or I shouldn't have known how to try. It's not a thing one forgets, so they say." He paused a few seconds, and then added: "Anyhow, it's quite certain I couldn't do it." There was not a trace of consciousness on his part of anything in her mind beyond what her words implied. But she felt in peril of fire, so close to him, with a resurrection of an image in it—a vivid one—of the lawn-tennis garden of twenty years ago, and the speech of his friend, the real Fenwick, about his inability to swim.
This sense of peril did not diminish as he continued: "I've found out a lot of things I can do in the way of athletics, though; I seem to know how to wrestle, which is very funny. I wonder where I learned. And you saw how I could ride at Sir Mountmassingham's last month?" This referred to a country visit, which has not come into our story. "And that was very funny about the boxing. Such a peaceful old fogey as your husband! Wasn't it, Rosey darling?"
"Why won't you call the Bart. by his proper name, Gerry? Wasn't what?"
"Funny about the gloves. You know that square fellow? He was a well-known prizefighter that young Sales Wilson had picked up and brought down to teach the boys. You remember him? He went to church, and was very devout...."
"Well, it was in the billiard-room, after dinner. He said quite suddenly, 'This gentleman now can make use of his daddles. I can see it in him'—meaning me. 'What makes you think that, Mr. Macmorrough?' said I. 'We of the fancy, sir,' says he, 'see these things, without referrin' to no books, by the light of Nature.' And next day we had a set-to with the gloves, and his verdict was 'Only just short of professional.' Those boys were delighted. I wonder how and when I became such a dab at it?"
"I wonder!" Rosalind doesn't seem keen on the subject. "I wish those crazy girls would begin to think of coming in. If it's going to be like this every day I shall go home to London, Gerry."
"Perhaps when Vereker comes down on Monday he'll be able to influence. Medical authority!"
Here the beach-acquaintance, who had kept up a musical undercurrent of disjointed comment, perceived an opportunity for joining more actively in the conversation.
"My mummar says—my mummar says—my mummar says...."
"Yes—little pet—what does she say?" Thus Rosalind.
"Yes—Miss Gwendolen Arkwright—what does she say?" Thus Fenwick, on whom Miss Arkwright is seated.
"My mummar says se wissus us not to paggle Tundy when the tideses goed out. But my mummar says—my mummar says...."
"My mummar says we must paggle Monday up to here." Miss Arkwright indicates the exact high-water mark sanctioned, candidly. "Wiv no sooze, and no stottins!" She then becomes diffuse. "And my bid sister Totey's doll came out in my bed, and Dane dusted her out wiv a duster. And I can do thums. And they make free...." At this point Miss Arkwright's copy runs short, and she seizes the opportunity for a sort of seated dance of satisfaction at her own eloquence—a kind of subjective horsemanship.
"I wish I never had to do any sums that made more than three," is the putative horse's comment. "But there are only two possible, alas! And the totals are stale, as you might say."
"I'm afraid my little girl's being troublesome." Thus the mamma, looking round a huge groin of breakwater a few yards off.
"Troublesome, madame?" exclaims Fenwick, using French unexpectedly. "She's the best company in Sussex." But Miss Arkwright's nurse Jane domineers into the peaceful circle with a clairvoyance that Miss Gwendolen is giving trouble, and bears her away rebellious.
"What a shame!" says Gerry sotto voce. "But I wonder why I said 'madame'!"
"I remember you said it once before." And she means to add "the first time you saw me," but dubs it, in thought, a needless lie, and substitutes, "that day when you were electrocuted." And then imagines she has flinched, and adds her original text boldly. She isn't sorry when her husband merely says, "That was queer too!" and remains looking through his telescope at the swimmers.
"They're coming at last—a couple of young monkeys!" is her comment. And, sure enough, after a very short spell of stylish sidestrokes Sally's voice and laugh are within hearing ahead of her companion's more guttural intonation. Her mother draws a long breath of relief as the merpussy vanishes under her awning, and is shouted and tapped at to hold tight, while capstan-power tugs and strains to bring her dressing-room up a sharp slope out of reach of the sea.
"Well, Jeremiah, and what have you got to say for yourself?" said the merpussy soon after, just out of her machine, with a huge mass of briny black hair spread out to dry. The tails had to be split and sorted and shaken out at intervals to give the air a chance. Sally was blue and sticky all over, and her finger-tips and nails all one colour. But her spirits were boisterous.
"What about, indeed? About not coming into the water to be pulled out. You promised you would, you know you did!"
"I did; but subject to a reasonable interpretation of the compact. I should have been out of my depth ever so long before you could reach me. Why didn't you come closer?"
"How could I, with a fat, pink party drying himself next door? You wouldn't have, if it had been you, and him Goody Vereker...."
"Sal-ly! Darling!" Her mother remonstrates.
"We-ell, there's nothing in that! As if we didn't all know what the Goody would look like...."
Rosalind is really afraid that the strict mamma of her husband's recent incubus will overhear, and sit at another breakwater next day. "Come along!" she says, dispersively and emphatically. "We shall have the shoulder of mutton spoiled."
"No, we shan't! Shall we, Jeremiah? We've talked it over, me and Jeremiah. Haven't we, Gaffer Fenwick?" She is splitting up the salt congestions of his mane as she sits by him on the shingle. He confirms her statement.
"We have. And we have decided that if we are two hours late it may be done enough. But that in any case the so-called gravy will be grey hot water."
"Get up and come along, and don't be a mad kitten! I shall go and leave you two behind. So now you know." And Rosalind goes away up the shingle.
"What makes mother look so serious sometimes, kitten? She did just now."
"She's jealous of you and me flirting like we do. Don't put your hat on; let the sun dry you up a bit. Does she really look serious though? Do you mean it?"
"Yes, I mean it. It comes and goes. But when I ask her she only laughs at me." A painful thought crosses Sally's mind. Is it possible that some of her reckless escapades have froisse'd her mother? She goes off into a moment's contemplation, then suddenly jumps up with, "Come along, Jeremiah," and follows her up the beach.
But the gravity on the face of the latter, by now half-way to the house, had nothing to do with any of Sally's shocking vulgarities and outrageous utterances. No, nor even with the green-eyed monster Jealousy her unscrupulous effrontery had not hesitated to impute. She allowed it to dominate her expression, as there was no one there to see, until the girl overtook her. Then she wrenched her face and her thoughts apart with a smile. "You are a mad little goose," said she.
But the thing that weighted her mind—oppressed or puzzled her, as might be—what was it?
Had she been obliged to answer the question off-hand she herself might have been at a loss to word it, though she knew quite well what it was. It was the old clash between the cause of Sally and its result. It was the thought that, but for a memory that every year seemed to call for a stronger forgetfulness, a more effective oblivion, this little warm star that had shone upon and thawed a frozen life, this salve for the wound it sprang from, would have remained unborn—a nonentity! Yes, she might have had another child—true! But would that child have been Sally?
She was so engrossed with her husband, and he with her, that she felt she could, as it were, have trusted him with his own identity. But, then, how about Sally? Though she might with time show him the need for concealment, how be sure that nothing should come out in the very confusion of the springing of the mine? She could trust him with his identity—yes! Not Sally with hers. Her great surpassing terror was—do you see?—not the effect on him of learning about Sally's strange provenance, but for Sally herself. The terrible knowledge she could not grasp the facts without would cast a shadow over her whole life.
So she thought and turned and looked down on the beach. There below her was this unsolved mystery sitting in the sun beside the man whose life it had rent asunder from its mother's twenty years ago. And as Rosalind looked at her she saw her capture and detain his hat. "To let his mane dry, I suppose," said Rosalind. "I hope he won't get a sunstroke." She watched them coming up the shingle, and decided that they were going on like a couple of school-children. They were, rather.
* * * * *
Perhaps the image in Sally's profane mind of "hers affectionately, Rebecca Vereker," before or after an elderly bathe, would not have appeared there if she had not received that morning a letter so signed, announcing that, subject to a variety of fulfilments—among which the Will of God had quite a conspicuous place—she and her son would make their appearance next Monday, as our text has already hinted. On which day the immature legs of Miss Gwendolen Arkwright were to be released from a seclusion by which some religious object, undefined, had been attained the day before.
But the conditions which had to be complied with by the lodgings it would be possible for this lady to occupy were such as have rarely been complied with, even in houses built specially to meet their requirements. Each window had to confront, not a particular quarter, but a particular ninetieth, of the compass. A full view of the sea had to be achieved from a sitting-room not exposed to its glare, an attribute destructive of human eyesight, and fraught with curious effects on the nerves. But the bedrooms had to look in directions foreign to human experience—directions from which no wind ever came at night. A house of which every story rotated on an independent vertical axis might have answered—nothing else would. Even then space would have called for modification, and astronomy and meteorology would have had to be patched up. Then with regard to the different levels of the floors, concession was implied to "a flat"; but, stairways granted, the risers were to be at zero, and the treads at boiling-point—a strained simile! As to cookery, the services of a chef with great powers of self-subordination seemed to be pointed at, a cordon-bleu ready to work in harness. Hygienic precautions, such as might have been insisted on by an Athanasian sanitary inspector on the premises of an Arian householder, were made a sine qua non. Freedom from vibration from vehicles was so firmly stipulated for that nothing short of a balloon from Shepherd's Bush could possibly have met the case. The only relaxation in favour of the possible was a diseased readiness to accept shakedowns, sandwiches standing, cuts off the cold mutton, and snacks generally on behalf of her son.
Mrs. Iggulden, who was empty both sets on Monday, didn't answer in any one particular to any of these requisitions. But a spirit of overgrown compromise crept in, making a sufficient number of reasons why no one of them could be complied with an equivalent of compliance itself. Only in respect of certain racks and tortures for the doctor was Mrs. Iggulden induced to lend herself to dangerous innovation. "I can't have poor Prosy put to sleep in a bed like this," said Sally, punching in the centre of one, and finding a hideous cross-bar. Either Mrs. Iggulden's nephew must saw it out, and tighten up the sacking from end to end, or she must get a Christian bed. Poor Prosy! Whereon Mrs. Iggulden explained that her nephew had by an act of self-sacrifice surrendered this bed as a luxury for lodgers in the season, having himself a strong congenital love of bisection. He hadn't slept nigh so sound two months past, and the crossbar would soothe his slumbers.
So it was finally settled that the Goody and her son should come to Iggulden's. The question of which set she should occupy being left open until she should have inspected the stairs. Thereon Mrs. Iggulden's nephew, whose name was Solomon, contrived a chair to carry the good lady up them; which she, though faint, declined to avail herself of when she arrived, perhaps seeing her way to greater embarrassment for her species by being supported slowly upstairs with a gasp at each step, and a moan at intervals. However, she was got up in the end, and thought she could take a little milk with a teaspoonful of brandy in it.
But as to giving any conception of the difficulties that arose at this point in determining the choice between above and below, that must be left to your imagination. A conclusion was arrived at in time—in a great deal of it—and the Goody was actually settled on the ground floor at Mrs. Iggulden's, and contriving to battle against collapse from exhaustion with an implication that she had no personal interest in reviving, but would do it for the sake of others.
HOW SALLY PUT THE FINISHING TOUCH ON THE DOCTOR, WHO COULDN'T SLEEP. OF THE GRAND DUKE OF HESSE-JUNKERSTADT. AND OF AN INTERVIEW OVERHEARD
Fenwick was not a witness of this advent, as the Monday on which it happened had seen his return to town. He had had his preliminary week, and his desk was crying aloud for him. He departed, renewing a solemn promise to write every day as the train came into the little station at Egbert's Road, for St. Sennans and Growborough. It is only a single line, even now, to St. Sennans from here, but as soon as it was done it was good-bye to all peace and quiet for St. Sennan.
Rosalind and her daughter came back in the omnibus—not the one for the hotel, but the one usually spoken of as Padlock's—the one that lived at the Admiral Collingwood, the nearest approach to an inn in the old town. The word "omnibus" applied to it was not meant literally by Padlock, but only as a declaration of his indifference as to which four of the planet's teeming millions rode in it. This time there was no one else except a nice old farmer's wife, who spoke to each of the ladies as "my dear," and of each of them as "your sister." Rosalind was looking wonderfully young and handsome, certainly. They secured all the old lady's new-laid eggs, because there would be Mrs. Vereker in the evening. We like adhering to these ellipses of daily life.
Next morning Sally took Dr. Vereker for a walk round to show him the place. Try to fancy the condition of a young man of about thirty, who had scarcely taken his hand from the plough of general practice for four years—for his holidays had been mighty insignificant—suddenly inaugurating three weeks of paradise in the society man most covets—of delicious seclusion remote from patients, a happy valley where stethoscopes might be forgotten, and carbolic acid was unknown, where diagnosis ceased from troubling, and prognosis was at rest. He got so intoxicated with Sally that he quite forgot to care if the cases he had left to Mr. Neckitt (who had been secured as a substitute after all) survived or got terminated fatally. Bother them and their moist rales and cardiac symptoms, and effusions of blood on the brain!
Dr. Conrad was a young man of an honest and credulous nature, with a turn for music naturally, and an artificial bias towards medicine infused into him by his father, who had died while he was yet a boy. His honesty had shown itself in the loyalty with which he carried out his father's wishes, and his credulity in the readiness with which he accepted his mother's self-interested versions of his duty towards herself. She had given him to understand from his earliest years that she was an unselfish person, and entitled to be ministered unto, and that it was the business of every one else to see that she did not become the victim of her own self-sacrifice. At the date of this writing her son was passing through a stage of perplexity about his duty to her in its relation to his possible duty to a wife undefined. That he might not be embarrassed by too many puzzles at once, he waived the question of who this wife was to be, and ignored the fact that would have been palpable to any true reading of his mind, that if it had not been for Miss Sally Nightingale this perplexity might never have existed. He satisfied his conscience on the point by a pretext that Sally was a thing on a pinnacle out of his reach—not for the likes of him! He made believe that he was at a loss to find a foothold on his greasy pole, but was seeking one in complete ignorance of what would be found at the top of it.
This shallow piece of self-deception was ripe for disillusionment when Sally took its victim out for a walk round to show him the place. It had the feeblest hold on existence during the remainder of the day, throughout which our medical friend went on dram-drinking, knowing the dangers of his nectar-draughts, but as helpless against them as any other dram-drinker. It broke down completely and finally between moonrise and midnight—a period that began with Sally calling under Iggulden's window, "Come out, Dr. Conrad, and see the phosphorescence in the water; it's going to be quite bright presently," and ended with, "Good gracious, how late it is! Shan't we catch it?" an exclamation both contributed to. For it was certainly past eleven o'clock.
But in that little space it had broken down, that delusion; and the doctor knew perfectly well, before ten o'clock, certainly, that all the abstract possible wives of his perplexity meant Sally, and Sally only. And, further, that Sally was at every point of the compass—that she was in the phosphorescence of the sea, and the still golden colour of the rising moon. That space was full of her, and that each little wave-splash at their feet said "Sally," and then gave place to another that said "Sally" again. Poor Prosy!
But what did they say, the two of them? Little enough—mere merry chat. But on his part so rigid a self-constraint underlying it that we are not sure some of the little waves didn't say—not Sally at all, but—Miss Nightingale! And a persistent sense of a thought that was only waiting to be thought as soon as he should be alone—that was going to run somewhat thus: "How could it come about? That this girl, whom I idolize till my idolatry is almost pain; this girl who has been my universe this year past, though I would not confess it; this wonder whom I judge no man worthy of, myself least of all—that she should be cancelled, made naught of, hushed down, to be the mate of a poor G.P.; to visit his patients and leave cards, make up his little accounts, perhaps! Certainly to live with his mother...." But he knew under the skin that he would be even with that disloyal thought, and would stop it off at this point in time to believe he hadn't thought it.
Still, for all that this disturbing serpent would creep into his Eden, for all that he would have given worlds to dare a little more—that moment in the moonlight, with a glow-flecked water at his feet and hers, and the musical shingle below, and a sense of Christy Minstrels singing about Billy Pattison somewhere in the warm night-air above, and the flash of the great revolving light along the coast answering the French lights across the great, dark silent sea—that moment was the record moment of his life till then. It would never do to say so to Sally, that was all! But it was true for all that. For his life had been a dull one, and the only comfort he could get out of the story of it so far was that at least there was no black page in it he would like to cut out. Sally might read them all, and welcome. Their relation to her had become the point to consider. You see, at heart he was a slow-coach, a milksop, nothing of the man of the world about him. Well, her race had had a dose of the other sort in the last generation. Had the breed wearied of it? Was that Sally's unconscious reason for liking him?
"How very young Prosy has got all of a sudden!" was Sally's postscript to this interview, as she walked back to their own lodgings with her mother, who had been relieving guard with the selfless one while the doctor went out to see the phosphorescence.
"He's like a boy out for a holiday," her mother answered. "I had no idea Dr. Conrad could manage such a colour as that; I thought he was pallid and studious."
"Poor dear. We should be pallid and studious if it was cases all day long, and his ma at intervals."
"Do you know, kitten darling, I can't help thinking perhaps we do that poor woman an injustice...."
"—Can't you?" Thus Sally in a parenthetic voice—
"... and that she really isn't such a very great humbug after all!"
"Because she would be such a very great humbug, don't you see, chick?"
"Why shouldn't she? Somebody must, or there'd be no such thing."
"Why should there be any such thing?"
"Because of the word. Somebody must, or there'd be no one to hook it to.... Have they stopped, I wonder, or are they going to begin again?" This referred to the Ethiopian banjos afar. "I do declare they're going to sing Pesky Jane, and it's nearly twelve o'clock!"
"Never mind them! How came you to know all the vulgar nigger-songs?... I was going to say. It's very difficult to believe it's quite all humbug when one hears her talk about her son and his welfare, and his prospects and...."
"I know what she talked about. When her dear son marries, she's going to devote herself to him and her dear daughter that will be. Wasn't that it?"
"Yes; but then she couldn't say more than that all she had would be theirs, and she would take her to her bosom, etcetera. Could she?"
"She'll have to pull a long way!" The vulgar child's mind has flown straight to the Goody's outline in profile. She is quite incorrigible. "But wasn't that what old Mr. Turveydrop said, or very nearly? Of course, one has to consider the parties and make allowance."
"Sallykin, what a madcap you are! You don't care what you say."
"We-e-ell! there's nothing in that.... But look here, mammy darling. Did that good woman in all she said to-night—all the time she was jawing—did she once lose sight of her meritorious attitude?"
"It may only be a facon de parler—a sort of habit."
"But it isn't. Jeremiah says so. We've talked it over, us two. He says he wouldn't like his daughter—meaning me—to marry poor Prosy, because of the Goody."
"Are you sure he meant you? Did you ask him?"
"No, because I wasn't going to twit Jeremiah with being only step. We kept it dark who was what. But, of course, he meant me. Like a submarine telegraph." Sally stopped a moment in gravity. Then she said: "Mother dear!"
"What a pity it is Jeremiah is only step! Just think how nice if he'd been real. Now, if you'd only met twenty years sooner...."
A nettle to grasp presented itself—a bad one. Rosalind seized it bodily. "I shouldn't have had my kitten," she said.
"I see. I should have been somebody else. But that wouldn't have mattered to me."
"It would have—to me!" But this is the most she can do in the way of nettle-grasping. She is glad when St. Sennan, from his tower with the undoubted piece of Norman, begins to count twelve, and gives her an excuse for a recall to duty. "Do think how we're keeping poor Mrs. Lobjoit up, you unfeeling child!" is her appeal on behalf of their own fisherman's wife. Sally is just taking note of a finale of the Ethiop choir. "They've done Pesky Jane, and they're going away to bed," she says. "How the black must come off on the sheets!" And then they hurried home to sleep sound.
But there was little sleep for the doctor that night, perhaps because he had got so young all of a sudden. So it didn't matter much that his mother countermanded his proposal that bed should be gone to, on the ground that it was so late now that she wouldn't be able to sleep a wink. If she could have gone an hour ago it would have been different. Now it was too late. An aggressive submissiveness was utilized by the good lady to the end of his discomfort and that of Mrs. Iggulden, who—perhaps from some memories of the Norman Conquest hanging about the neighbourhood—would never go to bed as long as a light was burning in the house.
"It is very strange and most unusual, I know," she continued saying after she had scarified a place to scratch on. "Your great-uncle Everett Gayler did not scruple to call it phenomenal, and that when I was the merest child. After eleven no sleep!" She continued her knitting with tenacity to illustrate her wakefulness. "But I am glad, dear Conrad, that you forgot about me. You were in pleasanter society than your old mother's. No one shall have any excuse for saying I am a burden on my son. No, my dear boy, my wish is that you shall feel free." She laid aside the knitting needles, and folding her hands across the outline Sally was to be dragged up, or along, dropped her eyelids over a meek glare, and sat with a fixed, submissive undersmile slightly turned towards her son.
"But I thought, mother, as Mrs. Fenwick was here...." Slow, slight, acquiescent nods stopped him; they were enough to derail any speech except the multiplication-table or the House-that-Jack-built! But she waited with exemplary patience for certainty that the train had stopped. Then spoke as one that gives a commission to speech, and observes its execution at a distance. Her expression remained immutable. "She is a well-meaning person," said she.
"I didn't know how late it was." Poor Dr. Conrad gives up self-defence—climbs down. "The time ran away." It had done so, there was no doubt about that.
"And you forgot your mother. But Mrs. Fenwick is a well-meaning person. We will say no more about it."
Whereupon her son, feeling that silence is golden, said nothing. But he went and kissed her for all that. She said inscrutably: "You might have kissed me." But whether she was or wasn't referring to the fact that she had succeeded in negotiating his kiss on the rim of her spectacles, Conrad couldn't tell. Probably she meant he might have kissed her before.
There was no doubt, however, about her intention of knitting till past one in the morning. She did it enlarging on the medical status of her illustrious uncle, Dr. Everett Gayler, who had just crept into the conversation. Her son wasn't so sorry for this as Mrs. Iggulden, who dozed and waked with starts, on principle, outside in the passage unseen. He could stand at the wide-open window, and hear the little waves plash "Sally" in the moonlight, and the counter-music of the down-drawn shingle echo "Sally" back. Sometimes the pebbles and the water gave place for a moment to the tread of two persistent walkers up and down—men who smoked cigars, and became a little audible and died again at every time of passing.
One time the doctor caught a rise of voice—though they did not pass so very near—that said: "My idea is to stay here till...."
Then at the next turn the same voice grew from inaudibility to ... "So I arranged with the parson here for to-morrow, and we shall get...." and died again. At this moment Dr. Everett Gayler was at the climax of his fame, having just performed tracheotomy on the Grand Duke of Hesse-Junkerstadt, and been created Knight-Commander of some Order whose name Mrs. Vereker wasn't sure about.
Next time the men returned, the same voice that seemed to do all the talking said: "... Expensive, of course, but she hates the idea of a registry-office." They paused, and the listener heard that the other voice had said something to which the first replied: "No, not Grundy. But she had some friends cooked at one, and they said it was stuffy, and they would sooner have endured twenty short homilies...."
A wax vesta scratched, blazed, lighted another cigar, and the second voice said, "Oh—ah!" and both grew inaudible again.
Dr. Everett Gayler had just pronounced the Grand Duchess's disease—they were an afflicted family—a disease his narrator couldn't pronounce at all. Most of her bones, in a state of necrosis, had been skilfully removed by the time the smokers had passed back. But so much more was Dr. Conrad listening to what the waves said to the shingle and the shingle answered back, than to either the Grand Duchess or the registry-office, that it never crossed his mind whose the voice was who lit the vesta. He heard it say good-night—its owner would get back to the hotel—and the other make due response. And then nothing was left but the coastguard.
But the Grand Duke's family were not quite done with. It had to be recorded how many of his distinguished ancestors had suffered from Plica polonica. Still, the end did come at last, and the worthy lady thought perhaps if she could lie down now she might drop off. So Mrs. Iggulden got her release and slept.
Dr. Conrad didn't, not a wink. The whole place was full of Sally. The flashlight at intervals, in couplets, seemed to say "Sally" twice when it came, and then to leave a blank for him to think about her in. The great slow steamer far out to sea showed a green eye of jealousy or a red one of anger because it could not come ashore where Sally was, but had perforce to go on wherever it was navigated. The millions of black sea-elves—did you ever discriminate them?—that the slight observer fancies are the interstices of the moonlight on the water, were all busy about Sally, though it was hard to follow their movements. And every time St. Sennan said what o'clock it was, he added, "One hour nearer to Sally to-morrow!"
OF A MARRIAGE BY SPECIAL LICENCE. ROSALIND'S COMPARISONS. OF THE THREE BRIDESMAIDS, AND HOW THE BRIDE WAS A GOOD SAILOR
But it never occurred to Dr. Vereker that the voice of the smoking gentleman, whose "she" knew a couple that had been cooked at a registry office, was a voice quite familiar to him. The only effect it had on his Sally-dazed mind was to make him wonder four hours after what it was that kept putting Julius Bradshaw into his head. If a brain-molecule could have been found not preoccupied with Sally he might have been able to give her next day a suggestive hint about a possibility ahead. But never a word said he to Sally; and when, on her return from bathing the following morning, Mrs. Lobjoit, the fisherman's wife, surprised her with the news that "the young lady" had come and had left her luggage, but would be back in half-an-hour, she was first taken aback, and thought it was a mistake next. But no—no chance of that! The young lady had asked for Mrs. Algernon Fenwick, or, in default, for Miss Sally, quite distinctly. She hadn't said any name, but there was a gentleman with her. Mrs. Lobjoit seemed to imply that had there been no gentleman she might have been nameless. Padlock's omnibus they came in.
So Sally went on being taken aback where she had left off, and was still pondering over the phenomenon when her mother followed her through the little yard paved with round flints bedded in mortar—all except the flower-beds, which were in this case marigold-beds and fuschia-beds and tamarisk-shakedowns—and the street door which always stood open, and it was very little use ringing, the bell being broken. But you could pass through, and there would always be old Mr. Lobjoit in the kitchen, even if Mrs. Lobjoit was not there herself.
"Why not look on the boxes, you stupid kitten? There's a name on them, or ought to be." Thus Rosalind, after facts told.
"What a thing it is to have a practical maternal parent!" Thus Sally. And Mrs. Lobjoit put on record with an amiable smile that that is what she kept saying to Miss Nightingale, "Why not look?" Whereas the fact is Mrs. Lobjoit never said anything of the sort.
"Here's a go!" says Sally, who gets at the label-side of the trunk first. "If it isn't Tishy!" And the mother and daughter look at each other's faces, each watching the other's theory forming of what this sudden apparition means.
"What do you think, mother?"
"What do you think, kitten?" But the truth is, both wanted time to know what to think. And they hadn't got much forwarder with the solution of the problem when a light was thrown upon it by the sudden apparition of Laetitia herself, accompanied by the young gentleman whom Sally did not scruple to speak of—but not in his presence—as her counter-jumper. She did this, she said, to "pay Tishy out" for what she had said about him before she made his acquaintance.
The couple were in a mixed state of exaltation and confusion—Tishy half laughing, a third crying, and a sixth keeping up her dignity. Both were saying might they come in, and doing it without waiting for an answer.
Rosalind's remark was one of those nonsequences often met with in real life: "There's enough lunch—or we can send out." Sally's was: "But are you the Julius Bradshaws, or are you not? That's what I want to know." Sally won't be trifled with, not she!
"Well, Sally dear, no,—we're not—not just yet." Tishy hesitates. Julius shows firmness.
"But we want to be at two o'clock this afternoon, if you'll come...."
"Both of us?"
"Why—of course, both of you."
"Then Mrs. Lobjoit will have to be in time with lunch." It does not really matter who were the speakers, nor what the share of each was in the following aggregate:
"How did you manage to get it arranged?" "Why now? Have you quarrelled with your mother?" "How long can you be away? I hate a stingy honeymoon!" "You've got no things." "Do you think they'll know at home where you are?" "Where are you going afterwards?" "What do you think your father will say?" "What I want to know is, what put it into your head now, more than any other time?"
Responses to the whole of which, much at random, are incorporated in what follows: "Julius isn't wanted for three weeks." "I'm sure the Professor's on our side, really." "I left a letter to tell them, anyhow." "Calais. We shan't be sick, in weather like this. We'll cross by the night boat." "I've got a new dress to be married in, and a new umbrella—oh yes, and other things." "I'll tell you the whole story, Sally dear, as soon as I've had time to turn round." "No—not quarrelled—at least, no more than usual." "Special licence, of course."
What time Vereker, who had been to the post-office, which sold all sorts of things, to inquire if they had a packet of chemical oatmeal (the only thing his mother could digest this morning), and was coming back baffled, called in on his way to Mrs. Iggulden's. Not to see Sally, but only to take counsel with the family about chemical oatmeal. By a curious coincident, the moment he heard of Miss Sales Wilson's arrival, he used Sally's expression, and said that there was "a go!" Perhaps there was, and that accounted for it.
"Here's Dr. Conrad—he'll have to come too." Thus Sally explicitly. To which he replied, "All right. Where?" Sally replied with gravity: "To see these two married by special licence." And Julius added: "You must come, doctor, to be my bottle-holder."
A small undercurrent of thought in the doctor's mind, in which he can still accommodate passing events and the world's trivialities, begins to receive impressions of the facts of the case. The great river called Sally flows steadily on, on its own account, and makes and meddles not. It despises other folk's petty affairs. Dr. Conrad masters the position, and goes on to draw inferences.
"Then that must have been you last night, Bradshaw?"
"I dare say it was. When?"
"Walking up and down with another fellow in front here. Smoking cigars, both of you."
"Why didn't you sing out?"
"Well, now—why didn't I?" He seems a little unable to account for himself, and no wonder. "I think I recollected it was like you after you had gone."
"Don't be a brain-case, Dr. Conrad. What would your patients say if they heard you go on like that?" Sally said this, of course. Her mother thought to herself that perhaps the patients would send for a married doctor.
But her mind was taking no strong hold on the current of events, considering what a very vital human interest was afloat on them. It was wandering back to another wedding-day—her own first wedding-day of twenty years ago. As she looked at this bridegroom—all his upspring of hope making light of such fears as needs must be in like case all the world over—he brought back to her vividly, for all he was so unlike him, the face of the much younger man who had met her that day at Umballa, whose utter freedom from suspicion as he welcomed her almost made her able to forget the weeks gone by—the more so that they were like a dream in Hell, and their sequel like an awakening in Paradise. Well, at any rate, she had recaptured this man from Chaos, and he was hers again. And she had Sally. But at the word the whole world reeled and her feet were on quicksands. What and whence was Sally?
At least this was true—there was no taint of her father there! Sally wasn't an angel—not a bit of it—no such embarrassment to a merely human family. But her mother could see her truth, honour, purity—call it what you will—in every feature, every movement. As she stood there, giving injunctions to Vereker to look alive or he'd be late, her huge coil of sea-soaked black hair making her white neck look whiter, and her white hands reestablishing hair-pins in the depths of it, she seemed the very incarnation of non-inheritance. Not a trace of the sire her mother shuddered to think of in the music of her voice, in the laughter all who knew her felt in the mirth of her eyebrows and the sparkle of her pearly teeth. All her identity was her own. If only it could have been known then that she was going to be Sally!... But how fruitless all speculation was!
"Perhaps mother knows. Chemical oatmeal, mother, for invalids and persons of delicate digestion? They haven't got it at Pemberton's." The eyes and the teeth flash round on her mother, and in a twinkling the unhallowed shadow of the past is gone. It was only a moment in all, though it takes more to record it. Rosalind came back to the life of the present, but she knew nothing about chemical oatmeal. Never mind. The doctor would find out. And he would be sure to be in time.
He was in time—plenty of time, said public opinion. And the couple were duly married, and went away in Padlock's omnibus to catch the train for Dover in time for the boat. And Dr. Conrad's eyes were on the eldest bridesmaid. For, after all, two others were obtained—jury-bridesmaids they might be called—in the persons of Miss Gwendolen Arkwright and an even smaller sister, who were somehow commandeered by Sally's enterprise, and bribed with promises of refreshment. But the smaller sister was an erring sister, for having been told she was on no account to speak during the service, she was suddenly struck with the unfairness of the whole thing, and, pointing at St. Sennans' arch-priest, said very audibly that he was "peatin'," so why wasn't she to "peat"? However, it was a very good wedding, and there was no doubt the principals had really become the Julius Bradshaws. They started from Dover on a sea that looked like a mill-pond; but Tishy's husband afterwards reported that the bride sat with her eyes shut the last half of the trajet, and said, "Don't speak to me, and I shall be all right."
* * * * *
That summer night Rosalind and her daughter were looking out over the reputed mill-pond at the silver dazzle with the elves in it. The moon had come to the scratch later than last night, from a feeling of what was due to the almanac, which may (or must) account for an otherwise enigmatical remark of Sally's, who, when her mother wondered what time it was, replied: "I don't know—it's later than it was yesterday." But did that matter, when it was the sort of night you stopped out all night on, according to Sally. They came to an anchor on a seat facing the sea, and adjourned human obligation sine die.
"I wonder if they've done wisely." Rosalind represents married thoughtfulness.
Sally shelves misgivings of this sort by reflections on the common lot of humanity, and considers that it will be the same for them as every one else.
"They'll be all right," she says, with cheerful optimism. "I wonder what's become of Prosy."
"He's up there with his mother. I saw him at the window. But I didn't mean that: they'll be happy enough together, I've no doubt. I mean, has Laetitia done wisely to quarrel with her family?"
"She hasn't; it's only the she-dragon. Tishy told me all about it going to church."
* * * * *
And, oh dear, how poor Prosy, who was up there with his mother, did long to come out to the voices he could hear plain enough, even as far off as that! But then he had been so long away to-day, and he knew his excellent parent always liked to finish the tale of her own wedding-day when she began it—as she often did. So he listened again to the story of the wedding, which was celebrated in the severest thunderstorm experienced in these islands since the days of Queen Elizabeth, by a heroic clergyman who was suffering from pleuro-pneumonia, which made his voice inaudible till a miraculous chance produced one of Squilby's cough lozenges (which are not to be had now for love or money), and cured him on the spot. And how the bridesmaids all had mumps, more or less. And much concerning the amazingly dignified appearance of her own father and mother, which was proverbial, and therefore no matter of surprise to any one, the proverb being no doubt well known to Europe.
But there, it didn't matter! Sally would be there to-morrow.
HOW A FORTNIGHT PASSED, AND THE HONEYMOONERS RETURNED. OF A CHAT ON THE BEACH, AND MISS ARKWRIGHT'S SCIENTIFIC EXPERIENCE. ALMOST THE LAST, LAST, LAST—MAN'S HEAD!
Sally to-morrow—and to-morrow—and to-morrow. Sally for fourteen morrows. And the moon that had lighted the devoted young man to his fate—whatever it was to be—had waned and left the sky clear for a new one, on no account to be seen through glass.
They were morrows of inextinguishable, indescribable delight for their victims or victim—for how shall we classify Sally? Who shall tread the inner temple of a girl's mind? How shall it be known that she herself has the key to the Holy of Holies?—that she is not dwelling in the outer court, unconscious of her function of priestess, its privileges and responsibilities? Or, in plainer language, metaphors having been blowed in obedience to a probable wish of the reader's, how do we know Sally was not falling in love with the doctor? How do we know she was not in love with him already? How did she know?
All we know is that the morrows went on, each one sweeter than the last, and all the little incidents went on that were such nothings at the time, but were so sure to be borne in mind for ever! You know all about it, you who read. Like enough you can remember now, old as you are, how you and she (or he, according as your sex is) got lost in the wood, and never found where the picnic had come to an anchor till all the wings of chicken were gone and only legs left; or how there was a bull somewhere; or how next day the cat got caught on the shoulder of one of you and had to be detached, hooking horribly, by the other; or how you felt hurt (not jealous, but hurt) because she (or he) was decently civil to some new he (or she), and how relieved you were when you heard it was Mr. or Mrs. Some-name-you've-forgotten. Why, if you were to ask now, of that grey man or woman whose life was linked with yours, maybe now sixty years agone, did he or she have a drumstick, or go on to ham-sandwiches?—or, was it really a bull, after all?—or, had that cat's claws passed out of memory?—or, what was the name of that lady (or gentleman) at the So-and-so's?—if you asked any of these things, she or he might want a repeat into a deaf ear but would answer clear enough in the end, and recall the drumsticks and the equivocal bull, the cat's claws, and the unequivocal married person. And then you would turn over all the little things of old, and wrangle a bit over details here and there; and all the while you would be the very selfsame two that were young and were lost in the wood and trampled down the fern and saw the squirrels overhead all those long years ago.
Many a little thing of a like nature—perhaps some identical—made up hours that became days in that fortnight we have to skip, and then the end was drawing near; and Dr. Conrad would have to go back and write prescriptions with nothing that could possibly do any harm in them, and abstain with difficulty from telling young ladies with cultivated waists they were liars when they said you could get a loaf of bread between all round, and it was sheer nonsense. And other little enjoyments of a G.P.'s life. Yes, the end was very near. But Sally's resolute optimism thrust regrets for the coming chill aside, and decided to be jolly while we could, and acted up to its decision.
Besides, an exciting variation gave an interest to the last week of the doctor's stay at St. Sennans. The wandering honeymooners, in gratitude to that saint, proposed to pay him a visit on their way back to London. Perhaps they would stop a week. So the smallest possible accommodation worthy of the name was found for them over a brandyball and bull's-eye shop in a house that had no back rooms, being laid like a vertical plaster against the cliff behind, and having an exit on a flat roof where you might bask in the sun and see the bright red poppies growing in the chalk, and contribute your share towards a settlement of the vexed question of which are brigs. There wasn't another room to be had in the real St. Sennans, and it came to that or the hotel (which was beastly), and you might just as well be in London. Thus Sally, and settled the question.
And this is how it comes to pass that at the beginning of this chapter—which we have only just got to, after all this circumlocution!—Sally and one of the Julius Bradshaws were sitting talking on the beach in the shadow of a breakwater, while the other Julius Bradshaw (the original one) was being taken for a walk to the extremely white lighthouse three miles off, or nearly five if you went by the road, by Dr. Conrad, who by this time knew all the walks in the neighbourhood exactly as well as Sally did, neither more nor less. And both knew them very well.
The tide had come up quite as far as it had contemplated, and seemed to have made up its mind this time not to go back in too great a hurry. It was so nice there on the beach, with Tishy and Sally and Miss Gwendolen Arkwright, the late bridesmaid, who was having an independent chat all to herself about the many glories of the pier-end, and the sights to be seen there by visitors for a penny. And it—we are speaking of the tide—had got a delightful tangle of floating weed (Fucus Vesiculosus) and well-washed scraps of wood from long-forgotten wrecks—who knows?—and was turning it gently to and fro, and over and over, with intermittent musical caresses, against the shingle-bank, whose counter-music spoke to the sea of the ages it had toiled in vain to grind it down to sand. And the tide said, wait, we shall see. The day will come, it said, when not a pebble of you all but shall be scattered drifting sand, unless you have the luck to be carted up at a shilling a load by permission of the authorities, to be made into a concrete of a proper consistency according to the local by-laws. But the pebbles said, please, no; we will bide our time down here, and you shall have us for your own—play with us in the sun at the feet of these two ladies, or make the whirling shoals of us, beaten to madness, thunder back your voice when it shouts in the storm to the seaman's wife, who stops her ears in the dark night alone that she may not hear you heralding her husband's death. And the tide said very good; but a day would come when the pebbles would be sand, for all that. And even the authority would be gone, and the local by-laws. But it would sound upon some shore for ever. So it kept on saying. Probably it was mistaken.
This has nothing to do with our story except that it is approximately the substance of a statement made by Sally to Miss Arkwright, who was interested, and had been promised it all over again to-morrow. For the present she could talk about the pier and take her audience for granted.
"But was it that Kensington Gardens business that did the job?" asked Sally, in the shadow of the breakwater, getting the black hair dry after three-quarters of an hour in the sea; because caps, you know, are all nonsense as far as keeping water out goes. So Sally had to sit ever so long with it out to dry. And the very tiny pebbles you can almost see into stick to your hands, as you know, and come off in your hair when you run them through it, and have to be combed out. At least, Sally's had. But she kept on running the pebbles through her still blue fingers for all that as she half lay, half sat by Tishy on the beach.
"'Did the job!'" repeats the bride on her honeymoon with some indignation. "Sally dear, when will you learn to be more refined in your ways of speech? I'm not a precieuse, but—'did the job!' Really, Sally!..."
"Observe the effect of three weeks in France. The Julius Bradshaws can parlay like anything! No, Tishy darling, don't be a stuck-upper, but tell me again about Kensington Gardens."
"I told you. It was just like that. Julius and I were walking up the avenue—you know...."
"The one that goes up and across, and comes straight like this?" Tishy, helped by a demonstration of blue finger-tips, recognises this, strange to say.
"No, not that one. It doesn't matter. We didn't see mamma coming till she was ever so close, because of the Speke Monument in the way. And what could possess her to come home that way from Hertford Street, Mayfair, I cannot imagine!"
"Never mind, Tishy dear! It's no use crying over spilled milk. What did she say?"
"Nothing, dear. She turned purple, and bowed civilly. To Julius, of course. But it included me, whether or no."
"But was that what did the job?... We-ell, I do not see anything to object to in that expression. Was it?"
"If you mean, dear, was it that that made us, me and Julius, feel that matters would get no better by waiting, I think perhaps it was.... Well, when it comes to meeting one's mother in Kensington Gardens, near the Speke Monument, and being bowed civilly to, it seems to me it's high time.... Now, isn't it, Sally?"
Sally evaded giving testimony by raising other questions: "What did your father say?" "Did the Dragon tell him about the meeting in the park?" "What do you think he'll say now?"
"Now? Well, you know, I've got his letter. He's all right—and rather dear, I think. What do you think, Sally?"
"I think very."
"Perhaps I should say very. But with papa you never know. He really does love us all, after a fashion, except Egerton, only I'm never sure he doesn't do it to contradict mamma."
"Why don't they chuck each other and have done with it?" The vulgar child lets fly straight into the bull's-eye; then adds thoughtfully: "I should, only, then, I'm not a married couple."
Tishy elided the absurd figure of speech and ignored it. The chance of patronising was not to be lost.
"You are not married, dear. When you are, you may feel things differently. But, of course, papa and mamma are very odd. I used to hear them through my door between the rooms at L.B.G. Road. It was wrangle, wrangle, wrangle; fight, fight, fight; all through the night—till two o'clock sometimes. Oh dear!"
"You're sure they always were quarrelling?"
"Oh dear, yes. I used to catch all the regular words—settlement and principal and prevaricate. All that sort of thing, you know. But there they are, and there they'll be ten years hence, that's my belief, living together, sleeping together, and dining at opposite ends of the same table, and never communicating in the daytime except through me or Theeny, but quarrelling like cat and dog."
"What shall you do when you go back? Go straight there?"
"I think so. Julius thinks so. After all, papa's the master of the house—legally, at any rate."
"Shall you write and say you're coming?"
"Oh, no! Just go and take our chance. We shan't be any nearer if we give mamma an opportunity of miffing away somewhere when we come. What is that little maid talking about there?" The ex-bridesmaid is three or four yards away, and is discoursing eloquently, a word in the above conversation having reminded her of a tragic event she has mentioned before in this story. "I seeps with my bid sister Totey's dolly," is what she appears to be saying.
"Never mind the little poppet, Tishy, till you've told me more about it." Sally is full of curiosity. "Did that do the job or did it not? That's what I want to know."
"I suppose it did, dear, indirectly. That was on Saturday afternoon. Next morning we breakfasted under a thundercloud with Egerton grinning inside his skin, and looking like 'Won't you catch it, that's all!' at me out of the corner of his eye. That was bad enough, without one's married sister up from the country taking one aside to say that she wasn't going to interfere, and calling one to witness that she had said nothing so far. All she said was, 'Me and mamma settle it between us.' 'Settle what?' said I; and she didn't answer, and went away to the first celebration."
"She's not bad, your married sister," Sally decided thoughtfully.
"Oh no, Clarissa's not bad. Only she wants to run with the hare and explain to the hounds when they come up.... What happened next? Why, as I went upstairs past papa's room, out comes mamma scarlet with anger, and restraining herself in the most offensive way for me to go past. I took no notice, and when she was gone I went down and walked straight into the library. I said, 'What is it, papa?' I saw he was chuckling internally, as if he'd made a hit."
"Wasn't he angry? What did he say?"
"Oh no, he wasn't angry. Let's see ... oh!... what he said was, 'That depends so entirely on what it is, my dear. But, broadly speaking, I should say it was your mother.' 'What has she been saying to you?' I asked. And he answered, 'I can only give her exact words without pledging myself to their meaning. She stated that she "supposed I was going to tell my daughter I approved of her walking about Kensington Gardens with that man's arm around her waist." I replied—reasonably, as it seems to me—that I supposed that man was there himself. Otherwise, it certainly did seem to me a most objectionable arrangement, and I hope you'll promise your mother not to do it again.'"
"What on earth did he mean?"
"You don't understand papa. He quibbles to irritate mamma. He meant like a waistband—separate—don't you see?"
"I see. But it wouldn't bend right." Sally's truthful nature postpones laughing at the Professor's absurdity; looks at the case on its merits. When she has done justice to this point, she laughs and adds: "What did you say, Tishy?"
"Oh, I said what nonsense, and it wasn't tight round like all that; only a symptom. And we didn't even know mamma was there because of Speke and Grant's obelisk. There wasn't a soul! Papa saw it quite as I did, and was most reasonable. So I thought I would feel my way to developing an idea we had been broaching, Julius and I, just that very time by the obelisk. I asked papa flatly what he would do if I married Julius straight off. 'I believe, my dear,' said he, 'that I should be bound to disapprove most highly of your conduct and his.' 'But should you, papa?' I said. 'I should be bound to, my dear,' said he. 'But should you turn us out of the house?' I asked. 'Most certainly not,' said he emphatically. 'But I should disapprove.' I said I should be awfully sorry for that. 'Of course you would,' said he. 'Any dutiful daughter would. But I don't exactly see what harm it would do you.' And you see how his letter begins—that he is bound, as a parent, to feel the strongest disapprobation, and so on. No, I don't think we need be frightened of papa. As for mamma, of course it wouldn't be reasonable to expect her to...."
"To expect her to what?"
"Well, I was going to say keep her hair on. The expression is Egerton's, and I'm sorry to say his expressions are not always ladylike, however telling they are! So I hesitated. Now what is that baby talking about down there?"
For through the whole of Tishy's interesting tale that baby had been dwelling on the shocking occurrence of her sister's doll as before recorded. Her powers of narrative—giving a dramatic form to all things, and stimulated by Sally's statements of what the beach said to the sea, and the sea said back—had, it seemed, attracted shoals of fish from the ocean depths to hear her recital of the tragedy.
"Suppose, now, you come and tell it us up here, Gwenny," says the bride to the bridesmaid. And Sally adds: "Yes, delicious little Miss Arkwright, come and tell us all about it too." Whereupon Miss Arkwright's musical tones are suddenly silent, and her eyes, that are so nearly the colour of the sea behind her, remain fixed on her two petitioners, their owner not seeming quite sure whether she shall acquiesce, or coquette, or possibly even burst into tears. She decides, however, on compliance, coming suddenly up the beach on all fours, and exclaiming, "Tate me!" flings herself bodily on Sally, who welcomes her with, "You sweet little darling!" while Mrs. Julius Bradshaw, anticipating requisition, looks in her bag for another chocolate. They will spoil that child between them.
"Now tell us about the fisses and dolly," says Sally. But the narrator, all the artist rising in her soul, will have everything in order.
"I told ze fisses," she says, reproach in her voice.
"I see, ducky. You told the fishes, and now you'll tell us all about dolly."
"I seeps wiv dolly, because my bid sister Totey said 'Yes.' Dolly seeps in her fings. I seep in my nightgown. Kean from the wass——"
"How nice you must be! Well, then, what next?" Sally may be said to imbibe the narrator at intervals. Tishy calls her a selfish girl. "You've got her all to yourself," she says. The story goes on:
"I seep vethy thound. Papa seeps vethy thound. Dolly got between the theets and the blangticks, and came out. It was a dood dob. Dane said it was—a dood dob!"
"What did Jane say was a good job? Poor dolly coming out?" A long, grave headshake denies this. The constructive difficulties of the tale are beyond the young narrator's skill. She has to resort to ellipsis.
"Or I sood have been all over brang and sawduss. Dane said so."
"Don't you see, Sally," says Tishy, "dolly was in another compartment—the other side of the sheet." But Sally says, of course, she understands, perhaps even suspects Tishy of claiming more acquaintance with children than herself because she has been married three weeks. This isn't fair patronising.
"Dolly came out at ve stisses"—so the sad tale goes on—"and tyed, dolly did. Dane put her head on to ty wiv my pocket-hanshtiff!"
"I see, you little ducky, of course her head had come off, and she couldn't cry till it was put on, was that it? Don't dance, but say yes or no." This referred to a seated triumphal dance the chronicler indulged in at having put so much safely on record. Having subsided, she decided on zass as the proper thing to say, but it took time. Then she added suddenly: "But I told ze fisses." Sally took a good long draught, and said: "Of course you did, darling. You shan't be done out of that!" But an addendum or appendix was forthcoming.
"My mummar says I must tate dolly to be socked for a penny where the man is wiv buttons—and the man let Totey look froo his pyglass, and see all ve long sips, sits miles long—and I shall see when I'm a glowed-up little girl, like Totey."
"Coastguard's telescope, evidently," says Sally. "The man up at the flagstaff. Six miles long is how far off they were, not the length of the ships at all."
"I saw that. But what on earth were the socks? Does his wife sell doll's clothes?"
"We must try to find that out." And Sally sets herself to the task. But it's none so easy. Some mystery shrouds the approach to this passage in dolly's future life. It is connected with "kymin up," and "tandin' on a tep," and when it began it went wizzy, wizzy, wizz, and e-e-e-e, and never stopped. But Gwendolen had not been alarmed whatever it was, because her "puppar" was there. But it was exhausting to the intellect to tell of, for the description ended with a musical, if vacuous, laugh, and a plunge into Sally's bosom, where the narrator remained chuckling, but quite welcome.
"So Gwenny wasn't pitened! What a courageous little poppet! I wonder what on earth it was, Sally."
Thus Tishy, at a loss. But Sally is sharper, for in a moment the solution dawns upon her.
"What a couple of fools we are, Tishy dear! It wasn't socks—it was shocks. It was the galvanic battery at the end of the pier. A penny a time, and you mustn't have it on full up, or you howl. Why on earth didn't we think of that before?"
But Nurse Jane comes in on the top of the laughter that follows, which Miss Gwendolen is joining in, rather claiming it as a triumph for her own dramatic power. She demurs to removal, but goes in the end on condition that all present shall come and see dolly galvanised at an early date. Jane agrees to replace dolly's vitals and sew her up to qualify her for this experience. And so they depart.
"What a dear little mite!" says Mrs. Julius; and then they let the mite lapse, and go back to the previous question.
"No, Sally dear, mamma will be mamma to the end of the time. But I didn't tell you all papa said, did I?"
"How on earth can I tell, Tishy dear? You had got to 'any dutiful daughter would,' etcetera. Cut along! Comes of being in love, I suppose." This last is a reflection on the low state of Tishy's reasoning powers.
"Well, just after that, when I was going to kiss him and go, papa stopped me, and said he had something to say, only he mustn't be too long because he had to finish a paper on, I think, 'Some Technical Terms in use in Cnidos in the Sixth Century, B.C.' Or was it...?"
"That was it. That one'll do beautifully. Go ahead!"
"Well—of course it doesn't matter. It was like papa, anyhow.... Oh, yes—what he said then! It was about Aunt Priscilla's thousand pounds. He wanted to repeat that the interest would be paid to me half-yearly if by chance I married Julius or any other man without his consent. 'I wish it to be distinctly understood that if you marry Bradshaw it will be against my consent. But I only ask you to promise me this, Laetitia, that you won't marry any other man against my consent at present.' I promised, and he said I was a dutiful daughter. There won't be any trouble with papa."
"Don't look like it! I say, Tishy, that thousand pounds is very nice. How much will you have? Forty pounds a year?"
"It's more than that. It's gone up, somehow—sums of money do—or down. They're never the same as at first. I'm so glad about it. It's not as if I brought Julius absolutely nothing."
"How much is it?" Sally is under the impression that sums of money that exist on the word of signed documents only, and whose materialisation can only be witnessed by bankers, are like fourpence, one of whose properties is that it is fourpence. They are not analogous, and Laetitia is being initiated into the higher knowledge.
"Well, dear, you see the stock has gone up, and it's at six three-quarters. You must ask Julius. He can do the arithmetic."
"Does that mean it's sixty-seven pounds ten?"
"You'd better ask Julius. Then, you know, there's the interest." Sally asked what interest. "Why, you see, Aunt Priscilla left it to me eleven years ago, so there's more." But a vendor of mauve and magenta woollen goods, known to Sally as "the beach-woman," was working up towards them.
"That woman never goes when she comes," said Sally. "Let's get up and go!"
* * * * *
We like lingering over this pleasant little time. It helps on but little, if at all, with our story. But in years to come this young couple, who only slip into it by a side-chance, having really little more to do with it than any of the thousand and one collaterals that interest the lives of all of us, and come and go and are forgotten—this Julius and Laetitia will talk of the pleasant three days or so they had at St. Sennans when they came back from France. And we, too, having choice of how much we shall tell of those three or four days, are in little haste to leave them. Those hours of unblushing idleness under a glorious sun—idleness fostered and encouraged until it seems one great exertion to call a fly, and another to subside into it—idleness on matchless moonlight nights, on land or on water—idleness with an affectation of astronomical study, just up to speculating on the identity of Aldebaran or Arcturus, but scarcely equal to metaphysics—idleness that lends itself readily to turning tables and automatic writing, and gets some convincing phenomena, and finds out that so-and-so is an extraordinary medium—idleness that says that letter will do just as well to-morrow, and Smith must wait—such hours as these disintegrate the moral fibre and anaesthetize our sense of responsibility, and make us so oblivious of musical criticism that we accept brass bands and inexplicable serenaders, white or black, and even accordions and hurdy-gurdies, as intrinsic features of the ensemble—the fengshui of the time and place—and give them a penny if we've got one.