BY ETHEL M. DELL
AUTHOR OF THE TOP OF THE WORLD, THE LAMP IN THE DESERT, THE HUNDREDTH CHANCE, Etc.
I Dedicate This Book To G. T. S. In Remembrance of A Winter Day
"When half-gods go, the gods arrive." R. W. Emerson
Not with the clash of trumpets And clangour of gates thrown wide, As when the eager crowds press round To see the half-gods ride; But like a bird at even Silently winging home, A message came from the darkness To say that the gods had come.
And the half-gods scoffed in the temple Which custom had bid them hold— Sin and Success and Pleasure And the hideous Image of Gold. Who and what are these strangers? Bid them worship before the shrine Where we, the gods of the new world, Sit o'er the cards and wine!
So they derided the strangers— Those gods whom the old folk call Courage and Honour and Faithfulness And Love which is greater than all. But when the night was over And the new day pierced within, The half-gods were gone from the temple, And the gods had entered in.
I. Ennui II. Adieu III. The Gift IV. Toby V. Discipline VI. The Abyss VII. Larpent's Daughter
I. Jake Bolton II. Maud Bolton III. Bunny IV. Saltash V. The Visitor VI. How to Manage Men VII. The Promise VIII. The Ally IX. The Idol X. Resolutions XI. The Butterfly XII. The Ogre's Castle XIII. The End of the Game
I. The Virtuous Hero II. The Compact III. L'oiseau bleu IV. The Trap V. The Confidence VI. The Sacred Fire VII. Surrender VIII. The Magician's Wand IX. The Warning X. The Mystery XI. Suspicion XII. The Ally XIII. The Truth XIV. The Last Card
I. The Winning Post II. The Villain Scores III. A Wife Is Different IV. The Idol of Paris V. The Dance of Death VI. The New Lover VII. The Refugee VIII. The Turning-point IX. Larpent X. In the Name of Love XI. The Gift of the Gods
"I shall go to sea to-morrow," said Saltash, with sudden decision. "I'm tired of this place, Larpent,—fed up on repletion."
"Then by all means let us go, my lord!" said Larpent, with the faint glimmer of a smile behind his beard, which was the only expression of humour he ever permitted himself.
"Believe you're fed up too," said Saltash, flashing a critical look upon him.
Captain Larpent said nothing, deeming speech unnecessary. All time spent ashore was wasted in his opinion.
Saltash turned and surveyed the sky-line over the yacht's rail with obvious discontent on his ugly face. His eyes were odd, one black, one grey, giving a curiously unstable appearance to a countenance which otherwise might have claimed to possess some strength. His brows were black and deeply marked. He had a trick of moving them in conjunction with his thoughts so that his face was seldom in absolute repose. It was said that there was a strain of royal blood in Saltash, and in the days before he had succeeded to the title when he had been merely Charles Burchester, he had borne the nickname of "the merry monarch." Certain wild deeds in a youth that had not been beyond reproach had seemed to warrant this, but of later years a friend had bestowed a more gracious title upon him, and to all who could claim intimacy with him he had become "Charles Rex." The name fitted him like a garment. A certain arrogance, a certain royalty of bearing, both utterly unconscious and wholly unfeigned, characterized him. Whatever he did, and his actions were often far from praiseworthy, this careless distinction of mien always marked him. He received an almost involuntary respect where he went.
Captain Larpent who commanded his yacht The Night Moth—most morose and unresponsive of men—paid him the homage of absolute acquiescence. Whatever his private opinions might be, he never expressed them unless invited to do so by his employer. He never criticized by word or look. Saltash was wont to say that if he decided to turn pirate he believed that Larpent would continue at his post without the smallest change of front. To raise a protest of any sort would have been absolutely foreign to his nature. He was made to go straight ahead, to do his duty without question and with perfect self-reliance.
On the present occasion, having cruised from port to port in the Mediterranean for nearly six weeks, it was certainly no ill news to him to hear that Saltash had at last had enough. The weather was perfect, too perfect for a man of his bull-dog instincts. He was thoroughly tired of the endless spring sunshine and of the chattering, fashionable crowds that Saltash was wont to assemble on the yacht. He was waiting with an iron patience for the word that should send them forth over the great Atlantic rollers, with the ocean spray bursting over their bows and the sting of the ocean wind in their faces. That was the sort of life that appealed to him. He had no use for civilization; the froth of society had no attraction for him. He preferred a deeper draught.
Saltash was thoroughly cosmopolitan in his tastes; he liked amusement, but he abhorred boredom. He declared that for him it was the root of all evil. He was never really wicked unless he was bored. And then—que voulez-vous? He did not guide the star of destiny.
"Yes," he said, after a thoughtful silence, "we will certainly put to sea to-morrow—unless—" he turned his head and threw a merry grin at his companion—"unless Fortune has any tricks up her sleeve for me, for I am going ashore for one more fling to-night."
Larpent smoked on immovably, his blue-grey eyes staring out to the vivid sky-line, his sunburnt face quite imperturbable.
"We shall be ready to start as soon as you come aboard, my lord," he said.
"Good!" said Saltash lightly. "I may be late, or—more probably—very early. Leave the gangway for me! I'll let you know when I'm aboard."
He got up as if he moved on springs and leaned against the rail, looking down quizzically at the man who sat stolidly smoking in the deck-chair. No two people could have formed a stronger contrast—the yacht's captain, fair-bearded, with the features of a Viking—the yacht's owner, dark, alert, with a certain French finesse about him that gave a strange charm to a personality that otherwise might have been merely fantastic.
Suddenly he laughed. "Do you know, Larpent, I often think to myself what odd tricks Fate plays? You for instance—you, the captain of a private yacht when you ought to be roving the high seas in a Flying Dutchman! You probably were a few generations ago."
"Ah!" Larpent said, through a cloud of smoke. "Life isn't what it was."
"It's an infernal fraud, most of it," said Saltash. "Always promising and seldom fulfilling!"
"No good expecting too much," said Larpent.
"True!" said Saltash. "On the other hand it isn't always wise to be too easily satisfied." His look became suddenly speculative. "Have you ever been in love, Larpent?"
The big man in the deck-chair made a sharp movement and spilt some cigar-ash on his coat. He sat up deliberately and brushed it off. Saltash watched him with mischievous eyes.
"Well?" he said.
Larpent leaned back again, puffing forth a thick cloud of smoke. "Once," he said briefly.
"Only once?" gibed Saltash. "Man alive! Why, I've had the disease scores of times, and you are half a generation older than I am!"
"I know," Larpent's eyes dwelt unblinking upon the sparkling blue of the water beyond the rail. "You've had it so often that you take it lightly."
Saltash laughed. "You apparently took it like the plague."
"I didn't die of it," said Larpent grimly.
"Perhaps the lady did!" suggested Saltash.
"No. She didn't die either." Larpent's eyes came slowly upwards to the mocking eyes above them. "For all I know she may be living now," he said.
Saltash's grin became a grimace. "Oh, heavens, Larpent! And you've had indigestion ever since? How long ago is it? Twenty years?"
"About that," said Larpent.
"Heavens!" said Saltash again. "I should like to see the woman who could hold me after twenty years!"
"So should I," said Larpent dryly.
Saltash snapped his fingers. "She doesn't exist, my good fellow! But if she did—by Jove, what a world it would be!"
Larpent grunted sardonically. "It wouldn't be large enough to hold you, my lord."
Saltash stretched his arms wide. "Well, I'm going ashore to-night. Who knows what the gods may send? Wish me luck!"
Larpent surveyed the restless figure with a sort of stony humour. "I wish you a safe return," he said.
Saltash laughed and went away along the deck with a monkey-like spring that was curiously characteristic of him. There was nothing of the sailor's steady poise about him.
The little Italian town that clung to the slopes that rose so steeply from the sea shone among its terraced gardens like a many-coloured jewel in the burning sunset. The dome of its Casino gleamed opalescent in its centre—a place for wonder—a place for dreams. Yet Saltash's expression as he landed on the quay was one of whimsical discontent. He had come nearly a fortnight ago to be amused, but somehow the old pleasures had lost their relish and he was only bored.
"I'm getting old," he said to himself with a grimace of disgust.
But he was not old. He was barely six-and-thirty. He had had the world at his feet too long, that was all.
There was to be a water-side fete that night at Valrosa, and the promenade and bandstand were wreathed with flowers and fairy-lights. It was getting late in the season, and it would probably be the last. Saltash surveyed the preparations with very perfunctory interest as he sauntered up to the hotel next to the Casino where he proposed to dine.
A few people he knew were staying there, and he looked forward to a more or less social evening. At least he could count on a welcome and a rubber of bridge if he felt so inclined. Or there was the Casino itself if the gambling mood should take him. But he did not feel much like gambling. He wanted something new. None of the old stale amusements appealed to him tonight. He was feeling very ancient and rather dilapidated.
He went up the steps under the cypress-trees that led from terrace to terrace, pausing at each landing-place to look out over the wonderful sea that was changing every moment with the changing glow of the sunset. Yes, it was certainly a place for dreams. Even old Larpent felt the charm—Larpent who had fallen in love twenty years ago for the first and last time!
An irrepressible chuckle escaped him. Funny old Larpent! The wine of the gods had evidently been too strong a brew for him. It was obvious that he had no desire to repeat the dose.
At his last halting-place he stood longer to drink in the beauty of the evening before entering the hotel. The sea had the pearly tint shot with rose of the inside of an oyster-shell. The sky-line was receding, fading into an immense calm. The shadows were beginning to gather. The sun had dipped out of sight.
The tinkle of a lute rose from one of the hidden gardens below him. He stood and listened with sentimental eyes and quizzically twitching mouth. Everything in this wonder-world was ultra-sweet to-night. And yet—and yet—
Suddenly another sound broke through the stillness, and in a moment he had sprung to alertness. It was a cry—a sharp, wrung cry from the garden close to him, the garden of the hotel, and instantly following it a flood of angry speech in a man's voice and the sound of blows.
"Damnation!" said Saltash, and sprang for a narrow wooden door in the stone wall a few yards higher up.
It opened to his imperious hand, and he found himself in a dark little shrubbery behind an arbour that looked out to the sea. It was in this arbour that the scuffle was taking place, and in a second he had forced his way through the intervening shrubs and was at the entrance.
"Damnation!" he burst forth again furiously. "What are you doing? Leave that boy alone!"
A man in evening-dress was gripping a fair-haired lad, who wore the hotel-livery, by the back of his neck and raining merciless blows upon his uncovered head. He turned, sharply straightening himself, at Saltash's tempestuous entrance, and revealed to the newcomer the deeply-suffused countenance of the hotel-manager.
Their recognition was mutual. He flung the boy into a corner and faced his patron, breathing hard, his black eyes still fiercely gleaming.
"Ah! It is milord!" he said, in jerky English, and bowed punctiliously though he was still shaking with rage. "What can I do for you, milord?"
"What the devil is the matter?" said Saltash, sweeping aside all ceremony. "What are you hammering that unfortunate boy for? Can't you find a man your own size to hammer?"
The Italian flung a fierce glance over his shoulder at his crouching victim. "He is worthless!" he declared. "I give him a trial—bueno, but he is worthless. Milord will pardon me, he is—English. And the English are—no good for work—no good at all."
"Oh, rotten to the core!" agreed Saltash, with a humorous lift of the brows. "But you needn't murder him for that, Antonio. It's his misfortune—not his fault."
"Milord, I have not murdered him," the manager protested with nervous vehemence. "I have only punished him. I have not hurt him. I have done him good."
"Oh!" said Saltash, and looked down at the small, trembling figure in the corner. "It's medicine, is it? But a bit strong for a child of that size. I should try a milder dose next time."
Antonio laughed harshly. "The next time, milord, I shall take him—so—and wring his neck!" His laugh became a snarl as he turned. "Get up now, you—you son of a pig, and go back to your work!"
"Easy! Easy!" said Saltash, with a smile. "We don't talk to the English like that, Antonio,—not even the smallest and weakest of them. Let's have a look at this specimen—with your permission!" He bent over the huddled figure. "Hold up your head, boy! Let me see you!"
There was no movement to obey, and he laid a hand upon the quivering shoulder and felt it shrink away convulsively.
"I believe you've damaged him," he said, bending lower. "Here, Tommy! Hold up your head! Don't be afraid! It's a friend."
But the narrow figure only sank down a little lower under his hand.
"His name is Toby," said Antonio with acidity. "A dog's name, milord, and it fits him well. He is what you would call a lazy hound."
Saltash paid not the slightest attention to him. He was bending low, his dark face in shadow.
"Don't be afraid!" he said again. "No one is going to hurt you. Come along! Let's look at you!"
His hold tightened upon the shrinking form. He began to lift it up.
And then suddenly there came a sharp struggle between his hands as lacking in science as the fight of a wild animal for freedom, and as effectual. With a gasping effort the boy wrenched himself free and was gone. He went like a streak of lightning, and the two men were left facing one another.
"What a slippery little devil!" commented Saltash.
"Yes," said Antonio vindictively, "a devil indeed, milord! And I will have no more of him. I will have no more. I hope he will starve!"
"How awfully nice of you, Antonio!" said Saltash lightly. "Being the end of the season, he probably will."
Antonio smacked his red lips with relish. "Ah, probably! Probably!" he said.
It was growing late and the fete was in full swing when Saltash sauntered down again under the cypress-trees to the water's edge. The sea was breaking with a murmurous splashing; it was a night for dreams.
In the flower-decked bandstand an orchestra of stringed instruments was playing very softly—fairy-music that seemed to fill the world with magic to the brim. It was like a drug to the senses, alluring, intoxicating, maddeningly sweet.
Saltash wandered along with his face to the water on which a myriad coloured lights rocked and swam. And still his features wore that monkeyish look of unrest, of discontent and quizzical irony oddly mingled. He felt the lure, but it was not strong enough. Its influence had lost its potency.
He need not have been alone. He had left the hotel with friends, but he had drifted away from them in the crowd. One of them—a girl—had sought somewhat palpably to keep him near her, and he had responded with some show of ardour for a time, and then something about her had struck a note of discord within him and the glamour had faded.
"Little fool!" he murmured to himself. "She'd give me her heart to break if I'd have it."
And then he laughed in sheer ridicule of his own jaded senses. He recognized the indifference of satiety. An easy conquest no longer attracted him.
He began to stroll towards the quay, loitering here and there as if to give to Fates a chance to keep him if they would. Yes, Sheila Melrose was a little idiot. Why couldn't she realize that she was but one of the hundreds with whom he flirted day by day? She was nothing to him but a pastime—a toy to amuse his wayward mood. He had outgrown his earlier propensity to break his toys when he had done with them. The sight of a broken toy revolted him now.
He was impatiently aware that the girl was watching him from the midst of the shifting crowd. What did she expect, he asked himself irritably? She knew him. She knew his reputation. Did she imagine herself the sort of woman to hold a man of his stamp for more than the passing moment? Save for his title and estates, was he worth the holding?
A group of laughing Italian girls with kerchiefs on their heads surrounded him suddenly and he became the centre of a shower—a storm—of confetti. His mood changed in a second. He would show her what to expect! Without an instant's pause he turned upon his assailants, caught the one nearest to him, snatching her off her feet; and, gripping her without mercy, he kissed her fierily and shamelessly till she gasped with delicious fright; then dropped her and seized another.
The girls of Valrosa spoke of the ugly Englishman with bated breath and shining eyes long after Saltash had gone his unheeding way, for the blood was hot in his veins before the game was over. If the magic had been slow to work, its spell was all the more compelling when it gripped him. Characteristically, he tossed aside all considerations beyond the gratification of the moment's desire. The sinking fire of youth blazed up afresh. He would get the utmost out of this last night of revelry. Wherever he went, a spirit of wild daring, of fevered gaiety, surrounded him. He was no longer alone, whichever way he turned. Once in his mad progress he met Sheila Melrose face to face, and she drew back from him in open disgust. He laughed at her maliciously, mockingly, as his royal forefather might have laughed long ago, and passed on with the throng.
Hours later, when the fete was over and the shore quite silent under the stars, he came alone along the quay, moving with his own peculiar arrogance of bearing, a cigarette between his lips, a deep gleam in his eyes. It had been an amusing night after all.
Crossing the gangway to his yacht—The Night Moth—that rocked softly on the glimmering ripples, he paused for a moment and turned his face as if in farewell towards the little town that lay sleeping among its cypress-trees. So standing, he heard again the tinkle of a lute from some hidden garden of delight. It was as if the magic were still calling to him, luring him, reaching out white arms to hold him. He made a brief bow towards the sound.
"Adieu, most exquisite and most wicked!" he said. "I return—no more!"
The cigarette fell from his lips into the dark water and there came a faint sound like the hiss of a serpent in the stillness. He laughed as he heard it, and pursued his way aboard the yacht.
He found a young sailor, evidently posted to await his coming, snoring in a corner, and shook him awake.
The man blundered up with a confused apology, and Saltash laughed at him derisively.
"Wasting the magic hours in sleep, Parker? Well, I suppose dreams are better than nothing. Were they—good dreams?"
"I don't know, my lord," said Parker, grinning foolishly.
Saltash clapped him on the shoulder and turned away. "Well, I'm ready for the open sea now," he said. "We'll leave our dreams behind."
He was always on easy terms with his sailors who worshipped him to a man.
He whistled a careless air as he went below. The magic of Valrosa had loosed its hold, and he was thinking of the wide ocean and buffeting waves that awaited him. He turned on the lights of the saloon and stopped there for another cigarette and a drink, first walking to and fro, finally flinging himself on a crimson velvet settee and surrendering himself luxuriously to a repose for which he had not felt the need until that moment.
So lying, he heard the stir and tramp of feet above him, the voices of men, the lifting of the gangway; and presently the yacht began to throb as though suddenly endowed with life. He felt the heave of the sea as she left her moorings, and the rush of water pouring past her keel as she drew away from the quay.
He stretched himself with lazy enjoyment. It was good to come and go as he listed, good to have no ties to bind him. He supposed he would always be a wanderer on the face of the earth, and after all wandering suited him best. True, there were occasions on which the thought of home allured him. The idea of marriage with some woman who loved him would spring like a beacon out of the night in moments of depression. Other men found a permanent abiding-place and were content therewith; why not he? But he only played with the notion. It did not seriously attract him. He was not a marrying man, and, as he had said to Larpent, the woman did not exist who could hold him. The bare thought of Sheila Melrose sent a mocking smile to his lips. Did she think—did she really think—that she possessed the necessary qualifications to capture a man of his experience? He dismissed her with a snap of the fingers. Sheila had practically everything in life to learn, and he did not propose to be her teacher.
His cigarette was finished and he got up. The yacht was speeding like a winged thing on her way. There was never any fuss of departure when Larpent was in command. He stood for a few seconds in indecision, contemplating going up on to the bridge for a word with his captain and a glance round. But some fantastic scruple deterred him. He had made his farewell. He did not wish to see Valrosa again. He turned instead and went to his cabin.
All the appointments of the yacht were of the most luxurious order. She possessed every imaginable contrivance for the comfort of those who voyaged in her. Her state-cabins were a miracle of elegance and ease.
Saltash never took a valet when he went for a voyage. The steward attended to his clothes, and he waited on himself. He liked as much space as he could get both on deck and below.
He pushed open the door of his cabin and felt for the switch of the electric light. But he did not press it when he found it. Something made him change his mind. The faint light of stars upon rippling water came to him through the open porthole, and he shut himself in and stepped forward to the couch beneath it to look forth.
But as he moved, another influence caught him, and he stopped short.
"Is anyone here?" he said.
Through the wash of the water he thought he heard a light movement, and he felt a presence as of some small animal in the space before him.
Swiftly he stepped back and in a moment his hand was on the switch. The light flashed on, and in a moment he stood staring—at a fair-haired, white-faced lad in a brown livery with brass buttons who stood staring back at him with wide, scared eyes.
Saltash was the first to recover himself; he was seldom disconcerted, never for long.
"Hullo!" he said, with a quizzical twist of the eyebrows. "You, is it? And what have you come for?"
The intruder lowered his gaze abruptly, flushing to the roots of his fair hair. "I came," he said, in a very low voice, "to—to ask you something."
"Then you've come some distance to do it," said Saltash lightly, "for I never turn back. Perhaps that was your idea, was it?"
"No—no!" With a vehement shake of the head he made answer. "I didn't think you would start so soon. I thought—I would be able to ask you first."
"Oh, indeed!" said Saltash. And then unexpectedly he laid a hand upon one narrow shoulder and turned the downcast face upwards. "Ah! I thought he'd marked you, the swine! What was he drubbing you for? Tell me that!"
A great purple bruise just above one eye testified to the severity of the drubbing; the small, boyish countenance quivered sensitively under his look. With sudden impulse two trembling hands closed tightly upon his arm.
"Well?" said Saltash.
"Oh, please, sir—please, my lord, I mean—" with great earnestness the words came—"let me stay with you! I'll earn my keep somehow, and I shan't take up much room!"
"Oh, that's the idea, is it?" said Saltash.
"Yes—yes!" The boy's eyes implored him,—blue eyes with short black lashes that imparted an oddly childish look to a face that was otherwise thin and sharp with anxiety. "I can do anything. I don't want to live on charity. I can work. I'd love to work—for you."
"You're a rum little devil, aren't you?" said Saltash.
"I'm honest, sir! Really I'm honest!" Desperately the bony hands clung. "You won't be sorry if you take me. I swear you'll never be sorry!"
"What about you?" said Saltash. He was looking down into the upraised face with a semi-quizzical compassion in his own. "Think you'd never be sorry either?"
A sudden smile gleamed across the drawn face. "Of course I shouldn't! You're English."
"Ah!" said Saltash, with a faintly wry expression. "Not necessarily white on that account, my friend, so don't run away with that idea, I beg! I'm quite capable of giving you a worse drubbing than the good Antonio, for instance, if you qualified for it. I can be a terrifically wild beast upon occasion. Look here, you imp! Are you starved or what? Do you want something to eat?"
The wiry fingers tightened on his arm. "No, sir—no, my lord—not really. I often don't eat. I'm used to it."
"But why the devil not?" demanded Saltash. "Didn't they feed you over there?"
"Yes—oh, yes. But I didn't want it. I was—too miserable." The blue eyes blinked rapidly under his look as if half-afraid of him.
"You little ass!" said Saltash in a voice that somehow reassured. "Sit down there! Curl up if you like, and don't move till I come back!"
He indicated the sofa, and quite gently but with decision freed his arm from the nervously gripping hands.
"You won't send me back?" the boy urged with quivering supplication.
"No, I won't do that," said Saltash as he went away.
He swore once or twice with considerable energy ere he returned, cursing the absent Antonio in language that would have outmatched the Italian's own. Then, having relieved his feelings, he abruptly laughed to himself and pursued his errand with business-like briskness.
Returning, he found his protege in a small heap on the sofa, with his head deep in the cushion as though he sought escape from the light. Again the feeling of harbouring some small animal in pain came to him, and he frowned. The mute misery of that huddled form held a more poignant appeal than any words.
"Look here,—Toby!" he said. "I've brought you something to eat, and when you've had it you'd better get a sleep. You can tell me all about it—if you want to—in the morning."
The boy started upright at his coming. He looked at Saltash in his quick, startled way. It was almost as if he expected a kick at any moment. Then he looked at the tray he carried and suddenly his face crumpled; he hid it in his hands.
"Oh, dash it!" said Saltash. "Let's have a little sense!"
He set down the tray and flicked the fair head admonishingly, with his thumb, still frowning. "Come! Be a sport!" he said.
After a brief pause with a tremendous effort the boy pulled himself together and sat up, but he did not raise his eyes to Saltash again. He kept them fixed upon his hands which were tightly clasped in front of him.
"I'll do—whatever you tell me," he said, in a low voice. "No one has ever been so—decent to me before."
"Have one of those rolls!" said Saltash practically. "You'll talk better with something inside you."
He seated himself on the edge of his bunk and lit another cigarette, his attitude one of royal indifference, but his odd eyes flashing to and fro with a monkey-like shrewdness that missed nothing of his desolate companion's forlorn state.
"You've been doing this starvation business for some time, haven't you?" he asked presently. "No wonder you didn't feel like work."
The boy's pinched face smiled, a small wistful smile. "I can work," he said. "I can do anything—women's work as well as men's. I can cook and clean boots and knives and sew on buttons and iron trousers and wash shirts and wait on tables and make beds and sweep and—"
"For heaven's sake, stop!" said Saltash. "You make me giddy. Tell me the things you can't do instead! It would take less time."
Toby considered for a few moments. "I can't drive cars," he said at length. "But I can clean 'em, and I'd love to learn."
Saltash laughed. "That's the sole exception, is it? You seem to have picked up a good deal in a short time. Did they teach you all that over there?"
Toby shook his head. "I've knocked about a good lot," he said.
"And know everything evidently," said Saltash. "What made you think of coming on board this yacht?"
The boy's eyes gave him a shining look. "Because she belongs to you," he said.
"Oh!" Saltash puffed at his cigarette for a few seconds. "You'd made up your mind to throw in your fortunes with mine, had you?"
Toby nodded. "I wanted to—if you'd have me."
"Seems I haven't much choice," remarked Saltash. "And what are you going to do when you're tired of me? Fling yourself at someone else's head, I suppose?"
Again he saw the hot colour flood the thin face, but the boyish eyes did not flinch from his. "No, I shan't do that," said Toby, after brief reflection. "I'll just go right under next time."
"Oh, will you?" said Saltash. "And so remain—a blot on my escutcheon for all time. Well now, look here! You say you're honest?"
"Yes, sir," said Toby with breathless assurance, and sprang up and stood before him with the words, as though challenging criticism.
Saltash poked at him with his foot, as he sat. "Make me a promise?" he asked casually.
"Anything you wish, my lord," said Toby promptly.
Saltash grinned at him. "Be careful! I see you are of a rash and impulsive disposition, and I like my slaves to have a little discretion. The promise I want is that whatever happens to you,—however much I kick you or bash you or generally ill-use you—you'll never jump overboard or do anything silly of that kind. Is it done?"
Toby was standing before him, facing him with straight, candid eyes. He did not seem surprised at the suggestion so coolly made. Saltash noted that it certainly did not shock him.
"All right, sir," he said, after a moment.
"It's a promise, is it?" said Saltash.
Toby nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Good!" said Saltash. He stretched out a hand and took him by one skinny arm. "Better now?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord." Toby's eyes smiling into his.
"Very well. I'll keep you," Saltash said. "Did anyone see you come aboard?"
"No, my lord."
"Then you came with me, see? I brought you—if anyone wants to know."
"Very good, my lord. Thank you, my lord."
Saltash made a humorous grimace. "You can call me 'sir' if you like," he said. "It makes no difference."
"Thank you, sir," said Toby with a responsive grin.
"And your name is Toby, is it? Toby what?"
"Toby Wright, sir." Very promptly the answer came.
Saltash's eyes scrutinized him with half derisive amusement. "I hope it's a good fit," he remarked. "Well, look here, Toby, you must go to bed. Did you bring any luggage on board?"
"No, sir. 'Fraid not, sir. Very sorry, sir. I came away in a hurry," explained Toby rather nervously.
"And stole the hotel livery," said Saltash.
"No, sir. Borrowed it," said Toby.
"Ho! You're going to pay for it, are you?" questioned Saltash.
"Yes, sir, some day. First money I get, sir. Don't want to have anything belonging to that damn' Italian cur," said Toby, with much emphasis.
"Naughty! Naughty!" said Saltash, pinching his arm. "Well, come along, and I'll show you where you can sleep. There's a small cabin out of my dressing-room you can have for the present. I haven't got my valet on board."
"Very good, sir, thank you. What time shall I call you, sir?" said Toby brightly.
"You needn't call me," said Saltash. "You can just lie quiet and take care of that black eye of yours. I'll let you know when I want you."
"Very good, sir," said Toby, looking crestfallen.
Saltash stood up. "And you'll do as you're told—see?—always! That's understood, is it?"
Toby smiled again, eagerly, gratefully. "Yes, sir. Always, sir!" he said promptly. "Shall I take off your boots before I go, sir?"
"No. Look after yourself for the present!" said Saltash. "And don't get up to mischief! There's a strict captain in command of this boat, so you'd better mind how you go."
The boy looked up at him with eyes of twinkling comprehension. He had plainly forgotten the despair that had so nearly overwhelmed him.
"Oh, I'll be very good, sir," he promised. "I won't get you into trouble anyhow, sir."
"You—imp!" said Saltash, pulling his ear. "Think I'll put up with your impudence, do you? You'll play that game once too often if you're not careful."
Toby hastened to adjust his features to a becoming expression of gravity. "I won't, sir. No, I won't. I'll be a good servant to you—the best you've ever had. I'll never forget your goodness to me, and I'll pay back somehow—that I will, sir."
His boyish voice suddenly throbbed with emotion, and he stopped. Again for a moment he had the forlorn look of a small animal astray from its own.
Saltash patted his shoulder kindly. "All right. That'll do. Don't be tragic about it! Come along to your burrow and have a good square sleep!"
He led him away without further words, and Toby went, gratefully and submissively.
A few minutes later Saltash came back with a smile on his ugly face, half-quizzical, and half-compassionate.
"Rum little devil!" he commented again as he began to undress. "So the gods had a gift for me after all! Wonder what I shall do with it!"
And then abruptly the smile became a mocking grimace that banished all the kindliness from his face. He snapped his fingers and laughed as he had laughed a little earlier when his cigarette had fallen into the water with a sound like the hiss of a serpent.
"I—wonder!" he said again.
It was contrary to Captain Larpent's habit to show surprise at any time, whatever the caprices of his patron, but he did look at Saltash somewhat harder than usual when the latter informed him in his breezy fashion of the unexpected addition to the yacht's company. He also frowned a little and smoothed his beard as though momentarily puzzled.
"You won't want to be bothered with him," he said after brief reflection. "Better let him sleep in the forecastle."
"Not for the present," said Saltash. "I am going to train him, and I'll keep him under my own eye. The little beggar has had a pretty rough time of it to judge by appearances. I've a fancy for looking after him myself."
"What are you going to make of him?" asked Larpent.
Saltash laughed carelessly, flicking the ash from his cigarette. "I'll tell you that when I can show you the finished article. I'm keeping him below for the present. He's got a prize-fighter's eye which is not exactly an ornament. Like to have a look at him? You're ship's doctor."
Larpent shrugged his shoulders. "P'raps I'd better. I'm not over-keen on sudden importations. You never know what they may bring aboard with them."
Saltash's eyes gleamed mischievously. "Better inoculate the whole crew at once! He's more like a stray spaniel than anything else."
"A King Charles!" suggested Larpent, with the flicker of an eyelid. "Well, my lord, let's have a look at your latest find!"
They went below, Saltash whistling a careless air. He was usually in high spirits when not suffering from boredom.
Someone else was whistling in the vicinity of his cabin, but it was not from the valet's cabin that the cheery sounds proceeded. They found him in the bathroom with an oily rag, rubbing up the taps.
He desisted immediately at their entrance and stood smartly at attention. His eye was badly swollen and discoloured, he looked wretchedly ill, but he managed to smile at Saltash, who took him by the shoulder and made him face the light.
"What are you doing in here, you—scaramouch? Didn't I tell you to lie still? Here he is, Larpent! What do you think of him? A poor sort of specimen, eh?"
"What's his name?" said Larpent.
"Toby Barnes, sir," supplied the boy promptly.
"And there's nothing under the sun he can't do except drive cars," put in Saltash, "and obey orders."
Toby winced a little. "I'm sorry, sir. Only wanted to be useful, sir. I'll go back to bed if you say so."
"What do you say, Captain?" said Saltash.
Larpent bent and looked closely at the injured eye. "The sooner the better," he said after a brief examination. "Stay in bed for a week, and then I'll look at you again!"
"Oh, not a week!" exclaimed Toby, aghast, and then clapped a hand to his mouth and was silent.
But his look implored Saltash who laughed and pinched the shoulder under his hand. "All right. We'll see how you get on. If we meet any weather you'll probably be only too thankful to stay there."
Toby smiled somewhat woefully, and said nothing.
Larpent stood up. "I'll fetch some stuff to dress it with. Better have it bandaged. Pretty painful, isn't it?"
"No, sir," lied Toby valiantly. "Don't feel it at all."
But he shrank with a quick gasp of pain when Larpent unexpectedly touched the injury.
"Don't hurt the child!" said Saltash sharply.
Larpent smiled his faint, sardonic smile, and turned away.
Toby laid his cheek with a winning, boyish gesture against the hand that held him. "Don't make me go to bed, sir!" he pleaded. "I'll be miserable in bed."
Saltash looked down at him with eyebrows comically working. "It is rather a hole—that cabin of yours," he conceded. "You can lie on the couch in my stateroom if you like. Don't get up to mischief, that's all! I'm responsible for you, remember."
Toby thanked him humbly, swearing obedience and good behaviour. The couch in Saltash's cabin was immediately under a porthole, and the fresh sea-air blew straight in. He stretched his meagre person upon it with a sigh of contentment, and Saltash smiled down upon him. "That's right. You'll do there. Let's see! What did you say your name was?"
"Toby Barnes or Toby Wright?" said Saltash.
The boy started, turned very red, then very white, opened his mouth to speak, shut it tightly, and said nothing.
Saltash took out his cigarette-case and opened it with great leisureliness. The smile still played about his ugly features as he chose a cigarette. Finally he snapped the lid and looked down again at his protege.
"Or Toby nothing?" he said.
Toby's eyes came up to his, though the effort to raise them drew his face painfully.
"Whatever you like, my lord," he said faintly. "I'll answer to anything."
Saltash's own face was curiously softened. He looked down at Toby for some seconds in silence, idly tapping the cigarette he held against the case. Then: "How old are you?" he asked suddenly.
"Sixteen, sir." Toby's eyes with their dumb pleading were still anxiously raised to his.
Saltash bent abruptly and put his hand very lightly over them. "All right. Don't hurt yourself!" he said kindly. "You're young enough to chuck the past and start again."
Toby's claw-like hands came up and closed upon his wrist. "Wish I could, sir," he whispered with lips that quivered. "Haven't had much of a chance—so far, sir."
"All right," Saltash said again. "It's up to you. I shan't interfere. Don't expect too much of me; that's all I ask! I'm not considered exactly a suitable companion for young things like you."
He drew his hand away and lighted his cigarette. Toby turned his face into the cushion and lay very still.
Larpent, returning, wondered what his patron had been saying to make the boy's eyes wet with tears, but betrayed no curiosity on the subject.
"Are you going to let him stay in here?" he asked, as he bound a lotion-soaked pad over the damaged eye.
"For the present," said Saltash. "Any objection?"
"Not the smallest." Larpent's tone was absolutely noncommittal. "Make him lie quiet, that's all!"
"He'll do that," said Saltash with confidence.
"Good!" said Larpent. "We're in for a blow before we reach Gib or I'm much mistaken."
"Do us all good," said Saltash with satisfaction.
Larpent looked grim and said no more.
"Frightened?" asked Saltash of Toby when he was gone.
Toby chuckled at the thought. "Not a bit, sir."
"Good sailor by any chance?" questioned Saltash.
"No, sir; rotten, sir." Quite undaunted came the reply.
"Well, shut your eyes and go to sleep!" commanded Saltash, and spread a rug over the small, curled-up figure.
Toby murmured his thanks and relaxed with a big sigh of content.
Some hours later, when the blow that Larpent had prophesied had arrived in earnest and the yacht was pitching on a wild sea in the light of a lurid sunset, Saltash came below to change.
He was met by Toby, ghastly of face but still desperately smiling, who sprang from his couch to wait upon him, and collapsed at his feet.
"Little ass!" said Saltash, barely preventing himself from tumbling over him headlong.
He lifted the light, trembling figure and put it down again upon the couch. Then he poured out a dose of brandy and water and, holding the boy's head on his arm while the yacht lifted and tossed, compelled him to drink it.
"Now you lie quiet!" he commanded. "Don't stir an eyelid till I give you leave!"
The porthole was shut, and the atmosphere close and stuffy. Toby put forth an appealing hand and clung to his protector's sleeve.
"Mayn't I come on deck, sir?" he murmured anxiously. "Please, sir!"
"No," said Saltash.
Toby said no more, but his fingers fastened like a bird's claw on the man's arm, and he shivered.
"You're frightened!" said Saltash.
"No, sir! No, sir!" he protested.
"Yes, you are. You needn't bother to lie to me. I always know." Saltash's voice held an odd note of comradeship. "Beastly sensation, isn't it? Have some more brandy!"
Then, as Toby refused, he sat down abruptly on the edge of the couch and thrust an arm out to him. Toby crept to him then like a nervous dog and trembled against his side.
"Little ass!" said Saltash again. "Been lying here sweating with terror, have you? There's nothing whatever to sweat about. She's as safe as houses."
"Yes, sir. I know, sir," whispered Toby apologetically.
Saltash's arm surrounded him with a comforting closeness. "You miserable little shrimp!" he said. "How's the head?"
"Better, sir. Thank you, sir," muttered Toby.
"Why not tell the truth for once and say it hurts like hell?" suggested Saltash.
Toby was silent.
"Do you know what I'm going to do with you?" said Saltash.
"No, sir." Toby stirred uneasily.
The vessel pitched to a sudden slant and Saltash braced himself, protecting the fair head from a blow against the woodwork behind him. "I'm going to put you to bed in my bunk here," he said. "You've got to have a decent night's rest. Did Murray look you out any spare slops? I told him to."
"Oh, yes, sir. Thank you, sir. But I couldn't sleep in your bunk, sir,—please, sir—indeed, sir!" Toby, still held by the sheltering arm, waxed incoherent, almost tearful.
Saltash pulled him up short. "You'll do as I tell you—now and always," he said, with royal finality. "You've put yourself in my hands, and you'll have to put up with the consequences. Got that?"
"Yes, sir," said Toby meekly.
"Then don't forget it!" said Saltash.
Toby subsided without further protest. Perhaps the brandy helped to make him quiescent, or perhaps it was only the realization of his utter weakness and dependence; but from that moment he was as submissive as if he had been indeed the small captive animal to which his new owner had likened him. At Saltash's behest and with his help, he presently crept back to his own cabin to divest himself of his hotel-livery and don the very roomy suit of pajamas that Murray the steward had served out to him.
Then, barefooted, stumbling, and shivering, he returned to where Saltash leaned smoking in the narrow dressing-room, awaiting him.
Saltash's dark face wore a certain look of grimness. He bent without words and lifted the shrinking figure in his arms.
Ten seconds later Toby sank down in a berth as luxurious as any ever carried by private yacht.
He was still shivering though a grateful warmth came about him as Saltash tucked him in. He tried to murmur thanks, but ended with a quivering chin and silence.
"Go to sleep, you little ass!" commanded Saltash.
And so at last Toby slept, the deep, unstirring sleep of exhaustion, utterly unconscious of his surroundings, unaware of the man who came in and out watching that unchanging repose, sublimely oblivious of all observation, sunk in a slumber so remote that it might have been the last long rest of all.
Saltash spent the night on the velvet couch under the closed porthole, dozing occasionally and always awakening with a jerk as the roll of the vessel threatened to pitch him on to the floor of the cabin. It was not a comfortable means of resting but he endured it in commendable silence with now and then a grimace which said more than words.
And the little waif that the gods had flung to him slept in his bunk all through the long hours as peacefully as an effigy upon a tomb.
The storm spent itself before they reached Gibraltar, and Toby emerged smiling from his captivity below. He still wore the brown and gold hotel-livery as there was nothing else on board to fit him, but from Gibraltar a small packet of notes was dispatched to Antonio by Saltash in settlement of the loan.
"Now I've bought you—body and soul," he said to Toby, whose shining look showed naught but satisfaction at the announcement.
The vivid colours of his injured eye had faded to a uniform dull yellow, and he no longer wore a bandage. When they put to sea again he was no longer an invalid. He followed Saltash wherever he went, attended scrupulously to his comfort, and when not needed was content to sit curled up like a dog close to him, dumb in his devotion but always ready to serve him.
Saltash treated him with a careless generosity that veiled a good deal of consideration. He never questioned him with regard to his past, taking him for granted in a fashion that set Toby completely at ease. No one else had much to do with him. Larpent ignored him, and Murray the steward regarded him with a deep suspicion that did not make for intimacy.
And Toby was happy. Day after day his cheery whistle arose over his work while he polished Saltash's boots and brushed his clothes, or swept and dusted the state-cabin in which he slept. He himself had returned to his own small den that led out of Saltash's dressing-room, but the intervening doors were kept open by Saltash's command. They were always within hail of each other.
They went into perfect summer weather, and for a blissful week they voyaged through blue seas with a cloudless sky overhead. Toby's white skin began to tan. The sharp lines went out of his face. His laugh was frequent and wholly care-free. He even developed a certain impudence in his attitude towards his master to which Saltash extended the same tolerance that he might have shown for the frolics of a favourite dog. He accepted Toby's services, but he never treated him wholly as a servant.
It was an odd companionship which only the isolated life they led during those few days could have developed along those particular lines. When Saltash was bored he amused himself with his protege, teaching him picquet and chess, and finding in him an apt and eager pupil. There was a good deal of the gambler's spirit in Toby, and Saltash idly fostered it because it gave him sport. He laughed at his opponent's keenness, supplied stakes for the game, even good-naturedly let himself be beaten.
And then one day he detected Toby cheating. It was an end that he might have foreseen. He had encouraged the fever, he had practically sown the seeds; but, strangely, he was amazed, more disconcerted than he had been for years by the consequences. For it was not his way to disturb himself over anything. His principles were easy to laxness. But that Toby—the urchin he had sheltered and nursed like a sick puppy—should have done this thing somehow cut clean through his complacence.
"I'm going to give you a licking for that," he said, black brows drawn to a stern line. "You can go below and wait for it."
Toby went like an arrow, and Saltash spent the next half-hour pacing the deck, cursing himself, the youngster, and the insane and ridiculous Fate that had linked them together.
Then he went below to administer judicial corporal punishment to a human being for the first time in his life. As he himself whimsically expressed it, he had received ample correction during his own chequered career; but he had never been in a position to correct anyone else.
He found Toby waiting for him in his shirt-sleeves, rather white but quite composed, his riding-switch all ready to his hand.
"Ever been flogged before?" he asked him curtly as he picked it up.
"No, sir," said Toby, with downcast eyes.
"Why not?" There was a gibing note in Saltash's voice. "Never qualified before?"
Toby shot him a swift and nervous glance that was like a flash of blue flame. "No, sir. Never been caught before," he said.
Saltash's eyes flickered humour, but he steeled himself. "Well, you're caught this time—fairly caught. I may not be a specially fit person to punish you for it, but you won't be let off on that account."
"Go ahead, sir!" said Toby, with his hands twisted into a bony knot in front of him.
And Saltash went ahead. His heart was not in the business, and as he smote the narrow bent back it cried shame on him. Toby made no sound, but at the third stroke he winced, and Saltash with a terrific oath in French hurled his switch violently at the opposite wall.
"There! Don't do it again!" he said, and swung him round to face him. "Sorry? What?"
Then he saw that Toby was crying, and abruptly let him go, striding out through the dining-saloon and up the companion-way, swearing strange oaths in varied languages as he went.
He was openly rude to Larpent when the latter sauntered up for a word with him a little later, but Larpent, knowing him, merely hunched his shoulders as his custom was and sauntered away again.
When Saltash went down to dress for dinner, he found his clothes laid out as usual, but no Toby in attendance. His first impulse was to look for him, but he checked it and dressed in solitude. This thing must be conducted in the approved judicial manner at all costs.
Larpent was stolidly awaiting him in the saloon, and they sat down together. Usually Toby stood behind his master's chair, and the vacant place oppressed Saltash. He talked jerkily, with uneasy intervals of silence.
Larpent talked not at all beyond the demands of ordinary courtesy. He ate well, drank sparingly, and when not listening to Saltash's somewhat spasmodic conversation appeared immersed in thought. When the meal was over, he refused coffee, and rose to go on deck.
Then, abruptly, Saltash stayed him. "Larpent, wait a minute—unless you're in a hurry! Have a cigar with me!"
Larpent paused, looking across at the dark, restless face with the air of a man making a minute calculation. "Shall we smoke on deck, my lord?" he said at length.
Saltash sprang up as though he moved on wires. "Yes, all right. Get the cigars, Murray!" he commanded the steward; and to Larpent as the man went to obey, "That's decent of you. Thought you were going to refuse. I was damned offensive a while back. Accept my apologies! Fact is—I'm fed up with this show. Sorry if I disappoint you, but I'm going home."
"You never disappoint me, my lord," said Larpent, with his enigmatical smile.
Saltash gave him a keen look and uttered a laugh that was also not without its edge. "I like you, Larpent," he said. "You always tell the truth. Well, let's go! We shan't make Jamaica this trip, but it doesn't matter. In any case, it's a shame to miss the spring in England."
"Or the Spring Meetings?" suggested Larpent, as he chose his cigar.
"Quite so," said Saltash, almost with relief. "My old trainer—the man who bought my racing-stud—always looks for me about now. You ought to meet him by the way. He is another speaker of cruel truths."
He thrust a hand through his captain's arm as they left the saloon, and they went on deck together. Though Larpent never made any sign of resentment, yet was Saltash never wholly at his ease when he knew that he had taxed his forbearance until he had made amends. He took the trouble to make himself unusually agreeable as they settled down to their smoke.
It was a night of glorious stars, the sea one vast stretch of silver ripples, through which the yacht ran smoothly, leaving a wide white trail behind her. Saltash lay in a deck-chair with his face to the sky, but his attitude was utterly lacking in the solid repose that characterized his companion. He smoked his cigar badly, with impatient pulls. When it was half gone, he suddenly swore and flung it overboard.
"Larpent," he said, breaking a silence, "if you were a damned rotter—like me—what should you do with yourself?"
Larpent turned his head and quietly surveyed him. "I shouldn't run a home for waifs and strays," he said deliberately.
Saltash made a sharp movement. "Then I suppose you'd leave 'em in the gutter to starve," he said, with suppressed vehemence.
"No, I shouldn't. I'd pay someone else—someone who wasn't what you called yourself just now—to look after 'em." Larpent's voice was eminently practical if somewhat devoid of sympathy. "Gutter-snipes are damned quick to pick up—things they ought not," he observed dryly.
Saltash stirred uncomfortably in his chair as though something pricked him. "Think I'm a contaminating influence?" he said.
Larpent shrugged his shoulders. "It's not for me to say. All diseases are not catching—any more than they are incurable."
"Ho!" Saltash laughed suddenly and rather bitterly. "Are you suggesting—a cure?"
Larpent turned his head back again and puffed a cloud of smoke upwards. "There's a cure for most things," he observed.
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" gibed Saltash.
Larpent was silent for a space. Then: "A painful process no doubt!" he said. "But more wonderful things have happened."
"Pshaw!" said Saltash.
Nevertheless when Larpent rose a little later and bade him good-night, he reached up a couple of fingers in careless comradeship.
"Good-night, old fellow! Thanks for putting up with me! Sure you don't want to kick me?"
"Not when you're kicking yourself," said Larpent with a grim hint of humour.
He took the extended fingers and received a wiry handclasp that caused him faint surprise. But then, he reflected as he went away, he had always known Saltash to be a queer devil, oddly balanced, curiously impulsive, strangely irresponsible, possessing through all a charm which seldom failed to hold its own. He realized by instinct that Saltash was wrestling with himself that night, but, though he knew him better than did many, he would not have staked anything on the result. There were two selves in Saltash and, in Larpent's opinion, one was as strong as the other.
It was nearly an hour later that Saltash, prowling to and fro in the starlight, became suddenly aware of a figure, small and slight, with gleaming brass buttons, standing behind his vacant chair. He turned sharply to look at it, some inexplicable emotion twitching his dark face. Then abruptly he moved towards it, stood for a second as one in doubt, then turned and sat down in silence.
But as he settled himself he stretched forth an arm with a snap of the fingers, and in a flash Toby was kneeling by his side. The arm closed around him like a spring, and Toby uttered a low, tense sob and hid his face.
Thereafter for a while there was no sound beside the throb of engines and wash of water. Saltash sat absolutely motionless with eyes half-closed. Save for the vitality of his hold, he might have been on the verge of slumber. And Toby, crouched with his head in his hands, was as a carven image, neither stirring nor seeming to breathe.
The man moved at length, flicking his eyes open as though some unseen force had prodded him into action. He spoke with a brevity that might have denoted some sternness but for the close grip of his arm.
"Have you been sulking all this time?"
Toby started at his voice and burrowed a little deeper. "No, sir."
"Well, why didn't you come before?" said Saltash.
"I was—afraid," whispered Toby piteously.
"Afraid! Why on earth?" Saltash's hand suddenly found and fondled the fair head. His speech was no longer curt, but gentle, with a half-quizzical tenderness. "Aren't you rather an ass, boy? What was there to be afraid of?"
Toby could not tell him. He only, after a moment, slipped down in a sitting position by Saltash's side and rested with more assurance against the encircling arm.
"Come! I didn't hurt you much," said Saltash.
"No, sir. You didn't hurt me—at all." Toby stammered a little. "You—you—you meant—not to hurt me, didn't you?"
"I must hit harder next time evidently," observed Saltash, with a squeeze of the narrow shoulders.
"No, sir—no, sir! There shan't be—a next time!" Toby assured him with nervous vehemence. "I only did it just to see—just to see—I'll never do it again, sir."
"Just to see what?" asked Saltash curiously.
But again Toby could not explain himself, and he did not press him.
"Well, you didn't do it at all well," he remarked. "I shouldn't certainly make a profession of it if I were you. It's plainly not your metier."
He paused, but with the air of having something more to say. Toby waited silently.
It came with a jerk and a grimace, as if some inner force compelled. "I can't talk pi-jaw—on this subject or any other. You see—I'm a rotter myself."
"You, sir!" Toby lifted his head suddenly and stared at him with eyes that blazed passionately blue in the starlight. "Don't believe it!" he said. "It isn't true."
Saltash grinned a little. His face had the dreary look of something lost that a monkey's sometimes wears. "You needn't believe it, son, if you don't want to," he said. "But it's true all the same. That's why I gave you that licking, see? Just to emphasize the difference between us."
"It isn't true!" Toby asserted again almost fiercely. "I'd kill anyone else that said so."
"Oh, you needn't do that!" said Saltash, with kindly derision. "Thanks all the same, my turkey-cock! If I ever need your protection I'll be sure to ask for it." He flicked the young face with his finger. "But you're not to follow my example, mind. You've got to run straight. You're young enough to make it worth while, and—I'll see you have a chance."
"But you'll keep me with you, sir," said Toby swiftly. "You'll keep me—always—with you!"
"Ah!" Saltash's brows twisted oddly for a second. He seemed to ponder the matter. "I can't say off-hand what I'm going to do with you," he said. "You're—a bit of a problem, you know, Toby."
"Yes, sir. I know. I know." Toby's voice was quick with agitation. "But you won't send me away from you! Promise you won't send me away!"
"Can't promise anything," said Saltash. "Look here! I think there's been enough of this. You'd better go to bed."
But Toby was clinging fast to his hand. He spoke between quivering lips. "Please, sir, you said you'd bought me body and soul. You can't mean to chuck me away—after that! Please, sir, I'll do anything—anything under the sun—for you. And you—you can kick me—do anything to me—and I'll never say a word. I'm just yours—for as long as I live. Please, sir—please, sir—don't send me away! I—I'd rather die than that."
He laid his head suddenly down upon the hand he held so tenaciously and began to sob, fighting desperately to stifle all sound.
Saltash sat for a few moments in utter silence and immobility. Then, abruptly, in a tense whisper, he spoke:
"Toby, you little fool, stop it—stop it, do you hear?—and go below!"
The words held a queer urgency. He raised himself as he uttered them, seeking to free his hand though with all gentleness from the clinging clasp.
"Get up, boy!" he said. "Get up and go to bed! What? Oh, don't cry! Pull yourself together! Toby, do you hear?"
Toby lifted a white, strained face. His eyes looked enormous in the dim light. "Yes, sir. All right, sir," he jerked out, and stumbled trembling to his feet. "I know I'm a fool, sir. I'm sorry. I can't help it. No one was ever decent to me—till you came. I—shall just go under now, sir."
"Oh, stop it!" Saltash spoke almost violently. "Can't you see—that's just what I want to prevent? You don't want to go to the devil, I suppose?"
Toby made a passionate gesture that was curiously unboylike. "I'd go to hell and stay there for ever—if you were there!" he said.
"Good God!" said Saltash.
He got up in his sudden fashion and moved away, went to the rail and stood there for a space with his face to the rippling sheen of water. Finally he turned and looked at the silent figure waiting beside his chair, and a very strange smile came over his dark features. He came back, not without a certain arrogance, and tapped Toby on the shoulder.
"All right," he said. "Stay with me and be damned if you want to! I daresay it would come to the same thing in the end."
Toby drew himself together with a swift movement. "That means you'll keep me, sir?"
His eyes, alight and eager, looked up to Saltash with something that was not far removed from adoration in their shining earnestness.
The strange smile still hovered about Saltash's face; a smile in which cynicism and some vagrant, half-stifled emotion were oddly mingled.
"Yes, I'll keep you," he said, and paused, looking at him oddly.
Toby's eyes, very wide open, intensely bright, looked straight back. "For good, sir?" he said anxiously.
And Saltash laughed, a brief, mocking laugh. "For better, for worse, my Toby!" he said. "Now—go!"
He smote him a light friendly blow on the shoulder and flung round on his heel.
Toby went, very swiftly, without looking back.
They sighted the English shore a few days later on an evening of mist and rain. The sea was grey and dim, the atmosphere cold and inhospitable.
"Just like England!" said Saltash. "She never gushes over her prodigals."
He was dining alone in the saloon with Toby behind his chair, Larpent being absent on the bridge.
"Don't you like England, sir?" said Toby.
"I adore her," said Saltash with his most hideous grimace. "But I don't go to her for amusement."
Toby came forward to fill his glass with liqueur. "Too strait-laced, sir?" he suggested with the suspicion of a smile.
Saltash nodded with a sidelong glance at the young face bent over the decanter. "Too limited in many ways, my Toby," he said. "But at the same time useful in certain emergencies. A stern mother perhaps, but a wise one on the whole. You, for instance—she will be the making of you."
A slight tremor went through Toby. He set down the decanter and stepped back. "Of me, sir?" he said.
Saltash nodded again. He was fingering the stem of his glass, his queer eyes dancing a little. "We've got to make a respectable citizen of you—somehow," he said.
"Do you think that matters, sir?" said Toby.
Saltash raised his glass. "You won't always be a boy of sixteen, you know, Toby," he said lightly. "We've got to think of the future—whether we want to or not."
"I don't see why, sir," said Toby.
"You see, you're young," said Saltash, and drank with the air of one who drinks a toast.
Suddenly he turned in his chair, the glass still in his hand.
"Our last night on board!" he said, with a royal gesture of invitation. "You shall drink with me."
Toby's face flushed burningly. He hung back. "Not—not—from your glass, sir!" he said. "Not—liqueur!"
"Why not? Afraid?" mocked Saltash.
Toby was silent. His hand closed involuntarily upon the back of his master's chair. The flush died out of his face.
Saltash sat and looked at him for a few seconds, still with that dancing gleam in his eyes. Then abruptly he moved, rose with one knee upon the chair, lifted the glass to Toby's lips.
"Afraid?" he said again, speaking softly as one speaks to a frightened child.
Toby raised a hand that sought to take the glass but closed instead nervously upon Saltash's wrist. He drank in response to Saltash's unspoken insistence, looking straight at him the while.
Then oddly he smiled. "No, not afraid, sir," he said. "Only—lest I might not bring you luck."
"Oh, don't fret yourself on that account!" said Saltash. "I'm not used to any luck."
Toby's eyes widened. "I thought you had—everything, sir," he said.
Saltash laughed and set down the empty glass. "Au contraire, mon cher," he said. "I am no richer than you are. Like Tantalus, I can never quench my thirst. Like many a better man than I, I see the stars, but I never reach them."
"Does anybody?" said Toby in the tone of one not expecting an answer.
Saltash laughed briefly, enigmatically. "I believe some people soar. But they generally come down hard in the end. Whereas those who always crawl on the earth haven't far to fall. Now look here, Toby, you and I have got to have a talk."
"Yes, sir," said Toby, blinking rather rapidly.
Saltash was watching him with a faint smile in his eyes, half-derisive and half-tender. "What are you going to be, Toby?" he said. "It all turns on that."
Toby's hand still gripped the back of his chair. He stood up very straight, facing him. "That is for you to decide, sir," he said.
"Is it?" said Saltash, and again his eyes gleamed a little. "Is it for me to decide?"
"Yes, sir. For you alone." There was no flinching in Toby's look now. His eyes were wide and very steady.
Saltash's mouth twitched as if he repressed some passing emotion. "You mean—just that?" he asked, after a moment.
"Just that, sir," said Toby, with a slight quickening of the breath. "I mean I am—at your disposal alone."
Saltash took him suddenly by the shoulder and looked at him closely. "Toby!" he said. "Aren't you making—rather a fool of yourself?"
"No, sir!" Swiftly, with unexpected vehemence, Toby made answer. "I'm doing—the only thing possible. But if you—if you—if you—"
"Well?" Saltash said. "If I what?"
"If you want to get rid of me—at any time," Toby said, commanding himself with fierce effort, "I'll go, sir—I'll go!"
"And where to?" Saltash's eyes were no longer derisive; they held something that very few had ever seen there.
Toby made a quick gesture of the hands, and dropped them flat at his sides. "I'll get rid of myself—then, sir," he said, with sudden chill pride. "That won't be very difficult. And I'll do it—so that you won't even know."
Saltash stood up abruptly. "Toby, you are quite unique!" he said. "Superb too in your funny little way. Your only excuse is that you're young. Does it never occur to you that you've attached yourself to the wrong person?"
"No, sir," breathed Toby.
"You're not afraid to stake all you've got on a bad card?" pursued Saltash, still curiously watching him.
"No, sir," he said again; and added with his faint, unboyish smile, "I haven't much to lose anyway."
Saltash's hand tightened upon him. He was smiling also, but the gleam in his eyes had turned to leaping, fitful flame. "Well," he said slowly, "I have never yet refused—a gift from the gods."
And there he stopped, for suddenly, drowning all speech, there arose a din that seemed to set the whole world rocking; and in a moment there came a frightful shock that pitched them both headlong to the floor.
Saltash fell as a monkey falls, catching at one thing after another to save himself, landing eventually on his knees in pitch darkness with one hand still gripped upon Toby's thin young arm. But Toby had struck his head against a locker and had gone down stunned and helpless.
The din of a siren above them filled the world with hideous clamour as Saltash recovered himself. "Damn them!" he ejaculated savagely. "Do they want to deafen us as well as send us to perdition?"
Then very suddenly it stopped, leaving a void that was instantly filled with lesser sounds. There arose a confusion of voices, of running feet, a hubbub of escaping steam, and a great rush of water.
Saltash dragged himself up in the darkness, sought to drag Toby also, found him a dead weight, stooped and lifted him with wiry strength. He trod among broken glass and plates as he straightened himself. The noise above them was increasing. He flung the limp form over his shoulder and began desperately to claw his way up a steep slant towards the saloon-door and the companion-way. Sound and instinct guided him, for the darkness was complete. But he was not the man to die like a trapped animal while the most slender way of escape remained. Hampered as he was, he made for the open with set teeth and terrible foreign oaths of which he was utterly unconscious.
Whether that fierce struggle for freedom could ever have ended in success single-handed, however, was a point which he was not destined to decide, for after a space of desperate effort which no time could measure, there suddenly shone the gleam of an electric torch in front of him, and he saw the opening but a few feet away.
"Saltash!" cried a voice, piercing the outer din, "Saltash!"
"Here!" yelled back Saltash, still fighting for foothold and finding it against the leg of the table, "That you, Larpent? How long have we got?"
"Seconds only!" said Larpent briefly. "Give me the child!"
"No! Just give me a hand, that's all! Hang on tight! It'll be a pull."
Saltash flung himself forward again, his free hand outstretched, slipped and nearly fell on his face, then was caught by a vice-like grip that drew him upward with grim strength. In a moment he was braced against the frame of the door, almost standing on it, the saloon gaping below him—a black pit of destruction. Larpent's torch showed the companion stairs practically perpendicular above them.
"Go on!" said Larpent. "Better give me the child. It's you that matters."
"Get out, damn you!" said Saltash, and actually grinned as he began to climb with his burden still hanging upon his shoulder.
Larpent came behind him, holding his torch to light the way. They climbed up into a pandemonium indescribable, a wild torrent of sound.
There was light here that shone in a great flare through billows of fog, showing the monster form of a great vessel towering above them with only a few yards of mist-wreathed water between. The deck on which they stood sloped upwards at an acute angle, and still from below there came the clamour of escaping steam accompanied by a spasmodic throbbing that was like the futile beating of giant wings against Titanic bars.
A knot of men were struggling to lower a boat by the ghostly glare that lit the night about them, clambering and slipping against the rails, while a voice from beyond the fog-curtain yelled through a megaphone unintelligible commands.
All these things were registered upon Saltash's brain, his quick perception leaping from point to point with a mental agility that was wholly outside all conscious volition on his part. He was driven by circumstance as a bird is driven by storm, and he went before it undismayed, missing no chance of refuge.
A life-buoy hanging beside the hatch caught his eye as he glanced swiftly around and in a second he pounced upon it. Toby slipped from his shoulder as he bent, and slipping awoke. But he only lay and stared with dazed eyes at the man frantically unlashing the rope, as one who looked on from afar.
Then Larpent was with them again. He dragged Toby to his feet, and in a flash Saltash turned, the life-buoy on his arm.
"What the devil are you doing?"
Larpent pointed. "They've got the boat free. Go—while you can!"
But Saltash barely glanced across. He put the life-buoy over Toby's head and shoulders, and began to wind the rope around him. It did not need a glance to know that the boat would never get away.
At his action Toby gasped, and sudden understanding awoke in his eyes. He dragged one arm free, and made as if he would cling to Saltash.
"Keep me with you, sir!" he cried out wildly. "Don't make me go alone!"
Saltash gripped the clutching hand, dropping the end of rope. It trailed down, and Larpent caught it, flung it round Saltash's body, and knotted it while he was lifting Toby over the rail.
Then for a second Saltash hung, one hand still gripping Toby's, the other holding to the rail of his sinking yacht, the two of them poised side by side above the abyss.
"You'll save yourself, Larpent!" he cried. "I shall want you."
And with that he turned suddenly to his shivering companion and actually smiled into the terrified eyes. "Come on, Toby!" he said. "We go—together!"
He flung his leg over with the words, and leapt straight downwards.
Toby's shriek sounded through the tumult as they went into the grey depths.
The sinking of The Night Moth after being in collision with the liner, Corfe Castle, bound for Brazil, was an event of sufficient importance to be given a leading place in the newspapers of the following day. Lord Saltash was well-known as a private yachtsman, and the first account which reported him amongst the drowned was received with widespread regret throughout that circle in which he was a familiar figure. Then at a later hour came its contradiction, and his friends smiled and remarked that he had the facility of an eel for getting out of tight corners, and that they would never believe him dead till they had been to his funeral.
Long before the publication of the second report, Saltash was seated in the captain's cabin on board the Corfe Castle, with a strong brandy and soda before him, giving a brief and vigorous account of himself and his company. Yes, he was Charles Burchester, Viscount Saltash, owner of the private yacht, The Night Moth. He was returning from Valrosa alone with his captain and his crew. They had been cruising in the Atlantic with the idea of going south, but he had recently changed his mind and decided to go home. He had not expected such damnable luck as to be run down in home waters, but he supposed that Fate was against him. He only asked now to be put ashore as soon as possible, being for the moment heartily sick of sea-travel. This with his most rueful grimace which Captain Beaumont of the Corfe Castle received with gravely official sympathy.
"Well, I hope you don't blame us for your bad luck," he said. "We might have been sunk ourselves."
"I never blame anyone but the devil for that," said Saltash generously. "And as you managed to pick us all up I am glad on the whole that you weren't."
And then he turned sharply at a knock on the door behind him to see a lean, lank man enter who peered at him curiously through screwed-up eyes as though he had never seen anything like him before.
Captain Beaumont introduced him. "This is Dr. Hurst. He has come to report. Well, doctor? I hope you bring good news."
Dr. Hurst came forward to the table, still looking very attentively at Saltash.
The latter's odd eyes challenged him with royal self-assurance. "Well? What is the news?" he questioned. "Fished for a sprat and caught a whale—or is it t'other way round?"
The doctor cleared his throat and turned to the captain. "Yes, my report is good on the whole," he said. "None of the men are seriously injured, thanks to your prompt rescue measures. Captain Larpent is still unconscious; he is suffering from concussion. But I believe he will recover. And—and—" he hesitated, looking again at Saltash—"the—the person whose life you saved—"
Saltash leaned back in his chair, grinning mischievously. "To be sure! The person—whose life I saved! What of that person, Dr. Hurst?"
"Had you a passenger?" interrupted the captain. "I understood you saved a cabin-boy."
"Pray continue!" he said lightly. "What of the cabin-boy? None the worse, I hope?"
The doctor's lank figure drew together with a stiff movement of distaste. "I see," he said, "that you are aware of a certain fact which I must admit has given me a somewhat unpleasant surprise."
Saltash turned abruptly to the captain. "You ask me if I had a passenger," he said, speaking briefly, with a hint of hauteur. "Before you also begin to be unpleasantly surprised, let me explain that I had a child on board who did not belong to the ship's company."
"A child?" Captain Beaumont looked at him in astonishment. "I thought—I understood—Do you mean the boy?"
"Not a boy, no,—a girl!" Saltash's voice was suddenly very suave; he was smiling still, but there was something rather formidable about his smile. "A young girl, Captain Beaumont, but amply protected, I assure you. It was our last night on board. She was masquerading in the state-cabin in a page's livery when you struck us. But for Larpent we should have been trapped there like rats when the yacht went down. He came and hauled us out, and we saved the child between us." He turned again to the doctor, his teeth gleaming fox-like between his smiling lips. "Really, I am sorry to disappoint you," he said. "But the truth is seldom as highly-coloured as our unpleasant imaginings. The child is—Larpent's daughter." He rose with the words, still suavely smiling. "And now, if she is well enough, I am going to ask you to take me to her. It will be better for her to hear about her father from me than from a stranger."
Though courteously uttered, his words contained a distinct command. The doctor looked at him with the hostility born of discomfiture, but he raised no protest. Somehow Saltash was invincible at that moment.
"Certainly you can see her if you wish," he said stiffly. "In fact, she has been asking for you."
"Ah!" said Saltash, and turned with ceremony to the captain. "Have I your permission to go, sir?"
"Of course—of course!" the captain said. "I shall hope to see you again later, Lord Saltash."
"Thank you," said Saltash, and relaxed into his sudden grin. "I should have thought you would be glad to get rid of me before my bad luck spreads any further."
The Corfe Castle, herself slightly damaged, was putting back to Southampton to land the victims of the disaster, and to obtain some necessary repairs. The weather was thickening, and progress was slow, but they expected to arrive before mid-day. Saltash, carelessly sauntering in the doctor's wake, found himself the object of considerable interest on the part of those passengers who were already up in the murk of the early morning. He was stopped by several to receive congratulations upon his escape, but he refused to be detained for long. He had business below, he said, and the doctor was waiting. And so at last he came to a cabin at the end of a long passage, at the door of which a kind-faced stewardess met them and exchanged a few words with his guide.
"Can I go in?" said Saltash, growing impatient.
The woman looked at him with wonder and compassion in her eyes. "The poor little thing is very upset," she said. "She lies and trembles, and has hardly spoken at all except to ask for you."
"Well, let me in!" said Saltash, suddenly imperious. "I've got something to tell her."
He had his way, for there was something about him that compelled just then. He entered the cabin as a king might enter the apartment of a slave, and he shut the door with decision upon those without.
Then for a second—just for a second—he hesitated. "Toby!" he said.
A meagre form sprang upright in the bunk at the sound of his voice. Two bare, skinny arms reached out to him. Then with a single stride Saltash was beside the bunk and was holding tightly to him a small, whimpering creature that hid its face very deeply against his breast and clutched at him piteously whenever he sought to raise it.
Saltash bent his dark head over the fair one and spoke very gently, yet with authority. "It's all right, child. I know. I've known all along! Don't fret yourself! There's no need. I've got you under my protection. You're safe."
"You—know!" whispered the muffled voice—Toby's voice, but strangely devoid of Toby's confidence. "What must you—think?"
"I!" Saltash laughed a little. "I never think. I give everyone—always—the benefit of the doubt; which is considerably more than anyone ever gives me."
"And—you saved my life!" gasped Toby "Why did you? Why did you?"
"I wanted it," said Saltash promptly. "Now listen a moment! We've done with this show. It's played out. We'll ring up on another. You've got to change your name again. I'm telling everyone you're Larpent's daughter."
That brought the fair head upwards very swiftly. The blue eyes with their short black lashes looked straight up to his. "But—but—Captain Larpent—"
"Oh, never mind Larpent! I'll square him." Saltash's look flashed over the pale, tear-stained face. His hold, though close, no longer compelled. "Leave it all to me! Don't you fret! I'll square Larpent. I'll square everybody. You lie low till they put us ashore! After that—do you think you can—trust me?"
He spoke with comically twisted eyebrows and a smile half-kindly and half-quizzical. And the forlorn little creature in his arms turned with a swooping, passionate movement, caught one of his hands and pressed it to quivering lips.
"I'll live—or die—for your sake!" the trembling voice told him. "I'm just—yours."
Saltash stopped abruptly and laid his face for a moment against the shorn, golden head. Just for that moment a hint of emotion showed in his strange eyes, but it was gone instantly.
He raised himself again with a grimace of self-ridicule. "Well, look here! Don't forget to play the game! Larpent—your daddy—is knocked out, remember. He is unconscious for the present, but the doctor chap seems to think he'll be all right. A nasty suspicious person that doctor, so watch out! And let me see! What is Toby short for? I'd better know."
"Antoinette," whispered the lips that still caressed his hand.
"Antoinette!" Saltash's hand closed softly upon the pointed chin, softly lifted it. "I think Mignonette would suit you better," he said, in his quick, caressing way. "It's time I chose a name for you, ma chere. I shall call you that."
"Or just Nonette of Nowhere," breathed the red lips, piteously smiling. "That would suit me—best of all."
"No—no!" said Saltash, and gently relinquished his hold. "Don't forget that you are a favourite of the gods! That counts for something, my Toby. They don't take up with everybody."
"They haven't done much for me so far," said Toby, suddenly rebellious.
"Hush!" said Saltash, with semi-comic warning. "You are too young to say that."
"I am—older than you think, sir," said Toby, colouring painfully and turning from his look.
"No, you're not!" Swiftly, with a certain arrogance, Saltash made answer. "I know—how old you are, child. It is written in your eyes. They have always told me—all I need to know." Then, very tenderly, as Toby's hands covered them from his look: "Mais, Mignonette, they have never told me anything that you could wish me not to know."
He slipped his arm again about the slender shoulders and pressed them closely for a moment. Then he stood up and turned to go.
He was smiling as he passed out—the smile of the gambler who knows that he holds a winning card.
It was a week after the sinking of The Night Moth that Saltash, very immaculately dressed, with field-glasses slung over his shoulder, made his first appearance since the disaster at a meeting on the Graydown Race-course, a few miles from his ancient castle of Burchester. He was looking very well pleased with himself and certainly none the worse for the adventure as he sauntered among his friends, of whom a good many were present. His ugly face and wiry figure were well-known at Graydown, and he seemed sure of his welcome wherever he went.
There had been a time years before when he had kept his own stud, and racing had been his hobby. It had not held him for long. He was not the man to pursue any one object for any length of time. With characteristic volatility he had thrown up this amusement to follow others, but he had never wholly abandoned his interest in the stud which had once been his.
It was owned by one, Jake Bolton, a man of rugged exterior whose integrity had become a proverb on the Turf. This man was Saltash's erstwhile trainer, and a very curious bond existed between them. Utterly unlike in every respect, the one as subtle as the other was simple, yet the two men were friends. How it had come about neither of them quite knew. When Saltash had been his employer, Jake Bolton had distrusted and despised him, but by some means this attitude of his had become very materially modified. He greeted Saltash now with the hand of friendship which Saltash on his part was always ready to accept with a baffling smile that was not wholly without irony. He was wont to say that any man could make an enemy of him, but no man could keep him as such. Perhaps it was that very volatility of his which made anything of the nature of prolonged enmity an impossibility. He possessed also that maddening sense of humour that laughs at deadly things. A good many people had tried to take him seriously and had failed. He was never serious. As he used to say with his mocking laugh, life was difficult enough without complications of that sort. All he ever asked of it was a certain mead of enjoyment. It was utterly unreasonable to expect anything else. Happiness! What was it. A bursting bubble, no more. No lasting joy had ever come his way, and he was fain to believe that such a thing did not exist outside the covers of a book.
Jake Bolton could have told him otherwise, but he and Saltash never spoke of abstract things. Saltash might have seen the deep content in the man's eyes, but if he had, he would probably have scoffed at it. In any case there was certainly no denying that he and Bolton had been cast in different moulds, and that which gave life-long satisfaction to the latter would have held the former for possibly but a very brief period. As a woman friend who knew him well had once said of him, Charles Rex was too rapid a traveller to gather much upon the way. For though keen for pleasure, he was too restless for its enjoyment when attained. But even that friend had not fathomed all the possibilities of that strange personality. Perhaps there was only one woman in the world who would ever do that.
It was a showery spring day, and the turf of the race-course shone with a fresh greenness. Saltash strolled through the paddock to find Jake Bolton, whistling a careless air as he went. Several stable-boys saluted him as he passed, and finally a man he knew, Sam Vickers, Bolton's right-hand man, came up and accosted him.
"Are you looking for Mr. Bolton, my lord? He's round by the boxes with Sir Bernard Brian. We've got our best two-year-old round there—Prince Charlie his name is. He's by the old Hundredth Chance and Queen of the Earth. Your lordship ought to see him. He is a royalty and no mistake; tame as a dog too, and that knowing—well, there, you'd hardly believe it, but we have to talk in French sometimes so as he shan't know what we say!"