Beatrice - Henry Rider Haggard - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1890

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About

Chapter 1 - A Mist Wraith
Chapter 2 - At the Bell Rock
Chapter 3 - A Confession of Faith

About Haggard:

Henry Rider Haggard was born at Bradenham, Norfolk, to Sir William Meybohm Rider Haggard, a barrister, and Ella Doveton, an author and poet. He was the eighth of ten children. He was initially sent to Garsington Rectory in Oxfordshire to study under the Reverend H.J. Graham but, unlike his older brothers who graduated from various Public Schools, he ended up attending Ipswich Grammar School. This was because his father, who regarded him as somebody who was not going to amount to much, could no longer afford to maintain his expensive private education. After failing his army entrance exam he was sent to a private ‘crammer’ in London to prepare for the entrance exam for the British Foreign Office, which in the end he never sat. Instead Haggard’s father sent him to Africa in an unpaid position as assistant to the secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, Sir Henry Bulwer. It was in this role that Haggard was present in Pretoria for the official announcement of the British annexation of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. In fact, Haggard raised the Union Flag and was forced to read out much of the proclamation following the loss of voice of the official originally entrusted with the duty. As a young man, Haggard fell deeply in love with Lilith Jackson, whom he intended to marry once he obtained paid employment in South Africa. In 1878 he became Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal, but when he sent his father a letter telling him that he intended to return to England in order to marry Lilith Jackson his father replied that he forbade it until he had made a career for himself. In 1879 he heard that Lilith had married someone else. When he eventually returned to England he married a friend of his sister, Mariana Louisa Margitson and brought her back to Africa. Later they had a son named Jock (who died of measles at the age of 10) and three daughters. Returning again to England in 1882, the couple settled in Ditchingham, Norfolk. Later he lived in Kessingland and had connections with the church in Bungay, Suffolk. He turned to the study of law and was called to the bar in 1884. His practice of law was somewhat desultory, and much of his time was taken up by the writing of novels. Heavily influenced by the larger-than-life adventurers he met in Colonial Africa, most notably Frederick Selous and Frederick Russell Burnham, the great mineral wealth discovered in Africa, and the ruins of ancient lost civilizations in Africa such as Great Zimbabwe, Haggard created his Allan Quatermain adventures. Three of his books, The Wizard (1896), Elissa; the doom of Zimbabwe (1899), and Black Heart and White Heart; a Zulu idyll (1900) are dedicated to Burnham's daughter, Nada, the first white child born in Bulawayo, herself named after Haggard's 1892 book: Nada the Lily. Years later, when Haggard was a successful novelist, he was contacted by his former love, Lilith Jackson. She had been deserted by her husband, who had left her penniless and infected her with syphilis, from which she eventually died. It was Haggard who paid her medical bills. These details were not generally known until the publication of Haggard's 1983 biography by D. S. Higgins. Haggard was heavily involved in agricultural reform and was a member of many Commissions on land use and related affairs, work that involved several trips to the Colonies and Dominions. He was made a Knight Bachelor in 1912, and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919. He stood unsuccessfully for parliament as a candidate for the Conservative Party. Source: Wikipedia

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"Oh, kind is Death that Life's long trouble closes, Yet at Death's coming Life shrinks back affright; It sees the dark hand,—not that it encloses A cup of light.

So oft the Spirit seeing Love draw nigh As 'neath the shadow of destruction, quakes, For Self, dark tyrant of the Soul, must die, When Love awakes.

Aye, let him die in darkness! But for thee,— Breathe thou the breath of morning and be free!"

Rückert. Translated by F. W. B.


Chapter 1 A Mist Wraith

The autumn afternoon was fading into evening. It had been cloudy weather, but the clouds had softened and broken up. Now they were lost in slowly darkening blue. The sea was perfectly and utterly still. It seemed to sleep, but in its sleep it still waxed with the rising tide. The eye could not mark its slow increase, but Beatrice, standing upon the farthest point of the Dog Rocks, idly noted that the long brown weeds which clung about their sides began to lift as the water took their weight, till at last the delicate pattern floated out and lay like a woman's hair upon the green depth of sea. Meanwhile a mist was growing dense and soft upon the quiet waters. It was not blown up from the west, it simply grew like the twilight, making the silence yet more silent and blotting away the outlines of the land. Beatrice gave up studying the seaweed and watched the gathering of these fleecy hosts.

"What a curious evening," she said aloud to herself, speaking in a low full voice. "I have not seen one like it since mother died, and that is seven years ago. I've grown since then, grown every way," and she laughed somewhat sadly, and looked at her own reflection in the quiet water.

She could not have looked at anything more charming, for it would have been hard to find a girl of nobler mien than Beatrice Granger as on this her twenty-second birthday, she stood and gazed into that misty sea.

Of rather more than middle height, and modelled like a statue, strength and health seemed to radiate from her form. But it was her face with the stamp of intellect and power shadowing its woman's loveliness that must have made her remarkable among women even more beautiful than herself. There are many girls who have rich brown hair, like some autumn leaf here and there just yellowing into gold, girls whose deep grey eyes can grow tender as a dove's, or flash like the stirred waters of a northern sea, and whose bloom can bear comparison with the wilding rose. But few can show a face like that which upon this day first dawned on Geoffrey Bingham to his sorrow and his hope. It was strong and pure and sweet as the keen sea breath, and looking on it one must know that beneath this fair cloak lay a wit as fair. And yet it was all womanly; here was not the hard sexless stamp of the "cultured" female. She who owned it was capable of many things. She could love and she could suffer, and if need be, she could dare or die. It was to be read upon that lovely brow and face, and in the depths of those grey eyes—that is, by those to whom the book of character is open, and who wish to study it.

But Beatrice was not thinking of her loveliness as she gazed into the water. She knew that she was beautiful of course; her beauty was too obvious to be overlooked, and besides it had been brought home to her in several more or less disagreeable ways.

"Seven years," she was thinking, "since the night of the 'death fog;' that was what old Edward called it, and so it was. I was only so high then," and following her thoughts she touched herself upon the breast. "And I was happy too in my own way. Why can't one always be fifteen, and believe everything one is told?" and she sighed. "Seven years and nothing done yet. Work, work, and nothing coming out of the work, and everything fading away. I think that life is very dreary when one has lost everything, and found nothing, and loves nobody. I wonder what it will be like in another seven years."

She covered her eyes with her hands, and then taking them away, once more looked at the water. Such light as struggled through the fog was behind her, and the mist was thickening. At first she had some difficulty in tracing her own likeness upon the glassy surface, but gradually she marked its outline. It stretched away from her, and its appearance was as though she herself were lying on her back in the water wrapped about with the fleecy mist. "How curious it seems," she thought; "what is it that reflection reminds me of with the white all round it?"

Next instant she gave a little cry and turned sharply away. She knew now. It recalled her mother as she had last seen her seven years ago.


Chapter 2 At the Bell Rock

A mile or more away from where Beatrice stood and saw visions, and further up the coast-line, a second group of rocks, known from their colour as the Red Rocks, or sometimes, for another reason, as the Bell Rocks, juts out between half and three-quarters of a mile into the waters of the Welsh Bay that lies behind Rumball Point. At low tide these rocks are bare, so that a man may walk or wade to their extremity, but when the flood is full only one or two of the very largest can from time to time be seen projecting their weed-wreathed heads through the wash of the shore-bound waves. In certain sets of the wind and tide this is a terrible and most dangerous spot in rough weather, as more than one vessel have learnt to their cost. So long ago as 1780 a three-decker man-of-war went ashore there in a furious winter gale, and, with one exception, every living soul on board of her, to the number of seven hundred, was drowned. The one exception was a man in irons, who came safely and serenely ashore seated upon a piece of wreckage. Nobody ever knew how the shipwreck happened, least of all the survivor in irons, but the tradition of the terror of the scene yet lives in the district, and the spot where the bones of the drowned men still peep grimly through the sand is not unnaturally supposed to be haunted. Ever since this catastrophe a large bell (it was originally the bell of the ill-fated vessel itself, and still bears her name, "H.M.S. Thunder," stamped upon its metal) has been fixed upon the highest rock, and in times of storm and at high tide sends its solemn note of warning booming across the deep.

But the bell was quiet now, and just beneath it, in the shadow of the rock whereon it was placed, a man half hidden in seaweed, with which he appeared to have purposely covered himself, was seated upon a piece of wreck. In appearance he was a very fine man, big-shouldered and broad limbed, and his age might have been thirty-five or a little more. Of his frame, however, what between the mist and the unpleasantly damp seaweed with which he was wreathed, not much was to be seen. But such light as there was fell upon his face as he peered eagerly over and round the rock, and glinted down the barrels of the double ten-bore gun which he held across his knee. It was a striking countenance, with its brownish eyes, dark peaked beard and strong features, very powerful and very able. And yet there was a certain softness in the face, which hovered round the region of the mouth like light at the edge of a dark cloud, hinting at gentle sunshine. But little of this was visible now. Geoffrey Bingham, barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple, M.A., was engaged with a very serious occupation. He was trying to shoot curlew as they passed over his hiding-place on their way to the mud banks where they feed further along the coast.

Now if there is a thing in the world which calls for the exercise of man's every faculty it is curlew shooting in a mist. Perhaps he may wait for an hour or even two hours and see nothing, not even an oyster-catcher. Then at last from miles away comes the faint wild call of curlew on the wing. He strains his eyes, the call comes nearer, but nothing can he see. At last, seventy yards or more to the right, he catches sight of the flicker of beating wings, and, like a flash, they are gone. Again a call—the curlew are flighting. He looks and looks, in his excitement struggling to his feet and raising his head incautiously far above the sheltering rock. There they come, a great flock of thirty or more, bearing straight down on him, a hundred yards off—eighty—sixty—now. Up goes the gun, but alas and alas! they catch a glimpse of the light glinting on the barrels, and perhaps of the head behind them, and in another second they have broken and scattered this way and that way, twisting off like a wisp of gigantic snipe, to vanish with melancholy cries into the depth of mist.

This is bad, but the ardent sportsman sits down with a groan and waits, listening to the soft lap of the tide. And then at last virtue is rewarded. First of all two wild duck come over, cleaving the air like arrows. The mallard is missed, but the left barrel reaches the duck, and down it comes with a full and satisfying thud. Hardly have the cartridges been replaced when the wild cry of the curlew is once more heard—quite close this time. There they are, looming large against the fog. Bang! down goes the first and lies flapping among the rocks. Like a flash the second is away to the left. Bang! after him, and caught him too! Hark to the splash as he falls into the deep water fifty yards away. And then the mist closes in so densely that shooting is done with for the day. Well, that right and left has been worth three hours' wait in the wet seaweed and the violent cold that may follow—that is, to any man who has a soul for true sport.

Just such an experience as this had befallen Geoffrey Bingham. He had bagged his wild duck and his brace of curlew—that is, he had bagged one of them, for the other was floating in the sea—when a sudden increase in the density of the mist put a stop to further operations. He shook the wet seaweed off his rough clothes, and, having lit a short briar pipe, set to work to hunt for the duck and the first curfew. He found them easily enough, and then, walking to the edge of the rocks, up the sides of which the tide was gradually creeping, peered into the mist to see if he could find the other. Presently the fog lifted a little, and he discovered the bird floating on the oily water about fifty yards away. A little to the left the rocks ran out in a peak, and he knew from experience that the tide setting towards the shore would carry the curlew past this peak. So he went to its extremity, sat down upon a big stone and waited. All this while the tide was rising fast, though, intent as he was upon bringing the curlew to bag, he did not pay much heed to it, forgetting that it was cutting him off from the land. At last, after more than half-an-hour of waiting, he caught sight of the curlew again, but, as bad luck would have it, it was still twenty yards or more from him and in deep water. He was determined, however, to get the bird if he could, for Geoffrey hated leaving his game, so he pulled up his trousers and set to work to wade towards it. For the first few steps all went well, but the fourth or fifth landed him in a hole that wet his right leg nearly up to the thigh and gave his ankle a severe twist. Reflecting that it would be very awkward if he sprained his ankle in such a lonely place, he beat a retreat, and bethought him, unless the curlew was to become food for the dog-fish, that he had better strip bodily and swim for it. This—for Geoffrey was a man of determined mind—he decided to do, and had already taken off his coat and waistcoat to that end, when suddenly some sort of a boat—he judged it to be a canoe from the slightness of its shape—loomed up in the mist before him. An idea struck him: the canoe or its occupant, if anybody could be insane enough to come out canoeing in such water, might fetch the curlew and save him a swim.

"Hi!" he shouted in stentorian tones. "Hullo there!"

"Yes," answered a woman's gentle voice across the waters.

"Oh," he replied, struggling to get into his waistcoat again, for the voice told him that he was dealing with some befogged lady, "I'm sure I beg your pardon, but would you do me a favour? There is a dead curlew floating about, not ten yards from your boat. If you wouldn't mind——"

A white hand was put forward, and the canoe glided on towards the bird. Presently the hand plunged downwards into the misty waters and the curlew was bagged. Then, while Geoffrey was still struggling with his waistcoat, the canoe sped towards him like a dream boat, and in another moment it was beneath his rock, and a sweet dim face was looking up into his own.

Now let us go back a little (alas! that the privilege should be peculiar to the recorder of things done), and see how it came about that Beatrice Granger was present to retrieve Geoffrey Bingham's dead curlew.

Immediately after the unpleasant idea recorded in the last, or, to be more accurate, in the first chapter of this comedy, had impressed itself upon Beatrice's mind, she came to the conclusion that she had seen enough of the Dog Rocks for one afternoon. Thereon, like a sensible person, she set herself to quit them in the same way that she had reached them, namely by means of a canoe. She got into her canoe safely enough, and paddled a little way out to sea, with a view of returning to the place whence she came. But the further she went out, and it was necessary that she should go some way on account of the rocks and the currents, the denser grew the fog. Sounds came through it indeed, but she could not clearly distinguish whence they came, till at last, well as she knew the coast, she grew confused as to whither she was heading. In this dilemma, while she rested on her paddle staring into the dense surrounding mist and keeping her grey eyes as wide open as nature would allow, and that was very wide, she heard the report of a gun behind her to the right. Arguing to herself that some wild-fowler on the water must have fired it who would be able to direct her, she turned the canoe round and paddled swiftly in the direction whence the sound came. Presently she heard the gun again; both barrels were fired, in there to the right, but some way off. She paddled on vigorously, but now no more shots came to guide her, therefore for a while her search was fruitless. At last, however, she saw something looming through the mist ahead; it was the Red Rocks, though she did not know it, and she drew near with caution till Geoffrey's shout broke upon her ears.

She picked up the dead bird and paddled towards the dim figure who was evidently wrestling with something, she could not see what.

"Here is the curlew, sir," she said.

"Oh, thank you," answered the figure on the rock. "I am infinitely obliged to you. I was just going to swim for it, I can't bear losing my game. It seems so cruel to shoot birds for nothing."

"I dare say that you will not make much use of it now that you have got it," said the gentle voice in the canoe. "Curlew are not very good eating."

"That is scarcely the point," replied the Crusoe on the rock. "The point is to bring them home. Apres cela——"

"The birdstuffer?" said the voice.

"No," answered Crusoe, "the cook——"

A laugh came back from the canoe—and then a question.

"Pray, Mr. Bingham, can you tell me where I am? I have quite lost my reckoning in the mist."

He started. How did this mysterious young lady in a boat know his name?

"You are at the Red Rocks; there is the bell, that grey thing, Miss— Miss——"

"Beatrice Granger," she put in hastily. "My father is the clergyman of Bryngelly. I saw you when you and Lady Honoria Bingham looked into the school yesterday. I teach in the school." She did not tell him, however, that his face had interested her so much that she had asked his name.

Again he started. He had heard of this young lady. Somebody had told him that she was the prettiest girl in Wales, and the cleverest, but that her father was not a gentleman.

"Oh," he said, taking off his hat in the direction of the canoe. "Isn't it a little risky, Miss Granger, for you to be canoeing alone in this mist?"

"Yes," she answered frankly, "but I am used to it; I go out canoeing in all possible weathers. It is my amusement, and after all the risk does not matter much," she added, more to herself than to him.

While he was wondering what she meant by that dark saying, she went on quickly:

"Do you know, Mr. Bingham, I think that you are in more danger than I am. It must be getting near seven o'clock, and the tide is high at a quarter to eight. Unless I am mistaken there is by now nearly half a mile of deep water between you and the shore."

"My word!" he said. "I forgot all about the tide. What between the shooting and looking for that curlew, and the mist, it never occurred to me that it was getting late. I suppose I must swim for it, that is all."

"No, no," she answered earnestly, "it is very dangerous swimming here; the place is full of sharp rocks, and there is a tremendous current."

"Well, then, what is to be done? Will your canoe carry two? If so, perhaps you would kindly put me ashore?"

"Yes," she said, "it is a double canoe. But I dare not take you ashore here; there are too many rocks, and it is impossible to see the ripple on them in this mist. We should sink the canoe. No, you must get in and I must paddle you home to Bryngelly, that's all. Now that I know where I am I think that I can find the way."

"Really," he said, "you are very good."

"Not at all," she answered, "you see I must go myself anyhow, so I shall be glad of your help. It is nearly five miles by water, you know, and not a pleasant night."

There was truth in this. Geoffrey was perfectly prepared to risk a swim to the shore on his own account, but he did not at all like the idea of leaving this young lady to find her own way back to Bryngelly through the mist and gathering darkness, and in that frail canoe. He would not have liked it if she had been a man, for he knew that there was great risk in such a voyage. So after making one more fruitless suggestion that they should try and reach the shore, taking the chance of rocks, sunken or otherwise, and then walk home, to which Beatrice would not consent, he accepted her offer.

"At the least you will allow me to paddle," he said, as she skilfully brought the canoe right under his rock, which the tide was now high enough to allow her to do.

"If you like," she answered doubtfully. "My hands are a little sore, and, of course," with a glance at his broad shoulders, "you are much stronger. But if you are not used to it I dare say that I should get on as well as you."

"Nonsense," he said sharply. "I will not allow you to paddle me for five miles."

She yielded without another word, and very gingerly shifted her seat so that her back was towards the bow of the canoe, leaving him to occupy the paddling place opposite to her.

Then he handed her his gun, which, together with the dead birds, she carefully stowed in the bottom of the frail craft. Next, with great caution, he slid down the rock till his feet rested in the canoe.

"Be careful or you will upset us," she said, leaning forward and stretching out her hand for him to support himself by.

Then it was, as he took it, that he for the first time really saw her face, with the mist drops hanging to the bent eyelashes, and knew how beautiful it was.


Chapter 3 A Confession of Faith

"Are you ready?" he said, recovering himself from the pleasing shock of this serge-draped vision of the mist.

"Yes," said Beatrice. "You must head straight out to sea for a little —not too far, for if we get beyond the shelter of Rumball Point we might founder in the rollers—there are always rollers there—then steer to the left. I will tell you when. And, Mr. Bingham, please be careful of the paddle; it has been spliced, and won't bear rough usage."

"All right," he answered, and they started gaily enough, the light canoe gliding swiftly forward beneath his sturdy strokes.

Beatrice was leaning back with her head bent a little forward, so that he could only see her chin and the sweet curve of the lips above it. But she could see all his face as it swayed towards her with each motion of the paddle, and she watched it with interest. It was a new type of face to her, so strong and manly, and yet so gentle about the mouth—almost too gentle she thought. What made him marry Lady Honoria? Beatrice wondered; she did not look particularly gentle, though she was such a graceful woman.

And thus they went on for some time, each wondering about the other and at heart admiring the other, which was not strange, for they were a very proper pair, but saying no word till at last, after about a quarter of an hour's hard paddling, Geoffrey paused to rest.

"Do you do much of this kind of thing, Miss Granger?" he said with a gasp, "because it is rather hard work."

She laughed. "Ah," she said, "I thought you would scarcely go on paddling at that rate. Yes, I canoe a great deal in the summer time. It is my way of taking exercise, and I can swim well, so I am not afraid of an upset. At least it has been my way for the last two years since a lady who was staying here gave me the canoe when she went away. Before that I used to row in a boat—that is, before I went to college."

"College? What college? Girton?"

"Oh, no, nothing half so grand. It was a college where you get certificates that you are qualified to be a mistress in a Board school. I wish it had been Girton."

"Do you?"—you are too good for that, he was going to add, but changed it to—"I think you were as well away. I don't care about the Girton stamp; those of them whom I have known are so hard."

"So much the better for them," she answered. "I should like to be hard as a stone; a stone cannot feel. Don't you think that women ought to learn, then?"

"Do you?" he asked.

"Yes, certainly."

"Have you learnt anything?"

"I have taught myself a little and picked up something at the college. But I have no real knowledge, only a smattering of things."

"What do you know—French and German?"

"Yes."

"Latin?"

"Yes, I know something of it."

"Greek?"

"I can read it fairly, but I am not a Greek scholar."

"Mathematics?"

"No, I gave them up. There is no human nature about mathematics. They work everything to a fixed conclusion that must result. Life is not like that; what ought to be a square comes out a right angle, and x always equals an unknown quantity, which is never ascertained till you are dead."

"Good gracious!" thought Geoffrey to himself between the strokes of the paddle, "what an extraordinary girl. A flesh-and-blood blue- stocking, and a lovely one into the bargain. At any rate I will bowl her out this time."

"Perhaps you have read law too?" he said with suppressed sarcasm.

"I have read some," she answered calmly. "I like law, especially Equity law; it is so subtle, and there is such a mass of it built upon such a small foundation. It is like an overgrown mushroom, and the top will fall off one day, however hard the lawyers try to prop it up. Perhaps you can tell me——"

"No, I'm sure I cannot," he answered. "I'm not a Chancery man. I am Common law, and I don't take all knowledge for my province. You positively alarm me, Miss Granger. I wonder that the canoe does not sink beneath so much learning."

"Do I?" she answered sweetly. "I am glad that I have lived to frighten somebody. I meant that I like Equity to study; but if I were a barrister, I would be Common law, because there is so much more life and struggle about it. Existence is not worth having unless one is struggling with something and trying to overcome it."

"Dear me, what a reposeful prospect," said Geoffrey, aghast. He had certainly never met such a woman as this before.

"Repose is only good when it is earned," went on the fair philosopher, "and in order to fit one to earn some more, otherwise it becomes idleness, and that is misery. Fancy being idle when one has such a little time to live. The only thing to do is to work and stifle thought. I suppose that you have a large practice, Mr. Bingham?"

"You should not ask a barrister that question," he answered, laughing; "it is like looking at the pictures which an artist has turned to the wall. No, to be frank, I have not. I have only taken to practising in earnest during the last two years. Before I was a barrister in name, and that is all."

"Then why did you suddenly begin to work?"

"Because I lost my prospects, Miss Granger—from necessity, in short."

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" she said, with a blush, which of course he could not see. "I did not mean to be rude. But it is very lucky for you, is it not?"

"Indeed! Some people don't think so. Why is it lucky?"

"Because you will now rise and become a great man, and that is more than being a rich man."

"And why do you think that I shall become a great man?" he asked, stopping paddling in his astonishment and looking at the dim form before him.

"Oh! because it is written on your face," she answered simply.

Her words rang true; there was no flattery or artifice in them. Geoffrey felt that the girl was saying just what she thought.

"So you study physiognomy as well," he said. "Well, Miss Granger, it is rather odd, considering all things, but I will say to you what I have never said to any one before. I believe that you are right. I shall rise. If I live I feel that I have it in me."

At this point it possibly occurred to Beatrice that, considering the exceeding brevity of their acquaintance, they were drifting into somewhat confidential conversation. At any rate, she quickly changed the topic.

"I am afraid you are growing tired," she said; "but we must be getting on. It will soon be quite dark and we have still a long way to go. Look there," and she pointed seaward.

He looked. The whole bank of mist was breaking up and bearing down on them in enormous billows of vapour. Presently, these were rolling over them, so darkening the heavy air that, though the pair were within four feet of each other, they could scarcely see one another's faces. As yet they felt no wind. The dense weight of mist choked the keen, impelling air.

"I think the weather is breaking; we are going to have a storm," said Beatrice, a little anxiously.

Scarcely were the words out of her mouth when the mist passed away from them, and from all the seaward expanse of ocean. Not a wrack of it was left, and in its place the strong sea-breath beat upon their faces. Far in the west the angry disc of the sun was sinking into the foam. A great red ray shot from its bent edge and lay upon the awakened waters, like a path of fire. The ominous light fell full upon the little boat and full upon Beatrice's lips. Then it passed on and lost itself in the deep mists which still swathed the coast.

"Oh, how beautiful it is!" she cried, raising herself and pointing to the glory of the dying sun.

"It is beautiful indeed!" he answered, but he looked, not at the sunset, but at the woman's face before him, glowing like a saint's in its golden aureole. For this also was most beautiful—so beautiful that it stirred him strangely.

"It is like——" she began, and broke off suddenly.

"What is it like?" he asked.

"It is like finding truth at last," she answered, speaking as much to herself as to him. "Why, one might make an allegory out of it. We wander in mist and darkness shaping a vague course for home. And then suddenly the mists are blown away, glory fills the air, and there is no more doubt, only before us is a splendour making all things clear and lighting us over a deathless sea. It sounds rather too grand," she added, with a charming little laugh; "but there is something in it somewhere, if only I could express myself. Oh, look!"

As she spoke a heavy storm-cloud rolled over the vanishing rim of the sun. For a moment the light struggled with the eclipsing cloud, turning its dull edge to the hue of copper, but the cloud was too strong and the light vanished, leaving the sea in darkness.

"Well," he said, "your allegory would have a dismal end if you worked it out. It is getting as dark as pitch, and there's a good deal in that, if only I could express myself."

Beatrice dropped poetry, and came down to facts in a way that was very commendable.

"There is a squall coming up, Mr. Bingham," she said; "you must paddle as hard as you can. I do not think we are more than two miles from Bryngelly, and if we are lucky we may get there before the weather breaks."

"Yes, if we are lucky," he said grimly, as he bent himself to the work. "But the question is where to paddle to—it's so dark. Had not we better run for the shore?"

"We are in the middle of the bay now," she answered, "and almost as far from the nearest land as we are from Bryngelly, besides it is all rocks. No, you must go straight on. You will see the Poise light beyond Coed presently. You know Coed is four miles on the other side of Bryngelly, so when you see it head to the left."

He obeyed her, and they neither of them spoke any more for some time. Indeed the rising wind made conversation difficult, and so far as Geoffrey was concerned he had little breath left to spare for words. He was a strong man, but the unaccustomed labour was beginning to tell on him, and his hands were blistering. For ten minutes or so he paddled on through a darkness which was now almost total, wondering where on earth he was wending, for it was quite impossible to see. For all he knew to the contrary, he might be circling round and round. He had only one thing to direct him, the sweep of the continually rising wind and the wash of the gathering waves. So long as these struck the canoe, which now began to roll ominously, on the starboard side, he must, he thought, be keeping a right course. But in the turmoil of the rising gale and the confusion of the night, this was no very satisfactory guide. At length, however, a broad and brilliant flash sprung out across the sea, almost straight ahead of him. It was the Poise light.

He altered his course a little and paddled steadily on. And now the squall was breaking. Fortunately, it was not a very heavy one, or their frail craft must have sunk and they with it. But it was quite serious enough to put them in great danger. The canoe rose to the waves like a feather, but she was broadside on, and rise as she would they began to ship a little water. And they had not seen the worst of it. The weather was still thickening.

Still he held on, though his heart sank within him, while Beatrice said nothing. Presently a big wave came; he could just see its white crest gleaming through the gloom, then it was on them. The canoe rose to it gallantly; it seemed to curl right over her, making the craft roll till Geoffrey thought that the end had come. But she rode it out, not, however, without shipping more than a bucket of water. Without saying a word, Beatrice took the cloth cap from her head and, leaning forward, began to bale as best she could, and that was not very well.

"This will not do," he called. "I must keep her head to the sea or we shall be swamped."

"Yes," she answered, "keep her head up. We are in great danger."

He glanced to his right; another white sea was heaving down on him; he could just see its glittering crest. With all his force he dug the paddle into the water; the canoe answered to it; she came round just in time to ride out the wave with safety, but the paddle snapped. It was already sprung, and the weight he put upon it was more than it could bear. Right in two it broke, some nine inches above that blade which at the moment was buried in the water. He felt it go, and despair took hold of him.

"Great heavens!" he cried, "the paddle is broken."

Beatrice gasped.

"You must use the other blade," she said; "paddle first one side and then on the other, and keep her head on."

"Till we sink," he answered.

"No, till we are saved—never talk of sinking."

The girl's courage shamed him, and he obeyed her instructions as best he could. By dint of continually shifting what remained of the paddle from one side of the canoe to the other, he did manage to keep her head on to the waves that were now rolling in apace. But in their hearts they both wondered how long this would last.

"Have you got any cartridges?" she asked presently.

"Yes, in my coat pocket," he answered.

"Give me two, if you can manage it," she said.

In an interval between the coming of two seas he contrived to slip his hand into a pocket and transfer the cartridges. Apparently she knew something of the working of a gun, for presently there was a flash and a report, quickly followed by another.

"Give me some more cartridges," she cried. He did so, but nothing followed.

"It is no use," she said at length, "the cartridges are wet. I cannot get the empty cases out. But perhaps they may have seen or heard them. Old Edward is sure to be watching for me. You had better throw the rest into the sea if you can manage it," she added by way of an afterthought; "we may have to swim presently."

To Geoffrey this seemed very probable, and whenever he got a chance he acted on the hint till at length he was rid of all his cartridges. Just then it began to rain in torrents. Though it was not warm the perspiration was streaming from him at every pore, and the rain beating on his face refreshed him somewhat; also with the rain the wind dropped a little.

But he was becoming tired out and he knew it. Soon he would no longer be able to keep the canoe straight, and then they must be swamped, and in all human probability drowned. So this was to be the end of his life and its ambitions. Before another hour had run its course, he would be rolling to and fro in the arms of that angry sea. What would his wife Honoria say when she heard the news, he wondered? Perhaps it would shock her into some show of feeling. And Effie, his dear little six-year-old daughter? Well, thank God, she was too young to feel his loss for long. By the time that she was a woman she would almost have forgotten that she ever had a father. But how would she get on without him to guide her? Her mother did not love children, and a growing girl would continually remind her of her growing years. He could not tell; he could only hope for the best.

And for himself! What would become of him after the short sharp struggle for life? Should he find endless sleep, or what? He was a Christian, and his life had not been worse than that of other men. Indeed, though he would have been the last to think it, he had some redeeming virtues. But now at the end the spiritual horizon was as dark as it had been at the beginning. There before him were the Gates of Death, but not yet would they roll aside and show the traveller what lay beyond their frowning face. How could he tell? Perhaps they would not open at all. Perhaps he now bade his last farewell to consciousness, to earth and sky and sea and love and all lovely things. Well, that might be better than some prospects. At that moment Geoffrey Bingham, in the last agony of doubt, would gladly have exchanged his hopes of life beyond for a certainty of eternal sleep. That faith which enables some of us to tread this awful way with an utter confidence is not a wide prerogative, and, as yet, at any rate, it was not his, though the time might come when he would attain it. There are not very many, even among those without reproach, who can lay them down in the arms of Death, knowing most certainly that when the veil is rent away the countenance that they shall see will be that of the blessed Guardian of Mankind. Alas! he could not be altogether sure, and where doubt exists, hope is but a pin-pricked bladder. He sighed heavily, murmured a little formula of prayer that had been on his lips most nights during thirty years—he had learnt it as a child at his mother's knee—and then, while the tempest roared around him, gathered up his strength to meet the end which seemed inevitable. At any rate he would die like a man.

Then came a reaction. His vital forces rose again. He no longer felt fearful, he only wondered with a strange impersonal wonder, as a man wonders about the vital affairs of another. Then from wondering about himself he began to wonder about the girl who sat opposite to him. With the rain came a little lightning, and by the first flash he saw her clearly. Her beautiful face was set, and as she bent forward searching the darkness with her wide eyes, it wore, he thought, an almost defiant air.

The canoe twisted round somewhat. He dug his broken paddle into the water and once more brought her head on to the sea. Then he spoke.

"Are you afraid?" he asked of Beatrice.

"No," she answered, "I am not afraid."

"Do you know that we shall probably be drowned?"

"Yes, I know it. They say the death is easy. I brought you here. Forgive me that. I should have tried to row you ashore as you said."

"Never mind me; a man must meet his fate some day. Do not think of me. But I can't keep her head on much longer. You had better say your prayers."

Beatrice bent forward till her head was quite near his own. The wind had blown some of her hair loose, and though he did not seem to notice it at the time, he remembered afterwards that a lock of it struck him on the face.

"I cannot pray," she said; "I have nothing to pray to. I am not a Christian."

The words struck him like a blow. It seemed so awful to think of this proud and brilliant woman, now balanced on the verge of what she believed to be utter annihilation. Even the courage that induced her at such a moment to confess her hopeless state seemed awful.

"Try," he said with a gasp.

"No," she answered, "I do not fear to die. Death cannot be worse than life is for most of us. I have not prayed for years, not since—well, never mind. I am not a coward. It would be cowardly to pray now because I may be wrong. If there is a God who knows all, He will understand that."

Geoffrey said no more, but laboured at the broken paddle gallantly and with an ever-failing strength. The lightning had passed away and the darkness was very great, for the hurrying clouds hid the starlight. Presently a sound arose above the turmoil of the storm, a crashing thunderous sound towards which the send of the sea gradually bore them. The sound came from the waves that beat upon the Bryngelly reef.

"Where are we drifting to?" he cried.

"Into the breakers, where we shall be lost," she answered calmly. "Give up paddling, it is of no use, and try to take off your coat. I have loosened my skirt. Perhaps we can swim ashore."

He thought to himself that in the dark and breakers such an event was not probable, but he said nothing, and addressed himself to the task of getting rid of his coat and waistcoat—no easy one in that confined space. Meanwhile the canoe was whirling round and round like a walnut shell upon a flooded gutter. For some distance before the waves broke upon the reef and rocks they swept in towards them with a steady foamless swell. On reaching the shallows, however, they pushed their white shoulders high into the air, curved up and fell in thunder on the reef.

The canoe rode towards the breakers, sucked upon its course by a swelling sea.

"Good-bye," called Geoffrey to Beatrice, as stretching out his wet hand he found her own and took it, for companionship makes death a little easier.

"Good-bye," she cried, clinging to his hand. "Oh, why did I bring you into this?"

For in their last extremity this woman thought rather of her companion in peril than of herself.

One more turn, then suddenly the canoe beneath them was lifted like a straw and tossed high into the air. A mighty mass of water boiled up beneath it and around it. Then the foam rushed in, and vaguely Geoffrey knew that they were wrapped in the curve of a billow.

A swift and mighty rush of water. Crash!—and his senses left him.