BY LUCAS MALET
(MARY ST. LEGER HARRISON)
Author of "Sir Richard Calmady," "The Wages of Sin," etc.
"Youth has no boundaries, age has the grave."—BULGARIAN PROVERB
TO MY DEAR FRIEND ACROSS THE OCEAN C. E. O. VEVEY 1899 LONDON 1919
BOOK I THE HOUSE OF THE TAMARISKS
I. TELLING HOW, UNDER STRESS OF CIRCUMSTANCES, A HUMANIST TURNED HERMIT
II. ENTER A YOUNG SCHOLAR AND GENTLEMAN OF A HAPPY DISPOSITION AND GOOD PROSPECTS
III. THE DOUBTFULLY HARMONIOUS PARTS OF A WHOLE
IV. WATCHERS THROUGH THE SMALL HOURS
V. BETWEEN RIVER AND SEA
VI. IN WHICH THE PAST LAYS AN OMINOUS HAND ON THE PRESENT
VII. A CRITIC IN CORDUROY
BOOK II THE HARD SCHOOL OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
I. IN MAIDEN MEDITATION
II. WHICH CANTERS ROUND A PARISH PUMP
III. A SAMPLING OF FREEDOM
IV. OUT ON THE BAR
V. WHEREIN DAMARIS MAKES SOME ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE HIDDEN WAYS OF MEN
VI. RECOUNTING AN ASTONISHING DEPOSITION
VII. A SOUL AT WAR WITH FACT
VIII. TELLING HOW TWO PERSONS, OF VERY DIFFERENT MORAL CALIBRE, WERE COMPELLED TO WEAR THE FLOWER OF HUMILIATION IN THEIR RESPECTIVE BUTTONHOLES
IX. AN EXPERIMENT IN BRIDGE-BUILDING OF WHICH TIME ALONE CAN FIX THE VALUES
X. TELLING HOW MISS FELICIA VERITY UNSUCCESSFULLY ATTEMPTED A RESCUE
XI. IN WHICH DAMARIS RECEIVES INFORMATION OF THE LOST SHOES AND STOCKINGS—ASSUMPTION OF THE GOD-HEAD
XII. CONCERNING A SERMON WHICH NEVER WAS PREACHED AND OTHER MATTERS OF LOCAL INTEREST
BOOK III THE WORLD BEYOND THE FOREST
I. AN EPISODE IN THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE MAN WITH THE BLUE EYES
II. TELLING HOW DAMARIS RENEWED HER ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE BELOVED LADY OF HER INFANCY
III. WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF, INCIDENTALLY, WITH THE GRIEF OF A VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCE AND THE RECEPTION OF A BELATED CHRISTMAS GREETING
IV. BLOWING ONE'S OWN TRUMPET PRACTISED AS A FINE ART
V. IN WHICH HENRIETTA PULLS THE STRINGS
VI. CARNIVAL—AND AFTER
VII. TELLING HOW DAMARIS DISCOVERED THE TRUE NATURE OF A CERTAIN SECRET TO THE DEAR MAN WITH THE BLUE EYES
VIII. FIDUS ACHATES
IX. WHICH FEATURES VARIOUS PERSONS WITH WHOM THE READER IS ALREADY ACQUAINTED
X. WHICH IT IS TO BE FEARED SMELLS SOMEWHAT POWERFULLY OF BILGE WATER
XI. WHEREIN DAMARIS MEETS HERSELF UNDER A NOVEL ASPECT
XII. CONCERNING ITSELF WITH A GATHERING UP OF FRAGMENTS
XIII. WHICH RECOUNTS A TAKING OF SANCTUARY
BOOK IV THROUGH SHADOWS TOWARDS THE DAWN
I. WHICH CARRIES OVER A TALE OF YEARS, AND CARRIES ON
II. RECALLING, IN SOME PARTICULARS, THE EASIEST RECORDED THEFT IN HUMAN HISTORY
III. BROTHER AND SISTER
IV. WHEREIN MISS FELICIA VERITY CONCLUSIVELY SHOWS WHAT SPIRIT SHE IS OF
V. DEALING WITH EMBLEMS, OMENS AND DEMONSTRATIONS
VI. SHOWING HOW SIR CHARLES VERITY WAS JUSTIFIED OF HIS LABOURS
VII. TELLING HOW CHARLES VERITY LOOKED ON THE MOTHER OF HIS SON
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH WHICH IS ALSO CHAPTER THE LAST
THE HOUSE OF THE TAMARISKS
TELLING HOW, UNDER STRESS OF CIRCUMSTANCE, A HUMANIST TURNED HERMIT
A peculiar magic resides in running water, as every student of earth-lore knows. There is high magic, too, in the marriage of rivers, so that the spot where two mingle their streams is sacred, endowed with strange properties of evocation and of purification. Such spots go to the making of history and ruling of individual lives; but whether their influence is not more often malign than beneficent may be, perhaps, open to doubt.
Certain it is, however, that no doubts of this description troubled the mind of Thomas Clarkson Verity, when, in the closing decade of the eighteenth century, he purchased the house at Deadham Hard, known as Tandy's Castle, overlooking the deep and comparatively narrow channel by which the Rivers Arne and Wilner, after crossing the tide-flats and salt-marsh of Marychurch Haven, make their swift united exit into Marychurch Bay. Neither was he troubled by the fact that Tandy's Castle—or more briefly and familiarly Tandy's—for all its commonplace outward decency of aspect did not enjoy an unblemished moral or social reputation. The house—a whitewashed, featureless erection—was planted at right angles to the deep sandy lane leading up from the shore, through the scattered village of Deadham, to the three-mile distant market town of Marychurch.
Standing on a piece of rough land—bare, save for a few stunted Weymouth pines, and a fringe of tamarisk along the broken sea-wall—Tandy's, at the date in question, boasted a couple of bowed sash-windows on either side the front and back doors; and a range of five other windows set flat in the wall on the first floor. There was no second storey. The slate roofs were mean, low-pitched, without any grace of overshadowing eaves. At either end, a tall chimney-stack rose like the long ears of some startled, vacant-faced small animal. Behind the house, a thick plantation of beech and sycamore served to make its square blank whiteness visible for a quite considerable distance out to sea. Built upon the site of some older and larger structure, it was blessed—or otherwise—with a system of vaults and cellars wholly disproportionate to its existing size. One of these, by means of a roughly ceiled and flagged passage, gave access to a heavy door in the sea-wall opening directly on to the river foreshore.
Hence the unsavoury reputation of the place. For not only did it supply a convenient receiving house for smuggled goods, but a convenient rendezvous for the more lawless characters of the neighbourhood—a back-of-beyond and No Man's Land where the devil could, with impunity, have things very much his own way. In the intervals of more serious business, the vaults and cellars of Tandy's frequently resounded to the agonies and brutal hilarities of cock-fights, dog-fights, and other repulsive sports and pastimes common to the English—both gentle and simple—of that virile but singularly gross and callous age. Nevertheless to Thomas Clarkson Verity, man of peace and of ideas, Tandy's represented—and continued to represent through over half a century—rescue, security, an awakening in something little short of paradise from a long-drawn nightmare of hell. He paid an extortionate price for the property at the outset, and spent a small fortune on the enlargement of the house and improvement of the grounds, yet never regretted his bargain.
For, in good truth, when, in the spring of 1794, the soft, nimble, round-bodied, very polite, learned and loquacious little gentleman first set eyes upon its mean roofs, prick ears and vacant whitewashed countenance, he had been horribly shocked, horribly scared—for all the inherited valour of his good breeding—and, above all, most horribly disappointed. History had played very dirty pranks with him, which he found it impossible as yet to forgive.
Five years earlier, fired, like many another generous spirit, by extravagant hope of the coming regeneration of mankind, he hurried off to Paris after the opening of the National Assembly and fall of the Bastille. With the overture to the millennium in full blast, must he not be there to hear and see? Associating himself with the Girondist party he assisted, busily enthusiastic, at the march of tremendous events, until the evil hour in which friend began to denounce friend, and heads, quite other than aristocratic—those of men and women but yesterday the idols and chosen leaders of the people—went daily to the filling of la veuve Guillotine's unspeakable market-basket. The spectacle proved too upsetting both to Mr. Verity's amiable mind and rather queasy stomach. Faith failed; while even the millennium seemed hardly worth purchasing at so detestable a cost. He stood altogether too close to the terrible drama, in its later stages, to distinguish the true import or progression of it. Too close to understand that, however blood-stained its cradle, the goodly child Democracy was veritably, here and now, in the act of being born among men. Rather did he question whether his own fat little neck was not in lively danger of being severed; and his own head—so full of ingenious thoughts and lively curiosity—of being sent flying to join those of Brissot and Verginaud, of wayward explosive Camille and sweet Lucile Desmoulins, in that same unspeakable basket.
And to what end? For could he suppose the human race would be nearer, by the veriest fraction of a millimetre, to universal liberty, equality, and prosperity, through his insignificant death? Modesty, and a natural instinct of self-preservation alike answered, "never a jot." Whereupon with pertinacious, if furtive, activity he sought means of escape. And, at length, after months of hiding and anxious flitting, found them in the shape of a doubtfully seaworthy, and undoubtedly filthy, fishing-smack bound from Le Havre to whatever port it could make on the English south coast. The two days' voyage was rough, the accommodation and company to match. Mr. Verity spent a disgusting and disgusted forty-eight hours, to be eventually put ashore, a woefully bedraggled and depleted figure, in the primrose, carmine, and dove-grey of a tender April morning on the wet sand just below the sea-wall of Tandy's Castle.
Never was Briton more thankful to salute his native land, or feel the solid earth of it under his weary and very shaky feet. He, an epicure, ate such coarse food, washed down by such coarse ale, as Tandy's could offer with smiling relish. Later, mounted on a forest pony—an ill-favoured animal with a wall-eye, pink muzzle, bristly upper and hanging lower lip, more accustomed to carry a keg of smuggled spirits strapped beneath its belly than a cosmopolitan savant and social reformer on its back—he rode the three miles to Marychurch, proposing there to take the coach to Southampton and, after a measure of rest and refitting, a post-chaise to Canton Magna, his elder brother's fine place lying in a fold of the chalk hills which face the Sussex border.
The pony moved slowly and sullenly; but its rider felt no impatience. His humour was of the kindliest. His heart, indeed, came near singing for joy, simply, spontaneously, even as the larks sang, climbing up and upward from salt marsh and meadow, on either side the rutted road, into the limpid purity of the spring sky. A light wind flapped the travel-stained, high-collared blue cloth cloak which he wore; and brought him both the haunting fetid-sweet reek of the mud flats—the tide being low—and the invigorating tang of the forest and moorland, uprolling there ahead, in purple and umber to the pale northern horizon. Against that sombre background, fair and stately in the tender sunlight as a church of vision or dream, Marychurch Abbey rose above the roofs and chimneys of the little town.
During the latter half of the eighteenth century, not only were religious systems very much at a discount among persons of intelligence, but the Deity himself was relegated to the position of an exploded idea, becoming an object of vituperation, witty or obscene according to the humour of the individual critic. As one of the illuminated, Mr. Verity did not escape the prevailing infection, although an inborn amenity of disposition saved him from atheism in its more blatantly offensive forms. The existence of the Supreme Being might be, (probably was) so he feared, but "a fond thing vainly imagined". Yet such is the constitution of the human mind that age confers a certain prestige and authority even upon phantoms and suspected frauds. Hence it followed that Mr. Verity, in the plenitude of his courtesy, had continued to take off his hat—secretly and subjectively at all events—to this venerable theological delusion, so dear through unnumbered centuries to the aching heart and troubled conscience of humanity.
But in the present glad hour of restored security—his head no longer in danger of plopping, hideously bodiless, into la veuve's basket, his inner-man, moreover, so recently and rackingly evacuated by that abominable Channel passage, now comfortably relined with Tandy's meat and drink—he went further in the way of acknowledgment. A glow of very vital gratitude swept over him, so that looking at the majestic church—secular witness to the soul's faith in and need of Almighty God's protective mercy and goodness—he took off his hat, no longer metaphorically but actually, and bowed himself together over the pommel of the saddle with an irresistible movement of thanksgiving and of praise.
Recovering himself after a minute or so—"Almost thou persuades! me to be a Christian," he said aloud, shaking his head remonstrantly at the distant church, while tears started to his busy, politely inquisitive eyes.
Then, striving by speech to bring his spirits to their accustomed playfulness and poise, he soliloquized thus, still aloud:
"For, to be candid, what convincing argument can I advance, in the light of recent experience, to prove that Rousseau, my friends the Encyclopeadists, or even the great M. de Voltaire, were really wiser in their generation, truer lovers of the people and safer guides, than St. Benedict—of blessed memory, since patron of learning and incidentally saviour of classic literature—whose pious sons raised this most delectable edifice to God's glory seven hundred years ago?—The tower is considerably later than the transepts and the nave—fifteenth century I take it,—Upon my soul, I am half tempted to renounce my allegiance and to doubt whether our modern standards of civilization surpass, in the intelligent application of means to ends, those of these mediaeval cenobites, and whether we are saner philanthropists, deeper philosophers, more genial humanists than they!"
But here his discourse suffered mortifying interruption. He became aware the pony stood stock-still in the middle of the road; and, turning its head, so that he beheld its pink muzzle, bristly upper and hanging lower lip in disagreeable profile, regarded him with malevolent contempt out of its one sound eye, as who should say:
"What's the silly fellow trumpeting like this about? Doesn't the veriest noodle contrive to keep a quiet tongue in his head out on the highway?"
Sensible of a snub, Mr. Verity jerked at the reins and clapped his heels into the creature's sides, as smartly as fatigue and native civility permitted, sending it forward at a jog-trot. Nevertheless his soliloquy—a silent one now—continued, and that with notable consequences to others besides himself.
For his thought still dallied with the subject of the monastic life, as lived by those same pious Benedictines here in England long ago. Its reasoned rejection of mundane agitations, its calm, its leisure, its profound and ardent scholarship were vastly to his taste,—A man touching middle-age might do worse, surely, than spend his days between worship and learning, thus?—He saw, and approved, its social office in offering sanctuary to the fugitive, alms to the poor, teaching to the ignorant, consolation to the sick and safe passage heavenward to the dying. Saw, not without sympathy, its more jovial moments—its good fellowship, shrewd and witty conversation, well salted stories—whereat a man laughs slyly in his sleeve—its good cheer, too, with feasts on holy-days and high-days, rich and succulent.—And in this last connection, as he reflected, much was to be said for the geographical position of Marychurch; since if river mists and white dullness of sea fog, drifting in from the Channel, were to hand, so, also, in their season, were fresh run salmon, snipe, wood-cock, flocks of wild duck, of plover and other savoury fowl.
For in this thankfulness of awakening from the hellish nightmare of the Terror, Mr. Verity's facile imagination tended to run to another extreme. With all the seriousness of which he was capable he canvassed the notion of a definite retirement from the world. Public movements, political and social experiments ceased to attract him. His appetite for helping to make the wheels of history go round had been satisfied to the point of nausea. All he desired was tranquillity and repose. He was free of domestic obligations and close family ties. He proposed to remain so—philosophy his mistress, science his hand-maid, literature his pastime, books (remembering the bitter sorrows of the tumbril and scaffold in Paris) in future, his closest friends.
But, unfortunately, though the great church in all its calm grave, beauty still held the heart the fair landscape, the monastery, which might have sheltered his renunciation, had been put to secular uses or fallen into ruin long years ago. If he proposed to retire from the world, he must himself provide suitable environment. Marychurch Abbey, at the end of the eighteenth century, had very certainly nothing to offer him under that head.
And then, with a swiftness of conception and decision possible only to mercurial-minded persons, his thought darted back to Tandy's, that unkempt, morally malodorous back-of-beyond and No Man's Land. Its vacant whitewashed countenance and long-eared chimney-stacks had welcomed him, if roughly and grudgingly, to England and to peace. Was he not in some sort thereby in debt to Tandy's bound by gratitude to the place? Should he not buy it—his private fortune being considerable—and there plant his hermitage? Should he not renovate and transform it, redeeming it from questionable uses, by transporting thither, not himself only but his fine library, his famous herbarium, his cabinets of crystals, of coins, and of shells? The idea captivated him. He was weary of destruction, having seen it in full operation and practised on the gigantic scale. Henceforth he would devote all the energy he possessed to construction—on however modest and private a one—to a building up, as personal protest against much lately witnessed wanton and chaotic pulling-down.
In prosecution of which purpose, hopeful once more and elate, bobbing merrily cork-like upon the surface of surrounding circumstance—although lamentably deficient, for the moment, in raiment befitting his position and his purse—Mr. Verity spent two days at the Stag's Head, in Marychurch High Street. He made enquiries of all and sundry regarding the coveted property; and learned, after much busy investigation that the village, and indeed the whole Hundred of Deadham, formed an outlying and somewhat neglected portion of his acquaintance, Lord Bulparc's Hampshire estate.
Here was solid information to go upon. Greatly encouraged, he took the coach to Southampton, and thence up to town; where he interviewed first Lord Bulparc's lawyers and then that high-coloured, free-living nobleman himself.
"Gad, sir," the latter assured him, "you're heartily welcome to the damn little hole, as far as I'm concerned, if you have the bad taste to fancy it. I suppose I ought to speak to my son Oxley about this just as a matter of form. Not that I apprehend Oxley will raise any difficulties as to entail—you need not fear that. We shall let you off easy enough—only too happy to oblige you. But I warn you, Verity, you may drop money buying the present tenant out. If half my agent tells me is true, the fellow must be a most confounded blackguard, up to the eyes in all manner of ungodly traffic. By rights we ought to have kicked him out years ago. But," his lordship chuckled—"I scruple to be hard on any man. We're none of us perfect, live and let live, you know. Only my dear fellow, I'm bound to put you on your guard; for he'll stick to the place like a leech and blood-suck you like a leech too, as long as there's a chance of getting an extra guinea out of you by fair means or foul."
To which process of blood-sucking Mr. Verity was, in fact, rather scandalously subjected before Tandy's Castle passed into his possession. But pass into his possession it finally did, whereupon he fell joyously to the work of reconstructive redemption.
First of all he ordered the entrance of the underground passage, leading to the river foreshore, to be securely walled up; and, with a fine disregard of possible unhealthy consequences in the shape of choke-damp, the doorways of certain ill-reputed vaults and cellars to be filled with solid masonry. Neither harborage of contraband, cruel laughter of man, or yell of tortured beast, should again defile the under-world of Tandy's!—Next he had the roof of the main building raised, and given a less mean and meagre angle. He added a wing on the left containing pleasant bed-chambers upstairs, and good offices below; and, as crowning act of redemption, caused three large ground-floor rooms, backed by a wide corridor, to be built on the right in which to house his library and collections. This lateral extension of the house, constructed according to his own plans, was, like its designer, somewhat eccentric in character. The three rooms were semicircular, all window on the southern garden front, veritable sun-traps, with a low sloped roofing of grey-green slate to them, set fan-wise.
Such was the house at Deadham Hard when Mr. Verity's labours were completed. And such did it remain until a good eighty years later, when it was visited by a youthful namesake and great-great nephew, under circumstances not altogether unworthy of record.
ENTER A YOUNG SCHOLAR AND GENTLEMAN OF A HAPPY DISPOSITION AND GOOD PROSPECTS
The four-twenty down train rumbled into Marychurch station, and Tom Verity stepped out of a rather frousty first-class carriage on to the platform. There hot still September sunshine, tempered by a freshness off the sea, met him. The effect was pleasurable, adding delicate zest to the enjoyment of living which already possessed him. Coming from inland, the near neighbourhood of the sea, the sea with its eternal invitation, stirred his blood.
For was not he about to accept the said invitation in its fullest and most practical expression? Witness the fact that, earlier in the day, he had deposited his heavy baggage at that house of many partings, many meetings, Radley's Hotel, Southampton; and journeyed on to Marychurch with a solitary, eminently virgin, cowhide portmanteau, upon the yellow-brown surface of which the words—"Thomas Clarkson Verity, passenger Bombay, first cabin R.M.S. Penang"—were inscribed in the whitest of lettering. His name stood high in the list of successful candidates at the last Indian Civil Service examination. Now he reaped the reward of past endeavour. For with that deposition of heavy baggage at Radley's the last farewell to years of tutelage seemed to him to be spoken. Nursery discipline, the restraints and prohibitions—in their respective degrees—of preparatory school, of Harchester, of Oxford; and, above all and through all, the control and admonitions of his father, the Archdeacon, fell away from him into the limbo of things done with, outworn and outpaced.
This moved him as pathetic, yet as satisfactory also, since it set him free to fix his mind, without lurking suspicion of indecorum, upon the large promise of the future. He could give rein to his eagerness, to his high sense of expectation, while remaining innocent of impiety towards persons and places holding, until now, first claim on his obedience and affection. All this fell in admirably with his natural bent. Self-reliant, agreeably egotistical, convinced of the excellence of his social and mental equipment, Tom was saved from excess of conceit by a lively desire to please, an even more lively sense of humour, and an intelligence to which at this period nothing came amiss in the way of new impressions or experiences.
And, from henceforth, he was his own master, his thoughts, actions, purposes, belonging to himself and to himself alone. Really the position was a little intoxicating! Realizing it, as he sat in the somewhat stuffy first-class carriage, on that brief hour's journey from Southampton to Marychurch, he had laughed out loud, hunching up his shoulders saucily, in a sudden outburst of irrepressible and boyish glee.
But as the line, clearing the purlieus of the great seaport, turns south-westward running through the noble oak and beech woods of Arnewood Forest, crossing its bleak moorlands—silver pink, at the present season, with fading heather—and cutting through its plantations of larch and Scotch fir, Tom Verity's mood sobered. He watched the country reeling away to right and left past the carriage windows, and felt its peculiarly English and sylvan charm. Yet he saw it all through a dazzle, as of mirage, in which floated phantom landscapes strangely different in sentiment and in suggestion.—Some extravagantly luxuriant, as setting to crowded painted cities, some desert, amazingly vacant and desolate; but, in either case, poetic, alluring, exciting, as scenes far removed in climate, faith and civilization from those heretofore familiar can hardly fail to be. India, and all which India stands for in English history, challenged his imagination, challenged his ambition, since in virtue of his nationality, young and inexperienced though he was, he went to her as a natural ruler, the son of a conquering race. And this last thought begot in him not only exultation but an unwonted seriousness. While, as he thus meditated, from out the dazzle as of mirage, a single figure grew into force and distinctness of outline, a figure which from his childhood had appealed to him with an attraction at once sinister and heroic—that, namely, of a certain soldier and ex-Indian official, his kinsman, to pay a politic tribute of respect to whom was the object of his present excursion.
In Catholic countries the World gives its children to the Church. In Protestant countries the process is not infrequently reversed, the Church giving its children to the World, and that with an alacrity which argues remarkable faith and courage—of a sort! Archdeacon Verity had carefully planned this visit for his son, although it obliged the young man to leave home two days earlier than he need otherwise have done. It was illuminating to note how the father brought all the resources of a fine presence, an important manner and full-toned archidiaconal voice to bear upon proving the expediency of the young man visiting this particular relation, over whose career and reputation he had so often, in the past, pursed up his lips and shaken his head for the moral benefit of the domestic circle.
For the Archdeacon, in common with the majority of the Verity family, was animated by that ineradicable distrust of anything approaching genius which distinguishes the English country, or rather county, mind. And that Sir Charles Verity had failed to conform to the family tradition of solid, unemotional, highly respectable, and usually very wealthy, mediocrity was beyond question. He had struck out a line for himself; and, as the event disclosed, an illustrious one. This the Archdeacon, being a good Conservative, disapproved. It worried him sadly, making him actually, if unconsciously, exceedingly jealous. And precisely on that account, by an ingenious inversion of reasoning, he felt he owed it to abstract justice—in other words to his much disgruntled self—to make all possible use of this offending, this renegade personage, when opportunity of so doing occurred. Now, learning on credible authority that Sir Charles's name was still one to conjure with in India, it clearly became his duty to bid his son seek out and secure whatever modicum of advantage—in the matter of advice and introductions—might be derivable from so irritating a source.
All of which, while jumping with his own desires, caused Tom much sly mirth. For might it not be counted among the satisfactory results of his deposition of heavy baggage at Radley's that, for the first time in his life, he was at liberty to regard even his father, Thomas Pontifex Verity, Archdeacon of Harchester and Rector of Canton Magna, in a true perspective? And he laughed again, though this time softly, indulgently, able in the plenitude of youthful superiority to extend a kindly tolerance towards the foibles and ingenuous hypocrisies of poor middle-age.
But here the train, emerging from the broken hilly country on the outskirts of the forest, roared along the embankment which carries the line across the rich converging valleys of the Wilner and the Arne. Tom ceased to think either of possible advantage accruing to his own fortunes, or these defects of the family humour which had combined to dictate his present excursion, his attention being absorbed by the beauty of the immediate outlook. For on the left Marychurch came into view.
The great, grey, long-backed abbey stands on a heart-shaped peninsula of slightly rising ground. Its western tower, land-mark for the valleys and seamark for vessels making the Haven, overtops the avenue of age-old elms which shade the graveyard. Close about the church, the red brick and rough-cast houses of the little market-town—set in a wide margin of salt-marsh and meadow intersected by blue-brown waterways—gather, as a brood of chickens gathers about a mothering hen. Beyond lie the pale glinting levels of the estuary, guarded on the west by gently upward sloping cornlands and on the south by the dark furze and heath-clad mass of Stone Horse Head. Beyond again, to the low horizon, stretches the Channel sea.
The very simplicity of the picture gives it singular dignity and repose. Classic in its clearness of outline and paucity of detail, mediaeval in sentiment, since the great Norman church dominates the whole, its appeal is at once wistful and severe. And, this afternoon, just as the nearness of the sea tempered the atmosphere lifting all oppressive weight from the brooding sunshine, so did it temper the colouring, lending it an ethereal quality, in which blue softened to silver, grey to lavender, while green seemed overspread by powdered gold. The effect was exquisite, reminding Tom of certain water-colour drawings, by Danvers and by Appleyard, hanging in the drawing-room of the big house at Canton Magna, and of certain of Shelley's lyrics—both of which, in their different medium, breathed the same enchantment of natural and spiritual loveliness, of nameless desire, nameless regret. And, his nerves being somewhat strained by the emotions of the day, that enchantment worked upon him strangely. The inherent pathos of it, indeed, took him, as squarely as unexpectedly, by the throat. He suffered a sharp recoil from the solicitation of the future, an immense tenderness towards the past.—A tenderness for those same years of tutelage and all they had brought him, not only in over-flowing animal spirits, happy intercourse and intellectual attainment; but in their limitation of private action, their security of obligation, of obedience to authority, which at the time had seemed irksome enough and upon release from which he had so recently congratulated himself.
Love of home, of England, of his own people—of the Archdeacon, in even his most full-voiced and moralizing mood—love of things tested, accustomed and friendly, touched him to the quick. Suddenly he asked himself to what end was he leaving all these and going forth to encounter untried conditions, an unknown Nature, a moral and social order equally unknown? Looking at the peaceful, ethereally lovely landscape, set in such close proximity and notable contrast to the unrest of that historic highway of the nations, the Channel sea, he felt small and lonely, childishly diffident and weak. All the established safety and comfort of home, all the thoughtless irresponsible delights of vanished boyhood, pulled at his heart-strings. He wanted, wanted wildly, desperately, not to go forward but to go back.
Mind and body being healthy, however, the phase was a passing one, and his emotion, though sincere and poignant, of brief duration. For young blood—happily for the human story, which otherwise would read altogether too sad—defies forebodings, gaily embraces risks; and, true soldier of fortune, marches out to meet whatever fate the battlefield of manhood may hold for it, a song in its mouth and a rose behind its ear.
Tom Verity speedily came to a steadier mind, pouring honest contempt upon his momentary lapse from self-confidence. He was ashamed of it. It amounted to being silly, simply silly. He couldn't understand, couldn't account for it. What possessed him to get a regular scare like this? It was too absurd for words. Sentiment?—Yes, by all means a reasonable amount of it, well in hand and thus capable of translation—if the fancy took you—into nicely turned elegiac verse; but a scare, a scare pure and simple, wasn't to be tolerated! And he got up, standing astraddle to brace himself against the swinging of the train, while he stretched, settling himself in his clothes—pulled down the fronts of his waistcoat, buttoned the jacket of his light check suit; and, taking off his wide-awake, smoothed his soft, slightly curly russet-coloured hair with his hand. These adjustments, and the assurance they induced that his personal appearance was all which it should be, completed his moral restoration. He stepped down on to the platform, into the serene light and freshness, as engaging and hopeful a youth of three and twenty as any one need ask to see.
"For The Hard? Very good, sir. Sir Charles's trap is outside in the station yard. One portmanteau in the van? Quite so. Don't trouble yourself about it, sir. I'll send a porter to bring it along."
This from the station-master, with a degree of friendly deference far from displeasing to the recipient of it.
Whatever the defects of the rank and file of the Verity family in respect of liberal ideas, it can safely be asserted of all its members, male and female, clerical and lay, alike, that they belonged to the equestrian order. Hence it added considerably to Tom's recovered self-complacency to find a smart two-wheel dog-cart awaiting him, drawn by a remarkably well-shaped and well-groomed black horse. The coachman was to match. Middle-aged, clean-shaven, his Napoleonic face set as a mask, his undress livery of pepper-and-salt mixture soberly immaculate. He touched his hat when our young gentleman appeared and mounted beside him; the horse, meanwhile, shivering a little and showing the red of its nostrils as the train, with strident whistlings, drew out of the station bound westward to Stourmouth and Barryport.
Later the horse broke up the abiding inertia of Marychurch High Street, by dancing as it passed the engine of a slowly ambulant thrashing machine; and only settled fairly into its stride when the three-arched, twelfth century stone bridge over the Arne was passed, and the road—leaving the last scattered houses of the little town—turned south and seaward skirting the shining expanse of The Haven and threading the semi-amphibious hamlets of Horny Cross and Lampit.
THE DOUBTFULLY HARMONIOUS PARTS OF A WHOLE
A long, low, rectangular and rather narrow room, supported across the centre—where passage walls had been cut away—by an avenue of dumpy wooden pillars, four on either side, leading to a glass door opening on to the garden. A man's room rather than a woman's, and, judging by appearances, a bachelor's at that.—Eighteenth-century furniture, not ignoble in line, but heavy, wide-seated, designed for the comfort of bulky paunched figures arrayed in long napped waistcoats and full-skirted coats. Tabaret curtains and upholsterings, originally maroon, now dulled by sea damp and bleached by sun-glare to a uniform tone in which colour and pattern were alike obliterated. Handsome copperplate engravings of Pisa and of Rome, and pastel portraits in oval frames; the rest of the whity brown panelled wall space hidden by book-cases. These surmounted by softly shining, pearl-grey Chinese godlings, monsters, philosophers and saints, the shelves below packed with neatly ranged books.
A dusky room, in spite of its rounded, outstanding sash-windows, two on either side the glass door; the air of it holding, in permanent solution, an odour of leather-bound volumes. A place, in short, which, though not inhospitable, imposed itself, its qualities and traditions, to an extent impossible for any save the most thick-skinned and thick-witted wholly to ignore or resist.
Young Tom Verity, having no convenient armour-plating of stupidity, suffered its influence intimately as—looking about him with quick enquiring glances—he followed the man-servant across it between the dumpy pillars. He felt self-conscious and disquieted, as by a smile of silent amusement upon some watchful elderly face. So impressed, indeed, was he that, on reaching the door, he paused, letting the man pass on alone to announce him. He wanted time in which to get over this queer sensation of shyness, before presenting himself to the company assembled, there, in the garden outside.
Yet he was well aware that the prospect out of doors—its amplitude of mellow sunlight and of space, its fair windless calm in which no leaf stirred—was far more attractive than the room in the doorway of which he thus elected to linger.
For the glass-door gave directly on to an extensive lawn, set out, immediately before the house front, with scarlet and crimson geraniums in alternating square and lozenge-shaped beds. Away on the right a couple of grey-stemmed ilex trees—the largest in height and girth Tom had ever seen—cast finely vandyked and platted shadow upon the smooth turf. Beneath them, garden chairs were stationed and a tea-table spread, at which four ladies sat—one, the elder, dressed in crude purple, the other three, though of widely differing ages and aspect, in light coloured summer gowns.
To the left of the lawn, a high plastered wall—masked by hollies, bay, yew, and at the far end by masses of airy, pink-plumed tamarisk—shut off the eastward view. But straight before him all lay open, "clean away to the curve of the world" as he told himself, not without a pull of emotion remembering his impending voyage. For, about sixty yards distant, the lawn ended abruptly in a hard straight line—the land cut off sheer, as it seemed, at the outer edge of a gravelled terrace, upon which two small antiquated cannon were mounted, their rusty muzzles trained over swirling blue-green tide river and yellow-grey, high-cambered sand-bar out to sea.
Between these innocuous engines of destruction, little black cannon balls had been piled into a mimic pyramid, near to which three men stood engaged in desultory conversation. One of them, Tom observed as markedly taller, more commanding and distinguished in bearing, than his companions. Even from here, the whole length of the lawn intervening, his presence, once noted, became of arresting importance, focussing attention as the central interest, the one thing which vitally mattered in this gracious scene—his figure silhouetted, vertically, against those long horizontal lines of river, sand-bar, and far-away delicate junction of opal-tinted sea with opal-tinted sky.
Whereupon Tom became convicted of the agreeable certainty that no disappointment awaited him. His expectations were about to receive generous fulfilment. This visit would prove well worth while. So absorbed, indeed, was he in watching the man whom he supposed—and rightly—to be his host, that he failed to notice one of the ladies rise from the tea-table and advance across the lawn, until her youthful white-clad form was close upon him, threading its way between the glowing geranium beds.
Then—"You are my cousin, Thomas Verity?" the girl asked, with a grave air of ceremony.
"Yes—and you—you are my cousin Damaris," he answered as he felt clumsily, being taken unaware in more respects than one, and, for all his ready adaptability, being unable to keep a note of surprise out of his voice and glance.
He had known of the existence of this little cousin, having heard—on occasion—vaguely irritated family mention of her birth at a time when the flame of the Mutiny still burned fiercely in the Punjab and in Oudh. To be born under such very accentuated circumstances could, in the eyes of every normal Verity, hardly fail to argue a certain obtrusiveness and absence of good taste. He had heard, moreover, disapproving allusions to the extravagant affection Sir Charles Verity was said to lavish upon this fruit of a somewhat obscure marriage—his only surviving child. But the said family talk, in Tom's case, had gone in at one ear and out at the other—as the talk of the elder generation mostly does, and will, when the younger generation is solidly and wholesomely convinced of the overwhelming importance of its own personal affairs. Consequently, in coming to Deadham Hard, Tom had thought of this little cousin—in as far as it occurred to him to think of her at all—as a child in the schoolroom who, beyond a trifle of good-natured notice at odd moments, would not enter into the count or matter at all. Now, awakening to the fact of her proximity, he awoke to the further fact that, with one exception, she mattered more than anything or anybody else present.
She was, in truth, young—he had been quite right there. Yet, like the room in the doorway of which he still lingered, like the man standing on the terrace walk—to whose tall figure the serene immensities of sea and sky acted as back-cloth and setting—she imposed herself. Whether she was pretty or plain, Tom was just now incapable of judging. He only knew that her eyes were wonderful. He never remembered to have seen such eyes—clear, dark blue-grey with fine shading of eyelash on the lower as well as the upper lid. Unquestionably they surpassed all ordinary standards of prettiness. Were glorious, yet curiously embarrassing; too in their seriousness, their intent impartial scrutiny—under which last, to his lively vexation, the young man felt himself redden.
And this, considering his superiority in age, sex, and acquirements, was not only absurd but unfair somehow. For did not he, as a rule, get on charmingly well with women, gentle and simple, old and young, alike? Had he not an ingratiating, playfully flirtatious way with them in which he trusted? But flirtatiousness, even of the mildest description, would not do here. Instinctively he recognized that. It would not pay at all—in this stage of the acquaintance, at all events. He fell back on civil speeches; and these rather laboured ones, being himself rather discountenanced.
"It is extremely kind of you and Sir Charles to take me on trust like this," he began. "Believe me I am very grateful. Under ordinary circumstances I should never have dreamed of proposing myself. But I am going out to India for the first time—sailing in the Penang the day after to-morrow. And, as I should be so near here at Southampton, it was, I own, a great temptation to ask if I might come for a night. I felt—my father felt—what a privilege it would be for me, a really tremendous piece of luck, to meet Sir Charles before I started. Such a rare and memorable send off for me, you know!"
"We were very glad you should propose yourself," Damaris answered, still with her grave air of ceremony.
"Awfully good of you, I'm sure," the young man murmured.—No, she didn't stare. He could not honestly call it staring. It was too calm, too impersonal, too reserved for that. She looked, with a view to arriving at conclusions regarding him. And he didn't enjoy the process—not in the least.
"My father is still interested in everything connected with India," she went on. "He will like to talk to you. We have people with us this afternoon whom he could not very well leave, or he would have driven into Marychurch himself to fetch you. Dr. McCabe, who we knew at Bhutpur long ago, came over unexpectedly from Stourmouth this morning; and my Aunt Harriet Cowden telegraphed that she and Uncle Augustus would bring Aunt Felicia, who is staying with them at Paulton Lacy, here to tea.—But, of course, you know them quite well—Uncle Augustus, I mean, and my aunts."
"Do I not know them!" Tom replied with meaning; while, humour getting the upper hand thanks to certain memories, he smiled at her.
And, even at this early period in his career, it must be conceded that Tom Verity's smile was an asset to be reckoned with. Mischievous to the verge of impudence; but confidential, too, most disarmingly friendly—a really vastly engaging smile, which, having once beheld, most persons found themselves more than ready to behold often again.
Under its persuasive influence Damaris' gravity relaxed. She lowered her eyes, and the soft warm colour deepened in her cheeks.
Her steady gaze removed, the young man breathed more freely. He congratulated himself. Intercourse was in act of becoming normal and easy. So far it had been quite absurdly hind-leggy—and for him, him, to be forced into being hind-leggy by a girl of barely eighteen! Now he prepared to trot gaily, comfortably, off on all fours, when she spoke, bringing him up to the perpendicular again with a start.
"I love Aunt Felicia very dearly," she announced, as though in protest against some implied and subtle disloyalty.
"But don't we all love Cousin Felicia?" he returned, promptly, eager to maintain his advantage. "Isn't she kindness incarnate, Christian charity personified? As for me, I simply dote on her; and with reason, for ever since those remote ages in which I wore scratchy pinafores and horrid little white socks, she has systematically and pertinaciously spoiled me whenever she stayed at Canton Magna.—Oh! she is an institution. No family should be without her. When I was small she gave me chocolates, tin soldiers, pop-guns warranted to endanger my brothers' and sisters' eyesight. And now, in a thousand ways, conscious and unconscious," he laughed quietly, naughtily, the words running over each other in the rapidity of his speech—"she gives me such a blessed good conceit of myself!"
And Damaris Verity, caught by the wave of his light-heartedness and inherent desire to please, softened again, her serious eyes alight for the moment with answering laughter. Whereupon Tom crossed the threshold and stood close beside her upon the grass in the brooding sunshine, the beds of scarlet and crimson geraniums ranging away on glowing perspective to left and right. He glanced at the three ladies seated beneath the giant ilexes, and back at his companion. He felt absurdly keen further to excite her friendliness and dispel her gravity.
"Only one must admit cousin Harriet is quite another story," he went on softly, saucily. "Any conceit our dear Felicia rubs in to you, Harriet most effectually rubs out. Isn't it so? I am as a worm, a positive worm before her—can only 'tremble and obey' like the historic lady in the glee. She flattens me. I haven't an ounce of kick left in me. And then why, oh why, tell me, Damaris, does she invariably and persistently clothe herself in violet ink?"
"It is her colour," the girl said, her eyes still laughing, her lips discreetly set.
"But why, in heaven's name, should she have a colour?" he demanded. "For identification, as I have a red and white stripe painted on my steamer baggage? Really that isn't necessary. Can you imagine losing cousin Harriet? Augustus Cowden mislaying her, for example; and only recovering her with joyful cries—we take those for granted in his case, of course—at sight of the violet ink? Not a bit of it. You know as well as I do identification marks can't ever be required to secure her return, because under no conceivable circumstances could she ever be lost. She is there, dear lady, lock, stock, and barrel, right there all the time. So her raiment of violet amounts to a purely gratuitous advertisement of a permanently self-evident fact.—And such a shade too, such a positively excruciating shade!"
But here a movement upon the terrace served, indirectly, to put a term to his patter. For Sir Charles Verity, raising his voice slightly in passing emphasis, turned and moved slowly towards the little company gathered at the tea-table. His two companions followed, the shorter of them apparently making answer, the words echoing clearly in genial richness of affirmation across the intervening space—"And so it was, General, am I not recalling the incident myself? Indeed you're entirely right."
"Come," Damaris said, with a certain brevity as of command.
"And feel a worm?"
"No—come and speak to my father."
"Ah! I shall feel a worm there too," the young man returned, an engaging candour in his smiling countenance; "and with far better reason, unless I am greatly mistaken."
WATCHERS THROUGH THE SMALL HOURS
Love, ill-health and debt being, as yet, unknown quantities to young Tom Verity, it followed that insomnia, with its thousand and one attendant miseries, was an unknown quantity likewise. Upon the eve of the stiffest competitive examination those, now outlived, years of tutelage had imposed on him, he could still tumble into bed secure of lapsing into unconsciousness as soon as his head fairly touched the pillow. Dreams might, and usually did, visit him; but as so much incidental music merely to the large content of slumber—tittering up and down, too airily light-footed and evanescent to leave any impress on mind or spirits when he woke.
This night, at Deadham Hard, marked a new departure; sleep proving a less absolute break in continuity of sensation, a less absolute barrier between day and day.
The Honourable Augustus and Mrs. Cowden, and Felicia Verity, not without last words, adjurations, commands and fussings, started on their twelve-mile drive home to Paulton Lacy about six o'clock. A little later Dr. McCabe conveyed himself, and his brogue, away in an ancient hired landau to catch the evening train from Marychurch to Stourmouth. Dinner followed, shortly after which Damaris vanished, along with her governess-companion, Miss Theresa Bilson—a plump, round-visaged, pink-nosed little person, permanently wearing gold eyeglasses, the outstanding distinction of whose artless existence consisted, as Tom gathered from her conversation, in a tour in Rhineland and residence of some months' duration at the university town of Bonn.
Then, at last, came the harvest of the young man's excursion, in the shape of first-hand records of war and government—of intrigue and of sedition, followed by stern retributive chastisement—from that famous soldier, autocratic and practised administrator, his host.
In the opinion of a good many persons Tom Verity's bump of reference showed very insufficient development. Dons, head-masters, the pedagogic and professorial tribe generally, he had long taken in his stride quite unabashed. Church dignitaries, too, left him saucily cool. For—so at least he argued—was not his elder brother, Pontifex, private chaplain to the Bishop of Harchester? And did not this fact—he knowing poor old Ponty as only brother can know brother—throw a rather lurid light upon the spiritual and intellectual limitations of the Bench? In respect of the British aristocracy, his social betters, he also kept an open mind. For had not Lord Bulparc's son and heir, little Oxley, acted as his fag, boot-black and bacon-frier, for the best part of a year at school? Notwithstanding which fact—Lord Oxley was of a mild, forgiving disposition—had not he, Tom, spent the cricket week several summers running at Napworth Castle; where, on one celebrated occasion, he bowled a distinguished Permanent Under-Secretary first ball, and, on another, chided a marquis and ex-Cabinet Minister for misquoting Catullus.
Yet now, sitting smoking and listening to those records of eastern rule and eastern battle, in the quiet lamp-light of the long room—with its dark book-cases, faintly gleaming Chinese images, and dumpy pillars—his native cheekiness faded into most unwonted humility. For he was increasingly conscious of being, to put it vulgarly "up against something pretty big." Conscious of a personality altogether too secure of its own power to spread itself or, in the smallest degree, bluff or brag. Sir Charles Verity struck him, indeed, as calm to the confines of cynicism. He gave, but gave of his abundance, royally indifferent to the cost. There was plenty more where all this came from, of knowledge, of initiative and of thought. Only once or twice, during the course of their long talk, did the young man detect any sign of personal feeling. Then for an instant, some veil seemed to be lifted, some curtain drawn aside; while, with dazzling effect, he became cognizant of underlying bitterness, underlying romance—of secret dealings of man with man, of man with woman, and the dealing, arbitrary, immutable, final, of Death and a Greater than Death, with both.
These revelations though of the briefest, over before he fairly grasped their import, gone like a breath, were still sufficient to discredit many preconceived ideas and enlarge his mental horizon to a somewhat anxious extent. They carried him very far from life as lived at Canton Magna Rectory; very far from all, indeed, in which the roots of his experience were set, thus producing an atmosphere of doubt, of haunting and insidious unrest.
And of that atmosphere he was particularly sensible when, standing in the hall, flat candlestick in hand, he at last bade Sir Charles Verity good night.
"It has been a wonderful evening, sir," he said, simply and modestly. "You have been awfully kind in sparing me so much of your time; but, indeed, it has not been time wasted. I begin to measure a little what India means, I hope. Certainly I begin to measure the depth of my own ignorance. I see I have nearly everything of essential importance still to learn. And that is a pretty large order—almost staggeringly large now that, thanks to you, I begin to realize the vastness of the amount."
"The majority of men in your Service never realize it," Charles Verity returned. "They run in blinkers from first to last.—Not that I underrate their usefulness. They are honest, painstaking, thoroughly reliable, according to their lights. They do excellent journeyman work. But there lies the heart of the whole matter.—Are you content to do journeyman work only; or do you aspire to something greater?—If the former, then you had best forget me and all I have told you this evening as fast as possible. For it will prove a hindrance rather than a help, confusing the issues.—No—no—listen a moment, my dear boy"—
This kindly, indulgently even, as Tom made a gesture of repudiation and began to speak.
"If the latter—well, the door stands open upon achievement by no means contemptible, as the opportunities of modern life go; but, it is only fair to warn you, upon possibilities of trouble, even of disaster, by no means contemptible either. For, remember, the world is so constituted that if you elect to drive, rather than be driven, you must be prepared to take heavy risks, pay heavy penalties. Understand"—
He laid his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"I do not pose as a teacher, still less as a propagandist. I do not attempt to direct the jury. The choice rests exclusively with yourself.—And here rid your mind of any cant about moral obligations. Both ways have merit, both bring rewards—of sorts—are equally commendable, equally right. Only this—whether you choose blinkers, your barrel between the shafts and another man's whip tickling your loins, or the reins in your own hands and the open road ahead, be faithful to your choice. Stick to it, through evil report as well as through good."
He lifted his hand off Tom's shoulder. And the latter, looking round at him was struck—in mingled admiration and repulsion—by his likeness to some shapely bird of prey, with fierce hooked beak and russet-grey eyes, luminous, cruel perhaps, yet very sad.
"Above all be careful in the matter of your affections," Sir Charles went on, his voice deepening. "As you value your career, the pride of your intellect,—yes—and the pride of your manhood itself, let nothing feminine tempt you to be unfaithful to your choice. Tempt you to be of two minds, to turn aside, to turn back. For, so surely as you do, you will find the hell of disappointment, the hell of failure and regret, waiting wide-mouthed to swallow you, and whatever span of life may remain to you, bodily up."
He checked himself, breaking off abruptly, the veil lowered again, the curtain drawn into place.
"There," he said, "we have talked enough, perhaps more than enough. You have a long day before you to-morrow, so my dear boy, go to bed. My quarters are down here."
He made a gesture towards the dark corridor opening off the far side of the hall.
"You know your way? The room on the right of the landing."
"Yes. I know my way, thanks, sir," Tom answered—
And, thus dismissed, went on upstairs, carrying the silver flat candlestick, while his shadow, black on the panelled wall, mounted beside him grotesquely prancing step by step.
The furnishing of his room was of a piece with all below, solid yet not uncomely. It included a four-post bed of generous proportions, hangings, curtains and covers of chintz, over which faded purple and crimson roses were flung broadcast on a honey-yellow ground. The colourings were discreetly cheerful, the atmosphere not unpleasantly warm, the quiet, save for the creaking of a board as he crossed the floor, unbroken. Outwardly all invited to peaceful slumber. And Tom felt more than ready to profit by that invitation this last night on shore, last night in England. His attention had been upon the stretch for a good many hours now, since that—after all rather upsetting—good-bye to home and family at Canton Magna, following an early and somewhat peripatetic breakfast. Notwithstanding his excellent health and youthful energy, mind and body alike were somewhat spent. He made short work of preparation, slipped in between the fine cool linen sheets, and laid his brown head upon the soft billowing pillows, impatient neither to think nor feel any more but simply to sleep.
For some two hours or so he did sleep, though not without phantasmagoria queerly disturbing. The sweep of his visions was wide, ranging from that redoubtable county lady, Harriet Cowden nee Verity—first cousin of his father, the Archdeacon, and half-sister to his host—in her violet-ink hued gown, to fury of internecine strife amid the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan,—from the austere and wistful beauty of the grey, long-backed Norman Abbey rising above the roofs and chimneys of the little English market-town, to the fierce hectic splendour of Eastern cities blistering in the implacable sun-glare of the Indian plains. Days on the Harchester playing fields, days on the river at Oxford, and still earlier days in the Rectory nursery at home; bringing with them sense of small bitter sorrows, small glorious triumphs, of laughter and uproarious fun, of sentimental passages at balls, picnics, garden parties, too, with charmingly pretty maidens who, in all probability, he would never clap eyes on again—all these, and impressions even more illusive and fugitive, playing hide-and-seek among the mazelike convolutions of his all too active brain.
Then, on a sudden, he started up in bed, aware of external noise and movement which brought him instantly, almost painfully, broad awake.
For a quite appreciable length of time, while he sat upright in the warm darkness, Tom failed either to locate the noise which had thus roused him, or to interpret its meaning. It appeared to him to start at the river foreshore, pass across the garden, into and through the ground-floor suite of rooms and corridor which Sir Charles had indicated as reserved to his particular use.—What on earth could it be? What did it remind him of?—Why, surely—with a start of incredulous recognition—the sound of hoofs, though strangely confused and muffled, such as a mob of scared, over-driven horses might make, floundering fetlock deep in loose sand.
Alive with curiosity he sprang out of bed, groped his way across to the window and, putting up the blind, leaned out.
A coppery waning moon hung low in the south-east, and sent a pale rusty pathway across the sea to where, behind the sand-bar, rippling waves broke in soft flash and sparkle. Its light was not strong enough to quench that of the stars crowding the western and the upper sky. Tom could distinguish the black mass of the great ilex trees on the right. Could see the whole extent of the lawn, the two sentinel cannon and pyramid of ammunition set on the terrace along the top of the sea-wall. And nothing moved there, nothing whatever. The outstretch of turf was vacant, empty; bare—so Tom told himself—as the back of his own hand. The sounds seemed to have ceased now that sight denied them visible cause of existence; and he began to wonder whether his hearing had not played him false, whether the whole thing was not pure fancy, a delusion born of agitated dreams.
He pushed the sash up as far as it would go and leaned further out of the window. The luscious scent of a late flowering species of lonercera, trained against the house wall, saluted his nostrils, along with a fetid-sweet reek off the mud-flats of the Haven. Away in the village a dog yelped, and out on the salt-marshes water-fowl gave faint whistling cries. Then all settled down into stillness, save for the just audible chuckle and suck of the river as the stream met the inflowing tide.
The stillness pleased him. For so many nights to come there would be none of it; but ceaselessly the drumming of the engines, quiver of the screw, and wash of the water against the ship's side.—All the same he did not quite like the colour of the moon or that frayed flattened edge of it westward. Why is there always something a trifle menacing about a waning moon? He did not like the smell of the mud-flats either. It might not be actually unhealthy; but it suggested a certain foulness. He yawned, drew back into the room, and straightening himself up, stretched his hands above his head. He would get into bed again. He was dog-tired—yes, most distinctly bed!
Then he stopped short, listening, hastily knelt down by the window and again leaned out. For once more he heard horses coming up from the shore, across the garden, into and through the house, hustling and trampling one another as they shied away from the whip.—There were laggards too—one stumbled, rolled over in the sand, got on its feet after a nasty struggle, and tottered onward dead lame. Another fell in its tracks and lay there foundered, rattling in the throat.
The sounds were so descriptive, so explicit and the impression produced on Tom Verity's mind so vivid that, carried away by indignation, he found himself saying out loud:
"Curse them, the brutes, the cowardly brutes, mishandling their cattle like that! They"—
And he stopped confounded, as it came home to him that throughout the course of this cruel drama he had seen nothing, literally nothing, though he had heard so convincingly much. A shiver ran down his spine and he broke into a sweat, for he knew beyond question or doubt not so much as a shadow,—let alone anything material—had breasted the sea-wall, passed over the smooth level turf, or entered—how should it?—the house.
The garden lay outspread before him, calm, uninvaded by any alien being, man or animal. The great ilex trees were immobile, fixed as the eternal stars overhead. And he shrank in swift protest, almost in terror, being called on thus to face things apparently super-normal, forces unexplored and uncharted, defying reason, giving the lie to ordinary experience and ordinary belief. Reality and hallucination, jostled one another in his thought, a giant note of interrogation written against each. For which was the true and which the false? Of necessity he distrusted the evidence of his own senses, finding sight and hearing in direct conflict thus.
The two or three minutes that followed were among the most profoundly disagreeable Tom ever had spent. But at last, a door opened below, letting forth a shaft of mellow lamp-light. It touched the flower-beds on the left edging the lawn, giving the geraniums form and colour, laying down a delicate carpet of green, transmuting black into glowing scarlet. Tall and spare in his grey and white sleeping-suit, Sir Charles Verity sauntered out, and stood, smoking, looking out to sea.
Earlier that night, downstairs in the sitting-room, he seemed a storm centre, generating much perplexity and disquiet. But now Tom welcomed his advent with a sense of almost absurd satisfaction. To see what was solidly, incontrovertibly, human could not but be, in itself, a mighty relief.—Things began to swing into their natural relation, man, living man, the centre, the dominant factor once more. He, Tom, could now shift all responsibility, moreover. If the master of the house was on guard, he might wash his hands of these hateful ghostly goings on—if ghostly they were—leaving the whole matter to one far stronger and more competent than himself.
Whereupon he went back to bed; and slept profoundly, royally, until Hordle the man-servant, moving about the bright chintz bedecked room, preparing his bath and laying out his clothes, awoke him to the sweetness of another summer day.
BETWEEN RIVER AND SEA
"We had a grand talk last night—Sir Charles was in splendid form. I enjoyed it down to the ground."
Tom Verity lay, at full length on the upward sloping, sun-warmed bank of sand and shingle. Only to youth is given enjoyment of perfect laziness joined with perfect physical vigour. Just because he felt equal to vaulting the moon or long-jumping an entire continent, should such prodigious feats be required of him, could he lie thus in glorious idleness letting the earth cradle and the sun soak into him. Doubts and disturbances of last night melted in daylight to an almost ludicrous nothingness and self-confidence reigned; so that he declared the world a super-excellent place, snapping his fingers at problems and mysteries. A spark of curiosity pricked him still, it is true, concerning the origin of certain undeniably queer aural phenomena. He meant to satisfy that curiosity presently; but the subject must be approached with tact. He must wait on opportunity.
A few paces from and above him, Damaris sat on the crown of the ridge, where the light southerly wind, coming up now and again off the sea, fanned her. A white knitted jersey, pulled on over her linen dress, moulded the curve of her back, the round of her breasts and turn of her waist, showing each movement of her gracious young body to the hips, as she leaned forward, her knees drawn up and her feet planted among the red, orange, and cream-grey flints and pebbles.
Looking up at her, Tom saw her face foreshortened in the shade of her broad brimmed garden hat, a soft clear flush on it born of health, fresh air and sunlight, her eyes shining, the blue of the open sea in their luminous depths. He received a new impression of her. She belonged to the morning, formed part of the gladness of universal Nature, an unfettered nymph-like being. To-day her mood was sprightly, bidding farewell to ceremony. Yet, he felt, she remained perplexing, because more detached than is the feminine habit, poised and complete in herself.
And this detachment, this suppression of the sentimental or social note—he being admittedly a very personable fellow—piqued Tom's male vanity, so that he rallied her with:
"But by the way, why did you vanish so early, why didn't you stay with us after dinner last night?"
"I did not want to vanish," she answered. "Nothing is more delightful than hearing my father talk. But had I stayed Miss Bilson would have supposed herself free to stay too, and that would have spoiled the evening. My father doesn't choose to talk freely before Miss Bilson, because she gets into a foolish excited state and interrupts and asks questions. She overflows with admiration and that annoys and bores him."
"'She brought him butter in a lordly dish,'" Tom quoted. "The ill-advised Bilson. Can't one just see her!"
"And it is not her place to admire out loud," Damaris continued. "Over and over again I have tried to explain that to her. But in some ways, she is not at all clever. She can't or won't understand, and only tells Aunt Felicia I am wanting in sympathy and that I hurt her feelings. She has unreasonably many feelings, I think, and they are so easily hurt. I always know when the hurting takes place because she sniffs and then plays Mendelssohn's Songs without Words on the schoolroom piano."
Tom chuckled. She had a caustic tongue on occasion, this nymph-like creature!
"Alas, poor Bilson!" he said. "For, as Sir Charles walked across the garden with us down to the ferry, didn't I hear those same sugary melodies tinkling out of some upper open window?"
"I am afraid you did. You see she had made up her mind to come with me."
"And you were forced to intimate you found yourself quite equal to conducting the expedition unshepherded?"
"I did not mean to be unkind, but she would have been so dreadfully in the way"—
Damaris gathered up a handful of little pebbles, and let them dribble down slowly between her outspread fingers while, turning her head, she gazed away out to sea.
"This is a day by itself," she said. "It looks like jewels, topazes, turquoise, and pearls; and it seems full of things which half tell themselves, and then hide from or pass you by.—I wanted to watch it all and think; and, she doesn't do it on purpose I know, but somehow Miss Bilson always interferes with my thinking."
Both the tone and substance of this discourse proved slightly startling to its hearer. They carried the conversation into regions transcendental; and to his blissful laziness, the rarefied air of those regions was unwelcome. To breathe it demanded exertion. So he said, chaffingly:
"Do I interfere with your thinking? I hope not. But if I offend that way, speak but a word and I disappear like a shot."
"Oh! no," she answered. "How could you interfere? You are part of it. You started it, you see, because you are going to India."
Whereat, failing to catch the sequence of ideas, male vanity plumed itself, tickled to the point of amusement. For was not she a child after all, transparently simple and candid, and very much a woman-child at that! Tom turning on his side raised himself on one elbow, smiling at her with easy good-nature.
"How charming of you to adopt me as a special object of thought, and care so much about my going."
But patronage proved short-lived. The girl's colour deepened, but her eyes dwelt on him coldly.
"I have only been thinking how fortunate you are, and seeing pictures in my mind of what you will see which will be new to you—and—and remembering."
"Oh! of course, I am lucky, tremendously lucky," he hastened to declare, laughing a little wryly. "Such a journey is a liberal education in itself, knocking the insularity out of a man—if he has any receptive faculty that is—and ridding him of all manner of stodgy prejudices. I don't the least undervalue my good fortune.—But you talk of remembering. That's stretching a point surely. You must have been a mere baby, my dear Damaris, when you left India."
"No, I was six years old, and I remember quite well. All my caring for people, all my thinking, begins there, in the palace of the Sultan-i-bagh at Bhutpur and the great compound, when my father was Chief Commissioner."
Her snub duly delivered, and she secure it had gone home, Damaris unbent, graciously communicative as never before.
"It was all so beautiful and safe there inside the high walls, and yet a teeny bit frightening because you knew there were other things—as there are to-day—which you felt but couldn't quite see all about you. Sometimes they nearly pushed through—I was always expecting and I like to expect. It hurt me dreadfully to go away; but I had been very ill. They were afraid I should die and so Dr. McCabe—he was here when you arrived yesterday—insisted on my being sent to Europe. A lady—Mrs. Pereira—and my nurse Sarah Watson took me to Paris, to the convent school where I was to be educated. It was all very strange, but the nuns were kind. I liked their religion, and I got accustomed to the other little girls. I had rooms of my own; and French friends of my father's visited me and took me out on half-holidays. And Aunt Felicia came over to fetch me for the summer vacations and brought me here"—
Damaris pointed across the tide-way to the river frontage, including with one sweeping gesture the whole demesne of The Hard from the deep lane on the one hand, opening funnel-like upon the shore, past sea-wall—topped at the corner by pink plumed tamarisk, the small twin cannons and pyramid of ball—the lawn and irregular white house overlooking it, backed and flanked by rich growth of trees, to a strip of sandy warren and pine scrub on the other, from out which a line of some half-dozen purple stemmed, red branched Scotch firs, along with the grey stone built Inn and tarred wooden cottages on the promontory beyond, showed through a dancing shimmer of heat haze, against the land-locked, blue and silver waters of Marychurch Haven.
"I did not like being here at all at first," she told him. "I thought it a mean place only fit for quite poor people to live in. The house seemed so pinched and naked without any galleries or verandahs. And I was afraid because we had so few servants and neither door-keepers or soldiers. I could not believe that in England there is so little need for protection against disaffected persons and thieves. The sunshine was pale and thin, and the dusk made me sad. At Bhutpur the sun used to drop in flame behind the edge of the world and night leap on you. But here the day took so long dying. Aunt Felicia used to praise what she called 'the long sweet English twilight,' and try to make me stop out in the garden to enjoy it with her. But I could not bear it. The colours faded so slowly. It seemed like watching some helpless creature bleed to death silently, growing greyer minute by minute and feebler. I did not want to watch, but go indoors where the lamps were lighted and it was warm and cosy. I used to cry dreadfully, when I could get away by myself where Aunt Felicia and the maids could not see me, cry for my father—he resigned the Commissionership, you know, when I was sent home and took service in Afghanistan under the Ameer—and for my darling friend, Mrs. Pereira, and for the Sultan-i-bagh, where I knew strangers lived now. For the lotus tank and orange grove, and all my little tame animals and my pretty play-places I should never, never see any more"—
Overcome by which intimate memories, Damaris' grave voice—which had taken on a chanting cadence, at once novel and singularly pleasing to the young man's ear—quavered and broke.
"Poor little exiled princess!" he cried, all his facile kindness to the fore again. "Yes, it must have been cruelly hard on you. You must have suffered. No wonder you cried—cried buckets full."
And drawn by pity for that desolate, tropic-bred little child, Tom got on to his feet and crunched up the loose shingle to the crest of the ridge, full of a lively desire to pacify and console. But here the soft breeze met and caressed him, and the whole plain of the tranquil sea came into view—turquoise shot with pearl, as Damaris recently figured it, and fringed with topaz where waves, a few inches high and clear as glass, broke on the yellow sand at the back of the Bar just below.
"How wonderfully lovely!" he exclaimed, carried out of himself by the extreme fairness of the scene. And, his hands in his trouser pockets he stood staring, while once again the pull of home, of England, of tenderness for all that which he was about to leave, dimmed his eyes and raised a lump in his throat.
"Upon my word, you must be difficult to please if this place doesn't please you or come up to your requirements, Damaris," he said, presently sitting down beside her. "No Arabian Nights palace in Asia, I grant you; yet in its own humbler and—dare I say?—less showy, manner not easy to beat. Breathe this enchanting air. See the heavenly tints with which our good dirty useful old Channel has adorned itself. Can you ask for more, you insatiable person, in the way of beauty?"
Then, slightly ashamed of his outburst, Tom practised a delightful smile, at once sentimental and flirtatious.
"No, on second thoughts, my dear princess, I keep my commiseration for my wretched self—every crumb of it. For I am the lonely exile—that is, I am just about to be—not you. Be advised, don't quarrel with the good gifts of the gods. Deadham Hard is frankly entrancing. How willingly would I put off taking ship for your vaunted India, and spend the unending cycles of eternity here—with you, well understood—in this most delectable spot instead."
Whereupon Damaris, with mingled gravity and haste, her head bent, so that hat-crown and hat-brim were presented to the young man's observation rather than her face, proceeded to explain she had spoken not of the present but of the past. From the time Sir Charles returned to inhabit it, The Hard was transformed; his presence conferring interest and dignity upon it, rendering it a not unworthy dwelling-place indeed—should any such happen that way—for sages, conquerors, or even kings. He cared for the little property, a fact to her all sufficient. For him it held the charm of old associations. The pleasantest days of his boyhood were spent here with Thomas Clarkson Verity, his great uncle—who eventually left him the property—nor had he ever failed later to visit it when home on leave. In pious remembrance of that distant era and of his entertaining and affectionate, if somewhat eccentric, host and friend he forbade any alteration in the house or grounds. It continued to-day just as old Mr. Verity left it. There was no break, even in details of furnishing or arrangement, with the past. This, to Sir Charles, added to the natural restfulness of the place. Now after the great achievements and responsibilities of his Eastern career he found retirement congenial. The soft equable climate benefited his health. Rough shooting and good fishing could be had in plenty—stag-hunting, too, in Arnewood Forest, when he inclined to such sport. The Hard was sufficiently easy of access from town for friends to come and stay with him. Convenient for crossing to the Continent too, when he took his yearly cure at Aix or at Vichy, or went south for a couple of months, as last winter for instance, to Cette, Montpelier and across, by Pau, to the Atlantic seaboard at St. Sebastian, Biarritz, and Bayonne.
"When my father travels I go with him," Damaris said, raising her head and looking at the young man with proud, deliberate eyes. "We both suffered too much, we must never be separated again. And when we go abroad, we go alone. There is no one to give advice or interfere. We take Hordle, to pack and look after the baggage. We are always together, and I am always happy. I wish we could live like that always, with no settled home. But after a while, my father grows tired of hotels. He begins to wish for the quiet of The Hard, and all the things he is accustomed to. And then, naturally, I begin to wish for it too."
From which statement, made as he judged with intention, Tom apprehended an attachment of no common order existing between these two persons, father and child. If, as family gossip disapprovingly hinted, the affection given appeared to trench on exaggeration, the affection returned was of kindred quality, fervid, self-realized, absorbing, and absorbed. Comparing it with his own humorously tolerant filial attitude, Tom felt at once contrite and injured. The contrast was glaring. But then, as he hastened to add—though whether in extenuation of his own, or of his father's, shortcomings remained open to question—wasn't the contrast between the slightly pompous, slightly bow-windowed, provincial, Tory cleric and this spare, inscrutable soldier and ruler, glaring likewise? To demand that the one should either experience or inspire the same emotions as the other was palpably absurd! Hence (comfortable conclusion!) neither he, Tom, nor the Archdeacon was really to blame.—Only, as he further argued, once the absurdity of that same demand admitted, were you not free to talk of exaggeration, or of the "grand manner," as you chose? Were not the terms interchangeable, if you kept an open mind? His personal acquaintance with the "grand manner" in respect of the affections, with heroical love, amounted, save in literature, to practically nothing; yet instinctively he applied those high sounding phrases to the attachment existing between Damaris and her father. Both as discovery and, in some sort, as challenge to his own preconceived ideas and methods this gave him food for serious thought.
He made no attempt at comment or answer; but sat silent beside the girl, bare-headed in the soft wind and sunlight, between the flowing river and tranquil sea.
The "grand manner"—that was how, naturally, without posing or bombast, these two persons envisaged life for good or evil—for this last, too, might be possible!—shaped their purposes and conduct. Sir Charles, he knew, had played for big stakes. Damaris, he felt intuitively, young though she was, played and would play for them likewise. He looked at her with awakened speculation, awakened curiosity. What, he wondered, would come of it. Did it make her attractive or the reverse? Really he wasn't at all sure. Whereat he grew restive, the claims of inherent masculine superiority, let alone those of public school, university and an honourable profession, asserting themselves. He began to question whether this young lady did not take up an undue amount of room, thus cramping him and denying his powers of conversation suitable opportunity of display. Was not it about time gently to reduce her, relegate her to a more modest position? To achieve which laudable result—he acted, of course, for her good exclusively—he prepared to broach the subject of the unaccountable noises which disturbed his rest last night. He would cross-examine her as to their origin, thereby teasing and perhaps even discountenancing her somewhat.
But before Tom could put his benevolent scheme into execution, his attention was unexpectedly diverted, a quite new element projecting itself upon the scene.
For some little while an open boat, a hoary though still seaworthy tub of a thing, deep in draught and broad in the beam, loaded up with lobster-pots—the skeleton ribs of them black against the surrounding expanse of shining turquoise and pearl—had slowly neared the Bar from seaward. The bows, in which a small, withered old man bent double over the oars, cocked up on end. The stern, where a young man stood erect among the lobster-pots, was low in the water. Now, as the nose of the boat grounded, the young man clambered along the gunwale, and balancing for a minute, tall and straight, on the prow, took a flying leap across the wide intervening space of breaking wave and clear water, alighting on his feet, upon the firm sand beyond.
"Good for him! Neatly done," Tom Verity murmured, appreciating the grace and vigour of the action.
The young man, meanwhile, turning, called to the rower: "Thank you heartily for putting me ashore, Daddy Proud. I'll go across home by the ferry. But see here, can you manage her by yourself or shall I help shove her off for you?"
"Lord love 'ee, I can manage her sure enough," the other called back shrilly and a trifle truculently. "I knows 'er ways and she knows her master—ought to by now the old strumpet, if years count for anythink. So don't 'ee go wetting yer dandy shoes for the likes of her and me, Cap'en."
And keckling with thin wheezy laughter he straightened his back, and, planting one oar in the sand, set the boat afloat again skilfully.
IN WHICH THE PAST LAYS AN OMINOUS HAND ON THE PRESENT
Down here on the shore, in the serene morning atmosphere, voices carried with peculiar distinctness. Every word of the brief colloquy had reached Tom Verity; and one word at least possessed an Elizabethan flavour forbidden to ears Victorian, feminine and polite. Noting it Tom reddened and glanced uneasily at his companion, all inclination to tease giving place to a laudable desire to shield her from annoyance. But Damaris, judging by her demeanour, was unaware of any cause of offence; whence, with relief he concluded that either she had not heard, or that the rank expression conveyed nothing intelligible to her mind.
Her open hand pressed down upon the rough surface of the pebbles, she leaned a little backward, her lithe body twisted sideways from the waist, while she scrutinized the man upon the sands below. And that the latter presented a gallant and even distinguished appearance, though arrayed in leather-peaked cap, blue serge reefer jacket and trousers which had evidently seen service, Tom could not but admit, as he stood just clear of the ripples of incoming tide staring idly after the receding boat with its cargo of black ribbed skeleton lobster-pots.—A spirited-looking, well-made fellow, no doubt; merchant captain or more probably mate—Tom took him to be about eight-and-twenty—but in an altogether different rank of life to themselves and therefore a quite unsuitable object for prolonged and earnest attention. His advent should be treated as an accident, not elevated thus to the importance of an event. It was not quite good taste on Damaris' part Tom felt; and he made a show of rising, saying as he did so, by way of excuse:
"It is wonderfully charming out here. I am loath to break up our little tete-a-tete; but time waits for no man, worse luck, and if I am to catch my train I must start directly after luncheon. Sir Charles was good enough to promise me various letters of introduction to persons in, high places. He told me to remind him about them. I don't want to be greedy but I should like those letters. Perhaps I ought to be getting back so as to see your father about them."
But before Damaris had time to collect her thoughts and reply, the man in the peaked cap had further asserted his presence. Either becoming conscious of her observation, or caught by something in Tom Verity's speech, he wheeled round and looked up at the two in swift, almost haughty, enquiry. To Tom he vouchsafed little more than a glance, but upon Damaris his eyes fastened. For a good minute he stared at her, as though in some sort holding her to ransom. Then with an upward jerk of the head and an ejaculation, half smothered oath, half sharp laughter—as of one who registers eminently ironic conclusions—he began deliberately ascending the slope.
Tom Verity, though possessed of plentiful cheekiness towards the majority of his elders and betters, was no fire-eater. He preferred diplomacy to war; and would adroitly evade rather than invite anything approaching a scene, specially in the presence of a woman. Yet under existing circumstances retreat had become, as he perceived, not only undignified but useless. So in his best Oxford manner—a manner ornate, at that period, and quite crushingly superior—he raised his shoulders, smiled faintly, resignedly, and disposed himself in an easier attitude, saying:
"Better wait, perhaps, my dear Damaris. I would sooner risk losing those precious letters than acquire a possible escort for you—and for myself—down to the river and across the ferry."
And he threw a meaning glance over his shoulder, indicating the obtrusive stranger.
So doing he received a disturbing impression. For seen thus, at close quarters, not only was the said stranger notably, even astonishingly good-looking, but he bore an arresting likeness in build, in carriage, in expression to—
Tom paused perplexed, racking his brains.—For who, the deuce, was it? Where had he seen, and that as he could have sworn quite recently, this same forceful countenance lit by russet-grey eyes at once dauntless and sad, deep-set, well apart, the lids of them smooth and delicately moulded? The man's skin was tanned, by exposure, to a tint but a few shades lighter than that of his gold-brown beard—a beard scrupulously groomed, trimmed to a nicety and by no means deforming the lower part of the face since the line of jaw and chin remained clearly discernible.
Tom turned away and looked absently at The Hard in its broad reposeful frame of lawn and trees. The cool green foliage of a bank of hydrangeas—running from the great ilexes to the corner of the house—thick-set with discs of misty pink and blue blossom took his fancy, as contrast to the beds of scarlet and crimson geranium naming in the sun. But below any superficial sense of pleasure in outward things, thought of that likeness—and likeness, dash it all, to whom?—still vexed him as a riddle he failed to guess. Obligation to guess it, to find the right answer, obsessed him as of vital interest and importance, though, for the life of him, he could not tell why. His sense of proportion, his social sense, his self-complacency, grew restive under the pressure of it. He told himself it wasn't of the smallest consequence, didn't matter a fig, yet continued to cudgel his memory. And, all the while, the sound of deliberate footsteps crunching over the dry rattling shingle, nearer and nearer, contributed to increase his inward perturbation.
The footsteps halted close behind him—while for a sensible length of time a shadow lay across him shutting off the genial warmth—and started again, passing to the left, as the intruder traversed the crown of the ridge a few paces from where Damaris was seated, and pursued his way down to the river-shore on the other side.
"At last—I thank you!" Tom broke out impatiently.
He felt incomprehensibly nervous; and angry with himself for so feeling.
"Commend me to our friend for taking his time about things, and incidentally wasting ours—yours and mine, I mean! What on earth did he want? He certainly treated us to a sufficiently comprehensive inspection. Well, I hope he was satisfied. By the same token, have you any conception who the fellow is?"
Damaris shook her head. She, too, appeared perturbed. Her eyebrows were drawn into a little frown and her expression was perplexed to the point of child-like distress.
"Not any," she answered simply. "Some one staying at Faircloth's Inn possibly. People come there from Marychurch to spend the day during the summer. Old Timothy Proud, the lobster-catcher, who brought him round in his boat, lives at one of the cottages close to the Inn. No," she repeated, "I have no conception who he is, and yet his face seemed familiar. I had a feeling that I knew him quite well—had seen him often, oh! very often before."
"Ah! then you were puzzled by some mysterious likeness,"—Tom began eagerly, smiling at her. And stopped short, open-mouthed, assailed by so apparently preposterous a recognition that for the minute it left him fairly speechless.