Volume III
Chapter XVII. The Man and the Woman Face the Intolerable
 

In a couple of hours they rounded Point de Leroily, and ran for the harbour. By hugging the quay in the channel to the left of the bar, they were sure of getting in, though the tide was low. The boat was docile to the lug-sail and the helm. As they were beating in they saw a large yacht running straight across a corner of the bar for the channel. It was Warren Gasgoyne's Kismet.

The Kismet had put into Audierne rather than try to pass Point du Raz at night. At Gibraltar a telegram had come telling of the painful sensation, and the yacht was instantly headed for England; Mrs. Gasgoyne crossing the Continent, Delia preferring to go back with her father--his sympathy was more tender. They had seen no newspapers, and they did not know that Gaston was at Audierne. Gasgoyne knowing, as all the world knew, that there was a bar at the mouth of the harbour, allowed himself, as he thought, sufficient room, but the wind had suddenly drawn ahead, and he was obliged to keep away. Presently the yacht took the ground with great force.

Gasgoyne put the helm hard down, but she would not obey. He tried at once to get in his sails, but the surf was running very strong, and presently a heavy sea broke clean over her. Then came confusion and dismay: the flapping of the wet, half-lowered sails, and the whipping of the slack ropes, making all effort useless. There was no chance of her- holding. Foot by foot she was being driven towards the rocks. Sailors stood motionless on the shore. The lifeboat would be of little use: besides, it could not arrive for some time.

Gaston had recognised the Kismet. He turned to Andree.

"There's danger, but perhaps we can do it. Will you go?"

She flushed.

"Have I ever been a coward, Gaston? Tell me what to do."

"Keep the helm firm, and act instantly on my orders."

Instead of coming round into the channel, he kept straight on past the lighthouse towards the yacht, until he was something to seaward of her. Then, luffing quickly, he dropped sail, let go the anchor, and unshipped the mast, while Andree got the oars into the rowlocks. It was his idea to dip under the yacht's stern, but he found himself drifting alongside, and in danger of dashing broadside on her. He got an oar and backed with all his strength towards the stern, the anchor holding well. Then he called to those on board to be ready to jump. Once in line with the Kismet's counter, he eased off the painter rapidly, and now dropped towards the stern of the wreck.

Gaston was quite cool. He did not now think of the dramatic nature of this meeting, apart from the physical danger. Delia also had recognised him, and guessed who the girl was. Not to respond to Gaston's call was her first instinct. But then, life was sweet. Besides, she had to think of others. Her father, too, was chiefly concerned for her safety and for his yacht. He had almost determined to get Delia on Gaston's boat, and himself take the chances with the Kismet; but his sailors dissuaded him, declaring that the chances were against succour.

The only greetings were words of warning and direction from Gaston. Presently there was an opportunity. Gaston called sharply to Delia, and she, standing ready, jumped. He caught her in his arms as she came. The boat swayed as the others leaped, and he held her close meanwhile. Her eyes closed, she shuddered and went white. When he put her down, she covered her face with her hands, trembling. Then, suddenly she came huddling in a heap, and burst into tears.

They slipped the painter, a sailor took Andree's place at the helm, the oars were got out, and they made over to the channel, grazing the bar once or twice, by reason of the now heavy load.

Warren Gasgoyne and Gaston had not yet spoken in the way of greeting. The former went to Delia now and said a few cheery words, but, from behind her handkerchief, she begged him to leave her alone for a moment.

"Nerves, all nerves, Mr. Belward," he said, turning towards Gaston. "But, then, it was ticklish-ticklish."

They did not shake hands. Gaston was looking at Delia, and he did not reply.

Mr. Gasgoyne continued:

"Nasty sea coming on--afraid to try Point du Raz. Of course we didn't know you were here."

He looked at Andree curiously. He was struck by the girl's beauty and force. But how different from Delia!

He suddenly turned, and said bluntly, in a low voice: "Belward, what a fool--what a fool! You had it all at your feet: the best--the very best."

Gaston answered quietly:

"It's an awkward time for talking. The rocks will have your yacht in half an hour."

Gasgoyne turned towards it.

"Yes, she'll get a raking fore and aft." Then, he added, suddenly: "Of course you know how we feel about our rescue. It was plucky of you."

"Pluckier in the girl," was the reply. "Brave enough," the honest rejoinder.

Gaston had an impulse to say, "Shall I thank her for you?" but he was conscious how little right he had to be ironical with Warren Gasgoyne, and he held his peace.

While the two were now turned away towards the Kismet, Andree came to Delia. She did not quite know how to comfort her, but she was a woman, and perhaps a supporting arm would do something.

"There, there," she said, passing a hand round her shoulder, "you are all right now. Don't cry!"

With a gasp of horror, Delia got to her feet, but swayed, and fell fainting--into Andree's arms.

She awoke near the landing-place, her father beside her. Meanwhile Andree had read the riddle. As Mr. Gasgoyne bathed Delia's face, and Gaston her wrists, and gave her brandy, she sat still and intent, watching. Tears and fainting! Would she--Andree-have given way like that in the same circumstances? No. But this girl--Delia--was of a different order: was that it? All nerves and sentiment! At one of those lunches in the grand world she had seen a lady burst into tears suddenly at some one's reference to Senegal. She herself had only cried four times, that she remembered; when her mother died; when her father was called a thief; when, one day, she suffered the first great shame of her life in the mountains of Auvergne; and the night when she waked a second time to her love for Gaston. She dared to call it love, though good Annette had called it a mortal sin.

What was to be done? The other woman must suffer.

The man was hers--hers for ever. He had said it: for ever. Yet her heart had a wild hunger for that something which this girl had and she had not. But the man was hers; she had won him away from this other.

Delia came upon the quay bravely, passing through the crowd of staring fishermen, who presently gave Gaston a guttural cheer. Three of them, indeed, had been drinking his health. They embraced him and kissed him, begging him to come with them for absinthe. He arranged the matter with a couple of francs.

Then he wondered what now was to be done. He could not insult the Gasgoynes by asking them to come to the chateau. He proposed the Hotel de France to Mr. Gasgoyne, who assented. It was difficult to separate here on the quay: they must all walk together to the hotel. Gaston turned to speak to Andree, but she was gone. She had saved the situation.

The three spoke little, and then but formally, as they walked to the hotel. Mr. Gasgoyne said that they would leave by train for Paris the next day, going to Douarnenez that evening. They had saved nothing from the yacht.

Delia did not speak. She was pale, composed now. In the hotel Mr. Gasgoyne arranged for rooms, while Gaston got some sailors together, and, in Mr. Gasgoyne's name, offered a price for the recovery of the yacht or of certain things in her. Then he went into the hotel to see if he could do anything further. The door of the sitting-room was open, and no answer coming to his knock, he entered.

Delia was standing in the window. Against her will her father had gone to find a doctor. Gaston would have drawn back if she had not turned round wearily to him.

Perhaps it were well to get it over now. He came forward. She made no motion.

"I hope you feel better?!" he said. "It was a bad accident."

"I am tired and shaken, of course," she responded. "It was very brave of you."

He hesitated, then said:

"We were more fortunate than brave."

He was determined to have Andree included. She deserved that; the wrong to Delia was not hers.

But she answered after the manner of a woman: "The girl--ah, yes, please thank her for us. What is her name?"

"She is known in Audierne as Madame Belward." The girl started. Her face had a cold, scornful pride. "The Bretons, then, have a taste for fiction?"

"No, they speak as they are taught."

"They understand, then, as little as I."

How proud, how ineffaceably superior she was!

"Be ignorant for ever," he answered quietly.

"I do not need the counsel, believe me."

Her hand trembled, though it rested against the window-trembled with indignation: the insult of his elopement kept beating up her throat in spite of her.

At that moment a servant knocked, entered, and said that a parcel had been brought for mademoiselle. It was laid upon the table. Delia, wondering, ordered it to be opened. A bundle of clothes was disclosed-- Andree's! Gaston recognised them, and caught his breath with wonder and confusion.

"Who has sent them?!" Delia said to the servant. "They come from the Chateau Ronan, mademoiselle."

Delia dismissed the servant.

"The Chateau Ronan?!" she asked of Gaston. "Where I am living."

"It is not necessary to speak of this?" She flushed.

"Not at all. I will have them sent back. There is a little shop near by where you can get what you may need."

Andree had acted according to her lights. It was not an olive-branch, but a touch of primitive hospitality. She was Delia's enemy at sight, but a woman must have linen.

Mr. Gasgoyne entered. Gaston prepared to go. "Is there anything more that I can do?!" he said, as it were, to both.

The girl replied. "Nothing at all, thank you." They did not shake hands.

Mr. Gasgoyne could not think that all had necessarily ended. The thing might be patched up one day yet. This affair with the dompteuse was mad sailing, but the man might round-to suddenly and be no worse for the escapade.

"We are going early in the morning," he said. "We can get along all right. Good-bye. When do you come to England?"

The reply was prompt. "In a few weeks."

He looked at both. The girl, seeing that he was going to speak further, bowed and left the room.

His eyes followed her. After a moment, he said firmly

"Mr. Gasgoyne, I am going to face all."

"To live it down, Belward?"

"I am going to fight it down."

"Well, there's a difference. You have made a mess of things, and shocked us all. I needn't say what more. It's done, and now you know what such things mean to a good woman--and, I hope also, to the father of a good woman."

The man's voice broke a little. He added:

"They used to come to swords or pistols on such points. We can't settle it in that way. Anyhow, you have handicapped us to-day." Then, with a burst of reproach, indignation, and trouble: "Great God, as if you hadn't been the luckiest man on earth! Delia, the estate, the Commons--all for a dompteuse!"

"Let us say nothing more," said Gaston, choking down wrath at the reference to Andree, but sorrowful, and pitying Mr. Gasgoyne. Besides, the man had a right to rail.

Soon after they parted courteously.

Gaston went to the chateau. As he came up the stone steps he met a procession--it was the feast-day of the Virgin--of priests and people and little children, filing up from the village and the sea, singing as they came. He drew up to the wall, stood upon the stone seat, and took off his hat while the procession passed. He had met the cure, first accidentally on the shore, and afterwards in the cure's house, finding much in common--he had known many priests in the North, known much good of them. The cure glanced up at him now as they passed, and a half-sad smile crossed his face. Gaston caught it as it passed. The cure read his case truly enough and gently enough too. In some wise hour he would plead with Gaston for the woman's soul and his own.

Gaston did not find Andree at the chateau. She had gone out alone towards the sea, Annette said, by a route at the rear of the village. He went also, but did not find her. As he came again to the quay he saw the Kismet beating upon the rocks--the sailors had given up any idea of saving her. He stood and watched the sea breaking over her, and the whole scene flashed back on him. He thought how easily he could be sentimental over the thing. But that was not his nature. He had made his bed, but he would not lie in it--he would carry it on his back. They all said that he had gone on the rocks. He laughed.

"I can turn that tide: I can make things come my way," he said. "All they want is sensation, it isn't morals that concerns them. Well, it give them sensation. They expect me to hide, and drop out of the game. Never--so help me Heaven! I'll play it so they'll forget this!"

He rolled and lighted a cigarette, and went again to the chateau. Dinner was ready--had been ready for some time. He sat down, and presently Andree came. There was a look in her face that he could not understand. They ate their dinner quietly, not mentioning the events of the afternoon.

Presently a telegram was brought to him. It read: "Come. My office, Downing Street, Friday. Expect you." It was signed "Faramond." At the same time came letters: from his grandfather, from Captain Maudsley. The first was stern, imperious, reproachful.--Shame for those that took him in and made him, a ruined reputation, a spoiled tradition: he had been but a heathen after all! There was only left to bid him farewell, and to enclose a cheque for two thousand pounds.

Captain Maudsley called him a fool, and asked him what he meant to do --hoped he would give up the woman at once, and come back. He owed something to his position as Master of the Hounds--a tradition that oughtn't to be messed about.

There it all was: not a word about radical morality or immorality; but the tradition of Family, the Commons, Master of the Hounds!

But there was another letter. He did not recognise the handwriting, and the envelope had a black edge. He turned it over and over, forgetting that Andree was watching him. Looking up, he caught her eyes, with their strange, sad look. She guessed what was in these letters. She knew English well enough to under stand them. He interpreted her look, and pushed them over.

"You may read them, if you wish; but I wouldn't, if I were you."

She read the telegram first, and asked who "Faramond" was. Then she read Sir William Belward's letter, and afterwards Captain Maudsley's.

"It has all come at once," she said: "the girl and these! What will you do? Give 'the woman' up for the honour of the Master of the Hounds?"

The tone was bitter, exasperating. Gaston was patient.

"What do you think, Andree?"

"It has only begun," she said. "Wait, King of Ys. Read that other letter."

Her eyes were fascinated by the black border. He opened it with a strange slowness. It began without any form of address, it had the superscription of a street in Manchester Square:

If you were not in deep trouble I would not write. But because I know that more hard things than kind will be said by others, I want to say what is in my heart, which is quick to feel for you. I know that you have sinned, but I pray for you every day, and I cannot believe that God will not answer. Oh! think of the wrong that you have done: of the wrong to the girl, to her soul's good. Think of that, and right the wrong in so far as you can. Oh, Gaston, my brother, I need not explain why I write thus. My grandfather, before he died, three weeks ago, told me that you know!--and I also have known ever since the day you saved the boy. Ah, think of one who would give years of her life to see you good and noble and happy. . . .

Then followed a deep, sincere appeal to his manhood, and afterwards a wish that their real relations should be made known to the world if he needed her, or if disaster came; that she might share and comfort his life, whatever it might be. Then again:

If you love her, and she loves you, and is sorry for what she has done, marry her and save her from everlasting shame. I am staying with my grandfather's cousin, the Dean of Dighbury, the father of the boy you saved. He is very kind, and he knows all. May God guide you aright, and may you believe that no one speaks more truthfully to you than your sorrowful and affectionate sister,

ALICE WINGFIELD.

He put the letter down beside him, made a cigarette, and poured out some coffee for them both. He was holding himself with a tight hand. This letter had touched him as nothing in his life had done since his father's death. It had nothing of noblesse oblige, but straight statement of wrong, as she saw it. And a sister without an open right to the title: the mere fidelity of blood! His father had brought this sorrowful life into the world and he had made it more sorrowful--poor little thing--poor girl!

"What are you going to do?!" asked Andree. "Do you go back--with Delia?"

He winced. Yet why should he expect of her too great refinement? She had not had a chance, she had not the stuff for it in her veins; she had never been taught. But behind it all was her passion--her love--for him.

"You know that's altogether impossible!" he answered.

"She would not take you back."

"Probably not. She has pride."

"Pride-chat! She'd jump at the chance!"

"That sounds rude, Andree; and it is contradictory."

"Rude! Well, I'm only a gipsy and a dompteuse!"

"Is that all, my girl?"

"That's all, now." Then, with a sudden change and a quick sob: "But I may be-- Oh, I can't say it, Gaston!" She hid her face for a moment on his shoulder. "My God!"

He got to his feet. He had not thought of that--of another besides themselves. He had drifted. A hundred ideas ran back and forth. He went to the window and stood looking out. Alice's letter was still in his fingers.

She came and touched his shoulder.

"Are you going to leave me, Gaston? What does that letter say?"

He looked at her kindly, with a protective tenderness.

"Read the letter, Andree," he said.

She did so, at first slowly, then quickly, then over and over again. He stood motionless in the window. She pushed the letter between his fingers. He did not turn. "I cannot understand everything, but what she says she means. Oh, Gaston, what a fool, what a fool you've been!"

After a moment, however, she threw her arms about him with animal-like fierceness.

"But I can't give you up--I can't." Then, with another of those sudden changes, she added, with a wild little laugh: "I can't, I can't, O Master of the Hounds!"

There came a knock at the door. Annette entered with a letter. The postman had not delivered it on his rounds, because the address was not correct. It was for madame. Andree took it, started at the handwriting, tore open the envelope, and read:

Zoug-Zoug congratulates you on the conquest of his nephew. Zoug- Zoug's name is not George Maur, as you knew him. Allah's blessing, with Zoug-Zoug's!

What fame you've got now--dompteuse, and the sweet scandal!

The journalist had found out Zoug-Zoug at last, and Ian Belward had talked with the manager of the menagerie.

Andree shuddered and put the letter in her pocket. Now she understood why she had shrunk from Gaston that first night and those first days in Audierne: that strange sixth sense, divination--vague, helpless prescience. And here, suddenly, she shrank again, but with a different thought. She hurriedly left the room and went to her chamber.

In a few moments he came to her. She was sitting upright in a chair, looking straight before her. Her lips were bloodless, her eyes were burning. He came and took her hands.

"What is it, Andree?!" he said. "That letter, what is it?"

She looked at him steadily. "You'll be sorry if you read it." But she gave it to him. He lighted a candle, put it on a little table, sat down, and read. The shock went deep; so deep that it made no violent sign on the surface. He spread the letter out before him. The candle showed his face gone grey and knotted with misery. He could bear all the rest: fight, do all that was right to the coming mother of his child; but this made him sick and dizzy. He felt as he did when he waked up in Labrador, with his wife's dead lips pressed to his neck. It was strange too that Andree was as quiet as he: no storm-misery had gone deep with her also.

"Do you care to tell me about it?!" he asked.

She sat back in her chair, her hands over her eyes. Presently, still sitting so, she spoke.

Ian Belward had painted them and their van in the hills of Auvergne, and had persuaded her to sit for a picture. He had treated her courteously at first. Her father was taken ill suddenly, and died. She was alone for a few days afterwards. Ian Belward came to her. Of that miserable, heart-rending, cruel time,--the life-sorrow of a defenceless girl,-- Gaston heard with a hard sort of coldness. The promised marriage was a matter for the man's mirth a week later. They came across three young artists from Paris--Bagshot, Fancourt, and another--who camped one night beside them. It was then she fully realised the deep shame of her position. The next night she ran away and joined a travelling menagerie. The rest he knew. When she had ended there was silence for a time, broken only by one quick gasping sob from Gaston. The girl sat still as death, her eyes on him intently.

"Poor Andree! Poor girl!" he said at last. She sighed pitifully.

"What shall we do?!" she asked. He scarcely spoke above a whisper:

"There must be time to think. I will go to London."

"You will come back?"

"Yes--in five days, if I live."

"I believe you," she said quietly. "You never lied to me. When you return we will know what to do." Her manner was strangely quiet. "A little trading schooner goes from Douarnenez to England to-morrow morning," she went on. "There is a notice of it in the market-place. That would save the journey to Paris.'"

"Yes, that will do very well. I will start for Douarnenez at once."

"Will Jacques go too?"

"No."

An hour later he passed Delia and her father on the road to Douarnenez. He did not recognise them, but Delia, seeing him, shrank away in a corner of the carriage, trembling.

Jacques had wished to go to London with Gaston, but had been denied. He was to care for the horses. When he saw his master ride down over the place, waving a hand back towards him, he came in and said to Andree:

"Madame, there is trouble--I do not know what. But I once said I would never leave him, wherever he go or whatever he did. Well, I never will leave him--or you, madame--no."

"That is right, that is right," she said earnestly; "you must never leave him, Jacques. He is a good man."

When Jacques had gone she shut herself up in her room. She was gathering all her life into the compass of an hour. She felt but one thing: the ruin of her happiness and Gaston's.

"He is a good man," she said over and over to herself. And the other-- Ian Belward? All the barbarian in her was alive.

The next morning she started for Paris, saying to Jacques and Annette that she would return in four days.