CHAPTER FIVE--THE GREAT DE BARRAL (Page 2)
She wondered at the steadiness of her own voice. She heard a grunt from the driver and the cab began to roll again. Only then she sank into her place keeping a watchful eye on her companion. He was hardly anything more by this time. Except for her childhood's impressions he was just--a man. Almost a stranger. How was one to deal with him? And there was the other too. Also almost a stranger. The trade of being a woman was very difficult. Too difficult. Flora closed her eyes saying to herself: "If I think too much about it I shall go mad." And then opening them she asked her father if the prospect of living always with his daughter and being taken care of by her affection away from the world, which had no honour to give to his grey hairs, was such an awful prospect.
"Tell me, is it so bad as that?"
She put that question sadly, without bitterness. The famous--or notorious--de Barral had lost his rigidity now. He was bent. Nothing more deplorably futile than a bent poker. He said nothing. She added gently, suppressing an uneasy remorseful sigh:
"And it might have been worse. You might have found no one, no one in all this town, no one in all the world, not even me! Poor papa!"
She made a conscience-stricken movement towards him thinking: "Oh! I am horrible, I am horrible." And old de Barral, scared, tired, bewildered by the extraordinary shocks of his liberation, swayed over and actually leaned his head on her shoulder, as if sorrowing over his regained freedom.
The movement by itself was touching. Flora supporting him lightly imagined that he was crying; and at the thought that had she smashed in a quarry that shoulder, together with some other of her bones, this grey and pitiful head would have had nowhere to rest, she too gave way to tears. They flowed quietly, easing her overstrained nerves. Suddenly he pushed her away from him so that her head struck the side of the cab, pushing himself away too from her as if something had stung him.
All the warmth went out of her emotion. The very last tears turned cold on her cheek. But their work was done. She had found courage, resolution, as women do, in a good cry. With his hand covering the upper part of his face whether to conceal his eyes or to shut out an unbearable sight, he was stiffening up in his corner to his usual poker-like consistency. She regarded him in silence. His thin obstinate lips moved. He uttered the name of the cousin--the man, you remember, who did not approve of the Fynes, and whom rightly or wrongly little Fyne suspected of interested motives, in view of de Barral having possibly put away some plunder, somewhere before the smash.
I may just as well tell you at once that I don't know anything more of him. But de Barral was of the opinion, speaking in his low voice from under his hand, that this relation would have been only too glad to have secured his guidance.
"Of course I could not come forward in my own name, or person. But the advice of a man of my experience is as good as a fortune to anybody wishing to venture into finance. The same sort of thing can be done again."
He shuffled his feet a little, let fall his hand; and turning carefully toward his daughter his puffy round cheeks, his round chin resting on his collar, he bent on her the faded, resentful gaze of his pale eyes, which were wet.
"The start is really only a matter of judicious advertising. There's no difficulty. And here you go and . . . "
He turned his face away. "After all I am still de Barral, THE de Barral. Didn't you remember that?"
"Papa," said Flora; "listen. It's you who must remember that there is no longer a de Barral . . . " He looked at her sideways anxiously. "There is Mr. Smith, whom no harm, no trouble, no wicked lies of evil people can ever touch."
"Mr. Smith," he breathed out slowly. "Where does he belong to? There's not even a Miss Smith."
"There is your Flora."
"My Flora! You went and . . . I can't bear to think of it. It's horrible."
"Yes. It was horrible enough at times," she said with feeling, because somehow, obscurely, what this man said appealed to her as if it were her own thought clothed in an enigmatic emotion. "I think with shame sometimes how I . . . No not yet. I shall not tell you. At least not now."
The cab turned into the gateway of the dock. Flora handed the tall hat to her father. "Here, papa. And please be good. I suppose you love me. If you don't, then I wonder who--"
He put the hat on, and stiffened hard in his corner, kept a sidelong glance on his girl. "Try to be nice for my sake. Think of the years I have been waiting for you. I do indeed want support--and peace. A little peace."
She clasped his arm suddenly with both hands pressing with all her might as if to crush the resistance she felt in him. "I could not have peace if I did not have you with me. I won't let you go. Not after all I went through. I won't." The nervous force of her grip frightened him a little. She laughed suddenly. "It's absurd. It's as if I were asking you for a sacrifice. What am I afraid of? Where could you go? I mean now, to-day, to-night? You can't tell me. Have you thought of it? Well I have been thinking of it for the last year. Longer. I nearly went mad trying to find out. I believe I was mad for a time or else I should never have thought . .
"This was as near as she came to a confession," remarked Marlow in a changed tone. "The confession I mean of that walk to the top of the quarry which she reproached herself with so bitterly. And he made of it what his fancy suggested. It could not possibly be a just notion. The cab stopped alongside the ship and they got out in the manner described by the sensitive Franklin. I don't know if they suspected each other's sanity at the end of that drive. But that is possible. We all seem a little mad to each other; an excellent arrangement for the bulk of humanity which finds in it an easy motive of forgiveness. Flora crossed the quarter-deck with a rapidity born of apprehension. It had grown unbearable. She wanted this business over. She was thankful on looking back to see he was following her. "If he bolts away," she thought, "then I shall know that I am of no account indeed! That no one loves me, that words and actions and protestations and everything in the world is false-- and I shall jump into the dock. THAT at least won't lie."
Well I don't know. If it had come to that she would have been most likely fished out, what with her natural want of luck and the good many people on the quay and on board. And just where the Ferndale was moored there hung on a wall (I know the berth) a coil of line, a pole, and a life-buoy kept there on purpose to save people who tumble into the dock. It's not so easy to get away from life's betrayals as she thought. However it did not come to that. He followed her with his quick gliding walk. Mr. Smith! The liberated convict de Barral passed off the solid earth for the last time, vanished for ever, and there was Mr. Smith added to that world of waters which harbours so many queer fishes. An old gentleman in a silk hat, darting wary glances. He followed, because mere existence has its claims which are obeyed mechanically. I have no doubt he presented a respectable figure. Father-in-law. Nothing more respectable. But he carried in his heart the confused pain of dismay and affection, of involuntary repulsion and pity. Very much like his daughter. Only in addition he felt a furious jealousy of the man he was going to see.
A residue of egoism remains in every affection--even paternal. And this man in the seclusion of his prison had thought himself into such a sense of ownership of that single human being he had to think about, as may well be inconceivable to us who have not had to serve a long (and wickedly unjust) sentence of penal servitude. She was positively the only thing, the one point where his thoughts found a resting-place, for years. She was the only outlet for his imagination. He had not much of that faculty to be sure, but there was in it the force of concentration. He felt outraged, and perhaps it was an absurdity on his part, but I venture to suggest rather in degree than in kind. I have a notion that no usual, normal father is pleased at parting with his daughter. No. Not even when he rationally appreciates "Jane being taken off his hands" or perhaps is able to exult at an excellent match. At bottom, quite deep down, down in the dark (in some cases only by digging), there is to be found a certain repugnance . . . With mothers of course it is different. Women are more loyal, not to each other, but to their common femininity which they behold triumphant with a secret and proud satisfaction.
The circumstances of that match added to Mr. Smith's indignation. And if he followed his daughter into that ship's cabin it was as if into a house of disgrace and only because he was still bewildered by the suddenness of the thing. His will, so long lying fallow, was overborne by her determination and by a vague fear of that regained liberty.
You will be glad to hear that Anthony, though he did shirk the welcome on the quay, behaved admirably, with the simplicity of a man who has no small meannesses and makes no mean reservations. His eyes did not flinch and his tongue did not falter. He was, I have it on the best authority, admirable in his earnestness, in his sincerity and also in his restraint. He was perfect. Nevertheless the vital force of his unknown individuality addressing him so familiarly was enough to fluster Mr. Smith. Flora saw her father trembling in all his exiguous length, though he held himself stiffer than ever if that was possible. He muttered a little and at last managed to utter, not loud of course but very distinctly: "I am here under protest," the corners of his mouth sunk disparagingly, his eyes stony. "I am here under protest. I have been locked up by a conspiracy. I--"
He raised his hands to his forehead--his silk hat was on the table rim upwards; he had put it there with a despairing gesture as he came in--he raised his hands to his forehead. "It seems to me unfair. I--" He broke off again. Anthony looked at Flora who stood by the side of her father.
"Well, sir, you will soon get used to me. Surely you and she must have had enough of shore-people and their confounded half-and-half ways to last you both for a life-time. A particularly merciful lot they are too. You ask Flora. I am alluding to my own sister, her best friend, and not a bad woman either as they go."
The captain of the Ferndale checked himself. "Lucky thing I was there to step in. I want you to make yourself at home, and before long--"
The faded stare of the Great de Barral silenced Anthony by its inexpressive fixity. He signalled with his eyes to Flora towards the door of the state-room fitted specially to receive Mr. Smith, the free man. She seized the free man's hat off the table and took him caressingly under the arm. "Yes! This is home, come and see your room, papa!"
Anthony himself threw open the door and Flora took care to shut it carefully behind herself and her father. "See," she began but desisted because it was clear that he would look at none of the contrivances for his comfort. She herself had hardly seen them before. He was looking only at the new carpet and she waited till he should raise his eyes.
He didn't do that but spoke in his usual voice. "So this is your husband, that . . . And I locked up!"
"Papa, what's the good of harping on that," she remonstrated no louder. "He is kind."
"And you went and . . . married him so that he should be kind to me. Is that it? How did you know that I wanted anybody to be kind to me?"
"How strange you are!" she said thoughtfully.
"It's hard for a man who has gone through what I have gone through to feel like other people. Has that occurred to you? . . . " He looked up at last . . . "Mrs. Anthony, I can't bear the sight of the fellow." She met his eyes without flinching and he added, "You want to go to him now." His mild automatic manner seemed the effect of tremendous self-restraint--and yet she remembered him always like that. She felt cold all over.
"Why, of course, I must go to him," she said with a slight start.
He gnashed his teeth at her and she went out.
Anthony had not moved from the spot. One of his hands was resting on the table. She went up to him, stopped, then deliberately moved still closer. "Thank you, Roderick."
"You needn't thank me," he murmured. "It's I who . . . "
"No, perhaps I needn't. You do what you like. But you are doing it well."
He sighed then hardly above a whisper because they were near the state-room door, "Upset, eh?"
She made no sign, no sound of any kind. The thorough falseness of the position weighed on them both. But he was the braver of the two. "I dare say. At first. Did you think of telling him you were happy?"
"He never asked me," she smiled faintly at him. She was disappointed by his quietness. "I did not say more than I was absolutely obliged to say--of myself." She was beginning to be irritated with this man a little. "I told him I had been very lucky," she said suddenly despondent, missing Anthony's masterful manner, that something arbitrary and tender which, after the first scare, she had accustomed herself to look forward to with pleasurable apprehension. He was contemplating her rather blankly. She had not taken off her outdoor things, hat, gloves. She was like a caller. And she had a movement suggesting the end of a not very satisfactory business call. "Perhaps it would be just as well if we went ashore. Time yet."
He gave her a glimpse of his unconstrained self in the low vehement "You dare!" which sprang to his lips and out of them with a most menacing inflexion.
"You dare . . . What's the matter now?"
These last words were shot out not at her but at some target behind her back. Looking over her shoulder she saw the bald head with black bunches of hair of the congested and devoted Franklin (he had his cap in his hand) gazing sentimentally from the saloon doorway with his lobster eyes. He was heard from the distance in a tone of injured innocence reporting that the berthing master was alongside and that he wanted to move the ship into the basin before the crew came on board.
His captain growled "Well, let him," and waved away the ulcerated and pathetic soul behind these prominent eyes which lingered on the offensive woman while the mate backed out slowly. Anthony turned to Flora.
"You could not have meant it. You are as straight as they make them."
"I am trying to be."
"Then don't joke in that way. Think of what would become of--me."
"Oh yes. I forgot. No, I didn't mean it. It wasn't a joke. It was forgetfulness. You wouldn't have been wronged. I couldn't have gone. I--I am too tired."
He saw she was swaying where she stood and restrained himself violently from taking her into his arms, his frame trembling with fear as though he had been tempted to an act of unparalleled treachery. He stepped aside and lowering his eyes pointed to the door of the stern-cabin. It was only after she passed by him that he looked up and thus he did not see the angry glance she gave him before she moved on. He looked after her. She tottered slightly just before reaching the door and flung it to behind her nervously.
Anthony--he had felt this crash as if the door had been slammed inside his very breast--stood for a moment without moving and then shouted for Mrs. Brown. This was the steward's wife, his lucky inspiration to make Flora comfortable. "Mrs. Brown! Mrs. Brown!" At last she appeared from somewhere. "Mrs. Anthony has come on board. Just gone into the cabin. Hadn't you better see if you can be of any assistance?"
And again he was alone with the situation he had created in the hardihood and inexperience of his heart. He thought he had better go on deck. In fact he ought to have been there before. At any rate it would be the usual thing for him to be on deck. But a sound of muttering and of faint thuds somewhere near by arrested his attention. They proceeded from Mr. Smith's room, he perceived. It was very extraordinary. "He's talking to himself," he thought. "He seems to be thumping the bulkhead with his fists--or his head."
Anthony's eyes grew big with wonder while he listened to these noises. He became so attentive that he did not notice Mrs. Brown till she actually stopped before him for a moment to say:
"Mrs. Anthony doesn't want any assistance, sir."
This was you understand the voyage before Mr. Powell--young Powell then--joined the Ferndale; chance having arranged that he should get his start in life in that particular ship of all the ships then in the port of London. The most unrestful ship that ever sailed out of any port on earth. I am not alluding to her sea-going qualities. Mr. Powell tells me she was as steady as a church. I mean unrestful in the sense, for instance in which this planet of ours is unrestful--a matter of an uneasy atmosphere disturbed by passions, jealousies, loves, hates and the troubles of transcendental good intentions, which, though ethically valuable, I have no doubt cause often more unhappiness than the plots of the most evil tendency. For those who refuse to believe in chance he, I mean Mr. Powell, must have been obviously predestined to add his native ingenuousness to the sum of all the others carried by the honest ship Ferndale. He was too ingenuous. Everybody on board was, exception being made of Mr. Smith who, however, was simple enough in his way, with that terrible simplicity of the fixed idea, for which there is also another name men pronounce with dread and aversion. His fixed idea was to save his girl from the man who had possessed himself of her(I use these words on purpose because the image they suggest was clearly in Mr. Smith's mind), possessed himself unfairly of her while he, the father, was locked up.
"I won't rest till I have got you away from that man," he would murmur to her after long periods of contemplation. We know from Powell how he used to sit on the skylight near the long deck-chair on which Flora was reclining, gazing into her face from above with an air of guardianship and investigation at the same time.
It is almost impossible to say if he ever had considered the event rationally. The avatar of de Barral into Mr. Smith had not been effected without a shock--that much one must recognize. It may be that it drove all practical considerations out of his mind, making room for awful and precise visions which nothing could dislodge afterwards.
And it might have been the tenacity, the unintelligent tenacity, of the man who had persisted in throwing millions of other people's thrift into the Lone Valley Railway, the Labrador Docks, the Spotted Leopard Copper Mine, and other grotesque speculations exposed during the famous de Barral trial, amongst murmurs of astonishment mingled with bursts of laughter. For it is in the Courts of Law that Comedy finds its last refuge in our deadly serious world. As to tears and lamentations, these were not heard in the august precincts of comedy, because they were indulged in privately in several thousand homes, where, with a fine dramatic effect, hunger had taken the place of Thrift.
But there was one at least who did not laugh in court. That person was the accused. The notorious de Barral did not laugh because he was indignant. He was impervious to words, to facts, to inferences. It would have been impossible to make him see his guilt or his folly--either by evidence or argument--if anybody had tried to argue.
Neither did his daughter Flora try to argue with him. The cruelty of her position was so great, its complications so thorny, if I may express myself so, that a passive attitude was yet her best refuge-- as it had been before her of so many women.
For that sort of inertia in woman is always enigmatic and therefore menacing. It makes one pause. A woman may be a fool, a sleepy fool, an agitated fool, a too awfully noxious fool, and she may even be simply stupid. But she is never dense. She's never made of wood through and through as some men are. There is in woman always, somewhere, a spring. Whatever men don't know about women (and it may be a lot or it may be very little) men and even fathers do know that much. And that is why so many men are afraid of them.
Mr. Smith I believe was afraid of his daughter's quietness though of course he interpreted it in his own way.
He would, as Mr. Powell depicts, sit on the skylight and bend over the reclining girl, wondering what there was behind the lost gaze under the darkened eyelids in the still eyes. He would look and look and then he would say, whisper rather, it didn't take much for his voice to drop to a mere breath--he would declare, transferring his faded stare to the horizon, that he would never rest till he had "got her away from that man."
"You don't know what you are saying, papa."
She would try not to show her weariness, the nervous strain of these two men's antagonism around her person which was the cause of her languid attitudes. For as a matter of fact the sea agreed with her.
As likely as not Anthony would be walking on the other side of the deck. The strain was making him restless. He couldn't sit still anywhere. He had tried shutting himself up in his cabin; but that was no good. He would jump up to rush on deck and tramp, tramp up and down that poop till he felt ready to drop, without being able to wear down the agitation of his soul, generous indeed, but weighted by its envelope of blood and muscle and bone; handicapped by the brain creating precise images and everlastingly speculating, speculating--looking out for signs, watching for symptoms.
And Mr. Smith with a slight backward jerk of his small head at the footsteps on the other side of the skylight would insist in his awful, hopelessly gentle voice that he knew very well what he was saying. Hadn't she given herself to that man while he was locked up.
"Helpless, in jail, with no one to think of, nothing to look forward to, but my daughter. And then when they let me out at last I find her gone--for it amounts to this. Sold. Because you've sold yourself; you know you have."
With his round unmoved face, a lot of fine white hair waving in the wind-eddies of the spanker, his glance levelled over the sea he seemed to be addressing the universe across her reclining form. She would protest sometimes.
"I wish you would not talk like this, papa. You are only tormenting me, and tormenting yourself."
"Yes, I am tormented enough," he admitted meaningly. But it was not talking about it that tormented him. It was thinking of it. And to sit and look at it was worse for him than it possibly could have been for her to go and give herself up, bad as that must have been.
"For of course you suffered. Don't tell me you didn't? You must have."
She had renounced very soon all attempts at protests. It was useless. It might have made things worse; and she did not want to quarrel with her father, the only human being that really cared for her, absolutely, evidently, completely--to the end. There was in him no pity, no generosity, nothing whatever of these fine things-- it was for her, for her very own self such as it was, that this human being cared. This certitude would have made her put up with worse torments. For, of course, she too was being tormented. She felt also helpless, as if the whole enterprise had been too much for her. This is the sort of conviction which makes for quietude. She was becoming a fatalist.
What must have been rather appalling were the necessities of daily life, the intercourse of current trifles. That naturally had to go on. They wished good morning to each other, they sat down together to meals--and I believe there would be a game of cards now and then in the evening, especially at first. What frightened her most was the duplicity of her father, at least what looked like duplicity, when she remembered his persistent, insistent whispers on deck. However her father was a taciturn person as far back as she could remember him best--on the Parade. It was she who chattered, never troubling herself to discover whether he was pleased or displeased. And now she couldn't fathom his thoughts. Neither did she chatter to him. Anthony with a forced friendly smile as if frozen to his lips seemed only too thankful at not being made to speak. Mr. Smith sometimes forgot himself while studying his hand so long that Flora had to recall him to himself by a murmured "Papa--your lead." Then he apologized by a faint as if inward ejaculation "Beg your pardon, Captain." Naturally she addressed Anthony as Roderick and he addressed her as Flora. This was all the acting that was necessary to judge from the wincing twitch of the old man's mouth at every uttered "Flora." On hearing the rare "Rodericks" he had sometimes a scornful grimace as faint and faded and colourless as his whole stiff personality.
He would be the first to retire. He was not infirm. With him too the life on board ship seemed to agree; but from a sense of duty, of affection, or to placate his hidden fury, his daughter always accompanied him to his state-room "to make him comfortable." She lighted his lamp, helped him into his dressing-gown or got him a book from a bookcase fitted in there--but this last rarely, because Mr. Smith used to declare "I am no reader" with something like pride in his low tones. Very often after kissing her good-night on the forehead he would treat her to some such fretful remark: "It's like being in jail--'pon my word. I suppose that man is out there waiting for you. Head jailer! Ough!"
She would smile vaguely; murmur a conciliatory "How absurd." But once, out of patience, she said quite sharply "Leave off. It hurts me. One would think you hate me."
"It isn't you I hate," he went on monotonously breathing at her. "No, it isn't you. But if I saw that you loved that man I think I could hate you too."
That word struck straight at her heart. "You wouldn't be the first then," she muttered bitterly. But he was busy with his fixed idea and uttered an awfully equable "But you don't! Unfortunate girl!"
She looked at him steadily for a time then said "Good-night, papa."
As a matter of fact Anthony very seldom waited for her alone at the table with the scattered cards, glasses, water-jug, bottles and soon. He took no more opportunities to be alone with her than was absolutely necessary for the edification of Mrs. Brown. Excellent, faithful woman; the wife of his still more excellent and faithful steward. And Flora wished all these excellent people, devoted to Anthony, she wished them all further; and especially the nice, pleasant-spoken Mrs. Brown with her beady, mobile eyes and her "Yes certainly, ma'am," which seemed to her to have a mocking sound. And so this short trip--to the Western Islands only--came to an end. It was so short that when young Powell joined the Ferndale by a memorable stroke of chance, no more than seven months had elapsed since the--let us say the liberation of the convict de Barral and his avatar into Mr. Smith.
For the time the ship was loading in London Anthony took a cottage near a little country station in Essex, to house Mr. Smith and Mr. Smith's daughter. It was altogether his idea. How far it was necessary for Mr. Smith to seek rural retreat I don't know. Perhaps to some extent it was a judicious arrangement. There were some obligations incumbent on the liberated de Barral (in connection with reporting himself to the police I imagine) which Mr. Smith was not anxious to perform. De Barral had to vanish; the theory was that de Barral had vanished, and it had to be upheld. Poor Flora liked the country, even if the spot had nothing more to recommend it than its retired character.
Now and then Captain Anthony ran down; but as the station was a real wayside one, with no early morning trains up, he could never stay for more than the afternoon. It appeared that he must sleep in town so as to be early on board his ship. The weather was magnificent and whenever the captain of the Ferndale was seen on a brilliant afternoon coming down the road Mr. Smith would seize his stick and toddle off for a solitary walk. But whether he would get tired or because it gave him some satisfaction to see "that man" go away--or for some cunning reason of his own, he was always back before the hour of Anthony's departure. On approaching the cottage he would see generally "that man" lying on the grass in the orchard at some distance from his daughter seated in a chair brought out of the cottage's living room. Invariably Mr. Smith made straight for them and as invariably had the feeling that his approach was not disturbing a very intimate conversation. He sat with them, through a silent hour or so, and then it would be time for Anthony to go. Mr. Smith, perhaps from discretion, would casually vanish a minute or so before, and then watch through the diamond panes of an upstairs room "that man" take a lingering look outside the gate at the invisible Flora, lift his hat, like a caller, and go off down the road. Then only Mr. Smith would join his daughter again.
These were the bad moments for her. Not always, of course, but frequently. It was nothing extraordinary to hear Mr. Smith begin gently with some observation like this:
"That man is getting tired of you."
He would never pronounce Anthony's name. It was always "that man."
Generally she would remain mute with wide open eyes gazing at nothing between the gnarled fruit trees. Once, however, she got up and walked into the cottage. Mr. Smith followed her carrying the chair. He banged it down resolutely and in that smooth inexpressive tone so many ears used to bend eagerly to catch when it came from the Great de Barral he said:Next