The Complete Works of F. Marion Crawford
ADAM JOHNSTONE'S SON
F. MARION CRAWFORD
P. F. Collier & Son New York
Copyright 1895, 1896, 1897 by F. Marion Crawford All Rights Reserved
ADAM JOHNSTONE'S SON
"I sometimes think that one's past life is written in a foreign language," said Mrs. Bowring, shutting the book she held, but keeping the place with one smooth, thin forefinger, while her still, blue eyes turned from her daughter's face towards the hazy hills that hemmed the sea thirty miles to the southward. "When one wants to read it, one finds ever so many words which one cannot understand, and one has to look them out in a sort of unfamiliar dictionary, and try to make sense of the sentences as best one can. Only the big things are clear."
Clare glanced at her mother, smiling innocently and half mechanically, without much definite expression, and quite without curiosity. Youth can be in sympathy with age, while not understanding it, while not suspecting, perhaps, that there is anything to understand beyond the streaked hair and the pale glance and the little torture-lines which paint the portrait of fifty years for the eyes of twenty.
Every woman knows the calendar of her own face. The lines are years, one for such and such a year, one for such and such another; the streaks are months, perhaps, or weeks, or sometimes hours, where the tear-storms have bleached the brown, the black, or the gold. "This little wrinkle—it was so very little then!" she says. "It came when I doubted for a day. There is a shadow there, just at each temple, where the cloud passed, when my sun went out. The bright hair grew lower on my forehead. It is worn away, as though by a crown, that was not of gold. There are hollows there, near the ears, on each side, since that week when love was done to death before my eyes and died—intestate—leaving his substance to be divided amongst indifferent heirs. They wrangle for what he has left, but he himself is gone, beyond hearing or caring, and, thank God, beyond suffering. But the marks are left."
Youth looks on and sees alike the ill-healed wounds of the martyrdom and the rough scars of sin's scourges, and does not understand. Clare Bowring smiled, without definite expression, just because her mother had spoken and seemed to ask for sympathy; and then she looked away for a few moments. She had a bit of work in her hands, a little bag which she was making out of a piece of old Italian damask, to hold a needle-case and thread and scissors. She had stopped sewing, and instinctively waited before beginning again, as though to acknowledge by a little affectionate deference that her mother had said something serious and had a right to expect attention. But she did not answer, for she could not understand.
Her own young life was vividly clear to her; so very vividly clear, that it sometimes made her think of a tiresome chromolithograph. All the facts and thoughts of it were so near that she knew them by heart, as people come to know the patterns of the wall-paper in the room they inhabit. She had nothing to hide, nothing to regret, nothing which she thought she should care very much to recall, though she remembered everything. A girl is very young when she can recollect distinctly every frock she has had, the first long one, and the second, and the third; and the first ball gown, and the second, and no third, because that is still in the future, and a particular pair of gloves which did not fit, and a certain pair of shoes she wore so long because they were so comfortable, and the precise origin of every one of the few trinkets and bits of jewellery she possesses. That was Clare Bowring's case. She could remember everything and everybody in her life. But her father was not in her memories, and there was a little motionless grey cloud in the place where he should have been. He had been a soldier, and had been killed in an obscure skirmish with black men, in one of England's obscure but expensive little wars. Death is always very much the same thing, and it seems unfair that the guns of Balaclava should still roar "glory" while the black man's quick spear-thrust only spells "dead," without comment. But glory in death is even more a matter of luck than fame in life. At all events, Captain Bowring, as brave a gentleman as ever faced fire, had perished like so many other brave gentlemen of his kind, in a quiet way, without any fuss, beyond killing half a dozen or so of his assailants, and had left his widow the glory of receiving a small pension in return for his blood, and that was all. Some day, when the dead are reckoned, and the manner of their death noted, poor Bowring may count for more than some of his friends who died at home from a constitutional inability to enjoy all the good things fortune set before them, complicated by a disposition incapable of being satisfied with only a part of the feast. But at the time of this tale they counted for more than he; for they had been constrained to leave behind them what they could not consume, while he, poor man, had left very little besides the aforesaid interest in the investment of his blood, in the form of a pension to his widow, and the small grey cloud in the memory of his girl-child, in the place where he should have been. For he had been killed when she had been a baby.
The mother and daughter were lonely, if not alone in the world; for when one has no money to speak of, and no relations at all, the world is a lonely place, regarded from the ordinary point of view—which is, of course, the true one. They had no home in England, and they generally lived abroad, more or less, in one or another of the places of society's departed spirits, such as Florence. They had not, however, entered into Limbo without hope, since they were able to return to the social earth when they pleased, and to be alive again, and the people they met abroad sometimes asked them to stop with them at home, recognising the fact that they were still socially living and casting shadows. They were sure of half a hundred friendly faces in London and of half a dozen hospitable houses in the country; and that is not little for people who have nothing wherewith to buy smiles and pay for invitations. Clare had more than once met women of her mother's age and older, who had looked at her rather thoughtfully and longer than had seemed quite natural, saying very quietly that her father had been "a great friend of theirs." But those were not the women whom her mother liked best, and Clare sometimes wondered whether the little grey cloud in her memory, which represented her father, might not be there to hide away something more human than an ideal. Her mother spoke of him, sometimes gravely, sometimes with a far-away smile, but never tenderly. The smile did not mean much, Clare thought. People often spoke of dead people with a sort of faint look of uncertain beatitude—the same which many think appropriate to the singing of hymns. The absence of anything like tenderness meant more. The gravity was only natural and decent.
"Your father was a brave man," Mrs. Bowring sometimes said. "Your father was very handsome," she would say. "He was very quick-tempered," she perhaps added.
But that was all. Clare had a friend whose husband had died young and suddenly, and her friend's heart was broken. She did not speak as Mrs. Bowring did. When the latter said that her past life seemed to be written in a foreign language, Clare did not understand, but she knew that the something of which the translation was lost, as it were, belonged to her father. She always felt an instinctive desire to defend him, and to make her mother feel more sympathy for his memory. Yet, at the same time, she loved her mother in such a way as made her feel that if there had been any trouble, her father must have been in the wrong. Then she was quite sure that she did not understand, and she held her tongue, and smiled vaguely, and waited a moment before she went on with her work.
Besides, she was not at all inclined to argue anything at present. She had been ill, and her mother was worn out with taking care of her, and they had come to Amalfi to get quite well and strong again in the air of the southern spring. They had settled themselves for a couple of months in the queer hotel, which was once a monastery, perched high up under the still higher overhanging rocks, far above the beach and the busy little town; and now, in the May afternoon, they sat side by side under the trellis of vines on the terraced walk, their faces turned southward, in the shade of the steep mountain behind them; the sea was blue at their feet, and quite still, but farther out the westerly breeze that swept past the Conca combed it to crisp roughness; then it was less blue to southward, and gradually it grew less real, till it lost colour and melted into a sky-haze that almost hid the southern mountains and the lizard-like head of the far Licosa.
A bit of coarse faded carpet lay upon the ground under the two ladies' feet, and the shady air had a soft green tinge in it from the young vine-leaves overhead. At first sight one would have said that both were delicate, if not ill. Both were fair, though in different degrees, and both were pale and quiet, and looked a little weary.
The young girl sat in the deep straw chair, hatless, with bare white hands that held her work. Her thick flaxen hair, straightly parted and smoothed away from its low growth on the forehead, half hid small fresh ears, unpierced. Long lashes, too white for beauty, cast very faint light shadows as she looked down; but when she raised the lids, the dark-blue eyes were bright, with wide pupils and a straight look, quick to fasten, slow to let go, never yet quite softened, and yet never mannishly hard. But, in its own way, perhaps, there is no look so hard as the look of maiden innocence can be. There can even be something terrible in its unconscious stare. There is the spirit of God's own fearful directness in it. Half quibbling with words perhaps, but surely with half truth, one might say that youth "is," while all else "has been"; and that youth alone possesses the present, too innocent to know it all, yet too selfish even to doubt of what is its own—too sure of itself to doubt anything, to fear anything, or even truly to pray for anything. There is no equality and no community in virtue; it is only original sin that makes us all equal and human. Old Lucifer, fallen, crushed, and damned, knows the worth of forgiveness—not young Michael, flintily hard and monumentally upright in his steel coat, a terror to the devil himself. And youth can have something of that archangelic rigidity. Youth is not yet quite human.
But there was much in Clare Bowring's face which told that she was to be quite human some day. The lower features were not more than strong enough—the curved lips would be fuller before long, the small nostrils, the gentle chin, were a little sharper than was natural, now, from illness, but round in outline and not over prominent; and the slender throat was very delicate and feminine. Only in the dark-blue eyes there was still that unabashed, quick glance and long-abiding straightness, and innocent hardness, and the unconscious selfishness of the uncontaminated.
Standing on her feet, she would have seemed rather tall than short, though really but of average height. Seated, she looked tall, and her glance was a little downward to most people's eyes. Just now she was too thin, and seemed taller than she was. But the fresh light was already in the young white skin, and there was a soft colour in the lobes of the little ears, as the white leaves of daisies sometimes blush all round their tips.
The nervous white hands held the little bag lightly, and twined it and sewed it deftly, for Clare was clever with her fingers. Possibly they looked even a little whiter than they were, by contrast with the dark stuff of her dress, and illness had made them shrink at the lower part, robbing them of their natural strength, though not of their grace. There is a sort of refinement, not of taste, nor of talent, but of feeling and thought, and it shows itself in the hands of those who have it, more than in any feature of the face, in a sort of very true proportion between the hand and its fingers, between each finger and its joints, each joint and each nail; a something which says that such a hand could not do anything ignoble, could not take meanly, nor strike cowardly, nor press falsely; a quality of skin neither rough and coarse, nor over smooth like satin, but cool and pleasant to the touch as fine silk that is closely woven. The fingers of such hands are very straight and very elastic, but not supple like young snakes, as some fingers are, and the cushion of the hand is not over full nor heavy, nor yet shrunken and undeveloped as in the wasted hands of old Asiatic races.
In outward appearance there was that sort of inherited likeness between mother and daughter which is apt to strike strangers more than persons of the same family. Mrs. Bowring had been beautiful in her youth—far more beautiful than Clare—but her face had been weaker, in spite of the regularity of the features and their faultless proportion. Life had given them an acquired strength, but not of the lovely kind, and the complexion was faded, and the hair had darkened, and the eyes had paled. Some faces are beautified by suffering. Mrs. Bowring's face was not of that class. It was as though a thin, hard mask had been formed and closely moulded upon it, as the action of the sea overlays some sorts of soft rock with a surface thin as paper but as hard as granite. In spite of the hardness, the features were not really strong. There was refinement in them, however, of the same kind which the daughter had, and as much, though less pleasing. A fern—a spray of maiden's-hair—loses much of its beauty but none of its refinement when petrified in limestone or made fossil in coal.
As they sat there, side by side, mother and daughter, where they had sat every day for a week or more, they had very little to say. They had exhausted the recapitulation of Clare's illness, during the first days of her convalescence. It was not the first time that they had been in Amalfi, and they had enumerated its beauties to each other, and renewed their acquaintance with it from a distance, looking down from the terrace upon the low-lying town, and the beach and the painted boats, and the little crowd that swarmed out now and then like ants, very busy and very much in a hurry, running hither and thither, disappearing presently as by magic, and leaving the shore to the sun and the sea. The two had spoken of a little excursion to Ravello, and they meant to go thither as soon as they should be strong enough; but that was not yet. And meanwhile they lived through the quiet days, morning, meal times, evening, bed time, and round again, through the little hotel's programme of possibility; eating what was offered them, but feasting royally on air and sunshine and spring sweetness; moistening their lips in strange southern wines, but drinking deep draughts of the rich southern air-life; watching the people of all sorts and of many conditions, who came and stayed a day and went away again, but social only in each other's lives, and even that by sympathy rather than in speech. A corner of life's show was before them, and they kept their places on the vine-sheltered terrace and looked on. But it seemed as though nothing could ever possibly happen there to affect the direction of their own quietly moving existence.
Seeing that her daughter did not say anything in answer to the remark about the past being written in a foreign language, Mrs. Bowring looked at the distant sky-haze thoughtfully for a few moments, then opened her book again where her thin forefinger had kept the place, and began to read. There was no disappointment in her face at not being understood, for she had spoken almost to herself and had expected no reply. No change of expression softened or accentuated the quiet hardness which overspread her naturally gentle face. But the thought was evidently still present in her mind, for her attention did not fix itself upon her book, and presently she looked at her daughter, as the latter bent her head over the little bag she was making.
The young girl felt her mother's eyes upon her, looked up herself, and smiled faintly, almost mechanically, as before. It was a sort of habit they both had—a way of acknowledging one another's presence in the world. But this time it seemed to Clare that there was a question in the look, and after she had smiled she spoke.
"No," she said, "I don't understand how anybody can forget the past. It seems to me that I shall always remember why I did things, said things, and thought things. I should, if I lived a hundred years, I'm quite sure."
"Perhaps you have a better memory than I," answered Mrs. Bowring. "But I don't think it is exactly a question of memory either. I can remember what I said, and did, and thought, well—twenty years ago. But it seems to me very strange that I should have thought, and spoken, and acted, just as I did. After all isn't it natural? They tell us that our bodies are quite changed in less time than that."
"Yes—but the soul does not change," said Clare with conviction.
Mrs. Bowring repeated the word, but said nothing more, and her still, blue eyes wandered from her daughter's face and again fixed themselves on an imaginary point of the far southern distance.
"At least," said Clare, "I was always taught so."
She smiled again, rather coldly, as though admitting that such teaching might not be infallible after all.
"It is best to believe it," said her mother quietly, but in a colourless voice. "Besides," she added, with a change of tone, "I do believe it, you know. One is always the same, in the main things. It is the point of view that changes. The best picture in the world does not look the same in every light, does it?"
"No, I suppose not. You may like it in one light and not in another, and in one place and not in another."
"Or at one time of life, and not at another," added Mrs. Bowring, thoughtfully.
"I can't imagine that." Clare paused a moment. "Of course you are thinking of people," she continued presently, with a little more animation. "One always means people, when one talks in that way. And that is what I cannot quite understand. It seems to me that if I liked people once I should always like them."
Her mother looked at her.
"Yes—perhaps you would," she said, and she relapsed into silence.
Clare's colour did not change. No particular person was in her thoughts, and she had, as it were, given her own general and inexperienced opinion of her own character, quite honestly and without affectation.
"I don't know which are the happier," said Mrs. Bowring at last, "the people who change, or the people who can't."
"You mean faithful or unfaithful people, I suppose," observed the young girl with grave innocence.
A very slight flush rose in Mrs. Bowring's thin cheeks, and the quiet eyes grew suddenly hard, but Clare was busy with her work again and did not see.
"Those are big words," said the older woman in a low voice.
"Well—yes—of course!" answered Clare. "So they ought to be! It is always the main question, isn't it? Whether you can trust a person or not, I mean."
"That is one question. The other is, whether the person deserves to be trusted."
"Oh—it's the same thing!"
"You know what I mean, mother. Besides, I don't believe that any one who can't trust is really to be trusted. Do you?"
"My dear Clare!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowring. "You can't put life into a nutshell, like that!"
"No. I suppose not, though if a thing is true at all it must be always true."
"Are there any exceptions to truth?" asked Clare incredulously. "Truth isn't grammar—nor the British Constitution."
"No. But then, we don't know everything. What we call truth is what we know. It is only what we know. All that we don't know, but which is, is true, too—especially, all that we don't know about people with whom we have to live."
"Oh—if people have secrets!" The young girl laughed idly. "But you and I, for instance, mother—we have no secrets from each other, have we? Well? Why should any two people who love each other have secrets? And if they have none, why, then, they know all that there is to be known about one another, and each trusts the other, and has a right to be trusted, because everything is known—and everything is the whole truth. It seems to me that is simple enough, isn't it?"
Mrs. Bowring laughed in her turn. It was rather a hard little laugh, but Clare was used to the sound of it, and joined in it, feeling that she had vanquished her mother in argument, and settled one of the most important questions of life for ever.
"What a pretty steamer!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowring suddenly.
"It's a yacht," said Clare after a moment. "The flag is English, too. I can see it distinctly."
She laid down her work, and her mother closed her book upon her forefinger again, and they watched the graceful white vessel as she glided slowly in from the Conca, which she had rounded while they had been talking.
"It's very big, for a yacht," observed Mrs. Bowring. "They are coming here."
"They have probably come round from Naples to spend a day," said Clare. "We are sure to have them up here. What a nuisance!"
"Yes. Everybody comes up here who comes to Amalfi at all. I hope they won't stay long."
"There is no fear of that," answered Clare. "I heard those people saying the other day that this is not a place where a vessel can lie any length of time. You know how the sea sometimes breaks on the beach."
Mrs. Bowring and her daughter desired of all things to be quiet. The visitors who came, stayed a few days at the hotel, and went away again, were as a rule tourists or semi-invalids in search of a climate, and anything but noisy. But people coming in a smart English yacht would probably be society people, and as such Mrs. Bowring wished that they would keep away. They would behave as though the place belonged to them, so long as they remained; they would get all the attention of the proprietor and of the servants for the time being; and they would make everybody feel shabby and poor.
The Bowrings were poor, indeed, but they were not shabby. It was perhaps because they were well aware that nobody could mistake them for average tourists that they resented the coming of a party which belonged to what is called society. Mrs. Bowring had a strong aversion to making new acquaintances, and even disliked being thrown into the proximity of people who might know friends of hers, who might have heard of her, and who might talk about her and her daughter. Clare said that her mother's shyness in this respect was almost morbid; but she had unconsciously caught a little of it herself, and, like her mother, she was often quite uselessly on her guard against strangers, of the kind whom she might possibly be called upon to know, though she was perfectly affable and at her ease with those whom she looked upon as undoubtedly her social inferiors.
They were not mistaken in their prediction that the party from the yacht would come up to the Cappuccini. Half an hour after the yacht had dropped anchor the terrace was invaded. They came up in twos and threes, nearly a dozen of them, men and women, smart-looking people with healthy, sun-burnt faces, voices loud from the sea as voices become on a long voyage—or else very low indeed. By contrast with the frequenters of Amalfi they all seemed to wear overpoweringly good clothes and perfectly new hats and caps, and their russet shoes were resplendent. They moved as though everything belonged to them, from the wild crests of the hills above to the calm blue water below, and the hotel servants did their best to foster the agreeable illusion. They all wanted chairs, and tables, and things to drink, and fruit. One very fair little lady with hard, restless eyes, and clad in white serge, insisted upon having grapes, and no one could convince her that grapes were not ripe in May.
"It's quite absurd!" she objected. "Of course they're ripe! We had the most beautiful grapes at breakfast at Leo Cairngorm's the other day, so of course they must have them here. Brook! Do tell the man not to be absurd!"
"Man!" said the member of the party she had last addressed. "Do not be absurd!"
"Si, Signore," replied the black-whiskered Amalfitan servant with alacrity.
"You see!" cried the little lady triumphantly. "I told you so! You must insist with these people. You can always get what you want. Brook, where's my fan?"
She settled upon a straw chair—like a white butterfly. The others walked on towards the end of the terrace, but the young man whom she called Brook stood beside her, slowly lighting a cigarette, not five paces from Mrs. Bowring and Clare.
"I'm sure I don't know where your fan is," he said, with a short laugh, as he threw the end of the match over the wall.
"Well then, look for it!" she answered, rather sharply. "I'm awfully hot, and I want it."
He glanced at her before he spoke again.
"I don't know where it is," he said quietly, but there was a shade of annoyance in his face.
"I gave it to you just as we were getting into the boat," answered the lady in white. "Do you mean to say that you left it on board?"
"I think you must be mistaken," said the young man. "You must have given it to somebody else."
"It isn't likely that I should mistake you for any one else—especially to-day."
"Well—I haven't got it. I'll get you one in the hotel, if you'll have patience for a moment."
He turned and strode along the terrace towards the house. Clare Bowring had been watching the two, and she looked after the man as he moved rapidly away. He walked well, for he was a singularly well-made young fellow, who looked as though he were master of every inch of himself. She had liked his brown face and bright blue eyes, too, and somehow she resented the way in which the little lady ordered him about. She looked round and saw that her mother was watching him too. Then, as he disappeared, they both looked at the lady. She too had followed him with her eyes, and as she turned her face sideways to the Bowrings Clare thought that she was biting her lip, as though something annoyed her or hurt her. She kept her eyes on the door. Presently the young man reappeared, bearing a palm-leaf fan in his hand and blowing a cloud of cigarette smoke into the air. Instantly the lady smiled, and the smile brightened as he came near.
"Thank you—dear," she said as he gave her the fan.
The last word was spoken in a lower tone, and could certainly not have been heard by the other members of the party, but it reached Clare's ears, where she sat.
"Not at all," answered the young man quietly.
But as he spoke he glanced quickly about him, and his eyes met Clare's. She fancied that she saw a look of startled annoyance in them, and he coloured a little under his tan. He had a very manly face, square and strong. He bent down a little and said something in a low voice. The lady in white half turned her head, impatiently, but did not look quite round. Clare saw, however, that her expression had changed again, and that the smile was gone.
"If I don't care, why should you?" were the next words Clare heard, spoken impatiently and petulantly.
The man who answered to the name of Brook said nothing, but sat down on the parapet of the terrace, looking out over his shoulder to seaward. A few seconds later he threw away his half-smoked cigarette.
"I like this place," said the lady in white, quite audibly. "I think I shall send on board for my things and stay here."
The young man started as though he had been struck, and faced her in silence. He could not help seeing Clare Bowring beyond her.
"I'm going indoors, mother," said the young girl, rising rather abruptly. "I'm sure it must be time for tea. Won't you come too?"
The young man did not answer his companion's remark, but turned his face away again and looked seaward, listening to the retreating footsteps of the two ladies.
On the threshold of the hotel Clare felt a strong desire to look back again and see whether he had moved, but she was ashamed of it and went in, holding her head high and looking straight before her.
The people from the yacht belonged to that class of men and women whose uncertainty, or indifference, about the future leads them to take possession of all they can lay hands on in the present, with a view to squeezing the world like a lemon for such enjoyment as it may yield. So long as they tarried at the old hotel, it was their private property. The Bowrings were forgotten; the two English old maids had no existence; the Russian invalid got no more hot water for his tea; the plain but obstinately inquiring German family could get no more information; even the quiet young French couple—a honeymoon couple—sank into insignificance. The only protest came from an American, whose wife was ill and never appeared, and who staggered the landlord by asking what he would sell the whole place for on condition of vacating the premises before dinner.
"They will be gone before dinner," the proprietor answered.
But they did not go. When it was already late somebody saw the moon rise, almost full, and suggested that the moonlight would be very fine, and that it would be amusing to dine at the hotel table and spend the evening on the terrace and go on board late.
"I shall," said the little lady in white serge, "whatever the rest of you do. Brook! Send somebody on board to get a lot of cloaks and shawls and things. I am sure it is going to be cold. Don't go away! I want you to take me for a walk before dinner, so as to be nice and hungry, you know."
For some reason or other, several of the party laughed, and from their tone one might have guessed that they were in the habit of laughing, or were expected to laugh, at the lady's speeches. And every one agreed that it would be much nicer to spend the evening on the terrace, and that it was a pity that they could not dine out of doors because it would be far too cool. Then the lady in white and the man called Brook began to walk furiously up and down in the fading light, while the lady talked very fast in a low voice, except when she was passing within earshot of some of the others, and the man looked straight before him, answering occasionally in monosyllables.
Then there was more confusion in the hotel, and the Russian invalid expressed his opinion to the two English old maids, with whom he fraternised, that dinner would be an hour late, thanks to their compatriots. But they assumed an expression appropriate when speaking of the peerage, and whispered that the yacht must belong to the Duke of Orkney, who, they had read, was cruising in the Mediterranean, and that the Duke was probably the big man in grey clothes who had a gold cigarette case. But in all this they were quite mistaken. And their repeated examinations of the hotel register were altogether fruitless, because none of the party had written their names in it. The old maids, however, were quite happy and resigned to waiting for their dinner. They presently retired to attempt for themselves what stingy nature had refused to do for them in the way of adornment, for the dinner was undoubtedly to be an occasion of state, and their eyes were to see the glory of a lord.
The party sat together at one end of the table, which extended the whole length of the high and narrow vaulted hall, while the guests staying in the hotel filled the opposite half. Most of the guests were more subdued than usual, and the party from the yacht seemed noisy by contrast. The old maids strained their ears to catch a name here and there. Clare and her mother talked little. The Russian invalid put up a single eyeglass, looked long and curiously at each of the new comers in turn, and then did not vouchsafe them another glance. The German family criticised the food severely, and then got into a fierce discussion about Bismarck and the Pope, in the course of which they forgot the existence of their fellow-diners, but not of their dinner.
Clare could not help glancing once or twice at the couple that had attracted her attention, and she found herself wondering what their relation to each other could be, and whether they were engaged to be married. Somebody called the lady in white "Mrs. Crosby." Then somebody else called her "Lady Fan"—which was very confusing. "Brook" never called her anything. Clare saw him fill his glass and look at Lady Fan very hard before he drank, and then Lady Fan did the same thing. Nevertheless they seemed to be perpetually quarrelling over little things. When Brook was tired of being bullied, he calmly ignored his companion, turned from her, and talked in a low tone to a dark woman who had been a beauty and was the most thoroughly well-dressed of the extremely well-dressed party. Lady Fan bit her lip for a moment, and then said something at which all the others laughed—except Brook and the advanced beauty, who continued to talk in undertones.
To Clare's mind there was about them all, except Brook, a little dash of something which was not "quite, quite," as the world would have expressed it. In her opinion Lady Fan was distinctly disagreeable, whoever she might be—as distinctly so as Brook was the contrary. And somehow the girl could not help resenting the woman's way of treating him. It offended her oddly and jarred upon her good taste, as something to which she was not at all accustomed in her surroundings. Lady Fan was very exquisite in her outward ways, and her speech was of the proper smartness. Yet everything she did and said was intensely unpleasant to Clare.
The Bowrings and the regular guests finished their dinner before the yachting party, and rose almost in a body, with a clattering of their light chairs on the tiled floor. Only the English old maids kept their places a little longer than the rest, and took some more filberts and half a glass of white wine, each. They could not keep their eyes from the party at the other end of the table, and their faces grew a little redder as they sat there. Clare and her mother had to go round the long table to get out, being the last on their side, and they were also the last to reach the door. Again the young girl felt that strong desire to turn her head and look back at Brook and Lady Fan. She noticed it this time, as something she had never felt until that afternoon, but she would not yield to it. She walked on, looking straight at the back of her mother's head. Then she heard quick footsteps on the tiles behind her, and Brook's voice.
"I beg your pardon," he was saying, "you have dropped your shawl."
She turned quickly, and met his eyes as he stopped close to her, holding out the white chudder which had slipped to the floor unnoticed when she had risen from her seat. She took it mechanically and thanked him. Instinctively looking past him down the long hall, she saw that the little lady in white had turned in her seat and was watching her. Brook made a slight bow and was gone again in an instant. Then Clare followed her mother and went out.
"Let us go out behind the house," she said when they were in the broad corridor. "There will be moonlight there, and those people will monopolise the terrace when they have finished dinner."
At the western end of the old monastery there is a broad open space, between the buildings and the overhanging rocks, at the base of which there is a deep recess, almost amounting to a cave, in which stands a great black cross planted in a pedestal of whitewashed masonry. A few steps lead up to it. As the moon rose higher the cross was in the shadow, while the platform and the buildings were in the full light.
The two women ascended the steps and sat down upon a stone seat.
"What a night!" exclaimed the young girl softly.
Her mother silently bent her head, but neither spoke again for some time. The moonlight before them was almost dazzling, and the air was warm. Beyond the stone parapet, far below, the tideless sea was silent and motionless under the moon. A crooked fig-tree, still leafless, though the little figs were already shaped on it, cast its intricate shadow upon the platform. Very far away, a boy was singing a slow minor chant in a high voice. The peace was almost disquieting—there was something intensely expectant in it, as though the night were in love, and its heart beating.
Clare sat still, her hand upon her mother's thin wrist, her lips just parted a little, her eyes wide and filled with moon-dreams. She had almost lost herself in unworded fancies when her mother moved and spoke.
"I had quite forgotten a letter I was writing," she said. "I must finish it. Stay here, and I will come back again presently."
She rose, and Clare watched her slim dark figure and the long black shadow that moved with it across the platform towards the open door of the hotel. But when it had disappeared the white fancies came flitting back through the silent light, and in the shade the young eyes fixed themselves quietly to meet the vision and see it all, and to keep it for ever if she could.
She did not know what it was that she saw, but it was beautiful, and what she felt was on a sudden as the realisation of something she had dimly desired in vain. Yet in itself it was nothing realised; it was perhaps only the certainty of longing for something all heart and no name, and it was happiness to long for it. For the first intuition of love is only an exquisite foretaste, a delight in itself, as far from the bitter hunger of love starving as a girl's faintness is from a cruel death. The light was dazzling, and yet it was full of gentle things that smiled, somehow, without faces. She was not very imaginative, perhaps, else the faces might have come too, and voices, and all, save the one reality which had as yet neither voice nor face, nor any name. It was all the something that love was to mean, somewhere, some day—the airy lace of a maiden life-dream, in which no figure was yet wrought amongst the fancy-threads that the May moon was weaving in the soft spring night. There was no sadness in it, at all, for there was no memory, and without memory there can be no sadness, any more than there can be fear where there is no anticipation, far or near. Most happiness is really of the future, and most grief, if we would be honest, is of the past.
The young girl sat still and dreamed that the old world was as young as she, and that in its soft bosom there were exquisite sweetnesses untried, and soft yearnings for a beautiful unknown, and little pulses that could quicken with foretasted joy which only needed face and name to take angelic shape of present love. The world could not be old while she was young.
And she had her youth and knew it, and it was almost all she had. It seemed much to her, and she had no unsatisfiable craving for the world's stuff in which to attire it. In that, at least, her mother had been wise, teaching her to believe and to enjoy, rather than to doubt and criticise, and if there had been anything to hide from her it had been hidden, even beyond suspicion of its presence. Perhaps the armour of knowledge is of little worth until doubt has shaken the heart and weakened the joints, and broken the terrible steadfastness of perfect innocence in the eyes. Clare knew that she was young, she felt that the white dream was sweet, and she believed that the world's heart was clean and good. All good was natural and eternal, lofty and splendid as an archangel in the light. God had made evil as a background of shadows to show how good the light was. Every one could come and stand in the light if he chose, for the mere trouble of moving. It seemed so simple. She wondered why everybody could not see it as she did.
A flash of white in the white moonlight disturbed her meditations. Two people had come out of the door and were walking slowly across the platform side by side. They were not speaking, and their footsteps crushed the light gravel sharply as they came forward. Clare recognised Brook and Lady Fan. Seated in the shadow on one side of the great black cross and a little behind it, she could see their faces distinctly, but she had no idea that they were dazzled by the light and could not see her at all in her dark dress. She fancied that they were looking at her as they came on.
The shadow of the rock had crept forward upon the open space, while she had been dreaming. The two turned, just before they reached it, and then stood still, instead of walking back.
"Brook—" began Lady Fan, as though she were going to say something.
But she checked herself and looked up at him quickly, chilled already by his humour. Clare thought that the woman's voice shook a little, as she pronounced the name. Brook did not turn his head nor look down.
"Yes?" he said, with a sort of interrogation. "What were you going to say?" he asked after a moment's pause.
She seemed to hesitate, for she did not answer at once. Then she glanced towards the hotel and looked down.
"You won't come back with us?" she asked, at last, in a pleading voice.
"I can't," he answered. "You know I can't. I've got to wait for them here."
"Yes, I know. But they are not here yet. I don't believe they are coming for two or three days. You could perfectly well come on to Genoa with us, and get back by rail."
"No," said Brook quietly, "I can't."
"Would you, if you could?" asked the lady in white, and her tone began to change again.
"What a question!" he laughed drily.
"It is an odd question, isn't it, coming from me?" Her voice grew hard, and she stopped. "Well—you know what it means," she added abruptly. "You may as well answer it and have it over. It is very easy to say you would not, if you could. I shall understand all the rest, and you will be saved the trouble of saying things—things which I should think you would find it rather hard to say."
"Couldn't you say them, instead?" he asked slowly, and looking at her for the first time. He spoke gravely and coldly.
"I!" There was indignation, real or well affected, in the tone.
"Yes, you," answered the man, with a shade less coldness, but as gravely as before. "You never loved me."
Lady Fan's small white face was turned to his instantly, and Clare could see the fierce, hurt expression in the eyes and about the quivering mouth. The young girl suddenly realised that she was accidentally overhearing something which was very serious to the two speakers. It flashed upon her that they had not seen her where she sat in the shadow, and she looked about her hastily in the hope of escaping unobserved. But that was impossible. There was no way of getting out of the recess of the rock where the cross stood, except by coming out into the light, and no way of reaching the hotel except by crossing the open platform.
Then she thought of coughing, to call attention to her presence. She would rise and come forward, and hurry across to the door. She felt that she ought to have come out of the shadows as soon as the pair had appeared, and that she had done wrong in sitting still. But then, she told herself with perfect justice that they were strangers, and that she could not possibly have foreseen that they had come there to quarrel.
They were strangers, and she did not even know their names. So far as they were concerned, and their feelings, it would be much more pleasant for them if they never suspected that any one had overheard them than if she were to appear in the midst of their conversation, having evidently been listening up to that point. It will be admitted that, being a woman, she had a choice; for she knew that if she had been in Lady Fan's place she should have preferred never to know that any one had heard her. She fancied what she should feel if any one should cough unexpectedly behind her when she had just been accused by the man she loved of not loving him at all. And of course the little lady in white loved Brook—she had called him "dear" that very afternoon. But that Brook did not love Lady Fan was as plain as possible.
There was certainly no mean curiosity in Clare to know the secrets of these strangers. But all the same, she would not have been a human girl, of any period in humanity's history, if she had not been profoundly interested in the fate of the woman before her. That afternoon she would have thought it far more probable that the woman should break the man's heart than that she should break her own for him. But now it looked otherwise. Clare thought there was no mistaking the first tremor of the voice, the look of the white face, and the indignation of the tone afterwards. With a man, the question of revealing his presence as a third person would have been a point of honour. In Clare's case it was a question of delicacy and kindness as from one woman to another.
Nevertheless, she hesitated, and she might have come forward after all. Ten slow seconds had passed since Brook had spoken. Then Lady Fan's little figure shook, her face turned away, and she tried to choke down one small bitter sob, pressing her handkerchief desperately to her lips.
"Oh, Brook!" she cried, a moment later, and her tiny teeth tore the edge of the handkerchief audibly in the stillness.
"It's not your fault," said the man, with an attempt at gentleness in his voice. "I couldn't blame you, if I were brute enough to wish to."
"Blame me! Oh, really—I think you're mad, you know!"
"Besides," continued the young man, philosophically, "I think we ought to be glad, don't you?"
"Yes—that we are not going to break our hearts now that it's over."
Clare thought his tone horribly business-like and indifferent.
"Oh no! We sha'n't break our hearts any more! We are not children." Her voice was thin and bitter, with a crying laugh in it.
"Look here, Fan!" said Brook suddenly. "This is all nonsense. We agreed to play together, and we've played very nicely, and now you have to go home, and I have got to stay here, whether I like it or not. Let us be good friends and say good-bye, and if we meet again and have nothing better to do, we can play again if we please. But as for taking it in this tragical way—why, it isn't worth it."
The young girl crouching in the shadow felt as though she had been struck, and her heart went out with indignant sympathy to the little lady in white.
"Do you know? I think you are the most absolutely brutal, cynical creature I ever met!" There was anger in the voice, now, and something more—something which Clare could not understand.
"Well, I'm sorry," answered the man. "I don't mean to be brutal, I'm sure, and I don't think I'm cynical either. I look at things as they are, not as they ought to be. We are not angels, and the millennium hasn't come yet. I suppose it would be bad for us if it did, just now. But we used to be very good friends last year. I don't see why we shouldn't be again."
"Friends! Oh no!"
Lady Fan turned from him and made a step or two alone, out through the moonlight, towards the house. Brook did not move. Perhaps he knew that she would come back, as indeed she did, stopping suddenly and turning round to face him again.
"Brook," she began more softly, "do you remember that evening up at the Acropolis—at sunset? Do you remember what you said?"
"Yes, I think I do."
"You said that if I could get free you would marry me."
"Yes." The man's tone had changed suddenly.
"Well—I believed you, that's all."
Brook stood quite still, and looked at her quietly. Some seconds passed before she spoke again.
"You did not mean it?" she asked sorrowfully.
Still he said nothing.
"Because you know," she continued, her eyes fixed on his, "the position is not at all impossible. All things considered, I suppose I could have a divorce for the asking."
Clare started a little in the dark. She was beginning to guess something of the truth she could not understand. The man still said nothing, but he began to walk up and down slowly, with folded arms, along the edge of the shadow before Lady Fan as she stood still, following him with her eyes.
"You did not mean a word of what you said that afternoon? Not one word?" She spoke very slowly and distinctly.
He was silent still, pacing up and down before her. Suddenly, without a word, she turned from him and walked quickly away, towards the hotel. He started and stood still, looking after her—then he also made a step.
"Fan!" he called, in a tone she could hear, but she went on. "Mrs. Crosby!" he called again.
She stopped, turned, and waited. It was clear that Lady Fan was a nickname, Clare thought.
"Well?" she asked.
Clare clasped her hands together in her excitement, watching and listening, and holding her breath.
"Don't go like that!" exclaimed Brook, going forward and holding out one hand.
"Do you want me?" asked the lady in white, very gently, almost tenderly. Clare did not understand how any woman could have so little pride, but she pitied the little lady from her heart.
Brook went on till he came up with Lady Fan, who did not make a step to meet him. But just as he reached her she put out her hand to take his. Clare thought he was relenting, but she was mistaken. His voice came back to her clear and distinct, and it had a very gentle ring in it.
"Fan, dear," he said, "we have been very fond of each other in our careless way. But we have not loved each other. We may have thought that we did, for a moment, now and then. I shall always be fond of you, just in that way. I'll do anything for you. But I won't marry you, if you get a divorce. It would be utter folly. If I ever said I would, in so many words—well, I'm ashamed of it. You'll forgive me some day. One says things—sometimes—that one means for a minute, and then, afterwards, one doesn't mean them. But I mean what I am saying now."
He dropped her hand, and stood looking at her, and waiting for her to speak. Her face, as Clare saw it, from a distance now, looked whiter than ever. After an instant she turned from him with a quick movement, but not towards the hotel.
She walked slowly towards the stone parapet of the platform. As she went, Clare again saw her raise her handkerchief and press it to her lips, but she did not bend her head. She went and leaned on her elbows on the parapet, and her hands pulled nervously at the handkerchief as she looked down at the calm sea far below. Brook followed her slowly, but just as he was near, she, hearing his footsteps, turned and leaned back against the low wall.
"Give me a cigarette," she said in a hard voice. "I'm nervous—and I've got to face those people in a moment."
Clare started again in sheer surprise. She had expected tears, fainting, angry words, a passionate appeal—anything rather than what she heard. Brook produced a silver case which gleamed in the moonlight. Lady Fan took a cigarette, and her companion took another. He struck a match and held it up for her in the still air. The little flame cast its red glare into their faces. The young girl had good eyes, and as she watched them she saw the man's expression was grave and stern, a little sad, perhaps, but she fancied that there was the beginning of a scornful smile on the woman's lips. She understood less clearly then than ever what manner of human beings these two strangers might be.
For some moments they smoked in silence, the lady in white leaning back against the parapet, the man standing upright with one hand in his pocket, holding his cigarette in the other, and looking out to sea. Then Lady Fan stood up, too, and threw her cigarette over the wall.
"It's time to be going," she said, suddenly. "They'll be coming after us if we stay here."
But she did not move. Sideways she looked up into his face. Then she held out her hand.
"Good-bye, Brook," she said, quietly enough, as he took it.
"Good-bye," he murmured in a low voice, but distinctly.
Their hands stayed together after they had spoken, and still she looked up to him in the moonlight. Suddenly he bent down and kissed her on the forehead—in an odd, hasty way.
"I'm sorry, Fan, but it won't do," he said.
"Again!" she answered. "Once more, please!" And she held up her face.
He kissed her again, but less hastily, Clare thought, as she watched them. Then, without another word, they walked towards the hotel, side by side, close together, so that their hands almost touched. When they were not ten paces from the door, they stopped again and looked at each other.
At that moment Clare saw her mother's dark figure on the threshold. The pair must have heard her steps, for they separated a little and instantly went on, passing Mrs. Bowring quickly. Clare sat still in her place, waiting for her mother to come to her. She feared lest, if she moved, the two might come back for an instant, see her, and understand that they had been watched. Mrs. Bowring went forward a few steps.
"Clare!" she called.
"Yes," answered the young girl softly. "Here I am."
"Oh—I could not see you at all," said her mother. "Come down into the moonlight."
The young girl descended the steps, and the two began to walk up and down together on the platform.
"Those were two of the people from the yacht that I met at the door," said Mrs. Bowring. "The lady in white serge, and that good-looking young man."
"Yes," Clare answered. "They were here some time. I don't think they saw me."
She had meant to tell her mother something of what had happened, in the hope of being told that she had done right in not revealing her presence. But on second thoughts she resolved to say nothing about it. To have told the story would have seemed like betraying a confidence, even though they were strangers to her.
"I could not help wondering about them this afternoon," said Mrs. Bowring. "She ordered him about in a most extraordinary way, as though he had been her servant. I thought it in very bad taste, to say the least of it. Of course I don't know anything about their relations, but it struck me that she wished to show him off, as her possession."
"Yes," answered Clare, thoughtfully. "I thought so too."
"Very foolish of her! No man will stand that sort of thing long. That isn't the way to treat a man in order to keep him."
"What is the best way?" asked the young girl idly, with a little laugh.
"Don't ask me!" answered Mrs. Bowring quickly, as they turned in their walk. "But I should think—" she added, a moment later, "I don't know—but I should think—" she hesitated.
"What?" inquired Clare, with some curiosity.
"Well, I was going to say, I should think that a man would wish to feel that he is holding, not that he is held. But then people are so different! One can never tell. At all events, it is foolish to wish to show everybody that you own a man, so to say."
Mrs. Bowring seemed to be considering the question, but she evidently found nothing more to say about it, and they walked up and down in silence for a long time, each occupied with her own thoughts. Then all at once there was a sound of many voices speaking English, and trying to give orders in Italian, and the words "Good-bye, Brook!" sounded several times above the rest. Little by little, all grew still again.
"They are gone at last," said Mrs. Bowring, with a sigh of relief.
Clare Bowring went to her room that night feeling as though she had been at the theatre. She could not get rid of the impression made upon her by the scene she had witnessed, and over and over again, as she lay awake, with the moonbeams streaming into her room, she went over all she had seen and heard on the platform. It had, at least, been very like the theatre. The broad, flat stage, the somewhat conventionally picturesque buildings, the strip of far-off sea, as flat as a band of paint, the unnaturally bright moonlight, the two chief figures going through a love quarrel in the foreground, and she herself calmly seated in the shadow, as in the darkened amphitheatre, and looking on unseen and unnoticed.
But the two people had not talked at all as people talked on the stage in any piece Clare had ever seen. What would have been the "points" in a play had all been left out, and instead there had been abrupt pauses and awkward silences, and then, at what should have been the supreme moment, the lady in white had asked for a cigarette. And the two hasty little kisses that had a sort of perfunctory air, and the queer, jerky "good-byes," and the last stop near the door of the hotel—it all had an air of being very badly done. It could not have been a success on the stage, Clare thought.
And yet this was a bit of life, of the real, genuine life of two people who had been in love, and perhaps were in love still, though they might not know it. She had been present at what must, in her view, have been a great crisis in two lives. Such things, she thought, could not happen more than once in a lifetime—twice, perhaps. Her mother had been married twice, so Clare admitted a second possibility. But not more than that.
The situation, too, as she reviewed it, was nothing short of romantic. Here was a young man who had evidently been making love to a married woman, and who had made her believe that he loved her, and had made her love him too. Clare remembered the desperate little sob, and the handkerchief twice pressed to the pale lips. The woman was married, and yet she actually loved the man enough to think of divorcing her husband in order to marry him. Then, just when she was ready, he had turned and told her in the most heartless way that it had been all play, and that he would not marry her under any circumstances. It seemed monstrous to the innocent girl that they should even have spoken of marriage, until the divorce was accomplished. Then, of course, it would have been all right. Clare had been brought up with modern ideas about divorce in general, as being a fair and just thing in certain circumstances. She had learned that it could not be right to let an innocent woman suffer all her life because she had married a brute by mistake. Doubtless that was Lady Fan's case. But she should have got her divorce first, and then she might have talked of marriage afterwards. It was very wrong of her.
But Lady Fan's thoughtlessness—or wickedness, as Clare thought she ought to call it—sank into insignificance before the cynical heartlessness of the man. It was impossible ever to forget the cool way in which he had said she ought not to take it so tragically, because it was not worth it. Yet he had admitted that he had promised to marry her if she got a divorce. He had made love to her, there on the Acropolis, at sunset, as she had said. He even granted that he might have believed himself in earnest for a few moments. And now he told her that he was sorry, but that "it would not do." It had evidently been all his fault, for he had found nothing with which to reproach her. If there had been anything, Clare thought, he would have brought it up in self-defence. She could not suspect that he would almost rather have married Lady Fan, and ruined his life, than have done that. Innocence cannot even guess at sin's code of honour—though sometimes it would be in evil case without it. Brook had probably broken Lady Fan's heart that night, thought the young girl, though Lady Fan had said with such a bitter, crying laugh that they were not children and that their hearts could not break.
And it all seemed very unreal, as she looked back upon it. The situation was certainly romantic, but the words had been poor beyond her imagination, and the actors had halted in their parts, as at a first rehearsal.
Then Clare reflected that of course neither of them had ever been in such a situation before, and that, if they were not naturally eloquent, it was not surprising that they should have expressed themselves in short, jerky sentences. But that was only an excuse she made to herself to account for the apparent unreality of it all. She turned her cheek to a cool end of the pillow and tried to go to sleep.
She tried to bring back the white dreams she had dreamt when she had sat alone in the shadow before the other two had come out to quarrel. She did her best to bring back that vague, soft joy of yearning for something beautiful and unknown. She tried to drop the silver veil of fancy-threads woven by the May moon between her and the world. But it would not come. Instead of it, she saw the flat platform, the man and woman standing in the unnatural brightness, and the woman's desperate little face when he had told her that she had never loved him. The dream was not white any more.
So that was life. That was reality. That was the way men treated women. She thought she began to understand what faithlessness and unfaithfulness meant. She had seen an unfaithful man, and had heard him telling the woman he had made love him that he never could love her any more. That was real life.
Clare's heart went out to the little lady in white. By this time she was alone in her cabin, and her pillow was wet with tears. Brook doubtless was calmly asleep, unless he were drinking or doing some of those vaguely wicked things which, in the imagination of very simple young girls, fill up the hours of fast men, and help sometimes to make those very men "interesting." But after what she had seen Clare felt that Brook could never interest her under imaginable circumstances. He was simply a "brute," as the lady in white had told him, and Clare wished that some woman could make him suffer for his sins and expiate the misdeeds which had made that little face so desperate and that short laugh so bitter.
She wished, though she hardly knew it, that she had done anything rather than have sat there in the shadow, all through the scene. She had lost something that night which it would be hard indeed to find again. There was a big jagged rent in the drop-curtain of illusions before her life-stage, and through it she saw things that troubled her and would not be forgotten.
She had no memory of her own of which the vivid brightness or the intimate sadness could diminish the force of this new impression. Possibly, she was of the kind that do not easily fall in love, for she had met during the past two years more than one man whom many a girl of her age and bringing up might have fancied. Some of them might have fallen in love with her, if she had allowed them, or if she had felt the least spark of interest in them and had shown it. But she had not. Her manner was cold and over-dignified for her years, and she had very little vanity together with much pride—too much of the latter, perhaps, to be ever what is called popular. For "popular" persons are generally those who wish to be such; and pride and the love of popularity are at opposite poles of the character-world. Proud characters set love high and their own love higher, while a vain woman will risk her heart for a compliment, and her reputation for the sake of having a lion in her leash, if only for a day. Clare Bowring had not yet been near to loving, and she had nothing of her own to contrast with this experience in which she had been a mere spectator. It at once took the aspect of a generality. This man and this woman were probably not unlike most men and women, if the truth were known, she thought. And she had seen the real truth, as few people could ever have seen it—the supreme crisis of a love-affair going on before her very eyes, in her hearing, at her feet, the actors having no suspicion of her presence. It was, perhaps, the certainty that she could not misinterpret it all which most disgusted her, and wounded something in her which she had never defined, but which was really a sort of belief that love must always carry with it something beautiful, whether joyous, or tender, or tragic. Of that, there had been nothing in what she had seen. Only the woman's face came back to her, and hurt her, and she felt her own heart go out to poor Lady Fan, while it hardened against Brook with an exaggerated hatred, as though he had insulted and injured all living women.
It was probable that she was to see this man during several days to come. The idea struck her when she was almost asleep, and it waked her again, with a start. It was quite certain that he had stayed behind, when the others had gone down to the yacht, for she had heard the voices calling out "Good-bye, Brook!" Besides he had said repeatedly to the lady in white that he must stay. He was expecting his people. It was quite certain that Clare must see him during the next day or two. It was not impossible that he might try to make her mother's acquaintance and her own. The idea was intensely disagreeable to her. In the first place, she hated him beforehand for what he had done, and, secondly, she had once heard his secret. It was one thing, so long as he was a total stranger. It would be quite another, if she should come to know him. She had a vague thought of pretending to be ill, and staying in her room as long as he remained in the place. But in that case she should have to explain matters to her mother. She should not like to do that. The thought of the difficulty disturbed her a little while longer. Then, at last, she fell asleep, tired with what she had felt, and seen, and heard.
The yacht sailed before daybreak, and in the morning the little hotel had returned to its normal state of peace. The early sun blazed upon the white walls above, and upon the half-moon, beach below, and shot straight into the recess in the rocks where Clare had sat by the old black cross in the dark. The level beams ran through her room, too, for it faced south-east, looking across the gulf; and when she went to the window and stood in the sunshine, her flaxen hair looked almost white, and the good southern warmth brought soft colour to the northern girl's cheeks. She was like a thin, fair angel, standing there on the high balcony, looking to seaward in the calm air. That, at least, was what a fisherman from Praiano thought, as he turned his hawk-eyes upwards, standing to his oars and paddling slowly along, top-heavy in his tiny boat. But no native of Amalfi ever mistook a foreigner for an angel.
Everything was quiet and peaceful again, and there seemed to be neither trace nor memory of the preceding day's invasion. The English old maids were early at their window, and saw with disappointment that the yacht was gone. They were never to know whether the big man with the gold cigarette case had been the Duke of Orkney or not. But order was restored, and they got their tea and toast without difficulty. The Russian invalid was slicing a lemon into his cup on the vine-sheltered terrace, and the German family, having slept on the question of the Pope and Bismarck, were ruddy with morning energy, and were making an early start for a place in the hills where the Professor had heard that there was an inscription of the ninth century.
The young girl stood still on her balcony, happily dazed for a few moments by the strong sunshine and the clear air. It is probably the sensation enjoyed for hours together by a dog basking in the sun, but with most human beings it does not last long—the sun is soon too hot for the head, or too bright for the eyes, or there is a draught, or the flies disturb one. Man is not capable of as much physical enjoyment as the other animals, though perhaps his enjoyment is keener during the first moments. Then comes thought, restlessness, discontent, change, effort, and progress, and the history of man's superiority is the journal of his pain.
For a little while, Clare stood blinking in the sunshine, smitten into a pleasant semi-consciousness by the strong nature around her. Then she thought of Brook and the lady in white, and of all she had been a witness of in the evening, and the colour of things changed a little, and she turned away and went between the little white and red curtains into her room again. Life was certainly not the same since she had heard and seen what a man and a woman could say and be. There were certain new impressions, where there had been no impression at all, but only a maiden readiness to receive the beautiful. What had come was not beautiful, by any means, and the thought of it darkened the air a little, so that the day was not to be what it might have been. She realised how she was affected, and grew impatient with herself. After all, it would be the easiest thing in the world to avoid the man, even if he stayed some time. Her mother was not much given to making acquaintance with strangers.
And it would have been easy enough, if the man himself had taken the same view. He, however, had watched the Bowrings on the preceding evening, and had made up his mind that they were "human beings," as he put it; that is to say, that they belonged to his own class, whereas none of the people at the upper end of the table had any claim to be counted with the social blessed. He was young, and though he knew how to amuse himself alone, and had all manner of manly tastes and inclinations, he preferred pleasant society to solitude, and his experience told him that the society of the Bowrings would in all probability be pleasant. He therefore determined that he would try to know them at once, and the determination had already been formed in his mind when he had run after Clare to give her the shawl she had dropped.
He got up rather late, and promptly marched out upon the terrace under the vines, smoking a briar-root pipe with that solemn air whereby the Englishman abroad proclaims to the world that he owns the scenery. There is something almost phenomenal about an Englishman's solid self-satisfaction when he is alone with his pipe. Every nation has its own way of smoking. There is a hasty and vicious manner about the Frenchman's little cigarette of pungent black tobacco; the Italian dreams over his rat-tail cigar; the American either eats half of his Havana while he smokes the other, or else he takes a frivolous delight in smoking delicately and keeping the white ash whole to the end; the German surrounds himself with a cloud, and, god-like, meditates within it; there is a sacrificial air about the Asiatic's narghileh, as the thin spire rises steadily and spreads above his head; but the Englishman's short briar-root pipe has a powerful individuality of its own. Its simplicity is Gothic, its solidity is of the Stone Age, he smokes it in the face of the higher civilisation, and it is the badge of the conqueror. A man who asserts that he has a right to smoke a pipe anywhere, practically asserts that he has a right to everything. And it will be admitted that Englishmen get a good deal.
Moreover, as soon as the Englishman has finished smoking he generally goes and does something else. Brook knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and immediately went in search of the head waiter, to whom he explained with some difficulty that he wished to be placed next to the two ladies who sat last on the side away from the staircase at the public table. The waiter tried to explain that the two ladies, though they had been some time in the hotel, insisted upon being always last on that side because there was more air. But Brook was firm, and he strengthened his argument with coin, and got what he wanted. He also made the waiter point out to him the Bowrings' name on the board which held the names of the guests. Then he asked the way to Ravello, turned up his trousers round his ankles, and marched off at a swinging pace down the steep descent towards the beach, which he had to cross before climbing the hill to the old town. Nothing in his outward manner or appearance betrayed that he had been through a rather serious crisis on the preceding evening.
That was what struck Clare Bowring when, to her dismay, he sat down beside her at the midday meal. She could not help glancing at him as he took his seat. His eyes were bright, his face, browned by the sun, was fresh and rested. There was not a line of care or thought on his forehead. The young girl felt that she was flushing with anger. He saw her colour, and took it for a sign of shyness. He made a sort of apologetic movement of the head and shoulders towards her which was not exactly a bow—for to an Englishman's mind a bow is almost a familiarity—but which expressed a kind of vague desire not to cause any inconvenience.
The colour deepened a little in Clare's face, and then disappeared. She found something to say to her mother, on her other side, which it would hardly have been worth while to say at all under ordinary circumstances. Mrs. Bowring had glanced at the man while he was taking his seat, and her eyebrows had contracted a little. Later she looked furtively past her daughter at his profile, and then stared a long time at her plate. As for him, he began to eat with conscious strength, as healthy young men do, but he watched his opportunity for doing or saying anything which might lead to a first acquaintance.
To tell the truth, however, he was in no hurry. He knew how to make himself comfortable, and it was an important element in his comfort to be seated next to the only persons in the place with whom he should care to associate. That point being gained, he was willing to wait for whatever was to come afterwards. He did not expect in any case to gain more than the chance of a little pleasant conversation, and he was not troubled by any youthful desire to shine in the eyes of the fair girl beside whom he found himself, beyond the natural wish to appear well before women in general, which modifies the conduct of all natural and manly young men when women are present at all.
As the meal proceeded, however, he was surprised to find that no opportunity presented itself for exchanging a word with his neighbour. He had so often found it impossible to avoid speaking with strangers at a public table that he had taken the probability of some little incident for granted, and caught himself glancing surreptitiously at Clare's plate to see whether there were nothing wanting which he might offer her. But he could not think of anything. The fried sardines were succeeded by the regulation braised beef with the gluey brown sauce which grows in most foreign hotels. That, in its turn, was followed by some curiously dry slices of spongecake, each bearing a bit of pink and white sugar frosting, and accompanied by fresh orange marmalade, which Brook thought very good, but which Clare refused. And then there was fruit—beautiful oranges, uncanny apples, and walnuts—and the young man foresaw the near end of the meal, and wished that something would happen. But still nothing happened at all.
He watched Clare's hands as she prepared an orange in the Italian fashion, taking off the peel at one end, then passing the knife twice completely round at right angles, and finally stripping the peel away in four neat pieces. The hands were beautiful in their way, too thin, perhaps, and almost too white from recent illness, but straight and elastic, with little blue veins at the sides of the finger-joints and exquisite nails that were naturally polished. The girl was clever with her fingers, she could not help seeing that her neighbour was watching her, and she peeled the orange with unusual skill and care. It was a good one, too, and the peel separated easily from the deep yellow fruit.
"How awfully jolly!" exclaimed the young man, unconsciously, in genuine admiration.
He was startled by the sound of his own voice, for he had not meant to speak, and the blood rushed to his sunburnt face. Clare's eyes flashed upon him in a glance of surprise, and the colour rose in her cheeks also. She was evidently not pleased, and he felt that he had been guilty of a breach of English propriety. When an Englishman does a tactless thing he generally hastens to make it worse, becomes suddenly shy, and flounders.
"I—I beg your pardon," stammered Brook. "I really didn't mean to speak—that is—you did it so awfully well, you know!"
"It's the Italian way," Clare answered, beginning to quarter the orange.
She felt that she could not exactly be silent after he had apologised for admiring her skill. But she remembered that she had felt some vanity in what she had been doing, and had done it with some unnecessary ostentation. She hoped that he would not say anything more, for the sound of his voice reminded her of what she had heard him say to the lady in white, and she hated him with all her heart.
But the young man was encouraged by her sufficiently gracious answer, and was already glad of what he had done.
"Do all Italians do it that way?" he asked boldly.
"Generally," answered the young girl, and she began to eat the orange.
Brook took another from the dish before him.
"Let me see," he said, turning it round and round. "You cut a slice off one end." He began to cut the peel.
"Not too deep," said Clare, "or you will cut into the fruit."
"Oh—thanks, awfully. Yes, I see. This way?"
He took the end off, and looked at her for approval. She nodded gravely, and then turned away her eyes. He made the two cuts round the peel, crosswise, and looked to her again, but she affected not to see him.
"Oh—might I ask you—" he began. She looked at his orange again, without a smile. "Please don't think me too dreadfully rude," he said. "But it was so pretty, and I'm tremendously anxious to learn. Was it this way?"
His fingers teased the peel, and it began to come off. He raised his eyes with another look of inquiry.
"Yes. That's all right," said Clare calmly.
She was going to look away again, when she reflected that since he was so pertinacious it would be better to see the operation finished once for all. Then she and her mother would get up and go away, as they had finished. But he wished to push his advantage.
"And now what does one do?" he asked, for the sake of saying something.
"One eats it," answered Clare, half impatiently.
He stared at her a moment and then broke into a laugh, and Clare, very much to her own surprise and annoyance, laughed too, in spite of herself. That broke the ice. When two people have laughed together over something one of them has said, there is no denying the acquaintance.
"It was really awfully kind of you!" he exclaimed, his eyes still laughing. "It was horridly rude of me to say anything at all, but I really couldn't help it. If I could get anybody to introduce me, so that I could apologise properly, I would, you know, but in this place—"
He looked towards the German family and the English old maids, in a helpless sort of way, and then laughed again.
"I don't think it's necessary," said Clare rather coldly.
"No—I suppose not," he answered, growing graver at once. "And I think it is allowed—isn't it?—to speak to one's neighbour at a table d'hote, you know. Not but what it was awfully rude of me, all the same," he added hastily.
"Oh no. Not at all."
Clare stared at the wall opposite and leaned back in her chair.
"Oh! thanks awfully! I was afraid you might think so, you know."
Mrs. Bowring leaned forward as her daughter leaned back. Seeing that the latter had fallen into conversation with the stranger, she was too much a woman of the world not to speak to him at once in order to avoid any awkwardness when they next met, for he could not possibly have spoken first to her across the young girl.
"Is it your first visit to Amalfi?" she inquired, with as much originality as is common in such cases.
Brook leaned forward too, and looked over at the elder woman.
"Yes," he answered, "I was with a party, and they dropped me here last night. I was to meet my people here, but they haven't turned up yet, so I'm seeing the sights. I went up to Ravello this morning—you know, that place on the hill. There's an awfully good view from there, isn't there?"
Clare thought his fluency developed very quickly when he spoke to her mother. As he leaned forward she could not help seeing his face, and she looked at him closely, for the first time, and with some curiosity. He was handsome, and had a wonderfully frank and good-humoured expression. He was not in the least a "beauty" man—she thought he might be a soldier or a sailor, and a very good specimen of either. Furthermore, he was undoubtedly a gentleman, so far as a man is to be judged by his outward manner and appearance. In her heart she had already set him down as little short of a villain. The discrepancy between his looks and what she thought of him disturbed her. It was unpleasant to feel that a man who had acted as he had acted last night could look as fresh, and innocent, and unconcerned as he looked to-day. It was disagreeable to have him at her elbow. Either he had never cared a straw for poor Lady Fan, and in that case he had almost broken her heart out of sheer mischief and love of selfish amusement, or else, if he had cared for her at all, he was a pitiably fickle and faithless creature—something much more despicable in the eyes of most women than the most heartless cynic. One or the other he must be, thought Clare. In either case he was bad, because Lady Fan was married, and it was wicked to make love to married women. There was a directness about Clare's view which would either have made the man laugh or would have hurt him rather badly. She wondered what sort of expression would come over his handsome face if she were suddenly to tell him what she knew. The idea took her by surprise, and she smiled to herself as she thought of it.
Yet she could not help glancing at him again and again, as he talked across her with her mother, making very commonplace remarks about the beauty of the place. Very much in spite of herself, she wished to know him better, though she already hated him. His face attracted her strangely, and his voice was pleasant, close to her ear. He had not in the least the look of the traditional lady-killer, of whom the tradition seems to survive as a moral scarecrow for the education of the young, though the creature is extinct among Anglo-Saxons. He was, on the contrary, a manly man, who looked as though he would prefer tennis to tea and polo to poetry—and men to women for company, as a rule. She felt that if she had not heard him talking with the lady in white she should have liked him very much. As it was, she said to herself that she wished she might never see him again—and all the time her eyes returned again and again to his sunburnt face and profile, till in a few minutes she knew his features by heart.
A chance acquaintance may, under favourable circumstances, develop faster than one brought about by formal introduction, because neither party has been previously led to expect anything of the other. There is no surer way of making friendship impossible than telling two people that they are sure to be such good friends, and are just suited to each other. The law of natural selection applies to almost everything we want in the world, from food and climate to a wife.
When Clare and her mother had established themselves as usual on the terrace under the vines that afternoon, Brook came and sat beside them for a while. Mrs. Bowring liked him and talked easily with him, but Clare was silent and seemed absent-minded. The young man looked at her from time to time with curiosity, for he was not used to being treated with such perfect indifference as she showed to him. He was not spoilt, as the phrase goes, but he had always been accustomed to a certain amount of attention, when he met new people, and, without being in the least annoyed, he thought it strange that this particular young lady should seem not even to listen to what he said.
Mrs. Bowring, on the other hand, scarcely took her eyes from his face after the first ten minutes, and not a word he spoke escaped her. By contrast with her daughter's behaviour, her earnest attention was very noticeable. By degrees she began to ask him questions about himself.
"Do you expect your people to-morrow?" she inquired.
Clare looked up quickly. It was very unlike her mother to show even that small amount of curiosity about a stranger. It was clear that Mrs. Bowring had conceived a sudden liking for the young man.
"They were to have been here to-day," he answered indifferently. "They may come this evening, I suppose, but they have not even ordered rooms. I asked the man there—the owner of the place, I suppose he is."
"Then of course you will wait for them," suggested Mrs. Bowring.
"Yes. It's an awful bore, too. That is—" he corrected himself hastily—"I mean, if I were to be here without a soul to speak to, you know. Of course, it's different, this way."
"How?" asked Mrs. Bowring, with a brighter smile than Clare had seen on her face for a long time.
"Oh, because you are so kind as to let me talk to you," answered the young man, without the least embarrassment.
"Then you are a social person?" Mrs. Bowring laughed a little. "You don't like to be alone?"
"Oh no! Not when I can be with nice people. Of course not. I don't believe anybody does. Unless I'm doing something, you know—shooting, or going up a hill, or fishing. Then I don't mind. But of course I would much rather be alone than with bores, don't you know? Or—or—well, the other kind of people."
"What kind?" asked Mrs. Bowring.
"There are only two kinds," answered Brook, gravely. "There is our kind—and then there is the other kind. I don't know what to call them, do you? All the people who never seem to understand exactly what we are talking about nor why we do things—and all that. I call them 'the other kind.' But then I haven't a great command of language. What should you call them?"
"Cads, perhaps," suggested Clare, who had not spoken for a long time.
"Oh no, not exactly," answered the young man, looking at her. "Besides, 'cads' doesn't include women, does it? A gentleman's son sometimes turns out a most awful cad, a regular 'bounder.' It's rare, but it does happen sometimes. A mere cad may know, and understand all right, but he's got the wrong sort of feeling inside of him about most things. For instance—you don't mind? A cad may know perfectly well that he ought not to 'kiss and tell'—but he will all the same. The 'other kind,' as I call them, don't even know. That makes them awfully hard to get on with."
"Then, of the two, you prefer the cad?" inquired Clare coolly.
"No. I don't know. They are both pretty bad. But a cad may be very amusing, sometimes."
"When he kisses and tells?" asked the young girl viciously.
Brook looked at her, in quick surprise at her tone.
"No," he answered quietly. "I didn't mean that. The clowns in the circus represent amusing cads. Some of them are awfully clever, too," he added, turning the subject. "Some of those fiddling fellows are extraordinary. They really play very decently. They must have a lot of talent, when you think of all the different things they do besides their feats of strength—they act, and play the fiddle, and sing, and dance—"
"You seem to have a great admiration for clowns," observed Clare in an indifferent tone.
"Well—they are amusing, aren't they? Of course, it isn't high art, and that sort of thing, but one laughs at them, and sometimes they do very pretty things. One can't be always on one's hind legs, doing Hamlet, can one? There's a limit to the amount of tragedy one can stand during life. After all, it is better to laugh than to cry."