CHAPTER SEVEN--ON THE PAVEMENT (Page 3)
She turned at once and we made a few paces; not too far to take us out of sight of the hotel door, but very nearly. I could just keep my eyes on it. After all, I had not been so very long with the girl. If you were to disentangle the words we actually exchanged from my comments you would see that they were not so very many, including everything she had so unexpectedly told me of her story. No, not so very many. And now it seemed as though there would be no more. No! I could expect no more. The confidence was wonderful enough in its nature as far as it went, and perhaps not to have been expected from any other girl under the sun. And I felt a little ashamed. The origin of our intimacy was too gruesome. It was as if listening to her I had taken advantage of having seen her poor bewildered, scared soul without its veils. But I was curious, too; or, to render myself justice without false modesty--I was anxious; anxious to know a little more.
I felt like a blackmailer all the same when I made my attempt with a light-hearted remark.
"And so you gave up that walk you proposed to take?"
"Yes, I gave up the walk," she said slowly before raising her downcast eyes. When she did so it was with an extraordinary effect. It was like catching sight of a piece of blue sky, of a stretch of open water. And for a moment I understood the desire of that man to whom the sea and sky of his solitary life had appeared suddenly incomplete without that glance which seemed to belong to them both. He was not for nothing the son of a poet. I looked into those unabashed eyes while the girl went on, her demure appearance and precise tone changed to a very earnest expression. Woman is various indeed.
"But I want you to understand, Mr. . . . " she had actually to think of my name . . . "Mr. Marlow, that I have written to Mrs. Fyne that I haven't been--that I have done nothing to make Captain Anthony behave to me as he had behaved. I haven't. I haven't. It isn't my doing. It isn't my fault--if she likes to put it in that way. But she, with her ideas, ought to understand that I couldn't, that I couldn't . . . I know she hates me now. I think she never liked me. I think nobody ever cared for me. I was told once nobody could care for me; and I think it is true. At any rate I can't forget it."
Her abominable experience with the governess had implanted in her unlucky breast a lasting doubt, an ineradicable suspicion of herself and of others. I said:
"Remember, Miss de Barral, that to be fair you must trust a man altogether--or not at all."
She dropped her eyes suddenly. I thought I heard a faint sigh. I tried to take a light tone again, and yet it seemed impossible to get off the ground which gave me my standing with her.
"Mrs. Fyne is absurd. She's an excellent woman, but really you could not be expected to throw away your chance of life simply that she might cherish a good opinion of your memory. That would be excessive."
"It was not of my life that I was thinking while Captain Anthony was--was speaking to me," said Flora de Barral with an effort.
I told her that she was wrong then. She ought to have been thinking of her life, and not only of her life but of the life of the man who was speaking to her too. She let me finish, then shook her head impatiently.
"Well," I said, "when he stood before you there, outside the cottage, he really stood between you and that. I have it out of your own mouth. You can't deny it."
"If you will have it that he saved my life, then he has got it. It was not for me. Oh no! It was not for me that I--It was not fear! There!" She finished petulantly: "And you may just as well know it."
She hung her head and swung the parasol slightly to and fro. I thought a little.
"Do you know French, Miss de Barral?" I asked.
She made a sign with her head that she did, but without showing any surprise at the question and without ceasing to swing her parasol.
"Well then, somehow or other I have the notion that Captain Anthony is what the French call un galant homme. I should like to think he is being treated as he deserves."
The form of her lips (I could see them under the brim of her hat) was suddenly altered into a line of seriousness. The parasol stopped swinging.
"I have given him what he wanted--that's myself," she said without a tremor and with a striking dignity of tone.
Impressed by the manner and the directness of the words, I hesitated for a moment what to say. Then made up my mind to clear up the point.
"And you have got what you wanted? Is that it?"
The daughter of the egregious financier de Barral did not answer at once this question going to the heart of things. Then raising her head and gazing wistfully across the street noisy with the endless transit of innumerable bargains, she said with intense gravity:
"He has been most generous."
I was pleased to hear these words. Not that I doubted the infatuation of Roderick Anthony, but I was pleased to hear something which proved that she was sensible and open to the sentiment of gratitude which in this case was significant. In the face of man's desire a girl is excusable if she thinks herself priceless. I mean a girl of our civilization which has established a dithyrambic phraseology for the expression of love. A man in love will accept any convention exalting the object of his passion and in this indirect way his passion itself. In what way the captain of the ship Ferndale gave proofs of lover-like lavishness I could not guess very well. But I was glad she was appreciative. It is lucky that small things please women. And it is not silly of them to be thus pleased. It is in small things that the deepest loyalty, that which they need most, the loyalty of the passing moment, is best expressed.
She had remained thoughtful, letting her deep motionless eyes rest on the streaming jumble of traffic. Suddenly she said:
"And I wanted to ask you . . . I was really glad when I saw you actually here. Who would have expected you here, at this spot, before this hotel! I certainly never . . . You see it meant a lot to me. You are the only person who knows . . . who knows for certain . . . "
"Knows what?" I said, not discovering at first what she had in her mind. Then I saw it. "Why can't you leave that alone?" I remonstrated, rather annoyed at the invidious position she was forcing on me in a sense. "It's true that I was the only person to see," I added. "But, as it happens, after your mysterious disappearance I told the Fynes the story of our meeting."
Her eyes raised to mine had an expression of dreamy, unfathomable candour, if I dare say so. And if you wonder what I mean I can only say that I have seen the sea wear such an expression on one or two occasions shortly before sunrise on a calm, fresh day. She said as if meditating aloud that she supposed the Fynes were not likely to talk about that. She couldn't imagine any connection in which . . . Why should they?
As her tone had become interrogatory I assented. "To be sure. There's no reason whatever--" thinking to myself that they would be more likely indeed to keep quiet about it. They had other things to talk of. And then remembering little Fyne stuck upstairs for an unconscionable time, enough to blurt out everything he ever knew in his life, I reflected that he would assume naturally that Captain Anthony had nothing to learn from him about Flora de Barral. It had been up to now my assumption too. I saw my mistake. The sincerest of women will make no unnecessary confidences to a man. And this is as it should be.
"No--no!" I said reassuringly. "It's most unlikely. Are you much concerned?"
"Well, you see, when I came down," she said again in that precise demure tone, "when I came down--into the garden Captain Anthony misunderstood--"
"Of course he would. Men are so conceited," I said.
I saw it well enough that he must have thought she had come down to him. What else could he have thought? And then he had been "gentleness itself." A new experience for that poor, delicate, and yet so resisting creature. Gentleness in passion! What could have been more seductive to the scared, starved heart of that girl? Perhaps had he been violent, she might have told him that what she came down to keep was the tryst of death--not of love. It occurred to me as I looked at her, young, fragile in aspect, and intensely alive in her quietness, that perhaps she did not know herself then what sort of tryst she was coming down to keep.
She smiled faintly, almost awkwardly as if she were totally unused to smiling, at my cheap jocularity. Then she said with that forced precision, a sort of conscious primness:
"I didn't want him to know."
I approved heartily. Quite right. Much better. Let him ever remain under his misapprehension which was so much more flattering for him.
I tried to keep it in the tone of comedy; but she was, I believe, too simple to understand my intention. She went on, looking down.
"Oh! You think so? When I saw you I didn't know why you were here. I was glad when you spoke to me because this is exactly what I wanted to ask you for. I wanted to ask you if you ever meet Captain Anthony--by any chance--anywhere--you are a sailor too, are you not?--that you would never mention--never--that--that you had seen me over there."
"My dear young lady," I cried, horror-struck at the supposition. "Why should I? What makes you think I should dream of . . . "
She had raised her head at my vehemence. She did not understand it. The world had treated her so dishonourably that she had no notion even of what mere decency of feeling is like. It was not her fault. Indeed, I don't know why she should have put her trust in anybody's promises.
But I thought it would be better to promise. So I assured her that she could depend on my absolute silence.
"I am not likely to ever set eyes on Captain Anthony," I added with conviction--as a further guarantee.
She accepted my assurance in silence, without a sign. Her gravity had in it something acute, perhaps because of that chin. While we were still looking at each other she declared:
"There's no deception in it really. I want you to believe that if I am here, like this, to-day, it is not from fear. It is not!"
"I quite understand," I said. But her firm yet self-conscious gaze became doubtful. "I do," I insisted. "I understand perfectly that it was not of death that you were afraid."
She lowered her eyes slowly, and I went on:
"As to life, that's another thing. And I don't know that one ought to blame you very much--though it seemed rather an excessive step. I wonder now if it isn't the ugliness rather than the pain of the struggle which . . . "
She shuddered visibly: "But I do blame myself," she exclaimed with feeling. "I am ashamed." And, dropping her head, she looked in a moment the very picture of remorse and shame.
"Well, you will be going away from all its horrors," I said. "And surely you are not afraid of the sea. You are a sailor's granddaughter, I understand."
She sighed deeply. She remembered her grandfather only a little. He was a clean-shaven man with a ruddy complexion and long, perfectly white hair. He used to take her on his knee, and putting his face near hers, talk to her in loving whispers. If only he were alive now . . . !
She remained silent for a while.
"Aren't you anxious to see the ship?" I asked.
She lowered her head still more so that I could not see anything of her face.
"I don't know," she murmured.
I had already the suspicion that she did not know her own feelings. All this work of the merest chance had been so unexpected, so sudden. And she had nothing to fall back upon, no experience but such as to shake her belief in every human being. She was dreadfully and pitifully forlorn. It was almost in order to comfort my own depression that I remarked cheerfully:
"Well, I know of somebody who must be growing extremely anxious to see you."
"I am before my time," she confessed simply, rousing herself. "I had nothing to do. So I came out."
I had the sudden vision of a shabby, lonely little room at the other end of the town. It had grown intolerable to her restlessness. The mere thought of it oppressed her. Flora de Barral was looking frankly at her chance confidant,
"And I came this way," she went on. "I appointed the time myself yesterday, but Captain Anthony would not have minded. He told me he was going to look over some business papers till I came."
The idea of the son of the poet, the rescuer of the most forlorn damsel of modern times, the man of violence, gentleness and generosity, sitting up to his neck in ship's accounts amused me. "I am sure he would not have minded," I said, smiling. But the girl's stare was sombre, her thin white face seemed pathetically careworn.
"I can hardly believe yet," she murmured anxiously.
"It's quite real. Never fear," I said encouragingly, but had to change my tone at once. "You had better go down that way a little," I directed her abruptly.
I had seen Fyne come striding out of the hotel door. The intelligent girl, without staying to ask questions, walked away from me quietly down one street while I hurried on to meet Fyne coming up the other at his efficient pedestrian gait. My object was to stop him getting as far as the corner. He must have been thinking too hard to be aware of his surroundings. I put myself in his way, and he nearly walked into me.
"Hallo!" I said.
His surprise was extreme. "You here! You don't mean to say you have been waiting for me?"
I said negligently that I had been detained by unexpected business in the neighbourhood, and thus happened to catch sight of him coming out.
He stared at me with solemn distraction, obviously thinking of something else. I suggested that he had better take the next city- ward tramcar. He was inattentive, and I perceived that he was profoundly perturbed. As Miss de Barral (she had moved out of sight) could not possibly approach the hotel door as long as we remained where we were I proposed that we should wait for the car on the other side of the street. He obeyed rather the slight touch on his arm than my words, and while we were crossing the wide roadway in the midst of the lumbering wheeled traffic, he exclaimed in his deep tone, "I don't know which of these two is more mad than the other!"
"Really!" I said, pulling him forward from under the noses of two enormous sleepy-headed cart-horses. He skipped wildly out of the way and up on the curbstone with a purely instinctive precision; his mind had nothing to do with his movements. In the middle of his leap, and while in the act of sailing gravely through the air, he continued to relieve his outraged feelings.
"You would never believe! They ARE mad!"
I took care to place myself in such a position that to face me he had to turn his back on the hotel across the road. I believe he was glad I was there to talk to. But I thought there was some misapprehension in the first statement he shot out at me without loss of time, that Captain Anthony had been glad to see him. It was indeed difficult to believe that, directly he opened the door, his wife's "sailor-brother" had positively shouted: "Oh, it's you! The very man I wanted to see."
"I found him sitting there," went on Fyne impressively in his effortless, grave chest voice, "drafting his will."
This was unexpected, but I preserved a noncommittal attitude, knowing full well that our actions in themselves are neither mad nor sane. But I did not see what there was to be excited about. And Fyne was distinctly excited. I understood it better when I learned that the captain of the Ferndale wanted little Fyne to be one of the trustees. He was leaving everything to his wife. Naturally, a request which involved him into sanctioning in a way a proceeding which he had been sent by his wife to oppose, must have appeared sufficiently mad to Fyne.
"Me! Me, of all people in the world!" he repeated portentously. But I could see that he was frightened. Such want of tact!
"He knew I came from his sister. You don't put a man into such an awkward position," complained Fyne. "It made me speak much more strongly against all this very painful business than I would have had the heart to do otherwise."
I pointed out to him concisely, and keeping my eyes on the door of the hotel, that he and his wife were the only bond with the land Captain Anthony had. Who else could he have asked?
"I explained to him that he was breaking this bond," declared Fyne solemnly. "Breaking it once for all. And for what--for what?"
He glared at me. I could perhaps have given him an inkling for what, but I said nothing. He started again:
"My wife assures me that the girl does not love him a bit. She goes by that letter she received from her. There is a passage in it where she practically admits that she was quite unscrupulous in accepting this offer of marriage, but says to my wife that she supposes she, my wife, will not blame her--as it was in self- defence. My wife has her own ideas, but this is an outrageous misapprehension of her views. Outrageous."
The good little man paused and then added weightily:
"I didn't tell that to my brother-in-law--I mean, my wife's views."
"No," I said. "What would have been the good?"
"It's positive infatuation," agreed little Fyne, in the tone as though he had made an awful discovery. "I have never seen anything so hopeless and inexplicable in my life. I--I felt quite frightened and sorry," he added, while I looked at him curiously asking myself whether this excellent civil servant and notable pedestrian had felt the breath of a great and fatal love-spell passing him by in the room of that East-end hotel. He did look for a moment as though he had seen a ghost, an other-world thing. But that look vanished instantaneously, and he nodded at me with mere exasperation at something quite of this world--whatever it was. "It's a bad business. My brother-in-law knows nothing of women," he cried with an air of profound, experienced wisdom.
What he imagined he knew of women himself I can't tell. I did not know anything of the opportunities he might have had. But this is a subject which, if approached with undue solemnity, is apt to elude one's grasp entirely. No doubt Fyne knew something of a woman who was Captain Anthony's sister. But that, admittedly, had been a very solemn study. I smiled at him gently, and as if encouraged or provoked, he completed his thought rather explosively.
"And that girl understands nothing . . . It's sheer lunacy."
"I don't know," I said, "whether the circumstances of isolation at sea would be any alleviation to the danger. But it's certain that they shall have the opportunity to learn everything about each other in a lonely tete-e-tete."
"But dash it all," he cried in hollow accents which at the same time had the tone of bitter irony--I had never before heard a sound so quaintly ugly and almost horrible--"You forget Mr. Smith."
"What Mr. Smith?" I asked innocently.
Fyne made an extraordinary simiesque grimace. I believe it was quite involuntary, but you know that a grave, much-lined, shaven countenance when distorted in an unusual way is extremely apelike. It was a surprising sight, and rendered me not only speechless but stopped the progress of my thought completely. I must have presented a remarkably imbecile appearance.
"My brother-in-law considered it amusing to chaff me about us introducing the girl as Miss Smith," said Fyne, going surly in a moment. "He said that perhaps if he had heard her real name from the first it might have restrained him. As it was, he made the discovery too late. Asked me to tell Zoe this together with a lot more nonsense."
Fyne gave me the impression of having escaped from a man inspired by a grimly playful ebullition of high spirits. It must have been most distasteful to him; and his solemnity got damaged somehow in the process, I perceived. There were holes in it through which I could see a new, an unknown Fyne.
"You wouldn't believe it," he went on, "but she looks upon her father exclusively as a victim. I don't know," he burst out suddenly through an enormous rent in his solemnity, "if she thinks him absolutely a saint, but she certainly imagines him to be a martyr."
It is one of the advantages of that magnificent invention, the prison, that you may forget people which are put there as though they were dead. One needn't worry about them. Nothing can happen to them that you can help. They can do nothing which might possibly matter to anybody. They come out of it, though, but that seems hardly an advantage to themselves or anyone else. I had completely forgotten the financier de Barral. The girl for me was an orphan, but now I perceived suddenly the force of Fyne's qualifying statement, "to a certain extent." It would have been infinitely more kind all round for the law to have shot, beheaded, strangled, or otherwise destroyed this absurd de Barral, who was a danger to a moral world inhabited by a credulous multitude not fit to take care of itself. But I observed to Fyne that, however insane was the view she held, one could not declare the girl mad on that account.
"So she thinks of her father--does she? I suppose she would appear to us saner if she thought only of herself."
"I am positive," Fyne said earnestly, "that she went and made desperate eyes at Anthony . . . "
"Oh come!" I interrupted. "You haven't seen her make eyes. You don't know the colour of her eyes."
"Very well! It don't matter. But it could hardly have come to that if she hadn't . . . It's all one, though. I tell you she has led him on, or accepted him, if you like, simply because she was thinking of her father. She doesn't care a bit about Anthony, I believe. She cares for no one. Never cared for anyone. Ask Zoe. For myself I don't blame her," added Fyne, giving me another view of unsuspected things through the rags and tatters of his damaged solemnity. "No! by heavens, I don't blame her--the poor devil."
I agreed with him silently. I suppose affections are, in a sense, to be learned. If there exists a native spark of love in all of us, it must be fanned while we are young. Hers, if she ever had it, had been drenched in as ugly a lot of corrosive liquid as could be imagined. But I was surprised at Fyne obscurely feeling this.
"She loves no one except that preposterous advertising shark," he pursued venomously, but in a more deliberate manner. "And Anthony knows it."
"Does he?" I said doubtfully.
"She's quite capable of having told him herself," affirmed Fyne, with amazing insight. "But whether or no, I'VE told him."
"You did? From Mrs. Fyne, of course."
Fyne only blinked owlishly at this piece of my insight.
"And how did Captain Anthony receive this interesting information?" I asked further.
"Most improperly," said Fyne, who really was in a state in which he didn't mind what he blurted out. "He isn't himself. He begged me to tell his sister that he offered no remarks on her conduct. Very improper and inconsequent. He said . . . I was tired of this wrangling. I told him I made allowances for the state of excitement he was in."
"You know, Fyne," I said, "a man in jail seems to me such an incredible, cruel, nightmarish sort of thing that I can hardly believe in his existence. Certainly not in relation to any other existences."
"But dash it all," cried Fyne, "he isn't shut up for life. They are going to let him out. He's coming out! That's the whole trouble. What is he coming out to, I want to know? It seems a more cruel business than the shutting him up was. This has been the worry for weeks. Do you see now?"
I saw, all sorts of things! Immediately before me I saw the excitement of little Fyne--mere food for wonder. Further off, in a sort of gloom and beyond the light of day and the movement of the street, I saw the figure of a man, stiff like a ramrod, moving with small steps, a slight girlish figure by his side. And the gloom was like the gloom of villainous slums, of misery, of wretchedness, of a starved and degraded existence. It was a relief that I could see only their shabby hopeless backs. He was an awful ghost. But indeed to call him a ghost was only a refinement of polite speech, and a manner of concealing one's terror of such things. Prisons are wonderful contrivances. Shut--open. Very neat. Shut--open. And out comes some sort of corpse, to wander awfully in a world in which it has no possible connections and carrying with it the appalling tainted atmosphere of its silent abode. Marvellous arrangement. It works automatically, and, when you look at it, the perfection makes you sick; which for a mere mechanism is no mean triumph. Sick and scared. It had nearly scared that poor girl to her death. Fancy having to take such a thing by the hand! Now I understood the remorseful strain I had detected in her speeches.
"By Jove!" I said. "They are about to let him out! I never thought of that."
Fyne was contemptuous either of me or of things at large.
"You didn't suppose he was to be kept in jail for life?"
At that moment I caught sight of Flora de Barral at the junction of the two streets. Then some vehicles following each other in quick succession hid from my sight the black slight figure with just a touch of colour in her hat. She was walking slowly; and it might have been caution or reluctance. While listening to Fyne I stared hard past his shoulder trying to catch sight of her again. He was going on with positive heat, the rags of his solemnity dropping off him at every second sentence.
That was just it. His wife and he had been perfectly aware of it. Of course the girl never talked of her father with Mrs. Fyne. I suppose with her theory of innocence she found it difficult. But she must have been thinking of it day and night. What to do with him? Where to go? How to keep body and soul together? He had never made any friends. The only relations were the atrocious East- end cousins. We know what they were. Nothing but wretchedness, whichever way she turned in an unjust and prejudiced world. And to look at him helplessly she felt would be too much for her.
I won't say I was thinking these thoughts. It was not necessary. This complete knowledge was in my head while I stared hard across the wide road, so hard that I failed to hear little Fyne till he raised his deep voice indignantly.
"I don't blame the girl," he was saying. "He is infatuated with her. Anybody can see that. Why she should have got such a hold on him I can't understand. She said "Yes" to him only for the sake of that fatuous, swindling father of hers. It's perfectly plain if one thinks it over a moment. One needn't even think of it. We have it under her own hand. In that letter to my wife she says she has acted unscrupulously. She has owned up, then, for what else can it mean, I should like to know. And so they are to be married before that old idiot comes out . . . He will be surprised," commented Fyne suddenly in a strangely malignant tone. "He shall be met at the jail door by a Mrs. Anthony, a Mrs. Captain Anthony. Very pleasant for Zoe. And for all I know, my brother-in-law means to turn up dutifully too. A little family event. It's extremely pleasant to think of. Delightful. A charming family party. We three against the world--and all that sort of thing. And what for. For a girl that doesn't care twopence for him."
The demon of bitterness had entered into little Fyne. He amazed me as though he had changed his skin from white to black. It was quite as wonderful. And he kept it up, too.
"Luckily there are some advantages in the--the profession of a sailor. As long as they defy the world away at sea somewhere eighteen thousand miles from here, I don't mind so much. I wonder what that interesting old party will say. He will have another surprise. They mean to drag him along with them on board the ship straight away. Rescue work. Just think of Roderick Anthony, the son of a gentleman, after all . . . "
He gave me a little shock. I thought he was going to say the "son of the poet" as usual; but his mind was not running on such vanities now. His unspoken thought must have gone on "and uncle of my girls." I suspect that he had been roughly handled by Captain Anthony up there, and the resentment gave a tremendous fillip to the slow play of his wits. Those men of sober fancy, when anything rouses their imaginative faculty, are very thorough. "Just think!" he cried. "The three of them crowded into a four-wheeler, and Anthony sitting deferentially opposite that astonished old jail- bird!"
The good little man laughed. An improper sound it was to come from his manly chest; and what made it worse was the thought that for the least thing, by a mere hair's breadth, he might have taken this affair sentimentally. But clearly Anthony was no diplomatist. His brother-in-law must have appeared to him, to use the language of shore people, a perfect philistine with a heart like a flint. What Fyne precisely meant by "wrangling" I don't know, but I had no doubt that these two had "wrangled" to a profoundly disturbing extent. How much the other was affected I could not even imagine; but the man before me was quite amazingly upset.
"In a four-wheeler! Take him on board!" I muttered, startled by the change in Fyne.
"That's the plan--nothing less. If I am to believe what I have been told, his feet will scarcely touch the ground between the prison- gates and the deck of that ship."
The transformed Fyne spoke in a forcibly lowered tone which I heard without difficulty. The rumbling, composite noises of the street were hushed for a moment, during one of these sudden breaks in the traffic as if the stream of commerce had dried up at its source. Having an unobstructed view past Fyne's shoulder, I was astonished to see that the girl was still there. I thought she had gone up long before. But there was her black slender figure, her white face under the roses of her hat. She stood on the edge of the pavement as people stand on the bank of a stream, very still, as if waiting-- or as if unconscious of where she was. The three dismal, sodden loafers (I could see them too; they hadn't budged an inch) seemed to me to be watching her. Which was horrible.
Meantime Fyne was telling me rather remarkable things--for him. He declared first it was a mercy in a sense. Then he asked me if it were not real madness, to saddle one's existence with such a perpetual reminder. The daily existence. The isolated sea-bound existence. To bring such an additional strain into the solitude already trying enough for two people was the craziest thing. Undesirable relations were bad enough on shore. One could cut them or at least forget their existence now and then. He himself was preparing to forget his brother-in-law's existence as much as possible.
That was the general sense of his remarks, not his exact words. I thought that his wife's brother's existence had never been very embarrassing to him but that now of course he would have to abstain from his allusions to the "son of the poet--you know." I said "yes, yes" in the pauses because I did not want him to turn round; and all the time I was watching the girl intently. I thought I knew now what she meant with her--"He was most generous." Yes. Generosity of character may carry a man through any situation. But why didn't she go then to her generous man? Why stand there as if clinging to this solid earth which she surely hated as one must hate the place where one has been tormented, hopeless, unhappy? Suddenly she stirred. Was she going to cross over? No. She turned and began to walk slowly close to the curbstone, reminding me of the time when I discovered her walking near the edge of a ninety-foot sheer drop. It was the same impression, the same carriage, straight, slim, with rigid head and the two hands hanging lightly clasped in front--only now a small sunshade was dangling from them. I saw something fateful in that deliberate pacing towards the inconspicuous door with the words HOTEL ENTRANCE on the glass panels.
She was abreast of it now and I thought that she would stop again; but no! She swerved rigidly--at the moment there was no one near her; she had that bit of pavement to herself--with inanimate slowness as if moved by something outside herself.
"A confounded convict," Fyne burst out.
With the sound of that word offending my ears I saw the girl extend her arm, push the door open a little way and glide in. I saw plainly that movement, the hand put out in advance with the gesture of a sleep-walker.
She had vanished, her black figure had melted in the darkness of the open door. For some time Fyne said nothing; and I thought of the girl going upstairs, appearing before the man. Were they looking at each other in silence and feeling they were alone in the world as lovers should at the moment of meeting? But that fine forgetfulness was surely impossible to Anthony the seaman directly after the wrangling interview with Fyne the emissary of an order of things which stops at the edge of the sea. How much he was disturbed I couldn't tell because I did not know what that impetuous lover had had to listen to.
"Going to take the old fellow to sea with them," I said. "Well I really don't see what else they could have done with him. You told your brother-in-law what you thought of it? I wonder how he took it."
"Very improperly," repeated Fyne. "His manner was offensive, derisive, from the first. I don't mean he was actually rude in words. Hang it all, I am not a contemptible ass. But he was exulting at having got hold of a miserable girl."
"It is pretty certain that she will be much less poor and miserable," I murmured.
It looked as if the exultation of Captain Anthony had got on Fyne's nerves. "I told the fellow very plainly that he was abominably selfish in this," he affirmed unexpectedly.
"You did! Selfish!" I said rather taken aback. "But what if the girl thought that, on the contrary, he was most generous."
"What do you know about it," growled Fyne. The rents and slashes of his solemnity were closing up gradually but it was going to be a surly solemnity. "Generosity! I am disposed to give it another name. No. Not folly," he shot out at me as though I had meant to interrupt him. "Still another. Something worse. I need not tell you what it is," he added with grim meaning.
"Certainly. You needn't--unless you like," I said blankly. Little Fyne had never interested me so much since the beginning of the de Barral-Anthony affair when I first perceived possibilities in him. The possibilities of dull men are exciting because when they happen they suggest legendary cases of "possession," not exactly by the devil but, anyhow, by a strange spirit.
"I told him it was a shame," said Fyne. "Even if the girl did make eyes at him--but I think with you that she did not. Yes! A shame to take advantage of a girl's--a distresses girl that does not love him in the least."
"You think it's so bad as that?" I said. "Because you know I don't."
"What can you think about it," he retorted on me with a solemn stare. "I go by her letter to my wife."
"Ah! that famous letter. But you haven't actually read it," I said.
"No, but my wife told me. Of course it was a most improper sort of letter to write considering the circumstances. It pained Mrs. Fyne to discover how thoroughly she had been misunderstood. But what is written is not all. It's what my wife could read between the lines. She says that the girl is really terrified at heart."
"She had not much in life to give her any very special courage for it, or any great confidence in mankind. That's very true. But this seems an exaggeration."
"I should like to know what reasons you have to say that," asked Fyne with offended solemnity. "I really don't see any. But I had sufficient authority to tell my brother-in-law that if he thought he was going to do something chivalrous and fine he was mistaken. I can see very well that he will do everything she asks him to do-- but, all the same, it is rather a pitiless transaction."
For a moment I felt it might be so. Fyne caught sight of an approaching tram-car and stepped out on the road to meet it. "Have you a more compassionate scheme ready?" I called after him. He made no answer, clambered on to the rear platform, and only then looked back. We exchanged a perfunctory wave of the hand. We also looked at each other, he rather angrily, I fancy, and I with wonder. I may also mention that it was for the last time. From that day I never set eyes on the Fynes. As usual the unexpected happened to me. It had nothing to do with Flora de Barral. The fact is that I went away. My call was not like her call. Mine was not urged on me with passionate vehemence or tender gentleness made all the finer and more compelling by the allurements of generosity which is a virtue as mysterious as any other but having a glamour of its own. No, it was just a prosaic offer of employment on rather good terms which, with a sudden sense of having wasted my time on shore long enough, I accepted without misgivings. And once started out of my indolence I went, as my habit was, very, very far away and for a long, long time. Which is another proof of my indolence. How far Flora went I can't say. But I will tell you my idea: my idea is that she went as far as she was able--as far as she could bear it--as far as she had to . . . "Next