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The Fever of LifeByFergus Hume
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The Fever of Life
CHAPTER I. PINCHLER'S DOCKYARD.
CHAPTER II. WANTED, A CHAPERON.
CHAPTER III. THE WOMAN WITH THE FIERCE EYES.
CHAPTER IV. WHAT MRS. BELSWIN HAD TO SAY.
CHAPTER V. THE PRODIGAL SON.
CHAPTER VI. THE DRAGON.
CHAPTER VII. THE GARDEN OF HESPERIDES.
CHAPTER VIII. MRS. BELSWIN'S CORRESPONDENCE.
CHAPTER IX. A RUSTIC APOLLO.
HAPTER X. A BOUDOIR CONSULTATION.
CHAPTER XI. THE ART OF DINING.
CHAPTER XII. ARS AMORIS.
CHAPTER XIII. EXIT MRS. BELSWIN.
CHAPTER XIV. SIGNOR FERRARI DECLINES.
CHAPTER XV. THE RETURN OF THE WANDERER.
CHAPTER XVI. FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED.
CHAPTER XVII. BEFORE THE STORM.
CHAPTER XVIII. FACE TO FACE.
CHAPTER XIX. THE OUTER DARKNESS.
CHAPTER XX. A MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR.
CHAPTER XXI. ARCHIE MAKES HIS PLANS.
CHAPTER XXII. MRS. BELSWIN CONSIDERS WAYS AND MEANS.
CHAPTER XXIII. BETTER LEAVE WELL ALONE.
CHAPTER XXIV. A MEMORY OF THE PAST.
CHAPTER XXV. SILAS PLAYS HIS LITTLE GAME.
CHAPTER XXVI. VAE VICTIS.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE CASE.
CHAPTER XXVIII. WHAT MRS. BELK FOUND.
CHAPTER XXIX. DANGER.
CHAPTER XXX. A CLEVER DEFENCE.
CHAPTER XXXI. A TRAGIC SITUATION.
CHAPTER XXXII. NEWS FROM AUSTRALIA.
CHAPTER XXXIII. MR. DOMBRAIN SHOWS HIS TEETH.
CHAPTER XXXIV. IN OPEN COURT.
CHAPTER XXXV. EXPIATION.
CHAPTER XXXVI. A MEMORY OF THE PAST.
"Fashion for the nonce surrenders Giddy Mayfair's faded splendours, And with all her sons and daughters Hastens to health-giving waters; Rests when curfew bells are ringing, Rises when the lark is singing, Plays lawn tennis, flirts and idles, Laying snares for future bridals; Thus forgetting pleasures evil, In return to life primeval."
It was Toby Clendon who named it "Pinchler's Dockyard "—Toby Clendon, young, handsome, and a trifle scampish, who wrote witty essays for The Satirist, slashing criticisms for The Bookworm, and dainty society verses for any journal which chose to pay for such poetical effusions. A very cruel remark to make about Mrs. Pinchler's respectable private hotel at Marsh-on-the-Sea; but then the truth is always cruel, and Mr. Clendon proved the truth of his statement in this wise—
"A dockyard is a place where broken-down ships are repaired. Man, by poetical license, is a ship on the ocean of life. Some broken-down human ships under stress of circumstance put in to Pinchler's private hotel for repair in the matter of bodily ailments. Pinchler's harbours these broken-down human ships, therefore Pinchler's is a human dockyard. Strike out the word human as redundant, and there you are, Pinchler's Dockyard."
A whimsical deduction, doubtless, yet by no means void of a certain amount of truthful humour, as the guests at Pinchler's private hotel were for the most part deficient as regards physical completeness. If the lungs were healthy the liver was out of order. Granted that the head was "all there," the legs were not, unless one leg counted as two. Splendid physique, but something wrong with the internal organs. Yes, certainly a good many human ships were undergoing repair under the calculating eye of Mrs. Pinchler; and as her establishment was not healthy enough for a hotel nor sickly enough for an hospital, Toby Clendon's intermediate term "dockyard" fitted it exactly; so Pinchler's Dockyard it was called throughout Marsh-on-the-Sea.
It was a square red-brick house, built on a slight eminence, and facing the salt sea breeze of the Channel. On the one side a pleasant garden, on the other smooth green tennis lawns, and in front a mixture of turf, of flower-beds, and of gravel, sloping down to the road which divided it from the stony sea beach. A short distance away to the right was Marsh-on-the-Sea, with its rows of gleaming white houses set on the heights, while below was the red-roofed quaint old town, built long before its rival above became famous as a watering-place. To the left, undulating hills, clumps of trees, tall white cliffs, and here and there pleasant country houses, showing themselves above the green crests of their encircling woods. Add to this charming prospect a brilliant blue sea, a soft wind filled with the salt smell of the waters, and a sun tempered by intervening clouds, and it will be easily seen that Marsh-on-the-Sea was a pleasantly situated place, and Pinchler's Dockyard was one of the pleasantest houses in it.
"And why," said Mr. Clendon, continuing an argument, "and why English people want to go to the Riviera for beauty, when they have all this side of the Channel to choose from is more than I can make out."
It was just after luncheon, and the wrecks at present being repaired in the dockyard were sunning themselves on the tennis lawn. Some were reading novels, others were discussing their ailments, a few ladies were working at some feminine embroidery, a few gentlemen were smoking their after-dinner pipe, cigar, cigarette, as the case might be, and all were enjoying themselves thoroughly in their different ways.
Toby himself, arrayed in spotless white flannels, with a blue-ribboned straw hat was lying ungracefully on the grass, smoking a cigarette, and talking in an affectedly cynical vein to three ladies. There was Mrs. Valpy, fat, ponderous and plethoric; Miss Thomasina Valpy, her daughter, familiarly called Tommy, a charmingly pretty girl, small, coquettish and very fascinating in manner. As a rule, men of susceptible hearts fell in love with Tommy; but when they heard Mrs. Valpy say that she was like Thomasina when young, generally retreated in dismay, having a prophetic vision that this fragile, biscuit-china damsel would resemble her mother when old, and as Mrs. Valpy—well they never proposed, at all events.
There was a third lady present, Miss Kaituna Pethram, who was staying at Pinchler's with the Valpys, and without doubt she was very handsome; so handsome, indeed, that Tommy's brilliant beauty paled before her sombre loveliness. She was dark, unusually dark, with a pale, olive-coloured skin, coils of splendid dusky hair, luminous dark eyes, and clearly-cut features, which were not exactly European in their outline. Neither was her Christian name European, and this being taken in conjunction with her un-English look, led some people to think she had African blood in her veins. In this supposition, however, they were decidedly wrong, as there was no suggestion of the negro in her rich beauty. Indian? not delicate enough, neither as regards features nor figure. Spanish? no; none of the languor of the Creole; then no doubt Italian; but then she lacked the lithe grace and restless vivacity of the Latin race. In fact Miss Kaituna Pethram puzzled every one. They were unable to "fix her," as the Americans say, and consequently gave up the unguessable riddle of her birth in despair.
As a matter of fact, however, she was the descendant, in the third generation, of that magnificent New Zealand race, now rapidly dying out—the Maories, and the blending of the dusky Polynesian with the fair European had culminated in the production of this strange flower of two diverse stocks—neither wholly of the one nor of the other, but a unique blending of both. Her great grandparents had been full-blooded Maories, with uncivilised instincts and an inborn preference for a savage life. Their daughter, also a full-blooded Maori, being the daughter of a chief, had married a European settler, and the offspring of this mixed marriage was Kaituna's mother, a half-caste, inheriting the civilised culture of her father, and the savage instincts of her mother. Kaituna was born of this half-caste and an English father, therefore the civilised heredity prevailed; but she still retained the semblance, in a minor degree, of her primeval ancestry, and without doubt, though ameliorated by two generations of European progenitors on the male side, there lurked in her nature the ineradicable instincts of the savage.
Of course, self-complacent Europeans, pure-blooded in themselves, never argued out the matter in this wise, and were apt to look down on this inheritor of Maori ancestry as "a nigger," but were decidedly wrong in doing so, as the magnificent race that inhabits New Zealand is widely removed from the African black. At all events, whatever they might think, Kaituna Pethram was a uniquely beautiful girl, attractive to a very great degree, and inspiring more admiration than the undecided blondes and brunettes who moved in the same circle cared to acknowledge. Toby Clendon was not in love with her, as he preferred the saucy manner and delicate beauty of Miss Valpy, but Archie Maxwell, who was the best looking young man at Pinchler's, had quite lost his heart to this unique flower of womanhood, and the damsels of Pinchler's resented this greatly. Mr. Maxwell, however, was at present engaged in talking to some of them at a distance, and if his eyes did wander now and then to where Clendon was playing Shepherd Paris to goddesses three—Mrs. Valpy being Minerva in her own opinion—they did their best to enchain his attention and keep him to themselves. Kaituna herself did not mind, as she was not particularly taken with Mr. Maxwell, and was quite content to lie lazily back in her chair under the shelter of a large red sunshade and listen to Toby Clendon's desultory conversation.
It was a pleasant enough conversation in a frivolous fashion. Mr. Clendon made startling statements regarding the world and its inhabitants, Kaituna commented thereon. Tommy sparkled in an idle, girlish way, and Mrs. Valpy, with sage maxims, culled from the monotonous past of an uneventful life, supplied the busy element requisite in all cases. Three of the party were young, the fourth was gracefully old, so, juvenility predominating, the conversation rippled along pleasantly enough.
After the patriotic Toby had made his remark concerning the superiority of things English over all the rest of the world, Kaituna waved the banner of Maoriland, and laughed softly.
"Ah! Wait till you see New Zealand."
"Ultima Thule," said Clendon classically. "Eh I why should I go there, Miss Pethram?"
"To see what nature can do in the way of beautiful landscape."
"I am a domestic being, Miss Pethram, and find the domestic scenery of England sufficiently beautiful to satisfy my artistic longings. New Zealand, I have been told, is an uncivilised country, full of horrid woods and wild beasts."
"There are no wild beasts at all," replied Kaituna indignantly, "and the bush is not horrid. As to it being uncivilised, that is the mistake you English make."
"Oh, the contempt in the term 'you English,'" interjected Toby, impudently.
"We have cities, railways, theatres, musical societies, shops, and everything else necessary to make life pleasant. That is civilisation, I suppose. We have also great plains, majestic mountains, splendid rivers, undulating pasture lands and what not. This is uncivilised—if you like to call it so. England is pretty—oh yes, very pretty, but tame like a garden. One gets tired of always living in a garden. A garden is nature's drawing-room. I don't say a word against England, for I like it very much, but at times I feel stifled by the narrowness of the place. England is very beautiful, yes; but New Zealand," concluded Miss Pethram with conviction, "New Zealand is the most beautiful place in the whole world."
"My dear," said Mrs. Valpy in a patronising manner, "are you not going a little too far? I've no doubt the place you come from is very nice, very nice indeed, but to compare it with England is ridiculous. You have no city, I think, like London. No, no! London is cosmopolitan, yes—quite so."
Having stated this plain truth, Mrs. Valpy looked round with a fat smile of triumph and resumed her knitting, while Tommy dashed into' the conversation with slangy vivacity.
"Oh, I say, you know, New Zealand's a place where you can have a high old time, but London's the place for larks."
"Why not the country," said Clendon drily, "the morning lark."
"Oh, I don't mean that sort of lark," interrupted Tommy ingeniously, "the evenin' lark; my style, you know. Waltzin', flirtin', talkin', jolly rather."
"You move in the highest circles, Tommy," said Kaituna, who was a somewhat satirical damsel. "You drop your 'g's.'"
"Better than dropping your 'h's'."
"Or your money," said Toby, lighting a fresh cigarette. "I don't know what we're all talking about."
"I think," observed Mrs. Valpy in a geographical style, "we were discussing the Islands of New Zealand."
"Rippin' place," said Tommy gaily.
"Thomasina, my dear," remarked her Johnsonian mamma, "I really do not think that you are personally——"
"Acquainted with the place! No! I'm not. But Kaituna has told me a lot. Archie Maxwell has told me more——"
"Mr. Maxwell?" interposed Kaituna, quickly. "Oh, yes! he said that he had visited Auckland on his way to Sydney—but you can't tell New Zealand from one city."
"Ex pede Herculem," said the classical Toby, "which, being translated means—by the foot shall ye know the head."
"Auckland isn't the head of New Zealand. It was, but now Wellington is the capital. The city of wooden match-boxes built in a draughty situation."
"Oh, no, I'm not, Mr. Clendon. But I reserve my patriotism for Dunedin?"
"You mean Edinburgh.
"I mean the new Edinburgh with the old name, not the old Edinburgh with the new name."
"Epigrammatic, decidedly. This is instructive, Miss Pethram. Do they teach epigram in the schools of Dunedin?"
"And why not? Do you think Oxford and Cambridge monopolise the learning of nations? We also in Dunedin," concluded Kaituna proudly, "have an university."
"To teach the young idea how to shoot—delightful."
"But I thought there was no game to shoot," said Tommy wickedly.
Mrs. Valpy reproved the trio for their frivolous conversation.
"You are all talking sad nonsense."
"On the contrary, gay nonsense," retorted Clendon lightly; "but I foresee in this badinage the elements of an article for The Satirist. Miss Pethram, I am going to use you as copy. Tell me all about yourself."
"To be published as an essay, and ticketed 'The New Pocahontas.'"
"Perhaps," replied the essayist evasively, "for you are a kind of nineteenth century Pocahontas. You belong to the children of Nature."
"Yes, I do," said Kaituna, quickly; "and I'm proud of it. My father went out to New Zealand a long time ago, and there married my mother, who was the daughter of a Maori mother. My grandmother was the child of a chief—a real Pocahontas."
"Not quite; Pocahontas was a chieftainess in her own right."
"And died at Wapping, didn't she?" said Mrs. Valpy, placidly. "Of course the dark races always give way to the superiority of the white."
Kaituna looked indignantly at this fat, flabby woman, who spoke so contemptuously of her Maori ancestors, who were certainly superior to Mrs. Valpy from a physical point of view, and very probably her equal mentally in some ways. It was no use, however, arguing with Mrs. Valpy over such a nice point, as she was firmly intrenched behind her insular egotism, and would not have understood the drift of the argument, with the exception that she was a white, and therefore greatly superior to a black. Toby saw the indignant flash in her eyes, and hastened to divert the chance of trouble by saying the first thing that came into his mind.
"Is your mother in England, Miss Pethram?"
"My mother is dead."
"Oh! I beg—I beg your pardon," said Toby, flustering a little at his awkwardness: "I mean your father."
"My father," replied Kaituna, cheerfully. "Oh, he is out in New Zealand again. You know, we lived out there until a year ago. Then my father, by the death of his elder brother, became Sir Rupert Pethram, so he brought me home. We always call England home in the Colonies. He had to go out again about business; so he left me in Mrs. Valpy's charge."
"Delighted to have you, my dear," murmured the old lady, blinking her eyes in the sunshine like an owl. "You see, Mr. Clendon, we are near neighbours of Sir Rupert's down in Berkshire."
"Oh!" said Clendon, raising himself on his elbow with a look of curiosity in his eyes, "that is my county. May I ask what particular part you inhabit?"
"Why, I lived near there also."
"What," cried Tommy, with great surprise, "can it be that you are a relative of Mr. Clendon, the Vicar of Deswarth?"
"Only his son."
"The young man who would not become a curate?"
"It didn't suit me," said Toby, apologetically; "I'm far too gay for a curate. It's a mistake putting a square peg into a round hole, you know; and I make a much better pressman than a preacher."
"It is a curious thing we never met you, Mr. Clendon," observed Mrs. Valpy, heavily; "but we have only been at 'The Terraces' for two years."
"Oh, and I've been away from the parental roof for five or six years. I do not wonder at never meeting you, but how strange we should meet here. Coincidences occur in real life as well as in novels, I see."
"Mr. Maxwell told me he met a man in London the other day whom he had last seen in Japan," said Kaituna, smiling.
"Maxwell is a wandering Jew—an engineering Cain."
"Hush! hush!" said Mrs. Valpy, shocked like a good church-woman, at any reference to the Bible in light conversation. "Mr. Maxwell is a very estimable young man."
"I called him Cain in a figurative sense only," replied Toby, coolly; "but if you object to that name, let us call him Ulysses."
"Among the sirens," finished Kaituna, mischievously.
Tommy caught the allusion, and laughed rudely. Confident in her own superiority regarding beauty, she was scornful of the attempts of the so-called sirens to secure the best-looking man in the place, so took a great delight in drawing into her own net any masculine fish that was likely to be angled for by any other girl. She called it fun, the world called it flirtation, and her enemies called it coquetry; and Toby Clendon, although not her enemy, possibly agreed with the appropriateness of the term. But then he was her lover; and lovers are discontented if they don't get the object of their affections all to themselves.
"The sirens!" repeated Miss Valpy, scornfully. "What, with voices like geese? What humbug! Let us take Archie Maxwell Ulysses away from the sirens, Kaituna."
"No, no, don't do that!" said Kaituna with a sudden rush of colour; "it's a shame."
"What! Depriving them of their big fish? Not at all. It's greedy of them to be so selfish. I'll call him. Mr. Maxwell!"
"It's very chilly here," said Kaituna, rising to her feet. "Mr. Clendon, my shawl, please. Thank you I'm going inside."
"Because of Mr. Maxwell?" asked Miss Valpy, maliciously.
"No. I'm expecting some letters from Mr. Dombrain. Oh, here is Mr. Maxwell. Au revoir," and Miss Pethram walked quickly away towards the house.
Maxwell having extricated himself from the company of the sirens, who looked after their late captive with vengeful eyes, saw Kaituna depart, and hesitated between following her or obeying the invitation of Miss Valpy. His heart said "Go there," the voice of Tommy said "Come here," and the unfortunate young man hesitated which to obey. The lady saw his hesitation, and, purposely to vex Mr. Clendon, settled the question at once.
"Mr. Maxwell, come here. I want you to play lawn-tennis."
"Certainly, Miss Valpy," said Maxwell, with sulky civility.
"Why, I asked you to play twice this afternoon, and you refused," cried Clendon, in some anger.
"Well, I've changed my mind but you can play also, if you like."
"No, thank you. I've—I've got an engagement."
Tommy moved close to the young man and laughed.
"You've got a very cross face."
At this Clendon laughed also, and his cross face cleared.
"Oh, I'll be delighted to play."
"And what about Miss Pethram?" asked Maxwell, rather anxiously.
"Miss Pethram has gone inside to await the arrival of the post."
"Isn't she coming out again?"
"I think not."
"If you will excuse me, Miss Valpy, I won't play just at present."
"Oh, never mind."
So Maxwell stalked away in a very bad temper with himself, with Miss Pethram, and with everything else. In any one but a lover it would have been sulks, but in the ars amoris it is called despair.
Tommy held her racket like a guitar, and, strumming on it with her fingers, hummed a little tune—a vulgar little tune which she had picked up from a common street boy—
"Tho' I'm an earl,
And she's a girl,
Far, far below my level,
Oh, Mary Jane,
You give me pain,
You wicked little——"
"Thomasina!" cried the scandalised Mrs. Valpy, and Thomasina laughed.
"We are told in stories olden Dragons watched the apples golden,
Quick to send a thief to Hades.
Now no fruit the world-tree ladens, Apples gold are dainty maidens,
And the dragons are old ladies."
After dinner—a meal cooked, conducted, and eaten on strictly digestive principles—most of the inmates of Pinchler's retired to bed. Sleep was necessary to the well-being of these wrecks of humanity, so those who could sleep went to their repose with joyful hearts, and those who could not, put off the evil hour precluding a restless night by going to the drawing-room for a little music.
Here they sat in melancholy rows round the room, comparing notes as to their physical sensations, and recommending each other patent medicines. Some of the younger people sang songs and played popular airs on the out-of-tune piano furnished by Pinchler's. During the intervals between the songs scraps of curious conversation could be heard somewhat after this fashion—
"There's nothing like a glass of hot water in the morning."
"Dry toast, mind; butter is rank poison."
"Rub the afflicted part gently and breathe slowly."
"Put a linseed poultice at the nape of the neck."
With such light and instructive conversation did the wrecks beguile their leisure hours, keeping watchful eyes on the clock so as not to miss taking their respective medicines at the right times. Mrs. Pinchler, a dry, angular woman with a glassy eye and a fixed smile, revolved round the drawing-room at intervals, asking every one how they felt.
"Better, Mrs. Tandle? Yes, I thought that syrup would do you good—it soothes the coats of the stomach. Miss Pols, you do look yellow. Let me recommend a glass of hot water in the morning. Mr. Spons, if you lie down on the sofa I'm sure it will do you good. Oh, are you going to play, Miss Valpy? Something quiet, please. Music is such a good digestive."
Tommy, however, was not a young lady who could play quiet tunes, her performance on the piano being of the muscular order. She therefore favoured the company with a noisy piece of the most advanced school, which had no melody, although full of contrapuntal devices. Having shaken every one's nerves with this trying performance, she glided off into a series of popular waltzes, mostly of the scrappy order, in which she sandwiched hymn tunes between music-hall melodies. The wrecks liked this style of thing, as they could all beat time with their feet, and when it was finished said waltzes were charming, but not so fine as "Batch's" passion music, of which they knew nothing, not even how to pronounce his name correctly.
"Bach!" echoed Tommy contemptuously. "Oh, he's an old fossil! Offenbach's more in my line. Oui! You bet! Sapristi! Vive la bagatelle!"
The company did not understand French, so suffered this observation to pass in discreet silence, but Kaituna laughed. She was sitting in a corner by herself, with a look of impatience on her face, for she was expecting a letter and the post was late.
"Kaituna," cried Tommy, attracted by the laugh, "why are you sitting in the corner like a graven image? Come out and sing."
"No, I don't want to. I'm waiting for my letter."
"Hasn't it arrived yet?" said Miss Valpy, skipping across the room. "I'd give it to that Dombrain thing if I were you. Dombrain! What a name! Who is he?"
"My father's solicitor."
"Oh, in the law and the profits? I don't mean biblically, but commercially. But, I say, don't keep thinking of your letter, or it won't come. The watched postman never boils."
"What nonsense you talk!"
"I can't help it, dear. My brains leave me when there are no male things in the room."
"There's Mr. Spons."
"Oh, I don't bother about him. He's not a man; he's a medicine bottle. Hark! I hear footmarks approaching on horseback. It is the man. Now, will you take Mr. Clendon and I Mr. Maxwell, or will you take Mr. Maxwell and I Mr. Clendon?"
"I don't want either," said Kaituna hastily.
"Now that's ungrateful, especially when Mr. Maxwell is such a dear. 'Oh, that heaven would send me such a man!'—Shakespeare, Kaituna, so don't look indignant. You can take Archie, and I'll satisfy myself with Toby."
"You shouldn't call men by their Christian names, Thomasina."
"Don't say that; it sounds like 'ma. I only call them by their Christian names to you. I wouldn't do it to their faces."
"I hope not."
"How proper you are! Behold the male sex are at the door! I can smell the tobacco on their clothes."
The rattle of the lively damsel was put an end to by the entry of the gentlemen, headed by Maxwell and Clendon, the latter of whom Miss Valpy bore off at once to the piano to make him sing, turn over her music, and make himself generally useful. Maxwell, however, went straight across to Kaituna, and held out a newspaper.
"This is yours, Miss Pethram," he said, seating himself beside her, "I knew you were anxious about the post, so I waited downstairs till it came."
"Was there no letter?" said Kaituna, in some dismay.
"No; nothing but that Telegraph."
"Oh, there maybe something marked in it," she said quietly. "Excuse me a moment while I look."
Maxwell bowed and sat watching her as she tore the cover off the paper and opened the rustling leaves. He had only known this girl a fortnight, yet within that time had contrived to fall deeply in love with her. It was not her beauty, although, man-like, he naturally admired a pretty woman. It was not her charming manner, fascinating as it was in every way. It was not her clever brain, her bright conversation, her perfect taste in dress. No. It was that indescribable something which she had about her to attract him in a greater degree than any other woman he had ever known. What that something is no man knows until he has fallen in love, and then he feels it, but cannot describe his sensations. Scientists, no doubt, would call it animal magnetism; poets would call it love; scoffers would term it sensuality. But whatever scientists, poets, or scoffers choose to call it, the thing is unnameable, indescribable, and is the necessary concomitant of a happy marriage.
It was this indescribable feeling that had sprung up suddenly between those two young people. Kaituna also felt drawn to Maxwell, but in a lesser degree, for no matter what cynics may say about the frivolity of women, they are certainly less inflammable than men. A pretty woman knows her power to attract the opposite sex, and uses it daily, mostly for amusement; therefore when her time does come to feel the genuine pangs of love, she is more able to govern and control her feelings than a man who, as a rule, simply let's himself go. So this was exactly how the case stood between these two lovers. Maxwell felt that Kaituna was the one woman in the world for him, and never attempted to suppress his passion in any way. He allowed himself to be so entirely dominated by it, that it soon became his master, and all his days and nights were given over to dreams of this beautiful dark woman from a distant isle of the sea. On the other hand, Kaituna felt that she loved him, but controlling herself with feminine dexterity, never let her infatuated lover see that his passion was responded to in any way. Had he tried to go away she would speedily have lured him back by means of those marvellous womanly arts, the trick of which no man knoweth; but the poor love-lorn wretch was so abjectly submissive that she coolly planted her conquering foot on his neck and indulged in a little catlike play with this foolish mouse.
He was a handsome fellow too, Archie Maxwell, with his fresh-coloured face, his yellow hair and moustache, his blue eyes, and his stalwart figure. A lover any girl would be proud to have at her feet, as Kaituna undoubtedly was, though the woman predominated in her too much to allow her to let him see her approval. Poor! yes, he was poor, certainly. An engineer, who wandered over half the world building bridges and railways, and all kind of extraordinary things. Still, he was young, and engineering is a money making profession, so Kaituna positively determined that should he ask her to marry him, she would consent. But her father—well, he was thousands of miles away, and when he returned she would no doubt gain his approval; so at present she surrendered herself entirely to this new delicious feeling, and Ulysses, tangled in the snares of Calypso, forgot everything save the face of the conquering nymph.
Meanwhile Calypso read the paper while Ulysses watched her, and they both sat silent while every one round them talked loudly. Tommy was playing a nigger minstrel tune, and Toby, leaning on the piano, was chatting to her gaily, evidently on the fair way to become as much enamoured of his nymph as this other sighing rover.
"Well, have you found what you wanted?" asked Maxwell, as the lady looked up with a bright smile.
"Yes! It is marked with a blue pencil, and as you have been so kind in playing postman, you can read it."
Archie did so.
"Wanted, a companion for a young lady. Apply by letter, Dombrain, 13, Chintler Lane, City."
"Short and sweet," he said, handing the paper back, with a puzzled look on his face; "but I don't understand it."
"It's easily explained," replied Miss Pethram, composedly. "Mr. Dombrain is my father's solicitor, and is advertising for a chaperon—for me."
"For you! But you have Mrs. Valpy."
"Mrs. Valpy is a dear old lady, but she is—Mrs. Valpy."
"It is a very serious thing to advertise in a paper for a chaperon. You never know the kind of person you may get."
"Mr. Dombrain will."
"Mr. Dombrain may not be infallible," retorted Archie, feeling rather angry, he knew not why, at the repetition of the name. "If your father wished you to have a chaperon, why didn't he ask Mrs. Valpy to recommend some one."
"I'm sure I can't tell you! Papa has gone away to New Zealand on business, and asked Mrs. Valpy to look after me in the meantime. He left instructions with Mr. Dombrain—in whom he has full confidence—that I was to be provided with a companion, so I suppose Mr. Dombrain's only idea of getting one suitable is through the newspapers."
"I think it's a pity."
"Oh, not at all! Don't be afraid of me, Mr. Maxwell; I assure you I can take excellent care of myself. All colonial girls can. They are more self-reliant than English young ladies. If I don't like the companion chosen for me by Mr. Dombrain, I'll easily get rid of her."
"But if Mrs. Valpy recommended you someone who could introduce you into society."
"Some pauper peeress I suppose you mean," said Kaituna, equitably. "No, I wouldn't care for that at all. I don't wish to go into society until my father comes home again. Then it will be easy, for the Pethrams are an old family, and have sisters and cousins and aunts everywhere. When I wish to see the world, I've no doubt papa will find some one to present me at Court; but at present I want a companion to talk to. I say a chaperon, but I mean a companion."
"Oh, I wish!—I wish!" stuttered Archie, growing red; "I wish——"
He stopped short, this wise young man, for he was on the verge of saying something very foolish, which might have jeopardised his chances with the Maori maiden, but the fruit was not yet ripe, so with wisdom beyond his years, he refrained from finishing his sentence.
"You've wished three times," said Miss Pethram calmly. "What is it about?"
"I wish that you may get a good chaperon."
"So do I, but I suppose they are as difficult to get as anything else. I'm afraid I'll be very hard to please. Of course, it's a difficult thing to choose a person to live with."
"Even in marriage."
Kaituna blushed, and folded up the paper in a somewhat embarrassed fashion.
"Marriage is a lottery," she said at length, with an attempt at lightness.
"I think I've heard that remark before."
"Very likely. It's hard to say anything original nowadays."
"I suppose," said Archie, after a pause, "that when your chaperon is chosen by Mr. Dombrain, she will come down here."
"Oh, dear, no. I'm going home next week with the Valpys."
"Yes. To Thornstream, near Deswarth, in Berkshire. Papa's house, you know."
"And I'll never see you again," he said dismally.
"Oh, I don't know; the world is small."
Maxwell groaned in vexation of spirit, thinking that the heart of this desirable maiden was as the flint which is hard; and the maiden herself, having thus worried her mouse, consoled it in a pleasant fashion.
"Besides, Berkshire is not very far from London."
"I know that, of course, but I have no acquaintances in Deswarth."
"Oh, fie! What about Mrs. Valpy!"
"Mrs. Valpy! of course, I quite forgot Mrs. Valpy," said Archie, determined to pay court at once to the old lady. "You know I like Mrs. Valpy."
"Since when?" asked Kaituna, mischievously.
Archie took out his watch gravely, and looked at it.
"To be exact, since a minute ago."
"Oh, the craft of the male sex."
"The end justifies the means," quoted Archie, Jesuitically; "but oh, I say——" He stopped, and a look of alarm overspread his face.
"What's the matter?"
"I'm afraid I won't be able to come down to Berkshire."
"Because I have to go to South America next month."
Kaituna froze instantly, and annihilated him with a glacial look, at which he quailed visibly.
"I can't help it, Miss Pethram," he said piteously, "don't look at me like that."
"I'm not looking at you like that," retorted Miss Pethram vengefully. "I—I hope you'll have a pleasant voyage."
"I won't! I hate the sea."
"Then why go?"
"Needs must, when the devil drives."
"That's very coarse."
"But it's very true. I beg your pardon, really; but, you know, it is hard to have to go prancing about the world when you don't want to."
"How long will you be out in South America?"
"I don't know. Perhaps for ever, if I get yellow fever."
"I wish you wouldn't talk like that."
"Man is mortal," said Maxwell, with gloomy relish.
"Man is silly," retorted Kaituna rising to her feet, "so I'm going to ask Mr. Clendon to sing a song."
"You never ask me!" said the young man reproachfully.
"Oh! Can engineers sing?"
Maxwell said a naughty word under his breath, and walked meekly to the piano beside her. Toby was in possession of the instrument, and was giving Miss Valpy selections from the latest London burlesque.
"This is the dance, you know," he said playing a breakdown; "and then comes the song 'Skip the gutter daddy, dear,'—a rippin' song."
"Sounds like it," said Maxwell, caustically; "so refined."
"Well, you needn't talk my boy, I've seen you enjoying it immensely."
Kaituna directed another look of scorn at the unhappy Maxwell, which inspired him with a vehement desire to break Toby's head. He refrained, however, and smiled in a sickly manner.
"I prefer Shakespeare," he said at length, telling the best lie he could under the circumstances.
"Dry old stick," observed Tommy, lightly. "There's no fun in him."
"But he's so high class."
"Listen to the virtuous one," said Clendon, scoffingly. "Oh, my gracious! that my boy should talk such jargon. You don't feel ill, do you, Archie?"
"No, I don't," retorted Archie, in a rage, seeing that Kaituna was enjoying this little dialogue with great zest. "I wish you'd be quiet and sing something."
"How can I be quiet and sing also?"
"Dosing, Mr. Clendon," said Kaituna, with a kind flash of her beautiful eyes at the happy bard.
Maxwell suppressed a second naughty word and sat down in dismal silence.
"What shall I sing?" asked Toby, running his fingers over the piano.
"No, no! Something sentimental," said Kaituna, in a commanding tone, and sat down beside Miss Valpy.
Toby cleared his throat, looked up at the ceiling for inspiration, and laughed.
"I'll sing a betwixt and between thing."
So he did.
"She is the dearest of girls I confess,
Her milliners' bills are a sight to see;
Dearest of girls in the matter of dress,
Dearest of girls in the world to me.
I lost my heart, but I lost my gold,
And hearts without gold are romantic trash;
Her love was a thing to be bought and sold,
But I couldn't purchase for want of cash.
"Now she is spouse to an aged man,
He's eighty-five and a trifle frail;
Soon he'll finish his life's brief span,
Then she'll look for another male.
Ah! But love comes not twice in our life,
Cupid for ever has passed us by;
So if she asked me to make her my wife,
I would not marry her, no not I."
"Oh!" said Tommy, when the song was ended, "so that's your idea of a woman's love."
"Not mine—the world's."
"And what about the love which cannot be bought?" asked Kaituna.
"Is there such a love?"
"Yes, cynic," growled Maxwell in disgust; "true love is not a saleable article. The woman who truly loves a man," here his eye rested on Kaituna, "lets nothing stand in the way of that love. She gives up rank, fortune, everything for his sake."
"And what does she receive in return?" demanded Miss Pethram, innocently.
"The true joy which arises from the union of two loving hearts."
"Very pastoral indeed," said Toby, lightly. "Chloe and Corydon in Arcadia. It once existed, indeed, but now——"
"But now," finished Kaituna, rather tired of the discussion, "it is time to retire."
Both the gentlemen protested at the ladies going away so early, but Kaituna remained firm, and was supported by Tommy, who said she felt very tired.
"Not of us, I hope!" said Toby, meekly.
"Thyself hath said it," she replied, holding out her hand. "Good-night."
When they were leaving the room, Maxwell, who was escorting Kaituna, bent over and whispered in her ear—
"I won't go to South America."
"South America," she repeated, with a pretended look of surprise, "Oh! yes, of course. I forgot all about it, I assure you. Good-night."
She was gone before he could say a word, leaving him overcome with anger at the flippant manner in which she spoke. Was she in jest or earnest. He could not tell. Perhaps she said one thing and meant another. He could not tell. Perchance—oh, women were all alike, they liked to put their victim on a sharp hook and watch him wriggle painfully to be free.
"She's a coquette!"
"Who? Miss Valpy?" asked Toby, overhearing.
"No, Miss Pethram; but I dare say her friend's no better."
"I'm afraid not!" sighed Mr. Clendon, dismally; "it's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. But what ails my Archibald? His brow is overcast."
"Oh! Rubbish," growled Archibald, rudely; "come and smoke."
The smoking-room was quite empty, so the young men established themselves in two comfortable armchairs, and devoted their energies to the consumption of tobacco. Clendon preferred the frivolous cigarette, but Archie produced with loving care a well coloured meerschaum, which had been his companion for many years.
"This is a travelled pipe," he said to his friend when the blue smoke was rolling in clouds from his mouth, "a very Ulysses of pipes. It has been in far countries and knoweth the ways of the stranger."
"Good idea for a story," observed Toby, who was always on the look-out for copy. "'The Tale of a Pipe in ten Fills.' Egad! I think it ought to go capitally. It's so difficult to get an idea nowadays."
Maxwell, luxuriating in his pipe, grunted in a manner which might have meant anything, so Toby promptly attacked him on his want of manners.
"You might speak to a fellow when a fellow speaks to you! I tell you what, Archie, you've changed for the worse since we were at school together. Then you were a gregarious animal, and now you are an unsociable beast."
"Don't call names, my good man! I can't help being quiet. My thoughts are far away."
"Pish! Not so very far."
"Well, perhaps not."
"Have you asked her to marry you?"
"Hardly! I've only known her a fortnight, and besides, I've got no money."
"No; but she has!"
"I don't want to live on my wife. I'm going away to South America."
"Never to see her again, I suppose," said Toby, ironically; "don't talk nonsense, Archie. You're madly in love with Miss Pethram and don't want to lose sight of her."
"True! But I must when she goes away from here."
"Not a bit of it. Listen, I will be your good angel."
Maxwell laughed grimly at the idea.
"I will be your good angel," repeated Toby, imperturbably, "and take you down with me to Deswarth."
"To your father's house? I thought you weren't friends with your governor."
"I am not," acknowledged Clendon with touching candour; "he wanted me to become a churchman, and I didn't care about it. We had words and parted. Now, however, I've won a success in literature, I'll go back and ask the pater to kill the domestic veal. You I will bring with me to the banquet, and as Miss Pethram lives near you will be able to see her, woo her, wed her, and be happy ever afterwards."
Archie made no reply, but smoked furiously; and Toby, having delivered himself of what he had to say, also subsided into silence.
After a pause said Maxwell—
"What about South America?"
"D—— South America."
You are a snake,
For the sly beast lies
Coiled in the brake
Of your sleepy eyes,
Lo, at your glances my weak soul dies.
Woman you are
With a face so fair;
But the snake must mar
All the woman there.
Your eyes affright, but your smiles ensnare.
Such a poor room it was, with a well-worn carpet, shabby furniture, a dingy mirror over the fireplace, and a mean sordid look everywhere. The bright sunshine, pouring in through the dirty windows, showed up the weak points of the apartment in the most relentless manner. Great folding-doors at one side half open, showing an untidy bedroom beyond, and on the other side the many-paned windows, veiled by ragged curtains, looked out into Jepple Street, Bloomsbury.
There was a shaky round table in the centre of the apartment, on which was spread a doubtfully clean cloth, and on it the remains of a very poor breakfast. An egg half eaten, a teacup half filled, and a portion of bread on the plate showed that the person for whom this meal was provided had not finished, and, indeed, she was leaning on the table with her elbows, looking at a copy of the Daily Telegraph.
A noticeable woman this, frowning down on the newspaper with tightly closed lips, and one whom it would be unwise to offend.. After a pause she pushed the paper away, arose to her feet, and marching across to the dingy mirror, surveyed herself long and anxiously. The face that looked out at her from the glass was a remarkable one.
Dark, very dark, with fierce black eyes under strongly marked eyebrows, masses of rough dark hair carelessly twisted up into a heavy coil, a thin-lipped, flexible mouth and a general contour of face not at all English. She had slender brown hands, which looked powerful in spite of their delicacy, and a good figure, though just now it was concealed by a loose dressing-gown of pale yellow silk much discoloured and stained. With her strange barbaric face, her gaudy dress, Mrs. Belswin was certainly a study for a painter.
Mrs. Belswin, so she called herself; but she looked more like a savage queen than a civilised woman. She should have been decked with coloured beads, with fantastic feathers, with barbaric bracelets, with strangely striped skins, as it was she was an anomaly, an incongruity, in the poor room of poor lodging-house, staring at her fierce face in the dingy mirror.
Mrs. Munser, who kept the establishment, acknowledged to her intimate friend, Mrs. Pegs, that the sight of this lady had given her a turn; and certainly no one could blame cockney Mrs. Munser, for of all the strange people that might be seen in London, this lithe, savage-looking woman was surely the strangest. Indian jungles, African forests, South American pampas, she would have been at home there, having all the appearance and fire of a woman of the tropics; but to see her in dull, smoky London—it was extraordinary.
After scrutinising herself for a time, she began to talk aloud in a rich full voice, which was broken every now and then by a guttural note which betrayed the savage; yet she chose her words well, she spoke easily, and rolled her words in a soft labial manner suggestive of the Italian language. Yet she was not an Italian.
"Twenty years ago," she muttered savagely, "nearly twenty years ago, and I have hardly ever seen her. I must do so now, when Providence has put this chance into my hands. They can't keep a mother from her child. God's laws are stronger than those of man. Rupert would put the ocean between us if he could, but now he's in New Zealand, so for a time I will be able to see her, to speak to her, to hold her in my arms; not as her mother,—no, not as her mother,—but as her paid servant."
She turned away from the mirror with a savage gesture, and walked slowly up and down the room with the soft sinuous movement of a panther. Her soft silk dress rustled as she walked, and her splendid hair, released by her sudden movement, fell like a black veil over her shoulders. She thrust the tresses back from her temples with impatient hands, and her face looked forth from the cloud of hair, dark, sombre, and savage, with a flash of the fierce eyes and vicious click of the strong white teeth.
"Curses on the man who took me away from her. I did not care for him, with his yellow hair and pink face. Why did I go? Why was I such a fool? I left her, my own child, for him, and went out into the world an outcast, for his sake. God! God! Why are women such fools?"
For a moment she stood with uplifted hands, as if awaiting an answer; but none came, so, letting her arms fall, she walked back to her chair, and lighting a cigarette, placed it in her mouth.
"I daren't use a pipe here," she said, with a discordant laugh, "it would not be respectable. But Spanish women smoke cigarettes, Russian women smoke cigarettes, so why should not the Maori woman smoke them also. Respectable, eh! Well, I'm going to be respectable now, when I've answered this."
This was an advertisement in the paper, which read as follows—
"Wanted, a companion for a young lady. Apply by letter, Dombrain, 13, Chintler Lane, City."
"Apply by letter," muttered Mrs. Belswin, with a sneer. "Indeed I won't, Alfred Dombrain. I'll apply in person, and I think I'll obtain the situation. I'll hold it, too—hold it till Rupert returns, and then—and then——"
She sprang to her feet and blew a cloud of smoke with a mocking laugh. "And then, my husband, I'll match myself against you."
"Salve dimora casta e pura."
The singer was coming slowly upstairs, and, as he finished the line, knocked at the door.
"Stephano," said Mrs. Belswin, with a frown, glancing at the clock; "what can he want so early? Avanti."
The door opened and Stephano, the singer, a tall, lithe Italian, with a beaming smile, presented himself and burst out into a torrent of greeting.
"Buon Giorno cara mia! Ah, my beautiful Lucrezia! My splendid Norma! How like an angel you look this morning. Gran dio che grazia. Signora, I kiss your hand."
He dropped on one knee in an affectedly theatrical manner and pressed his lips to Mrs. Belswin's hand, upon which she twitched it away with a frown, and spoke roughly to her adorer.
"What do you want, Ferrari?"
"Niente! niente! But to pay a visit of ceremony."
"It's not customary to pay visits of ceremony at ten o'clock in the morning. I wish you would go away. I'm busy."
"Che donna," said the Italian. With a gesture of admiration, and taking off his hat, sat down on the sofa.
Stephano Ferrari was a handsome man in a wicked way. He was tall and slender, with a dark, expressive face, white teeth, which gleamed under his heavy black moustache, wonderfully fine eyes, and a bland, ingratiating manner. English he spoke remarkably well, having been for many years away from his native land, but had a habit of interlarding his conversation with Italian ejaculations, which, in conjunction with his carefully-learnt English, had a somewhat curious effect. Being the tenor of an opera company in New York, he had become acquainted with Mrs. Belswin, who was also in the profession, and had fallen violently in love with this splendid-looking woman, who had so many of the characteristics of his countrywomen. Mrs. Belswin did not reciprocate this passion, and treated him with marked discourtesy; but this only added fuel to the fire of his love, much to her annoyance, as Ferrari had all the ardour and violence of his race strongly developed, and was likely to prove dangerous if she did not return his passion, a thing she felt by no means inclined to do.
At present he sat smiling on the sofa before her, adjusted his bright red tie, ran his fingers through his curly hair, and then twisted the ends of his moustache with peculiarly aggravating complacency.
"Don't you hear what I say?" said Mrs. Belswin, stamping her foot angrily. "I'm busy. Go away."
"Bid me not fly from those star-like eyes," sang the Signor, rolling a cigarette with deft fingers. "Ah, che bella musica. If the words were but my beautiful Italian instead of this harsh English. Dio! It hurts the throat, your speaking—fog-voiced pigs that you are."
"Take your abuse and yourself somewhere else," replied Mrs. Belswin, bringing her hand down sharply on the table. "I tell you I'm busy. You never leave me alone, Stephano. You followed me over from America, and now you stay beside me all day. Why do you make such a fool of yourself?"
"Because I love thee, carissima. Let me light this; not at thine eyes—stelle radiante—but from thy cigarette. Grazia!"
Mrs. Belswin knew of old that when Ferrari was in this humour nothing reasonable could be expected from him; so, resigned to the inevitable, she let him light his cigarette as he wished, then, flinging herself down on her chair, looked moodily at him.
"How long is this foolery going to last?" she demanded caustically.
"Till you become the Signora Ferrari."
"That will never be."
"Nay, angela mia—it will be some day."
"Was there ever such a man?" burst out Mrs. Belswin, viciously. "He won't take no for an answer."
"Not from thee, Donna Lucrezia."
"Don't call me Donna Lucrezia.
"Because I'm tired of opera. I'm tired of you. I'm tired of everything. I'm going to leave all the old life and become respectable."
"The life of a singer is always respectable," declared Ferrari, mendaciously. "You mean to leave me, Signora?"
"Yes, I do."
"Ebbene! we shall see."
"What claim have you on me? None. I met you in America two years ago. We nag together for a time, and because of that you persecute me with you ridiculous attentions."
"I love thee."
"I don't want your love."
She spoke defiantly, and folding her arms stared steadily at her persistent lover. The Italian, however, was not at all annoyed. He simply threw his half-smoked cigarette into the teacup, and rising from his seat stood before her smiling and bland as ever.
"Non e vero, Signora? Ebbene. I am the same. We met in San Francisco two years ago. I was a singer of opera. I obtained for you engagements. I loved you. Carissima, I love thee still! You are cold, cruel, you stone-woman, bella demonia. For long time I have been your slave. You have given me the kicks of a dog. Pazienza, I finish soon. I have told you all of myself. You have told me all of yourself. I come to this fog land with you, and now you say, 'Addio.' Bellissima, Signora, but I am not to be talked to like a child. I love you! and I marry you. Ecco! You will be Signora Ferrari. Senza dubbio!"
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