HotFreeBooks.com
The Light of Scarthey
by Egerton Castle
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But I could not agree with his appreciation. I felt my nose curl with disdain at the breath of dust and must and age these old tomes gave forth, and I said again it was, to my mind, but a poor and tame sort of fellowship.

He was perched on his ladder and had some odd volume in his hand, from which he was about to give an example in point; on hearing, however, this uncongenial sentiment he pushed back the book and came down quickly enough to talk to me. And this was the last of our excursions among the bookshelves.

Of this I was glad, for I confess it was there I liked Sir Adrian the least.

When the end of the short day drew near it was time to go and attend to the beacon. We ascended the ladder-like wooden stairs leading to the platform. Then I had the reverse of that view that for so many days had engrossed my interest.

Pulwick from Scarthey!... What a long time it seemed then since I had left those rooms the windows of which now sent us back the rays of the setting sun! and I had no desire to return, though return I must on the morrow.

Rene, of course, had left everything in his usual trim order, so all we had to do was to see to the lamp. It pleased my fantasy to light the beacon of Scarthey myself, and I struck the steel and kindled the brimstone and set fire to the huge, ill-smelling wicks until they gave a flame as big as my hand; and "there is the light of Scarthey at close quarters," I thought. And the Light-keeper was bending over me with his kindly look, humouring me like a child.

As we sat there silently for a while in the twilight, there came from the little room adjoining the turret an odd sound of flapping and uncanny, melancholy cries. Sir Adrian rose, and we remembered the seagull by which he had played the part of good Samaritan.

It had happened on the second day, as the storm was at its height. There had come a great crash at the window, and we saw something white that struggled on the sill outside; Sir Adrian opened the casement (when we had a little tornado of our own inside, and all his papers began dancing a sarabande in the room), and we gathered in the poor creature that was hurt and battered and more than half stunned, opening alternately its yellow bill and its red eyes in the most absurd manner.

With a solicitude that it amused me to watch, Sir Adrian had tended the helpless, goose-like thing and then handed it to Rene's further care.

Rene, it seemed, had thought of trying to tame the wild bird, and had constructed a huge sort of cage with laths and barrel-hoops, and installed it there with various nasty, sea-fishy, weedy things, such as seagulls consider dainty. But the prisoner, now its vigour had returned, yearned for nothing but the free air, and ever and anon almost broke its wings in sudden frenzy to escape.

"I wonder at Rene," said Sir Adrian, contemplating the animal with his grave look of commiseration; "Rene, who, like myself, has been a prisoner! He will be disappointed, but we shall make one of God's creatures happy this day. There is not overmuch happiness in this world."

And, regardless of the vicious pecks aimed at his hands, he with firmness folded the great strong wings and legs and carried the gull outside on the parapet.

There the bird sat a moment, astonished, turning its head round at its benefactor before taking wing; and then it rose flying away in great swoops—flap, flap—across the waves till we could see it no longer. Ugly and awkward as the creature looked in its cage, it was beautiful in its joyful, steady flight, and I was glad to see it go. I must have been a bird myself in another existence, for I have often that longing to fly upon me, and it makes my heart swell with a great impatience that I cannot.

But I could not help remarking to Sir Adrian that the bird's last look round had been full of anger rather than gratitude, and his answer, as he watched it sweep heavily away, was too gloomy to please me:

"Gratitude," said he, "is as rare as unselfishness. If it were not so this world would be different indeed. As it is, we have no more right to expect the one than the other. And, when all is said and done, if doing a so-called kind action gives us pleasure, it is only a special form of self-indulgence."

There is something wrong about a reasoning of this kind, but I could not exactly point out where.

We both stood gazing out from our platform upon the darkening waters. Then across our vision there crept, round the promontory, a beautiful ship with all sails set, looking like some gigantic white bird; sailing, sailing, so swiftly yet so surely by, through the dim light; and I cried out in admiration: for there is something in the sight of a ship silently gliding that always sets my heart beating. But Sir Adrian's face grew stern, and he said: "A ship is a whitened sepulchre."

But for all that he looked at it long and pensively.

Now it had struck me before this that Sir Adrian, with all his kindness of heart, takes but a dismal view of human nature and human destiny; that to him what spoils the face of this world is that strife of life—which to me is as the breath of my nostrils, the absence of which made my convent days so grey and hateful to look back upon.

I did not like to feel out of harmony with him, and so almost angrily I reproached him.

"Would you have every one live like a limpet on a rock?" cried I. "Great heavens! I would rather be dead than not be up and doing."

He looked at me gravely, pityingly.

"May you never see what I have seen," said he. "May you never learn what men have made of the world. God keep your fair life from such ways as mine has been made to follow."

The words filled me, I don't know why, with sudden misgiving. Is this life, I am so eager for, but horror and misery after all? Would it be better to leave the book unopened? They said so at the convent. But what can they know of life at a convent?

He bent his kind face towards mine in the thickening gloom, as though to read my thoughts, and his lips moved, but he did not speak aloud. Then, above the song of the waves as they gathered, rolled in, and fell upon the shingle all around, there came the beat of oars.

"Hark," said Sir Adrian, "our good Rene!"

His tone was cheerful again, and, as he hurried me away down the stairs, I knew he was glad to divert me from the melancholy into which he had allowed himself to drift.

And then "good Rene" came, bringing breezy life and cheerfulness with him, and a bundle and a letter for me.

Poor Madeleine! It seems she has been quite ill with weeping for Molly; and, indeed, her dear scrawl was so illegible that I could hardly read it. Rene says she was nearly as much upset by the joy as by the grief. Mr. Landale was not at home; he had ridden to meet Tanty at Liverpool, for the dear old lady has been summoned back in hot haste with the news of my decease!

He for one, I thought to myself, will survive the shock of relief at learning that Molly has risen from the dead!

* * * * *

Ting, ting, ting.... There goes my little clock, fussily counting the hour to tell me that I have written so long a time that I ought to be tired. And so I am, though I have not told you half of all I meant to tell!



CHAPTER XVI

THE RECLUSE AND THE SQUIRE

I thought I should never get away from supper and be alone! Rupert's air of cool triumph—it was triumph, however he may have wished to hide it—and Tanty's flow of indignation, recrimination, speculation, and amazement were enough to drive me mad. But I held out. I pretended I did not mind. My cheeks were blazing, and I talked a tort et a travers. I should have died rather than that Rupert should have guessed at the tempest in my heart. Now I am alone at last, thank God! and it will be a relief to confide to my faithful diary the feelings that have been choking me these last two hours.

"Pride must have a fall." Thus Rupert at supper, with reference, it is true, to some trivial incident, but looking at me hard and full, and pointing the words with his meaning smile. The fairies who attended at my birth endowed me with one power, which, however doubtful a blessing it may prove in the long run, has nevertheless been an unspeakable comfort to me hitherto. This is the reverse of what I heard a French gentleman term l'esprit de l'escalier. Thanks to this fairy godmother of mine, the instant some one annoys or angers me there rises on the tip of my tongue the most galling rejoinder that can possibly be made in the circumstances. And I need not add: I make it.

To-night, when Rupert flung his scoff at me, I was ready for him.

"I trust the old adage has not been brought home to you, Sir Rupert," said I, and then pretending confusion. "I beg your pardon," I added, "I have been so accustomed to address the head of the house these last days that the word escaped me unawares." The shot told well, and I was glad—glad of the murderous rage in Rupert's eyes, for I knew I had hit him on the raw. Even Tanty looked perturbed, but Rupert let me alone for the rest of supper.

He is right nevertheless, that is what stung me. I am humbled, and I cannot bear it!

Sir Adrian has left.

I was so triumphant to bring him back to Pulwick this morning, to have circumvented Rupert's plans, and (let me speak the truth,) so happy to have him with me that I did not attempt to conceal my exultation. And now he has gone, gone without a word to me; only this miserable letter of determined farewell. I will copy it—for in my first anger I have so crumpled the paper that it is scarcely readable.

"My child, I must go back to my island. The world is not for me, nor am I for the world, nor would I cast the shadow of my gloomy life further upon your bright one. Let me tell you, however, that you have left me the better for your coming; that it will be a good thought to me in my loneliness to know of your mother's daughters so close to me. When you look across at the beacon of Scarthey, child, through the darkness, think that though I may not see you again I shall ever follow and keep guard upon your life and upon your sister's, and that, even when you are far from Pulwick, the light will burn and the heart of Adrian Landale watch so long as it may beat."

I have shed more tears—hot tears of anger—since I received this than I have wept in all my life before. Madeleine came in to me just now, too full of the happiness of having me back, poor darling, to be able to bear me out of sight again; but I have driven her from me with such cross words that she too is in tears. I must be alone and I must collect myself and my thoughts, for I want to state exactly all that has happened and then perhaps I shall be able to see my way more clearly.

* * * * *

This morning then, early after breakfast, I started across the waters between Rene and Sir Adrian, regretting to leave the dear hospitable island, yet with my heart dancing within me, as gaily as did our little boat upon the chopping waves, to be carrying the hermit back with me. I had been deadly afraid lest he should at the last moment have sent me alone with the servant; but when he put on his big cloak, when I saw Rene place a bag at the bottom of the boat, I knew he meant to come—perhaps remain some days at Pulwick, and my spirits went up, up!

It was a lovely day, too; the air had a crisp, cold sparkle, and the waters looked so blue under the clear, frosty sky. I could have sung as we rowed along, and every time I met Sir Adrian's eye I smiled at him out of the happiness of my heart. His look hung on me—we French have a word for that which is not translatable, Il me couvait des yeux—and, as every day of the three we had spent together I had thought him younger and handsomer, so this morning out in the bright sunlight I said to myself, I could never wish to see a more noble man.

When we landed—and it was but a little way, for the tide was low—there was the carriage waiting, and Rene, all grins, handed over our parcels to the footman. Then we got in, the wheels began slowly dragging across the sand to the road, the poor horses pulling and straining, for it was heavy work. And Rene stood watching us by his boat, his hand over his eyes, a black figure against the dazzling sunshine on the bay; but I could see his white teeth gleam in that broad smile of his from out of his shadowy face. As, at length, we reached the high road and bowled swiftly along, I would not let Sir Adrian have peace to think, for something at my heart told me he hated the going back to Pulwick, and I so chattered and fixed his attention that as the carriage drew up he was actually laughing.

When we stopped another carriage in front moved off, and there on the porch stood—Rupert and Tanty!

Poor Tanty, her old face all disfigured with tears and a great black bonnet and veil towering on her head. I popped my head out of the window and called to them.

When they caught sight of me, both seemed to grow rigid with amazement. And then across Rupert's face came such a look of fury, and such a deathly pallor! I had thought, certainly, he would not weep the eyes out of his head for me; but that he should be stricken with anger to see me alive I had hardly expected, and for the instant it frightened me.

But then I had no time to observe anything else, for Tanty collapsed upon the steps and went off into as fine a fit of hysterics as I have ever seen. But fortunately it did not last long. Suddenly in the middle of her screams and rockings to and fro she perceived Sir Adrian as he leant anxiously over her. With the utmost energy she clutched his arm and scrambled to her feet.

"Is it you, me poor child?" she cried, "Is it you?"

And then she turned from him, as he stood with his gentle, earnest face looking down upon her, and gave Rupert a glare that might have slain him. I knew at once what she was thinking: I had experienced myself that it was impossible to see Sir Adrian and connect his dignified presence for one second with the scandalous impression Rupert would have conveyed.

As for Rupert, he looked for the first time since I knew him thoroughly unnerved.

Then Tanty caught me by the arm and shook me:

"How dare you, miss, how dare you?" she cried, her face was flaming.

"How dare I what?" asked I, as I hugged her.

"How dare you be walking about when it is dead you are, and give us all such a fright—there—there, you know what I mean.—Adrian," she whimpered, "give me your arm, my nephew, and conduct me into your house. All this has upset me very much. But, oh, am I not glad to see you both, my children!"

In they went together. And my courage having risen again to its usual height, I waited purposely on the porch to tease Rupert a little. I had a real pleasure in noticing how he trembled with agitation beneath his mask.

"Well, are you glad to see me, Cousin Rupert?" said I.

He took my hand; his fingers were damp and cold.

"Can you ask, my fair cousin?" he sneered. "Do you not see me overcome with joy? Am I not indeed especially favoured by Providence, for is not this the second time that a beloved being has been restored into my arms like Lazarus from the grave?"

I was indignant at the heartlessness of his cynicism, and so the answer that leaped to my lips was out before I had time to reflect upon its unladylikeness.

"Ay," said I, "and each time you have cried in your soul, like Martha, 'Behold, he stinketh.'"

My cousin laughed aloud.

"You have a sharp tongue," he said, "take care you are not cut with it yourself some day."

Just then the footmen who had been unpacking Tanty's trunks from the first carriage laid a great wooden box upon the porch, and one of them asked Rupert which room they should bring it to.

Rupert looked at it strangely, and then at me.

"Take it where you will," he exclaimed at last. "There lies good money-value wasted—though, after all, one never knows."

"What is it?" said I, struck by a sinister meaning in his accents.

"Mourning, beautiful Molly—mourning for you—crape—gowns—weepers—wherewith to have dried your sister's tears—but not needed yet, you see."

He bared his teeth at me over his shoulder—I could not call it a smile—and then paused, as he was about to brush past into the hall, to give me the pas, with a mocking bow.

He does not even attempt now to hide his dislike of me, nor to draw for me that cloak of suave composure over the fierce temper that is always gnawing at his vitals as surely as fox ever gnawed little Spartan. He sees that it is useless, I suppose. As I went upstairs to greet Madeleine, I laughed to myself to think how Fate had circumvented the plotter.

Alas, how foolish I was to laugh! Rupert is a dangerous enemy, and I have made him mine; and in a few hours he has shuffled the cards, and now he holds the trumps again. For that there is du Rupert in this sudden departure of my knight, I am convinced. Of course, his reasons are plain to see. It is the vulgarest ambition that prompts him to oust his brother for as long as possible—for ever, if he can.

And now, I am outwitted. Je rage.

I have never been so unhappy. My heart feels all crushed. I see no help anywhere. I cannot in common decency go and seek Sir Adrian upon his island again, and so I sit and cry.

* * * * *

Immediately upon his arrival Tanty was closeted with Sir Adrian in the chamber allotted to her for so long a space of time that Rupert, watching below in an inward fever, now flung back in his chair biting his nails, now restlessly pacing the room from end to end, his mind working on the new problem, his ears strained to catch the least sound the while, was fain at last to ring and give orders for the immediate sounding of the dinner bell (a good hour before that meal might be expected) as the only chance of interrupting a conference which boded so ill to his plans. Meanwhile Madeleine sobbed out the story of her grief and joy on Molly's heart; and Miss Sophia, who thus inconsiderately arrested in the full congenial flow of a new grief, was thrown back upon her old sorrows for consolation, had felt impelled to pay a visit to the rector's grave with the watering-can, and an extra pocket-handkerchief.

Never perhaps since that worthy clergyman had gasped out his last struggling breath upon her bosom had she known more unmixed satisfaction than during those days when she hovered round poor prostrate Madeleine's bed and poured into her deaf ear the tale of her own woes and the assurances of her thoroughly understanding sympathy. She had been looking forward, with a chastened eagerness, to the arrival of the mourning, and had already derived a good deal of pleasure from the donning of certain aged weeds treasured in her wardrobe; it was therefore a distinct though quite unconscious disappointment when the news came which put an untimely end to all these funereal revels.

At the shrill clamour of the bell, as Rupert anticipated, Adrian emerged instantly from his aunt's room, and a simultaneous jingle of minor bells announced that the ladies' attention was in all haste being turned to toilet matters.

Whatever had passed between his good old relative and his sensitive brother, Rupert's quick appraising glance at the latter's face, as he went slowly down the corridor to his own specially reserved apartment, was sufficient to confirm the watcher in his misgiving that matters were not progressing as he might wish.

Sir Adrian seemed absorbed, it is true, in grave thought, but his countenance was neither distressed nor gloomy. With a spasm of fierce annoyance, and a bitter curse on the meddling of old females and young, Rupert had to admit that never had he seen his brother look more handsome, more master of the house and of himself, more sane.

A few minutes later the guests of Pulwick assembled in the library one by one, with the exception of Sophia, still watering the last resting-place of the Rev. Herbert Lee.

Adrian came first, closely followed by Tanty, who turned a marked shoulder upon her younger nephew and devoted all her attention to the elder—in which strained condition of affairs the conversation between the three was not likely to be lively. Next the sisters, attired alike in white, entered together, bringing a bright vision of youth and loveliness into the old room.

At sight of them Adrian sprang to his feet with a sudden sharp ejaculation, upon which the two girls halted on the threshold, half shy, half smiling. For the moment, in the shadow of the doorway, they were surprisingly like each other, the difference of colouring being lost in their curious similarity of contour.

My God, were there then two Ceciles?

Beautiful, miraculous, consoling had been to the mourner in his loneliness the apparition of his dead love restored to life, every time his eyes had fallen upon Molly during these last few blessed days; but this new development was only like a troublous mocking dream.

Tanty turned in startled amazement. She could feel the shudder that shook his frame, through the hand with which he still unconsciously grasped at the back of her chair. An irrepressible smile crept to Rupert's lips.

The little interlude could not have lasted more than a few seconds when Molly, recovering her usual self-possession, came boldly forward, leading her sister by the tips of her fingers.

"Cousin Adrian," she said, "my sister Madeleine has many things to say to you in thanks for your care of my valuable person, but just now she is too bashful to be able to utter one quarter of them."

As the girls emerged into the room, and the light from the great windows struck upon Madeleine's fair curls and the delicate pallor of her cheek; as she extended her hand, and raised to Adrian's face, while she dropped her pretty curtsey, the gaze of two unconsciously plaintive blue eyes, the man dashed the sweat from his brow with a gesture of relief.

Nothing could be more unlike the dark beauty of the ghost of his dreams or its dashing presentment now smiling confidently upon him from Tanty's side.

He took the little hand with tender pressure: Cecile's daughter must be precious to him in any case. Madeleine, moreover, had a certain appealing grace that was apt to steal the favour that Molly won by storm.

"But, indeed, I could never tell Sir Adrian how grateful I am," said she, with a timidity that became her as thoroughly as Molly's fearlessness suited her own stronger personality.

At the sound of her voice, again the distressful nightmare-like feeling seized Sir Adrian's soul.

Of all characteristics that, as the phrase is, "go in families," voices are generally the most peculiarly generic.

When Molly first addressed Sir Adrian, it had been to him as a voice from the grave; now Madeleine's gentle speech tripped forth upon that self-same note—Cecile's own voice!

And next Molly caught up the sound, and then Madeleine answered again. What they said, he could not tell; these ghosts—these speaking ghosts—brought back the old memories too painfully. It was thus Cecile had spoken in the first arrogance of her dainty youth and loveliness; and in those softer tones when sorrow and work and failure had subdued her proud spirit. And now she laughs; and hark, the laugh is echoed! Sir Adrian turns as if to seek some escape from this strange form of torture, meets Rupert's eye and instinctively braces himself into self-control.

"Come, come," cried Miss O'Donoghue, in her comfortable, commonplace, cheerful tone: "This dinner bell of yours, Adrian, has raised false hopes, which seem to tarry in their fulfilment. What are we waiting for, may I ask?"

Adrian looked at his brother.

"Rupert, you know, my dear aunt," he said, "has the ordering of these matters."

"Sophia is yet absent," quoth Rupert drily, "but we can proceed without her, if my aunt wishes."

"Pooh, yes. Sophia!" snorted Miss O'Donoghue, grasping Sir Adrian's arm to show herself quite ready for the march, "Sophia! We all know what she is. Why, my dear Adrian, she'll never hear the bell till it has stopped this half hour."

"Dinner," cried Rupert sharply to the butler, whom his pull of the bell-rope had summoned. And dinner being served, the guests trooped into that dining-room which was full of such associations to Sir Adrian. It was a little thing, but, nevertheless, intensely galling to Rupert to have to play second gentleman, and give up his privileges as host to his brother. Usually indeed Adrian cared too little to stand upon his rights, and insisted upon Rupert's continuing to act in his presence as he did in his absence; but this afternoon Tanty had left him no choice.

Nevertheless, as Mr. Landale sat down between the sisters, and turned smiling to address first one and then the other, it would have taken a very practised eye to discern under the extra urbanity of his demeanour the intensity of his inward mortification. He talked a great deal and exerted himself to make the sisters talk likewise, bantering Molly into scornful and eager retorts, and preventing Madeleine from relapsing into that state of dreaminess out of which the rapid succession of her recent sorrow and joy had somewhat shaken her.

The girls were both excited, both ready to laugh and jest. Tanty, satisfied to see Adrian preside at the head of the table with a grave, courteous, and self-contained manner that completely fulfilled her notions of what family dignity required of him, cracked her jokes, ate her dinner, and quaffed her cup with full enjoyment, laughing indulgently at her grand-nieces' sallies, and showing as marked a disfavour to Rupert as she deemed consistent with good manners.

The poor old lady little guessed how the workings in each brother's mind were all the while, silently but inevitably, tending towards the destruction of her newly awakened hopes.

* * * * *

There was silence between Sir Adrian and Rupert when at last they were left alone together. The elder's gaze wandering in space, his absent hand softly beating the table, his relaxed frame—all showed that his mind was far away from thought of the younger's presence. The relief to be delivered from the twin echoes of a haunting voice—once the dearest on earth to him—was immense. But his whole being was still quivering under the first acuteness of so disturbing an impression.

His years of solitude, moreover, had ill prepared him for social intercourse; the laughter, the clash of conversation, the noise on every side, the length of the meal, the strain to maintain a fit and proper attitude as host, had tried to the utmost nerves by nature hypersensitive.

Rupert, who had leisure to study the suddenly lined and tired lineaments of the abstracted countenance before him, noted with self-congratulation the change that a few hours seemed to have wrought upon it, and decided that the moment had come to strike.

"So, Adrian," he said, looking down demurely as he spoke into the glass of wine he had been toying with—Rupert was an abstemious man. "So, Adrian, you have been playing the chivalrous role of rescuer of distressed damsels—squire of dames and what not. The last one would have ascribed to you at least at this end of your life. Ha," throwing up his head with a mirthless laugh; "how little any of us would have thought what a blessing in disguise your freak of self-exile was destined to become to us!"

At the sound of the incisive voice Adrian had returned with a slight shiver from distant musing to the consciousness of the other's presence.

"And did you not always look upon my exile as a blessing undisguised, Rupert?" answered he, fixing his brother with his large grave gaze.

Rupert's eyelids wavered a little beneath it, but his tone was coolly insolent as he made reply:

"If it pleases you to make no count of our fraternal affection for you, my dear fellow; if by insisting upon our unnatural depravity you contrive a more decent excuse for your own vagaries, you have my full permission to dub me Cain at once and have done with it."

A light sigh escaped the elder man, and then he resolutely closed his lips. It was by behaviour such as this, by his almost diabolical ingenuity in the art of being uncongenial, that Rupert had so largely contributed to make his own house impossible to him. But where was the use of either argument or expostulation with one so incapable of even understanding the mainsprings of his actions? Moreover (he, above all, must not forget it) Rupert had suffered through him in pride and self-esteem. And yet, despite Sir Adrian's philosophic mind, despite his vast, pessimistic though benevolent tolerance for erring human nature, his was a very human heart; and it added not a little to the sadness of his lot at every return to Pulwick (dating from that first most bitter home-coming) to feel in every fibre of his being how little welcome he was where the ties of flesh and blood alone, not to speak of his most ceaseless yet delicate generosity, should have ensured him a very different reception.

Again he sighed, this time more deeply, and the corners of Rupert's lips, the arch of his eyebrows, moved upwards in smiling interrogation.

"It must have given you a shock," said Mr. Landale, carelessly, "to see the resemblance between Molly and poor Cecile; not, of course, that I can remember her; but Tanty says it is something startling."

Adrian assented briefly.

"I daresay it seems quite painful to you at first," proceeded Rupert, much in the same deliberate manner as a surgeon may lay bare a wound, despite the knowledge of the suffering he is inflicting, "I noticed that you seemed upset during dinner. But probably the feeling will wear off."

"Probably."

"Madeleine resembles her father, I am told; but then you never saw the feu Comte, did you? Well, they are both fine handsome girls, full of life and spirits. It is our revered relative's intention to leave them here—as perhaps she has told you—for two months or so."

"I have begged her," said Sir Adrian gravely, "to make them understand that I wish them to look upon Pulwick as their home."

"Very right, very proper," cried the other; "in fact I knew that was what you would wish—and your wishes, of course, are my law in the matter. By the way, I hope you quite understand, Adrian, how it happened that I did not notify to you the arrival of these guests extraordinary—knowing that you have never got over their mother's death, and all that—it was entirely from a wish to spare you. Besides, there was your general prohibition about my visitors; I did not dare to take the responsibility in fact. And so I told Tanty."

"I do not wish to doubt the purity of your motives, though it would have grieved me had these visitors (no ordinary ones as you yourself admit) come and gone without my knowledge. As it fell out, however, even without that child's dangerous expedition, I should have been informed in any case—Rene knew."

"Rene knew?" cried Rupert, surprised; and "damn Rene" to himself with heart-felt energy.

That the infernal little spy, as he deemed his brother's servant, should have made a visit to Pulwick without his knowledge was unpleasant news, and it touched him on his tenderest point.

But now, replenishing his half-emptied glass to give Adrian no excuse for putting an end to the conference before he himself desired it, he plunged into the heart of the task he had set himself without further delay:

"And what would you wish me to do, Adrian," he asked, with a pretty air of deference, "in the matter of entertaining these ladies? I have thought of several things likely to afford them amusement, but, since you are here, you will readily understand that I should like your authorisation first. I am anxious to consult you when I can," he added, apologetically. "So forgive my attacking you upon business to-night when you seem really so little fitted for it—but you know one cannot count upon you from one minute to another! What would you say if I were to issue invitations for a ball? Pulwick was noted for its hospitality in the days of our fathers, and the gloom that has hung over the old home these last eight years has been (I suppose) unavoidable in the circumstances—but none the less a pity. No fear but that our fair cousins would enjoy such a festivity, and I think I can promise you that the sound of our revels should not reach as far as your hermitage."

A slow colour had mounted to Adrian's cheeks; he drew his brows together with an air of displeasure; Rupert, quick to read these symptoms, hastened to pursue the attack before response should be made:

"The idea does not seem to please you," he cried, as if in hurt surprise. "'Tis true I have now no legal right to think of reviving the old hospitable traditions of the family; but you must remember, Adrian, you yourself have insisted on giving me a moral right to act host here in your absence—you have over and over again laid stress upon the freedom you wished me to feel in the matter. Hitherto I have not made use of these privileges; have not cared to do so, beyond an occasional duty dinner to our nearest neighbours. A lonely widower like myself, why should I? But now, with these gay young things in the house—so near to us in blood—I had thought it so much our duty to provide fitting entertainment for them that your attitude is incomprehensible to me. Come! does it not strike you as savouring a little of the unamiable dog in the fable? I know you hate company yourself, and all the rest of it; but how can these things here affect you upon your island? As for the budget, it will stand it, I assure you. I speak hotly; pray excuse me. I own I have looked forward to the thought of seeing once more young and happy faces around me."

"You mistake me," said Sir Adrian with an effort; "while you are acting as my representative you have, as you know, all liberty to entertain what guests you choose, and as you see fit. It is natural, perhaps, that you should now believe me anxious to hurry back to the lighthouse, and I should have told you before that it is my intention this time to remain longer than my wont, in which circumstance the arrangements for the entertaining of our relatives will devolve upon myself."

Rupert broke into a loud laugh.

"Forgive me, but the idea is too ludicrous! What sort of funeral festivities do you propose to provide to the neighbourhood, with you and Sophia presiding, the living images of mourning and desolation? There, my dear fellow, I must laugh. It will be the skeleton at the feast with a vengeance. Why, even to-night, in the bosom of your family, as it were, your presence lay so like a wet blanket upon us all that, 'pon my soul, I nearly cracked my voice trying to keep those girls from noticing it! Seriously, I am delighted, of course, that you should feel so sportive, and it is high time indeed that the neighbourhood should see something of you, but I fear you are reckoning beyond your strength. Anyhow, command me. I shall be anxious to help you all I can in this novel departure. What are your plans?"

"I have laid no plans," answered Sir Adrian coldly, after a slight pause, "but you do not need me to tell you, Rupert, that to surround myself with such gaiety as you suggest is impossible."

"You mean to make our poor little cousins lead as melancholy an existence as you do yourself then," cried Rupert with an angry laugh. Matters were not progressing as he could have wished. "I fear this will cause a good deal of disappointment, not only to them but to our revered aunt—for she is very naturally anxious to see her charges married and settled, and she told me that she more or less counted upon my aid in the matter. Now as you are here of course I have, thank Heaven, nothing more to say one way or another. But you will surely think of asking a few likely young fellows over to the house, occasionally? We are not badly off for eldest sons in the neighbourhood; Molly, who is as arrant a little flirt, they tell me, as she is pretty, will be grateful to you for the attention, on the score of amusement at least."

Mr. Landale, speaking somewhat at random out of his annoyance to have failed in immediately disgusting the hermit of the responsibilities his return home might entail, here succeeded by chance in producing the desired impression.

The idea of Molly—Cecile's double—marrying—worse still, making love, coquetting before his eyes, was intolerable to Adrian. To have to look on, and see Cecile's eyes lavish glances of love; her lips, soft words and lingering smiles, upon some country fool; to have himself to give this duplicate of his love's sweet body to one unworthy perhaps—it stung him with a pain as keen as it was unreasonable. It was terrible to be so made, that the past was ever as living as the present! But he must face the situation, he must grapple with his own weakness. Tender memories had lured him from his retreat and made him for a short time almost believe that he could live with them, happy a little while, in his own home again; but now it was these very memories that were rising like avengers to drive him hence.

Of course the child must marry if there her happiness lay. Ay, and both Cecile's children must be amused, made joyful, while they still could enjoy life—Rupert was right—right in all he said—but he, Adrian, could not be there to see. That was beyond his endurance.

It was impossible of course, for one so single-minded himself, to follow altogether the doublings of such a mind as Rupert's; but through the melancholy relief of this sudden resolution, Adrian was distinctly conscious of the underlying duplicity, the unworthy motives which had prompted his brother's arguments.

He rose from the table, and looked down with sad gaze at the younger's beautiful mask of a face.

"God knows," he said, "God knows, Rupert, I do not so often inflict my presence upon you that you should be so anxious to show me how much better I should do to keep away. I admit nevertheless the justice of all you say. It is but right that Mesdemoiselles de Savenaye should be surrounded with young and cheerful society; and even were I in a state to act as master of the revels (here he smiled a little dreamily), my very presence, as you say, would cast a gloom upon their merrymaking—I will go. I will go back to the island to-night—I can rely upon you to assist me to do so quietly without unnecessary scenes or explanations—yes—yes—I know you will be ready to facilitate matters! Strange! It is only a few hours ago since Tanty almost persuaded me that it was my duty to remain here; now you have made me see that I have no choice but to leave. Have no fear, Rupert—I go. I shall write to Tanty. But remember only, that as you treat Cecile's children, so shall I shape my actions towards you in future."

Slowly he moved away, leaving Rupert motionless in his seat; and long did the younger brother remain moodily fixing the purple bloom of the grapes with unseeing eyes.



PART III

"CAPTAIN JACK," THE GOLD SMUGGLER



CHAPTER XVII

THE GOLD SMUGGLER AND THE PHILOSOPHER

On the evening of the day which had seen Miss Molly's departure for the main land, Rene, after the usual brisk post-prandial altercation with old Margery by her kitchen fire, was cheerfully finding his way, lantern in hand, to his turret, when in the silence of the night he heard the door of the keep open and close, and presently recognised Sir Adrian's tread echoing on the flagged steps beneath him.

Astonished at this premature return and full of vague dismay, he hurried down to receive his master.

There was a cloud on Sir Adrian's face, plainly discernible in spite of the unaltered composure of his manner.

"I did not expect your honour back so soon," said Rene, tentatively.

"I myself did not anticipate to return. I had thought I might perhaps stay some days at Pulwick. But I find there is no home like this one for me, Rene."

There was a long silence. But when Rene had rekindled a blaze upon the hearth and set the lamp upon the table, he stood a moment before withdrawing, almost begging by his look some further crumb of information.

"My room is ready, I suppose?" inquired Sir Adrian.

"Yes, your honour," quoth the man ruefully, "Margery and I put it back exactly as—as before."

"Good-night then, good-night!" said the master after a pause, warming his hands as the flames began to leap through the network of twigs. "I shall go to bed, I am tired; I had to row myself across. You will take the boat back to-morrow morning."

Rene opened his mouth to speak; caught the sound of a sigh coming from the hearthside, and, shaking his head, in silence obeyed the implied dismissal. And bitterly did he meditate in his bunk, that night, upon the swift crumbling of those air-castles he had built himself so gaily erstwhile, in the rose and blue atmosphere that La Demoiselle had seemed to bring with her to Scarthey.

* * * * *

From the morrow the old regular mode of life began again in the keep.

Sir Adrian read a good deal, or at least appeared so to do; but Rene, who kept him more than ever under his glances of wistful sympathy, noted that far from being absorbed, as of old, in the pages of his book, the recluse's eyes wandered much off its edges into space; that when writing, or at least intent on writing, his pen would linger long in the bottle and hover listlessly over the paper; that he was more abstracted, even than his wont, when looking out of the eastern window; and that on the platform of the beacon it was the landward view which most drew his gaze.

There was also more music in the keep than was the custom in evener days. Seated at his organ the light-keeper seemed to find a voice for such thoughts as were not to be spoken or written, and relief for the nameless pity of them. But never a word passed between the two men on the subject that filled both their hearts.

It was Sir Adrian's pleasure that things at Scarthey should seem to be exactly the same as before, and that was enough for Rene.

"And yet," mused the faithful fellow, within his disturbed mind, "the ruins now look like a house the day after an interment. If we were lonely before, my faith, now we are desolate?" and, trying to find something or somebody to charge with the curse of it, he invariably fell to upon Mr. Landale's sleek head, why, he could hardly have explained.

Three new days had thus passed in the regularity, if not the serenity of the old—they seemed old already, buried far back in the past, those days that had lapsed so evenly before the brightness of youthful and beautiful life had entered the keep for one brief moment, and departing, again left it a ruin indeed—when the retirement of Scarthey was once more invaded by an unexpected visitor. It was about sundown of the shortest day. Sir Adrian was at his organ, almost unconsciously interpreting his own sadness into music. In time the yearning of his soul had had expression, the echo of the last sighing chord died away in the tranquil air, yet the musician, with head bent upon his breast, remained lost in far-away thoughts.

A slight shuffling noise disturbed him; turning round to greet Rene as he supposed, he was astonished to see a man's figure lolling in his own arm-chair.

As he peered inquiringly into the twilight, the intruder rose to his feet, and cried with a voice loud and clear, pleasant withal to the ear:

"Sir Adrian, I am sorry you have stopped so soon; I never heard anything more beautiful! The door was ajar, and I crept in like a cat, not to disturb you."

Still in doubt, but with his fine air of courtesy, the light-keeper advanced towards the uninvited guest.

"Am I mistaken," he said, with some hesitation, "surely this is Hubert Cochrane's voice?"

"Jack Smith's voice, my dear fellow; Jack Smith, at your service, please to remember," answered the visitor, with a genial ring of laughter in his words. "Not that it matters much here, I suppose! Had I not heard the peal of your organ I should have thought Scarthey deserted indeed. I could find no groom of the chambers to announce me in due form."

As he spoke, the two had drawn near each other and clasped hands heartily.

"Now, to think of your knowing my voice in this manner! You have a devilish knack of spotting your man, Sir Adrian. It is almost four years since I was here last, is it not?"

"Four years?—so it is; and four years that have done well by you, it would appear. What a picture of strength and lustiness! It really seems to regenerate one, and put heart of grace in one, only to take you by the hand.—Welcome, Captain Smith!"

Nothing could have more succinctly described the outer man of him who chose to be known by that most nondescript of patronymics. Sir Adrian stood for a moment, contemplating, with glances of approval such as he seldom bestowed on his fellow-man, the symmetrical, slender, yet vigorous figure of his friend, and responding with an unwonted cheerfulness to the smile that lit up the steel-blue eyes, and parted the shapely, strong, and good-humoured mouth of the privateersman.

"Dear me, and what a buck we have become!" continued the baronet, "what splendid plumage! It is good to see you so prosperous. And so this is the latest fashion? No doubt it sets forth the frame of a goodly man, though no one could guess at the 'sea dog' beneath such a set of garments. I used to consider my brother Rupert the most especial dandy I had ever seen; but that, evidently, was my limited experience: even Rupert cannot display so perfect a fit in bottle-green coats, so faultless a silken stock, buckskins of such matchless drab!"

Captain Jack laughed, blushed slightly under the friendly banter, and allowed himself to be thrust back into the seat he had just vacated.

"Welcome again, on my lonely estate. I hope this is not to be a mere flying visit? You know my misanthropy vanishes when I have your company. How did you come? Not by the causeway, I should say," smiling again, and glancing at the unblemished top-boots.

"I have two men waiting for me in the gig below; my schooner, the Peregrine, lies in the offing."

The elder man turned to the window, and through the grey curtain of crepuscule recognised the rakish topsail schooner that had excited Molly's admiration some days before. He gazed forth upon it a few meditative moments.

"Not knowing whether I would find you ready to receive me," pursued the captain, "I arranged that the Peregrine was to wait for me if I had to return to-night."

"Which, of course, is not to be heard of," said Sir Adrian. "Here is Renny; he will carry word that with me you remain to-night.... Come, Renny, do you recognise an old acquaintance?"

Already well disposed towards any one who could call this note of pleasure into the loved voice, the Breton, who had just entered, turned to give a broad stare at the handsome stranger, then burst into a guffaw of pure delight. "By my faith, it is Mr. the Lieutenant!" he ejaculated; adding, as ingeniously as Tanty herself might have done, that he would never have known him again.

"It is Mr. the Captain now, Renny," said that person, and held out a strong hand to grip that of the little Frenchman, which the latter, after the preliminary rubbing upon his trousers that his code of manners enjoined, readily extended.

"Ah, it is a good wind that sent you here this day," said he, with a sigh of satisfaction when this ceremony had been duly gone through.

"You say well," acquiesced his master, "it has ever been a good wind that has brought Captain Jack across my path."

And then receiving directions to refresh the gig's crew and dismiss them back to their ship with instructions to return for orders on the morrow, the servant hurried forth, leaving the two friends once more alone.

"Thanks," said Captain Jack, when the door had closed upon the messenger. "That will exactly suit my purpose. I have a good many things to talk over with you, since you so kindly give me the opportunity. In the first place, let me unburden myself of a debt which is now of old standing—and let me say at the same time," added the young man, rising to deposit upon the table a letter-case which he had taken from his breast-pocket, "that though my actual debt is now met, my obligation to you remains the same and will always be so. You said just now that I looked prosperous, and so I am—owing somewhat to good luck, it is true, but owing above all to you. No luck would have availed me much without that to start upon." And he pointed to the contents of the case, a thick bundle of notes which his host was now smilingly turning over with the tip of his fingers.

"I might have sent you a draft, but there is no letter-post that I know of to Scarthey, and, besides, it struck me that just as these four thousand pounds had privately passed between you and me, you might prefer them to be returned in the same manner."

"I prefer it, since it has brought you in person," said Sir Adrian, thrusting the parcel into a drawer and pulling his chair closer towards his guest. "Dealings with a man like you give one a taste of an ideal world. Would that more human transactions could be carried out in so simple and frank a manner as this little business of ours!"

Captain Jack laughed outright.

"Upon my word, you are a greater marvel to me every time I see you—which is not by any means often enough!"

The other raised his eyebrows in interrogation, and the sailor went on:

"Is it really possible that it is to my mode of dealing that you attribute the delightful simplicity of a transaction involving a little fortune from hand to hand? And where pray, in this terraqueous sublunary sphere—I heard that good phrase from a literary exquisite at Bath, and it seems to me comprehensive—where, then, on this terraqueous sublunary globe of ours, Sir Adrian Landale, could one expect to find another person ready to lend a privateersman, trading under an irresponsible name, the sum of four thousand pounds, without any other security than his volunteered promise to return it—if possible?"

Sir Adrian, ignoring the tribute to his own merits, arose and placed his friendly hand on the speaker's shoulder: "And now, my dear Jack," he said gravely, "that the war is over, you will have to turn your energies in another direction. I am glad you are out of that unworthy trade."

Captain Jack bounded up: "No, no, Sir Adrian, I value your opinion too much to allow such a statement to pass unchallenged. Unworthy trade! We have not given back those French devils one half of the harm they have done to our own merchant service; it was war, you know, and you know also, or perhaps you don't—in which case let me tell you—that my Cormorant has made her goodly name, ay, and brought her commander a fair share of his credit, by her energy in bringing to an incredible number of those d——d French sharks—beg pardon, but you know the pestilent breed. Well, we shall never agree upon the subject I fear. As for me, the smart of the salt air, the sting of the salt breeze, the fighting, the danger, they have got into my blood; and even now it sometimes comes over me that life will not be perfect life to me without the dancing boards under my feet and the free waves around me, and my jolly boys to lead to death or glory. Yet, could you but know it, this is the veriest treason, and I revoke the words a thousand times. You look amazed, and well you may: ah, I have much to tell you! But I take it you will not care to hear all I have been able to achieve on the basis of your munificent help at my—ahem, unworthy trade."

"Well, no," said Sir Adrian smiling, "I can quite imagine it, and imagine it without enthusiasm, though, perhaps, as you say, such things have to be. But I should like to know of these present circumstances, these prospects which make you look so happy. No doubt the fruits of peace?"

"Yes, I suppose in one way they may be called so. Yet without the war and your helping hand they would even now hang as far from me as the grapes from the fox.—When I arrived in England three months after the peace had been signed, I had accumulated in the books of certain banks a tolerably respectable account, to the credit of a certain person, whose name, oddly enough, you on one or two occasions have applied, absently, to Captain Jack Smith. I was, I will own, already feeling inclined to discuss with myself the propriety of assuming the name in question, when, there came something in my way of which I shall tell you presently; which something has made me resolve to remain Captain Smith for some time longer. The old Cormorant lay at Bristol, and being too big for this new purpose, I sold her. It was like cutting off a limb. I loved every plank of her; knew every frisk of her! She served me well to the end, for she fetched her value—almost. Next, having time on my hands, I bethought myself of seeing again a little of the world; and when I tell you that I drove over to Bath, you may perhaps begin to see what I am coming to."

Sir Adrian suddenly turned in his chair to face his friend again, with a look of singular attention.

"Well, no, not exactly, and yet—unless—? Pshaw! impossible——!" upon which lucid commentary he stopped, gazing with anxious inquiry into Captain Jack's smiling eyes. "Ah, I believe you have just a glimmer of the truth with that confounded perspicacity of yours," saying which the sailor laughed and blushed not unbecomingly. "This is how it came about: I had transactions with old John Harewood, the banker, in Bristol, transactions advantageous to both sides, but perhaps most to him—sly old dog. At any rate, the old fellow took a monstrous fancy to me, over his claret, and when I mentioned Bath, recommended me to call upon his wife (a very fine dame, who prefers the fashion of the Spa to the business of Bristol, and consequently lives as much in the former place as good John Harewood will allow). Well, you wonder at my looking prosperous and happy. Listen, for here is the hic: At Lady Maria Harewood's I met one who, if I mistake not, is of your kin. Already, then, somewhere at the back of my memory dwelt the name of Savenaye——Halloa, bless me! I have surely said nothing to——!"

The young man broke off, disconcerted. Sir Adrian's face had become unwontedly clouded, but he waved the speaker on impatiently: "No, no, I am surprised, of course, only surprised; never mind me, my thoughts wandered—please go on. So you have met her?"

"Ay, that I have! Now it is no use beating about the bush. You who know her—you do know her of course—will jump at once to the only possible conclusion. Ah, Adrian!" Captain Jack pursued, pacing enthusiastically about, "I have been no saint, and no doubt I have fancied myself as a lover once or twice ere this; but to see that girl, sir, means a change in a man's life: to have met the light of those sweet eyes is to love, to love in reality. It is to feel ashamed of the idiotic make-believes of former loves. To love her, even in vague hope, is to be glorious already; and, by George, to have her troth, is to be—I cannot say what ... to be what I am now!"

The lover's face was illumined; he walked the room like one treading on air as the joy within him found its voice in words.

Sir Adrian listened with an extraordinary tightness at his heart. He had loved one woman even so; that love was still with him, as the scent clings to the phial; but the sight of this young, joyful love made him feel old in that hour—old as he had never realised before. There was no room in his being for such love again. And yet...? There was a tremulous anxiety in the question he put, after a short pause. "There are two Demoiselles de Savenaye, Jack; which is it?"

Captain Jack halted, turned on his heels, and exclaimed enthusiastically: "To me there is but one—one woman in the world—Madeleine!" His look met that of Sir Adrian in full, and even in the midst of his own self-centred mood he could not fail to notice the transient gleam that shot in the elder's eyes, and the sudden relaxation of his features. He pondered for a moment or two, scanning the while the countenance of the recluse; then a smile lighted up his own bronzed face in a very sweet and winning way. "As her kinsman, have I your approval?" he asked and proceeded earnestly: "To tell the truth at once, I was looking to even more than your approval—to your support."

Sir Adrian's mood had undergone a change: as a breeze sweeping from a new quarter clears in a moment a darkening mist from the face of the earth, Captain Jack's answer had blown away for the nonce the atmosphere of misgiving that enveloped him. He answered promptly, and with warmth: "Being your friend, I am glad to know of this; being her kinsman, I may add, my dear Hubert"—there was just a tinge of hesitation, followed by a certain emphasis, on the change of name—"I promise to support you in your hopes, in so far as I have any influence; for power or right over my cousin I have none."

The sailor threw himself down once more in his arm-chair; and, tapping his shining hessians with the stem of his long clay in smiling abstraction, began, with all a lover's egotism, to expatiate on the theme that filled his heart.

"It is a singular, an admirable, a never sufficiently-to-be-praised conjunction of affairs which has ultimately brought me near you when I was pursuing the Light o' my Heart, ruthlessly snatched away by a cunning and implacable dragon, known to you as Miss O'Donoghue. I say dragon in courtesy; I called her by better names before I realised what a service she was unconsciously rendering us by this sudden removal."

"Known to me!" laughed Sir Adrian. "My own mother's sister!"

"Then I still further retract. Moreover, seeing how things have turned out, I must now regard her as an angel in disguise. Don't look so surprised! Has she not brought my love under your protection? I thought I was tolerably proof against the little god, but then he had never shot his arrows at me from between the long lashes of Madeleine de Savenaye. Oh, those eyes, Adrian! So unlike those southern eyes I have known so well, too well in other days, brilliant, hard, challenging battle from the first glance, and yet from the first promising that surrender which is ever so speedy. Pah! no more of such memories. Before her blue eyes, on my first introduction, I felt—well, I felt as the novice does under the first broadside."

The speaker looked dreamily into space, as if the delicious moment rose again panoramically before him.

"Well," he pursued, "that did me no harm, after all. Lady Maria Harewood, who, I have learned since, deals strongly in sentiment, and, being unfortunately debarred by circumstances from indulgence in the soothing luxury on her own behalf, loves to promote matches more poetical—she calls it more 'harmonious'—than her own very prosaic one, she, dear lady, was delighted with such a rarity as a bashful privateersman—her 'tame corsair,' as I heard her call your humble servant.—I was a hero, sir, a perfect hero of romance in the course of a few days! On the strength of this renown thrust upon me I found grace before the most adorable blue eyes; had words of sympathy from the sweetest lips, and smiles from the most bewitching little mouth in all the world. So you see I owe poor Lady Maria a good thought.... You laugh?"

Sir Adrian was smiling, but all in benevolence, at the artlessness of this eager youth, who in all the unconscious glory of his looks and strength, ascribed the credit of his entrance into a maiden's heart to the virtue of a few irresponsible words of recommendation.

"Ah! those were days! Everything went on smoothly, and I was debating with myself whether I would not, at once, boldly ask her to be the wife of Hubert Cochrane; though the casting of Jack Smith's skin would have necessitated the giving up of several of his free-trading engagements."

"Free trading! You do not mean to say, man alive, that you have turned smuggler now!" interrupted Sir Adrian aghast.

"Smuggler," cried Jack with his frank laugh, "peace, I beg, friend! Miscall not a gentleman thus. Smuggler—pirate? I cut a pretty figure evidently in your worship's eyes. Lucky for me you never would be sworn as a magistrate, or where should I be ... and you too, between duty and friendship?—But to proceed: I was about, as I have said, to give that up for the reasons I mentioned, when, upon a certain fine evening, I crossed the path of one of the most masterful old maids I have ever seen, or even heard of; and, would you believe it?"—this with a quizzical look at his host's grave face—"this misguided old lady took such a violent dislike to me at first sight, and expressed it so thoroughly well, that, hang me if I was not completely brought to. And all for escorting my dear one from Lady Maria's house to her own! Well, the walk was worth it—though the old crocodile was on the watch for us, ready to snap; had got wind of the secret, somehow, a secret unspoken even between us two. This first and last interview took place on the flags, in front of No. 17 Camden Place, Bath. Oh! It was a very one-sided affair from the beginning, and ended abruptly in a door being banged in my face. Then I heard about Miss O'Donoghue's peculiarities in the direction of exclusiveness. And then, also, oddly enough, for the first time, of the great fortune going with my Madeleine's hand. Of course I saw it all, and, I may say, forgave the old lady. In short, I realised that, in Miss O'Donoghue's mind, I am nothing but an unprincipled fortune-seeker and adventurer. Now you, Adrian, can vouch that, whatever my faults, I am none such."

Sir Adrian threw a quiet glance at his friend, whose eyes sparkled as they met it.

"God knows," continued the latter, "that all I care for, concerning the money, is that she may have it. This last venture, the biggest and most difficult of all, I then decided to undertake, that I might be the fitter mate for the heiress—bless her! Oh, Adrian, man, could you have seen her sweet tearful face that night, you would understand that I could not rest upon such a parting. In the dawn of the next morning I was in the street—not so much upon the chance of meeting, though I knew that such sweetness would have now to be all stolen—but to watch her door, her window; a lover's trick, rewarded by lover's luck! Leaning on the railings, through the cold mist (cold it was, though I never felt it, but I mind me now how the icicles broke under my hand), what should I see, before even the church-bells had set to chiming, or the yawning sluts to pull the kitchen curtains, but a bloated monster of a coach, dragging and sliding up the street to halt at her very door. Then out came the beldam herself, and two muffled-up slender things—my Madeleine one of course; but I had a regular turn at sight of them, for I swear I could not tell which was which! Off rattled the chariot at a smart pace; and there I stood, friend, feeling as if my heart was tied behind with the trunks."

The sailor laughed, ran his fingers through his curls and stamped in lively recollection.

"Nothing to be drawn from their landlady. But I am not the man to allow a prize to be snatched from under my very nose. So, anathematising Miss O'Donoghue's family-tree, root, stem, and branch—except that most lovely off-shoot I mean to transplant (you will forgive this heat of blood; it was clearing for action so to speak)—I ran out and overtook the ostler whom I had seen putting the finishing touch to the lashing of boxes behind! 'Gloucester!' says he. The word was worth the guinea it cost me, a hundred times over.—In less than an hour I was in the saddle, ready for pursuit, cantering boot to boot with my man—a trusty fellow who knows how to hold his tongue, and can sit a horse in the bargain. Neither at Gloucester, nor the next day, up to Worcester, could we succeed in doing more than keep our fugitives in view. When they had alighted at one inn, as ascertained by my squire, we patronised the opposition hostelry, and the ensuing morning cantered steadily in pursuit, on our new post-horses half an hour after they had rumbled away with their relays. But the evening of our arrival at Worcester, my fellow found out, at last, what the next stage was to be, and—clever chap, he lost nothing for his sharpness—that the Three Kings' Heads had been recommended to the old lady as the best house in Shrewsbury. This time we took the lead, and on to Shrewsbury, and were at the glorious old Kings' Heads (I in a private room, tight as wax) a good couple of hours before the chariot made its appearance. And there, man, there! my pretty one and I met again!"

"That was, no doubt," put in Sir Adrian, in his gentle, indulgent way, "what made the Kings' Heads so glorious?"

"Ay. Right! And yet it was but a few seconds, on the stair, under a smoky lamp, but her beauty filled the landing with radiance as her kindness did my soul.—It was but for a moment, all blessed moment, too brief, alas! Ah, Adrian, friend—old hermit in your cell—you have never known life, you who have never tasted a moment such as that! Then we started apart: there was a noise below, and she had only time to whisper that she was on her way to Pulwick to some relatives—had only heard it that very day—when steps came up the stairs, creaking. With a last promise, a last word of love, I leaped back into my own chamber, there to see (through the chink between door and post) the untimely old mischief-maker herself pass slowly, sour and solemn, towards her apartments, leaning upon her other niece's arm. How could I have thought that baggage like my princess? Handsome, if you will; but, with her saucy eye, her raven head, her brown cheek, no more to be compared to my stately lily than brass to gold!"

The host listening wonderingly, his eyes fixed with kindly gravity upon the speaker as he rattled on, here gave a slight start, all unnoticed of his friend.

"The next morning, when I had seen the coach and its precious freight move on once more northward, I began the retreat south, hugging myself upon luck and success. I had business in Salcombe—perhaps you may have heard of the Salcombe schooners—in connection with the fitting out of that sailing wonder, the Peregrine. And so," concluded Captain Jack, laughing again in exuberance of joy, "you may possibly guess one of the reasons that has brought her and me round by your island."

There ensued a long silence, filled with thoughts, equally pressing though of widely different complexion, on either side of the hearth.

* * * * *

During the meal, which was presently set forth and proclaimed ready by Rene, the talk, as was natural in that watchful attendant's presence, ran only on general topics, and was in consequence fitful and unspontaneous. But when the two men, for all their difference of age, temper, and pursuits so strongly, yet so oddly united in sympathy, were once more alone, they naturally fell back under the influence of the more engrossing strain of reflection. Again there was silence, while each mused, gazing into space and vaguely listening to the plash of high water under the window.

"It must have been a strong motive," said Sir Adrian, after his dreamy fashion, like one thinking aloud, "to induce a man like you to abandon his honourable name."

Captain Jack flushed at these words, drew his elbows from the table, and shot a keen, inquiring glance at his friend, which, however, fell promptly before the latter's unconscious gaze and was succeeded by one of reflective melancholy. Then, with a slight sigh, he raised his glass to the lamp, and while peering abstractedly through the ruby, "The story of turning my back upon my house," he said musingly, "shaking its very dust off my feet, so to speak, and starting life afresh unbeholden to my father (even for what he could not take away from me—my own name),—is a simple affair, although pitiful enough perhaps. But memories of family wrongs and family quarrels are of their nature painful; and, as I am a mirth-loving fellow, I hate to bring them upon me. But perhaps it has occurred to you that I may have brought some disgrace upon the name I have forsaken."

"I never allowed myself to think so," said Sir Adrian, surprised. "Your very presence by my fireside is proof of it."

Again the captain scrutinised his host; then with a little laugh: "Pardon me," he cried, "with another man one might accept that likely proof and be flattered. But with you? why, I believe I know you too well not to feel sure that you would have received me as kindly and unreservedly, no matter what my past if only you thought that I had repented; that you would forgive even a crime regretted; and having forgiven, forget.... But, to resume, you will believe me when I say that there was nothing of the sort. No," he went on, with a musing air, "but I could tell you of a boy, disliked at home for his stubborn spirit, and one day thrashed, thrashed mercilessly—at a time when he had thought he had reached to the pride of man's estate, thrashed by his own father, and for no just cause.... Oh, Adrian, it is a terrible thing to have put such resentment into a lad's heart." He rose as he spoke, and placed himself before the hearth.

"If ever I have sons," he added after a pause, and at the words his whole handsome face relaxed, and became suffused with a tender glow, "I would rather cut my right hand off than raise such a spirit in them. Well, I daresay you can guess the rest; I will even tell you in a few words, and then dismiss the subject.—I have always had a certain shrewdness at the bottom of my recklessness. Now there was a cousin of the family, who had taken to commerce in Liverpool, and who was therefore despised, ignored and insulted by us gentry of the Shaws. So when I packed my bundle, and walked out of the park gate, I thought of him; and two days later I presented myself at his mansion in Rodney Street, Liverpool. I told him my name, whereat he scowled; but he was promptly brought round upon hearing of my firm determination to renounce it and all relations with my father's house for ever, and of my reasons for this resolve, which he found excellent. I could not have lighted upon a better man. He hated my family as heartily as even I could wish, and readily, out of spite to them, undertook to aid me. He was a most enterprising scoundrel, had a share in half a dozen floating ventures. I expressed a desire for life on the ocean wave, and he started me merrily as his nephew, Jack Smith, to learn the business on a slaver of his. The 'ebony trade,' you know, was all the go then, Adrian. Many great gentlemen in Lancashire had shares in it. Now it is considered low. To say true, a year of it was more than enough for me—too much! It sickened me. My uncle laughed when I demurred at a second journey, but to humour me, as I had learned something of the sailing trade, he found me another berth, on board a privateer, the St. Nicholas. My fortune was made from the moment I set foot on that lucky ship, as you know."

"And you have never seen your father since?"

"Neither father, nor brothers, nor any of my kin, save the cousin in question. All I know is that my father is dead—that he disinherited me expressly in the event of my being still in the flesh; my eldest brother reigns; many of us are scattered, God knows where. And my mother"—the sailor's voice changed slightly—"my mother lives in her own house, with some of the younger ones. So much I have ascertained quite recently. She believes me dead, of course. Oh, it will be a good day, Adrian, when I can come back to her, independent, prosperous, bringing my beautiful bride with me!... But until I can resume my name in all freedom, this cannot be."

"But why, my dear fellow, these further risks and adventures? Surely, even at your showing you have enough of this world's goods; why not come forward, now, at once, openly? I will introduce you, as soon as may be, in your real character, for the sake of your mother—of Madeleine herself."

The sailor shook his head, tempted yet determined.

"I am not free to do so. I have given my word; my honour is engaged," he said. Then abruptly asked: "Have you ever heard of guinea smuggling?"

"Guinea smuggling! No," said Sir Adrian, his amazement giving way to anxiety.

"No? You surprise me. You who are, or were, I understand, a student of philosophical matters, freedom of exchange, and international intercourse and the rest of it—things we never shall have so long as governments want money, I am thinking.—However, this guinea smuggling is a comparatively new business. Now, I don't know anything about the theory; but I know this much of the practice that, while our preventive service won't let guineas pass the Channel (as goods) this year, somebody on the other side is devilish anxious to have them at almost any cost. And the cost, you know, is heavy, for the risk of confiscation is great. Well, your banker or your rich man will not trust his bullion to your common free trader—he is not quite such a fool."

"No," put in Sir Adrian, as the other paused on this mocking proposition. "In the old days, when I was busy in promoting the Savenaye expedition, I came across many of that gentry, and I cannot mind a case where they could have been trusted with such a freight. But perhaps," he added with a small smile, "the standard may be higher now."

Captain Jack grinned appreciatively. "That is where the 'likes of me' comes in. I will confess this not to be my first attempt. It is known that I am one of the few whose word is warranty. What is more, as I have said, it is known that I have the luck. Thus, even if I could bring my own name into such a trade, I would not; it would be the height of folly to change now."

For all his disapproval Sir Adrian could not repress a look of amusement. "I verily believe, Jack," he said, shaking his head, "that you are as superstitious yourself as the best of them!"

"I ought to make a good thing out of it," said Jack, evasively. "And even with all that is lovely to keep me on shore, I would hardly give it up, if I could. As things stand I could not if I would. Do not condemn me, Adrian,—that would be fatal to my hopes—nay, I actually want your help."

"I would you were out of it," reiterated Sir Adrian; "it takes so little to turn the current of a man's life when he seems to be making straight for happiness. As to the morals of it, I fail, I must admit, to perceive any wrong in smuggling, at least in the abstract, except that a certain kind of moral teaches that all is wrong that is against the law. And yet so many of our laws are so ferocious and inept, and as such the very cause of so much going wrong that might otherwise go well; so many of those who administer them are themselves so ferocious and inept, that the mere fact of a pursuit being unlawful is no real condemnation in my eyes. But, as you know, Jack, those who place themselves above some laws almost invariably renounce all. If you are hanged for stealing a horse, or breaking some fiscal law and hanged for killing a man, the tendency, under stress of circumstances is obvious. Aye, have we not a proverb about it: as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb?... There are gruesome stories about your free traders—and gruesome endings to them. I well remember, in my young days, the clanking gibbet on the sands near Preston and the three tarred and iron-riveted carcases hanging, each in its chains, with the perpetual guard of carrion crows.... Hanging in chains is still on the statute book, I believe. But I'll stop my croaking now. You are not one to be drawn into brutal ways; nor one, I fear, to be frightened into prudence. Nevertheless," laughing quietly, "I am curious to know in what way you expect help from me, in practice. Do you, seriously, want me to embark actually on a smuggling expedition?—I demur, my dear fellow."

Obviously relieved of some anxiety, the other burst out laughing. "Never fear! I know your dislike to bilge water too well. I appreciate too well also your comfortable surroundings," he returned, seating himself once more complacently in his arm-chair, "much as I should love your company on board my pleasure ship—for, if you please, the Peregrine is no smuggling lugger, but professes to be a yacht. Still, you can be of help for all that, and without lifting even a finger to promote this illicit trade. You may ignore it completely, and yet you will render me incalculable service, provided you do not debar me from paying you a few more visits in your solitude, and give me the range of your caves and cellars."

"You are welcome enough," said the recluse. "I trust it may end as well as it promises." And, after a pause, "Madeleine does not know the nature of your present pursuit?"

"Oddly enough, and happily (for our moments of interview are short, as you may imagine) she is not curious on the subject. I don't know what notions the old Lady Maria may have put into her head about me. I think she believes that I am engaged on some secret political intrigue and approves of such. At least I gathered as much from her sympathetic reticence; and, between ourselves, I am beginning to believe it myself."

"How is that?" asked the listener, moved to fresh astonishment by this new departure.

"Well, I may tell you, who not only can be as silent as the tomb, but really have a right to know, since you are tacitly of the conspiracy. This time the transaction is to be with some official of the French Court. They want the metal, and yet wish to have it secretly. What their motive may be is food for reflection if you like, but it is no business of mine. And, besides the fact that one journey will suffice for a sum which at the previous rate would have required half a score, all the trouble and uncertainty of landing are disposed of; at any rate, I am, when all is ready, to be met by a government vessel, get my quid pro quo as will be settled, and there the matter is to end."

"A curious expedition," mused Sir Adrian.

"Yes," said the sailor, "my last will be the best. By the way, will you embark a few bags with me? I will take no commission."

Sir Adrian could not help laughing.

"No, thank you; I have no wish to launch any more of my patrimony on ventures—since it would be of no service to you. I had almost as lief you had made use of my old crow's nest without letting me into the ins and outs of your projects. But, be it as it may, it is yours, night and day. Your visits I shall take as being for me."

"What a man you are, upon my soul, Sir Adrian!" cried Captain Jack, enthusiastically.

* * * * *

Later on, when the "shaking down" hour, in Captain Jack's phraseology, had sounded, and the two friends separated to rest, the young man refused the offer, dictated by hospitality, of his host's own bedroom. Sir Adrian did not press the point, and, leaving his guest at liberty to enjoy the couch arranged by Rene in a corner under the bookshelves, even as when Mademoiselle de Savenaye had been the guest of the peel, himself retired to that now hallowed apartment.

"Odd fellow, that," soliloquised Captain Jack, as, slowly divesting himself, he paced about the long room and, in the midst of roseate reflections, examined his curious abode. "Withal, as good as ever stepped. It was a fine day's work our old St. Nicholas did, about this time eight years ago. Rather unlike a crowded battery deck, this," looking from the solemn books to the glinting organ pipes, and conscious of the great silence. "As for me, I should go crazy by myself here. But it suits him. Queer fish!" again ruminated the young sailor. "He hates no one and yet dislikes almost everybody, except that funny little Frenchy and me. Whereas I like every man I meet—unless I detest him!... My beautiful plumage!" this whilst carefully folding the superfine coat and thereon the endless silken stock. "Now there's a fellow who does not care a hang for any woman under the sun, and yet enters into another chap's love affairs as if he understood it all. I believe it will make him happy to win my cause with Madeleine. I wish one could do something for his happiness. It is absurd, you know," as though apostrophising an objector, "a man can't be happy without a woman. And yet again, my good Jack, you never thought that before you met Madeleine. He has not met his Madeleine, that's what it means. Where ignorance is bliss.... Friend Adrian! Let us console ourselves and call you ignorantly happy, in your old crow's nest. You have not stocked it so badly either.—For all your ignorance in love, you have a pretty taste in liquor."

So thinking, he poured himself a last glass of his host's wine, which he held for a moment in smiling cogitation, looking, with the mind's eye, through the thick walls of the keep, across the cold mist-covered sands of Scarthey and again through the warm and scented air of a certain room (imagination pictured) where Madeleine must at that hour lie in her slumber. After a moment of silent adoration he sent a rapturous kiss landwards and tossed his glass with a last toast:

"Madeleine, my sweet! To your softly closed lids."

And again Captain Jack fell to telling over the precious tale of that morning's interview, furtively secured, by that lover's luck he so dutifully blessed, under the cluster of Scotch firs near the grey and crumbling boundary walls of Pulwick Park.



CHAPTER XVIII

"LOVE GILDS THE SCENE AND WOMAN GUIDES THE PLOT"

Tanty's wrath upon discovering Sir Adrian's departure was all the greater because she could extort no real explanation from Rupert, and because her attacks rebounded, as it were, from the polished surface he exposed to them on every side. Madeleine's indifference, and Molly's apparently reckless spirits, further discomposed her during supper; and upon the latter young lady's disappearance after the meal, it was as much as she could do to finish her nightly game of patience before mounting to seek her with the purpose of relieving her overcharged feelings, and procuring what enlightenment she might.

The unwonted spectacle of the saucy damsel in tears made Miss O'Donoghue halt upon the threshold, the hot wind of anger upon which she seemed to be propelled into the room falling into sudden nothingness.

There could be no mistake about it. Molly was weeping; so energetically indeed, with such a passion of tears and sobs, that the noise of Tanty's tumultuous entrance fell unheeded upon her ears.

All her sympathies stirred within her, the old lady advanced to the girl with the intention of gathering her to her bosom. But as she drew near, the black and white of the open diary attracted her eye under the circle of lamplight, and being possessed of excellent long sight, she thought it no shame to utilise the same across her grand-niece's prostrate, heaving form, before making known her presence.

"And so I sit and cry."

Miss Molly was carrying out her programme with much precision, if indeed her attitude, prone along the table, could be described as sitting.

Miss O'Donoghue's eyes and mouth grew round, as with the expression of an outraged cockatoo she read and re-read the tell-tale phrases. Here was a complication she had not calculated upon.

"Dear, dear," she cried, clacking her tongue in disconsolate fashion, so soon as she could get her breath. "What is the meaning of this, my poor girl?"

Molly leaped to her feet, and turning a blazing, disfigured countenance upon her relative, exclaimed with more energy than politeness: "Good gracious, aunt, what do you want?"

Then catching sight of the open diary, she looked suspiciously from it to her visitor, and closed it with a hasty hand. But Miss O'Donoghue's next words settled the doubt.

"Well, to be sure, what a state you have put yourself into," she pursued in genuine distress. "What has happened then between you and that fellow, whom I declare I begin to believe as crazy as Rupert says, that you should be crying your eyes out over his going back to his island?—you that I thought could not shed a tear if you tried. Nothing left but to sit and cry, indeed."

"So you have been reading my diary, you mean thing," cried Miss Molly, stamping her foot. "How dare you come creeping in here, spying at my private concerns! Oh! oh! oh!" with unpremeditated artfulness, relapsing into a paroxysm of sobs just in time to avert the volley of rebuke with which the hot-tempered old lady was about to greet this disrespectful outburst. "I am the most miserable girl in all the world. I wish I were dead, I do."

Again Tanty opened her arms, and this time she did draw the stormy creature to a bosom, as warm and motherly as if all the joys of womanhood had not been withheld from it.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse