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Title: Tourmalin's Time Cheques
Author: Anstey, F.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tourmalin's Time Cheques" ***


                            TOURMALIN'S
                           TIME CHEQUES

                             F. Anstey

                             GREENHILL
                          SCIENCE FICTION
                             & FANTASY



            This edition of _Tourmalin's Time Cheques_
             first published 1986 by Greenhill Books,
       Lionel Leventhal Limited, 3 Barnham Avenue, Elstree,
                       Hertfordshire WD6 3PW

           This edition © Lionel Leventhal Limited, 1986

         All rights reserved. No part of this publication
        may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or
         transmitted in any form by any means electrical,
         mechanical or otherwise without first seeking the
               written permission of the Publisher.

          British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
                            Anstey, F.
 Tourmalin's Time Cheques.--(Greenhill Science Fiction & Fantasy)
                     Rn: Thomas Anstey Guthrie
                   I. Title 823'.8[F] PR4729.G5

                        ISBN 0-947898-48-4

                        Publishing History
      _Tourmalin's Time Cheques_ was first published in 1885,
                   by J. W. Arrowsmith, Bristol
      and is reproduced now exactly as the original edition,
                     complete and unabridged.

                          Greenhill Books
              welcome readers' suggestions for books
                that might be added to this Series.
              Please write to us if there are titles
                which you would like to recommend.

                  Printed by Antony Rowe Limited,
                      Chippenham, Wiltshire.



                             CONTENTS.


                                                              _Page_
  PROLOGUE.

  On Deck--Curry and Culture--Alternative Distractions--A
  Period of Probation--The Oath and the
  Talisman--Wavering--A Chronological Error--The
  Time Bargain--Tourmalin Opens an Account                         1

  CHAPTER I.

  =Tourmalin's First Cheque, and How he Took It.=

  Fidelity Rewarded--Love's Catechism--Brain-fag--a
  Timely Recollection--The Experiment, and some
  Startling Results--Question Time--"Dear Friends"--A
  Compromise                                                      21

  CHAPTER II.

  =The Second Cheque.=

  Furnishing--A Cosy Corner--"Sitting Out"--Fresh
  Discoveries--Twice a Hero--Bewilderment and Bathos              38

  CHAPTER III.

  =The Third Cheque.=

  Good Resolutions--Casuistry--A Farewell Visit--Small
  Profit and a Quick Return                                       52

  CHAPTER IV.

  =The Fourth Cheque.=

  A Blue Moon--Felicity in a Flat--Practical Astronomy--Temptation
  and a Relapse--The Difficulties of being
  Completely Candid--A Slight Misunderstanding--The
  Avenging Orange                                                 66

  CHAPTER V.

  =Periodic Drawings.=

  A Series of Cheques: their Advantages and Drawbacks--An
  Unknown Factor--Uncompleted Confidences--Ibsen,
  with Intervals--A Disappointment--A "Search-question"
  from Sophia--Confidence Restored                                80


  CHAPTER VI.

  =Foil and Counterfoil.=

  The Duties of Authorship--Peter's Continued Perversity
  and its Unforeseen Results--"Alfred"--The Tragic
  Note--An Interrupted Crisis--A Domestic Surprise               100


  CHAPTER VII.

  =The Culminating Cheque.=

  Sophia Gives an Explanation, and Requests One--Her
  Verdict--Peter Overruled                                       114


  CHAPTER VIII.

  =Paid in His Own Coin.=

  In Suspense: a Gleam of Comfort--Darkness Returns--The
  Rock Ahead--Sir William Lends his
  Binocular--Reappearance of an Old Enemy--A New
  Danger--Out of the Frying-pan                                  129


  CHAPTER IX.

  =Compound Interest.=

  Back to the Fire Again--A Magnanimous Return--Catching
  at Straws--Two Total Strangers--Purely
  a Question of Precedence--"Hemmed in" and "Surrounded"--The
  Last Chance                                                    145


  CHAPTER X.

  =Dénoûment=                                                    165

  =The Epilogue=                                                 170



                     TOURMALIN'S TIME CHEQUES



                     Tourmalin's Time Cheques.

THE PROLOGUE.

 _On Deck_.--_Curry and Culture_.--_Alternative
 Distractions_.--_A Period of Probation_.--_The Oath and the
 Talisman_.--_Wavering_.--_A Chronological Error_.--_The Time
 Bargain_.--_Tourmalin Opens an Account._


Mr. Peter Tourmalin was sitting, or rather lying, in a
steamer-chair on the first-class saloon-deck of the P. and O.
steamer _Boomerang_, which had not been many days as yet on the
voyage home from Sydney. He had been trying to read; but it was
a hot morning, and the curry, of which he had partaken freely at
breakfast, had made him feel a little heavy and disinclined for
mental exertion just then, particularly as Buckle's _History of
Civilisation_, the first volume of which he had brought up from the
ship's library, is not exactly light literature at any time.

He wanted distraction of some sort, but he could not summon
up sufficient energy to rise and pace the deck, as his only
acquaintance on board, a Mr. Perkins, was doing with a breezy
vigour which Tourmalin found himself feebly resenting.

Another alternative was open to him, it is true: not far away
were other deck-chairs, in which some of the lady passengers were
reading, writing, and chatting more or less languidly. There
were not very many on board--for it was autumn, a time at which
homeward-bound vessels are not apt to be crowded;--but even in that
small group there were one or two with whom it might have seemed
possible to pass a little time in a pleasant and profitable manner.
For instance, there was that tall, graceful girl in the navy-blue
skirt, and the striped cotton blouse confined at her slender waist
by a leathern belt. (Tourmalin, it should be mentioned, was in the
habit of noticing the details of feminine costume.) She had regular
features, grey eyes which lighted up whenever she spoke, and an
expression of singular nobility and sweetness; her fair hair was
fastened up in loose gleaming masses under her highly becoming
straw hat.

Peter watched her surreptitiously, from time to time, from behind
the third page of Buckle. She was attempting to read a novel; but
her attention, like his own, wandered occasionally, and he even
fancied that he surprised her now and then in the act of glancing
at himself with a certain interest.

Near her was another girl, not quite so tall, and darker, but
scarcely less pleasing in appearance. She wore a cool-looking
pink frock, and her luxuriant bronze tresses were set off by a
simple white-flannel cap. She held some embroidery in her listless
fingers, but was principally occupied in gazing out to sea with
a wistful and almost melancholy expression. Her eyes were soft
and brown, and her features piquantly irregular; giving Peter,
who considered himself no mean judge of female character, the
impression of a highly emotional and enthusiastic temperament. He
thought he saw signs that she also honoured him by her notice.

Peter was a flat-headed little man, with weak eyes and flaxen hair;
but even flat-headed little men may indulge these fancies at times,
without grossly deceiving themselves. He knew, as one does learn
such things on board ship, that the name of the first young lady
was Tyrrell, and that she was the daughter of a judge who had been
spending the Long Vacation in a voyage to recruit his health. Of
the other, he knew no more than that she was a Miss Davenport.

At present, however, he had no personal acquaintance with either of
them, and, in fact, as has already been said, knew nobody on board
to speak to, except the energetic Mr. Perkins, a cheery man with
a large fund of general information, who was going home on some
business connected with a banking house in Melbourne.

And yet it is not difficult to make acquaintances on board ship, if
a man cares to do so; accident or design will provide opportunities
in plenty, and two or three days at sea are equivalent to at least
as many weeks on shore. And Peter being quite aware of these facts,
and by no means indifferent to the society of the other sex, which,
indeed, he considered more interesting than that of his own, it
would seem that he must have had some strong reason for having kept
studiously apart from the social life on board the _Boomerang_.

He had a reason, and it was this: he was an engaged man, and
on his probation. A bachelor, still under thirty, of desultory
habits which unfitted him to shine in any profession, he had
a competency--that refuge of the incompetent--which made him
independent.

Some months previously he had had the good fortune to meet with
a lady somewhat his junior in years, but endowed with charms of
mind and character which excited his admiration and reverence. He
recognised that she supplied the qualities in which he felt himself
deficient; he was weary of the rather purposeless life he had led.
He wanted a wife who would regulate and organise his existence; and
Miss Sophia Pinceney, with her decision and her thoroughness, was
eminently the person to do it. So it was not long before he took
courage and proposed to her.

Miss Pinceney, though she had been highly educated, and possessed
a considerable fortune of her own, was by no means inclined to
look unfavourably upon such a suitor. He might not be quite her
intellectual equal, but he was anxious to improve his mind. He
was amiable and amenable, and altogether likely, under careful
guidance, to prove an excellent husband.

But she was prudent, and reason told her that the suddenness of
Peter's passion was no guarantee of its enduring qualities. She had
heard and seen too much of a rather catholic susceptibility in his
nature, to feel it safe to incur so grave a risk as marriage until
she had certain proof that his attachment to her was robust enough
to bear the severest test; and to that test she was determined to
submit him.

She consented to an engagement on one condition, that he was to
take a long voyage. If he returned in the same mind, she would
be sufficiently sure of his constancy to marry him as soon as he
wished: if he did not, her misgivings would be amply justified.
There was very little sentiment about Sophia; she took a practical
and philosophical view of the marriage union, as became a disciple
of Ibsen.

"I like you, Peter," she told him frankly; "you have many qualities
that endear you to me, but I don't feel that I can depend upon
you at present. And from what I know of you, I fear it is only
too probable that absence and the attractive society of a
passenger-ship may lead you to discover that you have mistaken the
depth of the feeling you entertain for me."

"But, look here, Sophia," he had expostulated; "if you're afraid of
that, why do you make me go?"

"Because," she had replied, with her admirable common-sense,
"because, if my fears should prove to be unhappily only too
well-founded, I shall, at least, have made the discovery before it
is too late."

And, in spite of all his protests, Peter had to go. Sophia sought
to reconcile him to this necessity by pointing out the advantages
of travel, the enlarging effect it would have upon his mind, and
the opportunities a long sea-voyage afforded for regular and
uninterrupted study on the lines she had already mapped out for
him; but, despite these consolations, he went away in low spirits.
When the moment came for parting, even the strong-minded Sophia was
seized with a kind of compunction.

"Something tells me, Peter," she said, "that the ordeal will prove
too much for you: in spite of your good resolutions, you will
sooner or later be drawn into some flirtation which will make you
forget me. I know you so well, Peter!"

"I wish you could show a little more confidence in me," he had
answered, in a wounded tone. "Since I met you, Sophia, I have
ceased to be the butterfly I was. But as you seem to doubt me, it
may relieve your mind if I promise faithfully that, while I am
away from you, I will never, under any inducement, allow myself
to overstep the limits of the most ordinary civility towards any
woman with whom I may be brought in contact. I swear it, Sophia!
Are you satisfied now?"

Perhaps he had a secret prevision that a time might come when this
oath would prove a salutary restraint upon his straying fancy,
and it certainly had an immediate and most reassuring effect upon
Sophia.

Tourmalin had gone out to Australia, had seen something of the
country during his stay in the colony, and was now, as we have
seen, on his return; and during the whole time his oath, to his
great credit, had been literally and faithfully kept.

During the voyage out, he had been too persistently unwell to be
inclined to dally with sentiment; but in his subsequent wanderings,
he had avoided, or rather escaped, all intercourse with any
Colonial ladies who might by any possibility affect his allegiance
to Sophia, whose image consequently still held undisputed
possession of his heart.

In case he should feel himself wavering at any time, he had been
careful to provide himself with a talisman in the shape of a
photograph, the mere sight of which would be instantly effectual.
But somehow, since he had been on board the _Boomerang_, the
occasions on which he had been driven to refer to this photograph
had been growing more and more frequent; while, at the same time,
he had a tormenting consciousness that it took an increasingly
longer time to work.

He brought it out now, and studied it attentively. It was the
likeness of a girl without any great pretensions to beauty, with
dark hair rolled neatly back from a massive brow that shone with
intellectuality; penetrating eyes, whose keenness was generally
tempered by folding-glasses; a large, firm mouth, and a square
chin: altogether, the face of a young woman who would stand no
trifling.

He put it back respectfully in his pocket; but the impulse to go
across and drop, in an accidental fashion, into a vacant seat
near one of those two girls was still unconquered. He was feeling
so dull; he had got such a very little way into the _History of
Civilisation_, a work which he was reading rather for Sophia's
satisfaction than his own, and there was such a lot more of it!
Might he not allow himself a brief holiday, and beguile the long
weary morning with a little cheerful conversation? It was most
unlikely, strict etiquette being by general consent suspended
on board ship, that either young lady would resent a hazarded
remark--at all events, he could but try.

But then his oath--his rash and voluntary oath to Sophia--what
of that? He had not, it was true, debarred himself from ordinary
civility; but could he be sure of keeping always within those
bounds if the acquaintanceship was once established? He had reasons
for doubting this very seriously. And, besides, had not Sophia more
than hinted in her last letter that, as a reward for his fidelity,
she might join the ship at Gibraltar with her mother, and so put an
earlier end to his term of probation? He could not be too careful.
After holding out so long, it would be madness to relax his
precautions now. No, he would resist these Sirens, like a modern
Ulysses; though, in the latter's case, the Sirens were not actually
on board, and, even then, the hero had to be lashed to the mast.
But Tourmalin felt confident, notwithstanding, that he would prove
at least as obdurate as the wily Greek.

He was not a strong-minded man; but he had one quality which is
almost as valuable a safeguard against temptation as strength of
mind--namely, timidity.

His love for his betrothed was chastened by a considerable dash of
awe, and he was resolved not to compromise himself in her eyes just
for the sake of a little temporary distraction.

At this point of his deliberations he looked at his watch: it was
close upon twelve; only one hour to be got through before tiffin.
Why, an hour was nothing; he could surely contrive to kill it over
Buckle! A little courage, a little concentration, and he would
certainly attain to an interest in "the laws which govern human
actions."

The ship's bells were just striking; he counted the strokes: one,
two, three, four, five--and no more! There must be some mistake; it
could not possibly be only half-past ten. Why, it was hours since
breakfast!

"Looking at your watch, eh?" said his friend Perkins, as he reached
Peter's chair for about the hundredth time. "Ah! you're fast, I
see. Haven't altered your watch yet? They've put the ship's clock
back again this morning; nearly half-an-hour it was this time--it
was rather less yesterday and the day before: we shall go on
gaining so much extra time a day, I suppose, till we get to Gib."

"You don't mean to tell me that!" exclaimed Peter, with a
half-suppressed groan. If the time had seemed tedious and
interminable enough before, how much more so was it now! How
infinitely greater would the effort be to fix his thoughts
resolutely on Buckle, and ignore the very existence of his
distracting neighbours, now that it was to be daily prolonged in
this exasperating manner!

"You don't seem to appreciate the arrangement?" remarked the
Manager, as he allowed himself to drop cautiously--for he was a
bulky man--into a hammock-chair beside Tourmalin.

"Appreciate it!" said Peter, with strong disgust. "Aren't there
enough half-hours, and confoundedly long ones, too, in the day
as it is, without having extra ones forced on you like this? And
giving it to us in the daytime, too! They might at least put the
clock back at night, when it wouldn't so much matter. I do think
it's very bad management, I must say!"

His companion began a long explanation about the meridian, and
sun's time, and ship's time, and Greenwich time, to which Peter
gave but a very intermittent attention, so stupefied did he feel at
this unwelcome discovery.

"It's a curious thing to think of," the other was saying
thoughtfully, "that a man, by simply making a voyage like this,
should make a clear gain of several hours which he would never
have had at all if he had stayed at home!"

"I would much rather be without them" said Peter. "I find it quite
difficult enough to spend the time as it is; and how on earth I can
spend any more, I don't know!"

"Why spend it, then?" asked his friend quietly.

"What else am I to do with it?"

"What else? See here, my friend; when you have an amount of spare
cash that you've no immediate use for, you don't let it lie idle at
home, do you? You pay it in to your credit at a bank, and let it
remain on deposit till you _do_ want it--eh? Well, then, why not
treat your spare time as you would your spare cash. Do you see what
I mean?"

"Not altogether," confessed Peter, considerably puzzled.

"It's simple enough nowadays. For instance, the establishment I
have the honour to be connected with--the Anglo-Australian Joint
Stock Time Bank Limited--confines itself, as you are doubtless
aware, almost entirely to that class of business."

"Ah!" said Peter, no more enlightened than before, "does it indeed?
Would you mind explaining what particular class of business it
carries on? I don't quite understand."

"Bless my soul, sir!" said the Manager, rather irritably, "you must
be uncommonly ignorant of financial matters not to have heard of
this before! However, I will try to make it clear to you. I daresay
you have heard that 'Time is Money'? Very well, all our operations
are conducted on that principle. We are prepared to make advances,
on good security of course, of time to almost any amount; and we
are simply overwhelmed with applications for loans. Business men,
as you may know, are perpetually pressed for time, and will consent
to almost anything to obtain it. Our transactions in time, sir, are
immense. Why, the amount of Time passing through our books annually
during the last ten years, averages--ah! about sixty centuries!
That's pretty well, I think, sir?"

He was so perfectly business-like and serious that Peter almost
forgot to see anything preposterous in what he said.

"It sounds magnificent," he said politely; "only, you see, I don't
want to borrow any time myself. I've too much on my hands already."

"Just so," said the Manager; "but if you will kindly hear me
out, I am coming to that. Lending time is only one side of our
business; we are also ready to accept the charge of any spare
time that customers may be willing to deposit with us, and, with
our experience and facilities, I need hardly say that we are able
to employ it to the best advantage. Now, say, for example, that
you wish to open an account with us. Well, we'll take these spare
half-hours of yours that are only an encumbrance to you at present,
and if you choose to allow them to remain on deposit, they will
carry interest at five per cent. per month; that is, five minutes
on every hour and three-quarters, roughly, for each month, until
you withdraw them. In that way alone, by merely leaving your time
with us for six months you will gain--now, let me see--over three
additional hours in compound interest on your original capital of
ten hours or so. And no previous notice required before withdrawal!
Let me tell you, sir, you will not find many banks do business on
such terms as that!"

"No," said Peter, who could not follow all this arithmetic, "so
I should imagine. Only, I don't quite see, if you will pardon my
saying so, what particular advantage I should gain if I did open an
account of this sort."

"You don't? You surprise me, you really do. Here are you, with
these additional hours lying idle on your hands: you didn't expect
'em, and don't want 'em. But how do you know that you _mayn't_ be
glad of 'em at some time or other? Just think how grateful you
might be hereafter, if you could get back a single one of these
half-hours which you find so tedious now. Half-an-hour on board a
fine ship like this, splendid weather, bracing sea-air, perfect
rest, pleasant company, and so on--why, you'd be willing to pay any
money for it! Well, bank your extra time; and you can draw every
individual hour in quarters, halves, or wholes, when you please and
_as_ you please. _That's_ the advantage of it, sir!"

"I think I see," said Peter: "only, how am I to make the deposit in
the first instance?"

"That's easily arranged. The captain can't compel you to accept the
time now by merely putting back the hands of the clock, can he? So,
all _you_ have to do is to abstain from altering your watch so long
as you are on board, and to fill up a little form; after which I
shall be happy to supply you with a book of Time Cheques, which you
can fill up and present whenever you wish to spend a given number
of minutes in the pleasantest possible of ways."

"But where am I to present these cheques?" inquired Peter.

"Oh!" said the Manager, "there will be no difficulty whatever about
that. Any clock will cash it for you--provided, of course, that it
hasn't stopped. You merely have to slip your cheque underneath or
behind it, and you will at once be paid whatever amount of time the
cheque is drawn for. I can show you one of our forms if you like?"

Here he brought out a bulky leather case, from which he extracted a
printed document, which he handed to Peter.

Peter, however, being naturally cautious, felt a hesitation which
he scarcely liked to confess.

"You see," he said, "the fact is, I should like to know first
... I've never been engaged in a--a transaction of this kind
before; and, well--what I mean is, do I incur any risk of--er--a
supernatural character?... It isn't like that business of Faust's,
eh, don't you know?"

The Manager took back the paper with an abruptness which showed
that his temper was ruffled by this suspicion.

"My good sir!" he said, with a short offended laugh, "don't, on
any account, imagine that _I_ care two pins whether you become
a depositor or not. I daresay our house will continue to exist
without your account. As for liability, ours is a limited concern;
and, besides, a deposit would not constitute you a shareholder. If
you meant anything more--well, I have still to learn that there's
anything diabolical about _me_, sir! I simply thought I was doing
you a good turn by making the suggestion; and, besides, as a
business man, I never neglect any opportunity, however small. But
it's entirely as you please, I'm sure."

There was nothing in the least demoniacal, even in his annoyance,
and Peter was moved to contrition and apology.

"I--I really beg your pardon!" he said. "I do hope I haven't
offended you; and, if you will allow me, I shall consider it a
personal favour to be allowed to open an account with your bank.
It would certainty be a great convenience to draw some of this
superfluous time at some future day, instead of wasting it now.
Where do I sign the form?"

The Manager was appeased; and produced the form once more,
indicating the place for the signature, and even providing a
stylograph-pen for the purpose. It was still somewhat of a relief
to Peter's mind to find that the ink it contained was of the
ordinary black hue.

"And now, about cheques," said his friend, after the signature had
been obtained. "How many do you think you would require? I should
say that, as the deposit is rather small, you will find fifty more
than sufficient? We shall debit you with fifty seconds to cover the
cheque-book. And we always recommend 'bearer' cheques as, on the
whole, more convenient."

Peter said he would have fifty "bearer" cheques, and was
accordingly given an oblong grey-green book, which, except that
it was a trifle smaller, was in nowise different, outwardly, from
an ordinary cheque-book. Still, his curiosity was not completely
satisfied.

"There is just one question more," he said. "When I draw this time,
where will it be spent?"

"Why, naturally, on board this ship," explained the Manager. "You
see that the time you will get must necessarily be the extra time
to which you are entitled by virtue of your passage, and which you
_would_ have spent as it accrued if you had not chosen to deposit
it with us. By the way, when you are filling up cheques, we much
prefer not to be called upon to honour drafts for less than fifteen
minutes; as much more as you like, but not less. Well, then, we
may consider that settled. I am extremely glad to have had the
opportunity of obliging you; and I think I can promise that you
will have no reason to repent of having made such a use of your
time. I'll wish you good-bye for the present, sir!"

The Manager resumed his hygienic tramp round the deck, leaving
Peter with the cheque-book in his hand. He was no longer surprised:
now that he was more familiar with the idea, it seemed a perfectly
natural and matter-of-fact arrangement; he only wondered that
he had never thought of so obvious a plan before. And it was an
immense relief to know that he had got rid of his extra hours for
the present, at all events, and that he could now postpone them to
a period at which they would be a boon rather than a burden.

And very soon he put the cheque-book away, and forgot all about
it. The Story.



CHAPTER I.

Tourmalin's First Cheque, and How he Took It.

_Fidelity Rewarded_.--_Love's Catechism_.--_Brain-fag_.--_A
Timely Recollection_.--_The Experiment, and some Startling
Results_.--_Question Time_.--"_Dear Friends_."--_A Compromise_.


Peter Tourmalin's probation was at an end, and, what was more, he
had come through the ordeal triumphantly. How he managed this, he
scarcely knew; no doubt he was aided by the consciousness that the
extra hours which he felt himself most liable to mis-spend had
been placed beyond his disposal. At all events, when he met Sophia
again, he had been able to convince her that her doubts of his
constancy, even under the most trying conditions, were entirely
undeserved. Now he was receiving his recompense: his engagement to
Sophia was no longer conditional, but a recognised and irrevocable
fact. It is superfluous to say that he was happy. Sophia had set
herself to repair the deficiencies in his education and culture;
she took him to scientific lectures and classical concerts, and
made him read standard authors without skipping. He felt himself
daily acquiring balance and seriousness, and an accurate habit of
thought, and all the other qualities which Sophia wished him to
cultivate.

Still, there were moments when he felt the need of halting and
recovering his wind, so to speak, in the steep and toilsome climb
to her superior mental level--times when he felt that his overtaxed
brain absolutely required relaxation of some sort.

He felt this particularly one dreary morning, late in November, as
he sat in his London chambers, staring with lack-lustre eyes at the
letter he had that day received from his betrothed. For although
they met nearly every day, she never allowed one to pass without
a letter--no fond and foolish effusion, be it understood, but a
kind of epistolary examination-paper, to test the progress he was
making. This one contained some searching questions on Buckle's
_History of Civilisation_, which he was expected to answer by
return of post. He was not supposed to look at the book, though he
had; and even then he felt himself scarcely better fitted to floor
the tremendous posers devised by Sophia's unwearying care.

The day before, he had had "search-questions" in English poetry
from Chaucer to Mr. Lewis Morris, which had thinned and whitened
his hair; but this was, if possible, even worse.

He wished now that he had got up his Buckle more thoroughly during
his voyage on the _Boomerang_--and, with the name, his arrangement
with the Manager suddenly rose to his recollection. What had he
done with that book of Time Cheques? If he could only get away, if
but for a quarter of a hour--away from those sombre rooms, with
their outlook on dingy housetops and a murky rhubarb-coloured
sky,--if he could really exchange all that for the sunniness and
warmth and delicious idleness which had once seemed so tedious,
what a rest it would be! And would he not return after such an
interlude with all his faculties invigorated, and better able to
cope with the task he now found almost insuperable?

The first thing was to find the cheque-book, which did not take him
long; though when he had found it, something made him pause before
filling up a cheque. What if he had been made a fool of--if the
Anglo-Australian Joint Stock Time Bank Limited never existed, or
had suspended payment? But that was easily settled by presenting a
cheque. Why should he not, just by way of experiment? His balance
was intact as yet; he was never likely to need a little ready time
more than he did just then. He would draw the minimum amount,
fifteen minutes, and see how the system worked.

So, although he had little real confidence that anything would
happen at all, he drew a cheque, and slipped it behind the
frivolous and rather incorrect little ormolu clock upon his
chimneypiece.

The result was instantaneous, and altogether beyond his
expectations! The four walls of his room assumed the transparency
of gauze for a second, before fading entirely away; the olive fog
changed to translucent blue; there was a briny breath in the air,
and he himself was leaning upon the rail at the forward end of the
hurricane-deck of the _Boomerang_, which was riding with a slow and
stately rise and fall over the heaving swell.

That was surprising enough; but more surprising still was the
discovery that he was apparently engaged in close and confidential
conversation with a lovely person in whom he distinctly recognised
Miss Tyrrell.

"Yes, I forgive you, Mr. Tourmalin," she was saying, with an
evident effort to suppress a certain agitation; "but indeed,
_indeed_, you must never speak to me like that again!"

Now, as Peter was certainly not conscious of ever having spoken to
her at all in his life, this was naturally a startling and even
embarrassing beginning.

But he had presence of mind enough to take in the position of
affairs, and adapt himself to them. This was one of the quarters
of an hour he _would_ have had, and it was clear that in some
portion or other of his spare time he would have made Miss
Tyrrell's acquaintance in some way. Of course, he ought to have
been paid that particular time first; but he could easily see from
her manner, and the almost tender friendliness which shone in her
moistened eyes, that at this period they had advanced considerably
beyond mere acquaintanceship. There had been some little mistake
probably; the cheques had been wrongly numbered perhaps, or else
they were honoured without regard to chronological sequence, which
was most confusing.

Still, he had nothing to do but conceal his ignorance as well as he
could, and pick up the loose threads as he went along. He was able,
at all events, to assure her that he would not, if he could help
it, incur her displeasure by speaking to her "like that" in future.

"Thanks," she said. "I know it was only a temporary forgetfulness;
and--and if what you suspect should prove to be really true--why,
then, Mr. Tourmalin, then, of course, you may come and tell me so."

"I will," he said; "I shall make a point of it. Only," he thought
to himself, "she will have to tell me first _what_ I'm to tell her."

"And in the meantime," she said, "let us go on as before, as if you
had never brought yourself to confide your sad story to me."

So he had told a sad story, had he? he thought, much bewildered;
for, as he had no story belonging to him of that character, he was
afraid he must have invented one, while, of course, he could not
ask for information.

"Yes," he said, with great presence of mind, "forget my unhappy
story--let it never be mentioned between us again. We will go on
as before--_exactly_ as before."

"It is our only course," she agreed. "And now," she added, with a
cheerfulness that struck him as a little forced, "suppose we talk
of something else."

Peter considered this a good suggestion, provided it was a subject
he knew a little more about; which, unhappily, it was not.

"You never answered my question," she reminded him.

He would have liked, as Ministers say in the House, "previous
notice of that question;" but he could hardly say so in so many
words.

"No," he said. "Forgive me if I say that it is a--a painful subject
to me."

"I understand that," she said, gently (it was more than _he_ did);
"but tell me only this: was it _that_ that made you behave as you
did? You are sure you had no _other_ reason?"

["If I say I had," thought Peter, "she will ask me what it was."]
"I will be as frank as possible, Miss Tyrrell," he replied. "I had
_no_ other reason. What other reason _could_ I have had?"

"I half fancied--but I ought to have seen from the first that,
whatever it was, it was not that. And now you have made everything
quite clear."

"I am glad you find it so," said Peter, with a touch of envy.

"But I might have gone on misunderstanding and misjudging, putting
you down as proud and cold and unsociable, or prejudiced, but
for the accident which brought us together, in spite of your
determination that we should remain total strangers!"

It was an _accident_ which had made them acquainted, then? He would
draw the cheque which contained that episode of his extra time
sooner or later; but it was distinctly inconvenient not to have at
least _some_ idea of what had happened.

"A fortunate accident for me, at all events!" he said, with a
judicious recourse to compliment.

"It might have been a very unfortunate one for poor papa,"
she said, "but for you. I do believe he would have been quite
inconsolable."

Peter felt an agreeable shock. Had he really been fortunate enough
to distinguish himself by rescuing the Judge's fair daughter from
some deadly peril? It looked very like it. He had often suspected
himself of a latent heroism which had never had an opportunity of
being displayed. This opportunity must have occurred, and he have
proved equal to the occasion, in one of those extra hours!

"I can quite imagine that he would be inconsolable indeed!" he
said gallantly. "Fortunately, I was privileged to prevent such a
calamity."

"Tell me again exactly _how_ you did it," she said. "I never quite
understood."

Peter again took refuge in a discreet vagueness.

"Oh," he replied, modestly, "there's not much to tell. I saw
the--er--danger, and knew there wasn't a moment to lose; and then I
sprang forward, and--well, you know the rest as well as I do!"

"You only just caught him as he was going up the rigging, didn't
you?" she asked.

So it was the Judge he had saved--not his daughter! Peter felt a
natural disappointment. But he saw the state of the case now: a
powerful judicial intellect overstrained, melancholia, suicidal
impulses--it was all very sad; but, happily, he had succeeded in
saving this man to his country.

"I--ventured to detain him," he said, considerately, "seeing that
he was--er--rather excited."

"But weren't you afraid he would bite you?"

"No," said Peter, pained at this revelation of the Judge's
condition, "that possibility did _not_ occur to me. In fact, I am
sure that--er--though the strongest intellects are occasionally
subject to attacks of this sort, he would never so far forget
himself as to--er--bite a complete stranger."

"Ah!" she said, "you don't know what a savage old creature he
can be sometimes. He never ought to be let loose; I'm sure he's
dangerous!"

"Oh! but think, Miss Tyrrell," remonstrated Peter, unmistakably
shocked at this unfilial attitude towards a distinguished parent;
"if he was--er--dangerous, he would not be upon the Bench now,
surely!"

She glanced over her shoulder, with evident apprehension.

"How you frightened me!" she said. "I thought he was really there!
But I hope they'll shut him up in future, so that he won't be able
to do any more mischief. You didn't tell me how you got hold of
him. Was it by his chain, or his tail?"

Peter did not know; and, besides, it was as difficult for him to
picture himself in the act of seizing a hypochondriacal judge by
his watch-chain or coat-tail, as it was for him to comprehend the
utter want of feeling that could prompt such a question from the
sufferer's own daughter.

"I hope," he said, with a gravity which he intended as a rebuke--"I
hope I treated him with all the respect and consideration possible
under the--er--circumstances.... I am sorry that that remark
appears to amuse you!"

For Miss Tyrrell was actually laughing, with a merriment in which
there was nothing forced.

"How can I help it?" she said, as soon as she could speak. "It is
too funny to hear you talking of being regretful and considerate to
a horrid monkey!"

"A _monkey!_" he repeated involuntarily.

So it was a monkey that was under restraint, and not a Judge of Her
Majesty's Supreme Court of Judicature: a discovery which left him
as much in the dark as to what particular service he had rendered
as ever, and made him tremble to think what he might have said. But
apparently, by singular good fortune, he had not committed himself
beyond recovery; for Miss Tyrrell only said:

"I thought you were speaking of the monkey, the little wretch that
came up behind papa and snatched away all his notes--the notes he
had made for the great case he tried last term, and has to deliver
judgment upon when the Courts sit again. Surely he told you how
important they were, and how awkward it would have been if the
monkey had escaped with them, and torn them into pieces or dropped
them into the sea?--as he probably would have done, but for you!"

"Oh, ah, yes!" said Peter, feeling slightly crestfallen, for he had
hoped he had performed a more dashing deed than catching a loose
monkey. "I believe your father--Sir John?" he hazarded ... "Sir
William, of course, thank you ... did mention the fact. But it
really was such a trifling thing to do."

"Papa didn't think so," she said. "He declares he can never be
grateful enough to you. And, whatever it was," she added softly,
and even shyly, "I, at least, can never think lightly of a service
which has--has made us what we are to one another."

_What they were to one another!_ And what was _that_? A dreadful
uncertainty seized upon Peter. Was it possible that, in some way he
did not understand, he was engaged to this very charming girl, who
was almost a stranger to him? The mere idea froze his blood; for if
that was so, how did it affect his position towards Sophia? At all
hazards, he must know the worst at once!

"Tell me," he said, with trembling accents,--"I know you have
told me already, but tell me once more--precisely what we are to
one another at present. It would be so much more satisfactory to
my mind," he added, in a deprecatory tone, "to have that clearly
understood."

"I thought I had made it quite clear already," she said, with the
least suspicion of coldness, "that we can be nothing more to one
another than friends."

The relief was almost too much for him. What a dear, good, sensible
girl she was! How perfectly she appreciated the facts!

"_Friends!_" he cried. "Is that _all_? Do you really mean we are
nothing more than friends?"

He caught her hand, in the fervour of his gratitude, and she
allowed it to remain in his grasp; which, in the altered state of
things, he found rather pleasant than otherwise.

"Ah!" she murmured, "don't ask me for more than I have said--more
than I can ever say, perhaps! Let us be content with remaining
friends--dear friends, if you like--but no more!"

"I will," said Peter promptly, "I will be content. Dear friends, by
all means; but no more!"

"No," she assented; "unless a time should come when----"

"Yes," said Peter, encouragingly, as she hesitated. "You were about
to say, a time when----?"

Her lips moved, a faint flush stole into her cheeks; she was about
to complete her sentence, when her hand seemed to melt away in his
own, and he stood, grasping the empty air, by his own mantelpiece.
The upper deck, the heaving bows, the blue seaboard, Miss Tyrrell
herself, all had vanished; and in their stead were the familiar
surroundings of his chamber, the grimy London house fronts,
and Sophia's list of questions lying still unanswered upon his
writing-table! His fifteen minutes had come to an end; the cheque
was nowhere to be seen. The minute-hand of his clock had not moved
since he last saw it; but this last circumstance, as he saw on
reflection, was only natural, for otherwise the Time Deposit would
have conferred no real advantage, as he would never have regained
the hours he had temporarily foregone.

For some time Peter sat perfectly still, with his head between
his hands, occupied in a mental review of this his initial
experience of the cheque-book system. It was as different as
possible from the spell of perfect rest he had anticipated; but
had it been unpleasant on that account? In spite of an element of
mystification at starting, which was inevitable, he was obliged
to admit to himself that he had enjoyed this little adventure
more than perhaps he should have done. With all his attachment to
Sophia, he could hardly be insensible to the privilege of suddenly
finding himself the friend--and more than that, the dear friend--of
so delightful a girl as this Miss Tyrrell.

There was a strange charm, a peculiar and quite platonic tenderness
about an intimacy of this peculiar and unprecedented nature, which
increased at every fresh recollection of it. It increased so
rapidly indeed, that almost unconsciously he drew the cheque-book
towards him, and began to fill up another cheque with a view to an
immediate return to the _Boomerang_.

But when he had torn the cheque out, he hesitated. It was all quite
harmless: the most severe moralist could not convict him of even
the most shadowy infidelity towards his _fiançée_, if he chose to
go back and follow up a purely retrospective episode like this--an
episode which interested and fascinated him so strongly--only, what
would Sophia say to it? Instinctively, he felt that the situation,
innocent as it was, would fail to commend itself to her. He had no
intention of informing her, it was true; but he knew that he was a
poor dissembler--he might easily betray himself in some unguarded
moment, and then---- No! it was vexing, no doubt; but, upon the
whole, it was wiser and better to renounce those additional hours
on board the _Boomerang_ altogether--to allow this past, that never
had, but only might have been, to remain unsummoned and unknown for
ever. Otherwise, who could tell that, by gradual assaults, even
such an affection as he had for Sophia might not be eventually
undermined?

But this fear, as he saw the next moment, was almost too
extravagant to be seriously taken into account. He felt nothing,
and never could feel anything, but warm and sincere friendship
for Miss Tyrrell; and it was satisfactory to know that she was in
no danger of mistaking his sentiments. Still, of course there was
always a certain risk, particularly when he was necessarily in
ignorance of all that had preceded and followed the only colloquy
they had had as yet. At last he decided upon a compromise: he
would not cash that second cheque for the present, at all events;
he would reserve it for an emergency, and only use it if he was
absolutely driven to do so as a mental tonic. Perhaps Sophia would
not compel him to such a necessity again; he hoped--at least, he
_thought_ she would not.

So he put the unpresented cheque in an inner pocket, and set to
work with desperate energy at his examination-paper; although
his recent change must have proved less stimulating to his jaded
faculties than he had hoped, since Sophia, after reading his
answers, made the cutting remark that she scarcely knew which he
had more completely failed to apprehend--the purport of his author,
or that of the very simple questions she had set him.

Peter could not help thinking, rather ruefully, that Miss Tyrrell
would never have been capable of such severity as that; but, then,
Miss Tyrrell was not his _fiançée_, only a very dear friend, whom
he would, most probably, never meet again.



CHAPTER II.

The Second Cheque.

 _Furnishing._--_A Cosy Corner._--_"Sitting Out."_--_Fresh
 Discoveries._--_Twice a Hero._--_Bewilderment and Bathos._


The knowledge that one has a remedy within reach is often as
effectual as the remedy itself, if not more so; which may account
for the fact that, although a considerable number of weeks had
elapsed since Peter Tourmalin had drawn his second cheque on the
Anglo-Australian Joint Stock Time Bank Limited, that cheque still
remained unpresented.

The day fixed for his wedding with Sophia was drawing near; the
flat in the Marylebone Road, which was to be the scene of their
joint felicity, had to be furnished, and this occupied most of
his time. Sophia took the entire business upon herself, for she
had scientific theories on the subject of decoration and colour
harmonies which Peter could only accept with admiring awe; but,
nevertheless, she required him to be constantly at hand, so that
she could consult him after her own mind had been irrevocably made
up.

One February afternoon he was wandering rather disconsolately
about the labyrinthine passages of one of the monster upholstery
establishments in the Tottenham Court Road, his chief object
being to evade the courtesies of the numerous assistants as they
anxiously inquired what they might have the pleasure of showing
him. He and Sophia had been there since mid-day; and she had sat
in judgment upon carpets which were brought out, plunging like
unbroken colts, by panting foremen, and unrolled before her in a
blinding riot of colour. Peter had only to express the mildest
commendation of any carpet to seal that carpet's doom instantly; so
that he soon abstained from personal interference.

Now Sophia was in the ironmongery department, choosing kitchen
utensils, and his opinion being naturally of no value on such
matters, he was free to roam wherever he pleased within the limits
of the building. He felt tired and rather faint, for he had had no
lunch; and presently he came to a series of show-rooms fitted up as
rooms in various styles: there was one inviting-looking interior,
with an elaborate chimneypiece which had cosy cushioned nooks on
either side of the fireplace, and into one of these corners he sank
with heartfelt gratitude; for it was a comfortable seat, and he had
not sat down for hours. But as his weariness wore away, he felt the
want of something to occupy his mind, and searched in his pockets
to see if he had any letters there--even notes of congratulation
upon his approaching marriage would be better than nothing in his
present reduced condition. But he had left all his correspondence
at his chambers. The only document he came upon was the identical
time cheque he had drawn long ago: it was creased and rumpled; but
none the less negotiable, if he could find a clock. And on the
built-up chimneypiece there was a clock, a small _faience_ affair
surmounted by a Japanese monster in peacock-blue. Moreover, by some
chance, this clock was actually going--he could hear it ticking as
he sat there. Should he present his cheque or not? He was feeling a
little aggrieved at Sophia's treatment of him, she had snubbed him
so unmercifully over the carpets; it was pleasant to think that,
if he chose, he could transport himself that very instant to the
society of a sweet and appreciative companion from whom snubbing
was the last thing to be apprehended.

Yes; Sophia's treatment quite justified him in making an exception
to the rule he had laid down for himself--he _would_ present that
cheque. And he rose softly from his seat and pushed the cheque
under the little timepiece....

As before, his draft was honoured immediately: he found himself
on a steamer-chair in a sheltered passage between two of the
deck-cabins. It was night, and he could not clearly distinguish any
objects around him for some little time, owing to the darkness;
but from a glimmer of white drapery that was faintly visible close
by, he easily inferred that there was another chair adjoining his,
which could only be occupied by Miss Tyrrell. He could just hear
the ship's band playing a waltz at the further end of the ship; it
was one of the evenings when there had been dancing, and he and
Miss Tyrrell were sitting out together.

All this he realised instantly, and not without a thrill of
interest and expectation, which, however, the first words she
uttered were sufficient to reduce to the most prosaic perplexity.

"What have I said?" she was moaning, in a voice hardly recognisable
from emotion and the fleecy wrap in which her face was
muffled,--"oh! what _have_ I said?"

Peter was naturally powerless to afford her any information on this
point, even if she really required it; he made a rapid mental note
to the effect that their intimacy had evidently made great progress
since their last interview.

"I'm afraid," he said, deciding that candour was his only course,
"I can't exactly tell you what you did say; for, as a matter of
fact, I didn't quite catch it."

"Ah! you say that to spare me," she murmured: "you _must_ have
heard; but, promise me you will forget it?"

"Willingly," said Peter, with the greatest readiness to oblige; "I
will consider it forgotten."

"If I could but hope that!" she said. "And yet," she added,
recklessly, "why should I care what I say?"

"To be sure," agreed Tourmalin at random, "why _should_ you, you
know?"

"You must have seen from the first that I was very far from being
happy?"

"I must confess," said Peter, with the air of a man whom nothing
escaped, "that I _did_ observe that."

"And you were right! Was it unnatural that I should be nothing but
grateful to the chance which first brought us together?"

"Not at all," said Peter, delighted to feel himself on solid ground
again; "indeed, if I may speak for myself, I have even greater
reason to feel grateful to that monkey."

"To _what_ monkey?" she exclaimed.

"Why, naturally, my dear Miss Tyrrell, to the animal which was the
unconscious instrument in making us acquainted. You surely cannot
have forgotten already that it _was_ a monkey?"

She half rose with an impetuous movement, the mantilla fell from
her face, and, even in the faint starlight, he could perceive that,
beautiful as that face undoubtedly was, it was as certainly not the
face of Miss Tyrrell!

"_You_ seem to have forgotten a great deal," she retorted, with
a suppressed sob in her voice, "or you would at least remember
that my name is Davenport. Why you should choose to call me Miss
Tyrrell, whom I don't even know by sight, I can't conceive!"

Here was a discovery, and a startling one! It appeared that he
had not merely one, but two dear friends on board this P. and O.
steamer; and the second seemed, if possible, even dearer than the
first! He must have made the very most of those extra hours!

There was one comfort, however, Miss Davenport did not, contrary
to his impression, know Miss Tyrrell; so that they need not
necessarily clash--still, it was undeniably awkward. He had to get
out of his mistake as well as he could, which was but lamely.

"Why, of _course_," he protested, "I know _you_ are Miss Davenport.
Most stupid of me to address you as Miss Tyrrell! The--the only
explanation I can offer is, that before I had the pleasure of
speaking to you, I was under the impression that your proper name
was _Tyrrell_, and so it slipped out again just then from habit."

This--though the literal, if not the moral, truth--did not seem to
satisfy her entirely.

"That may be so," she said, curtly; "still, it does not explain why
you should address me as _Miss_ Anybody, after asking and receiving
permission, only last night, to call me by my Christian name!"

Obviously, their relations were even closer than he had imagined.
He had no idea they had got as far as Christian names already, any
more than he had of what hers might happen to be.

There was a painful want of method in the manner this Time Bank
conducted its business, as he could not help remarking to himself;
however, Peter, perhaps from the very timidity in his character,
developed unexpected adroitness in a situation of some difficulty.

"So you did!" he said. "You allowed me to call you by
your--er--Christian name; but I value such a privilege too highly
to use it--er--indiscriminately."

"You are very strange to-night!" she said, with a plaintive and
almost childish quiver of the lip. "First you call me 'Miss
Tyrrell' and then 'Miss Davenport,' and then you will have it that
we were introduced by a monkey! As if I should ever allow a monkey
to introduce _anybody_ to me! Is saving a girl's life such an
ordinary event with you, that you forget all about such a trifle?"

This last sentence compensated Peter for all that had gone before.
Here was a person whose life he really _had_ saved; and his heart
warmed to her from that moment. Rescuing a girl from imminent
bodily peril was a more heroic achievement than capturing the most
mischievous of monkeys; and, besides, he felt it was far more in
his style. So it was in his best manner he replied to her question:

"It would be strange, indeed," he said, reproachfully, "if I
could ever forget that I was the humble means of preserving you
from--from a watery grave"--(he risked the epithet, concluding that
on a voyage it could hardly be any other description of grave; and
she did not challenge it, so he continued)--"a watery grave; but
I _had_ hoped you would appreciate the motive which restrained me
from--er--seeming to dwell upon such a circumstance."

This appeal, unprincipled as it was, subdued her instantly.

"Oh, forgive me!" she said, putting out her hand with the prettiest
penitence. "I might have known you better than that. I didn't mean
it. Please say you forgive me, and--and call me Maud again!"

Relief at being supplied with a missing clue made Peter reckless;
indeed, it is to be feared that demoralisation had already set in;
he took the hand she gave him, and it did not occur to him to let
it go immediately.

"Maud, then," he said obediently; "I forgive you, Maud."

It was a prettier name to pronounce than Sophia.

"How curious it is," she was saying, dreamily, as she nestled
comfortably in her chair beside him, "that, up to the very moment
when you rushed forward that day, I scarcely gave your existence a
thought! And now--how little we ever know what is going to happen
to us, do we?"

["Or what _has_ happened, for that matter!" he thought.] This time
he would not commit himself to details until he could learn more
about the precise nature of his dauntless act, which he at once
proceeded to do.

"I should very much like to know," he suggested, "what your
sensations were at that critical moment."

"My sensations? I hardly know," she said. "I remember leaning
over the--bulwarks, is it?" (Peter said it _was_ bulwarks)--"the
bulwarks, watching a sailor in a little balcony below, who was
doing something with a long line----"

"Heaving the lead," said Peter; "so he was--go on!"

He was intensely excited; it was all plain enough: she had lost
her balance and fallen overboard; he had plunged in, and gallantly
kept her above water till help arrived. He had always known he was
capable of this sort of thing; now he had proved it!

"--When all at once," she continued, "I felt myself roughly
dragged back by somebody--that was you! I was rather angry for the
moment, for it _did_ seem quite a liberty for a total stranger to
take,--when, that very instant, I saw the line with a great heavy
lump of lead at the end of it whirled round exactly where my head
had been, and then I knew that I owed my life to your presence of
mind!"

Peter was more than disappointed--he was positively disgusted at
this exceedingly tame conclusion; it _did_ seem hard that, even
under conditions when any act of daring might have been possible to
him, he could do nothing more brilliant than this. It was really
worse than the monkey business!

"I'm afraid you make too much of the very little I did," he said.

"Do I? Perhaps that is because if you had not done it, we should
never have come to know one another as we do!" (So far, it was a
very one-sided sort of knowledge, Peter thought.) "And yet," she
added, with a long-drawn sigh, "I sometimes think that we should
both be happier if we never _had_ known one another; if you had
stood aside, and the lead had struck me, and I had died!"

"No, no!" said Peter, unfeignedly alarmed at this morbid
reflection, "you mustn't take such a gloomy view of it as all that,
you know!"

"Why not?" she said, in a sombre tone. "It _is_ gloomy--_how_
gloomy I know better than you!" ("She might well do that," thought
Tourmalin.) "Why did I not see that I was slowly, imperceptibly
drifting--drifting?"

"Well," said Peter, with a levity he was far from feeling, "if the
drifting was imperceptible, you naturally _wouldn't_ see it, you
know!"

"You might have spared a joke at such a time as this!" she cried,
indignantly.

"I--I wasn't aware there was a close time for jokes," he said,
humbly; "not that it was much of a joke!"

"Indeed it was not," she replied. "But oh, Peter, _how_ we have
both drifted!"

"Have we?" he exclaimed, blankly. "I--I mean--_haven't_ we?"

"I was so blind--so wilfully, foolishly blind! I told myself we
were friends!"

"Surely we are?" he said, retaking possession of her hand; he
had entirely forgotten Sophia in the ironmongery department, at
Tottenham Court Road. "I--I understood we were on that footing?"

"No," she said; "let us have no subterfuges any more--we must look
facts in the face. After what we have both said to-night, we can
no longer deceive ourselves by words.... Peter," she broke off
suddenly, "I am going to ask you a question, and on your answer my
fate--and yours too, perhaps--will depend! Tell me truthfully...."
Her voice failed her for the moment, as she bent over towards him,
and clutched his arm tightly in her excitement; her eyes shone with
a wild, intense eagerness for his reply.... "Would you----" she
repeated....

"Would you have the bottle-jack all brass, or japanned? The brass
ones are a shilling more."

Peter gave a violent start, for the voice in which this most
incongruous and irrelevant question was put was that of Sophia!

Miss Davenport with her hysterical appeal, the steamer-chairs,
and the starlight, all had fled, and he stood, supporting himself
limply by the arm of the chimney-nook in the upholsterer's
showroom, staring at Sophia, who stood there, sedate and
practical, inviting his attention to a couple of bottle-jacks
which an assistant was displaying with an obsequious smile: the
transition was rather an abrupt one.

"Oh, I think the brass one is very nice," he stammered, feebly
enough.

"Then that settles it," remarked Sophia; "we'll take the _japanned_
one, please," she said to the assistant.

"Aren't you feeling well, Peter dear?" she asked presently, in an
undertone. "You look so odd!"

"Quite well," he said; "I--ah!--was thinking of something else for
the moment, and you startled me, that's all."

"You had such a far-away expression in your eyes," said Sophia,
"and you did jump so when I spoke to you; you should really try to
conquer that tendency to let yourself wander, Peter."

"I will, my love," he said; and he meant it, for he had let himself
wander farther than he quite intended.



CHAPTER III.

The Third Cheque.

 _Good Resolutions._--_Casuistry._--_A Farewell Visit._--_Small
 Profit and a Quick Return._


As the reader may imagine, this second experience had an effect
upon Peter that was rather deterrent than encouraging.

It was a painful piece of self-revelation to find that, had he
chosen to avail himself of the extra hours on board the _Boomerang_
as they occurred, he would have so employed them as to place
himself in relations of considerable ambiguity towards two distinct
young ladies. How far he was committed to either, or both, he could
not tell; but he had an uneasy suspicion that neither of them would
have been quite so emotional had he conducted himself with the same
prudence that had marked his behaviour throughout the time which he
_was_ able to account for.

And yet his conscience acquitted him of any actual default; if he
had ever really had any passages at all approaching the sentimental
with either Miss Tyrrell or Miss Davenport, his mind could hardly
be so utterly blank on the subject as it certainly was. No; at
the worst, his failings were only potential peccadillos, the kind
of weaknesses he might have given way to if he had not wisely
postponed the hours in which the occasions were afforded.

He had had a warning, a practical moral lesson which had merely
arrived, as such things often do, rather after date.

But, so far as it was possible to profit by it, he would: at
least, he would abstain from making any further inroads upon the
balance of extra time which still remained to his credit at the
bank; he would draw no further cheques; he would return to that
P. and O. steamer no more. For an engaged man whose wedding-day
was approaching by leaps and bounds, it was, however innocent, too
disturbing and exciting a form of distraction to be quite safely
indulged in.

The resolution cost him something, nevertheless. Peter was not a
man who had hitherto been spoilt by feminine adoration. Sophia was
fond of him, but she never affected to place him upon any sort of
pinnacle; on the contrary, she looked down upon him protectingly
and indulgently from a moral and intellectual pedestal of her own.
He had not objected to this, in fact he rather liked it, but
it was less gratifying and stimulating to his self-esteem than
the romantic and idealising sentiments which he had seemingly
inspired in two exceedingly bewitching young persons with whom
he felt so much in sympathy. It was an agreeable return from
the bread-and-butter of engaged life to the _petits fours_ of
semi-flirtation. After all, Peter was but human, and a man is
seldom esteemed for being otherwise. He could not help a natural
regret at having to abandon experiences which, judging from the
fragmentary samples he had obtained, promised so much and such
varied interest. That the interest was not consecutive, only made
it the more amusing,--it was a living puzzle-picture, the pieces of
which he could fit together as he received them. It was tantalising
to look at his cheque-book and feel that upon its leaves the rest
of the story was written, but that he must never seek to decipher
it: it became so tantalising, that he locked the cheque-book up at
last.

But already some of the edge had worn off his resolution, and he
had begun to see only the more seductive side of interviews which,
at the time, had not been free from difficulty and embarrassment.
Having put himself beyond the reach of temptation, he naturally
began to cast about for some excuse for again exposing himself to
it.

It was the eve of his wedding-day; he was in his chambers for the
last time, and alone, for he would not see Sophia again until he
met her in bridal array at the church door, and he had no bachelor
friends whom he cared to invite to help him to keep up his spirits.

Peter was horribly restless and nervous; he needed a sedative of
some kind, and even trying on his wedding garments failed to soothe
him, as he felt almost certain there was a wrinkle between the
shoulders, and it was too late to have it altered.

The idea of one more visit to the _Boomerang_,--one more interview,
the last, with one or other of his amiable and fascinating
friends--it did not matter very much which,--presented itself in a
more and more attractive light. If it did nothing else, it would
provide him with something to think about for the rest of the
evening.

Was it courteous, was it even right, to drop his friends without
the slightest apology or explanation? Ought he not, as a gentleman
and a man of honour, to go back and bid them "Good-bye"? Peter,
after carefully considering the point, discovered that it was
clearly his duty to perform this trifling act of civility.

As soon as he had settled that, he got out his cheque-book from
the despatch-box, in which he had placed it for his own security,
and, sitting down just as he was, drew another fifteen minutes, and
cashed them, like the first, at the ormolu clock....

This time he found himself sitting on a cushioned bench in the
music-room of the _Boomerang_. It was shortly after sunset, as he
could tell from the bar of dusky crimson against the violet sea,
which, framed in the ports opposite, rose and sank with each roll
of the ship. There was a swell on, and she rolled more than he
could have wished.

As he expected, he was not alone; but, as he had _not_ expected,
his companion was neither Miss Tyrrell nor Miss Davenport, but a
grim and portly matron, who was eyeing him with a look of strong
disfavour, which made Peter wish he had not come. "What," he
wondered, "was he in for now?" His uneasiness was increased as he
glanced down upon his trousers, which, being new and of a delicate
lavender tint, reminded him that in his impatience he had come away
in his wedding garments. He feared that he must present rather an
odd appearance on board ship in this festal attire; but there he
would have to stay for the next quarter of an hour, and he must
make the best of it.

"I repeat, Mr. Tourmalin," said the matron, "you are doubtless
not unprepared for the fact that I have requested a few minutes'
private conversation with you?"

"Pardon me," said Peter, quaking already at this alarming opening,
"but I am--very much unprepared." "Surely," he thought, "this could
not be _another_ dear friend? No, that was too absurd--he must have
drawn the line _somewhere_!"

"Then permit me to enlighten you," she said raspingly. "I sent
for you, at a time when we are least likely to be interrupted, to
demand an explanation from you upon a very delicate and painful
matter which has recently come to my knowledge."

"_Oh!_" said Peter--and nothing more. He guessed her purpose at
once: she was going to ask him his intentions with regard to her
daughter! He could have wished for some indication as to whether
she was Lady Tyrrell or Mrs. Davenport; but, as he had none at
present, "Oh" seemed the safest remark to make.

"Life on board a large passenger-ship, Mr. Tourmalin," she went on
to observe, "though relaxed in some respects, is still not without
decencies which a gentleman is bound to respect."

"Quite so," said Peter, unable to discover the bearings which lay
in the application of this particular observation.

"You _say_ 'Quite so'; but what has your _behaviour_ been, sir?"

"That," said Peter, "is exactly what I should like to know myself!"

"A true gentleman would have considered the responsibility he
incurred by giving currency to idle and malicious gossip!"

His apprehensions were correct then: it _was_ one of the young
ladies' mothers--but _which?_

"I can only assure you, madam," he began, "that if unhappily I
have--er--been the means of furnishing gossip, it has been entirely
unintentional."

She seemed so much mollified by this, that he proceeded with more
confidence:

"As to anything I may have said to your daughter----" when she
almost bounded from her seat with fury.

"My _daughter_, sir! Do you mean to sit there and tell me that you
had the audacity to so much as hint of such a thing to my daughter,
of all people?"

"So--so much depends on who your daughter is!" said Peter,
completely losing his head.

"You dared to strike this cruel and unmanly blow at the
self-respect of a sensitive girl--to poison her defenceless ears
with your false, dastardly insinuations--and you can actually admit
it?"

"I don't know whether I can admit it or not yet," he replied.
"And--and you do put things so very strongly! It is like this: if
you are referring to any conversation I may have had with Miss
Tyrrell----"

"_Miss Tyrrell?_ You have told her _too!_" exclaimed this terrible
old matron, thereby demonstrating that, at least, she was not Lady
Tyrrell.

"I--I _should_ have said Miss Davenport," said Peter, correcting
himself precipitately.

"Miss Davenport as well? Upon my word! And pray, sir, may I ask
how many other ladies on board this ship are in possession of your
amiable confidences?"

He raised his hands in utter despair.

"I can't say," he groaned. "I don't really know what I may have
said, or whom I may have said it to! I--I seem to have done so much
in my spare time, but I never meant anything!"

"It may be so," she said; "indeed, you hardly seem to me
accountable for your actions or you would not appear in such a
ridiculous costume as that, with a sprig of orange-blossom in your
button-hole and a high hat, too!"

"I quite feel," said Peter, blushing, "that such a costume must
strike you as inappropriate; but--but I happened to be trying them
on, and--rather than keep you waiting----"

"Well, well, sir, never mind your costume--the question is, if
you are genuinely anxious to repair the wrong you have done, what
course do you propose to take?"

"I will be perfectly frank with you, madam," said Peter: "I am not
in a position to repair any wrong I have done--if I _have_ done any
wrong (which I don't admit)--by taking any course whatever!"

"You are _not_!" she cried. "And you tell me so to my face?"

After all, reflected Peter, why should he be afraid of this old
lady? In a few more minutes he would be many hundreds of miles
away, and he would take very good care not to come back again. He
felt master of the situation, and determined to brazen it out.

"I do, madam!" he said, crossing his legs in an easy fashion, "Look
at it from a reasonable point of view. There is safety in numbers;
and if I have been so unfortunate as to give several young ladies
here an entirely erroneous impression, I must leave it to you to
undeceive them as considerately but distinctly as you can. For
me to make any selection would only create ill-feeling among the
rest; and their own good sense will show them that I am forbidden
by the laws of my country, which I am the last person to set at
defiance,--that I am forbidden (even if I were free in other
respects, which I am not) to marry them all!"

"The only possible explanation of your conduct is, that you are not
in your right mind!" she said. "Who in the world spoke or dreamed
of your marrying any one of them? Certainly not _I_!"

"Oh!" said Peter, hopelessly fogged once more. "I thought I might
unintentionally have given them grounds for some such expectation.
I'm very glad I was mistaken. You see, you must really make
allowances for my utter ignorance----"

"If this idiotic behaviour is not a mere feint, sir, I can make
allowances for much; but, surely, you are at least sufficiently in
your proper senses to see how abominably you have behaved?"

"Have I?" said Peter, submissively. "I don't wish to contradict
you, if you say so, I'm sure. And, as I have some reason to believe
that my stay on board this ship will not last very much longer, I
should like before I go to express my very sincere regret."

"There is an easy way of proving your sincerity, sir, if you choose
to avail yourself of it," she said. "I find it very difficult
to believe, from the evident feebleness of your intellect, that
you can be the person chiefly responsible for this scandal. Am I
correct in my supposition?"

"You are, madam," said Peter. "I should never have got myself
into such a tangle as this, if I had not been talked over by Mr.
Perkins. I don't know if I can succeed in making myself clear, for
the whole business is rather complicated; but I can try to explain
it, if you will only have a little patience."

"You have said quite enough," she said. "I know all I wish to
know now. So it was Mr. Perkins, who has been using you as his
instrument, was it?"

"Certainly," said Peter; "but for him, nothing of this would have
happened."

"You will have no objection to repeating that statement, should I
call upon you to do so?"

"No," said Peter, who observed with pleasure that her wrath against
himself was almost entirely moderated; "but you will have to call
_soon_, or I shall have gone. I--I don't know if I shall have
another opportunity of meeting Mr. Perkins; but if I did, I should
certainly tell him that I do _not_ consider he has treated me quite
fairly. He has put me in what I may call a false position, in
_several_ false positions; and if I had had the knowledge I have
now, I should have had nothing to do with him from the first. He
entirely misled me over this business!"

"Very well, sir," she said; "you have shown a more gentlemanly
spirit, on the whole, than I expected. I am glad to find that
your evil has been wrought more by want of thought than heart. It
will be for you to complete your reparation when the proper time
arrives. In the meantime, let this be a warning to you, sir, never
to----" ...

But here Peter made the sudden discovery that he was no longer
in the music-room of the _Boomerang_, but at home in his old
easy-chair by his bachelor fireside.

"Phew!" he muttered to himself, "that was a bad quarter of an hour
while it lasted! What an old she-dragon it was! But she's right--it
_is_ a warning to me. I mustn't--I really must _not_ draw any more
of these confounded time cheques. I've made that ship too hot to
hold me already! I'd better remain for ever in contented ignorance
of how I spent that extra time, than go on getting into one mess
after another like this! It was a wonder I got out of this one as
well as I did; but evidently that old woman knew what Perkins is,
and saw _I_ wasn't to blame. Now she'll explain the whole affair to
all those girls (whoever they may be), and pitch into Perkins--and
serve him right! _I'm_ out of it, at any rate; and now, thank
goodness, after to-morrow I shall have nothing to do but live
contentedly and happily with dearest Sophia! I'd better burn this
beastly cheque-book--I shall never want it again!"

It would have been well for Peter if he had burnt that
cheque-book; but when it came to the point, he could not bring
himself to destroy it. After all, it was an interesting _souvenir_
of some very curious, if not unique, experiences; and, as such, he
decided to preserve it.



CHAPTER IV.

The Fourth Cheque.

_A Blue Moon.--Felicity in a Flat.--Practical Astronomy.--Temptation
and a Relapse.--The Difficulties of being Completely Candid.--A
Slight Misunderstanding.--The Avenging Orange._


Peter Tourmalin enjoyed his honeymoon extremely, in a calm, sober,
and rational manner. Sophia discouraged rapture; but, on the
other hand, no one was better fitted to inspire and sustain an
intelligent interest in the wonders of Geology; and, catching her
scientific enthusiasm, Peter spent many happy hours with her along
the cliffs, searching for fossil remains. In fact, the only cloud
that threatened to mar their felicity at all was an unfortunate
tendency on his part to confuse a trilobite with a graptolite, a
blunder for which Sophia had no tolerance. He was hazy about his
periods, too, until she sent up to town for Lyell's great work on
the subject as a birthday surprise for him, and he read it aloud
to her on the sands. Altogether, it was a peaceful, happy time.

And never once in the whole course of his honeymoon did he
seriously entertain the possibility of making any further use of
his book of blank Time Cheques. If he had contemplated it, no harm
would have been done, however, as the book was lying amongst his
neglected papers at his former chambers.

He felt no poignant regret when the month came to an end, and they
returned to town to take possession of their Marylebone flat: for
what was it but shifting the scene of their happiness? And after
this had taken place, Peter was still too much occupied to have
leisure for idle and mischievous thoughts. Marrying Sophia was,
indeed, like loving Sir Richard Steele's fair lady, "a liberal
education;" and Peter enjoyed the undivided benefit of her rare
talent for instruction.

He had been giving his attention to Astronomy of late, an unguarded
remark of his having betrayed to Sophia the extreme crudity of
his ideas respecting that science, and she had insisted upon his
getting a popular primer, with diagrams, and mastering it as a
preliminary to deeper study.

One evening he was in the smaller room of the two that, divided
by an arch, served for study and drawing-room combined; and he was
busily engaged in working out a simple practical illustration,
by the aid of one of the aforesaid diagrams. The experiment
required a lamp, a ball of cotton, and an orange transfixed by a
knitting-needle, and it had something to do with the succession of
the seasons, solar and lunar eclipses, and the varying lengths of
day and night on different portions of our globe, though he was not
very clear what.

"Don't you find you understand the inclination of the moon's orbit
to the plane of the ecliptic better now?" said Sophia, as she came
through the arch.

"I think I shall, as soon as I can get the moon to keep steadier,"
he said, with more hope than he felt; "and it's rather hard to
remember whereabouts I am supposed to be on this orange."

"I must get you something to make that clearer," she said; "and you
haven't tilted the orange nearly enough. But leave it for a moment;
I've brought you in this packet of letters and things the people
at your old rooms have just sent down. I wish, while I am away--I
shall be back in a minute,--you would just run over them, and tell
me if there are any papers you want kept, or if they may all be
burnt."

While she was gone, he undid the string which fastened the packet,
and found, at the bottom of a mass of bills and documents of no
value, the small oblong cheque-book which he had vowed never to
see again. Somehow, as his eyes rested on its green cover, the old
longing came upon him for a complete change of air and scene. He
felt as if he _must_ get away from that orange: there were no lamps
but electric lights, and no oranges, on board the _Boomerang_.

But then, his last visit had not turned out a success: what if he
were to find he had drawn another quarter of an hour with that
irate matron of the music-room?

However, he had left her, as he remembered, in a comparatively
pacific mood. She understood him better now; and besides, thanks to
the highly erratic system (if there was any system) on which the
payments were made, the chances were immensely against his coming
across the same old lady twice running. He thought he would risk
that.

It was much more likely that he would meet Miss Tyrrell or Miss
Davenport, or it might even be another person to whom he was
unconsciously allied by the bond of dear friendship. The only
question was, how far he could trust himself in such companionship.
But here he felt himself guilty of a self-distrust that was
unworthy of him. If, on the two previous occasions, he could
not call to mind that he had entertained any deeper sentiment
for either young lady than a cordial and sympathetic interest,
was it likely that, now he was a married man, he would be more
susceptible? He was as devoted to his Sophia as ever, but the
wear and tear of several successive evenings spent in elementary
Astronomy were telling upon his constitution. Such high thinking
did not agree with him: he wanted a plainer mental diet for a
change. Fifteen minutes spent in the society of someone with a mind
rather less cultivated than his wife's would be very restful. Then,
when he came back, he would give his whole mind to the orange again.

In short, all Peter's good resolutions were thrown overboard once
more, and he wrote out a cheque for the usual amount in desperate
fear lest Sophia might return before he could get it honoured. He
felt a certain compunction, even then, in presenting it to the
severe and intensely respectable black marble timepiece which
recorded the flying hours of his domestic bliss. He almost doubted
whether it would countenance so irregular a proceeding; but,
although it was on the verge of striking nine, it cashed the cheque
without hesitation....

It was mid-day: Peter was sitting on a folding seat, protected from
the scorching sun by the awning which was stretched above and along
the exposed side of the deck, and, to his great satisfaction, he
found Miss Tyrrell reclining in a deck-chair between himself and
the railing, and a pleasant picture of fresh and graceful girlhood
she presented.

As usual, he was not in time for the beginning of the conversation,
for she was evidently commenting upon something he had said.

"How delightful it sounds!" she was saying, "and what a free,
unfettered kind of life yours must be, Mr. Tourmalin, from your
description!"

Now, this was awkward; because he must have been giving her an airy
description of his existence as the bachelor and butterfly he had
ceased to be. He answered guardedly, awaiting his opportunity to
lead up to a disclosure of the change in his circumstances since
they had last met.

"It is pleasant enough," he said. "A little dull at times,
perhaps," he added, thinking of the orange.

She laughed.

"Oh, you mustn't expect me to pity you!" she said. "I don't believe
you need ever be dull, unless you choose. There must always be
friends who are glad to see you."

"I am glad to think," said Peter, "that, when I do feel dull, I
have at least one friend--one dear friend--from whom I may count
upon a welcome!"

He accompanied this speech with such a look, that she could not
well pretend to mistake his meaning; and the next moment he
regretted it, for he saw he had gone too far.

"That is a very pretty speech," she said, with a faint flush; "but
isn't it a little premature, Mr. Tourmalin, considering that we
have scarcely known one another two days!"

For the moment, Peter had forgotten the want of consecutiveness
in these eccentric Time Cheques. This interview should by rights
have preceded the first he had had with her. He felt annoyed with
himself, and still more with the unbusinesslike behaviour of the
Bank.

"I--I was anticipating, perhaps," he said. "But I assure you that
we shall certainly _be_ friends--I may even go so far as to say,
dear friends--sooner or later. You see if I am not right!"

Miss Tyrrell smiled.

"Are you sure," she said, with her eyes demurely lowered--"are you
sure that there is nobody who might object to our being on quite
such intimate terms as that?"

Peter started. Could she possibly have guessed, and how much did
she know?

"There could be nothing for anybody to object to," he said. "Are
you--er--referring to any person in particular?"

She still kept her eyes down, but then she was occupied just at the
moment in removing a loose splinter of bamboo from the arm of her
chair.

"You mustn't think me curious or--or indiscreet, if I tell you,"
she said; "but before I knew you to speak to, I--I couldn't help
noticing how often, as you sat on deck, you used to pull something
out of your pocket and look at it."

"My watch?" suggested Peter, feeling uncomfortable.

"No, not your watch; it looked more like--well, like a photograph."

"It may have been a photograph, now you mention it," he admitted.
"Well, Miss Tyrrell?" "Well," she said, "I often amuse myself by
making up stories about people I meet--quite strangers, I mean.
And, do you know, I made up my mind that that photograph was the
portrait of someone--some lady you are engaged to. I should so much
like to know if I was right or not?"

Here was Peter's opportunity of revealing his real status, and
preventing all chance of future misunderstanding. It was not too
late; but still it might be best and kindest to break the news
gradually.

"You were partly right and partly wrong," he said: "that was the
portrait of a lady I was--er--_once_ engaged to."

Unless Peter was very much mistaken, there was a new light in her
face, an added brightness in her soft grey eyes as she raised them
for an instant before resuming her labours upon the wicker-chair.

"Then you mean," she said softly, "that the engagement is broken
off?"

Peter began to recognise that explanation was a less simple affair
than it had seemed. If he said that he was no longer engaged but
_married_ to the original of that photograph, she would naturally
want to know why he had just led her to believe, as he must have
done, that he was still a careless and unattached bachelor: she
would ask _when_ and _where_ he was married; and how could he give
a straightforward and satisfactory answer to such questions?

And then another side of the case struck him. As a matter of fact
he was undeniably married; but would he be strictly correct in
describing himself as being so _in this particular interview?_ It
belonged properly to the time he had made the voyage home, and he
was certainly not married _then_.

In the difficulty he was in, he thought it best to go on telling
the truth until it became absolutely impossible, and then fall back
on invention.

"The fact is, Miss Tyrrell," he said, "that I can't be absolutely
certain whether the engagement is ended or not at this precise
moment."

Her face was alive with the sweetest sympathy.

"Poor Mr. Tourmalin!" she said, "how horribly anxious you must be
to get back and know!"

"Ah!" said Peter, "yes, I--I shall know when I get home, I suppose."

And he sighed; for the orange recurred once more to his reluctant
memory.

"Don't tell me if it pains you too much," she said gently. "I only
ask because I do feel so sorry for you. Do you think that, when you
do get home, you will find her married?"

"I have every reason for believing so," he said.

"That will be a terrible blow for you, of course?"

"A blow?" said Peter, forgetting himself. "Good gracious me, no!
Why _should_ it be? I--I mean, I shall be prepared for it, don't
you know!"

"Then it's not so bad after all?" she said.

"It's not at all bad!" said Peter, with a vague intention of
loyalty to Sophia. "I like it!"

"I think I understand," she said slowly: "you will not be sorry to
find she has married; but she may tell you that she never had the
least intention of letting you go so easily?"

"Yes," said Peter, "she may tell me that, certainly"--("if she
finds out where I've been," he added, mentally).

"And," she continued, "what would you do then?"

"I suppose," he said--"I suppose I should have to do whatever she
wished."

"Yes!" she agreed warmly, "you _will_ do that, even if it costs
you something, won't you? Because it will be the only right, the
only honourable course to take--you will be the happier for it in
the end, Mr. Tourmalin, I am sure you will!"

After all, it seemed to him that she must understand about the Time
Cheques--or, why should she urge him to give them up if Sophia
demanded such a sacrifice?

"No, I shall not," he said; "I shall miss these times terribly. You
don't know what they are to me, or you wouldn't speak like that!"

"Mr. Tourmalin!" she cried, "I--I must not listen to you! You can't
possibly mean what you seem to mean. It is wrong--wrong to me, and
wrong to her--to say things that--that, for all you know, you are
not free to say! Don't let me think badly of you!"

Peter was absolutely horrified! What had he said to agitate her
like that? He had merely meant to express the pleasure he found
in these brief and stolen visits to the _Boomerang;_ and she had
misconstrued him like this! At all hazards, he must explain now, if
it took him days to make it clear.

"My dear Miss Tyrrell," he protested earnestly, "you quite
misunderstood me--you did, indeed! Pray be calm, and I will
endeavour to make my position a little clearer than I'm afraid I
have done. The worst of it is," he added, "that the whole thing has
got into such a muddle that, for the life of me, I can't exactly
make out what my position is at the present moment!"

"You can if you will only recollect that you are this
mourning-pin," said a familiar voice; and, with the abruptness
characteristic of the Time Cheque system, he was back in his study,
staring at the ground glass globe of the lamp and the transfixed
orange. The clock behind him was striking nine, and Sophia was
offering him a pin with a big black head.

"Oh! am I the mourning-pin?" he repeated, helplessly.

"Really, Peter," said Sophia, "I think the pin, just at this
moment, has the more intelligent expression of the two. Do try to
look a little less idiotic! Now, see; you stick the pin into the
orange to represent your point of view, and then keep on twirling
it slowly round."

So Peter twirled the orange slowly round for the remainder of the
evening, though his thoughts were far away with Miss Tyrrell. He
was wondering what she could have thought of him, and, worse
still, what she would think if she could see him as he was employed
at that moment?

"I tell you what we must do, Peter,--when you get a little more
advanced," said Sophia, enthusiastically, that evening, "we must
see if we can't pick up a small secondhand orrery somewhere--it
would be so nice to have one!"

"Oh, delightful!" he said, absently.

He was not very clear as to what an orrery was, unless it was the
dusty machine that was worked with handles at sundry Assembly-room
lectures he had attended in early youth. But of one thing he
felt grimly certain--that it was something which would render it
necessary to draw more Time Cheques!



CHAPTER V.

Periodic Drawings.

_A Series of Cheques: their Advantages and Drawbacks.--An Unknown
Factor.--Uncompleted Confidences.--Ibsen, with Intervals.--A
Disappointment.--A "Search-question" from Sophia.--Confidence
Restored'._


Whether it was natural sin on Peter's part, or an excusable
spirit of revolt against the oppression of an orrery which Sophia
succeeded in picking up a great bargain at an auction somewhere,
his drafts on the Anglo-Australian Joint Stock Time Bank Limited
did not end with the one recorded in the preceding chapter.

And, which was more discreditable still, he no longer pretended
to himself that he meant to stop until his balance was completely
exhausted. His only care now was to economise, to regulate his
expenditure by spreading his drawings over as long a period as
possible. With this object he made a careful calculation, and found
there were still several hours to his credit; whereupon, lest he
should yield to the temptation of drawing too much at any one time,
he made out a number of cheques for fifteen minutes apiece, and
limited himself to one a week--an allowance which, even under the
severest provocation, he rarely permitted himself to exceed.

These weekly excursions, short as they were, were a source of the
greatest comfort to him, especially now that he had thrown off any
idea of moral responsibility.

By degrees he possessed himself of most of the back-numbers,
if they may be so termed, of his dual romance. At one time, he
found himself being presented by the grateful Sir William to
his daughter; and now that he knew what service he had rendered
the Judge, he was less at sea than he would certainly have been
otherwise. Another time, he discovered himself in the act of
dragging Miss Davenport unceremoniously back from the bulwarks;
but here again his memory furnished him with the proper excuse
for conduct which, considering that he was not supposed to be
acquainted with her, he might have found it difficult to account
for satisfactorily. So, after all, there did seem to be a sort
of method in the operation of the Time Cheques, arbitrary as it
appeared.

One fact that went far to reconcile him to his own conscience
was the circumstance that, though the relations he stood in
towards both young ladies varied at each interview with the most
bewildering uncertainty, so that one week he would be upon the
closest and most confidential terms, and the next be thrown back
into the conventional formality of a first introduction--these
relations never again approached the dangerous level of sentiment
which had so alarmed him.

He flattered himself that the judicious attitude he was adopting to
both was correcting the false impressions which might have--and for
that matter actually had--been given.

He was always pleased to see them again, whichever one it was; they
were simply charming friends--frank, natural, unaffected girls--and
not too clever. Sometimes, indeed, he recognised, and did his best
to discourage, symptoms of a dawning tenderness on their part which
it was not in his power to reciprocate.

Peter was in no danger of losing his heart to either; possibly the
attractions of each served as a conductor to protect him from the
influence of the other. He enjoyed their society, their evident
appreciation of all he said and did, but that was all; and as they
recognised that there could be no closer bond than that of cordial
friendship between them, he was relieved of all misgivings.

Surely it was a blameless and legitimate manner, even for a married
man, of spending the idle moments which belonged properly to the
days of his bachelorhood! Still, he did not confide this harmless
secret of his to Sophia; he might tell her when it was all over,
but not so long as her disapproval could affect his plans. And he
had an instinct that such a story as he had to tell would fail to
appeal to a person of her accurately logical habit of mind.

So, on one occasion when he discovered that he had lost one of the
loose cheques he now carried constantly about with him, it was with
a feeling very like panic that he reflected that he might have
dropped it about the house, where its unusual form would inevitably
provoke Sophia's curiosity; and he was much reassured when he was
able to conclude, from the fact that she made no reference to it,
that he must have lost it out of doors.

It must have been some time after this before his serenity again
met with a slight shock: he was walking up and down the deck with
Miss Davenport--it happened to be one of the days when he knew her
very well indeed.

"Sometimes," she was saying, "I feel as if I _must_ speak to
somebody!"

"You know where you will always find a very willing listener!" he
said, with a kind of fatherly floweriness that he felt sat well
upon him.

"I didn't mean you," she said,--"to some girl of my own age, I
meant."

"Oh!" said Peter, "well, that's a very natural feeling, I'm sure. I
can quite understand it!"

"Then you wouldn't mind--you wouldn't be angry if I did?" she said,
looking up at him with her great childishly serious eyes.

"My dear child," said Peter, getting more fatherly every moment,
"how could I possibly object to your speaking to any lady on board
if you want to?"

He would have liked to make one or two exceptions, perhaps; but he
thought he had better not.

"I am so glad," she said, "because I did--this very morning. I did
so want someone to advise me--to tell me what a girl ought to do,
what she would do herself in my place."

"Ah!" said Peter, sympathetically, "it is--er--a difficult position
for you, no doubt."

"And for you, too!" she said quickly; "remember that."

"And for me _too_, of course," said Peter, assenting, as he always
did now from habit, to anything he did not understand at the
moment. "My position might be described as one of--er--difficulty,
certainly. And so you asked advice about yours, eh?"

"I couldn't very well help myself," she said. "There was a girl,
a little older than I am, perhaps, sitting next to me on deck,
and she mentioned your name, and somehow--I hardly know how it
came about--but she seemed so kind, and so interested in it all,
that--that I believe I told her everything.... You aren't _angry_
with me, are you, Peter?"

She had been making a _confidante_ of Miss Tyrrell! It was awkward,
extremely awkward and annoying, if, as he began to fear, her
confidences were of a tender character.

"I--I am not exactly angry," he said; "but I do think you might be
more careful whom you speak to. What did you tell her?"

"_All!_" she said, with the same little quiver in her underlip he
had noticed before.

"That is no answer," said Peter (it certainly was none for him).
"Tell me _what_ you said?"

"I--I told her about you, and about me ... and--and about _him!_"

"Oh!" said Peter, "about me, and you, and him? Well, and--and how
did she _take_ it?"

"She didn't say very much; she turned very pale. It was rather
rough at the time, and I don't think she can be a very good sailor;
for before I had even finished she got up and went below, and I
haven't seen her since."

"But you told her about 'him'?" he persisted; "and when you say
'him,' I presume you refer to----?"

Here he paused expectantly.

"Of course!" she answered, with a touch of impatience. "Whom else
should I be _likely_ to refer to?"

"It's excessively absurd!" said Peter, driven to candour at last.
"I--I remember perfectly that you did mention all the circumstances
at the time: but I've a shocking memory for names; and, just for
the minute, I--I find it difficult to recall where 'he' comes in
exactly. Curious, isn't it?"

"Curious?" she said, passionately; "it's _abominable!_"

"It is," agreed Peter; "I quite admit that I _ought_ to know--only,
I _don't_."

"This is cruel, unmanly!" she said, brokenly. "How _could_ you
forget--how can you insult me by _pretending_ that you could forget
such a thing as that? It is odious of you to make a--a joke of it
all, when you know perfectly well that----"

"My--my dear young lady!" he declared, as she left her speech
unfinished, "I am as far from any disposition to be jocular as ever
I was in my life. Let me beg you to be a little more explicit. We
seem to have got into a trifling misunderstanding, which, I am
sure, a little patience will easily put right." ...

"Put right?" said Sophia, behind him. "I was not aware, Peter, that
the clock was out of order. What is the matter with it?"

He almost staggered back from the chimneypiece, upon which he had
found himself leaning in an attitude of earnest persuasion.

"I--I was only thinking, my love," he said, "that it wanted
regulating."

"If it does," said Sophia, "you are hardly the proper person to do
it, Peter. The less you meddle with it the better, I should think!"

"Perhaps so, my dear Sophia, perhaps so!" said Peter, sitting down
with the utmost docility.

He had narrowly escaped exciting suspicion. It was fortunate that
there was nothing compromising in the few words she had overheard,
but he must not allow himself to be caught so near the clock again.

He was not a little disturbed by the tenor of this last interview.
It was bad enough that in some way he seemed to have seriously
displeased Miss Davenport; but, besides that, he could not
contemplate without uneasiness the probable effect which her
confidences, whatever their exact purport, might have upon Miss
Tyrrell. For hitherto he had seen no necessity to mention to one
young lady that he was even distantly acquainted with the other.
As he never by any chance drew them both together, there seemed no
object in volunteering such information.

But this only made him more apprehensive of a scene when his next
turn with Miss Tyrrell arrived. Perhaps, he thought, it would be
wiser to keep away from the _Boomerang_ for a week or two, and give
them all time to calm down a little.

However, he had the moral, or rather the immoral, courage to
present a cheque as usual at the end of the next week, with results
that were even less in accordance with his anticipations than
before.

It came about in this way: He was comfortably seated by the
fireplace opposite Sophia in a cosy domesticated fashion, and was
reading to her aloud; for he had been let off the orrery that
evening. The book he was reading by Sophia's particular request was
Ibsen's _Doll's House_, and it was not the fault of the subject
(which interested her deeply), but of Peter's elocution, which was
poor, that, on glancing from the text, he found that she had sunk
into a profound and peaceful slumber.

It was a chance he had been waiting for all day. He was rather
tired of Nora, with her innocence and her macaroons, her tarantella
and her taradiddles, her forgery and her fancy dress, and he had
the cheque by him in readiness; so he stole on tiptoe to the
mantelpiece, slipped the paper under the clock, and was just in
time to sink back into his easy-chair, before it turned out to be
one of the revolving-seats in the dining-saloon on the _Boomerang_.

There was a tumbler of whisky-and-seltzer on the table in front
of him, and he was sitting in close confabulation with his former
acquaintance, Mr. Perkins, the Bank Manager.

"That's precisely what I don't know, sir, and what I'm determined
to find out!" were the first words he heard from the latter
gentleman, who looked flushed and angry. "But it's a scandalous
thing, isn't it?"

"Very," said Peter, rather bored and deeply disappointed; for the
Manager was but an indifferent substitute for the companion he had
been counting upon. "Oh, very!"

"Have you happened to hear anything said about it yourself?"
inquired his friend.

"Not a word!" said Peter, with the veracity he always endeavoured
to maintain on these occasions.

"To go and shift a statement of that kind on to my shoulders like
that, it's like the fellow's confounded impudence!"

For the moment Peter felt a twinge: could the other be referring to
anything he had said himself in the music-room? But the Manager was
evidently not angry with _him_, so it must be some other fellow.
Only, Peter decided not to allude to the faulty working of the Time
Cheques, as he had half-intended to do. Perkins was not in the
mood for remonstrances just then.

"Most impudent, I must say," he replied. "By-the-way," he added
carelessly, "what was the statement exactly?"

"Why, God bless my soul, sir!" cried the Manager, with unnecessary
vehemence, "haven't I been telling you the whole story? Didn't
you just ask me who the fellow was who has brought me into this
business?"

"So I did," said Peter, "and--and who _was_ he?"

"Your attention seems very wandering this evening! Why, I told you
the old woman wouldn't give me his name."

Peter's alarm returned at this allusion to an old woman: what old
woman could it be but the terrible matron whom he had encountered
in the music-room? However, it was fortunate that she had not
mentioned any names: if Perkins knew that he had put all the blame
of his entanglements upon the Manager's broad shoulders, he would
certainly consider it an ungrateful return for what was intended as
a kindness.

"So you said before," he remarked; "some old women are so
obstinate!"

"Obstinate? That's the first sensible remark you've made for a
long while!" said his candid friend. "I should think she was
obstinate! Why, I talked myself hoarse trying to make that old
harridan believe that I was as innocent as an unborn babe of any
responsibility for this precious scandal--that I'd never so much as
heard it breathed till she told me of it: but it wasn't any good,
sir; she would have it that I was the originator!"

("So you were!" thought Peter, though he prudently refrained from
saying so.)

"She's going to kick up the dooce's own delight as soon as she
meets her brother; and all I could get her to say was that then,
and not till then, she would give me an opportunity of having it
out with the cowardly villain, whoever he may be, that has dared to
lay all this gossip at _my_ door!"

Peter did not quarrel with this arrangement of the old lady's, for
he would certainly not be on board the _Boomerang_ when she arrived
at Plymouth.

"Ah!" he said, with as much interest as he could display in a
subject that did not concern him, "he'll find that unpleasant, I
daresay."

"I think he will!" said Mr. Perkins, emphatically. "Unless he
retracts his infamous calumny, I--I'll kick him from one end of
the ship to the other!"

Involuntarily Peter's eyes sought his friend's boots, which, as he
sat in a corner seat with his feet extended, were much in evidence;
they were strong, suitable boots, stouter than those generally worn
on a sea-voyage, and Peter could not repress a slight shudder.

"From one end of the ship to the other," he repeated; "that--that's
rather a long way!"

"Quite long enough for him, though not nearly long enough for me!"
said the Manager. "I'll teach him to mix me up in these squabbles,
when I find him, sir--when I find him! Here, steward, bring some
more of these dry biscuits: you'll have some more, won't you?"

But Peter was not in the vein for dry biscuits at that moment, and
the Manager continued:

"By-the-by, _you_ might help me in this if you only will. I want to
find out if I can before we reach Gib, who this fellow is, but the
less I talk about the affair the better."

"Oh! yes," said Peter. "I--I wouldn't talk about it at all, if I
were you."

"No, I daresay you're right--can't be too careful with an old
cat like that. Well, what I want you to do is to try and find
out--quietly, you know--who this infernal fellow is!"

"Well, I daresay I could do that," said Peter.

"No one would think a mild, innocent-looking little chap like you
had any particular motive for asking: you might ask some of the men
in the smoking-room, and pick up some clue or other."

"So I might," said Peter,--"good idea!"

"Or, I'll tell you what--you might pump the old lady for me, eh?"

"I don't think I quite care about pumping the old lady," said
Peter, "but anything else I'll do with pleasure."

"Thanks," said the Manager; "that's a good fellow. I knew I could
depend upon you!"

"You can," replied Peter, "though, I fancy," he added,
soothingly,--"indeed, I am sure you will find that the old woman
has made a good deal out of nothing at all." ...

"_What_ old woman, Peter?" asked Sophia with drowsy asperity. "Not
Mrs. Linden, surely!"

Mrs. Linden! Was that the name of the old she-dragon of the
music-room? Why, of course not; he was in his arm-chair by his own
fire, reading Ibsen to his wife!

"I don't know, indeed, my love--it _may_ be Mrs. Linden," he
answered cautiously.

"Nonsense!" said Sophia, crossly. "She's not meant to be old in the
play, and _who_ says 'the old woman has made a good deal out of
nothing'? Helmer, or Doctor Rank, or Krogstad, or who? You do read
so badly, it's quite impossible to make out!"

"_No_ one says it, my dear Sophia; at least, it's not in my edition
of the text. You--you must have imagined it, I think!"

"I certainly thought I heard you read it out," she replied; "but
your voice is so monotonous, that it's just possible I dropped off
for a minute or two."

"I dropped off myself about the same time," he confessed
hypocritically.

"You wouldn't drop off, or allow me to drop off either, Peter,"
said Sophia, who was now thoroughly awake again, "if you felt a
more intelligent interest in the tremendous problem Ibsen has set
in this play. I don't believe you realise in the least what the
lesson is that he means to teach; now _do_ you, Peter?"

"Well, I'm not sure that I do altogether, my love," he admitted.

"I thought as much! What Ibsen insists upon is, the absolute
necessity of one-ness between man and wife, Peter. They must belong
to each other, complete each other--they must be Twin Souls. Are
_you_ a Twin Soul, Peter?"

"Upon my word, my dear, I can't say!" he replied, in some
perplexity. In the present very divided state of his sympathies, he
could not help thinking that his Soul was more like a Triplet.

"But think," persisted Sophia, earnestly: "have you shared all your
Past with me? Is there nothing you have kept back--no feelings, no
experiences, which you confine to your own bosom? When you left me
to take that voyage, you promised that nothing should induce you to
be more than civil to any woman, however young and attractive, with
whom Fate might bring you in contact. I want you to tell me, Peter,
whether, when you were returning home on board the _Boomerang_, you
kept that promise or not?"

Fortunately for him, she put her question in a form which made it
easy to give a satisfactory and a truthful answer.

"When I was returning home on board the _Boomerang_," he said, "I
did not, to the best of my recollection and belief, exchange two
words with any female whatever, attractive or otherwise--until,"
he added, with a timely recollection that she had come on board at
Gibraltar,--"until I met you. You pain me with these suspicions,
Sophia--you do, indeed!"

"I believe you, Peter," she said, moved by his sincerity, which,
paradoxical as it may sound, was quite real; for his intentions had
been so excellent throughout, that he felt injured by her doubts.
"You have never told me a falsehood yet; but for some time I have
been tormented by a fancy that you were concealing something from
me. I can hardly say what gave me such an impression,--a glance, a
tone, trifles which, I am glad to think now, had not the importance
I invested them with. Ah, Peter, never treat me as Helmer did Nora!
Never shut me out from the serious side of your life, and think to
make amends by calling me your 'little lark,' or your 'squirrel;'
you must not look upon me as a mere doll!"

"My _dear_ Sophia!" he exclaimed, "I should never think of
addressing you as either a squirrel or a lark; and anyone less like
a doll in every respect, I never met!"

"I hope you will always think so, Peter," she said; "for I tell you
frankly, that if I once discovered that you had ceased to trust me,
that you lived in a world apart into which I was not admitted,
that very moment, Peter, I should act just as Nora did--I should
leave you; for our marriage would have ceased to be one in any true
sense of the word!"

The mere idea of being abandoned by Sophia made him shiver. What a
risk he had been running, after all! Was it worth while to peril
his domestic happiness for the sake of a few more conversations
with two young ladies, whose remarks were mostly enigmatic, and
for whom he was conscious in his heart of hearts of not caring two
straws?

"Sophia," he said plaintively, "don't talk of leaving me! What
should I do without you? Who would teach me Astronomy and things?
You know I don't care for anybody but you! Why will you dwell on
such unpleasant subjects?"

"I was wrong, Peter," she confessed,--"indeed, I doubt you no
longer. It was all my morbid imagination that led me to do you such
injustice. Forgive me, and let us say no more about it!"

"I do forgive you," was his generous reply to this appeal, which,
coming from Sophia, was a very handsome apology, "and we _will_ say
no more about it."

And, upon the whole, Peter thought he had got out of a particularly
tight place with more credit than he had any reason to expect--a
conclusion in which the reader, however much he or she may
disapprove of his conduct on moral grounds, will probably be
inclined to agree with him.



CHAPTER VI.


Foil and Counterfoil.

_The Duties of Authorship.--Peter's Continued Perversity and its
Unforeseen Results.--"Alfred."--The Tragic Note.--An Interrupted
Crisis.--A Domestic Surprise._

It would be more satisfactory to an author's feelings, especially
when he is aware that he will be held accountable by an indignant
public for the slightest deviation on his hero's part from the
narrow path of ideal rectitude--it would be more satisfactory to be
able to record that this latest warning had a permanent effect upon
Peter Tourmalin's rather shifty disposition.

But an author, even of a modest performance such as this, cannot
but feel himself in a position of grave responsibility. He
must relate such facts as he has been able to collect, without
suppression on the one side, or distortion on the other. It is a
duty he cannot and dare not evade, under penalty of forfeiting the
confidence of his readers.

Peter Tourmalin _did_ draw more Time Cheques, he _did_ go back to
the _Boomerang_, and it would be useless to assert the contrary.
We may be able to rehabilitate him to some extent before this story
concludes: at present, we can only follow his career with pain and
disapproval.

Some allowances must be made for the peculiar nature of the
case. To a person of Peter's natural inclination to the study of
psychology, there was a strong fascination in watching the gradual
unfolding and revelation of two characters so opposite and so
interesting as those of Miss Tyrrell and Miss Davenport. That was
the point of view he took himself, and it is difficult to say that
such a plea is wholly without plausibility.

Then, too, he was intensely curious to know how it would all end,
and he might ascertain that in the very next quarter of an hour he
drew; there was absolutely no telling.

As for Sophia's threat, that soon lost all terrors for him. She
would abandon him, no doubt, if she ever knew; but who was going to
tell her, and how could she possibly discover the truth unaided,
especially now that her awakening suspicions had been lulled?
His secret was perfectly safe, and he could unravel the tangled
thread of the history of his remaining extra hours on board the
_Boomerang_ without any other hindrance than that of his own
scruples--which practically amounted to no hindrance at all.

So Peter continued to be the slave of his clock and his
cheque-book, from the counterfoils of which he was disagreeably
surprised to discover that he had drawn more frequently, and in
consequence had an even smaller balance left to his credit, than he
had supposed.

However, he consoled himself by concluding that one or two cheques
had probably been mislaid, and were still unpresented, while he was
entitled to some additional time in respect of compound interest;
so that he need not stint himself at present. Fifteen minutes a
week was not an extravagant allowance; and sooner or later, even
with the utmost economy, a day would come when his balance would
be exhausted, and his cheques returned from the clock marked "No
effects--refer to drawer," or some equivalent intimation.

But that day was still distant, and in the meantime he went on
drawing with a light heart.

It was a Saturday evening, the day on which Peter generally
presented his weekly cheque; but although it was nearly half-past
ten, he had had no opportunity of doing so as yet. He was in the
drawing-room, and Sophia was reading aloud to him this time, an
article on "Bi-metallism" from one of the reviews; for she had
been an ardent Bi-metallist from early girlhood, and she naturally
wished to win Peter from his Laodicean apathy on so momentous a
subject. He listened with surface resignation, although inwardly
he was in a fever of impatience to get back upon the _Boomerang_,
where Miss Davenport had been more interesting than usual on his
last visit. But he could hardly rise and slip a cheque under the
clock before Sophia's very eyes without inventing some decent
pretext for such an action, and Bi-metallism had reduced him to a
mental condition which was no longer fertile in expedients.

Suddenly Sophia stopped reading and remarked:

"If I remember right, Professor Dibbs has stated the argument more
correctly in his little book on _Currency_. It would be interesting
to compare the two; I'll get it."

As Professor Dibbs's work was apparently on a shelf in the study,
Sophia took the lamp into the further room.

"Now's my time!" thought Peter, as he brought out the cheque from
his waistcoat-pocket. "I mayn't get such another chance this
evening."

Even if Sophia could lay her hand on the volume at once, he would
have had his quarter of an hour and be comfortably back long
before she could pass the arch which separated the two rooms; for,
as we have seen, this instantaneous action was one of the chief
recommendations of the Time Cheques.

So he cashed his cheque, and was at once transported to the
secluded passage between the deck-cabins, the identical place
where he had first conversed with Miss Davenport. He was on the
same steamer-chair too, and she was at his side; the wind carried
the faint strains of a set of "Lancers" to them; from all of
which circumstances he drew the inference that he was going to
be favoured with the sequel to the conversation that had been so
incongruously broken in upon by Sophia's question respecting the
comparative merits of bottle-jacks in the Tottenham Court Road
warehouse. This was so far satisfactory, indicating as it did
that he was at last, after so much trying back, to make some real
progress.

"What I want to know first," Miss Davenport was saying, "is,
whether you are capable of facing danger for my sake?"

"I thought," he remonstrated mildly, "that I had already given
proof of that!"

"The danger you faced then threatened only me. But, supposing you
had to meet a danger to yourself, could you be firm and cool? Much
will depend on that."

"I--I think," he answered frankly, "that perhaps you had better not
count upon me. I have never been a man to court danger: it might
find me equal to it if it came,--or it might not."

He did not mean to give it the opportunity.

"Then we are lost, that is all!" she said, with gloomy conviction.
"Lost, both of us!"

Peter certainly intended to be lost if the moment of trial ever
arrived. Even now he was resolving, for about the twentieth time,
that this positively should be his very last cheque; for he by
no means liked the manner in which the situation seemed to be
developing.

But, seeing that the danger, whatever it might be, was still far
enough off, he thought, very sensibly, that it would be a pity
to cloud this last interview by any confession of pusillanimity.
Knowing that he would return no more, he could surely afford to
treat with contempt any consequences his imprudence might have
entailed.

So he laughed, as he said:

"You mustn't conclude that I am a coward because I don't care to
boast. On the contrary, I believe I am not exactly deficient in
physical courage."

"You are not?" she cried, relieved. "Then--then you would not be
afraid to face a desperate man?"

"Not a dozen desperate men, if it comes to that!" said Peter,
supported by the certainty that it would not come to so much as
half a desperate man.

"Then I can tell you _now_ what I have scarcely dared to think of
before. Peter, you will have to reckon with Alfred!"

"Well, I'm not much alarmed at anything _Alfred_ may do!" said
Peter, wondering who the deuce Alfred was.

"He will come on board; he will demand an explanation; he will
insist on seeing you!" she cried.

"_Let_ him!" said Peter.

"You are brave--braver even than I thought; but, ah! Peter, you
don't know what Alfred is!"

Peter did not even know who Alfred was, but he was unmoved.

"You leave Alfred to me," he said confidently, "I'll settle _him_!"

"But I must tell you all. I--I led you to believe that Alfred would
raise no objections; that he would quietly accept facts which it is
useless to contend against. He will do nothing of the sort! He is
a man of violent passions--fierce and relentless when wronged. In
the first burst of fury at meeting you, when he comes on board, he
is capable of some terrible vengeance, which nothing but perfect
coolness on your part--perhaps not even that--will be able to
avert. And I--I have brought this upon you!"

"Don't cry," said Peter. "You see, I'm perfectly calm. _I_ don't
mind it. If Alfred considers himself wronged by me--though, what
I have ever done to give him any reason for revenging himself by
personal violence, I must say I can't conceive----"

She stopped him.

"Ah! you have given him cause enough!" she cried. "What is the use
of taking that tone to me?"

"I want to see Alfred's point of view, that's all," said Peter.
"What does he complain of?"

"_What does he complain of?_ You ask me that, when---- Peter," she
broke off suddenly, "there is somebody round the corner listening
to us--a woman, I'm sure of it. I heard the rustle of a dress....
Go and see if there is not!"

Go and see, and find himself face to face with Miss Tyrrell, who
might faint or go into hysterics: Peter knew better than that.

"It's merely your fancy," he said, soothingly, "Who can be there?
They are all at the other end of the ship, dancing. Go on telling
me about Alfred. I don't yet understand how I have managed to
offend him."

"Are you really so dull," she said, with a slight touch of temper,
"that you can't see that a man who thought he was going to meet the
woman he was engaged to, and finds she has learnt to care for--for
somebody else, is likely, even if he was the mildest man in the
world--which Alfred is far from being--to betray some annoyance?"

"No, I see that," said Peter; "but--but he can't blame me. _I_
couldn't help it!"

He said this, although her last speech had opened his eyes
considerably: he knew now who Alfred was, and also that, in some
moment of madness which was in one of the quarters of an hour he
had not yet drawn, he must have placed himself in the position of
Alfred's rival.

What was he to do? He could not, without brutality, tell this poor
girl that he had not the smallest intention of depriving Alfred of
her affections; it was better, and easier too, to humour her for
the short time that remained.

"Alfred will not take that as an excuse," she said. "It is true we
could neither of us help what has happened, but that will not alter
the fact that he is quite capable of shooting us both the instant
he comes on deck. Alfred is like that!"

"Well," said Peter, unable to abstain from a little more of such
very cheap heroism, "I do not fear death--with you!"

"Say that once more," she said; which Peter very obligingly did.
"Oh, Peter, how I admire you now! How little I knew you were
capable of going so calmly to your doom! You give me courage. I
feel that I, too, can face death; only not _that_ death--it is so
horrid to be shot!"

"It would be unpleasant," said Peter, placidly, "but soon over."

"No," she said, "I couldn't bear it. I can see him pointing his
revolver--for he always carries one, even at a picnic--first at
_your_ head, then mine! No, Peter; since we must die, I prefer at
least to do so without bloodshed!"

"So do I," he agreed, "very much."

"You do?" she cried. "Then, oh, Peter! why should we wait any
longer for a fate that is inevitable? Let us do it now, together!"

"Do _what_?" said Peter.

"Slip over the side together; it would be quite easy, no one will
see us. Let us plunge arm-in-arm into the merciful sea! A little
struggle--a moment's battle for breath--then all will be over!"

"Yes, I suppose it _would_ be over then;" he said; "but we should
have to swallow such a lot of salt water first!"

He reflected that, even if he emerged from the agonies of drowning,
to find himself Bi-metallising with Sophia, the experience would be
none the less unpleasant while it lasted. There really must be some
limit to his complaisance, and he set it at suicide.

"No," he said at last; "I have always held that to escape a
difficulty by putting an end to one's own life is a cowardly
proceeding."

"I _am_ a coward," she said; "but, oh, Peter, be a coward with me
for once!"

"Ask me anything else!" he said, firmly, "but not to stoop to
cowardice. There is really no necessity for it, you see," he
added, feeling that he had better speak out plainly. "I have no
doubt that Alfred will listen to reason; and when he is told that,
although, as is excusable enough with two natures that have much
in common, we--we have found a mutual pleasure in each other's
society--there has been nothing on either side inconsistent with
the--the most ordinary friendship; when he hears that.... Where are
you going?" for she was rising from her chair.

"Where am I going?" she replied, with an unsteady laugh. "Why,
overboard, if you care to know!"

"But you mustn't!" he cried, scarcely knowing what he said.
"The--the captain wouldn't like it. There's a penalty, I'm sure,
for leaving the ship while it's in motion--I've seen it on a
notice!"

"There is a penalty for having believed in you," she replied
bitterly, "and I am going to pay it!"

She broke away and rushed out upon the deck into the starlight,
with Peter in pursuit. Here was a nice result of his philandering,
he thought bitterly. And yet, what had he done? How could he help
the consequences of follies committed in time he had not even
spent yet? However, what he had to do now was to prevent Miss
Davenport from leaping overboard at any cost. He would even promise
to jump over with her, if that would soothe her, and of course he
could appoint some time next day--say, after breakfast,--for the
performance.

He ran down the shadowy deck until he overtook a flying female
form, whose hand he seized as she crouched against the bulwarks.

"Miss Davenport, if you will only just ..." he began, when, without
warning, he found himself back upon his own hearth-rug, holding
Sophia firmly by the wrist!

He felt confused, as well he might, but he tried to pass it off.

"Did you find Dibbs _On Currency_, my dear?" he inquired, with a
ghastly smile, as he dropped her hand.

"I did not," said Sophia, gravely; "I was otherwise engaged. Peter,
what have you been doing?"

"What have I been doing?" he said. "Why, it's not a minute since
you went into the study to get that book; look at the clock and
see!"

"Don't appeal to the clock, Peter,--answer my question. How have
you been occupied?"

"I've been waiting for you to finish that article on
Bi-metallism," he had the hardihood to say. "Deuced well-written
article it is, too; so clear!"

"I don't refer to what you were doing here," said Sophia. "What
were you doing on board the _Boomerang_?"

"It--it's so long ago that I really forget," he said. "I--I read
Buckle on deck, and I talked with a man named Perkins--nice fellow
he was--manager of a bank out in Australia."

"It's useless to prevaricate, Peter!" she said. "What I want to
know is, who was that girl, and why should she attempt to destroy
herself?"

He could hardly believe his ears.

"Girl!" he stammered. "How do you know that any girl attempted
anything of that sort?"

"How do I know, Peter?" said Sophia. "I will tell you how I know.
_I was on board the 'Boomerang,' too!_"

At this awful piece of intelligence, Peter dropped into his
arm-chair, speechless and quaking. What would come next he could
not tell; but anything seemed possible, and even probable, after
that!



CHAPTER VII.

The Culminating Cheque.

_Sophia Gives an Explanation, and Requests One.--Her
Verdict.--Peter Overruled._


"Before I say anything else," said Sophia, who was still standing
upon the hearth-rug, gazing down upon the wretched Peter as he sat
huddled up in his chair, "you would probably like to know how I
came to follow you to that steamer. It is a long story, but I will
tell you if you wish to hear?"

Peter's lips moved without producing any articulate sounds, and
Sophia proceeded:

"Some weeks ago," she said, "one afternoon when you had gone out
for a walk, I found what seemed to be a loose cheque on the carpet.
I knew how carelessly you leave things about, and I picked it up,
and found that, though it was like a cheque in other respects, it
was rather curiously worded. I could not understand it at all, but
it seemed to have something to do with the steamer you came home
from Australia in; so, intending to ask you for an explanation
when you came in, I thought in the meantime I would put it in some
safe place where I should be sure to see it, and I put it behind
the clock; and then--oh, Peter!----"

Peter understood. The cheques were all payable to "self or bearer."
Sophia had innocently presented one, and it had been paid. If he
had only taken "order" cheques, this would not have happened, but
it was too late now! He continued to imitate the tactics of that
eminent strategist, Brer Rabbit; in other words, he "lay low and
said nuffin," while Sophia continued:

"Then, without in the least knowing how I came there, I found I
was on a big steamer, and as I walked along, perfectly bewildered,
I saw the name _Boomerang_ painted on some fire-buckets, and of
course I knew then that that was your steamer. I fancied that
perhaps, in some way, you might be on board too, and would explain
how this had happened to me. At all events, I decided to find out
if you were; and seeing a girl reading on deck, I took a chair near
her, and after a few introductory remarks I mentioned your name.
The effect upon her was such as to convince me that she felt more
than an ordinary interest in you. By degrees I drew from her the
whole story of her relations with you: she even asked me--_me_--for
advice!"

So Miss Davenport's _confidante_ had not been Miss Tyrrell after
all--but Sophia! If he had only known that before!

"I could not speak to her," continued Sophia, "I felt stifled,
stupefied by what I had heard! I could bear no more; and so I rose
and left her, and walked down some stairs, and somehow found myself
back in our own room again! I was more bewildered than ever. I
looked for the cheque, but there was nothing, and soon I was forced
to believe that the whole thing was imaginary. Still, I was not
wholly satisfied. You may remember how I questioned you one evening
when you were reading the _Doll's House_ to me; well, your answers
quite reassured me for the time. I told myself that my suspicions
were too wildly improbable not to have been a delusion. I was even
afraid that my brain must be slightly affected, for I had always
prided myself upon having my imagination under thorough control.
But by degrees, Peter--by degrees--I began to doubt again whether
it was really nothing but fancy on my part. I noticed that your
manner was suspiciously odd at times. I discovered that there
was one drawer in your secretary that you kept carefully locked.
I caught your eye wandering towards the clock from time to time.
_What_ I suspected I hardly know; but I felt certain that I should
find the explanation of that mystery in the locked drawer. I tried
key after key, until I found one that fitted. Oh, I am not at all
ashamed of it! Had I not a _right_ to know? There were no letters,
nothing but a cheque-book; but that cheque-book proved to me that,
after all, I had imagined nothing: all the cheques were the same as
the one I found on the carpet! I tore one out and kept it by me,
and from that time I watched you closely. I saw how restless and
impatient you were this evening, and I was certain that you were
intending to use a cheque from that book. You were bent on getting
back to the _Boomerang_, and I was equally determined that, if I
could help it, you should not go alone. Only I could not be quite
sure how you managed to get there, and at last I hit upon a little
device for finding out. There is no such person as Professor Dibbs,
Peter; I invented him to put you off your guard. As I passed into
the other room with the lamp, I saw you, reflected in the mirror
over the study chimneypiece, rise and go to the drawing-room
mantelpiece: you had a slip of paper in your hand--a cheque, of
course. I had the cheque I tore out hidden in the waistband of my
dress; and so, as soon as I saw you slip your cheque behind the
clock in the drawing-room, I put _my_ cheque behind the one in the
study. I was on the deck at once, and it was dark, but I could hear
your voice and another's--round a corner. I held my breath and
listened. What I heard, you know!"

Peter shrank up in his chair, utterly confounded by this last
vagary on the part of the Time Cheques. He certainly would not
have supposed that the mere presentation even of a "bearer" cheque
by Sophia would entitle her to the same fifteen minutes he was
receiving himself. He could only account for it by the fact that
the two cheques were cashed simultaneously at two separate clocks;
but even this explanation was not wholly satisfactory.

He found his voice at last:

"Well," he said, "now that you know all, what are you going to do
about it, Sophia? I--I would rather know the worst!"

"I will tell you that in good time," she replied; "but, first of
all, I want you to tell me exactly how you came to have these
cheques, and what use you made of them on previous occasions?"

So, slightly reassured by her manner, which was composed, Peter
gave her a plain unvarnished account of the way in which he had
been led to deposit his extra time, and the whole story of his
interviews with Miss Davenport. He did not mention any others,
because he felt that the affair was quite complicated enough
without dragging in extraneous and irrelevant matter.

"I may have been imprudent," he concluded; "but I do assure you,
Sophia, that in all the quarters of an hour I have had as yet, I
never once behaved to that young lady in any capacity but that of
a friend. I only went on drawing the cheques because I wanted a
little change of air and scene now and then. You have no idea how
it picked me up!"

"I saw in what society it set you down, Peter!" was Sophia's
chilling answer.

"You--you mustn't think she is _always_ like that," he urged. "It
took me quite by surprise--it was a most painful position for me.
I think, Sophia, your own sense of fairness will acknowledge that,
considering the awkwardness of my situation, I--I behaved as well
as could be expected. You do admit that, don't you?"

Sophia was silent for a minute or so before she spoke again.

"I must have time to think, Peter," she said: "it is all so
strange, so contrary to all my experience, that I can hardly
see things as yet in their proper light. But I may tell you at
once that, from what I was able to observe, and from all you
have just told me, I am inclined to think that you are free from
actual culpability in the matter. It was quite clear that that
very forward girl was the principal throughout, and that you were
nothing more than an unwilling and most embarrassed accessory."

This was so much more lenient a view than he had dared to expect
that Peter recovered his ordinary equanimity.

"That was all," he said. "I am very glad you saw it, my dear. I was
perfectly helpless!"

"And then," said Sophia, "I was more than pleased by your firm
refusal to commit suicide. What you said was so very sound and
true, Peter."

"I hope so," said Peter, with much complacency. "Yes, I was pretty
firm with her! By the way," he added, "you--you didn't happen to
see whether she really did jump overboard, I suppose?"

"I came away just at the crisis," she said. "I thought you would
tell _me_!"

"_I_ came away too," said Peter. "It doesn't matter, of course; but
still I should have rather liked to know whether she meant it or
not."

"How can you speak of it so heartlessly, Peter? She may have been
trying to frighten you; she is just the kind of girl who would. But
she may have been in earnest, after all!"

"You see, Sophia," said Peter, "it doesn't matter whether she was
or not--it isn't as if it had ever really happened."

"Not really happened? But I was _there_; I heard, I saw it--nothing
could be more real!"

"At any rate," he said, "it only happens when I use those cheques;
and she can't possibly carry out her rash intention until I draw
another--which I promise you faithfully I will never do. If you
doubt me, I will burn the book now before your eyes!"

With these words he went to the drawer and took out the cheque-book.

"No," said Sophia, "you must not do that, Peter. There is much
about this Time Bank that I don't pretend to understand, that
I cannot account for by any known natural law; but I may not
disbelieve my own eyes and ears! These events that have happened
in the extra time you chose to defer till now are just as real as
any other events. You _have_ made this girl's acquaintance; you
have--I don't say through any fault of your own, but still you
_have_--caused her to transfer her affections from the man she was
engaged to, and, being a creature of ill-regulated mind and no
strength of character, she has resolved to put an end to her life
rather than meet his just indignation. She is now on the very point
of accomplishing this folly. Well, badly as she has behaved, you
cannot possibly leave the wretched girl there! You must go back at
once, restrain her by main force, and not leave her until you have
argued her into a rational frame of mind."

Peter was by no means anxious to go back at first.

"It's not at all necessary," he said; "and besides, I don't know
if you're aware of it, but with the way these cheques are worked,
it's ten chances to one against my hitting off the right fifteen
minutes! Still," he added, with an afterthought, "I can _try_, of
course, if you insist upon it. I can take my chance with another
fifteen minutes, but that must be the last. I am sick and tired of
this _Boomerang_ business, I am indeed!"

Shameful as it is to state, he had altered his mind from a sudden
recollection that he would not mind seeing Miss Tyrrell for just
once more. He had not drawn her for several weeks.

"No," said Sophia, thoughtfully; "I see your objection--fifteen
minutes is not enough, unless you could be sure of getting the
successors to the last. But I have an idea, Peter,--if you draw out
the whole balance of your time, you can't possibly help getting the
right fifteen minutes somewhere or other. I think that's logical?"

"Oh, devilish logical!" muttered Peter to himself, who had reasons,
which he could not divulge to her, for strongly disapproving of
such a plan.

"The fact is, my dear," he said, "it--it's rather late this evening
to go away for any time!"

"You forget," she said, "that, however long you are away, you will
come back at exactly the same time you started. But you have some
other reason, Peter--you had better tell me!"

"Well," he owned, "I might come across someone I'd rather not
meet."

"You are thinking of the man that girl said she had been engaged
to--Alfred, wasn't it?"

Peter had forgotten Alfred for the moment; and besides, he was not
likely to turn up till the _Boomerang_ got to Plymouth, and he knew
his extra hours stopped before that. Still, Alfred did very well as
an excuse.

"Ah!" he said, "Alfred. You heard what she said about him? A
violent character--with a revolver, Sophia!"

"But you told her you were not afraid of him. I felt so proud of
you when you said it. And think, you may be able to bring them
together--to heal the breach between them!"

"He's more likely to make a breach in me that won't heal!" said
Peter.

"Still, as you said yourself, it isn't as if it was all actually
existing. What does it matter, even if he should shoot you?"

"I don't see any advantage in exposing myself to any such
unpleasant experiences, even if they are only temporary," he said.

"It is not a question of advantage, Peter," rejoined Sophia;
"it is a simple duty, and I'm surprised that you don't see it
as such. Whatever the consequences of your conduct may be, you
cannot evade them like this; you have chosen to begin, and you
must go on! I am quite clear about that. Let me see"--(here she
took the cheque-book, and made some rapid calculations from the
counterfoils)--"yes, you have two hours and three-quarters at
least still standing to your credit; and then there's the compound
interest. I will tear out all these small cheques and burn them."
Which she did as she spoke. "And now, Peter, sit down and fill up
one of the blank ones at the end for the whole amount."

"Do you know, Sophia," said Peter, "it occurs to me that this is
just one of those matters which can only be satisfactorily arranged
by--er--a woman's tact. Suppose I make the cheque payable to _you_
now--eh?"

"You mean, that you want me to go instead of you?" she asked.

"Well," said Peter, "if it wouldn't be bothering you, my dear, I
think perhaps it _would_ be----"

"Don't say another word," she interrupted, "or I shall begin to
_despise_ you, Peter! If I thought you meant it seriously, I would
go upstairs, put on my bonnet, and go back to mamma for ever. I
could not bear to be the wife of a coward!"

"Oh, I'll go!" said Peter, in much alarm. "I said what I did out
of consideration, not cowardice. But wouldn't to-morrow do as well,
Sophia? It is late to turn out!"

"To-morrow will _not_ do as well," she said: "fill up that cheque
to-night, or you will lose me for ever!"

"There!" said Peter, as he scrawled off the cheque. "Are you
satisfied _now_, Sophia?"

"I shall be when I see you present it."

"Er--yes," he said; "oh! I mean to present it--presently. I--I
think I'll take a small glass of brandy before I go, my dear, to
keep the cold out."

"As you will certainly be in a summer, if not tropical, temperature
the next moment," she said, "I should advise you to take nothing of
the kind."

"I say," he suggested, "suppose I find she has just jumped
overboard--what shall I do then?"

"Do! Can you possibly ask? You will jump after her, of course!"

"It's easy to say 'of course,'" he said; "but I never _could_ swim
more than twenty strokes!"

"Swim those twenty then, and let come what will; you will be back
all the sooner. But don't stand there talking about it, Peter--go!"

"I'm going," he said, meekly. "You'll sit up for me, Sophia, if--if
I'm late, won't you?"

"Don't be absurd!" she said. "You know perfectly well that, as I
said before, you won't be away a second."

"It won't be a second for you," he said, "but it will be several
hours for _me_; and goodness only knows what I may have to go
through in the time! However," he added, with an attempt to be
cheerful, "it may all pass off quite pleasantly--don't you think it
may, Sophia?"

"How _can_ I tell? You will only find out by going."

"I'm going, my dear--I'm going at once!... You'll give me just one
kiss before I start, won't you?"

"I will give you no kiss till you come back and I hear what you
have done," said Sophia.

"Very well," he retorted; "you may be sorry you refused, when it's
too late! I may never come back at all, for anything I can tell!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And, little as he knew it, he spoke with an almost prophetic
anticipation of what was to come. Never again was he destined to
stand on that heart-hrug!

But he dared not linger longer, as he could see from her expression
that she would suffer no further trifling; and he slipped his last
cheque under the clock,--with consequences that must be reserved
for the next chapter.



CHAPTER VIII.

Paid in His Own Coin.

_In Suspense: a Gleam of Comfort.--Darkness Returns.--The Rock
Ahead.--Sir William Lends His Binocular.--Reappearance of an Old
Enemy.--A New Danger.--Out of the Frying-pan._


Peter found himself below this time, in the broad passage,
furnished with seats and tables for writing, which divided the
passengers' cabins. Above, he heard a confused stir and bustle
of excitement, the trampling of feet, the creaking and rattle of
chains, orders shouted in English and Hindustani. From the absence
of all vibration, in the vessel, it was evident that she had been
brought to. _Why?_

Peter guessed the cause only too easily: the unhappy Miss Davenport
had indeed succeeded in carrying out her rash design. She had
jumped overboard, and the captain had stopped the engines and
lowered a boat in the hope of picking her up before she sank! And
he himself--why was he skulking below like this? He had only too
much reason to fear that he must have been a witness of the fatal
leap; and, instead of plunging overboard to the rescue as a hero
ought, had rushed down here ignominiously.

Had he been observed? Was his connection with the tragedy
suspected? Could he venture up on deck and inform himself? He
tried, but his nerve failed him, and he sank into one of the chairs
in a state of almost unbearable suspense.

Just at this moment, he saw the skirts of a muslin gown appear at
the head of the broad companion which led to the dining-saloon.
Someone, a girl evidently, was descending. Presently he saw her
fully revealed--it was Miss Tyrrell.

Perhaps he had never been so glad to see her before. She was a
friend, a dear friend. She, at least, would sympathise with him,
would understand that it was not his fault if he had been too
late to avert a catastrophe. She was coming to him. Her eyes were
friendly and pitiful as they sought his. She, at least, did not
turn from him!

"How pale, how terribly pale you look!" she said. "You must nerve
yourself to see her--it cannot be long now!"

"Has she been brought on board yet?" he gasped. "Is--is there any
hope?"

"We shall know very soon. It is possible you may find that all is
at an end."

"Ah! you think so? But--but no one will say it was _my_ fault, will
they? I--I was ready to make any sacrifice--only somehow, when the
moment comes, I am apt to lose my presence of mind."

"Yes, I know," she said feelingly; "you are not quite yourself yet,
but I know you would make the sacrifice if your duty demanded it.
But she may have taken advantage of your absence to free herself
and you from all obligation, may she not?"

This suggestion comforted Peter.

"She _must_ have done!" he said. "Yes, of course. I could not be
expected to prevent it, if I wasn't there; and I wasn't, when it
came to the point. But, Miss Tyrrell, do you think that it is
really all over? She--she may come round after all!"

"She may--but of course, if it is true that she is engaged to
another, she can have no possible claim on _you_."

What a sensible right-minded way this girl had of looking at
things! thought Peter, not for the first time.

"Why, of course she can't!" he cried. "And it _is_ true. She is
engaged--to a fellow of the name of Alfred."

"You know that as a fact?" she exclaimed.

"I know it from her own lips, and I need not say that I should be
the last person to wish to--er--upset so desirable an arrangement."

"Why--_why_ didn't you tell me all this before?" she inquired.

"I--I didn't think it would interest you," he replied.

Here, to Peter's utter astonishment, she covered her face with her
hands.

"Not interest me!" she murmured at last. "Oh, how could you--how
_could_ you keep this from me? Can't you see--can't you guess what
a difference it has made in my feelings?"

It might be very dull of him, but he could _not_ perceive why the
fact of Miss Davenport's engagement to Alfred should affect Miss
Tyrrell so strangely as this!

"I may call you 'Peter' now," she said. "Oh, Peter, _how_ happy
you have made me! Why did you keep silence so long? It was too
quixotic! Don't you understand even yet?"

"No," said Peter blankly, "I'm afraid I don't."

"Then, if you are really so diffident, I--I must tell you that if
you were to ask a certain question once more, I might--I don't say
I should, but I might--meet it with a different answer!"

"Good heavens!" he ejaculated, involuntarily.

"But you must not ask me yet--not just yet. I must have time to
consider. I must tell papa before I decide anything. You _will_
wait a little longer, won't you, Peter?"

"Yes," he said, feeling limp, "I'll wait. I'd rather!"

She smiled radiantly upon him, and then fled lightly up the
companion, leaving him with fresh cause for uneasiness. He could
no longer doubt that, for some reason, she expected him to propose
to her, which it seemed he had already, in one of those confounded
extra minutes, been unprincipled enough to do! Now she had gone to
inform her father, the Judge, and he would have the disagreeable
task of disabusing them before long!

At this point he started, believing that he was visited by an
apparition; for a cabin-door opened, and Miss Davenport came out
and stood before him.

But she was so obviously flesh and blood--and so dry--that he soon
saw that all his anxiety on her account had been superfluous.

"Then you--you didn't jump overboard after all?" he faltered,
divided between relief and annoyance at having been made to come
back, as it were, on false pretences.

"You know who prevented me, and by what arguments!" she said, in a
low strained voice.

"_Do_ I?" he said, helplessly.

"Who should, if you do not? Did not you implore me not to leave
you, and declare that, if I would only have courage and wait, we
should be happy even yet? And I _did_ wait. For what, I ask you,
Peter Tourmalin--for _what_?"

"It's really no use asking _me_," he said, "for I've no idea!"

"I waited--to discover that all this time you have had a secret
understanding with another; that you are about to transfer your
fickle affections to--to that fair girl! Don't deny it, Peter! I
was listening. I see it all--all!"

"I wish to goodness _I_ did!" he said. "I never was in such a
muddle as this in my life. I can only assure you that if that young
lady really imagines that I am, or can be, anything more to her
than a friend, she is entirely mistaken. I was just about to go up
and explain as much to her father!"

"You are not deceiving me?" she asked, earnestly. "You are _sure_?"

"I will swear it, if you wish!" he replied.

"No," she said, relenting visibly, "your word is enough. I do
believe you, and I am almost happy again. So long as you do not
desert me, even Alfred loses half his terrors!"

"Exactly," he said; "and now, if you will excuse me, I'll just run
up on deck and settle this other business."

He went up to the hurricane-deck, and found the ship had anchored.
In front was a huge barren rock, with lines of forts, walls, and
telegraph poles; and at its base, a small white town huddled. They
had arrived at Gibraltar, which accounted for the absence of motion.

As he stood there, taking this in, he was accosted by Sir William
Tyrrell, who thrust his arm through Peter's in a friendly manner.

"My dear boy," said the Judge heartily, "Violet has just told me
the good news. I can only say that I am delighted--most delighted!
I have always felt a warm interest in you, ever since that affair
of----"

"Of the monkey," said Peter. "I am very glad to hear it, Sir
William; but--but I ought to tell you that I am afraid Miss Tyrrell
was--a little premature. She misinterpreted a remark of mine,
which, in point of fact, referred to somebody else altogether."

"Then you have no more reason than before for assuming that your
_fiançée_ has thrown you over. Am I to understand that?"

"No more reason than before," admitted Peter.

"And your uncertainty still continues? Very unsatisfactory, I must
say! I do think, my dear fellow, that, in your position, you should
have been more careful to refrain from betraying any interest in
Violet until you knew that you were free to speak. As it is, you
may have cast a shadow upon her young life that it will take years
to dispel!"

Peter's heart sank into his boots for very shame at this gentle and
almost paternal reproof.

"Yes," continued the worthy Judge, "Violet is a high-minded girl,
scrupulously sensitive on points of honour; and, unless the young
lady you are under a semi-engagement to should release you of her
own free will, I know my daughter too well to doubt that she will
counsel you to fulfil your contract and renounce all hope so far as
she is concerned."

Peter felt a little easier.

"I--I am prepared to do that," he said.

"Well, I don't say myself that I go quite so far as she does; but
strictly, no doubt, a promise is a promise, and should be kept
at all hazards. You have done all that a man can honourably do
to put himself right. You have written to this young lady, so I
understand, informing her of the change in your sentiments, and
offering, nevertheless, to redeem your promise if she insisted upon
it. I think that was the general purport of your letter?"

Here was one more evil fruit of his extra time! What would Sophia
think, or say, or do, if such a letter as that ever came to her
knowledge? Fortunately, that at least was impossible!

"You have some grounds," the Judge went on, "for assuming that the
lady has already treated the contract as non-existent--a person
called Alfred, I think my daughter said?"

"No, that was a mistake," explained Peter. "Alfred is engaged to
quite a different person."

"Well, in any case, it is quite possible that you may obtain your
release when you meet her; and your suspense will soon be over
now. Miss--er--Pincher, is it?--will probably be on board the ship
before many minutes. I see the boats are putting out from the
harbour already."

"_What!_" cried Peter, with the terrible conviction darting through
his mind that Sir William spoke the bare truth.

Sophia had said something about meeting him at Gibraltar; but if
she had done so during the real voyage, how could he have the
meeting all over again, with this ghastly variation? If he could
only remember whether she had come out, or not! It was singular,
incomprehensible! But his memory was a blank on such a vital fact
as this!

"Would you like to have my field-glass for a moment?" said Sir
William, considerately.

Peter took it, and the next moment the binocular fell from his
nerveless hands. He had seen only too clearly the familiar form of
Sophia seated in the peaked stern of a small craft, which a Spanish
boatman was "scissoring" through the waves towards the _Boomerang_.

"Come, courage!" said the Judge kindly, as he picked up his glass
and wiped the lenses. "Don't be nervous, my boy. You don't know
what she may have to say to you yet, you know!"

"No, I don't!" he groaned. "I--I think I ought to go down to the
gangway and meet her," he added, tremulously,--not that he had any
intention of doing so, but he wanted to be alone.

Before the Judge could even express his approbation of Peter's
course, Tourmalin was down on the saloon-deck seeking a quiet spot
wherein to collect his thoughts.

Before he could find the quiet spot, however, he almost ran into
the arms of the matron from Melbourne, whom he had not seen since
the episode of the music-room.

"A word with you, Mr. Tourmalin!" she said.

"I--I really can't stop now," stammered Peter. "I--I'm expecting
friends!"

"I, too," she said, "am expecting a relation, and it is for that
reason that I wish to speak to you now. My brother, who has
been staying at Gibraltar on account of his health, will be as
determined as I am to trace and punish the infamous calumny upon
the name and career of our honoured parent."

"I daresay, madam," said Peter,--"I daresay. Very creditable to you
both--but I really can't stop just now!"

"You appear to forget, sir, that, unless you can satisfactorily
establish your innocence, my brother will certainly treat you as
the person primarily responsible for an atrocious slander!"

"A slander--upon your father!... _Me?_" said the indignant Peter.
"Why, I never _heard_ of the gentleman!"

"Denial will not serve you now," she said. "I have not only your
own admissions in the music-room, but the evidence of more than one
trustworthy witness, to prove that you circulated a report that my
dear father--one of the most honoured and respected citizens of
Melbourne--began his Colonial career as--as a transported convict!"

After all, as the hapless Peter instantly saw, he _might_ have said
so, for anything he knew, in one of those still unexhausted extra
quarters of an hour!

"If I said so, I was misinformed," he said.

"Just so; and in our conversation on the subject, you mentioned the
name of the person who used you as his mouthpiece to disseminate
his malicious venom. What I wish to know now is, whether you are
prepared or not to repeat that statement?"

Peter recollected now that he had used expressions implicating
Mr. Perkins, although merely as the origin of totally different
complications.

"I can't positively go so far as that," he said. "I--I made the
statement generally."

"As you please," she said. "I can merely say that my brother, whom
I expect momentarily, is, although an invalid in some respects, a
powerful and determined man; and unless you repeat in his presence
the sole excuse you have to offer, he will certainly horsewhip you
in the presence of the other passengers. That is all, sir!"

"Thank you--it's quite enough!" murmured Peter, thinking that
Alfred himself could hardly be much more formidable; and he slipped
down the companion to the cabin-saloon, where he found Miss
Davenport anxiously expecting him.

"He is here," she whispered. "I have just seen him through the
port-hole."

"What--the old lady's brother!" he replied.

"He has _no_ sister who is an old lady. I mean Alfred."

"_Alfred?_" he almost yelped. "Alfred _here!_"

"Of course he is here. Is not his battalion quartered at Gibraltar?
You knew it; we were to meet him here!"

"I didn't, indeed--or I should never have come!" he protested.

"Don't let us waste words now. He is here; he will demand an
explanation from you. He has his pistol with him--I could tell by
the bulge under his coat. We must both face him; and the question
is, What are you going to say?"

Peter thrust his hands through his carefully-parted hair:

"Say?" he repeated. "I shall tell him the simple, straightforward
truth. I shall frankly admit that we have walked, and sat, and
talked together; but I shall assure him, as I can honestly, that
during the whole course of our acquaintance I have never once
regarded you in any other light but that of a friend."

"And you suppose that, knowing how I have changed, he will believe
that!" she cried. "He will fire long before you can finish one of
those fine sentences!"

"In that case," suggested Peter, "why tell him anything at all? Why
not spare him, poor fellow, at all events for the time? It will
only upset him just now. Let him suppose that we are strangers to
one another; and you can break the truth to him gently when you
reach England, you know. I 'm sure that's _much_ the more sensible
plan!"

She broke into strange mirthless laughter.

"Your prudence comes too late," she said. "You forget that the
truth was broken to him some days ago, in the letter I wrote from
Brindisi."

"You wrote and broke it to him at Brindisi!" cried Peter. "What
induced you to do _that_?"

"Why, _you!_" she retorted. "You insisted that it was due to him;
and though I knew better than you what the effect would be, I dared
not tell you the whole truth. I wanted to end the engagement, too;
and I scarcely cared then what consequences might follow. Now they
are upon us, and it is useless to try to escape them. Since we
_must_ die, let us go up on deck and get it over!"

"One moment," he said; "Alfred can wait a little. I--I must go to
my cabin first, and put on a clean collar."

And with this rather flimsy pretext, he again made his escape.
He made up his mind what to do as he rushed towards his cabin.
He could hardly have been anything like an hour on board the
_Boomerang_ as yet; he had to get through at least another three
before he could hope for deliverance. His only chance was to
barricade himself inside his cabin, and steadfastly refuse to come
out, upon any consideration whatever, until he was released by the
natural expiration of time.

He sped down the passage, and found, to his horror, that he had
forgotten the number of his berth. However, he knew where it ought
to be, and darted into an open door, which he fastened securely
with hook and bolt, and sank breathless on one of the lower berths.

"You seem in a hurry, my friend!" said a voice opposite; and
Peter's eyes, unused at first to the comparative dimness, perceived
that a big man was sitting on the opposite berth, engaged in
putting on a pair of spiked cricket-shoes. He had bolted himself
inside the cabin with Mr. Perkins!



CHAPTER IX.

Compound Interest.

_Back to the Fire Again.--A Magnanimous Return.--Catching
at Straws.--Two Total Strangers.--Purely a Question of
Precedence.--"Hemmed in" and "Surrounded."--The Last Chance._


The Bank Manager looked across at Peter with an amused smile; he
seemed quite friendly. Whether he was in Peter's cabin, or Peter
in his, did not appear; and perhaps it was not of much consequence
either way. If the cabin belonged to Mr. Perkins, he did not, at
all events, appear to resent the intrusion.

"You seem rather put out about something," he said again, as Peter
was still too short of breath for words.

"Oh, no," panted Peter, "it's nothing. There was so much bustle
going on above, that I thought I'd come in here for a little quiet;
that's all."

"Well," said the Manager, "I'm glad you looked in; for, as it
happens, you're the very man I wanted to see. I daresay you're
wondering why I'm putting on these things?"

Peter nodded his head, which was all he felt equal to.

"Why, I've just been having a talk with that old she-griffin from
Melbourne. Perhaps you don't know that her brother is coming on
board directly?"

"Oh yes, I _do!_" said Peter.

"Well, it seems she means to denounce me to him as the slanderer
of her father. She may, if she chooses; my conscience is perfectly
clear on that score. No one can bring anything of the sort home to
me; and I've no doubt I shall soon satisfy him that I'm as innocent
as an unborn babe. Still, I want you, as a respectable man and the
only real friend I have on board, to come with me and be my witness
that you never heard such a rumour from my lips; and besides, sir,
we shall have an opportunity at last of seeing the unutterable
scamp who has had the barefaced impudence to say I told him this
precious story! She's going to produce him, sir; and if he dares to
stand me out to my face--well, _he_'ll know why I've put on these
shoes! Come along; I can't let you off."

Peter dared not refuse, for fear of attracting his friend's
suspicions. He could only trust to slipping away in the confusion;
and so, unfastening the cabin-door, the Manager caught the
unresisting Tourmalin tightly by the arm, and hurried him along the
central passage and up the companion.

Even Miss Davenport would have been a welcome diversion at that
moment; but she was not there to intercept him, and he reached the
upper deck more dead than alive.

"Where's that old vixen _now?_" exclaimed the Manager, dropping
Peter's arm. "Here, just stay where you are a minute, till I find
her and her confounded brother!"

He bustled off, leaving Tourmalin by the davits, quite incapable of
action of any kind in the presence of this new and awful dilemma.
He had been spreading a cruel and unjustifiable slander against
an irreproachable Colonial magnate, whose son was now at hand to
demand reparation with a horsewhip. He could only propitiate him by
denouncing Perkins as his informant, and if he did that he would be
kicked from one end of the ship to the other with a spiked boot!
This was Nemesis indeed, and it was Sophia who had insisted upon
his exposing himself to it. What a fool he was not to fly back to
that cabin, while he could!

He turned to flee, and as he did so a hand was passed softly
through his arm.

"Not _that_ way, Peter!" said Miss Tyrrell's voice.

A wild, faint hope came to him that he might be going to receive
one of the back quarters of an hour. The caprices of the Time
Cheques were such that it was quite possible he would be thrown
back into an earlier interview. Little as he felt inclined for any
social intercourse just then, he saw that it would afford him a
brief interlude--would at least give him breathing-time before his
troubles began again.

"I will go wherever you choose," he said; "I am in your hands."

"I came," she said, "to take you to her. She is asking for you."

"She?" said Peter. "For heaven's sake, _who?_"

"Why, Miss Pinceney, of course. I knew who it was directly I saw
her face. Peter, is it true, as papa tells me, that I misunderstood
you just now--that she is _not_ engaged to Alfred?"

"Alfred? No!" he replied. "If she is engaged to anyone at all, I
have strong grounds for supposing it's to me!"

"Then we must submit, that is all," said Miss Tyrrell. "But we do
not know her decision yet; there is still hope!"

"Yes," he said, "there is hope still. Let us go to her; make haste!"

He meant what he said. Sophia could at least extricate him
from a portion of his difficulties. Miss Tyrrell--magnanimous
and unselfish girl that she was, in spite of her talent for
misapprehension--was ready to resign him to a prior claim, if one
was made. And Sophia was bound to claim him; for if the engagement
between them had been broken off, he could not now be her husband,
as he was. Even Time Cheques must recognise accomplished facts.

He followed her across the ship, turning down the very passage in
which he had sat through more than one cheque with Miss Davenport;
and on the opposite side he found Sophia standing, with her usual
composure, waiting for his arrival.

She was so identically the same Sophia that he had left so lately,
that he felt reassured. She, at least, could not be the dupe of all
this. She had come--how, he did not trouble himself to think,--but
she had come with the benevolent intention of saving him!

"How do you do, my love?" he began. "I--I thought I should see you
here."

"You only see me here, Peter," she replied, in a voice that
trembled slightly, in spite of her efforts to command it, "because
I felt very strongly that it was my duty to put an end at the
earliest moment to a situation which has become impossible!"

"I'm sure," said Peter, "it is quite time it _was_ put an end
to--it couldn't go on like this much longer."

"It shall not, if I can help it," she said. "Miss Tyrrell, pray
don't go away; what I have to say concerns you too."

"No; don't go away, Miss Tyrrell," added Peter, who felt the
most perfect confidence in Sophia's superior wisdom, and was
now persuaded that somehow it was all going to be explained.
"Sir William, will you kindly step this way too? Sir William
Tyrrell--Miss Pinceney. Miss Pinceney has something to tell you
which will make my position thoroughly clear."

"I have only to say," she said, "that your honourable and
straightforward conduct, Peter, has touched me to the very heart. I
feel that I am the only person to blame, for it was I who insisted
upon your subjecting yourself to this test."

"It was," said Peter. "I told you something would happen--and it
has!"

"I would never hold you to a union from which all love on your
side had fled; do not think so, Peter. And now that I see my--my
rival, I confess that I could expect no other result. So, dear Miss
Tyrrell, I resign him to you freely--yes, cheerfully--for, by your
womanly self-abnegation you have proved yourself the worthier. Take
her, Peter; you have my full consent!"

"My dear young lady," said the Judge, deeply affected, "this is
most noble of you! Allow me to shake you by the hand."

"I can't thank you, dear, _dear_ Miss Pinceney!" sobbed his
daughter. "Peter, tell her for me how we shall both bless and love
her all our lives for this!"

Peter's brain reeled. Was _this_ Sophia's notion of getting him out
of a difficulty?

As he gazed distractedly around, his eyes became fixed and glazed
with a new terror. A stalwart stranger, with a bushy red beard, was
coming towards him, with a stout riding-whip in his right hand.
By his side walked the Manager, from whose face all vestige of
friendliness had vanished.

"As soon as you have quite finished your conversation with these
ladies," said the Manager, with iron politeness, "this gentleman
would be glad of a few moments with you; after which I shall
request your attention to a little personal affair of my own. Don't
let us _hurry_ you, you know!"

"I--I won't," returned Peter, flurriedly; "but I'm rather busy just
now: a little later, I--I shall be delighted."

As he stood there, he was aware that they had withdrawn to a bench
some distance away, where they conferred with the elderly lady
from Melbourne. He could feel their angry glare upon him, and it
contributed to rob him of the little self-possession he had left.

"Sophia," he faltered piteously, "I say, this is too bad--it is,
really! You _can't_ mean to leave me in such a hole as this--do
let's get home at once!"

Before she could make any reply to an appeal which seemed to
astonish her considerably, a thin, bilious-looking man, with a
face twitching with nervous excitement, a heavy black moustache,
and haggard eyes, in which a red fire smouldered, appeared at the
gangway and joined the group.

"I beg your pardon," he said, lifting his hat; "forgive me if I
interrupt you, but my business is urgent--most urgent! Perhaps you
could kindly inform me if there is a--a gentleman" (the word cost
him a manifest struggle to pronounce)--"a gentleman on board of the
name of Tourmalin? I have a little matter of business" (here his
right hand stole to his breast-pocket) "to transact with him," he
explained, with a sinister smile that caused Peter to give suddenly
at the knees.

"It's that infernal Alfred!" he thought. "Now I _am_ done for!"

"Why," said Miss Tyrrell, who was clinging affectionately to
Peter's arm, "_this_ is Mr. Tourmalin! You can speak to him
now--here, if you choose. We have no secrets from one another--have
we, Peter?"

"I have lately learnt," said the gloomy man, "that a certain Mr.
Tourmalin has stolen from me the affection of one who was all
heaven and earth to me!"

"Then it _must_ be another Mr. Tourmalin," said Miss Tyrrell, "not
this one; because--surely you do not need to be told that you
have no rivalry to fear from him?" she broke off, with a blush of
charming embarrassment.

Alfred's scowl distinctly relaxed, and Peter felt that, after all,
this unfortunate misunderstanding on Miss Tyrrell's part might
prove serviceable to him. Since Sophia, for reasons of her own,
refused to assist him, he must accept any other help that offered
itself.

"The best proof I can give you of my innocence," he said, "is to
mention that I have the honour to be engaged to this lady."

He heard a stifled shriek from behind him as he made this
assertion, and the next moment Miss Davenport, who must have come
up in time to catch the last words, had burst into the centre of
the group.

"It is not true!" she cried. "Alfred, you must not believe him!"

"Not _true?_" exclaimed Alfred, Sophia, Miss Tyrrell, and Sir
William, in the same breath.

"No!" said Miss Davenport; "at least, if he has really engaged
himself, it is within the last few minutes, and with the chivalrous
intention of shielding _me!_ Peter, I will not be shielded by such
means. Our love is too precious to be publicly denied. I cannot
suffer it; I will acknowledge it, though it costs me my life! You,"
she added, turning to Sophia,--"you can prove that I speak the
truth. It was to you that I confided, that day we met on deck, the
story of our fatal attachment."

"I really think you must be mistaken," said Sophia, coldly. "If you
confided such a story to anybody, it could not have been to me;
for, until a few minutes ago, I had never set foot upon this ship."

How Sophia could stand there and, remembering, as she must do, her
recent appropriation of the Time Cheque, tell such a downright fib
as this, passed Peter's comprehension. But, as her statement was in
his favour so far as it went, he knew better than to contradict it.

"Whether it was you or not," insisted Miss Davenport, "it is he and
no one else who rendered my engagement to Alfred utterly repugnant
to me! Can you look at him now, and doubt me longer?"

"So, Peter," said Sophia severely, "you could not even be faithful
to your unfaithfulness!"

Miss Tyrrell made no comment, but she dropped his arm as if it had
scorched her fingers, whereupon Miss Davenport clung to it in her
stead, to Peter's infinite dismay and confusion.

"He _is_ faithful!" she cried. "It is only a mistaken sense of
honour that made him apparently false. Yes, Alfred, what I wrote
to you, and the postscript he added, is the simple truth. We cannot
command our own hearts. Such love as I once had for you is dead--it
died on the fatal day which brought him across my path. We met--we
love; deal with us as you will! I would rather, ever so much
rather, die with him than lose him now!"

Alfred was already beginning to fumble fiercely in his
breast-pocket. Peter felt the time had arrived for plain
speaking; he could not submit to be butchered under a ridiculous
misapprehension of this kind.

"Listen to me!" he said eagerly, "before you do anything rash, or
you may bitterly regret it afterwards. I do assure you that I am
the victim--we are _all_ the victims of a series of unfortunate
cheques--I should say, mistakes. It's absurd to make me responsible
for the irregular proceedings of a nonsensical Bank. If I had spent
my time as I ought to have done _at_ the time, instead of putting
it out on deposit, I should never have dreamed of employing it in
any kind of philandering!"

"That," said Sophia, "is undeniable: but you spent it as you ought
_not_ to have done!"

"Such a speech comes ill from you," he said, reproachfully,
"after having expressly condoned the past; and, however I may
have appeared to philander, I can conscientiously declare that
my sentiments towards both of these young ladies--_both_, you
understand--have been restricted to a respectful and--and merely
friendly esteem.... Don't shoot, Alfred!... I thought that was
quite understood on all sides. Only have a little more patience,
Alfred, and I will undertake to convince even you that I could not
for a moment have contemplated depriving you of the hand of this
extremely charming and attractive lady, who will _not_ let go my
arm.... I--I am a married man!"

"Married!" shrieked Miss Davenport, cowering back.

"Married!" exclaimed Miss Tyrrell, as she hid her face upon her
father's shoulder.

"Married!" shouted the Judge. "By heavens, sir, you shall account
to me for this!"

"Married!" cried Sophia. "Oh, Peter, I was _not_ prepared for this!
When? Where?"

"_When? Where?_" he echoed. "You were not prepared for it? Perhaps
you will ask me next who my wife is!"

"I shall not indeed," said Sophia, "for I have no longer the
slightest curiosity on such a subject!"

Peter collapsed upon the nearest bench.

"Sophia?" he cried hoarsely, "why keep this up any longer? Surely
it is gone far enough--you _can't_ pretend you don't know!"

But while he spoke the words, he saw suddenly that his attempt
to force her hand was hopeless: she was quite sincere in her
surprise; she was the Sophia of _six months ago_, and no amount of
explanation could ever make her comprehend what had happened since
that time!

And here Alfred broke his silence.

"What you have just confessed," he said, "removes my last scruple.
I might, for all I can tell, have stayed my hand and spared your
life upon your promise to make Maud happy; for, in spite of her
treatment of me, her happiness is still my first consideration. But
now you have declared that impossible,--why, as soon as I can get
this revolver out of my pocket--for it has stuck in the confounded
lining--I will shoot you like a rabbit!"

"Sir William," cried Peter, "I appeal to you! You are the
representative of Law and Order here. He is threatening a breach
of the Peace--the _Queen's_ Peace! I call upon you to interfere!"

"I am no advocate," said Sir William, with judicial calm, "for
taking the law into one's own hands. I even express a hope that
this gentleman will not carry out his avowed intention, at least
until I have had time to withdraw, and I must not be understood to
approve his action in any way. At the same time, I am distinctly
of opinion that he has received sufficient provocation to excuse
even such extreme measures, and that the fate he threatens will, if
summary, at least be richly deserved."

"I think so too," said Sophia, "though it would be painful to be
compelled to witness it!"

"Terrible!" agreed Miss Tyrrell. "Let us hide our eyes, dear!"

"Stay, Alfred!" Miss Davenport implored, "have some pity!
Think--with all your faults, you are a keen sportsman--you would
not shoot even a rabbit sitting! Give Mr. Tourmalin a start of a
few seconds--let him have a run before you fire!"

All this time Alfred was still fumbling for and execrating the
obstinate weapon.

"I decline to run!" Peter cried from his seat; he knew too well
that he could not stir a limb. "Shoot me sitting, or not at all,
but don't keep me waiting any longer!"

His prayer seemed likely to be granted, for Alfred had at last
succeeded in extricating the revolver; but before he could take
aim, the Bank Manager and the Melbourne man ran in and interposed.

"Hold on one minute, sir," they said; "we, too, have business
with the gentleman on the seat there, and you will admit that it
must be concluded before yours, if it is to be settled at all. We
must really ask you to postpone your little affair until we have
finished. We will not keep you waiting any longer than we can help."

The Judge, with an ostentatious indifference, had strolled away to
the smoking-room, probably to avoid being called upon to decide
so nice a point as this disputed precedence; his daughter, Miss
Davenport, and Sophia had turned their backs, and, stopping their
ears, were begging to be told when all was over.

Alfred was struggling to free his pistol-arm, which was firmly held
by the other two men, and all three were talking at once in hot and
argumentative support of their claims. As for Peter, he sat and
looked on, glued to his seat by terror: if he had any preference
among the disputants, he rather hoped that Alfred would be the
person to gain his point.

All at once he saw Sophia turn round and, with her fingers still
pressed to her ears, make energetic contortions of her lips,
evidently for his benefit. After one or two repetitions, he made
out the words she was voicelessly framing.

"_Run for it!_" he interpreted. "_Quick ... while you can!_"

With his habitual respect for her advice, he rose and, finding that
the power of motion had suddenly returned, he _did_ run for it; he
slipped quietly round the corner and down the passage to the other
side of the ship, where he hoped to reach the saloon-entrance, and
eventually regain his cabin.

Unhappily for him, the grim lady from Melbourne had noted his
flight and anticipated its object. Long before he got to the
open doors, he saw her step out and bar the way; she had an open
sunshade in her hand, which she was preparing to use as a butterfly
net.

He turned and fled abruptly in the opposite direction, intending to
cross the bridge which led aft to the second-class saloon deck,
where he might find cover: but as he saw, on turning the corner,
the Manager had already occupied the passage, Peter turned again
and doubled back across the ship, making for the forecastle; but he
was too late, for the Melbourne man was there before him, and cut
off all hope of retreat in that quarter.

There was only one thing left now: he must take to the rigging, and
accordingly the next moment, scarcely knowing how he came there, he
was clambering up the shrouds for dear life!

Higher and higher he climbed, slipping and stumbling, and catching
his unaccustomed feet in the ratlins at every step; and all the way
he had a dismal conviction that as yet he had not nearly exhausted
the cheque he had drawn. He must have at least another couple of
hours to get through, not to mention the compound interest, which
the Bank seemed characteristically enough to be paying first.

Still, if he could only stay quietly up aloft till his time was up,
he might escape the worst yet. Surely it was a sufficient penalty
for his folly to have embroiled himself with every creature he
knew; to have been chivied about the deck of an ocean steamer by
three violent men, each thirsting for his blood; and to be reduced
to mount the rigging like an escaped monkey!

A few more steps and he was safe at last! Just above was a huge
yard, flattened on the upper surface, with a partially furled sail,
behind which he could crouch unseen; his hands were almost upon it,
when a bronzed and bearded face appeared above the canvas--it was
one of the English crew.

"Beg your pardon, sir," said the man, civilly enough, "but I shall
'ave fur to trouble you to go down agin, please. Capt'in's strick
orders, sir. Passengers ain't allowed to amuse theirselves climbing
the rigging!"

"My good man!" said Peter, between his pants, "do I _look_ as if
I was amusing myself? I am pursued, I tell you. As an honest,
good-hearted British seaman--which I am sure you are,--I entreat
you to give me a hand up, and hide me: it--it may be life or death
for me!"

The man wavered; the desperate plight Peter was in seemed to arouse
his compassion, as it well might.

"I _could_ 'ide yer, I suppose, come to that," he said slowly; "but
it's too late to think o' that now. Look below, sir!"

Peter glanced down between his feet, and saw two swarthy Lascars
climbing the rigging like cats. Lower still, he had a bird's-eye
view of the deck, about which his enemies were posted in readiness
for his arrival: the Manager exhibiting his spiked boots to Sir
William, who shook his head in mild deprecation; the old lady
brandishing her sunshade in angry denunciation, while her brother
flourished his horsewhip; and Alfred stood covering him with his
revolver, prepared to pick him off the instant he came within range!

And Peter hung there by his hands--for his feet had slipped out
of the ratlins--as helpless a target as any innocent bottle in a
shooting-gallery, and the Lascars were getting nearer and nearer!

He could see their bilious eyeballs, and their teeth gleaming in
their dusky faces. He felt a bony hand reaching for his ankles, and
then a dizziness came over him: his grip upon the coarse, tarry
cordage relaxed, and, shutting his eyes, he fell--down--down--down.
Would the fall never come to an end? Would he never arrive?...



CHAPTER X.

Dénoûment.


At last! The shock was over; and he feebly opened his eyes once
more, to find that he was undoubtedly on the deck; and, yes, the
Bank Manager was standing over him with a kind of triumphant grin!

"Mercy!" Peter murmured faintly. "You--you surely wouldn't kick a
man when he's down!"

"My dear sir!" protested the Manager, "why should I wish to kick
you in _any_ position?"

He must be fatally injured, if even the Manager had relented!

"Is--is Alfred there?" asked Tourmalin, anxiously. "Keep him away,
if you can!"

"Certainly!" said Mr. Perkins. "Who _is_ Alfred?"

"Why, the--the man with the revolver. I thought you knew!"

"Come, come," said the Manager, "there's no man of that kind here,
I assure you. Pull yourself together, sir; you're on board the
_Boomerang_ now!"

"I know," said Peter, dolefully,--"I know I am!"

He shut his eyes resignedly. He was about to receive some other
portion of his time-balance. If he could only hope that no fresh
complications would arise! Would he meet Miss Tyrrell or Miss
Davenport next, he wondered, and how would they behave?

"Haven't you had sleep enough yet?" said the Manager. "You're not
more than half-awake even now!"

"Sleep?" exclaimed Tourmalin, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
"Why, you don't mean to tell me I've been dreaming all this time!"

"I don't know about dreaming; but I can answer for your snoring.
Why, you almost drowned the ship's band! I knew what would happen
when you _would_ have two helpings of curry at breakfast. Worst
thing to take in the world, especially if you don't walk it off!
Why, you've been the joke of the whole ship for the last half-hour.
I wish you could have seen yourself, with your head hanging over
the arm of your chair and your mouth wide open! I thought at last
it was only kind to wake you up. Those two young ladies over there
have been in fits of laughter!"

Peter picked up Buckle, which was lying face downwards on the deck.
His own face was very red, possibly from stooping, as he inquired:

"Er--_which_ two young ladies?"

"Can't tell you their names; but those two uncommonly nice-looking
girls--one in white and navy-blue, and the darker one in pink. Dear
me, I thought they would have died!"

Even now they seemed to have the greatest difficulty in controlling
their countenances, for happening just then to look round and catch
Peter's glance of confused and still somnolent suspicion, they
buried their faces in their handkerchiefs once more, in agonies of
suppressed mirth.

And these were the two whom his dreaming fancies had pictured
as tenderly, desperately, madly devoted to him! The reality was
decidedly disenchanting: they were very ordinary girls, he saw,
after all.

"Well," said Mr. Perkins, "it's not far off tiffin time now; so,
you see, you managed to get through your extra time after all!"

"Yes," said Peter, with a little natural embarrassment; "but I
think, do you know, that, on reflection, I--I _won't_ deposit the
extra hours after all! If you will kindly take back the--the
cheque-book," he added, feeling in his pockets, "and give me the
form I signed, we will consider the arrangement cancelled--eh?"

"It's my belief," said the Manager, "that your head isn't quite
clear yet; for, hang me if I know what you 're talking about!
Deposit? cheque-book? form? What is it all about?"

Peter coloured more furiously than before.

"It was the curry," he said. "I wasn't quite sure whether--but it's
really too absurd to explain. I am wide-awake now, at all events!"

He was awake now, and knew that no time-bargain of this monstrous
kind had ever been actually effected, and all the wild events which
seemed to have taken whole months to accomplish themselves, were
the work of a single hour's indigestion! He was still a bachelor;
still engaged to Sophia: he had still to make the acquaintance of
Miss Tyrrell and Miss Davenport, and endure the ordeal of remaining
for some weeks to come--to say nothing of the extra hours--exposed
to the peril of their fascinations!

But whatever happened now, it could not be said, at least, that he
had not received abundant warning of the consequences which might
ensue from any yielding, however blameless or defensible, on his
part.

And Peter Tourmalin resolved that henceforth Buckle should
monopolise his attention.



THE EPILOGUE.


There are always a few inquiring persons who, at the conclusion
of any story, insist upon being told "what happened after that."
And if such a question is ever justified, it is so in the case of
a narrative that, as in the present instance, ends almost at the
precise moment at which it began.

So it is not impossible that some readers may be sufficiently
interested to wish to know the particular effect produced upon
Peter Tourmalin's subsequent conduct by a vision more than usually
complicated and connected.

Did he receive it, for example, as a solemnly prophetic warning,
and forswear all female society while on board the _Boomerang?_
or was he rather prompted to prove its fallibility by actual
experience?

As to the motives which guided him, we are unable to speak with
confidence, and they must be left to be accounted for by the
reader's knowledge of human nature in general, and Peter's, so far
as it has been self-revealed by his unconscious imagination in
these pages, in particular.

But the author is in a position to state with certainty that,
when Sophia and her mother met the ship, as they duly did at
Gibraltar, nothing on Peter's part gave them the slightest ground
for suspecting that he was on terms of even the most distant
acquaintanceship with either Miss Tyrrell or Miss Davenport, and
that the fact of his being far advanced in the third volume of
Buckle's _History of Civilisation_ seemed to guarantee that he had
employed his spare time on board the vessel both wisely and well.

Nor did he get into any difficulties by circulating gossip
concerning any matron from Melbourne, owing to the circumstance
that there was no lady passenger who at all answered the
description. She, like much else in his experiences, was purely a
creation of the curry.

Lastly, it may be added that Peter is now married to his Sophia,
and is far happier than even he could have expected. She tempers
her intellectuality out of consideration for his mental bareness;
and as yet he has never found her society in the least oppressive,
nor has his errant fancy wandered back in any perfidious sense to
the time he spent, when freed from her supervision, on board the
_Boomerang_.


                             THE END.



                         TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE


-Plain print and punctuation errors fixed.





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