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Title: A Girton Girl
Author: Edwardes, Annie
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 "A Girton Girl" ***


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|Transcriber’s note:                              |
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|Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.  |
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A GIRTON GIRL

BY

ANNIE EDWARDES

AUTHOR OF ‘ARCHIE LOVELL,’ ‘OUGHT WE TO VISIT HER?’ ETC.


         O Women, Women! O our frail frail sex!
     No wonder tragedies are made from us.
     Always the same: nothing but loves and cradles’
                           _The Revolt of the Women_ (ARISTOPHANES)


[Illustration: Logo]

A NEW EDITION

LONDON

RICHARD BENTLEY & SON, NEW BURLINGTON STREET

Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen

1886

_All rights reserved_



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                      PAGE
      I. TRIANGULAR FRIENDSHIP                  1

     II. POKER TALK                            11

    III. HAS HE A WIFE?                        32

     IV. A TRINITY BALL                        43

      V. MARJORIE                              58

     VI. TWO IN ARCADIA                        71

    VII. ON THE BRINK OF A FLIRTATION          82

   VIII. CROSS-STITCH                          89

     IX. HALF WAY TOWARDS LITTLE GO            99

      X. ‘THEY SAY----’                       108

     XI. ‘DODO’S DESPAIR’                     115

    XII. YELLOW-BACKED NOVELS                 123

   XIII. THROUGH SMOKE-COLOURED SPECTACLES    135

    XIV. BROUGHT UP BY THE JESUITS            143

     XV. A LOVE-LETTER                        158

    XVI. A RASH RESOLVE                       166

   XVII. THE FIRST CRUMPLED ROSE-LEAF         172

  XVIII. HOW DINAH SAID ‘YES’                 178

    XIX. GASTON ARBUTHNOT’S PHILOSOPHY        194

     XX. ‘JAMES LEE’S WIFE’                   204

    XXI. ‘IS MY VIRGIL PASSABLE?’             212

   XXII. LINDA AS AN ART CRITIC               218

  XXIII. A SWAGGER AND A SWORD                227

   XXIV. REX BASIRE’S HUMOUR                  238

    XXV. YOU--AND I!                          244

   XXVI. CUT AND THRUST                       252

  XXVII. GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY               261

 XXVIII. FOR AULD LANG SYNE                   275

   XXIX. MISSING                              282

    XXX. LINDA WARMS TO HER PART              290

   XXXI. WIFE AND HUSBAND                     300

  XXXII. ROSE-WATER SOCIALISM                 312

 XXXIII. CLOSE TO PORT                        320

  XXXIV. DEAD ROSE PETALS                     325

   XXXV. A TRAITRESS                          334

  XXXVI. THE LAST OF ARCADIA                  341

 XXXVII. A STONE FOR BREAD                    347

XXXVIII. TEMPTATION                           362

  XXXIX. THAT LITTLE DIVINITY                 379

     XL. AT THE BUNGALOW                      389

    XLI. ONE WORD                             399

   XLII. EMANCIPATION                         407

  XLIII. GEOFFREY CALLS TO BE PAID            416

   XLIV. KISMET                               428

    XLV. LABELLED AND CORDED                  438

   XLVI. A BYE-TERM MAN                       444

  XLVII. BESIDE THE CRADLE                    454

 XLVIII. HAPPINESS                            464

XLIX. FROM DINAH’S HAND                       475



A GIRTON GIRL



CHAPTER I

TRIANGULAR FRIENDSHIP


‘The foundations of Newnham and of Girton may be deep,’ observed
Gaston Arbuthnot, in his pleasant, level, semi-American voice. ‘The
foundations of the Gogmagog Hills are deeper! Girl wranglers may come,
girl optimists may go. The heart of woman remains unchanged. And the
heart of woman----’

But a plate piled with luscious Guernsey strawberries happening to
be placed, by a jaunty Norman waitress, under Gaston’s nose, the
generalisation, for the moment, ended abruptly.

Guernsey. Imagine that dot of granite washed round by such blue as our
western Channel shows in June; imagine carnation-smelling sunshine,
a friendly trio of young persons breakfasting, with appetite, on the
lime-shaded lawn of Miller’s Sarnian Hotel; imagine the flutter of a
muslin dress, the presence of a beautiful girl of two-and-twenty, and
the opening scene of this little drama lies before you.

I may add that the friendship of the three persons was a paradox, as
the reader of the succeeding pages shall be brought to see.

‘The heart of woman tends towards marriage. Well, a picturesque
revival of Lady-Jane-Greyism,’ went on Gaston Arbuthnot, as his plate
of strawberries subsided, ‘may be safe enough--to the Lady Jane Greys!
Especially in an age when women, young or old, are by no means given
to losing their heads. But let the Roger Aschams who bear them company
look to it! This young person whom you, Geoffrey, propose to coach is
probably neither worse nor better than her sisters. The man-hating
story I flatly disbelieve. Marjorie Bartrand may or may not go to
Girton. She is sure to prove herself a very woman in the end.’

‘Unfortunately, you flatly disbelieve so many things.’ As she spoke
Gaston’s wife transferred a monster strawberry from her own plate to
her husband’s. ‘You told me, only yesterday----’

‘Dinah, my love,’ interrupted Gaston, with good humour, ‘never remind a
man who has well dined or well breakfasted of what he said yesterday.
In what state were one’s nerves twenty-four hours ago? Was the wind
in the east? Had our perennial duns arrived from England? Had our
cousin Geoffrey been reading pauper statistics at us? Each or all of
these accidents may have engendered scepticism which at this moment is
replaced by the childlike faith born of idleness and a fine digestion.’

And Dinah’s strawberry, encrusted by sugar, delicately dipped in
Guernsey cream, was placed between Gaston’s white teeth, savoured and
swallowed.

It was not part of Mr. Arbuthnot’s philosophy to refuse any little
choice morsel that the world, artistic, intellectual, or physical,
thought fit to offer him.

He was a handsome man verging on his thirtieth year: tawny-bearded,
fair, with hands that Titian or Velasquez might have loved to paint,
and a profile of the type commonly known as Bourbon. (Although he may
not play the first part in this or any other drama, one has a feeling
that Gaston should advance to the footlights, make his bow, a good
minute before his fellow-actors leave the slips.) His eyes were shrewd
and near together, their colour and their expression alike prone to
shift if a stranger sought, too persistently, to investigate them.

With a first look you felt sure that Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot bore a brain.
You felt equally sure, with a second, that the opinion was shared, even
to exaggeration, by Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot himself.

In dress it was his pleasure to affect Bohemianism. On this particular
June morning Gaston wore a brown velveteen coat, a spun silk shirt,
a white sombrero hat--the well-tailored man becoming only more
conspicuous under the disguise. What smaller things shall be said of
him? That he had been brought up as a child in Paris, the only son of
a valetudinarian American widow, and spoke French to this hour with a
better accent than English, rolling his ‘r’s’ and clipping his vowels
like a born denizen of the boulevards. Item: that he had a fair English
girl for his wife; item: a loyal, rough-hewn Scottish cousin for his
friend--the Dinah and Geoffrey who, breakfasting with appetite although
their discourse was of sentiment, made up the paradoxical little group
under the lime trees at which we have glanced.

Let us turn to Geoffrey next, leaving Dinah, as I see they leave the
first actress in the theatrical advertisements, for the bottom of the
list.

The cousinship of the Arbuthnots might be divined at a glance,
although, reviewed feature by feature, the two men were notably unlike
in their likeness. Both were tall, both were wiry of build, both held
their heads high, going along life’s road as though the world, taken
from whichever point of view you liked, were decidedly a place worth
living in. Here the likeness ended. Gaston, indeed, would declare
that by virtue of his mother’s Yankee blood, and his own Parisian
instincts, they were less related, physically, than any ordinary
cousin-germans.

One overwhelming difference between them was patent. Geoffrey was no
beauty-man! When he was the freshest of freshmen, five or six years
before the morning of this Guernsey breakfast, Geff went in, one
November night, for a little bit of guerilla fighting in the Cambridge
streets, which, without quenching the guerilla spirit, effectually left
a beauty-spoiling brand upon himself for the remainder of his life.

It happened thus. Geoffrey, raw from school, had newly carried off one
of the scholarships best worth winning in the University. Although
brave, manly, impetuous, the lad’s hours were early, his habits sober.
He belonged, indeed, to a class which young gentlemen, fond of their
pleasure, and of modest mental gifts, are apt to label during their
first two terms of residence under the generic name of smug. Well,
with an old schoolmate, less versed in Greek than himself, Geff had
been drinking coffee and conning over such portions of Plato as would
be wanted by his friend for the coming Little Go. He was midway on his
way back to his scholar’s attic in John’s when, turning sharply round
a corner of Petty Cury, he found himself in the thick of a small but
classic ‘town and gown.’ A brace of undergraduates, raw as himself,
held a mob of roughs at bay; stones, oaths, and brickbats flew about
with Homeric profusion. A fine Cambridge drizzle gave atmosphere to the
scene. Police, bull-dogs, proctors, were beneath the horizon.

With no other weapons than his fists and his Plato, Geff rushed to the
fore. In those early days he had neither the weight nor the staying
power which on many a well-contested football field have since made his
name a terror to the foe and a tower of strength to All England. He
had, however, the force born of will, of brain, of generous impulse.
Ere twenty seconds had sped Plato, with all the Platonic philosophy,
went to the winds, and the biggest, brawniest of the roughs, stoutly
gripped about the neck-cloth region, gave tokens of surrender.

Unfortunately for Geff’s beauty, his antagonist’s left hand held a
broken stone bottle. As the ruffian felt himself reel to earth he swung
the missile, with dastard might, into the Scotch lad’s face, cutting
his nose and forehead very literally to the bone. There came a cry of
‘Proctor!’ There was the shuffle of departing feet. Then Geoffrey,
blinded, stunned, fell into a bull-dog’s arms and heard the usual
proctorial question as to name and college, addressed with the usual
calm proctorial courtesy to himself.

It was a week before the Little Go exams.; and Geoffrey Arbuthnot, as
soon as the surgeons could strap his face into a grim resemblance of
humanity, went down.

The incident in nowise lessened his Cambridge reputation. Although he
eventually came out eighth in the Classical Tripos, it is not known
that the most foolish tongue called Arbuthnot of John’s a smug again;
tacitly, he was recognised, even by pleasure-loving young gentlemen,
as one of that queer ‘good-all-round sort’ in whom the defects of
bookishness and staid living are condoned by certain sterling natural
virtues--glorious muscle, unconquerable pluck. ‘Virtues that a man
can’t help, don’t you know, if they are born in him!’ And which,
confusing to the pleasure-loving intelligence though such facts may be,
do certainly, in the long run, bring public credit to the Alma Mater.

But the blow from his street antagonist had marred Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s
looks for life.

Strength, loyalty, gentleness, were written large upon his face. His
dark, somewhat sunken eyes had in them the glow of an intellect high
above the level of his handsome cousin! His smile, though Geff did not
resemble the family of Bourbon, was finer, because sweeter, more wholly
human than Gaston’s. But his looks were marred. That rugged cicatrice
across nose and forehead could never wear out, and Geoffrey possessed
not the thousand little drawing-room graces that, in some women’s
sight, might go far towards rendering such a blemish ‘interesting.’ His
hands, however firm, lithe, adequate for a surgeon’s work, did neither
suggest Titian nor Velasquez to your mental eye. His dress bespoke the
student. His French was grotesque. Although a second Bayard in his
reverence for abstract Woman, he had no small attentions for concrete
idle ladies.

Garden parties Geoffrey Arbuthnot evaded; dancing parties he abhorred.
In regard to matrimony he would shake his head, not holding it a state
meet for all men.

Concerning this latest clause, however, the reader shall learn more
when we come to ask why the triangular friendship of the persons
breakfasting together under the shadow of Mr. Miller’s limes was
paradoxical.

‘Yes,’ resumed Gaston Arbuthnot, tilting himself to the outside limit
of equilibrium on his garden-chair, and clasping his arms, with a
gesture admirably suggestive of habitual laziness, above his head,
‘look the position in the face for one moment, and you reduce it to an
absurdity. No girl of seventeen has ever yet been a man-hater; has she,
Dinah?’

‘I was not,’ admitted Mrs. Arbuthnot frankly, although she blushed.
‘But Miss Bartrand of Tintajeux, young though she is, has gone through
disappointment. Mrs. Miller told me so when I showed her the paper with
the advertisement. Miss Bartrand, more than a year ago, was engaged to
the major of some English regiment stationed in Guernsey.’

‘Is that a disappointment, my love?’

‘The major of the regiment proved a sorry character,’ said Dinah
gravely. ‘Miss Bartrand found out that he had broken the heart of some
poor girl at a former garrison town.’

‘And, from that hour forth, swore to look on all men as in the
conspiracy,’ interrupted Gaston. ‘What breadth of discrimination, what
knowledge of the world, these simple-seeming schoolgirls occasionally
show!’

‘When I was eighteen, that spring I went to stay with Aunt Susan at
Lesser Cheriton, I knew no more of the world’s ways than a baby, did I,
Geff?’

‘The philosophers are divided as to how much a baby does know,’
answered Geoffrey, fixing his dark eyes with discrimination upon Mrs.
Gaston Arbuthnot’s face.

‘There is an unexpected parry for you, my dear girl.’ Shifting his
chair away from the table, Dinah’s lord began to fold himself a loose,
or Spanish-modelled cigarette. Pipes and cigars of ordinary goodness
Gaston would no more smoke than he would swallow any of the popular
fluids known among Britons as wine. He had the virtue of facile
temperance, wore the blue ribbon of a fastidious taste. Unless his
small luxuries were of the choicest, he could at any time fill the
anchorite’s _rôle_ without effort. ‘You had better apply to your own
lawful husband, Dinah, than to Geff, when you want a compliment.’

‘I apply to Geoffrey when I want truth.’

Dinah made this answer unconscious of the slight irony her speech
conveyed.

‘The truth! When a pretty woman talks of truth,’ cried Gaston, ‘she
means, “Give me the biggest, most sugared lump of praise that my moral
gullet will enable me to swallow.”’

Mrs. Arbuthnot had been married close upon four years. Yet was she so
much in love with Gaston still as to colour rosy red at the doubtful
flattery of this remark.

She was a blonde, amply framed Devonshire girl, in the fresh summer
of her youth. ‘Not a lady,’ according to the traditions of small
social courts, the judgments of smaller feminine tribunals. Dinah’s
lips could scarcely unclose before ineradicable accents of the west
country working folk informed you that Gaston Arbuthnot, like so many
artists--poor dear impressionable fellows!--had married beneath him.
Not a lady, as far as the enunciation of certain vowels, the absence
of certain petty artificialities of female manner were concerned, but
with the purity of April dawn on her cheeks, the wholesome work-a-day
qualities of a long line of yeoman progenitors in her heart.

About most women’s charms men are prone to hold contradictory opinions.
What world-renowned beauty but has at times felt the cold breath
of adverse criticism? A smile from Dinah’s pensive mouth, a gleam
from Dinah’s serious eyes, appealed to all beholders. Tottering old
gentlemen would turn, with spectacles hastily adjusted, to wonder; fine
ladies cast looks of despair after her from their carriages; young men
of every sort and condition would lose their peace, if Dinah did but
demurely walk along London pavement or provincial street. She was an
altogether unique specimen of our mixed and over-featured race: white
and rose of complexion; chiselled of profile, with English-coloured
hair (and this hair is neither gold nor flaxen nor chestnut, but a
subdued blending of the three); eyebrows and eyelashes that matched;
a nobly cut throat; and the slow, calm movements that belong in all
countries to the fair large Madonna-like women of her type.

Madonna. The word in connection with poor Dinah must awaken instant
visions of sock-knitting and of pinafore-mending! Gaston’s wife was, in
truth, a very ideal of sweet and gracious motherhood. Gladly you would
have imagined her, girt round by a swarm of toddlers, with eyes and
cheeks like her own, to be bequeathed, a priceless heirloom, to future
generations. But Dinah had no living child. And round Dinah’s mouth
might be discerned lines that should certainly not have found their way
thither at two-and-twenty. And in Dinah’s low country voice there was
a lilt at times of unexpected sadness. Round some corner of her path
Dull Care, you felt, must lurk, stealthily watchful. At some point in
the outward and visible sunshine of her married life there must be a
blot of shadow. A woman like Dinah could be hit through her affections
only. Her affections were centred painfully--I had almost written
morbidly--on one subject. And that subject was Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot,
her husband.

‘If Miss Bartrand be a hater of men, a scorner of marriage, so much the
easier prospect for me,’ said Geoffrey. ‘At the present time I look
upon myself as an educational machine to be hired out at so much an
hour. I have no more mind to put on company manners for Miss Marjorie
Bartrand than for any thick-headed fresher I was vainly endeavouring to
get through Little Go.’

‘You? It depends, rather, on what Miss Marjorie Bartrand has a mind
for,’ observed Gaston Arbuthnot, with the certainty born of larger
experience.

‘Happily, the wording of the advertisement shows that Miss Bartrand
means work. We have it here.’

Geoffrey looked down the columns of a small, blue, badly-printed local
newspaper, half French, half English, that lay open on the breakfast
table.

“Tutor wanted. I, Marjorie Bartrand of Tintajeux, need a coach
to prepare me for Girton. Classics and mathematics. Six hours a
week.--Apply, personally, at Tintajeux Manoir, after six P.M. An Oxford
or Cambridge man preferred.”’

‘Does any one know if Marjorie Bartrand is handsome?’ exclaimed Gaston,
with sudden animation. ‘Dinah, I adjure you to find out the truth in
this matter. The women of the hotel would at least repeat the popular
island beliefs. “An Oxford or Cambridge man preferred.” The crystalline
artfulness of the clause touches one, from a girl who makes pretence at
misanthropy.’

‘But surely, Gaston, you would not----’

‘I would do most things. My classics were unfairly judged of by my
college tutor. My mathematics,’ Gaston confessed, with his air of
unreliable fatuity, ‘never existed. Still, I kept all my terms, except,
of course, the hunting terms. And I succeeded--as far as I went! If I
passed no exams., I was at least never spun. I am as much a Cambridge
man as Geoffrey is. I feel more than disposed to apply to Miss Marjorie
Bartrand myself.’

The muscles about Dinah Arbuthnot’s delicately-carved mouth trembled.

‘You would tire before the first lesson was over,’ said Geff, watching
Dinah, while he addressed Dinah’s husband. ‘You want my incentive,
Gaston, filthy lucre. My terms as a coach in Guernsey are five
shillings an hour. Five sixes are thirty. Yes, reading classics and
mathematics with Miss Bartrand will just pay half my weekly hotel bill,
supposing I am not lucky enough to get other work.’

‘And you don’t care a straw whether Marjorie Bartrand is pretty or
plain? My dear Geff, if ever fortune brings you to the stage, take the
part of Joseph Surface, for my sake. It would suit you to admiration.’



CHAPTER II

POKER TALK


Ere Geoffrey had had time to retaliate, a factor of no common
importance was destined to enter the difficult problem of Dinah
Arbuthnot’s happiness. Holding the corner of her apron before her lips,
the jaunty French waitress tripped up a pathway leading from the hotel
to the lime-shaded lawn, and placed a lady’s card between Gaston’s
hands.

‘Une dame ... Mais, une petite dame qui demande Monsieur!’

And the serving-woman’s eyes took in the whole space of blue mid-heaven
at a glance. Obviously this Norman waitress, with acumen derived from
an older civilisation than ours, was mistress of the situation.

In a second of time Dinah had glanced over her husband’s shoulder.

‘Mrs. Thorne. Who is Mrs. Thorne? What is that written in pencil?
“_Née_ Linda Constantia Smythe.” Gaston, what is the meaning of
“_Née_?”’

I am bound to add that Dinah pronounced the monosyllable as ‘knee.’ And
a red spot showed on Gaston Arbuthnot’s cheek.

From his precocious boyhood up, it had been a belief of Gaston’s
that lady-killing was an open accomplishment; the established means
of defence as much an art to be learnt as the means of attack. And
still, at the sight of those poor pencil-marks, at the thought of the
youthful evenings when Linda Constantia used to hand him cups of weak
tea, flavoured atrociously with cinnamon, in the salon of a remembered
Paris entresol, the conscience of the man was touched.

As Dinah’s voice asked the meaning of the word ‘knee,’ he changed
colour.

‘Linda Constantia Smythe. What an absurdly small world we inhabit! You
and I, my love, and Geoffrey, coming across poor Linda Constantia!
Faites entrer cette dame,’ he added, turning to the waitress. ‘An
absolutely forgotten acquaintance of a hundred years ago, Dinah--an
acquaintance of times before I had heard your name. Linda married--no,
did not marry; went out to India a spinster, and returned, poor soul!
the wife of a Doctor Thorne. They say, in these Channel Islands, a man
will run across every mortal he has known, or is fated to know, from
his cradle to his grave.’

‘You never told me of your acquaintance with any Linda Constantia
Smythe. I wonder you recollected her name so instantly, Gaston.’

‘Easier, perhaps, to recollect the name than the lady. Can it be
possible that this is she?’ A cream-coloured parasol, a great many
yards of cream-coloured cambric, were advancing with agitated flutter
across the lawn. ‘By Jupiter! how these meagre women age when they
once cross the line. Can this be the walk one has admired, I know not
how oft? Are those the shoulders?... My dear Mrs. Thorne,’--Gaston
Arbuthnot rose to meet his visitor, thoroughly warm, thoroughly natural
of manner; and Dinah, with a sensation of insignificance only too
familiar to her, sank into the background--‘this is too kind! Doctor
Thorne well, I hope? And your little daughter? You see I have watched
the first column of the _Times_. About your own health I need not ask.
And so you have really given up India--have made a settlement in
Guernsey! Dinah, my love, let me introduce you to one of my very early
Parisian friends. My wife--Mrs. Thorne.’

Dinah bowed with the staid gravity that in her case, as in that of
some other lowly-born people one has known, came so near to the
self-possession of breeding. Mrs. Thorne was effusive.

Gaston felt an honest artistic satisfaction in watching the contrast
the two young women presented to each other.

Linda Thorne’s figure was lithe, straight, thin; the sort of figure
that ever lends itself kindly to the setting forth of such anatomical
deformities as shall have received the last approving seal of Parisian
fashion. Her eight-buttoned long hands were pleasingly posed. She wore
a great deal of frizzled darkish hair on a forehead that, but for this
Cupid’s ambuscade, might have been overhigh. Traces of rice-powder, at
noon of a June day, were not absent from Mrs. Thorne’s India-bleached
cheeks. Her eyes were big, black-lashed, green. Her nose was flat,
giving somewhat the Egyptian Sphinx type to a personality which,
with all its demerits, was by no means void either of allurement or
distinction.

If Linda had spoken perfect grammar, in a London tone, and with a
taught manner, you would have set her down, perhaps, as an actress from
one of our good theatres. Speaking, as she did, at utter grammatical
random, with the slightest little bit of Irish accent, and no manner at
all, imagination might suggest to you that Dr. Thorne’s wife belonged
to some lost tribe of nomad Lords or Honourables. And the suggestion
would be correct. Linda’s grandfather was an Irish earl; a hare-brained
gentleman not unknown to the newspaper editors of his day, but with
whose deeds, good or evil, with whose forfeited acres, domestic
relations, or political principles, our story has no concern.

Linda grasped Mrs. Arbuthnot’s hands; drawing her towards herself with
such warmth that Dinah’s unsmiling face rose higher in the air. She
had an instinctive, a horrible dread that this old Parisian friend
of Gaston’s, this lady of the green eyes, rice-powdered cheeks, and
effusive manner, might be going to embrace her.

‘A pleasure, and an immense surprise to meet like this!’ Mrs. Thorne
took in with one long look the blooming fairness of the girl Gaston
Arbuthnot had married, then dropping Dinah’s hands, she turned coolly
away. ‘I heard of your arrival here, Mr. Arbuthnot, from Colonel de
Gourmet.’

‘Colonel de Gourmet is----’

‘Our island authority in all matters of taste, from the dressing of a
salad to the delivery of a sermon. He said you looked like a man who
would understand the meaning of the word “dinner.” That is the highest
praise Colonel de Gourmet can give.’

‘I appreciate the compliment immensely.’

‘You must appreciate the Colonel by meeting him at our house. Somehow,
I fancied you were alone. I thought stupidly, you had come to Guernsey
for art reasons, and as a bachelor.’

So her visit was deliberately not intended for the wife; after such
a declaration, could not involve the necessity of the wife’s future
acquaintance! The keen blood quickened on Dinah’s cheek. Dinah’s
husband was unmoved. Should it be counted as strength or as weakness,
as fault or as virtue, that no small feminine by-thrust at his
lowly-born wife ever shook the outward composure of Gaston Arbuthnot?

‘No, Dinah is with me. We are just starting on somewhat lengthy
travels. We mean to spend the early summer here, Mrs. Thorne. In autumn
we shall ramble leisurely on towards the South of France, and in winter
make a settlement of some kind in Florence. In Florence, greatly to my
wife’s satisfaction, I am pledged to do serious work.’

‘Yes! And is it true, then, that you are a sculptor by profession, that
you have become an artist to the exclusion of other aims! Of course
there is a way of looking at things which makes such a life seem the
most charming possible.’ Mrs. Thorne clasped her thin clever hands
as though entering some mysterious general protest against art and
its followers. ‘And still, one has regrets. I was foolishly ambitious
about you, if you remember, Mr. Arbuthnot. In our romantic boy-and-girl
Paris days, I quite thought you were to get into Parliament. To be the
people’s friend. A kind of second Mirabeau. To make a tremendous name.’

Gaston Arbuthnot’s face for a second betrayed sincere perplexity. When
was Linda Constantia ambitious in her hopes about his intellectual
future! At what period of that shallow flirtation, a decade of
years ago, could dreams of a seat in the House of Commons, and of
Parliamentary victories, have been possible to her?

‘I am open to flattery, Mrs. Thorne. When does a mediocre man not glory
in the fine things which, according to his friends, he might have done?
Yet it seems to me I never held a political opinion in my life.’

‘You once held very strong ones. Why, in a letter you wrote me
after--after we had said good-bye in Paris, you were so nobly warm, I
remember, about the English lower classes! Our sisters and brothers
in the alleys, whose claims that dear, immortal Mrs. Browning so
beautifully reveals to us.’

Gaston Arbuthnot, at this mention of a letter, felt the ground grow
solid beneath his feet.

‘I must have written to you from Cambridge; for the moment, perhaps,
had taken up some of Geff’s fads. Let me introduce my cousin, by the
bye. Geoffrey Arbuthnot--Mrs. Thorne.’

Mrs. Thorne, who knew that in Geoffrey Arbuthnot she would never have
a friend, smiled ambrosially. Geff rose. He gave the lady the lowest,
at the same time the coldest bow in the world. It was a true case of
elective dislike at first sight.

‘Yes,’ went on Gaston, ‘I remember.’ He drew forward a garden-chair,
into which Mrs. Thorne--no unpleasing picture in her broad Leghorn hat,
her cambric morning gown, her eight-buttoned gloves, her cream-coloured
sunshade--sank gracefully. ‘I had taken up one of Geff’s fads. The
British Workman was an epidemic among all classes of Cambridge
undergraduates that term. Get hold of your poorer brother in his hour
of sobriety--that is to say, on a Friday afternoon. Present him with
a bookshelf of your own carving. Explain to him the newest thing out
in draining-pipes. Show him how to make a window-box of rough cork,
and present him with half a dozen slips of scarlet geranium. Humanise
him--always, of course, with the capital H. Humanise him!’

‘You call work so utterly noble as this “a fad”? I assure you, Mr.
Geoffrey Arbuthnot, I am wild myself about the working classes. At this
very moment I ought to be visiting among my district people.’

Mrs. Thorne’s eyes offered Geoffrey a glance of tentative sympathy.

‘Different men come to the same end by different roads,’ said Gaston.
‘Your greatest English authority on culture declares that any man with
a dash of genius is the born elevator of others. I believe myself to
have a dash--a thin streak, rather--of genius. I believe myself to be a
born elevator, but it must be in my own way.’

‘And that is?’ asked Geoffrey.

‘Well, remembering the atmosphere of Barnwell and Chesterton, the scene
of our early labours, one feels sure that the geraniums must have
choked for want of air. Remembering the clay soil, the neighbourhood of
that oozy river, the thick air, the black ugliness,’ Gaston shivered
unaffectedly, ‘one is sceptical even as to draining-pipes. My opinion
is--that the English must be regenerated by art, by sculpture notably,
owing to the low price of plaster casts. Sculpture can be best studied
in Italy, and I am on my road thither. But Geff and I may still be
fellow-labourers in the same cause.’

Gaston rattled forth this specimen of ‘poker talk’ lightly, his
sombrero pulled low on his forehead, his shrewd, thought-reading eyes
making observation the while of Linda--Linda whom, in long-dead Paris
days, he just liked too well to be ever, for one moment, in love with.
And the result of his study was that, in her Leghorn hat and cambric
gown and slim, eight-buttoned gloves, Linda Constantia Thorne looked
undeniably picturesque.

Each attitude that she took had, he saw, been diligently learnt by
heart. It was Mrs. Thorne’s habit when in town to spend her nights
at the Lyceum, studying gracefulness, from the stalls, at so much an
hour. Her expression savoured rather of earth than heaven. Her figure
spoke of the Parisian deformity artist, not of nature. But these faults
were just _les défauts de ses qualités_. Gaston could never think
idiomatically save in French. A well-paying section of the art of 188-
required models of Linda Thorne’s type. And what artist, with pockets
poorly lined, can resist the prospect of a good unpaid model?

If pure-faced Madonnas commanded the worship yielded to them of old,
no need to go farther than the exquisite brow and throat of his own
Dinah. But pure-faced Madonnas in the nineteenth century are for the
first-class sculptor. Gaston belonged to the dilettante third-rate men
who execute pretty conventionalities with readiness, get money for
them from the dealers, and are stirred neither by great expectation of
success nor by great disappointment in failure.

In any case, so decided the quick brain under the sombrero, Linda
Thorne, during half a summer here in Guernsey, must be a resource,
personally, against stagnation. She had ripened into a kind of sub-acid
cleverness that pleased Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot’s taste. Her acquaintance
opened out a not unprofitable means of spending one’s hours between
work and dinner. On principle, he was in favour always of the brain
woman, as opposed to the sentiment woman. He chose the white rose
rather than the red--his only condition being that the white rose must
wear Jouvin’s gloves, get her dresses from Paris, abjure patchouli,
and be peremptorily certain that every inch of his, Gaston’s, heart
belonged to the somewhat neglected girl, with Juno face and Devonshire
accent, who waited for him at home.

Before sixty seconds were over he had resolved upon soliciting Linda
Thorne to be his model.

‘And while Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot chisels marble for the English pauper
in some delicious Florentine palace, you are thinking of Guernsey as an
abiding-place?’

Mrs. Thorne asked the question softly of Geoffrey.

‘I? Certainly not, madam. After a few weeks’ holiday I am going back to
my medical work in Cambridge.’

‘Geoffrey won his academic honours long ago,’ said Gaston. ‘In my
cousin Geff you behold that melancholy specimen, Mrs. Thorne, a man of
genius resolutely bent on not getting on in the world. After passing
eighth in the Classical Tripos of his year----’

‘And finding that a Classical Tripos does not mean bread and cheese,’
put in Geff with sturdy independence.

‘My cousin went back to school, set up a skeleton, and began smelling
evil smells out of bottles, like a good little boy of sixteen. In
another year and a half he hopes to get some unpaid work in the East
End of London. The worse,’ added Gaston, with the hearty appreciation
of Geoffrey, which was the finest thing in his own character--‘the
worse for all the wretched men and women in Cambridge whose lives are
bettered by my cousin Geff’s labours among them.’

‘Re--ally? Dear, dear, it is all too noble! A veritable life-poem in
prose! My husband is a man of science, too. Only in his days, you know,
doctors believed in their own horrible medicines. Doctor Thorne will
be charmed to make Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s acquaintance. You are not
working quite _too dreadfully_ hard here in Guernsey, I hope?’

Geoffrey detested italics, even though he might tolerate a woman who
habitually employed them. Judge how he was affected by the italicised
enthusiasm, applied to himself, of Linda Thorne!

‘My work in Guernsey will take the shape of pupils, if I am lucky
enough to get any. My terms are five shillings an hour, madam. My
tuition comprises Greek, Latin, arithmetic, a moderate quantity of
algebra, and, if required,’ said Geff, without the ghost of a smile,
‘the use of the globes. Perhaps you could recommend me?’

‘Oh, to be sure; I quite understand.’ Linda’s highly-wrought tones
went through a diminuendo of interest, well bred but rapid, at this
announcement of poverty. ‘Classics; the use of the globes; algebra;
pupils.’

‘Of whom we hope we have caught one,’ cried Gaston, watching her face,
gauging the extent of her sympathy for life-poems in prose. ‘You think,
do you not, Geff, that you have secured Miss Marjorie Bartrand of
Tintajeux?’

‘I have already offered myself in writing, and shall walk out to
Tintajeux, on approval, this evening. If Miss Bartrand thinks me
capable of teaching her arithmetic, also the rudiments of Greek and
Latin, at five shillings an hour, the bargain will be struck.’

‘Capable!’

The exclamation came from Dinah, who until now had maintained a staid
but not ungracious silence while the others talked. A certain light in
Dinah’s eyes betrayed the profound conviction of Geoffrey’s intellect
which was felt by her.

Mrs. Thorne looked, without showing she looked, at the three Arbuthnots
in turn.

‘You think Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot more than capable of guiding the
whole combined feminine intellect of our poor little Guernsey. Do you
not, Mrs. Arbuthnot?’

Linda asked this with the North Pole voice that puts the social
position of a feminine questioner at so vast a distance from the social
position of her questioned.

‘I know nothing about intellect, except what I hear from Geoffrey and
my husband. I am quite uneducated myself.’

Dinah’s reply was accompanied by a large level glance from those
fearless, truthful Devonshire eyes of hers. And Mrs. Thorne’s eyes fell.

Gaston Arbuthnot felt the heart within him rejoice. He would honestly
have liked to accord a ‘Brava!’ to his wife.

‘A good many interpretations may be put upon the word “uneducated,”’
observed Geoffrey.

Mrs. Thorne had long known herself to be a clever woman. She felt that
she was a cleverer woman than usual at this moment. Yet not a suspicion
had she of the situation’s actual point, not an inkling of the delicate
friendship which bound Geoffrey to Dinah, and, at a somewhat lengthened
distance, to Gaston.

‘Ah! When you have stayed longer in our Robinson Crusoe little
island---- And it _is_ charming, is it not?’

‘Quite too deliciously charming,’ answered Gaston, paraphrasing Linda’s
own style of speech. ‘And cheaper than any decently liveable place
this side Italy. For the daily consideration of two five-franc pieces
one gets such sunshine as cannot be bought in Great Britain, three
excellently cooked meals, and the advantage of living under the same
roof with members of the English aristocracy. You hear the domestic
gossip, Dinah. Does not a dowager countess, with a German lady’s
maid, a second husband, two pug dogs, and a wig, reside in some upper
apartment of Miller’s Hotel?’

‘But you will find that we are a little behindhand. Doctor Thorne
and myself are sensible that there is always the insular note. Our
friends are most kind, most hospitable, and of course there are the
military people to fall back upon. Still, remembering other days, the
intimacies of the soul, the freedom, the expansion of Indian society,
Robbie and I feel we are in exile. There is a constant danger of fatty
degeneration--I see Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot laughing at me--fatty
degeneration of the mind.’

‘Want of appreciation is the saddest thing in human life,’ murmured
Gaston, with a serious face. ‘I am taking my wife to Florence on the
outside chance that we may be recognised by the Florentines as persons
of distinction. In London we are nowhere.’

‘Yes. There is the insular note. Now, these Bartrands of Tintajeux.
Delightful people! Noble French family who emigrated a hundred years
ago to Guernsey--such of them, I mean, as were not guillotined--dropped
the “de” from before their name, and settled here. Well, it is very
wicked to awaken prejudice, but----’

‘Put aside all moral obligations,’ exclaimed Gaston Arbuthnot. ‘At a
pass like this, dear Mrs. Thorne, it is a matter of life or death to
some of us to have facts. Is Marjorie Bartrand pretty?’

With her long, gloved fingers Linda Thorne stroked down imaginary
creases in her dress.

‘Marjorie ought to be pretty. I am a frank adorer of beauty, you
must know. I hate to see a girl with possibilities make the least of
herself. So I always contrive to give Marjorie a friendly lecture. If
she would only arrange her hair differently, as I tell her, and dress
like other people, and take a little reasonable care of her complexion,
she might be distinctly nice-looking. All to no purpose. Marjorie
is Marjorie still. Some people call her an original. I,’ said Linda
playfully, ‘go farther. I call her an aboriginal.’

‘I see her with my mind’s eye. Geoffrey, accept my condolences. All
these classico-mathematical girls,’ observed Gaston, ‘are the same.
Much nose, little hair, freckles, ankles. Let the conversation be
changed.’

‘Marjorie has too little rather than too much nose, and is certainly
too dark for freckles. It seems, Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot, that you have
grown cynical in these latter days. If I were a girl again I should be
wild to become a pupil of Mr. Geoffrey’s--if he would have me. I should
adore classics and mathematics, a touch of science even! Positively, I
think one _ought_ to have a smattering of biology, just as one ought
to attend the ambulance classes. But we may cultivate the Graces also.
Now, Marjorie carries everything to extremes. Perhaps that is only
another way of saying Marjorie is a Bartrand.’

‘And the Bartrands, you hinted, are, as a race, handsome?’

Never was man surer of carrying his point, by oblique if not by direct
means, than Gaston Arbuthnot.

‘Handsome, stiff-necked, unrelenting. I am not talking scandal against
Queen Elizabeth, mind. If I said this in their presence, both Marjorie
and her terrible grandfather would feel flattered. Something softer the
child may perhaps have inherited from her Spanish mother.’

(‘A Spanish mother!’ interpolated Gaston, in speculative parenthesis.
‘Southern eyes flashing at you from the handsome Bartrand face!’)

‘But Marjorie has the true family temper. She knows too much. She
ascribes the worst motives to every one. She cannot forgive. About
a twelvemonth ago, when the girl really ought to have been in the
schoolroom, there was an unhappy little love story afloat in Guernsey.’

‘A lover who was unworthy of her, of course?’

‘That sort of thing happens to many of us,’ said Linda, examining the
stitching of her kerchief, ‘and yet we women manage to forget our
own wrongs and to tolerate humanity for the remainder of our lives.
Marjorie, reckoning pounds, shillings, and pence by our modest insular
standard, is an heiress. Well, she despises the very name of man now,
because a certain rather mercenary Major Tredennis sought to marry her
for her money.’

‘And intends to be revenged upon us from the awful heights of Plato
and conic sections! Geff, my boy, I don’t envy you as much as I did a
quarter of an hour ago.’

‘Oh, Mr. Geoffrey will be frightfully snubbed. It is only right to
prepare him beforehand.’

Mrs. Thorne raised her eyes--very fine and sparkling eyes they looked
just then--to Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s face.

‘I shall like the sensation,’ remarked Geff. ‘To the usual forms of
feminine caprice one should be indifferent. Snubbing means sincerity.’

‘If you tell her she has worked out a proposition in Euclid right she
will resent it, think you are offering her an affront under the veil of
compliment.’

‘Then I will speak of the propositions only in which she fails.’

‘If you admire the flower she holds in her hand she will throw it away.
If you say the sky is fair, she will remark that, for her part, she
thinks it looks like rain. Once or twice,’ said Linda, ‘I have met
Marjorie Bartrand at some village treat or flower-show. The girl is not
out, or likely to come out. She possesses _one_ dress, I believe, the
orthodox length of other people’s! And each time I have pitied the
unfortunate young men who tried to make themselves agreeable to her.’

‘I am not an agreeable young man, Mrs. Thorne, either in fact or
intention. Your warnings are kind, but I think even a Bartrand and an
heiress will find it waste of time to snub me long.’

As Geoffrey spoke a side gate of the hotel garden opened. The figure of
a spare, wooden-structured old gentleman dressed in white nankeen, and
with a white umbrella, outspread, walked in.

‘Why, there is Robbie! My dear good husband!’ exclaimed Mrs. Thorne,
impulsively. ‘What in the world----’

‘Allait-il faire dans cette galère?’

The quotation was put in by Gaston in an innocent voice.

Now Dinah’s French studies had in her youth been conducted, for five
terms, in a small and remote Devonshire boarding-school. Consequently
she did not understand one word of the language as pronounced by
Gaston. Her heart sank as she watched an amused smile play round
Linda’s mouth. Already ideas were exchanged between these two
people--dear friends once--from which she must, perforce, remain shut
out.

‘Doctor Tho--orne! Doctor Tho--orne!’

And with playful undulatory movements of her parasol Mrs. Linda strove
to arrest her husband’s attention.

‘Linda! Bless my heart, my love, I thought you were district visiting
hours ago. Quite an unexpected pleasure.’

And, hat in hand, Doctor Thorne advanced up the path, dutifully
obedient to his Linda’s call, to be introduced to Linda’s friends.

He was an ultra Indian-looking, ultra curry-coloured old Company’s
servant, considerably more than thirty years his wife’s senior, with a
snow-white military moustache, projecting white eyebrows, mild, tired
eyes, a very thick gold chain, a puggaree, and buff shoes. You could
never look at Doctor Thorne without a certain surprise that he did
not live in Cheltenham; so well was his appearance in tune with your
recollections of the Cheltenham promenade winter garden, Montpellier
lawn-tennis courts, and club windows blossoming over with generals,
admirals, and old Indians.

But in Cheltenham Linda might have hunted! Quite early after their
return to Europe Doctor Thorne made the discovery that he and his wife
had two passions--Linda’s for horses, his own for living within his
pension. This decided him on choosing an island for his residence.

‘Bless my heart, Linda! A positively unexpected pleasure,’ repeated
the Doctor, with urbane little bows discreetly given to no person in
particular.

‘You dear, delicious Robbie, to turn up just when you are _so_ wanted!’
cried Linda. ‘Mrs. Arbuthnot, let me introduce my husband.’ With a
careless wave of the hand that said, plainly enough, this part of the
ceremony might be cut as short as possible. ‘Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot. Have
I not often told you, Robbie, of my old friendship for Gast--, I mean,
for Mr. Arbuthnot, in Paris? Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot, a medical student
from Cambridge.’

Doctor Thorne was one of the most thorough believers extant in this
questioning, sceptical nineteenth-century world. He believed in his own
drugs, practising, on a small but murderous scale, here in Guernsey,
and holding the same pharmacopœial opinions that obtained half a
century earlier in Calcutta. He believed in the great political names
he had admired when he was a schoolboy; in the balance of power; in the
infallibility of Church, State, and the British Empire generally. He
believed in the extraordinary convenience of his house, in the fitness
of his furniture, in the talents of his Linda. Doctor Thorne, I
should add, had a mind--curiously small, thoroughly limited, but still
a mind--not badly stored with facts, of a dry and statistical order,
which he loved to impart to others.

Fastening at once on Dinah--for Linda, moving a few paces distant,
began to lionise the adjacent islands for Gaston’s benefit, and Geff
contrived to vanish from the scene--fastening on poor Dinah for his
victim, Doctor Thorne at once opened a conversation with the airy
didactic grace in which old gentlemen would seem to have shone when the
story-books of our infancy were written.

‘Your first visit to the island, Mrs. Arbuthnot I Then I trust you
and your worthy husband will accept my services as your cicerone.
There is much here, I can assure you, to stimulate the interest and
foster habits of observation. In the first place, you see, we have the
people themselves, whose habits of frugality contrast in a marked and
favourable manner with those of larger countries. You are not perhaps
acquainted with the statistics of savings-banks generally?’

‘I have never had anything to save in my life, sir.’

‘Well, then, I can give you a few important facts. Sit down, pray. Let
us protect our heads under the shadow of this delightful ash, or lime,
which is it? I can give you a few details, with the amount actually
saved by each person in this island over the age of fifteen. Studies
of this kind captivate the softer faculty of benevolence, while they
strengthen and enlarge the understanding.’

Dinah was well dowered by Nature with means of self-defence. She could
put down an impertinence--I am afraid could resent an injury, as well
as any fine London lady of them all. But in Dinah’s moral arsenal was
no weapon for demolishing a mild little prosy gentleman of sixty-seven,
with snow-white moustache, yellow shoes, and a tired smile. Some
intuition she could not have analysed made her almost feel a species of
pity for Linda’s husband.

We do not easily experience two distinct kinds of pain at one moment.
It may be that Dinah’s heart was too sorely troubled for her to be
sensible of boredom, even at the hands of such a master in the art of
boring as the Doctor.

‘That morsel of table-land in the south is Sark,’ observed Linda,
pointing to an outline of haze faintly towering above the dense blue of
the Channel. ‘And the streak nearer at hand--please don’t look at me,
but at the islands--the streak nearer at hand, with the sun shining on
its yellow patches, is Jetho; and nearer still, where the pale green
spaces mark the shallows, is Herm. I hope you are following my stage
directions, Mr. Arbuthnot.’

Mr. Arbuthnot was scrutinising her face; curiously, as one scrutinises
any waif or stray from the past suddenly brought back to one; but
tenderly, too. When does a man of Gaston’s character feel aught but
kindness towards the woman whose life has been a little embittered by
his own fascination?

The kindness made itself felt in his voice and look when he answered
her:

‘Almost the last time you and I saw each other we followed stage
directions side by side. Have you forgotten those New Year charades of
Madame Benjamin’s?’

‘I have forgotten nothing,’ exclaimed Mrs. Thorne, with a sharpish
accent. ‘I have remembered you, Mr. Arbuthnot; I have thought of you,
hoped for your happiness all these years. Now, at length, I am called
upon to witness it.’

She gave a glance at Dinah, patiently enduring the Doctor’s statistics,
then went on with a sort of effort:

‘You must let me congratulate you. I am blunt, matter-of-fact--just as
I used to be.’ Certainly Linda Thorne was at no pains to modulate her
voice. ‘Mrs. Arbuthnot is simply beautiful. Those matchless lines of
profile! Those soft waves of gold above her brow!’

‘You like that way she has with her curls? I am answerable for it. It
took exactly fifteen months to convince Dinah that a woman may wear
short hair upon her forehead, yet save her soul alive.’

‘And the lips, the chin! I believe Mrs. Arbuthnot’s face is the first I
have ever seen without a flaw.’

Linda spoke as one might speak of a shell cameo, of a china vase, of a
lily modelled in wax.

Gaston Arbuthnot mentally translated the chill distinct tone, with
edification to himself.

‘Dinah’s is a nature laid on large lines. She is the best possible wife
for such a light-ballasted man as I.’ He made this confession of faith
with genuine earnestness, feeling, rather than acknowledging he felt,
that the speech set his conscience satisfactorily at rest ‘Goodness
matters a great deal more, does it not, Mrs. Thorne, than a beautiful
face?’

‘Possibly. I am ready to accept what you say. Tell me only you are
not offended by my outspoken admiration,’ she went on. ‘Surely I may
presume sufficiently on old--old acquaintance, to congratulate you on
your marriage, on the domestic sunshine of your life?’

‘It is delightful to feel that your heart is warm as ever! As a matter
of priority, congratulations, Mrs. Thorne, were due to you first. Dinah
and I have been married three years and three quarters, while you----’

‘Oh, it makes me too old a woman to be precise about dates,’ said
Linda, looking away from him. ‘My daughter, although she retains her
ayah and her spoilt Indian ways, is a big girl, almost four years old.
I hope you will visit The Bungalow soon for Rahnee’s sake.’

‘The Bungalow being----’

‘The straggling, white, one-storied place which you see low down under
the hill to the right. That is my home, built entirely from Doctor
Thorne’s own plans. The ugliest house, every honest person who sees it
admits, in Guernsey.’

‘Not in its interior. I am certain a house inhabited by you could not
be ugly.’

‘Prettily said. Why, pray, in the present æsthetic age, cut off’ as we
are from the poetic upholstery of London, should a house inhabited by
me not be a great deal uglier than other people’s?’

‘I decline, at this hour of the morning, to be logical. One has an
instinct in such things.’

‘Rahnee, at least, is not ugly. I am not afraid of your judgment on our
little Rahnee. Now, what is to-day?’

Gaston Arbuthnot believed it to be the fourteenth day of June, in the
year of grace 188--.

‘Well, then’--Mrs. Thorne’s voice sank so as to be only half a tone
higher than a whisper--‘will you dine with us this evening, at
half-past seven? I believe,’ added Linda vaguely, ‘that one or two
of the artillery officers may be coming to us. We do not entertain.
I make a point of telling everybody that. Doctor Thorne and I do not
entertain. But if our friends care to drop in unexpectedly, to eat our
roast mutton with us, and smoke a cigarette with Robbie afterwards,
there we are.’

It was to be a bachelor party, then. Dinah might possibly have been
invited to eat roast mutton at Mrs. Thorne’s table. She could, under no
circumstances, be asked to smoke a cigarette with Robbie afterwards.
But Gaston accepted with frank cordiality. During the years of his
married life it had so grown to be a matter of course that Dinah,
dear good girl! should never go into the world, that even the form
of hesitation at leaving her had been dropped on the part of Dinah’s
husband.

‘No dress coat, no white tie, _please_. In these long June evenings one
likes to stroll away as far from bricks and mortar as possible. There
will not be a moon to-night. Still, even in the darkness, it will be
enjoyable to breathe pure air and watch the light upon the Caskets from
the jetty yonder.’

‘And what do you think of my old friend?’ Gaston Arbuthnot asked his
wife when the Thornes had departed on their different roads--the Doctor
to visit a patient in Miller’s Hotel; Linda, her dress, a caviller
might say, scarce fitted to the work, to her poor dear brothers and
sisters in the alleys. ‘I have listened to Linda Thorne’s verdict on
you. Now for the reverse of the medal. What do you think of Linda
Thorne?’

‘I think her vulgar.’

It was the first time Gaston had heard judgment so harsh from Dinah’s
lips. Hers was the least condemnatory of human souls. She shrank with
a rare modesty from giving opinions on the people with whom Gaston
associated, was openly unashamed always of her own lowly origin, and of
her inability to discern the finer shades of a society to which she was
not born.

A slight tinge of red kindled on Arbuthnot’s cheek. ‘Vulgar is a strong
word. Women are not always generous in their strictures upon each
other. Yet it happened that Mrs. Thorne was singularly generous in her
criticism of you. Linda thinks you beautiful, my dear. She said yours
was the first face she has ever seen without a flaw.’

‘Standing close beside me as you did, Mrs. Thorne would have shown
delicacy by not talking of me at all. Although I tried not to listen, I
heard too well what she said. It was those flatteries of Mrs. Thorne’s,
for of course I am no judge of manner, which made me think her vulgar.
A lady at heart would have known how you must wince on hearing me so
coarsely praised.’

For one moment Gaston Arbuthnot’s looks were threatening, then the
cloud passed.

‘I believe you are half right, my dear girl,’ he observed, in his
sunniest voice, and picking up his wife’s hat from the spot where
it had fallen at her feet. ‘But people of the world are not as
transparently truthful as you, my Dinah. You shoot at the bull’s eye
when you do discharge an arrow, and seldom miss the mark. Now, let me
tie your hat strings! Lift your chin--so! Let us wander off to the sea
and forget all the insincerities, all the Linda Thornes in existence.’

The speech must have been uttered with some of the airy mental
reservation that Gaston Arbuthnot’s habit of ‘poker talk’ made easy to
him. He did not for one instant forget that he was engaged to dine that
evening at The Bungalow; engaged, although there was no moon, to enjoy
pure air and watch the light upon the Caskets from the jetty yonder.



CHAPTER III

HAS HE A WIFE?


‘The battle is to the strong, Marjorie Bartrand; the race to the swift.
Women have been fatally handicapped since the world began. And Nature
understands her own intentions, depend upon it, better than we do.’

‘Does Nature intend one half of the human race to be ciphers?’

‘Nature intends men to have wives. There is no escaping that fact. When
I was a girl we got quite as much education as society required of us.’

‘Society!’

‘We learned modern languages, French and Italian, for of course German
was not in vogue, and I must say I think Italian much the more feminine
accomplishment.’

‘That is paying an exceedingly high compliment to German, ma’am!’

‘And we studied English literature, solidly, not out of little
green-backed handbooks. Never a day passed that I did not read
Addison, or some other fine Queen Anne writer, aloud to my father.
And we knew how to write a letter. And we coloured from Nature, for
the love of the thing, exceedingly well, some of us, though there was
no South Kensington, and we never called ourselves art students, and,
and--Marjorie Bartrand, how did this conversation begin?’

‘Apropos of Spain, did it not?’

‘To be sure. Apropos of your Girton scheme, your wish to see classics
and mathematics pushed into a country where women are still content to
be women, and very womanly ones. University teaching for girls is a
freak that will die out of itself, like coal-scuttle bonnets, bishops’
sleeves, crinoline, or any other mode that is at once cumbersome and
unbeautiful.’

Afternoon sunshine was flooding the weather-beaten lichened walls of
Tintajeux Manoir. The Atlantic glittered, one vast field of diamonds,
until it melted into pallid sky along the southern horizon line. The
keen, cool ocean saltness mingled with and almost overbalanced the
fragrance of the pinks, heliotropes, and roses in the Reverend Andros
Bartrand’s old-fashioned borders. On a garden bench, at some short
distance from the house, were seated two ladies, fresh of face, both;
countrified of dress; fast friends, although more than forty years
stood between their ages. A cedar of Lebanon spread wide its layers of
odorous darkness above their heads. A grass plot, emerald green, close
shorn, was their carpet.

‘If your wits were your fortune, child, such ambitions might be
pardonable.’ So, after a space, the enemy of progress resumed her
parable. ‘In families where the olive branches are in excess of the
exchequer, the governess, Heaven help her, is expected to “ground”
the boys, as they call it, in Latin grammar and Euclid. But with your
grandfather’s position, your own inheritance, putting the idea of your
marriage aside----’

‘As you know I have put it, for ever and ever!’ cried Marjorie
Bartrand, her whole face seeming abruptly transformed into a pair of
passionate eyes. ‘Did we not decide long ago, Miss Tighe, that the word
mar----, the word I detest so heartily, should never be spoken between
us. Allow that I may not be forced, for money, to ground small boys in
Latin grammar. Allow that my visions of raising Spanish girls above the
level of dolls are as laughable as you all seem to find them. May I not
want to bring myself, Marjorie Bartrand, up to the highest improvable
point as a human being? Great in mathematics I shall never be.’

‘I am thankful, indeed, to hear you say so,’ remarked Miss Tighe, with
an air of relief.

‘But even the Seigneur is forced to confess I might become--a
fourth-rate classic! I know French and Spanish, Dogberry wise, by
nature. That must help me a long way on the road to Latin. And I
have learnt seventeen irregular Greek verbs--I’m not sure about the
aorists--and Mademoiselle le Patourel and I went straight through the
Apology of Plato, with Bohn’s crib.’

‘Poor Sophie le Patourel! You have outgrown her, at last, as you
outgrew all your previous dozen or more governesses.’

‘I don’t know about “outgrown.” Grandpapa ridiculed our attempting
Greek, from the first. You know the cruel way we Bartrands have of
ridiculing under cover of a compliment! Well, one day last week,
Mademoiselle le Patourel was reading the text of Plato aloud, not very
flowingly, poor good soul----’

‘Sophie le Patourel had better have kept to the millinery! Her mother
made up a cap like no woman in this island.’

‘And looking round she saw the Seigneur, outside the window, with a
wicked smile about that handsome old mouth of his as he listened.
Grandpapa made her the prettiest speech in the world about her
quantities, her fine classic tastes, and her pupil. And Mademoiselle le
Patourel never gave me another lesson.’

‘So now your scheme is to prepare for Girton by yourself. Ambitious, on
my word!’

‘My scheme,’ said Marjorie, lowering her voice and glancing over her
shoulder to make sure her terrible grandfather, Andros Bartrand, was
not within earshot--‘my scheme is to have a real University coach of my
own. A Cambridge B.A. at the present time residing in Guernsey.’

Cassandra Tighe started up from her seat.

She was a spare, tall, conspicuous spinster, with a face all features,
a figure all angles, a manner all energy. Her hair was bleached, as
much by exposure to weather as by actual age. Her complexion was that
of a frosted apple. Her dress cost her fifteen pounds a year!

Living alone with one woman-servant in a small Guernsey cottage, it may
be affirmed that Miss Tighe made as much of her life as any gentlewoman
of modest income, and more than sixty summers, in the British
dominions. Her intellectual resources were many. She was a thorough, an
inborn naturalist. She played the harp, and with no dilettante touch,
but as ladies early in the Victorian reign were wont to play that
instrument. She drew. On stormy evenings, when she knew her voice could
not penetrate the cottage window shutters, Cassandra confessed that she
sang--such songs as ‘I see them on their winding way,’ ‘The Captive
Knight,’ or ‘Zuleika.’

Her popularity and her influence were widespread. The figure of Miss
Tighe in her red fishing-cloak, with nets, hooks, jars, boxes, bottles,
overflowing from her village cart, was familiar throughout every nook
and corner of the island. If she had not had the sunniest of human
hearts you might have been tempted to dub her a gossip. That good old
English word, however, is associated in these days with a more than
doubtful spice of malice. And men and women who had known Cassandra
Tighe for thirty years averred that they had never heard an unkindly
judgment from her lips. She was simply a _raconteuse_--we lack the
English equivalent--a sympathiser in all the vivid varying doings
that constitute the lives of young and wholesomely happy people; a
chronicler of news; a delighter in love affairs.

Simply this. And yet, not unfrequently, Cassandra Tighe made mischief.
Truthful, as far as conscious veracity went, to a fault, this excellent
lady’s memory was in a chronic state of jumble; so stored, it may be,
with polysyllabic names of plants, grubs, and fishes, that subsidiary
human details had to be packed in pell-mell, and take their chance
of coming out again untwisted. And, depend upon it, these tangled
well-meaners, not your deliberate villains, are the cause of half the
loves marred, the heartburnings, the jealousies, that make up the
actual dramas, the unwritten three-volume novels of this work-a-day
world!

‘You are going to study with a tutor, Marjorie Bartrand! With a
Cambridge B.A.! With a MAN! What does your grandfather say?’

‘I have not told him the news, Miss Tighe. I grudge giving the Seigneur
such intense pleasure. “If you insist on learning Latin and Greek,”
grandpapa has always said, “learn them decently. Send these trashy
governesses to the winds. Be taught by a competent master.” Yes,’ cried
Marjorie, bringing down a very small hand with very great energy on her
knee, ‘I grudge grandpapa his triumph, but the truth must be told. Now
that I have caught him, I shall begin coaching with my B.A., my Cantab,
forthwith.’

Cassandra shook her head, mournfully incredulous. She was of an age
and of a disposition to which revolutionary ideas do not come with
ease. There was really no place in her mental fabric for the picture of
Marjorie Bartrand, here, inside the sacred walls of Tintajeux, reading
classics and mathematics with a University coach.

‘I think it more than likely the plan will fall through. We have no
Cambridge tutors in the island, unless, indeed, you mean good old Mr.
Winkworth from the High Street Academy?’

‘I mean no one belonging to Guernsey. I mean a person who--ah, Miss
Tighe,’ the girl broke off, ‘I see that I must make full confession.
No knowing, as grandpapa says, when you once begin to speak the truth,
where the truth may land you. My B.A. is coming to arrange about terms
and hours this evening.’

‘And how did he--how did any stranger man hear of you?’

‘I put an advertisement in the _Chronique Guernésiaise_, three days
ago.’

‘Without consulting the Seigneur! Child--you did this thing? You gave
your name, unknown to your grandfather, in the public newspaper?’

‘I gave my name in the public newspaper, ma’am, and this afternoon I
got an answer to my advertisement. Wait one second and you shall hear
it.’

Marjorie drew a note from the breast of her frock, and with an air half
of mystery, half of triumph, began to read aloud:--


     ‘“Miller’s Hotel, Tuesday, June 14th.

     ‘“Geoffrey Arbuthnot, B.A., Cantab., is willing to read classics
     and mathematics with Miss Bartrand. Terms, five shillings an hour.
     Geoffrey Arbuthnot will call at Tintajeux Manoir, on approval,
     between the hours of seven and eight this evening.”’


‘Arbuthnot? Why, this is fatality.’ Cassandra discerned a special
providence, an inchoate stroke of destiny in most things. ‘I was
looking in at Miller’s Hotel last night. That reasonless creature,
Mrs. Miller, has one of her throats again, and I did so want her to
take some of my globules, but in vain. The ignorance of uneducated
people----’

‘And you saw my coach of the future,’ interrupted Marjorie, knowing
that when Miss Tighe got into such engrossing interests as throats and
globules, she must be brought back to her subject with a run.

‘Yes, I saw Mr. Arbuthnot. A rough diamond, my dear, to speak truth.’

‘That is so much in his favour,’ said Marjorie, peeling, shred from
shred, the petals of a carnation that she held between her fingers. ‘I
want to do my work for Girton steadily, unvexed by the sight or thought
of that most irritating of God’s creatures--a beauty-man.’

Cassandra looked hard at the girl, remembering days, perhaps, when
a beauty-man, in the fullest sense of the contemptuous epithet, had
scathed rather than softened Marjorie Bartrand’s heart.

‘Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot, on the score of ugliness, will meet your
wishes, my dear. A rough-hewn Scotchman of the Carlyle stamp. A man
who looks as though he ought to do big things in the world. A man with
a scar--got, I am told, in a Quixotic pavement fight--traversing his
forehead.’

‘I like the sketch. Proceed.’

‘As regards Geoffrey Arbuthnot himself I have done. Walking at his
side, the evening light falling on her uncovered head and fair
face, was the loveliest sight these old eyes have beheld for many a
year--Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s wife.’

‘Geoffrey Arbuthnot--has he a wife?’ cried Marjorie in an altered
voice. ‘My Cambridge B.A.--married! I hope you are sure of your facts,
Miss Tighe. You know that sometimes--rarely, of course--mistakes occur
in our little bits of Sarnian intelligence. You are perfectly certain
that Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot is a married man?’

‘I have seen his wife. How can you ask me if I am certain? “A daughter
of the gods,”’ Cassandra quoted, “divinely tall,” fair-skinned,
large-eyed, with a look of repressed sadness about her mouth that makes
her bloom and youth the more noticeable. I was sitting in poor Mrs.
Miller’s parlour, endeavouring to argue the woman out of taking Doctor
Thorne’s drugs. As a human creature, a father, a husband, I have not
one word to say against Doctor Thorne----’

‘I have!’ exclaimed Marjorie Bartrand imperatively. ‘As a human
creature, a father, a husband--most especially as a husband--I have
everything imaginable to say against Doctor Thorne.’

‘As a physician I consider him a man-slaughterer. Yes,’ repeated
Cassandra, with pious warmth, ‘a man-slaughterer. Indeed, if I had sat
at the inquest on more than one of Doctor Thorne’s departed patients,
Heaven knows what verdict I should not have returned against him.’

‘But your story, Miss Tighe? The man like Carlyle; the beautiful wife.
Return, please, to the Arbuthnots.’

‘Well, just as I was trying to put reason into Mrs. Miller’s weak mind,
I was startled by the sight I told you of. This lovely young woman went
past the window, not two yards from where I sat.’

‘With her husband. Was she leaning on Mr. Arbuthnot’s arm?’ asked
Marjorie. ‘Did they look as if they had ever had a quarrel? Was she in
white--bridal looking? Did you hear them murmur to each other? Miss
Tighe, be dramatic! At Tintajeux we have not the joy, remember, of
eventful living.’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot was dressed in black. Her hair lay in short blonde
waves on her forehead. She wore not a flower, not an ornament about
her person. As they passed the window her husband remarked that he
considered the roast duck and peas of which they had partaken for
dinner were excellent.’

‘So much,’ said Marjorie, affecting cynicism, ‘for a chapter of married
romance.’

‘Ah, that has been. The key of our common life is C major--roast duck
and green peas--whatever accidental sharps and flats we may deviate
into occasionally. The romance has been. I was overcome by the young
woman’s singular beauty,’ went on Cassandra. ‘I asked her name, and was
rewarded by hearing such an account of them as warmed my heart. The
girl belonged to the humblest class of life--a gardener’s daughter,
or something of the kind; and Arbuthnot, while he was still an
undergraduate at Cambridge, married her.’

‘Geoffrey Arbuthnot?’

Marjorie repeated the name softly; a question in her tone rather than
in her words.

‘Geoffrey, I presume; that is to say, most decidedly and beyond
question, Geoffrey,’ answered Cassandra, with the fatal certitude of
inaccuracy. ‘I am the more positive because I felt a kind of love
at first sight for the two young people, and made Mrs. Miller give
me details. A party of Cambridge men were staying in the hotel when
first the Arbuthnots arrived; and some of these men knew the husband
by sight. He is looked upon as rather eccentric among his fellows. I
am afraid, Marjorie, whenever a man leads a nobler life than other
people the tendency of the day is to call him eccentric. And Geoffrey
Arbuthnot’s life must be very noble.’

‘Because he had the courage of his opinions in choosing a wife?’

‘Not that only. Arbuthnot is a student still at the Cambridge medical
school, and gives such time as he has over from study to the most
miserable people in the Cambridge streets. Not proselytising, not
preaching--for my part I don’t believe much in a preaching young man,’
said old Cassandra, whose opinions tended towards the broad; ‘simply
binding up their wounds as men and women. Doing the Master’s work, not
talking about it.’

‘And his beautiful wife helps him!’ exclaimed Marjorie, her sensitive
Southern face aglow. ‘Ah, Miss Tighe, thank you again and again for
your visit and for telling me this news. In my foolish, trivial, wasted
existence, what a splendid bit of good fortune that I should have the
chance of knowing two such people!’

Cassandra Tighe looked a little uncomfortable. She prided herself on
her freedom from the prejudices of her sex; within limits, really
did startle her friends, sometimes, by the free exercise of private
judgment. But the liberality of a white-haired lady, whose sixty years
of life have run in the safest, narrowest, conventional trammels,
may differ widely from the liberality of a hot head, an eager,
self-forgetting young heart like Marjorie Bartrand’s.

‘It will be a fine thing for your Girton prospects, capital for your
Greek and Latin, to read with Mr. Arbuthnot. But I gathered--you must
take this as I mean it, Marjorie Bartrand; you have no mother to tell
you things--I gathered from different small hints that Mrs. Arbuthnot
is not exactly in society. That she is good and sweet and honest,’ said
Cassandra, ‘you have only to look in her face to know; still if I were
in Marjorie Bartrand’s place, I should wait to see what the island
ladies did in the matter of calling.’

Marjorie paled round the lips--sign infallible, throughout the Bartrand
race, of rising tempest. Cassandra, knowing the family storm-signals,
prepared to take a hasty departure.

‘I forget time always under the Tintajeux cedars. And there is plenty
for me to do at home. To-morrow Annette and I are off to Sark for five
days’ shore-work. Our talk about your new tutor has been an interesting
one.’

‘Especially the clause that prohibits my calling on the new tutor’s
wife!’

‘There is no prohibition at all. The Seigneur might safely leave
his card on Mr. Arbuthnot. It would be a very pretty piece of
condescension, and of course a gentleman calling upon a gentleman can
lead to nothing,’ added Cassandra, rather ignobly temporising.

‘Exactly. Thank you very much, Miss Tighe, for your advice. As you say,
I have no mother to enlighten me as to the dark mysteries of calling
or not calling. And as I consider the island ladies too frisky for
pioneers----’

‘Marjorie! Our archdeaconess, our irreproachable Guernsey matrons,
_frisky_?’

‘I shall just have to act for myself. As Mrs. Arbuthnot, you tell
me, has all good qualities written on her face, and knowing the fine
things we do know of her husband’s life, it must be a credit to any
woman--above all to an archdeaconess--to make their acquaintance.’

‘Still, if she is unused----’

‘Oh, I shall not put myself forward. If their merit is unrecognised,
if narrow-minded, irreproachable people hold back from calling on
them, I can understand that there may be shyness on my tutor’s part in
mentioning his wife. I shall simply bide his time. I shall be silent
until he chooses, himself, to speak to me of Mrs. Arbuthnot.’

‘That will be wise. Treat him, honest gentleman, as though one had not
heard of his marriage. Meantime we can find out if our leading ladies,
Madame Corbie especially, intend to notice her----’

‘But in my own self, I honour Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot,’ interrupted
Marjorie, her face colouring like a rose at sunset. ‘I admire, honour,
_love_ him! I wish the world were full of such men. I hold out both
hands in fellowship to him at this moment.’

Cassandra, for once, showed prescience worthy of her name. Cassandra
argued no more.



CHAPTER IV

A TRINITY BALL


Geoffrey Arbuthnot was a man of whom none could say that Fortune had
been to him a too fond mistress.

As a four-foot high boy, with shrewd observant Scottish eyes, with
a Scottish mind already beginning to hold its own ideas as to the
universe, he was sent, through the reluctant generosity of an uncle, to
a London public school. In those days sanitary and social reforms for
overtaxed city schoolboys were still inchoate. Each boy must look after
himself, make personal acquaintance with facts, with the cut and thrust
of human circumstance, take his recreation on the London pavements,
sink or swim as he listed.

Geoffrey Arbuthnot, before he was ten had made acquaintance with a
great many facts, all hard ones. He had no pocket-money, no tips.
His holidays had to be paid for out of the same reluctant uncle’s
purse--father and mother sleeping in a Perthshire kirkyard ere Geff
could well remember aught--and were enjoyed under the roof of such
persons as endure homeless schoolboys, on systems of rigid economy, as
a business.

Hard-working to excess, perhaps because in work he found a friend,
pushed into dead-language grooves because the masters sought to keep up
the dead-language reputation of the school, Geoffrey Arbuthnot awoke
one morning at the age of eighteen a fine classic. He was sent up to
compete for a Cambridge scholarship, won it, and, true to tradition,
began reading, his heart warmed by the unwonted feeling of success, for
his Classical Tripos.

Considering that every aptitude he possessed lay in an opposite
direction to classical study, one can scarcely look on the nine
Cambridge terms that followed as fortunate. The square man did his best
to fill the round hole faithfully, his own squareness decreased not.
And then, in the midst of this Greek and Latin epoch, came his love
affairs--I retract the plural: his one overwhelming passion, ardent,
pure as was ever love felt by man for woman; a passion which paled,
ere he could well grasp it, into shadow, and which still--yes, in the
Guernsey sunshine of this June day--rendered his happiness paradoxical,
just at the age when happiness should be fullest, most complete.

Geoffrey Arbuthnot had not been smiled on by Fortune. Nevertheless,
he possessed gifts which for the simple hourly manufacture of human
contentment are better worth than the bigger favours of the gods.
Life interested him. If he had had few artificial pleasures, he had
exhausted no pleasures at all. In regard of nature, his sensations were
vivid as a child’s. Walking forth to Tintajeux Manoir at an hour when
the crisp blue and gold of afternoon had reached declension, Geoffrey
felt youth run in his veins like wine. The hay and clover smells from
the newly-cut fields; the ‘kiss sweet! kiss sweet!’ of the thrushes;
the verdured hedges touched still by Spring’s immaturity, though the
flower of the May was past; the peeps at every turn of purple salt
water; the road-side ferns through which, knee-deep, he waded; the
yellowing honeysuckle sprays which brushed his face; the streamlets
slipping seaward away, through channels thick with cresses and
forget-me-nots; ay, even the whiffs of wood-smoke from the farmhouse
chimneys, the incomprehensible Froissart French in which he heard the
haymakers chattering to each other over their bread and cider,--all
the low, melodious notes of this homely landscape affected him with a
physical and keen delight.

His life, since remotest baby-days, when he walked holding his mother’s
hand in blithe, fair Scotland, had been passed among streets and among
the human creatures who inhabit them. The pleasure of the Bethnal Green
arab who, at six years old, first handles a living daisy, differs, in
degree only, from Geoffrey’s as he trudged along through the Guernsey
lanes, his mind vaguely fixed on Tintajeux Manoir and on the chill
reception from his future pupil which there awaited him.

Would Miss Bartrand’s thunder glances be discharged from black eyes
or blue ones? Geoffrey had reached a stretch of undulating rushy
common at the extreme western point of the island when this question
presented itself. Ahead was a vista of mouldering banks, gay in their
shroud of blue-flowered, ivy-leaved campanula, and with here and there
a jutting tip of granite, crimson, by reason of its glittering mica,
in the sunset. Above hovered a falcon, almost lost to view against the
largely-vaulted, bountifully-coloured evening sky.

Interpreting Froissart French by such lights as he possessed, Geoffrey
learned from an ancient goat-tending peasant dame that a neighbouring
block of stone building, partially visible on the left through oak and
larch plantations, was Tintajeux Manoir. Would the girl who awaited
his visit there be blonde or dark? Something Mrs. Thorne had hinted
about a Spanish mother. According to all mournful human probabilities,
the heiress would be swarthy; a black-eyed, atrociously clever-looking
young person, he thought, with shining hair drawn tightly from her
forehead, with stiff linen collar and wristbands, with a dignified
manner and inkstained fingers. Also, despite her seventeen summers,
with a leaning towards stoutness.

Geoffrey disrelished the picture projected before his mental sight
about as much as in his present buoyant physical state he could
disrelish anything. Consulting his watch, he found with relief that
he had reached the outskirts of Tintajeux five-and-twenty minutes too
early. There would be time, amidst this delicious wealth of atmosphere
and hue that flooded him around, for a quiet smoke before encountering
the terrible presence of Miss Marjorie Bartrand!

A suspicion that the heiress’s peppery temper might be roused if one’s
jacket smelt of tobacco rather heightened the alacrity with which Geff
Arbuthnot threw himself down on the fragrant sward and produced his
pipe and pouch. The pipe was a black, ferociously Bohemian-looking
‘bulldog,’ the pouch a delicate mass of silk embroidery and velvet. As
he drew forth--alas! that I should have to say it, his strong-flavoured
cavendish, Geoffrey thought, as it was his custom to think four or five
times each day, of the tender friendly woman’s hand that worked this
pouch for him--Dinah’s!

Poor Dinah! When he saw her last, an hour before, her hands were
clasped together with the half-apathetic gesture of a person to whom
moral suffering has become a habit. A basket of coloured wools stood
before her on the table, ready for her evening’s cross stitching.
Round the corners of her lips was the look of silent endurance which
had become so painfully familiar to Geoffrey’s sight. And all this
for what? There was no great sin, surely, in Gaston’s putting himself
at once under Mrs. Thorne’s easy guidance. The happiest households
one hears of, thought Geoffrey, striking a vesuvian, are those in
which the broadest law of liberty obtains. Does not an artist, more
than other men, want change, professionally? Dinah should know that a
creator, of the cheap popularity order, as Gaston with his pleasant
self-depreciation would say, must have a constant supply of straw for
his brickmaking; must have material, ‘stuff,’ must see brisk lights,
sharp shadows that the calm twilight of domestic happiness does not
yield. And yet....

It was that constant, unspoken ‘and yet’ in Geoffrey’s mind which, up
to the present point, had rendered the close friendship of the three
Arbuthnots a paradox.

Leaning back against a little thyme-grown knoll, his hands clasped
behind his head, Geff looked, with eyes that had learned the secret
of most common things in Nature, at the moorland weeds around him.
Here were graceful quake grasses in plenty, and waving sedges, and
the poet’s wood-spurge, three cups in one. Close at his right hand
grew a stalk of rush crowned by four or five brownish insignificant
flowers, the least lovely outwardly of all the brilliant Guernsey
flora. Well, and it came to pass that the neighbourhood of these
degenerate, colourless petals altered Geff’s mood. He thought of the
inherited mysteries and dooms of human life. He called to mind the
sordid prose of the Cambridge outskirts, and the wretched men and
women, forced deserters from the army of progress, who lived in them.
He called to mind his own often despairing work, the struggles, hard
and single-handed, of his manhood, his youth. His youth--ah! and with
that the moorland scene faded. The years since he first saw Dinah
spread themselves out scrollwise, suddenly illuminated, before Geff
Arbuthnot’s mind.

How well he remembered himself a lad of twenty! How well he remembered
the hawthorn-scented evening of their first meeting! He was walking
alone through the one street of Lesser Cheriton, had passed its
rectory, its seven public-houses, was honestly thinking of his
approaching ‘Mays’ and of nothing in the world beyond, when a cottage
casement window opened just above his head, and looking up he saw
her--unornamented, in russet gown and apron blue, a jug of water in her
white hand ready for the thirsty row of mignonette and geranium slips
in the window-box.

He loved her, there and then. It was an old, a sacred story now, and
Geoffrey questioned no syllable of the text as he scanned it quickly
through. He took her picture back with him to his dark, book-strewn
scholar’s attic in John’s, and that night he dreamed of her. Next
morning he walked forth to Lesser Cheriton at the same hour, passed the
rectory, the seven public-houses, and again caught glimpses of Dinah’s
head as she sat, with a very fat old lady, alas! of a very humble
class, in a close little parlour sewing, the lamp lighted, the windows
fast shut, all the glories of the outside June night ignored.

The same kind of mute worship went on the next evening and the next.
Towards the end of the week the old lady of a very humble class
accosted him. Geff could remember the thrill of that moment yet. Away
through the garden gloom did he not descry the flutter of a russet
dress, the outline of a girlish head downbent over a bush of opening
roses? The young gentleman would pardon her for taking such a liberty,
but as he seemed fond of the country he might care sometimes for a
bunch of cut flowers. She was a lone widow and lived too far off to
send in her garden stuff to the Cambridge market except in wall-fruit
time. If she could dispose, friendly like, of a few cut flowers it
would be a little profit to her. Some of the University gentlemen, she
had heard, dressed up their rooms, like a show, with flowers, and the
roses and carnations this term were coming on wonderful. If the young
gentleman would please to walk round the garden and see?

The young gentleman walked round the garden. He bought as many flowers
as his arms could carry away. He learned that the girl’s name was Dinah
Thurston, that she was ‘apprenticed to the dressmaking,’ and had come
up all the way out of Devonshire to spend a month’s holiday with the
old lady, her father’s sister. The Devonshire burr in Dinah’s speech
disenchanted him no more than did an occasional lapse or two in Dinah’s
grammar. When is a stripling of his age disenchanted by anything save
frowns or rivals? Geoffrey held original ideas on more than one burning
social subject, had made up his mind--on the first evening he saw Dinah
Thurston--that it was a duty for him and for every man to marry young.

And he cared not one straw either for want of money, or for plebeian
birth.

Good, because healthy blood flowed in this girl’s veins, thought
Geff--the incipient physiologist. Sweet temper was on her lips. A
stainless woman’s soul looked forth from those fair eyes. She was
above, only too much above him in every excellence, inward or external.
What chance had he with his plain face, his shy student’s manner, of
winning such a jewel as Dinah Thurston’s love? What hope was there that
she would wait until the day, necessarily distant, when he would be
able to work for a wife’s support?

He became a daily caller at the cottage, and it is hard to suppose
that both Dinah and Dinah’s protector were quite blind to the truth.
Garden stuff was ever Geff’s ostensible object. He wanted cut flowers
for himself, for an acquaintance who could not walk as far as Lesser
Cheriton. He wanted radishes, cresses,--so different, he declared, to
the stringy salad of College butteries! He wanted to know when the
strawberries were likely to ripen.

He wanted some daily excuse for gazing on Dinah Thurston’s face.

Hard, I repeat, to think that the feminine instinct, however
unsophisticated, would make no guess, as time went on, at the state
of the poor young undergraduate’s heart. But this is just the kind
of point at which good women, in every class, are prone to innocent
casuistry. At all events, Dinah Thurston and her aunt gave no outward
sign of intelligence. The old lady took her daily shillings and
sixpences with commercial gravity. Dinah cut the flowers or tied up
little hunches of cress and radishes in a convenient form for Geff to
carry.

So, as in a new garden of Eden without a threat of the serpent’s
coming, matters progressed for yet another fortnight.

Lesser Cheriton lies at a junction of rough Cambridgeshire lanes;
a village girt round by blossoming orchards in May, by sheets of
black water or blacker ice in December. In addition to its rectory
and seven public-houses, it contains a score or two of the thatched,
high-shouldered cottages common to this part of England. Being
untraversed by any of the Maid’s Causeways, Lesser Cheriton lies
somewhat out of the ordinary undergraduate track. Geoffrey had no
intimate friend in the University save Gaston Arbuthnot, whose time was
quite otherwise occupied than in watching the comings and goings of
his simple scholar cousin. He was known to be a hard-working man who
took his daily walk from duty and without companionship. But for an
after-dinner stupidity--a turning missed--the little love drama would
probably have unfolded itself with commonplace speed, and Geoffrey have
gained a wife, for I cannot think Dinah’s unoccupied fancy would, at
the age of eighteen, have been hard to win. The turning, however, _was_
missed--thus.

Just as Geff, his hands filled with flowers, was parting from the
girl, one hushed and radiant evening, there came a rush of wheels--he
could hear it now, dreaming over the past on this Guernsey moorland,
and the blood rose to Geff’s face at the remembrance--a rush of wheels
down the slumbering street of Lesser Cheriton. For a few seconds the
sound was muffled by the ivied churchyard wall where the road wound
abruptly. Then, at a slapping pace, trotted past a high-stepping bay,
of which Gaston Arbuthnot was for the moment the possessor, also Gaston
Arbuthnot, in his well-appointed cart, returning to Alma Mater, with a
brace of rich Jesus friends, after spending the afternoon at Ely.

Lesser Cheriton does not lie on the road between Ely and Cambridge.
Lesser Cheriton, we may boldly say, lies on the road nowhere. But these
young gentlemen were in the adventure-seeking, after-dinner mood, when
a devious turning of any kind is taken with pleasant ease. And here,
on their wrong road, and in Lesser Cheriton’s one street, they found
themselves.

There was daylight lingering still in the low fields of Cambridgeshire
sky. There was a young May moon, too, whose yellowish silver caused
the outlines of Dinah Thurston’s head and throat to stand out in waxen
relief against the dusky arbutus hedge that divided the cottage garden
and the road.

Gaston Arbuthnot turned sharply round for an instant and saw her.
Shouting a cheery ‘Hullo!’ to his cousin, he drove on, giving a little
valedictory wave of his whip ere he disappeared. And Geff, the glory
shorn suddenly, unaccountably from his Eden, bade Dinah good-night, and
started on his four-mile trudge back to Cambridge.

It was ten days before he again smelt the mignonette and roses of the
cottage, or slaked his soul’s thirst by gazing on Dinah’s face. By
early post next morning came a letter saying that the uncle to whose
reluctantly generous hand he owed the hard All of his life lay at the
point of death. The old man was sound of mind still, and desired his
nephew’s presence. A lawyer wrote the letter, and it was added that Mr.
Geoffrey Arbuthnot would well consult his worldly interests by obeying
the wishes of the dying man without delay.

It was one of those crises when all our present and future good seems
to resolve itself into a desolate ‘perhaps.’ Geoffrey’s debts were few.
Still, he had debts. The possibility of remaining up his nine terms at
Cambridge might depend upon the will of this stern-hearted uncle who,
dying, craved his presence. And yet, in obeying the summons, might he
not be risking dearer things than worldly success--jeopardising hopes
which already threw a trembling light over his loveless life?

He had spoken no syllable of his passion to Dinah, was too
self-distrustful to tell his secret by means so matter-of-fact as a
sheet of paper and the post. And so, like many another timid suitor,
Geoffrey Arbuthnot elected to play a losing game. With immense fidelity
in his breast, but without a word of explanation, he set off by noon of
that day to London--not ignorant that Gaston’s eyes and those of Dinah
Thurston had already met.

A girl’s vanity, if not her heart, might well have been wounded by
such conduct. In after times Geoffrey Arbuthnot, musing over his lost
happiness, would apply such medicine to his sore spirit as the limited
pharmacopœia of disappointment can offer. If he had had a man’s metal,
if, instead of flying like a schoolboy, he had said to her, on that
evening when Gaston drove past them at the gate, ‘Take me or reject me,
but choose!’--had he thus spoken, Geoffrey used to think, he might have
won her.

To-night, on the Guernsey waste-land, with heaven so broad above, with
earth so friendly, the past seemed to return to him without effort
of his own and without sting. The fortnight he passed in London, the
unknown relatives who beset the sick man’s bed, the scene amidst a
London churchyard’s gloom, wherein he, Geff, in hired crape, was chief
mourner, the reading of the will, the return to Cambridge--all this, at
first, floated before his vision in grey monotone, as scenes will do in
which one has played a spectator’s rather than an actor’s part. Then in
a moment (Geoffrey’s half-closed eyes scanning the moor’s horizon, the
soft airs blowing on his face) there came upon him a flash of light.
It was so intolerably clear that every leaf and flower and pebble of
a cottage garden in far-off Cambridgeshire stood out before him with
a vividness that was poignant, a vividness that had in it the stab of
sudden bodily pain.

Springing to his feet, Geoffrey resolved to brood over the irrevocable
no longer. He emptied the ashes from his pipe, then replaced it, with
Dinah’s delicate morsel of handiwork, in his pocket. He took out his
watch. It was more than time for him to be off; and after a farewell
glance at the campanula-shrouded knolls, Geff started briskly in the
direction of Tintajeux Manoir. But the ghosts would not be laid. There
were yet two pictures, a garden scene, an interior, upon which, whether
he walked or remained still, Geoffrey Arbuthnot felt himself forced, in
the spirit, to look.

The garden scene, first: time, seven of a June evening, sky and
atmosphere rosy as these that surrounded him now. Thirsting to see
Dinah’s face, Geoffrey walked straight away from Cambridge station,
he remembered, on his arrival from London. He was dusty and wearied
when he drew near the village. The rectory, the seven public-houses
of Lesser Cheriton, looked more blankly uninhabited than usual. Some
barn-door fowls, a few shining-necked pigeons, strutted up and down
the High Street, its only occupants. When he reached the cottage no
one answered his ring. The aunt was evidently absent. Dinah, thought
Geoffrey, would be busy among her flowers, or might have taken her
sewing to the orchard that lay at the bottom of the garden. He had been
told, on some former visit, to go round, if the bell was unanswered,
to a side entrance, lift the kitchen-latch, and if the door was
unbolted, enter. He did so now; passed through the kitchen, burnished
and neat as though it came out of a Dutch picture--through the tiny,
cool-smelling dairy, and out into the large shadows of the garden
beyond.

Silence met him everywhere.

The roses, only budding a fortnight ago, had now yearned into June’s
deep crimson. The fruit-tree leaves had grown long and grayish, forming
an impenetrable screen which shut out familiar perspectives, and gave
Geoffrey a sense of strangeness that he liked not. Under the south
wall, where the apricots already looked like yellowing, was a turf path
leading you fieldward, through the entire length of the garden.

Along this path, with unintentionally muffled footsteps, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot trod. When he reached the hedge that formed the final
boundary between garden and orchard a man’s voice fell on his ear. He
stopped, transfixed, as one might do to whom the surgeon’s verdict of
‘No hope’ has been delivered with cruel unexpectedness.

The voice was his cousin Gaston’s.

Geoffrey had no need to advance farther. In his black clothes, among
the trees’ thick leafage, he was himself invisible, could see by the
slightest bending of his neck as much as the world in the way of
personal misery had on that summer evening to display to him.

For there, at the entrance to the orchard, stood Dinah Thurston, the
glow that lingers after sunset throwing up the fresh beauty of her
head and figure, and there stood Gaston. They were face to face, hands
holding hands, eyes looking into eyes. And even as Geoffrey watched
them his cousin bent forward and kissed Dinah Thurston’s unresisting
lips.

Youth, the possibility of every youthful joy, died out in that moment’s
anguish from Geff Arbuthnot’s heart. But the stuff the man was made of
showed itself. More potent than all juice of grape is pain for evoking
the best and the worst from human souls. Desolate, bemocked of fate,
he turned away, the door of his earthly Paradise shutting on him,
walked back to the scholar’s attic in John’s, whose full loneliness
he had never realised till now, and during two hours’ space gave way
to such abandonment as even the bravest men know under the wrench of
sudden and total loss.

During two hours’ space! Then the lad gathered up his strength and
faced the position. As regarded himself, the path lay plain. He must
work up to the collar, hot and hard, leaving himself no time to feel
the parts that were galled and wrung. But the others? At the point
which all had reached, what was his, Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s, duty in
respect of them? It was his duty, he thought--after a somewhat blind
and confused fashion, doubtless--to stand like a brother by this woman
who did not love him. Stifling every baser feeling towards Gaston, it
was his duty to further, if he could, the happiness of them both. The
sun should not go down on his despair. He would see his rival, would
visit Dinah Thurston’s lover to-night.

Gaston Arbuthnot, a man of means, which he considerably lived beyond,
occupied charmingly-furnished rooms in the first court of Jesus.
Peacock’s feathers and sunflowers had not, happily for saner England,
been then invented. A human creature could profess artistic leanings,
yet run no risk of being expected by his fellows to live up to a dado!
Gaston’s surroundings seemed rather the haphazard outcome of personal
taste than the orthodox result of a full purse and adherence to the
upholstery prophets. They had the negative merit of sincerity.

Walking with quick steps towards Tintajeux, how distinctly those
rose-lit Jesus rooms, the last in the series of pictures, came back
upon Geoffrey’s sense! He remembered an unfinished sketch in clay
upon the mantelpiece; a Lilith, with languid eyes and limbs, with
faultless passionless mouth, with coils of loosened hair; charms how
unlike those of the demure Madonna in the cottage at Lesser Cheriton!
He remembered the smell of hothouse flowers, the like of which at all
seasons of the year was wont to hang about Gaston Arbuthnot’s rooms;
remembered a pile of yellow-backed French books on a writing-table,
also a framed photograph of the prettiest actress of the day exactly
fronting the easy-chair in which his cousin Gaston was pleased to
affirm that he ‘read.’

Geoffrey Arbuthnot had to wait some minutes alone, his cousin’s level,
self-contained voice informing him from an inner room that he, Gaston,
was dressing for the last ball of the term, given by Trinity. Would
Geff not have come to that Trinity ball, by the bye? Ah, no. Mourning,
weepers. Decent respect--cette chère Madame Grundy. And so the uncle
had cut up decently! Nothing for him, of course. Kind of wretch whom
uncles always would regard as belonging to the criminal classes. Had a
mind to dispute the will, ruin Geoffrey as well as himself by throwing
the whole thing into Chancery!

Then Gaston’s airy step crossed the room to a waltz tune that he
whistled. A curtain was drawn back. The two men whose future relations
were to be one long paradox stood opposite each other.

Gaston Arbuthnot was in evening dress; his white cravat tied to
perfection, a tiny moss rose in his button-hole; a pair of unfolded
lavender gloves were in his hand. His handsome ‘Bourbon’ face looked
its handsomest. No traces of perturbed conscience marred his gracious
and débonnaire mien. A man may surely find himself deep in a flirtation
with some soft-eyed village Phillis, and at the same time like to dance
with as many pretty girls in his own class of life as choose to smile
on him!

He advanced with outstretched hand.

‘I congratulate you, Geff.’

The uncle had left Geoffrey a sum that for the forwarding of the frugal
student’s worldly ambition was more than adequate--one thousand pounds.

‘And I,’ said Geff, his ice-cold fingers returning his cousin’s grasp
firmly, ‘congratulate you!’

There must have been some modulation in his voice, some look on his
haggard face, that supplemented these four words, strongly.

Gaston Arbuthnot changed colour.

‘What, on Lilith?’ he asked, shifting away, and bending over his
unfinished sketch. ‘It is to be good, like all my things, some day. A
new block in the pavement of the road to Hades! At present this left
arm, above the elbow, is, as you see, a libel on anatomy.’

Geff followed him. He rested his hand on his cousin’s shoulder with
such emphasis that Gaston Arbuthnot had no choice but to look up.

‘I congratulate you,’ he repeated very low, but with a concentrated
energy that infused meaning into each syllable ‘I congratulate you upon
your engagement to Dinah Thurston.’


So these visions of the past stood out; not merely with rigid
correctness of form, but with colour, with fragrance, with the stir
of human passion, the ring of human voices, to give them vitality.
By the time the last one had vanished--the rose-shaded lamps, the
actress in her frame, the clay-sketched Lilith, the yellow-backed
novels dissolving into the actual grays and greens of this Guernsey
moorland--Geoffrey found himself ringing, with a somewhat quickened
pulse, despite his indifference to every form of feminine caprice, at
the front bell of Tintajeux Manoir.



CHAPTER V

MARJORIE


The door was opened by a French serving-man, who bestowed on Geoffrey
a bow such as valets used to copy from their masters in days when the
first country in Europe possessed a manner. Had not Sylvestre made
the Grand Tour with the Reverend Andros Bartrand more than half a
century before the present time! He was clad in a faded livery of puce
and silver, wore long white locks that in this uncertain light gave
Geoffrey the notion of a pigtail and hair powder, and had a wrinkled
astute face, in which official decorum and a certain thin twinkle of
humour, if not of malice, contended together agreeably for precedence.

‘Monsieur demands these ladies?’--from her earliest years Marjorie
Bartrand had received a kind of spurious chaperonage through this
plural phrase of Sylvestre’s. ‘Will Monsieur give himself then the
trouble to enter?’

The look of the old manoir was cheery; its atmosphere was sun-warmed.
And still the prospect of his approaching ordeal chilled Geoffrey’s
courage. The thought of standing before Miss Bartrand on approval
caused him to pass a bad five minutes, as he paused in the
drawing-room, whether Sylvestre had ushered him, for her coming.

Could the initial letters of his terrible pupil’s character be
deciphered, as one constantly hears it asserted of women, through the
outward and visible presence of the house she inhabited?

The Tintajeux drawing-room was over-vast for its height. It opened
towards the south, upon the cedar-shaded lawn; it communicated through
a double row of fluted pillars with a smaller apartment towards the
west. The uncarpeted floors were of oak, black from age, fragrantly
and honestly beeswaxed, as floors used to be when Sylvestre was a
boy. Nothing like your gray-headed butler for keeping up conservative
habits of industry among the servants of a younger generation! Over the
chimneypiece and doors were half moons, those graceful ‘lunettes’ of
a hundred years ago, carved in bas-relief and tinted in flesh colour.
The lace window draperies, looking as though they must fall to pieces
at a touch, were relieved by an occasional fold of rich-hued crimson
silk. Venetian mirrors hung at all available points along the tarnished
white and gold walls. On either side the mantelpiece were miniatures of
eighteenth-century Bartrands in velvets and brocades, no prefiguring
of destiny looking out from their unconcerned, half-closed patrician
eyes. In the centre stood a grand buhl clock, its design a band of
Cupids hurling down rose leaves on some unseen object (the guillotine,
perhaps) behind the dial.

In each of the deeply bowed windows stood a Petit Trianon gilt basket.
They were full of odorous roses, pressed close together, as cunningly
set roses ought to be, and showing no green between their damask and
pink and faintly yellow petals.

As Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s eyes took in one after another of these
details, the room seemed to him a piece of special pleading for the
whole past Bartrand race. He stood here in a world that knew no better!
He was amidst the shades of a generation which had heroically paid the
price of its misdeeds. And the fancy, true or false, predisposed him
towards the present owners of Tintajeux. They had at least, he felt,
the fascination of a pathetic background. Rare charm to an imaginative
man whose business has led him among the dusty tracks of our modern,
low-horizoned English life!

Moving to a window, Geff looked forth across lawn, garden, orchard,
upon as fair a sweep of sapphire as ever gladdened human eyes; for here
in the heart of the Channel you got beyond the North Sea’s yellowish
green, and have real deep ocean blue. In the foreground, so near indeed
that Geff instinctively stepped back within shelter of the window’s
embrasure, a clerically-dressed tall man was slowly pacing to and fro
on the grass. Somewhat rakishly placed on one side his head was a black
velvet skull-cap. An after-dinner glow shone on Andros Bartrand’s
bronzed four-score-year-old face; between his lips was a cigar. A
couple of excellently-bred brindled terriers slunk at his heels.


               ‘Ho, Œdipus,
     Why thus delay our going?’


Taking his cigar from his mouth, the Seigneur of Tintajeux recited a
passage from Sophocles in the Oxford Greek accents of sixty years ago,
looking about him with the leisurely physical enjoyment of the moment
that was more common, probably, at the time of his own youth--a time
when Göthe still walked upon the face of the earth--than it is now.

Something towering, individual, audacious, was in the old figure. Geff
watched the Reverend Andros with admiration. A man so richly vitalised
that he could smoke an after-dinner cigar, declaim Greek verse for his
own pleasure at eighty--a man who had so proved himself superior to the
common shocks and reverses of human life--should be one worth knowing,
even though his fine moral equipoise must perforce be studied in the
murky and dubious atmosphere engendered by a girl’s temper.

Tintajeux Manoir with its weather-bleached walls, its courtly, faded
drawing-room, its half lights, its rose scents, had already laid
hold of Geoffrey’s imagination. The Seigneur with his antiquated
Greek accent, his wise, subtly ironical old face, reciting Sophocles
under this late sky, had for him a personal interest. If only the one
jarring note need not be struck! If the capricious heiress were but a
full-fledged graduate, a resident M.A. say, within the distant walls of
St. Margaret’s Hall, or of Girton!

Scarcely had the thought crossed Geff Arbuthnot’s mind when he heard
a door behind him open and close. Turning quickly, he saw, to his
pleasure, a child dressed in a white and red cotton frock, confined
by a bright-coloured ribbon round the slim waist, and who advanced to
him--a pair of brown, beautifully-carved small hands, outheld.

‘You are ten minutes late, Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot.’ The faintest
un-English accent was traceable in her voice. ‘But you are welcome, a
thousand times over, to Tintajeux.’

Now Geff was a veritable child lover, and if this young person had only
been two years younger than she looked, he would, likelier than not,
have finished several of his life’s best chances by lifting her in his
arms and kissing her on the spot. With a little princess of thirteen
or fourteen one must be on one’s guard--for the first five minutes, at
least, of acquaintance.

He took her offered hands and held them, enjoying the arch vivacity of
that upturned face, brimful of sunshine as a water lily’s cup; a face
good as it was sweet.

‘Poor Cambridge B.A. Poor abashed big coach!’ thought Marjorie
Bartrand. ‘The worthy man must be used to cold receptions, I should
say, on his wife’s account. Now, let me set him at his ease.’

Crossing to one of the Trianon baskets she softly signed to Geoffrey to
follow.

‘Do you see that “Bon Espoir,” Mr. Arbuthnot?’ A hawk moth hovered, at
the moment, with poised vibrating wings above the mass of roses. ‘In
Spain we have a superstition about the “Bon Espoir” when he enters a
house. If he is powdered with black we say, Bad luck! If he is powdered
with gold, Good! Ah,’ clapping her hands, ‘and our “Bon Espoir” is
gold! We are to be lucky, sir, you and I, in our dealings. Now I shall
tell you another Spanish saying. “To begin a friendship with a gift is
a happy omen.” Take this rose from me.’

And with a movement of quick grace, most artless, most unconventional,
one of the finest roses in the basket was transferred by the pupil’s
hand to her future master’s button-hole.

‘Grazias, muy Grazias,’ said Geff, hazarding the only two words of
Spanish he knew.

Marjorie clasped her hands over her ears.

‘You pronounce frightfully ill, though the words are true, Mr.
Arbuthnot. Decent people say the “z” in grazias sharp. They say
“mou-y.” Yes, sir,--and although you do teach me classics and
mathematics--Spanish and French are my natural languages, and I shall
always think myself free to give you a little lesson in pronunciation.’

‘Classics and mathematics!’ stammered Geoffrey Arbuthnot, reddening
as the unwelcome image of Miss Bartrand was brought back to him. ‘I
believed--I mean, my impression was----’

He stopped short.

‘English University manners are not good,’ thought Marjorie, shaking
her head, pityingly. ‘But I like my poor B.A.--yes, just because
he is shy and rugged, and has that ugly scar across his forehead.
I respect him for his unpolished manner. I will call on his wife
to-morrow! My impression was,’ she remarked aloud, showing such a gleam
of ivory teeth in her smile, as rendered a large and rather square
mouth lovely--‘my impression was that I advertised in the _Chronique
Guernésiaise_ for some one good enough to help me in my attempts at
work, and that Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot offered to be that some one. I
hope, sir, you do not repent you of the offer already?’

So he stood in presence of the heiress; a little country girl with
sun-kissed hands, innocent of inkstains, a child’s fledgling figure, a
child’s delightful boldness, and not one barleycorn’s weight of dignity
in her composition. Should he, obeying first impulse, believe in her,
and so incur the fate of well-snubbed predecessors? Or should he arm
himself against the coquetry which this very frankness, this assumption
of simplicity in dress and speech, might mask?

Long ago, in Gaston’s Cambridge rooms, Geff came across a French volume
entitled, ‘The Bad Things which Men have said of Woman.’ He extracted
therefrom, at more than one reading, such bitter nectar as his scanty
knowledge of the tongue allowed. Several of the maxims had slumbered
in his memory. They reawakened at this moment, and bade him play the
philosopher, remember at what price per hour the heiress was about to
hire him, and for what work. ‘Self-respect was in his keeping still,’
cried half a dozen wicked old well-chosen French cynics in a breath.
‘Let him retain it.’

And Geff followed his own impulse. He looked on Marjorie’s unblemished
prettiness, and believed in her--with a circumspect belief.

‘One or two things, I know, want explaining.’ A wave of Miss Bartrand’s
hand signalled to Geoffrey to take a chair. Then she seated herself
opposite him, the rosy western afterglow falling directly on her clear,
truth-telling face.

‘You thought my advertisement bizarre, did you not?’

‘On the contrary, I thought it sensible and to the point.’

Geff’s answer was given with stiff courtesy.

‘But too independent; for I had never consulted my grandfather,
understand! I never spoke to the Seigneur till an hour ago, about my
having a coach. Tell me, you don’t think the worse of me for this?’

Had he fallen asleep, lying among the blue-leaved campanulas on the
moor with the waving sedges at hand, with the falcon soaring high
overhead; was this drawing-room, with its mirrors and rose-scents and
Cupids, a dream? Could it be possible that Marjorie Bartrand, the
heiress, who never bestowed a civil word upon any man, should plead, in
sober reality, for his, Geff Arbuthnot’s, good opinion?

‘I am obliged to think and act for myself. There is my defence. My
grandfather, whom you will see presently, is clever--oh, cleverer than
any man in Guernsey, perhaps in Spain! Mathematics, classics--_you_
even could name no branch of learning, Mr. Arbuthnot, that grandpapa
has not.’

‘Of that I am sure, Miss Bartrand.’

‘He was known in Oxford sixty years ago. The revolution so disgusted my
great-grandfather with everything French that he turned Protestant out
of revenge. A mean action--say?’

‘That depends upon the manner of conversion.’

‘Well, he had come to be Seigneur of Tintajeux through the inheritance
of his Guernsey wife, and to be a proper Seigneur in this country you
should be a Reverend. How great-grandpapa got to be ordained I don’t
know. Andros, his son, was sent to Winchester and Oxford.’

‘The Seigneur I am about to see?’

‘Yes, and Andros became a fellow of his college. He was one of the
three best classics in Oxford. But he stands right away out of my
reach.’ Marjorie stretched up her slight arms as though pointing to the
inaccessible mental plane occupied by the Reverend Andros. ‘He lives
with the gifted people of sixty years ago. For me that is too old.’

‘Rather,’ said Geff, unable, though he would fain stand on his dignity,
to repress a smile.

‘Grandpapa is an eighteenth-century man. He was just born early enough
to be able to make that his boast. And he has eighteenth-century ideas.
“Unless a woman be a Madame de Staël,” says the Seigneur, “let her keep
silent. If she be a Madame de Staël, let her keep a thousandfold more
silent.” Now I,’ cried small Marjorie, ‘mean to make my voice heard. I
want to know nineteenth-century life straight through. I want to learn
facts, at first hand. As a matter of lesser moment, I want a degree. Do
you think London University would be beyond me?’

‘I must know first,’ answered Geoffrey, ‘to what height of learning you
can reach on tiptoes.’

A flash of indignation swept over Marjorie’s face. The possibilities of
temper showed round that acute, square-cut mouth of hers.

‘It is correct masculine taste to laugh at a girl’s ambition, I
know! The Seigneur, Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot,--all have the same fine
generosity! But why do we lose time? Perhaps, if you will come to
the schoolroom, you will look over my books, sir. It is too late, of
course, to do any work to-night?’

‘Not too late for me,’ answered Geoffrey, in his heart liking the girl
better and better. ‘I came out hoping we should begin to read at once.
My time is yours.’

Miss Bartrand led the way, her face held somewhat aloft, into a room
plainly furnished as a study, and strewed with books and papers, on the
west side of the inner drawing-room. As Geoffrey followed, every sense
tempered to a keener edge than usual, he could not help remarking with
what curious grace Marjorie’s raven-black tresses were braided. He had
been to a few, very few, London entertainments in his life, had glanced
at most varieties of our current female ‘heads;’ none tolerable to
him beside a certain recollection of soft gold worn in little waves,
that way poor Dinah had with her curls, upon a Madonna forehead. But
Marjorie’s ebon locks gathered high, in one thick coil, upon the summit
of her head, compelled his admiration. The style was too foreign,
altogether, for English taste. And the white and red dress, the gaudy
waist ribbon, were too evidently got up for effect, Geoffrey decided,
now that he could draw breath and criticise. The complexion, too, to a
man who for years had had a living ideal of snow and rose-bloom before
him, was certainly sallow. And those great black eyes....

Stopping short, Marjorie waited for her visitor on the schoolroom
threshold. At the moment he overtook her, she turned, looked up at him.
And behold! her eyes were blue; intensely blue as, I think, only Irish
or Spanish eyes ever are; with a sweep of jetty lash, with a hidden
laughter in them, although the possibilities of temper still lurked
round the corner of her lips.

‘This is to be your torture chamber. From the time I was five I have
worked myself up to my present state of ignorance at that inky desk you
see, and under the rule of a long line of governesses, most of whom
gave me and themselves up in despair. Now put me to the test, if you
please, Mr. Arbuthnot. Don’t spare my feelings. Treat me as you would
treat any backward schoolboy.’

And Geff Arbuthnot obeyed the command to the letter. He did not spare
her feelings.

Marjory Bartrand’s attainments were to the last degree patchy and
scrappy; the typical attainments to be looked for in a quick,
self-willed child, indifferently taught by a succession of teachers,
and whose faulty studies had been supplemented by an avid,
indiscriminate consumption of good books.

‘Your classics are weak, Miss Bartrand.’

Geoffrey remarked this, pushing papers and books aside, and looking
kindly across the table into his pupil’s face.

‘Oh! I never liked the subjects. I knew that you would say so.’

With an effort Marjorie Bartrand kept her voice under control.

‘But your classics are stronger than your mathematics.’

‘Yes, Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘You will have a great deal of work before you can bring either to--we
will not say a high, but an ordinary level.’

‘Yes, Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘You spoke of a London degree. Let us look at London matriculation
first. Children are trained at high schools for about six years, I
understand, for London matriculation. And many--more than a third--of
the candidates fail.’

‘I spoke of London because London gives you letters after your name.
The older Universities would be more thought of in Spain. I have
grandpapa’s leave to go to Newnham or Girton when I am eighteen. The
first of all my governesses lives in Cambridge. So I should have _one_
friend there.’

‘The Girton and Newnham work is on the same level as the other
colleges.’

‘And you think that work beyond my reach?’

Geff Arbuthnot thought that a girl with a head so graceful, with eyes
so blue, with soft brow gleaming under such a weight of dusky hair,
might be content amidst the flower-scents and cedar-shades of Tintajeux
Manoir, content to let Euclid and Greek particles go--to be a woman, to
accept the homely, happy paths wherein women may walk unguided by exact
science, or the philosophy of all the ancients.

The opinions he knew were heterodox and not to be uttered, especially
by a man who, at five shillings an hour, had engaged himself to lighten
the thorny road that leads to knowledge.

‘Memory will get one through most exams., Miss Bartrand. You have a
good memory?’

‘For all useless things, yes. In “Don Quixote,” for instance, you would
find it hard to puzzle me. You know a little Spanish?’

‘Five words at most.’

‘How deplorable! A person who has no Spanish is not quite in possession
of his faculties. If one had time to spare in these long summer days,
I----’

Marjorie broke off abruptly, colouring to the roots of her hair, as
she remembered the existence of her tutor’s wife. A girl not ignorant
of Spanish only; a girl who could just overcome the difficulties of
the Prayer-book and Lessons, perhaps, or write a letter without any
glaringly bad spelling, on a push.

‘If one had time to spare in these long summer days, Miss Bartrand?’

Geoffrey Arbuthnot found a pleasure it had been hard to him to account
for in her confusion.

‘I was going to say I would teach you Spanish. As if Spanish
mattered! As if there were not nobler, lovelier things in life than
book-learning. But that was a real Bartrand idea. We Bartrands,
mouldering among our owls in this old place, cannot see daylight clear.
We think too much of ourselves. Our minds are as narrow as our garden
paths. I teach you Spanish, indeed! I’ll tell you what I call that
proposal.’ She leaned across till her sweet bud of a face was close to
Geoffrey’s, and spoke with a suspension of the breath. ‘I call it a bit
of _devilish_ Bartrand pride and stiff-neckedness.’

Geff started, with a pantomime of horror, from the adjective italicised.

‘You know the meaning of Tintajeux?--Tint-à-jeu in old Norman. You
English in Cornwall say Tintagel--the Devil’s castle. A fit abode for
us. Look at grandpapa! He quarrelled seven years ago with M. Noirmont,
the rector of our next parish, over a Latin quantity. Never in this
world will grandpapa speak again to that innocent old man.’

‘A wrong quantity is no jesting matter,’ observed Geoffrey Arbuthnot.

‘Then he has three daughters, my aunts. Neither of the three has spoken
to the others or to him for five-and-twenty years. No vulgar quarrel
to start with. “We Bartrands wage war on a grand Napoleonic scale,”
says the Seigneur. “An exchange of reproachful epithets is sheer waste
of brain-power.” The marriage of each sister in succession wounded the
other sisters’ pride. All wounded grandpapa’s. It was quite simple.’

‘You colour highly, Miss Bartrand.’

‘I am giving you sketches from life. No colouring could be too high for
showing up our Bartrand traits, the little faults of our virtues, as
the French say, prettily.’

Geoffrey felt himself on the road to disenchantment. The girl might
have marvellous eyes, a wealth of dusky hair, tones of liquid music,
a sunburnt hand that was a poem. The heart within her was hard to
the core. Linda Thorne, by hidden affinity, perhaps, was not so very
far out in her judgments. Marjorie knew too much, had learned bitter
lessons in human nature, not from books, but from keen reading of the
men and women nighest to herself in blood.

‘Yes, we think too highly of our small talents. I, with my shallowness,
to propose teaching a Bachelor of Arts anything! I ought to be grateful
to Mr. Arbuthnot for condescending to read with such a pupil. Now,
which three mornings in the week could you give me?’

He could give her Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. They gravely
arranged their hours. They talked over the work--say, a book of Cicero,
the two first books of Euclid--to be looked over before their first
lesson. Then Geoffrey Arbuthnot rose to his feet. Putting on a staid
and tuitional manner, he stated that his terms in Guernsey, would be
five shillings, _British currency_, per hour.

Marjorie’s face grew one hot blaze of shame.

‘Oh! of course--please do not speak of money. It is far too little. It
is an honour, I mean, for me to learn, and I am coming----’

She was just about to commit herself, and so considerably simplify
Geff’s position--just about to blurt out, ‘and I am coming to call upon
your wife,’ when a footstep, alert, though it had paced the earth for
more than eighty years, sounded on the garden path outside. The glass
door of the schoolroom was pushed open, and old Andros Bartrand walked
in.



CHAPTER VI

TWO IN ARCADIA


An atmosphere of fresh country air, blent with tobacco smoke,
surrounded him, as we like to think it surrounded Parson Adams. He
saluted Geff with that nice mixture of personal reserve and general
expansiveness which among a bygone generation was called breeding. He
bestowed a partial smile on Marjorie (‘those Bartrand company smiles,’
as she used to bemoan, when she was a younger child. ‘Counters that
I must make believe are sixpences until the visit is over, until the
round game melts back into our grim duel at solitaire’).

‘Mr. Arbuthnot, I presume? Welcome to Tintajeux, Mr. Arbuthnot.’ He
shook Geff’s hand with a distant affability. ‘Glad always to see a man
from the Alma Mater in our little island. Oxford is not the Oxford of
my days, still----’

‘Mr. Arbuthnot hails from Cambridge, grandpapa,’ shrieked Marjorie with
energy in the Seigneur’s deafer ear.

‘Then, in one sense, Mr. Arbuthnot is to be congratulated, for
Cambridge is nearer to Newmarket. A bitter blow to the talent that
victory of Mademoiselle Ninette’s in the One Thousand, last April, was
it not?’

‘The proverbial uncertainty of fillies retaining their form,’
said Geoffrey. ‘The usual reason for strong fielding. Still, the
performance of Maydew in the Two Thousand was so good that the odds
seemed legitimate.’

Geff Arbuthnot cared as much for horse-racing as for the native
industries of Japan. But the tastes of a man of fourscore must be
respected. And with a glance at the Seigneur of Tintajeux you could
detect the sporting element, softened, not ungracefully, through a
course of sixty years by the learning of the scholar and the quiet life
of the priest.

‘You come over to England, of course, sir, for the big events of the
year?’

‘Not I, not I. When you arrive at the age of a hundred you will find
yourself content with newspaper reports of most human goings on, great
or small. I have my books about me here, my farm, my dogs, a horse or
two, and my cure of souls. Marjorie, small witch, where are you? Did
you not say Mr. Arbuthnot was to take Holy Orders?’

‘Mr. Arbuthnot is to cure bodies, not souls.’

Marjorie’s answer was given in a tone of _altissimo_ derision.

Geff put himself through a little exercise of moral arithmetic; the
result required being the precise sum of dislike which a man of his
age could feel towards a scoffing girl of seventeen, a girl with
eyes like Marjorie’s, silken black hair, and exquisite hands. It was
not, perhaps, so large an amount as one might have looked for. ‘An
Æsculapius,’ observed the Reverend Andros. ‘You know the parable, Mr.
Arbuthnot? Two stalwart men, Nature and Disease, are fighting. A third
man, the Doctor, seizes his club and rushes into the _melée_, sometimes
hitting Disease and sometimes Nature. You are to be the man with the
club.’

‘I am to be the man with the club,’ answered Geff, relishing the old
Seigneur’s manner. ‘As long as I confine myself to the setting of
broken bones, sir, I hope to do as little harm as may be.’

‘The doctors kill us no quicker than they used,’ admitted Andros
Bartrand liberally. ‘When I was an undergraduate they relied on their
brains, as you do now on your finger-tips, and I believe killed us no
quicker. You are an honours’ man, of course? At a hundred years old one
is naturally ignorant as to the University regulations of the times. I
know next to nothing of your Cambridge Triposes. You won your laurels,
I assume, among bones and minerals?’

The Seigneur’s prejudices were mellow and crusted as his own port.
A born and passionate lover of classic literature, he regarded the
admission of natural science into the Universities as a mistake, a
sort of shuffle among examiners and Liberal Governments that enabled
lowly-born classes of men to take high degrees.

‘Unfortunately for myself, I did not,’ said Geff. ‘When my real college
life was over I saw bread and cheese in a remote perspective, and
had to begin bones and minerals from their ABC. In my day I came out
eighth,’ and being exceedingly human, Geff’s face flushed a bit, ‘in
the Classical Tripos.’

The Seigneur put his hand within the young man’s arm.

‘Come for a walk with me, Mr. Arbuthnot. Eighth in the Classical
Tripos--eh! I will point out the limits of my vast estate to you.
Marjorie, small witch, go and set ready the tea-table. Mr. Arbuthnot
will spend the remainder of the evening with us.’

The daylight by now had gone into odorous dew-freshened dusk; a big
solitary planet looked down upon the woods of Tintajeux. Geff felt
himself in a new world, a thousand miles removed from pale, work-a-day,
prosaic England. The affluence of air and sea, the largeness of sky,
took possession of him, played in his blood, evoked that precise
condition of mind and body which is so often at four-and-twenty the
prelude to human passion.

The talk of Andros Bartrand accorded well with the scene and moment.
They spoke of men, measures, books--of books chiefly.

‘I belong, really, to the eighteenth century,’ said the Seigneur, as,
with his hand on Geff’s arm, they paced the lawn’s goodly limits. Old
Andros had the vanity of his age in seeking to exaggerate it. He had
been known, or so Marjorie would affirm, to speak of himself as alive
at the dawn of the French Revolution. Perhaps you appreciated his
real age best when you reflected that the bride of his youth might
have been a contemporary of Emma Woodhouse! ‘I was born before moral
pulse-feeling came into fashion. This modern verse--“singing, maugre
the music”--don’t please me. I never mix my wines. I like to take my
verse and my philosophy separate. Hand-made paper, rough edges, vellum,
constitute poetry nowadays, don’t they!’

‘The æsthetic fever is on us still, sir, I fear.’

‘In regard to Church matters, I was middle-aged, mind, when Tract
90 decimated the country. Tractarian or Evangelical, Theist or
Pantheist--the Church went on quite as profitably before parsons began
calling each other by such a variety of names.’

‘Names that all mean the same thing,’ Geoffrey suggested, ‘if men had
temper enough to examine them coolly.’

‘Possibly. Let me direct your attention to my young wheat. You see it
in the enclosure, just between that red stable roof and the orchard.
I mean to cut my wheat with the Guernsey sickle, Mr. Arbuthnot, the
same pattern of sickle, it is believed, that was used under Louis XI. I
mean to get more for my wheat per quarter than any grower in England.
There is the advantage of being a Channel Island farmer. One may not
only be a Conservative, but, like certain great statesmen, make one’s
Conservatism pay.’

A resonant call from Marjorie summoned them before long to the
tea-table--a meal at which old Andros with his grand-seigneur air made
his guest pleasantly welcome. The dinner-hour at Tintajeux was five,
the ‘late dinner’ of Andros Bartrand’s youth. By half-past eight, in
this keen Atlantic air, broiled mullet, hot potato scones, with other
indigenous Guernsey dishes, were adjuncts to the tea-table which no
healthily-minded person could afford to despise. Afterwards came a
cigar smoked just inside the open French windows. ‘At a hundred years
old,’ the Seigneur apologised, ‘there was one thing a man might not
brave with impunity--night air.’ And then Geoffrey Arbuthnot prepared
to take his leave.

Business-like, he reverted to pounds, shillings, and pence. It was
a settled thing that he should read classics and mathematics with
Miss Bartrand on three mornings of the week, at the sum (happily the
darkness veiled the blushes on Marjorie’s face) of six francs an hour.

‘Classics and mathematics!’ cried old Andros, assenting to the money
part of the transaction with suave courtesy. ‘What will the little
witch do with classics and mathematics when she has got them?’

‘Enter Newnham or Girton with them, in the first place,’ answered
Marjorie unhesitatingly.

‘Newnham or Girton!’

The unfavourable summing-up of all arguments that have been put forth
on the subject of woman’s higher education was in Andros Bartrand’s
enunciation of the words.

‘Newnham and Girton send forth good men,’ remarked Geoffrey Arbuthnot.
‘In the future, sir, when the girls shall “make Greek Iambics, and the
boys black-currant jams,” we look forward confidently to seeing Girton
head of the river.’

‘At my age I am unmoved by new theories,’ said old Andros. ‘New facts
I am not likely to confront. There has never yet been a great woman
poet.’

‘Mrs. Browning, grandpapa.’

‘Nor a great woman painter.’

‘Rosa Bonheur.’

‘Nor a discoverer in science.’

‘Mrs. Somerville.’

‘Nor a solitary musical composer.’

The girl was silent.

‘Yet all these fields have been as open to them as to men, have they
not, witch?’

Marjorie Bartrand had passed into the garden. She stood impatiently
tapping a slender foot on the turf and looking up, her arms folded, an
expression on her face curiously like that of old Andros, at a strip of
crescent moon that showed between the cedar branches.

‘A new moon. I curtsey to her, twice, thrice, and I wish a wish!’

‘Did you hear my question, witch? In poetry, art, music, have women not
had just as ample chances as men?’

‘Spanish women have had no chances at all,’ cried Marjorie, raising her
tone, as she adroitly shifted her ground, after the manner of her sex.
‘For their sake I mean to work--yes, to get to the level of a B.A.,
grandpapa, in spite of your most withering contempt.’

‘For the sake of Spain, benighted Spain!’ remarked the Seigneur
genially. ‘My granddaughter’s blood is half Spanish, Mr. Arbuthnot.
I had a son once--an only son----’ Could it really be that Andros
Bartrand’s firm voice for a second faltered? ‘When he was no longer
a young man he went to Cadiz, for health’s sake, and married, poor
fellow, a Spanish girl who died at the end of the year. Marjorie
has stayed a few times among her mother’s family, and has gone
Spain-crazed, as you will soon find out for yourself.’

‘Crazed!’ rang Marjorie’s tuneful voice through the night. ‘I want
to hold my hands out to my own people, yes, to teach, if I ever know
anything myself, among the girls of our poor benighted Spain. And I am
proud of my craziness. I thank you for the word, grandpapa. It is the
prettiest compliment.’

The complexion of the family talk was threatening; Geoffrey Arbuthnot
hastened his adieux. But Andros had still a farewell shot to discharge
against the little witch.

‘Our poor benighted Spain is the one country in Europe with a decent
peasantry of its own. Get Mr. Arbuthnot, get anyone who understands
the matter, to talk to you about the English ploughman, and compare
the two pictures. The Spanish peasant’s wife sews, knits, embroiders,
reads her Mass-book and can cook a capital stew. Her drink is water.
Infanticide is unknown. The men are hospitable, courteous, dignified.
Among benighted people like these, Marjorie Bartrand proposes to preach
the benefits of a liberal pauper education as exhibited in England.’

By the time the Seigneur’s ironies came to an end Marjorie’s small
figure had vanished among the deepening shadows of the lawn. Fearful
of losing sight of her altogether--for, indeed, Marjorie Bartrand was
suggestive of something weird, sprite-like, and of a nature to take
other form at an hour when owls do fly--Geff bade his host a hasty
good-night and followed.

The girl herself was invisible, but a clear childish voice chanted the
old ditty of Roland somewhere in the neighbourhood, ‘Like steel among
weapons, like wax among women.’ Or, as Marjorie sang with spirit:


     ‘Fuerte qual azero entre armas,
     Y qnal cera entre las damas.’


‘I have found my gardening scissors, Mr. Arbuthnot,’ she cried,
emerging through the schoolroom window, a basket on her arm. ‘Flowers
smell sweetest that are cut with the dew on them. I mean to cut some
roses and cherry-pie for--for----’

‘Your wife,’ was on Marjorie’s lips, but she stopped herself abruptly,
all Cassandra Tighe’s warnings about Geoffrey’s domestic embarrassments
coming back to her.

‘Let me help you,’ said Geoffrey. A minute later Marjorie, on tiptoe,
was vainly endeavouring to catch a bough of swaying yellow briar. ‘You
are just one foot too short to reach those roses, Miss Bartrand.’

Marjorie sprang up in air. She plunged with bold final grasp among the
thorns, and succeeded in getting scratches destined to mark her right
hand for some weeks to come; scratches that might, perhaps, recall
this moment to both of them in the pauses of some tough mathematical
problem, some arid point in Latin grammar or Greek delectus.

‘The result of over-vaulting ambition.’ Thus from his calm altitude of
six-foot-one Geff moralised. ‘How many roses am I to pick?’

‘You are to pick three beauties!’ said Marjorie, somewhat crestfallen.
‘Won’t you have the scissors? These briars prick cruelly.’

But Geff wanted no scissors; his skin, so he told her, was of about the
same texture as a stout dog-skin glove. When the briar-roses were duly
laid in Marjorie’s basket he put on the grave manner of his profession.
It was his duty as a surgeon to make immediate inspection of her
injuries.

‘You are losing a good deal of blood, Miss Bartrand.’ Taking both her
hands, he held them up, in the streak of moonlight, not very distant
from his lips. ‘But while there is life there is hope. Three, four,
deep wounds! For my sake, don’t faint, if you can help it.’

‘Faint!’ Marjorie’s laugh was a thing good to hear; a thing fresh as
the chatter of birds in April, pungent as the smell of new-turned
earth. ‘I wonder whether any of the old Bartrands ever fainted. I
mean, _before_ they were guillotined! Confess, we are queer specimens,
grandpapa and I, are we not, sir?’ Asking Geff this question, she
left her hands in his simply until he should choose to let them go.
The first ineffable coldness of girlhood was on her. She knew no more
of passion than did her own roses. ‘Not very pleasant people to live
with--say! in an out-of-the-way Guernsey manoir.’

‘So much must depend on the taste of him who survived the ordeal.’
Geoffrey Arbuthnot quietly surrendered the slim hands resting
unresponsively in his. ‘At the present moment life in an out-of-the-way
Guernsey manoir seems to me--endurable.’

A stronger word was very near escaping Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s lips.

‘You are taken in by our picturesqueness,’ said Marjorie with decision.
‘England must be an astonishing ugly country, judging from the effect
our bit of Channel rock appears to make upon English people. Now, to
me, who have seen Spain, it is all so cramped, so sea-weedy. Look
away to the left there--sea. To the right--sea. Move a little step
nearer--close here, don’t be afraid, and look where I point across the
moor--sea again. Let an out-and-out big wave come some day, and the
whole nation would be submerged, like Victor Hugo’s hero.’

The glimpse of silver-gray tranquil moor brought back before
Geoffrey the thyme-grown bank, the falcon high poised, the tuft of
wood-rush--associated with the last rose visions of the squalid
Barnwell pavements, of the men and women, forced deserters from the
army of progress, who dragged out their span of human existence there.

‘I should like to know what you are thinking about,’ Marjorie asked,
noting with a child’s acumen the changed expression of his face.

‘I am thinking about England, about the hard battles some English
men and women have to go through with. A night like this,’ said
Geff, ‘brings sharp thoughts before one of one’s own life, one’s own
uselessness.’

In an instant Marjorie was softened. Tears almost rushed to her eyes.
Her thoughts, true to her better self, followed Geoffrey’s as if by
instinct. Then the good impulse passed. It entered her wilful head that
this excellent young gentleman from Cambridge meant to sermonise her.
She resolved to shock him.

‘I used to feel goody-goody myself, very long ago. You would not
believe it, sir, but as a child I was pious.’

‘I believe it thoroughly,’ answered Geff, grave of countenance.

‘When I wanted my lettuce-seed to come up I would perform little acts
of propitiatory contrition to Pouchée, the poor old Pouchée who lives
in Cambridge now. When grandpapa went out shooting I carried his
game-bag, and used to offer fervent prayers, whenever the dogs came
to a point, that he might kill his bird. Facts undermined my faith.
Sometimes the point was false. Sometimes grandpapa missed his aim.
Chaffinches and slugs ate my lettuce-seed. I turned infidel. I have
remained one. Grandpapa says I have the hardest flint soul in, or out
of, Christendom. Still, that is one Bartrand judging of another.’

‘I am not a Bartrand,’ remarked Geff Arbuthnot. ‘I do not think you
have a hard flint soul. You believe in wishes addressed to a strip of
new moon, for instance?’ They were standing at the highest point of
Tintajeux; a small plateau, the approach to which was fashioned on the
exploded system of puzzle or maze. Long before Marjorie’s lifetime this
plateau--who shall say on what morning of youthful human hope--had been
christened Arcadia! The country-folk around Tintajeux called it Arcadia
still. Cool draughts of air were stirring from the moorland. They
brought fragrance of distant hayfields, honeyed whiffs of the syringa
hedges that formed the maze. Would Marjorie ever curtsey to future
moons without the scent of hay, the over-sweetness of blown syringa
returning on her senses?

‘Some day,’ observed Geff, as she maintained a caustic silence, ‘I mean
you to tell me what you wished for, a quarter of an hour ago, under the
cedars.’

Marjorie Bartrand turned from him, the determination of a long lineage
of dead, high-tempered Bartrands on her face. To command, implied or
spoken, had she never yet bowed, during her seventeen years of life,
without asking the reason why.

She asked nothing now. Her cheeks--happily, the starlight betrayed no
secrets--were glowing damask. For the girl knew, deep in her fiery
heart, what the wish was; a wish by no means unconnected with her
feelings towards Geoffrey Arbuthnot.



CHAPTER VII

ON THE BRINK OF A FLIRTATION


Meanwhile the solstice night grew at each instant more purple, more
mysterious. Geff felt himself in love with midsummer starlight,
with Guernsey, with Tintajeux. Marjorie he would fain have engaged
for a game of hide-and-seek among the neighbouring orchards, or of
follow-my-leader along the beach, white in the crescent moon’s shining.
For what was this poor small heiress but a child, with a child’s cold,
sweet, unopened heart, a child’s quick temper, a child’s readiness for
play, in whatever shape play might happen to be offered her!

‘You will not tell me your wish to-night, Miss Bartrand. Never mind.
You will tell it me some day. To show you I bear no malice, you shall
hear mine. My present wish, as I must leave Tintajeux, is to return to
Miller’s Hotel by the longest road possible. You could point it out to
me?’

‘I should rather think so!’ cried Marjorie, brusquely. ‘If you don’t
mind a quarter of an hour’s nice hard scramble, your plan is to go up
the Gros Nez cliffs, about a mile from this, and so back to your hotel
along the edge of the steep. You are tolerably steady on the legs, I
suppose?’

Tolerably! A too shallow purse, a too well endowed brain had
combined to force Geoffrey Arbuthnot out of the ranks of the big and
world-renowned athletes. But ask the All England football team, ask
the men against whom the All England football team has played, if
Arbuthnot of John’s be tolerably steady on his legs!

‘I don’t know that I am unusually feeble, Miss Bartrand. My weakness,
perhaps, is more of the nerves than the limbs. Point out some path to
me that you and the Seigneur are in the habit of treading, assure me,
on your honour, that you think that path safe, and perhaps I shall have
courage to attempt it.’

‘Well, when you get free of Tintajeux you must go straight across the
corner of the moor to Les Hüets. At the end of a few hundred yards you
will find four water-lanes meet. You must take the one that seems to
lead away from Petersport, and follow it until you get to Tibot. You
know Tibot, of course?’

‘I am shamefully ignorant, Miss Bartrand. I do not know Tibot.’

‘After that, a brisk two minutes’ walk down, down, through spongy wet
earth churning at every step over your ankles, brings you to the shore.
Right in face of you are the Gros Nez heights, and if you get to the
top all right (even in broad day it is not considered a very safe climb
for strangers), your road home will lie straight before you, along the
edge of the cliffs.’

Geff Arbuthnot clasped his forehead.

‘When I get clear of Tintajeux I must go across the moor to an
unpronounceable place where four water-lanes meet. Of these I must
choose the one that looks least likely to lead anywhere. Then down,
down, through spongy wet earth churning up to my ankles at every step,
until I catch sight of the cliffs where I shall finally break my neck.
Miss Bartrand, will you allow me to ask a favour?’

‘Doubtless.’ A gleam of white teeth showed the heartiness of the girl’s
amusement. ‘It rests with me, though,’ she added maliciously, ‘to say
“yes” or “no” to it.’

‘Unfortunately it rests always with feminine caprice to say “yes” or
“no” to the proposals made by men.’

The hour, or the moonlight, or some curiously occult and unknown
influence must have been telling on Arbuthnot of John’s. He stood on
the brink of a flirtation.

‘As you may have proved to your cost, sir,’ thought Marjorie, not quite
without a movement of pity. ‘As you may have proved in that hour--I
wonder how many years ago--when the Devonshire peasant girl decided on
becoming Mrs. Geoffrey Arbuthnot.’

‘And my proposal is that you come with me, at least as far as the
unpronounceable meeting of the water-lanes; start me on my downward
spongy way to the sea, and then, unless I descend too quickly from the
Gros Nez cliffs, I shall have a fair chance of finding my road home.’

To an agonised wife! It might be--so mixed is human happiness, thought
Marjorie ironically--to the least little domestic lecture on the
subject of late hours.

‘Feminine caprice,’ she observed gravely, ‘is in your favour for once,
Mr. Arbuthnot. I will look after your interests as far as Tibot. After
that, your fate will be in your own hands. On the outside chance of
your getting back alive to your hotel, I may as well present you with
some rather better flowers.’

She flitted about, moth-fashion, from one garden-plot to another,
ever rifling the choicest and sweetest bloom of each for her basket.
Afterwards, the lodge gates passed, she accompanied Geoffrey across a
strip of common land and down a few hundred yards of darksome lane to
the Hüets, from which point the trickle of a little moorland stream
guided them to Tibot. Here, emerging into such light as the young
moon yielded, the moment came for bidding good-night. And here an
exceedingly delicate question in social tactics presented itself with
force to Marjorie’s attention. What decorous but strictly indirect
message ought to accompany her gift of flowers to Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s
wife?

‘You don’t mind carrying things, I hope, sir, as long as they are not
from the butcher’s, or done up in a brown paper parcel? Guernsey is not
Cambridge, you know. Grandpapa and I carry everything on the end of our
walking stick, from a conger eel downwards.’

‘I will carry a conger eel for you, any day, with delight,’ said
Geoffrey.

‘I shall remember that speech. I shall present you with a conger eel
four feet long, in the market, and watch to see you carry him to your
hotel. To-night I only want you to take these flowers for me to--to
some one in the town,’ observed Marjorie, with staid composure.

But she was in no courageous mood, really. She listened as though
she would ask counsel of it to the familiar little black-veined moor
stream, eddying away with chill clear voice to the sea.

‘You have only to command me,’ said Geoffrey, with an absurd, a
reasonless sense of personal disappointment, ‘and I obey. The address
of your friend is----’

‘You will have no difficulty about the address. Indeed, I am afraid,’
stammered Marjorie, ‘that at present, for another few days, I have
scarcely a right to speak of the person as my friend. The difficulty
is, sir, how will you carry the flowers? In your hands, you say! A
man who would climb Gros Nez cliffs must pretty nearly hang on by his
eyelashes, like the heroes in Jules Verne’s stories; at times he wants
as firm a grip, I can tell you, as all his ten fingers can give.’

‘If I surmount these terrific perils, if I reach Petersport safely,
your flowers will share my fate. Don’t be anxious about them, Miss
Bartrand.’

Marjorie paused, her face set and thoughtful. After a minute or
two, with the unconsciousness of self, the ignorance of possible
misconstruction which rendered her actions so absolutely the actions
of a child, she unloosened her waist ribbon. A length of twine lay in
her basket. With this she bound the flower stalks firmly together, then
knotting her ribbon, she attached it in a long loop to the bouquet.

‘Before setting foot on the cliff’s you must pass the loop round your
neck--so.’ For Geffs better guidance she pantomimed her instructions
round her own girlish throat. ‘By that contrivance you leave your hands
free. And you must take care of my ribbon, if you please, sir, and
bring it back next lesson. It is a bit of real Spanish peasant ribbon
one of my cousins bought for me in Cadiz. A thing not to be replaced in
these parts of the world. Good-night, Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘You have not said half enough. You have not even told me whom your
flowers are for.’

‘My flowers are for a person I hope, before long, to know and like
well.’

‘The description is tantalising. It would scarcely furnish me, I fear,
with the one name and address of the person wanted, among all the
narrow, twisting streets of Petersport.’

‘The flowers are, Mr. Arbuthnot, cannot you guess--for whom they are
meant?’

‘I am ill at originating ideas, Miss Bartrand. I can guess nothing.’

‘Because you cannot, or will not, which?’

‘Because I cannot, because I am blankly unimaginative.’

For a few moments Marjorie stood masterfully inactive. Then she flew
discreetly back into the shadow of the lane. On a slightly rising mound
she stopped. What light there was touched the upper half of her face,
and Geoffrey could see her eyes. He knew that her mood, for Marjorie
Bartrand, was a softened one.

‘The flowers are for yourself, Mr. Arbuthnot,’ so her voice rang
through the sea-scented night. ‘For your better self, you understand.
Don’t lose my ribbon, and, if you can help it, don’t fall over the Gros
Nez cliffs. Good-night.’

And with a wave of her hand--though he was blankly unimaginative,
Geoffrey believed it might be with a wafted kiss from her finger
tips--she disappeared.

Geff Arbuthnot’s first experience in snubbing had come to an end.

Pondering over many things, most of all over the cruelties and caprices
of youthful woman, he ran lightly down the ankle-deep water-lane, then
across a miniature bay of argent, shell-strewn sands, to the base of
Gros Nez cliffs. The ridge rose sheer above his head, a dark wall of
over a hundred and fifty feet, polished as glass to the limit of the
breakers, but, above that line, fissured, lichened, rough.

Miss Bartrand’s sarcasm had not exaggerated the gravity of the ascent.
The man who in an uncertain light should successfully scale Gros Nez
must have not only his hands and feet, but his wits thoroughly under
command.

And here the loop of ribbon attached to Marjorie’s flowers proved of
great use.

I have tried to represent in Geoffrey a man little moved by the
nicer shades of cultivated or hothouse feeling, a man more likely to
be wrapped up in one grim fact of the mortuary or dissecting-room
than in all the pretty uncertainties of sentiment put together. But
to-night a change had certainly passed over him. Before beginning his
climb he found a delicate pleasure in suspending Marjorie’s bouquet,
exactly in the mode her fingers had taught him, round his neck. He
found a pleasure--the cliff’s dizzy height hardly won--in unknotting
her ribbon, smoothing it out from its creases with a hand unversed
in millinery tasks, finally in hiding it away, jealously, in the
breast-pocket of his jacket.

Concerning this jealousy he asked himself neither why nor wherefore. In
transitional moments like these an old tender image fading even as a
new one rises above the horizon, few of us in our inmost thoughts care
to be motive-seekers. Geoffrey knew that he would not for an empire
have let Dinah see that ribbon to-night, or any other night. He knew
that between him and the little girl with carved sweet lips and ebon
hair there existed a secret. He knew that tutoring was a far pleasanter
business than he had bargained for, also that the flowers Marjorie had
given him, and which he carried in his hand, smelt of Tintajeux.

But he took out his embroidered tobacco pouch, his short black briar,
notwithstanding. He smoked his cavendish vigorously as he trudged
back to Petersport. Arbuthnot of John’s might stand on the brink of a
flirtation. He was not as yet in a state that need occasion a man’s
staunchest bachelor friends anxiety.



CHAPTER VIII

CROSS-STITCH


Dinah was still busied over her embroidery frame when Geoffrey’s
entrance brought the coolness of the night, the wholesome odour of
heliotropes and roses, into the chronically dinner-oppressed atmosphere
of Miller’s Hotel.

Her blonde youthful face looked weary. The lightless, far-away
expression, which you may always observe as a result of unshed tears,
was in the glance she lifted to Geff.

‘What, you are up still! Do you know that it is past eleven, Mrs.
Arbuthnot?’

Four years ago, when Geoffrey first saw Gaston and Dinah in the bloom
of wedded happiness not two months old, it was decreed by Gaston, least
jealous of men, that his wife and cousin should call each other by
their Christian names.

Upon Dinah’s joyous lips Geoffrey, without an effort, became at once a
familiar household word--dear good old Geff, through whom, obliquely,
her introduction to the husband she passionately loved had come about!

But Geoffrey, after a few stammering, painful efforts, abandoned the
calling of Dinah by her Christian name for ever.

He could and did call her so to Gaston only. He intended to stand by
her heroically, absent, or in her presence; intended, God helping him,
to be the good brotherly influence of her life and of her husband’s.
Looking upon the eyes that met his with such cruel self-possession,
upon the lips which he had once madly coveted to press, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot realised that he could never feel towards Dinah as a brother
feels. He resolved that his speech, knowingly, should not play traitor
to his heart. Gaston’s wife must, for him, be coldly, stiffly,
conventionally, ‘Mrs. Arbuthnot,’ until his life’s end.

‘Yes, I am up still, Geff. There’s no chance of seeing Gaston till long
past midnight. A lady like Mrs. Thorne, accustomed to India and Indian
military society,’ said Dinah, ‘would be sure to keep late hours. So
I thought I would shade my poppies straight through. I must wait for
daylight to put in the pinks and scarlets.’

Crossing to the table where Dinah was laboriously stitching, Geoffrey
seated himself at her side. He looked attentively down at her work with
those acute, deep-browed gray eyes of his.

‘Your embroidery is very----’ he was about to say ‘beautiful,’ but
checked himself. The star-strewn night, the hay-scents along the
cliffs, the roses of Tintajeux were in his soul, lifting it above
sympathy with poor Dinah’s wool-work. ‘Your embroidery is very delicate
and smooth,’ he went on truthfully. ‘And how quick you are about it!
You only began the top yellow rose when I stayed with you and Gaston, I
recollect, last Easter.’

Dinah’s pieces of work were on a scale that carried one back to
the female industry of the Middle Ages, yet was their ultimate use
nebulous. Vast ottomans, vast cushions, yards of curtain border, imply
a mansion. And the Arbuthnot’s mansion at present existed not. But on
what else should a childless woman, cut off from household duties, not
over fond of books, forlornly destitute of acquaintance, and with an
ever-absent husband, employ herself?

Once, long ago, the poor girl made Gaston a set of shirts, as a
birthday surprise. These shirts were lovingly, exquisitely stitched, as
Dinah Thurston had been taught to stitch in her childhood. They were
also a consummate failure. As a monument of patience, he observed, they
were beyond praise. As a fit--‘Well,’ said Gaston, kissing her cheek in
careless gratitude, ‘it is not a case of Eureka.’

He never wore them, never knew on what day, in what manner, his wife,
fired by sharp disappointment, got them out of existence. Simply, the
shirts did not adjust themselves well round his, Gaston Arbuthnot’s,
shapely throat. It was not a case of Eureka. The subject interested him
no farther.

Plain sewing for grown men and women, Dinah promptly decided, was
fruitless labour. Of dressmaking proper Gaston would never (excusably,
perhaps) suffer a trace in his rooms. And so, the sweet fashioning of
tiny children’s clothes not belonging to her lot, Dinah Arbuthnot it
would seem had no choice, no refuge on the planet she inhabited, but
cross-stitch.

At moments of more than common loneliness she would feel that her life
was being recorded--mournfully, for a life of two-and-twenty--in these
large and not artistic embroideries. It seemed as though she stitched
with a double thread, as though a dull strand of autobiography for ever
intertwined itself among the flaunting roses, the impossible auriculas
and poppies that grew beneath her hands.

The piece at which she now worked was begun in London, at a time when
Gaston used to dine out regularly every night of his life, and when
his days, from various art callings, were, perforce, spent apart from
her. As Geoffrey spoke, she could see her St. John’s Wood lodging, her
afternoon walks in the Regent’s Park, worked gloomily in with every
shade of those topmost yellow roses. After London came a short stay at
Weymouth. Here Gaston had a ‘convict study’ to make, on order, and with
his usual good luck discovered he knew several capital fellows in the
regiment quartered at Portland. The capital fellows naturally delighted
in having the versatile artist at mess, and Dinah passed almost as many
lonely evenings as she had done in London. It was in Weymouth, she
remembered, that her auriculas, her impossible auriculas, began to take
colour and shape. And now, in Guernsey....

The heavy drops gathered in Dinah Arbuthnot’s eyes; pushing her work
frame away, she turned to Geoffrey. The lamp shone on her full. The
delicate outlines of her cheek and throat stood out before him in
startling whiteness.

‘And so you have come back from your coaching, Geff.’ Her tone was
quiet. Long practice had taught Dinah to repress that sound detested by
Gaston--as by all husbands--tears in the voice. ‘How do you like the
sensation of being snubbed by an heiress?’

‘Pretty well, I thank you,’ said Geff. ‘Snubbing, as you know, Mrs.
Arbuthnot, is a sensation I got used to in my youth.’

‘Was the heiress very bad? Did she make you feel miserably
uncomfortable?’

‘No, I cannot go so far as that. I cannot say that I felt miserably
uncomfortable.’

‘But you don’t care for her? If you keep the work on, it will not be
for pleasure?’

Dinah’s heart was fuller than it could hold with love for her husband.
Geoffrey was nothing to her, except the best friend that she and Gaston
possessed. Yet she asked this question quickly, with interest. In her
secret consciousness it was an accepted fear, perhaps, though Dinah
knew it not, that Geoffrey would never care, as men care who mean to
marry, for any girl.

‘Work that is to be decently done must always be done for pleasure.’

It was Geff Arbuthnot who uttered the aphorism.

‘And your evening, snubbing and all, has been passed pleasantly?’

‘I have breathed ampler air,’ Geoffrey made evasive apology, man-like.
‘I have seen more blue sea and sky than ever in my life before. Miss
Bartrand’s snubbing was--not beyond my strength. The Seigneur of
Tintajeux is a specimen of the old scholarly, high-and-dry parson,
worth walking any number of Guernsey miles to see. Some day, Mrs.
Arbuthnot, I shall take you with me to Tintajeux.’

‘To come in for my share of snubbing too?’

Dinah asked the question, faintly colouring.

‘Marjorie is a frank, generous-hearted child. You cannot think of her
in the light of a grown-up woman. She is a Bartrand, with the faults
and virtues of her inheritance, the faults--pride and temper--visibly
on the surface. I am very sure,’ added Geff, bending his head, as
though to examine the intricate shading of Dinah’s poppies, ‘that you
and Marjorie Bartrand might be fast friends, if you chose.’

‘I have no friends,’ said Dinah, ‘except my own people, down home,’ of
whom, in truth, Gaston allowed her to see little enough,’and--and you,
Geff.’

The voice was unfaltering, the full good mouth was steady. Dinah
made the admission, not as a matter of complaint, but of fact, and
Geoffrey’s heart fired.

‘That “friendlessness” is the one huge mistake of your life,’ he
exclaimed. ‘Gaston is not selfish, would not be selfish, unless your
unselfishness forced him into being so. You should never have allowed
this morbid love of solitude to grow on you. You ought to assert
yourself, to go into the world at Gaston’s side, whether you like it or
not.’

‘I should not like it now. When I was a girl, when we first married,
my heart was light, against what it is now. It was the end of the
London season, you remember. No, I don’t suppose you do?’

Did he not, though--that late July time when, after seeing the marriage
ceremony over, he went back to his scholar’s attic in John’s; that Long
Vacation when the skies were brazen to him, when day and night alike
were one feverish pain!

‘It was the end of the London season, and when Gaston took me to the
Opera and twice down to dinner at Richmond I did feel,’ confessed Dinah
with humility, ‘that I had it in me to be fond of junketing,--oh,
Geff, there’s one of my country words! luckily Gaston can’t hear
it--of pleasure, I mean, and society. But the taste has died.’ Of what
lingering, cruel death, who should know better than Geoffrey? ‘Ladies
of my husband’s class have not called upon me. I have neither rank,
talent, nor a million. Without these, Gaston says, no woman can make
her way in the English world.’

Hot words were ready to rush from Geoffrey’s lips, but he kept them
back. To remain on equal terms with husband and wife in this strange
triangular friendship did sorely tax his powers of self-repression at
times.

‘Gaston would rejoice in knowing that your life was cheerfuller, no
matter how the cheerfulness was brought about. He has told me so,
often. Now, here, in Guernsey, eight sea-going hours removed,’ said
Geff lightly, ‘from English Philistinism, what should hinder you from
joining in any little bit of “junketing” that may offer itself?’

‘The hindrance of having no introduction to the Guernsey ladies.’

‘Mrs. Thorne has called on you.’

‘On Gaston. He is dining with them now. He will dine with them four
evenings a week. Yes,’ Dinah’s voice fell, ‘I know, at a glance, the
kind of clever person who will amuse my husband. Mrs. Thorne is one of
them. She is magnetic.’

‘With the magnetism that repels rather than attracts,’ remarked Geff.

‘That is your feeling about her. You and Gaston would be safe not to
admire the same woman.’

Geoffrey Arbuthnot was mute. Although his face was too sunburnt to
admit of visible deepening in hue, it may be that just then Geoffrey
Arbuthnot blushed.

‘You have no change in your character. You could be content (a happy
thing for your wife, whenever Mrs. Geoffrey appears on the scene) with
one mood, one voice, one face, day after day, before you for forty
years. Is not that true?’

‘I am not an artist,’ said Geff, after a pause. ‘For a humdrum
man, prosaically occupied, the one face, Mrs. Arbuthnot, the one
voice,’--ah, fool that he was! his own voice trembled--‘might
constitute as much happiness as we are likely to taste, any of us, this
side death.’

‘And Gaston is an artist in every fibre.’ Poor Dinah’s estimate of Mr.
Gaston Arbuthnot was invariably Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot’s, except that she
believed in him a vast deal more than he believed in himself. ‘I ought
to know that my dull days, my silent evenings, are matters of course.
It is not Gaston’s fault that he can only get inspiration through
change. Some day, when the world is bowing down before a really great
work of his, my hour of triumph will come. Who knows, Geff, if Gaston
had married in his own class, if he and his wife had led just the usual
life of people in society--it may be his genius would not have fared so
well!’

Dinah never looked more perilously lovely than when, with flushed
cheeks and kindling eyes, she spoke aloud of her ambitions for her
husband. The poor girl’s whole life lay in her one, passionate,
oft-bruised affection. More than common beauty, a look of divine,
all-hoping, all-forgiving love, shone on her face at this instant.

Geff Arbuthnot recollected it wanted only ten seconds to midnight,
and that he must fly. Had not long habit trained him to recognise the
moment when flight was his surest, his only wisdom!

‘You and Gaston understand each other, as no third person can hope to
do, Mrs. Arbuthnot. I consider you the two happiest mortals alive,
though perhaps you do not know the extent of your own happiness.’

‘And you are off to your pillow, to dream of the heiress who has not
snubbed you,’ said Dinah, as he moved from her side. ‘Why, Geff!’ For
the first time she caught sight of the bouquet, somewhat cunningly held
in shadow hitherto. ‘What roses, what jasmines, what heliotropes? I
have been wondering all this time what made the room so sweet.’

And speaking thus, she stretched forth her hand for Marjorie Bartrand’s
flowers.

During nearly four years, a portentously large slice of life under
five-and-twenty, it had been one long case of give-and-take between
Geoffrey and Dinah--the ‘take’ invariably on Dinah’s side. She took his
heart from him to start with. She took the happiness out of his youth.
Silently, unrecognised, Geoffrey constituted himself her knight-errant
in the hour of his own sharpest pain. (Till her death Dinah could never
know the part played by Geoffrey at the time of her engagement and
marriage.) In a hundred ways he had since steadied her husband in the
path of right. By a hundred unselfish actions he had smoothed nascent
domestic discontents, any one of which might have worked mortal havoc
with Dinah’s peace.

She had received all his devotion--a prevalent weakness, it is to be
feared, among gentle, unimaginative women of her type--as the simplest
thing in the world!

If Dinah, as once there was promise, had had children, doubt not that
her moral nature must have widened. But this was not to be. A tiny,
dying creature held between weak arms for half a day; some yellowing,
never-used baby-clothes, jealously hidden out of Gaston’s sight; a kiss
stolen, when her husband was not by to see, from any fair cottage babe
she might chance to come across in her walk--this much, and no more,
was Dinah to know of motherhood.

And the love blindly centred on Gaston had in it an element which,
although the word is hard, must in justice be called selfishness.

‘Nothing Gaston likes so well as the smell of flowers on his breakfast
table.’ And Dinah still carelessly held out her hand in a receptive
attitude. ‘He says his brain must be like the brains of dogs or
deer--smell colours all his thoughts. You will see, Geff! Those
heliotropes and roses will just set him kneading some new idea into
clay to-morrow morning.’

But the heliotropes and the roses did not quit Geoffrey’s hand.

In this moment, ay, while Dinah was speaking, a current of new, keen,
healthful life had swept through him. He felt more thoroughly master of
himself than he had done since that May evening when he first blindly
surrendered his will, with his heart, to a blonde girl watering flowers
through a casement window at Lesser Cheriton. Marjorie’s roses, fresh
from her pure touch, a friendly gift from the world-scorning child
who, somehow, looked upon her tutor as out of the scope of scorn, were
his. If Gaston needed inspiration from flower-scents, Doctor Thorne’s
garden, any other garden than that of the Seigneur of Tintajeux, must
supply the inspiration.

He made a dexterous exit, rushed away, boy-fashion, light of spirit,
three steps at a time, to his own room. And before half a minute was
over Dinah Arbuthnot had forgotten him. Poor old faithful Geff, his
lesson-giving, his heiress, his bouquet--what were these, nay, what
were the alien concerns of the universe to a pathetically tender soul,
quick smarting under its own immediate and narrow pain!

Had Linda Thorne the power of holding an artist’s restless fancy
captive, the genius of making time pass swiftly, the talent of clever
talk, of giving genial little dinners, of dressing perfectly? Above
all, was she a woman to expect nothing whatever in return for her
devotion? A woman strong enough to be philosophical, even, towards a
rival who should vanquish her, in her own world, with her own weapons?
If she were thus gifted--Dinah moved to the window and looked out
across the hotel garden to a point between an opening in the trees
where the sea showed blue and foamless--if Linda Thorne were thus
gifted, then might to-night be taken as a foretaste of what the next
six weeks, the bloom and glory of a mid-Channel summer, had in store
for herself.



CHAPTER IX

HALF WAY TOWARDS LITTLE GO


‘Sixties’ and ‘forties’ are traditions, happily, of the past.
Although Sarnian spinsters may still go out to tea with a maid and a
hand-lanthorn, the number of their candles is no longer a rigorous type
of their social condition.

But the society of an island, twelve miles long by four broad, must
always be cousin-german to the society of a ship. Wherever choice is
circumscribed, human nature tends to eclecticism. Sixties and forties
may have had their day. A stranger is amazed, still, at the number of
island families who do not visit other island families, seemingly from
hereditary topographical reasons. The Eastern people have not much to
say to those of the West. The country districts hold scanty intercourse
with the townsfolk.

At the time I write of the remote little peninsula of Tintajeux was
probably the most exclusive parish in the island.

‘While we were on terms with the Rector of Noirmont we had four people
in our set,’ Marjorie would say. ‘The Rector of Noirmont, his wife,
the Seigneur of Tintajeux, Marjorie Bartrand. Since grandpapa and
M. Noirmont had their big Latin fight we have split up into further
faction. Our set consists of the Seigneur of Tintajeux and Marjorie
Bartrand. We are a nation of two.’

Of the things done and left undone by the Petersport inhabitants,
this nation of two was ofttimes as ignorant as though some dark
continent divided them. The dances, picnics, military bands, garden
parties, and general gossip of urban life, concerned the Bartrands
languidly. Old Andros had his farming, his dogs, his classic authors,
and a curiously mixed performance which he called parochial work, to
occupy him. Marjorie had her study, a boat, fishing-tackle, gardening
tools; in days not so very far distant, had a carpenter’s bench;
all the wholesome outdoor interests of a country-nurtured child. If
Cassandra Tighe chanced occasionally to rattle round in her village
cart and communicate to them the last town news, they heard it; rarely,
otherwise.

It thus happened, Cassandra remaining away with her nets and her
sea-monsters in Sark, that the comedy in course of rehearsal between
Geff and Marjorie went on for several days without interruption. The
master and pupil met seldom, save during the hours of work, when Geff,
professionally severe, discouraged idle conversation. It did not become
easier to Marjorie than it had seemed on the first night of their
acquaintance to say the words, Your wife. The terms on which they met
were frank; slightly stiffer, perhaps, under the broad sun of noon than
they had been among the syringa blossoms by starlight! They stood, on
the outside, at least, in the position of any commonly dense freshman,
and of a coach, conscientiously minded to get his man, if possible,
through Previous.

On the outside. Growing to know Marjorie’s transparent nature better
and better, deriving keen refreshment from the badly-trained, fine
intelligence which might have risen so high above the commonly dense
freshman’s level, Geoffrey grew, hourly, more sensible that their
seasons for meeting were ’ower lang o’ comin’,’ that each intervening
day was a space of time to be lived through! At this point stood Geff.
Secure, she was fain to think contented, in the knowledge of a Mrs.
Arbuthnot’s existence, Marjorie worked with an unstinted zeal, a vivid
delight, such as the whole defunct race of governesses, morning or
resident, had failed to awaken in her.

So things progressed through half a dozen lessons. Then, one sunless
afternoon, sky and sea and speck of island painted in half-tones,
misty, dubious as the happiness of human life, came the rattle as of
a score of chained captives along the avenue of Tintajeux. Marjorie,
pacing up and down the schoolroom as she boldly struggled with the
irregularities of a Greek verb, recognised the sound of Cassandra’s
cart-wheels. Pushing Delectus and exercise books aside, she ran forth
joyfully to meet her friend. Had not important news to be told? Our
Cambridge B.A. thinking good things possible in the direction of
Girton, the emancipation of those benighted Spanish women, who only
know how to manage their house or fold their mantilla gracefully, a few
prospective inches advanced!

‘You are inkier than ever, Marjorie Bartrand.’

This was Miss Tighe’s first personal observation, thrown back over her
shoulder as she knotted Midge, the unkempt Brittany pony, to a rail,
with one of the sundry odds and ends of rope stowed away in readiness
within that all-containing cart of hers.

‘Only about the wrists,’ Marjorie pleaded, holding out the sleeve of
her holland pinafore.

‘But I don’t see that University teaching puts flesh on your bones.
You are growing too much like that picture of your mother. Eyes are
all very well, especially handsome ones, but one wants something more
than eyes in a face. You would have done much better’--who shall say
Cassandra was not right--‘much better to come with Annette and me to
Sark, jelly-fish hunting.’

The speech gave an impression of being double-shotted. But Marjorie,
with unwonted meekness, made no retort until she and her visitor were
within shelter of the drawing-room. There, in the familiar presence of
the buhl Cupids, of the miniature Bartrands, who had danced, loved or
hated each other, and gone to the guillotine with such easy grace, the
girl felt herself protected--oh, Marjorie, from what dim vision of a
sin could that white soul need protection? She began the story of her
days, and of her intercourse with Geff Arbuthnot, bravely.

‘I feel half way towards Little Go, Miss Tighe. I get my six hours’
teaching a week, and----’

‘You have always had teaching in abundance,’ remarked Cassandra,
wilfully misinterpreting her. ‘Since you were twelve, you have had
Madame Briquebec six hours a week.’

‘Madame Briquebec--a music mistress!’

‘Six hours’ lessons, and twelve hours’ practice. It would require a
Cambridge mathematician,’ observed Cassandra, ‘to reckon how many
years’ solid capital, out of a lifetime, are given by young women to
such an instrument as the piano!’

‘I am not talking of the piano, as you know, Miss Tighe,’ cried
Marjorie, the heart within her rallying at the scent of coming strife.
‘I never practised less for poor old Madame Briquebec than I do now. I
talk of my six hours’ solid reading with Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘Ah! I trust you find Mr. Arbuthnot solidly satisfactory?

‘My tutor thinks well of my staying power. Mr. Arbuthnot sees no reason
why, if I gave my life up to it for four years, I should not, some day,
come out low in a Tripos.’

‘Mr. Arbuthnot, like the rest of the world, knows perhaps upon which
side his bread is buttered.’

The suggestion was Cassandra’s.

‘Bread--buttered! Let me tell you, ma’am, I think that a most harsh
speech! Yes!’ cried Marjorie Bartrand, her face aflame, ‘and verging
on spiteful. A speech most unworthy of Cassandra Tighe.’

‘To my mind the subject scarcely necessitates so much indignation,
Marjorie.’

‘And to mine, it does. If you implied anything, it must be that Mr.
Arbuthnot flatters me from motives of self-interest, which is vile.’

Old Cassandra took off her leather driving gloves; she pressed out
their folds slowly. Then she examined a signet-ring, masculine in size
and device, which was always worn by her on the third finger of the
left hand.

‘Mr. Arbuthnot comes to visit you, professionally, three days a week.’
Speaking thus she did not lift her eyes to the young girl’s face. ‘He
comes to Tintajeux at other times, naturally?’

‘He came on that first evening when we engaged him--I mean, when Mr.
Arbuthnot was good enough to promise to read with me. It was fine
warm weather, you must remember--the night before you left for Sark.
Grandpapa invited Mr. Arbuthnot to drink tea with us, and afterwards I
walked as far as the Hüets, to put him on the right track for getting
home by Gros Nez.’

‘He speaks to you, frequently, of the poor, stay-at-home Griselda wife,
I make no doubt.’

The blood rose up, less at the question than at Cassandra’s way of
putting it, to Marjorie’s cheeks.

‘My tutor has never spoken to me of Mrs. Arbuthnot. You decided, Miss
Tighe, that day when we talked it over under the cedars, that there
might be an indelicacy in my mentioning her too abruptly. And during
our hours of reading we work, and work hard. I think,’ said Marjorie,
lifting her small face aloft, ‘that as regards the learning of classics
and Euclid, it matters nothing to me whether Mrs. Geoffrey Arbuthnot
stay at home or walk abroad.’

‘Mrs. _Geoffrey_!’ repeated Cassandra. ‘Oh, that certainly is not the
name. I may have led you wrong in the first instance. Geoffrey is not
the name of the man people talk so much about.’

Marjorie walked off to the schoolroom, from whence she presently
returned with Geoffrey’s card, one that he had enclosed in his first
stiff business note to the heiress of Tintajeux.

‘Samson, Samuel, Cyril. I am nearly sure of Samson,’ mused Cassandra.
‘Accuracy as to names and dates was a kind of heirloom in our family.’

‘The name of my coach is Geoffrey,’ said Marjorie Bartrand. ‘Behold it,
Miss Tighe, in black and white--Geoffrey Arbuthnot, B.A., Cantab.’

‘I cannot make this out at all. The whole thing is so fresh in my
memory. Coming up from the harbour I called in at Miller’s. It was
but human to ask that poor, weak, unreliable woman about her throat.
Well, although she has swallowed Dr. Thorne’s drugs, Marjorie, she is
recovering. Nature is so perverse in these chronic invalids.’

‘Recovering sufficiently to retail a fruity bit of gossip, which
Miss Tighe enjoyed. I wonder whether the world was as scandal-loving
in _your_ days?’ said Marjorie, addressing the calm-eyed group of
Bartrands beside the chimneypiece. ‘You were not a moral generation.
Perhaps when glass heads were universal, stone-throwing was less in
vogue.’

‘Poor Mrs. Miller threw no stones. She told me plain and sad facts
about these young Arbuthnot people. The husband for ever philandering
in the train of certain idle ladies belonging to our island society,
the wife watching up for him till all hours of the morning, people,
very naturally, speculating right and left----’

But Cassandra Tighe stopped short. Like an arrow from a bow Marjorie’s
slip of a figure had shot across the drawing-room. She stood at her old
friend’s knee. A pair of eyes glowing with all the force of strong,
fiery, yet most generous temper, looked down upon Cassandra’s face.

‘I hate the speculations of malicious tongues, Miss Tighe. I will
never believe that Geoffrey Arbuthnot “philanders,” whatever the
term means, or treats his wife neglectfully. I know him to be manly,
straightforward, true. I think Griselda ought to be happy, oh! happy
quite beyond the common lot.’

The last words were not uttered without a quiver of Marjorie Bartrand’s
lip.

Miss Tighe finished, we may well believe, with the theme of love and
lovers some thirty-five or forty years before the present time. Was
the subject ever of vital personal moment to her? A jealously worn
signet-ring, the portrait of a scarlet-coated, dark-eyed lad that
hung in her drawing-room, were the only evidence to warrant intimate
friends in hazarding a tentative ‘yes.’ Her present interests, said
the people of a young and irreverent generation, were of fish, fishy.
Are fibres discernible under the microscope in a dogfish’s brain? Can
a mollusc see, or only distinguish, between light and darkness? One
thing was certain. In Cassandra Tighe’s breast lingered all tender, all
womanly sympathy in the troubles of humanity at large. And something
in Marjorie’s voice touched her, not to distrust, but compassion. She
looked, with the pain that is half foreboding, at the young girl’s
ardent, indignant face.

‘Marjorie Bartrand, we are old friends. You always take the lectures I
give you in good part.’

‘I may do so occasionally, Miss Tighe, very occasionally. Let us keep
to facts.’

‘I hope you will take a little lecture in good part now. Drive to
Petersport to-morrow, and call on Mrs. Samson Arbuthnot.’

‘Mrs. Geoffrey Arbuthnot. With so many fables afloat, let us snatch,
ma’am, pray, at whatever truth we may.’

‘Mrs. Geoffrey, if you choose. Although my conviction is unshaken.
Drive in to Petersport to-morrow. Call upon your tutor’s wife. Remember
her want of birth and education, imagine a little excusable jealousy.
Put yourself, in short, in her place, and I am sure your good heart----’

‘I have no heart. Grandpapa, the whole of my governesses have impressed
that upon me often.’

‘Your good common sense, then, will teach you how you can best befriend
her. That is my lecture.’

Marjorie moved away into the nearest window. She looked out, athwart
garden, orchard, moor, towards the Atlantic, gray, sullen, as though
the season had gone back from June to December. A sense of deeply
wounded pride, of cruel, inexplicable disappointment mingled in the
girl’s heart.

‘I ought to have done the right thing,’ so she communed with herself.
‘I ought to have done it at once. I have just drifted into meanness.
As though it could matter to us Bartrands if every woman in the island
declined to call on Mrs. Arbuthnot. It was you, Miss Tighe,’ she turned
round incisively on Cassandra, ‘who preached to me the gospel of
Mammon.’

‘And one hears such nice things said of her, poor dear. The faults are
so obviously the husband’s. Really, if I could have known all one knows
now, my wisest advice would have been--keep clear of them both! In
these prickly affairs, in anything connected with a _mésalliance_, you
are pretty sure to get your hand stung, whichever way you grasp your
nettle.’

‘Too late in the day for pensive regrets, Miss Tighe. I have not kept
clear of Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot.’

‘The more the pity. As matters stand, Marjorie, I know that your
conduct will be full of the sweetest tact. We have a few old-fashioned
rules,’ said good, well-meaning Cassandra, ‘to guide us in our
perplexities. The first is, to do unto others as we would they should
do unto us.’

‘To-day is not Sunday.’ Marjorie’s foot tapped a quick little tune on
the polished floor. ‘Please don’t let us have Sunday talk.’

‘How should we feel if we were Mrs. Arbuthnot? If you were Mrs.
Arbuthnot, how would you wish Marjorie Bartrand should do unto you?’

Cassandra’s tone was plaintively sentimental, infalliblest tone of all
to stir up mischief, never far from the surface, in Marjorie Bartrand’s
heart.

‘How should I feel if I were Mrs. Arbuthnot? Wish that I had my
precious liberty back, of course, and envy every girl I met hers--the
natural feelings, one would hope, of all well-conducted, sensible
married women. Ah,’ ejaculated Marjorie, folding her lithe arms, and
with darkness like that of a swiftly-gathered thunder-cloud on her
Southern face, ‘and to hear people talk as though such things as
roaming husbands and weeping wives were _necessities_, as though the
doom of the serpent was laid upon every son and daughter of Adam. _A
Dieu ne plaise_ that it should be so! There is one girl,’ striking her
breast emphatically, ‘in Her British Majesty’s dominions who will shed
tears for no man while she lives!’

‘We will hope so, Marjorie,’ said Cassandra, as she put on her driving
gloves. ‘A good many of us have held the same opinions at seventeen,
and yet had occasion to modify them later on.’



CHAPTER X

‘THEY SAY----’


But the thunder-shower soon broke, the blue sky showed beyond.
Tears, Marjorie Bartrand shed none. What sorrows had she of her own,
what sweetheart, philandering or otherwise, to weep for? In regard
of Geoffrey’s unknown wife, her brief-lived cynicism shifted, ere
Cassandra had been gone an hour, into most genuine, most girl-like
pity. After an outburst of temper, however scornful or unjust, there
was ever in Marjorie’s heart a pungent and fiery fidelity which led her
back, straight as magnet to steel, to her better self.

That she should be disappointed in Geoffrey’s character was, she told
herself, inevitable. What is there in any man that one should not, on
close acquaintance, be disappointed in him? She had thought, judging
from frank and plainly given confidences, that she knew, to a minute,
how her tutor’s time was passed here in Guernsey. A little hospital
work daily, Geff having met an old college friend in the house surgeon;
a little study for his next Cambridge exam.; a good deal of boating; a
good many walks round the island; three days a week, his reading with
herself at Tintajeux. The picture had been a clear, a pleasant one in
Marjorie’s sight. And now matter so alien as this of fashionable fine
ladies, midnight domestic scenes, idlers speculating right and left,
must come, unwelcome and ugly blots, on the canvas.

She was disappointed in Geoffrey, personally. She felt, with the
certainty of her age, that she could not work under him again with the
bright unblemished interest of the past days. The change of feeling
should be made up, Marjorie determined, by kindness shown to his wife.
On Mrs. Arbuthnot she pledged herself to call to-morrow. Meantime, yes,
during the forenoon lesson, she would assume a sterner manner towards
this recreant husband, this sober-mannered student who, after all one
hoped of him, was so little raised at heart above the pitiful vanities
of his sex.

And in the first place her own waist-ribbon must be summarily returned.
This was Marjorie’s resolve when her head rested on its pillow. The
waist-ribbon which, for fear of wounding Geoffrey’s feelings (his
wife’s, perhaps, vicariously), she had suffered her tutor to keep,
must be returned. Looking upon him in this new--alas! to Marjorie’s
experienced mind, this too familiar--character of a philanderer, she
could imagine him, married though he was, exhibiting that bit of ribbon
among his companions as a trophy. ‘A gift, don’t you know, bestowed on
one by a fair hand that shall be nameless.’ Or he might show it among
the idle fine ladies--oh, the hot shame at Marjorie’s sleepy heart--the
idle ladies in whose train he followed, while his wife, ignorant of
Euclid or Greek, but not _devoid of human nature_, shed tears, not one
single drop whereof the man was worthy, at home.

Marjorie Bartrand fell asleep in a state of the most pointed and
virtuous indignation. Morning brought her back, as it brings back all
of us, not to accidental emotion, but to the common habit of life.
Her habit was to rise, the moment her eyes unclosed, open her window,
and gladly welcome the new day. She did so now. Standing in her white
night-dress, the elastic air blowing on her face, she looked across a
corner of the orchard to the spot where Geoffrey, the crescent moon
shining, plucked the briar roses above her reach. Away in the distant
fields she saw the Reverend Andros, as he walked to and fro with firm
slow step among his men. On her dressing-table lay an algebra paper,
always her hardest work, which she intended resolutely to ‘floor’
before her tutor’s coming.

How sweet life was, thought the little girl, how full of fine things
that no man’s hand can take from us! Might it not be wisdom, even in a
Mrs. Geoffrey Arbuthnot, as she had committed the error of marriage, to
make the best of it--enjoy the sun that shone, the wind that blew, by
day, and look upon sleep, not weeping, as the state for which nature
designs our race at midnight!

After a swim in the bay, a brisk run up to the manoir, Marjorie,
with hunger befitting her years, kept her grandfather in excellent
countenance at his breakfast, a solid country meal at which broiled
fish, ham and eggs from the farmyard, home-made rolls and Guernsey
buttered cake predominated. Then she went to the schoolroom, and, long
before a figure she watched for rose above the moor’s horizon, had got
the better of her paper.

Her wits were at their brightest this morning. Geoffrey Arbuthnot, for
the first time since they had known each other, threw out a few crumbs
of praise when the reading closed. Crumbs of plain household bread, be
it understood--no sugar, no spice--but that caused Marjorie’s heart to
beat, the blood to leap swiftly into her mobile, all-confessing face.

Geff watched her with admiration he sought not to hide. They had been
working under the cedars, as was their custom in these fair summer
forenoons. A solitary beam of sunlight pierced the thick and odorous
shade. It fell full on Marjorie, looking more like a child than usual
in an unadorned cotton frock, and with her silky raven hair spread out
to dry, unconfined by comb or ribbon, over her shoulders.

‘The endowments of life certainly don’t go to those who need them
most.’ Geff gave utterance to the truism with the want of preface that
was his habit. ‘Many a pale-faced, hard-working village schoolmistress
would have her path smoothened by possessing a tenth part of your
brains. While for you----’

The words were leaving his lips in blunt fidelity. They were not well
considered words, perhaps. Which of us can stand on mental tiptoe
every hour of the twenty-four? But they were about as innocent of
premeditated flattery as was ever speech offered by man to civilised
woman.

Marjorie interrupted him shortly; dormant indignation against poor
Geff as a frequenter of idle society, a midnight reveller, a careless
husband, flaming forth on him, lightning wise.

‘For me, Marjorie Bartrand, living on rose leaves in Tintajeux
Manoir--oh! I should be equally charming with brains or without them,
should not I? Thank you immensely for the compliment, sir. If I could
change places I would rather be the village schoolmistress, plainly
doing her day’s work for her day’s wages, than live idly on all the
rose leaves, all the flatteries, the world could heap together.’ Then
lifting her eyes, a look in them to pierce a guilty man’s soul, ‘At
what time should I be likely to find Mrs. Arbuthnot at home?’ she asked
him with cold directness. ‘I shall drive in to Miller’s Hotel. I shall
call on Mrs. Arbuthnot this afternoon.’

A flush of undisguised pleasure went over Geoffrey’s face. All these
days he had hoped that some offer of the kind would come from Marjorie,
not doubting that in this small island rumours of Dinah’s beauty,
perhaps of Dinah’s troubles, must have reached as far as Tintajeux.

‘I am afraid Mrs. Arbuthnot is to be found at home at most hours.’

‘So I am told.’

‘Dinah goes out too little in this fine June weather.’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot must amend her ways. To-day is our Guernsey rose show.
There will be military bands playing, dandies promenading,’ said Miss
Bartrand witheringly, as she glanced at Geff’s undandified figure,
‘fine ladies thinking and talking of everything under God’s sun save
the roses. Some of Mrs. Arbuthnot’s friends will surely tempt her to
join the gay crowd in the Arsenal?’

‘Dinah has no friends. I mean, we have been too short a time in
Guernsey to look for many callers. In the matter of visiting-cards,
ladies, I am told, are prone to be sequacious.’

So did Geff, with single-minded good-will, seek to round off the edges
of Dinah Arbuthnot’s isolation, of Gaston’s neglect.

‘And yet they say,’ cried Marjorie, her heart palpitating well-nigh to
pain, ‘that Mrs. Arbuthnot’s husband has acquaintance without stint.’

‘You must not believe half “they” say, when men and women’s domestic
concerns are the theme of conversation. Mrs. Arbuthnot’s husband
chanced to meet accidentally with a Doctor and Mrs. Thorne here. The
lady was a friend of former student days in Paris. It was the kind of
meeting,’ added Geff apologetically, ‘in which a man has no choice but
to renew an acquaintance, and----’

‘And Linda Thorne, of course, has called upon Mrs. Arbuthnot?’

The question came like a sword-thrust from Marjorie Bartrand.

‘I ... I am afraid ... not yet,’ answered Geoffrey, with hesitation.

Gaston’s careless conduct in regard of Dinah was just the one subject
that could occasion straightforward Geoffrey’s tongue to stammer.

‘Ah! Linda Thorne has not called on Mrs. Arbuthnot. That lowers one’s
opinion,’ mused Marjorie, ‘not too high at any time, of Linda Thorne.’

‘When you meet Dinah you will see that she is a woman to care little
for the common run of morning callers.’

‘I shall endeavour, just the same, to make her care for me.’

Marjorie’s tones were icy, a swell of curiously mixed feeling was in
her breast.

‘Endeavour will not be needed. I never made too sure,’ said Geff
modestly, ‘that you would pay this visit. But I know that Dinah, in her
heart, is more than prepared to bid you welcome.’

He rose, visibly reluctant, from the cool greensward. Then, with a
sense that some subtle, intangible change had crept into his relations
with his pupil, Geff prepared to take his leave.

But perilous stuff had yet to be dislodged from Marjorie Bartrand’s
conscience. She would not call upon the wife while that bit of Spanish
ribbon, a loan made in a moment of foolish high spirits, remained
unchallenged in the husband’s possession.

‘I hope you have taken care of something I lent you, sir. A piece of
coloured ribbon tied round those flowers I sent, the first evening
grandpapa and I had the pleasure of knowing you, to Mrs. Arbuthnot.’

‘To Mrs. Arbuthnot! This is rough on a man,’ cried Geff. ‘Why, Miss
Bartrand, you must have forgotten. Those flowers were given to me.’

‘Don’t make too certain of that.’

‘But I am certain. I can see you as you stood in the strip of moonlight
by the water-lane, wishing me good-night. Your last words were, “the
flowers are for yourself--your better self.”’

‘The ribbon, at least, was given to no one,’ retorted Marjorie,
changing colour under his gaze. ‘It was lent to hinder you from
breaking your neck. You meant to climb the Gros Nez cliffs if you
could. To do that a real good Guernsey man needs his hands, both of
them, and I thought it a pity----’

‘The real good Guernsey night should be disfigured by a stupid stranger
leaving the world too tragically. I thank you heartily,’ went on Geff,
as the girl blushed deeper and deeper. ‘I measured the extent of your
sympathy to an inch at the time.’

A ring of absolute independence was in his voice; a suspicion lurked
there, too, of hardly restrained laughter. For the situation was taking
hold of him. Let us see, thought Geoffrey, in this feather-light matter
of keeping or not keeping a morsel of sash ribbon, how far the small
shrew could be tamed? Let us see which of the two should fitly, in the
end, be styled conqueror?

So he thought: by no means forecasting that this feather-light matter
of keeping a morsel of sash ribbon might be the pivot on which his
life’s fortunes should one day turn.



CHAPTER XI

‘DODO’S DESPAIR’


‘My sympathy, I believe, was rightly bestowed,’ said Marjorie frigidly.
‘I would not see the poorest wandering pedlar start for the Gros Nez
cliffs without helping him to the extent I helped you. Even a pedlar
might have a wife at home, sir. A foolish, fond creature, shedding
tears of anxiety for him in his absence.’

The side-thrust did not seem to scathe Geoffrey’s conscience as it
should have done.

‘Would you make it a special point that this married pedlar should
return you your ribbon, Miss Bartrand?’

‘I make it a point that Mr. Arbuthnot shall do so.’ Marjorie delivered
her ultimatum unflinchingly. ‘The ribbon is worthless, except as a
memento of some happy days I spent in Cadiz once, totally worthless to
any living person but me.’

‘And why should it not be a memento of happy days spent in Guernsey by
myself?’

She looked him straight between the eyes, too hotly, dangerously irate
to make immediate answer.

‘Suppose, leading a prosaic life in the thick of bricks and mortar,
that length of ribbon could act as a kind of talisman.’

‘I don’t understand you in the least.’

‘A charm bringing back to one’s tired eyes and heart the blue summer
night, the smell of moon-coloured hayfields, the whole moment when it
was given to me.’

‘I will suppose nothing of the sort. It was not given. This is vapid,
sentimental talk,’ said Marjorie, concentrating her thoughts firmly on
absent Dinah. ‘And I abhor sentiment.’

‘On that solitary point we agree.’

‘The ribbon I lent you to tie round Mrs. Arbuthnot’s flowers is just a
yard of woven, parti-coloured silk. Buy the best match you can find to
it in the nearest mercer’s shop. It will be as good a talisman.’

‘Are you a materialist, Miss Bartrand? Would you say that the ragged
colours of one of the Duke’s regiments, the pennants of one of Nelson’s
ships, were so much woven silk, more or less stained and weather torn?’

‘I do not see that my sash ribbon can or should be of the smallest
interest to Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot,’ observed Marjorie, the blood
leaping, more swiftly than it had done under his praise, to her cheek.

In this moment she was a woman, the childish cotton frock, the hair
hung out to dry, the slim immature figure notwithstanding. A dawning
of her sex’s shame burned at her heart as she turned her looks away
from him. In this moment, were it possible to assign place and date
to matter so intangible, I should say that Geff Arbuthnot first,
distinctly, began to fall in love.

‘And suppose _I_ feel that your sash can and ought to be of the
greatest possible interest to me?’ he urged.

Marjorie found no answer to her hand. If she had been reared under a
different rule to Andros Bartrand’s, if she had associated more with
girls, had frequented afternoon-teas and garden-parties, she would,
doubtless, even in innocent little Sarnia, have learned the formula
by which a married man, hazarding idle speeches, ought mildly and
effectually to be crushed.

Marjorie knew no more of flirtation or of its dialects than she did
of Sanscrit. She had gone through an engagement, once, during a brief
uncomfortable fortnight; an experience which took the taste for
lovers and lovers’ vows most adequately out of her young mouth. And
now--oh, now she never meant to marry! She had her Greek and Latin in
the present, a large outlook for herself and others in the future. Of
flirtation she knew nothing, of engagements she knew too much! And she
liked Geff Arbuthnot, and did not like the duties of repressing his
frivolity, or of ranging herself against him in the civil wars of his
home life. Yet to the utmost of her strength should both these duties
be fulfilled.

‘Your interests were appropriated long before you ever saw me,’ she
replied at last. ‘What hour, this afternoon, would it be convenient,
pray, for me to visit Mrs. Arbuthnot?’

Her tone, her look, might for a moment have suggested to Geoffrey
that the secret of his youth had made unto itself wings and flown to
Tintajeux. Only the very supposition were wild! Gaston, Dinah herself
had never suspected the passionate madness which, in the May twilight
of long ago, used to draw him night after night to the little thatched,
rose-covered cottage at Lesser Cheriton.

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot? For anything I know to the contrary, Dinah will be at
home between three and four o’clock.’

‘And at our next reading, sir, you will bring back my ribbon.’

‘I made no promise.’

‘Of what mortal use can a bit of ribbon be to you, Mr. Arbuthnot?’

‘I have had thoughts of turning this particular ribbon into a
book-marker,’ said Geff, boldly imaginative.

‘A book-marker! I ask you--do you think it honest to keep property that
belongs to other people?’

‘My conscience, I must confess, does not prick me.’

‘If I order, will you obey?’

Marjorie had turned abruptly pale. Her mouth quivered.

‘If you order, I submit,’ said Geff, watching her gravely. ‘I will
never go against your smallest wish while I live. You shall have your
ribbon before our next lesson, Miss Bartrand, I promise.’

The shadow of a quarrel was between them when they bade good-bye. And
at the thought of this shadow Marjorie’s illogical spirit was sore
vexed. But I think Geff Arbuthnot walked back to town with a lighter
spirit in his breast than had reigned there since the moment when he
first saw Dinah and Gaston as lovers, hand clasping hand, in the little
Cambridgeshire orchard.

His knowledge of young girls, their instability, their hot and cold
fits, their tempers, their fluctuating emotions, had been derived
from books. So his theories on the subject were mainly worthless. But
men who in after days rival neither Thackeray nor Balzac, do often,
during one phase of their own experience, make keen enough guesses as
to the source of female weakness. Geoffrey felt, with an instinct’s
force, that Marjorie Bartrand’s blanched cheeks, her quivering lip,
her passionate tones, were not the outcome of childish anger. He felt,
with an instinct’s force, that the girl herself was a child no longer.
Whither must this altered state of things tend?

The question was complex; and Geoffrey willingly let it rest. As he
walked the warm air was briar-scented, the birds murmured lazy midday
nothings to each other amidst the lush hedges, the voice of Marjorie
Bartrand filled his heart. What need to hope or fear for the future
when one is twenty-four years old, and the actual living hour has a
hold, delicious as this, upon the senses!


Dinah and her husband were alone together, a quiet little picture of
domestic still life, when Geff reached the hotel.

A vine-trellised slip of courtyard lay outside the north window of
Mrs. Arbuthnot’s sitting-room. Here, during the sunny forenoons,
Gaston, picturesquely bloused, found it pleasant to work, when he was
sufficiently in the vein to work at all. He wore his blouse, was in the
vein, now. That which two days ago was a mass of rough clay, showed the
airy outlines of a baby-girl, seated on a Brobdingnagian shell, one
small foot neatly shoed and socked, the other clasped, naked, between
her dimpled hands, in an attitude of inimitable, three-year-old dismay.

‘We label this work of genius “The Lost Shoe,” or “Dodo’s Despair,” or
some equally pathetic and unhackneyed title,’ remarked the sculptor as
Geff entered upon the scene. ‘We get our so many guineas for it, from
our masters, and solicit further orders, do we not, Dinah?’

‘You should have no master but your art,’ was Dinah’s answer.

‘That is easily said. My wife, as usual, Geff, is urging upon me to
fulfil my mission, to deliver messages, to begin big and serious work.
But I fancy I gauge my own depths justly. I have no messages whatever
to deliver to anybody. These trickeries of Philistine sentiment,’
Gaston pointed with a shapely clay-stained hand to his model, ‘are
always a success. In the first place, they draw tears from Mr. and Mrs.
Prud’homme. In the second, the dealers approve them. What more can an
artist’s heart desire?’

‘Everything,’ replied Dinah.

But she spoke in parenthesis, and under her breath.

‘Am I anatomical, Geoffrey? This must always be important, whether a
man work with or without a mission. How about this bend in the left
knee-joint? Are my muscles right?’

Geoffrey offered one or two strictly professional criticisms; then
after admiring the grace, the charm of the little clay sketch, gave his
uncompromising moral support to Dinah.

Whoever possesses genius--well, talent, no need to fight over
words--lies under the behest of duty. Gaston’s duty, the one straight
and unmistakable road that lay before him, was to abandon conventional
prettiness, to go in for the expression of the highest thoughts that
were in him.

‘I am destitute of high thoughts,’ said Gaston, his refined,
intellectual face belying the assertion. ‘I have not the prophet’s
_rôle_. If I tried to soar, I should immediately afterwards have to
climb down. I have no original ideas to embody----’

‘Gaston!’ broke, with an accent of denial, from Dinah’s lips.

‘And the dealers, Farrago in Pall Mall especially, are my masters.
Before I left town Farrago’s advice was memorable. “The market demands
nothing classic in statuettes, Mr. Arbuthnot. Nothing romantic. Above
all, nothing to make us think. The market demands trifles, sir,
trifles. Objects for the smoke-room or boudoir. Domestic amenities, as
you agreeably say, for Monsieur and Madame Prud’homme! And, for wider
sections of society, ‘flavour.’ In any case, trifles. Nothing, if you
please, to make us think.”’

‘Instead of obeying,’ exclaimed Dinah, ‘you ought to say, “I, Gaston
Arbuthnot, must do such and such work, no other. Let Mr. Farrago take
my statuettes or leave them, as he likes.”’

‘That style of talk is for giants, my dear child--putting aside the
fact that I am bound to Farrago for another six months. Carlyle talked
so to the Edinburgh Reviewers. Viewed by the light of after success his
talk may sound grand. If Carlyle had not speedily written the “French
Revolution” it would have been called “tall.”’

‘But I want you to write your “French Revolution” in clay,’ Dinah
persisted. ‘Here, in Guernsey, you know, you planned to make studies,
always studies, for the great work you will set about in Florence. But
then,’ a piece of embroidery was between Dinah’s hands; she lifted her
eyes from her wools and silks at this juncture, and fixed them, full of
earnest reproach, on Gaston, ‘there have been unfortunate throw-backs.’

‘Throw-backs! As how?’ Gaston Arbuthnot applied himself to the
correction of one of the points anatomically criticised by Geoffrey.
‘As long as I am bound to Farrago, even feminine morality, my love,
will allow that I should be honest. Every saleable thing I do must
pass, as per contract, through Farrago’s hands. Taking one day with
another, I have got through rather more work than the average, here in
Guernsey.’

‘Have you put your own thoughts into form, Gaston? This model, when it
is finished’--she glanced somewhat coldly at ‘Dodo’s Despair’--‘will be
a portrait of Rahnee Thorne simply.’

‘Rahnee Thorne idealised!’ Gaston’s rejoinder was made with the
unruffled temper that characterised him. ‘My clay infant has flesh upon
her bones, and an infant’s face. Rahnee, though I love the child, is
but a poor little wizened Bengalee, at her best.’

‘Will the portrait of Rahnee’s mamma, the model you have on hand at The
Bungalow, need to be idealised also?’

‘Dinah, you should be magnanimous.’ And with a movement that in a less
composed man might have been a shrug of the shoulders, Mr. Arbuthnot
prepared to clean the clay from his hands. ‘A pretty woman--well, if
you shake your head, an exceedingly beautiful woman--need never utter a
sarcasm about a plain one.’

At the negative compliment a colour, soft as the pure pink veining of
a shell cameo, stained Dinah’s face. Her breast throbbed. And all the
time the speech, delicious in sound, signified nothing. Gaston had
been engaged for days past to escort plain Mrs. Linda to the rose-show,
and felt not the smallest temptation to break his engagement. Dinah
must be magnanimous! Dinah’s husband, after two or three hours’ facile
work on ‘Dodo’s Despair,’ needed relaxation, and would have it.

‘You ought to take me to the show, Geff,’ she pleaded, turning round
half jestingly, half in earnest, to Geoffrey. ‘What would Linda Thorne,
what would Gaston think, if I suddenly made my appearance among all the
fine ladies of Guernsey?’

‘Linda Thorne might have her own views,’ said Gaston. ‘When Dinah
Arbuthnot shows her face, every fine lady, in Guernsey, or elsewhere,
must be on the spot eclipsed.’

Whatever Dinah thought, Geff knew that a certain insincerity underlay
the speech, and controlled a pungent remark with effort. The friendship
of the Arbuthnot trio was never more sharply paradoxical than at this
moment.



CHAPTER XII

YELLOW-BACKED NOVELS


The June rose-show stands second only to Her Majesty’s Birthday among
the big events of the Channel Islands’ calendar.

By three o’clock the road between Petersport and the Arsenal plateau
was filled with a growing stream of men and women. Simple rose
lovers many of them, but some lovers of another kind. And some roses
themselves! What buoyant young figures fluttered past the window
whence Dinah Arbuthnot, shrouded from view, undreaming of her own
future, watched the crowd! What ruddy fine complexions were here, what
well-shapen noses and mouths, what dark Norman eyes! Why, you might
scour half a dozen English counties before you could bring together as
many handsome girls as would soon be within the Guernsey Arsenal’s four
walls. Must not excuse be made--the thought was Dinah’s--for an artist
who should long to stock his brain’s tablets with so much beauty, even
though an idle tear or two, a little discontent in some one left at
home, must be the price of his experience?

She strove her best to be magnanimous, to give a valiant ‘yes’ to this
self-propounded question. Then, even as she made the effort, a group
of persons drew nigh from the direction of Petersport, at the sight of
whom poor Dinah’s magnanimity and the wifely heart that beat in her
breast stood instantly at variance. Her hands turned cold and rigid. A
prophecy, rather than an actual living look of jealous anger, swept all
the youthful gentleness from her face.

A group of four persons: Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot, Mrs. Thorne, the small
daughter Rahnee, and a native nurse. Dazzling was Mrs. Linda in
whatever furbelows and head gear local Parisian milliners had impressed
on the feminine Sarnian mind as the ‘last thing out.’ Overdecked in
embroidery and ribbons was Rahnee, a sorrowfully thin little child,
with dark-ringed eyes, sallow cheeks, bangles on wrist. A typical
Indian child, perverse, sickly, unruled, and who at the present moment
was dancing, knowingly and deliberately, on her mother’s fragile
flounces at every second step.

‘I am sure one ought to reform her.’ Thus Linda would make confession
among her matron friends. ‘But what is to be done as long as you
keep an ayah? You must reform the ayah first. That is just the one
enthusiasm of humanity which is outside my reach, to reform an ayah.’

Rahnee, I repeat, danced persistently and with effect on her mother’s
cobweb furbelows, as she capered and twisted herself along the street.
Linda’s expression was as little honeyed as the expression of a
coquette can ever be in the presence of a man she seeks to charm. The
ayah vainly gesticulated, vainly uttered expostulations in unknown
Eastern tongues from the rear. Breakdown and rout of one or other of
the forces seemed imminent. Suddenly, just as they were passing the
hotel--perhaps it was this incident stabbed Dinah’s unreasoning heart
to the quick--Gaston came to the fore as mediator. Holding out both
hands, Gaston Arbuthnot offered small Rahnee a place on his shoulder.
Dinah could hear his pleasant voice, indicative of a mind content with
its surroundings, as he began some sage nursery talk, all-engrossing,
it would seem, to Rahnee’s soul. The thin arms closed round his neck,
the tiny primrose-gloved fingers played with his hair. Mrs. Linda,
a restored picture of amiable maternity, trotted behind. The ayah
followed after; her black orbs pantomiming unspeakable things to such
portions of the Guernsey world as had been chance witnesses of the
scene. Then, domestic-wise, the group of four persons went their way.

A choking, hysterical lump rose in Dinah’s throat. With a vague sense
of her own worthiness, a suspicion that if Dinah Arbuthnot was out of
keeping with sunshine and flowers and little children, Dinah Arbuthnot
herself must be to blame, she watched Gaston and his friends until they
had turned the corner towards the Arsenal. Barely was the final shimmer
of Linda’s flounces lost to view, when a clatter of hoofs approached
rapidly along the Petersport road. A miniature phaeton with a girl
driver, and drawn by a pair of small black ponies, came in sight.
A minute later, and Marjorie Bartrand, who had drawn up before the
portico of the hotel, was inquiring--yes, there could be no mistake;
through the open windows the sound of her own name reached Dinah
distinctly--‘If Mrs. Arbuthnot was at home?’

Dinah had not received one morning visitor in Guernsey. How many
morning visitors (upon Mrs., not Mr., Arbuthnot) had Dinah received
since her marriage? The unexpected respectability of the event--for our
Tintajeux Bartrands, mind you, with all their eccentricity, stand on
the topmost rung of the social insular ladder--moved Mr. Miller’s mind.
A man of tact and discrimination, the host proceeded himself to usher
Marjorie in.

The Arbuthnots’ parlour door was thrown open with an air. ‘Miss
Bartrand of Tintajeux’ was announced in Miller’s most professional
voice. Then came the meeting to which Marjorie had looked forward with
resolute conscience, perhaps with lurking doubts as to the cordiality
of the reception that should await her.

‘This is very good of you.’ Dinah spoke in her usual voice. She came
forward with the simplicity that draws so near to De Vere repose.
‘Geoffrey never warned me I was to look for such a pleasure. I take it
very kind of you to come, Miss Bartrand.’

Dinah’s trouble had just reached that level when the smallest act of
good will, from friend or stranger, may cause the cup to overflow. Her
eyes suffused, her colour heightened.

‘Mr. Arbuthnot thought I should be likely to find you at home this
afternoon. I wanted to see you long ago!’ cried Marjorie, her gaze
fixed on the face whose delicate beauty so far overpassed her
expectations. ‘But I waited--I thought,’ stammered the girl, for the
first time since she could remember feeling an excuse needed for her
conduct ‘I thought, of course, Mr. Arbuthnot might ask me to call.’

‘Who--Geff?’ answered Dinah, with a fleeting, shy smile. ‘No, indeed,
Miss Bartrand. Geoffrey would not make so bold. He knows too well that
I live retired.’

Dinah’s phrases were certainly not those of the educated world. But
Marjorie, looking open-eyed at the mouth and throat and golden hair,
was in no mood to be critical.

‘I have lived retired pretty well from the time I married. My husband
does whatever visiting is required of us.’

‘That is unfair to the world at large!’ cried Marjorie Bartrand,
drawing up a chair to the table, where wools and silks lay heaped
beside Dinah’s patiently progressing canvas. ‘Whatever hermit rules you
observe elsewhere we shall make you break through them in Guernsey.
I may look at your work? What intricate shading!’ She scanned the
pathetic mass of Dinah’s stitches. ‘What a labour of love embroidery
must be to you!’

‘It helps pass the time,’ said Dinah Arbuthnot. Wool-work fills up long
hours that must else be empty. For I am not a scholar like you, Miss
Bartrand, or like Geoffrey. And I only learnt the piano for two years
at boarding school, not enough to play well.’

‘Still, you do play?’

Marjorie glanced across at a piano that stood open. A goodly heap of
music scores lay on a neighbouring ottoman.

‘Not in such a public place as an hotel. The notes you see there are my
husband’s. Mr. Arbuthnot sings, as I dare say you know. He was thought,
once on a time, to have the best tenor voice in Cambridge. Some day,’
said Dinah doubtfully, ‘I may play just well enough to accompany him.
Unfortunately for me, the most beautiful of his songs are in French.’

Marjorie bethought her of Geoffrey’s accent, and was silent.

‘You will have good opportunities of learning French in Guernsey, Mrs.
Arbuthnot.’

‘Geff wants me to take lessons. We have a French waitress here in the
hotel, but she speaks too quick for me, so do my husband and--and Mrs.
Thorne. I only understand the sort of French we learned at boarding
school--the sort of French the girls talked together,’ said poor Dinah
modestly.

No books, no languages, no music; only cross-stitch, the counting of
canvas threads, to fill one’s existence and one’s heart. And for life
companion, thought Marjorie, a husband who frequented afternoon teas,
who warbled ‘beautiful’ French ditties, in a bad accent, to audiences
of women on the level of Linda Thorne!

This vision of Geoffrey, as a singer, added the crowning touch to
the girl’s disappointment in his character. Throughout the brief,
bitter-tasting epoch when her unwilling hand wore an engagement-ring,
she was accustomed to hear French sentiment in an English accent,
and an English tenor voice, during at least three hours out of each
twenty-four. At this moment the tinkling burthen of one frequent song
came back, with a sense of repulsion that was pain, upon her heart.


     ‘Si vous n’avez rien à me dire
     Pourquoi passez-vous par ici?’


She remembered how the white hands of Major Tredennis used to rattle
out the accompaniment of that song. She remembered the flower
Major Tredennis wore at his button-hole the last day he visited
Tintajeux--remembered, when she got knowledge of his treachery, how
instant and far-reaching was her scorn.

With what honesty did she now scorn all human creatures of the
Tredennis stamp! How loyally would she put herself forward as Dinah’s
friend; yes, although she must forfeit the reading of mathematics and
classics with Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot as her reward!

‘You have not been here long enough to see much of the island. Of
course you are fond of the country?’

‘Well, I was country born and bred. Real country folk, my husband says,
set less store upon green fields and hedgerows than the town people.’

‘But you like being out of doors? You will walk or drive with me
sometimes? I have a pair of Welsh ponies, capital at scrambling up and
down our Guernsey lanes.’

‘You are very kind, Miss Bartrand, but I can’t quite give an answer.
You see I should have to speak to Mr. Arbuthnot.’

Poor Dinah coloured with actual shame at the proposal.

‘Now, to-day. Why are you not enjoying yourself with the rest of the
world at the show? Guernsey roses, I can tell you, are worth looking
at.’

‘I asked Geff, in joke, of course, to take me,’ Dinah answered. ‘But he
was not polite enough to say “Yes.”’

‘Will you come with me?’ cried Marjorie. ‘As I drove in from Tintajeux
I was getting my courage up all the way to ask you this. I have no
chaperon, and now that I am seventeen, nearly a grown-up woman, the old
ladies tell my grandfather it is improper I should go about without
one. I, who know the island like a cat! You would be doing an act of
charity by coming with me to the Arsenal.’

Dinah’s face grew irresolute at this piece of special pleading. She
crossed to the window, and looked with wistful eyes up the street. She
recalled the group which had passed along a quarter of an hour before.
She heard Gaston’s voice again, saw the tiny primrose hands clasped
round his throat. She thought of Linda Thorne’s rainbow-coloured
flounces, and of Linda Thorne herself.

‘I should like to go.’ The truth broke from her after a minute more
of hesitation. ‘I was feeling duller than usual when you came, Miss
Bartrand, and I do like a flower-show above all things. We used to go
to the Tiverton shows when my sister and I were girls. Uncle William,
who lived bailiff at Lord Lufton’s, would take us when the gentlepeople
were gone. But that,’ Dinah interrupted herself hastily, ‘was
different. We were with Uncle William, we were in our place. I should
not be in my place with you. Perhaps you are too young, Miss Bartrand,
to see this. My husband is at the Arsenal with his friends, and----’

‘Wherever a husband goes is a place for his wife, according to my
ideas of matrimony,’ said Marjorie, in a careless tone, but with her
veracious face aflame. ‘I will not hear another excuse. It will be a
curiously pleasant surprise for Mr. Arbuthnot when he sees you in my
society.’

‘The ladies are dressed so elegantly,’ objected Dinah, at the same time
moving towards the door. ‘And I never wear smart things.’

‘Neither do I.’ In truth, Marjorie wore one of the plain washed frocks,
the sunburnt straw hat, that she wore on the moor at Tintajeux. ‘What
do smart things or smart people matter to you and me? Dress as you
choose, Mrs. Arbuthnot. You will look better than every woman in the
Arsenal.’

‘I had best put on black. My husband, fortunately, has lovely taste,
even in ladies’ dress. He tells me black is always the safest thing for
me to wear.’ (‘Black cachemire and silence.’ Dinah remembered those
were the requisites Gaston advocated, obliquely--the hint concealed by
charming flowers of speech--on the solitary occasion when he introduced
her to some female members of his family in London.) ‘I shall ask you
to tell me, Miss Bartrand, about my gloves and ribbons.’

Thus speaking, Dinah passed away through a side door into her own
chamber. For Gaston, with his knack of organising daily life after
the manner that best suited himself, had taken a compact little suite
of apartments on Mr. Miller’s ground floor. And Marjorie, left to her
meditations, glanced around the parlour--in writing of Guernsey, and
of Dinah, the old-fashioned word must be excused--for land-marks that
should point out its present possessor’s tastes.

Dinah was not a woman whose affections tended towards ornament, in art
or in dress. Had they done so, Dinah’s life had probably been happier.
Her work-basket, with its outlying heaps of silk and wool, was the only
sign Marjorie could detect of feminine occupation. What of Dinah’s
husband? Pipes and cigarette-holders of varying patterns were ranged on
either side the mantelpiece. A tobacco jar stood in unabashed evidence
on a table. An odour not to be mistaken clung round the draperies of
the windows. So this man smoked, thought Marjorie irefully--_smoked_ in
his beautiful, refined wife’s living-room! Yellow-backed French novels
abounded (French novels, I must confess, were an abiding inspiration
of Gaston’s genius). The neighbourhood of the piano was strewn with
French songs. A volume of Greek poetry, lent to Geoffrey by old
Andros Bartrand, lay on a bookshelf. In a corner by the door Marjorie
discerned a rough briar walking-stick, which she recognised as her
tutor’s property.

As she looked around the room her impulse was to burst into tears.
It was but an inn’s best parlour. You could not expect the perfume,
the grace of Tintajeux under good Mr. Miller’s roof. But it was not
Louis Seize furniture, or Pompadour cabinets, or Trianon rose-baskets,
that Marjorie missed. To pipes and tobacco smoke her life with the
Seigneur had accustomed her. Yellow-backed novels did not disturb her
conscience. Within limits she could endure French songs. The room
repulsed her because it destroyed every dream she had had of Geoffrey!
Without the Greek volume, she thought, without the briar stick even,
her disenchantment had been less vivid. She had not been forced to
remember him, to admit the lapse into bathos of her own ridiculously
high-pitched ideal.

But so the facts stood. ‘One may be made a fool twice,’ the girl told
herself. ‘First by a sweetheart, secondly by a friend. Happily Dinah
Arbuthnot, not Marjorie Bartrand, must this time pay the reckoning.’

And the tears were in her eyes still. In spite of all disillusionment,
her liking for Geff lingered obstinately. She thought she could never
again be glad of heart as on that mid-summer night when she curtsied to
the moon and wished a wish by her tutor’s side on the lawn at Tintajeux.

It took Dinah Arbuthnot fifteen minutes--a real ‘quarter of an hour of
Rabelais’ for Marjorie--to put on hat and gown; fifteen minutes ere she
could be sure her appearance would pass muster in the eyes of Linda
Thorne. The best and simplest women infrequently dress for the other
sex, or for the world at large, or for themselves. They dress for each
other, oftenest of all for one especial feminine criticism which they
have reason to fear.

‘Shall I do, Miss Bartrand?’ Dinah peeped, her exquisite face aflush,
through the half-opened door, then she crossed the room to Marjorie;
instinct, true as a child’s, informing her that in Geoffrey’s pupil
she had found a friend. ‘I want you to pick me to pieces, find as much
fault with me as you can. Shall I do?’

‘Do!’ repeated Marjorie.

And a volume of hearty admiration was in the monosyllable.

Dinah Thurston, in her girlhood, had learnt dressmaking as a trade. Of
dress as a difficult social art Dinah Arbuthnot knew not the initial
letters. Here her husband was an unfailing monitor. Gaston had an
artist’s knowledge of colour and effect. He had the sense of fitness
belonging to a man of the world. Dinah’s apparel might not accurately
follow the fashion books. It bore the seal of distinction at all times.

Thus the ‘safe’ black dress was absolutely perfect of its kind; plain
of make, as was meet for such a bust, such shoulders as Dinah’s,
but draped by a Parisian hand that knew its cunning. A ruffle of
Mechlin lace enhanced the sweet whiteness of the wearer’s throat.
A velvet-lined hat threw up the outline of the head, the waves of
short-cut English-coloured hair in rich relief.

‘You are lovelier than any picture!’ cried Marjorie, looking at Dinah
Arbuthnot with as generous a pleasure, surely, as ever woman felt in
the beauty of another.

‘Advise me about my gloves.’ Dinah blushed and drew back at the girl’s
frank praise. ‘Here are cream-coloured ones, you see, the same shade
as my ruffle, and here is a box of long black silk gloves. My husband
had them sent from Paris with the gown. Of course, the cream-coloured
are the dressiest.’ The tone of Dinah’s voice betrayed her own leaning.
‘Mr. Arbuthnot warns me generally against light gloves. My hands, he
says, are half a size too large. Still for a flower-show----’

‘You must wear the black gloves, Mrs. Arbuthnot. No shadow of doubt
about it! As you see, I don’t go in for dandy dress myself,’ said
Marjorie, ‘but one can’t help hearing the whispers of the milliners.
These long silk gloves are at present the one righteous thing to wear
in London and in Paris.’

‘And no ribbons, no ornament? I have a gold necklace that looks nice on
black, and----’

‘You want no ornament at all. You must take our little world by storm
just as you stand at this moment. Miller has some crimson roses in his
garden. We will cut one as we pass. The black of your hat would be
better for a single spot of colour.’

By the time Marjorie’s fiery Welsh ponies had rushed up to the Arsenal
four o’clock was striking. The rose-show festivities were, for the weak
and frivolous, at their culminating point. It was the hour when staid
flower-lovers--sensible souls who came to see the real, not the human
roses--were leaving, Cassandra Tighe among them.

‘I am starting off to Tintajeux,’ she told Marjorie, as they passed
each other at the entrance. ‘The Seigneur’s “Duc de Rohan” has taken
a prize, and I must be first to carry the news to the Manoir.’ Then,
with a kindly glance at Dinah, ‘You have done the right thing, have
paid your visit,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t see the necessity of mixing
yourself up with it all in public. Linda Thorne presides at the
refreshment tent, and that wretched man is simply infatuated in his
attentions. But the error is generous. Being a Bartrand, you can, I
suppose, do nothing by halves.’

‘I consider myself honoured by appearing with Mrs. Arbuthnot,’ returned
Marjorie, very low. ‘I want to judge of that wretched man’s conduct at
first hand, see facts alive, and extract their meaning by the light of
my own common sense.’



CHAPTER XIII

THROUGH SMOKE-COLOURED SPECTACLES


The refreshment tent was pitched at the most conspicuous point of the
Arsenal, just within the gates. Here Linda Thorne, assisted by three or
four white-muslined aides-de-camp, dispensed strawberries, ices, and
tea, liberal of smiles, but most illiberal in charges to the crowd.

Gaston Arbuthnot hovered near, not engaging Mrs. Thorne’s attention,
but with the air of a man whose freedom is nominal--of a prisoner on
parole. The ayah had vanished. Small Rahnee, in a corner, was busily
laying up a week’s trouble for her tropical digestion over a plate of
stolen macaroons. A swarm of well-gloved, well-set-up young gentlemen,
subalterns, for the most part, of the Maltshire Royals, newly returned
from Africa, clustered ornamentally around.

‘Lord Rex,’ cried Linda, in a playful voice appealing to a youth who
stood behind her chair, a plain but ultra-dandified youth, with a
sun-scorched face, sandy hair and eyelashes, and who wore his left arm
in a sling. ‘My dear Lord Rex, where are your thoughts to-day? For
the third and last time of asking, will you run across to Madame the
Archdeaconess, and press her to drink a second cup of tea?’

For Linda, a clever politician, never allowed the present to divert her
mindfulness from the future. Belonging--_sub silentio_--to the extreme
left of any society in which she found herself, Mrs. Thorne kept a
firm grip, here in European coteries, as formerly in Indian stations,
on whatever Conservative mainstay might be within her reach. Her
Guernsey mainstay was the Archdeacon’s wife. Linda was a member, under
Madame Corbie, of cutting-out clubs, district-visiting corps, societies
for persuading members of all denominations to change places with each
other, and similar intricate philanthropies of the hour and place. If,
occasionally, serious circles looked with misgiving upon some little
new escapade, some unaccustomed outbreak of vivacity at The Bungalow,
Linda’s usefulness floated her. There was such a fund of sterling
worth in Linda Thorne! So some old lady would say at whose house Linda
perhaps, on the preceding evening, demure as a mouse, had been painting
Christmas cards for the Caribbee Islanders. Such energy, such zeal
for the weaker brethren! Such a genius for collecting subscriptions,
or organising fancy bazaars! And then one must not forget the stock
she came of. One must always remember what our dear flighty Linda’s
grandpapa _was_!

Hence, perhaps, the leniency of the judgments. The old Sarnian ladies
never forgot that our dear flighty Linda’s grandpapa was an earl.

‘Madame Corbie--tea!’ echoed Lord Rex Basire, the sun-scorched dandy,
absently. ‘Ah, there she goes again! The prettiest girl, yes, by Jove!
the out-and-outest girl, every way, I have seen in Guernsey. Golden
hair, a complexion, a figure.... Let me take the Venerable her cheering
cup at once, and set me free to fly after my Dulcinea.’

‘A new Dulcinea?’ asked Linda, with a glance as sweet as the cup she
had prepared for Madame Corbie. ‘I thought Lord Rex Basire had flown
after every Dulcinea in the Channel Islands a long time since.’

Lord Rex broke away without reply, causing a good deal of the
Venerable’s tea to overflow by reason of his impetuous movements. But
he was not set free again as quickly as he desired.

Madame Corbie was what the Scottish bailie called ‘a fine respectit
half-worn sort of woman.’ Her set of immediate worshippers, poorer
cousins for the most part, would speak of her beneath their breath as
so superior! Madame Corbie never smiled. Madame Corbie never retracted
a step once taken. It was her harmless boast that she had never read
a novel in her life--as one would say he had never cut a throat, or
picked a pocket. She would wear no black satin that cost less than
ten shillings and sixpence (Guernsey currency) per yard. And she
surveyed the moral, as she did the physical, world through a pair of
smoke-coloured spectacles.

Even the Archdeaconess, however, had her little stock of human vanities
and foibles. Persons of title, though they exist in adequate number on
the British mainland, are scarce and prized, like the pink flowering
hydrangea, on these smaller islets. With the rectors’ wives from
half a dozen country parishes sitting around, neglected, it was a
distinctly soothing sensation for good Madame Corbie’s unworldly heart
to have Lord Rex Basire, the fifth son of a very impoverished duke, in
attendance upon her.

A second cup of tea? Why, Lord Rex and dear Linda were certainly
conspiring to spoil us all! And might she, the Archdeaconess, ask if
there was such a thing to be had as a macaroon?

‘Too late, Madame Corbie! Lost your chance,’ cried Lord Rex. ‘That
young limb, Rahnee, has been beforehand with you. I saw her devouring
the last three macaroons at a gulp just as Linda sent me off with your
tea.’

Lord Rex was forced to shout these words into Madame Corbie’s ear,
for the band of the Maltshire Royals were playing a forcible, much
kettle-drummed polka not twenty feet distant, so his attentions,
even to the obtuse perceptions of country rectors’ wives, must be
unmistakably marked.

‘Sadly unwholesome diet, to be sure. But poor Linda Thorne is so
indiscreet in minor matters. You agree with me, do you not, Lord Rex?
Nothing more sadly indigestible for a young child’s stomach than
macaroons?’

Lord Rex Basire heard her not. It may be doubted whether Lord Rex heard
the horns and kettle-drums as they echoed resonantly from the Arsenal
walls. He was absorbed in the vision of a distant lovely head, poised
flowerlike on a white throat, its waves of amber hair set off against
the soft velvet of a Rubens hat. No other interest existed on our
planet at that moment for Lord Rex Basire.

He was a man who from his birth upward had followed the desire of
the hour, for evil or for good; mainly, not for good. His desire now
was to become acquainted with the exquisitely pretty girl whom his
eyes pursued. Bluntly abandoning the question (from a physiological
side) of macaroons, he addressed himself to the Archdeaconess. Did
Madame Corbie--the polka by now had stopped, Lord Rex could ask his
question without a shout--did Madame Corbie know the name of the girl
who was walking with Marjorie Bartrand of Tintajeux? ‘Golden-haired
girl--straight features, the loveliest complexion in the world,’ added
Lord Rex, with the frankness of a momentarily real feeling.

‘It will be my husband’s cousin once removed, Ella Corbie of La
Hauterive,’ observed Madame Corbie blandly. ‘The Hauterive yellow roses
are fine this year. I have not a word to say against their “Celine
Forestier.” But, in my poor opinion, the Archdeacon’s “Maréchal Niel”
ought to have taken the prize. Yes, yes,’--Madame Corbie gazed through
her smoked spectacles into the perspective of history--‘Ella Corbie
is still nice looking. I remember her, dressed for her first evening
party, more than a dozen years ago, and now----’

‘My dear Madame Corbie! I beg a thousand pardons, your cup is
empty--allow me to set it down,’ interrupted Lord Rex Basire.

For at this precise moment the perfect features, the lovely complexion,
were again setting towards him in the crowd.

But Madame Corbie, the head of our local society, rose to the occasion,
and to her feet.

‘Let me have a good look, Lord Rex, and if it is my cousin Ella, I will
introduce you to her. A young lady walking, you say, with Marjorie
Bartrand? That is certainly most unlike Ella! The Hauterive family keep
so exclusively to themselves. Still----’

‘There they are--coming this way, by Jove!’ cried Lord Rex
breathlessly. ‘You see the girl I mean? Splendid girl in black--lace
ruffle--a red rose lying on her hair?’

Madame Corbie looked through her smoke-coloured glasses straight. Then
she looked through her smoke-coloured glasses obliquely. Then she
pushed them high away on her ample forehead, and gazed stoically upward
in the broad light of the merry June day.

‘The person,’ she pronounced, with awful solemnity, ‘who is walking
with Marjorie Bartrand of Tintajeux _does not belong to this island_.’

And so speaking, and with the folds of her satin doing credit to the
price paid for them, Madame Corbie there, in full presence of the
inferior clergy’s wives, sat down.

‘Ah! I thought not. Thought I had never seen such a pretty woman in the
place,’ observed Lord Rex, addressing his own consciousness, rather
than the ill-pleased ears of the Archdeaconess. ‘What are the odds
I don’t get properly introduced and properly snubbed before another
quarter of an hour is over!’

As a preliminary step Lord Rex rushed back to the refreshment tent,
Madame Corbie’s tea-cup his ostensible excuse. He threw himself on
Linda Thorne’s ambiguous sympathy.

‘Mrs. Thorne, you know all about every one, by fine natural
discernment. I’ve heard you say so a hundred times. Who is this
wonderful girl in black that Marjorie Bartrand is walking about with?’

A suppressed smile lurked round Linda Thorne’s thin lips.

‘Let us give Mr. Arbuthnot the task of learning her pedigree. It is an
act of charity always to find work for idle men. Mr. Arbuthnot,’ she
turned to Gaston, ‘I want you to find out something for the peace of
Lord Rex Basire’s mind and of my own existence. Who is this wonderful
girl in black who is walking about the Arsenal grounds with Marjorie
Bartrand?’

‘If I were of a brave disposition I would go myself,’ said Lord Rex,
when Gaston had sauntered placidly off on his mission. ‘But I am not.
I am a coward down to the ground. Peace at any price is my motto,
politically and otherwise. To-day I am feeling more than usually
nervous--not half “go” enough in me to stand up under one of Marjorie
Bartrand’s snubbings.’

‘I cannot say your modesty makes itself known to the world by outward
and visible signs.’

‘Modesty--no! I understand you, madam. A man may have forward manners
but a faint heart.’

Lord Rex Basire’s arm, in justice let it be spoken, got a bullet
through it in hot warfare. This dandified boy was in the thick of more
than one African fight when clouds gathered dark above the English
colours, was all but drowned on a never-to-be-forgotten night while
attempting to carry succour to the wounded, left with their solitary
gallant surgeon, on an abandoned position.

‘I tried once, at a militia review or something, to talk to Marjorie,
just in the usual way one talks, not without success you know, to girls
of her age.’

‘And the result was?’ asked Linda.

‘She looked at me coolly--grand Spanish eyes of hers those are, bar the
temper in them! “You are fresh from Eton, are you not?” she observed. I
confessed that Eton had known me in my youth. “Talk about Eton, then,”
struck out Miss Bartrand, straight from the shoulder. “Talk about
cricket, football, boating, Latin grammar, if you learnt any. I will
not,” with a murderous flash from her big eyes, “listen to foolishness
from any man.”’

By the time Lord Rex finished this characteristic anecdote Gaston
Arbuthnot, with his usual expression of genial impenetrability, had
sauntered back to the refreshment tent. Picking up Rahnee, he asked the
child what ailed her? For Rahnee’s face, sickly at all times, wore a
look and hue forlornly out of keeping with the bravery of her attire.

‘What in the world has befallen the infant, Mrs. Thorne? Her complexion
is of the lively arsenic green the doctors forbid us to use in wall
papers.’

‘Rahnee! mamma’s own darling pet, what is the matter?’ cried Linda,
suddenly recalled to the fact of her darling’s existence.

‘Me eat matazoons. Bad matazoons!’ whimpered Rahnee, with the tender
conscience, the quick physical repentance of her age.

‘That is a wise little Rahnee,’ said Gaston Arbuthnot, kissing her.
‘Right morality. Pitch into our pleasures the moment our pleasures
begin to pitch into us.’

‘Have you seen her?’ exclaimed Lord Rex. ‘This kind of trifling,
remember, may be fun to all of you. It’s stretched high above a joke to
me. A tall fair girl, dressed in black----’

‘With a crimson rose in her hair,’ added Linda, ‘and walking with
Marjorie Bartrand of Tintajeux.’

‘Well, yes,’ Gaston admitted in the lapses of whispered consolation to
poor Rahnee, ‘I have seen her.’

‘And who is she?’ exclaimed Linda Thorne. ‘I am almost as curious as
Lord Rex. Have you discovered this new Dulcinea’s name?’

‘Her name is Dinah Arbuthnot,’ replied Gaston cheerfully. ‘Yes, Mrs.
Thorne, incredulous though I know you feel, the wonderful girl in
black, and who is walking with Miss Bartrand of Tintajeux, is--my wife.’

Lord Rex sank in an attitude of despair, half mock, half genuine, upon
the nearest bench.



CHAPTER XIV

BROUGHT UP BY THE JESUITS


Dinah Arbuthnot had been more than woman could she have run the
gauntlet of this Guernsey rose-show unconscious of her success.

But admiration to Dinah was no new thing. As a girl she never went
through that chrysalis or ugly-duckling stage, the remembrance of which
to many women puts an edge on after triumphs. Heads were turning after
her to-day, she saw, just as heads used to turn when she was a baby
toddling along the Devonshire lanes, or a slim maid walking in the
procession of ‘young ladies’ from Tiverton boarding-school. She had
known since she knew anything that she was beautiful, and rated beauty
at a pathetically low standard.

Thanks to roseleaf tint or well-cut features, a sweetheart’s fancy can
easily be won. Who should say that cleverness, knowledge of the world,
tact, are not the solid gifts that bring happiness, the qualities
that might chain a husband--wearied, say, after modelling from hired
beauty--to his own fireside?

‘If you do not object, Miss Bartrand, I would like to find some
place where we could rest, away from the crowd, a little.’ Bent upon
displaying their friendship before the Sarnian world, Marjorie had
by this time paraded her companion bravely throughout the length and
breadth of the Arsenal. ‘My husband has seen me. He is in the tent
near the entrance--the tent where Mrs. Thorne is serving refreshments.
As Mr. Arbuthnot does not come forward to meet us, I am afraid he is
displeased.’

‘Displeased! That is a great idea,’ cried headstrong Marjorie. ‘Put all
the blame on me. I think I shall be strong enough to bear the brunt of
Mr. Arbuthnot’s wrath if I rest myself well first.’

They succeeded in finding a bench, withdrawn somewhat from the crowd,
yet within sight of the stall at which Linda presided. Here Dinah could
pluck up her drooping courage, while Marjorie communed scornfully in
her heart as to the pitiful weakness of married women in general, and
of this most neglected, most mistaken married woman in particular.
Their seclusion lasted for two or three minutes only. Then a blush
started up into Dinah’s cheek, vivid, bashful, such as a girl’s face
might wear on catching sight unexpectedly of her lover, for she saw
Gaston approaching. At his side was a very dandily dressed, sun-tanned
youth, his arm in a sling; a youth whom as yet Dinah Arbuthnot knew not.

‘He is coming! Miss Bartrand, I look to you to smooth things over. Just
say you pressed me to come to the show, and I refused at first, and----’

‘I will say everything that can decently be compressed into one act of
contrition.’ Marjorie’s tone was fraught with ironical seriousness.
‘But your eyes are better than mine, Mrs. Arbuthnot. A guilty
conscience perhaps sharpens the external senses. I am looking with the
best of my seeing power over the whole Arsenal. I see no Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘Then his companion must stand in the way--the light-haired gentleman
with a plain-like, reddish face,’ whispered Dinah, ‘and who wears his
left arm in a sling.’

‘That is our popular hero, Lord Rex Basire, newly returned from South
African fighting, and as proud of his gunshot wound as a foolish girl
might be of her first conquest.’

‘Well, and there is my husband walking with him.’

‘Your husband! Mrs. Arbuthnot?’

Marjorie’s world was reeling. A possibility--she knew not of what--a
wild and passionate hope trembled on the outside edge of her thoughts.

‘Perhaps I am not a fair judge,’ murmured Dinah, the two young men
having been arrested on their road by that incorrigible button-seizer,
Doctor Thorne, ‘but, to my mind, Gaston must always be the most
noticeable man in any company he enters, no matter how high that
company may be.’

‘Gaston?’

Marjorie Bartrand was in a state of such bewilderment that the echoing
of Dinah Arbuthnot’s words seemed about as great originality in the way
of speech as she was mistress of.

‘Geoffrey must have sounded my husband’s praises to you pretty often.
That is a right good point of poor Geff’s, his love and admiration for
Gaston. At Cambridge he was called the handsome American. I know it,’
said Dinah, with earnestness which became those sweet lips of hers
mightily, ‘because Aunt Susan had relations in the town, on Market
Hill, you know. Before my marriage we used to hear something flattering
of Gaston every day. It is the same in London. The tailors will give
him any credit. I believe they would make his coats gratis so long as
they got his promise to wear them.’

‘And Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot?’ It cost Marjorie no small effort just
then to force Geff’s name from her lips. ‘What relationship is there
between him and you?’

‘Geoffrey is our first cousin. His father and my husband’s died,
both of them, when their children were young. Gaston has always been
Geoffrey’s good genius.’ In saying this Dinah believed herself to be
enunciating truth, clear as crystal. ‘They did not meet as boys.
Geoffrey spent his young years in a gloomy city school. My husband
was brought up--you can tell it, they say, by his accent--in Paris.
When they came together in Cambridge nothing could be more different
than their positions. Poor Geff, a scholar at John’s, was forced to
work without amusements, almost without friends, for his Tripos, while
Gaston----’

‘Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot had livelier things than work to think about,’
suggested Marjorie, as Gaston’s wife paused.

‘He was clever enough to come out first in any Tripos he had read for.
But his friends would not let him read. He was sought after, popular,’
said Dinah, with a sigh, ‘just as you see him now. However, that made
no difference for Geff. Gaston treated him like a younger brother
always. He does so now. I have grown myself to think of Geoffrey as of
a brother.’

She stopped short, for Gaston Arbuthnot and Lord Rex Basire were now
within hearing distance; Doctor Thorne, adhesive as goose-grass,
addressing them by turns as he followed, with his nimble limp, in their
steps.

‘Yes, Mr. Arbuthnot, you must grant me my postulate.’ Doctor Thorne
packed up all of nature or of books--chiefly of books--that came within
his reach in little, neatly-labelled comprehensible forms, dilettante
demonstrations of the universe ready for his own daily use and the
misery of his fellows. ‘Grant, as a postulate, that the magnitudes
we call molecules are realities, and the rest follows as a necessary
deduction. Let us look around us at this moment. Evolution teaches us
that these bright blooms we behold actually come into being through the
colour-sense of insects; and, and----Lord Rex Basire! you, I am sure,
are fascinated by the subject!’

Lord Rex had not heard a syllable. Breaking away from Doctor Thorne,
Lord Rex stood still, his eyes pointedly avoiding Dinah’s face. Gaston,
meanwhile, his hat held low, after the fashion of Broadway or the
Boulevards, was saluting the two ladies, making Marjorie Bartrand’s
acquaintance, and jesting amicably with Dinah as to the march she had
stolen upon himself and an unexpectant Sarnian world.

When two or three minutes had passed Lord Rex gave evidence of his
presence. Coming forward, he delivered a set little compliment to
Marjorie Bartrand on the Seigneur’s roses. It was a source of agreeable
satisfaction to Lord Rex Basire that the ‘Duc de Rohan’ should have
taken a first prize. He would like----

‘The Seigneur’s dark roses have taken a prize every June show for the
last quarter of a century,’ Marjorie interrupted him cruelly. ‘When
once we islanders, flower-show judges included, get into a safe groove,
we keep there.’

‘What an improving place Guernsey must be to live in!’ Gaston Arbuthnot
remarked. ‘I have been trying vainly through the best years of my life
to keep in safe grooves.’

‘To _keep_ in safe grooves!’ repeated Marjorie, with rather stinging
emphasis. ‘You would need to get into them first, would you not?’

‘You are severe, Miss Bartrand.’ Gaston came over to the girl’s side.
‘And I like it. Severity gives me a new sensation. Now, I am going to
ask a favour which I can tell beforehand you will grant. I want you to
show me these conquering Tintajeux roses. Tintajeux is not an unknown
name to us.’

Gaston added this last clause in a lower key, then watched to note how
much the colour would vary on her ever-varying face.

Under any other circumstances than the present ones Marjorie would,
I think, have selected Gaston Arbuthnot as the type of human
creature least to be encouraged under heaven. Was he not obtrusively
good-looking, a popularity man, a dandy for whom Bond Street tailors
would be content, as a flesh-and-blood block, a living advertisement,
to stitch gratis? Was he not a coolly neglectful husband, a
pleasure-seeker, a frequenter of the afternoon teas of frivolous,
attention-loving women?

But in her rush of joyous surprise, of contradictory relief, in her
gratitude to him for not being Geoffrey, the girl was ready to extend
a hand of hearty friendship to Dinah’s husband--during the first half
hour of their acquaintance, at all events.

‘You wish to see the Tintajeux roses? Come, then, and let me play
show-woman. Unfortunately,’ Marjorie added, ‘I don’t know in which
quarter of the globe the “Duc de Rohan” lives.’

‘I believe I can guide you. I know the whereabouts of every stall in
the Arsenal.’

And Lord Rex neatly affixed himself to the party as Marjorie and Dinah
rose.

Dinah’s breath came short. She knew instinctively how the eyes of this
pale-haired, sun-burnt youth avoided her face, and in that avoidance
read the fact of his admiration. She divined that Lord Rex’s intention
was to walk at her side. She foresaw, with terror, the necessity of
conversation.

Gaston Arbuthnot gave his wife a quick, comprehensive look--Lord
Chesterfield embodied in a glance! Then he went through a brief,
informal word of introduction.

‘Lord Rex Basire--my wife. I fancied, Dinah, that you and Basire had
met already. Now, Miss Bartrand, let us make an exploring tour of the
Arsenal. We shall reach the Seigneur’s dark roses, sooner or later. I
look to you,’ Gaston added, ‘for enlightenment as to some of the human
elements of the show.’

Marjorie’s mood was abundantly bright; the ‘enlightenment’ was not
slow of coming. Her prattle, with its brisk bitterish flavour, amused
Gaston as he would have thought it impossible to be amused by any
classico-mathematical girl extant. As they passed the bench that still
supported Madame the Archdeaconess’s sacerdotal weight, Marjorie
broke into a laugh--that hearty, human, unmistakable laugh of hers.
For Doctor Thorne stood beside the great female pillar of the Church,
delivering an oration in his most verbose little manner, to which not
only the Archdeaconess, but the wives of the inferior clergy, listened
with respect. And Marjorie’s quick ear had caught his text.

‘One ought not to laugh at our betters, Mr. Arbuthnot, ought one?’

Asking this, Marjorie looked gravely up in Gaston’s face.

‘It is so written in the copy-books, Miss Bartrand. For my part,
I think the greatest good a man ever does his fellows is when he
furnishes them, consciously or unconsciously, with materials for farce.’

‘At least, one should not laugh loud enough to be heard?’

‘I think you ought to laugh very often, and loud enough for all the
world to hear,’ replied Gaston.

‘Doctor Thorne is too much for me; I have an old “Sandford and Merton”
among my books, and when I hear him talk, I think of Mr. Barlow
moralising at Tommy. Mr. Barlow turned scientist. “Grant as a postulate
that the magnitudes we call molecules are realities ...” “Evolution
teaches us that these bright blooms ...” etc. Dr. Thorne’s flower-show
speech! We had it last autumn with the dahlias. We had it in the spring
with the tulips. I heard him addressing it just now to that poor small
boy, Lord Rex. Mrs. Corbie is orthodox to the core. I suppose he will
make a big jump, as they do over the words in plays, when he gets to
anything so brimstony as “evolution.”’

The crowd, as it happened, was setting in the direction of the
Tintajeux roses. By the time Gaston and Marjorie had made their way
into front places before the stand, they discovered that Dinah and
Lord Rex Basire had parted company from them in the crowd.

‘I brought Mrs. Arbuthnot here. It was through my persuasion she laid
down her cross-stitch,’ cried Marjorie, ‘and now we have let her fall
victim to Lord Rex. How wearied she will be of him!’

‘I am not so sure of that. My wife has the old-fashioned weaknesses of
the sex. The sight of a wounded soldier is dear to her. All women, at
heart, are thoroughgoing Jingoites.’

‘I am not! I am an ultra, red-hot Radical,’ exclaimed Marjorie. ‘As to
Lord Rex--I believe his wound was well long ago. He wears his arm in a
sling to get up sympathy.’

‘It will secure Mrs. Arbuthnot’s,’ said Gaston. Then: ‘What a world
of good it will do my wife to have been here,’ he added warmly. ‘That
is just what poor Dinah needs, to come out more, mix more with her
fellow-creatures, brighten up her ideas; to lay down her cross-stitch,
in short. That hits the nail on the head--to lay down her cross-stitch!
It was charming of you to call on us, Miss Bartrand! I take it for
granted, you see, that you have called. You heard of our existence
probably from Geff?’

‘I heard from Mr. Geoffrey that Mrs. Arbuthnot was staying at Miller’s
Hotel.’

But Marjorie’s voice faltered. Her soul clothed itself in sackcloth and
ashes as she thought of her own error, of the _generous_, _delicate_
motives which had prompted her--Pharisee that she was!--to call on
Dinah.

‘Whatever Geff does comes to good. He cannot take a mile-long walk
without some man or woman being the better for it. Geff has a kind of
genius for bringing about the welfare of other people.’

At the mention of Geoffrey every artificial trace left Gaston’s
manner. The best of the man showed always, no matter how trifling the
occasion, in the honest regard he bore his cousin.

‘Now, look, Miss Bartrand, at the way Geff is spending his time in this
island!’

Where Marjorie had suspected him of easy-going callousness, of
philandering in the train of idle, fine ladies, of singing French
songs, of putting himself on the social and intellectual plane of a
Major Tredennis.

‘Six hours a week must, I own, be grudged to him--the hours he spends
at Tintajeux Manoir.’

‘Spare yourself the trouble of being polite, Mr. Arbuthnot. If you knew
how I detest politeness!’

‘But remember all his other hours.’ The art of thought-reading was
certainly to be reckoned among Gaston’s accomplishments. Within ten
minutes of his introduction to this little classico-mathematical
girl, behold him discoursing with cunning naturalness on the subject
likeliest to interest her in the world--Geff’s virtues! ‘Remember how
his days, often his nights, are really passed.’

‘Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot reads, does he not?’

Marjorie gazed into the heart of a glorious Duc de Rohan with interest.

‘Geoffrey reads as I,’ said Gaston, passing into a lighter strain,
‘meant to read, once. You look sceptical, Miss Bartrand! There was
a time when I had bookish ambition. Yes, I talked, like many a fool
before me, of going in for two Triposes, and left Cambridge without a
degree. But Geff has a gigantic physique, a real hunger for hard work.
He simply does not know the meaning of taking a holiday.

As they chatted Gaston’s eyes dwelt with artistic satisfaction on
the girl’s slender figure and hands, on the chiselled Southern face
overkissed by sea and sun for some English tastes, but pure, fresh, as
the wine-dark roses over which she bent.

‘I am a sculptor by trade,’ he went on. ‘It might be truer to say a
poor manufacturer of statuettes for the London market. Geff has told
you how we get our daily bread, has he not?’

‘My tutor speaks of little--beyond my reading,’ stammered Marjorie,
still without meeting the penetrating glance of Gaston Arbuthnot.

‘Well, even after work as light as mine, I find,’ said Gaston, with
a clear conscience, ‘that amusement, varied in kind and ample of
quantity, is needful. The heartiness of one’s work seems determined to
a nicety by the heartiness of one’s play. Geoffrey takes his recreation
just now in the wards of the Guernsey hospital. There was a bad quarry
accident the day after our arrival here----’

‘I know,’ exclaimed Marjorie, paling. ‘The worst accident we have ever
had at St. Sampson’s.’

‘Geoffrey, I need not say, went to the fore as a volunteer. Between the
poor lads in hospital and those who lie still in the houses to which
they were carried from the quarry his hands are full. That is the way
Geff recreates himself.’

For a good many seconds Marjorie was speechless. Could it be that
conscious weakness--weakness in her, a Bartrand--hindered the girl from
trusting her own voice? Then, giving Gaston her profile still, she
turned brusquely aside from the Tintajeux roses and from the discussion
of Geoffrey’s qualities. She remembered her grandfather’s dinner-hour.
The sun was getting low. It would be only human to search for Mrs.
Arbuthnot, and deliver her out of the hands of Lord Rex.

‘We shall find them perfectly happy, and eating ices,’ said Gaston.
‘Dinah’s is not such a critical spirit as yours, Miss Bartrand. Let us
bend our steps to the refreshment tent.’


Dinah and Lord Rex were all this time advancing, haltingly,
monosyllabically, towards acquaintanceship. Gaston’s happy
many-sidedness, his power of adapting himself, without effort, to the
tastes and moods of others, were gifts in no manner shared by Lord Rex
Basire. Dinah’s intelligence differed about as widely from Marjorie
Bartrand’s as does placid English moonlight from a flash of tropical
lightning.

Thus,--starting, as a cleverer man might do, along beaten tracks, the
first remark made by Lord Rex was meteorological:

‘Splendid day this, isn’t it, for a rose-show?’

‘Certainly.’

The chilling assent was not spoken for some seconds, Dinah’s education
having failed to inform her that the smallest platitude uttered by men
and women when they meet in the world needs instant answer.

‘As a rule, you see, one gets beastly weather for this sort of thing.’

Silence.

‘Festive gatherings, I mean, _und so weiter_. Speech-day at Eton was
always the wettest day of the three hundred and sixty-five.’

‘Was it indeed, Lord Rex Basire?’

Dinah’s gentle nature prompted her to be civil to all created beings.
She would be civil, kindly even, to this plain and sun-scorched boy
who had elected to walk beside her, and whose eyes took so many
covert glances of admiration at her face. In the heart of Eve’s
simplest daughter were such glances, one short quarter of an hour
after introduction, ever registered as crime? Not only would Dinah
be civil,--knowing little of titles, and less as to their modes of
application, she would fain give Lord Rex Basire the fullest benefit of
his.

He paused, and doing so looked with a straighter gaze than heretofore
at Gaston Arbuthnot’s wife. She was surpassingly beautiful, fairer
than any woman he had seen with his fleshly eyes or dreamed about in
such soul as he possessed. Was she stupid? Not one whit for the higher
feminine intelligence or the higher feminine culture did Lord Rex care.
In society he held it Woman’s duty to supply him, Rex Basire, with
straw for his conversational brick-making; hooks and eyes, don’t you
know! gleanings from the comic papers, hints at politics, easy openings
for unsentimental sentiment. A distinctly stupid woman frightened him.
‘Makes one feel like being on one’s legs for a speech,’ Lord Rex Basire
would say.

‘You are looking forward to a long stay in the island, I _hope_, Mrs.
Arbuthnot.’

At the italicised verb Dinah’s eyes turned on her companion with a
vague distrust. Then she changed colour. A rose-flush, vivid as sunset
on snow, overspread her face. For she thought of Gaston.

‘If you are a friend of my husband’s, I can understand your wishing to
keep us here.’

There was a smile on her lips. The stiffness of her manner began
visibly to relax.

Lord Rex for a moment was taken aback. Then he plucked up heart of
grace. To see a married woman blush like a school-girl at the mention
of her husband’s name was a new and puzzling spectacle to him. He
could scarcely flatter his vanity that he, personally, was receiving
encouragement. Still, Dinah had smiled. And with the burthen of
conversation-making resting heavily on him, he was glad enough to
follow any cue that might present itself.

‘Friend? I should think so! Best fellow in the world, Arbuthnot--and a
man of genius, too; good-all-round sort of man. Never heard a Briton
sing French songs as he does. Rather proud of my own accent.’ As Lord
Rex progressed in confidence his speech grew more and more elliptic.
‘Sent to Paris in my infancy. Brought up by the Jesuits--there were
Jesuits in those days, you know--till I went to Eton. But Arbuthnot
puts me in the shade, ra-_ther_.’

‘Your lordship was brought up by the Jesuits!’

Side by side with many wholesomer qualities, Dinah had inherited not
a few of her yeoman forefathers’ prejudices. At the word ‘Jesuit’ she
regarded Lord Rex with an interest that had in it almost the tenderer
element of pity.

‘I was. You look doubtful, you don’t think the fathers could give one
such a Parisian roll of the “r” as your husband’s?’

‘Of that I’m ignorant, my lord. I am no French scholar. I thought of
the Jesuits’ fearful underminded dealings.’ Dinah gave a half shudder
in the warm sunshine. ‘I thought of the doctrines they must have
instilled into you.’

Underminded! From what sect or denomination could Arbuthnot have taken
his handsome wife? That Dinah was a rustic ‘mixed up with the great
bucolic interests,’ Lord Rex felt certain. The Devonshire burr, the
staid, shy, village manner betrayed her. What were her tenets? What
sort of conscience had she? A Puritanical conscience, of course, but of
what shade, what dimensions?

He harked warily back upon the safe subject of Gaston’s songs.

‘Arbuthnot was singing to us magnificently last night. He was in his
best form. Faure himself could never have given “A vingt ans” in
grander style. And then he was so well accompanied. The accompaniment
is half the battle in “A vingt ans.’”

Gaston Arbuthnot, it should be explained, dined on the preceding
night at the mess of the Maltshire Royals. He had dined at mess often
of late, and on each occasion Dinah’s heart felt that it had got a
reprieve. Dinah believed that dining at the mess of the Maltshire
Royals meant, for one evening at least, seeing nothing of The Bungalow,
and of Doctor and Mrs. Thorne.

‘You have good musicians among you, no doubt. I know,’ she observed,
remembering long and not successful practising of her own, ‘that the
accompaniment of this song is hard. But it has become the fashion for
young men to play the piano lately.’

‘We can most of us get through a polka, played with one finger, or
Malbrook. When I am alone,’ said Lord Rex, ‘I execute the Marseillaise,
with chords. No man in the regiment could play a true accompaniment to
“A vingt ans.”’

‘No? My husband played it for himself, then?’ asked Dinah,
unaccountably persistent.

‘Not a bit of it! A singer never sings his best unless he stand, head
up, chest expanded.’ Lord Rex dramatised the operatic attitude as they
walked. ‘Mrs. Thorne accompanied Arbuthnot--deliciously, as she always
does.’

It was seldom Dinah’s policy to discover her feelings by speech. So
much worldly wisdom she had learnt, through most unworldly forbearance
towards Gaston. Her complexion showed one of its over-quick changes,
her mouth fell. But she spoke not. That there must be deviation
from truth somewhere, she divined, with a bitter personal sense of
humiliation. But where? She shrank from the possible answer to this
question.

A good-humoured epitome of the dinner-party had been given by Gaston,
over this morning’s breakfast-table, for her own and Geoffrey’s
benefit. ‘The usual guest-night at mess. Curious how precisely
alike all mess dinners are. The Engineer Colonel’s never finished
commencement, “When we were in the lines before Sebastopol;” the
Major’s tiger-slaying adventures in Bengal; the elderly Captain’s
diatribes against Liberal Governments and enforced retirements, “A
man in the very prime--no, sir, a man before he is in the prime of
life put on the shelf.” And the Irishman’s story. And the subaltern’s
witticisms.’ Gaston, I say, had enlivened the breakfast-table with his
lively putting together of these oft-used materials. He had made no
reference to the singing of French songs, or to Linda Thorne.

Then Lord Rex Basire’s memory must be at fault.

‘You cannot mean last night. You must be thinking of some former time.
Mr. Arbuthnot dined with you at mess yesterday.’

‘Of course he did. After dinner we adjourned--we, the favoured few--as
our manner is, to The Bungalow.’

‘Where Mrs. Thorne played accompaniments for Gaston.’

Dinah made the observation with mechanical self-control, hardly knowing
what cold repetition of words this was that escaped her.

‘Yes; we had quite a chamber concert. A lot of rehearsing that
accompanying business seems to want! Hardly ever drop in at The
Bungalow of an afternoon without finding them at the piano.’

Dinah knew a moment’s cruel pain. There was a proud, hurt expression on
her face. She stopped short, involuntarily. Then: ‘It would take much
rehearsal,’ she said, ‘before I should play well enough to accompany
Mr. Arbuthnot in public. But Mrs. Thorne seems clever nearly in
everything. I wish I had her talents.’

And she resumed her walk, and began to speak--the village shyness
thawing fast away--about the flowers, and the music, and the people.

It became clear as daylight to Lord Rex Basire that his society was
duly valued.



CHAPTER XV

A LOVE-LETTER


When Gaston and Marjorie approached the refreshment stall they saw a
picture which many a genre artist, in ink or oils, might have been glad
to study.

For there outside the tent stood Dinah Arbuthnot, fair and flushed. She
and Lord Rex were eating ices, as Gaston, the materialist, predicted.
The western light shone on Dinah’s bright hair. It touched the rose
she wore, and the outline of her lips and chin. Lord Rex, dutifully
attentive, held her sunshade. An Archdeaconess with surroundings of
inferior female clergy loomed large on the horizon. Nearer at hand was
Linda Thorne, patiently enduring long stories of the tiger-slaying
Major’s, while her eyes and ears were elsewhere. Sarnian society
generally, in dubious groups of twos and threes, looked on. It was
Dinah’s first step across the border of a new world.

Gaston Arbuthnot seized the points of the situation at a glance. He
played the part that fell to him with acumen. Towards Dinah his manner
was simply irreproachable. So thought Marjorie, no over-lenient judge;
so, from afar, thought Linda Thorne. It were premature to hint at
any forecasting of storm in Dinah’s own hot heart! He insisted upon
supporting his wife’s plate while she finished her ice. He contrived to
bring her and Linda so far into friendly juxtaposition that at parting
a chilly handshake was exchanged between these ladies. But he also
was true to his colours. He had come to the rose-show in Mrs. Thorne’s
society; in her society he remained. The last glimpse Marjorie got of
her new friends revealed a perspective of Linda with sprightly energy
pointing out distant roses to Mr. Arbuthnot, while Dinah walked slowly
homeward from the Arsenal gates, Lord Rex at her side.

Had the afternoon been one of unmixed good? Had her interference with
the Arbuthnot trio brought about good at all? Marjorie asked herself
these questions as she urged her ponies to a gallop along the Tintajeux
high road. That she had discovered a foolish error appositely might be
matter for congratulation so far as pride went! Had she performed a
very generous or delicate action in bringing untaught Dinah from her
cross-stitch, pushing her into the glare of public notice, obliging her
to tolerate the attention of a man like Rex Basire? If, unprompted by
the Bartrand thirst for governing, she had left destiny to itself, had
been content, as in old times, to help in the hayfield, or the dairy at
home, might not her day’s work have been fruitfuller?

Dinner had waited long when she reached Tintajeux, and the Seigneur
was in the disposition most dreaded of Marjorie throughout the meal.
He talked more than his custom, displayed a genial and grandpaternal
interest in her doings at the Arsenal. Tintajeux had taken a first
prize, of course. And how did the Duc de Rohan look among the baser
herd? Was he well placed? In sun or in shadow? Marjorie, the Seigneur
_supposed_, had scarce found time, among her numerous friends, to give
a glance that way.

‘I looked more at our roses than at any in the show,’ said Marjorie
truthfully. Were not her eyes fixed downcast on the Duc de Rohan when
Gaston Arbuthnot talked to her of Geff? ‘Would you believe, sir, that
the Hauterive Corbies have taken a prize? I think the Archdeaconess
would sooner have been cut out by any farmer in the island than by her
husband’s cousin.’

‘No need to tell me the local tittle-tattle. On that head Cassandra
Tighe has been a more than sufficient oracle. By the bye, witch,’ with
the memory of over-boiled fish strong upon him the Seigneur turned his
piercing old gaze towards his granddaughter, ‘Cassandra informs me that
Mrs. Arbuthnot is an extraordinarily pretty woman; good, too, as she is
pretty. Your tutor shows poor taste in dancing attendance on anything
so vapidly commonplace as Doctor Thorne’s Indian wife.’

Marjorie Bartrand, who, three weeks ago, had never changed colour
before mortal, was conscious, at this moment, of blushing furiously
before the Reverend Andros. Still more did she quail under the eyes of
Sylvestre, who stood, in his faded puce and silver, listening, with the
unabashed frankness that characterises servants of his age and nation,
to their talk. From her grandfather all she need fear was a little
searching banter, directed towards herself. Let the dramatic instincts
of Sylvestre be aroused, and he was capable of waylaying Geoffrey
Arbuthnot--yes, and of inviting confidence respecting the most intimate
family concerns at Geff’s next visit. It needs personal acquaintance
with a Frenchman of Sylvestre’s type to realise how the passion for
scandalettes, smouldering through long years of solitude and disuse,
would be ready at the first handful of fuel supplied to break forth
anew!

‘Doctor and Mrs. Thorne were at the rose-show. The proceeds of the
refreshment stall go, this June, to some sort of charity, so Mrs.
Thorne, of course, presided there. But Mrs. Thorne is one of the people
I never can find two words to say to.’

‘Our solemn-eyed Cantab finds a great many more than two words, it
would appear. Let me help you to a merry-thought, witch. You have
nothing but bones on your plate.’

Marjorie picked her merry-thought, as she finished her dinner, in
silence. Over dessert, however--Sylvestre’s inquisitive face fairly
vanished from the scene--she plucked up courage and spoke:

‘We have been making nimble but ridiculous conjectures, sir. One could
not well speak of this before Sylvestre. Miss Tighe made sure of the
Arbuthnot family history, you know, and----’

‘Avoid expletives. I know nothing, until it is your pleasure to inform
my ignorance.’

‘I mean Cassandra believed, from whispers she heard in Petersport, that
Mrs. Arbuthnot was kept too much in the background. It would be a right
and kindly thing, we thought, for me to call on her, and so--and so----’

‘Take your time, Marjorie; slur over nothing. We have a long evening
before us.’

‘Well, sir,’ desperately, ‘I called. And our solemn-eyed Cantab is not
a married man at all. The name of the Mr. Arbuthnot who dances attend
... who visits at Dr. Thorne’s house, is Gaston. He is a cousin of
Geff’s, I--I mean of my tutor’s.’

The Seigneur looked deliberately at his granddaughter’s face. Then, as
though politely reluctant to take further notice of her embarrassment,
he lifted his gaze to a full-length portrait in pastels of some
bewigged and powdered Bartrand on the opposite wall.

‘And why should we not speak of Miss Tighe’s mistake, of Mr. Geoffrey
Arbuthnot’s celibacy, before Sylvestre? Remember the rascal’s Gallican
blood--Sylvestre requires an occasional bit of comedy more than any of
us. And so you have been acting a charade, my love, solemn-eyed tutor
and all. A very pretty charade, upon my word!

The Reverend Andros Bartrand laughed drily. It was about the first time
on record that he had addressed his granddaughter as ‘my love,’ and
Marjorie was prompt to recognise latent sarcasm under the endearment.
How terrible to reach old age, thought the child of seventeen--to read,
to think, and yet outlive the power of loving; intellect surviving
heart by many a year, as bodily strength in the end must survive all.
What had she ever been to him but a plaything! From the hour she
arrived at Tintajeux with her tempers, her four-year-old tongue, her
foreign ways, the necessity of keeping a kitten to gambol before the
Seigneur’s study fire had possibly been done away with. Just that! She
had diverted him. At the present day she might be picturesque, shed the
pleasing charm of youth upon his lawn and dinner-table. She understood
the arrangement of his books. She could dust his library to admiration.
And she was not afraid of him! (Marjorie omitted this, the leading
clause, from her mental summing-up of personal virtues.) She was not
afraid of him! When did fearlessness fail of carrying weight with a
cold, strong nature like the Seigneur’s? Though her colour went and
came, though her lips quivered under his irony, the girl was not afraid
of him at this moment.

‘I might have known, sir, that if I was distressed it would furnish you
with amusement. That is our amiable Bartrand spirit, our way of showing
sympathy with others.’

‘Distressed? You astonish me. Distressed at finding that an
intelligent, studious young man is in possession of his freedom? The
charade, we may almost call it the Arbuthnot drama, grows mightily
puzzling to me, a spectator. Let our worthy Cantab be bachelor or
Benedict. What concern is it of ours?’

Marjorie rose from the table, with difficulty choking back her tears.
‘I love gossip as little as any one,’ she said, coldly. ‘You introduced
the Arbuthnots’ name, sir, so I chose to mention that the Thornes’
friend and my tutor are two distinct persons. And I have no interest
in Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s concerns! And if a drama is being acted,
let me tell you, grandpapa, that I, for one, play no part in it. Like
yourself, I am a spectator only.’

Her tone was high, but when she reached the schoolroom--friendly
sanctuary in many a dumb pain of her childhood--when she looked at the
ink-stained desk, the piles of books, the window through which the
China roses peeped, her humour changed. Marjorie stood a self-convicted
impostor in her own sight. For she knew that she was not a spectator
only in the Arbuthnot drama, that she was not unmoved by the discovery
of Geoffrey’s freedom. ‘Bachelor or Benedict, what concern is it of
ours?’ She knew, also, that under the Seigneur’s irony lurked wholesome
truth. Pluming herself on her own strength, on the Bartrand immunity
from vulgar human error, she had drifted into a position from which
the pride of any simple village maiden must recoil. She remembered her
airs of easy patronage towards Geoffrey, from the first evening when
he walked out to Tintajeux on approval, until this morning. What could
she have seemed like in his sight? Had he rated her as an over-forward
Miss-in-her-teens, a hoyden wearing her heart--ah, shame!--upon her
sleeve? Or had he doubted her, worse humiliation still, as every honest
man must doubt a girl who, under the convenient shield of Greek and
Euclid, could lend herself to the small meanness of coquetry?

She walked to the window, buried her face amongst the cold,
swift-falling rose-petals, then looked out on the landscape. Something
strange had crept into its familiarity. There trotted Sylvestre, rake
in hand, his livery exchanged for a fustian jacket, to the clover
field. There were the farm buildings, there was the row of poplars,
showing distinct against the sunset. The China roses gave out their
faint evanescent odour; the big vault of Northern sky was stainless.
And here was Marjorie Bartrand, to all outward seeming the same
Marjorie Bartrand as yesterday, but out of tune, for some queer
reason, with her surroundings. The dew-smelling roses, the poplars,
the farm buildings, yes, old Sylvestre himself, had been her friends
through her whole span of childish life. With the new life that was
awakening, with the stir of alien emotion in her breast, they were
unsympathetic. Geoffrey Arbuthnot--what Geoffrey thought of her,
what Geoffrey felt towards her--these were the questions burning in
Marjorie’s soul, transforming her, as no lengthening of skirts or
plaiting of hair had ever done, from a child to a woman.

Suddenly a man’s quick step advanced along the gravel road that led
from the side lodge to the Manoir. The step stopped; Marjorie heard her
grandfather’s voice. She put her head forth through the window, hoping,
dreading that Geff, repentant after their half quarrel of the forenoon,
might have walked out to Tintajeux--to be forgiven. In lieu of Geff’s
stalwart outline, the diminutive figure of the country postman met her
sight. The Seigneur, ready always as a boy for the moment’s amusement,
was overlooking the contents of the village letter bag.

‘A letter for you, witch.’ Clear, resonant, rang the old voice, as
Andros Bartrand caught sight of Marjorie. ‘A letter, and a bulky one.
The address is written in a hand that savours of the Alma Mater. The
postmark is “Local.” I am to open it for you, of course?’

‘If you do I start for Spain to-night--this moment!’ cried Marjorie,
with fine, Bartrand presence of temper; her grandfather meanwhile
proceeding, in pantomime, to carry out his suggestion. ‘If you do,
sir----’

But the sequel of the threat remained unspoken. Away flew Marjorie
through the low schoolroom window, away, without drawing breath, over
flower border, over lawn, till she reached the Seigneur. A few seconds
later her letter--her first love-letter, whispered a voice in the white
and girlish conscience--lay with seal unbroken between her hands.

She could not read it here, under this open largeness of air and
sky, with her grandfather’s searching eyes fixed on her face. She
must heighten her pleasure, as not so many summers back she was wont
to heighten the coveted flavour of peach or nectarine, by eked-out
anticipation. Not here, not in the schoolroom, peopled by commonplace
remembrances of Sophie le Patourel and all the long train of Sophie’s
predecessors. In this ineffable moment (are not our mistakes the
sweetest things we taste on earth?) she must be alone, must know that
a bolt was drawn between her happiness and the world. She entered the
house with eager limbs, sped up the stairs, light still with the brief
flicker that comes between sunset and dusk. She sought the shelter of
her own room; a little white-draped room, where fragrant alder-blooms,
flecks of foam on a deep green sea of foliage, brushed the casement,
where you could feel the coolness from the orchards, where only the
tired evening call of the cuckoo, the murmur of late bees, still awork
in blossom dust, broke silence.

‘Miss Marjorie Bartrand, Tintajeux Manoir, Guernsey.’

Prolonging her suspense to the utmost, Marjorie ran over aloud each
syllable that Geff Arbuthnot’s hand had traced. Then, with fast-beating
pulse, she opened the envelope, drew forth its contents, and prepared,
delightedly, to read.

The love-letter was written upon blue, most unloverlike foolscap, and
consisted of three words: ‘Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s compliments.’ Within,
carefully folded, lay Marjorie’s waist-belt, intact, as when she looped
it to his bunch of roses and heliotropes in the moonlight.

So she had won obedience. Even in the light matter of keeping or not
keeping a bit of ribbon she had had her way. And her breast swelled
with disappointment, the hot tears rushed to her eyes. In this moment
Marjorie Bartrand’s illogical heart owned Geoffrey as its master.



CHAPTER XVI

A RASH RESOLVE


The strength, the delicacy of Geff Arbuthnot’s character were never
better shown than in his present relations to Dinah.

Weaker men pay allegiance readily enough to the passion under whose
sway they happen to rest. Geff was loyal, with a fine, a rare fidelity
to the love that had passed away. He was Dinah’s brother always. And
the story of Saturday’s rose-show told him, late that evening, by
Dinah’s lips, sufficed to fill him with a more than vague misgiving.

He had wished often, thinking over the difficult question of her
welfare in his rough-and-ready way, that Dinah could be forcibly saved
from solitude and cross-stitch. Lo! the rescuer was at hand. But that
rescuer, Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s common sense informed him, should be
a very different Galahad to Lord Rex Basire. Acting on the moment’s
impulse, Marjorie Bartrand had made a tentative effort at lifting
Gaston’s wife into the fellowship of her kind. And the experiment was
too successful. Dinah, so Geff divined, had scarcely taken one step in
public, before the little hero of a lesser hour, the most popular man
in his regiment, the most sought-after partner at the island balls,
thought fit, the world looking on, to throw himself at her feet.

‘And did you find pleasure in it all? Did you for a single moment feel
amused to-day?’

Something in Geoffrey’s voice suggested a sharper note of interrogation
than was supplied by his words.

Dinah and Geff stood together on the same spot of lawn where we first
heard the Arbuthnot trio talking of sentiment while they breakfasted.
Gaston was dining out, whether at the Fort-William mess or at Doctor
Thorne’s house Dinah had not sought to know. Of what avail to ask for
truth when you have once been answered with a fable, no matter how
prettily that fable was illustrated?

‘I was pleased for a time. Gaston showed no anger at my coming. It
amused me to hear Lord Rex Basire talking down, as he thought, to my
rustic understanding. Then without warning,’ Dinah turned away; she
looked at the pale horizon line of sea, ‘I had a few moments’ horrible
pain.’

‘You were ill!’ exclaimed Geoffrey, uncertain of her drift.

‘No, Geff, no. I don’t mean such pain as people consult the doctors
for. The pain was at my heart--a sickening doubt of every one--a
feeling that I stood on one side and all the rest of the world on the
other--a sudden despair of life! Geoffrey,’ she went on, ‘with the gay
people walking about, and the flowers smelling sweet, and the music
playing, it did seem to me for a few seconds’ space that my heart must
break.’

‘And on which side did you range me in your thoughts? Was I with you or
with all the rest of the world?’ asked Geoffrey Arbuthnot.

These half confessions of Dinah’s were no new experience to him. She
never uttered an ungenerous suspicion of Gaston, never made a complaint
as to her own neglected life. And still a kind of moral moan had of
late been constantly in poor Dinah’s talk. The warm woman’s heart, ill
at rest, jealous, with no wholesome work or interest to keep emotion
subordinate, was always, unconsciously, on the brink of betraying its
secret.

He looked with pity that could never tire at her averted face.

‘You, Geff?’ she cried, putting on a brighter tone. ‘Why, you were on
my side, of course. You do everything good that is done for me in this
world. Through you, for certain, Miss Bartrand came all the way from
Tintajeux to call on me.’

‘Don’t give me credit on that score. Marjorie Bartrand’s doings are
guided by no living person save Marjorie Bartrand. She had made up her
mind to know you; had heard, doubtless, about you and Gaston among
the islanders, and of her own free will sought you out. Count me
for nothing,’ said Geoffrey Arbuthnot, ‘in any action or caprice of
Marjorie Bartrand’s.’

‘Had heard about me and Gaston!’ Dinah repeated his words with the
preoccupation of morbidly strained feeling. ‘I think one may know
pretty well what that means. No wonder so many people turned round to
look at me at Saturday’s rose-show.’

‘People turn to look at you generally, do they not, Mrs. Arbuthnot?
There is as much human nature, depend upon it, in the heart of the
Channel as in Hyde Park or Piccadilly.’

‘That is more like a speech of Lord Rex Basire’s than of yours!’ cried
Dinah, with a laugh unlike her own. ‘Throw in a lisp, varnished shoes,
a waistcoat, and a double eyeglass, and I could believe it was his
lordship, not Geff Arbuthnot, who was condescending to talk to me.’

‘You must have put forth all your charity, have exercised a great deal
of wasted patience, in allowing his lordship to condescend at all.’

Chiefly through Gaston’s spirited character sketches over the breakfast
table, Geoffrey had long ago known with certainty what manner of man
Lord Rex Basire was. Instead of answering, Dinah stooped above a head
of garden lilies, the dense white of whose petals showed waxen and
spotless through the gloom.

‘I like the smell of lilies better than of all other flowers that
blow,’ so after a minute her rich low voice came to Geoffrey; ‘I can
never smell them, nor yet lavender, without thinking of Aunt Susan’s
garden at Lesser Cheriton.’

Where Geff first saw her! The garden amidst whose crowding summer
verdure he stood at the moment when his youth went from him, when Dinah
and Gaston, hand clasped in hand, bent towards each other in the level
sunlight. At this hour, with the whispers of a new love stirring in his
heart, Geoffrey Arbuthnot could not hear that distant time spoken of,
above all by Dinah’s lips, without a thrill of the old passion, the old
maddened, blinding sense of loss overcoming him.

‘It might have been well for some of us,’ he began, ‘if we had never
heard the name of Lesser Cheriton----’

But Dinah interrupted him quickly:

‘No, Geoffrey, I can never believe that. If it means anything, it must
mean I had better not have married Gaston. I should have no hope, no
religion--I should be a woman ready for any desperate action--if I
thought that my life, just as I have it, was not the one God had cut
out for me as best. The fact is, you know, I have been too narrow,’
she went on hurriedly. ‘Something has been running in my mind all this
evening--some idle talk of Lord Rex Basire’s that I may repeat to you
another time; and I begin to see my conduct in a new light. From the
day Gaston married me I have been too narrow, far.’

‘In what way? Give me one or two specimens of your overnarrowness.’

‘I have tried to make the sayings of one class fit in with the doings
of another. I have thought that right and wrong must be the same
everywhere. This was my ignorance. If I had taken up--well, with
Gaston’s sort of opinions,’ she added, making an unsuccessful attempt
at gaiety, ‘it might be better for me and for him, too, now.’

‘I differ from you,’ said Geff, somewhat coldly. ‘Right and wrong are
the same in every class. It would be an excellent thing for your health
and spirits to get more change, more society. Stop there! Remain for
ever,’ added Geff warmly, ‘in such ignorance as yours.’ And indeed the
thought crossed him that, at this hour, what Dinah needed was safer
anchorage, not wider ship-room. ‘Your happiness and Gaston’s would be
wrecked if you attempted to rule life by any other “sayings” than your
own.’

But there was a goodly alloy of mild obstinacy in Dinah Arbuthnot’s
character. A given idea started, and she was slow to part with it. The
recesses of her mind would seem to shut, with pertinacious closeness,
over any decided impression, once made, and the key for opening these
recesses could not always be found, even by Dinah herself.

From whatever source the sudden conviction of her narrowness arose,
another four-and-twenty hours showed Geoffrey that the conviction was
genuine. Dinah had made some kind of compact with herself, not only in
the matter of opinions but of conduct. On the following day, Sunday,
it happened that Lord Rex walked home with Mrs. Arbuthnot from morning
service at the town church. Invited by Gaston, whose easy hospitality
extended itself to most men, Lord Rex remained to lunch. He stayed on,
long after Gaston’s afternoon engagements had taken him elsewhere. And
Dinah, although her cheeks flushed, her spirit chafed, endured this,
her first experience in the difficult duties of a hostess, without
complaint.

‘Lord Rex Basire kept his Sabbath, it seems, in Miller’s Hotel,’
observed Geff, when the Arbuthnot cousins were smoking, one his short
briar pipe, the other a delicately-flavoured cigarette after dinner.
Geoffrey’s own Sabbath had been kept in the wards of the hospital, full
to overflowing with the survivors of the quarry accident. ‘No wonder
Dinah confesses to a headache. That lad’s talk, a nice mixture of slang
and assurance, judging from the specimens he gave us at lunch, would
scarcely be of the nature Dinah loves.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. Basire can be very fair company when he likes,’ said
Gaston, with philosophic optimism. ‘He is not a giant, intellectually.
But in their heart of hearts, Geff, however unflattering this may be
to you and me, women don’t care a straw for intellectual men--until
they have been authoritatively labelled. The island ladies, from Madame
the Archdeaconess downwards, delight in Lord Rex, title, disabled arm,
slang, assurance--all.’

‘Imagine five hours of him at a stretch. That is about what your wife
had to live through to-day.’

‘Dinah is rousing herself, I hope and believe. It will do her all the
good in the world to live through being bored.’ This was said with
amiable imperturbability by Dinah’s husband. ‘I trust, for her own
sake, poor girl, she is learning reason, beginning to discover there
may be other music in the spheres besides that of the eternal domestic
duo without accompaniment.’

Geoffrey Arbuthnot puffed away at his pipe in silence.

‘It was a great thing getting her to the rose-show. For that, Geff, I
suspect, I must thank you.’ Gaston gave a penetrating glance at his
cousin’s face. ‘Miss Bartrand would certainly not have called on us but
at your instigation, and through Miss Bartrand my poor Dinah has been
introduced--well, to Lord Rex Basire, an Open Sesame! let us trust, to
the strictly guarded gates of insular society.’



CHAPTER XVII

THE FIRST CRUMPLED ROSE-LEAF


Rex Basire showed no disposition to let his newly-made acquaintance
with Dinah Arbuthnot cool. Long before the hour for visitors on Monday
afternoon, Louise, the French waitress, entered the Arbuthnots’
parlour. She placed before Dinah a card, also a bouquet made up
entirely of white and costly hothouse flowers. Just like the bouquet
Gaston gave her on her wedding morning! thought Dinah, with a rush of
bitter-sweet recollection.

‘The Monsieur who was here yesterday, le petit Milor au moustache
blond, demanded news of Madame. Was Madame visible? Should she, Louise,
pray Milor to enter?’

Dinah glanced with indifference at card and flowers alike, then she
rose from her work-table. Gaston Arbuthnot, it happened, was at home,
putting the finishing touches to ‘Dodo’s Despair’ in his improvised
studio. Walking quickly to the open window, Dinah, in a whisper,
appealed to her husband.

‘Gaston, how shall I get rid of Lord Rex Basire? He has sent in his
card and some flowers, as if flowers from a stranger could give one
pleasure! He demands news of me, the French girl says, but that is too
senseless. Tell me the civil way to--to----’

‘Shut the door in his face,’ observed Gaston Arbuthnot, looking up
from his model as Dinah hesitated. ‘Why shut the door at all? The poor
boy will be better off talking to you than he would be making useless
purchases for young ladies in the Petersport shops.’

‘But I am at work. I am counting off stitches for the forget-me-nots
round Aunt Susan’s ottoman, and then I shall come outside. I want no
company but yours.’

‘Basire will help you to count forget-me-nots. The very employment he
would delight in!’

And, raising his voice, Gaston Arbuthnot called cheerily to the servant
that Madame was visible. There was no time for Dinah to escape. In
another minute Lord Rex had followed his hothouse bouquet, his card,
and the French waitress into her presence.

She suffered him to possess her hand for one chill, unwilling instant.
Determined, after a somewhat confused and halting fashion, to amend the
error of her ways, to instruct herself, as in a book, in the usages
of Gaston’s world, poor Dinah shrank like a child from the initiatory
chapter of her lesson. She had endured Lord Rex, yesterday, in the
spirit of martyrdom. But to-day, to-morrow! Over what space between the
present time and September was her endurance to last?

‘I was afraid if I waited till the afternoon you would be out, Mrs.
Arbuthnot. And I have a weighty matter to put into your hands;
I--I--mean an awfully great favour to ask of you.’

Rex Basire, as garrison society knew him, was a youth weighted by no
undue modesty, no obsolete chivalrous deference in his manner towards
Woman. He really shone, little though Dinah might appreciate such
shining, as he stood, hesitating--for a moment half abashed--before the
calm coldness of her face.

‘You will forgive me for calling at this unholy hour?’ he proceeded as
she remained silent.

Dinah Arbuthnot glanced towards the flood of sunshine that rested on
the flower-bright borders of Mr. Miller’s garden.

‘Why is the hour unholy?’ she inquired, with slow gravity.

‘I mean an hour when you were certain to be busy,’ said Lord Rex,
approaching her work-table. ‘Now I can see I am interrupting you, Mrs.
Arbuthnot, am I not?’

He drew forward a chair for Dinah; then, after standing for some
appreciable time, and finding that she neither spoke to him nor looked
at him, he seated himself, uninvited.

‘Awful shame, isn’t it, to interrupt you like this?’

‘It does not matter much, my lord. My time was occupied in nothing more
important than counting stitches for a border--that dreariest form of
feminine arithmetic,’ Dinah’s lips relaxed, ‘as my husband calls it.’

‘Does your husband say so really? Just what one might expect. All
husbands are alike.’

Modelling his clay outside, Mr. Arbuthnot smiled good-humouredly to
himself at the remark.

‘Now, to me--you mustn’t mind my saying so--lovely woman is never so
lovely as when she is absolutely a woman! Dead against the higher
education business--girl graduates--platform females--you know the
style of thing I mean. Only one out of my tribe of sisters, Vic, the
eldest, works at her needle--my favourite sister from my cradle.’

Rex Basire felt that he threw a shade of discriminative, yet
unmistakable flattery into this avowal of family preference. Dinah held
her peace, having in her possession none of those useful colloquial
counters which less uninformed persons have agreed to accept as coin.
Rex Basire’s generalisation about husbands lingered in her mind with
unpleasant, with personal significance. Was it possible that Gaston’s
coolness towards her had become matter of comment in the idle little
world to which Linda Thorne and Lord Rex Basire both belonged?

‘I work at my needle,’ she remarked presently, ‘because I am not gifted
enough to do better things. If I had talent, a tenth part of talent
like Gaston’s, I should not spend my time counting threads of canvas.’

So the discriminative flattery had fallen through. Lord Rex tapped
his exceedingly white teeth with the top of his cane. He searched
diligently throughout the length and breadth of his brain for
subject-matter, and found the land naked. His want of inspiration must,
he began to think, be Mrs. Arbuthnot’s fault. These constant allusions
to the absent husband were crushingly unsuggestive; tended, indeed,
towards irksomeness. Arbuthnot was a well-looking man enough, of the
usual American type, clever, possibly, in his way,--could knead up
clay into droll little figures, and sing French songs without accent!
It was distinctly not to listen to Gaston Arbuthnot’s praises that
Lord Rex had toiled under a hot sun, and at this ‘unholy hour,’ from
Fort-William Barracks up to Miller’s Sarnian Hotel.

He asked himself if Dinah were really as beautiful as during the past
two days and nights she had appeared before him in his dreams? With a
world full of charming women, most of them disposed, thought Lord Rex,
to value one adequately, were this particular woman’s good graces high
enough stakes to be worth playing for?

Was she really, if one watched her dispassionately, so beautiful?

Dinah set up her frame, and, leaning over it, began, or went through
the semblance of beginning, to count her stitches. In doing so the line
of down-bent golden head, the sweep of lash on the pink cheek, the
outline of throat and shoulder, were given with full unconscious effect
to Lord Rex. And the young man’s heresy left him. Whatever his other
scepticisms, he felt, while he lived he could never doubt more on one
subject, the flawlessness of Dinah Arbuthnot’s beauty.

‘Please let me help you in your dreary arithmetic, Mrs. Arbuthnot.
Lend me a needle, at least, and give me a trial. I have only one hand
to use, but I have been shown, often, how worsted-work stitches are
counted.’ And, indeed, Rex Basire had had a pretty wide training in
most unprofitable pursuits. ‘Each little painted square of the pattern
goes for two threads, does it not?’

‘I am sure I did not know gentlemen understood about cross-stitch!’
And Dinah reluctantly surrendered her canvas to his outstretched hand.
‘Your lordship,’ she added, ‘will never make out the different shades
of blue. This forget-me-not border is the most heart-breaking pattern I
have worked.’

Your lordship--your lordship! Gaston’s face assumed an unwonted
liveliness of colour as his wife’s voice reached him. Would Dinah never
leave off talking as the young ladies talk behind the counters in glove
shops, he asked himself? Would she never learn the common everyday
titles by which men and women address each other in the world?

The clay was no longer plastic under Mr. Arbuthnot’s touch. He moved
without sound to the window. He took a discerning glance at the two
people seated beside the table--Lord Rex with masculine awkward fingers
solemnly parcelling out canvas forget-me-nots, as though his commission
depended on his accuracy; Dinah, a look of shy amusement on her face,
demurely watching him.

Gaston Arbuthnot took one glance. Then he put aside his tools, wrapped
a wet cloth hastily around ‘Dodo’s Despair,’ and with a manner not
devoid of a certain impatience, prepared to quit his studio. Could it
be--the question presented itself unbidden--that a shadow of coming
distrust had fallen on him? The thought was absurd. He, Gaston
Arbuthnot, distrustful of the gentle, home-staying girl, whose devotion
to himself had at times--poor Dinah--amounted to something worse than a
fault, an inconvenience! That to-morrow’s sun should rise in the east
was not a surer fact than that his wife’s Griselda-like fidelity should
endure to the end.

And still, in the inmost conscience of him, Gaston Arbuthnot was
uncomfortable.

He had spent nearly four years of absolute trust--four golden years of
youth, of love, with the sweetest companion that ever blest the lot
of erring man. In this moment he realised the sensation of the first
crumpled rose-leaf. Commonly jealous he could not be. His temperament,
the circumstances of his lot, forbade ignoble feeling. He knew that for
a man like Rex Basire toleration must be the kindliest sentiment that
Dinah, with difficulty, could bring herself to entertain.

It was not jealousy, not distrust; it was simply the reversal of all
past experience that disconcerted Gaston’s mind. It was the whole
abnormal picture--the diverted look on Dinah’s face, her embroidery
needle and canvas--_hers_--between Rex Basire’s fingers, that was so
blankly unwelcome in his sight.

If Gaston Arbuthnot ever in his life was an actor in a similar bit of
drawing-room comedy, you may be sure the _rôle_ chosen by him had been
the one now played by Lord Rex. Some other fellow-mortal in a blouse,
and with clay-stained hands, may have watched from the slips. It was
Gaston who counted the stitches!

He was not cut out by Nature to take subordinate parts; and this his
first little taste of abdicated power had a singularly insipid flavour
to his palate.



CHAPTER XVIII

HOW DINAH SAID ‘YES’


Rex Basire, meanwhile, counted manfully on. A hundred-and-ten from
the corner scroll to the first line of blue; and seventy-six, either
way, of grounding. Emboldened by success, he insisted upon filling
in the yellow heart of a single forget-me-not. ‘Just as a souvenir!’
he pleaded, contriving to get through the task cleverly enough. A
twelvemonth hence, when half the world lay between them, he thought
Mrs. Arbuthnot might look at the centre of this forget-me-not, and
remember to-day!

‘I shall remember a length of filoselle wasted. Your lordship’s
stitches must be picked out at once--they are worked the wrong way of
the silk.’ Taking back the needle and canvas, Dinah began to put her
threat into instant execution. ‘A twelvemonth hence,’ she added, ‘I
hope to be looking at something more interesting than wool-work. Most
of my pieces get stored away, for no one in particular. This ottoman is
for my Aunt Susan in Cambridgeshire. It will be a great set-off to her
front parlour,’--Dinah admitted this with a tinge of artist’s pride;
‘but I am not likely to see it there. We have not been to Cheriton for
four years, and----’

‘Happy Aunt Susan!’ exclaimed Lord Rex, who was wont to be a little
impudent without awakening anger. ‘What would I give to have--not an
ottoman for my front parlour--but something modest, a kettle-holder
with an appropriate motto, say, worked for me by fair and charitable
fingers!’

‘By your favourite sister’s, perhaps.’

Dinah’s voice was cold and clear as ice as she offered the suggestion.

‘You are in an unkind mood, Mrs. Arbuthnot. So unkind,’ Lord Rex took
up a pair of scissors, and regarded them solemnly, as though they had
been the shears of fate, ‘that I feel, beforehand, you mean to say “No”
to everything I ask. I told you, did I not, that I had come to put a
weighty matter into your hands?’

‘Do nothing of the kind, my lord. I am unused to receiving favours from
a stranger. Your flowers are very beautiful’--with a touch Dinah placed
the bouquet two or three inches farther from her--‘and I daresay your
lordship meant it kindly to bring them. That is enough! I live quite
retired, and----’

Stopping short, Dinah coloured violently. At this moment she heard
Gaston’s tread as he ran down the outer stone staircase. She knew that
she was left alone with Rex Basire for just as long as Rex Basire might
think fit to stay.

‘But we hope to win a favour from _you_. The subalterns of the regiment
are getting up a party for Wednesday, and we want to know if you will
condescend to play hostess for us? We mean to be original,’ Lord Rex
hurried on, not giving Dinah time to speak and refuse. ‘Instead of
having a humdrum dance or dinner on terra-firma, we mean to charter a
yacht--the _Princess_, now lying in Guernsey harbour--and carry all the
nicest-looking people in the island out to sea.’

Dinah’s eyes gave him a look of momentary but severe disapproval.

‘For this a hostess is imperatively needed. Chaperonage, in its most
venerable form, we can command. I’ve been spending the forenoon, I give
you my word I have, in paying court to old ladies. Miss Tighe smiles on
our project. The Archdeaconess does not frown. Of course we have Mrs.
Verschoyle. But we want a great deal more than venerable chaperons.
We want a young and charming lady to do the honours for us. Mrs.
Arbuthnot, we want you!’

Now Dinah’s nature held as little commonplace vanity as could well
fall to woman’s share: through commonplace vanity had Lord Rex never,
at this juncture, won her to say ‘Yes.’ From pleasure, so-called, she
had shrunk, more than ever, since the taste she got of pleasure at the
rose-show--yes, during the very hours when, with rash strategy, she had
been planning to act a part in Gaston Arbuthnot’s world, among Gaston’s
friends.

But every human being, given a wide enough scope, must end by
justifying the cynic’s aphorism. The resisting powers of the best man,
of the best woman living, have their price, so far as insignificant
mundane matters are concerned.

No need to seek far for poor sore-hearted Dinah’s price!

Whispers of the projected yachting party had, for several days past,
reached her, chiefly in fragments of talk between her husband and the
other boarders in Miller’s Hotel. She knew that Gaston was an invited
guest. She had an impression, based on air, and yet, like many a
jealous fear, not all foundationless, that Linda Thorne was to be the
quasi-hostess, the graceful presiding influence of the hour.

‘Me!--you ask me?’ she faltered, sensible of a blinding rush of
temptation, and not lifting her eyes from the canvas where she had now
effaced the last trace of Lord Rex’s handiwork. ‘I should think others
would be more suitable. I should think,’ the blood forsook her lips as
she suggested the name, ‘that Mrs. Thorne----’

‘Oh, we have decided, all of us, against Linda,’ said Lord Rex, with
his usual cool sincerity. ‘Mrs. Thorne is the nicest woman going, on
shore.’

‘Of that I am convinced.’

‘And she has been kind enough to murmur an experimental “Yes,” though
no one acknowledges to having asked her. (A suspicion goes about that
it was Arbuthnot!) But Mrs. Thorne’s qualities are not sea-going. She
has not the marine foot, as your husband would say. She and the Doctor
will be of our party, of course, but Linda could never play the part
of hostess for us. Oscar Jones took her and the de Carteret girls out
sand-eeling--you know little Oscar, the one handsome fellow in the
regiment?--and Mrs. Linda was sea-sick straight through the jolliest
night of May moonlight. You like the ocean, I am sure, Mrs. Arbuthnot.’

‘Yes, I like it. Years ago, when we had not long been married, Mr.
Arbuthnot hired a little cutter yacht. We spent four weeks at sea off
the coast of Scotland. They were the happiest weeks of my life.’

Dinah said this with her accustomed quiet reserve. Yet, had Lord Rex
known her better, he might have discerned a tremor in her voice as she
recalled those far-off days--days when neither mistrust nor coldness
had marred the first ineffable joy of her love for Gaston Arbuthnot.

‘That is all right; I am a second Byron myself. The sea is my passion.
It would have been a sort of blow--I hope you understand me when I say
that it would have been a sort of blow--to hear you say you were a bad
sailor.’

Dinah, who never helped out a flattering speech, direct or implied,
looked away from him.

‘A suspicion goes about that it was Arbuthnot.’ The words rang in her
ears; light words, heedlessly spoken, yet destined to swell the total
with which Gaston Arbuthnot was already too heavily credited on the
balance-sheet of his wife’s heart.

‘We may count upon you, may we not? Arbuthnot has accepted for himself.
Now we want your promise. If the weather continues like this we may
rely upon seeing you on board the _Princess_ next Wednesday?’

‘You have not explained what seeing me on board the _Princess_ means.’
Dinah’s tone was evasive. Probably, thought Lord Rex, the puritanical
conscience required time to collect itself! ‘I don’t know, at my staid
age,’ she added, ‘that I should countenance you. What did you say about
carrying all the nice-looking people in Guernsey out to sea?’

Upon this slight whisper of encouragement Rex Basire entered
voluminously into details. The proprieties--to begin, he declared,
solemn of face, with the facts of greatest significance--the
proprieties were set at rest. An undeniable Archdeaconess, a Cassandra
Tighe (minus nothing but her harp), were secured. The de Carteret
girls, and Rosie Verschoyle, four of the Guernsey beauties regnant,
had accepted. It would be a high spring tide on Wednesday, and the
_Princess_ must start early to reach the Race of Alderney before the
ebb. Afternoon would find them anchored off Langrune, in Normandy.
‘Where we shall land, observe the manners and customs of the natives,
eat a French dinner, take our little whirl, perhaps, in the casino
ball-room,’ said Lord Rex, ‘and so back, à la Pepys, to our virtuous
homes.’

‘The scheme is too gay for me,’ cried Dinah, with an uneasy dread
of Gaston’s disapproval. ‘I never danced in my life. I hope--no, I
am sure, my lord, that I shall never set foot inside the walls of a
casino.’

‘Not of a French casino, Mrs. Arbuthnot?’ Lord Rex argued warily, still
mindful of the puritanical note.

‘Certainly not. A French casino! Why, that only makes it worse.’

‘A French casino is an innocent kind of sea-side dancing school. Papas
and mammas of families sit around. Small boys and girls exhibit their
steps. Papa drinks his little glass of absinthe, mamma her tumbler of
sugar-water. We go back to our hotel, hand-in-hand with the babies,
at ten o’clock. Except the Zoological Gardens on week days, I know no
human form of dissipation so mild as a French casino.’

‘I should have to meet too many strangers on board. I should be alone
among them all. The only lady in Guernsey who has called on me is
Geff’s pupil, Miss Bartrand of Tintajeux.’

‘Who will be invited to come, under your charge.’ Lord Rex adroitly
left more delicate social questions untouched. ‘Marjorie Bartrand would
be rough on a chaperon, I should think. Difficult to say whom the
Girtonian of the future would not be rough on! But you, Mrs. Arbuthnot,
seem to have stepped into her favour.’

‘And is Geoffrey to be asked?’

‘Geoffrey? Ah, to be sure--your cousin. Senior wrangler, was he not?’

‘Geoffrey took his honours in classics.’

‘Frightfully “boss” man, any way. Does not look as if he cared about
frivolous amusements in general, still----’

Lord Rex hesitated. Some finer prophetic sense informed him that
Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s might be a name as well omitted from the programme
of pleasure he was chalking out with such zealous trouble for next
Wednesday.

‘But is the party to be frivolous? I hardly understood that. No one
loves the sea better than Geff. He will go, I’m sure, if I go.’

This was said by Dinah with conviction. Through long habit she had come
to regard Geoffrey’s obedience to her smallest wish as an accomplished
fact.

‘Notes shall be despatched to Miss Bartrand and to your cousin without
an hour’s delay. I am awfully indebted to you, Mrs. Arbuthnot. You
can’t think what a load of moral obligation you have taken off my mind
by saying “Yes.”’

And when Lord Rex left Miller’s Hotel he was radiant; a possibility of
Geoffrey Arbuthnot saying ‘Yes’ also, the one little shadow of a cloud
that obscured next Wednesday’s horizon.

On his return to Fort-William, later on in the day, his road took him
past the garden gate of Doctor Thorne’s Bungalow. The gate stood open,
and Lord Rex sauntered in, as it was the habit of unoccupied insular
youth to do, during the afternoon hours of tea and gossip.

Small Rahnee and her ayah were picturesquely grouped upon a bright
square of Persian carpet on the lawn. A macaw and two tame parrots
gave a local, or eastern, colour to the scene as they screeched from
their perches among the garden shrubs. Within one of the drawing-room
windows--bay windows opening to the ground--reposed Linda. Her dress
was of embroidered Indian muslin, not absolutely innocent of darns,
perhaps, for the Doctor retained so much of old bachelor habit as to be
his own housekeeper, and poor Linda must practise many a humiliating
economy in her lot of _femme incomprise_. Bangles, similar to Rahnee’s,
concealed the outline of the lady’s thin wrists. Her black hair,
worn in a single coil, revealed sharply the outline of her head,
Linda’s one incontestably good point. The cunningly arranged shadow
of a rose-coloured window awning, if it did not hide, at least threw
possible defects of complexion, suspicions of coming crow’s-feet, into
uncertainty.

Linda Thorne was not a pretty woman. Lord Rex, his eyes still dazzled
by Dinah’s wild rose face, felt more than usually cognisant of the
fact. And still, with Rahnee and the turbaned ayah, with the macaws and
parrots, the embroidered Indian dress, the Indian-looking bungalow,
Linda ‘composed’ well. She formed the central figure of a Benjamin
Constant picture, right pleasant to behold.

A hum of animated voices was in the air. Three or four young and pretty
girls were distributed, spots of agreeable colour, about Linda’s
sober-hued drawing-room. The prettiest of them all presided over a
miniature tea-table drawn close beside the hostess at the open window.
And the burthen of everybody’s talk, the clashing point of everybody’s
opinions, was next Wednesday’s yachting-party.

‘We are to start at seven. Mamma heard it from Captain Ozanne himself.’

‘At midnight of Tuesday. The _Princess_ will be away twenty-four hours.’

‘A week, at least, Rosie! And Madame Corbie is to be chaperon.’

‘I heard--Cassandra Tighe.’

‘There are to be no chaperons worth speaking of, for of course--don’t
be offended, Linda--we cannot look upon you as one, so----’

‘So you are quite wrong, all of you,’ exclaimed Lord Rex, his head
peeping up suddenly across Linda Thorne’s shoulder. ‘Miss Verschoyle,
will you give me a cup of tea if I promise to set you right in a few of
your guesses? A cup of tea, and your protection, for I am certain to be
well attacked.’

‘This stimulates our curiosity to the proper point,’ the young lady
answered, with a doubtful smile, but making place for Lord Rex at
her side. ‘At the same time, it is an admission you have been doing
something rather less wise than usual. Do you take six or seven lumps
of sugar in your tea, Lord Rex? I never remember the precise number.’

Rosie Verschoyle was a bright-complexioned, dimpled girl of nineteen,
with an exactly proportioned waist (of society), an exactly correct
profile, the exact mass of nut-brown hair that fashion requires
descending to her brows, and a pair of large, nut-brown, somewhat
spaniel-like eyes. Until Dinah’s advent Lord Rex thought Rosie the
fairest among the beauties regnant, and was openly her slave at all
the picnics and garden-parties going. Miss Verschoyle had not the
air of encouraging these attentions. She seldom lost a chance of
making Rex Basire’s vanity smart, and had been known to say that she
positively disliked that plain, forward boy who managed to scare away
really pleasant partners and monopolise one’s best dances. And still,
throughout the whole island society, among Rosie’s more intimate
girl-friends notably, there had been a growing suspicion for some time
past that Miss Verschoyle would, one day, marry Lord Rex Basire.

‘I take as many lumps as Miss Verschoyle chooses to give me.’ He
received the cup with mock humility from her plump, white, inexpressive
hands. ‘The sweets and bitters as they come.’

‘Bitters--in tea!’ echoed Rosie, opening her brown eyes wide. ‘Steer
clear of metaphors, Lord Rex. They really do not suit your style of
eloquence.’

‘Rosie, Rosie! While you two children spar, the rest of us are dying of
curiosity.’ The admonition was made in Linda’s smoothest voice. ‘Lord
Rex, recollect your promise. You know, you are to set us all right.
What are the plans for Wednesday? Why are we certain, when we have
heard these plans, to attack you? Come here, and make confession.’

Lord Rex perched himself, obediently, on a stool near Mrs. Thorne’s
feet. Then, sipping the tea sweetened for him by Rosie Verschoyle, with
more trepidation of spirit, so he afterwards owned, than he ever felt
before the fire of an enemy, he thus began his shrift:

‘We have made due inquiry from the harbour-master, and find the
_Princess_ must clear out as soon as the first English steamer is
signalled. Will seven o’clock be too early for you all?’

A chorus of cheerfully acquiescent voices answered, ‘No.’

‘We have also invited Madame Corbie and the Archdeacon. It seems,
for an expedition of the kind, one ought to have a real substantial
chaperon or two. I beg your pardon, Mrs. Thorne, but----’

‘Oh, don’t apologise,’ cried Linda, with good humour, willing, like
most of her sex, to condone the accusation of over-youth.

‘And Madame Corbie accepts, conditionally. I have been paying my court
to aged ladies half the morning! So, unconditionally, does Miss Tighe.
As regards chaperonage, one may say really--really----’ hesitated
Lord Rex, feeling in his guilty soul how red he grew, ‘one may say,
Mrs. Thorne, that, in the matter of chaperons, there will be an
embarrassment of riches.’

‘Especially as mamma never allows me to go anywhere without herself.
Was it about the superabundance of chaperons that you knew we should
attack you?’

Rosie Verschoyle asked the question in her gay, thin little voice, her
unpremeditated manner, yet with a directness of aim that poor Lord Rex
had not the cleverness to parry.

‘Attack me? Why, that was only a foolish joke, don’t you know!
Yes, we--we have Mrs. Verschoyle and the Archdeaconess as
chaperons-in-chief. Only, poor Mrs. Verschoyle, the moment the
_Princess_ moves, will be in the cabin, and the Archdeaconess----’

‘Try not to look so conscious. The Archdeaconess?’

‘If the wind veers between this and Wednesday, will not start at all.
And so, as we must have a married lady to do hostess for us, and as
you, Mrs. Thorne, are also not a first-rate sailor, I have asked Mrs.
Arbuthnot.’

A heavy silence followed upon this announcement. Linda Thorne was the
first to break it.

‘And Mrs. Arbuthnot has accepted? I need hardly ask the question.’

‘Yes,’ returned Lord Rex, staunchly enough, ‘I am glad to say that Mrs.
Arbuthnot has accepted.’

Rosie Verschoyle turned over and examined a band of silver on her round
white wrist.

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot? Surely that is the same person we saw with Marjorie
Bartrand at the rose-show? How wonderfully handsome she is! Mamma has
talked of nothing else. One will be quite too glad to see her near. In
these democratic days we must all bow unquestioningly before Beauty.
The capital B renders it abstract.’

Lord Rex felt the speech to be ungenerous. Vague questionings that
he had once or twice held within himself, as to whether he might or
might not be in danger of liking Miss Verschoyle too well, received an
impromptu solution at this moment. He was in no danger at all: held
the local estimate of her good looks, even, to be overstrained. As
she stood before him, in her fulness of youthful grace, the delicate
profile held aloft, the little cruel sentences escaping, one by one,
from her pouting red lips, Rosie’s prettiness seemed changed to Rex
Basire as though the wand of some malignant fairy godmother had
secretly touched her.

‘My political opinions outstep democracy, Miss Verschoyle. But if I
were as starched a Tory as--as my own father, by Jove! I should think
Mrs. Arbuthnot’s society an honour. I don’t understand that sort of
thing, the tone people put on in speaking of a woman whose only crime
is her beauty.’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot, if she needs a defender, is fortunate in possessing so
warm a one.’

The remark was made by Rosie Verschoyle with unwise readiness.

‘But one could never imagine her, poor dear, needing anything of the
kind.’ It was Linda Thorne who spoke. ‘I have been introduced to Mrs.
Arbuthnot by her husband. I have heard about her, also from him, and I
am sure she is quite the most harmless of individuals. Not naturally
bright! Like too many other gifted creatures, Mr. Arbuthnot may know
the want of household sympathy----’

‘Gets along capitally without it,’ interrupted Lord Rex. ‘Never saw any
man better satisfied with himself and with his life than Arbuthnot.’

‘Not naturally bright, and lacking the education which, in more
fortunate people, serves as a varnish to poorness of ability. If they
stay here long enough I shall persuade Mr. Arbuthnot, as a duty, to
make his wife take lessons--in music, riding, calisthenics, anything to
beguile her from that patient, that perpetual cross-stitch.’

Lord Rex gave a searching look at Linda Thorne’s face. His was no
very high or luminous character, as will be seen in the after course
of this history. Yet were his failings chiefly those of his age and
circumstances. When he erred it was without premeditation, walking
along tracks trodden hard by others. His virtues were his own, and
among these was the virtue of thorough straightforwardness. It trembled
on Lord Rex’s tongue to ask Linda a crucial question relative to
Gaston Arbuthnot’s ‘duty,’ when approaching footsteps made themselves
heard along the gravel drive. There came a shrill shout of welcome
in Rahnee’s voice, a torrent of pigeon English, presumably from the
ayah, in which the words ‘Missy ’Butnot’ might be distinguished. Linda
Thorne’s Indian-bleached cheeks assumed a just perceptible shade of red.

‘Talk of angels,’ she observed, raising her finger to her lips,
‘and straightway we hear the flutter of their wings! It would be
wise to choose a rather less invidious theme than the demerits of
cross-stitch.’

And then, almost before she finished speaking, Gaston Arbuthnot, with
the quiet air of a man certain of the reception that awaits him,
entered upon the scene.

Next Wednesday’s yachting expedition continued to be the subject of
talk among Linda’s visitors. But it was talk with a difference; the
character of Ophelia cut, by desire, from the play. Hard to bewail the
lot of gifted creatures, or discuss the necessity, in these democratic
days, of bowing down to Beauty, with Dinah’s husband taking part in
one’s conversation! When the party had dispersed, however,--Lord Rex,
in spite of his disenchantment, escorting Rosie Verschoyle home,--when
Linda Thorne was left alone with Gaston Arbuthnot, she spoke her mind.
And her tone was one which all her social knowledge, all her powers of
self-command and self-effacement, failed to render sweet.

Now it was a peculiarity belonging to Gaston Arbuthnot’s character
that he was apt to mystify every human creature, his cousin Geoffrey
excepted, with whom his relations were near. The more intimate you
became with this man the less firm seemed the moral grip by which
you held him. Dinah’s over-diffident heart perpetually doubted the
stability of his love. She was unhappy with him, dreading lest, in her
society, he were not enough amused. She was unhappy away from him,
dreading lest in her absence he were amused too well! Linda Thorne was
equally at fault as to the texture of his friendship. Long years ago,
Gaston Arbuthnot’s boyish good looks--perhaps it must be owned, Gaston
Arbuthnot’s devoted attentions--won all of tender sentiment that Linda,
then a neglected, overworked governess, had to give. She had been to
India in the interval. She had learnt the market worth of sentiment.
There was Dr. Thorne ... Rahnee! There were her duties, real and
histrionic, to fill her life. And the days of her youth had reached the
flickering hour before twilight.

But Linda had not forgiven Gaston Arbuthnot. She had not forgotten
how near she once came to loving him. And she was sorely, unreasonably
wounded, through vanity rather than through feeling, by Dinah’s fresh
and girlish charm.

An anomalous position; perhaps, a commoner one than some young wives,
morbidly sensitive as to alien influence over their husbands, may
suspect.

‘So there has been a small imbroglio about Wednesday’s arrangements! I
cannot tell you how glad I am to be relieved from a weight of sea-going
responsibility. Mrs. Arbuthnot, I am sure, will enact hostess for our
young subalterns so much more gracefully than I could. She is a good
sailor, doubtless?’

Gaston had taken up a morsel of drawing-paper and some red chalk--every
kind of artistic appliance had found its way, of late, into Mrs.
Thorne’s drawing-room--some ideal woman’s face with beauty, with anger
on it, was growing into life under his hand. He finished, in a few
delicate, subtle touches, the shadow between a low Greek brow and
eyelid ere he spoke.

‘Dinah is a famous sailor. We look back to a little Scottish yachting
tour we made, soon after our marriage, as about the best time of our
lives.’

Linda Thorne, a fair decipherer of surface feeling in general, could
gather absolutely nothing from Gaston’s level tone. He raised his eyes,
during a steady second or two, from his paper; he met her interrogative
glance with one of strict neutrality.

‘I am relieved and at the same time stupidly inquisitive. Now, why
in the name of all things truthful, did you not mention that Mrs.
Arbuthnot meant to go with us on Wednesday?’

Gaston was silent; too absorbed perhaps in his creation, slight chalk
sketch though it was, to give heed to matter so unimportant as this
which Linda pressed upon him.

‘Possibly you were not aware that Mrs. Arbuthnot _was_ going!’

Linda Thorne hazarded the remark with a suspicion of innocent malice.

‘That really is the truth.’ Taking a folding-book from his breast,
Gaston stored away his sketch carefully between its leaves. ‘You must
excuse me, Mrs. Thorne. An idea struck me just now, suggested by a look
I surprised on the face of Miss Verschoyle, and I hastened forthwith
to make my memorandum. Dinah to enact hostess for the subalterns on
Wednesday, do you say? Surely not. I could almost wish that it were to
be so. But my wife, as you know, keeps to her own quiet way of life.’

‘We have Lord Rex Basire’s word for it. According to Lord Rex, Mrs.
Arbuthnot has most decidedly accepted their invitation.’

‘Dinah does not mean to go. Lord Rex deceives himself.’

Gaston Arbuthnot spoke with sincerity. He had told Geoffrey, as a jest,
that Dinah was turning over a new leaf, beginning to discover, poor
girl, that there might be other music in the spheres besides that of
the eternal domestic duo without accompaniment. Of Dinah’s profoundly
changed mood, her resolve of gaining wider views by frequenting a world
which as yet she knew not, he was ignorant.

Linda Thorne watched him sceptically.

‘Pray do not dash my hopes. I trust and I believe that Mrs. Arbuthnot
will play hostess to us all next Wednesday. Come!’ she added, with
rather forced playfulness. ‘Will you make me a bet about it? I will
give you any amount of odds you like in Jouvin’s best.’

‘It is against my principles to bet on a certainty, Mrs. Thorne. I am
as certain that Dinah has not pledged herself for Wednesday’s picnic
as that I have pledged myself to dine with Dr. and Mrs. Thorne this
evening.’

But, in spite of his assured voice, a shade of restlessness was to
be traced in Gaston Arbuthnot’s manner. He would not remain, as it
had become his habit to do, at The Bungalow, singing, or drawing,
or chatting away the two hours between afternoon tea and dinner, in
Linda’s society. Even Rahnee (to Gaston’s mind the first attraction
in the house) must forego her usual game of hide-and-seek with ‘Missy
’Butnot.’ Even Rahnee threw her thin, bangled arms round her playmate’s
neck in vain. Frankly, so, at last, he was brought, to make confession,
he had forgotten to tell Dinah of his engagement, must hurry back,
forthwith, to Miller’s Hotel to set Dinah’s heart at rest. Unnecessary?
‘Ah, Mrs. Thorne,’ and as he spoke Gaston’s eyes looked straight into
the lady’s soul, ‘that question of necessity just depends upon the
state of one’s domestic legislation. Regarding these small matters,
my wife and I, fortunately for ourselves, are in our honeymoon stage
still.’

This was always Gaston’s tone in speaking of Dinah at The Bungalow. He
painted truth in truth’s brightest colours whenever he afforded Linda
Thorne a glimpse of his own household happiness.



CHAPTER XIX

GASTON ARBUTHNOT’S PHILOSOPHY


The first dressing-bell was ringing by the time he reached the
hotel. Dinah’s parlour was empty; her embroidery frame--silver paper
shrouding its impossible forget-me-nots and auriculas from the light
of heaven--stood on her work-table. Passing into the adjoining room
without knocking, Mr. Arbuthnot beheld a sight not new to him, save as
regarded the hour of the day--Dinah on her knees beside her bed, her
head bowed, her face hidden between her hands.

She rose up hurriedly at the sound of her husband’s entrance. She
brushed away some tell-tale tears, not, however, before Gaston’s quick
glance had had opportunity to detect them.

All men dislike the sight of a wife in tears. A small minority may
dislike the sight of a wife on her knees. Gaston Arbuthnot shared both
prejudices. He concealed his irritation under a kiss--cold, mechanical,
the recipient felt those kisses to be--bestowed on each of Dinah’s
flushing cheeks.

‘I beg a thousand pardons for disturbing you at your prayers, my dear,
but----’

‘I was not praying. I wish I had been,’ interrupted Dinah promptly. ‘To
pray, one’s heart must be at rest.’

Now Gaston Arbuthnot looked upon all strong and unpleasant emotion
with a feeling bordering on actual repugnance. And Dinah’s voice had
that in it which threatened storm. His irritation grew.

‘I beg your pardon for interrupting a mood not calm enough for prayer
(although it required a prayerful attitude), yet sad enough for tears.
That terrible habit of weeping will wear away even your good looks in
time, Dinah.’

A time far distant, surely! Never had she been fairer in Gaston’s sight
than at this moment, in her fresh cambric dinner dress, with her hair
like a nimbus of gold around her forehead, with a colour vermeil as any
Italian dawn on the cheeks his lips had newly touched.

‘I should like to keep my good looks till I am fifty years old, if good
looks were only faithful servants, if they brought one only a taste of
real happiness. As it is----’

‘My dear girl, although you chance to be a little out of temper with
life, don’t forget you have a husband. I am a vain man--so you and Geff
tell me--and the chief of all my vanities is, that I am blest with a
handsome wife.’

‘Out of temper with life? I think not, Gaston. Life has been sent me,
the rugged with the smooth, and I must learn to fit myself to both. If
I had been clever I should have learnt my lesson long ago. I must shape
myself to things as they are, not want to shape them according to my
poor village notions. I was trying to reason about it all just now.’

‘In an attitude that I misunderstood,’ observed Gaston Arbuthnot.

‘I go on my knees when I need to think, clearly and humbly. I would not
dare to say at such times that I pray.’

Talk like this was beneath, or above, Gaston Arbuthnot’s level. He told
her so plainly.

‘My afternoon has been passed in a thoroughly mundane and grovelling
manner, Dinah. I left this house at about three, just when you were
giving Lord Rex Basire a lesson in cross-stitch! Since then I have been
spending my time, not in solemn thoughts that required genuflexion,
but in listening to the last little version of the last little bit
of island gossip. It seems you mean, after all, to go into the world
where, as I have often told you, so many more sink than swim. You have
accepted Rex Basire’s invitation for the picnic next Wednesday?’

The accusation, if it were one, came with a sharpness of ring foreign
to Gaston Arbuthnot’s modulated voice. Dinah’s colour deepened.

‘I have accepted Lord Rex Basire’s invitation for Wednesday--yes.’

‘You cannot, I think, mean to go. The picnic will be a helter-skelter
kind of affair. It was got up by these young men, in the first
instance, more as a frolic than anything else, and----’

‘You are going yourself, are you not, Gaston?’

‘That is uncertain. I believe I did give a conditional consent over the
dinner-table, before it was at all sure the thing would come off.’

‘And Mrs. Thorne is going?’

‘Oh, Linda goes everywhere. There is a legend that she and the Doctor
dined one night at mess.’

‘And Madame Corbie? Don’t you think a party that is staid enough for an
Archdeacon’s wife must be safe for me?’

It was Dinah who spoke; yet the tone, the words, were curiously unlike
Dinah’s. Some other woman, surely, stood in the place of her who during
four years had been as wax to every careless turn of Gaston Arbuthnot’s
will!

‘I can see that you have made up your mind--confess, Dinah, you have
run already to Madame Voisin’s and ordered your dress for Wednesday?’

She turned away, impatiently, at the question.

‘Well, I will not be unwise enough to argue. At least persuade Geoffrey
to go too, get Geoffrey to take care of you. Had I been consulted,’
remarked Gaston drily, ‘I should have advised you to “come out”
anywhere rather than on a yacht hired, in this kind of way, by Lord Rex
Basire and his brother subs.’

‘Gaston!’

‘Oh, not because of the right or wrong of the thing. I don’t,’ said
Gaston, ‘go in for transcendental attitudes, morally or physically. My
advice would have been simply offered on a matter of taste. You, my
love, are doubtless the best judge. What time is it--seven? Then I have
scarcely half-an-hour left to dress.’

‘To dress!’ faltered Dinah. ‘And my briar roses, our walk to Roscoff
Common? I have been looking forward to it for days. Did you not promise
to draw me some real briar roses for the finish of my border?’

‘Of course, I promised, and of course I shall fulfil, my dear child.
The Roscoff roses will keep.’

‘And you are going out to dinner again, Gaston?’

‘Only to The Bungalow.’ Mr. Arbuthnot made a move towards the door of
his dressing-room. ‘Mrs. Thorne is amiable enough generally to condone
a morning-coat. To-night, I believe, there will be more of a party than
usual.’

Dinah rested her hand upon her husband’s shoulder, but not with the
clinging, imploring touch to which Gaston Arbuthnot was accustomed.

‘If I could have an answer to one question I should be content,’ she
exclaimed, almost with passion. ‘It is an answer you can give. What
are Mrs. Thorne’s gifts? What is the cleverness which draws a man as
difficult to please as you five days a week to her house?’

The situation had become critical. A feverish colour burned on Dinah’s
face, her question was trenchant and desperately to the point. But it
was just the hardest thing imaginable to get Gaston Arbuthnot into a
tiptoe posture. The drama of his life, so he himself avowed, consisted,
a good nine-tenths of it, of carpenter’s scenes. If he were forced to
declaim some passage of high and tragic blank-verse it would inevitably
sound like a bit of genteel comedy from his lips!

A husband of warmer temper, it would be unjust to say of warmer heart,
must have kindled at the daring of Dinah’s words, the ardent eagerness
of her face.

Gaston Arbuthnot was interested rather than moved. He answered with the
chill candour of an impartial judge:

‘Linda’s gifts? First on the list we must place the cardinal one of
vocal silence. Mrs. Thorne does not sing.’

‘She can accompany other people who do,’ said Dinah, with imprudent
significance.

‘And can accompany them well. Have I ever told you, Dinah, how and
where I first saw the lady who is now Doctor Thorne’s wife?’

‘You have not. You have never spoken to me about Mrs. Thorne’s life,
past or present.’

Dinah’s tone was as nearly acrid as her full and rounded quality of
voice permitted. She felt intuitively that Gaston would parry her
question, as he had so often done before, by apposite narrative which
yet led no whither; felt that though every word he spoke might be true
to the letter, the one truth of vital moment to herself would be in the
words left unspoken.

‘It was in Paris, my love, in long past days before I went to
Cambridge, and when I was much less of an Englishman than I am now.
My mother, with a wholesome dread of my artist friends, and of the
Quartier Latin, cultivated what she called occasions of family life for
me. One such occasion came to her hand. Under the same roof with us,
but on a lower floor, as befitted their purse, lived a rich Jew family,
with a bevy of young daughters and an English governess----’

‘Linda Thorne?’

‘At that time Linda Smythe. Yes, Linda Constantia was seated at a
piano the first evening my mother forced me down to Madame Benjamin’s
salon. I think I see her now, poor soul, playing accompaniments to the
singing--the terrible operatic singing of Papa Benjamin. By and by
we danced in a round, “Have you seen the baker’s girl?” “Mary, soak
thy bread in wine,” and other mild dances of the unmarried French
_mees_. The governess remained at the piano still. ‘Our good Smeet!
she knows so well to efface herself,’ said Madame Benjamin, giving me
a tumbler of sugar-water to present to my countrywoman. I might almost
answer your question, Dinah, in Madame Benjamin’s words--Linda Thorne
understands perfectly the difficult social art of effacing oneself.’

‘Was she effaced at Saturday’s rose-show?’

‘She was a _locum tenens_, good-naturedly presiding over the
refreshment stall for some friend with a sprained ankle.’

‘With an affection of the throat, Gaston. So the story ran, when you
first told it me.’

‘You are severe, Dinah. If a pretty woman could possibly be tempted
into feeling bitterly towards a plain one, I should say that you were
bitter towards Linda Thorne.’

Dinah was unsoftened by the compliment.

‘To efface oneself,’ she repeated. ‘That means--in homely, plain
English, such as I talk and understand?’

‘To keep gracefully in the background while others fill the prominent
parts,’ said Gaston, with a laugh. ‘If you knew Linda Thorne better, if
you could see her at one of her own charming little parties, you would
appreciate the knack she has of not shining. She is quite the least
selfish, least self-absorbed creature in the world.’

Straight, warm, living, flew a denial from Dinah’s lips.

‘Mrs. Thorne is wrapt in selfishness! If she was a good, true woman,
she must guess how the hearts of other women, other wives, bleed,
only at a thought of neglect! I can’t cope with her, Gaston, for
conversation. She was born and educated a lady, and I belong to the
working people, less taught when I was a child than they are now. But
that should make her generous. She is rich in good things--has she not
got little Rahnee? And I have but the hope, weak that hope grows at
times, of keeping your love.’

A flush of annoyance overspread Gaston Arbuthnot’s handsome face.

‘If you would only take life in a quieter spirit, Dinah, content
yourself with the moment’s common happiness, like the rest of us! I
speak in kindness, my dear girl.’ Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot here fell to
examining his signet-ring closely, perhaps because he did not wish
to meet his wife’s eyes. ‘If you would care for any mortal thing, in
addition to that somewhat unworthy person, Gaston Arbuthnot, it would
be better for us both.’

Dinah turned deadly white.

‘If the child had lived!’ she uttered. ‘If we had her now, nearly the
age of Rahnee, my heart would not be so athirst for love. It would
come to me naturally. Just as I am, no cleverer, or brighter, or more
original, you might find my company sufficient, if we had the child.’

‘We cannot cut out our lives by our own pattern,’ said Gaston, with
irrefragable philosophy. ‘The disappointment, God knows, was bitterly
keen to both of us at the time. Looking round the world now, I am
disposed to wonder sometimes if the possession of a child be an unmixed
blessing.’

‘It would have been so to me.’ The wound had never so thoroughly healed
that Dinah could bear a careless touch on the cicatrice. ‘But I have no
right to complain,’--she said this through her tears,--‘God gave, and
took away. Who am I to question His wisdom?’

During several seconds Mr. Arbuthnot seemed to grow more and more
absorbed in the contemplation of his ring; then, by an alert side
movement, he contrived to reach the door of his dressing-room.

‘You are going? You intend really to dine with the Thornes this
evening?’

Dinah brushed her hand hastily across her eyes.

‘Certainly, I intend to keep my engagement,’ answered Gaston Arbuthnot.

‘You would not break it, if I asked you?’

‘I would do any conceivable thing you asked me--with sufficient cause.
I have too much opinion of your good taste to dread your ever placing
yourself, or me, in a ridiculous position.’

‘If you would, I should give up all this plan for Wednesday. We would
go back’--a soft far-off look stole over Dinah’s face as though for
a moment she indulged in the retrospect of some too-dear dream--‘go
back--ah! fool that I am--to the early days--days when you said the
best dinner-party in London could not tempt you to leave me for an
evening.’

While she was speaking she had followed him. Her hand rested on his
sleeve. Her eyes, with piteous, imploring earnestness, sought to read
his face.

‘There is no returning to old days,’ said Gaston Arbuthnot. ‘People
of our age should have sense enough to realise this. The exclusive
boy-and-girl idolatry of one year of life would be rank absurdity in a
dignified Darby and Joan of our standing.’

Dinah shrank away from him. Perhaps it occurred to her that exclusive
idolatry had never existed at all on Gaston’s side. How long, in truth,
did he keep to the declaration, made in his honeymoon, of preferring
quiet evenings with her to the best dinner-parties in London?

‘When I came in just now, Dinah, I interrupted you at some spiritual
exercise, not high enough to be called prayer, yet that required
a kneeling attitude. It is a pity,’ said Mr. Arbuthnot, looking
disagreeable, ‘that the self-communings of good people so seldom lead
them to charity--I don’t mean almsgiving--I mean a broader, more
charitable frame of mind. If you could only recognise one fact, that
there is a great variety of human nature about you in the world, it
would be something gained.’

‘I know it, Gaston. What I want is to be lifted out of my own narrow
ignorance.’

‘Take Geoffrey, for instance. In Geoffrey we have a man sound to the
core. No caprice, no vanity in our cousin, none of the discontent
and levity, and thirst for amusement which disfigure some characters
that might be named. For contrast,’ Gaston Arbuthnot’s eyes rested
discerningly on his wife, ‘look at Rex Basire--an empty-skulled little
tailor’s block, doubtless, yet with a brave soldier’s heart in him
all the same! By the bye, my dear, I need not exhort you,’ he added
lightly, ‘to be charitable to Lord Rex. If women would only be as
fair towards each other as they are towards us! I really admired the
philosophy with which you gave that young gentleman his lesson in
cross-stitch to-day.’

The careless tone of banter brought back Dinah’s accustomed
self-control. Nothing so effectually checks emotion as the absence of
emotion in our fellow-actors.

‘Lord Rex was bent upon working three or four stitches in my ottoman.
It cost me the trouble only of unpicking them, and when he asked my
leave I was ignorant--I always am ignorant--about the politeness of
saying “No.” That is what I must learn.’

‘The art of saying “No,”’ observed Mr. Arbuthnot, not in a very hearty
voice.

‘The art of speaking and acting--well, as Mrs. Thorne, as every woman
of your world, would do! There’s no going back to old days, Gaston.
You are right there. I must shape myself to things as they are, not
to try to shape them to my needs. That is chiefly why I accepted the
invitation for Wednesday. I mean to learn from the example of others. I
mean to turn over a new leaf from to-day.’

‘Keep true to your own transparent self, child. Be what you have been
always, and I, for one, shall be contented.’



CHAPTER XX

‘JAMES LEE’S WIFE’


The speech was really the best chosen, prettiest thing that a somewhat
errant husband could have found to say. In every moral encounter that
befel Gaston Arbuthnot, and whether his antagonist floundered in the
mud or no, Gaston seemed invariably to find himself, at the last, in
a graceful attitude. But Dinah’s heart was no more warmed by honeyed
little phrases than by the reconciliatory kiss her husband bestowed
on her ere he started to his dinner-party. She was reaching--nay, had
reached--the miserable stage when honeyed phrases and reconciliatory
kisses are in themselves matters of distrust? How, her lonely dinner
over, would she get through the evening hours--long counted-on
hours--when she was to have walked, her hand within Gaston’s arm, to
distant Roscoff Common for her briar roses.

For a space Dinah looked listlessly forth at the garden. It was full of
people who knew each other, who talked together in friendly voices--the
boarders of the hotel, with whom Gaston mixed, with whom Gaston was
popular. Then she seated herself before her embroidery frame. But
recollections of Lord Rex Basire, of the effaced stitches, of Gaston’s
commentaries on her ‘patience,’ made the thought of work repugnant to
her. If she could only read, she thought! Not after her dull, country
pattern, repeating each word to herself as a child cons his task ere
he can take in its meaning. If she could read for pleasure, as she had
watched Geoffrey read--quickly, easily, with hearty human interest,
like one bent on receiving counsel from some well-beloved friend!

A book of Geff’s lay on the mantelshelf. Dinah rose, crossed the
room with languid steps, and took it in her hand. Then, as readers
invariably do, to whom the shell of a book matters more than the
kernel, she fell to a careful examination of the text, binding,
title-page.

‘The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Vol. VI. _Dramatis Personæ_.’

Well, four years ago, during the brief fortnight of Geoffrey’s madness,
it chanced one evening that he walked out to Lesser Cheriton with this
very book in his pocket. (Did some ineffaceable rose odour of that dead
June cling to the pages still, rendering Vol. VI. dearer in Geff’s
imagination than its fellows?) He read ‘James Lee’s Wife’ aloud to
Dinah Thurston--a poem totally outside the girl’s comprehension--and
during the recital of which her decently suppressed yawns must have
rebuffed any man less blindly in love than was Geoffrey Arbuthnot.

At ‘James Lee’s Wife’ the book opened now.


     ‘_Ah, Love, but a day,_
     _And the world has changed!_’


Dinah read through the first stanzas untouched. Pretty love-warblings,
the cry of a happy woman’s heart,--what had they to say to her, Dinah
Arbuthnot? In the last stanza of ‘By the Fireside’ her pulse gave a
leap.


     ‘_Did a woman ever--would I knew!--_
       _Watch the man----_’


Dinah went back to the window, the volume in her hand. She returned
to the beginning of the poem, pored over it, line by line, stanza by
stanza, in the fading light.


     ‘_Yet this turns now to a fault--there! there!_
       _That I do love, watch too long,_
     _And wait too well, and weary and wear;_
     _And ’tis all an old story, and my despair_
       _Fit subject for some new song._’


And when she had got thus far, the clouds of her ignorance lightened.
She began to understand.

Shortly before ten o’clock, entered Geoffrey. The parlour lamps were
not lit. Dinah’s figure was in dense shadow as she leaned, absorbed
in her own thoughts, beside the open window. Geoffrey, believing the
room empty, sang under his breath, as he groped his way across to the
mantelshelf; no very distinguishable tune--an ear for music was not
among Geff’s gifts--but with sufficient of a quick, triplet measure in
it to recall a Spanish Barcadero that Marjorie Bartrand was fond of
singing to herself.

To Dinah’s sick heart the song was consciously wounding.

She had been so long used to Geff’s undivided homage, that sense of
power had, little by little, grown into tyranny, gentle rose-leaf
tyranny, whose weight Geoffrey’s broad shoulders bore without effort,
and yet having in its nature one of tyranny’s inalienable qualities,
lack of justice.

‘Always in spirits, Geoffrey!’ The reproach came to him through the
gloom. ‘It is good to think, whether the day is dark or shining, our
cousin Geoffrey can always sing.’

Geoffrey was at her side in a moment.

‘It is cruel to speak of my horrible groanings as singing, Mrs.
Arbuthnot; crueller still to hint of them as betokening good spirits.
Where is Gaston? You are back earlier than I expected from your walk to
Roscoff.’

‘The walk fell through. I shall have to border my work with a rose
pattern bought in the shops. Gaston was obliged to dine at Dr.
Thorne’s. He made the engagement, of course, without thinking of our
walk. I ought never to have counted on those Roscoff wild roses. I----’

Dinah’s voice lapsed, brokenly, into silence.

‘If you would like the roses, you can have them by breakfast
to-morrow,’ said Geoffrey. ‘Few things I should enjoy better than a
six-mile trudge in the early morning.’

‘No, Geoffrey, no. Gaston always tells me that my bought patterns are
atrocious, and the walk was planned by him, and he was to have sketched
from the fresh briars by lamplight. My heart in it all is over. The
Roscoff roses may go!’

As so much of weightier delight had been allowed to go, negligently,
irrevocably, out of Dinah Arbuthnot’s life. Dinah herself might not
suggest the thought, but to Geoffrey’s mind it was a vivid, a pathetic
one.

‘And why should you not take my escort? You know I am never burthened
with engagements. Let us go to Roscoff to-morrow. You owe Miss Bartrand
a visit. Well, we will take Tintajeux on our road, and make Marjorie
show us the way to Roscoff Common.’

‘Miss Bartrand will not expect me to return her visit. She came here
because--because you, dear Geff, with or without words, bade her come!
I should never have courage to face the grandfather. Gaston would be
the right person to call on the Seigneur of Tintajeux.’

‘The Seigneur of Tintajeux might think otherwise,’ Geoffrey laughed.
‘Old Andros Bartrand made minute inquiries about Mrs. Gaston Arbuthnot
the last time I saw him.’

‘About me--always the same story!’ cried Dinah, uneasily. ‘Why should
people talk of us? What is there in my life, or in Gaston’s, that need
arouse so much curiosity?’

‘Shall I answer as your friend, Lord Rex, would do?’

‘Answer truly, Geff, not like Lord Rex Basire, but like yourself.’

‘Why should the good people of Guernsey talk about you, do you ask?
Because, Mrs. Arbuthnot, even in this country of fair faces, yours may
have gained the reputation of being the fairest.’

The speech would have fitted Lord Rex better. Geff was sensible in the
darkness that his cheek reddened.

‘The fairest!’ echoed poor Dinah, petulantly. ‘Oh, I sicken of the
very word “fair.” Shades of hair or of eyes, a white skin, a straight
profile, how can people think twice of these trivial things? The woman
best worth speaking about in Guernsey or elsewhere should be she, not
with the fairest, but the happiest face.’

Her own, certainly, was not happy to-night. Growing accustomed to the
parlour’s darkness, fitfully broken by a reflected light from one
of the garden lamps outside, Geff could note her exceeding pallor.
He could note, also, that Dinah Arbuthnot’s eyes revealed no trace
of tear-shedding, that a look rather of newly-stirred interest, of
awakening excitement, was in their depths.

‘And you have spent your evening not only without Gaston, but without
cross-stitch? It is a fresh experience,’ he told her gravely, ‘for you
to be idle.’

‘I read until the light went--don’t you see--I have got hold of a book
of yours? A book of verses that I did not understand when you tried to
read it aloud to me at Lesser Cheriton.’

Ah, how the old name, spoken by her tongue, stabbed him always!
Geoffrey Arbuthnot bent his face above the volume in Dinah’s hand.

‘“Robert Browning.” But for my bad reading, you ought to have liked
these poems four years ago.’

‘I think not, Geff. Uneducated people can like only where they feel.
And in those young days’--oh, unconsciously cruel Dinah!--‘I felt
so little. But I have an object now in learning. I want to learn on
all subjects, out of books as well as from life. That reminds me of
something I had to say to you, Geff. Lord Rex Basire was calling on me
this afternoon.’

‘Lord Rex Basire was calling on you the greater part of yesterday.’

‘And I took upon myself to accept an invitation for you. There will
be a picnic party on Wednesday. It is some yachting expedition to the
French coast, got up by the officers of the regiment, to which you will
be asked----’

‘But to which I shall certainly not go. I can get as far out to sea as
I like with the fisher people. Wednesday is one of my busiest days.’

‘Miss Bartrand will be invited, too, if you are thinking of her.’

‘Miss Bartrand can do as she chooses. I have more important work than
my two hours’ reading at Tintajeux.’

‘If I ask you, Geff, will you refuse?’

‘I refuse, unconditionally. I hate gay parties. What mortal interest
could I have in the society of men like Lord Rex Basire and his brother
officers?’

‘Only that I am going, that Gaston ... I mean, I looked upon it as a
matter of course you would accept, and----’

The words died on Dinah’s lips. She had an unreasoning sensation that
her firmest safety ground was at this moment cut abruptly from her feet.

As she stood, faltering, uncertain, Geoffrey took the volume of
Browning from her. It opened at page 58.


     ‘_Little girl with the poor coarse hand._’


There was just sufficient light for him to make out the letters of the
first line.

‘Is this the poem you have been reading, Mrs. Arbuthnot? Why, I
distinctly remember your pronouncing “James Lee’s Wife” to be
meaningless.’

‘I have my lesson--shall understand,’ said Dinah. ‘“James Lee’s Wife”
is the story of a woman whose heart is broken.’

And she turned from him. Geoffrey could only see her face in extreme
profile. The cheek with its drawn oval, the exquisite, sad lips, showed
in strong relief, like a cheek, like lips of marble, against the night
sky.

He first broke silence.

‘Do you care, seriously--do you care a fraction, one way or the
other--about my accepting this invitation of Basire’s for Wednesday?’
he asked her. ‘Is it possible my going could be of help to you?’

A big lump in poor Dinah’s throat kept her, during some moments, from
speaking. Then with trembling eagerness her answer broke forth. She
cared more seriously than she could say ‘about Geoffrey’s not forsaking
her.’ Gaston, of course, would be of the party, but then Gaston was
so popular, so sure to be unapproachable! She would never, never want
Geoffrey to martyrise himself again. It was the first great favour she
had asked him. When she was once launched in the world, said Dinah,
rallying with effort, she would know what to say and do and look,
unhelped by a prompter.

And all Geff’s hatred for gay parties, and for men like Lord Rex Basire
and his brother officers, went to the winds. That Dinah was beginning
to anatomise her pain unhelped by suggestion from without, that Dinah
had grasped the subtle meaning of ‘James Lee’s Wife,’ were facts that
could not be lightly put aside. Her cry to himself, Geoffrey thought,
was that of a child who seeks succour, from instinct, rather than from
knowledge of his danger.

‘The martyrdom would not last long,’ urged Dinah, misjudging his
intention. ‘To any one so fond of the sea as you, Geff, twelve or
fifteen hours on board a steamer are not much. We are to leave early in
the morning and be back in Guernsey the following night. If you know
what a kindness you would be doing me!’

‘I mean to go,’ said Geff Arbuthnot shortly.

Twelve hours! He felt, just then, that he would pass twelve weeks, or
months, on a steamer, if by so doing he could lighten one ounce of
Dinah’s burthens to her!

‘And Gaston’s conscience will be at rest,’ she exclaimed. ‘The truth
is, you see, Gaston was not well pleased at my accepting at all. He
bade me ask you, Geoffrey, to look after me.’

To a more sophisticated mind than Geff’s it might have occurred that
the most fitting man to look after Gaston Arbuthnot’s wife would
be--Gaston Arbuthnot himself.



CHAPTER XXI

‘IS MY VIRGIL PASSABLE?’


I have written that, in a softened and remorseful moment Marjorie
Bartrand’s heart owned Geoffrey for its master.

In a character like Marjorie’s, softened and remorseful moods are apt,
however, to be intermittent. On the evening of Saturday her pride had
melted, ay, to such a point that, holding her tutor’s ‘love-letter’
between her hands, she went into a storm of penitent tears--she,
Marjorie Bartrand, whose boast had been that there was one woman in
Her British Majesty’s domain who would shed tears for no man while she
lived!

Looking back upon these things from the cool and bracing heights of a
Tintajeux Sunday, the girl’s stout spirit recoiled with derision from
the image of her own weakness. The Seigneur’s after-dinner sarcasm, she
felt, with tingling cheek, was true of aim. She _had_ played a part,
unknowingly, in the Arbuthnot drama: thanks to Cassandra Tighe, had
no doubt treated Geoffrey with kindness not his due for the imaginary
wife’s sake! Now would everything be on a frigidly proper footing. Her
tutor had shown very good sense in returning property that had wrongly
fallen into his keeping. Whatever small halo of romance hung around his
life was dispelled. The construction of Latin prose, the working out
of mathematical problems, would henceforth go on with dignified and
scholarlike serenity.

But, as a first step, Geoffrey Arbuthnot should hear the truth!

Old Andros happened to give a longer sermon than usual on this Sunday
morning of June 26--a sermon wearing a French garb now, but which was
first preached fifty years ago before the University of Oxford, and
whose polished sentences breathed the safe and sleepy theology of its
day. The whole of the congregation slept, save one; the gentlemanly
optimism of eighteen hundred and thirty appealing moderately to hearers
who in the evening would revive beneath the burning eloquence of
some neighbouring Bethesda or Zion. Marjorie, only, was awake: keen,
restless, preternaturally stirred to mundane thoughts and desires
as she had ever found herself, from her rebellious babyhood upward,
under the inspiration of a high oak pew and monumental slabs. She
thought over all her hours with Geoffrey from the first evening when
she saw him in the Tintajeux drawing-room until their half quarrel on
Saturday. She thought of her visit to Dinah, of the disillusionment
wrought in her by the vision of French songbooks and yellow-backed
novels. She thought of the moment when she rescued her letter from the
Seigneur’s hands! Happily, the comedy of errors approached its finish!
Geoffrey Arbuthnot should hear the truth, should have his masculine
vanity soothed by no further misinterpretation of her conduct. Into a
debateable land where a mature woman, her heart already touched, had
shrunk from venturing, Marjorie, with the madcap courage of seventeen,
resolved to rush.

As a first step, Geoffrey Arbuthnot should hear the truth!

And this resolution, formed in the dim religious light of the Tintajeux
family pew, did not melt away, like too many excellent Sunday purposes,
under the secular warmth of work-a-day open air. When Geoffrey walked
into Marjorie’s schoolroom on Tuesday morning he found Grim Fate, in a
pink chintz frock, with blossoming maidenly face, ready to place him in
the outer cold for ever.

‘Good-day to you, Mr. Arbuthnot.’ The girl held herself stiffly
upright, with smileless lips, with hands safely embedded in the pockets
of her pinafore. ‘I was much obliged to you for returning my ribbon on
Saturday, but I need not have put you to the trouble, to the expense of
postage! I could have waited until to-day.’

Geoffrey, a backward interpreter always of feminine petulancy, sought
for no latent meaning in her words. Marjorie Bartrand had never looked
sweeter to him than now, in her fresh summer frock, with a livelier
damask than usual on her cheeks, and with her hands cruelly holding
back from their wonted friendly greeting. He had it not in his heart,
on this June morning, to find a fault in her, inheritress of all the
sins of all the Bartrands though she might be.

‘My poverty is heinous, Miss Bartrand, but I could just afford the
penny stamp required for the postage of your waist-belt. After the
lecture you read me on Saturday morning,’ went on Geff good humouredly,
‘I really dared not face you with that morsel of ribbon still in my
possession.’

Marjorie’s lips lost their firmness. Taking her place at the schoolroom
table, she cleared her throat twice. Then she pushed across a pile of
copy-books in Geoffrey’s direction. She signed to him to be seated,
presented him with a bundle of pens, drew forward the inkstand.
Finally, intrenched, as it were, behind the implements which defined
their social relationship, she delivered herself of the following
singular confession:

‘When my lecture, as you please to call it, was given I did not know
that _you_ existed, Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot.’

‘Miss Bartrand!’

‘The lecture was meant, in good faith, for another person. If an
apology is needed, there you have it! I--I had listened to idle
gossip,’ said Marjorie, taking desperate courage at the sound of her
own voice, ‘and so--I must say it out, little though I like such
subjects--I thought you were a married man, sir. I thought so from the
first evening you came here. I thought so until the hour when I saw Mr.
Gaston Arbuthnot at the rose-show.’

‘And your motives--when you called on Dinah?’ exclaimed Geoffrey,
thrown off his guard.

‘When I called on Mrs. Arbuthnot I believed her to be my tutor’s wife.
I had heard a great deal about her goodness and her beauty. And I had
almost grown to hate you,’ added Marjorie, with one of her terrible
bursts of outspokenness, ‘for leaving such a woman as Dinah at home,
neglected, while you amused yourself.’

Then she lifted her eyes. She was startled to see how Geoffrey
Arbuthnot’s face had paled; paled under the incivility, so Marjorie
supposed, of her speech.

‘As a fact, of course, I never hated you at all.’ Her voice shook a
little. ‘That gentle, beautiful Mrs. Arbuthnot is not your wife.’

‘Not my wife,’ echoed poor Geoffrey absently.

His tone was chill. Dipping a pen in the ink, he began to trace
meaningless curves and lines on the cover of the exercise-book nearest
his hand. During a few seconds he was obviously unmindful of his
pupil’s presence.

‘Her lips, with their sad expression, haunt me,’ remarked Marjorie
presently. ‘Mrs. Gaston Arbuthnot, I should think, must be the most
beautiful woman in the world.’

‘As she is certainly the truest and best.’ Geff had got back his
self-possession. He spoke his credo as valiantly as though Marjorie
Bartrand’s eyes were not fixed upon him. ‘And so,’ he found voice to
say, ‘you could actually believe, on hearsay evidence, that a girl like
Dinah would have chosen me for her husband, and I--have neglected her?’


Geoffrey laughed, not very joyously; then, taking up another copy-book,
he glanced with mechanical show of attention over a sentence or two
of Marjorie’s Latin translation. He held the page upside down--a fact
which her memory, in after times, might recall as significant.

‘I honestly believed you to be married. Have you forgotten the first
evening you walked out to Tintajeux--that evening when I told you the
Bon Espoir was a good omen for our friendship?’

‘A fortnight ago to-day. I have not forgotten it.’

‘I looked upon you as my friend before I saw you. I had heard your
history--the history, it would seem, of your cousin Gaston! I honoured
a man who had had the courage of his opinions. I respected, I drew to
you on account of the wife you had chosen. And now, Mr. Arbuthnot,’
exclaimed Marjorie hotly, ‘the comedy of errors is finished. I have
learned my mistake, you see. And I trust that my apology has been
sufficient.’

This time Geoffrey broke into a fit of wholesome, unconstrained
laughter.

‘I am afraid I see through everything, Miss Bartrand. Your apologies
say too much. I have been treated with humanity by accident, and may
count upon dark days for the future. That I am not married is my
misfortune,’ he added, watching her face,--‘a misfortune which, if I
could only thereby re-establish myself in your favour, I would gladly
remedy.’

‘Would you?... do you mean ...’

And then, looking up into her tutor’s eyes, Marjorie knew that they
were both of them talking unwisdom, were trenching as nearly on the
forbidden ground of sentiment as a young man and woman who had met for
the hard study of classics and mathematics could well do.

‘I believe I got through some fair work yesterday,’ she remarked, with
an air of cold business. ‘As to-morrow is to be wasted on folly,
we may as well lose no time now. It is your system never to praise,
sir,--a good one, doubtless. Yet I hope you will think my Virgil
passable. I _promise_ you it was done without the crib.’

Geff read the halting translation aloud, no longer holding the
manuscript upside down. He did not think Marjorie’s Virgil passable,
and put the copy-book aside without a word of comment. He showed
himself severer than usual over Greek aorists, was stringent, to
cruelty, in regard of Marjorie’s shakiest point--her mathematics. But
at last, when the professional work was over, when he had risen to take
leave, Geoffrey Arbuthnot extended his hand to his pupil as the girl’s
heart knew he had never done before.

‘You have tolerated me hitherto,’ he observed, ‘for my imaginary wife’s
sake. Do you think you can tolerate me, in future, for my own?’

With his eyes fixed on her face, her small fingers crushed in his
grasp, Marjorie’s cheeks turned the colour of a pomegranate.

‘You know ... you ought to have been the other Arbuthnot cousin,’ she
stammered, glancing up under her long lashes, then drawing her hand
away warily.

‘I ought, you think, to have been Gaston? He would never have pleaded,
as I plead, for toleration. Every woman living would tolerate Gaston of
her own free will.’

‘Save Marjorie Bartrand! Pray make one exception to your rule. I come
of an arbitrary and stiff-necked race. We--we Tintajeux people belong
to minorities. We like, in most cases dislike, where we can.’


‘Give me credit, for a short time longer, of being the other Arbuthnot
cousin,’ Geoffrey whispered as he left her. ‘Dislike me only as
much as you did on that first evening when you gathered roses and
heliotropes--for my wife!’



CHAPTER XXII

LINDA AS AN ART CRITIC


Wednesday morning’s sun rose cloudless. A few persistent fog wreaths
lay, even as the day advanced, to leeward of the islands. There was an
undue ground-swell, although the surface of the water glistened, smooth
as oil, when the high spring tide began to flow in from the Atlantic.
None but an inveterate croaker could, however, prophesy actual mischief
from signs so trivial. Lord Rex Basire declared aloud--certain of his
guests arriving not as the time for departure drew nigh--that the day
must have been manufactured expressly for the subaltern’s picnic. No
wind, no sea, a nicely-tempered sun above one’s head, a favourable
tide--‘What more,’ asked Lord Rex, ‘especially if one add the item of a
powerful steamer, could the never satisfied heart of woman require?’

The heart of the most Venerable woman in the island required that there
should be neither ground-swell nor fog-bank. At the eleventh hour
came an excuse, on the score of weather, from Madame Corbie. The post
of chaperon-in-chief stood vacant. Happily for the youthful hosts,
Rosie Verschoyle’s mother was faithful--a little white passive lady,
accustomed to the iron rule of grown-up daughters, who only stipulated
that she should lie down, within reach of smelling-salts, before
leaving Guernsey harbour, and neither be spoken to nor looked at until
they arrived in smooth water off the coast of France. Old Cassandra,
in her scarlet cloak, was to the fore, with cans for fish, with crooks
for sea-weed, with a butterfly-net, with stoppered bottles--Cassandra,
burthened by a sole regret--that she had left her harp behind. If
these young people had wished, in mid ocean, to dance, how willingly
would Cassandra have harped to them! Doctor Thorne and his Linda were
punctual; so were the trio of pretty de Carteret sisters whom poor Mrs.
Verschoyle, according to a trite figure of speech, was to ‘look after.’
And still Rex Basire glanced vainly along the harbour road for the only
guests concerning whose advent he cared. The steam was up; the skipper
stood ready on the bridge. In another ten minutes the _Princess_ of
necessity must quit her moorings, and still the sunshine of Dinah
Arbuthnot’s face was wanting.

‘You look frightfully careworn, Lord Rex,’ said Rosie Verschoyle with
malicious intonation, as she followed the direction of his glances.
Pray, has your lobster salad not arrived? Is your ice melting? Or does
some anxiety even yet more tragic disturb your peace?’

‘There they are--no, by Jove! only the men. Twelve feet two of the
Arbuthnot cousins!’ exclaimed Lord Rex, with frank disrespect of
Rosie’s sympathy. ‘Is it possible Mrs. Arbuthnot can have thrown us
over? The thought is too atrocious!’

The tall figures of Gaston and Geoffrey--twelve feet two of the
Arbuthnot cousins--were descending by quick strides the stepway that
forms a short cut from the High Town of Petersport to the quay.
Before Rex Basire’s disappointment had had time to formulate itself
more coherently a clatter of ponies’ hoofs, a rush of wheels, made
themselves heard round the corner of the adjacent harbour road. A few
instants later and the welcomest sight the world could, just then, have
offered to Lord Rex was before him: Marjorie Bartrand, in her pony
carriage, and at Marjorie’s side, fairer than all summer mornings that
ever dawned, the blushing lovely face of Dinah Arbuthnot.

‘Have we to apologise? Are we really behind our time?’ cried Gaston,
as Lord Rex came forward to welcome them at the gangway. ‘It has been
a case of the fox and the goose and the bunch of grapes. My wife would
not start without Miss Bartrand; Geff would not start without my wife.
I was not allowed to start alone. The most delightful weather!--and
the most delightful party,’ added Gaston, looking at the sunlit world
around him with his pleasantest expression. ‘Miss Verschoyle, the Miss
de Carterets--Marjorie Bartrand! Why, all the pretty faces in Guernsey
are assembled on board the _Princess_!’

The four or five hours that followed were hours destined to be marked
with a red letter in the calendar of Dinah’s life. She felt the youth
at her heart, enjoyed the salt freshness of the morning, entered into
the mirth and spirit of the expedition like a child. Gaston’s conduct
was unexceptionable. Before they had quitted the harbour he took his
place beside his wife--jotting down each new effect of sky or wave
or passing fishing-boat in his note-book. He remained beside her
throughout the voyage. The pretty island girls, capital sailors all of
them, chatted in picturesque twos and threes with their bachelor hosts.
Lord Rex Basire devoted himself, with a show of perfect impartiality,
to every one.

If this was growing used to the perils of a factitious world, the first
plunge into a social vortex where more neophytes sink than swim, Dinah
found the process distinctly pleasant. And I am afraid the thought
of Linda, effaced for once, in grim earnestness, by all-effacing
sea-sickness down below, failed to take the edge off Mrs. Gaston
Arbuthnot’s enjoyment.

Herm, with its fringe of shell-spangled sands, was soon left behind.
The high table-land of Sark became a fairy-like vision, hanging
suspended, as on Mahomet’s thread, between heaven and sea, ere it
vanished out of ken. After an hour’s steady steaming Alderney’s tall
cliffs were sighted through the haze; and then, shortly before one,
the south-west swell gave signs of lessening. The _Princess_ was to
leeward of the Point of Barfleur, and lunch, served after a desultory
and scrambling fashion, began to find hearty welcome among the watchers
on deck.

At the cheery whizzing of champagne corks old Doctor Thorne aroused
himself from a comfortable siesta he had been enjoying in the bows, and
came aft. The sight of Linda’s husband, a tumbler of Moet in his hand,
his puggareed hat pushed back from his sun-shrivelled Indian visage,
brought back the thought of Linda Thorne to the general mind.

‘Mrs. Thorne! Shall Mrs. Thorne not have champagne sent to her?’ cried
Gaston, who was reclining, a picture of virtuous contentment, beside
his wife. ‘Or, better still, now that we have a smooth deck, Doctor,
shall Mrs. Thorne not come up into the light of day?’

The old Doctor shook his head as he accepted a goodly plate of lobster
salad from the steward’s boy.

‘Poor girl! My poor dear Lin! A typically severe case of _mal de
mer_ always. Stop a bit--no hurry--just give me a trifle more of the
dressing. I have collected a mass of data about sea-sick persons,’
observed the Doctor, draining down his champagne, with relish, ‘and I
am wholly against any attempt at nourishing them. Quite a mistake to
administer stimulants. (Thank you, Lord Rex, you may give me another
quarter of a tumbler of your excellent Moet.) A mistake to imagine
persons as sea-sick as my poor wife can digest anything.’

‘I think you are disgracefully heartless, Doctor,’ cried Rosie
Verschoyle, in her thin, gay accents. ‘Mrs. Thorne and dear mamma
must require wine much more than all we well people. I declare it is
positively shameful to think how we have been enjoying the voyage while
they were in misery. Now, who will help me carry something to our poor
martyrs below?’

‘Who,’ of course, meant Lord Rex Basire. Following the airy flutter
of Rosie Verschoyle’s dress, Lord Rex dutifully assisted in conveying
biscuits, champagne, and sympathetic messages to the martyrs--as far
as the cabin door. Though the deck was smooth, Linda showed coyness as
to returning thither. Her belief in human nature, especially in Gaston
Arbuthnot’s human nature, was, I fear, frailish. The livid cheeks,
pale lips, and sunken eyes of recent sea-sickness were tests to which
Linda, under no conditions, would have dreamt of exposing a sentimental
friendship!

‘Mrs. Thorne is quite too good--the dearest, most unselfish creature
living!’ Rosie Verschoyle announced these little facts before all
hearers, on her return to upper air. ‘Doctor Thorne, I hope you are
listening to my praises of your wife. Mrs. Thorne is not ill, not very
ill herself, but she will not leave my poor frightened mother for a
moment. I call that real, quiet heroism. In glorious weather like this
to remain shut up in the cabin of a steamer for another person’s sake!’

‘Our good Smeet! She knows so well to efface herself.’

There was a twinkle in Gaston Arbuthnot’s shrewd eyes. Possibly, as
Rosie Verschoyle spoke, the words of Madame Benjamin’s eulogy came back
to him.

A league or two beyond Barfleur a French pilot was signalled for, the
pilotage from the Point to Langrune being tortuous and difficult. Does
the reader know the fairness of that little-visited strip of Norman
coast? Fairness at its zenith, perhaps, in April, when the orchards
bordering the shore are heavy with white pear, or rose-pink apple
bloom; when the black-thorn blossoms so lavishly that, if the wind
be south, you may distinguish whiffs of the wild, half-bitter aroma
far out at sea. But exquisite, too, on a late June day like this, the
yellow colza in full harvest, the barley-fields ready for the sickle,
the Caen-stone spires and homesteads standing out in white relief
against the level horizon-line of sky.

A French pilot was signalled for. After his coming the _Princess_
steamed slower and ever slower eastward. By and by--Langrune already
visible across the expanse of yellowish sea--it became observable that
the vessel’s movement could scarce be felt by those on board. The
skipper stood consulting with the pilot on the bridge, the figures of
the men at the wheel were motionless. There was a simultaneous hush in
everybody’s talk, a momentary tension of the breath at the thought of
something happening! And then came the blank, unmistakable order, ‘Stop
her!’ Before leaving Petersport wrong reckoning had been made as to the
difference between the hour of ebb in Guernsey and along the coast of
France; the skipper had no choice but to anchor. Would the passengers
await the turn of the tide and deeper water, or land, by help of the
boats, on some rocks within easy reach, and trust to getting ashore
across a tract of wide wet sand as best they might?

The stout-nerved Guernsey girls, accustomed to scores of bigger
adventures at sand-eeling parties and conger expeditions, laughed at
the horrors of the position. With Cassandra Tighe as leader, these
young women announced their determination of reaching the shore
forthwith, though not dry-footed. Among the chaperons arose murmurs of
contumacy. Poor Mrs. Verschoyle, a ghastly figure, emerging tremulously
from the cabin, observed that she looked on all voluntary sea-going
excursions as a tempting of Providence. With a spot like L’Ancresse
Common, not three miles from Petersport--L’Ancresse Common, where one
could have had the society of our excellent Archdeacon and of Madame
Corbie--_why_, said Mrs. Verschoyle, with the acerbity of mortal
digestive revolt--why put one’s self at the mercy of tides and pilots
at all?

Old Dr. Thorne was flatly rebellious. There was good champagne on board
the _Princess_, thought the Doctor. There were Burmese cheroots--a warm
sun. There was the ultimate certainty of floating up with the tide.

‘If any one be at a loss how to pass the afternoon hours let him take a
siesta, or inquire if the skipper have a pack of cards stowed away. You
see the wisdom of my remarks, I am sure, Lin, do you not?’

‘I see the wisdom of them for you and me, my dear,’ said Lin,
graciously. Under cover of a doubly-folded gauze veil, protected by
rice powder, a parasol, a well-adjusted Indian shawl, Linda Thorne had
at length committed herself to the cruel eye of noon. ‘My own election
is to abide by Mrs. Verschoyle, whatever happens. I am afraid we shall
hardly win over the young ones, Robbie, to our staid philosophy.’

‘If Rosie and the Miss de Carterets land I shall land,’ said Mrs.
Verschoyle, with dreary resignation.

The poor little lady’s elder daughters were married. She had three
girls in the schoolroom still. She had also boys. Chaperonage at
balls and picnics, nursing of measles or scarlatina, love affairs,
school bills, breakages, all came to Mrs. Verschoyle as the burthens
of her widowed, many childrened lot--heavy burthens to be borne under
sorrowful protest. ‘If the picnic had only been at L’Ancresse Common,’
she repeated, ‘we should have the Archdeacon and Madame Corbie with us,
and need never have got wet shoes at all.’

A consultation with the skipper resulted in a general lowering of the
boats. A quarter of an hour later the whole of the party, save the
Doctor, were landed on the Smaller Cancale, a reef of rock separated
by a mile of treacherous sands from terra firma, and upon whose
limited area a crowd of Parisians of both sexes were fishing--no, were
following ‘_la pêche_’ (the terms are not convertible)--after the guise
and in the vestments sacred to the Parisian heart.

Mrs. Verschoyle sank down on the first slippery point of rock that
presented itself, vainly wishing, little though she loved the
steamer, that her maternal duties had allowed her to remain there
with the Doctor and the sailors. Cassandra Tighe started off, the
lightest-hearted of the party, perhaps, to hunt for zoophytes and
molluscs among the tide pools. The younger people, all, pronounced
themselves in favour of an exploring walk inland before dinner--all
except Mrs. Thorne.

‘I mean to look after your mother, Rosie,’ said Linda, removing her
double folds of gauze, as she took her place at the elder lady’s side.
‘Please let me indulge my Indian laziness. Some one, positively, ought
to stay with dear Mrs. Verschoyle, and I like to be that some one. It
makes me remember my queer old governess days to find myself among
Parisians.’ Linda was prone to these little bursts of retrospective
humility. ‘And then, there is my husband! Robbie, no doubt, will
eventually drift up with the tide. Quite too charming to leave all us,
sober elders, together.’

‘Sober elders’--so Dinah realised, with a contracting heart--was a
sufficiently elastic term to embrace Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot. Before
landing from the boats, Gaston, with keen artistic vision, had descried
some marvellously pretty fisher-girl among the crowd of French people
on the rocks. Not a real red-handed, rough-haired fisher-girl, but the
latest Worth idea of a duly got-up _pêcheuse_, the very subject, Gaston
declared, for his own meretricious pencil. He must make a stealthy
study of her forthwith. And indeed, at this present moment, not many
paces distant from Mrs. Verschoyle and her devoted friend, Gaston
Arbuthnot, sketch-book in hand, was already at work.

Dinah lingered aimlessly. The desire of her heart was to stay beside
her husband. Her pleasure would have been to watch his quick, clever
pencil, to hear him discourse, in his light strain, about these
foreigners, whose theatrical manners and dress, overwhelming to her in
her ignorance, must to him be familiar. She felt that the brightness
of her day would be clouded if she left Gaston! And yet, mused Dinah,
troubled of spirit, _do_ wives, in society, hang jealously at their
husband’s elbow, or watch their pencil, or listen to their talk with
delight? Would she expose herself--far worse, would she expose Gaston
to ridicule, by shirking the walking party?

An expressive glance, shot from Mr. Arbuthnot’s eyes, set these
questionings only too sharply at rest.

‘Look carefully in through the cottage windows, Dinah.’ He bestowed on
her a little valedictory wave of two fingers. ‘Capital bits of ware are
still to be unearthed in these parts of the world. If you see a likely
cup or saucer, get Geoffrey to talk French for you.’ Gaston Arbuthnot
was a dabbler in most branches of _bric-à-brac_, and up to the present
date had never lost money by his dealings. ‘Mrs. Thorne, when we have
got rid of these young people, I want you to criticise me. My beautiful
fishing-girl grows too much like a figure from the mode-books.’

Linda Thorne, promptly obedient, took up her position at the artist’s
side.



CHAPTER XXIII

A SWAGGER AND A SWORD


It was the hottest, most deserted hour of the day when the walking
party reached Langrune plage, an hour when such of the young Parisians
as do not follow _la pêche_ drive donkey-carts--those wonderful,
springless, seatless, Langrune carts--along the country roads, or
start, by rail, to distant Trouville for toilettes and distraction.
Here and there were elderly ladies at work before the doors of their
canvas bathing-sheds. In the road two portly fathers of families were
solemnly sending up ‘messengers’ to a very small Japanese kite some
fifty or sixty feet above their heads. Two other middle-aged gentlemen
played at battledore and shuttlecock. A few irrepressible boulevard
lovers sat over their cards or dominoes outside the restaurant windows
of the principal hotel. The shrill sounds from a fish auction, held
on the monster slab of rough granite which constitutes the Langrune
market-place, alone broke the stillness.

Before one had thought it possible that dress or speech could have
betrayed the nationality of the new-comers, up ran a brown-legged,
tattered sand-imp, holding out a bunch of shore-flowers. He announced
his name, with some pride of birth, as Jean Jacques la Ferté of these
parts, offering his services as cicerone to the English strangers.

‘The gentlemen, without doubt, make a pilgrimage to La Delivrande,
half a league away up the country? At La Delivrande is the church
and the altar where the miracles are wrought. There are the little
ships of the sailors, the crutches left by the cripples who get back
use of their legs. And for the ladies there are the stalls with the
relics. Every one in the country,’ ran on the child, with voluble
distinctness--Jean Jacques, a source of revenue to his parents, was
trained to speak good French with the visitors--‘every one in the
country who is sick gets cured. Every one who has a _grand espoir_ goes
to La Delivrande, and, if he has faith, attains it. Or so the curé
says,’ added Jean Jacques, with a roll of his black eyes and a knowing
shrug of the shoulders.

At seven years of age even sand-imps, in these advanced French days,
like to show we are no longer bound by the priestly superstitions that
were well enough for our grandmothers.

Lord Rex made a free paraphrase of the child’s narrative in English,
and was witty thereupon. ‘Every one who is sick gets cured. Every
one who has a _grand espoir_ goes to La Delivrande, and, if he have
faith, obtains it. Miss Verschoyle, what do you say? Have you a _grand
espoir_? Have you faith? Shall we make our pilgrimage, confess our
little peccadilloes, and get cured together?’

Miss Verschoyle rebuked his flippancy, but with lips less severe
than her words. For Rosie’s mood was a lenient one. Had not Lord Rex
throughout the day conducted himself as well, really, as though that
poor Mrs. Arbuthnot were non-existent? It was decided that every one
had unfulfilled hopes, that every one stood in need of cure, and
that a general confession of peccadilloes would be the best possible
employment of the afternoon! In another five minutes the pilgrims were
on their road, ragged Jean Jacques leading the way, towards the distant
white twin spires of La Delivrande.

The plage, I have said, was deserted; not so the lane, with quaint
wooden houses on either side, which forms the High Street of Langrune.
Here were bare-limbed, dark-faced fisher-lads, busily mending their
nets; clear-starchers plying their delicate craft in the open air;
housewives roasting coffee; pedlars chaffering over their outspread
goods. Huge cats, with sleepy, watchful eyes, the sun shining
comfortably on their ebon-barred coats, reposed on the window-sills.
Lace-makers were at work, their headgear antiquated as their faces,
their bobbins twirling in and out the pins, unerringly, as though they
were the very threads of fate itself. Everywhere was the din of voices.
Everywhere were open doors, open windows; and within, such plentitude
of frugal cleanliness, such polished oak cupboards, such well-scoured
cooking-pans, such snow-white bed draperies, such balsams and geraniums
in brilliant scarlet pots, as might have put a Dutch village to shame.

Marjorie Bartrand and Dinah paused beside one of the lace-makers’
chairs, allowing the more ardent of the pilgrims to get on ahead. A
distinct shade of constraint was holding Marjorie and Geff Arbuthnot
aloof to-day. They had not met since yesterday’s friendly parting. No
further misunderstanding in respect of Geff’s celibacy was possible
between them. But a change had come across Marjorie’s manner towards
her tutor. Geoffrey was sensible that she answered him with pungent
and monosyllabic curtness during the whole of their outward voyage.
And--seeing that among the knot of pretty Sarnian girls excellent
temper reigned supreme, also that Geoffrey had joined the party for
other motives than his own pleasure--one can scarcely wonder that
this philosopher of four-and-twenty suffered himself, without over
difficulty, to be consoled.

At the present moment, disappearing in the perspective of Langrune
village, Geoffrey walked, to all outward seeming, well content, beside
the prettiest and least wise of the three Miss de Carterets. Of which
fact Marjorie took a brief and scornful note in her heart.

‘One can imagine a man’s becoming a senior wrangler.’ She made the
remark to Dinah as they watched the everlasting bobbins whirl. ‘Yes,
even I, with my halting Euclid and weak algebra (of which, no doubt,
Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot has spoken), can imagine a man’s becoming a
senior wrangler. I can no more conceive of bobbin-turning than I could
of a world in which two and two shall make five.’

Dinah’s slower brain needed time for reflection. ‘There could not be a
world where two and two make five,’ she observed with certainty. ‘And
lace-making, once you have served your time, steadily, is easy enough.
Two of my cousins, down Honiton way, are lace-makers, and I learned a
little of it when I was a child. The number of threads looks hard to
strangers, Miss Bartrand, but it just gets to one twirl of the bobbins
in time. Many of the workers keep to the same pattern for life, when
they know it well. After a bit, your fingers work without your eyes.’

‘How horrible! One twirl of the bobbins, one pattern, for life! And to
think that lace-makers do not commit suicide by scores!’

‘I don’t know that there’s much difference between lacework, or
wool-work, or plain sewing,’ said Dinah Arbuthnot. ‘We have, all of us,
to go through with our day’s task, whatever the stitch may be.’

The speech came so naturally, was so fraught with unconscious womanly
humility, that Marjorie felt abashed. What real heroism, of an
incomprehensible kind, must not Gaston Arbuthnot’s wife possess? This
girl of two-and-twenty who worked perpetual cross-stitch, who kept
her tongue and spirit calm, who loved, with soul and might, yonder
_débonnaire_ gentleman, of the handsome eyes and decorative smile,
sketching charming Parisian fisher-girls on the beach--under Linda
Thorne’s criticism!

‘If I speak hotly against needlework, it is that I am thinking of
Spain, my mother’s country. In Spain, you must know, the miserable
girls, to this hour, scarcely learn more than embroidery in their
schools and convents, with reading enough, perhaps, to stumble
through the announcement of a bull-fight, or decipher a love-letter.
Of course,’ admitted Marjorie Bartrand coldly, ‘it is said that when
a woman marries, in England or in Spain, she must do as her husband
wills. I never see the force of that “must.” I think a woman should do
what is right for herself, with large trust in Providence as to the
rest! The question is not one that concerns me. Still, Mrs. Arbuthnot,
one cannot help feeling indignant about all very crushed people. I am
dead against slavery, especially when slavery puts on a domestic garb.’

By this time they had passed the last straggling houses of Langrune.
Fair level country, the fields already on the edge of harvest, spread
around their road. Along the wayside path was a very mosaic of
brilliantly blended hues, the corn-flowers blue and purple, the scarlet
poppies, the white and gold of the wild camomile making up the purest
chord of colour. A slight south-west wind, dry and elastic after its
transit over so many a league of sunny land, was invigorating as wine.

‘How the spirit rises the moment one treads real solid earth!’ cried
Marjorie Bartrand. ‘I feel at this moment like walking straight off to
Spain, the country I love and where my life will be spent! Why, with
twenty francs apiece in our pockets, and camping out by night under
stacks or hedges, you and I might easily reach the Peninsula on foot,
Mrs. Arbuthnot.’

Dinah’s geography did not embolden her to hazard a contradiction.
Something in Marjorie Bartrand’s tone jarred on her reasonlessly. It
were hard to believe that she considered Geff a man likely to fall in
love. Had not the conditions of her life for years put speculations
as to Geoffrey’s future happiness on one side? And still, a true
daughter of Eve in every weakness belonging to the passion, Dinah was
an inchoate match-maker. She would fain have seen the whole world blest
with such fireside beatitude as constituted her own ideal of highest
good. With firm and true perception she had noticed a dozen trivial
things of late, all proving Geff’s imagination, if not his heart, to
be in his teaching of Latin and Greek at Tintajeux Manoir. She had
hoped that the notice taken of herself by Marjorie was an earnest of
the pupil’s liking for her master, had furtively and with misgiving dug
the foundations of many an air-castle that Marjorie and Geff, at some
far-off day, might jointly inhabit.

The girl’s diatribes against domestic slavery, her open avowal of love
for Spain and of her hopes of spending her life among Spanish people,
caused a troubled look to come on Dinah’s face.

‘Your plans don’t point towards an English home, Miss Bartrand. Yet I
think Geoffrey has told me you mean to study at Girton?’

‘To fit myself for my future work--yes. The Spanish school-boards
are just as conservative as English ones. A young woman armed with
Cambridge certificates would have more chance of coming to the front
than another, equally strong-minded, who should rely on her own merits.’

‘Strong-minded!’ Dinah ejaculated with horror. ‘At your age, with all
the sweet happiness of life still to come, you talk, as though you
approved such things, of being strong-minded?’

Marjorie swept off the heads from a cluster of wayside camomile flowers
with the stick of her sunshade. An expression of will which yet was
neither unlovely nor unfeminine glowed upon her girlish face.

‘Let us understand each other better, Mrs. Arbuthnot. It may well be
that our notions of “sweet happiness” are not the same.’

Dinah looked uneasy, and kept silent.

‘Power--I will make a confession to you such as I never made
before--power is my ideal of happiness. I want to rule, we will hope
for good; in any case, to rule, to be needed on all sides, sought
after, distinguished--to see my name in print! That is the truth, no
matter how I may wrap truth up in fine-sounding words,’ said Marjorie
Bartrand. ‘That is the secret of my enthusiasm for humanity, and of
my personal ambition. To lead others, _to command_, is my ideal of
happiness.’

‘And mine,’ exclaimed Gaston Arbuthnot’s wife unhesitatingly, ‘is--to
obey. For a woman to look up to another stronger life, to be ruled
by a stronger will, gladly to take all little household worries on
herself--I speak badly, Miss Bartrand, but you guess my meaning--and
feel more than paid by one kind look or word in return, to know that
as much as she wants of the world is safe between four lowly walls,
to have her hours filled with the care of others, to keep her parlour
bright and cheerful, to hear the voices of the children----’

Dinah’s own voice broke; and Marjorie, who had watched her with looks
of lofty compassion, softened involuntarily.

‘So far from speaking badly, Mrs. Arbuthnot, you speak with very pretty
eloquence. You draw a picture of constant giving up, which, if one
could believe it to be from life, would, I confess, be attractive. It
is drawn from life, perhaps?’

‘Oh--no; I said only that would be my ideal of happiness,’ faltered
Dinah, with a pang.

‘Fancied or real, such an existence would never do for me. I have not
much taste for obedience. I have none at all for household worries.
Babies I bar.’

‘Miss Bartrand!’

‘Yes, I do. Grandpapa and I visit about in our Pagan way among the
Guernsey country people, and I know that I absolutely bar babies of
every shade and degree. I am not sure I would go so far as to _injure_
one,’ said Marjorie, stealing a glance at her companion’s shocked face;
‘but I feel that they are safest kept out of my sight. I tell the
mothers so.’

‘You are too young to know what you feel, Miss Bartrand.’ There was a
standstill of some moments ere Dinah recovered herself enough to speak.
‘Long before you are my age you’ll begin to see things differently.
Young girls are a bit hard, I’ve sometimes thought, in all classes of
life, until the time comes.’

‘What time, may I ask?’

‘The time for having a sweetheart and getting married,’ said Dinah
Arbuthnot.

From any other lips Marjorie would have regarded such a suggestion
as an indignity. Dinah was so true a woman, had a soul so whitely
delicate, that the speech carried with it no possible suspicion of
offence. It was homely common sense, kindly and simply uttered.

‘What you say might be true of most girls of my age. If I am hard, it
is not because of my youth, or my inexperience. I have had’--Marjorie’s
face flamed to the hue of the poppies in the corn--‘what the world is
pleased to call a sweetheart. But for the interposition of Providence
(I remember that interposition, night and morning, on my knees) I
should be married now.’

‘Unless he loved you above everything, you are best as you are, Miss
Bartrand. In marriage it is all or nothing. I mean--I mean,’ Dinah
hesitated, ‘no wife could be happy with half a heart bestowed on her.’

‘Half! What do you say to a quarter, a fraction?’ exclaimed Marjorie,
hotly. ‘What do you say to a creature stuffed as the dolls are, with
sawdust, in lieu of a human heart at all? A creature well set up as
regards shoulders, six feet in measurement, with fine white teeth, blue
eyes, yellow moustache, a swagger and a sword? His would scarcely be
the larger soul, Mrs. Arbuthnot, the stronger will which it should be a
woman’s crown of honour to obey!’

Down went another head of clustering camomile, felled by a well-aimed
stroke from Marjorie’s hand. Her eyes flashed fire.

‘And yet a wayward girl, scarcely past sixteen, and with no mother to
give her counsel, might for two or three weeks, you know, be hurried
into thinking such a man a hero. I was that girl, Mrs. Arbuthnot.
Vanity blinded me, or the love of power, or something stronger than
either. At all events, when Major Tredennis asked me, one fine morning,
to be engaged to him, I said “Yes.”’

‘And the Seigneur of Tintajeux?’ asked Dinah, looking round at the
dimpled, indignant face of seventeen.

‘“Major Tredennis comes of a race of gentlemen,” said grandpapa. “If
Major Tredennis can make adequate settlements, and my granddaughter
elects to spend her life with a popinjay, she may do so.”’

‘And, with no better advice than that, you were engaged?’

‘I was engaged. Major Tredennis used to write me foolish notes. He
gave me a ring I never wore. He gave me chocolate creams, and a setter
puppy. He sang French songs to me in an English accent. Looking back at
it all now, I think the chocolate creams were the best part of that bad
time, except, of course, the setter, _whom I loved_. When it was all
broken off--for the owner of the white teeth and the sword was a right
wicked craven, and should have married a girl in England who cared for
him, without once looking at me;--when it was all broken off, and I
had to send Jock back, I did weep, scalding tears, at parting from
him. The only tears I have ever shed, or shall shed, in connection with
love-matters.’

‘Wait!’ was Dinah Arbuthnot’s answer. ‘If I see you, as I hope to do,
two or three years hence, it may be you will tell a different story.’

Marjorie glanced at the yachting party, sauntering contentedly, a
hundred yards or so in front, among the lights and shadows of the
orchard-bordered road. There was Lord Rex, outrageously devoted
in manner to Rosie Verschoyle, with whom he loitered apart. And
there, a little divided also from the rest, was Geff Arbuthnot, well
entertained, one must surmise, by the shallow talk, fascinated by the
pink-and-white charms of Ada, the most soulless and the prettiest of
the de Carteret family.

‘If such a revolution takes place, a dozen years hence, that I marry,’
she observed, after consideration, ‘the husband I choose shall be
a head-and-shoulders taller than myself, morally. No singer of
ballad sentiment, no popinjay, with yellow moustache, and a sword,
and uniform, next time. If I take to myself a master, he shall be a
man--with a temper, a will, a purpose in life, all nobler than my own.’

Such a husband as Geoffrey would be! The thought obeyed the wish in
Dinah’s heart.

‘And I must be first--first in his affection. I would have no rivals,
past or present. If Bayard himself walked the earth and wished to
marry me, Marjorie Bartrand, I would ask him if I was first. Yes, Mrs.
Arbuthnot, I would ask Chevalier Bayard himself if he had looked at
any other woman before he loved me; and if he had, and though my heart
broke for it, I would refuse him.’

A red light broke on Marjorie’s cheeks, her eyes dilated. The likeness
to old Andros, which came out in every moment of strong emotion, was
never more marked than now.

‘If we ask too much we may lose all,’ said Dinah, not perhaps without a
pang of dread as visions of Geoffrey’s youth rose before her. ‘I never
heard anything about this gentleman.’

‘Chevalier Bayard? the first gentleman the world has known!’

‘But if he was put upon his word, yes, and though he stood with his
bride before the altar, I think Chevalier Bayard might have to confess
to some foolish fancy in the past.’

‘I spoke of love, not of foolishness,’ exclaimed Marjorie Bartrand.
Then, as though quickly repenting of her warmth: ‘We have talked more
than enough,’ she cried, ‘about a peradventure that will never become
fact. Let us forget, with all speed, that so much nonsense has been
spoken.’

But the conversation was one which neither of these young women could,
by any means, forget while she lived.



CHAPTER XXIV

REX BASIRE’S HUMOUR


A rough-paved village square; green-shuttered houses, sweltering in the
afternoon sun; a pair of openwork spires, delicate as lace, dazzlingly
white as Caen stone could make them, silhouetted against the burning
sky; tattered children with mercenary hands full of wild flowers; a
knot of British pilgrims, irreverently loquacious outside the church’s
western door; gruesome beggars making exhibition of wounds; honest
peasant people; dishonest relic sellers--such were the salient features
of La Delivrande at the moment when Marjorie and Dinah descended into
its closer air out of the field-smelling, wind-blown road that brought
them hither from the coast.

‘We will ask Mrs. Arbuthnot’s opinion, and abide by it,’ cried Lord
Rex, coming forward a few paces to meet them. ‘She will be far better
versed in this kind of thing than the rest of us. Ought we to carry
candles in our hands, Mrs. Arbuthnot, when we seek our cure? There is a
candle-stall conveniently opposite, and Miss Verschoyle and I will head
the procession as penitents-in-chief.’

‘Please help to keep Lord Rex in order, Mrs. Arbuthnot. He is really
doing and saying the absurdest things!’ Rosie Verschoyle must have
been, surely, at the zenith of good temper when she thus addressed that
poor Mrs. Arbuthnot! ‘Now, Lord Rex, I command you to drop this talk
about candles instantly. Of course the whole business is a ridiculous
piece of Popish superstition, still,’ observed Rosie, with a certain
largeness, ‘one has one’s ideas. A church is a church. Positively, I
will not speak another word to you to-day unless you behave yourself
with decorum when we are inside.’

The awfulness of the threat appeared, for the moment, to check Lord
Rex Basire’s playful spirits. He made no purchase of candles. Save
that he affected a sudden and very marked lameness of gait, he behaved
no worse than his companions on entering the church. Guided by ragged
Jean Jacques, the English people walked up to a fretted stone screen
dividing the choir from the nave. In a small side altar on the left was
a doll, clothed in woven gold, unlovely of face, with eyes ‘dreadfully
staring,’ with a crown of paper lilies, with a score of rushlights
burning before her in a row--La Delivrande.

Who that has travelled in primitive French districts can fail of
knowing these little miracle chapels, their atmosphere, their votive
offerings, their sincerity, their tinsel, their pathos? At least a
hundred graven memorials on the wall beside the Virgin told the story
of simple human hearts that had suffered, believed, of anguished
human hopes that had here found fulfilment. Dinah Arbuthnot’s cheeks
paled as Marjorie, in a whisper, translated the meaning of the
inscriptions. Here a mother recorded her gratitude for her child, a
wife for her husband, a daughter for her parent. Here the names were
graven in full, here in initials. Occasionally there was one word only,
‘_Reconnaissance_,’ and a date. Dinah’s cheeks paled, her eyes filled.
If she were alone, Dinah felt--puritan, heretic, though she were--she
would gladly kneel and make her confession, lay bare her sorrow, on the
spot where so many stricken and weary human souls had cast away the sad
garment of repression before her!

Lord Rex Basire’s view of the place and situation continued
irresistibly comic. And the faces of his companions, the rose-pink face
of Miss Verschoyle not excepted, failed to condemn him for his levity.

A heap of pious gifts, testimonials, in kind, from the cured, lay,
incongruously, as they had been offered, before the altar of the
Virgin. There were crutches, big and small, a child’s reclining
carriage, models of ships innumerable, a wooden leg--the stoutest faith
might long for an explanation of that wooden leg! Well, reader, with
the fair church solemn and hushed, five or six black-clad women telling
their beads before the different altars, its only Catholic inmates,
Lord Rex, it must be concluded, found the temptation towards practical
jocularity too strong for him. Hobbling up to the altar, this humorous
little lord stood, with bowed head, with contrite manner, in front
of the lily-crowned figure for some minutes’ space. Slowly ascending
a step, he next deposited his crutch, a silver and ebony toy, upon
the heap of worn and dusty peasant offerings; then walked away with
tripping, resonant step, with head joyfully erect, down the western
aisle, as who should say, ‘Behold me--a believer, cured.’

Ragged Jean Jacques held his mouth between two sun-blackened hands,
showily pantomiming his appreciation of the Englishman’s costly
waggishness. The subalterns of the Maltshire Royals tittered aloud.
Alas! in a marching regiment, as elsewhere, has not human nature its
weaker side? Is not a duke’s son, with two inches of brain, and wit in
proportion, a duke’s son, even when he jests? The young ladies with one
exception looked about as frigid as Italian snow looks under the kisses
of an April sun. The exception was Marjorie Bartrand.

Away out of the church flew Marjorie, brushing against Rex Basire’s
elbow in her exit. She waited in the porch outside, eager beggars
pressing forward with their wounds, children with their half-dead
wild-flowers, relic-mongers with their chaplets and rosaries--blest,
ay, to the last bead, blest, ‘_tout bonnement_,’ by his Holiness, away
in Rome. By and by, when the last of the loud-talking, merry-spirited
knot of idlers had issued forth from the church, Marjorie fastened upon
the offender-in-chief. With luminous eyes, with drawn breath, with
hands tightly clenched in her hot indignation, she scathed him, thus:

‘You have played a delicate bit of comedy, have you not, Lord Rex?
It was the finest stroke of humour to scandalise a few poor peasant
women, saying prayers for their dead?... For me,’ looking one by one
round the group, ‘I felt ashamed--more ashamed than ever I was in my
life before--of belonging to the same nation as you all! I read once,’
said Marjorie, ‘in a wise book: “Where we are ignorant, let us show
reverence.” The ignorance only has been shown to-day.’

Dinah Arbuthnot and Geoffrey, who had lingered behind the others
in the church, arrived on the scene just in time to hear the last
accents of this denunciation. Then, ere the culprits could utter a
word in self-defence, away shot Marjorie’s arrowy figure along a
shadowed by-street, away, neither stopping nor hesitating, along the
old chaussée that leads from La Delivrande Paris-wards, in an exactly
opposite direction to the Langrune road.

‘By Jupiter! I was never so frightened in my life.’ Rex Basire’s limbs
collapsed under him in well-dramatised alarm. ‘Have all Girton girls
got dynamite in their eyes? Does their speech invariably bristle with
torpedoes? Is Marjorie Bartrand Protestant, or Catholic, or what?’

‘Ah, what!’ repeated Rosie Verschoyle, ever ready with a little amiable
platitude. ‘A hundred years ago the Bartrands were Papists, remember.
It is a moot question among the people who know them best what the
Tintajeux religion is at the present day.’

‘I know one thing,’ cried Geoffrey’s friend, Ada de Carteret. ‘All
through Tintajeux parish the Seigneur is looked upon as more learned
than canny. When the country folk come near old Andros after dark,
declaiming Greek, and with a couple of black dogs at his heels, they
will run a mile round sooner than meet him.’

‘The Seigneur’s term of endearment for Marjorie is witch, when they
happen to be on speaking terms at all,’ said another voice. ‘Poor girl!
In spite of her temper one cannot help liking her extremely. Who was it
said of Marjorie that she had such an olive-like flavour?’

‘You always feel there must be a fund of goodness in the dear
child--somewhere.’ This finishing note was given in Miss Verschoyle’s
thin voice. ‘As to the lecture you came in for, Lord Rex, you deserved
it richly. It is quite too--in saying this, I mean it--quite! to laugh
at other people’s beliefs, even when they are most ridiculous.’

And then they all sauntered off to the stalls, where Lord Rex, we may
be sure, found ample scope for his veiled yet poignant irony among
the crosses, medals, rosaries, and relics that had been blest, ‘_tout
bonnement_,’ away in Rome, by his Holiness!

Marjorie, meanwhile, pursued her way through shadow and sunshine,
unconscious in which direction the fiery haste of her steps was bearing
her. When her temper had burnt out--in the space, say, of two minutes
and a half--she perceived that she was once more in open country,
alone among colza stacks and fields of ripening barley, but on a less
frequented road, amidst a landscape with wider horizons than the road
and landscape she and Dinah had traversed in coming to Langrune from
the sea.

How good it was to breathe this wild, well-oxygenised air! With what
glad senses Marjorie gazed about her across the plains, rippling,
as the sun lowered, in lucent amber waves, and shaded deliciously
at intervals by rows of pearly, smoke-coloured poplar! A family of
peasant farmers drove by in one of their old-world Norman harvest
waggons--coeval, perhaps, with Andros Bartrand’s sickle! Friendly nods,
gleaming smiles from sunburnt faces, were bestowed on the little girl
as the homely cartload jolted on. She watched with wistful eyes until
the waggon lessened, was lost to sight in the long perspective of
white road. Seating herself beside a ditch, under shadow of a solitary
pollard willow, a sudden vision of vines and olives and Spanish sierras
arose, with all the strength of inherited nostalgia, in Marjorie’s
breast. If the harvesters would only have carried her a league or two
onward with them! She had nothing of value in her possession but a
watch. How many francs could one raise upon a watch, Marjorie Bartrand
wondered, in some primitive, unsuspecting Norman town? Enough, surely,
living among peasant people, and eking means out by an occasional
day’s work at onion-weeding or colza stacking, to carry one down to
the frontier, the cherished land of dreams. A letter could be sent to
relieve the Seigneur’s mind, and....

And then, glancing back along the chaussée, Marjorie saw a man’s
figure advancing towards her with steady quickness; a figure she knew
over-well, darkly outlined against the chrome yellow of the sky. So
Ada de Carteret was forsaken. Her heart went pit-a-pat. She would have
given a fortune to fly, yet stirred not! One minute later and her
nostalgia was cured. Longings for vine and olive and Spanish sierra
had vanished, all, before the unromantic English presence of Geoffrey
Arbuthnot.



CHAPTER XXV

YOU--AND I!


‘You have found out a right pleasant spot.’ Geff settled himself coolly
into repose among the long wayside grasses that clothed the opposite or
field side of the ditch. ‘Our friends, when they have bought themselves
each a cross and medal, are going down to watch the Parisians return
from fishing. You and I will have the best of it among the barley here.’

‘You--and I!’

‘You--and I! Does the expression displease you, Miss Bartrand?’

‘If you have any intention of remaining, you had better take out your
pipe at once, Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘Why?’

‘Because an idle man, his feet dangling over a ditch, and not smoking,
would be a spectacle too wretched to contemplate.’

‘The description may be worse than the fact. I am idle. My feet dangle
over a ditch. I am not smoking. I was never less wretched in my life.’

‘I spoke of such a person as an object of painful contemplation.’

‘Is the spectacle painful to you at this moment? Speak frankly.’

‘I--I only wished to let you know that you might smoke, if you chose.’

‘Thanks! I would rather do nothing to alter my present state of
feeling.’

And then they came to a full stop: a rather marked one.

Marjorie spoke first. ‘The charm of a spot like this’--she brought out
each word with incision--‘is its solitude.’

‘_Solitude à deux._ The French have such an expression, have they not?’

Geff Arbuthnot asked the question, pronouncing his _eu_ vilely.

‘“Solitude a-doo!” I am hopelessly stupid,’ said Marjorie, holding her
head aloft. ‘“A-doo!” Is it meant for a farewell, or what? I really do
not see the drift of the idiom--a quotation, perhaps, from one of the
classic authors?’

Geoffrey was sensible that she had never been more dangerous than at
this juncture, mutinous pride struggling with merriment on her clear
girlish face, as she turned his terrible French accent into ridicule.
He was sensible, also, of a new, an unexpected pleasure in being
laughed at by her.

‘Were you enjoying your solitude (without the “doo”) truly, and
thoroughly, when I disturbed you?’

‘Thoroughly, no. I had not got the flavour of folly enough out of my
mouth for that. You relished, I hope, the exquisite wit we English
people showed in the church, Mr. Arbuthnot? You appreciated the fun of
wounding simple beliefs by depositing our Oxford Street finery among
the real piteous crutches before La Delivrande? And to think that young
women,’ exclaimed Marjorie, waxing warm, ‘are stigmatised, in masses,
as frivolous! How can they be anything _but_ frivolous with such
examples before them?’

‘Let us cast up both columns of the account. Would a man--no, as we are
talking of Lord Rex Basire, let us say would a foolish youth--display
his foolishness among a bevy of pretty girls, unless they were ready
to give him smiles as an encouragement?’

‘I am sure Mrs. Arbuthnot would not be among the smilers. Her beautiful
face looked so good and calm, when the rest of us stood giggling there
before the altar.’

‘My cousin is serious--a little over-serious always.’ Geoffrey
Arbuthnot gazed attentively at the horizon as he made this remark.

‘It would do your cousin a vast deal of good to run away from that
feather-weight husband of hers. Look shocked, if you choose; I am in
earnest. I consider,’ said Marjorie, displaying her worldly wisdom with
gravity, ‘that Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot’s character is thoroughly spoilt.
He is a charming fellow, doubtless. Still, everybody need not remind
him of his charm to his face.’

‘And you believe in retributive morality? You think the curative
treatment for a charming fellow is--that his wife should run away from
him?’

‘My experience of charming fellows would incline me towards heroic
treatment. As we walked up from Langrune I asked Mrs. Arbuthnot to
start with me on foot for Spain. With twenty francs in our pocket, I
told her, and doing a day’s work on the road whenever our resources ran
low, we might get down safe to the frontier in time. But Mrs. Arbuthnot
did not seem to see it.’

‘Dinah’s is not an adventurous spirit. If you would accept a
substitute, Miss Bartrand, perhaps I----’

‘Go on, pray.’

‘Might be allowed to follow, with a thick stick, at a distance.’

‘Keep your stick for England! I would not be afraid on the loneliest
road between this and Barcelona.’

‘Without the stick, then--shall we start?’

Marjorie shifted her posture a little. She became suddenly interested
in a plant of marshmallow at her side.

‘When next I enter Spain, Mr. Arbuthnot, it shall be with dignity.
When I meet my mother’s people I hope to be armed with degrees,
certificates--whatever the English universities will confer on me.’

‘Don’t go until your name has been bracketed high on the list of
wranglers.’

As Geoffrey made this venture on thin ice he watched his pupil
narrowly. One of the storm-flashes that lit Marjorie Bartrand’s face
into such frequent, such perilous beauty, was his reward.

‘You mean--never go at all! Do you feel a pleasure, Mr. Arbuthnot, in
throwing cold water over my dearest hopes and ambitions?’

‘An enormous pleasure, Miss Bartrand. I have felt it from that first
evening when you were good enough to hire me as your teacher at
Tintajeux.’

The girl looked away from him, her colour changing.

‘That evening, when I had to receive you in state, to make formal
speeches and curtsies, all my great-aunts and uncles looking on through
their Bartrand eyelids! Do you remember our Bon Espoir? He was an omen
of better temper, perhaps, than has prevailed between us since. Were
you taken aback? Was I quite unlike what you expected?’

She asked these momentous questions with the keen curiosity
characteristic of the passion in its earlier days. But all the time she
shrank from encountering Geff Arbuthnot’s glance.

‘You really desire to know?’

‘Yes.’

‘I will tell you, on one condition. What was your wish when you
curtsied under the cedars to the new moon?’

‘My wish?’ turning farther and farther away from him. ‘Why, folly
unrepeatable--the sort of nonsense my nurses taught me to say when I
was little. Your memory is inconveniently good.’

‘Accurate to the smallest detail! How clearly one can see the meeting
of those four water-lanes, and the flowers you gave me, as I know
now, alas! for Mrs. Arbuthnot, and the ribbon you tied them with--the
ribbon,’ said Geff coolly, ‘which you will some day send me back for
a book-marker! Yes, the fairest summer evening of my life was the one
when I first saw Tintajeux Manoir--and you.’

And he believed his own words. Sure sign that the heart within him was
sound--healthiest life at its core. Guessing at the confessions of that
ingenuous maidenly face as Marjorie, half blushes, half wilfulness,
persistently gave him her profile, Geoffrey Arbuthnot had clean
forgotten Lesser Cheriton, ay, and a drama played out there in which he
took a not unimportant part.

‘I think this Norman evening is to the full as fair,’ said Marjorie.
‘There are bigger sweeps of outline, there is more quality in the air
than falls to our lot in the Channel Islands.’

Then, again, there came a pause, broken softly by the occasional hum of
an insect on the wing, by the swaying of stalks, the whispers of the
ripe and restless grain, by the chirp of the hedge crickets, by the
solitary treble of a lark lost somewhere, pouring its heart out in the
sea-blue vault above.

Marjorie could not be silent long.

‘To begin at the beginning, what did you think of me when you got my
first note--the two lines I sent in answer to yours? Nothing very good,
or you would not be so reluctant to tell it.’

‘I thought,’ said Geff, ‘that you required my services as a coach, that
there was a little affectation about your Greek “e’s,” and that your
name was Marjorie D. Bartrand.’

‘That terrible signature of mine--the one bearable name I possess
reduced to a D! You know, Mr. Arbuthnot, I hope, what D. stands for?’

‘Dorcas?’ suggested Geoffrey, ‘or perhaps Deborah? We have a number of
fine old Hebrew names beginning with D.’

‘But I am not a fine old Hebrew. I am a Spanish woman, heart and soul,
and I bear my mother’s name, Dolores. Grandpapa and I met an American
in Paris, when I was younger, who used to call me “Miss Dollars.”
The thought of that pronunciation always makes me shy of bringing my
beautiful Spanish name to the fore.’

‘Dollars is more beautiful than Dolores.’ Saying this, Geoffrey took
studious care to imitate her accent. ‘Dollars is at least suggestive
of human activity, of the market-place, not the graveyard. Why should
a child, with all the good chances of life open, have such a name as
Grief imposed upon her by worldly-wise godfathers and godmothers?’

‘I speak of Dolores, not Grief, and--and you have no poetry in you, Mr.
Geoffrey Arbuthnot! You don’t know all that a word says to us southern
people. Think of plain Marjorie Bartrand--nothing but “ar, ar!” If I
could only change Bartrand for a name with no “ar” in it, I----’

The supposition was rushing forth with velocity. Then, in a trice,
Marjorie stopped. She coloured to the roots of her hair. And then
she and Geoffrey laughed so loud that the stilly air rang with their
laughter. If these two young people did not actually tread the primrose
path, they were within a stone’s-throw of it, ignorant though both
might be of the route which lay so near them.

‘That “ar” is the worst of all your cruelties,’ said Geff presently.
‘To show my greatness of mind I will return evil for good. I will
tell you what you wish to know. As I walked out for the first time to
Tintajeux, I had you constantly before my mind’s eye, Miss Bartrand. I
saw you, with the vision of the spirit, every inch an heiress.’

‘Every inch an heiress!’ repeated Marjorie, abashed.

‘With rigid manners, hair drawn back, Chinese fashion, and
overwhelming dignity. Whenever people are of more than common volume--I
fancy that is the euphemistic term, is it not?--dignity!’

‘And you found me--a scarecrow.’ She measured, mentally, and with
self-abasement, the leanness of her unfledged figure. ‘What did you
think when a lank country child, in a cotton gown, and without either
dignity or manner, appeared before you?’

‘I felt it was my duty to accept facts as they came. I summoned up
courage, and mastered my disappointment with tolerable ease,’ said
Geoffrey Arbuthnot.

His face supplied a postscript to the admission which caused Marjorie’s
heart to beat faster.

‘We must not stop here all day!’ she cried, springing promptly to her
feet. ‘Although, if one had something to eat, it might be pleasant to
do so. Yonder, to the left, is Courseulles spire. We saw it--no, you
were hemmed in by sunshades--I saw it from the steamer. If we take this
footpath through the cornfields, we might visit Courseulles and make a
small turn round the country before going back to our company and our
dinner at Langrune.’

But Geoffrey did not move.

‘I will have my bond,’ he uttered with tragic emphasis. ‘I will never
stir from this spot until you tell me what your wish was when you
curtsied to the moon.’

‘I would rather not say. You have the right to insist, of course--it
was a bargain. But, please, let me off. Why should I repeat such
puerility here, in the wise and sober light of day?’

‘I will have my bond,’ repeated Geoffrey Arbuthnot tenaciously. ‘I have
made my confession in full. Now, do you make yours. What was your wish?’

A flood of shame by this time suffused Marjorie’s cheeks. But Geoffrey
was stubborn. He exacted his pound of flesh to the uttermost.

‘I curtsied, as the children do, thrice ... and each time, while you
were talking solemnly to grandpapa, I said, quite in a whisper----’

‘Don’t mind punctuation, Miss Bartrand. It will be the sooner over.’

‘“I like my coach--may my coach like me!”’ cried Marjorie, nearly in
tears, but giving to the refrain the true sing-song of the nursery.
‘Remember, sir, when I was so inane I had only known you two hours,
and--and I believed you to be the other Mr. Arbuthnot.’

Geoffrey slipped down to his feet. As Marjorie was standing on the
bank, it thus happened that their faces were on a level, and very near
each other. Geoffrey observed, more closely than he had done before,
the texture of her skin--delicate, in spite of sunburn, as perfect
health and Guernsey air could render it. He looked into the depths of
her gray eyes, even in their quietest expression touched with fire.
He admired the character, so superior to all mere prettiness, of her
serious large mouth.

‘The wish has come true,’ he whispered, in a tone never to be forgotten
by Marjorie Bartrand, ‘although I have the misfortune of being myself,
not Gaston. Let me help you.’

He held out his hands, but Marjorie, with her agile young strength,
had cleared the ditch almost before his assistance was proffered.
They paused a moment or two irresolute, they discussed a little as to
latitude and longitude, and then away the two started, in the direction
of Courseulles, across the cornfields.

A third figure, dove-winged, golden-quivered, walked with them,
although they might not discern his presence.



CHAPTER XXVI

CUT AND THRUST


Never was a man surer of tumbling into little unlooked-for
sociabilities than Gaston Arbuthnot. Had he been shipwrecked on a South
Sea island I believe Gaston would have chanced upon an acquaintance
there, some vanished shade from London Club or Paris café would have
seized him by the button-hole before the day was out!

He was button-holed in Langrune-sur-Mer. When the pilgrimage returned
from La Delivrande, Linda and her Robbie were found seated with
Mrs. Verschoyle on a trio of hired chairs before the hotel, taking
their pleasure rather mournfully. Cassandra Tighe, her scarlet cloak
conspicuous from afar, was dredging--happy Cassandra--among such rocks
as the tide still left uncovered.

Gaston Arbuthnot was invisible.

‘A real case of forcible abduction,’ cried Linda Thorne, addressing
herself to Dinah. ‘You are not a foolishly nervous wife, I am sure,
Mrs. Arbuthnot? You could philosophically listen to a story of how two
pretty French girls carried away an English artist against his will.’

Dinah assented with one of her rare smiles. The knowledge that Gaston
was finding amusement otherwise than in the half-clever talk, the too
ready, too flattering sympathy of Linda herself, cast retrospective
brightness upon the afternoon that his absence had clouded.

From jealousy of a selfish or little kind Dinah’s heart had never bled.
Earlier in their married life, when Gaston still affected dancing, and
as a matter of course went to balls without his wife, it was her usual
next morning’s pleasure to scan his programmes, enjoy his sketches
of his partners, his repetitions of their small-talk--all without a
shade of hurt feeling. Once or twice she hinted that she would fain
accompany him as a looker-on. ‘Nobody looks on long in this wicked
world,’ was Gaston’s answer. ‘You do not dance, you do not play whist.
You have a brain under your yellow locks, and you are too young to talk
scandal. Ball-room atmosphere is unwholesome. I would not hear of such
a sacrifice.’ And as it was not Dinah’s habit to pose as martyr, she
obeyed, trusting in him always.

Beautiful, pure of soul herself, she simply honoured the beauty,
believed in the purity of soul of other women. Gaston was popular,
spoilt; an artist with an artist’s--more than this, with an American
temperament. A degree of youthful immaturity seemed ever to lurk amidst
his astute knowledge of life and of men. He had but a half-share, as
he would tell her, of the fibres derived from long lines of bored
ancestors. He sought diversion for diversion’s sake. She had made no
quarrel with the inexorable facts of her husband’s existence or of her
own. If only she had been his equal, intellectually! If she could have
supplied him with the mental companionship he needed, or interested him
in his childless fireside! Ah, could she thus have risen to his level,
Gaston’s heart had been in her keeping still. Hence came the morbid
unrest of her present life; hence the dread, increasing daily, hourly,
strive with it as she might, of Linda’s influence.

‘I am afraid one gets used to most things, Mrs. Thorne. I have seen
Gaston run away with so often that I am not much moved by the thought
of these pretty French girls.’

Linda Thorne rose. She rested her hand confidentially within Dinah’s
arm, much to Dinah’s chagrin, and proposed that they should walk
together along the sands to look for Mr. Arbuthnot.

‘Yes, I must positively tell you the whole story. Your husband had
finished his sketch of the lovely fisher-girl. The young person was not
at all lovely, in fact. But she was striking. She had distinct genre.
Artists care for genre, you know, much more than for beauty.’

Dinah resolved to question Gaston as to the truth of this. She resolved
to cultivate distinct genre in herself for the remainder of her days.

‘Striking--that word sums up all. The big cobalt-blue eyes, that say
about as much, in reality, as a china tea-saucer, and are supposed
by imaginative men to say everything--blonde hair worn in a pigtail,
palpably not original, to her heels; complexion carefully toned to
a shade one point short of freckles; bare arms, akimbo--excellently
shaped arms, of course; a native prawn basket, and a fishing-dress from
Worth’s. I got to know the type so well,’ said Linda, ‘in my governess
days, during one summer, especially, when the Benjamin sent me to
Houlgate with her children.’

Dinah, who, as we have seen, had no genius for supplying the hooks and
eyes of conversation, remained chillingly silent.

‘Your husband had finished his sketch of her--an admirably idealised
one. I have it here.’ And Dinah, for the first time, perceived that
Mrs. Thorne held possession of Gaston’s sketch-book. ‘Let us look at
it together!’ impulsively, ‘or are you--no doubt you are--blasée about
sketches? Well, well, it may be natural. Married to an artist, if one
has no real, strong, natural talent for art----’

‘I have no real, strong, natural talent for anything,’ interrupted poor
Dinah petulantly.

‘Oh--naughty! You must not say such things. I will not allow you to be
modest. Mr. Arbuthnot tells me your needlework is’--Linda looked about
her as though an encomium were hard to find--‘most elaborate! In these
days needlework ranks among the fine arts. Of course you are wild about
this exquisite new stitch from Vienna?’

‘I have not seen it. The only wool-work I do is old-fashioned
cross-stitch.’

‘Just fancy! And Mr. Arbuthnot, I am convinced, spends his time--half
his time--in designing quite lovely patterns for you?’

Dinah’s breast swelled as a vision of the Roscoff wild roses overcame
her. She made no attempt at a parry.

‘If I had married an artist I would never have gone to the shops for
patterns. Or rather, if I had married an artist I would never have
embroidered at all. I should have thrown myself into his ambitions, his
work--have spent my life so utterly at his side.’

Dinah stooped to pick up a little pink shell from the strand, by this
action freeing herself from Linda Thorne. She put the shell inside her
glove, thinking she would keep it as a memento of Langrune and of this
summer day that had passed so nearly without a cloud. So nearly--but
the summer day was not over yet!

‘All this time I am not accounting to you for your husband’s
disappearance, am I? My dear creature, it was really the drollest
thing! Robbie had not as yet floated up with the tide, and Mrs.
Verschoyle and I, your husband with us, had made our slippery way
across the rocks to mainland. Well, just as Gast ... I mean, as Mr.
Arbuthnot was putting a last touch to his sketch, up ran a little
Frenchman, full dress, a rose-and-white daughter in each hand, and an
enormously stout wife, with a bouquet, following. He threw his arms
round your husband’s neck, and but for Mr. Arbuthnot’s presence of
mind would certainly have kissed him.’

‘Kissed!’

‘Of course. Have you never lived among French people? It was some old
artist companion of Gast ... of your husband’s bachelor life. You
can imagine the recollections of former joyous days spent in Paris
as students together, the inquiries for mutual friends, now dead or
married, the history each had to give of his marriage and present
happiness!’

‘I cannot. I am not imaginative.’

It must be confessed that a tinge of displeasure was audible in Dinah’s
voice. Every syllable of Mrs. Thorne’s unpremeditated chatter had
wounded her like a stiletto prick.

‘Ah--and I am imaginative to my finger tips. We seem the very
antithesis of each other, in character, as we are in looks.’ Linda
had really a very graceful way of admitting her own plainness, when
occasion offered. ‘I can assure you I filled up a dozen little blanks
in our Benedicts’ exchange of confidences. I traced out a full and
rounded whole most satisfactorily. People may slur over half a dozen
years in as many words. If nature has endowed you with imagination,
you read between the lines. The barest outline suggests the finished
picture.’

Something in her tone would seem to imply that Gaston Arbuthnot’s
married life had been a spoiled life, or so it seemed to Dinah’s
irritated heart. Dinah felt that the half dozen words must have yielded
latent hints of her own intellectual shortcomings, hints which Linda
Thorne’s talent for filling up blanks had developed into certainty.

‘The next part of the ceremony was the introduction to Madame de Camors
and the children--two small Parisian coquettes, about the age of my
Rahnee, who fell in love with Mr. Arbuthnot on the spot.’

‘Little children fall in love with Gaston always,’ said Dinah hastily.

‘The family party was taking its departure, it seemed, under the
broiling sun, to a children’s ball at Luc Casino. At a word from
papa the small imps seized a hand each of Gas ..., of Mr. Arbuthnot,
and dragged him away _nolens volens_. All children are tyrants,’
generalised Linda, with a dismal yawn, occasioned probably by the
recollection of her virtuously spent afternoon, ‘but these terrible
French children are the worst of all. Perhaps it is in imitation of the
Americans. I consider the way American infants are brought forward in
public places is a disgrace to the century.’

‘You think children without exception should be kept in their
nurseries’?’

Dinah called to mind a group of four that passed her window on their
road to the rose-show. She remembered a small figure dancing with
exultation on rainbow-hued flounces.

‘My dear soul! Fancy putting such a question to me, a mother! Of course
I make an exception of my own daughter. She is a good quiet little
monkey,’ added Linda; ‘although Mr. Arbuthnot is positively spoiling
her fast--I hope I impose her on no one. Children, as a rule, I look
upon from the governess point of view. You know how my bread was earned
when I was young?’

‘Mr. Arbuthnot has told me that he first met you in Paris.’

‘Yes, in the domestic service of Madame Moïse Benjamin. I got twenty
pounds a year and my washing. I had to sleep under the roof, to play
dance music, to remodel Madame’s dresses, to teach English to the three
girl Benjamins and a boy--ah, that boy!’ said Linda, between her teeth.
‘If you think me like Becky Sharpe ... confess now, you _do_ think me
like Becky Sharpe?’

‘I do not, indeed.’ Dinah’s manner grew colder and colder. ‘I never
heard of Becky Sharpe before.’

‘Well, if you had,’ said Linda, in high good humour, and storing up
all the little scene against future dramatisation--‘if you had heard
of Becky Sharpe, and had thought me like her, where would be the
wonder? I was brought up just as Becky was, to live by my wits. My
mamma--I connect her hazily with sofa cushions, much white embroidery,
an Italian greyhound, doctors, and the smell of ether--my mamma died
when I was four years old. She lies in Brussels cemetery,’ ran on
Linda, drawing a hasty outline of a tombstone on the sand, ‘with Lady
Constantia Smythe, and more than one side allusion to the peerage
graven above her head. At the time she died we had not very definite
daily bread. Still, my grandfather was an earl, and poor papa found one
of his few consolations in making much of our nobility.’

Frankness, it would seem, was Linda Thorne’s strong point, but Dinah
was unmoved by it. The earldom dazzled Gaston Arbuthnot’s lowly-born
wife no more than Linda’s personal confidences propitiated her. Dinah
had a child’s instinct for friends and for enemies. She liked, she
disliked, unerringly, and was too transparently honest to mask her
feelings.

Stooping down, she picked up another shell from the sea’s smooth
edge. She sought once more to widen the space between herself and her
companion. Linda Thorne’s quick brain observed the movement, divined
the intention.

‘Excellent, stupid, well-meaning, ill-acting young woman. And I have
not a reprehensible sentiment at all towards her!’ Thoughts like this
shot through Linda’s mind--Linda who really had it not in her to know
sterner passion than a drawing-room malignity. ‘With her youth, her
goodness, her complexion, her upper lip, to be jealous of poor, plain,
cynical, elderly me! She needs a pretty sharp lesson. Children who cry
for the moon deserve to get something worth crying for.’ Then, sweetly,
‘You seem interested in shells, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot,’ she observed
aloud. ‘You study conchology as a science, perhaps, under the Platonic
auspices of that severe-looking cousin of yours, Geoffrey Arbuthnot of
John’s.’

‘I study nothing, unfortunately for myself. I am quite ignorant,’ said
Dinah, lifting her face and meeting her tormentor’s eyes full. ‘I am
picking up a shell or two,’ she added, ‘to keep as a remembrance of my
day in Langrune.’

‘I should say you would remember Langrune without any tangible
memento,’ remarked Linda. ‘Rather ungrateful, you know, if you did not.’

‘How, ungrateful?’

‘Well, because the picnic was given unconditionally in honour of
you----’

‘I do not understand you,’ interrupted Dinah, with ill-judged warmth.
‘The party was planned before any one in Guernsey knew of my existence.
I was asked accidentally--because I could be of use. Four or five girls
had promised these young officers to come, and they wanted a married
woman as a chaperon. This was what Lord Rex Basire said when he invited
me on Monday.’

‘And you believed him? You accepted out of pure kindness to faire
tapisserie! Mrs. Arbuthnot, you are too amiable.’

By this time Dinah Arbuthnot’s face blazed from brow to chin. Her
conscience, over-sensitive in the lightest matter, smote her sore. Was
not a selfish longing for widened experience--nay, was not a certain
distrust of Gaston, a contemptible sense of triumph over Linda--at the
bottom of her acquiescence?

‘What unusually correct taste Dame Nature displays in her colouring
this evening.’ Mrs. Thorne gazed with decent vacuity at the sky, and
away from Dinah’s face. ‘Soft primrose, fading into pearly-green, with
just those few vivid touches of deep crimson. It suggests thoughts for
a ball dress. And still, beautiful though the effect is, I would rather
not see that sort of shimmer on the water. If we come in for fog-banks
somewhere about the Race of Alderney, it will matter little whether the
picnic originated for the chaperons, or the chaperons for the picnic!
How atrociously hungry this sort of thing makes one! Surely dinner-time
must be drawing nigh.’



CHAPTER XXVII

GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY


‘In two words, you have amused yourself, my dear.’ Under cover of the
friendly twilight, Gaston Arbuthnot pressed his wife’s hand as it
rested, a little shyly, on his arm. ‘A good sign for the future. You
must enter into the world more, Dinah. You must cultivate this faculty
for being amused; I desire nothing better.’

Though fog-banks and disaster might lie in ambush about the Race of
Alderney, nothing could be tranquiller than the fair summer evening
here, on the coast of France.

After an excellent dinner, vraie cuisine Normande, served in the
quaint, red-tiled salle of the Hôtel Chateaubriand, the collected
yachting party were now progressing along the pleasant sweep of road
that leads to Luc. Luc alone, among this group of villages, has a
jetty, and off Luc the _Princess_ lay moored. Daylight’s last flicker
was dying from the sky. Already deep fissures of shade intersected
the white sand dunes bordering the shore. The sea lay motionless, a
vague iridescence far away, northward, the only foreboding of coming
change. Cassandra Tighe, a bold spot of colour in the gloaming, had
exchanged her dredging net for some amphibious structure of green gauze
and whalebone. She flitted hither and thither among the bushes that
skirted the path, moth-hunting. The younger members of the expedition,
in groups of two, loitered slowly along their way, for it was an hour
when girlish faces look their fairest, when men’s voices are apt to
soften, involuntarily!

Dinah Arbuthnot, after a good deal of strategy, had contrived not
merely to get possession of her husband, but to hold him, strongly
guarded, and at safe distance from the rest. Linda Thorne herself (and
Linda had, at will, a longer or a shorter sight than other people)
could scarce do more than guess at the outlines of the two figures.
The little lover-like fact that this sober couple, this Darby and Joan
of four years’ standing, walked arm in arm, could be known only to
themselves.

‘Yes, Gaston, I was amused at sea, for you were there. And I was
amused differently by Miss Bartrand. I wish you had been with us at La
Delivrande. It was the first time I ever went inside a Popish church,’
said Dinah, gravely. ‘And yet, Popish though it was, I could scarce
help saying my prayers as we stood before the altar. The tears came in
my eyes as I remembered--I mean as I looked at the heap of offerings,
and thought of the sad hearts that had brought their troubles there.’

‘Was the smell very detestable--a smell one could sketch? Had you
beggars? Had the beggars wounds? Of course, votive churches and such
things have to be done, in one’s youth. I am too old,’ said Mr.
Arbuthnot; ‘my digestion is too touchy for me to run the risk of
physical horrors of my own free will.’

‘I thought an artist should seek out every kind of experience.’

Gaston had so often insisted upon the duty of pursuing inspiration
among all sorts and conditions of men--still more of women--that the
remark from Dinah’s lips had a savour of mischief.

‘Every sort of agreeable experience, my dear child. The disgusting
is for the great masters. Mine is pocket art--a branch that the
critics discreetly label as decadent, although lucrative. Besides,’
said Gaston, ‘I have sold my soul to the dealers. And the dealers
have sold theirs, if they have any, to a puerility-loving public. An
honest manufacturer of paper weights and clock stands needs nothing
but prettiness,--I won’t say beauty,--the prettiness of a Parisian,
masquerading as a fisher-girl!’

‘Or of Parisian children dancing at an afternoon ball. Mrs. Thorne told
me about your meeting with some old student acquaintance, and how his
daughters led you away captive.’

‘Small tyrants! I had to dance four dances with each of them, and then
be told I was “un Monsieur très paresseux” for my reward. And so Mrs.
Thorne and you are becoming better friends,’ observed Gaston Arbuthnot,
looking hard through the veil of twilight at his wife’s reluctant
face. ‘She is a dear good soul, is she not? So bright, so spontaneous!
Really, I think that is Mrs. Thorne’s crowning charm--her spontaneity.’

‘I am no friend of hers.’ Dinah’s voice had become cold. ‘I did not
like Mrs. Thorne at first. I dislike her now.’

‘Impossible, Dinah--impossible. A woman with your face should dislike
no created thing.’

‘I dislike her because her words sting even when they sound softest,
because she will never look at one straight. I dislike her,’ said
Dinah, feeling her cheeks burn with shame and indignation, ‘because she
calls you “Gaston” when she speaks of you.’

At this terrible climax Mr. Arbuthnot laughed, so heartily that the
quiet undulating sandhills echoed again. Far ahead Mrs. Linda might
perhaps have caught the ring of his voice, have marvelled what subject
people who had been married four mortal years could find to laugh about.

‘This is a black accusation. Happily, whatever her sins in my absence,
Mrs. Thorne does not call me “Gaston” to my face.’

Dinah was silent. Gaston’s assurances had never carried the same weight
with her since Saturday’s rose-show, the occasion when she learned of
midnight adjournments to Dr. Thorne’s house, and of the singing of
French songs after a certain mess dinner. Her own conscience was rigid.
To suppress a truth was, according to Dinah’s code, precisely the same
as to utter an untruth. She allowed no margin for her husband’s offhand
histories--as a woman of larger mind would possibly have done. She
could not see that carelessness, a quick imagination, and an intense
love of peace, were factors sufficiently strong to account for any
little inconsistencies that might now and again creep into Gaston
Arbuthnot’s domestic confidences.

‘Of that I cannot judge. I suppose I ought not to care what Mrs. Thorne
does or says in _my_ absence.’

‘Of course you ought not. The speech is worthy of your thorough
common-sense, Dinah.’

‘But Mrs. Thorne calls you “Gaston” to me, and I think it a very
wretched, unkind thing to do. I think it mean.’

‘You ought not to think of it at all. Artist people are called by the
first name that comes to hand.’

‘Mrs. Thorne is not an artist.’

‘She remembers me, in the old days when I knew Camors, as a budding
one.’

‘And she corrects herself with over-care. Having once said “Gaston,” it
would be better not to go back to “Mr. Arbuthnot.”’

‘Ah, there, my dear girl, you are too strong. If Linda Thorne
excuses she accuses herself, although I must confess I don’t see the
heinousness of her crime. You are becoming a casuist, Dinah.’

‘Am I? It seems to me that I am remaining what I always was.’

They walked on, after this, mutually taciturn. The interest seemed
to have gone from their talk. At last, just as they neared the first
lights of Luc village, Dinah’s fingers closed with significant
tightness on her husband’s arm.

‘I have an important word to say to you, Gaston. All through our walk I
have been wishing to bring it out, but I had not the courage.’

‘Some one else calls me by my Christian name, perhaps? Or are we only
to discuss more enormities of Linda Thorne’s?’

There was a threat of impatience in Gaston Arbuthnot’s voice. This
little running accompaniment of domesticity gave a quite new character,
he decided, to picnics, viewed as a means of social pleasure.

‘I was not thinking of Linda Thorne. I wanted to ask--Gaston, forgive
me--if you would keep nearer to me till we get back to Guernsey?’

‘_Nearer!_ Will not everybody be near everybody else on board the
steamer? Don’t, I beg, ask me to do anything absurd,’ he added, with
emphasis. ‘You have no idea how ready one’s best friends are to laugh
at one under given circumstances.’

‘But if you were just to stop at my side on board--I mean, so that no
one else could come near me.’

‘I will do nothing of the kind. You have no perception of the
ridiculous, Dinah. It is a want in your nature. A woman with the
slightest sense of humour would never wish her husband to be
demonstrative before an audience.’

‘Demonstrative?’

‘Jealous might be nearer the mark. A variety of reasons could be given
as to the miserable wretch’s motives in such a position. Jealous--of
little Rex Basire, probably!’

Gaston Arbuthnot laughed. This time his laughter had no very hearty
sound.

‘You must learn to be self-reliant,’ he went on presently. ‘Your first
lesson in worldliness was to be taken to-day, remember. Well, you must
go through with it! I was not especially anxious for you to join the
party.’

‘You were not. I came to please myself only.’

‘And you have pleased yourself and me. You are the most charming
woman present; and let me tell you these handsome Guernsey girls are
formidable rivals. I am proud of you. The opening page of the lesson is
a success. Don’t spoil it, Dinah, by picking a childish quarrel with me
now.’

‘I am proud of you!’ The unexpected praise sent a thrill through
Dinah’s heart.

Her petition to Gaston to keep near her was made in a very different
spirit to that of childish quarrelling. On the road back from La
Delivrande to Langrune it had come to pass that the walking party,
following a natural law, broke up into couples, and that Dinah,
unprotected by Marjorie or by Geff, found herself alone with Lord Rex
Basire. Being, for his age, a very thorough man of the world, Lord Rex
uttered no word at which Mrs. Arbuthnot, or any sensible woman, could
take umbrage. But his manner, his tones, his looks, were eloquent with
a feeling which, to her straightforward, rustic perception of things,
constituted an offence.

In the matter of admiration, Dinah, as I have said, was neither prude
nor Puritan. She knew the greatness of her gift. It was an everyday
experience to see heads turn wherever she walked upon the earth, and,
being a quite natural and single-hearted daughter of the common Mother,
such acknowledgment of her beauty had never yet been repugnant to her.
But the admiration covertly expressed by Rex Basire as they sauntered
slowly through chequered light and shadow back to Langrune, was of
another nature. Instinct warned Dinah that, if she were an unmarried
girl, she might well read on this foolish young man’s face and in his
manner signs of love.

And the warning, to Gaston Arbuthnot’s wife, was, in itself, a
humiliation.

She was unacquainted with the weapons by means of which differently
nurtured women parry equivocal attention. Save from Linda Thorne’s
lips to-night she had never heard the term ‘Platonic.’ Geoffrey was
her only friend. Of men like Lord Rex Basire she knew nothing. To gaze
and hint and sigh after this tormenting fashion might, she thought,
be a received habit among young officers of his rank. And the torment
would soon be over--if Gaston would only keep near her on board the
_Princess_! Once safely back in Guernsey, and Dinah felt she could
take absolute care of herself for the future. There should be no more
lingering afternoon visits, no more instruction in wool-work for Lord
Rex Basire. Of the lesson learnt to-day, one paragraph, at least, was
clear, should be reduced to practice before another twenty-four hours
went by. If Gaston would only keep near her in the interval!

But at Gaston’s praise she forgot everything. In the sweetness of that
unlooked-for avowal, ‘_I am proud of you_,’ all dread of the future,
all unpleasant recollections of the past, were swept clean away out of
Dinah’s brain. She would not risk the moment’s happiness by another
word. Her hand trembled, as though they had gone back to the old
romantic days at Lesser Cheriton, as it rested on Gaston’s arm.

‘Proud of me! Ah, my love,’ she whispered, ‘I hope that you and I will
never have a worse quarrel than this while we live.’

And when the pair of married sweethearts emerged into the glare of
lamps outside Luc Casino, Dinah’s face was radiant. Lord Rex, devotedly
attentive at the moment to pretty Rosie Verschoyle, saw, and felt
mystified. Decidedly, the Methodistic heart, like the Methodistic
conscience, was a book wherein Rex Basire might not read.

Linda Thorne approached at once; a tall figure, diaphanous, graceful,
in the lamplight. An Indian shawl was on Linda’s arm, one of those
exquisite dull-hued cachemires capable of investing the plainest woman
with ephemeral poetry. Her hand held a bunch of wild flowers; a long
trail of bindweed was twined, by fingers not unversed in millinery,
round her hat.

‘I hope you approve my ball attire?’ She asked this with a little
curtsey, her eyes addressing Gaston rather than Gaston’s wife. ‘Our
hosts tell us that we have all free entrance to the Casino, the result,
I suspect, of some liberal bribe to the Administration. Really, the
way our subalterns have preconcerted every detail of their picnic has
quite a Monte Christo flavour. You are engaged to me, remember, Mr.
Arbuthnot, for your first waltz.’

‘There will be neither first nor last, Mrs. Thorne. I exhausted the
very small dancing power that is in me on Hortense and Eulalie this
afternoon. I have not waltzed with a partner over seven for years,’
added Gaston. ‘My step dates from the days of Louis Philippe.’

Nevertheless he moved away from Dinah; he followed whithersoever Mrs.
Thorne might choose to lead.

She chose the Luc dunes--that broad belt of wind-blown sand, held
together by coarse grasses or sea thistles, which stretches the entire
length of the straggling village, and forms a welcome contrast to the
burnt-up turf terrace, with burnt-up geraniums, mildewed urns, and
peeling stucco goddesses of loftier watering-places.

This evening Luc was merry-making. There were fireworks, there was a
procession of torches--one of those ever-recurring processions by which
the hearts of Parisian children, big and little, are gladdened at the
seaside. Tiny figures marched, two and two, with Chinese lamps along
the village causeway. A band of small boys evoked martial melody from
drum and fife. Catherine-wheels rotated, rockets scurried up into
space. By and by an artfully constructed bonfire of colza stalks flared
up in the centre of the plage. Hand linked in hand the children danced
around it.


     ‘Nous irons aux bois,
     Les lauriers sont coupés.’


Their shrill voices rang across the dunes. Gaston Arbuthnot could
descry his friends, Hortense and Eulalie, wildly circling around the
red flames with the rest. As he did so, he thought involuntarily of his
sketch-book, forgotten from the moment when the children laid violent
hands upon him, hours ago, until this instant.

‘Oh, I know! Your sketch-book is gone,’ cried Linda, as he felt in
pocket after pocket. ‘This is the Nemesis that falls on creatures of
impulse, Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘But it is no joking matter. Every memorandum I have made during the
last month--gone!’

For once Gaston’s voice was tragic. He knew full well the market value
of those rough notes of his.

‘Every memorandum--from your first bit of Sarnian still life, an old
market-woman dozing, knitting-pins in hand, at her stall, down to
our fisher-girl of the Boulevards. Taking into account the studies
of Rahnee and of myself, there must be literally scores of valuable
jottings in that book.’

‘You are laughing at me? No, I divine! You have taken care of my book,
Mrs. Thorne, like the dear good----’

Fortunately, Gaston Arbuthnot broke off. Would Mrs. Thorne, would
any woman, still conscious of youth and charm, forgive the man who,
in exuberance of gratitude, should say to her, ‘like the dear good
creature I know you to be’?

‘I have taken care of your sketches,’ she answered, drawing the book
forth from beneath her cachemire. ‘I have done more. You ask sometimes
why I always carry a housewife in my pocket. You shall see the part
my housewife has played to-day. While I sat quietly with Robbie and
Mrs. Verschoyle (the young people, _very rightly_, enjoying themselves
elsewhere) I sewed all your ragged leaves together for you--thus.’

Linda Thorne was a notably clever worker. Perhaps the length of her
stitches, the breadth of her hems, were not always in accordance
with the orthodox feminine standard. She could effect things with
her needle--such as fine-drawing a rent in cloth, or improvising an
anchorage for a buttonless collar--which might be the despair of many a
mistress of the craft. She did her stitching with brains.

At an out-of-the way Indian station, so the legend ran, Mrs. Linda,
under stress of some unlooked-for gaiety, once manufactured an evening
waistcoat for her Robbie, and a pair of neat white satin boots for
herself at a sitting.

‘This is capital!’ cried Arbuthnot, joyfully recovering possession of
his sketches. ‘Each page hinged on with a splendid contrivance of red
silk to the dislocated remains of back. I have often wanted Dinah to
devise some sort of surgery for my veteran sketch-books. She must take
a lesson by this.’

‘Oh, no, no! Mrs. Arbuthnot is a far better needlewoman than I am.
When I sew anything tolerably,’ said Linda, ‘it is by accident. I
must have a motive for what I do. If I lived with--I mean, now, if
dear Robbie were an artist, it would be my passion to help him in all
the mechanical part of his work. If I were staying with you--and Mrs.
Arbuthnot--you would discover that I can, really, in my way be useful.
Michael Angelo himself must have had a poor obscure some one to grind
his paints for him.’

The pathetic image of Robbie as an artist made Gaston laugh inwardly.
He was not struck by the humour of hearing his own name coupled with
Michael Angelo’s. Nay, it might be well, he thought, if Dinah felt
this passion of unselfish helpfulness; well, if Dinah occasionally
gave him the kind of praise he got from Linda Thorne. For Dinah never
flattered. Her words of encouragement, unlettered country girl though
she was, were full of soundest criticism. There was no honey in them.
True love has its intuitions. Dinah knew that to feed this man on
constantly sugared words was to poison him. She would gladly have
seen in Gaston a noble discontent, gladly have listened to less frank
avowals that he had found his level, and got on pretty well, there!
Dinah, in short, was not a delightful acquaintance, but a steadfast,
loyal wife. And her praise, in common with that of other steadfast
wives, was apt to take the wholesome bitterness, the slightly sub-acid
flavour of a tonic.

‘Michael Angelo! My dear Mrs. Thorne, how much, how very much you
over-estimate me! If you spoke of me as imitating, from afar, the
little affected prettinesses of a Greuze, the compliment would be too
high.’

‘I fixed my standard for you, years ago, Mr. Arbuthnot. In the days
when you used to thank me--_me_, a governess--for playing dance-music
at Madame Benjamin’s, I had my convictions as to the place you would
one day occupy in Art.’

At other times--on the morning, for instance, when we first saw the
Arbuthnot trio in the garden of Miller’s Hotel--Linda remembered her
aspirations as to the place her friend would, one day, hold in the
House of Commons. But Gaston, if he noted the discrepancy, passed it
generously over. Hard for a man to believe a charming woman insincere
simply because she a little over-estimates his own genius!

‘Those light-hearted salad days! When I was with de Camors this
afternoon----’

‘The effusive little Frenchman who so nearly kissed you?’

‘As long as I forgot the children, and the twelve stone of mamma, and
the fact that de Camors himself is growing bald, I could have believed
he and I were six-and-thirty again. Six-and-thirty used to be the sum
of our joint ages.’

‘Do not talk of age. It is a subject about which a man may jest, while
a woman just breaks her heart.’

And Linda extended towards him her thin adroit hands, clasped in a pose
that she had studied, not unsuccessfully, as one of pained entreaty.

‘Women are younger, relatively, than men,’ answered Gaston, with the
sincerity of his sex. ‘When I was two-and-twenty, Dinah’s age, I knew
more of the world than I know now. Whereas my wife----’

‘Ah! your wife,’ interrupted Linda Thorne, the mask for a moment
dropping, the voice hardening. ‘I was thinking of living, palpitating,
flesh-and-blood women--inhabitants of a world where nothing is
faultless save over-faultless perfection. I--I mean,’ she went on,
rapidly recovering her self-control, ‘that at thirty (and I am past
thirty, alas! who looks at me under broad daylight but must see
it?)--at thirty a man is scarcely in the noonday sun--a woman already
feels the breath of evening. Her one chill hope is--to grow old
gracefully. Mrs. Arbuthnot is a girl still.’

‘And you--were a child when I first knew you in Paris,’ observed
Gaston, cleverly quitting the dangerous territory across whose borders
he has been betrayed. ‘How natural it seems, Mrs. Thorne, that we
should be walking together, you and I, in the old country, with the old
language round us again! Do you hear what the children are singing down
on the sands yonder?’

Linda set herself to listen, her expressive hands clasped, her face
bowed.


     ‘Nous irons aux bois,
     Les lauriers sont coupés’--


shouted the shrill young Gallican voices in the distance.

Mr. Arbuthnot repeated the nursery rhyme as Murger wove it into his
delightful ‘Letter to a Cousin.’


     ‘Nous n’irons plus aux bois. Les lauriers sont coupés.
     Nous n’irons plus aux bois, oh, ma cousine Angèle!’


The lady at his side bowed her face lower, and believed, in all
integrity, that she was about to be overtaken by tears. Mrs. Linda, to
do her justice, was not of a lachrymose temperament. At the zenith of
their boy and girl flirtation, years ago, she had never shed a tear for
Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot; until he appeared with his beautiful wife, had,
indeed, clean forgotten her youthful weakness and his existence. But
she possessed considerable imagination, a gloss of surface sentiment.
She was also an insatiate novel reader, and had fallen into the habit
of perennial strong emotion, leading nowhere. She could realise how a
woman who had loved ought to feel, as she recalled past happiness with
the lover of the past--both married, and one, alas! fast nearing an age
when the most pathetic drama turns, without help from the burlesque
writers, into parody.

Linda Thorne believed herself to be on the brink of tears. Gaston
Arbuthnot believed so, too, and his heart could not but soften over
the poor thing’s impressibility. So widely different in effect are
tears shed in bitter earnest by one’s wife, and tears shed in pretty
make-believe by the wife of another man.

‘Do you hear, Mr. Arbuthnot--the dancers have changed their tune?’ She
asked this as the children, eddying like spirit-figures in an opera
scene round the fire, broke into a new measure, ‘_Marie, soak thy
bread in wine!_’--universal refrain of all French children from the
Pyrenees to the Channel. ‘“_Marie, soak thy bread!_” How that foolish
rhyme brings back the Benjamins’ salon, and my place behind the piano,
and you, Mr. Arbuthnot, handing round refreshments with the small
slave-driver, Moïse! “Marie, soak thy bread”.... Alas!’--Mrs. Thorne’s
utterances grew mystic--‘We women have to soak our bread in sour
enough wine, have we not?’

‘The Benjamin refreshments--sugar-water, orgeat,’ mused Gaston
Arbuthnot, keeping safely to the practical. ‘Yes, those were charming
evenings, especially when Papa Moïse did not sing. I remember, as
though ’twere yesterday, how my poor mother used to suspect Madame
Benjamin of putting bad almonds in the orgeat.’



CHAPTER XXVIII

FOR AULD LANG SYNE


Meantime, whilst this mature pair of sentimentalists recalled the past
under the starlight, the younger people, sound of heart and limb, were
making the most of the present inside the walls of Luc Casino. Fine
weather for their voyage, an excellent French dinner, and now a ball,
with distractingly pretty girls for partners, what further enjoyment
could hearts as light as the hearts of the subaltern hosts desire?

Lord Rex, only, played spectator. While Rosie Verschoyle danced waltz,
polka, American, to outward seeming in gayer spirits than her wont,
Lord Rex remained fixed in his attendance on Mrs. Arbuthnot, beside one
of the open ball-room doors. Dinah was curiously staunch of purpose,
about trifles as about serious things. She clung to ‘first principles.’
It was a first principle with her never to enter a casino, English or
French, and Rex Basire vainly expended his best special pleading in
seeking to change her.

Mrs. Arbuthnot objected, perhaps, to waltz with a one-armed man? Would
she give him a polka, then? Would she ‘rush’ an American quadrille? It
made it ever so much more diverting if one did not know the figures of
an American. Well, if she would not dance at all, would she take his
arm and walk round the rooms? ‘Simply to put them in their place, Mrs.
Arbuthnot. I have my British vanity. I want these bragging Frenchmen,
accustomed to nothing handsomer than lay figures out of the pattern
books, to see _you_.’

All in vain. Dinah wished neither to dance nor to dazzle. Only, if Lord
Rex pleased--thus, after a space, she admonished him--it would be wise
for his lordship to join the rest of his party. Miss Verschoyle was
standing out; there could not be a likelier time than the present for
him to secure Miss Verschoyle’s hand.

His lordship, however, did not please. And so, when Gaston and Linda
Thorne returned, later on, from their walk, the first fact patent to
both on entering the ball-room was Dinah’s absence. With a quick look
around, Linda discerned Rosie Verschoyle standing at her mother’s side,
partnerless.

‘Rosie Verschoyle a wall-flower? Oh, this is too bad! What can Lord Rex
be thinking of?’ exclaimed Linda, ingenuously. ‘Mr. Arbuthnot, I insist
upon your asking poor little Rosie to dance at once.’

‘I thought you and I were to take pity on each other, Mrs. Thorne, for
auld lang syne?’

‘Think of Rosie, not me. It is positively wicked for old married women
to monopolise the dancing men while girls stand out.’

‘Are you sure Miss Verschoyle would care to have a man with deposited
affections for her partner? a veteran whose waltz step dates from the
reign of Louis Philippe?’

‘Try her. In my young days girls would sooner dance with anybody than
remain partnerless.’

‘That “anybody” gives me confidence. It is good to know the exact
compartment in which one is pigeon-holed.’

Gaston crossed the room. He made his bow before Rosie, who moved
forward graciously. Now that Mr. Arbuthnot had asked her, said the
girl, in her thin staccato, she would have the enjoyment of one really
good waltz. Something in Gaston’s looks made her certain that he was
a splendid dancer. Louis Philippe? Mr. Arbuthnot’s step dated from
the days of Louis Philippe? ‘Why, that,’ cried Rosie, ‘was before we
were all born!’ She confessed to never remembering about those ‘horrid
French Revolution people,’ but had a notion Louis Philippe came next
to the king who got his head cut off. Or was he Egalité, the man who
insisted upon dying in his boots?’

‘Louis Philippe came next to the king who got his head cut off,’ said
Gaston, as his arm clasped her well-rounded waist. ‘I had no idea, Miss
Verschoyle, that you were such a profound historian.’

Linda Thorne took the chair left vacant beside Rosie’s mother.

‘Your dear child is looking her best, Mrs. Verschoyle. I think our
Guernsey roses do us national credit. We ought to produce an effect
upon the foreign mind.’

‘The young people are too much flushed, every one of them. A day like
this may lay the seeds of lifelong malady. I know, as a fact, Mrs.
Thorne, that Rosie is dancing in wet shoes.’

‘Better dance than sit still in them,’ remarked Linda, cheerfully. ‘You
never catch cold while you are amused.’

‘Could we not have been amused at a quarter the cost? I have been
trying in my own mind to reckon up the expenses of the expedition.
Putting everything at the lowest, I bring it to something
fabulous--fabulous! If these young subalterns, sons, no doubt, of
needy men, had only given us a tea-drinking on L’Ancresse Common! When
Colonel Verschoyle was in command----’

The time when her colonel commanded a regiment in Guernsey was Mrs.
Verschoyle’s one unchequered recollection, the standard by which all
subsequent mortal events must be judged!

‘When poor Colonel Verschoyle was in command, that is what the
officers used to do. Give us a tea-drinking at L’Ancresse and a
dance for the young people afterwards. No show. Very little expense.
Everybody pleased. Then, of course, if you got your shoes wet you could
change them.’

The advantages of L’Ancresse over Langrune as a spot whereat to change
your shoes seemed to touch Mrs. Verschoyle nearly. Her eyes filled.

‘The money that has gone on all this,’ she mourned; ‘not to speak of
the doctors’ bills we may have to pay hereafter! When first the plan
was chalked out I foresaw how everything would end. I entreated Rosie
to reason with Lord Rex. Unfortunately I can never get my children to
listen to me.’

‘You should have gained over Mrs. Arbuthnot,’ said Linda, with a spice
of malice. ‘As the picnic was got up for her, no doubt she could have
amended the programme.’

Mrs. Verschoyle looked more like a little bewildered white mouse
than usual, as this newly propounded idea made its way slowly to her
intelligence.

‘It is a most unprecedented thing! To get up a party of pleasure for
a married lady without daughters! Mrs. Arbuthnot, I believe, has no
daughters?--at all events not of an age to be introduced. Well, she
is a very sweet-looking young woman,’ said the meek, motherly soul,
through whose lips no breath of scandal ever passed. ‘Mrs. Arbuthnot
has just that fair, placid, large look that used to be so much admired
in my Flo. But the complexion is too transparent for health. Did
I tell you Flo’s husband was ordered to Malta? His regiment is on
this season’s reliefs, and Flo talks of coming over to me with the
children--four babies, and a native nurse. I suppose I shall be able to
take them all in?’

‘Easily. You have only to give up your own room and sleep in the
conservatory. When Rahnee is married and offers to come home, with
four babies and a native nurse, sleeping in the conservatory,’ observed
Linda, ‘is just the kind of sacrifice I shall be prepared to make.’

‘You would have the old jungle ague back upon you in twenty-four hours
if you did. Neither you nor Doctor Thorne are people who should take
liberties with yourselves. Indeed, I think you have both been looking
sadly this spring. Rosie, my dear, come here.’ For the waltz had ended.
Gaston Arbuthnot was walking past, English fashion, his partner on his
arm. ‘Come and sit down by me out of the draught. I do hope this is the
last dance we shall stay for, Mr. Arbuthnot?’

‘No, indeed, mamma. We are to stay for the next. It is another waltz,
and I am engaged for it to Lord Rex;’ Rosie glanced, a little ruefully,
towards the door where Dinah and Lord Rex still stood. ‘Thank you so
much, Mr. Arbuthnot, for our beautiful waltz. I hope,’ said Rosie
Verschoyle, ‘all my partners, as long as I live, will have taken
dancing lessons in the reign of Louis Philippe.’

When the opening bars of the waltz sounded, Lord Rex, with no very
great alacrity, came across the room to claim Rosie’s hand. Gaston
Arbuthnot bent over Linda.

‘“For auld lang syne.” Is this to be our dance, Mrs. Thorne?’

Linda Thorne was not a pretty, not by natural gift a graceful, woman.
She was a perfect dancer. Poor Dinah, from her hiding-place, had found
a genuine pleasure in watching Gaston waltz with dimpled, smiling Rosie
Verschoyle. For Dinah, like all wholesome-minded mortals, had unmixed
sympathy with the spirits and enjoyment of light-hearted girlhood. She
looked with very different perceptions at Linda Thorne, looked at her
with something of the feeling a true but unpopular artist might know on
watching the facile successes of meretricious talent. This tinselled,
pleasure-loving Linda, with her clinging draperies, her Indian
perfumes--this wife whose heart was not with her husband, this mother
who contentedly could leave her child to servants--was so far below the
ideal towards which, since her marriage, Dinah Arbuthnot had faithfully
striven.

Below an ideal standard. And yet, in such vital points as talking
amusing talk, in dancing, dressing, dinner-giving, in the all-important
matter of pleasing men difficult to please like Gaston Arbuthnot,
how immeasurably was Linda her superior! Dinah’s heart contracted.
She was just going to shift away into deeper shadow, when a hand
touched her arm with friendly purpose. Turning, she saw Marjorie
Bartrand--Cassandra Tighe, laden with nets and specimen boxes, in the
rear.

Marjorie’s face glowed damask. ‘A pity you were not with us, Mrs.
Arbuthnot. We have been having a glorious time, moth-hunting in the
Luc lanes, Miss Tighe and I, and--and--every now and then Mr. Geoffrey
Arbuthnot condescended to join when the chase got warm. What are you
all about here?’ Marjorie ascended a step; she took a smiting glance
round the ball-room. ‘Well, this is as good as a sermon. Miss Tighe,
come and be edified. Is it not fine to see middle-aged couples waltzing
for the public good?’

With a little scornful gesture of the head Marjorie indicated Gaston
and-his partner.

‘Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot may be doing his steps from personal motives,
perhaps because he has the “artistic temperament,” whatever,’ said
Marjorie, ‘that elastic term may mean. Nothing but severe principles,
the determination to point a moral, could make Linda Thorne go through
violent exercise on a night like this.’

‘Linda Thorne is considered the best waltzer in Guernsey,’ said
Cassandra. ‘Your tongue is over-sharp. You speak before you think,
Marjorie Bartrand.’

‘I feel before I do either,’ whispered the girl, her hand stealing
back, with half-shy kindness, to Dinah’s arm.

‘If Mrs. Arbuthnot had been with us,’ said Cassandra, ‘she would have
witnessed a sight worth laughing at. Marjorie scoffs at middle-aged
partners. What would you think, Mrs. Arbuthnot, of a white-haired woman
flying across hedges and ditches--breathless with excitement, over the
capture of a butterfly? Scarce a dozen specimens of _Pontia Daplidice_
have been seen in Northern Europe during the last twenty years,’ went
on old Cassandra, flushed still with victory. ‘And of these six only
were netted, like mine, on the wing. Why, it would be worth staying a
week here--a week, a month, on the outside chance of sighting a second
_Pontia Daplidice!_’



CHAPTER XXIX

MISSING


All this time the _Princess_, lying well outside the Luc rocks, was
getting up her steam. Before the waltz had ended a red light, hung from
the vessel’s bows, gave the signal for those on shore to hurry their
departure. There was a flutter of airy dresses as the English party
emerged from the ball-room into darkness, a ripple of talk as they
filed, Indian fashion, hand steadying hand, down the narrow path that
led from the casino to the little fishing slip or jetty.

And then unexpectedly came the first misadventure that had arisen to
mar this day of calm and sunshine. When the party had embarked in two
of the unwieldy flat-bottomed boats of the country, it occurred to Lord
Rex, as commander-in-chief, that their number should be counted. And
soon the cry arose that one was wanting! Seventeen human souls left
Guernsey that morning--on this point all were confident. Sixteen human
souls only were forthcoming now. And no efforts of memory, individual
or collective, could hit upon the defaulter’s name.

Mrs. Verschoyle exclaimed in a hollow voice that it was a most
uncomfortable omen. She would be sorry to depress the younger people’s
spirits, but, for her part, she would sooner set sail in the teeth of
a hurricane than have had this thing occur. ‘Let the counting be more
systematic,’ said the poor lady, jumping to her feet, and for once in
her life launching into independent action. ‘Let me repeat each name
slowly, beginning with the youngest of the gentlemen, and let each
person answer as he is called. Mr. Smith? Brown? Jones? Lord Rex? The
two Mr. Arbuthnots? Doctor Thorne?’

After Doctor Thorne’s name there was a moment’s silence. Then Linda,
tragic of accent, ejaculated, ‘Robbie! Of course!’ And then, I regret
to say, most of the younger people began to laugh. ‘But it may be a
matter of life and death,’ cried Mrs. Thorne. ‘If you please, Lord Rex,
I will go on shore at once. The _Princess_ may start, probably will
start, without me. My duty is to look for Robbie. Oh, I am most uneasy!
It is all my selfishness. Robbie ought never to have been brought on
such an expedition. I am certain something has happened to him! I shall
never forgive myself while I live.’

These amiable anxieties were the exact sentiments suited to the
occasion. Mrs. Thorne expressed them with agitated dignity, and, of
course, no one laughed again. Consolations, even, were forthcoming.
Dr. Thorne had been seen, in the flesh, outside Luc Casino; or, if
not the Doctor, some old gentleman exactly like him, with a puggaree,
sand-shoes, a white umbrella, and smoking an enormous cigar, just like
the cigar poor dear Doctor Thorne always used to smoke. It was the
prettiest, least wise, of the De Carteret sisters who offered this
bit of evidence. The gentleman was observed to look in for a while at
the dancing, and then to walk away in the direction, Ada de Carteret
believed, of the sea.

‘The sea! And who can tell that the sea has not surrounded him! In
out-of-the-way French places the tide always swells up with a circuit.’
Tears were in Linda’s voice as she proclaimed this maritime fact.
‘I am most uneasy.’ She adjusted her Indian shawl with grace round
her shoulders, then skipped lightly to land. ‘Robbie ought never to
have been brought--it was all my selfishness--I am torn in pieces by
remorse.’

The young ladies, with the exception of one flint soul, cried,
‘No, no,’ in chorus. Mrs. Thorne positively must not say these
dreadful things, when every one knew she had such a _character_ for
unselfishness! Mrs. Verschoyle felt for her smelling-salts, then
settled herself gloomily down, prepared for the worst. Mrs. Verschoyle
felt within her the courage of a prophet whose own dark sayings are on
the eve of fulfilment.

Gaston Arbuthnot, in his quiet, unmoved manner, rose. Stepping on
shore, Gaston volunteered to go in search of the missing Doctor.

These were just the scenes wherein Linda so infinitely diverted
him,--Frenchman as he was in three-fourths of his nature,--little
scenes in which, on the boards of domestic life, she played such
admirable farce without knowing it!

‘I shall walk straight back to Langrune, Mrs. Thorne. Notwithstanding
your solemn tone, in spite of Miss de Carteret’s evidence, I believe
the Doctor has never missed any of us, and at this moment is smoking
his cigar, possibly sipping his “little glass,” at the Hotel
Chateaubriand.’

‘Unless you are here in a quarter of an hour, sharp, we shall leave you
behind,’ called out Lord Rex, when Gaston had proceeded some paces on
his errand. ‘The _Princess_ is chartered until to-morrow only. Whatever
the rest of us do, the skipper will take care not to lose his tide.’

Linda Thorne, by this time, in her agitation, and her Indian shawl, was
at Gaston’s side. So the exordium might be taken as addressed to them
both.

‘All right,’ answered Mr. Arbuthnot leisurely. Langrune is not the end
of the earth. If by the time we secure the Doctor, the steamer has
weighed anchor, we must all get back to Guernsey _viâ_ Cherbourg. That
would fit in very well. The _Lady of the Isles_ crosses from Cherbourg
to-morrow,’ went on Gaston, raising his voice as he looked back over
his shoulder towards the boats. ‘We should just have time to visit the
dockyard before starting.’

And then the two figures sped onward, side by side. They were watched
with keen speculative interest by the occupants of the boats. No one,
save simple Mrs. Verschoyle, felt disturbed as to the Doctor’s ultimate
fate. Was an old gentleman who had taken admirable care of himself for
forty years in India a likely subject to be spirited away on the sands,
between Luc and Langrune? But the situation had a dramatic piquancy
that stirred even the unimaginative minds of the Miss de Carterets
and their attendant subalterns. For there was Dinah! Impossible to
forget that Mrs. Gaston Arbuthnot, that lowly-born young woman with the
beautiful eyes, and set, sad mouth, was also watching the two figures
as they disappeared in the darkness.

‘A quarter of an hour. By Jove! ten minutes of that quarter must be
nearly gone.’

And taking out his watch, Lord Rex struck a vesuvian in order to learn
the time. It was exactly eight minutes to nine, and at nine, sharp, the
_Princess_ was to weigh her anchor. The moment for action had come.
Now, what was the wisest thing to do? One point seemed certain--it
was useless for both boats to wait longer. Let the smaller boat, at
the head of the jetty, start for the steamer at once, let the captain
be told what had happened, and asked to put off his departure as long
as practicable. If Gaston Arbuthnot and the Thornes arrived in time,
the second boat would bring them off. If not--why, common sense could
really dictate no better plan than Gaston’s own. Langrune was not the
end of the world A railway to Cherbourg existed. The _Lady of the
Isles_ would no doubt bring the lost sheep comfortably back to their
respective folds to-morrow.

Dinah as it happened was, with Ada de Carteret and the elder ladies,
in the boat at the head of the jetty. And soon before Dinah’s eyes,
as before the eyes of one who dreams, the reflections of the Casino
lamps, the children’s Chinese lanterns, were dancing with fairy-like
brightness across the moving water. She realised that her day of
pleasure was over, that every one--yes, she could catch the voices of
Marjorie and of Geff, holding merry talk in the other boat--every one
took the adventure jestingly, and that her heart felt like lead, that
her hands were ice-cold, that each breath she drew was a conscious and
painful effort. Well--if she had enough bodily strength to act her part
out, she thought, say no word to betray her plebeian emotions, and so
bring down ridicule on her husband or herself, she must be content!
Once on board the steamer she could hide herself in the cabin, away
from sight, and there wait, until the comedy (or tragedy) had reached
its next act. This one wretched comfort remained to her. She would be
able to screen herself, for a while at least, from observation--to be
alone!

But a new and still more diverting incident was about to be woven into
the text of the play.

‘If I were not in such a nervous state,’ cried Mrs. Verschoyle, when
the boat was within three or four lengths of the _Princess_, ‘if I were
not so morally shaken that I distrust my own senses, I should say our
good Doctor was on board. There came a flash of light just now beside
the wheel, the lighting, perhaps, of a fusee, and for a second it
seemed to me that I saw Doctor Thorne’s figure distinctly. A pity some
reliable person was not looking!’

And Mrs. Verschoyle, to her own surprise, had seen correctly. The
Doctor it proved to be--the Doctor smoking one of the ship’s best
cheroots, and enjoying the summer night with unruffled innocence. He
advanced gallantly to assist the ladies in their embarkation, and heard
with gusto the story of his own supposed fate. Surrounded by the tide?
Tut, tut! Linda might have known, had she exercised her reason, whither
he had betaken himself. ‘Only you ladies never do reason,’ said the
Doctor, addressing Mrs. Verschoyle. ‘It was growing damp on shore--and
let me give you a bit of advice, my dear madam: whenever you feel that
clinging kind of chill, after gun-fire, get on board ship, if you have
the chance. Get an honest plank, instead of the abominable miasmal
emanations of Mother Earth, under your feet. Yes, yes,’ went on the
Doctor comfortably, ‘I hailed one of the _Princess’s_ boats and came on
board two hours ago, have drunk my cup of coffee, and beaten Ozanne at
his own game, cribbage.’

‘And your wife’s anxiety?’

‘My dear Mrs. Verschoyle, I am penitent! Only my wife, you see, might
have reasoned. It would have deprived you all, no doubt, of a harmless
excitement; but Linda, I think, might have reasoned. Any way, it is
better to be drowned by one’s friends’ imaginations than run the risk,
in earnest, of a pair of damp shoes.’

To this Mrs. Verschoyle gave a qualified assent. The mention of damp
shoes affected her. Still, she was not a little shocked at Doctor
Thorne’s levity--‘At his advanced age,’ thought poor Mrs. Verschoyle,
perturbedly, ‘and after the awful narrowness of his escape!’

‘The fear is, Doctor, that Mrs. Thorne will be left behind,’ cried Ada
de Carteret, with meaning. ‘At the first word of danger Linda started
off along the Langrune road to look for you.’

‘Linda ought to have reasoned----’

‘And Lord Rex declares the captain must weigh anchor at nine, sharp! It
is like a scene in a novel--the last scene but one, with everything in
a delicious tangle still. Why, Doctor, you are the hero of the day!’

‘I feel enormously flattered,’ said the old Doctor. ‘It is a very long
time since a charming young lady has said anything so pretty to me.’

‘But your wife, Doctor Thorne!’ expostulated Cassandra Tighe, who with
her nets and cases had been the last to leave the boat. ‘Do you realise
that if Ozanne saves his tide--if we return to Guernsey to-night--Mrs.
Thorne will remain in France?’

‘I cannot believe it. Ozanne would not surely be so ungallant. (Allow
me, Miss Tighe, to help you with a few of your packages.) No, no.
The skipper would not be so ungallant. And then my dear Linda is the
most famous traveller! Surely I have told you what wonderful presence
of mind she showed once in the Nilgiri Hills? Lost, actually lost,
for four entire days! If, by mischance, Linda should be left alone,
she will make her way home to-morrow, _viâ_ Cherbourg, and enjoy the
adventure.’

‘And Mrs. Thorne is not alone,’ cried Ada de Carteret, clapping
her hands, and no doubt feeling that the position grew more and
more deliciously tangled. ‘Mr. Arbuthnot is with her--not Marjorie
Bartrand’s coach, but the other one: the singing, flirting,
good-looking Mr. Arbuthnot,’ added this vivacious young lady,
profoundly forgetful that the good-looking Mr. Arbuthnot’s wife stood
within three yards of her elbow.

‘Then my fears are set at rest,’ observed the Doctor genially. ‘If
my friend Arbuthnot is there my fears are set thoroughly at rest.
Meanwhile, I may as well speak to the skipper. The tide, of course,
must be saved. Still, it would be only right to let Ozanne know how
affairs stand.’

And Dinah had listened to it all--youthful jest, aged philosophy, all!
And standing among the others, with a queer sensation that she had
suddenly oldened by a dozen years, some pallid ghost of a smile rose to
her lips. Here was a grand opportunity, verily, of learning a lesson at
first hand, a chance in a thousand for readjusting one’s standard, for
observing the nicer little shades of feeling and usage which prevail in
the world to which one would fain belong.

A smile, I say, rose to Dinah’s lips. Which of us does not remember
how, in sharp mental stress, he has found himself looking on at the
trivial accessories of his pain, as a stranger might, derisively! In
the poor girl’s heart was death.

She knew that for Gaston to have set at naught her pleadings, for
Gaston to have quitted her thus, might render to-night a bitter crisis
in the lives of both.



CHAPTER XXX

LINDA WARMS TO HER PART


But Dinah was not unobserved, not uncared for.

If Cassandra Tighe’s taste for piquant situation once in a hundred
times led her astray, the ninety-nine good offices performed by the
kindly old maid in the interval were sufficient, surely, to atone for
the single blunder.

Cassandra’s heart went out towards Dinah at the first moment when
the fair sad face passed before her in the garden of Miller’s Hotel.
She had listened with regret to stories of Gaston’s fickleness--even
while her talents as a narrator assisted in giving such stories wider
currency--had felt remorse, sharp and hard, for her own unwitting
share in the ‘Arbuthnot drama.’ At this hour of which I write, Dinah
standing mute, wan, beside her, Cassandra’s breast kindled with renewed
compassion towards the simple unbefriended country girl, a compassion
none the less genuine in that it went somewhat wide of Dinah’s actual
and present trouble.

‘You look thoroughly done up, my dear Mrs. Arbuthnot. I am afraid
to-day’s gadding about has been too much for you. Let us see,’ said
Cassandra, in a whisper, ‘if we cannot find some quiet corner, you and
I, where we may settle down and rest.’

Dinah turned on her a look of blank, unanswering pain. She wanted
neither sympathy nor support, wanted only to creep below, out of
sight, to avoid all temptation to disobedience, all possibility of
bringing down ridicule--on Gaston!

‘I feel chilled--nothing, that is, to speak of. You are very good, Miss
Tighe, but I had rather go down to the saloon alone, please. I am used
to being alone, and--and I have a cloak which I must look for.’

A note of suppressed passion was in her voice. It betrayed emotion
curiously at variance with the commonplace words, the staid reserved
manner. And, in a moment, Cassandra Tighe’s valorous spirit had armed
itself for action.

‘Dr. Thorne, will you stop that Luc boat, if you please? Never mind
my nets, they can go anywhere. Attendez, matelots! Attendez moi,’
cried Cassandra in her own peculiar French, and signalling with her
handkerchief to the boat, already a few lengths distant from the
steamer. ‘It would scarcely do, Doctor, to let matters shape themselves
with such very slight rough-hewing! Some one must go ashore without
delay. Think of Linda’s anxiety if the _Princess_ should leave before
she had been assured of your safety!’

‘I think of many things,’ said Dr. Thorne, with humour, ‘the dampness
of the night pre-eminently. Of course, I must go. Still, Linda might
have exercised her reason--such reason as Providence bestows on the
sex. Linda is not a child. What possible good could come from this kind
of wild-goose chase?’

And the old Doctor moved an inch or two, exceedingly crusty of mien, in
the direction of the companion ladder.

But this was not the plan of Cassandra Tighe’s campaign.

‘You will just stay comfortably where you are; you will keep a dry
plank under your feet, Dr. Thorne, and give me carte blanche to look
after your wife. If the _Princess_ starts without us, Linda and I must
find our way back to Guernsey. I have a purse in my pocket, Linda has a
brain in her head. We both know how to travel. To you, Mrs. Arbuthnot,
I confide my treasure.’ Turning round she gave Dinah a little chip
box, clasping the girl’s cold hands for an instant as she did so. ‘Take
care of _Pontia Daplidice_, my dear, and take care of yourself. Look
for your cloak by all means. Doctor Thorne, do you persuade Ozanne to
give us every possible moment’s law. I have a presentiment that all
will come right, that your good wife’s over-anxiety will not lead her
into mischief.’

The unwieldy Luc boat was by this time swaying to and fro at the bottom
of the ladder. A Luc fisherman stood, with bare brawny arms extended,
for Cassandra’s reception. A few seconds later Cassandra and boat,
alike, had become a dark spot on the water, luminous now with the
quick-moving facets of the rising tide. Dinah was alone, indeed!

She stood, for a time, mechanically watching the row of lights on
shore, mechanically listening to the steam as it puffed, with energy
unmistakable, from the funnels of the _Princess_. Then, uncertain of
tread, heavy of limb as of heart, she groped her way below, resolved,
silently, to endure whatever fate the coming half-hour might have in
store for her.

The cabin lamps were as yet unlighted. Dinah entered the ladies’
saloon, at hazard. She sank down on the couch nearest the door. Then,
burying her face between her hands, she strove, with might, to collect
her thoughts, to stifle the resentment against Gaston which conscience,
sternly just, already condemned as paltry--ungenerous.

It was of her own perverse will that she accepted Rex Basire’s
invitation. How often had Gaston warned her that, with her temper,
her opinions, she would find ‘society’ a dangerous experiment; a game
in which she would be likely to stake gold against other players’
counters! She had come here to-day to please herself. She had no right
of control over her husband’s actions. Gaston lived according to the
light of his own conscience, not hers. He was courteous by temperament,
fond of little unforeseen deviations from any laid-down programme,
prompt, always, in putting his time, his energy, himself, at the
service of his friends.

‘Langrune is not the end of the earth.’ She recalled his cheery,
amused tone, as he was vanishing with Linda across the dunes. ‘If the
_Princess_ should start without us, we must get back by Cherbourg
to-morrow. It will fit in very well.’ She remembered Doctor Thorne--his
self-possession, his confidence in Gaston. ‘If my friend Arbuthnot is
there, one’s fears are set at rest.’ She could imagine Linda’s witty
reproduction of the whole too delicious accident when they should get
back to Guernsey. Oh, let her gain mastery over herself--mastery! Let
to-day’s lesson be a deeper one than can be gained by nice observance
of tone, or look, or manner. Let her have learned to conquer small
jealousies, to be wary of quick judgments, to construe the actions, the
intentions of others, nobly.

Dinah resolved in the spirit to be strong. Meanwhile, she realised,
with growing certitude, that she was weak, exceedingly, in the flesh.
Her breath came with greater effort, her hands grew colder and more
clammy. Rising with difficulty, she set herself to search for her cloak
among a pyramid of wraps that lay, disordered, on a neighbouring couch,
dimly discernible by aid of a newly-lighted lamp from the main cabin.
Dinah Arbuthnot’s cloak lay (can Fate not be ironical even in the
disposition of a heap of shawls?) immediately above a soft, long Indian
scarf belonging to Mrs. Thorne. As she lifted it, the subtle Eastern
perfume, associated always with Linda’s presence, seemed to Dinah, in
a second, to fill the cabin. A feeling of sickness, a sudden access of
keen personal repulsion, took hold of her--all-powerful hold; for, this
time, it was instinct, not reason, that moved her anger. She flung down
her cloak, with a childish sense of disgust at having handled it. She
sank back, passively, upon the sofa....

A few minutes later came in the steward to light the centre lamp.
Seeing one of the guests alone, and deathly white, he took the
commonsense, or steward’s view of the situation. Feeling queer,
already? Let him get the lady a brandy-and-soda, a glass of wine,
then? Settle the system before they got into rough water--though, for
the matter of that, they would have a splendid passage. Sea like a
millpond, tide favourable. Nothing but running into one of these here
Channel fogs to be feared.

‘I will take some soda-water, if you please.’ Odd and far away Dinah’s
voice sounded to herself. ‘I am a good sailor in general. I would
rather have a rough sea than a smooth one. But this evening I am a
little tired. I feel thirsty.’

She drank the soda-water with a sense of refreshment. ‘The wretchedest
preparation, without the B., that could be made for a voyage,’ thought
the steward, as he stood, salver in hand, waiting for her glass. Then,
when the man had again left her alone, she crept back into her place,
held her hands tight to her throat to relieve the cruel sensation that
well-nigh choked her, and waited.

Waited--how long she knew not--perhaps, a short ten minutes only. In
recalling the whole scene, later--the swell of the rising water, the
murmur of voices in the adjacent cabin, the clinging, overpowering
Indian perfume--in summing up, I say, each external detail of that
miserable evening, it would afterwards seem to Dinah Arbuthnot that no
year of her life ever took so much hard living through as those mortal
minutes.

At length they came to an end. Doubt was to be set at rest, or turned
into yet sharper certainty. For she could tell, first by the muffled
thud of rowlocks, then by the splash of oar blades in the water, that
the second boat was arriving. She could distinguish Geoffrey’s voice,
Lord Rex Basire’s, old Doctor Thorne’s--very loud this last, and
didactic, but yielding Dinah’s heart no consolation. Would not Doctor
Thorne talk loud and didactically whether his Linda had returned from
her quest of him or not?

After a time the voices began to disperse. There came the measured
yoy-a-hoy of the sailors, the shuffle of feet, the fall of cable on
deck. Then Dinah heard the steward saying to one of the boys that they
had weighed anchor. And not a moment too soon. With the air so thick,
and the glass nohow, the skipper ought to have started, on this badly
buoyed coast, a couple of hours ago. A French pilot might be all very
well, but to his, the steward’s mind, English daylight was better.

Dinah knelt upon a sofa, inclined her face to the cool air of an open
porthole, and watched the receding French coast. There lay the villages
of Luc and Langrune, a line of lights flickering, misty and irregular,
above the shimmer of the sea. Far away in the distance rose one larger
light, the signal lantern in the tower of La Delivrande. Dinah watched,
automatically. She noted scarcely more than a playgoer, carried away by
excitement, notes the scene-painting at the most thrilling situation of
a drama. To her, as to a child, the whole world was concentrated under
the passion that governed herself. Had Gaston come back? She longed to
know this with a longing which one must call to mind her narrow past
life, her more than girlish simplicity, rightly to understand. And
still she did not attempt to leave the cabin. Her strength, moral and
physical, seemed paralysed. How should she make her way, alone, up on
deck, search in the darkness for Gaston, ask questions, parry, with a
jest, such airy explanation of her husband’s disappearance as might, on
all sides, be offered her?

A voice, close at her elbow, made her start guiltily.

‘No one in the ladies’ saloon? Well, then, Mrs. Gaston Arbuthnot
must have tumbled overboard. Her husband and I have vainly searched
the _Princess_ for her.’ Oh, kindly Cassandra! Was no small bit of
embroidery tacked on, just at this juncture, over the bare truth? ‘So
much for trusting valuable entomological specimens out of one’s own
hands!’

‘Miss Tighe, I am here. I have been trying to get a little warm. Your
moth is safe,’ stammered Dinah.

She scarcely knew in what fashion the words left her dry and trembling
lips.

‘Moth? A country-bred girl like you not to know that a speckled
white, although, by luck, we caught him out of hours, is a butterfly!
Well, I have brought back our other pair of butterflies, safe and
sound.’ Before saying this Cassandra had put on her spectacles and
carried her box beneath the doorway lamp. She made a great show of
examining its contents, critically, thus allowing Dinah to recover her
self-possession, unnoticed. ‘From certain murmurings I overheard among
the sailors I believe we, all three, narrowly escaped being abandoned
to our fate.’

‘Mrs. Thorne had begun to think that her husband was on board?’

Dinah’s constrained tone was one of doubt rather than inquiry.

‘My dear, nobody ever knows what Mrs. Thorne thinks. Linda is a
charming woman, the pleasantest companion, when she chooses, in the
world. But, as the Doctor says, Linda might reason. These electric
transitions, from gay to grave, and back to gay again, are embarrassing
in a world where the rest of us walk by rule. Linda Thorne is all
impulse.’

‘Ah!’

‘At the first word of the Doctor’s disappearance, to run off,
helter-skelter, like a schoolgirl ... yes, Linda Thorne,’ cried
Cassandra, peering round at some person or persons across her shoulder,
‘I am talking of you. Come down and hear all the wicked things I have
to say. At the first word of the Doctor’s disappearance to run off
like a schoolgirl, taking somebody else’s husband with her! It was
atrocious! Who is that behind you, Linda? Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot. Tell
Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot, from me, that everything worth looking after on
board the _Princess_ is found.’

As Cassandra Tighe scored her point, not without a little air of
triumph, Linda tripped gaily down into the cabin.

‘We are to have the very finest weather, Miss Tighe, and all the world
means to remain on deck. Only, of course, one wants shawls. What! Mrs.
Arbuthnot?’

Pausing in her search among the heap of wraps, it would seem that Linda
recognised Dinah’s presence with amiable surprise. But Dinah was coldly
silent.

‘Surely you, of all people, are not going to become a cabin passenger?
My dear creature, I have just escaped the quaintest little adventure
in the world! But for Miss Tighe’s advent, I should have eloped, yes,
run clean, straight away, with your husband. We were planning it all
out, from a commercial standpoint, as we flew, frantically, along the
sandhills after Robbie. Were we not, Miss Tighe?’

‘I leave these matters to your own conscience,’ was the dry answer.
Possibly, Cassandra recollected that the butterflies were not flying
very frantically at the moment when she captured them on the starlit
dunes. ‘If you had run away with Mrs. Arbuthnot’s husband, I should
have taken good care to run with you. I warned the Doctor of my
intentions before I left the _Princess_.’

‘It was quite too unselfish, Miss Tighe, and, pecuniarily, most
àpropos. I possessed five sous in copper (Guernsey currency); Mr.
Arbuthnot was worth something under twenty francs. We should have had
to leave our watches at the Mont de Piété, for me, alas! no novel
experience, the moment we reached Cherbourg. Things have turned out,
under Providence, for the best. Only, I think, I _think_,’ admitted
Linda, with arch frankness, ‘the Doctor rather regrets having to retire
into insignificance. If I had not come back, Robbie would have remained
the hero of the situation.’

Mrs. Thorne ran through all this in her accustomed little tired,
inconsequential way of talking, winding up, finally, with a long and
earnest yawn. She then danced up to a strip of mirror at the best
lighted end of the cabin and settled herself to the contemplation of
her own image with interest. She dabbed her cheeks first with rice
powder, then with eau-de-cologne, then with powder again, producing
these cosmetics without a show of disguise from a tiny gilt case that
hung at her waist-belt. She arranged the folds of her cachemire scarf
above her sleek head in a certain Gitana mode, which, like all good
art, gave an idea of unpremeditation, and became her mightily; she
pinned a knot of feathery grass, a memento, doubtless, of the starlit
dunes, in her breast.

Easy to predict that Linda Thorne would not be sea-sick to-night! She
was warming to the situation, intended to work up her part--everything
in human life was a part to Linda Thorne--with spirit.

‘Come up on deck, Mrs. Arbuthnot, will you not? Surely, with your
splendid sea-going qualities, you are not going to stop down in this
Black Hole of Calcutta?’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot will come up when I do,’ cried Cassandra, who, with an
added pair of spectacles on her nose, was pinning out insects under a
lamp. ‘Go your ways, Linda Thorne, wise ones if you can, and leave Mrs.
Arbuthnot and me to follow ours.’

‘I would not be wise if I might,’ said Linda, giving an expressive
backward glance across her shoulder. ‘If I were wise ... I should see
myself as other people see me.’

And having uttered this, the acutest speech that ever left her lips,
away floated Mrs. Thorne, with her powdered cheeks, her cachemires, and
her Indian fragrance, from the cabin.

Dinah could hear the languid accents, the little stage laugh (learnt
from the stalls), for a good many seconds later. She could distinguish
the voices, too, of Gaston, and of Rosie Verschoyle. How heart-whole
they all seemed. How frequent was their laughter! What a light time the
past hours had been to every one of the party but herself! Gaston’s
philosophy, thought Dinah, taking an unconscious downward step, might
be the true one after all, then. Live while we live! What had she
profited by a strain of feeling too tall for the occasion, by the
tiptoe attitude, by throwing away gold where a more reasonable member
of society would have quietly staked counters?

‘Any admittance here?’ exclaimed a masculine voice, as an impatient
hand pushed back the cabin door. ‘Why, Mrs. Arbuthnot, I have been
searching for you everywhere. I want you to come up on deck at once,
please, and see a comet. Not a comet really, you know,’ Lord Rex went
on, looking hard at Dinah’s white face. ‘Some kind of Japanese fire
balloon sent up by the French people. However, it does just as well as
one.’

‘Yes, my dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, go,’ cried old Cassandra, glancing up,
over her double spectacles, from her pinning. ‘It will take me an
hour’s work to bring all my specimens straight. And your colour shows
you want oxygen. You are right, Lord Rex. Take Mrs. Arbuthnot on deck
to see this comet which is not a comet. I shall follow by and by.’

And Dinah Arbuthnot obeyed. She did more. Dinah allowed the tips of her
cold fingers to rest within Rex Basire’s hand as he pioneered her up
the cabin stairs into the semi-darkness of the night.



CHAPTER XXXI

WIFE AND HUSBAND


The outlook continued promising overhead. The tide was at the right ebb
for making Barfleur Point. At an earlier hour than had been hoped for,
the friendly Casket lights showed, at intervals, above the starboard
bow of the _Princess_. The skipper, cheerful of voice, promised his
passengers that in forty minutes more--tide and weather remaining
favourable--the vessel would be lying well to leeward of Alderney.

All this time Dinah had found no opportunity for exchanging a
conciliatory word with her husband. She felt that Gaston did not so
much avoid as ignore her. He always contrived to be deep in talk with
some other person when his wife sought to draw near him. He did not
address her, did not recognise her presence. At length, abruptly, just
as Dinah was nerving herself to make some desperate first advance, Mr.
Arbuthnot crossed the deck. He came up to the spot where she and Rex
Basire stood together. With the pleasantest air imaginable he put his
hand under Dinah’s arm.

‘Suppose you take a turn with me, wife?’ Mr. Arbuthnot made the
proposal in his lightest tone, Rex Basire listening. ‘Do you see that
revolving beacon? No, my dear, no! Neither aloft on the funnel, nor in
my face, but away, far as you can look, to the right. That beacon marks
the Casket Rocks. And there, straight ahead, but without any lights
showing, as yet, we are to believe is Alderney. Let us make our way to
the forecastle. We shall have a better view.’

The fore part of the deck was deserted, save by two or three knots of
sailors, talking low together in patois French as they watched the
horizon. Gaston and Dinah were practically alone. She felt the heart
within her throb uneasily. An icy politeness lay beneath the surface
geniality of Gaston Arbuthnot’s manner. Dinah was prompt to recognise
it.

‘What a long day this has been, Gaston. I shall want no wider
experience in respect of yachting picnics.’

‘You are changeable, Dinah. As we walked from Langrune to Luc, it was
agreed between us that the day should be considered a success.’

‘A great deal has happened since then,’ exclaimed Dinah, under her
breath.

‘Nothing very notable, surely. If I recollect right, I did my duty to
the extent of two waltzes in the Luc ball-room, and you, my dear child,
had a long, a most amusing and intellectual conversation, I cannot
doubt, with Lord Rex Basire, in one of the doorways.’

‘Lord Rex Basire is never amusing when he talks to me.’

‘Then I congratulate you on your proficiency in seeming amused. It
ranks high as a difficult social art, even among veterans.’

‘Gaston!’ she exclaimed, a new and poignant doubt making itself felt.

‘Dinah.’

‘I don’t know what to think of your tone. Why have you never said a
word, never looked at me during all these hours? Are you offended?’

‘On the contrary,’ retorted Gaston. They were now out of sight, out of
earshot of everybody. As he spoke, Arbuthnot withdrew his hand from
his wife’s arm. ‘I am thoroughly your debtor. It was the sense of my
indebtedness that made me bring you here. I wished to thank you without
an audience, quietly.’

‘To thank _me_,’ stammered Dinah, in a sort of breathless way.
‘For--for----’ she broke off, reddening violently.

Gaston watched her. ‘For your solicitude, your kindly tact! That idea
of despatching the old lady in the scarlet cloak to chaperon me was
boldly original, a fine intuition of wifely vigilance----’

‘Gaston! I never----’

‘Yet scarcely the sort of vigilance that passes current in a
commonplace and scoffing world. If you had the smallest spark of
humour, Dinah--that missing sense! that one little flaw in your
character!--you would see things as the commonplace scoffing world sees
them.’

‘Should I?’

‘You would divine that, under no possible circumstances--really it
would be well to remember this for the rest of our mortal lives--under
no circumstances can I require an old lady, with or without a scarlet
cloak, as my chaperon.’

A different woman to Dinah might here have turned the tables on Gaston
Arbuthnot, have stoutly, truthfully disavowed responsibility as to
Cassandra Tighe’s movements. Dinah was too transparently honest to
defend herself as to the letter, knowing that she had been an accessory
in the spirit.

‘When the time was so short--ten minutes more, Gaston, and the
_Princess_ would have started without you--I felt that my heart must
stop. Miss Tighe, any one, could have seen on my face what I suffered.’

‘I have no doubt that “any one” could, and did see it,’ said Gaston
Arbuthnot, with grave displeasure. ‘It would not occur to you to
make an effort at decent self-control, whatever ridicule you might
be bringing upon others. Does it never strike you, Dinah,’ he went
on, unjustly, ‘that other women have human sensibilities as well as
yourself--Linda Thorne, for instance? She rushed off, poor thing,
in the greatest agitation at the first whisper of the Doctor’s
disappearance, fearing nothing from Mrs. Grundy, fearing all things for
her husband. Was it generous, charitable, do you think, to let your
disapprobation be written, so that he who ran might read, upon your
face?’

‘I think,’ said Dinah, faithfully, ‘that Mrs. Thorne felt no agitation
whatsoever.’

Gaston also thought so. It was a point he would not commit himself to
argue out.

‘There are feelings one must take for granted. Mrs. Thorne did the
right thing in refusing to start without her husband. I acted as I
judged best in determining to remain by her. That ought to have been
enough for you.’

‘Yes. It ought to have been enough.’

Dinah gazed before her at the purplish streak faintly dividing the
sea-line from the sky. It grew blurred and tremulous. Her eyes had
filled with tears.

‘You had plenty of people to bear you company--Geoffrey, Miss Bartrand.
It is unbecoming in you, Dinah, to act like a wayward girl. However
matters had turned out about Doctor and Mrs. Thorne, what hardship
would there have been in your returning to Guernsey with Geoffrey and
without me?’

‘None, none! I was wrong from first to last. All this is my lesson,
remember. One cannot get a lesson by heart without a little trouble.’

‘One might learn it without making everybody else absurd,’ persisted
Gaston. ‘You asked me why I had never addressed a word to you, never
looked in your direction, since we put out to sea. I will tell you why,
my dear. I considered you dangerous. I was afraid.’

Dinah lifted up her face. She fixed her truthful and transparent gaze
full on Gaston Arbuthnot.

‘I don’t understand you, Gaston. You know I never can understand when
you speak with a double meaning.’

‘Well, there was a certain electric look about you, a look prophetic of
lightning or thunder showers, for neither of which I am in the mood.
You ought to have chosen a husband of more heroic mould, Dinah. There
is the truth. A man, like the hero of a lady’s novel,’ observed Mr.
Arbuthnot, wittily, ‘always equal to a strained attitude. A man fond of
the big primeval human passions--love, hatred, jealousy. But you have
married me, and I am afraid you must take me as I am. You must also, as
often as you can--remember this, Dinah--as often as you can, endeavour
not to render me ridiculous.’

When Mr. and Mrs. Arbuthnot re-emerged out of the darkness, Gaston’s
hand was resting on his wife’s shoulder, Dinah’s face had recovered its
calm. It would have taken a keen observer of countenance to guess that
a breeze so stiff as the one we know of had just stirred the surface of
these two persons’ lives. Was Linda Thorne such an observer?

Linda was standing alone in the gangway, her attitude one of
deliberation, when Gaston and his wife came aft. She kept her position,
speaking to no one, until Lord Rex, companionless, like herself, had
managed to find his way to Dinah’s elbow. Then Linda Thorne made
a move. She crossed to the vessel’s side. Resting her hand on the
bulwarks, she gazed heavenward. Such good lines as her throat and
shoulders possessed were well outlined against the pallid background of
sky.

Gaston Arbuthnot followed her before long.

‘We are fortunate, after all our misadventures, are we not? The mate
tells me that we have sighted Alderney. It seems likely that we shall
get back to Petersport without fog.’

‘And what, may I ask, do you mean by our misadventure?’

There was a ring of sharpness in Linda Thorne’s tone.

‘Ah--what! The moment,’ said Gaston, ‘when gleams of a scarlet
cloak first flashed upon one along the sand-dunes seems, to my own
consciousness, about the most serious of them.’

‘You are singularly insincere, Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot!’

‘I cannot agree with you, Mrs. Thorne. My worst enemies, on the
contrary, have the grace to credit me with a sort of brutal frankness.’

‘And, supposing no scarlet cloak had appeared? You would willingly have
been left, a second Robinson Crusoe, on the desert shores of Luc?’

‘The cases are not parallel. Robinson Crusoe had only the society of
his man Friday.’

‘And there were no beaux yeux to weep for him! So many years,’ observed
Linda, ‘stand between me and the literature of my childhood that I am
uncertain about details. But I don’t think one ever heard of a Mrs.
Crusoe!’

Gaston knew that he was being laughed at. He kept his temper charmingly.

‘And there is, very decidedly, a Mrs. Arbuthnot. When I think of Dinah,
I cannot call Miss Tighe’s advent a misadventure. Poor Dinah has a
child’s quick capacity for unhappiness. Her imagination would have
conjured up a dozen possible horrors, by sea and land, if I had not
returned to her.’

‘That is all so very, very pretty, is it not?’ Linda stooped, as if
watching the rush of the sea; Gaston Arbuthnot could not catch the
expression of her face. ‘We professional old travellers are toughened
and sun-baked out of all rose-water nervousness. Robbie has told
you--whom does he not tell?--the story of my being lost, actually lost,
in the Nilgiris? If I were to be mislaid for a fortnight, I really
don’t believe the Doctor would suffer a moment’s uneasiness.’

‘And yet you were so cruelly upset by _his_ disappearance. The
superiority,’ apostrophised Gaston, ‘of the unselfish sex over ours.’

‘I was not only upset by his disappearance,’ said Linda, still taking
an interest in the waves, ‘I am disturbed about him, in my conscience,
still. If Doctor Thorne takes the slightest chill to-night, we shall be
having the old jungle fever back upon him.’

Gaston sympathised as to this contingency, not, as yet, perceiving the
drift of Linda’s alarms.

‘At Robbie’s age one cannot be too prudent. To run into one of these
cold Channel fogs might end in something quite too serious. And,
although the stars make a pretence at shining,’ Linda raised her head
with tentative playfulness, ‘the enemy is at hand. I feel fog in the
air.’

‘The air is clearer than it has been all day. In another three or four
hours the sun will have risen. We shall be in Guernsey----’

‘In another twenty minutes we shall be outside Alderney harbour. I was
talking matters over, some minutes ago, with Ozanne.’ Linda inspected
the white hand, resting on the bulwark, with attention. ‘And he has
most good-naturedly consented to let me and Robbie land. By signalling
promptly for a boat we shall not detain you _Princess_ people five
minutes. There is the dearest little primitive hotel in Alderney, close
to Maxwell Grimsby’s diggings. You remember my telling you about it?’

Gaston remembered Mrs. Thorne’s telling him about the dearest little
primitive hotel.

‘The Doctor will have a good night’s rest to recruit his strength, and
to-morrow afternoon, if the day is warm, we shall make our way back to
our home and infant by the Cherbourg steamer.’

Now Maxwell Grimsby, a gunner by profession, a painter by love, was
one of Gaston Arbuthnot’s best artist friends--best, too, in the
higher acceptation of the elastic word. Grimsby was no manufacturer
of prettiness, no amateur idler. Did not a series of beach studies
bearing the well-known initials ‘M. G.’ testify to the world how
diligently this very summer’s enforced imprisonment in Alderney was
put to use? During the past fortnight Gaston had constantly vacillated
in his intention of looking up his friend, for ever declaring how
much better work a man might do on the grand old rock, yonder, than
disturbed by the hundred distractions of pleasant, idle, sociable,
little Sarnia--never starting, for ever wishing he were gone! Here was
occasion to his hand, a chance of looking up Grimsby without even the
preliminary trouble of packing one’s portmanteau!

‘Of course you could not come with us,’ asserted Linda, in her little
undertone of mockery. ‘Mrs. Arbuthnot is such a child! She would
conjure up a dozen possible horrors if you were to be absent from her
so long.’

‘I am not sure that deserting the _Princess_ would be a courteous
action to our hosts,’ said Gaston Arbuthnot, hesitating under the first
touch of temptation.

‘You are made of poorer stuff than your cousin,’ thought Linda,
glancing, for a second, at his handsome face. ‘To gain a victory
over Monsieur Geoffrey would be to gain a victory indeed.’ Then,
aloud--‘If we were to carry away any of the younger people I should
feel it treason to desert the _Princess_,’ she observed. ‘I would not
go, indeed, if Robbie and I were wanted as chaperons. Considering the
existence of Mrs. Verschoyle and Miss Tighe--in talking of chaperons,
Mr. Arbuthnot, you and I must never forget Miss Tighe--I think Doctor
and Mrs. Thorne may very well be spared. For you it is different.’

‘In what way?’ asked Gaston, wincing inwardly under her sarcasms.

‘Oh, different, altogether. Too much depends upon your presence. Pray
do not think of such a revolutionary proceeding as taking flight.
You would never be allow--I mean, I am sure you would not find it
advantageous to run away. What messages do you send to Mr. Grimsby?’

‘None.’

‘That is severe. You do not believe in my delivering them intact?’

‘I mean to deliver them myself.’

Linda Thorne laughed incredulously. ‘I wish I could make an enormous
wager at this thrilling juncture,’ she remarked with persistence.
‘Come, Mr. Arbuthnot. Will you bet me a single pair of gloves that you
will be ... that you will quit the _Princess_ when we do?’

‘It would be betting on a certainty,’ said Gaston. ‘My mind is made up.
I am really glad of the chance of seeing old Max.’

‘You have told me something of the kind already. You refused a wager I
offered you last Monday afternoon, because it would have been “betting
on a certainty.” And yet, as the event proved, I should have won.’

‘The event will prove that you do not win now.’

There was more than a threat of impatience in Gaston Arbuthnot’s voice.

‘And you do accept my bet, then? You do stake a pair of gloves that you
are--that you will land at Alderney with Robbie and myself?’

‘If you are bent upon giving me a pair of gloves, Mrs.
Thorne,--iron-gray, seven and a half,--I shall accept them with
pleasure.’

‘Done! The bargain is concluded. My number, as you know, is six and a
quarter, Jouvin’s best. I wear eight buttons. And now,’ added Linda,
preparing to move away, ‘I must find our hosts, and make excuses. Had I
not better offer them on your behalf, too?’

‘You are too kind to me, Mrs. Thorne. I think I have just courage
enough to pull through the emergency, unassisted.’

Lord Rex was still lingering in Dinah’s neighbourhood when Linda
tripped airily across to the gangway, Gaston Arbuthnot following her.

‘Doctor Thorne and I have to thank you, all, for quite one of the
most perfect excursions in the world. I shall put a mark against the
subaltern’s picnic,’ said Linda, diplomatically. ‘It has been one of
the true red-letter days of my life.’

‘Don’t talk of the picnic as over, Mrs. Thorne. The subalterns look
forward to some hours more of your society, even without the promised
fog.’

‘Ah, that terrible fog! I must confess, the word makes me nervous, for
the Doctor’s sake. A fog, you know, means damp--that constant bugbear
to us old East Indians.’

‘But the voyage is half over. Here we are, almost, in Alderney harbour.’

‘And here, I am afraid, my husband and I ought to bid you all
good-night. Captain Ozanne has offered to signal for a boat. We should
not delay the _Princess_ five minutes. Really and truly, Lord Rex, I
think the wisest course will be for Doctor Thorne to land.’

‘Doctor Thorne to land? Another mysterious disappearance! And shall
you, Mrs. Thorne, immediately follow suit, as you did at Luc?’

‘Of course I shall! The whole Luc comedy will be repeated.’ And here
Linda’s voice grew intentionally clear and resonant. ‘The Luc comedy,
with the original cast and decorations, for everybody’s amusement.’

It was a wantonly cruel speech--Dinah Arbuthnot stood within hearing!
Yet Linda Thorne’s conscience was void of offence. She belonged by
temperament to the irresponsible class of mortals who can never resist
the temptation of histrionic effect. For what, save histrionic effect,
had she cajoled the skipper, the old Doctor, Gaston, into this freak of
midnight disembarkation? And when once a woman’s tongue and actions are
ruled by the eternal desire for smart dramatic point, it must be clear
that other women’s sufferings will pay the price of her success.

Dinah’s heart froze. She divined, without going through any distinct
process of reason, what announcement she was likely to hear next.

‘If the Luc scene is to be repeated, I conclude you, too, are going to
desert us?’

Lord Rex Basire addressed himself to Gaston Arbuthnot.

‘Well, it has been borne in upon one during the last fortnight that it
was a duty to look up old Grimsby,’ began Gaston. ‘And this----’

‘And this is duty made easy. Go, my dear fellow, if you have had enough
of us,’ cried Lord Rex, lightly. ‘But go on one condition--that you do
not take Mrs. Arbuthnot. Mrs. Arbuthnot is our chaperon-in-chief. We
cannot spare her.’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot has Miss Bartrand under her charge--have you not,
Dinah? I am afraid you could scarcely----’

‘I should, under no circumstances, think of landing at Alderney,’ said
Dinah, in a voice uncomfortably strange to Gaston’s ear. ‘I am not
afraid of fog. I do not wish to see Mr. Maxwell Grimsby. Why should I
leave the _Princess_?’

‘Where your presence is the life of the whole party,’ pleaded Lord Rex.
‘You must not let your husband persuade you into throwing us over, Mrs.
Arbuthnot.’

Quietly, firmly, came Dinah’s answer:

‘You need not be afraid. There is no risk of my being persuaded, Lord
Rex. I am a great deal too wise,’ she added, ‘to go away from people
who care to have me.’

And no further word of explanation or of farewell was exchanged
between Dinah and her husband. Into the irrevocable mistakes of life is
it not singular how men and women constantly drift after this blind,
automatic fashion?

Only at the last moment, when the _Princess_ had slackened speed, when
the boat that had been signalled for was fast approaching from Alderney
harbour--only at this last moment, I say, Gaston addressed a remark to
Geff which Dinah felt might be taken by her, if she chose.

‘I shall be back to-morrow, unless anything very unforeseen happens. If
it does, I can telegraph for my portmanteau, and----’

Geoffrey whispered a word or two in his cousin’s ear. ‘Of course, of
course. I have every intention of coming back. I merely said “if.” You
will have a magnificent passage,’ added Gaston, shaking hands heartily
with Lord Rex. ‘Duty takes me to old Max. Inclination would have kept
me with my hosts on board the _Princess_.’

Despite the neat turning of this speech, away Mr. Arbuthnot and the
Thornes went,--Linda, with her cachemires, her bouquets of wild
flowers, her fears for Robbie, her wafted kisses to her friends,
creating little theatrical sensations to the last. The boat was visible
for a few seconds only, so swiftly did the _Princess_ again get under
way. There was a profuse waving of handkerchiefs. ‘Good-night, every
one!’ rang cheerily across the water in Gaston Arbuthnot’s voice. And
then Dinah awakened to the knowledge that she was forsaken, this time
by no accident, but of cold-blooded, determined forethought--forsaken,
with all the world to see, with Lord Rex Basire persistently talking,
as though nothing of moment had happened, at her elbow.



CHAPTER XXXII

ROSE-WATER SOCIALISM


Dinah did not turn from him. Nay, although her brain was in a whirl,
although her voice was not under command, although her heart was
bursting, Dinah’s lips smiled. She was monosyllabic, Lord Rex felt, but
monosyllabic with a difference. And eager to improve the scantiest,
most meagre encouragement, he began instantly to ransack such memory
and imagination as were his for pertinent subject-matter.

Frothy small-talk, personal compliments, local gossip, were little
relished, as he had proved, by Dinah Arbuthnot. She did not read
newspaper trials, had never opened a society journal, knew nothing
about actors or actresses, or novels, or prime ministers, or popular
divines. You could not get her even to talk about herself. But
then, that face of hers! If one might, quietly, stand gazing at her
surpassing fairness as one does at a canvas or a marble, Lord Rex
Basire, on this summer night, would have asked nothing more. His duties
as a host, however, the sense that others might construe his silence
into deficiency of wit, forced upon him articulate speech.

‘Awful hole, Alderney, for an idle man! Now I was stationed there for
three months and got through an awful lot of work. No good letting
circumstances beat you. I coloured a meerschaum first rate--worked at
it, morning, noon, and night. I taught two of my terriers to march on
hind legs, while I whistled the “Marseillaise.” Favourite tune of mine,
the “Marseillaise.”’

‘So your lordship has told me.’

Dinah thought of their first conversation at the rose-show.

‘I loathe classic music--loathe everything, in art and literature, but
what I can understand. Ever seen Maxwell Grimsby’s Alderney sketches,
by the bye? Dab of greenish-gray for the sea. Dab of bluish-gray for
the clouds--Storms, Sunsets, Whirlwinds, things you may as well frame
upside down as straight, if you choose.’

No, Dinah had never seen them.

‘Maxwell Grimsby’s an old friend, isn’t he, of Arbuthnot’s? That
accounts for your husband throwing over all us people on board the
_Princess_.’

To this there was no answer. The balls had, certainly, not broken
well as regarded Alderney. Clearing his throat twice, after a more
redoubtable pause than heretofore, Lord Rex at length sought a wild
and sudden refuge in English politics. He had never in his life talked
politics to a pretty woman, reserving his views, which were of the
rose-water socialistic school, for after-dinner eloquence among his
brother subs. So desperately new an experience as Dinah required
desperate measures! To talk well above this young person’s head,
thought Lord Rex, who held no mean opinion of his own intellect, might
awe her into appreciation. And the subject he chose for his experiment
was that of class inequality.

The emptiness of all titles, the folly of all social preeminence,
were themes on which Lord Rex waxed hot, exceedingly. Perhaps he was
sincere. Rose-water socialism, I must admit, did not sit without a
certain grace on this sunburnt little dandy, a grace to which his
slinged arm, shot through in the forlorn defence of English Empire,
gave the added zest of piquancy.

Dinah unthawed at once. She broke into talk. In the matter of class
differences, Gaston Arbuthnot’s wife held fixed opinions, and could
express them incisively. But her ideas were not Lord Rex Basire’s
ideas. Lord Rex had got a vast deal of rabid rhetoric by heart, very
picturesque rhetoric in its way, and coming from the lips of a duke’s
son; Dinah had sharp, clear knowledge, gained at first hand, through
the vicissitudes of her own marriage. To Lord Rex social inequality was
a party question--kind of thing, don’t you know, that, vehemently taken
up, may sometimes land a man, with a following, in the House! To Dinah
it was the hidden enemy, the impalpable barrier that stood between her
and her husband’s heart. Lord Rex had learnt pages of showy axioms to
demonstrate that social inequality should never exist. Dinah’s life was
one long, irrefragable, stubborn proof that it existed.

‘Your remarks have a terribly Conservative flavour, Mrs. Arbuthnot.’
When they had talked for some considerable time he told her this.
‘Impossible you can be a Conservative in reality?’

‘Gaston calls me an old-fashioned Whig. I don’t know the meaning of the
word. I only pretend to understand these things in the humblest way,
from my own standpoint.’

‘But you are in favour of the nationalisation of the land? You
would do away with the laws of primogeniture? You don’t think a few
thousand loiterers, slave-drivers, should hold big estates--for their
pheasants--because each elder son, let him be fool, knave, or coward,
is heir to them?’

‘Without such laws where would our English families be, my lord, our
barons, and earls, and great dukes, like your father?’

‘Oh, where they came from,’ said Lord Rex, disposing of the question
jauntily. ‘Labour was the original purchase-money paid for all things.
You believe that much, at least, Mrs. Arbuthnot?’

‘If the succession law was swept away we might lose more than we can
afford along with it.’ Dinah had heard ultra-revolutionary notions
freely aired at times among Gaston’s friends, and, in her one-sided
feminine way, had striven, over her cross-stitch, to think them out.
‘I, for one, should not like to see any church or chapel in England
turned into a lecture place for these new unbelievers.’

‘Unbelievers! Oh, that is quite a different story. We began by talking
about the folly of class differences.’

Dinah was silent awhile. Then: ‘It would be impossible for you and
me to think alike on all this,’ she told her companion, with a grave
smile. ‘You have seen so much of the world, Lord Rex, perhaps have
heard the debates in the Houses of Parliament!’

Lord Rex confessed that this intellectual advantage had befallen him.

‘And I have just watched the lives, the manners of a few more or less
troubled men and women. Class differences, as you call them, may be
folly. They are the hardest facts I know, the....’

Dinah saved herself, just in time, from adding, ‘the cruellest.’

‘Beauty is the universal leveller,’ observed Lord Rex, with presence of
mind. ‘A perfectly beautiful woman would grace the steps of any throne
in Europe.’

‘Leave thrones alone, Lord Rex Basire! If the beautiful woman wanted to
make others happy, she would have most chance to do so in her own class
of life.’

‘And suppose the beautiful woman wanted to be happy herself, Mrs.
Arbuthnot?’

‘Happiness comes naturally if you see it on the faces of the people
round you.’

Their politics had not taken the turn Lord Rex desired. He harked back,
a little abruptly, upon his first premises.

‘Yes, I am for absolute equality, Gardener Adam and his wife, and that
style of thing. I would make the shopkeeping capitalist, just as much
as the bloated aristocrat, turn over a fresh leaf. If I ever marry,’
said Lord Rex Basire--‘don’t feel at all like marrying at present, but
if I ever do--I hope to get for my wife some simple little village
barbarian who has never been to a ball, never heard an opera, never
seen a racecourse in her life!’

‘A village barbarian--of what station?’ asked Dinah Arbuthnot.

‘Matter of blank indifference. I should marry the girl, not her
station.’

‘And afterwards? Would the barbarian be accepted by your family? Or
would you accept hers? Or would you, both, give up society?’

‘That would suit me best! Give up society. United to the woman one
adored,’ said Lord Rex with fervour, ‘what could one want with
artificial pleasures, with the eternal bore of dinners and dances?’

Dinah gave a chill laugh. She remembered the days when Gaston Arbuthnot
was wont to use the like phrases, as a preface (so, in her present
jealous misery, she thought) to returning to the world and its
pleasures, unhampered by a wife.

‘When you marry, my lord,’ she observed, distantly, ‘you will, if you
act wisely, choose some duke’s or earl’s daughter for your wife. Give
up that notion of the village barbarian. As time wore on, and ... and
the truth of things grew clear, the duke’s daughter would, at least,
understand you. There could be no discoveries for her to make.’

Lord Rex turned and faced Dinah Arbuthnot, good-humouredly ignoring the
coldness of her bearing towards himself.

‘Your opinions are desperately mixed, Mrs. Arbuthnot. You may be
Conservative in theory--you would be a staunch Republican in practice!
I am afraid, now, that a man with the misfortune--I mean, you know,’
stammered Lord Rex, lowering his voice, ‘that you could never bring
yourself to care, ever so little, for a man with any wretched sort of
handle to his name.’

‘I beg your pardon, my lord?’

‘A man belonging to the most useless class of all--the class that so
many of us who are in it would gladly see done away with! Such a man
would never find favour in your sight?’

‘Would have found, do you mean, when I was a girl of seventeen?’ Dinah
asked, in tones of ice. ‘I can give no answer to that. Girls’ hearts
are moved by such trifles--a title, even, might turn the balance. But
I and my sisters lived in a little Devonshire village. We saw nothing
whatever of high folks, and----’

‘I am not talking of Devonshire villages!’ exclaimed Lord Rex,
interrupting her hastily, but dropping his voice still lower. ‘I am not
talking of the time when you were seventeen--I mean now.’

Dinah recoiled from him on the instant. Idle compliments had moved
her, at length, to an extent Lord Rex dreamed not of. For she could
not forget that this was all part of her lesson, that her companion
was making speeches such as better born women, careless mothers, wives
of the type of Linda Thorne, might just listen lightly to, parry, and
forget. With the thought came a thought of Gaston. A flood of shame
tingled in her cheeks.

‘You ask me questions beyond my understanding, Lord Rex.’ So after a
strong effort of will she brought herself to speak. ‘My choice was
made, happily, long ago. How could any man but Gaston find favour in my
sight?’

Now Lord Rex Basire, his tender years notwithstanding, had seen plenty
of good feminine acting, of the kind which dispenses with footlights
and the critics, the acting required in the large shifting comedy
of human life. Although his own delicacy was not extreme, or his
perception sensitive, some unspoiled fibre in his heart vibrated,
responsive to the honesty of Dinah’s voice. This woman acted not, could
never act! Her fealty to her light, neglectful husband was part of
herself. Duty and happiness for Dinah were simply exchangeable terms.
She could taste of the one only in the fulfilment of the other.

‘That was very charmingly expressed, Mrs. Arbuthnot. I hope, when I
marry, my wife will say the same pretty things of me, if I deserve
them, which I shall not! Characters like mine don’t reform.’

‘There will be more chance of reformation if you marry than if you
don’t--especially if you choose the duke’s daughter,’ added Dinah,
stiffly, ‘not the barbarian.’

‘And without any marrying at all! If some woman, as good as she is
fair, would hold out her hand to me in friendship, would let me think
that I held a place rather lower than a favourite dog or horse would
hold in her regard! If--if--ah, Mrs. Arbuthnot! if _you_----’

But Lord Rex speedily discovered that he was apostrophising the waves
and the stars. At the moment when his eloquence waxed warmest, Dinah
Arbuthnot, village barbarian that she was, had walked away, without one
syllable of excuse, from his lordship’s side.

He watched the outlines of her figure as long as they were discernible
through the gloom; then, drawing forth his vesuvians and tobacco pouch,
prepared to smoke a lonely pipe of wisdom on the bridge. Lord Rex was
in a fever of perplexity. Until the last five days he had never cared
for living mortal but himself. His brief fealties to the prettiest
face of the hour, Rosie Verschoyle’s among the number, had been so
many offerings at the shrine of small personal vanity. All this was
over. His surrender to Dinah’s nobler beauty, his recognition of
Dinah’s pure and upright nature, had roused him thoroughly out of self,
made him look searchingly at the aims, the pleasures of life, and
acknowledge that there were human affections, human fidelities, high
above the range of his own light and worldly experience. Did happiness
thrive in that loftier, chill atmosphere? Was Gaston Arbuthnot to be
congratulated, wholly, on his lot?

One thing was certain--so Rex Basire decided, as he betook himself
gloomily to the bridge. However this drama of domestic life might end,
it would be monstrous, impossible, that he, Rex Basire, should be
peremptorily dismissed therefrom, dismissed as one occasionally sees
the frustrated stage villain, long before the final falling of the
curtain!

‘And even if it is so,’ mused Lord Rex, half aloud, and drawing upon
reminiscences of Nap. in his ill-humour, ‘if no choice lies before one
but to “accept misery,” misery let it be! The man who goes blue does
not invariably find himself in the worst position at the end of the
game.’

But the lad’s philosophy was lip-deep only. Lord Rex Basire had never
felt less cynically indifferent to loss and gain than in this hour.



CHAPTER XXXIII

CLOSE TO PORT


The short June night drew to its close, and still the weather continued
fair. The sky was full of stars, a solitary lambent planet quivered in
the east. By the time the moon had sunk, with pale metallic glow, above
the motionless Channel, a welcome point of fire was visible over the
starboard bow of the vessel--the beacon of Castle Cornet lighthouse.

A little flutter ran through the groups of expectant people keeping
watch together upon the deck of the _Princess_. It was well to have got
back safely, and without fog. And still, whispered the younger ones
regretfully, the most delightful picnic in the world had come to an
end, all too soon! Even Mrs. Verschoyle, emerging with salts-bottle,
with chattering teeth, from the cabin, conceded that, for a yachting
expedition, and although L’Ancresse Common would have been a thousand
times more reasonable, their misadventures had been few. How
comforting, murmured the poor lady, with a shudder, if it were not for
the cold--this curiously increasing cold--to keep one’s eyes on the
familiar harbour light, to realise that in another hour-and-a-half at
latest, they would be all warm and asleep in their beds!

But the cold increased still, and, for a midsummer night, was,
undoubtedly, no common cold. It found its way through plaids and
waterproofs, it got down throats, it caused fingers to become numbed.
The mate was seen to button up his pilot jacket as he made his way with
precipitate haste to the men on watch, the skipper moved from one foot
to the other as he stood consulting his compass. Both skipper and mate
glanced anxiously ahead, towards the west, where no horizon showed.

‘One would, scarcely have expected the stars to set so suddenly,’
observed Mrs. Verschoyle. In this lady’s youth it is probable that
schoolgirls did not, as now, learn the exact sciences. ‘But depend upon
it, the captain knows his way. The sailors are taking precautions, I
heard the steward say so downstairs, by using the lead. And I remarked
that they were seeing most attentively to the small boats. Besides, I
have heard more than one gun fired. No sound so reassuring at sea as
the report of a gun! A skilled old mariner like Ozanne would not be
dependent on anything so chancy as the stars.’

‘But, mamma, the harbour lighthouse has set, too,’ cried Rosie
Verschoyle, who stood shivering at her mother’s side. ‘Everything is
setting. I don’t see our own funnel. I don’t see the flower in your
bonnet as clearly as I did two minutes ago.’

‘I wish you would talk soberly, child. You know how much I dislike
this kind of ill-timed chaff. Who ever heard of a lighthouse setting?’
observed Mrs. Verschoyle, with melancholy commonsense, ‘and why does
the _Princess_ go so slow? The skipper, no doubt, has his reasons,
still he might remember we are not all as fond of the sea as he is.
I was never less nervous in my life, and--Sailor! Sailor!’ Mrs.
Verschoyle flung herself before a figure, wrapped up in tarpaulin,
crowned by a sou’-wester which loomed with gigantic proportions through
the thick air. ‘Would you say, if you please, why the steamer goes so
slow? And are we in danger--off our track or anything? And why does
one seem all at once to lose sight of Castle Cornet lighthouse?’

The sailor was a weatherbeaten old Guernseyman, possessing about twelve
words of Anglo-Saxon in his vocabulary. Mrs. Verschoyle, however,
in her agonised desire for truth, stretched her arms forth in the
direction of the vanished red light. She also articulated the words
Castle Cornet with tolerable distinctness. Her meaning had made itself
clear.

The answer, proceeding from the depths of a gruff, tobaccoey throat,
was incisive:

‘_Brouillard!_’

And _brouillard_ it proved, clammy, ice-cold, yellow, after the
manner of all mid-Channel fogs. At first every one affected to take
this reverse of fortune as a jest, the little bit of mock danger that
was needed to point a moral to the preceding day’s enjoyment. So
providential, said the ladies, in pious but quavering chorus, that the
_Princess_ lay close on shore before the fog grew thick. The skipper’s
duty, clearly, was to make straight for St. Peter’s harbour and land
them. Only, why lose time? Why steam so slowly? What object could
Captain Ozanne have in exposing them to this mortal cold a moment
longer than was needful?

Mrs. Verschoyle, after a few minutes’ suspense, voted for independent
action. She had, indeed, broached a project of creeping up to the men
at the wheel and imploring them to ‘turn faster,’ when there came a
general stir among the crew, followed by a rattling sound which most
of the party had sufficient sea-going experience to recognise. The
_Princess_ was about to cast her anchor.

Just at this juncture appeared Lord Rex, fresh from hurried
consultations with Ozanne and the boatswain. A suspicious unconcern was
on Lord Rex Basire’s face, a note of forced cheerfulness in his tone.

‘Lucky we have got so near home, is it not, Mrs. Verschoyle? We are
about two miles from shore, they say,--Ozanne, of course, knows every
yard of water,--just within or without the _Grunes_, whatever the
_Grunes_ may mean. We shall only have to ride half an hour or so at
anchor--awfully jolly sensation, I can tell you, with a south-west
swell. And then, as the mist rises, we shall steam clean into
Petersport.’

But this show of jauntiness misled no one. The De Carterets, Cassandra
Tighe, Marjorie Bartrand, all understood their position better than did
Lord Rex. And it was a position of the utmost gravity. The _Princess_
was lying in dense fog, surrounded by shoals, across the very highway
of the Channel night steamers. For an old and wary seaman like Ozanne
to have been forced to anchor at such a strait did but render the fact
of his helplessness more pointed.

‘What does it all mean? Are we not close to port, madam?’

The ladies were pressing together in groups. Dinah whispered the
question across Cassandra Tighe’s shoulder.

‘Close to port--of one kind or another,’ answered Cassandra, vaguely
unorthodox to the last. ‘As long as nothing runs into us we may do well
enough. And dawn is at hand. At sunrise the fog may lift. Your husband
ought to be here with you,’ she added, misinterpreting a certain
vibration of Dinah’s voice.

‘I thank God that he is not! Alone, there is nothing to be frightened
about. I thank God that Gaston is safe--warmly housed, away in
Alderney!’

And, in truth, a reasonless, half-pleasurable excitement, the reaction
after so much dull pain, had arisen in Dinah’s heart.

That a dark ‘Perhaps’ lay straight and immediately before them, became
at each moment more plain. The continued firing of guns gave token
that other vessels were in the same plight as the _Princess_--once,
indeed, a steamer drifted so close that they could see the faint
reflection of her signal lamps, could hear the beating of her gong. The
dreary sound of the fog-horn, the muffled tramp of the men on watch,
the lights burning aloft in the ship’s rigging, the partially lowered
boats, the solemn faces of the skipper and the crew, all combined into
one unspoken word--Danger.



CHAPTER XXXIV

DEAD ROSE PETALS


Dinah Arbuthnot thought over the few quarrels, the many
misunderstandings of her married life, grown little, all, before the
hour’s largeness. She thought how, in five or six minutes more--a
collision, in weather like this, would be over briefly--in five or six
minutes more she and Gaston might be parted, with never another kiss
from his lips to hers. He would cherish the thought of her to his last
breath, if she were lost to-night. She recognised the true metal in the
man, was sure enough of that. Possibly, the remembrance of her, calm
and untroubled in her grave, might prove a stronger influence over him
for good, a keener stimulus to his genius, than her restless, jealous
life had ever been!

On such terms, she asked herself, was death a thing to be met with
craven fear?

Most of the party, obeying simple bodily wretchedness, crept, one after
another, below--poor frightened, frozen Mrs. Verschoyle at length
confessing that she would sooner be drowned comfortably in the cabin
than stand up longer against the sickening roll of the anchored vessel
on deck. Marjorie Bartrand, Dinah, and Miss Tighe lingered, Lord Rex
and Geoffrey Arbuthnot (forced into comradeship for once) keeping up
their spirits with cheerful talk, with stories well remembered or well
invented, until a pale forecast of daylight began slowly, uncertainly,
to filter through the fog. Then came a new untoward event to crown
this night of misfortune. A lad on the forecastle had stumbled in
the darkness over a coil of chain, and a cry quickly arose that the
surgeon’s hand was wanted. The poor fellow lay in agony, with a twisted
or broken ankle. Was there not some doctor on board among the gentlemen
who could help him?

Away sped Geoffrey Arbuthnot on the instant, bestowing no consolatory
word--Marjorie’s heart honoured him for the omission--on the ladies
thus abandoned to their terrors and their fate.

‘And now,’ said old Cassandra Tighe, hollow and far-away her voice
sounded through the blanket of fog, ‘I think we women folk will do well
to betake ourselves elsewhere. Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot has set us an
example of duty. You have been a pattern host,’ she added, addressing
Lord Rex, ‘and it is right you should be set free. We must take our
chance with the others in the cabin. You hear me, Marjorie Bartrand?’

Marjorie heard, but was stoutly recalcitrant. It was her duty, she
said, to die hard, and according to Act of Parliament. She would in no
wise give up her chance of the boats, should a collision befall the
_Princess_; could swim like a sea-gull if the worst came to the worst.
Lord Rex, of course, must be considered off duty. For herself, if Mrs.
Arbuthnot would stay with her under one of the covered seats, she asked
nothing better than to stop on deck and watch for sunrise. Cold? How
would it be possible to take cold at midsummer--swathed, too, in all
these wraps, and with the excitement of a first-class adventure to
maintain the circulation of one’s blood.

And indeed, there burned a flame in Marjorie’s breast that kept her
whole being warm, a flame, pure and delicate, the like of which kindles
in these poor hearts of ours once only, perhaps, between our cradle and
our shroud.

‘We are dismissed, Miss Tighe,’ said Lord Rex, gallantly offering his
unwounded arm, as Cassandra tottered to her feet. ‘Cling to me like
grim death. Don’t mind appearances. If Mrs. Arbuthnot and Miss Bartrand
have the courage to freeze, we must leave them to become icicles. I
want to see what can be done for our poor terrified ladies down below.’

Lord Rex must have seen to the terrified ladies expeditiously. Five
minutes later he was at his post again, no rug, no greatcoat about his
shoulders,--with feminine appreciation of detail, Dinah was prompt to
mark this sign of self-forgetfulness,--simply hovering near, ready,
she reluctantly acknowledged, to buy her life with his own should the
moment of peril really come.

And Gaston Arbuthnot, all this time, was taking his rest, quietly
irresponsible, away in Alderney! Dinah, being a just woman, did not
credit her neglectful husband with the density of the fog. Still, in
danger, as in safety, the master passion possessed her heart. Her
thoughts, at one moment tender, at the next reproachful, were of
Gaston always. And her lips kept silence. Marjorie Bartrand also was
disinclined for talk. In Marjorie’s mind thrilled a remembrance so
sweet, so new, that she was glad passively to rest under it, as we
rest under the influence of a good and wholesome dream--a remembrance
of the half confession made to her in the Langrune lane, whose flower
smells and swaying yellow corn lingered in her senses still. And thus,
happiness being a far likelier narcotic than pain, it came to pass ere
long that while Dinah Arbuthnot watched with ever-increasing vigilance,
the young girl’s eyes grew heavy. The sound of the fog-horn at each
interval roused her up less effectually, her head dropped upon her
companion’s shoulder. ‘Your wish has come true, although I have the
misfortune to be myself, not Gaston.’ The cold and darkness vanished,
blessed sunshine began to shine around her, the fog-horn changed
to the note of the cricket among the ripening cornfields. Marjorie
Bartrand slept.

By this time, Dinah judged, the sun must be close upon rising. It
seemed to her that the different objects on board were growing a very
little clearer. Moving with difficulty from her position, she rolled
up a pillow out of one of the plaids, and slipped it under Marjorie’s
sleeping head. She enveloped the girl’s whole figure in the thickest of
their rugs, then began to pace, as sharply as her stiffened limbs would
allow, up and down a short portion of the deck.

‘We are not to say “ta-ta” to the wicked world this time, Mrs.
Arbuthnot.’ The wise remark was Lord Rex Basire’s. He had been absent
during the last quarter of an hour, and now reappeared bearing a salver
on which stood a cup of smoking coffee. (Looking back in after hours
on the shifting scenes of this night, Dinah often felt, remorsefully,
that her most fragrant and excellent coffee was prepared by Lord Rex’s
own hand.) ‘I overheard the steward talking with the mate just now, and
they prophesy a change of wind. If this comes true the fog will lift in
half an hour. See, I have brought you some coffee.’

Dinah glanced towards Marjorie.

‘Oh, Miss Bartrand is fast asleep, dreaming of triposes and Girton! I
watched her nodding before I went below. It would be cruelty to wake
her.’

‘I must say the coffee smells tempting,’ Dinah admitted. Then, swayed
by quick impulse: ‘Lord Rex, you are very unselfish!’ she exclaimed.
‘You have thought of nothing but other people, and their troubles, all
this night.’

‘On the contrary, I have thought of myself. I have had a capital
time, Mrs. Arbuthnot--for I have been near you.’ Dinah never looked
more nobly handsome than at this moment. A cold night, passed without
sleep, a greenish-yellow fog, must be fatal adversaries, at 3 A.M.,
to all mere prettiness. Dinah’s beauty could stand alone, without
colouring, without animation. The lines of her head and throat, the
full calm eyelids, the lips, the chin, could be no more shorn of their
fair proportions than would those of the Venus Clytie--should the Venus
Clytie chance to be exposed to the mercy of a Channel fog.

‘You have been near a very stupid person, my lord. I have had too
much heaviness on my heart to talk,’ confessed Dinah. ‘I have scarce
exchanged a dozen words even with Miss Bartrand.’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot, have you forgiven me?--do, please, drink your coffee
before it is cold--don’t make me feel that I am in your way--boring
you as usual; have you forgiven a horribly foolish speech I made, just
before you disappeared in the darkness, you know?’

‘Which foolish speech?’ asked Dinah Arbuthnot, laconically, but
innocent of sarcasm.

‘Ah, which? I am glad you are good-naturedly inexact. And still,’ went
on Lord Rex, with characteristic straightforwardness, ‘foolish or not,
I meant every word I said. If the woman I loved was free, would look
at me, I should be a changed man, would make my start in the world
to-morrow.’

‘Make your start?’ repeated Dinah, off her guard.

‘Yes. Look after sheep in New Zealand, plant canes, or whatever they
do plant, in South America, and feel that with her, and for her, I was
leading a man’s life.’

And for a moment Dinah Arbuthnot’s pity verged on softness.

Listening to the genuine emotion in Rex Basire’s tone, glancing at
the lad, in his thin drenched jacket, as he stood, holding the salver
ready for her coffee cup, his devotion--by reason, perhaps, of an
unacknowledged contrast--touched her. For a moment, only. Then she
stood, self-accused, filled with a sickening detestation of her own
weakness. That she was more than indifferent, personally, to Rex
Basire, that he would have been distasteful to her in the days when
she was fancy free, the girlish days before she first saw Gaston,
extenuated nothing to Dinah’s sensitive conscience. She had tacitly
condoned the folly of Rex Basire’s talk! Latent in her heart there
must be the same vanity, the same small openness to flattery, which
she had, without stint, condemned in women like Linda Thorne. Was this
self-knowledge a necessary sequel to the abundantly bitter lessons
which the last twenty-four hours had taught her?

‘Do you forgive me, Mrs. Arbuthnot? Speak one word, only. I should
be the most miserable wretch living if I thought I had offended you,
consciously or unconsciously.’

‘I have nothing to forgive.’ But the tone was unlike Dinah’s. She,
herself, could detect its artificial ring. ‘On the contrary, you have
done me a service. You have given me hot coffee when I was perishing
with cold.’

A smile touched her lips, and, seeing this, and led away by her evasive
answer, Lord Rex took courage.

‘Whatever evil luck the future may hold in store,’ he exclaimed, ‘I
shall have this moment to look back upon. “Just once,” I shall be able
to say, “on board a Channel steamer in a fog, the most beautiful of her
sex----”’

‘Beg pardon, sir,’ cried a hearty voice, close at hand. ‘If you and the
young lady’ll just step aside from this rope, here! Beg pardon, little
Miss.’ A stalwart, rough-handed sailor touched Marjorie’s shoulder as
though he were touching a bird. ‘Trouble you all to move a bit out of
this, ladies! Captain’s just a-going to heave anchor. We want a clear
passage down the ship.’

And as they moved, and while Marjorie was still rubbing the sleep from
her heavy eyes, began one of those gorgeous transformation pageants,
only to be witnessed in the fog districts of Europe. Through the
uncertain twilight, a violet streak that might be taken for coast, was
already visible on the port bow. Anon, to eastward, came a glow, felt
rather than seen by the eager watchers on board the _Princess_. A tint
of pinkish-yellow began to filter through the driving mists. Then the
wind strengthened. In another minute an enchantment of solemn flame and
amber rose over the distant table-land of Sark, a sensation of warmth
tingled in the air. The fog wreaths sank, as if drawn down by magic
hands into the waters, and Petersport, its windows twinkling, its red
roofs bathed in purest sunshine, lay disclosed.

A quarter of an hour later the _Princess_ was in harbour. Not a
carriage, not a luggage truck stood on the deserted quays. One
conveyance only was to be seen, Cassandra Tighe’s village cart. Her
faithful old factotum, Annette, stood at the pony’s head. Among the
smart, Anglicised young island servants it was the fashion to call
Annette a little weak-headed. Tears of joy streamed down the honest
creature’s cheeks--symptoms, one would say, of a strong heart rather
than a weak head--as Cassandra, scarlet cloak, nets, boxes, and all,
crossed the gangway. Mistress and serving-woman kissed each other on
the cheeks. Then arose the question of transport. How many souls could
one tiny village cart be made to carry?

‘Mrs. Verschoyle, of course, and Mrs. Arbuthnot. Oh, from Mrs.
Arbuthnot,’ cried Cassandra, ‘I will receive no denial. Miller’s Hotel
lies on the way to Mrs. Verschoyle’s house, and we would not for
worlds’--Cassandra glanced obliquely at Lord Rex Basire--‘take any of
our tired hosts out of their way. The young ladies can walk safely home
together in a band--a case of mutual chaperonage. All but Marjorie
Bartrand. You, Marjorie,’ said Miss Tighe, ‘are my bad sixpence. I
don’t know how to get you off my hands.’

Lord Rex rather faintly suggested that he should conduct Miss Bartrand
to the Manoir. But Marjorie laughed at the idea of wanting an escort.

‘I would walk, alone, from the pier to Tintajeux, any dark midnight in
December, and enjoy the walk. Many thanks, Lord Rex, but I prefer my
own company. I--I----

She hesitated, stopped short. Geoffrey Arbuthnot had joined them.
His patient was going on well, would be carried by his mates to the
hospital as soon as the hospital doors were opened, some two hours
hence. ‘And I am free,’ added Geff. ‘Just in time, I hope, Miss
Bartrand, to walk out with you to Tintajeux?’

‘Oh, no, Mr. Arbuthnot. Miss Bartrand would prefer her own company,’
cried a quartette of mischievous girls’ voices in chorus.

But Marjorie had generally the courage of her opinions. Geff Arbuthnot
got one glance from beneath a sweep of jetty lashes which told him he
was not rejected.

Away started the village cart, Annette urging the pony to a gallop over
the rough Guernsey quays. In less than ten minutes’ time Dinah had
bidden good-bye to Mrs. Verschoyle and Cassandra, and with nerveless
touch was pushing back the garden gate of Miller’s Hotel.

Mindful of Mr. and Mrs. Arbuthnot’s possible return, the servants had
left unbolted an unconspicuous side-door by which Gaston usually came
in when he was out late. Through this door Dinah entered. With weary
steps she made her way to her sitting-room. Then, drawing up the blind,
she looked round her, almost as one might look who, for the first time
after a death, stands face to face with the familiar objects of his
ruined life. Something had, for ever, died since she left this room.
Gaston’s sketch-books, some of his modelling tools, his chalks, were
scattered on a table. A white rose she gave him before they started,
yesterday, lay withered on the window-seat. Dinah took the flower
in her hand mechanically. Its indefinable, delicate aroma, Gaston’s
favourite scent, unlocked a thousand poignant associations in the poor
girl’s brain. Their days of courtship, their first married happiness,
nay, her own perfect unswerving loyalty, seemed all to have become as
falsehood to her. She had learnt her lesson over-well, had eaten of the
tree of knowledge, would walk in Eden, at her lover’s side, no more.

It was a moment of such blank surrender, such total sense of loss, as
comes but once in a lifetime.

Fortunately, the world’s average of hope remains constant, poor
consolation though an acquaintance with the law may be to the hopeless.
At this moment rapid steps approached along the pavement. There was the
sound of hearty youthful laughter. Looking forth, the rose crushed with
passion between her hands, Dinah beheld a young girl and a man pass the
window. It was Marjorie and Geff, starting away, with buoyant pace, in
the direction of Tintajeux. A prophecy of all the joint to-morrows of
their lives shone brightly on the faces of both.



CHAPTER XXXV

A TRAITRESS


But their speech betrayed them not. Roseate stage of the passion when
unacknowledged lovers are conscious each of the other’s secret, yet
talk upon commonplace subjects, look celibacy, stoutly, in the face,
still. If that hour only lasted! If the clover would not lose its first
honeyed sweetness, if the gold would stop on the wheat-fields, if the
thrushes would sing love-ditties till September, instead of becoming
respectable heads of families in June!

‘You put forth to sea as a martyr, so I will not ask if you have
enjoyed yourself, Mr. Arbuthnot. I have. Without giving up a prejudice
against military folk in general,’ said Marjorie Bartrand, ‘I pronounce
the subalterns’ picnic to have been a success.’

‘Success--looked at from whose focus, Miss Bartrand? Poor Jack, with
his twisted ankle, scarcely appreciated the cleverness with which we
managed to kill a day and night of our existence, depend upon it.’

‘Nor did Mrs. Verschoyle. “If we had only been drinking tea,” so I
heard her make moan through the fog--“drinking tea as we used on
L’Ancresse Common, when the Colonel was in command!”’

‘Miss Tighe, at least, enjoyed herself. Other conquests may have been
made,’ observed Geoffrey, a little inappositely. ‘Miss Tighe captured a
new butterfly! A human being with a hobby possesses a joy that all the
sorrows and passions of our common nature cannot rob him of.’

But neither Mrs. Verschoyle nor Cassandra served to open out wider
interests. The conversation flagged sensibly, and Marjorie’s pace
quickened. For the first time since she began to read with Geff,
Marjorie felt that she was at a loss for subjects in talking to her
tutor.

‘I am afraid your cousin, Mrs. Gaston Arbuthnot, did not take much
pleasure out of the day.’

She made the remark after some deliberation, and without looking round
at Geoffrey’s face.

‘It was a mistake for Dinah to go,’ Geoffrey answered, keeping his gaze
very straight before him. ‘Dinah’s life is a dull one. The kind of
Bohemian wandering existence which suits Gaston as an artist robs his
wife of the household tasks in which she could take honest heart. If I
were not so mortally afraid of you, Miss Bartrand----’

‘_Of me?_’

‘I should use a French phrase.’

‘Please do! I delight in your command of modern languages.’

‘I should call Dinah desœuvrée.’ Geff, you may be sure, pronounced the
word atrociously. ‘But she will never find compensation by frequenting
Gaston’s world. At this moment poor Dinah, I know, feels heavier in
spirit than if she had stayed quietly at home with her book and her
cross-stitch.

‘She is beautiful beyond praise. In these regions one gets tired of
mere pink and white prettiness. It is a thing of the climate. Every
girl in the Channel Islands has her day of good looks. Mrs. Arbuthnot’s
is a face of which you could never grow tired.’

‘I believe I am no judge of beauty. Gaston tells me frequently to
admire people who to my taste are horrible monsters--“type Rubens,”
I think he calls them. It requires an education to admire the “type
Rubens.” One does not like a face, or one does like it--too much,
perhaps, for one’s own peace.’

Geff spoke in a tone that brought the blood into Marjorie’s cheeks. The
girl had blushed with other feelings could she have guessed--she, who
would accept second love from no man--that at this moment his thoughts
had wandered to a remote Cambridgeshire village, and to the peace of
mind he lost there!

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot seems to me so thrown away--you must let me
speak, although I know it is a subject on which you can bear no
contradiction--so cruelly thrown away upon a man like your cousin
Gaston.’

‘No other woman would suit my cousin Gaston half as well.’

‘That is the true man’s way of putting things. “Suit Gaston.” Would
not a less Frenchified, less universally popular husband, suit Dinah
better?’

‘I am quite sure Dinah, who should be a competent judge, would answer
“No.” Miss Bartrand,’ broke off Geoffrey, with notable directness and
point, ‘I wonder why you and I are discussing other people’s happiness
just at an hour when we ought to be thinking about our own?’

The remark was made with Geff’s usual seriousness. But Marjorie,
reading between the lines, discerned some obvious joke therein. She
laughed until the high-banked road along which they walked re-echoed to
her fresh voice. Then starting at a brisk run, she took flight along
a foot-track which, diverging from the chaussée, led through a couple
of breast-high cornfields, across a corner of the common land, to
Tintajeux.

Untaught daughter of nature though she was, Marjorie knew that every
moment brought the supreme one nearer in which Geoffrey Arbuthnot
must speak to her of love. Although the conclusion was foregone,
although her whole girlish fancy was won, she strove, with such might
as she possessed, to stave that moment off. For she knew that she was
a traitress to her cause, an apostate from the man-despising creed in
which, recollecting the sins of Major Tredennis, she had gloried.

Fast as her limbs would bear her the girl sped on, Geff Arbuthnot, with
swinging, slow run, nicely adjusted to her pace, following half a dozen
yards behind. ‘Renegade!’ every bush along the familiar path cried
aloud to her. ‘Renegade,’ whispered the stream trickling down between
rushy banks, through beds of thick forget-me-nots, to the shore. The
cornfields were soon passed. They reached the breezy bit of moor above
the Hüets. The ravine where the water-lanes met lay in purple shadow:
all around was warm and joyous sunshine. A scent of fern and wild thyme
filled the air. Far away the tide curled round the dark base of the
Gros Nez range. The choughs and daws were flying across the face of the
cliffs. The gulls poised and swooped, flashes of intense white against
the background of green sea.

For very want of breath Marjorie presently stopped short. Geff was at
her side in a couple of seconds. The young man caught her in his arms.

‘Mr. Arbuthnot.... Sir!’

‘I thought it my duty to steady you.’ He liberated her, partially, and
with reluctance. ‘Your pace, Miss Bartrand, is killing. Do the Guernsey
Sixties ever play hare and hounds? You would make a really respectable
hare, I can tell you.’

‘I hope not.’ With a little air of ill-maintained stiffness Marjorie
contrived to put a few more inches between Geoffrey and herself. ‘Who
would wish to be anything really respectable, until one gets to the age
of the Seigneur, at least?’

‘We shall both of us be too stiff for hare and hounds by that time.’

Perhaps this was the first hour of his life when Geoffrey Arbuthnot
talked nonsense with a child’s sense of enjoyment, a child’s immunity
from care. Hard facts, hard work, had made up the sum of his existence
hitherto. His staunchest friends complained that he was just a little
too grimly lord of himself. In his undergraduate days the men of his
year, despite their recognition of his muscular and sterling qualities,
had a suspicion that there lurked a skeleton in some hidden closet
of Arbuthnot of John’s, a memory, or a dread which rendered the easy
philosophy of youth impossible to him.

Dinah, who knew him well, Gaston, who knew him better, never saw the
look on Geff Arbuthnot’s strong face which lit it in the red freshness
of this Guernsey morning.

‘How shamefully we lose the best hours of the day!’ Marjorie’s hand
rested, as she spoke, on a wicket-gate, overgrown by sweetbriar, which
led into the Manoir gardens. ‘Did you ever smell cherry-pie so sweet
before?’ Heliotrope was a passion with old Andros Bartrand. Rows of the
odorous purple bloom, profusely flourishing in this generous climate,
garnished the borders, even, of his kitchen garden. ‘I, for one, mean
to mend my ways. I shall get up with the sun from this day forth.’

‘Alter my hours, then. We could read together, out of doors, at
sunrise, just as well as in the schoolroom at eleven.’

‘Do you think we should do much serious work, Mr. Arbuthnot?’

Marjorie asked the question with assurance, then coloured up to the
roots of her hair.

‘Not unless breakfast were part of the programme,’ said Geoffrey, with
discernment. ‘At this moment,’ he added, ‘I am reminded of my schoolboy
days in the City. I recall, forcibly, the starvation pangs that used
to unman us on dreary winter mornings over the pages of our Latin
Grammar and Greek Delectus.’

It was not a sentimental speech. Even when treading the primrose path,
nineteenth century young people are rarely indifferent, like the heroic
lovers of an older school, to their meals. And these young people had
really eaten nothing since yesterday’s dinner in Langrune. Confessing
that she too was famished, Marjorie proposed an instant sack of the
Tintajeux dairy and larder. There was a broken pane in one of the
dairy casements through which, luck befriending them, a bolt might be
drawn. From the dairy it would be only a step to the larder, and then,
having secured their booty, they could go forth and eat their breakfast
together in Arcadia.

‘It is a bigger adventure, I can tell you, Mr. Arbuthnot, than any
which befel us on board the _Princess_. Grandpapa and Sylvestre keep
loaded carbines, and are quite careless as to time and place in the
matter of firing their weapons off.’

‘I am not fond of carbines--still, hunger overcomes my natural
cowardice,’ said Geoffrey. ‘I would brave Sylvestre--I would brave the
Seigneur himself for a bowl of milk.’

The dairy, almost hidden from view by thickly-planted alders, lay at
the northern end of the Manoir, immediately under a window of the old
Seigneur’s study.

‘You hold your life in your hand,’ whispered Marjorie, as they stepped
noiselessly along. ‘Grandpapa is always astir by this hour. If he were
to look through his window, you see, he might fire first and recognise
you afterwards.’

‘Although you are my accomplice?’

‘He would be in the right, any way, according to old Norman law. What
is a Seigneur worth if he may not use firearms at discretion? We should
lodge the accident officially, au greffe, plead self-defence, if the
case ever came to be heard, and pay an amende of a few hundred francs
to the island poor.’

She gave a little shrug of her shoulders, which expressed that the
subject was disposed of satisfactorily.

The broken pane, shrouded in green leaves, was conveniently near the
casement bolt. Sufficient space existed for Marjorie’s slim hand to
pass through the opening. There came a click as she slipped the bolt
back in its setting, a slight groaning sound as Geoffrey Arbuthnot
lifted the sash guardedly. Then the heiress of Tintajeux made good a
somewhat undignified entrance into her own house, her tutor keeping
watch for possible intruders outside.

Oh! the ice-cool sweetness of this Guernsey dairy, the air entering
in free currents through gratings in either wall, the big pans filled
with golden cream, the butter of yesterday’s churning standing, in
tempting pats, upon the fair white shelves! Marjorie plunged a jug
boldly into a pan of milk only set last night. It seemed--as she
remembered Suzette, the fiery-tempered dairymaid--like a first plunge
into crime. Conscience, however, as occurs in weightier matters than
pillaging cream, hardened rapidly. To glide on tiptoe, from the dairy
to the larder, to cut some solid trenches from a new-baked raisin loaf
intended for the Seigneur’s lunch-table, was a minute’s work.

Then Miss Bartrand handed out her spoils to Geoffrey Arbuthnot. She
cleared the window at a jump. The sash was stealthily closed, the
boughs were pulled back into place, and away the pair walked, across
the cedar-shadowed lawn, through the cool and dewy maze, to Arcadia.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE LAST OF ARCADIA


Never could the spot have justified its name more thoroughly than at
this hour.

The syringa bloom had fallen during the past week. No odour, save the
delicate, intangible freshness of sea and moor, met the sense. There
was not a wrinkle on the far Atlantic, not a cloud in the arch of
sky. They chose a plot of grass for their breakfast-table so small
of dimensions, it was not possible to sit far apart. They had their
platter of cake, their jug of milk in common. Surely no shepherd or
shepherdess in real Arcadia was ever lighter of spirits than were these
two!

‘I have learned the taste of nectar,’ said Geff, when the wedges of
cake had vanished, when the milk-jug stood empty. ‘In repayment of your
hospitality, Miss Bartrand, I am going to bring a sharp accusation
against you.’

‘Which is?’ Marjorie asked, her blue eyes meeting his with steadiness.

‘The nectar you give may perhaps be poisoned, an enchanted philtre
taking the taste out of all one’s future life.’

‘I should call that a cruel, an unjust accusation,’ cried the girl, her
cheeks ablaze. ‘Explain yourself! I don’t like a thing of this kind
said, even in jest.’

‘I was never farther from jesting. Poison is a harsh word, certainly:
still--still,’ broke off Geoffrey, with the abrupt courage of a shy
wooer, ‘do you think a man could ever be as well contented with the
grayness and plainness of English life after an hour spent here, in
Arcadia, at your side?’

Her face grew graver and graver.

‘If you mean this for nonsense talk, Mr. Arbuthnot, you offend me. I do
not care for flattery.’

Marjorie Bartrand rose to her feet. As Geoffrey followed her example,
he took out his watch, then replaced it in his pocket without noticing
the hour. Both were a little pale; both had grown suddenly constrained.
An unaccustomed mist made the familiar objects round her seem blurred
in Marjorie’s sight.

‘I must go back to the house,’ she faltered. ‘The servants will have
risen by this time. Of course one ought to feel tired, and to want
rest.’

She stooped, under pretence of picking up the platter and jug, in
reality to hide her face from the man who loved her. But her fingers
were unsteady. An instant more, jug and platter both were slipping
from her grasp, when Geff, quick of eye and touch, caught them, and
Marjorie’s hand as well.

She did not say again that nonsense talk offended her.


‘I should like you to understand one thing, Mr. Arbuthnot.’ It was
a good while later on when she told Geoffrey this. Her slight hands
rested unresistingly in his, the unmistakable print of love confessed
was on the faces of both. ‘Perhaps what I am going to say will make you
alter your opinion of me; it must be said, all the same. There shall be
no Bluebeard secrets between us to come to light hereafter. There was
a fortnight’s mistake in my life, once. I--I----’ the word seemed to
scorch her lips as they passed them, ‘have been engaged before.’

‘So the voice of gossip told me, long ago, Miss Bartrand.’

In an instant Marjorie rested her cheek, with a child’s rather than a
woman’s gesture, against Geoffrey’s arm.

‘You ought not to say “Miss Bartrand,” now. From this day until death
comes between us I must be “Marjorie” to you.’

‘Marjorie,’ repeated Geff, with quick obedience. ‘What concern of mine
is it that you were engaged before you knew me? I dare say I shall be
an ogre of jealousy in the future. I cannot be jealous retrospectively.
The evil passion will date from this present hour, only.’

But Marjorie insisted, whatever pain it cost her, on giving him the
details of her first engagement, yes, even to the ring she accepted, to
the tears she shed over Jock, the setter puppy. And would Geoffrey have
felt no concern, she asked him, with a flush, in conclusion, had things
been different? Could he have felt no retrospective jealousy if she had
happened to care for Major Tredennis?

‘I like to think you did not care for him. I like supremely to know you
care for me,’ was Geoffrey’s answer.

‘Because, of course, no human being can, honestly, love twice,’
observed Marjorie Bartrand, with conviction. ‘It must be all or
nothing. I wish you to know, although I was weak enough to be engaged
to Major Tredennis and to take his presents, and to listen to his
French songs, it was nothing. I could not look into your face as I am
looking now, if I had cared the value of an old glove for him, or for
any man.’

‘No human being can, honestly, love twice.’ So this was a fixed article
in Marjorie Bartrand’s belief! The reflection made Geoffrey pause. Of
the belief’s fallacy, his own state of feeling was pertinent evidence.
Four years ago he had loved Dinah Thurston with love as ardent as
was ever lavished by man on woman. And now this wayward Southern
child, with her terrible classics and worse Euclid--this child, with
the deep, sweet eyes that promised so much for the future, and the
chiselled sun-kissed hands, and the mouth, and the hair--had filled his
heart to overflowing.

A certain tacit disingenuousness seemed forced upon him. That
prettily-told episode of her first engagement, of the Major’s French
songs, his presents and his flatteries, was in absolute truth a
challenge. But Geoffrey’s conscience smote him not as he let the
challenge pass. His passion for Dinah was no ‘fortnight’s mistake.’ It
was a part of himself. In losing her he got a wound that he must carry
with him to the grave. He could no more have touched upon the theme,
lightly, than he could have spoken lightly of his dead mother or of the
childish prayers he used to repeat in the shelter of that mother’s arms.

The girl he sought as his wife was exquisitely fresh and to be desired.
Already, in a brief half-hour, every hope of his future life seemed
to have some silken thread of _Marjorie_ woven in its fabric. She was
unconnected with his past. The passion that had died, the regret that
would never die, were his own. Their history was not to be told, save
under dire necessity, of which the present rose-coloured moment gave no
forewarning.

‘I knew from the first that you had been engaged to Major Tredennis,
and from the first,’ Geoffrey Arbuthnot drew her towards him, tenderly,
‘I began to fall in love with you.’

‘Not quite from the first?’ Marjorie questioned, artfully ensuring a
repetition of the honeyed truth. ‘Not on that evening when you put me
through my intellectual paces, when you told me that my classics--save
the mark!--were stronger than my mathematics?’

‘Yes, on that first evening. It was not because of your prettiness,
only, or your grace. It was not, even, because you snubbed me so
mercilessly. I don’t know why it was. It seemed that a new world had
suddenly opened out before me. As I returned along the Gros Nez cliffs,
the Tintajeux roses and heliotropes in my hand, I felt like walking
right above the mire and commonness of my former life.’

‘And your thoughts?’

‘Were of Tintajeux, every yard of the road. Yes, I am clear about it,’
said Geff. ‘I began to fall in love from the first moment that I saw
your sweet Spanish face.’

Marjorie shook her head at the compliment. Her looks were sceptical.

‘Your manner, I confess, did not betray you, Mr. Arbuthnot,’ she
remarked drily.

‘Did you condescend to notice my manner?’ Geff asked. ‘The whole of
that evening, remember, except perhaps for a minute, when you had
wounded yourself among the briars, you held me at arm’s-length.’

‘I thought you a married man, sir. But I liked--I respected you,
brusque though you were, because I believed you had had the courage
of your opinions, the strength of mind to marry Dinah. How strange,’
she went on, dreamily abandoning herself to his caress--‘how strange
it will be, when we are old people, to remember that our acquaintance
began in such a comedy of mistakes.’

Because he had had the strength of mind to marry Dinah! The unconscious
irony of her speech smote Geff Arbuthnot’s heart. He had been credited,
then, as a virtue, with the fulfilment of that mad hope whose
frustration took the keenest edge off his life, the intoxication out of
his youth!

‘One builds up an ideal, foolishly or wisely,’ went on Marjorie’s
happy voice. ‘I had built up mine since I was eight years old. Well,
when I heard of a Mr. Arbuthnot who was able enough to have taken high
honours, good enough to give up his time to others, brave enough to
have married a girl beneath himself in class for the excellent reason
that he loved her, when I heard these things--the personal histories
of the Arbuthnot cousins cleverly mixed and transposed by poor
Cassandra--I felt that my ideal was clothed with flesh and blood. What
could I do but care a little for my new tutor?’

‘Married though the tutor was?’

‘That is beside the question. I was thinking of his fine qualities
only. I held out my hand to him in friendship before we met, even, and
I--I know that I was never for one instant in love with Mr. Gaston
Arbuthnot.’

Marjorie Bartrand coloured with slightly illogical vexation.

‘Are you quite sure that you are in love at all?’ asked Geoffrey.

For a few seconds an uncertain smile trembled round her lips. She drew
back from him, half ignorant whether his question had been asked in
earnest; then, lifting her eyes, Marjorie encountered the beseeching
entreaty written on Geoffrey’s face. There came impulsive, over-quick
submission.

‘I mean to love you with my whole soul some day. Does not that content
you? Well, then, I mean--if you will give me breathing space--to love
you now.’

The midsummer morning was young, the blackbirds called aloud for joy in
the Tintajeux orchards, and Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s age was twenty-four.
Before they parted, ere Marjorie could repulse him or surrender,
he caught the girl in a swift embrace; he kissed her reverently,
passionately on the lips.



CHAPTER XXXVII

A STONE FOR BREAD


The kiss cost him dear. A fledgling girl is not, finally, to be
captured without a struggle, save by a master hand; and Geoffrey’s was
the hand of a prentice.

Marjorie’s heart leaped with novel tenderness at the contact of his
lips. She suffered him to hold her in his arms. She watched him with
shy pride, with a child’s delight in the new sense of ownership, as he
walked away, along the accustomed path, from Tintajeux. Then, later,
when she found herself in her own little white-draped realm, when,
later still, she had slept and awakened and dressed herself for a fresh
day, the current of feeling swerved. She shivered at realising how
absolutely her life had become entangled with his. She was assailed
by reminiscences, all uncomfortable ones, of Major Tredennis. She was
sensible of a longing, that had almost passion in it, for the liberty
she had been betrayed into relinquishing.

‘I mean, if you will give me breathing space, to love you now.’
Here, surely, was what she needed--time for becoming used to the new
phenomenon of a lover.

During the past fortnight, Geoffrey had filled every thought of her
waking hours; a haunting sense of his nearness had touched her dreams.
At this point she had fain stood still--six months--a year--tacitly
engaged, if need be, but on the same fraternal footing as when they
walked together yesterday among the Langrune cornfields. Why hurry into
commonplace? The Bartrands were not a kissing race. Geff ought to have
divined their likes and dislikes, thought the poor child petulantly.
And yet, pleaded another voice in this conscience of seventeen, the
kiss was sweet! It seemed that she had become, suddenly and distinctly,
two persons--one a girl weakly contented, as our grandmothers used to
be, at the prospect of husband and home and fireside; the other, a
strong-headed, Minerva-like young woman coolly criticising the question
of love and marriage from a vantage ground, and liking it ill. Which
of the two,--she asked herself this pretty often throughout the sunny
tedium of the long day,--which was the real, which the artificial
Marjorie Bartrand?

It had been settled between them that Geoffrey should walk out to
Tintajeux before the Seigneur’s supper-hour that evening. When the time
came, when Geff approached the Manoir, treading lightly, as befits a
man whose heart wells over with hope, he found the friendly schoolroom
window bolted. No youthful flitting figure was to be seen among the
growing shadows of the garden; Arcadia was empty. Andros Bartrand,
leisurely pacing, a cigar between his lips, his terriers at his heels,
possessed the lawn.

With a dim sensation of chill Geoffrey rang at the front door, and
was ushered in by Sylvestre, a whole lever de rideau in the old
butler’s expressive Norman smile, to the drawing-room. Here Marjorie,
mutinous of spirit, but with a tenderly blushing face, awaited him. The
western lights filtered through the half-closed Venetians. Above the
cedar-shade gleamed as unstained a sweep of Atlantic as on the first
evening that Geoffrey visited Tintajeux. The Petit Trianon baskets were
filled with glorious Ducs de Rohan. The Cupids were hurling rose leaves
at the guillotine. The miniature Bartrands, imperturbable as becomes
mortals who have proved the nothingness of love as of life, seemed to
glance with rather more philosophic amiability than usual from their
frames.

Well, all that Geoffrey saw or thought of was Marjorie. She looked
prettier than he had ever seen her look, as she moved forward to
greet him--softer, more womanly. For the girl, while she chafed, in
imagination, under her new yoke, had spent a good hour before her glass
ere her lover came. She had put on her one white dress of regulation
length, had clasped an old-fashioned Spanish necklace round her throat,
had pinned a little bunch of heliotrope and sweetbriar, mindful of the
morning’s dominant odours, in her breast.

A sense of his immense good fortune in having won her filled Geoffrey
Arbuthnot’s heart. He took both her hands, looking down at their
slender carving, with the connoisseurship of possession. He raised them
within an inch of his lips.

‘I hope, Mr. Arbuthnot, you will pardon me for receiving you here?’
Marjorie asked him this with forced composure. ‘But I thought--I was
not sure whether we were to read to-night or not.’

Geoffrey Arbuthnot involuntarily drew back. The glance which met him
from his new sweetheart’s eyes was, he felt, cold. During an instant’s
space, mastered by one of those shadowy infidelities of which we repent
ere they take substance, Geff bethought him of eyes that never could
look cold, in happiness or in trouble--English-coloured eyes from
which, perhaps, the fire, the mind of Marjorie’s sapphire glance, were
wanting.

‘I thought,’ she went on, with almost defiant ease, ‘that after
yesterday’s idleness, our reading to-night must be a sham, so it would
be unnecessary to see you in the schoolroom.’

‘I can guess what that means,’ said Geoffrey, without letting loose her
hands. ‘You have no work ready for me.’

‘I have done some Virgil, fuller, I know, of faults than ever, but I
thought, for one evening, sir, we might let Greek and Latin go.’

‘Why not let them go for ever--as things that have had their use!’
cried Geoffrey Arbuthnot.

‘As things that have had their use? Are you speaking of _my classics_?
You, who told me, a fortnight ago, I might come out in the third class
of a tripos?’

‘A fortnight ago is not to-day.’

‘Your good opinion has had time to cool? Pray be frank, Mr. Arbuthnot.’
It was in her mood to quarrel--at least, to reach the brink of a
quarrel with him, if ’twere only for sweet relenting’s sake. ‘I don’t
one bit come up to your ideal of a model woman?’

‘I abhor models, irrespective of their sex. Marjorie, why are we
talking in this strain?’ And now her fingers reached his lips. ‘I want
you to be like nothing, to be nothing, but yourself.’

‘And I, myself, shall never alter. I may be too dull-witted to pass
the entrance examination for Girton. That will be my misfortune. I
shall always be athirst for knowing things, for seeing life--on its
seamy side, especially--with my own eyes, for getting to the real worst
of everything! And I shall always,’ added Marjorie, with a look that
indubitably had in it the nature of a challenge, ‘retain my Bartrand
temper.’

‘I have a temper also,’ answered Geff, drawing her a little closer to
him. ‘Do not omit that item from our prospects of future joy. You are
passionate. I am unforgetting. Stormy elements, these, to be brought
into daily, hourly contact under the same roof.’

‘And has your ideal of life always been one of conflict?’ asked
Marjorie.

At the domestic picture, quietly touched in by Geoffrey, the lines of
her lips had softened against her will.

‘I have had no experience save in conflict,’ answered Geff Arbuthnot,
truthfully.

‘When you were a really young man, four or five years ago, did you look
forward to the Taming of a Shrew as a likely sequel to your term of
happy bachelorhood?’

The question was jestingly meant, lightly spoken. But Geoffrey’s dark
cheek reddened.

‘Oh, if I have said anything indiscreet, forgive me.’ Marjorie watched
him with attention. ‘You must grow used, remember, to the faults of my
fine qualities. One of these is inquisitiveness. It would delight me to
know, precisely, what you used to think and feel when you were twenty
years old. I suppose you were not so preternaturally wise, always, as
you are now?’

‘I have never been wise at any period of my life,’ said Geoffrey
Arbuthnot.

‘But when you were nineteen, say, what did you think, what did you
hope, what did you look forward to?’

‘What I hoped, what I looked forward to, was--madness.’ The unguarded
answer broke from him instantly. ‘If you would be kind to me,
Marjorie,’ he added, ‘let the past rest. There is enough, a great deal
more than enough, to be grateful for in the present.’

Marjorie, on this, drew herself to her full height. She looked at him
with the instinct of a child who would unriddle a secret by his own
close reading of another’s face. She freed her hands abruptly from his
clasp.

‘What you hoped, what you looked forward to was--madness! Do you mean
in regard of University laurels?’

‘We are not talking of University laurels. We are talking,’ said Geff,
honestly, ‘of the happiness beyond happiness, the companionship for
life of two human souls that suit each other.’

‘And your hopes of these things,’ her lips whitened as she repeated the
words, ‘were madness? Singular contradiction! You have told me that
yours has been a secluded student’s life, that, until a fortnight ago,
you never cared for any society but that of men?’

‘Whatever I have told you has been true,’ said Geff, with firmness.
Then, instantly relenting, ‘Do not let us have a quarrel,’ he pleaded,
‘on this first day that we are sweethearts.’

She turned from him, indignant, breathless.

‘If we quarrel over realities, Mr. Arbuthnot, the pity is we did not
look realities in the face before becoming sweethearts.’

‘Miss Bartrand--Marjorie!’

‘Oh, I am thoroughly in earnest. This morning, when first I knew you
cared for me a little, I was open with you. I told you what had to be
said about Major Tredennis, and you forgave me. Bluebeard secrets, bad
always, must be doubly so between people who mean to spend their lives
together. I told you of my miserable weakness----’

Her frank girlish face burned so hotly that Geff came to her relief.

‘You were very open with me, Marjorie, true and straightforward, as it
is your nature to be.’

‘I did not hide from you, whatever the shame of it, that I had bound
myself once before.’

Geoffrey was no social diplomatist. He might, otherwise, with mournful
veracity have retorted that he had been a free man always. But the
statement would have implied a prevarication, and it was not in
Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s upright soul to prevaricate.

‘You told me you had been engaged. You also gave an opinion as to its
being impossible for people, honestly, to love twice.’

‘Most certainly I did. I never cared more for Major Tredennis than I do
for this flower I wear--ask Mrs. Arbuthnot! I found courage yesterday
to talk to her about that wretched time--and I _do_ care for you,’
looking straight from her heart at her lover. ‘And it is utterly
impossible for any woman or any man to love twice.’

‘You think so? I ought to have disagreed with you at once,’ struck in
Geff, promptly. ‘I ought to have told you this morning what I hold to
be truth.’

‘And this is?’

‘That women and men may love a second time honestly, although once,
only, with success.’

She turned away doubtfully, with lowered lids, hesitating a few
moments. Then: ‘Love twice? and why not love three, four, five times?’
she questioned, looking up at him with a glance of fire. ‘Why hold at
all by constancy, or honour, or good faith? What mystic limitation is
there in the number two?’

‘A woman troubled is Heaven’s fairest work spoiled.’

Geoffrey believed as devoutly as do most men in the aphorism. But
Marjorie was not a woman, he remembered, only an impetuous girl, with
Southern blood in her veins, with the Bartrand pride on her lips, with
all sweet and modest and maidenly superstitions in her heart.

He felt he had never loved her more dearly than in this very outburst
of unreasoning, childish wrath against himself.

‘I know nothing about three, four, or five times. You persisted,
recollect, in making me talk of an uninteresting subject, my own past
life, and----’

‘And am I to think--are you putting me to the humiliation, now too
late,’ she exclaimed, the thought of his kiss returning to her, ‘the
humiliation of feeling, here, under my grandfather’s roof, that I am
offered your love at second-hand?’

A few instants ago Geoffrey’s impulse had been to take her in his arms,
to forgive her in spite of her injustice! But her tone had changed.
It was hard, suspicious. It bespoke pride, not only of race, but of
money. All the inherited baser possibilities of her nature had, under
the moment’s white anger, gained the ascendancy in poor Marjorie’s
breast.

Geff was sensible of them and recoiled. For the first time to-day,
it occurred to him that the girl he sought to marry was not only a
Bartrand but an heiress, his superior in position as in purse.

‘I don’t like to hear you say “humiliation.” Such love as I feel for
you,’ confessed Geoffrey Arbuthnot, nobly and simply, ‘could humiliate
no woman.’

‘And if it comes at second-hand, if some one else before my time has
appraised its value, and flung it aside?’

‘Miss Bartrand, you must explain to me what you mean by that question.’

‘I mean,’ flamed forth Marjorie, her whole angry soul throbbing in her
voice, ‘that I must be first--first, Mr. Arbuthnot, in the heart of the
man I marry.’

‘Would you not be first in mine?’

‘I should give him all. I could accept nothing short of all in return.
If, afterwards, I found that I had been deceived--you understand me, if
I knew that I had been chosen from other motives than love--I should
make his life and my own most miserable!’

And, indeed, the passion of her voice and face gave to the prophecy
only too much an air of certitude.

Geoffrey Arbuthnot walked to a neighbouring window. Pushing back the
half-closed shutters he saw before him a wide expanse of the Manoir
gardens; through an arch of cedar boughs he caught a goodly vista of
fields and orchards beyond. And all that he looked upon would one day
be Marjorie’s! With crushing force came the conviction that he had
fallen into a desperate error, had walked blindfolded, a second time,
into a Fool’s Paradise. Marjorie Bartrand’s youth, the intimacy into
which they had been thrown, his own absolute want of premeditation
might be excused. The facts were there, looking, as disagreeable
facts have a knack of doing, with transparent clearness in his face.
He had walked into a Fool’s Paradise. To accept the position, give
Marjorie Bartrand back her freedom, unconditionally, were the moment’s
immediate and exceeding bitter duties. The wilful hot-headed child of
seventeen--conquered at one moment, at the next resisting--repented
her, already, of her bargain. Let that bargain be cancelled.

‘Your life shall never become miserable through fault of mine, Miss
Bartrand.’ Turning round, Geff looked at her gravely. ‘Pardon me
whatever foolish words I spoke this morning. In a week or two forget my
existence! You are bound to me by no promise----’

‘And it costs you nothing to give me up? You can talk of forgetting in
this airy fashion?’ interrupted Marjorie, with vehement recollection of
her own surrender. ‘Then you never sought me from liking. I have had a
second experience of the same cruel story. The acres of Tintajeux, few
though they be, are matters, it seems, better worth caring for than
Marjorie Bartrand, herself.’

From her cradle to her grave it would be safe to aver that speech so
ignoble never issued from Marjorie Bartrand’s lips. She recognised its
meanness before the last word was spoken. Her cheeks crimsoned. She
could have flung herself at the feet of the lover her suspicion had
dishonoured.

‘I was wrong ... forgive me for speaking like this,’ she began to
stammer brokenly.

But Geoffrey Arbuthnot could not condone a paltry accusation, even from
her. With two strides he reached the girl’s chair. He stood before her,
pale and strongly moved. She hardly recognised the expression of his
face.

‘And so you think that I, with the full use of my muscles and brain,
sought to marry you for money’s sake, the poor little handful of
money that goes with Tintajeux Manoir. The slight to my intelligence
is severe. Had I been a fortune-hunter, Miss Bartrand, I should have
struck for a larger stake.’

‘Then why did you look at me? Why did you not let me go my way?’ She
clasped her hands together, piteously. ‘For you have never loved me.
You confessed as much just now?’

‘Did I? I can only remember a confession in which I spoke the truth--a
confession you believed this morning,’ added Geoffrey, with as much
steadiness as he could muster.

‘All this is waste of time,’ she said, with a miserable little laugh.
‘We have the habit of plain speaking--you and I. Let us keep it up to
the last. Your heart is not your own, Mr. Arbuthnot. You have liked
some other person better than you like me. _Have_ liked, did I say? You
like her, I doubt not, to this day.’

‘This day when I have asked you, wisely or unwisely, to be my wife?’

‘If your conscience were clear you could not trifle with me like this.
You would say No, or Yes.’

And, thus urged, Geoffrey Arbuthnot said ‘Yes’--with unmitigated
frankness, without a hint either at penitence or remorse. Long ago, in
his undergraduate days--thus the confession ran--he had fallen in love
... possibly as men do not fall in love twice during their lives! He
was rough, plain, a student as Marjorie saw him now, no suitor to win a
young girl’s fancy. And so----

‘And so,’ broke in Marjorie with trembling interest, ‘she was false to
you?’

‘She was neither false nor true,’ he answered; ‘I had no place at
all in her heart. My own best friend’--and here Geff’s voice sank,
each word of his avowal seemed wrung from him with pain--‘became,
unconsciously, my rival.’

‘Your best friend,’ stammered Marjorie, upon whom a first flicker of
light was beginning to dawn.

‘Best, then, and I hope for ever--just as she whom he married will,
I know, be my ideal of all sweet and womanly qualities till I die.
Although I lost her,’ exclaimed Geff Arbuthnot, ‘I owe her everything!
It is using a commonplace to say that I would at any hour start to the
other side of the world, if by so starting I could confer on her the
smallest service. But it is the truth.’

He was a man, ordinarily, of demeanour so reticent, of emotions so
controlled, that this little outburst struck on Marjorie Bartrand with
double force. Alas! there could not be room for another instant’s
doubt. She recalled the morning when she had lectured her tutor on his
frivolity, she remembered his embarrassment when she spoke of Dinah as
his wife--his absence of mind, his pallor. The story of his past life
was laid open, a clear page, for her to read. The confession of her
engagement to Major Tredennis had met with an over-full equivalent.

‘At last, then,’ she murmured, ‘I have got to the truth of things. It
might have been juster if I had not been deceived so long.’

‘Will you hear me out to the end?’ There was a ring of command rather
than of pleading in Geoffrey’s tone. ‘Four years ago it was my fate, I
can never say my misfortune, to come across a girl whom it was madness
for me to love. I lost. I suffered. But many a man has met with a like
overthrow, and got firmly to his feet in time. I am very firm on my
feet,’ said Geff Arbuthnot. ‘I have grown young again in knowing you.
If you had chosen to become my wife, I could have loved you well.
Yes, I do love you--too well! Now, when it seems we are like bidding
good-bye for ever.’

And Geoffrey rested his hands for an instant upon the girl’s graceful
down-bent head.

‘And the dream is over--over.’ She repeated the words huskily, not so
much thinking of Geff as seeking to bring home to herself the extremity
of her own pain. ‘We are to be nothing to each other from this hour
forth, not even friends.’

Geoffrey Arbuthnot walked a few steps away. The movement was prompted
by a definite and conscious weakness. This saying good-bye for ever was
no easy thing, he found, so long as his hand rested upon the silken
hair, so long as the slender figure palpitated close to him, the
heliotrope sent its odour to his brain from Marjorie’s breast.

‘The dream is over, because you discovered it to be a dream. You must
acknowledge, Miss Bartrand, that you have taken the matter wholly out
of my keeping.’

‘We might see each other, as friends,’ she stammered--true to a
time-worn instinct of her sex, offering a stone for bread, friendship
to the man she loved, and who loved her. ‘Surely our work need not be
dropped because of this I As long as you stay in the island you will
come out to read with me at Tintajeux?’

‘I shall return to Tintajeux, once more, after to-night,’ was Geff
Arbuthnot’s answer. ‘I shall return to shake hands with the Seigneur,
and to be paid my money. Good-bye for ever are hard words to speak,’ he
went on. ‘But we shall not make the hardness easier by trying to shirk
them. We have, virtually, said good-bye already.’

‘And we are never to be nearer reconciliation than this? You are not a
man to change?’

There came a furtive play of feeling upon her mouth. Deep in her heart
lurked a formless hope that Geoffrey was not in earnest, that at a
smile, a touch of hers, he must yield, if she so willed it.

‘I am a man,’ he answered, ‘to change upon the day you bid me do so.
If, at some future time, you think less vile things of me----’

‘Mr. Arbuthnot!’

‘Well, or without that. If it should be your whim, in some idle hour,
to remember my existence--dare I say, to send me a flower you have
worn, a bit of ribbon, a sheet of paper with a single relenting word
written on it--you will have only to address your envelope to St.
John’s, Cambridge.’

‘And now, for the remainder of this summer?’ asked Marjorie, drear
visions rising before her of a silent schoolroom, of work laboured
through without the poignant desire of Geoffrey’s praise. ‘Is it
possible that you mean--that you have no other course than to leave
Guernsey at once?’

Something in her manner made it seem that she referred their quarrel
to him for final arbitration. But Geff Arbuthnot tried his utmost to
congeal. His present temper indisposed him for compromise. He had
been cut to the quick by that one scornful imputation, that one base
utterance of Marjorie’s lips--‘The acres of Tintajeux, few though
they be, are matters better worth caring for than Marjorie Bartrand,
herself.’

He felt it impossible to forgive her.

‘I shall certainly not leave Guernsey without calling on the
Seigneur--to be paid.’

Geoffrey was not superior to a feeling of pleasure in the repetition
of these words. They were horribly cruel ones. It might well be,
afterwards, that he remembered with remorse how the girl’s slender
figure drooped, how her cheeks burned, how her hands fell listlessly
upon her knee, one in the other’s palm.

‘And then--for the rest of the vacation, what are your plans?’ she
repeated, presently.

‘I have no plans, now. The summer has gone out of my year! Maybe I
shall follow in the footsteps of Gaston and his wife. Dinah, I know,
would not be sorry to leave this place.’

He spoke without premeditation. It had, perhaps, not occurred to Geff
Arbuthnot’s coarser masculine perception that his meagre outline of the
past had revealed a secret of which Dinah was, herself, ignorant. To
Marjorie, in her despair, the mention of Dinah’s name was a last blow:
the heavier, perhaps, in that Geoffrey gave it with such calmness, was
prepared, as a matter of course, to seek refuge in the friendship of
the fair and gentle woman to whom, although she had never loved him, he
‘owed everything.’

‘Or I may cross at once to England. That is likeliest. In England one
can always fall back on work. I have had enough of idleness. A boat
calls here on Sunday morning that will suit me well enough.’

‘On Saturday, then, grandpapa and I will look for your visit. Could you
not,’ suggested Marjorie, with magnanimity, ‘ask Mr. and Mrs. Gaston
Arbuthnot to come with you to Tintajeux?’

Geoffrey had a moment’s hesitation. There was a note in her fresh and
youthful voice which he had never before distinguished, and which, I
think, wrung his heart. But he would not allow himself to soften. He
would not forgive her until she repented her of the thing which she had
uttered.

‘Gaston has not returned, Miss Bartrand. There are heavy fog-banks
still at sea. The Cherbourg boat was not signalled when I left town,
and Dinah--well, Dinah, of course, will be miserable until she sees her
husband’s face.’

Geff took up his hat in readiness for departure, and Marjorie rose from
her chair.

‘The Cherbourg boat will be back before Saturday, but, in any
case, grandpapa and I will count upon seeing _you_. Good-night,
Mr. Arbuthnot. This is not your last visit to Tintajeux. I do not
acknowledge that we are saying good-bye for ever.’

She kept herself under singular control. For a second or two she
yielded her cold hand, bravely, into Geff’s keeping. As he left the
drawing-room she accorded him a lofty _minuet de la cour_ curtsey,
learnt, in her babyhood, from her first French governess. Then, when
he was gone, when the figure she had watched so often had rounded the
last turning in the Tintajeux avenue, the poor child, with leaden
steps, made her way to the schoolroom. Sinking in her place beside the
ink-stained table, Marjorie Bartrand rested her face upon a heap of
books, then burst into a very thunder-shower of tears.

Her scene with Geoffrey had swept away all sense of the dual
personality that troubled her before his coming. The strong-minded
Minerva, criticising love and marriage with acerbity, had vanished,
and in her place was a commonplace little girl sobbing her heart out,
as Rosie Verschoyle, as Ada de Carteret might have done, for the
sweetheart her own unruly tongue had estranged.

If Geoffrey would but come back, take her in his arms, kiss and forgive
her! So, dumbly, cried Marjorie’s heart.

But supper-time came and went. The sun dipped under the fading sea
line, the twilight waned, the yellow stars stole forth, one by one,
from the gray: Geoffrey Arbuthnot returned not.

She had acted with family pride, perhaps from virtue, conceivably from
jealousy, without doubt, as became a Bartrand. These cold consolations
were all that the universe, just at present, seemed likely to offer.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

TEMPTATION


When the Cherbourg boat reached Guernsey, twenty-four hours behind her
time, no Dinah, with radiant expectant face, waited on the quay to bid
Gaston Arbuthnot good-morning.

It was the first occasion since their marriage that she had in like
manner failed. After ever so short a separation it was Dinah’s habit to
go bravely to the fore on harbour side or platform with a welcome for
the husband she loved. No Dinah was to be seen this morning. And Gaston
Arbuthnot’s spirit sat more lightly on its throne by reason of her
absence.

He was honestly glad to return. A day and a night’s detention on a
rock, with a thick sea-fog, and without one’s dressing-case, was a
test, of sentiment and of friendship alike, which Gaston had felt to
be beyond his strength. But it was a relief to him that poor Dinah,
effusive, reproachful--Dinah, half sunshine, half tears--should not be
on the pier to enact a little scene of domestic interest beneath the
sharp, uncomprehending eyes of Linda Thorne.

‘Useless to ask you to breakfast with us,’ murmured that lady, from
beneath her treble gauze mask, as she and Gaston were passing across
the gangway. ‘Dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, I am sure, will be in a fever of
anxiety about your return.’

‘Scarcely. Every one in Guernsey must have known that fog detained us.
If you will be at home this afternoon,’ Gaston added, when their hands
met at parting, ‘I will give you the latest bulletin as to Dinah’s
condition.’

‘Oh, I make no promises,’ cried Linda, carelessly. ‘“He who will not
when he may”--you know the rest of the proverb. Long before five
o’clock to-day some tragic event may have changed us’--in after times
this prophecy, made in jest, might possibly return to Linda Thorne’s
memory--‘changed us for ever into enemies. Robbie, love, accept my arm.
As you are quite determined that two shillings’ worth of cab would
bring us to bankruptcy, we will return to our home and infant on foot.’

Doctor and Mrs. Thorne turned, on leaving the quay, into a narrow
street leading towards the Old Town and The Bungalow. Gaston Arbuthnot,
with the lightheartedness born of recovered freedom, ran quickly up the
hundred-and-eighty steps that formed the shortest cut from the pier
road to Miller’s Hotel. At the summit of these steps a new temptation
assailed him in the person of old Colonel de Gourmet, the bachelor
proprietor of the most luxurious little house, the best cellar, and the
best cook in the Channel Archipelago.

‘Why, Arbuthnot! Some one told me you were at the bottom of the sea.
You and Linda Thorne. Locksley Hall sort of thing! So goes the story of
the moment. You are the very man I could have wished to meet, sir. Come
back to breakfast with me. I have two of the finest mullet ever caught
in this Channel, and Kutscheel, my black fellow, could dress a mullet
with Brillat Savarin himself. Now, I’ll hear of no refusal.’

‘I have a wife, Colonel. The argument, naturally, does not carry weight
with you. Still, it is an argument. I have a wife, and she expects me.’

‘Send up a line from my house telling Mrs. Arbuthnot where you are.
I positively wouldn’t waste such fish on a man of less cultivated
taste.’ In the Colonel’s lack-lustre eye there came a momentary glow of
feeling. ‘In my time we used to look upon a palate--a palate, sir, as
one of the essentials of a gentleman. The young men nowadays don’t know
a mullet from a stickleback.’

Well, reader, a dual breakfast with old de Gourmet was a temptation,
after its sort, that Gaston Arbuthnot ranked high. The Colonel’s
admirably arranged house was screened by just sufficient leafy shadow
from the eastern sun, refreshed by just sufficient air on the side
where it opened to the sea. The Colonel’s black fellow was a finished
artist; his cellar the long result of half a lifetime. To Gaston--true
Parisian in all the more important business of existence--a noontide
breakfast was the crowning meal of the day. Man dines, he would
contend, as dogs or horses feed, because his body needs replenishment.
Breakfast, with its delicate light dishes, fine wine, fruits and
coffee,--breakfast succeeded by a prime cigar, morning sunshine, and
morning talk--is, essentially, a refined, a human repast. The nine
o’clock tea and toast, the marmalade, bloaters, or bacon, sacred to
the British householder, were scarcely less horrible to him than the
buckwheat cakes and maple syrup, the porridge, the pie, the ‘shad’ of
American breakfast-tables.

‘If you can give me half an hour’s law, Colonel de Gourmet, time to
have a bath, to get a change of apparel, and hear my wife’s version of
the Locksley Hall episode, I will come to you. Otherwise, I know the
nature of mullet, and----’

‘I appreciate your delicacy, my dear sir. But my black fellow and I
thoroughly understand each other. Those mullet,’ said the Colonel, with
a quiver of the lips, ‘are now reposing, each in its paper shroud,
buttered, flavoured to a nicety. They will not approach the fire
until Kutscheel sees me turn yonder corner beneath the Arsenal gates.
I will wait for you here--putting the last finishing touch, alas! to a
poorish appetite--as I limp up and down in the shade. But don’t exceed
thirty-five minutes. We owe it to our cook, a human being with passions
and weaknesses like unto our own, to have a conscience in these
matters.’

A minute or two later, Gaston’s alert step had brought him to the outer
gate of Miller’s Hotel. He loitered for a few seconds in the garden,
enjoying its double sensation of warmth and flower scents. Then, with
hesitation for which he would have found it hard to account, Gaston
Arbuthnot entered the house. He traversed a passage, and opened the
door of Dinah’s sitting-room.

It was empty. Her work-frame was shrouded in silver paper. A bouquet
of hot-house flowers lay, with petals browned and faded, on the table,
a card of Lord Rex Basire’s beside them. Gaston felt that the room had
not been lived in since they left it last on Wednesday morning.

‘Madame had gone out,’ volunteered the black-eyed French waitress,
peeping in at him through the half-open door--the black-eyed waitress
building up dramatic likelihoods on the spot, possibly from the
recollection of Madame’s tears of yesterday, possibly from Milor’s
neglected bouquet on the table, possibly from a certain blank look on
Arbuthnot’s face. ‘Madame had gone out--there was a good hour at least.
Madame had left no message for Monsieur.’

For the first time since their marriage, thought Gaston Arbuthnot, not
without a pang, as he walked off in silence to his dressing-room!

Well, there must be a first time, he supposed, in all one’s
disillusionments. From to-day forth, he need never more expect a
passionate greeting, perhaps never dread a passionate reproach from
Dinah. And it was best so. Gaston had seen Clesinger’s rival statues
of Rachel; one, the ‘Phèdre,’ the other, ‘Lesbia with her Sparrow.’ He
infinitely preferred the Lesbia, sparrow, silliness, and all. Still,
mused Mr. Arbuthnot, whose emotions had a trick of mounting quickly
from the heart to the head, it might be a little stroke of wise and
kindly diplomacy for him to exhibit discerning mortification, make
Dinah feel that she had been forgetful of him. _Forgetful!_ For the
first time, surely, since that morning in the rustic Cambridgeshire
church when she walked down the aisle, in her white straw bonnet, her
simple cambric gown--his wife.

Accordingly, when he re-entered their sitting-room presently--Dinah
absent still--Mr. Arbuthnot pencilled the following note, curtly
amative, as was ever one of Captain Steele’s to his Prue!


     ‘MY DEAREST GIRL--My existence, I perceive, has slipped your
     memory. But I do exist. I am, at this moment, going out to
     breakfast--not in high spirits.

     ‘Your devoted
     ‘G. A.’


Gaston Arbuthnot pencilled this note. Then, with affections, it must be
confessed, undividedly centred on red mullet, he started off, lightsome
of mien, elastic of step, in the direction of Colonel de Gourmet’s
house. At the first turning of the road a girl with golden hair, with
a face fair, despite its pallor, as the summer morning, stood opposite
to him--Dinah. A basket of strawberries hung on Mrs. Arbuthnot’s arm, a
bunch of white moss-roses, her husband’s favourite flower, was between
her hands.

‘Dinah, my love, this is fortunate. I have been hunting everywhere
for you,’ said Gaston, hitting without effort upon one of those airy
little nothings which float men of his weight, like corks, over half
the whirlpools of life.

‘I am glad, in spite of all that has happened, to see you back.’

And Dinah, who had never uttered an airy nothing since she was born,
looked hard at him. Traces, unmistakable, of tear-shedding gave an
expression Gaston Arbuthnot liked not to her eyes.

‘Yet you did not show your gladness by meeting me on the pier--grim
and dirty objects we must all have been after our twenty-four hours’
discomfort! Perhaps I deserved to be neglected,’ said Gaston, in a tone
of resignation. ‘But remember, darling, I am not accustomed to miss
your face when I have been away. The punishment, coming immediately
after a course of Alderney and fog, struck me as rough.’

‘Don’t talk of punishment,’ Dinah answered, her voice betraying the
strong effort by which she kept it controlled. ‘Your staying away has
been hard to bear ... and now, now I wish to forget everything but that
you are back safe.’

‘And what did you do with your time, yesterday? Of course you were not
anxious. You knew that fog, and fog alone, was keeping me in Alderney.’

‘Yesterday was the blackest day I have ever lived through.’

And Dinah lifted her face, courting rather than turning from her
husband’s scrutiny.

‘Blackest? Why, I thought you had had sunshine in Guernsey, that the
fog concentrated itself with vile partiality upon our horrible rock
yonder! And what did you do with your time, then,’ went on Gaston, with
unabated cheerfulness. ‘Where was Geoffrey?’

‘I did not think of Geoffrey. I had heart for nothing but to stay in my
own room.’

‘Substituting tea for dinner, close air for oxygen, as Woman loves to
do when she is in trouble--or has manufactured trouble for herself. And
had you no visitors at all to lighten your darkness?’

‘Lord Rex Basire seems to have called. His card was lying this morning
on the parlour table.’

‘And you have no wider sympathies, Dinah, no desire to know how we,
miserable deserters, got along in Alderney?’

‘I like, of course, to hear everything that concerns you.’

Dinah accentuated the pronoun stoutly.

‘Although you had not sufficient curiosity to meet me when I landed?’

As Gaston thus adroitly harked back upon his grievance his wife’s eyes
sank. She turned from him with a movement of impatience.

‘The moment the steamer was signalled I got ready, Gaston. I went
straight down to the pier road and watched her come into harbour. Oh,
you never saw me,’ Dinah added quickly. ‘I was standing behind some
piles of timber at the entrance to the pier, a hundred yards distant.
And when I saw you and the Thornes land together, I felt certain you
would walk with them to their house, and I lost courage and got away.’

‘To avoid the deadly risk of saying good-morning to Mrs. Thorne and the
Doctor?’

‘I--I remembered there were no strawberries for breakfast,’ she
stammered, determined upon not giving him fresh offence, ‘no roses to
last us until to-morrow. Don’t you see,’ holding out her hands, which
trembled a little, ‘I have been marketing?’

‘Alone? But I need hardly ask the question. You always do your
marketing alone.’

His skilfully marshalled questions perplexed her vaguely. She felt the
same aching doubt which overcame her, once, on board the _Princess_, a
doubt as to Gaston’s belief in her perfect truthfulness.

‘Yes, and no,’ she answered, a piteous deprecation in her tone. ‘Lord
Rex Basire was in the market-place. His company was so wearisome that
I could scarcely answer a civil word. Yet he followed me from stall to
stall. A lord, it seems, will not be affronted as a gentleman would. I
never shook him off till I turned the corner beneath the Arsenal gates.’

‘From which point Lord Rex no doubt caught a glimpse of me,’ said
Gaston with his unfathomable candour. ‘’Tis a good enough little
creature in its way, although brainless! We must be tolerant of all
men, Dinah. If one only frequented the society one loves best,’ he
pursued, ‘I should certainly not be going out to breakfast at this
moment.’

‘Going out!’

‘I saw de Gourmet at the bottom of the hill, and he invited me to eat
red mullet with him thirty-five minutes later. You must admit, Dinah,
that the temptation was strong?

To this she made no answer.

‘For when de Gourmet talks of red mullet he implies a menu. (Our food
in Alderney was barbarous.) Rougets en papillottes, accompanied by fine
old Graves. Tartines de caviar. Poulet sauté--with Château Margaux,
of ’58. A soufflé aux fraises. A glass of wonderful Tokai after one’s
morsel of Stilton! Still,’ added Gaston, ‘if _you_ had met me on the
pier I could never have said Yes--especially as I am obliged to dine at
the Fort to-night.’

Again Dinah was mute. She rested her hand upon the garden railing
beside which they stood. She kept the tears back, bravely, in their bed.

‘It is guest night at mess, and there will be a larger party than
usual. My engagement dates, really, from a week ago. I made some idle
promise, it seems, of giving the Maltshire youngsters a lesson in
poker. By the bye,’ ran on Mr. Arbuthnot, with an air of spontaneous
reminiscence, ‘I remember! Little Oscar Jones offered to put me up.
Very lucky I thought of telling you.’

‘You intend to be away till to-morrow? Is that your meaning, Gaston?’

‘Till to-morrow, certainly. When can one get away from a mess-dinner
before midnight! This time, however, you will not be disturbed, my
love. Instead of being roused at an unearthly hour of the morning, you
will have your rest unbroken. And you want it, Dinah. Do you know that
you are losing your colour, that your eyes are beginning to look dark
under the lower lid?’

‘And your evening dress? When you breakfast with Colonel de Gourmet, I
generally see nothing of you for the remainder of the day.’

‘My dearest girl, you are all thoughtfulness. Just put together what
I shall want in my Gladstone. Miller will see that it goes up to the
Fort. And do not keep in your own room, Dinah, and do eat dinner,
instead of drinking tea, for my sake.’

By this time Gaston Arbuthnot had progressed some paces along the
descending path. Dinah had no choice but to return to the hotel,
then settle down, after a scarcely tasted breakfast, to one of her
accustomed days of loneliness and embroidery.

Alas! the mere mechanical business of cross-stitch irritated her
cruelly. This conscientious sorting of coloured wools, this rigid
counting of threads, this hour-long stabbing of a needle in and out of
canvas--what good could be the outcome of it? She asked herself the
question ere her needle had taken a dozen stitches. What ill has been
lessened, thought Dinah, what pleasure added to mortal lot by all the
collective pieces of wool-work which patient, dull-hearted women have
executed since the world began?

A keen, eager soul like Marjorie Bartrand’s would have settled the
question, unhelped, and finally, at about the age of eleven. Dinah’s
nature was essentially averse to revolution. She was slow at imagining
new futures, and an existence without cross-stitch would, to her, have
been the newest of all possible existences. But pain was beginning to
sting her, not only into rebellion, but into quickened intelligence.
It was not merely the emptiness of wool-work as an occupation that
overcame her. She felt humiliated by its want of art. She pictured
the tasteless adornment of Aunt Susan’s humble parlour rendered a few
shades more tasteless by the added pinks and greens and reds of her own
laborious ottoman! She divined, as she had never done before, what her
‘pieces’ must seem like in the fastidious sight of Gaston and of his
friends.

With a sensation of disgust poor Dinah pinned a screen of silver paper
over her forget-me-nots and auriculas. Then she took Geoffrey’s volume
of Browning from the table. Seating herself in a corner of the room
farthest away from the fresh air, the enlivening summer odours and
warmth which floated in from the garden, she began to read.

The book opened at ‘James Lee’s Wife.’

During the past twenty-fours hours she had pondered deeply over the
wisdom to be gained at the hands of polite society. What was the
Langrune expedition for her but an experiment, a lesson whereby she
might acquire the manners, the temper, the ideas (if such existed)
of her husband’s world! The experiment had taught her much. Yet, I
think, ‘James Lee’s Wife,’ read and re-read, through tears, had taught
her more. She had discovered no transcendental meaning, as a learned
Browning Society might have done, in Browning’s words. But she was
growing to look at life otherwise than by her own small rushlight of
personal experience, to know that it was no new thing for a man’s fancy
to die while his wife’s love burned at white heat, to realise that
there was a wide world lying outside her own narrow embittered lot--a
world to whose beauty and whose teachings the most self-engrossed soul
must open itself or perish.

Dinah Arbuthnot did not want to perish. She could be content, she
thought, although delight was gone out of her days, if use survived;
ready to spin the wool and bake the bread; to return to the plain,
sweet wholesomeness of workaday existence from which the hapless good
fortune of marrying a gentleman had divorced her.

To part from Gaston, in short!

For an instant she had a physical longing to breathe the air of the
Devonshire moorlands. A wild hope crossed her that she might go back to
her father’s people, live their village lives, earn her own bread--be
Dinah Thurston again. Then her heart smote her with violence. The
volume fell to the floor. Could parting from Gaston be a beginning of
better things, a turning towards the straight path of duty--that path
along which so many a wife has to walk, uncomplaining, through the
after years of a marriage to which happiness has not been granted? Her
existence at his side was more, now, than a long, slow disappointment.
It was a growing anguish, a combat in which ignorant, plain-speaking
love on one side had no chance against a succession of sympathetic
rivals all uttering perfect little flatteries, all giving perfect
little dinners, on the other. And she, Dinah, was not two-and-twenty,
and her young heart craved, insistently, for sunshine. And such a
slender change, it seemed, in the eternal foreordering of events, a
child at her knee, a husband loving the quiet of his own fireside,
would have made up the sum of her prosaic ambition!

Yet she must go on enduring. She must not part from Gaston until
the dark final curtain shut his face for ever from her sight. What
taste could she have for the Devonshire moorlands, the country joys
which contented her when she was a girl? No human soul can serve two
masters. After knowing passionate love, passionate jealousy, how could
she go back to a life of no emotion at all, how share the village
interests of people like her father’s folk; simple souls with whom it
was a vital point whether the next cake should be made with carraways
or with raisins, who could speculate through half a winter as to who
would be ‘asked,’ and who wear new bonnets on Easter Sunday, and in
whose minds a visit to Exeter, or the yearly house-cleaning, ranked
among the larger events of mortal destiny!

The poor girl was reluctantly coming to the conclusion--a hard one
to realise at her age--that she would not be extraordinarily welcome
anywhere, when Geff Arbuthnot, unannounced, as was his habit, entered
the parlour.

He took in the position of affairs promptly. Dinah’s colourless face,
her unoccupied hands, the book lying, as it had fallen, on the floor,
told him, with gist passing that of words, that she was in some fresh
misery of which Gaston was the cause.

Geoffrey’s own heart was sore, his spirit troubled, to-day. A thought
distantly akin to that which had newly traversed Dinah’s mind for a
moment overcame him. What a little change in the foreordering of things
might have re-written the story of both lives! If Dinah Thurston had
chanced to love him before his cousin Gaston crossed her path....

‘Alone--and indoors, Dinah?’ Her Christian name for once slipped from
his lips. ‘It is a day,’ quoted Geff, ‘“when it were a sullenness
against Nature not to go abroad and see her riches.” Has Gaston
returned?’

‘Gaston and the Thornes have returned. The Cherbourg boat came in long
ago. And I have been out--I went down to market before breakfast. I
enjoyed the morning wonderfully.’

There was the kind of discrepancy between voice and statement that
you might detect in the speech of a man who should declare he had
‘wonderfully enjoyed’ a funeral.

‘And what are you going to do with yourself this afternoon?’

‘I scarcely know--I am in an idle mood--write to one of the good old
aunts in Devonshire, perhaps.’

‘And Gaston?’

‘Gaston will not be seen till to-morrow. He has, in the first place,
gone out to breakfast. I was not on the pier when they landed, and
Gaston ran quickly up here to dress. I only spoke to him for a few
minutes outside the hotel. Colonel de Gourmet had waylaid him on the
road, it seems, and invited him to breakfast--off red mullet! The
temptation, Gaston said, was irresistible.’

A touch of sarcasm was in Mrs. Arbuthnot’s voice.

‘The Guernsey red mullet is not a bad fish,’ retorted Geff with
appreciation.

‘Breakfasting, of course, means spending the day at Colonel de
Gourmet’s house--until the hour comes round for afternoon teas! And
to-night there is a dinner-party at the Fort. Gaston is forced to be
there ... to give some of the Maltshire subalterns a lesson in poker.
He will not be back till to-morrow, quite out of consideration for me!
Gaston thought me looking pale. He did not wish me to have another
broken night.’

The speech was delivered with a kind of staccato airiness. Geoffrey
Arbuthnot’s face became graver and graver while Dinah made it.

‘You are reading, I see, as usual. Why, you will be a confirmed
bookworm before long.’

Coming closer, he picked up the volume from the floor. He examined the
page at which it opened.

‘“James Lee’s Wife;” I should say you would soon know Mrs. Lee’s
history by heart?’

‘I find something new in it, always. Don’t you think, Geff, so much
writing must have gone far to ease her sorrow? Or would writing just
come natural to an educated, born lady? In my class,’ said Dinah, ‘if
trouble cut us very keen, we should not feel like taking a copy-book to
write it down.’

The criticism, from Dinah’s point of view, was just. Geff sought not to
controvert it.

‘The prettiest part of all is “Beside the drawing-board.” I was
thinking, before you came in, I’d rather be the little girl with the
poor coarse hand than write the best poetry ever printed.’

Geoffrey followed the drift of her remark.

‘And Gaston?’ he asked with point. ‘How about his opinion? We cannot
look at a single small morsel of our lot, forgetting the rest. If there
is one thing Gaston admires more than another in a woman, it is the
whiteness and delicacy of her hand.’

‘All the same, Geff, I hate to live without work, common household work
that makes the hands rough and red. Work is the same to me as your
books are to you. And you know,’ added Dinah, ‘there must always be a
world full of ladies, delicate, white-skinned, fond of idleness, whose
finger-tips Gaston could admire.’

The observation gave Geff an inconveniently straight glimpse behind
the domestic curtain of his friends’ lives. Moving to the table he
became suddenly interested in Dinah’s marketing--the strawberries were
in their wicker basket still; the roses hung their heads, as though
conscious of neglect, over the rim of an ugly water-jug.

You may, generally, prognosticate safely as to the state of a woman’s
heart when she treats her flowers lovelessly.

‘They were all for Gaston. You know how he likes to see fresh fruit and
flowers on the breakfast-table.’

‘I know that the strawberries smell uncommonly good. They are to be
kept, of course, for Gaston’s return?’

‘Oh, no.’ Dinah’s voice was blankly indifferent. ‘I don’t care now what
becomes of them.’

‘You would do well to care!’ exclaimed Geoffrey, looking round on
her, shortly. ‘There are a good many millions of people in the world,
remember, besides Gaston Arbuthnot.’

‘Geoffrey!’

‘Yes, a good many millions, the majority of them poor, an enormous
percentage--suffering. Gaston and you, and I, are surfeited with good
things. We are certain every day we live that we shall dine--think
of that, Mrs. Arbuthnot, _dine_, with the accompaniment of as many
strawberries and roses as we choose to buy.’

The blood mantled hot over Dinah Arbuthnot’s weary face.

‘You mean to remind me that I am selfish?’ she said, very low. ‘I know
it, Geoffrey. I know that I am sinking fast into everything that is
bad.’

‘In the common meaning of the words, you are the least selfish woman
living. But you are self-absorbed--no, even that is saying too
much--you are Gaston-absorbed. If you could see how some half-starved
people manage to get along--yes, and to be cheerful over their
crust--you might think less of strawberries and roses for Gaston’s
breakfast-table.’

The admonition looks rougher, set down in black and white, than it
sounded. Dinah’s face grew animated.

‘I know that to be useful in any way would do me good. Long
ago I should have liked district-visiting in England, only you
see’--hesitating--‘we never stop long enough to explain ... I mean, for
the clergyman of the place quite to know about one.’

Her tone was tentative. She had an uneasy dread that young women who
marry men above them in rank are likely, if ‘unexplained,’ to be
suspect in orthodox eyes. In their early married days she recollected
a visit paid to them by a seaside curate with a subscription-list,
recollected the seaside curate’s glance when Gaston introduced her,
with her country speech and manners, as ‘my wife.’

And Dinah’s being the order of mind that generalises, for ever after,
from one experience, that glance haunted her still, an uncomfortable
reminder as to the likely sentiments of the clergy at large regarding
herself.

‘Not long enough to explain! I don’t catch your meaning. What on earth
has any clergyman in England to do with you, Dinah Arbuthnot? Could
you not feel for miserable people, work for them, serve them heartily,
although you travelled round the country, a heathen, in a caravan,
although you had never spoken to a clergyman in your life!’

‘I want some one to show me the way,--that is another weakness of my
character,--I want some one to show me the way in everything good,
Geff.’

‘Let me show you the way, to-day. You remember the sailor lad who got
his ankle hurt as we were coming back from France?’

That wretched passage in the fog? Yes, Dinah remembered every incident
of it, too well.

‘There was worse mischief done than the surgeons feared, at first. Poor
Jack is at present Number 28 in the accident ward of the hospital. He
will have to remain there for a good many more weeks than he thinks.
Well, one may safely assert, Mrs. Arbuthnot, that though you and I and
Gaston have roses and strawberries to spare, Jack has none.’

‘Take them to him, of course,’ Dinah exclaimed. ‘Surely, Geff, you
might have done that, without asking.’

‘And do you suppose Jack would not value such gifts more if they came
from a woman’s hand, the delicate white hand whose uses you despise!
To-day is Friday. On Friday afternoon the patients’ friends are
admitted to see them. But Jack’s friends are far away in Devonshire.
You will be his only visitor if you consent to come.’

Dinah rose, acquiescently, rather than with any initiative warmth. She
had a moment’s hesitation. Gaston held such contradictory opinions, at
times.... No knowing if Gaston would approve of her putting herself
forward. There was the Archdeaconess ... there were the island clergy?
Then, encountering a look that had a command in it from Geoffrey’s
eyes, she moved lingeringly towards the adjoining room.

‘If I dressed to please myself, you need not wait two minutes, Geff.
But the powers that be,’ the little malice flashed from her unawares,
‘are sensitive--as to millinery! I could not run the terrible risk of
meeting Mrs. Thorne and Gaston in my morning gown.’



CHAPTER XXXIX

THAT LITTLE DIVINITY


The project roused her, at least, into physical brightness. As
she walked at Geoffrey’s side towards the hospital, the basket of
strawberries hanging from her arm, her hands filled with roses, a
stranger, meeting them, would have taken Dinah Arbuthnot for some April
cheeked girl, ignorant of passion as of disappointment; a girl needing
no apologist! She wore, on this fateful afternoon, a dove-coloured
Quaker gown, a Gainsborough hat tied beneath her chin by black velvet
strings; _item_, a large plain cambric tippet, with cambric half
sleeves reaching to the elbows. It was the latest costume invented by
her husband in an idle moment. And Geoffrey had lost exactly half an
hour while she put it on.

But what man would grudge a lost half-hour after one glance at that for
which he had waited!

The road from Miller’s Hotel to the hospital led through Petersport
High Street, and close to the north entrance of Colonel de Gourmet’s
garden. At the moment when Dinah and Geff walked along, it chanced
that the Colonel, himself, reclined under the shaded verandah of
his drawing-room,--the Colonel, smoking his third cheroot, and
offering unsentimental criticisms on the dress and looks of such
feminine passers-by as came within range of a pair of languidly held
opera-glasses.

Of an afternoon Colonel de Gourmet’s drawing-room was generally full.
Lacking many, let us say lacking all the more solid human qualities,
the old East Indian sybarite had one virtue--he was universally
hospitable. Nothing pleased him better than that a man he had invited
to breakfast should loiter on till dinner. Nothing pleased him better
than that other men whom he had not invited should drop in, at any hour
they chose, make free with his rare cigars, rarer wines, and entertain
each other with ideas, or with that best discovered substitute for the
trivial masculine mind--cards.

In a garrison town, sea on three sides, and barely available space on
the other for a polo match or a herring run, it may be believed that
old Colonel de Gourmet was in no lack of callers.

Six or eight men, young enough, most of them, to be their host’s
grandsons, were lounging, this July afternoon, in various attitudes of
idleness about his pleasant bachelor drawing-room. The air was lightly
impregnated with tobacco smoke, so good of its kind that, mingled
with the wafted garden sweets, it scarcely seemed grosser than some
finely distilled odour of musk flower or of tea-rose. Gaston Arbuthnot
was on the point of finishing a match at écarté with little Oscar
Jones--two or three of Oscar’s brother officers forming a silent and
discriminative gallery.

Cards, simply as cards, Gaston Arbuthnot disliked, although he had
an inborn knack of playing most things successfully. The childish
intricacies of a game like Nap., beloved of all the Maltshire
subalterns, were to him a weariness of spirit.

‘We can use your English Nap. as a means,’ he would tell them,
frankly, ‘just as we can use blind hookey or, simpler than either,
chicken hazard, if we want to transfer money from one man’s pocket
to another. As a matter of amusement, I would sooner play euchre
or poker for counters: in poker especially, all our natural human
instincts--bluster, bluffing, intent to deceive, etc.--come agreeably
to the fore.’

Whist, Gaston confessed, he played well. At écarté he was moderately
good. This moderate goodness his antagonist was about to test
practically.

‘Four, all!’ cried little Oscar, eager over a just-dealt, brilliant
hand of trumps.

‘The king,’ said Gaston, quietly laying down his cards. ‘Some one tell
de Gourmet it is his turn to cut in.’

The Colonel had now risen to his feet. He was watching an object,
evidently of paramount interest, through his opera-glasses.

‘A throat--an ankle--shoulders! Tell you what it is, sir,--she is
the prettiest woman in the island--not one of our society beauties
can hold a candle to her! And she’s not a woman one meets at any of
the parties.--By and by, Arbuthnot, by and by.’ For Gaston with a
presentiment of the truth, sat, restlessly, shuffling and re-shuffling
the cards. ‘To view the Queen of Hearts in flesh and blood is better,
surely, than handling her in pasteboard. Now where did one see that
little divinity before? At Saturday’s rose-show, of course. Asked
Linda Thorne about her. Mrs. Linda--true type of her sex--affected not
to know her name. Luckily, such a paragon does not need a name. An
Archdeaconess, if I mistake not, threw her little pebble. “The young
person with the yellow hair was--nobody one knew.”’

Every man in the room, with the exception of Arbuthnot, had by this
time crowded to the window. One of the youngsters hazarded a bold
whisper in the host’s ear. It was old de Gourmet’s deafer ear. He
caught the note of warning imperfectly. He resumed his parable with
warmth:

‘French woman, do you say? Cannot believe it, sir. No French woman had
ever such a complexion, such hair. But the dress, with its complex
simplicity, comes from Paris, doubtless. Dove coloured _mousseline
de laine_.’ The Colonel made these things as much a study as his
Brillat Savarin. ‘A tippet, designedly plain, such as Perfection, only,
dare put on. A little black velvet knot beneath the dainty chin....
(Directly, Arbuthnot, directly--calm your impatience.) And look at her
teeth, now she smiles, and her dimples! The young fellow with her seems
disposed to make the best of his opportunities--small blame to him!’

Throughout the listeners there ran a flash of hideous silence. At last
some one passed a slip of paper, on which a name had been hastily
scribbled, into Colonel de Gourmet’s gouty fingers, and then arose
general conversation, mainly as to the weather prospects. After this
fog that had been hanging about the Channel for days, and with the
glass running down fast, what were the chances we should not have a
thunderstorm in the course of the next twenty-four hours?

Gaston Arbuthnot arranged the cards in two neat packs on the table and
waited silently for his host. He felt morally certain that the little
divinity was his wife, also that Lord Rex Basire was her companion.
And a wholesomely bitter contrition filled his soul, a feeling widely
differing from the vague disrelish with which he had watched her
teaching Basire cross-stitch five days before. Probably he never knew
how dear Dinah’s white name was to him, never realised how culpably he
had left her in the shade, until this moment’s humiliation.

And still Gaston’s countenance betrayed him not. An instant later, he
was rallying the Colonel on his boyish enthusiasm, confessing that,
for his own part, he was too staid a Benedict to exert himself, at the
present state of the thermometer, merely because a nice-looking woman
happened to pass along the street.

‘And what are our stakes--the usual fiver?’ asked de Gourmet, looking
immensely tickled as he hobbled across the room to the card-table. ‘I
am afraid of you though, Arbuthnot! You are just the man to be in luck.’

‘I don’t believe in luck. Conduct is fate.’ Gaston lifted his handsome
face. He fixed his clear steely glance on the somewhat Silenus features
over against him. ‘Champagne?--I thank you, Colonel. No brain-enemy,
just at present. Don’t you know that we Yankees keep our heads cool----’

‘On purpose to rook the Britishers,’ interrupted de Gourmet, still with
a suppressed chuckle in his voice.

‘On purpose to rook the Britishers. Now, let us attend to business,
sir,’ said Gaston cheerfully. ‘The best of three games for a five-pound
note--good!’


The little divinity and her companion had by this time reached the
hospital gates.

‘I hope I shall use the proper words, Geff,’ whispered Dinah, looking
flushed and nervous. ‘The kind of _exhortation_, you know, that
clergymen’s wives would give to sick people.’

‘Impossible!’ Geoffrey disencouraged her promptly. ‘Orthodoxy cannot be
learnt at a moment’s notice. You must be content to be--yourself! And
that is much,’ he added, watching her beautiful, earnest face. ‘Your
sermon may well be a silent one. Look, just as you are looking at this
moment, and leave the rest to the patient’s human nature. Jack may be
a miserable sinner, needing homilies. That is a fact you and I have no
certitude about. We know that he is a poor lad, far from his people,
laid low in pain and weakness. Depend upon it, the sound of a tender
voice, the sight of Dinah Arbuthnot’s face, must prove good medicine,
both for his soul and body.’

The tears started to Dinah’s eyes. She was just at that tension point
of suppressed emotion when a kindly accent, a word or two of praise,
are as hands extended to a drowning man. If Gaston only esteemed her
poor personal gifts as Geoffrey did--for, of whatever she thought,
to-day, Gaston still was beneath the current of her thinking! Nay (this
followed by a descending, yet inevitable sequence of ideas), if Gaston
could only hold the opinion of her held--Dinah, remembering events, had
a little thrill of shame--by a man like Lord Rex Basire!

Perhaps the sum-total of yoked infelicity might be lessened if careless
husbands would reckon with themselves, sometimes, concerning the number
of their deserved rivals--such husbands, I mean, as possess wives of
Dinah Arbuthnot’s mould. For must not the answer be trumpet-tongued:
‘The whole seeing world!’ Does not every man, save the purblind, range
himself by intuition on the side of a young and beautiful and neglected
woman? But careless husbands may not have imagination enough for such
a stretch, or there may be sympathisers ... outside feminine judges
... mature sirens ... a clever whisper, even, now and then. And so the
wife’s heart continues to ache to the last--or gives up aching of a
sudden: deeper tragedy, by far.

Dinah’s colour went and came as she traversed the corridors of the
hospital beside Geoffrey. The moment they entered Ward A., the men’s
accident room, she forgot her want of knowledge, of orthodoxy.
‘Explanation’ was not needed here. She saw only the rows of beds,
each bed with its pallid inmate. She felt only that she was Dinah
Thurston--among the poor, the simple, the suffering,--among her equals.

The patients in the ward were mostly working-men in the springtime
of their strength, the majority of them victims of the late quarry
accident. A few, like poor Jack, had been struck down by mishap at sea
or in the harbour. Beside nearly every bed was a visitor. Here might
be seen a country girl talking in whispers to her sweetheart. Here a
pale wife clasped her husband’s hand, or a mother in silent anguish
watched her lad’s changed face. On every pillow was a little posy of
sweet-smelling cottage flowers, reminding the gaunt sufferers who lay
there, patient and uncomplaining, of blue summer sky, of the freshness
of fields and gardens, of home.

Number 28 had neither visitor nor posy. Poor Jack came from a remote
hamlet among the Devonshire moors. His mates on board the _Princess_
were afloat again. The lad had no friends, save the surgeons and nurses
of the Guernsey hospital--and Geff Arbuthnot.

‘Speak to him about his own country,’ Geoffrey whispered, as his
companion drew back a little; ‘Jack will dispense with any formal
introduction.’

And on this, Dinah, her face overflowing with sweetest womanly
compassion, stooped over the low pallet and spoke--a commonplace word
or two, unworthy of raising to the dignity of print--a word or two
whose homely Devonshire lilt called the blood up to Jack’s temples as
though some voice from the old familiar home addressed him.

Since her marriage, Dinah had learnt to speak English, ‘with a foreign
pronunciation,’ Gaston would tell her, ‘yet scarcely strong enough to
be disagreeable.’ Although a tell-tale cadence was traceable, ever and
again, in her speech, she had tardily succeeded in putting away the
Devonshire burr that was strong on her tongue when Geoffrey met her
first. Here, at Jack’s bedside, no Gaston near to be put to shame,
she fell back, instinctively, upon the West Country accent, the soft,
half-strange, half-familiar o’s and u’s of her childhood.

‘It’s so bad to be sick, for a young fellow like you, and away from
home. We just thought you might like a talk with some one Devonshire
born and bred. I wonder, now, do you and I come from the same part?’

‘I was born at Torrhill, a village out away beyond Chagford. A poor
place, ma’am, on the borders of the moor--quite a poor place,’ repeated
Jack apologetically.

‘Why, that is near to my own town, Tavistock!’ said Dinah. ‘We used to
pass Torrhill going along the Vale of Widdicombe every autumn when we
went out whortleberrying. “Torrhill, in the cold country.” I mind we
children used to say, when we got snowstorms in winter, “the Widdicombe
folk were picking their geese.”’

Well, and as he listened to her simple talk, to the soft West Country
accent, it came to pass that Geff Arbuthnot’s heart knew a thrill of
its old infatuation. No man can possibly hold two women dear at the
same time. And Geoffrey was in love--the warm flesh and blood love of
four-and-twenty--with an actuality, not a remembrance. But his heart
thrilled at Dinah’s voice. Something in his temperament forbade him
to outlive the past, wholly. It was a book that could not be clasped.
A word, an accent, and the enchantment cast upon him in the long dead
summer days at Lesser Cheriton would be revitalised. This was his
weakness (a conscious one) always; and now he was in the dangerous
state of wounded feeling when a man’s tenderness is easily arrested at
rebound....

Those Devonshire o’s and u’s brought back before him in its fiery
ardour the fortnight when he worshipped Dinah Thurston’s footsteps,
the fortnight ending on that evening when Gaston and his friends drove
past in the twilight on their return from Ely. Standing here, in the
Guernsey hospital ward, Geoffrey’s senses recalled the rush of wheels
down the village street, the lingering daylight in the low fields of
Cambridgeshire sky. He remembered how Dinah’s head and throat stood out
in waxen relief against the dusky arbutus hedge of the cottage garden.

And he decided, there and then,--yes, while she was chatting,
low-voiced, smiling, to the lad about the moors, and the ‘cold
country,’ and the autumn huckle-berrying--to return to England
forthwith.

A French steamer was to touch at Petersport on Sunday morning. That
would give him to-morrow for winding up his small affairs, for taking
leave of his patients, for visiting Tintajeux. He would kiss, in
coldest fancy, the hair, the lips that should have made up to him for
the unattainable heaven of his youth’s desire. He would look once again
in Marjorie’s eyes, and go. It was possible--here, at least, might be
a gleam of comfort--that Gaston and Dinah would steer clearer through
their difficulties if left absolutely alone than they were doing now.

He told her of his intention when they were on their way back to the
hotel.

‘And, remember, you know your way to the hospital,’ he added quickly,
as Dinah was about to speak. ‘I hope when I am gone you will pay Jack
many a kind little visit, your hands as full of fruits and flowers as
they were to-day.’

‘When you are gone!’ echoed Dinah, blankly. The fear smote her that
with Geoffrey’s going, such slack hold as she still had upon Gaston
must be loosened. ‘I hoped you would remain here ... as long, at least,
as I must. Think of all the sick people who will miss you, Geff. Think
of Miss Bartrand.’

‘I shall find sick people everywhere. In the matter of doctors,
Guernsey is full of better men than I.’

‘And Marjorie Bartrand?’

‘Ah! that is a different side of the question. I am conceited enough to
think Miss Bartrand’s mathemathics will suffer.’

‘And you don’t care--you are not one bit sorry at giving her up? Do you
know, Geoffrey, I had begun to hope----’

‘Miss Bartrand will be a Girton girl before long,’ interrupted
Geoffrey. ‘Happily,’--he paused--‘she is not without self-reliance, has
more than a woman’s share, perhaps, of ambition. When we see each other
next it will be as fellow-students in Cambridge.’

Dinah knew the tone of his voice. It was not a tone that invited
discussion.

‘Your leaving is an ill stroke of luck for me, Geff. Day by day
Gaston’s engagements seem to grow upon him. My time will be emptier
than ever when you are gone.’

‘You may fill it, full as time can hold. I thought as I watched you
charming poor Jack out of knowledge of his pain that you had missed
your vocation. You should be a nurse. Yours are the ideal face and
voice and tread that we want in the hospitals. If you ever harbour
thoughts of emancipation, or of a mission,’ said Geoffrey, ‘remember my
hint.’

‘When Gaston has used the last line that can be modelled from my face,
for instance?’

The smile was flickering with which Dinah hazarded the surmise.

‘When Gaston has got his last inspiration from your face! Unluckily for
the hospitals, that day will not come quite yet. A woman with a mission
should have no such vexatious encumbrance as a husband or a lover.’

For once, Geoffrey’s tone was cynical. He recalled his parting with
Marjorie Bartrand over-night.



CHAPTER XL

AT THE BUNGALOW


And all this time an offer of truce lay on the mantelshelf of Dinah’s
parlour; an offer directed to himself in the handwriting whose Greek
e’s, whose girlish assumption of scholarship, Geoffrey’s heart knew!

Can we wonder at the pagan notion that the gods must needs hold their
sides for laughter when they gaze down on the ever-twisted plot of
our little lives? Geoffrey and Dinah were within a hundred feet of
Miller’s house. Five minutes more and Geff must have been lifted--this
time into quite other than a Fool’s Paradise, when, abruptly, a new
actor, jauntily floating in cobweb Indian silk, gleaming under a
scarlet sunshade, with eight-buttoned gloves, with airs, with graces
innumerable, made her entrance upon the scene.

Mrs. Thorne’s manner was confident to-day, as of one with whom the
world goes well. She ran skittishly down the steps leading from
the hotel garden. She paused, tapping a high-heeled shoe in pretty
impatience on the gravel. She looked this way and that, expectantly; at
length, it would seem, decided, with a little merry shake of the head,
for the chances of town over country. Then, with such ease of tread
as high-heeled shoes are apt to confer on ladies whose summers are
increasing, she commenced the steep descent of the hill.

‘I hope Mrs. Thorne has not been calling on me. I hope, if we stop, she
will make me no pretty speeches,’ said Dinah under her breath. ‘I could
not bear them just now. If Mrs. Thorne makes pretty speeches, I shall
say something true to her.’

Geoffrey, man-like, showed signs of instant flight on hearing the
ultimatum. He was in no vein, he said, for Linda Thorne’s fine spirits
(was in no vein, I fear, for the better sex at all, in its liveliness
or its asperity); he had an appointment to keep, a case of life and
death, at the bedside of one of the quarry workers--would not be back
till late--it was time for him to be on his road and----

‘In short,’ interrupted Dinah, ‘you have not courage to meet Mrs.
Thorne!’

‘If you like to say so--yes,’ was Geff’s answer. ‘But don’t tell Mrs.
Thorne the truth.’ He whispered this to Dinah at parting. ‘Or tell her
such truth only as affects herself, not you.’

Dinah, however, was not in a temper for advice, even Geoffrey’s. Erect
of carriage, with a flush of the cheeks, a sparkle in the eyes, Dinah
walked grandly up the hill, determined, at every cost, that final truth
should be spoken between her and Mrs. Thorne, did opportunity offer.

‘So our philosopher shows valour’s better part,’ thought Linda, as
Geff vanished down a turning to the right. ‘Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot
positively declines to face me! We have never been rapturously fond of
each other. Now it is to be war to the knife. Excellent, detestable
young man! I accept the challenge.’

And Mrs. Thorne mentally kissed her pale buff finger tips in the
direction taken by Geoffrey.

Dinah, meanwhile, had breasted the hill. Her head was held aloft, her
fine arms were folded in one of those attitudes of natural repose that
had always been the despair of Gaston’s pencil. To the artist who has
no ‘wood notes wild,’ the virtuoso with whom craft, workmanship,
style, are all in all, is not perfect naturalness the most difficult to
woo among the graces!

Linda spoke first. ‘So very glad to meet you. I have this moment called
at Miller’s and found you absent. We can have our chat out of doors.’

She was serenely void of conscience. It was probably a mere physical
sensation of antagonism that hindered Mrs. Thorne from offering poor
magnificent Dinah her hand.

‘To begin with, I must unburthen my soul by confession.’ So she ran on
gaily. ‘My visit was, really and truly, to your husband.’

Not a change of colour, not a shade of expression passed across the
face of Gaston’s wife. She possessed the self-preserving instincts of
many weaker creatures, and of her sex in general; could conceal, feign,
dissemble--except under the eyes, and at the voice of him she loved.

‘The other night, at sea, just before the steamer stopped at Alderney,
you must know that he and I made a bet, a very foolish one.’ Linda had
the grace to redden as she remembered what that bet was about. ‘And Mr.
Arbuthnot won. He wins in everything, it seems?’

A compliment may have been implied by the tone. It fell dead on Dinah
Arbuthnot’s prejudiced ears.

‘And so I thought I would run up this afternoon to discharge my debt.
I deposited the stakes on a corner of your mantelpiece. If you see Mr.
Arbuthnot before I do, tell him, from me, that he has won,--that I am
bankrupt! You will forgive me for invading your sitting-room, without
leave, will you not?’

Still Dinah did not speak. Her eyes glowed, deepened until their soft
English hazel seemed turned to black.

‘I have known you long enough--we are sufficiently intimate,’
went on Linda, feeling that she was being forced into the fencing
attitude--‘for me to venture on such a liberty?’

‘You can venture where you choose.’ Forth came the reply in Dinah’s
full, rounded tones. ‘The room is Gaston’s. How can I question your
right of entering it? But I must ask you not to speak of intimacy. If
I saw you daily, until the last day I live, I should never be intimate
with you.’

Her voice was crystal clear, by reason of its low pitch. Every word
was weighted by passionate, long pent-up feeling. Linda Thorne shifted
about, ill at ease, on the feet that a minute ago had danced under her
weight so airily.

‘We ought, positively, to see more of each other! I think it quite
too charming of you to be so sincere--quite. I always say to my
friends--“Mrs. Arbuthnot has that most refreshing, that rarest of
gifts, sincerity.”’

‘Do you say this? Saying this, do you mean to speak well of me?’

‘Dearest Mrs. Arbuthnot! Can you doubt the honesty of my intentions?’

‘Never say it again. Be generous enough at least to spare me your
praise.’

The rapier points had lost their buttons. Linda Thorne fell into
position quickly. That Dinah, good Griselda-like woman, loved her
careless husband to the pitch of jealous idolatry, had been patent to
her long before. Still, viewing the Arbuthnot household from her own
level, Linda’s judgment was--that Griselda had consolations. Mild ones,
if you will: the devotion of Lord Rex Basire, impartially offered to
every pink-and-white nonentity he came across; the constant society,
tinged by that glamour which beautiful women confer on all their
relationships, of the excellent, detestable Scotch cousin, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot. But consolations, nevertheless.

And this judgment sharpened her reply.

‘If I were to refrain from praising you, my dear creature, I should
lay myself open to the charge of envy, the one vice,’ observed Linda,
with pathetic self-depreciation, ‘which I am free from. Every man in
this island, my own good husband included, sounds your praise. You have
absolutely a queue--I mean,’ considerately translating, ‘a little train
of conquests! Lord Rex Basire, Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot.’

‘I ask you to stop! In the class of life I come from,’ exclaimed Dinah,
aflame, ‘we hold it unworthy for a married woman to make conquests.’

‘Rather severe, surely! Cleopatra may never have known she had
conquered, until Anthony’s peace was gone.’

‘Just as we hold it unworthy in any woman, married or single, to
beguile the husband of another.’

A tiny pink-hued veil reached to the tip of Linda’s nose. We may assume
that the veil concealed Linda’s usual percentage of well-applied rice
powder. But a gleam of white anger showed through veil and powder
alike. A nervous quiver worked around her thin lips. For a moment it
seemed as though Mrs. Thorne’s vulnerable point were found, as though
her antagonist’s last thrust had gone home.

Then she recovered herself without too palpable effort. She laughed
good-humouredly.

‘Our strain is getting over-tragic. We live in the day of little
things. Sensation is out of vogue. Nobody pushes husbands down wells.
Nobody “beguiles” the husbands of worthier people. Even if it were
otherwise, if Viviens were as the sands of yonder Channel, your
happiness, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, would be secure.’ It must be confessed
that Linda made her counter-stroke with admirable neatness. ‘A
beautiful woman married to an artist holds him in chains, rose-decked
ones, of course, but chains--_chains_.’

She forced Dinah to touch fingers. She covered her retreat under
a little roulade of interjections sent back, with grimace of
friendliness, across an expressive shoulder. ‘So fortunate we left
the _Princess_! Never could dear Robbie have stood the terrors of
that night! One hears whispers on all sides of heroic courage! Mrs.
Arbuthnot’s name foremost!’ Then Linda Thorne tripped down the hill,
by virtue of superior coolness mistress, outwardly, of the situation,
but with her heart thumping uneasily, with the queerest, hottest sense
experience had ever brought her of discomfiture and defeat.

That Dinah’s temper had reached the point which chemists call flashing
point was certain. Another encounter like this, with sharpened memories
on both sides, probably with the added element of an audience, and
either Linda Thorne or Dinah Arbuthnot must become ridiculous.

It was a dilemma, thought Linda, out of which the finest tact, the
cleverest self-effacement, could scarcely help one. She was like a
prime minister--the presumptuous simile tickled her--a prime minister
who, having lost the lead of the House, would fain transfer his power,
gracefully, to the chief of the Opposition.

Dinah was that chief; and she, Linda Thorne, was genuinely ready to
abdicate. There was in Linda’s nature a thin stratum of Bohemianism;
the bulk of the woman was Philistine. She liked small popularities, to
air her domestic excellences, her devotion to her Robbie! She liked
to talk serious talk. She liked to dine with the Archdeacon! Sooner
than run the risk of scandal, or go through scenes of such dimensions
as this scene with Dinah, she felt that it would be well to take
Robbie and the infant, pack up her portmanteau, and fly. Oh, if Mrs.
Arbuthnot--a bright thought striking her--could but be made to pack up
_hers_ and go--never to return! Even if poor Dinah took the worshipped
Gaston with her, Mrs. Thorne felt that the price would not be too high.
She would forfeit every sentimental friendship in the world sooner
than again encounter the scorn, the passion of Dinah’s girlish face.
Above all--with an audience!

It was, really, this vision of an audience, of public battles-royal, of
ridicule, perhaps of acknowledged defeat, which fired Linda Thorne’s
conscience to the height of renunciation.

Arriving at the garden gate of The Bungalow she heard, no unfamiliar
sound, the voices of Rahnee and of Gaston Arbuthnot, at high play
within. Before discovering herself, the mistress of the house peeped
for a minute through the ivy-covered railings. She saw Rahnee aloft on
Arbuthnot’s tall shoulder, one little skinny hand clutching tight round
his neck, the other beating him stoutly with a switch.

‘Faster! Missy But’not! Dallop, dallop!’ shrieked Rahnee.

The child’s vigorous kicks were testifying to her delicious sense of
power over her slave, when the unwelcome gleam of a scarlet sunshade
caught her eyes.

‘Rahnee--terrible infant!’ cried Linda, falling back on the tired
Indian voice that had been absent during her colloquy with Dinah. ‘Come
down, naughty girl. Think how you must be teasing Mr. Arbuthnot.’

‘No, me not tease Missy But’not. Go away!’ The thin arms imperiously
motioned Linda’s dismissal. ‘We not want nobody--Missy But’not and
Rahnee!’

‘My visit is to Rahnee exclusively,’ observed Gaston. ‘Remember,
Mrs. Thorne! You warned me not to come to The Bungalow. A mysterious
something might happen before five o’clock converting us for ever into
enemies. But I will not have Rahnee included in the feud.’

‘Did I talk such nonsense--really?’ cried Linda, with a forced laugh.
‘Well, who knows? Perhaps it will turn out that I was a prophetess,
after all. Rahnee, little tyrant, come down this instant.’

At a signal from Mrs. Thorne the ayah, who had been placidly dozing on
her square of carpet in the shade, arose. With a quick flank movement
the black woman bore down on Rahnee. Upon this, Rahnee, clinging closer
to Gaston, raised her shrill voice to its topmost limits.

‘Rahnee, I command! Oh! dear--dear, what a trial children are at a high
temperature! Well, then, if you won’t be good,’--Linda drew from her
pocket a little silvery packet tied with cherry-coloured ribbon--‘if
Rahnee won’t be a good girl.... What does she think mamma has brought
her from town?’

‘Tandy!’ cried Rahnee, with a sudden accession of repentant wisdom.
‘Rahnee not tease poor Missy But’not no more.’

And bestowing two or three resonant kisses on Gaston, the child slid
down out of his arms. She gave her mother a careless caress, then
vanished, hiding herself and her ‘tandy’ under the ayah’s ample cotton
cloak, into The Bungalow.

‘She really is not a bad little monkey,’ said Linda, who thoroughly
believed in her own system of education. ‘Touch Rahnee’s feelings and
you can at once bring her to obedience. Feeling is the grand requisite
in a child’s nature.’

‘Who would not be virtuous,’ observed Gaston Arbuthnot, ‘if virtue were
always rewarded by providential sugar candy?’

‘And I so wanted to have a few minutes’ quiet talk with you. Do you
know, Mr. Arbuthnot, I am ... seriously afraid’--for once Linda
Thorne’s words came slow and haltingly--‘seriously afraid ... you will
pardon me, I hope, for saying this--that Mrs. Arbuthnot cannot be well.’

‘_Dinah!_ Why, she was fresh as a lily when I parted from her this
morning. I have indirectly heard of her looking her best since----’

But Gaston’s face was unsmiling. The moment when he shuffled and
re-shuffled the écarté packs, half a dozen men crowding to the
verandah of Colonel de Gourmet’s drawing-room, returned upon him with
significant and disagreeable clearness.

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot is looking exquisite. I thought I had never admired her
so much as in her Quaker dress, her simple country hat! Still, there
may be a bloom which exceeds health, a white which is too transparent.
Your wife strikes me--how shall I describe her state--as low-spirited,
hysterical!’

‘She eats and sleeps well. She can walk half round the island.
Difficult to conceive of a young woman with Dinah’s magnificent
constitution as hysterical!’

‘But she is so. I met Mrs. Arbuthnot on my way down from Miller’s
Hotel. I told her about our foolish wager, and how I had honestly
called to discharge my debt. A propos de bottes, you will find your
gloves on a corner of the mantlepiece.’

‘And Dinah?’

‘Dinah, I was afraid, looked like weeping, under the broad light of
day, in the open street.’

‘Impossible! She is little given to idle tears, even when cause exists
for shedding them.’

Gaston had reddened. He made the statement in the quiet tone of a man
sure of his facts.

‘I felt as though I had committed some horrible crime--and of course,
when people’s nerves are unstrung, it is sheer cruelty to attempt
to argue with them. Our soft Guernsey air may be at the root of the
mischief. Half the disorders in these Channel places are nervous ones.’

‘My wife does not know the meaning of nerves. Your kindheartedness,
dear Mrs. Thorne, for once leads you wide of the mark. Will you let
me smoke a cigarette?’ asked Gaston, consulting his watch. ‘In ten
minutes’ time I must be on my way to the Fort.’

They walked up and down, amicably chatting among the pleasant blue-gray
shadows of the lawn. Neither was ignorant of the art by which speech
can be used for the concealment of thought, and Dinah’s name was not
mentioned until the moment came for Gaston’s departure. Then Linda
Thorne spoke again, and to the point.

‘I meant every word I uttered, Mr. Arbuthnot, and my best advice to you
is, give your wife change. Why not try Sark? It is the lightest air we
have in the Archipelago. Or, better still, run over for ten days to
Brittany.’ In saying this, she glanced at him through her eyelashes.
‘You must, at least, allow that I am unselfish?’

‘I allow only that you want to get rid of us,’ laughed Gaston
Arbuthnot, with imperturbable neutrality. ‘Also, that your way of
working the scheme out is charming. You pack up wise counsel, Mrs.
Thorne, in silver paper, tied with rose-coloured ribbon, as you do
Rahnee’s candy!’



CHAPTER XLI

ONE WORD


The French waitress met Dinah as she entered the hotel.

Madame Thorne had called--there was scarce five minutes since. The
visitor insisted ... but insisted on entering. A thousand amiabilities
were to be transmitted by the tongue of Louise, and something--the
Frenchwoman shrugged her shoulders vaguely--had been left in Madame’s
salon for Monsieur.

‘I know all about it,’ cried Dinah, with readiness. ‘Mrs. Thorne and I
have just been talking together. It is quite right, Louise.’

She assumed the lightest, most cheerful tone of which she was mistress,
feeling, with inward smart, that the French shrug was over-vague,
that a glimmer of suspicious knowledge showed on the serving-woman’s
face. Then she walked, her step mock-elastic, a poorly counterfeited
smile upon her lips, to her sitting-room. Shutting the door, with the
automatic care human beings bestow on trivial actions in times when
their hearts are fullest, Dinah walked straight to the fireplace. The
‘something’ left for Monsieur was evidently before her. A letter,
almost amounting to a packet, stood on the mantelpiece. It was
addressed in large decisive handwriting to ‘Mr. G. Arbuthnot, Miller’s
Hotel, Guernsey.’

(Cette chère Smeet! Elle sait si bien s’effacer! A pair of iron-gray
men’s gloves, lying, modestly, on the farther corner of the shelf did
not arrest Dinah Arbuthnot’s sight.)

‘Mr. G. Arbuthnot, Miller’s Hotel, Guernsey.’

Well, reader, if Dinah had possessed only a few grains more of
worldly experience it must have been clear to her that this letter
never issued from The Bungalow. In the first place, by reason of the
handwriting--when did a woman of Linda’s culture affect the Greek e’s,
the up and down characters of an undergraduate? In the second, by the
ignorance of common English etiquette which the use of the title ‘Mr.’
betrayed.

But Dinah had no worldly experience at all, neither had she the
imaginativeness which renders some equally untaught people nimble at
guessing. In her mind was one engrossing thought--Gaston. In her ears
rang the text of Mrs. Thorne’s message. ‘I deposited the stakes on a
corner of your mantleshelf. Tell your husband from me that he has won,
that I am bankrupt.’

There was no room, in her tempest of heart and brain, for doubts that
could have been favourable to her own peace.

‘Mr. G. Arbuthnot, Miller’s Hotel.’ She took the letter--at first with
unwillingness--in her hands. She turned it over and over. The envelope
was too small for all that the sender had forced it to contain; it
adhered on one side, only. A touch, Dinah thought, shrinking from
her thought, and the edges must come asunder. Her hands trembled so
violently that she let the letter fall, with some force, on the ground.
As she picked it up she saw that the narrow edge of adhering envelope
had become narrower. An instant more of dalliance--and the temptation,
strong and imperious, to open it altogether, had taken hold of her.

‘Be true to yourself,’ whispered a still small voice, the voice of
Dinah’s better nature, ‘loyal, upright, as you have striven to be
from the day you married Gaston Arbuthnot. Go away from him to-night,
to-morrow, if you have not wifely courage to live your life out at his
side. But go, with head erect, looking neither to the right hand nor
the left, till the last.’

Then rose another voice, bolder of tone, of strain less heroic.

‘Poor, foolish, hot-hearted woman! Is it not possible that you are
brewing a thunderstorm in a tea-cup? Why these turns and twistings of
conscience? Linda Thorne, Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot, thinking no evil, make
one of the silly wagers common among idle people who inhabit an idle
world. The lady is the loser, calls at her friend’s hotel to discharge
her debt, and meeting the friend’s wife, confesses, playfully, that
she is bankrupt! Open that quarter-inch of yawning envelope, as Linda
Thorne, no doubt, intended you to do. In Gaston’s absence, you have
often opened letters addressed to him, by his own desire. Where is
the fancied line between former right and present wrong. How could it
matter to Gaston if you did see the contents of a packet in which there
is probably not a syllable of writing?’

And Dinah’s heart was vanquished by the meanness of opportunity. She
opened it.

A length of folded ribbon met her sight; a tiny bouquet, odorous still
with yesterday’s sweetness, of briar and of heliotrope; a sheet of
notepaper upon which one word was written. Bare hints--outlines of
some unknown story, which jealous passion might easily colour, fill up
with vivid detail, endow with pulsating life! After the first moment’s
shock, Dinah stood like a woman petrified. Her eyes were fixed on the
_one word_--never meant for their perusal! Her face was bloodless. She
felt cold, stupefied with anger. It seemed to her that she could not
drag herself from the spot where this hateful, sure light had dispelled
her darkness for ever. She waited--as though waiting could avail her!
At last the striking of a clock caused her to start. She had got to
dress, she remembered, to face men and women, to dine--for Gaston’s
sake. With an effort that almost cost her bodily pain, Dinah made her
way into her bedroom. She locked, double locked the door. Then holding
the envelope and its contents between her shivering hands, she tried
to force herself into calmness, to resolve on conduct, if that were
possible, which should be just to herself and to her husband.

He was guilty of no actual wrong-doing. This thought presented itself,
in clear pure light, amidst all the dusky half-shades of her mind.
Gaston was fickle, neglectful of herself, too easily led captive along
the road of pleasure. Worse things than these she could never think of
him. To the moment of her death he must remain her best beloved and
her lord; the one man, could the hour of choosing come again, whom she
would choose out of ten thousand. She did not accuse Gaston of wrong.
She sought not to blacken Linda. For aught she knew, these delicately
sentimental friendships, these intimacies which permitted tender
expression--the yielding of a ribbon or a flower!--might, in the world
above her head, be held innocent.

What she did know was that she, Dinah, belonged not to that world,
desired no further education in its usages. A comedy ... an amusing
drawing-room charade, perhaps ... was in course of rehearsal between a
tired Indian lady, needing sensation, and her husband. She would not
passively, ignobly stand by, a spectator. She would drag out her life
of paltry distrust no longer. Gaston’s formal leave must be asked for,
before she started; money also--enough to take her from Guernsey to
the Devonshire moors. This would be all. Briefly, if Heaven would help
her, honestly, she would tell Gaston what wish lay next her heart. And
Gaston was not likely to thwart her! By Monday--oh, that it could be
earlier--she would go back to her own people, to a life shone on by no
sun, watered by no shower, a life shut out from keen pleasure as from
keen humiliation for evermore.

Dinah sank into a chair and fell to examining the hue and texture of
the ribbon, curiosity, for the moment, out-balancing cold repugnance.
It was of foreign make, she saw; a relic, doubtless, of those days
when two people, _who might have suited each other_, used to meet, to
exchange furtive whispers in a Paris salon; a memento sufficiently
precious to have survived through a decade of divided years, and to
become the object of a keenly contested wager between them now.

‘Tell your husband,’ with fresh purport Linda’s message returned to
her, ‘that he has won, and I am bankrupt.’

She put back the enclosures in their cover, not suffering herself to
smell the flowers’ languid odour, or look again on the one word whose
import her jealousy divined and magnified. Then, just as she had hidden
the letter away in a secret drawer of her dressing-case, the first
dinner-bell was set ringing, and Dinah bethought her that, if she would
carry out Gaston’s parting request, she must go into the dining-room,
alone.

No further shirking of that ‘alone’ was practicable. On former
occasions she had quietly contrived to absent herself from the public
table when Gaston dined abroad, pleading headaches for heartaches,
preferring tea to food, ringing the changes by which neglected wives,
when they have common sense, keep their own sad counsel apart from
the world. The time was past for deceits now, either towards herself,
or others. Dinner, to-day, like all her future dinners, for twenty or
thirty years, say, must, perforce, be eaten without Gaston.

To drift--here, in truth, seemed that which lay before her! To drift!
At the present moment to speculate on possible effects--to vacillate
over a tucker, a locket, the colour of one’s dinner dress. A despairing
human soul, perplexed over the rival merits of pink, white, or blue; a
soul which, when love shone on it, had less than its feminine share of
toilet vanity! As poor Dinah hesitated, her thoughts travelled back,
by no road she knew, to Saturday’s rose-show, her first meeting with
Rex Basire, her earliest distinct doubt of Gaston’s truthfulness. She
decided to put on the black dress she wore that day, to pin a white
rose, Gaston’s flower by predilection, in her hair, to wear a silver
bracelet, Gaston’s first present after their marriage, on her wrist.

How fair, how marvellously fair she was! The fact struck Dinah with a
sense of newness as she stood, waiting for the last dinner-bell, before
her glass. Surely her looks, joined to such lavish love as she had
given, might have contented the heart, the pride of the most exacting
husband. If she had only had more mind. There was the flaw, the
fatal deficiency to a man with whom mind was all in all, like Gaston
Arbuthnot.

She scrutinised the moulding of her temples, the lines of her perfectly
cut head. In outward proportion she thought there was not much amiss.
It must be the quality of the brain that was poor. There must be
an inherited peasant slowness, a bluntness of perception or wit,
_something_ which disabled her from holding her own against the taught
graces, the pliant, inexhaustible lightness of such an one as Linda
Thorne. She might, if lowlier duties had fallen to her, have been
clever enough to manage a house, to look after her husband’s interests,
to bring up children. Amongst ladies and gentlemen--oh, the bitterness
with which she uttered the titles of gentility half aloud--amongst
ladies and gentlemen she had no place, no chance.

And in her nature, not thoroughly sounded as yet, but of whose depths
the last few days had vaguely informed her--in her innermost nature
were evil things that a constant pressure of temptation might bring to
the surface. She was not like Geoffrey. No ministering to others could
fill her life, at any rate not while she was young, while the cry for
love had the double keenness of a physical and of a moral want. If
she continued a hanger-on of the world that Gaston loved,--‘some one
who must be asked, don’t you know, occasionally, on sufferance,’--she
would, one day, meet with homage, differently offered, and from a
different man to Rex Basire. Was she sure that gratitude would not be
awakened in her, then vanity? Was she sure she might not decline, step
by step, to the condition of that most pitiable among women--a wife,
true to the cold letter of her fealty, who has at once outlived her
husband’s affection and the stings of her own self-contempt?

Dinah started, guiltily, as the sharp clang of the dinner-bell
roused her into final action. It took a good many minutes before
she could recover sufficiently to face the ordeal that lay before
her. At last, arming herself by the reflection that henceforth all
life’s common actions must be gone through alone, and under a certain
cloud of suspicion, she made her way to the dining-room. After a
moment’s trembling heartsickness, she pushed back one of the double
doors--entered.

A hush, an involuntary suspension of knife and fork greeted her. The
light through a western window fell full upon her golden head. The
whiteness of her throat and hands was thrown into brilliant relief by
the sombre dress she wore.

‘A saint of Holman Hunt’s--Early manner,’ thought a high-church curate,
away on his four weeks’ holiday, and who never would know more of
Dinah than the large sad eyes, the lips’ carnation, the nimbus of
sunlight-coloured hair.

‘Can the complexion be absolutely real?’ floated through the brain of
more than one duly aged and authorised feminine critic.

Miller, with his professional little run and smile, came forward. He
ushered Dinah Arbuthnot to her place.

‘Mr. Gaston Arbuthnot not expected, I believe?’ asked the host, as
Dinah prepared to take her seat.

‘No, Mr. Arbuthnot is dining at the Fort.’

‘And Mr. Geoffrey will not return till late. Then I may be allowed to
fill this vacant chair? Thank you, madam. I should not have ventured to
place a stranger next Mrs. Arbuthnot without permission.’

A minute later Dinah discovered--no stranger, but her husband’s friend,
Lord Rex Basire, at her side.



CHAPTER XLII

EMANCIPATION


Dinah Arbuthnot’s face asked vividly for explanation.

‘Made sure Arbuthnot would be here--that is to say, _our_
Arbuthnot’--Lord Rex stammered; he showed embarrassment that sat on
him oddly, as he apologised for his uninvited presence. ‘The comings
and goings of the Cambridge cousin are, naturally, beyond my powers of
calculation.’

‘Naturally,’ echoed Dinah. She remembered, with a pang of
self-reproach, what manner of errand kept Geoffrey absent.

‘Strolled round here early--by accident, you know--thought I’d ask
myself to dinner with your husband. Clean forgot, till Miller or some
one put it into my head, it was guest night. That was half an hour ago.
Ought to have started off, instanter, to Fort-William.’

‘And why, pray, did you not do so?’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot, can you ask me!’

Rex Basire’s tone adequately supplemented his words. And Dinah’s pulse
quickened. She was on the threshold, she remembered, of a new, an
emancipated life. A wife who lives apart from her husband must accept
her position, grow used to many things, to every complexion of whisper
among the rest. That is the world’s immutable sentence. Away from
Gaston, divorced from the arm which, during four years, had cradled
her in warm safety--she must learn, like other unloved women, to
rely on her own strength--her strength and the chivalry of all such
knights-errant, such Rex Basires, as should cross her path!

About the chivalry more might have to be learnt, hereafter. Dinah
realised, before the first step of her downward journey was taken,
that her strength was weakness. She felt as though all eyes around the
table must watch her with suspicion, read her secret. Rex Basire’s tone
of assured admiration brought the blood miserably, shamefully to her
cheeks.

He saw and misinterpreted the blush.

‘Thought, you know, as there was a rumour of the cousin’s absence, I
should have a chance of getting next you.’

‘You would have been better amused elsewhere, my lord. With Geff I can
talk or be silent as I like. Geff does not mind.’

Lord Rex on this made some whispered hit at the ‘model cousin’s’
excellence. As he ate his half cold soup murmured comparisons fell from
him as to the men who are made of flesh and blood, poor devils! and
the other men, too good for this world, who are made of ice, yes, ice,
by Jove! But he was not great at covert allusion. The metaphorical ice
got mixed with the metaphorical flesh and blood: his nominatives were
nowhere. Breaking down, rather ignominiously, Lord Rex smothered his
failure under a capacious sigh.

Dinah turned to him, with cheeks still burning. ‘I am afraid I did not
understand. Men of ice! Men of flesh and blood! Were you talking of
Geff or of yourself, Lord Rex?’

Despite her blush, the true eyes stopped him short, as they had so
often done before. Ere Rex Basire had time to double back towards his
starting-point there came an interruption--one of the trivial things
not to be mentioned in heroic story, yet which do, ofttimes, determine
the current of a human life. A plain little man, his large-checked
suit, his open Murray proclaiming the tourist, had during the past two
minutes attentively watched Lord Rex from the other side the table.
Upon hearing Dinah’s mention of the name, the stranger fidgeted with
his knife and fork, cleared his throat, coughed. Finally, leaning
forward with a bow, it was obvious that he expected, was eager for,
aristocratic recognition.

‘Lord Rex Basire, if I mistake not?’

‘Sir! You are politeness itself. But you have the better of me.’

Rex Basire accorded his interrogator a blank and frozen stare.

‘Oh, the top of St. Gothard, Lord Rex. You were travelling with the
Duchess. Her grace’s carriage broke down--something wrong with the
linch-pin--and as I was in the region, botanising, I had the honour of
offering her grace mine. Your lordship will recollect?’

‘Her grace’s carriage is invariably breaking down. Invariably.
Besides,’ drawled Lord Rex, putting up a ferocious pince-nez, and
resolute to nip renewal of acquaintance in the bud, ‘we are not on the
top of the St. Gothard now. Ah, Mrs. Arbuthnot,’ he addressed Dinah in
as low a tone as a man’s voice can sink to without becoming an actual
whisper, ‘_this_ makes up to one for a great deal I have suffered at
your hands.’

‘By _this_,’ said Dinah, whose courage was returning, ‘do you mean the
cold soup we have eaten, or the colder fish to which they are helping
us?’

‘I mean the happiness of sitting beside you, of knowing I am so much
forgiven that----’

‘Her grace travelled on as far as Andermatt in the carriage it was
my privilege to lend her. From Andermatt, if my memory serves me
right----’

‘Your memory is certain to serve you right, sir. The incident which I,
it seems, have forgotten, was more than unimportant.’

Lord Rex’s manner was brutal; no other word would adequately describe
it. The poor little tourist’s eyes dropped to his plate, his face
turned scarlet. Dinah leaned forward on the instant. With the gentle
womanliness which was _her_ breeding, she addressed him in her pleasant
country voice:

‘My husband and I met with just the same kind of accident once.
Our carriage broke down, and we had to spend six hours, in wet and
darkness, between Berne and Vevey. I should not have forgotten any one
who had come to our help that night.’

‘Ah--you know Switzerland, madam? Then may I ask,’ the tourist gave a
piteous glance towards Lord Rex, ‘if you take an interest in the Alpine
flora? I have only time to pursue such things during my holidays.’ It
is possible he pronounced the word without its aspirate. ‘But botany
is my hobby; I get plants enough in my five weeks to fill my leisure
for the rest of the year. Now in that very region you speak of, I have
found two or three specimens that are unique. If you will allow me to
enumerate the Latin names, madam----’

And so on, and so on. The poor man was one of nature’s choicest bores.
His information was stale, his manner of imparting it prosy; his
blindness to the suffering he inflicted, absolute. Dinah’s face wore
a look of kindly interest through everything. Occasionally (Lord Rex
all but groaning aloud over his wasted opportunities) she would strike
in with some question calculated to start the narrator afresh on new
tracks, on new prosiness, if, peradventure, he chanced to lag.

She even bowed courteously to him on leaving the table d’hôte: an
example not followed by Lord Rex.

‘A charming dinner, on my word!’ So he broke forth, the moment he found
himself beside Dinah in the welcome freshness of the garden. ‘May I
ask, Mrs. Arbuthnot, what inhuman whim made you talk to that wretched
snob?’

Rex Basire’s voice went beyond the limits of petulance.

‘Why a snob?’ asked Dinah, meekly. ‘You know I can never catch the
inner meaning of these names.’

‘Why? Because he was a snob. “Her grace’s carriage broke down on the
top of the St. Gothard; he had had the privilege of offering his.”
What the dickens did that matter to me? “Her grace travelled as far as
Andermatt in his carriage.” What the dickens did that matter to him?’

‘Only this, perhaps--that her grace’s misadventure obliged the snob to
go on foot.’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot!--I never expect a direct answer from any woman,’ Lord
Rex exclaimed with scarcely suppressed temper; ‘still, I should like
to know why during a mortal three-quarters of an hour you allowed that
little wretch to talk to you?’

She paused. A shade of deepened colour touched her cheek. ‘The wretch
was intelligent, Lord Rex.’ (_Aye, and opportune!_ This was a subtle
parenthesis, put in by Dinah’s conscience.) ‘I don’t understand Alpine
plants, but I liked to hear a good deal our tourist said about them.’

‘The ’obby he pursues during his ’olidays,’ observed Lord Rex,
humorously.

Dinah turned swiftly round. A streak of sunset goldened her hair,
and the delicate outlines of her face. She gave a look of farewell
sincerity at Lord Rex Basire.

‘Do you remember,’ she asked him, ‘a conversation you and I had on
board the steamer? It was just after my husband and the Thornes had
landed at Alderney.’

Yes, Lord Rex remembered. He was not likely--this, with a sigh--to
forget any hour or place in which he had had the good fortune to find
himself alone with Mrs. Arbuthnot.

‘We spoke about class distinctions. I believe you called me a
Conservative. Certainly you told me you were the most out-and-out
demagogue in England. You were all for fraternity, Lord Rex. “Gardener
Adam and his wife, and that sort of thing.” Labour was the universal
purchase-money. Dukes and earls had best go back to the place from
whence they came. Well--you meant none of this.’

Lord Rex winced. ‘Unfair on a fellow,’ he observed, ‘to be thus taken
au pied de la lettre, and----’

‘You must speak in English,’ cried Dinah. ‘I have not French enough to
understand your meaning.’

‘My dear Mrs. Arbuthnot! A man may hold theories,--visions of an
impracticable Utopia, don’t you know ... charming--ahem! to air in
exquisite company; impossible to carry out in this rough chaos of a
world we live in.’

Dinah stopped for a minute or more, sedately reflecting, before she
answered.

‘I think I understand. Socialistic opinions, if one is trying to
make talk for a rather stupid woman at a picnic, may be well enough,
especially if the rather stupid woman does not belong to one’s own
station.’

‘Mrs. Arbuthnot! I protest----’

‘The gardener Adam, of reality, is a snob. A wretch, bound, of course,
to lend his carriage to her grace, in distress, so long as he has
not the impertinence to talk of duchesses or linch-pins during the
remainder of his days. I have gained a new bit of wisdom, Lord Rex
Basire. It is not likely I shall meet you in England. If I do, I shall
remember what you said to our poor botanist--“We are not on the St.
Gothard now.” You might say, massacring me through a cruel double
eye-glass, “We are not in Guernsey now.” Good-night, my lord.’

She touched his hand. She passed away out of his life with a smile.
Her step was light. The rose-tints of the sky lent a fictitious
brilliancy to her face. Wonderful how that poor young woman, Mrs.
Arbuthnot, kept up her spirits! So opined feminine judges, looking
mercifully down upon events from the drawing-room windows of the
hotel. And under the sad circumstances--the husband’s indifference to
her growing hourly more pointed--to be carried away like a girl by
this foolish little lord’s attention! But that is the nature of these
pink-and-white, yellow-haired marionettes. The temperament, my dear
madam, is not one that feels or sorrows.

Dinah Arbuthnot walked quietly to her room, then rang the bell, and
told the waiting-maid that she would require nothing further, and that
no one need sit up for Mr. Arbuthnot. She changed her dress for a loose
wrapper, rested herself during some minutes, and with her face hidden
between her hands, strove to realise the altered condition of things
which lay before her.

It had been easy, an outlet to jealous anger, to declare, in the
moment’s heat, she would no longer live with Gaston Arbuthnot.
During dinner, though the strain was tense, there had been a certain
excitement, a sense of perilous adventure, to keep her up. Now came
blank reality. She must look at her position, as a stranger would,
from outside. If she purposed in good earnest to seek refuge with her
Devonshire kinsfolk, she had best benefit by Geoffrey’s escort on
Sunday, had best, wisely and soberly, begin to pack to-night.

Well, reader, ‘to pack,’ however chaotic one’s mental condition,
means--to use one’s arms, see to the folding of one’s latest intricate
furbelows, make sure that one’s newest bonnet shall not be crushed.
Dinah got through this part of her work well enough; nay, inasmuch as
packing brought her muscles into play, felt the better for it. Then
came the bitter beginning of the end. She must sort her trinkets, must
decide which things it was right to take with her into exile, which
leave.

Gaston was the most careless man living. The key of his dressing-case
was in his wife’s hands, everything he owned of value in her keeping.
It thus became needful, in looking over her own possessions, that she
should take count of his. And in doing so their four years of married
life returned, month by month, almost hour by hour before her.

A legacy of two hundred pounds had come to Dinah from a well-to-do
farmer uncle a few days after her wedding. ‘Too much, rather, to give
to the poor, not enough, certainly, to invest,’ declared Gaston--they
were at the time in Paris. ‘We will go shares, my dear child. I will
take one of the good uncle’s hundreds for cigarettes and you shall have
the other hundred for chiffons.’

Dinah wanted no chiffons--at Gaston’s insistence, possessing more
millinery already than she knew what to do with. So her hundred pounds
were mainly spent in buying pretty things for her husband. Gaston was
fonder of rings and pins than are most born Englishmen. He had also an
innocent way of directing Dinah’s admiration to artistic trifles in
the jewellers’ windows of the Palais Royal and the Boulevards--trifles
which were tolerably sure to find their way to his own dressing-table
before the next morning.

Ah, their good laughs when these innocent ways became too bare-faced!
Ah, the golden Paris days, when each hour was sweeter than the last,
when they used to jest together (little knowing) at the musty axiom
which limits a pair of true lovers’ happiness to the shining of a
single moon!

All the happiness--on one side, all the love--was gone now, thought
Dinah, as trinket after trinket, memorials every one of them, passed
through her fingers. She, who, in the bloom of hope, believed all
things, trusted all things, had become harsh, unrelenting, a woman
bent, of her own free will, though it cost her her heart’s blood, upon
leaving her husband’s side. And Gaston--nay, of him she would think
no further ill, to-night, at least! The proofs--little needed--of his
light faith she had locked away, witnesses against him until the last
hour that both should live. But she would think no new evil of him
to-night. She would seek her pillow, leave the preparations for her
journey as they stood. Midnight was now drawing near. To-morrow, she
thought, when sleep should have renewed her strength, this beginning
of her changed existence, this saying of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ instead of
‘ours’ might come easier.

To-day was still to-day. They belonged outwardly, in the world’s sight,
to each other yet.

There on the bedroom mantelshelf was an unfinished model Gaston had
made of her, a sketch which, had it reached marble, might some day
have worked its way inside the walls of the Academy. Among the neat
proprieties of her dressing-table were two of his modelling tools,
not altogether innocent of clay. There lay a half-burnt cigarette ...
a glove that he had worn.... Ah, heaven! And with this passionate
affection at her heart, she was unloved of him, had no child with tiny
tender clasp to make up to her for her husband’s coldness! And she was
still only a girl in years; and life but yesterday, it seemed, was
sweet.

If Gaston, with clairvoyant power, could have seen her at this moment
in her extremity of pain, doubt not that the couple of hilly miles
between Fort-William and Miller’s Hotel had proved an insufficient
barrier to keep him from her side. Common men, however, have common
lights to guide them. They reap even as they sow.

When twelve o’clock struck and Dinah’s aching head sank on its pillow,
Gaston Arbuthnot, with unburthened conscience, was settling himself
placidly down to poker--the little game of draw in which he had
vouchsafed to act as mentor to the youngsters of the Maltshire Royals.



CHAPTER XLIII

GEOFFREY CALLS TO BE PAID


It was a custom, dating farther back than Andros Bartrand’s childhood,
that the Seigneurs of Tintajeux should hold a stiff and formal levée on
the first Saturday of every alternate month.

The ceremony, shorn of its former old-world stiffness, lingered
on, and to the feminine mind was one of the most popular Sarnian
entertainments. For Andros Bartrand, with his fine manner, his handsome
face, his learning, his temper, was scarcely less a favourite with the
sex at fourscore than he had been in the flower of his age, half a
century earlier.

‘Will this generation of progress, will the coming democracy ever
produce men of eighty like our Seigneur?’ the Guernsey ladies,
Conservative to a woman, would ask.

And he who had argued that there may be higher ideals of an
octogenarian than are comprised by culture, originality, vigorous
health, an arrogant profile, and a courtly bow, would have stood poor
chance of escaping without scar from their hands.

‘The Seigneur grows robuster every year,’ remarked Mrs. Verschoyle to
Cassandra Tighe, on the afternoon of July 2. The ‘Tintajeux levée’ had
opened. The elder ladies were ranged along the row of white and gold
arm-chairs that surrounded the drawing-room. ‘Time stands still with
Andros Bartrand. Look at him talking--flirting, I call it--with Rosie.
The child declares, if the Seigneur would only ask her, she is quite
prepared to answer “Yes.”’

‘What would Lord Rex Basire say to that?’ whispered Cassandra, warming
up at the faintest suggestion of a love affair.

Mrs. Verschoyle looked mournfully perplexed, the chronic state of her
good, maternal, overburdened soul.

‘Lord Rex Basire? One certainly seems,’ said poor Mrs. Verschoyle
inappositely, ‘to have seen less of him since the picnic. But then we
have no gentleman to leave a card at the Fort! That is the worst of an
unmarried colonel in a regiment. One really can _not_ do the polite
thing. Does any one know, I wonder,’ a faint pink blush suffused the
whiteness of Mrs. Verschoyle’s cheek as some misty sequence of ideas
ran through her brain--‘does any one know if there is truth in this
rumour of the Arbuthnot family leaving the island?’

‘I can give reliable information about one member of the Arbuthnot
family,’ cried the prettiest, least wise, of the de Carterets. This
young lady, in the absence of better amusement, had been listening to
the exchange of confidences between her elders. ‘Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot
leaves Guernsey to-morrow. I am sure of my facts, because papa went to
inquire at Miller’s after a room for Fred. You know, Mrs. Verschoyle,
that we have had a telegram from Lloyd’s? Fred will be home on Monday.’

‘I hope your poor mother will get no shock when she sees him,’ Mrs.
Verschoyle answered sadly. ‘Not one young man in fifty brings back a
constitution from India.’

‘And Miller said the younger Mr. Arbuthnot’s room would be vacant
to-morrow. I appreciated Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot highly at the
subalterns’ picnic, and should like to have seen more of him, only
Marjorie Bartrand would not let me! Yes, Miss Bartrand,’ ran on Ada
de Carteret guilelessly, but putting additional meaning in her tone
as Marjorie came within earshot, ‘and--although this is not meant for
you to hear--I can tell by your face that you are listening, that your
conscience pricks you.’

Listening! Ay, that was Marjorie Bartrand, in truth, outwardly
listening, with strained sense, to the even hum of small-talk that
filled the rooms, inwardly awaiting, with the keen expectancy that
hardly needs the help of bodily hearing, for the step, the voice whose
absence already made the world blank to her.

‘I shall certainly not leave Guernsey without calling on the
Seigneur--to be paid.’

To the cruel words, to such remote and slender hope of reconciliation
as they might hold forth, Marjorie’s heart clung tenaciously. She was
softer of manner to-day than was her wont, played her part of hostess
with studied dutifulness towards her grandfather’s visitors. The annual
Sunday School treat would come on next week, said the rectoress of some
remote country parish. Of course one might count on Marjorie Bartrand
to lead the games? Had the great St. Laurens scandal reached Tintajeux,
asked another? Maître Giroflée and his wife, the best church people in
the parish, gone over to Salem because the rector had cut down their
pew--good solid oak, it must be confessed, worth so much a foot--in
making his chancel restorations!

Oh, with what weary patience the poor child listened to it all, making
occasional random answer, when answer was needed. How utterly had her
vivid child’s life lost its interest! How flat, how dissonant was every
sound on this planet to Marjorie Bartrand, so long as the footstep for
whose approach she yearned was silent!

‘Why--witch! Your cheeks are as white as your gown,’ remarked the
Reverend Andros, happening, presently, to come across her. ‘We must
get our Cambridge Esculapius to prescribe for you. What is Arbuthnot
doing with himself?’ added the Seigneur, with a hard look at his
granddaughter. ‘We are short of the inferior sex to-day. Why is
Arbuthnot not here to make himself useful among the tea-cups?’

‘Afternoon parties are not much in my tutor’s way. But I believe--yes,’
faltered Marjorie, with one of her dark blushes, ‘I believe--at this
moment--I see a figure like Mr. Arbuthnot’s crossing the moor. We will
put a tea-cup in each of his hands, sir, as soon as we feel certain of
having caught him.’

She fled into the recess of a window in the smaller drawing-room.
Standing there, shrouded by the lace draperies, she wondered if _more_
than a dozen pair of eyes had noticed her change of colour! She
clenched her hands until the nails impressed her soft palms painfully.
She essayed, with will, to keep her rebel cheeks from flaming, her lips
from weakness. She marvelled by what art she could render her manner
passive--Marjorie Bartrand, who during her seventeen years of life had,
at every pass, gone aggressively to the fore, for good or for evil--on
her tutor’s entrance.

His ring came at the front-door bell. ‘Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot,’ was
ceremoniously announced by Sylvestre. The French windows stood open.
With the occult sixth sense which, in lovers, supplements the ordinary
ones of sight and hearing, Marjorie divined that Geoffrey walked at
once to the lawn in search of the Seigneur. After a time she could
hear his voice--excellent spirits Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot seemed to be
in--as he made his way through the crowded outer room. She caught the
laughter of Ada de Carteret, the thin gay tones of Rosie Verschoyle. A
sharp cross fire of raillery was being levelled against Geoffrey on the
subject of his abrupt departure. Marjorie could detect and misconstrue
the coolness with which he turned this raillery aside. By and by came a
new excitement. The Maltshire dandies were arriving in force, and in
the general flutter which ensued upon this important crisis no single
voice was longer distinguishable. Marjorie’s pulse went quicker. She
knew that her time had come. Three or four seconds passed breathlessly,
then a hand drew back the curtain behind which she was half concealed.
Geoffrey Arbuthnot stood beside her.

‘I have kept my word. I am here to wish you and the Seigneur good-bye.’
His composed speech stirred every fibre of Marjorie’s repentant,
passionate heart. ‘It is a surprise,’ Geff added, ‘to find half the
Guernsey world at Tintajeux Manoir. But I hope, Miss Bartrand, you can
spare me five minutes’ quiet talk?’

Marjorie, on this, had no choice but to look up at him. Tears, despite
pride, despite principle, were in her eyes.

‘To say good-bye!’ she repeated, holding out her hand, then, with
cheeks going from rosy-red to white, shrinking back ere he could grasp
it. ‘I--I never thought you could be so cruel.’

So the girl cared something for him, after all, thought Geoffrey. She
would brush a tear away to-morrow, perhaps, when those who travel by
land or water were courteously alluded to by old Andros in the Litany,
would regret him a little, as long as this summer’s roses lasted. She
would remember him until her heart, if heart she possessed, should be
touched in earnest. No more than this. It was not her time to love,
poor Marjorie! And he ... must part from her as a strong man ought;
must say ‘this is,’ not ‘this might have been.’ There should be neither
recrimination nor bitterness. A touch of the sunburnt chiselled hand,
a look into the eyes which had wounded him, as children wound, from
ignorance, and then a brave and loyal farewell, this time a final one.

A table on which lay books and photographs stood at hand. Geoffrey took
up a photograph of the Gouliots, Sark--some glistening boulders, a
fishing-net stretched on the shingle, a break of wave. How indelibly
the bit of sun-etching transferred itself to his brain’s tablets! How
often, in dull future hours, would those boulders, that break of wave,
stand out in crisp relief before Geff’s memory?

‘Yes.’ He spoke in a key that only Marjorie could hear. ‘For just five
minutes I should like to claim you. When I was at Tintajeux the day
before yesterday, I was atrociously churlish to you, Miss Bartrand. I
have been brought to see it since. Will you accept my apology?’

Geoffrey had ‘been brought to see’ his churlishness! Then he held at
nought her offer of truce--the word it had cost her pride so dear to
write! He offered her this cutting rejoinder, an apology!

‘You are hard upon me, Mr. Arbuthnot.’ There was a piteous deprecation
in her voice. ‘When you were my master, I used to think you severe; but
that was the worst. I believed you to be _human_.’

‘I am afraid I am very human.’ Geoffrey took up a fresh photograph; he
examined it at a curiously shortsighted focus. ‘So human,’ he added,
softening, ‘that I have not altogether given up the hope of your some
day writing to me.’

‘A formal, set letter, do you mean?’

‘A letter,’ said Geff, very low, ‘in which no thought of the Tintajeux
acres has place.’

For a moment her face showed one of its old bright flashes. In the
world of story books it had ever been Marjorie’s pleasure to scoff at
the frail impediments, arising from the necessity of a third volume,
which keep true lovers apart. Should paltry reserve--the thought came
upon her abruptly--should schoolgirl cowardice divide her, as though
three hundred pages of ‘copy’ depended upon the quarrel, from Geoffrey?


‘I don’t know what you would have me say. I can’t see why you should be
off so quick! I tried--I hoped----’

But while the monosyllables came haltingly from Marjorie’s tongue, a
stir had arisen in the larger drawing-room. It was plain that a group
of people, young men and maidens taking counsel together in a corner,
were bent on some kind of action. Their project matured quickly. Rosie
Verschoyle shot a beseeching glance at old Andros as she went through a
meaning pantomime of the waltz step. Little Oscar Jones, with the air
of a man upon whom rests an onerous embassy, made his way across both
rooms to Marjorie.

‘Ten thousand pardons, Miss Bartrand! Would not intrude for the world
on a tête-à-tête. Fact is, you see, some of them want to get up a dance
on the lawn.’

‘A dance! Absurdity!’ cried Marjorie, bestowing on him an
ultra-Bartrand look. Then, recollecting their position as hostess and
guest, ‘I mean, would not tennis amuse you just as well?’ she observed,
with show of interest. ‘Or ask Gertrude de Carteret to sing, or----’

‘But, dear Miss Bartrand, we all of us want to _dance_,’ persisted
the handsome little lieutenant, with a smile that he had grounds for
believing irresistible. ‘Miss Tighe volunteers to play for us beside
an open window. Powerful backstairs interest is at this moment bearing
down on the Seigneur. We only want an encouraging word from you.’

‘I never say encouraging words. It is too foolish,’ cried Marjorie,
detecting, in her misery, that Geoffrey showed signs of flight. ‘To
begin with, we have so few gentlemen.’

‘Few; why, there are five at least of Ours. There is Mr. Geoffrey
Arbuthnot.... Ah! going already? Then we must reckon without Mr.
Geoffrey Arbuthnot. And it seems some of the clergy dance, a mild
square dance, and----’

‘Yes, yes, Marjorie!’ exclaimed a bevy of young girls, coming up and
surrounding her like the chorus in an opera. ‘It is useless for you to
be wise. Rosie has won the Seigneur to say Yes. Miss Tighe is ready.
The piano is on its journey to the window.’

‘Will you be my partner for the first waltz, Miss Bartrand?’ pleaded
Oscar Jones.

Now, at any prior moment of her life, Marjorie Bartrand, deficient
neither in temper nor in courage, would, thus attacked, have held her
ground stoutly. But the girl saw, or fancied she saw, that Geoffrey
was eager to get away. Her spirit was charged to overflowing. The
eyes of half the people in the room were fixed upon her expectantly.
Easier, she thought, before Geoffrey, before them all, to give a coldly
assenting bow than trust her voice to speak; so she gave it.

Oscar Jones looked radiant. ‘Thank you, awfully, Miss Bartrand. This is
a victory worth scoring. I will just go and start the corps de ballet,
ask the orchestra to strike up some gay old waltz tune, and return to
you.’

The corps de ballet was already setting towards the lawn. Cassandra
Tighe had taken her place at the piano beside an open window. Geoffrey
Arbuthnot and Marjorie, with youth, with love, with the heaviness
of parting at their hearts, were alone. But their good chance was
gone. The thread had snapped which bound together poor Marjorie’s
monosyllables. Two minutes later she would be treading a waltz measure,
the arm of Mr. Oscar Jones round her waist. And Geff (the conqueror,
to whom _all_, in whitest, girlish faith, had been conceded) felt his
blood rebel. He took the reprisals of his nobler sex, offered prompt,
italicised repetition of the crushing word, apology.

‘You have accepted mine, have you not, Miss Bartrand?’ He held his hand
out, steadily, for a last good-bye.

‘I accept the blame you choose to force on me,’ said Marjorie, turning
aside her face.

Cold, fettered, was the speech of both. Still, in this interval
there was an encounter of pulses. Their hands had met; the farewell
pressure was a lingering one. Propinquity--unspiritual god of youthful
lovers--might, even at this supreme moment, have set things straight,
had not old Andros Bartrand passed by, looked at them, smiled.

Marjorie moved away with a start. She felt as much divided from her
sweetheart as though the Channel already rolled between them.

‘What is this I hear about your leaving us, Arbuthnot? The little witch
has been plaguing you, I suspect, with her false quantities. My dear
sir, not one in a thousand of the sex has an ear. Music is an art in
which they have had more opportunities than we, and there has never
been even a third-rate female composer. You are going to England next
week? To-morrow! Nay, if it is to be to-morrow we must have business
talk together. Come with me, Arbuthnot, to the library.’

The situation was a crucial one for Marjorie Bartrand. Scarcely had
Geoffrey gone away with the Seigneur--her heart told her, ‘to be
paid’--before a dapper figure tripped, alertly, across the rooms. The
well satisfied voice of little Oscar Jones reminded her that the first
waltz was beginning, that they were engaged to dance it together.
Her cheeks tingled with the sense of her humiliation and of her
helplessness.

Oscar was in high spirits. ‘Coach gone, I suppose? Dancing not much
in Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s line. Confess now, Miss Bartrand’--by
this time they had reached the dancers on the lawn, Mr. Jones’s arm
encircled the girl’s lithe slip of a waist--‘confess, in your heart,
that you rate enjoyment higher than you do Euclid and Plato?’

‘I do not understand your question. I cannot deal in generalities.’

Marjorie Bartrand held herself as stiffly at bay from her partner as
was possible.

‘Well, you’ll enjoy our dance, for instance, better than being shut up
in a schoolroom over musty books and figures with Arbuthnot?’

‘I shall not enjoy it at all.’ Without a second’s hesitation came the
answer. ‘Hostesses do not dance. See, there is Ada de Carteret standing
out. Give me my freedom, pray, and ask her.’

‘Your freedom--to go indoors, to “work a last problem, write one Latin
line,” with Arbuthnot? No, no, Miss Bartrand, you are the best dancer
in Guernsey, and I don’t often get the chance of a waltz with you.’

For Oscar Jones, like bigger men, had his vanities. The thought of
cutting out Geoffrey Arbuthnot was tasteful to him. It may be added
that, although Marjorie’s tongue had not lost its sharpness, she
was at this moment the sweetest-looking girl among the little crowd
of dancers. The fire of strong emotion glittered in her large eyes.
Her cheeks glowed damask. Her slim, white-clad figure showed up,
in exceedingly agreeable relief, against the dense background of
cedar-shaded lawn.

That there was a certain dramatic interest connected with Geoffrey’s
going seemed divined by all. The divination rose to a whisper among the
non-dancers, elderly men and women who, gathering on the drawing-room
steps, enjoyed the pleasant sensations which bright sunshine, a
garden of flowers, blue sky, and the sight of young people moving to
dance-music, can scarce fail of producing.

‘The child has a hectic flush that I do not like,’ observed the
plaintive voice of Mrs. Verschoyle. ‘I wish any one dared ask the
Seigneur if the mother died of heart-complaint. All that class of
disease is hereditary, and poor Marjorie is so little cared for! Not a
creature to see whether she wears a thick sole or a thin one.’

The Archdeaconess was standing close at hand, looking on at the
sunshine, the flowers, the lightly moving figures, through her
accustomed smoke-coloured medium. Madame Corbie turned round with slow
severity on Mrs. Verschoyle.

‘Marjorie Bartrand is not a girl to die of heart disease!’ The
assertion was made with such suggestive profundity that mild little
Mrs. Verschoyle recoiled a step. ‘Marjorie Bartrand wants the refined
observance, the scrupulous exactness, the dignified correctness of
manner which can only be obtained at school. None of your Girtons. None
of your Newnhams. A strictly disciplined school, such as prevailed in
my young days, for the formation of character and the affections. I do
not consider,’ said Madame Corbie, ‘that Marjorie’s study of Greek and
mathematics has been to her advantage.’

‘And yet Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot appears so charming, so thoroughly
reliable.’

Seeing her Rosie joyously dancing in the distance, Mrs. Verschoyle’s
motherly heart was disposed towards optimism on most points.

‘Has a word been uttered against the reliability of any member of the
Arbuthnot family?’

The question was an innocent one. And still did something in its tone,
something in the added blankness of Mrs. Corbie’s smoke-coloured gaze,
seem to reduce the character of each of the Arbuthnot trio to a ghostly
possibility.

Marjorie and her partner floated past the window at this juncture.

‘Give us one more round, Miss Tighe,’ cried Oscar, in breathless
staccato. ‘Never danced to such a splendid tune in my life!’ Cassandra
was labouring, hot with her exertions, through ‘Strauss’s First Set,’
‘Les Hirondelles,’ or some other long buried favourite of her youth.
‘Capital turf, capital music, a first-rate partner! If a dance like
this,’ he proceeded, ‘could only last for ever, Miss Bartrand!’

‘Thank Heaven it draws to an end,’ said Marjorie, in a voice of steel.

A hundred yards distant, across velvet lawns and beds of flower bloom,
she could discern the figure of Geoffrey Arbuthnot. He walked away,
firm of tread, erect of head, from the acres of Tintajeux and from her.
And her partner’s arm clasped her waist, her steps twirled lightly. She
was hostess of the party, must go through other dances, must entertain
the Seigneur’s guests to the end.

From this time forth Marjorie knew that she could never more feel as a
girl feels, never enjoy with a girl’s enjoyment. She would be a woman,
with the bitter taste of grown-up life in her mouth, from this hour
onward till she died.



CHAPTER XLIV

KISMET


‘To a naturally industrious man these islands would be the mischief.’
The characteristic remark came from Gaston, who was entering his wife’s
sitting-room just about the hour when Geoffrey quitted Tintajeux.
‘Yes, Mrs. Arbuthnot, these bachelor breakfasts, these picnics, these
summer nights given up to card-playing, might well despatch many an
excellent fellow along the road to ruin. Happily,’ said Gaston, ‘I have
the capacity for large waste of time. I am in no sense of the word an
excellent fellow.’

His tone was blithe; the fact of his calling Dinah ‘Mrs. Arbuthnot’
showed a willingness to meet contingent domestic trouble with good
temper. Stooping down, Gaston Arbuthnot snatched a kiss from his wife’s
pale lips; he pressed her drooping golden head between his hands. Dinah
wavered not in her resolves. His caresses were sweet to her as ever.
But was not the dearness of this man’s presence her danger; that which
should nerve her in righteous sternness towards herself--and him?

‘No kiss for me, my darling! And pale cheeks again--swollen eyes!
Dinah, you are ill. Something in the place really disagrees with you.
We will leave it. You cannot stand the climate. I half believe I want a
change of air myself.’

Sinking down in an American rocking-chair, the easiest location the
room possessed, Gaston Arbuthnot propelled himself to and fro until he
reached a point at which his heels were on a level with his breast. He
rested the tips of his boots on the corner of an adjacent couch, he
folded his arms in an attitude of leisurely repose upon his breast.
Then, the primary point of comfort exhaustively seen to, he looked,
with closer heed than he had yet bestowed upon her, at his wife.

Dinah was dressed in a dark travelling serge. Her hair was brushed back
tightly from her temples. Her face was bloodless, the outline of her
delicate features blurred by a night of tears. It was impossible for
her to be unlovely, even with pink eyelids and swollen lips. (If Gaston
Arbuthnot’s chisel could have compassed the tragic, how exquisite a
Niobe had lain here to his hand!) It was impossible, I say, for Dinah
to be unlovely. She seemed transformed, rather--a woman of harder,
colder texture than her old self. When at length she raised her head
slowly, the eyes that looked her husband through and through were
fraught with an expression that his soul knew not.

‘I want change, you tell me, Gaston, and that’s true. We want change,
both of us.’

‘Oh, I was not in earnest about myself,’ said Gaston, a little
uneasily. ‘As far as health goes, the place suits me well enough. Only
one positively cannot work here! Now, look how this week has gone!’ He
took a note-book from his breast pocket, he turned over page after page
with a marked abandonment of his first sprightly manner. ‘This week,
too, when I was to have got on with your bust, to have begun I don’t
know how much besides. Where are you, by the bye, Dinah--I mean, where
is your model? There is a tidy look one doesn’t like about the room.’

‘The model is on the top shelf in your working place. Although you
don’t like tidiness, I have been putting everything as straight as I
could get it to-day.’

‘Like the good forgiving girl that you are! My dear child, I confess I
have idled through this week disgracefully. Not to speak of yesterday’s
dinner, of the old Colonel’s breakfast, of the best hours wasted--those
wretched cards again--to-day, there was the initial mistake of being
left behind in Alderney.’

‘You were left behind there, I think, for your own pleasure?’

‘I am not so sure of that. The scheme, any way, did not turn out
a success. Max Grimsby is the best fellow living--but one-ideaed.
You cannot get him to move, save in a circle. He is tethered to Max
Grimsby’s pictures. If the sun had shone he would have taken me round,
among rocks and places, to ‘verify’ his sketches, as he says, by
nature. There was a most disgusting fog. I could be taken nowhere. I
bored myself to extinction in Alderney. I----’

‘Gaston,’ exclaimed Dinah, fierily, ‘don’t say things of this kind, if
you please. The time is past for them. I know about the wager you had
with Mrs. Thorne before you left the steamer.’

‘Then you know about a very foolish matter.’ Gaston spoke with prompt
self-control, although he reddened. ‘You have certainly been tidying
with a vengeance, my love,’ he went on, looking round him. ‘I miss
a dozen landmarks. What has become of my own priceless portraits?’
Wherever they lived poor Dinah loved to hang Gaston’s three or four
latest photographs upon the walls of her sitting-room. ‘I do not see
your embroidery frame, or----’

‘Yes,’ she again interrupted. ‘I know about Mrs. Thorne’s wager, about
everything. It is a relief to speak plain at last. I have known, for a
good long time past, that you deceived me.’

Down came Gaston Arbuthnot’s feet to their normal level. Away flew
all his assumption of serenity. A couple of quick strides brought him
across the room.

‘If you are bent on having one of our wretched scenes, Dinah, look,
pray, to your language, as far as I am concerned. Say what you choose
about Mrs. Thorne, if it gives you pleasure. Say what you like, of
course, about yourself. Don’t use disagreeable expressions when you
speak of me! I’m the kind of conceited fellow whose love really won’t
stand rough usage. My love for you is the best possession I have. I
don’t want to risk my best possession. You understand?’

No, she did not, that was the worst of it. She could not see that her
strong direct nature, craving and athirst for affection, imposed a
strain beyond endurance upon a temperament at once ease-loving and
volatile like Gaston’s.

‘I have never deceived you, as far as I can remember, Dinah. I have not
sufficient energy of character, I should imagine, to be deceitful.’

‘No? We may have different notions of deceit, perhaps.’

‘One may deviate, now and then, from veracity,’ said Gaston, recovering
his good humour. ‘Suppressions of fact, in minor matters, are forced
upon us all. The man would be a wretch, not fit for civilised society,
who should for ever blurt out what he considered truth, regardless of
the feelings he hurt, the toes he trod upon.’

‘For instance--to speak of something I understand--if you had gone to
Mrs. Thorne’s house after a mess dinner it would be forced on you not
to tell me of it next morning?’

‘To Mrs. Thorne’s house ... after a mess dinner! Such an unimportant
thing may have happened once--twice, perhaps, during the weeks we have
been here. But did I not mention it? Well, then, I do so now, and ask
forgiveness,’ resting his hand upon her shoulder, ‘for the heinousness
of my crime.’

‘And your wager--was that, too, unimportant? Your wager, made at a time
when my heart was breaking! And the feelings with which Linda Thorne
regards your winning it----’ Dinah’s voice choked.

Gaston Arbuthnot was, habitually, a man of mild speech. His most
familiar men friends had never heard an English expletive escape him.
When he was strongly moved his tongue went back, instinctively, to
the language of his youth. And he was moved to sudden and keen anger
at this moment. Three or four French expressions, fortunately not
understanded of his wife, rolled from his lips.

‘You make me detest the sound of Linda Thorne’s name. But take
care--take care, in this matter of hating, that you do not force me
farther than you intend.’

‘I would rather you hated than tolerated me,’ cried Dinah, her
tear-worn eyes looking bravely up into Arbuthnot’s face.

Some new note in her voice startled him. It was a note, Gaston
Arbuthnot felt, that might well prove the prelude to dangerous
self-assertion. Was a _tu quoque_ possible?

‘You do not wish me to be tolerant. The husband of any excessively
pretty woman must be so, whether he will or not. Now yesterday--suppose
the medal reversed, Dinah, that I begin to cross-question you--how
did you spend your afternoon, yesterday? You forget. Let me refresh
your memory. With whom were you walking down the High Street, towards
four o’clock, in the dove-coloured dress I invented for you, the
Gainsborough hat, the cambric collar?’

‘I am not jesting, though you are.’ Dinah started to her feet, her eyes
were level with her husband’s. ‘Geoffrey came in after you had gone
away; I was idle and dull as usual, and Geff asked me to carry some
fruit and flowers to the hospital. The walk did me good. We visited a
Devonshire sailor-lad--like one of my own people, he seemed to me--and
I was able to talk with him, the old country talk I love so well. And
afterwards, coming back--perhaps with my heart a little lightened--I
met ... your friend.’

‘Poor, ill-fated Linda Thorne?’

‘And everything went dark again. It was then I heard about your bet,
how you had won, how Mrs. Thorne was bankrupt! Mrs. Thorne had made her
way into the parlour while I was out. Your winnings were left for you
by her own hand. Gaston, I found them!’

‘The situation, my dear girl, grows poignant. You found them!’

Gaston Arbuthnot checked himself. The dimensions of this domestic
tragedy--this storm of wifely passion over a pair of iron-gray
gloves--overcame him with a fatal sense of the ridiculous.

Dinah saw that he repressed a smile. Her righteous anger waxed hotter.

‘And I intend to keep them until I die. If ... I mean when you see Mrs.
Thorne, you can tell her so.’

‘I will do nothing of the sort,’ said Arbuthnot, thoroughly incensed at
last. ‘This constant Inquisition business grows unbearable! There will
be no living with you, Dinah, if you go on nursing these puerile, these
childish jealousies. I would no more offer an impertinence to Mrs.
Thorne than to any other lady of my acquaintance. You must learn to be
reasonable.’

‘Must I? I have tried to learn much the last few days, without success.
It is because I can’t learn, because I am ignorant’--her voice had
grown hoarse, her eyes dilated--‘that I shall go away.’

‘We can go as soon as you like; I have told you so already,’ said
Gaston, coldly. ‘We can go the beginning of next week, if you choose.
You would not object very much to my leaving cards on the few people
who have been civil to me?’

‘I would like to go to-morrow, if--if you will give me money enough
for the journey. Geff will be crossing. He can see me as far as
Southampton. After that, I can easily make my way on to Tavistock
Moor----’

‘You--alone?’

‘Why not? In the old days, before I married, I needed no looking after.’

‘And I am to follow with the luggage,’ suggested Mr. Arbuthnot. ‘You
are quite sure there is room on Tavistock Moor for such luggage as
ours?’

But his tone was doubtful. Less and less could he understand the look,
yearning yet steadfast, that encountered him from his wife’s eyes.

‘I will take my luggage with me. As near as might be, I have tried to
divide things. I have put all belonging to you in order, Gaston, as you
will find.’

‘You want to visit your people without me? Say it out!’ Gaston
Arbuthnot’s colour heightened. ‘This is rough--harder punishment than
I deserve, and a risky experiment! Think it over twice. I’ve been in
the world thirty years, Dinah, and have seen somewhat of most things.
I have never seen any good come of man and wife trying their hand at
these little imitation divorces.’

‘I cannot live up to your life,’ answered Dinah, unshrinkingly. ‘I
cannot understand you, or your friends, or the feelings you have for
each other. If I stayed, I might grow myself to be--well, something
I don’t care to think of. I was meant for the ways of common working
people. It suits me to be told things plain and straightforward, to
keep to my duty, to find my happiness there.’

‘My poor Dinah! Have you not always kept to duty?’ For once in his
life, Gaston Arbuthnot spoke from impulse.

‘Up to this time, because my heart has been full. I have loved you so
much ... there has been no room for any feeling but love! This could
not last for ever, and you always away, and others--ladies born and
educated--not ashamed to take you from me. I might grow hard. I might
grow vain--worse! Yes, Gaston, down in my heart I feel all this is
possible. And so, if you please----’

‘Don’t hesitate. Let everything he absolutely clear between us.’

‘I will go home. My father’s sisters, I know, would be willing to take
me in while they live, and I can work at my trade as I used, of course,
if you will give me leave.’

Gaston Arbuthnot stood for a few seconds motionless. Then, without a
word, he walked to the farthest end of the room. He stood, gazing upon
some local oil-painting of an impossible First Napoleon, mounted on a
still more impossible charger, as intently as though he gazed upon one
of Raphael’s masterpieces. Let anger, wounded pride--ah, more dreaded
than either, let easy acquiescence be on her husband’s face, Dinah
could see it not!

She waited for him to speak, with the tension of nerves that is a
bodily pain; hoping nothing--the time for hope was past--fearing only
lest, under the sting of her proposal, he should _tell_ her that he no
longer loved her. The truth, itself, had, in that moment, seemed small
beside the possibility of his confessing it.

But Gaston Arbuthnot was not a man of coarse or cruel words.

‘I never looked for such a scene--I am not good at these high passions!
Your vehemence forces me into the sort of position I detest. I have
told you often, Dinah, that in everything,’--he leaned sideways, as
though seeking a point whence the impossible Napoleon might be more
advantageously viewed--‘in everything I am a light weight. No use
asking from me the feats of an athlete. In life, I walk quietly. In
art, I can produce nothing bigger or intenser than I experience in
life. I am, what you would call, poor all round.’

‘Poor--in feeling, most of all,’ said Dinah with irrepressible
bitterness.

‘In the constant exhibition of feeling, you mean, in reiterations of “I
love you.”’ Gaston turned, having got thus far; he walked back to her
with marked deliberation. ‘In the art of quarrelling about nothing--in
showy expenditure of emotion on trifles ... emotion of which, I take
it, only a limited quantity is dealt to each of us, and which we should
store up for large occasions--in capacity of this kind I am, doubtless,
poor. If I were a moral nonentity, Dinah, no human heart in my breast
at all, it would seem strange, after four years’ companionship, close
as ours, that you should love me still!’

There was an inflection in Gaston Arbuthnot’s voice that overstepped
the line of tenderness. His face, though it was calm, wore an unwonted
flush. To Dinah, burning with passionate sense of injury, the very
reasonableness of his speech was an offence. To Dinah his quiet
pleading seemed fine words--altogether beside the present grave issue
of their lives.

‘Love! Ah, I love you, well as ever, to my misfortune! I shall love you
till my death. Do we measure love out by the meagre quantity of it we
get in return?’

‘And loving me, after this strong fashion, you desire that we should
spend our lives apart? You tempt me to say a cutting thing,’ broke
forth Gaston with warmth, ‘yet I believe it to be a true one. A man
had better be loved less, Dinah, and that his wife should remain
contentedly at his side.’

‘No doubt of it. If you had married an educated woman you might have
been happy with her--according to your notions of happiness. But
there’s no going back on that now. I exist, you see.’

‘Yes, Dinah, you exist.’

‘And I am two-and-twenty. And since we came to this place, I scarce
know why, I have awakened. I see my ignorance. I know that I want more
than I used to want in life. Gaston--I cannot fall asleep again. If you
let me return among my own people I shall take to their plain country
ways--in time, perhaps, shall find a little peace. At least I shall
have work, real work, such as I was brought up to. I could never plod,
patiently, at cross-stitch flowers for days and days together as I have
done. And I can never rise to being a lady, as a week ago I thought I
might.’

‘Then the only outlook would seem to be Tavistock Moor. It is not a
brilliant one for either of us--for myself, in particular.’ Turning
away from her, Gaston took up his hat, he moved aimlessly, and with a
dull step towards the door. ‘If I do not cry “Kismet” with a better
grace,’ he added, ‘you must remember this sentence of widowerhood
has come upon one suddenly--as I think, without justice. But I
shall not seek to stay you. I wish you to take back your freedom,
unconditionally.’

And so speaking, and while the coldness of death seized Dinah’s
tortured heart, he left her.



CHAPTER XLV

LABELLED AND CORDED


‘No argument can help us, Geff. A woman without a tithe of my poor
wife’s noble qualities but possessing even a faint sense of the
ridiculous, might be reached: Dinah, never! Oh, it is the absurdity of
the thing which humiliates one! A French song sung after a dinner-party
... the winning of a pair of gloves!’ said Gaston Arbuthnot bitterly.
‘And to think, out of such materials, that the jealousy of the most
impracticable woman living could evolve serious tragedy!’

‘Tragedy,’ returned Geff, ‘of which the fifth act is, as yet,
unconditioned.’

Dinner was over; a meal at which Dinah had not appeared. The Arbuthnot
cousins, side by side, were pacing a remote walk of the hotel garden.
And Geoffrey, little by little, had made out the truth in respect of
Dinah’s crowning misery. With his heart sore as a brave man’s heart
could be over keen personal disappointment, Geoffrey knew that he must
arbitrate between the two people who stood nearest to him on earth, and
with whose lives his own, by some fantastic stroke of destiny, seemed,
for good and for evil, to be interwoven.

‘I don’t believe in rash judgments, formed when the blood is hot,’ went
on Gaston Arbuthnot. ‘When Dinah burst upon me with this new proposal
I felt as if ten years of my youth had been taken from me. My anger
was at white heat, and if I had spoken as I felt.... Well, I did not
so speak. I accepted my fate with a decent show of self-command.
Reviewing the position--yes, and remembering every word you have been
saying, Geff--I believe it may be best for my poor Dinah to leave me,
on probation. Let her stay for a couple of months with her people in
Devonshire, see how things go on, and----’

‘They will go on vilely! They will go from bad to worse.’ Geoffrey was
in no humour for putting ornamental polish on his words. ‘When does
good come from a tentative separation between man and wife?’

‘Exactly what I said to Dinah. These little imitation divorces, I told
her, are risky experiments. Impossible to make her hear me.’

‘Your eloquence must have been at fault. You have had perfect
happiness, Gaston--there is the truth! You have had such a lot as does
not fall to one man in a million, and you have grown careless of it.’

Geoffrey’s voice was set in a lower key than usual. Glancing round at
him, Gaston surprised an expression on the strong features, a glow in
the dark eyes that he remembered. Not wholly unlike this did Geff look
on the late June evening when he came, four years ago, to his rooms
in Jesus, and congratulated him, Gaston, on his engagement to Dinah
Thurston.

‘You have always been Dinah’s friend. I thank God she will have you for
her friend in the future. Towards myself, perhaps, you are a little
less than kind. Some French proverb explains to us, does it not, how a
man’s friendship can never be perfectly equal for a husband and for his
wife?’

‘The French proverb is at fault, as far as I am concerned,’ said
Geoffrey. ‘I am your friend. I am Dinah’s. At this present hour I
reprobate the conduct of both with strict impartiality.’

‘My conduct is negative. I find myself placed by an outburst of the
eternal feminine injustice in a ridiculous position. I must, as men
have done before me, live a ridiculous position out. Whatever my wife
desires in the way of money arrangements shall be hers. On the day when
she is tired of Tavistock Moor I shall be at her feet.’

‘All this might be aptly said if you were in a stage-box, a critic
looking on at the histrionic break-up of other people’s lives, with a
view to the morning papers.’

‘I have tried, since I was a boy, to regard everything concerning
myself from an indifferent person’s point of view. The habit has become
second nature, and----’

‘Shake yourself free of it to-night. You are not an indifferent person.
You are not criticising a scene in a mixed drama. You have to decide
whether you, Gaston Arbuthnot, intend, at thirty, to be a failure or a
success.’

‘A failure!’ repeated Gaston, his pride galled instantly. ‘In your
office of peacemaker, Geff, don’t allow your good will to run away with
you. We have a score of big examples--Byron, if you choose, at their
head--to show how men of shipwrecked lives can give the world the best
of their genius.’

‘When you come to genius,’ said Geff, grimly truthful, ‘we are off our
lines. We are talking of common men, not of giants. For a man of your
calibre, Gaston, to forfeit his domestic happiness is to forfeit all.
In losing Dinah, whatever her folly in proposing the Quixotic scheme,
you would lose your right hand. Up to this time, even with a good and
beautiful and long-suffering woman at your side, your backslidings have
been many. Do you think you are going to work onward and upward without
an influence such as Dinah’s has been to hold you straight?’

‘You speak hotly, Geff.’

‘I feel hotly,’ answered Geoffrey, without an effort at a fence. ‘My
own life has been spoilt--I--I would say,’ he corrected himself, ‘the
happiness which men like you, Gaston, can throw away or keep as they
choose, is not likely to come near me. Mine must be sought for in
such commonplace daily work as I have strength to do. This gives me a
selfish interest in the welfare of the people I love. Your fireside and
Dinah’s,’ he attempted a lighter tone, ‘is the only one to which I can
look forward in my old age.’

Again Gaston watched his face curiously. Perhaps in the moment’s keen
illumination he read aright the larger nature than his own, apprehended
with his balanced mixture of worldly depth and moral airiness, a page
whose intricacies should never, in this life, be wholly deciphered by
poor Geff himself.

‘You were right as to genius, Geoffrey. There is an ingredient wanting
in me! If I had had your heart I should not at thirty be a manufacturer
of third-rate prettinesses for the dealers.’


Engrossed in talk, the cousins paced to and fro among the falling
shadows of the garden for another hour. It was an hour, a talk, which
neither of the Arbuthnots would be likely to refer to, which neither
certainly would forget this side the grave. By and by, when night had
come in earnest, when the roses and jasmines that clung round the
hotel verandahs smelt dewy sweet, Gaston returned to the house alone.
He entered through the little court that had been fitted up as his
studio. Here a flicker of starlight overhead showed him his tools, his
unfinished models, his working blouse, all the implements of his craft,
neatly set in order as Dinah’s hand left them. Passing on into the
parlour he found himself in darkness, silence. For a moment a nameless
fear--the possibility that she was gone--contracted Gaston Arbuthnot’s
heart. Then, with soft, eager step he made his way to his wife’s
bedroom, laid his hand on the lock, and opened the door by an inch.

A solitary light burned there.

‘May I come in, Dinah? Can I be of use to you in your packing?’

To this she answered not, or answered in so low a voice that Gaston’s
ear could not catch the sound. He pushed back the door wide and
entered, making fast the lock behind him. Dinah’s packing, to the
smallest detail, was complete. Her boxes, labelled and corded, stood in
a row; her wraps were put up; her travelling bag was strapped. Dinah
herself sat in a low chair beside the curtained half-open window.
The light from a hand lamp on the mantelshelf just enabled Gaston to
discern the dead whiteness of her tired face.

‘Your packing done?’ he asked her. ‘And have you moved these heavy
boxes by yourself?’

‘The Frenchwoman helped me. I had no need of her--my arms are
strong--but when she insisted, I thought it would look strange to
refuse longer. I tried to speak to her lightly--just saying that I had
to go away, of a sudden, to stay with friends in England.’

‘That was wise. It were a pity that idle tongues should begin to talk
of us already.’

No answer came to this. Gaston saw that her hands trembled as they lay
tightly clasped together on her knee.

‘And about money, Dinah?’

Crossing the room, Mr. Arbuthnot shut down the window, then placed
himself at the distance of two or three feet from his wife. He looked
at her long and tenderly, looked as though on that white, strained face
he saw some beauty which the dulness of his senses, the selfishness of
his heart, had never during the past four years let him discover.

‘Geoffrey and I have just had a long talk. I believe, as far as
Southampton, you had better let Geff be purse-holder. Then we must
think of the future. We must plan as to a permanent settlement. I am
a poor man, you know, Dinah, or rich only by fits and starts. If I can
secure to you two hundred pounds a year, could you make it enough?’

Dinah raised her clasped hands deprecatingly. Her speech failed her.
Now, in the moment when she needed strength, self-control most, they
proved traitors. She could only sit, faint, cold, sick, only hear the
details of her own passionate wish put into calm, reasonable--ay, and
generous detail by Gaston.

‘For the first year,’ he repeated, ‘until I become a steadier worker,
could you make an allowance of two hundred pounds suffice?’

‘I want nothing but a few pounds at first,’ said Dinah, with a
desperate effort. ‘After that I will work--plain sewing, out-door work,
anything they can find for me to do.’

‘You might get plain sewing and out-door work, too, without going as
far as Tavistock Moor.’

‘But I am known there. I am not the sort of woman--I mean as yet--to
make my way alone among strangers.’

‘You shall neither go to Tavistock Moor nor among strangers. You shall
remain with me.’ Gaston said this with slow emphasis. ‘The law is on my
side.’

Poor Dinah started up. The world seemed to float away from before her.
A piteous look in which--yes, amidst all its anguish--there was a
tremble of hope, went across her blanched face.

‘My sins have been grievous enough, the sins of carelessness and
selfishness--they have not gone deeper. Let the future make up for
them. Forgive me, Dinah!’ Arbuthnot’s arms were opened wide. ‘I could
not work, I could not live without you. I love you better than my life.’

With a cry as of a child taken back, unexpectedly, to the lost shelter
of home, Dinah fell upon his breast.



CHAPTER XLVI

A BYE-TERM MAN


But no such good thing as reconciliation fell to Marjorie Bartrand.

Within a week of Geoffrey’s departure Dinah and her husband, bride
and bridegroom once more, started joyously on their way to Italy.
There was a little wonder among the few people who had known them, a
little hypothetic gossip, an unjust suspicion, perhaps, that Linda
Thorne could clear up more secrets than one, ‘as she listed.’ And then
Guernsey knew the name of Arbuthnot no more. Marjorie Bartrand must
take up life at its old point before love, before disappointment made
acquaintance with her--must stand, chill and alone, in the same Arcadia
where she stood beside Geoffrey on the morning of their one day’s
engagement; must work under a new teacher in the schoolroom where every
book, every window-pane, spoke to her of the past, and of the sharp
irrevocableness of her loss.

Autumn faded, monotonously, into the season of soft weather which in
the Channel archipelago does duty for winter. March came again with its
outside show of hope; all Tintajeux busy at farm work--the Seigneur,
alert of step, taking part in his potato-planting and his vraic
harvest, like a man of five-and-twenty. Later on, the cuckoo flower
blushed anew, the rooks vociferated from the tree-tops. And then, a
little later, the roses reddened. Marjorie Bartrand, conning over the
entries in her last year’s pocket-book, began to know the meaning of
the sombre word anniversary.

‘To-day,’ after this fashion the record ran, ‘commenced my reading with
Geoffrey Arbuthnot.’

‘Many faults in my Latin exercise. Geoffrey Arbuthnot stern and
inhuman.’

‘Have resolved to lecture a certain person on his neglect of his wife.
And on frivolity.’

‘This day received my first letter from Geoffrey Arbuthnot.’

And so through the brief drama, until a final entry on Sunday, July the
3d--‘To-day Geoffrey Arbuthnot left Guernsey for ever.’ After which all
was blank--in the pocket-book, as elsewhere.

There were sombre anniversaries, I say, for Marjorie Bartrand. For two
or three of the young women who have flitted across the background of
this story, summer brought the sound of jocund bells, brought a day
which to each must henceforth be the one crowning anniversary, dark or
sunny, of life. Rosie Verschoyle took to herself a mate, happily for
Rosie, a worthier man than Rex Basire. Ada de Carteret became the wife
of little Oscar Jones. Marjorie enacted bridesmaid until the sight and
smell of orange blossoms were a weariness to her. She felt glad when
weddings and summer were alike over, when the scents of blown syringa
and heliotrope belonged definitely to the past, glad when the equinox
had stript the woods, and November, grave and pale, approached, like a
friend who knew her trouble, and had solace in store for her.

For Marjorie’s character had opened out rather than altered. She was
a Bartrand--high-handed as ever; during the past fifteen months had
worked with a courage betokening of what tough fibre her spirit was
made. In November a decisive step towards the Alma Mater was to be
taken. Mademoiselle Pouchée, the earliest on the Tintajeux list of
governesses, had long besought Marjorie to stay with her in Cambridge,
and the Seigneur, with exceeding bad grace, had tardily consented to
the visit. For Cambridge meant Girton! Marjorie, of late, had been
coaching with a Girton graduate who held high office in the Guernsey
college, and was promised credentials to the highest feminine magnates
of the University. ‘Women who, in achieving renown, had lost the
fairest ornament of their sex.’ Thus spoke old Andros, stirred by
the irreconcilable antipathies of his youth, antipathies which sixty
subsequent years amidst a world in full progress had failed to modify.

‘The best person you could come across would be that tutor of
yours--Arbuthnot.’ The Seigneur brought the blood into Marjorie’s
cheeks by telling her this, one day. ‘We must conclude that I shall die
some time. It is given to few men to draw breath in three centuries.
When I am gone you will need a husband more than the Higher Education.
I liked Arbuthnot. He was a shallowish classic and over-full of this
modern “know-all, know-nothing” spirit. But he was a _man_--so many
honest English stone, moral and physical, in him! A good make-weight
for a bit of wandering thistle-down like you.’

The speech lingered in Marjorie’s penitent soul. If things had gone
differently, then, Old Andros would not have said nay to Geoffrey’s
suit! Her own passionate temper, the jealousy that could brook
no rival, present or in the past, were alone answerable for love
forfeited, for a vista of long years, out of which the sweet fulness of
youth, at youth’s best, should be wanting.

And blood warm and generous ran in Marjorie’s veins. Her object in
visiting Cambridge was, of course, to make personal acquaintance with
Girton. Her hopes and fears must be centred on the august ladies
who in future days would be her Dons. But the remembrance of her
lost sweetheart plucked ever at her heart. If by accident Geoffrey
crossed her path, what would be her duty? That was the thing to
consider--_duty_. Simply as an old comrade, might she not hold out
her hand, seek a final word of explanation? At what nice point should
self-respect, a due sense of wounded Bartrand pride, draw the line of
unforgiveness?

These were not questions she could propound to her Girton coach, a lady
of fair exterior, young in years, but who had recently come out well in
two Triposes. Cassandra Tighe, with her lowlier range of thought, stood
nearer to one, Marjorie felt, her sixty winters notwithstanding, in
such trivial human perplexities as belong to love and lovers. In these
poor matters, ignorance would seem to possess a spurious wisdom of its
own. The higher sciences assist one moderately. And so, on the vigil of
her English journey, the girl started away between the lights, alone,
and with an overflowing heart, to seek her old friend’s counsel.

It was a typical autumn evening of this mid-channel region. A
north-west wind shivered and sobbed among the poplars that hedged
the entrance way of Cassandra’s domain. The garden dahlias drooped
their heads, the chrysanthemums with their thin, half-bitter odour,
showed wan and ghostly in the thickening dusk. An irresistible sense
of decay was conveyed by the fitful rustle of the falling leaves.
The surrounding fields and copses were shrouded in vague mist. Loss
and uncertainty ... these seemed the dominant notes in the pallid
landscape. They suited Marjorie Bartrand’s mood. Were not loss and
uncertainty the dominant notes of her own changed life?

The cottage door stood open. No sound stirred within, save the
ticking of the old Dutch clock on the stairs. Unannounced, she made
her way into Miss Tighe’s home-like ground-floor drawing-room. The
weather was too mild for more than a pretence at fire, the hour not
late enough for lamp or candle. Cassandra sat, unoccupied, beside
the scarce-lighted hearth. The kindly lady jumped up at the sound of
Marjorie’s step, then, almost with an air of shame, began to excuse
herself for her idleness. She had had a busy gardening day, little
credit though her borders did her, and after dinner meant to practise
for a couple of hours at her harp. ‘But even Cassandra Tighe,’ she
added, ‘must be tired, sometimes. I am an old woman, Marjorie. It is
the prerogative of all old people, save the Reverend Andros Bartrand,
to sit when the day draws in with hands folded. At such times we live
in the past, as you young ones love to do in the future.’

‘The future,’ repeated Marjorie, in an under-breath; ‘that is what I
want to speak to you about. I chose this hour on purpose. The best time
to talk of difficult things is entre chien et loup, as the Guernsey
folk say.’

She sat down somewhat dejectedly on the opposite side the hearth. The
young woman and the old one could just discern each other’s faces by
the flicker of the slow-burning fire.

‘So you start for Cambridge to-morrow! And your grandfather, I hear,
gives you a letter to the Master of Matthias. Well, Marjorie, though
you should fail to Girtonise the Spanish nation eventually, I must
praise you for your present cleverness in Girtonising the Seigneur of
Tintajeux.’

‘The Seigneur was never more obdurate. “If it pleased my granddaughter
to roam the country with an organ and a monkey, she would do it; I
could only see that the organ and the monkey were good of their kind.”
This is his charming way of putting things--his excuse for giving me an
introduction outside of Newnham or Girton.’

‘And your _coach_, Miss Travers, is to be your escort. She is comelier
than one could have expected, poor thing. I have no prejudices, as
everybody knows,’ said old Cassandra. ‘When I heard a Girtonite was
coming to our college, I held my peace. If one of these emancipated
young women has regular features or a bright complexion, I acknowledge
the fact. Still, one wonders----’

‘How such a girl as Miss Travers could choose the higher life, instead
of marrying--some man like Lord Rex Basire, say, or Mr. Oscar Jones!’

‘Those two are not the only types of man extant,’ observed Cassandra.

To this there succeeded a sufficiently pregnant silence. Marjorie broke
it with effort. Her voice had become unsteady. Her sentences were
disjointed.

‘We are to stay one night in London--I don’t know whether grandpapa
told you about the plans? Next day we shall see whatever sights are
visible through the November fog, and late in the afternoon I shall run
down to Cambridge. It is high time I learned to knock about the world
alone! If I work steadily when we come back to Guernsey, very likely I
may go up to Girton as a bye-term man in January.’

‘Is this the future you wanted to talk about?’ Cassandra Tighe bent
forward. She looked hard at the slim girlish figure, the delicately
feminine face of Marjorie Bartrand. ‘You must learn to knock about
the world alone! You will go up in January as a bye-term man! These
prospects may be intoxicating. We require, I think, no assistance from
the friendly half-light to discuss them in.’

The remark went home. Marjorie’s ill-fated love affair had long been an
open secret between her and old Cassandra Tighe, and in a few minutes’
time half confidences were over, reserve had gone to the winds.
Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s name, for the first time for months, was on the
girl’s trembling lips.

‘I am not likely to be over forward again, Miss Tighe. But, strive
as I will, the longing overcomes me to see Mr. Arbuthnot--before he
marries some one else--to give him a last chance of explanation.
The word--_the one word_--I wrote that miserable afternoon may never
have reached him. When I heard Mrs. Arbuthnot was out,’ Marjorie made
confession, ‘my courage went from me--I had hoped to leave my packet
safe in Dinah’s hands--and I just gave it, without a message, to
the servant who answered my ring. Then I drove away--fast, for fear
Geoffrey should meet me and see my face.’

‘The Arbuthnot people were a singular trio.’ Cassandra made the remark
with an irrelevant neutrality savouring of the serpent’s wisdom. ‘The
best looking of the men, not your tutor, Marjorie, is doing good
things, it seems, as an artist. Colonel de Gourmet has a correspondent
in Florence, where the Gaston Arbuthnots live, and the accounts of them
are favourable. You know, of course, that there is a Miss Arbuthnot?’

‘Yes, I have heard the news. It is good to think that Dinah must be a
happier woman now.’

‘We shall not see such a face again on our shores. Do you remember my
mistake about her, Marjorie--the lecture I made you read your tutor on
his frivolity?’

‘You ask me questions instead of answering mine, Miss Tighe. If I
should meet him--if through blind accident I should speak to Geoffrey
again, would it be delicate, would it show proper womanly pride, for me
to attempt one last explanation?’

Cassandra did not instantly reply. The sobbing of the wind had died
among the poplars. The leaves fell noiselessly to the damp earth. Only
the ticking of the clock on the stairs broke silence.

‘For ever--never!’

‘Never--for ever!’

And with each second, thought Marjorie, how many human loves must be
laid low, how many hearts must begin to ache for all time as hers was
aching now!

Miss Tighe sat calm and placid, as when the girl first entered, her
hands folded on her knee. ‘And what earthly inducement had Pouchée to
settle in a University town?’ she observed at length. ‘Why does the
woman live alone?’

‘Her father was maître d’escrime in Cambridge. She and her mother live
on in the house where he died. I rather think Mademoiselle gives French
lessons still.’

‘Oh, Mademoiselle gives French lessons still, does she?’ Cassandra’s
tone was absent. She rose, moved closer to the hearth. Her face was
level with the miniature portrait of a lad in old-fashioned uniform
that hung there. By and by, ‘I am going,’ she said very low, ‘to tell
you something about which I have been silent for forty years.’

‘Miss Tighe----’

‘Don’t be afraid of an old woman’s prosy history, or of a sermon. You
will have neither. Forty years ago, child, there lived, in the far
north of England, a girl, somewhere about your present age. This girl
was on the eve of being married. Her wedding dress was ordered, the
guests were bidden. Well, at the eleventh hour she chose, in a flame of
paltry jealousy, to resent some fancied want of devotion in her lover.
He was single-minded, loyal--of finer stuff, altogether, than herself.
They might have been reconciled in an hour if she would have let her
heart speak, have returned to the arms outheld to receive her. The girl
would make not an inch of concession. She came, as you do, Marjorie, of
people who look upon unforgiveness as a virtue. She heard around her
the old stock phrases--delicacy, family pride--the righteousness of
subordinating feeling to will! And so it came to pass that the lover,
having neither wealth nor title, was allowed to go. He exchanged into a
regiment under orders for India. Our troops were then in Afghanistan,
engaged in hot fighting, and----’

Miss Tighe’s voice--the brave, kind voice that Marjorie had always
known--broke down. Marjorie felt herself turn chill with a vague
terror. To hear of this white-haired woman’s love seemed, in her
overstrained mood, like receiving a message from the world of ghosts.
She awaited the sequel of the story, not speaking, not lifting her eyes
to the narrator’s face.

‘The lad fell--a locket his sweetheart had once given him hidden in
his breast. It came back to her, through a brother officer who knew
something of the dead man’s story--_and with a stain on it_. That stain
has marked every day of a lonely life throughout forty years. You will
not speak of this again, remember.’

‘Never, Miss Tighe, I promise you.’

‘But keep my words in your memory. If you meet Geoffrey Arbuthnot,
if a moment comes when happiness beckons one way, the Bartrand pride
another, they may, perhaps, be of use to you.’


So human hearts can remain true to their griefs for forty years!
Marjorie pondered on this fact as she walked back through the
November-smelling, dark country to Tintajeux. She felt, with the
certainty of morbid eighteen, that her own life would be a counterpart
of Cassandra Tighe’s. She would never love any other man than Geoffrey,
would never marry where she did not love. She was not likely to die.
In the glow of her young health, feeling her limbs so lithe--the mere
act of walking and breathing an ever renewed bodily pleasure--death lay
over an horizon which she had not yet sighted. Ah, if she could hear
Geff’s step approaching now, if she could feel his hand-clasp, strong,
friendly as in the days of old, the collective pride of the whole
Bartrand race would not long stand between them!

But the mirk lanes were forsaken; no human step save her own was to be
heard. The lights were lit in the scattered cottage homesteads, the
children at play round the fire, the elders resting after their day’s
work. Through the low windows Marjorie could see one family group after
another as she passed along, and felt her own loneliness the greater.
As she came near Tintajeux the cry of the owls, than which no more
freezing sound exists in nature, was all that gave her welcome.

‘That stain has marked every day of a lonely life throughout forty
years.’

The moral of Miss Tighe’s story lingered in Marjorie’s heart. As she
and her grandfather sat for the last time together over dessert, old
Andros took not unkindly notice of her white cheeks and darkened eyes.

‘You must get back your good looks before you show yourself in
Cambridge. Women are sent into the world to be graceful. When they fail
in that, they fail in everything. Be a senior wrangler if you will,
but keep your complexion. You have grown much more like your father of
late.’ This was the highest form of praise Andros Bartrand could offer
her. ‘Don’t go back to the little skinny Spanish witch of former days.’

‘I wish I could, sir,’ cried Marjorie, a flash of quickly-roused mutiny
in her eyes. ‘The days when I was a little skinny Spanish witch were
better than any I am likely to know again in this world.’



CHAPTER XLVII

BESIDE THE CRADLE


‘I just feel we are too happy. It makes me tremble, Gaston. I would
rather see the speck of cloud no bigger than a man’s hand than for ever
live in dread of it.’

‘You would rather have anything than the actual, my dear. That is a
little weakness of the sex. Surely your daughter ought to fill every
crevice of your dissatisfied heart!’

‘She fills it, fuller than my heart can hold--my own sweet baby. She
is a wonderfully forward child, is she not? So strong of her age,--so
intelligent--so beautiful!’

‘Not beautiful, Dinah. I am no amateur of infants, although I can
tolerate their presence after the age of two years. As regards the
particular infant sleeping in the cradle, yonder, even my knowledge of
the subject enables me to say she is unornamental--as unornamental a
child as could be found in Florence.’

‘She is your living portrait,’ returned the mother, unconscious of
irony. ‘Yes, even to her shrewd looks, to the firm way she clasps her
fingers. And already--in that,’ murmured Dinah, penitently, ‘it may be
she favours me--already, Baby has a temper.’

These exceedingly domestic confidences were interchanged in a vast old
Florentine room, fitted up by Gaston Arbuthnot as a studio, and on a
November night, some forty-eight hours later than the gray evening
when Marjorie paid her farewell visit to Cassandra Tighe.

But November in Florence is a different season to November in the
English Channel. The dry nipping touch of Italian winter had already
made itself felt beside the banks of the Arno, and the blaze from
an up-piled heap of olive-faggots cast a ruddy glow upon the room
and its occupants. Gaston Arbuthnot, his day’s work done, reclined,
outstretched, in one of his favourite American chairs beside the
hearth. On the other side the fire was a cradle, wickered, capacious,
of the genuine Italian build that you may remember in many a
sixteenth-century picture. And beside this cradle stood Dinah, serious
of mien, gazing with rapt, Madonna-like devotion at the little English
child who slept there.

At Gaston’s last remark she stooped and drew a muslin curtain tenderly
over her daughter’s face. Then she came across to her husband, she sank
on her knees beside him. Stealing a soft arm round Mr. Arbuthnot’s
neck, Dinah brought his cheek within reach of her lips.

‘Honestly and without jesting, you can say you think the child _ugly_?’

‘I think she will never be as handsome as her mother--the better for
herself, perhaps. Beauty is a snare. Who should know that better than
Dinah Arbuthnot?’

‘If I had been--well, plainer than I am, would you have sought me out,
I wonder, in Aunt Sarah’s little cottage that summer?’

‘Difficult to speculate backwards! I had thought some plainish women
charming before I heard the name of Lesser Cheriton.’

‘That is a matter of course. You had been the friend of Linda Thorne.’

‘Linda Smythe, as she was at that time. I don’t know that “cette chère
Smeet” could ever be called charming. She was lively, apt, a thorough
mistress of situation and inexhaustively talkative--to a boy fresh from
school that gift of talkativeness goes for much! She lacked charm. I
have heard her mourn over the deficiency, in her plaintive little way,
poor soul, with tears.’

How calmly they spoke of Linda’s qualities--this Darby and Joan of
nearly six years’ standing, to whom romance, in its earliest, sweetest
bloom, would seem to have returned! From what a different standpoint
Dinah could review the sentimental dilemmas of Gaston’s youth! How the
renewal of their love had bettered them, man and woman alike!

‘Sometimes when I look back upon our Guernsey days, the days, I mean,
which followed on that Langrune picnic, I feel a great remorse. Things
ended happily ... because you would not let my jealous temper ruin both
our lives.’

Possibly, thought Gaston Arbuthnot, because of Geff. He remembered
their talk when the summer eve was sinking into darkness, the eve upon
whose morrow Dinah would fain have quitted him for ever.

‘But I deserved the heaviest punishment that could have fallen upon me.
Jealousy, such as mine was then, means selfishness, not love.’

‘Spoken from a fine moral height! All the same, Dinah, I think you did
love me, slightly.’

‘I was unjust to Linda Thorne about your wager. When I opened the
packet she left for you I was dishonourable. The whole thing may have
been a jest--may have belonged to a time before you knew me at all. I
recollect telling you I would keep that packet always. Well, Gaston--I
wish now I had never seen it. There is a drawer in my dressing-case I
have not once since had courage to open.’

Gaston Arbuthnot turned his head. Studying his wife’s face closely,
some suspicion of possible mistake began to dawn upon him.

‘Are you certain as to your facts, Dinah? A drawer, you say, in your
dressing-case which you never have found courage to open? And why
not? I confess to being out of my depth. Linda’s gloves, honestly
lost by her, honestly paid, lay on the parlour mantelshelf. Of this I
am positive. From the mantelshelf I naturally transferred them to my
pocket.’

‘Gloves!’

‘What else? You do not suppose poor Linda and I made bets of twenty
pound notes?’

‘But the word she wrote for you--the flower, the ribbon.... Ah,
Gaston,’ cried Dinah, hurriedly, ‘let us never have another
misunderstanding. I was wrong--criminal, if you choose--in opening
a cover that was not directed to myself. But I suffered for my
wrong-doing--you should know that--and you may be frank with me now. I
am not so weak that you need hide a syllable of the truth.’

‘I put the gloves in my pocket,’ Gaston Arbuthnot reasserted, ‘and to
the best of my remembrance wore them out in about a fortnight. They
were iron-gray. A pair of iron-gray gloves would last one ten days or a
fortnight, would they not?’

On this Dinah Arbuthnot started to her feet. She remembered Gaston’s
talent, of old, for calm mystification, and her heart fired.

‘I have not re-opened the subject for amusement, Gaston. To show you
that I would make amends in earnest, I will fetch the packet this
moment. I shall feel easier when it is in your keeping, to destroy or
keep, as you choose.’

Taking up a hand-lamp, Dinah passed into a neighbouring chamber. When
she returned, in three or four minutes’ time, there was a pallor about
her lips, a threatening of tears (the like of which during the past
fifteen months had been happily absent) in her voice.

‘Baby has moved--has she not! I thought I heard her from my room.’

‘The infant sneezed,’ answered Gaston Arbuthnot with gravity. ‘Much to
my terror. Sneezing might suggest waking. And to be alone with a waking
baby recalls Dr. Johnson and the tower. Bring your wonderful packet
here’--she had paused for a moment beside the child’s cradle--‘and let
us have the scene out.’

‘We will never have a scene again while we live.’ Poor Dinah sank
into her former kneeling position; she rested her cheek against her
husband’s coat-sleeve. ‘Indeed, I think it might be fairer to you, more
generous to Linda Thorne, to close the matter--thus.’

She held the packet in the direction of the flames.

With a quick movement Gaston Arbuthnot’s hand stayed her. He drew the
contents forth from the envelope. He read Marjorie Bartrand’s ‘one
word.’ Then he glanced at the blackened flower-stalks, at the bit of
tarnished Spanish ribbon.

‘And could you believe--in the full possession of your reason,
wife--that this was meant for me?’

Dinah’s head drooped lower. She coloured violently.

‘Could you believe that Linda Thorne, a woman who has travelled
over half the habitable globe alone, picking up experience
everywhere--Linda, a woman of tact, a woman of the world--would commit
herself to sentiment of doubtful application, set down in black and
white?’

‘I never stopped to reason--the heart within me was too sore. I knew
Linda Thorne had called. I saw that the envelope was directed to you.’

‘Or to Geoffrey--which? It is, as you see, addressed simply “Mr. G.
Arbuthnot.”’

‘But Mrs. Thorne and Geff disliked each other. Do you think, even in
jest, she would----’

‘My best Dinah--let a molehill which, during fifteen months, has been
assuming gigantic size, return, forthwith, to molehill proportions?
This handwriting may be Marjorie Bartrand’s. One can imagine a
classico-mathematical girl making that kind of “e.” It is certainly not
Linda’s.’

‘And the meaning of the solitary word “REPENTANCE!”’

‘Ah! you must read your own riddles,’ answered Gaston, with suavity.
‘Poor Linda and myself made an innocent wager of gloves, which I won. I
know no more.’

Dinah rose hastily. She turned her face away from the fire’s light.
Amidst the full happiness of the last year, in her wifely rejoicing
over Gaston’s progress in his art, in the flood of charity towards
all men which had come upon her with the new delights of motherhood,
she had always dreaded the cloud ‘no bigger than a man’s hand,’ had
always remembered the secret which a jealously locked drawer of her
dressing-case hid out of sight. Her moral attitude towards Gaston
had perforce been a stooping one, an attitude of dumb forgiveness.
Believing in the present, hoping all things for the future, it had not
been possible for her wholly to forget the past. In this moment’s sharp
enlightenment, this unlooked-for vindication of Gaston’s loyalty, her
first sensation was one of relief. Succeeding it--so swiftly that Dinah
distinguished not where relief ended and pain began--there swept across
her the keenest shame which in her fair untarnished life her soul had
ever known.

‘You believe that the letter came from Marjorie Bartrand?’

The question fell from her lips almost unconsciously.

‘One suspects the Greek “e’s,” and see--here, in this corner is the
Bartrand crest, an eagle with a bad-tempered beak and upheld claw. Take
back your own, wife, your cherished _vendetta_. I will have none of it.’

‘And you think she cared, really, for poor Geff?’

‘Marjorie was seventeen years old. The season of the year was June.
They bent their heads together over the same schoolroom table.
Even I--I, who have been so long out of the running, saw whither
things tended as early as the rose-show. Geff, no doubt, after a
Platonic mode, admired the budding Girton girl--a girl,’ said Gaston,
narrow-mindedly, ‘far too pretty for her calling! There came a breeze
between them,--Geoffrey hinted as much to me the night before he left
Guernsey,--a threatening of storm which, if a certain letter had not
been kidnapped, might have cost him his life, I mean his liberty, there
and then.’

By this time the blood had gone from Dinah’s cheeks. ‘And all this was
brought about through me, through my small, self-engrossed jealousy.
Oh, Gaston, how sinful I was, how guilty I am still! But for me,
Geoffrey might long ago have come to happiness. He was our best friend
always, and I betrayed him. I am the veriest wretch on earth.’

Tears of repentance rushed to Dinah’s eyes.

‘You do not mention a slight reparation you owe to Linda Thorne,’
observed Gaston, with his shrewd smile. ‘You forget that something may
be due also to me, even me, a husband.’

‘I was ill, body and mind, that miserable day. I had scarce had an
hour’s sleep since I came back from Langrune without you. A flimsy
excuse,’ poor Dinah faltered, ‘and yet the only one I have to offer.’

‘It is the excuse in vogue. The big social scientists put just the
same plea forward for the criminal classes. Crime is an illness. A man
may run a knife into another simply because his digestion, reacting on
the nerve centres, happened to be out of order. Probably, like you, my
dear, the poor fellow had been suffering from insomnia! Such excuses,’
added Gaston, ‘are comforting enough for the man with the knife, but
scarcely so consolatory to him stabbed.’

Dinah touched the flower stalks wistfully. She folded the ribbon with
care before returning it to the envelope. Her hands trembled in her
excitement.

‘You talk about reparation.... I shall not let an hour be lost. I
shall write to Miss Bartrand at once, send back her own letter, and
confess--oh, Gaston, the hard word is yours--that ’twas I kidnapped it.’

‘You mean to perform this act of contrition for Geoffrey’s sake?’

‘I do.’

‘Poor Geff! After getting decently out of danger once (and his letters
don’t savour of a broken heart), it seems a trifle rough on him to have
the thing revived.’

‘_Poor_ Geff!’ echoed Dinah, her eyes glistening through their tears.
‘You call a man poor who has a chance of winning Marjorie Bartrand’s
love? Does our happiness make you such an egotist,’--the reader will
note that Dinah’s vocabulary was enlarging,--‘such an egotist you do
not care for other people to marry?’

‘Or are you like the fox in the fable, my dear child--which?’

Dinah rested her clasped hands upon her husband’s shoulder, and
cogitated softly.

‘Yes, I shall write to Tintajeux to-night. If it is not too late,
if the hearts of both are free, Miss Bartrand will find some way of
letting Geoffrey know the truth.’

‘Of that you may be assured. If two women are to conspire together in
league against him, I say “poor Geff” with still more marked emphasis.’

And rising, Gaston moved in the direction of the door. In these later
days, in the confidence of established love, Dinah had thought it no
grievance that her husband should join the Florentine Artists’ Club, or
spend a portion of every evening in other society than hers.

‘Like all true women you are a remorseless match-maker,’ he told her.
‘Unless the flame between these two victims is clean burnt out, you
will contrive by your letter to re-kindle it.’

‘I wish I were a better scribe--that I could put my heart between the
lines! Oh, I must begin at once. Baby shall be left--for the first
time--with old Giacintha, and I will run round to the Piazza, and post
the letter myself.’

‘Five years hence, I hope Geoffrey will bless you for having written
it. There was a flash of temper not to be forgotten in Marjorie
Bartrand’s handsome eyes.’

‘And if there was! If a woman has a temper, even a jealous one, is it
impossible for her husband’s life to be happy?’

Dinah had followed Gaston to the door. She held up her face--the
loveliest face in Florence, said the artists who worked therein--for
his kiss.

‘All men are not philosophers,’ Gaston Arbuthnot made reply. ‘I have
learnt--tolerably dear the lesson cost me--not only to exist in a
stormy atmosphere, but to flourish there.’


And this is what Dinah wrote, not troubling herself over possible
faults of Syntax, not making a fair copy in the slanting pointed
handwriting to which, after much labour, she had tediously attained.
This is what Dinah wrote, straight out from her heart--


     ‘Florence, November 15.

     ‘MY DEAR MISS BARTRAND,

     ‘I have just found, _with shame and remorse_, that I did you
     grievous wrong, last July twelvemonth. You were the kindest
     friend, save Geff, that ever I met, and I repaid you, little
     meaning it, with treachery. Perhaps when you _see the enclosed_
     you will guess what bitter confession I have got to make.

     ‘Dear Miss Bartrand--I found your envelope on the mantelpiece of
     our parlour at Miller’s Hotel, and I committed the meanest action
     of my life. I broke it open--and because I was blind with selfish
     trouble, and thought of my own suffering before all things, I kept
     the letter. I have had it in my possession till this hour.

     ‘It would be poor excuse to say I mistook the _person_ it was
     meant for, as well as the _hand_ that wrote it. It would be
     cowardice to say my heart was too hot, too miserable to reason.
     I sinned, and if my sin has stood between my best friends and
     happiness, my punishment will last me my life.

     ‘Unless I make too bold, may I hope, some future time, you will
     let Geoffrey read what I now write? Ask him to think of July the
     1st, the day I went with him to Guernsey hospital. It was on that
     day, a quarter of an hour after Geoffrey left me, at the sight of
     _some one he will remember_, that I found your letter.

     ‘Dear Miss Bartrand, I am the penitent and humble well-wisher of
     your happiness,

     ‘DINAH.’


The letter was directed to Tintajeux Manoir, Guernsey, and posted by
the writer’s hand on the night of November 15. A sharp Italian night,
with the swollen Arno swirling, the moonlight lying in ebon and ivory
patterns along the Florentine streets, with only one person--so it
seemed to Dinah’s beating heart--abroad in the sleeping city.


At the same hour Marjorie’s eager eyes looked forth, through rain and
fog, through the blurred obscurity of a Great Eastern carriage window,
upon the lamps of Cambridge.



CHAPTER XLVIII

HAPPINESS


Madame Pouchée’s house, the goal of the girl’s journey, belonged to
history; a thatched, lozenge-windowed structure, of which the pargeted
gables, the black oak joints, and plaster panels abutted, with
pathetically incongruous air, as of some aged spinster at a ball, on
one of the brisk, modern thoroughfares of the town.

A brass plate engraved ‘Pouchée’ was on the front door, conferring a
semi-professional character upon the mouldering household. Although
the fencing-master, honest man, had lain for twenty years in Père
la Chaise, and Madame Pouchée had no more ostensible livelihood
than such small sums as Mademoiselle gained by the teaching of her
language, their plate raised them to the plane of citizens. The mother
and daughter formed units in that curious gathering of poor French
people which exists in our University towns, decayed families of
fencing-masters, hair-dressers, or cooks, once prosperous, who shiver
through English fog and cold to the end of their existence because they
are ‘dans leurs meubles,’ ratepayers!

To quit her dark old home, to forego the sound of Great St. Mary’s
curfew, to submit her furniture to the hammer of the auctioneer, would,
to Madame Pouchée, have seemed little short of sacrilege. She passed
her life with no larger pleasure than knitting, no acuter pain than
rheumatism. She could go to Mass on Sundays and festivals with more
security in Cambridge than in France. Pouchée’s foils and masks were
suspended in the raftered entrance hall. Pouchée’s portrait, as a
glossy bachelor of twenty, with black frock coat, turn-down collar, and
gamboge gloves, hung in the salon. Upstairs, in one of the low-ceiled
attics, were her crucifix and bénitier, just as she brought them from
far Provence before her first child saw the light.

Such things to an aged woman are more than climate, more than
nationality. Madame Pouchée’s lot had not been rose-coloured during the
fencing-master’s life. At the time of his death, even, Monsieur was in
Paris, led thither by some of the unexplained affairs which perennially
drew him from his own fireside. But his widow clung to the foils and
masks and portrait with as much patient fidelity as though he had loved
her always. The careless husband who lay in Père la Chaise belonged to
Madame Pouchée’s middle age. The foils, the masks, the glossy bachelor
with gamboge gloves and turn-down collar, were relics of her youth.

Every corner of the house was burnished to that vanishing point of
cleanliness which only French housewives understand, on the evening
of November 15. Ere Marjorie had well alighted from her cab, an
unforgotten figure rushed forth through wet and darkness to meet her, a
pair of kind solid arms held her fast.

‘But you are tall--but you are fresh and vermeille!’ Mademoiselle
Pouchée hurried the girl across the strip of pavement to the house. ‘I
see no more the little Cendrillon of old days. Come, then, mère, leave
thy kitchen. Come, that I may present thee to our future Girton girl.’

Madame Pouchée’s cheeks were swarthy as the olives of her native
country. An ample checked apron was tied round her neat black dress.
She wore the provincial linen head-dress of her youth. Genuine French
people do not shake hands on every occasion of human life, and fifty
English years had left Madame Pouchée a genuine Frenchwoman still. The
old lady came forward, not with a hand outstretched, but with such
natural courtesy, such charming welcome written on her Southern face as
reminded Marjorie of Spain, and caused her somewhat flagging spirit to
rally.

‘I feel six years old again, dear Pouchée.’ This she said when
Mademoiselle had led her into the salon, a tiny panelled room where a
table was cosily spread for a dinner of two before the fire. ‘Surely
we had our lessons this morning! Surely I was wicked--when was I not
wicked?--and you gave me a double row of spelling for my penitence.’

Throughout the evening a mysterious sense of having gone back to her
childhood fell balmily on Marjorie’s heart. Madame Pouchée gave them a
little dinner, as exquisitely cooked, I dare to say, as was any dinner
in Trinity or Magdalen that night. For dessert were Tintajeux pears,
of which a goodly hamper had come over as a present from the Seigneur.
Their coffee was served in Sèvres cups, dislodged for the occasion from
Madame Pouchée’s inlaid cabinet--the costliest ornament of the salon,
brought with her in bridal days from Paris, when the nineteenth century
was in its teens.

‘It is like a Tintajeux holiday,’ cried Marjorie, as she and Pouchée
sat, hand clasped in hand, beside the fire. ‘Do you remember every 29th
of May we used to eat our dinner under the big oak in honour, you said,
of le martyr Protestant, Charles?’ The prayer-books in the Tintajeux
family pew were of ancient date. Pouchée, honest creature, was wont to
entangle herself among the various Stuart and Orange services, greatly
to the Seigneur’s edification. ‘Ah, Pouchée, we are wiser now. We have
learnt history from loftier historians than Lady Callcott. And I, for
one, am not happier.’

‘Whenever I look at Tintajeux I see a small Marjorie with temper, with
eyes, with a determined Spanish face--and whom I loved much. There are
no figures in the picture. Still, whenever I look at Tintajeux----’

Mademoiselle Pouchée’s voluble tongue stopped abruptly.

‘No figures in the picture?’ Marjorie glanced round the empty walls.
‘And what picture are you talking of? Where is the photograph of the
Manoir I sent you last Christmas?’

As she spoke Madame Pouchée entered, bearing a fresh-trimmed lamp--for
this little household boasted of no parlour-maid. The old Frenchwoman
lingered a while, her quick septuagenarian eyes watching the faces of
her daughter and of their guest. She had caught Marjorie’s last words.

‘The photograph of Tintajeux Manoir? Why, it has been moved upstairs.
It hangs in the salon of our gentleman, notre bon locataire--pas vrai,
ma fille?’

Mademoiselle Pouchée put the interruption quietly aside.

‘Mère loses her memory. We must not always heed her,’ she observed to
Marjorie, presently. ‘In bygone days, when the good papa was living,
our family received undergraduates as lodgers. Mère has the old time in
her heart still.’

‘Jesuitry, Pouchée! I remember your talents in that line. In bygone
days, when the good papa was living, no photograph of Tintajeux Manoir
existed.’

The remark was accompanied by a Bartrand look, as familiar, as smiting
to poor Pouchée as though she and Marjorie had done battle over some
delicate point of moral faithfulness that very morning.

‘There are accidents--contingencies--nay, times being hard,
there is necessity. As well confess the truth. We do not take
lodgers.’ Pouchée’s eyes dwelt fondly on the inlaid cabinet, the
porcelain, the exquisite order of the little salon. ‘We are private
citizens--rentières, living on our means.’

‘And there is no one in the house save yourselves?’

A flourish of Pouchée’s fingers hinted negation. ‘The old place is, in
fact, two houses, as you will see by daylight. There are rooms at the
back that can be entered by a flight of open-air steps--steps dating
from the fourteenth century, ma mie.’

‘You promised me truth--not history, Mademoiselle.’

‘And by hazard--for the moment--we have a locataire. Not an
undergraduate. We spare a room or two, on occasion, to some quiet
gentleman--some resident M.A.--some student from the Art Schools. No
undergraduate sets foot within our doors. _We are not licensed._’

So keen a sense of distinction was conveyed by the italicised
words that Marjorie forebore from further questioning. An hour
later, however, when they were parting for the night in the fresh,
chintz-draped attic which was the guest-chamber of the house, she
ventured on a last surmise.

‘As we passed a certain baize door at the turning of the stairs I
smelt the smell of a pipe. Our bon locataire must live somewhere in
that neighbourhood, Mademoiselle--our quiet gentleman, who is not an
undergraduate, and who has the photograph of Tintajeux Manoir on his
walls?’

But Pouchée was blankly uncommunicative. The gentleman went in and out
by the other staircase. Marjorie would neither see nor hear him during
her stay in Cambridge. As to the photograph--it would certainly return
to its place in the salon to-morrow morning.

‘If you are afraid of University ghosts,’ added the Frenchwoman, as she
bade her guest a final good-night, ‘you will do wisely to bolt your
door. Sleep well, ma mie, and dream that we are making cowslip balls,
as we used a dozen years ago, in the woods of Tintajeux.’

The first five days of her Cambridge visit were resolutely spent by
Marjorie in sight-seeing. It was well for her, she said, to come under
the external influences of the Alma Mater, watch the cheerful flow of
undergraduate life, look at Newnham and Girton from without, before
delivering her letters of introduction.... It was well for her, while
she still stood uncommitted to the future, to run a last forlorn chance
of meeting the man she loved!

Here was the truth, unrecognised, perhaps, as truth, even in Marjorie
Bartrand’s moments of sternest self-questioning. Day after day,
however, slipped vainly by. A dozen times in each twenty-four hours
her heart would leap, her pulses throb as men of Geoffrey’s height or
build went past her in the crowded streets. Geoffrey Arbuthnot appeared
not. She fell to quarrelling with herself over her own folly. Geoffrey
might be at the other side of the world--married--contented: in every
case must have learnt long ago to live his life, to do his work without
_her_. Happily, there were reprisals....

On the morning of the sixth day she determined to put her sweetheart
away from her remembrance for ever.

‘I have come to the end of my sight-seeing.’ This she told the Pouchées
at breakfast. ‘I have heard a University sermon and the services at
King’s and Trinity. We have visited Trumpington churchyard and the
Backs. I have seen Milton’s tree and Gray’s fire-escape, and--and the
Girton girls playing tennis. When I have gone over your house, Madame
Pouchée, when I know what kind of rooms reading gentlemen inhabit, my
experience will be complete.’

The speech fell from her idly. Small curiosity in the affairs of others
was never a sin to be reckoned among the Bartrand qualities.

But Mademoiselle Pouchée’s manner gave it purpose. Mademoiselle changed
colour, fidgeted with her coffee-spoon, contradicted herself. ‘The
rooms were the plainest rooms in Cambridge. No knowing at what time our
gentleman went out or might return. For herself, she seldom entered his
part of the house, and----’

‘Pouchée,’ exclaimed Marjorie, the old spirit of contradiction taking
possession of her, ‘there is a mystery about our excellent lodger which
I mean to solve. You seldom enter his part of the house, you say? You
were in his rooms last evening. I saw you enter through the baize door,
as I have seen you do pretty often already. I heard your voice as you
talked to him. Explain these things.’

‘Enfin! It would be better if the truth were told,’ said old Madame
Pouchée in her own language. ‘Our gentleman is an enemy of the sex.
What will you have! When he heard a young lady was coming to visit
us----’

‘He offered, of free will, to go in and out by the other stairs,’
interrupted Pouchée, adroitly. ‘He showed the finest, most delicate
consideration. Since that first evening when Marjorie perceived his
pipe our gentleman has not smoked. He goes out early. He does not
return until he is worn out with work--such work as his is, too--at
night!’

‘Then it is impossible we can disturb him,’ exclaimed Marjorie, rising
briskly from the table. ‘As a matter of architecture I am interested in
the fourteenth-century stairs. The rooms they lead to must be equally
curious. You need not chaperon me.’ She looked back at Pouchée across
her shoulder. ‘I shall push back the mysterious red baize, and walk
straight into Bluebeard’s chamber without knocking.’

And running up the stairs, she was about to put her threat into
execution when Pouchée, by a dexterous flank movement, cut off her
advance.

‘There may be a litter of papers. Grand ciel! there may be the bones,
the skull.’ With her hands upon the lock, Mademoiselle Pouchée barred
Marjorie’s progress by her own solid person; then, opening two inches
of door, she peered in, cautiously. ‘No; we are in order. We have
locked up our skeleton for once. You may enter, child--Barbe-bleu is
not here to eat you.’

Marjorie Bartrand stopped short upon the threshold. Something in the
meagrely furnished room, the piles of books, the small fireless grate,
the absence of any pretence at decoration or cheerfulness, affected her
strongly. She shrank from intruding, unbidden, on such valiantly borne
poverty as was here in evidence before her.

‘And you have robbed him of Tintajeux Manoir!’ She glanced round at the
bare, damp-stained walls. ‘Tintajeux at least gives one a notion of
quick and wholesome air, of honest sunshine!’

‘Our gentleman robbed himself. When I told him the morning after your
arrival that you had asked for it, he took the photograph from his wall
with his own hand.’

‘And you can give him no other picture to fill its place?’

‘He has a magnifique picture here, facing the window. See,’
Pouchée adjusted herself into a favourable light with an air of
connoisseurship, ‘a magnifique portrait, just a little mildewed, of
King William the Fourth. The fur on his Majesty’s cloak has been the
admiration of many artists. Come in, ma mie, entrez. What are you
afraid of?’

And Marjorie entered. She looked for a few seconds at the time-stained
mezzotint which, with its black frame, its cheap glass, seemed but to
make the wall whereon it hung more sorrowfully ugly. Then she crossed
to the room’s one window--a diamond leaded casement through whose small
dulled panes the side view of a crowded alley, of the corner of a still
more crowded churchyard, was attainable.

A ponderous book lay on a chair beside the window. Marjorie Bartrand
lifted it.

‘Marjorie, I forbid you to touch a book! Our gentleman studies for
medicine. Medical works are not for the perusal of young girls.’

‘The girl of the future peruses everything! Quain’s “Elements of
Anatomy,”’ cried Marjorie, holding the volume as high out of Pouchée’s
reach as its weight would allow. ‘I wonder whether our gentleman would
lend it to us, if we asked him prettily? We might study our bones
together, Pouchée. Who knows, in days to come, that I may not go for a
Natural Science Tripos?’

And--with the book still held aloft--her nimble fingers found their way
to the title-page. In the top right-hand corner was a name, written in
characters she knew:

‘GEOFFREY ARBUTHNOT, _January_, 1880.’

For an instant Marjorie Bartrand turned ashen pale. Then as she
recalled her position, as she realised that she had forced herself,
unasked, into Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s room, the poor child crimsoned from
throat to brow. She felt that the very soul within her had cause to
blush over her temerity.

‘Let us come away this moment. I am taken by surprise--there has been
some cruel mistake.’

The book almost fell out of her grasp. Swiftly as her limbs would carry
her she made her way out of the room and down the stairs. Then, when
they were safe again in the little salon, she caught Pouchée’s hand
with passion.

‘I look to you, Mademoiselle, for an explanation,’ she cried with
impetuous voice, with flaming eyes. ‘What right had you to conceal from
me that Geoffrey Arbuthnot lived here?’

But Pouchée had the strength of conscious innocence. All further need
of mystification was over now. Regarding their lodger as a shy recluse,
an enemy of the sex, the two poor French ladies had striven with will
to keep him and their visitor from meeting. This was the secret of
their reticence, the sum of their offending. Mademoiselle Pouchée met
Marjorie’s lightning glance calmly.

‘Mère and I had nothing to conceal. How could it have interested you to
hear a stranger’s name?’

‘And you have never spoken of me in his presence?’

‘If we did, it was by hazard. Why should Marjorie Bartrand of
Tintajeux be more than any other young lady to Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot?’

‘Simply,’ returned Marjorie, closely watching Pouchée’s unmoved
face,--‘simply because Mr. Geoffrey Arbuthnot had the picture of
Tintajeux hanging on his walls.’

‘By hazard, also. He took a fancy to the photograph from the first day
he came to lodge with us. It had a look of Scotland,--it recalled some
place where he had known good times. And so, to give him pleasure,
I said that while he lodged here, Tintajeux should hang above his
chimney-piece.’

‘From whence it was unhung, by his own hand, to please the caprice of
an unknown visitor. Mr. Arbuthnot is very generous!’

‘Mr. Arbuthnot,’ cried Pouchée, warming on the instant, ‘is the most
noble-hearted man living. Yes, and I have travelled! I have had my
experiences widened. I know my world. That he should work hard at the
hospital or over his books, I comprehend. A high degree is at stake.
Men have their ambition. Mr. Arbuthnot goes into courts and alleys,
vile places, left alone by the police, and where priests or parsons
might get their throats cut. He searches out the worst outcasts in
Barnwell and Chesterton, only to serve them.’

‘Now--at this present time?’ stammered Marjorie, conscience-stricken.

‘Now, while you and I, mon enfant, have been sight-seeing. His last
protégé,’ went on Pouchée, ‘is a miserable bargeman, one of the worst
characters on the river. This man was struck over the head by some
falling timber two or three weeks ago. He was too nearly gone, so his
mates thought, to be carried to hospital, and our gentleman just saved
his life. He has nursed him day and night since, as one of your great
London doctors would nurse a Prince of the Blood. If Mr. Arbuthnot were
of our religion I could understand it. I visit in Barnwell myself a
very little.’

This was Pouchée’s account of her own charities. She visited in
Barnwell a great deal. Beside fever-stricken, dying pallets, her
acquaintance with Geoffrey Arbuthnot had first begun.

‘But we, Catholics, see in the poor our own sick soul. We hope, in
saving them, to save ourselves.’

‘And Geoffrey Arbuthnot?’

‘He serves them, gives them his time, his money--what do I know! his
heart--simply _because_ they are castaway men and women. “Sisters and
brothers in a queer disguise.” You should hear him say that, with his
grave smile! It was to talk over some of the sisters and brothers,
Marjorie, that I went to our gentleman’s rooms last night.’

‘Our gentleman ought to be a happy man,’ said Marjorie, with a sigh.

The Frenchwoman’s shoulders were sceptically expressive.

‘A hair-shirt is never worn for pleasure, child. It is not in nature
that a man of six-and-twenty should care for other people’s lives more
than for his own. Geoffrey Arbuthnot might have made a good servant of
the Church,--an Ignatius Loyola, a Francis Xavier. But if one speaks
about happiness--allez!’



CHAPTER XLIX

FROM DINAH’S HAND


These things sank heavily on Marjorie’s bruised heart. She felt that
Geoffrey’s indifference to herself was now an ascertained fact,--nay,
that his fancy for her, at no time worthy of a higher name, had turned
to repugnance. He had asked her to be his wife under the glamour of a
picturesque moment--a friendship, unique in its conditions from the
beginning, suddenly taking upon itself a surface likeness to passion! A
true lover would not have availed himself so readily of his chance of
freedom, would not have magnified his mistress’s heat of temper into
a crime, would not have rejected the fullest amends that woman could
offer, short of falling upon her knees in the dust before an offended
sweetheart!

Mademoiselle Pouchée was overjoyed when the girl announced herself
ready, next day, to deliver her letters of introduction.

‘We shall see what such presentations lead to,’ exclaimed the kindly
soul, her round face beaming. ‘A dinner here, a lunch there--the
highest gentlemen in Cambridge to be met at each! I predict a _succès
fou_! Not all the world, let me tell you, brings such letters to the
University. By after to-morrow you will have every evening of your week
engaged.’

‘The University will keep its head, dear Pouchée. A singularly
insignificant young person from the Channel Islands runs no risk of
becoming a sensation. The highest gentlemen in Cambridge will pay
Marjorie Bartrand just attention enough to ask her name--and forget it.’

Nevertheless, on the score of invitations, Pouchée’s forecast proved a
true one. Before night, arrived a friendly invitation bidding Marjorie
to dine at the house of the Master of Matthias next day. As Miss
Bartrand looked forward to studying in Cambridge, the note added, a
lady high in authority at Girton had been asked to meet her.

‘Of that Girton lady I speak not,’ observed Pouchée, when the hour came
on the morrow for Marjorie to dress. ‘About Newnham and Girton I am
dumb.’ Imagine Pouchée dumb on any subject, earthly or terrestrial! ‘I
have lived by brain work, I have been a teacher over nineteen years.
See my whitening hairs, my lost illusions, my disenchantments! In that
sad trade the woman’s heart breathes not. Make yourself charming,
fillette! The most distinguished society of Cambridge is to be met with
at the table of the Master of Matthias. For a child of eighteen there
may be better things in store than coming out high in a Tripos; yes, or
standing on a level with the first wrangler of them all.’

Marjorie’s presumptive triumphs caused the whole Pouchée household to
expand. Wax candles--rare extravagance--stood lit before her mirror.
Flowers were on her toilette-table. Her white dinner dress, with its
simple adjuncts, was lovingly laid ready for her by Mademoiselle’s
hands.

But in Marjorie’s restless heart there was no place for pretty dresses,
for anticipation of social success. She drew aside her curtain. She
gazed down through a chink of blind upon the street, hoping against
hope, as she had so often done before, to discover the face of her
false sweetheart among the passers-by.

It was the most crowded hour of the short November day. Athletic
men were there, returning, in flannels and wrappers, from the river
or the Piece; sporting men from the hunting-field; reading men from
their trudge along the Wranglers’ Walk. Of ‘pifflers’ an abundance;
men with terriers, men with button-holes, men in dog-carts--the
whole many-coloured undergraduate world, alert, self-engrossed.
Drawing together the curtain, Marjorie Bartrand moved back to her
looking-glass. She stood confronting the pale, serious-eyed vision that
met her there with a kind of pity. She was so young, and the years to
come were so many; disappointed years under whose weight she must stand
upright, give no sign she winced beneath their burthen, wear a brave
countenance--work! She felt that she hated Cambridge, this ceaseless
ebb and flow, this turmoil of exultant, successful, youthful life!
Was not Tintajeux, with its dying woods, its still moorland, a fitter
drop-scene for the little played-out drama of her personal happiness?

As Marjorie meditated, the sharp sound of the postman’s knock made
her start. No letter of more vital interest than a despatch from
the Seigneur was likely to reach her; and yet her breath quickened.
Her mood throughout the day had been one of feverish, unreasoning
expectancy. Change, for good or for evil, was, she felt, in the air.
Opening the door of her room, she listened with vague impatience. Hot
controversies anent over-weight and foreign postage were impending
between Madame Pouchée and the postman; Madame, in the matter of extra
half-pence, standing stoutly on the defensive. After a time there
would seem to be a reluctant payment of coin, followed by the brisk
shutting of an outer door. Then the old Frenchwoman’s slippered steps
began leisurely to ascend the stair. The girl’s breath came faster. She
ran out on the landing. The letter was _not_ the size or shape of the
Seigneur’s letters, and it bore two postmarks: Florence, Guernsey....

‘ ... Five half-pence over-weight. I hope, mère, it may be worth its
postage,’ observed Mademoiselle Pouchée, busily tying up violets in
the salon for the adornment of Marjorie’s dress. ‘The child has never
spoken about Italy, still--her heart is somewhere, mère, and I don’t
believe that somewhere is in Newnham or Girton. Ah, when I, too, had
eighteen summers, when----’

‘Pouchée! Dear, good old Pouchée!’ called out a voice, resonant,
hearty, imperious, from the attic floor. ‘Leave the violets. Come
upstairs, quick! I have had splendid news. Everything in the world is
changed. You must send an excuse to the Master of Matthias at once.’

In a moment the Pouchées, mother and daughter, were at the bottom of
the stairs. Marjorie Bartrand, her opened letter in her hand, a flush
of wild excitement lighting her face up into its vivid Southern beauty,
stood on the landing above.

‘An excuse! Consider what you talk about!’ exclaimed Pouchée solemnly.
‘Have your splendid news, with all my heart! But have your splendid
dinner, too. The Master of Matthias keeps the best table in the
University. At his house you meet----’

‘The most distinguished society of Cambridge. Oh, Pouchée, what should
I find to say to distinguished society ... to any king or emperor in
Europe?... Hark! There is Great St. Mary’s clock striking the quarter.
We have not a minute to lose. Write a note, Mademoiselle, in your best
hand, with your pretty, courteous French grace, and give it to the
coachman to deliver. I must read my letter through once more.’


Seven was the appointed time of the Master’s dinner-party. At the
moment when Great St. Mary’s clock boomed the hour’s first stroke,
Marjorie Bartrand extinguished her candles. She descended with muffled
tread to the red baize door at the turning of the stairs. Here she
paused, listened until she heard the shrill treble of French voices,
knew that the Pouchées were safely talking together downstairs. Then,
on tiptoe, she stole to Geoffrey’s quarters. The door stood ajar; a
stray reflected flare of gaslight from some shop window in the court
beneath enabled her to grope her way across the chill and comfortless
room.

The girl paused, irresolute. She remembered Cassandra Tighe’s story,
remembered the miniature Bartrands, the confession made in their
presence of Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s first love. During a few seconds the
old Bartrand pride swayed her--the happiness of her life hung by a
thread. Then she took a packet from her breast. She laid it meekly,
furtively, on the student’s writing-table and fled, like one who quits
the scene of a committed crime, to the light and cheerfulness of the
little salon below.

Pouchée was decking the mantelshelf with the violets Marjorie should
have worn. ‘Headstrong as ever, child! But I forbear to reason,’
she cried, ‘until you explain yourself. That big Italian letter,
re-directed in the Seigneur’s hand, has brought you important news?’

‘I will answer you to-morrow, Pouchée. All I know is that I have lost
my chance of distinguished society, and that my heart is the happiest
heart in all Cambridge.’

‘Grand ciel! Then you have a dear friend among the Florentines!’ Poor
Pouchée’s face brimmed over with curiosity. ‘I accept him, without
conditions, for your sake. The Italians are ungrateful as rats. Think
of all my country has done for them! Still, if a Florentine is your
fate----’

But her imaginary concessions were cut short; the violets slipped
through Pouchée’s fingers. There came the sudden click of a latchkey at
the house door. A man’s firm step sounded in the passage.

‘It is our gentleman! Save yourself, quick, child! The curtain of the
bay window will hide you.’

The words had scarce left Pouchée’s mouth when Geff Arbuthnot entered.
He took a rapid glance round him, walked in the direction of the
window--Marjorie’s heart thrilled as she crouched, imprisoned, out of
sight--then stopped short. There was something of insecurity about his
movements.

‘For a moment I was afraid to come in. The front door has become
strange to one. But you are really alone, Mademoiselle? Your visitor
has started to her party? Then you will let me have five minutes’ chat
beside your fire? I have something good to tell you.’

‘That is right, sir. Please let me set you a chair.’

In performing this little action Pouchée artfully chose such a point
that Marjorie, shadowed herself, might gain a full view of Geff
Arbuthnot’s face.

‘Your fire makes one feel we are in November.’

He stretched his hands forth to the blaze. ‘How delightful your salon
is to-night, Mademoiselle Pouchée.’

Coming in from the mud and darkness, the dreary prose of Cambridge
thoroughfares, he might well think so. The room was redolent with the
odour of Marjorie’s discarded violets; morsels of muslin embroidery, a
thimble never worn by Pouchée’s finger, lay on a work-table near Geff’s
elbow. The warmth, the grace, the nameless sweetness of a young girl’s
presence, were everywhere.

‘How well that Guernsey photograph looks in its old place!’ Could it be
that Geoffrey shrank from pronouncing the name of Tintajeux? ‘You shall
not dismantle your walls again for whim of mine.’

Pouchée stirred the fire into a keener flame. She gave a discreet
little cough.

‘We will settle about that another day, sir. I wait impatiently your
news. Something good about yourself, I hope?’

‘Something very good.’ His face brightened. ‘You know our poor patient
down in Barnwell?’

‘Our Irish bargee, O’Halloran, the dingiest character even Barnwell can
show.’

‘But whom, when he was at his worst, Mademoiselle Pouchée tended like a
sister.’

‘I sat up one or two nights. I helped--because the good-for-nothing
is of my religion. Our priest advised an act of contrition. I had my
motives.’

‘As I had mine,’ said Geoffrey. ‘Never condescend, Mademoiselle, to
become a motive-monger. Do you think no experimental zeal mingles with
a medical student’s attention to his pauper fellows?’

‘O’Halloran rewards you, I trust, with gratitude. _That_, at least,’
observed Pouchée, with a touch of cynicism, ‘would be a new experience
among ces messieurs of the gutters!’

‘O’Halloran rewards me with gratitude. The bandages were off him this
afternoon for the first time, as you know. Well, he was sitting,
propped up in bed, looking at my face with such poor remnant of sight
as remains to him, when suddenly--“Doctor! I’m darned,” he cried in his
hollow voice, “if it be’ant my Varsity man, after all!”’

‘Modestly spoken! His Varsity man, indeed!’

‘I should have thought the fever had come back,’ said Geff, ‘if I
had not had my finger on his pulse two minutes before. “Your Varsity
man, Mike--what are you talking about?” I asked him. “What have you
to do with the University or its men?” “I had to do,” he said, “with
a Varsity man one accursed November night that _you_ must remember,
doctor. There was a lot of chaps together, rough river chaps--you know
the sort, sir--and three or four of the Varsity gentlemen came across
’em, down Petty Cury. The gentlemen wasn’t of the fighting kind, so far
as I can recollect, but anyways they got into a Town and Gown row--a
bad one.... Doctor, I say”--the poor fellow put out his big weak hand
to me--“I was the leader of the roughs. I struck a foul coward’s blow
when the gentlemen was fighting honourable and unarmed. It was me give
you the devil’s mark you’ll take with you into the coffin.”’

‘Scélérat--misérable!’ put in Pouchée, between her closed teeth.

‘I tried to joke him out of his fancy,’ went on Geff Arbuthnot, ‘but in
vain. Mike had seen my face, before he struck the blow--and afterwards.
He had never forgotten me. The scar which you, Mademoiselle, have
lamented over, as marring my beauty, put my identification beyond
doubt. “My Varsity man--my Varsity man,” he moaned. “I’ve thought
of him many a time in the black years since.... And now, at last,
I’ve found him. Doctor, you’ve saved my life--you’ve looked after me
when I should have died, else, like a dog on this miserable floor,
here--there’s one favour more I durstn’t, no, I durstn’t ask of you....
Give me your hand in token of forgiveness.”’

‘And you gave it him,’ cried Pouchée, whose face had turned a queer
shade of colour as she listened.

‘I gave him my hand, and Mike, who I suspect has cared neither for God
nor man in his life, caught it to his lips. My dear Mademoiselle, you
can guess that it was a good moment. To pull one’s patient round, in
body, is much. O’Halloran will have a human heart in that dark breast
of his from to-day forth.’

And having told his story, Geff Arbuthnot rose. With a lingering look
he took in the home-like suggestiveness of the little salon, the
violets on the mantelshelf, the morsel of embroidery, the slender
implements of needlework on the table. Then he bade Mademoiselle
Pouchée good-night. Marjorie listened while his remembered step ran
up the stairs, listened until she knew by the opening and shutting
of a distant door that he had gained his study. Then she crept forth,
uncertain of mien, from her hiding-place.

‘Have I committed a dishonourable action? Was there anything I should
not have heard? Oh, Mademoiselle,’ she went on, incoherently, ‘is not
Geoffrey Arbuthnot the noblest man in the whole world?’

And Marjorie clasped the mantelshelf, steadying herself thereby. She
bent down over a cup of violets, hiding the face from which she felt
all trace of colour must have vanished.

‘You look tired, ma mie. The news from Florence has not brought back
your roses. Now, what shall I get for you?’ cried Pouchée, stealing a
kind arm round the girl’s shoulder. ‘Thanks to your Italian letter,
remember, you have been cheated out of dinner.’

‘I should like some tea,’ Marjorie answered, plausibly. ‘Tea and a
plate of tartines, cut after the fashion that only you, dear Pouchée,
understand.’

If the flattery were a trick of war to effect the Frenchwoman’s
absence, I hold that, in a moment supreme as this, it was pardonable.

Off went Pouchée to the kitchen, unsuspecting to the last of the love
story in which she had played a part, and Marjorie, her heart on fire,
awaited her fate. For the first two or three minutes all was quiet.
Then she heard the impetuous opening of Geoffrey Arbuthnot’s door. Her
limbs well-nigh failed her, her spirit sank. Through a few seconds of
suspense the past fifteen months seemed to unroll themselves, one by
one, before her sight.... At last the salon door opened and closed.
Marjorie moved a step forward--she held out a hand that trembled
violently. A moment more and strong arms held her close, her blushes
were hidden on Geff Arbuthnot’s breast.

There was a long space of silence, an interchange of such words, such
broken attempts at explanation as pen and ink can ill put into form.
Then Geoffrey led his sweetheart into the broader light of lamp and
fire. He looked at her tall figure, her altered softened face, with
wondering eyes.

‘You have grown several inches, Miss Bartrand. You have become
beautiful. Tell me I am not asleep--dreaming, as I have done so
often--that I hold your hand. Tell me my good luck is real!’

‘Don’t talk of good luck yet. I have not lost my Bartrand temper.
Plenty of bad times may be in store for both of us.’

‘And when was this sent to me’ Geoffrey touched his breast-pocket, in
token that Marjorie’s ribbon and letter lay there. ‘The address is an
enigma. There is a faded look I cannot interpret about the handwriting.’

‘I left the packet fifteen months ago at your hotel in Guernsey.’ The
girl’s face drooped. ‘You ought to have had it on the day after--after
my vile temper drove you away from Tintajeux. I wrote ... one word ...
as you wished; I sent you the bit of Spanish ribbon for a book-marker.
But fortune was against me. I forgot that you and your cousin Gaston
had the same initial.’

‘If Gaston had opened a letter wrongly he would have brought it to me
on the spot.’

‘There was mistake within mistake--at that time poor Dinah’s heart was
near to breaking--so she writes me now.’

‘Dinah! You have heard from Mrs. Arbuthnot? Let me see her explanation.’

‘I will read a passage or two aloud.’ Marjorie Bartrand drew the
Italian letter from her pocket.

‘No. You will let me read every word of it for myself.’

And Geoffrey Arbuthnot took the letter, unfolded, and read it through.

‘Dinah was tried beyond her strength,’ said Marjorie, instinctively
deciphering a pained expression on Geoffrey’s face. ‘But she has no
need to feel so contrite. It will make our happiness doubly sweet to
know it has come to us, in the end, from Dinah’s hand.’

The tone, the generous words, smote Geoffrey to the quick.


‘Can you give up everything for me?’ he asked her presently. ‘Your
dream for years has been Girton. Do you desire still to become a Girton
student, or....’

‘I desire that you shall guide me,’ was the prompt answer. ‘I need no
other life, no other wisdom, no other ambition than yours.’

A finis commonplace as daylight, reader, old as the foundation of the
Gogmagog Hills. Gaston’s prediction was verified--Marjorie Bartrand had
proved herself a very woman after all.


THE END


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