Volume III
Chapter XII. He Stands Between Two Worlds

The next morning he went down to the family solicitor's office. He had done so, off and on, for weeks. He spent the time in looking through old family papers, fishing out ancient documents, partly out of curiosity, partly from an unaccountable presentiment. He had been there about an hour this morning when a clerk brought him a small box, which, he said, had been found inside another box belonging to the Belward-Staplings, a distant branch of the family. These had asked for certain ancient papers lately, and a search had been made, with this result. The little box was not locked, and the key was in it. How the accident occurred was not difficult to imagine. Generations ago there had probably been a conference of the two branches of the family, and the clerk had inadvertently locked the one box within the other. This particular box of the Belward-Staplings was not needed again. Gaston felt that here was something. These hours spent among old papers had given him strange sensations, had, on the one hand, shown him his heritage; but had also filled him with the spirit of that by-gone time. He had grown further away from the present. He had played his part as in a drama: his real life was in the distant past and out in the land of the heathen.

Now he took out a bundle of papers with broken seals, and wound with a faded tape. He turned the rich important parchments over in his hands. He saw his own name on the outside of one: "Sir Gaston Robert Belward." And there was added: "Bart." He laughed. Well, why not complete the reproduction? He was an M. P.--why not a, Baronet? He knew how it was done. There were a hundred ways. Throw himself into the arbitration question between Canada and the United States: spend ten thousand pounds of--his grandfather's--money on the Party? His reply to himself was cynical: the game was not worth the candle. What had he got out of it all? Money? Yes: and he enjoyed that--the power that it gave-- thoroughly. The rest? He knew that it did not strike as deep as it ought: the family tradition, the social scheme--the girl.

"What a brute I am!" he said. "I'm never wholly of it. I either want to do as they did when George Villiers had his innings, or play the gipsy as I did so many years."

The gipsy! As he held the papers in his hand he thought as he had done last night, of the gipsy-van on Ridley Common, and of--how well he remembered her name!--of Andree.

He suddenly threw his head back, and laughed. "Well, well, but it is droll! Last night, an English gentleman, an honourable member with the Treasury Bench in view; this morning an adventurer, a Romany. I itch for change. And why? Why? I have it all, yet I could pitch it away this moment for a wild night on the slope, or a nigger hunt on the Rivas. Chateau-Leoville, Goulet, and Havanas at a bob?--Jove, I thirst for a swig of raw Bourbon and the bite of a penny Mexican! Games, Gaston, games! Why the devil did little Joe worry at being made 'move on'? I've got 'move on' in every pore: I'm the Wandering Jew. Oh, a gentleman born am I! But the Romany sweats from every inch of you, Gaston Belward! What was it that sailor on the Cyprian said of the other? 'For every hair of him was rope-yarn, and every drop of blood Stockholm tar!'"

He opened a paper. Immediately he was interested. Another; then, quickly, two more; and at last, getting to his feet with an exclamation, he held a document to the light, and read it through carefully. He was alone in the room. He calmly folded it up, put it in his pocket, placed the rest of the papers back, locked the box, and passing into the next room, gave it to the clerk. Then he went out, a curious smile on his face. He stopped presently on the pavement.

"But it wouldn't hold good, I fancy, after all these years. Yet Law is a queer business. Anyhow, I've got it."

An hour later he called on Mrs. Gasgoyne and Delia. Mrs. Gasgoyne was not at home. After a little while, Gaston, having listened to some extracts from the newspapers upon his "brilliant, powerful, caustic speech, infinite in promise of an important career," quietly told her that he was starting for Paris, and asked when they expected to go abroad in their yacht. Delia turned pale, and could not answer for a moment. Then she became very still, and as quietly answered that they expected to get away by the middle of August. He would join them? Yes, certainly, at Marseilles, or perhaps, Gibraltar. Her manner, so well-controlled, though her features seemed to shrink all at once, if it did not deceive him, gave him the wish to say an affectionate thing. He took her hand and said it. She thanked him, then suddenly dropped her fingers on his shoulder, and murmured with infinite gentleness and pride:

"You will miss me; you ought to!"

He drew the hand down.

"I could not forget you, Delia," he said.

Her eyes came up quickly, and she looked steadily, wonderingly at him.

"Was it necessary to say that?"

She was hurt--inexpressibly,--and she shrank. He saw that she misunderstood him; but he also saw that, on the face of it, the phrase was not complimentary. His reply was deeply kind, effective. There was a pause--and the great moment for them both passed. Something ought to have happened. It did not. If she had had that touch of abandon shown when she sang "The Waking of the Fire," Gaston might, even at this moment, have broken his promise to his uncle; but, somehow, he knew himself slipping away from her. With the tenderness he felt, he still knew that he was acting; imitating, reproducing other, better, moments with her. He felt the disrespect to her, but it could not be helped--it could not be helped.

He said that he would call and say good-bye to her and Mrs. Gasgoyne at four o'clock. Then he left. He went to his chambers, gave Jacques instructions, did some writing, and returned at four. Mrs. Gasgoyne had not come back. She had telegraphed that she would not be in for lunch. There was nothing remarkable in Gaston's and Delia's farewell. She thought he looked worn, and ought to have change, showing in every word that she trusted him, and was anxious that he should be, as she put it gaily, "comfy." She was composed. The cleverest men are blind in the matter of a woman's affections; and Gaston was only a mere man, after all. He thought that she had gone about as far in the way of feeling as she could go.

Nevertheless, in his hansom, he frowned, and said: "I oughtn't to go. But I'm choking here. I can't play the game an hour longer without a change. I'll come back all right. I'll meet her in the Mediterranean after my kick-up, and it'll be all O. K. Jacques and I will ride down through Spain to Gibraltar, and meet the Kismet there. I shall have got rid of this restlessness then, and I'll be glad enough to settle down, pose for throne and constitution, cultivate the olive branch, and have family prayers."

At eight o'clock he appeared at Ridley Court, and bade his grandfather and grandmother good-bye. They were full of pride, and showed their affection in indirect ways--Sir William most by offering his opinion on the Bill and quoting Gaston frequently; Lady Belward, by saying that next year she would certainly go up to town--she had not done so for five years! They both agreed that a scamper on the Continent would now be good for him. At nine o'clock he passed the rectory, on his way, strange to note, to the church. There was one light burning, but it was not in the study nor in Alice's window. He supposed they had not returned. He paused and thought. If anything happened, she should know. But what should happen? He shook his head. He moved on to the church. The doors were unlocked. He went in, drew out a little pocket-lantern, lit it, and walked up the aisle.

"A sentimental business this: I don't know why I do it," he thought.

He stopped at the tomb of Sir Gaston Belward, put his hand on it, and stood looking at it.

"I wonder if there is anything in it?!" he said aloud: "if he does influence me? if we've got anything to do with each other? What he did I seem to know somehow, more or less. A little dwarf up in my brain drops the nuts down now and then. Well, Sir Gaston Belward, what is going to be the end of all this? If we can reach across the centuries, why, good-night and goodbye to you. Good-bye."

He turned and went down the aisle. At the door a voice, a whispering voice, floated to him: "Good-bye."

He stopped short and listened. All was still. He walked up the aisle, and listened again.-Nothing! He stood before the tomb, looking at it curiously. He was pale, but collected. He raised the light above his head, and looked towards the altar.--Nothing! Then he went to the door again, and paused.--Nothing!

Outside he said

"I'd stake my life I heard it!"

A few minutes afterwards, a girl rose up from behind the organ in the chancel, and felt her way outside. It was Alice Wingfield, who had gone to the church to pray. It was her good-bye which had floated down to Gaston.