That is and will be Mr. and Mrs. Julius Bradshaw's memory of those three days or so, when they have grown quite old together, as we hope they may. And if you add memory of an intoxicated delirium of love—of love that was on no account to be shown or declared or even hinted at—and of a tiresome hitch or qualification, an unselfish parent in full blow, you will have the record that is to remain in the mind of Conrad Vereker.
HOW SALLY DIDN'T CONFESS ABOUT THE DOCTOR, AND JEREMIAH CAME TO ST. SENNANS ONCE MORE
That evening Sally sat with her mother on the very uncomfortable seat they affected on what was known as the Parade, a stone's throw from the house for a good stone-thrower. It had a little platform of pebbles to stand on, and tamarisks to tickle you from behind when the wind was northerly. It was a corrugated and painful seat, and had a strange power of finding out your tender vertebrae and pulverising them, whatever your stature might be. It fell forward when its occupants, goaded to madness, bore too hard on its front bar, and convinced them they would do well, henceforward, to hold it artificially in its place. But Rosalind and her daughter forgave it all these defects—perhaps because they were really too lazy to protest even against torture. It was the sea air. Anyhow, there they sat that evening, waiting for Padlock's omnibus to come, bringing Fenwick from the station. Just at the moment at which the story overtakes them, Rosalind was looking wonderfully handsome in the sunset light, and Sally was thinking to herself what a beautiful mother she had; and how, when the after-glow dies, it will leave its memory in the red gold that is somewhere in the rich brown her eyes are resting on. Sally was fond of dwelling on her mother's beauty. Perhaps doing so satisfied her personal vanity by deputy. She was content with her own self, but had no admiration for it.
"You are a dear good mammy. Fancy your losing all the best time of the morning indoors!"
"How the best time of the morning, chick?"
"Sitting with that old cat upstairs.... Well, I can't help it. She is an old cat."
"You're a perverse little monkey, kitten; that's what you are!" Rosalind laughed with an excuse—or caress, it may be—in her laugh. "No," she continued, "we are much too hard on that old lady, both of us. Do you know, to-day she was quite entertaining—told me all about her own wedding-day, and how all the bridesmaids had the mumps."
"Has she never told you that before?"
"Only once. Then she told me about the late-lamented, and what a respect he had for her judgment, and how he referred to her at every crisis. I didn't think her at all bad company."
"Because you're a darling. I suppose you had it all about how Prosy, when he was a boy, wanted to study music, and how his pa said that the turning-point in the career of youth lay in the choice of a profession."
"Oh yes! And how his strong musical turn came from her side of the family. In herself it was dormant. But her Aunt Sophia had never once put her finger on a false note of the piano. This was confirmed by the authority of her eminent uncle, Dr. Everett Gayler, himself no mean musician."
"Poor Prosy! I know."
"And how musical faculty—amounting to genius—often remained absolutely unsuspected owing to its professor having no inheritance. But it would come out in the children. Then, and not till then, tardy justice was done.... Well, I don't know exactly how she worked it out, but she managed to suggest that she was Handel and Mozart in abeyance. Her son's fair complexion clinched matters. It was the true prototype of her own. A thoroughly musical complexion, bespeaking German ancestry."
"Isn't that the omnibus?" says Sally. But, no, it isn't. She continues: "I don't believe in musical complexions. Look at Julius Bradshaw—dark, with high cheek-bones, and a thin olive hand with blue veins in it. I say, mother...."
"He's changed his identity—Julius Bradshaw has. I can't believe he was that spooney boy that used to come hankering after me at church." And the amusement this memory makes hangs about Sally's lips as the two sit on into a pause of silence.
The face of the mother does not catch the amusement, but remains grave and thoughtful. She does not speak; but the handsome eyes that rest so lovingly on the speaker are full of something from the past—some record that it would be an utter bewilderment to Sally to read—a bewilderment far beyond that crux of the moment which maybe has struck her young mind for the first time—the old familiar puzzle of the change that comes to all of us in our transition from first to last experience of the strange phenomenon we call a friend. Sally can't make it out—the way a silly lad, love-struck about her indifferent self so short a while back, has become a totally altered person, the husband of her schoolmate, an actual identity of life and thought and feeling; he who was in those early days little more than a suit of clothes and a new prayer-book.
But if that is so strange to Sally, how measurelessly stranger is she herself to her mother beside her! And the man they are waiting and watching for, who is somewhere between this and St. Egbert's station in Padlock's venerable 'bus, what a crux is he, compared now to that intoxicated young lover of two-and-twenty years ago, in that lawn-tennis garden that has passed so utterly from his memory! And a moment's doubt, "But—has it?" is caught and absorbed by what seemed to Rosalind now an almost absurd fact—that, a week before, he had been nothing but a fidus Achates of that other young man provided to make up the lawn-tennis set, and that it was that other young man at first, not he, that belonged to her. And he had changed away so easily to—who was it? Jessie Nairn, to be sure—and left the coast clear for his friend. Whatever now was his name? Oh dear, what a fool was Rosalind! said she to herself, to have half let slip that it was he that was Fenwick, and not Gerry at all. All this compares itself with Sally's experience of Bradshaw's metamorphosis, and her own seems the stranger.
Then a moment of sharp pain that she cannot talk to Sally of these things, but must lead a secret life in her own silent heart. And then she comes back into the living world, and finds Sally well on with the development of another topic.
"Of course, poor dears! They've not played a note together since the row. It's been nothing but Kensington Gardens or the Albert Hall. But I'm afraid he's no better. If only he could be, it would make all the difference."
"What's that, darling? Who could be...? Not your father?" For, as often as not, Rosalind would speak of her husband as Sally's father.
"Not Jeremiah—no. I was talking about Julius B. and his nervous system. Wouldn't it?"
"Wouldn't it what?"
"Make all the difference? I mean that he could get his violin-playing back. I told you about that letter?"
"From an agent in Paris. Rateau, I think, was the name. Had heard Signor Carissimi had recovered his health completely, and was playing. Hoped he might be honoured with his instructions to make his arrangements in Paris, as he had done so four years ago. Wasn't it aggravating?"
"Does it make any difference?"
"Why, of course it does, mother darling. The aggravation! Just think now! Suppose he could rely on ten pounds a night, fancy that!"
"Suppose he could!... Yes, that would be nice." But there is a preoccupation in her tone, and Sally wants sympathy to be drawn with a vigorous outline.
"What's my maternal parent thinking about, as grave as a judge? Jeremiah's all right, mammy darling! He's not killed in a railway accident. Catch him!" This is part of a systematized relationship between the two. Each always discredits the possibility of mishap to the other. It might be described as chronic reciprocal Christian Science.
"I wasn't thinking of Gerry." Which is true in a sense, as she does not think of the Gerry her daughter knows. And the partial untruth does not cross her mind—a tacit recognition of the powers of change. "I was wool-gathering."
"No—what was she thinking of?" For some reason the third person is thought more persuasive than the second.
"Thinking of her kitten." And this is true enough, as Rosalind is really always thinking of Sally, more or less.
"We-ell, I'm all right. What's the matter with me?"
"Nothing at all that I know of, darling." But it does cross the speaker's mind that the context of circumstances might make this an opportunity for getting at some information she wants. For Sally has remained perfectly inscrutable about Conrad Vereker, and Rosalind has been asking herself whether it is possible that, after all, there is nothing. She doesn't know how to set about it, though. Perhaps the best thing would be to take a leaf out of Sally's own book, and go straight to the bull's-eye.
"Do you really want to know what I was thinking of, Sallykin?" But no sooner has she formulated the intention of asking a question, and allowed the intention to creep into her voice than Sally knows all about it.
"As if I don't know already. You mean me and Prosy."
"Of course. But how did you know?"
"Mammy dear! As if I was born yesterday! If you want people not to know things, you mustn't have delicate inflexions of voice. I knew you were going to catechize about Prosy the minute you got to 'did I really want to know.'"
"But I'm not going to catechize, chick. Only when you ask me what I'm thinking about, and really want to know, I tell you. I was thinking about you and Conrad Vereker." For some mysterious reason this mention of his name in full seems to mature the conversation, and make clearer definition necessary.
Our own private opinion is that any one who closely observes human communion will see that two-thirds of it runs on lines like the foregoing. Very rarely indeed does a human creature say what it means. Exhaustive definition, lucid statements, concise terminology—even plain English—are foreign to its nature. The congenial soil in which the fruit of Intelligence ripens is Suggestion, and the wireless telegraphs of the mind are the means by which it rejoices to communicate. Don't try to say what you mean—because you can't. You are not clever enough. Try to mean what you want to say, and leave the dictionary to take care of itself.
This little bit of philosophizing of ours has just given Sally time, pondering gravely with the eyebrows all at rest and lips at ease, to deal with the developed position created by the mere substitution of a name for a nickname.
"Ought there to be ... anything to think about?" Thus Sally; and her mother sees, or thinks she sees, a little new colour in the girl's cheeks. Or is it only the sunset? Then Rosalind says to herself that perhaps she has made a mistake, had better have left it alone. Perhaps. But it's done now. She is not one that goes back on her resolutions. It is best not to be too tugging and solemn over it. She speaks with a laugh.
"It's not my little daughter I'm afraid of, Sallykin. She's got the key of the position. It's that dear good boy."
"He's not a boy. He's thirty-one next February. Only he's not got a birthday, because it's not leap-year. Going by birthdays he's not quite half-past seven."
"Then it won't do to go by birthdays. Even at thirty-one, though, some boys are not old enough to know better. He's very inexperienced in some things."
"A babe unborn—only he can write prescriptions. Only they don't do you any good. ("Ungrateful child!"... "Well, they don't.") You see, he hasn't any one to go to to ask about things except me. Of course I can tell him, if you come to that!"
"There's his mother."
"His mother! That old dianthus! Oh, mammy darling, what different sorts of mothers do crop up when you think of it!" And Sally is so moved by this scientific marvel that she suddenly kisses her mother, there out on the public parade with a gentleman in check trousers and an eye-glass coming along!
"Why do you call the old lady a dianthus, chick? Really, the way you treat that poor old body!..."
"Not when Prosy's there. I know my place.... We-ell, you know what a dianthus's figure is like? When the tentacles are in, I mean."
But Rosalind tacitly condemns the analogy. Is she not herself a mother, and bound to take part with her kind, however obese? "What were you and the doctor talking about in the boat all that long time yesterday?" she asks, skipping an interval which might easily have contained a review of Mrs. Vereker inside-out like a sea-anemone. Sally is quite equal to it.
"Resuscitation after drowning. Prosy says death is really due to carbonic acid poisoning. Anybody would think it was choking, but it's nothing of the sort. The arterial blood is insufficiently fed with oxygen, and death ensues."
"How long did you talk about that?"
"Ever so long. Till I asked him what he should do if a visitor were drowned and couldn't be brought to. Not at the hotel; down here. Me, for instance."
"What did he say?"
"He was jolly solemn over it, Prosy was. Said he should try his best, and as soon as he was sure it was no go, put an end to his own existence. I said that would be wrong, and besides, he couldn't do it. He said, oh yes, he could—he could inject air into a vein, and lots of things. He went on a physiological tack, so I quoted Hamlet."
"What did he make of Hamlet?"
"Said the researches of modern science all tended to prove that extinction awaited us at death, and he would take his chance. He was quite serious over it."
"And then you said?..."
"I said, suppose it turned out that modern science was tommy-rot, wouldn't he feel like a fool when all was said and done? He admitted that he might, in that case. But he would take his chance, he said. And then we had a long argument, Prosy and I."
"Has he ever resuscitated a drowned person?"
"Oh yes, two or three. But he says he should like a little more practice, as it's a very interesting subject."
"You really are the most ridiculous little kitten there ever was! Talking like the President of the Royal College of Surgeons! Not a smile."
"We-ell, there's nothing in that." Slightly offended dignity on Miss Sally's part. "I say, the 'bus is very late; it's striking seven."
But just as St. Sennan ceases, and leaves the air clear for listening, Rosalind exclaims, "Isn't that it?" And this time it is it, and by ten minutes past seven Fenwick is in the arms of his family, who congratulate him on a beautiful new suit of navy-blue serge, in which he looks very handsome.
* * * * *
Often now when she looks back to those days can Rosalind see before her the grave young face in the sundown, and hear the tale of Dr. Conrad's materialism. And then she sees once more over the smooth purple sea of the day before the little boat sculled by Vereker, with Sally in the stern steering. And the white sails of the Grace Darling of St. Sennans, that had taken a large party out at sixpence each person three hours ago, and couldn't get back by herself for want of wind, and had to be towed by a row-boat, whose oars sounded rhythmically across the mile of intervening water. She was doing nothing to help, was Grace, but her sails flopped a little now and again, just enough to show how glad she would have been to do so with a little encouragement. Rosalind can see it all again quite plain, and the little white creamy cloud that had taken pity on the doctor sculling in the boat, and made a cool island of shadow, coloured imperial purple on the sea, for him and Sally to float in, and talk of how some unknown person, fool enough to get drowned, should one day be recalled from the gate of Death.
HOW SALLY DIVED OFF THE BOAT, AND SHOCKED THE BEACH. OF THE SENSITIVE DELICACY OF THE OCTOPUS. AND OF DR. EVERETT GAYLER'S OPINIONS
Fenwick had been granted, or had appropriated, another week's holiday, and the wine-trade was to lose some of his valuable services during that time. Not all, because in these days you can do so much by telegraph. Consequently the chimney-piece with the rabbits made of shells on each side, and the model of the Dreadnought—with real planks and a companion-ladder that went too far down, and almost serviceable brass carronades ready for action—and a sampler by Mercy Lobjoit (1763), showing David much too small for the stitches he was composed of, and even Goliath not big enough to have two lips—this chimney-piece soon become a magazine of yellow telegrams, which blew away when the window and door were open at the same time.
It was on the second of Fenwick's days on this visit that an unusual storm of telegrams, as he came in to breakfast after an early dip in the sea, confirmed the statement in the paper of the evening before that W. and S.W. breezes might be expected later. "Wind freshening," was the phrase in which the forecast threw doubts on the permanency of its recent references to a smooth Channel-passage. However, faith had already been undermined by current testimony to light easterly winds backing north, on the coast of Ireland. Sally was denouncing meteorology as imposture when the returning bather produced the effect recorded. It interrupted a question on his lips as he entered, and postponed it until the telegram papers had all been reinstated and the window closed, so that Mrs. Lobjoit might come in with the hot rolls and eggs and not have anything blown away. Then peace reigned and the question got asked.
"What are we going to do to-day?" said Sally, repeating it. "I know what I'm going to do first. I'm going to swim round the buoy."
"My dear, they'll never put the machines down to-day." This was her mother.
"They'll do it fast enough, if I tell 'em to. It's half the fun, having it a little rough."
"Well, kitten, I suppose you'll go your own way; only I shall be very glad when you're back in your machine. Coffee, Gerry?"
"Yes, coffee—in the big cup with the chip, and lots of milk. You're a dangerous young monkey, Sarah; and I shall get old Benjamin's boat, and hang about. And then you'll be happy, Rosey, eh?"
"No, I shan't! We shall have you getting capsized, too. (I put in three lumps of sugar.... No, not little ones—big ones!) What a thing it is to be connected with aquatic characters!"
"Never you mind the mother, Jeremiah. You get the boat. I should like it to dive off."
"All right, I'll get Vereker, and we'll row out. The doctor's not bad as an oarsman. Bradshaw doesn't make much of it. (Yes, thanks; another egg. The brown one preferred; don't know why!) Yes, I'll get Dr. Conrad, and you shall come and dive off."
All which was duly done, and Sally got into great disgrace by scrambling up into the boat with the help of a looped rope hung over the side, and was thereafter known to more than one decorous family group frequenting the beach as that bold Miss Nightingale. But what did Sally care what those stuffy people thought about her, with such a set-off against their bad opinion as the glorious plunge down into the depths, and the rushing sea-murmur in her ears, the only sound in the strange green silence; and then the sudden magic of the change back to the dazzling sun on the moving foam, and some human voice that was speaking when she dived only just ending off? Surely, after so long a plunge down, down, that voice should have passed on to some new topic.
For that black and shining merpussy, during one deep dive into the under-world of trackless waters, had had time to recollect an appointment with a friend, and had settled in her mind that, as soon as she was once more in upper air, she would mention it to the crew of the boat she had dived from. She was long enough under for that. Then up she came into the rise and fall and ripple overhead like a sudden Loreley, and as soon as she could see where the boat had got to, and was free of a long stem of floating weed she had caught up in the foam, she found her voice. And in it, as it rang out in the morning air, was a world of youth and life and hope from which care was an outcast, flung to the winds and the waves.
"I say, Jeremiah, we've got to meet a friend of yours on the pier this afternoon."
"Time for you to come out of that water, Sarah." This name had become nearly invariable on Fenwick's part. "Who's your friend?"
"A young lady for you! She's going to bring her dolly to be electrified for a penny. She'll cry if we don't go; so will dolly."
"Then we must go, clearly. The doctor must come to see fair, or dolly may get electrocuted, like me." Fenwick very rarely spoke of his accident now; most likely would not have done so this time but for a motive akin to his wife's nettle-grasping. He knew Sally would think of it, and would not have her suppose he shirked speaking of it.
But the laugh goes for a moment out of the face down there in the water, and the pearls that glittered in the sun have vanished and the eyes are grave beneath their brows. Only for a moment; then all the Loreley is back in evidence again, and Sally is petitioning for only one more plunge, and then she really will swim in. The crew protests, but the Loreley has her way; her sort generally has.
"I always wonder," says Dr. Conrad, as they row to shore with studied slowness—one must, to keep down to the pace of the swiftest swimmer—"I always wonder whether they found that half-crown." Probably he, too, only says this to accentuate the not-necessarily-to-be-avoided character of the subject.
The reason Fenwick answered nothing, but remained thoughtfully silent, was, as Dr. Vereker perceived after he had spoken, that the half-crown was mere hearsay to him, and, as such, naturally enforced speculation on the strange "B.C." period of which he knew nothing. Time did but little to minimise the painful character of such speculations, although it seemed to make them less and less frequent. Vereker said no more, partly because he felt this, partly because he was so engrossed with the Loreley. He dropped the half-crown.
"You needn't row away yet," said the voice from the water. "The machines are miles off. Look here, I'm going to swim under the boat and come up on the other side!"
Said Fenwick: "You'll be drowned, Sarah, before you've done! Do consider your mother a little!"
Said the Loreley: "All right! good-bye!" and disappeared. She was so long under that it was quite a relief when she reappeared, well off the boat's counter; for, of course, there was some way on the boat, and Sally made none. The crew's eyes had been watching the wrong water over the beam.
"Didn't I do that nicely?... 'Beautifully?' Yes, I should rather think I did! Good-bye; I must go to my machine! They won't leave it down any longer."
Off went the swimmer in the highest spirits, and landed with some difficulty, so much had the south-west wind freshened; and the machine started up the beach at a brisk canter to rejoin its many unused companions on their higher level.
* * * * *
Dr. Conrad, with the exhilaration of the Loreley in his heart, was to meet with a damper administered to him by his affectionate parent, who had improved immensely in the sea air, and was getting quite an appetite.
"There is nothing, my dear, that I detest more cordially than interference," said she, after accepting, rather more easily than usual, her son's apologies for coming in late to lunch, and also being distinctly gracious to Mrs. Iggulden about the beefsteak-pudding. "Your father disapproved of it, and the whole of my family. The words 'never meddle' were on their lips from morning till night. Is it wonderful that I abstain from speaking, as I so often do? Whatever I see, I am silent." And accordingly was for a few illustrative seconds.
But her son, conceiving that the pause was one very common in cases of incipient beefsteak-pudding, and really due to kidneys, made an autopsy of the centre of Mrs. Iggulden's masterpiece; but when he had differentiated its contents and insulated kidneys beyond a doubt, he stood exposed and reproved by the tone in which his mother resumed:
"Not for me; I have oceans. I shall never eat what I have, and it is so wasteful!... No, my dear. You ask, 'What is it, then?' But I was going to tell you when you interrupted me." Here a pause for the Universe to settle down to attention. "There is always so much disturbance; but my meaning is plain. When I was a girl young women were different.... I dare say it is all right. I do not wish to lay myself open to ridicule for my old-fashioned opinions.... What is it? I came back early, certainly, because I found the sun so tiring; but surely, my dear, you cannot have failed to see that our front window commands a full view of the bathing-machines. But I am silent.... Mrs. Iggulden does not understand making mustard. Hers runs."
Dr. Conrad was not interested in the mustard. He was about the cryptic attack on Sally's swimming and diving, which he felt to have been dexterously conveyed in his parent's speech with scarcely a word really to the point. There was no lack of skill in the Goody's method. He flushed slightly, and made no immediate reply—even to a superhumanly meek, "I know I shall be told I am wrong"—until after he had complied with a requisition for a very little more—so small a quantity as to seem somehow to reduce the lady's previous total morally, though it added to it physically—and then he spoke, taking the indictment for granted:
"I can't see what you find fault with. Not Miss Sally's bathing-costume; nobody could!" Which was truth itself, for nothing more elegant could have been found in the annals of bathing. "And if she has a boat to dive off, somebody must row it. Besides, her mother would object if...." But the doctor is impatient and annoyed—a rare thing with him. He treats his beefsteak-pudding coldly, causing his mother to say: "Then you can ring the bell."
However, she did not intend her text to be spoiled by irruptions of Mrs. Iggulden, so she waited until the frequent rice-pudding had elapsed, and then resumed at an advantage:
"You were very snappish and peevish with me just now, Conrad, without waiting to hear what I had to say. But I overlook it. I am your mother. If you had waited, I should have told you that I have no fault whatever to find with Miss Nightingale's bathing-dress. It is, no doubt, strictly en regle. Nor can I say, in these days, what I think of girls practising exercises that in my day were thought unwomanly. All is changed now, and I am old-fashioned. But this I do say, that had your father, or your great-uncle, Dr. Everett Gayler, been told forty years ago that a time would come when it would be thought no disgrace for an English girl to jump off a boat with an unmarried man in it.... My dear, I am sure the latter would have made one of those acrid and biting remarks for which he was celebrated in his own circle, and which have even, I believe, been repeated by Royalty. That is the only thing I have to say. I say nothing of girls learning to swim and dive. I say nothing of their bicycling. Possibly the young lady who passed the window this morning with a gentleman on the same bicycle was properly engaged to him; or his sister. Even about the practice of Sandow, or Japanese wrestling, I have nothing to say. But if they are to dive off boats in the open sea, in the face of all the beach, at least let the boats be rowed by married men. That is all I ask. It is very little."
What fools mothers sometimes are about their sons! They contrive that these sons shall pass through youth to early manhood without a suspicion that even mothers have human weaknesses. Then, all in a moment, just when love has ridden triumphant into the citadel of the boys' souls, they will sacrifice all—all they have won in a lifetime—to indulge some petty spleen against the new regime that threatens their dethronement. And there is no surer way of undermining a son's loyalty than to suggest a want of delicate feeling in the new Queen—nothing that can make him question the past so effectually as to force him to hold his nostrils in a smell of propriety, puffed into what seems to him a gale from heaven.
The contrast between the recent merpussy in the freshening seas, and this, as it seemed to him, perfectly gratuitous intrusion of moral carbolic acid, gave Dr. Conrad a sense of nausea, which his love for his mother enjoined ignorance of. His mind cast about, not for ways of excusing Sally—the idea!—but of whitewashing his mother, without seeming to suggest that her own mind had anything Fescennine about it. This is always the great difficulty skywardness has in dealing with the moral scavenger. Are not the motives of purity unimpeachable?
Goody Vereker, however, did not suspect herself of being a fool. On the contrary, she felt highly satisfied with her speech, and may be said to have hugged its peroration. Her son flushed slightly and bit his lip, giving the old lady time for a corollary in a subdued and chastened voice.
"Had I been asked—had you consulted me, my dear—I should certainly have advised that Mr. Fenwick should have been accompanied by another married man, certainly not by a young, single gentleman. The man himself—I am referring to the owner of the boat—would have done quite well, whether married or single. Boatmen are seldom unmarried, though frequently tattooed with ladies' names when they have been in the navy. You see something to laugh at, Conrad? In your mother! But I am used to it." The doctor's smile was in memory of two sun-browned arms that had pushed the boat off two hours ago. One had Elinor and Kate on it, the other Bessie and a Union Jack.
"Don't you think, mother dear," said the doctor at last, "that if Mrs. Fenwick, who knew all about it, had seen anything outrageous she would have spoken? She really only seemed anxious none of us should get drowned."
"Very likely, my dear; she would be. You will, I am sure, do me this justice, that I have throughout said, from the very beginning, that Mrs. Fenwick is a most excellent person, though I have sometimes found her tiring."
"I am sorry she has tired you. You must always tell her, you know, when you're tired, and then she'll come and fetch me." The doctor resisted a temptation to ask, "From the very beginning of what?" For the suggestion that materials for laceration were simmering was without foundation; was, in fact, only an example of the speaker's method. She followed it with another.
"It is so often the case with women who have passed a good deal of time in India."
"Are women tiring when they have passed a good deal of time in India?"
"My dear Conrad, is it likely I should talk such nonsense? You know perfectly well what I mean." But the doctor merely awaited natural development, which came. "Mind, I do not say I believe Mrs. Julius Bradshaw's story. But it would quite account for it—fully!"
What would account for what? Heaven only knew! However, the speaker was getting the bit in her teeth, and earth would know very soon. Dr. Conrad was conscious at this moment of the sensation which had once made Sally speak of his mamma as an Octopus. She threw out a tentacle.
"And, of course, Mrs. Julius Bradshaw's story may be nothing but idle talk. I am the last person to give credit to mere irresponsible gossip. Let us hope it is ill founded."
Whereupon her son, who knew another tentacle would come and entangle him if he slipped clear from this one, surrendered at discretion. What was Mrs. Julius Bradshaw's story? A most uncandid way of putting it, for the fact was he had heard it all from Sally in the strictest confidence. So the insincerity was compulsory, in a sense.
The Octopus, who was by this time anchored in her knitting-chair and awaiting her mixture—two tablespoonfuls after every meal—closed her eyes to pursue the subject, but warmed to the chace visibly.
"Are you going to tell me, my dear Conrad, that you do not know that it has been said—I vouch for nothing, remember—that Miss Nightingale's mother was divorced from her father twenty years ago in India?"
"I don't think it's any concern of yours or mine." But having said this, he would have liked to recall it and substitute something else. It was brusque, and he was not sure that it was a fair way of stating the case, especially as this matter had been freely discussed between them in the days of their first acquaintance with Sally and her mother. Dr. Conrad felt mean for renegading from his apparent admission at that time that the divorce was an affair they might properly speculate about. Mrs. Vereker knew well that her son would be hard on himself for the slightest unfairness, and forthwith climbed up to a pinnacle of flawless rectitude, for his confusion.
"My dear, it is absolutely none. Am I saying that it is? People's past lives are no affair of ours. Am I saying that they are?"
"Very well, then, my dear, listen to what I do say, and do not misrepresent me. What I say is this—(Are you sure Perkins has mixed this medicine the same as the last? The taste's different)—Now listen! What I say is, and I can repeat it any number of times, that it is useless to expect sensitiveness on such points under such circumstances. I am certain that your father, or your great-uncle, Dr. Everett Gayler, would not have hesitated to endorse my opinion that on the broad question of whether a girl should or should not dive off a boat rowed by an unmarried man, no one is less likely to form a correct judgment than a lady who was divorced from her husband twenty years ago in India. But I say nothing against Mrs. Fenwick. She is, so far as she is known to me, an excellent person, and a good wife and mother. Now, my dear Conrad, I must rest, for I fear I have talked too much."
Poor Prosy! All the edge of his joy of the morning was taken off. But never mind! It would very soon be Sally herself again, and his thirsty soul would be drinking deep draughts of her at the pier-end, where the appointment was to be kept with the young lady and her dolly.
OF AN INTERMITTENT CURRENT AT THE PIER-END, AND OF DOLLY'S FORTITUDE. HOW FENWICK PUT HIS HEAD IN THE JAWS OF THE FUTURE UNAWARES, AND PROSY DIDN'T COME. HOW SALLY AND HER STEP SAW PUNCH, AND OF A THIN END OF A FATAL WEDGE. BUT ROSALIND SAW NO COMING CLOUD
An iron pier, with a sense of lattice structure about it, is not to our old-fashioned minds nearly so fascinating as the wooden fabric of our early memories at more than one seaside resort of our boyhood. St. Sennan was of another school, or had become a convert or pervert, if a Saint may be judged by his pier. For this was iron or steel all through, barring the timber flooring whose planks were a quarter of an inch apart, so that you could kneel down to see the water through if you were too short to see over the advertisements a sordid spirit of commercialism had blocked the side-railings with. And if you were three or four, and there was nobody to hold you up (because they were carrying baby), you did so kneel, and as like as not got tar on your knees, and it wouldn't come off. Anyhow, Miss Gwendolen Arkwright did, on her way to the appointment, and was reproved therefore. On which she also reproved dolly in identical terms, dolly having had a look through as well, though, indeed, she can hardly be said to have knelt.
But to console us for the loss of the solid groins and bolted timbers of our youth, and to make it palatable to us that the great seas should follow each other for ever almost unopposed—instead of being broken into floods of drenching foam visitors get wet-through in—this unsubstantial-looking piece of cage-work expanded as soon as it was well out in the open channel, and almost provided John Bull with another "other island." And whereon the pier-company's sordid commercialism had suggested the construction of a Chinese joss-house, or Indian bungalow—our description is a random one—that lent itself, or was lent by the company, at really an almost nominal figure, for entertainments in the afternoon all through the season. And round this structure were things desirable by all mankind, and supposed to be desired by possessors of one penny willing to part with it. For a penny-in-the-slot you could learn your fate from a Sibyl, and repent of having spent your penny on it. For another you could scent your pocket-handkerchief, and be sorry you hadn't kept your penny for chocolate. For another you could have the chocolate, and wish you had waited and taken a cigarette. And for another you could take the cigarette, and realise how ill-assorted are the flavours of chocolate and the best Virginian tobacco.
But the pennyworth that seemed the worthiest of its penny was, no doubt, the old-fashioned galvanic battery, which shocked you for a sixth part of the smallest sum required by literature on first publication. It had brass handles you took hold of, and brass basins with unholy water in them that made you curl up, and anybody else would do so too. And there was a bunch of wires to push in, and agonize the victim who, from motives not easily understood, laid himself open to torture. And it certainly said "whizzy-wizzy-wizz." But Gwenny's description had been wrong in one point. For it was yourself, the investigator, not the machine, that said "e-e-e-e!"
Now this machine was in charge of a young woman, who was also the custodian of an invisible lady, who was to be seen for a penny each person, children half-price. This appeared to be a contradiction in terms, but public apathy accepted it without cavil. The taking of this phenomenon's gate-money seemed to be almost a sinecure. Not so the galvanic battery, which never disappointed any one. It might disgust, or repel, those who had had no occasion to study this branch of science, but it always acted up to its professions. Those investigators who declined to have any more never could go away and complain that they had not had enough. And no one had ever been discontented with its baneful results when all the bundle of wires was put in; indeed, the young person in charge said she had never known any one to drain this cup of scientific experience to the dregs. "Halfway in's enough for most," was her report of human endurance. It was a spirited little machine, though old-fashioned.
Miss Arkwright and her dolly, accompanied, as we have hinted, by her Nurse Jane and baby, whose violent temper had condemned his perambulator, and compelled his attendant to carry him—so she said—were beforehand at the place and hour named. For security against possible disappointment a fiction was resorted to that dolly wouldn't cry if her mamma talked seriously to her, and it was pointed out that Mr. Fenwick was coming, and Mrs. Fenwick was coming, and Miss Nightingale was coming, and Dr. Vereker was coming—advantage being taken of an infant's love of vain repetitions. But all these four events turned on dolly being good and not crying, and the reflex action of this stipulation produced goodness in dolly's mamma, with the effect that she didn't roar, as, it seemed, she might otherwise have done.
Miss Gwendolen was, however, that impatient that no dramatic subterfuge, however skilfully engineered, could be relied upon to last. Fortunately, a young lady she recognised, and a gentleman whom she did not personally know, but had seen on the beach, became interested in baby, who took no notice of them, and hiccupped. But, then, his eyes were too beady to have any human expression; perhaps it was more this than a contempt for vapid compliment that made him seem unsympathetic. The young lady, however, congratulated him on his personnel and on the variety of his attainments; and this interested Miss Gwendolen, who continued not to roar, and presently volunteered a statement on her own account.
"My mummar zis a-comin', and Miss Ninedale zis a-comin', and Miss Ninedale's mummar zis a-comin', and...." But Nurse Jane interposed, on the ground that the lady knew already who was coming. She had no reason for supposing this; but a general atmosphere of omniscience among grown-up classes is morally desirable. It was, however, limited to Clause 1. Miss Gwenny went on to the consideration of Clause 2 without taking a division.
"To see dolly danvalised for a penny. My mummar says—see—sall—div me a penny...."
"To galvanise dolly? How nice that will be!—Isn't she a dear little thing, Paggy?—And we're just in time to see it. Now, that is nice!" Observe Laetitia's family name for her husband, born of Cattley's.
"Isn't that them coming, Tish?" Yes, it is. They are conscientiously negotiating the turnstile at the pier-entrance, where one gets a ticket that lets you on all day, and you lose it. Conscientiously, because the pier-company often left its side-gate open, and relied on public spirit to acquiesce in its turnstile without dispute.
But Bradshaw has the misfortune to fall in Nurse's good opinion. For he asks who the important-looking party is, and is called to order.
"Sh-sh-iii-sh, love! Do take care! Gwenny's mamma—Mrs. Chesterfield Arkwright. They've a house at Boxley Heath—friends of the Hugh Jameses—those very high-flying people." This is not a pleine voix, and a well-disciplined Nurse knows better than to hear it.
Miss Gwenny and dolly consent to accompany the lady and gentleman to meet the party, the former undertaking to point out her mamma. "I sail sow you wiss," she says; and then gives descriptive particulars of the conduct of the galvanic battery, and forecasts its effect on dolly.
"There's that dear little pet," says Sally; and resumes the operation of spoiling the little pet on the spot. She isn't sorry to tally the pet (whose phonetics we employ) "dest wunced round the p on her soulders, only zis wunced." She is a little silent, is Sally, and preoccupied—perhaps won't object to a romp to divert her thoughts. Because she is afraid poor Prosy is in the tentacles of the Octopus. She evidently is not in love with him; if she were she would be feeling piqued at his not being in time to the appointment, not fidgeting about his losing the fun. She made some parade, at any rate, of her misgivings that poor Dr. Conrad had got hooked by his Goody, and would be late. If she was piqued she concealed it. Whichever it was, she found it congenial to "tally" Miss Arkwright on her "soulders" twiced round the pier-end before the party arrived within range of the battery. They meanwhile—that is to say, Rosalind and her husband, Laetitia and hers, with Sally and Gwenny's mamma—lingered slowly along the pier listening to the experiences of the latter, of men, women, and things among the right sort of people.
"You really never know, and one cannot be too careful. So much turns on the sort of people you let your daughter get mixed up with. I'm sure Mrs. Fenwick will agree with me that Mrs. Hugh James was right. You see, I've known her from a child, and a more unworldly creature never breathed. But she asked me, and I could only say what I did: 'Take the child at once to Paris and Ems and Wiesbaden—anywhere for a change. Even a tradesman is better than a professional man. In that case there may be money. But nowadays none of the professions pay. And their connexions are most undesirable.'"
"Now I should call that a brig." Thus Bradshaw, pursuing the great controversy. But Fenwick knows better, or thinks he does. She's a brigantine, and there are sprits'ls on both masts, and only one square sail on the foremast. He may be right, for anything we know. Anyhow, her sheets are white in the sun, as she tacks down channel against the west or south-west wind, which has freshened. And she is a glorious sight as she comes in quite close to the pier-head, and goes into stays—(is that right?)—and her great sails flap and swing, and a person to whom caution is unknown, and who cares for nothing in heaven or earth, sits unconcerned on a string underneath her bowsprit, and gets wet through every time she plunges, doing something nautical in connexion with her foresail overhead. And then she leans over in the breeze, and the white sheets catch it full—so near you can hear the boom click as it swings, and the rattle of the cordage as it runs through the blocks—and then she gets her way on her, and shoots off through a diamond-drench of broken seas, and we who can borrow the coastguard's telescope can know that she is the Mary of Penzance, but are none the wiser. And a man stripped to the waist, who is washing radishes on the poop, continues washing radishes unmoved, and ignores all things else.
"As far as the young man himself goes, I believe there is nothing to be said. But the mother is quite unpresentable, perfectly impossible. And the eldest sister is married to a Dissenting clergyman—a very worthy man, no doubt, but not exactly. And the girls are loud, etc., etc., etc." Miss Arkwright's mamma ripples on, even as persons of condition ripple; and Tishy, whose views in this direction have undergone expansion, manages to forget how she has done the same herself—not long ago, neither!—and decides that the woman is detestable.
Not so her daughter, who, with Sally as guardian and dolly as ward, is awaiting the arrival of the party at the galvanic battery. She is yearning for the great event; not for a promised land of jerks and spasms for herself, but for her putative offspring. She encourages the latter, telling her not to be pitened and kye. Dolly doesn't seem apprehensive—shows great self-command, in fact.
But this detestable mother of a lovable daughter and an untempting granddaughter is destined to become still more detestable in the eyes of the Julius Bradshaws before she exhausts her topic. For as the party draws near to the scene of scientific recreation—and progress is slow, as she is deliberate as well as detestable; and, of course, is the pace-maker—she climbs up to a higher platform, as it were, for the contemplation of a lower deep. She assumes, for purposes of temporary handling of the subject, the air of one too far removed to know more about its details than the seismograph at Greenwich knows about the earthquake in the Andes. A dim contemplation of a thing afar—to be forgotten on the spot, after record made.
"Luckily, it's not so bad in this case as—(Gwenny, you're tiring Miss Nightingale. Come down!)—not so bad in this case as—(no, my dear! you must wait for dolly to be galvanised. Come down at once, and don't make conditions.)"
"But I love having her dearly—do let me keep her!" from Sally.
And from the human creature on her shoulders, "Miss Ninedale says 'No!'"
"Not so bad, you were saying, as...?" Thus Rosalind, to divert the conversation from the child.
"Oh dear! What was I saying? That child! What plagues the little things are!" The lady closes her eyes for two seconds behind a horizontal gloved hand, a seclusion to recollect in; then continues: "Oh yes, when it's a shopman. I dare say you've heard of that very painful case—daughter of a well-known Greek Pr...."
But the speaker has tact enough to see her mistake from the simultaneous loud speech it provokes. Every one seems to have something vociferous to say, and all speak at once. Sally's contribution is a suggestion that before dolly is put to the torture we shall go into the downstairs place and see the gentleman who's fishing catch a big grey mullet. It is adopted. Rosalind only remains upstairs, and takes the opportunity to communicate the Julius Bradshaw epic to Gwenny's mamma, who will now be more careful than ever about the sort of people you pick up at the seaside and drop. She puts these words by in her mind, for Gwenny's papa, later on.
The gentleman who is to be seen catching the big grey mullet hadn't caught it, so far—not when the party arrived on the strange middle-deck of the pier the water reaches at high tide, and persuades occasional molluscs to grow on the floor of, with promises of a bath next month. The green reflected light from the endless rise and fall of the waves Gwenny could see (without getting down) through the floor-gaps, seemed to be urging the fisher-gentleman to give it up, and pointing out that the grey mullet was down here, and didn't mean to be caught. But he paid no attention, and only went on doing all the things that fishers do. He ascribed the fishes' reluctance to bite to the sort of sky, and not to common-sense on their part. He tried the other side instead. He lost his worm, and blamed him for going off the hook—which he would have done himself, and he knew it! He believed, honestly, that a fish of fabulous dimensions had thought seriously of biting, and would have bitten, only you got in the light, or made a noise.
But there was no noise to speak of, really, except the clunk-clunk of one or two moored rowboats down below, and the sh-r-r-r-r-p (if that spells it) of their corrugated plank-sides, as they dipped and dripped alternately. They were close to the bottom flight of stairs, whose lowest step was left forlorn in the air, and had to be jumped off when a real spring-tide came that knew its business.
Gwenny's remark, "Ze man is fissin'," seemed to point to an incubation of an idea, familiar to maturer life, that fishing is more truly a state than an action. But the addendum—that he didn't cass any fiss—betrayed her inexperience. Maturity does not call attention to ill-success; or, if it does, it lays it at the door of the fish.
"What a jolly header one could have from here! No railings or anything. No—ducky! I won't put you down to look over the edge. That's not a thing for little girls to do."
"You'd never get up again, Sarah. You'd have to swim ashore."
"One could swim round the steps, Jeremiah—at least, according to the tide. It's slack water now."
"I wish, Mr. Fenwick—(so does Julius)—that you would make that girl reasonable. She'll drown herself before she's done."
"I know she will, Mrs. Paganini. Sure and certain! Nobody can stop her. But Vereker's going to bring her to."
"Where is the doctor, Tish? Didn't he say he was coming?" This was Bradshaw. He usually says things to his wife, and leaves publication to her.
"Of course he said he was coming. I wonder if anything's the matter?"
"Oh, no! It's his ma! The Goody's put an embargo on him, and kept him at home. Poor Prosy!" Sally is vexed, too. But observe!—she knows perfectly well that nothing but the Goody would have kept Prosy from his appointment.
No one in particular, but every one more or less, supposes that now we must go back for dolly to be galvanised, Tishy rather reluctantly, for she does not share her husband's indifference about what the detestable one above says on the subject of shopmen; Miss Arkwright greedily, being reminded of a higher object in life than mere grey mullet catching. She, however, ascribes her avidity to dolly, calling on public credulity to believe that the latter has spoken to that effect.
The arrangement of dolly in connexion with the two brass handles offers difficulties, but a felicitous solution is discovered, for not only will dolly remain in contact with both if her arms are thrust inside them, but insomuch as her sleeves are stiff and expansive, and require a perceptible pull to withdraw them, will remain suspended in mid-air without further support, to enjoy the rapture or endure the torture of the current, as may prove to be the case. From this arises an advantage—namely, that her mamma will be able to give her attention to the regulator, and shift the wire bundle in and out, with a due regard to dolly's powers of endurance.
What little things the lives of the folk in this story have turned on! Now, suppose Gwenny had never been allowed to take charge of that regulator! However, this is anticipation.
When dolly had endured unmoved the worst that science could inflict, nothing would satisfy Miss Gwenny but that every one else should take hold in a circle, as on a previous occasion, and that she should retain control of the regulator. The experiment was tried as proposed, all present joining in it except Mrs. Arkwright, who excused herself owing to the trouble of taking her gloves off. Including nurse, there were six persons. However, as nurse couldn't abide it, almost before it had begun to say whizzy-wizzy-wizz, this number was reduced to five.
"Keep your eye on the kid, my dear," said Fenwick, addressing the presiding young lady in his easy-going way; "don't let her put it on all at once. Are you ready, Sarah? You ready, Mrs. Paganini? All right—fire away!"
The young lady in charge kept a careful hand near Miss Gwenny's, who was instructed or guided to increase the current gradually. Her attitude was docile and misleading.
"Go on—a little more—yes, a little more.... No, that's enough!... Oh, what nonsense! that's nothing!... Oh, Sally, do let go!... Oh, Tishy, what a goose you are! That's nothing.... E-ow! It's horrible. I won't have any more of it." The chorus of exclamations, which you may allot at choice, ended in laughter as the galvanised circle broke up.
"Well, you are a lot of weak-kneed ... conductivities," said Fenwick, feeling for the word. "That was nothing, as Sarah says."
"Look here," suggested Sally. "Me get between you two men, and Gwenny stick it in full up." This was done, and Sally heroically endured the "full up" current, which, as you doubtless are aware, increases in viciousness as it has fewer and fewer victims. But she wasn't sorry when it was over, for all that.
"You and I could take it full up," said Fenwick to Bradshaw, who assented. But Paganini evidently didn't like it when it came to three-quarters. Also, his wife said to him, "You'll spoil your fingering, Julius."
Fenwick seemed to think them all over-sensitive. "I could stand that by myself," said he, and took both handles.
But just at this moment a strange event happened. Somebody actually applied to see the invisible lady. The eyes of the damsel in charge were for one moment withdrawn from Miss Gwenny, who promptly seized the opportunity to thrust in the regulator "full up."
Fenwick wasn't going to cry for mercy—not he! But his lips clenched and his eyes glared, and his hands shook. "How can you be such a goose, Jeremiah?" said Sally, who was standing close by the battery, opposite to Gwenny. She thrust back the regulator, and put an end to Fenwick's excruciations.
He said, "What did you do that for, Sarah? I could have stood it for six months."
And Sally replied: "For shame, you wicked story! And after you'd been electrocuted once, too!"
Fenwick burst into a great laugh, and exclaimed, "What on earth are we all torturing ourselves for? Do let's go and get some tea." And then carried Gwenny on his shoulders to the pier-entrance, where he delivered her to her proprietors, and then they all sauntered teawards, laughing and chatting.
Rosalind thought she had never seen Gerry in such health and spirits. On their way up to the house they passed Punch, leaning over the footlights to rejoice in his iniquity. Few persons of healthy sympathies can pass Punch, and these only under the strongest temptation, such as tea. Rosalind and Laetitia and her husband belonged to the latter class, but Fenwick and Sally elected to see the immortal drama to a close. It lasted nearly through the remainder of Fenwick's cigar, and then they came away, reluctant, and wanting more of the same sort.
It was then that Sally's stepfather said a rather singular thing to her—a thing she remembered afterwards, though she noticed it but slightly at the time. She had said to him:
"Codling and Short will be quite rich men! What a lot of money you've given them, Jeremiah!"
And he had replied: "Don't they deserve it?"
They had then walked on together up the road, he taking her arm in his hand, as is the way nowadays, but saying nothing. Presently he said, as he threw away the very last end of the cigar:
"It was the first lesson of my early boyhood in retributive injustice. It's a poor heart that never rejoices at Punch."
It was the first time Sally had ever heard him speak of his boyhood except as a thing he had forgotten.
* * * * *
Much, so much, of this chapter is made up of matter so trifling. Was it worth recording? The chronicler might plead again as excuse his temptation to linger over the pleasant hours it tells of, the utter freedom of its actors from care, and his reluctance to record their sequel. But a better apology for his prolixity and detail would be found in the wonder felt by those actors when in after-life they looked back and recalled them one by one; and the way each memory linked itself, in a way unsuspected at the time, with an absolutely unanticipated future. For even Rosalind, with all her knowledge of the past, had no guess, for all her many misgivings and apprehensions, of the way that things would go. Never had she been freer from a sense of the shadow of a coming cloud than when she looked out from the window while the tea she had just made was mellowing, and saw her husband and daughter coming through the little garden gate, linked together and in the best of spirits.
OF THE REV. SAMUEL HERRICK AND A SUNSET. THE WEDGE'S PROGRESS. THE BARON AGAIN, AND THE FLY-WHEEL. HOW FENWICK KNEW HIS NAME RIGHT, AND ROSALIND DIDN'T. HOW SALLY AND HER MEDICAL ADVISER WERE NOT QUITE WET THROUGH. HOW HE HAD MADE HER THE CONFIDANTE OF A LOVE-AFFAIR. OF A GOOD OPENING IN SPECIALISM. MORE PROGRESS OF THE WEDGE. HOW GERRY NEARLY MADE DINNER LATE
It was quite true, as Sally had surmised, that poor Prosy had been entangled in the meshes of his Octopus. But Sally had also recorded her conviction that he would turn up at tea. He did so, with apologies. You see, he hadn't liked to come away while his mother was asleep, in case she should ask for him when she woke up, and she slept rather longer than usual.
"She may have been trying to do too much lately," said he, with a beautiful faith in some mysterious activities practised by the Goody unseen. Sally cultivated this faith also, to the best of her ability, but she can hardly be said to have embraced it. The way in which she and her mother lent themselves to it was, nevertheless, edifying.
"You mustn't let her overdo it, doctor," said Rosalind, seriously believing herself truthful. And Sally, encouraged by her evident earnestness, added, "And make her take plenty of nourishment. That's half the battle."
Whereupon Laetitia, swept, as it were, into the vortex of a creed, found it in her to say, "As long as she doesn't get low." It was not vigorous, and lacked completion, but it reassured and enforced. By the time the little performance was done every one in the room believed that Mrs. Vereker did down the stairs, or scoured out saucepans, or at least dusted. Even her son believed, so forcibly was the unanimity. Perhaps there was a taint of the incredulous in the minds of Fenwick and Bradshaw. But each thought the other was heart-whole, and neither suspected himself of insincerity.
Sally was curious to know exactly what lines the Octopus had operated on. That would do later, though. She would get Prosy by himself, and make him tell her all about it. In the course of time tea died a natural death. Fenwick indulged in a yawn and a great shake, and remembered that he had no end of letters to answer. Mr. and Mrs. Julius Bradshaw suddenly thought, for no reasonable reason, that they ought to be getting back. But they didn't really go home. They went for a walk landward; as it was so windy, instead—remember that they were only in the third week of their honeymoon! Sally, with Talleyrand-like diplomacy, achieved that she and Dr. Conrad should go for another walk in another direction. The sea was getting up and the glass was going down, and it would be fun to go and see the waves break over the jetty. So said Sally, and Dr. Conrad thought so too, unequivocally. They walked away in the big sea-wind, fraught with a great inheritance from the Atlantic of cool warmth and dry moisture. And if you don't know what that means, you know mighty little of the ocean in question.
Rosalind watched them through the window, closed perforce, and saw them disappear round the flagstaff with the south cone hoisted, holding their heads on to all appearance. She said to herself: "Foolish fellow, why can't he speak?" And her husband answered either her thought or her words—though he could hardly have heard them as he sat driving his pen furiously through letters—with: "He'll have to confess up, Rosey, you'll see, before he goes."
She made no reply; but, feeling a bit tired, lay down to rest on the sofa. And so powerful was the sea air, and the effect of a fair allowance of exercise, that she fell into a doze in spite of the intensely wakeful properties of Mrs. Lobjoit's horsehair sofa, which only a corrugated person could stop on without a maintained effort, so that sound sleep was impossible. She never became quite unconscious of the scratching pen and the moaning wind; so, as she did not sleep, yet did not want to wake, she remained hovering on the borderland of dreams. One minute she thought she was thinking, sanely, about Sally and her silent lover—always uppermost in her thoughts—the next, she was alive to the absurdity of some dream-thing one of them had suddenly changed to, unnoticed. Once, half awake, she was beginning to consider, seriously, whether she could not legitimately approach the Octopus on the subject, but only to find, the moment after, that the Octopus (while remaining the same) had become the chubby little English clergyman that had married her to Gerry at Umballa, twenty years ago. Then she thought she would wake, and took steps towards doing it; but, as ill-luck would have it, she began to speak before she had achieved her purpose. And the result was: "Do you remember the Reverend Samuel Herrick, Gerry, at Umb——Oh dear! I'm not awake.... I was talking nonsense." Gerry laughed.
"Wake up, love!" said he. "Do your fine intelligence justice! What was it you said? Reverend Samuel who?"
"I forget, darling. I was dreaming." Then, with a nettle-grasping instinct, as one determined to flinch from nothing, "Reverend Samuel Herrick. What did you think I said?"
"Reverend Samuel Herrick or Meyrick.... 'Not negotiable.' I don't mean the Reverend Sam, whoever he is, but the payee whose account I'm enriching." He folded the cheque he had been writing into its letter and enveloped it. But he paused on the brink of its gummed edge, looking over it at Rosalind, who was still engaged getting quite awake. "I know the name well enough. He's some chap! I expect you saw him in the 'Chronicle.'"
"Very likely, darling! He must be some chap, when you come to think of it." She says this slightly, as a mere rounding-off speech. Then goes behind her husband's chair and kisses him over his shoulder as he directs the envelope.
"Marmaduke, Copestake, Dickinson, and Humphreys," says he, as he writes the names. "Now I call that a firm-and-a-half. Old Broad Street, E.C. That's all!—as far as he goes. Now, how about Puckeridge, Limited?"
"Don't write any more, Gerry dear; you'll spoil your eyes. Come and look at the sunset. Come along!" For a blood-red forecast of storm in the west, surer than the surest human barometer, is blazing through the window that cannot be opened for the blow, and turning the shell-work rabbit and the story of Goliath into gold and jewels. The sun is glancing through a rift in the cloud-bank, to say good-night to the winds and seas, and wish them joy of the high old time they mean to have in his absence, in the dark.
The lurid level rays that make an indescribable glory of Rosalind's halo-growth of hair as Gerry sees it against the window, have no ill-boding in them for either—no more, that is, than always has belonged to a rough night closing over the sea, and will do so always until the sea is ice again on a planet sick to death. As he draws her arm round his neck and she his round her waist, and they glance at each other in the flaming glow, there is no thought in either of any ill impending for themselves.
"I wish Sarah were here to see you now, Rosey."
"So should I, love! Only she would see you too. And then she'd make you vainer than you are already. All men are patches of Vanity. But I forgive you." She kisses him slightly in confirmation. They certainly were a wonderful sight, the two of them, a minute ago, when the light was at its best. Yes!—they wish Sally had been there, each on the other's account. It was difficult to say which of the two had thought of Sally first. Both had this habit of registering the rapport of everything to Sally as a first duty.
But a sunset glow, like this one, lasts, maybe, little longer than a highest song-note may be sustained. It was to die. But Rosalind and Gerry watched it out. His cheek was resting in the thick mass of soft gold, just moving slightly to be well aware of it. The sun-ray touched it, last of anything in the room, and died....
"What's that, dear love? Why?..." It was Rosalind that spoke.
"Nothing, dearest! No, nothing!... Indeed, nothing at all!"
"Gerry, what was it?"
"What was what, dear?"
"What made you leave off so suddenly?"
For the slightly intermittent movement of his cheek on her hair—what hairy thing is there that does not love to be stroked?—had stopped; and his hand that held hers had slipped from it, and rested for a moment on his own forehead.
"It's gone now. It was a sort of recurrence. I haven't been having them lately...."
"Come and sit down, love. There, now, don't fidget! What was it about?" Does he look pale?—thinks Rosalind—or is it only the vanished glow?
He is uncommunicative. Suppose they go out for a turn before dinner, he suggests. They can walk down to the jetty, to meet Sarah and her medical adviser. Soon said, soon settled. Ten minutes more, and they are on their way to the fisher dwellings: experiencing three-quarters of a gale, it appears, on the testimony of an Ancient Mariner in a blue and white-striped woollen shirt, who knows about things.
"That was very queer, that recurrence!" Thus Gerry, after leaving the Ancient Mariner. "It was just as the little edge of the sun went behind the bank. And what do you think my mind hooked it on to, of all things in the world?" Rosalind couldn't guess, of course. "Why, a big wheel I was trying to stop, that went slowly—slowly—like the sun vanishing. And then just as the sun went it stopped."
"Was there anything else?" Entire concealment of alarm is all Rosalind can attend to.
"No end of things, all mixed up together. One thing very funny. A great big German chap.... I say, Rosalind!"
"What, Gerry darling?"
"Do you recollect, when we were in Switzerland, up at that last high-up place, Seelisberg—Sonnenberg—do you remember the great fat Baron that gave me those cigars, and sang?"
"Remember the Baron? Of course I do. Perfectly!" Rosalind contrived a laugh. "Was he in it?" Perhaps this was rash. But then, not to say it would have been cowardice, when it was on her tongue-tip. Let the nettle be grasped.
"He was in it, singing and all. But the whole thing was mixed up and queer. It all went, quite suddenly. And I should have lost him out of it, as one loses a dream, if it hadn't been for seeing him in Switzerland. It was something to hold on by. Do you understand?"
"I think I do. I had forgotten what I was dreaming about when I woke on the sofa and talked that nonsense. But I held on to the name, for all that."
"But then that wasn't a real person, the Reverend—what was he?—Herrick or Derrick."
Rosalind passed the point by. "Gerry darling! I want you to do as I tell you. Don't worry your head about it, but keep quiet. If memory is coming back to you, it will come all the quicker for letting your mind rest. Let it come gradually."
"I see what you mean. You think it was really a recollection of B.C.?"
"I think so. Why should it not?"
"But it's all gone clean away again! And I can't remember anything of it at all—and there was heaps!"
"Never mind! If it was real it will come back. Wait and be patient!"
Rosalind's mind laid down this rule for itself—to think and act exactly as though there had been nothing to fear. Even if all the past had been easy to face it would have shrunk from suggestions. So thought she to herself, perhaps with a little excusable self-deception. Otherwise the natural thing would have been to repeat to him all the Baron's story.
No! She would not say a word, or give a hint. If it was all to come back to him, it would come back. If not, she could not bring it back; and she might, in the attempt to do so, merely plunge his injured mind into more chaotic confusion. Much safer to do nothing!
But why this sudden stirring of his memory, just now of all times? Had anything unusual happened lately? Naturally, the inquiry sent her mind back, to yesterday first, then to the day before. No!—there was nothing there. Then to generalities. Was it the sea bathing?—the sea air? And then on a sudden she thought of the thing nearest at hand, that she should have thought of at first. Yes!—she would ask Dr. Conrad about that: Why hadn't she thought of that before—that galvanic battery?
Meanwhile, despite her injunctions to her husband to wait and be patient, his mind kept harking back on this curious recollection. Luckily, so it seemed to her—at any rate for the present—he did not seem to recall the Baron's recognition of himself, or to connect it with this illusion or revival. He appeared to recollect the Baron's personality, and his liberality with cigars, but little else. If he was to be reminded of this, it must be after she had talked over it with Vereker.
They struggled with the weather along the seaward face of the little old fisher-town. The great wind was blowing the tar-laden atmosphere of the nets and the all-pervading smell of tar landward; and substituting flecks of driven foam, that it forced to follow landward too, for all they tried to stop and rest. The population was mostly employed getting the boats up as close to the houses as practice permitted, and the capstans were all a-creak with the strain; and one shrieked for a dab of lard, and got it, just as they passed. The man with Bessie and the anchor on his arms—for it was his—paused in his rotations with one elbow on his lever, and one foot still behind the taut cable he was crossing. His free hand saluted; and then, his position being defined, he was placed on a moral equality with his superiors, and could converse. The old-fashioned hat-touch, now dying out, is just as much a protest against the way social order parts man from man as it is an acknowledgment of its necessity.
The lover of Bessie and Elinor and Kate was disposed to ignore the efforts of the wind. There might, he said, be a bit of sea on, come two or three in the marn'n—at the full of the tide. The wind might get up a bit, if it went round suth'ard. The wind was nothing in itself—it was the direction it came from; it got a bad character from imputed or vicarious vice. It would be a bit rough to get a boat off—the lady might get a wetting.... At which point Rosalind interrupted. Nothing was further from her thoughts, she said, than navigation in any form. But had the speaker seen her daughter go by—the young lady that swam? For Sally was famous. He hadn't, himself, but maybe young Benjamin had. Who, taking leave to speak from this, announced frankly that he had seen a young lady, in company with her sweetheart, go by nigh an hour agone. The tattooed one diluted her sweetheart down to "her gentleman" reluctantly. In his land, and the one there would soon be for the freckled and blue-eyed Benjamin, there was no such artificial nonsense. Perhaps some sense of this showed itself in the way he resumed his work. "Now, young Benjamin—a-action!" said he; and the two threw themselves again against the pole of the mollified capstan.
If Rosalind fancied this little incident had put his previous experience out of her husband's mind she was mistaken. He said, as they passed on in the direction of the jetty, "I think I should like to wind up capstans. It would suit me down to the ground." But then became thoughtful; and, just as they were arriving at the jetty, showed that his mind had run back by asking suddenly, "What was the fat Baron's name?"
"Diedrich Kammerkreutz." Rosalind gave him her nearest recollection, seeing nothing to be gained by doing otherwise. Any concealment, too, the chances were, would make matters worse instead of better.
"It was Kreutzkammer, in my—dream or whatever you call it." They stopped and looked at each other, and Rosalind replied, "It was Kreutzkammer. Oh dear!" rather as one who had lost breath from some kind of blow.
He saw her distress instantly, and was all alive to soothe it. "Don't be frightened, darling love!" he cried, and then his great good-humoured laugh broke into the tenderness of his speech, without spoiling it. He was so like Gerry, the boy that rode away that day in the dog-cart, when there was "only mamma for the girl."
"But when all's said and done," said she, harking back for a reprieve, "perhaps you only recollected Sonnenberg in your dream better than I did ... just now...." She hung fire of repeating the name Herrick.
"Ach zo," he answered, teutonically for the moment, from association with the Baron. "But suppose it all true, dearest, and that I'm going to come to life again, what does it matter? It can't alter us, that I can see. Could anything that you can imagine? I should be Gerry for you, and you would be Rosey for me, to the end of it." Her assent had a mere echo of hesitation. But he detected it, and went on: "Unless, you mean, I remembered the hypothetical wife?..."
"Well! I tell you honestly, Rosey darling, if I do, I shall keep her to myself. A plaguing, intrusive female—to come between us. But there's no such person!" At which they both laughed, remembering the great original non-exister. But even here was a little thorn. For Mrs. Harris brought back the name the Baron had known Gerry by. He did not seem to have resumed it in his dream.
The jetty ran a little way out to sea. Thus phraseology in use. It might have reconsidered itself, and said that the jetty had at some very remote time run out to sea and stopped there. Ever since, the sea had broken over it at high tides, and if you cared at all about your clothes you wouldn't go to the end of it, if you were me. Because the salt gets into them and spoils the dye. Besides, you have to change everything.
There was a dry place at the end of the jetty, and along the edge of the dry place were such things as cables go round and try hard to draw, as we drew the teeth of our childhood with string. But they fail always, although their pulls are never irresolute. On two of these sat Sally and the doctor in earnest conversation.
Rosalind and her husband looked at each other and said, "No!" This might have been rendered, "Matters are no forwarder." It connected itself (without acknowledgment) with the distance apart of the two cable-blocks. Never mind; let them alone!
"Are you going to sit there till the tide goes down?"
"Oh, is that you? We didn't see you coming."
"You'll have to look sharp, or you'll be wet through...."
"No, we shan't! You only have to wait a minute and get in between...."
Easier said than done! A big wave, that was just in time to overhear this conversation imperfectly, thought it would like to wet Sally through, and leaped against the bulwark of the jetty. But it spent itself in a huge torrential deluge while Sally waited a minute. A friend followed it, but made a poor figure by comparison. Then Sally got in between, followed by the doctor.... Well! they were really not so very wet, after all! Sally was worst, as she was too previous. She got implicated in the friend's last dying splash, while Prosy got nearly scot-free. So said Sally to Fenwick as they walked briskly ahead towards home, leaving the others to make their own pace. Because it was a case of changing everything, and dinner was always so early at St. Sennans.
"Let them go on in front. I want to talk to you, Dr. Conrad." Rosalind, perhaps, thinks his attention won't wander if she takes a firm tone; doesn't feel sure about it, otherwise. Maybe Sally is too definitely in possession of the citadel to allow of an incursion from without. She continues: "I have something to tell you. Don't look frightened. It is nothing but what you have predicted yourself. My husband's memory is coming back. I don't know whether I ought to say I am afraid or I hope it is so...."
"But are you sure it is so?"
"Yes, listen! It has all happened since you and Sally left." And then she narrated to the doctor, whose preoccupation had entirely vanished, first the story of the recurrence, and Fenwick's description of it in full; and then the incident of the Baron at Sonnenberg, but less in detail. Then she went on, walking slower, not to reach the house too soon. "Now, this is the thing that makes me so sure it is recollection: just now, as we were coming to the jetty, he asked me suddenly what was the Baron's name. I gave a wrong version of it, and he corrected me." This does not meet an assent.
"That was nothing. He had heard it at Sonnenberg. I think much more of the story itself; the incident of the wheel and so on. Are you quite sure you never repeated this German gentleman's story to Mr. Fenwick?"
"So, you see, I want you to help me to think."
"May I talk to him about it?—speak openly to him?"
"Yes; to-morrow, not to-day. I want to hear what he says to-night. He always talks a great deal when we're alone at the end of the day. He will do so this time. But I want you to tell me about an idea I have."
"Did Sally tell you about the galvanic battery on the pier?" Dr. Conrad stopped in his walk, and faced round towards his companion. He shook out a low whistle—an arpeggio down. "Did she tell you?" repeated Rosalind.
"Come, come, doctor! Don't be ridiculous. Say Sally!" The young man's heart gave a responsive little jump, and then said to itself, "But perhaps I'm only a family friend!" and climbed down. However, on either count, "Sally" was nicer than "Miss Sally."
"Sally told me about the electric entertainment at the pier-end. I'm sorry I missed it. But if that's what's done it, Fenwick must try it again."
"Mustn't try it again?"
"No—must try it again. Why, do you think it bad for him to remember?"
"I don't know what to think."
"My notion is that a man has a right to his own mind. Anyhow, one has no right to keep him out of it."
"Oh no; besides, Gerry isn't out of it in this case. Not out of his mind...."
"I didn't mean that way. I meant excluded from participation in himself ... you see?"
"Oh yes, I quite understand. Now listen, doctor. I want you to do me a kindness. Say nothing, even to Sally, till I tell you. Say nothing!"
"You may trust me." Rosalind feels no doubt on that point, the more so that the little passage about Sally's name has landed her at some haven of the doctor's confidence that neither knows the name of just yet. He is not the first man that has felt a welcome in some trifling word of a very special daughter's mother. But woe be to the mother who is premature and spoils all! Poor Prosy is too far gone to be a risky subject of experiment. But he won't say anything—not he! "After all, you know," he continues, "it may all turn out a false alarm. Or false hope, should I say?"
No answer. And he doesn't press for one. He is in a land of pitfalls.
* * * * *
"What have you and your medical adviser been talking about all the while, there in mid-ocean?" Fenwick forgets the late event with pleasure. Sally, with her hair threatening to come down in the wind, is enough to stampede a troop of nightmares.
"Poor Prosy!" is all the answer that comes at present. Perhaps if that uncontrolled black coil will be tractable she will concede more anon. You can't get your hair back under your hat and walk quick and talk, all at the same time.
"Poorer than usual, Sarah?" But really just at this corner it's as much as you can do, if you have skirts, to get along at all; to say nothing of the way such loose ends as you indulge in turn on you and flagellate your face in the wind. Oh, the vicious energy of that stray ribbon! Fancy having to use up one hand to hold that!
But a lull came when the corner was fairly turned, in the lee of a home of many nets, where masses of foam-fleck had found a respite, and leisure to collapse, a bubble at a time. You could see the prism-scale each had to itself, each of the millions, if you looked close enough. Collectively, their appearance was slovenly. A chestnut-coloured man a year old, who looked as if he meant some day to be a boatswain, was seated on a pavement that cannot have soothed his unprotected flesh—flint pebbles can't, however round—and enjoying the mysterious impalpable nature of this foam. However, even for such hands as his—and Sally wanted to kiss them badly—they couldn't stop. She got her voice, though, in the lull.
"Yes—a little. I've found out all about Prosy."
"Found out about him?"
"I've made him talk about it. It's all about his ma and a young lady he's in love with...." Fenwick's ha! or h'm! or both joined together, was probably only meant to hand the speaker on, but the tone made her suspicious. She asked him why he said that, imitating it; on which he answered, "Why shouldn't he?" "Because," said Sally, "if you fancy Prosy's in love with me, you're mistaken."
"Very good! Cut along, Sarah! You've made him talk about the young lady he's in love with...?"
"Well, he as good as talked about her, anyhow! I understood quite plain. He wants to marry her awfully, but he's afraid to say so to her, because of his ma."
"Doesn't Mrs. Vereker like her?"
"Dotes upon her, he says. Ug-g-h! No, it isn't that. It's the lugging the poor girl into his ma's sphere of influence. He's conscious of his ma, but adores her. Only he's aware she's overwhelming, and always gets her own roundabout way. I prefer Tishy's dragon, if you ask me."
At that point Sally is quite unconscious of Fenwick's amused eyes fixed on her, and his smile in ambush. She says the last words through a hairpin, while her hands take advantage of the lull to make a good job of that rope of black hair. She will go on and tell all the story; so Fenwick doesn't speak. Surprised at first by the tale of Dr. Conrad's young lady, his ideas have by now fructified. Sally continues:
"He's often told me he thought G.P.'s were better single, for their wives' sakes—that sounds wrong, somehow!—but it isn't that. It's his ma entirely. I suppose he's told you about the epileptiform disorders?" No, he hadn't. "Well, now! Fancy Prosy not telling you that! He's become quite an authority since those papers he had in the 'Lancet,' and he's thinking of giving up general practice. Sir Dioscorides Gayler's a cousin of his, you know, and would pass on his practice to Prosy on easy terms. House in Seymour Street, Portman Square. Great authority on epilepsy and epileptiform disorders. Wants a successor who knows about 'em. Naturally. Wants three thousand pounds. Naturally. Big fees! But he would make it easy for Prosy."
"That would be all right; soon manage that." Fenwick speaks with the confidence of one in a thriving trade. The deity of commerce, security, can manage all things. Insecurity is atheism in the City. "But then," he adds, "Vereker wouldn't marry, even with a house and big-fee consultations, because he's afraid his mother would hector over his wife. Is that it?"
"That's it! It's his Goody mother. I say, it is blowing!" It was, and they had emerged from the shelter into the wind. No more talk!
* * * * *
As Fenwick, sea-blown and salted, resorted to the lodging-house allowance of fresh water and soap, in a perfunctory and formal preparation for dinner, his mind ran continually on Sally's communication. As for the other young lady being valid, that he dismissed as nonsense not worth consideration. Vereker had been resorting to a furtive hint of a declaration, disguised as fiction. It was a fabula narrata de Sally, mutato nomine. If she didn't see through it, and respond in kind, it would show him how merely a friend he was, and nothing more. "Perhaps he doesn't understand our daughter's character," said Fenwick to Rosalind, when he had repeated the conversation to her. "Of course he doesn't," she replied. "No young man of his sort understands girls the least. The other sort of young man understands the other sort of girls."
And then a passing wonderment had touched her mind, of how strange it was that Sally should be one of her own sort, so very distinctly. How about inheritance? She grew reflective and silent over it, and then roused herself to wonder, illogically, why Gerry hadn't gone on talking.
The reason was that as his mind dwelt happy and satisfied on the good prospect Vereker would have if he could step into his cousin's specialist practice as a consulting physician, with a reputation already begun, his thoughts were caught with a strange jerk. What and whence was a half-memory of some shadowy store of wealth that was to make it the easiest thing in the world for him to finance the new departure? It had nothing to do with the vast mysterious possibilities of credit. It was a recollection of some resourceful backing he was entitled to, somehow; and he was reminded by it of his dream about the furniture—(we told you of that?)—but with a reservation. When he woke from the sleep-dream of the furniture, he in a short time could distinctly identify it as a dream, and was convinced no such furniture had ever existed. He could not shake off this waking dream, and it clogged his mind painfully, and made him silent.
So much so that when Rosalind, soon completed for the banqueting-board, looked into the adjoining room to see what progress Gerry was making, and why he was silent, she only saw the back of a powerful frame in its shirt-sleeves, and a pair of hands holding on each side an unbrushed head. The elbows indispensable to them rested on the window-bar.
"Look alive, Gerry darling!—you'll make dinner late.... Anything wrong, dear love?" Sudden anxiety in her voice. "Is it another...?" Another what? No need to define, exactly!
"A sort of one," Fenwick answers. "Not so bad as the last. Hardly describable! Never mind."
He made no effort towards description, and his wife did not press him for it. What good end could be gained by fidgeting him?
But she knew now that her life would be weighted with an anxiety hard to bear, until his hesitating return of memory should make its decision of success or failure. A guarantee of the latter would have been most to her liking, but how could she hope for that now?
HOW A STONE THROWN DROVE THE WEDGE FURTHER YET. OF A TERRIBLE NIGHT IN A BIG GALE, AND A DOOR THAT SLAMMED. THE WEDGE WELL IN
The speculative weather-wisdom of the tattooed capstan-driver was confirmed when three in the morning came, and the full of the tide. The wind must have gone round to the southward, or to some equally stimulating quarter, to judge by the work it got through that night in the way of roofs blown off and chimney-pots blown down; standing crops laid flat and spoiled for reaping; trees too full of leaf to bear such rough treatment compelled to tear up half their roots and fall, or pay tribute to the gale in boughs snapped asunder in time to spare their parent stem. All these results we landsmen could see for ourselves next day, after the storm had died down, and when the air was so delightful after it that we took walks in the country on purpose to enjoy it. But for the mischief it did that night at sea, from sportively carrying away the spars of ships, which they wanted for their own use, or blowing a stray reefer from the weather-earring, to sending a full crew to the depths below, or on jagged rocks no message from the white foam above could warn the look-out of in time—for the record of this we should have belated intermittent newspaper paragraphs, ever so long after.
But the wind had not reached its ideal when, at the end of a pleasant evening, Sally and her belongings decided that they must just go down to the beach and see the waves before going to bed. Wasn't there a moon? Well—yes, there was a moon, but you couldn't see it. That made a difference, certainly, but not a conclusive one. It wasn't a bad sort of a night, although it certainly was blowing, and the waves would be grand seen close. So the party turned out to go down to the beach. It included the Julius Bradshaws and Dr. Conrad, who had looked in as usual. But the doctor found out that it was past eleven, and, recalled by duty, returned to his Octopus.
The waves, seen close, would have been grand if you could have seen them from the beach, or as much of it as they had left you to stand on. But you really could only guess what was going on out in that great dark world of deep thunder, beyond the successive rushes of mad foam, each of which made up its mind to tear the coast up this time; and then changed it and went back, but always took with it stones enough for next attempt. And the indignant clamour of the rushing shoals, dragged off to sea against their will, rose and fell in the lulls of the thunder beyond. Sally wanted to quote Tennyson's "Maud" about them, but she couldn't for the tremendous wind.
The propensity to throw stones into the water, whenever there are stones and water, is always a strong one, even when the water is black mountain ranges, foam-ridged Sierras coming on to crush us, appalling us, even though we know they are sure to die in time. Stones were thrown on this occasion by Sally and her stepfather, who was credulous enough to suppose that his pebbles passed the undertow and reached the sea itself. Sally was prevented by the elements from misusing an adjective; for she wanted to say that the effect of a stone thrown into such a sea was merely "homoeopathic," and abstained because her remark would have been unheard.
Fenwick wanted to say that it was like the way a man dies and vanishes into the great unknown. He, too, refrained from this, but only partly for the same reason. Its want of novelty made another.
All the others soon wanted to say it was time to go home to bed, and tried to say it. But practice seemed easier, and they all turned to go, followed by Fenwick and Sally, cheerfully discussing the point of whether Sally could have swum out into that sea or not. Sally wanted to know what was to prevent her. Obvious enough, one would have said!
* * * * *
But Rosalind noticed one thing that was a pleasure to her. The moment Sally came in, her husband's dream-afflictions went out. Had he ever spoken of one in her presence? She could recall no instance. This evening the return to absolute cheerfulness dated from the reappearance of Sally after she had changed everything, and made her hair hold up. It lasted through fried soles and a huge fowl—done enough this time—and a bread-and-butter pudding impaired by too many raisins. Through the long end of a game of chess begun by Sally and Dr. Conrad the evening before, and two rubbers of whist, in which everybody else had all the good cards in their hands, as is the case in that game. And through the visit to Neptune above recorded.
But when, after half-an-hour's chat over the day's events with Rosalind, midnight and an extinguished candle left Fenwick to himself and his pillow in the little room next hers with no door between, which Mrs. Lobjoit's resources dictated, there came back to him first a recollection of his suppressed commonplace about the stone that had vanished for ever in the world of waters; then a hazy memory of the same thing having happened before and the same remark having been made by himself; then a sudden jerk of surprise, when, just as he was thinking of sleep, he was able to answer a question Space asked him spontaneously about where this happened, with what would have been, had he been quite awake, words spoken aloud to himself. "That time at Niagara, of course!" And this jerk of surprise left him wide-awake, struggling with an army of revived memories that had come on him suddenly.
He was so thoroughly waked by them that a difficulty he always had of remaining in bed when not asleep dictated a relighted candle and a dressing-gown and slippers. It was akin to his aversion to over-comfortable chairs; though he acknowledged beds as proper implements of sleep, sleep being granted. And sleep seemed now so completely out of the question, even if there had been no roaring of the gale and no constant thunder of the seas on the beach below, that Fenwick surrendered at discretion, and gave himself up a helpless prisoner in the grasp of his own past.
Not of the whole of it. But of as much as he could face here and now. Another mind that could have commanded some strange insight into the whole of this past, and his power or powerlessness to look it in the face, might have striven to avert its revival. That blow might have been too overwhelming. But there was enough, as we shall see, in the recollection that came back of the decade before his return to England, to make his breath catch and a shudder run through his strong frame as he pressed his palms hard on his eyelids, just as though by so doing he could shut it out.
Thank God Rosey was asleep, or would be soon. He would have time to think how he could tell the story he could not be silent about—that, he felt, might be impossible—and yet keep back one ominous portentous fact that had come to him, as a motive force in his former life, without the details of his early history that belonged to it. That fact Rosey must never know, even if ... well!—so many things turned on it. All he could see now—taken by surprise as he was—was that, come what might, that fact should always be kept from her. But as to concealing from her his strange experience altogether, that was hardly to be thought of. He would conceal it while he could, though, provisionally.
One o'clock by his watch on the dressing-table under the candle. St. Sennans must have struck unheard. No wonder—in this wind! Surely it had rather increased, if anything. Fenwick paced with noiseless care about the little room; he could not be still. The sustained monotone of wind and sea was only crossed now and then by a sound of fall or breakage, to chronicle some little piece of mischief achieved by the former on land, and raise the latter's hopes of some such success in its turn before the night should end....
Two o'clock by the dressing-table watch, and still the noiseless slippered feet of the sleepless man came and went. Little fear of any one else hearing him! For the wind seemed to have got up the bit that was predicted of it, and had certainly gone round to the suth'ard. If any sleeper could cling to unconsciousness through the rattle of the windows and the intermittent banging of a spectral door that defied identification—the door that always bangs in storms everywhere—the mere movement of a cautious foot would have no effect. If unable to sleep for the wind, none would be alive to it. It would be lost in the storm....
Three o'clock! Did you, who read this, ever watch through a night with something on your mind you are to be forced to speak of in the morning—a compulsion awaiting you as a lion awaiting the debut of a reluctant martyr in the arena of the Coliseum? Did you, so watching, feel—not the tedium—but the maddening speed of the hours, the cruelty of the striking clocks? Were you conscious of a grateful reliance on your bedroom door, still closed between you and your lion, as the gate that the eager eyes of Rome were fixed on was still a respite from his? Fenwick was; keenly conscious. And when on a sudden he heard with a start that a furtive hand was on the old-fashioned door-latch, he, knowing it could be none other than Rosalind, sleepless in the storm, felt that the lion had stolen a march on him, and that he must make up his mind sharp whether he would go for complete confidence or partial reserve. Certainly the latter, of necessity, said Alacrity. There could be no doubt of it, on her account—for the present, at any rate.