Volume III
Chapter XVIII. "Return, O Shulamite!"
 

Almost the first person that Gaston recognised in London was Cluny Vosse. He had been to Victoria Station to see a friend off by the train, and as he was leaving, Gaston and he recognised each other. The lad's greeting was a little shy until he saw that Gaston was cool and composed as usual --in effect, nothing had happened. Cluny was delighted, and opened his mind:

"They'd kicked up a deuce of a row in the papers, and there'd been no end of talk; but he didn't see what all the babble was about, and he'd said so again and again to Lady Dargan."

"And Lady Dargan, Cluny?!" asked Gaston quietly. Cluny could not be dishonest, though he would try hard not to say painful things.

"Well, she was a bit fierce at first--she's a woman, you know; but afterwards she went like a baby; cried, and wouldn't stay at Cannes any longer: so we're back in town. We're going down to the country, though, to-morrow or next day."

"Do you think I had better call, Cluny?!" Gaston ventured suggestively.

"Yes, yes, of course," Cluny replied, with great eagerness, as if to justify the matter to himself. Gaston smiled, said that he might,-- he was only in town for a few days, and dropped Cluny in Pall Mall. Cluny came running back.

"I say, Belward, things'll come around just as they were before, won't they? You're going to cut in, and not let 'em walk on you?"

"Yes, I'm 'going to cut in,' Cluny boy." Cluny brightened.

"And of course it isn't all over with Delia, is it?" He blushed.

Gaston reached out and dropped a hand on Cluny's shoulder.

"I'm afraid it is all over, Cluny." Cluny spoke without thinking.

"I say, it's rough on her, isn't it?"

Then he was confused, hurriedly offered Gaston a cigarette, a hasty good- bye was said, and they parted. Gaston went first to Lord Faramond. He encountered inquisition, cynical humour, flashes of sympathy, with a general flavour of reproach. The tradition of the Commons! Ah, one way only: he must come back alone--alone--and live it down. Fortunately, it wasn't an intrigue--no matter of divorce--a dompteuse, he believed. It must end, of course, and he would see what could be done. Such a chance --such a chance as he had had! Make it up with his grandfather, and reverse the record--reverse the record: that was the only way. This meeting must, of course, be strictly between themselves. But he was really interested for him, for his people, and for the tradition of the Commons.

"I am Master of the Hounds too," said Gaston dryly. Lord Faramond caught the meaning, and smiled grimly.

Then came Gaston's decision--he would come back--not to live the thing down, but to hold his place as long as he could: to fight.

Lord Faramond shrugged a shoulder. "Without her?"

"I cannot say that."

"With her, I can promise nothing--nothing. You cannot fight it so. No one man is stronger than massed opinion. It is merely a matter of pressure. No, no; I can promise nothing in that case."

The Premier's face had gone cold and disdainful. Why should a clever man like Belward be so infatuated? He rose, Gaston thanked him for the meeting, and was about to go, when the Prime Minister, tapping his shoulder kindly, said:

"Mr. Belward, you are not playing to the rules of the game." He waved his hand towards the Chamber of the House. "It is the greatest game in the world. She must go! Do not reply. You will come back without her --good-bye!"

Then came Ridley Court. He entered on Sir William and Lady Belward without announcement. Sir William came to his feet, austere and pale. Lady Belward's fingers trembled on the lace she held. They looked many years older. Neither spoke his name, nor did they offer their hands. Gaston did not wince, he had expected it. He owed these old people something. They lived according to their lights, they had acted righteously as by their code, they had used him well--well always.

"Will you hear the whole story?!" he said. He felt that it would be best to tell them all. "Can it do any good?!" asked Sir William. He looked towards his wife.

"Perhaps it is better to hear it," she murmured. She was clinging to a vague hope.

Gaston told the story plainly, briefly, as he had told his earlier history. Its concision and simplicity were poignant. From the day he first saw Andree in the justice's room till the hour when she opened Ian Belward's letter, his tale went. Then he paused.

"I remember very well," Sir William said, with painful meditation: "a strange girl, with a remarkable face. You pleaded for her father then. Ah, yes, an unhappy case!"

"There is more?!" asked Lady Belward, leaning on her cane. She seemed very frail.

Then with a terrible brevity Gaston told them of his uncle, of the letter to Andree: all, except that Andree was his wife. He had no idea of sparing Ian Belward now. A groan escaped Lady Belward.

"And now--now, what will you do?!" asked the baronet.

"I do not know. I am going back first to Andree." Sir William's face was ashy.

"Impossible!"

"I promised, and I will go back." Lady Belward's voice quivered:

"Stay, ah, stay, and redeem the past! You can, you can outlive it."

Always the same: live it down!

"It is no use," he answered; "I must return."

Then in a few words he thanked them for all, and bade them good-bye. He did not offer his hand, nor did they. But at the door he heard Lady Belward say in a pleading voice:

"Gaston!"

He returned. She held out her hand.

"You must not do as your father did," she said. "Give the woman up, and come back to us. Am I nothing to you--nothing?"

"Is there no other way?!" he asked, gravely, sorrowfully.

She did not reply. He turned to his grandfather. "There is no other way," said the old man, sternly. Then in a voice almost shrill with pain and indignation, he cried out as he had never done in his life: "Nothing, nothing, nothing but disgrace! My God in heaven! a lion-tamer--a gipsy! An honourable name dragged through the mire! Go back," he said grandly; "go back to the woman and her lions--savages, savages, savages!"

"Savages after the manner of our forefathers," Gaston answered quietly. "The first Gaston showed us the way. His wife was a strolling player's daughter. Good-bye, sir."

Lady Belward's face was in her hands. "Good-bye-grandmother," he said at the door, and then he was gone.

At the outer door the old housekeeper stepped forward, her gloomy face most agitated.

"Oh, sir, oh, sir, you will come back again? Oh, don't go like your father!"

He suddenly threw an arm about her shoulder, and kissed her on the cheek.

"I'll come back--yes I'll come back here--if I can. Good-bye, Hovey."

In the library Sir William and Lady Belward sat silent for a time. Presently Sir William rose, and walked up and down. He paused at last, and said, in a strange, hesitating voice, his hands chafing each other:

"I forgot myself, my dear. I fear I was violent. I would like to ask his pardon. Ah, yes, yes!"

Then he sat down and took her hand, and held it long in the silence.

"It all feels so empty--so empty," she said at last, as the tower-clock struck hollow on the air.

The old man could not reply, but he drew her close to him, and Hovey, from the door, saw his tears dropping on her white hair.

Gaston went to Manchester Square. He half dreaded a meeting with Alice, and yet he wished it. He did not find her. She had gone to Paris with her uncle, the servant said. He got their address. There was little left to do but to avoid reporters, two of whom almost forced themselves in upon him. He was to go back to Douarnenez by the little boat that brought him, and at seven o'clock in the morning he watched the mists of England recede.

He chanced to put his hand into a light overcoat which he had got at his chambers before he started. He drew out a paper, the one discovered in the solicitor's office in London. It was an ancient deed of entail of the property, drawn by Sir Gaston Belward, which, through being lost, was never put into force. He was not sure that it had value. If it had, all chance of the estate was gone for him; it would be his uncle's. Well, what did it matter? Yes, it did matter: Andree! For her? No, not for her. He would play straight. He would take his future as it came: he would not drop this paper into the water.

He smiled bitterly, got an envelope at a publichouse on the quay, wrote a few words in pencil on the document, and in a few moments it was on its way to Sir William Belward, who when he received it said:

"Worthless, quite worthless, but he has an honest mind--an honest mind!"

Meanwhile, Andree was in Paris. Leaving her bag at the Gare Montparnasse, she had gone straight to Ian Belward's house. She had lived years in the last few hours. She had had no sleep on the journey, and her mind had been strained unbearably. It had, however, a fixed idea, which shuttled in and out in a hundred shapes, but ever pointing to one end. She had determined on a painful thing--the only way.

She reached the house, and was admitted. In answer to questions, she had an appointment with monsieur. He was not within. Well, she would wait. She was motioned into the studio. She was outwardly calm. The servant presently recognised her. He had been to the menagerie, and he had seen her with Gaston. His manner changed instantly. Could he do anything? No, nothing. She was left alone. For a long time she sat motionless, then a sudden restlessness seized her. Her brain seemed a burning atmosphere, in which every thought, every thing showed with an unbearable intensity. The terrible clearness of it all--how it made her eyes, her heart ache! Her blood was beating hard against every pore. She felt that she would go mad if he did not come. Once she took out the stiletto she had concealed in the bosom of her cloak, and looked at it. She had always carried it when among the beasts at the menagerie, but had never yet used it.

Time passed. She felt ill; she became blind with pain. Presently the servant entered with a telegram. His master would not be back until the next morning.

Very well, she would return in the morning. She gave him money. He was not to say that she had called. In the Boulevard Montparnasse she took a cab. To the menagerie, she said to the driver. How strange it all looked: the Invalides, Notre Dame, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde! The innumerable lights were so near and yet so far: it was a kink of the brain, but she seemed withdrawn from them, not they from her. A woman passed with a baby in her arms. The light from a kiosk fell on it as she passed. What a pretty, sweet face it had. Why did it not have a pretty, delicate Breton cap? As she went on, that kept beating in her brain--why did not the child wear a dainty Breton cap--a white Breton cap? The face kept peeping from behind the lights--without the dainty Breton cap.

The menagerie at last. She dismissed the cab, went to a little door at the back of the building, and knocked. She was admitted. The care-taker exclaimed with pleasure. She wished to visit the animals? He would go with her; and he picked up a light. No, she would go alone. How were Hector and Balzac, and Antoinette? She took the keys. How cool and pleasant they were to the touch! The steel of the lantern too--how exquisitely soothing! He must lie down again: she would wake him as she came out. No, no, she would go alone.

She went to cage after cage. At last to that of the largest lions. There was a deep answering purr to her soft call. As she entered, she saw a heap moving in one corner--a lion lately bought. She spoke, and there was an angry growl. She wheeled to leave the cage, but her cloak caught the door, and it snapped shut.

Too late. A blow brought her to the ground. She had made no cry, and now she lay so still!

The watchman had fallen asleep again. In the early morning he remembered. The greyish golden dawn was creeping in, when he found her with two lions protecting, keeping guard over her, while another crouched snarling in a corner. There was no mark on her face.

The point of the stiletto which she had carried in her cloak had pierced her when she fell.

In a hotel near the Arc de Triomphe Alice Wingfield read the news. It was she who tenderly prepared the body for burial, who telegraphed to Gaston at Audierne, getting a reply from Jacques that he was not yet back from London. The next day Andree was found a quiet place in the cemetery at Montmartre.

In the evening Alice and her relative started for Audierne.

                    .........................

On board the Fleur d'Orange Gaston struggled with the problem. There was one thought ever coming. He shut it out at this point, and it crept in at that. He remembered when two men, old friends, discovered that one, unknowingly, had been living with the wife of the other. There was one too many--the situation was impossible. The men played a game of cards to see which should die. But they did not reckon with the other factor. It was the woman who died.

Was not his own situation far worse? With his uncle living--but no, no, it was out of the question! Yet Ian Belward had been shameless, a sensualist, who had wrecked the girl's happiness and his. He himself had done a mad thing in the eyes of the world, but it was more mad than wicked. Had this happened in the North with another man, how easily would the problem have been solved!

Go to his uncle and tell him that he must remove himself for ever from the situation? Demand it, force it? Impossible--this was Europe.

They arrived at Douarnenez. The diligence had gone. A fishing-boat was starting for Audierne. He decided to go by it. Breton fishermen are usually shy of storm to foolishness, and one or two of the crew urged the drunken skipper not to start, for there were signs of a south-west wind, too friendly to the Bay des Trepasses. The skipper was, however, cheerfully reckless, and growled down objection.

The boat came on with a sweet wind off the land for a time. Suddenly, when in the neighbourhood of Point du Raz, the wind drew ahead very squally, with rain in gusts out of the south-west. The skipper put the boat on the starboard tack, close-hauled and close-reefed the sails, keeping as near the wind as possible, with the hope of weathering the rocky point at the western extremity of the Bay des Trepasses. By that time there was a heavy sea running; night came on, and the weather grew very thick. They heard the breakers presently, but they could not make out the Point. Old sailor as he was, and knowing as well as any man the perilous ground, the skipper lost his drunken head this time, and presently lost his way also in the dark and murk of the storm.

At eight o'clock she struck. She was thrown on her side, a heavy sea broke over her, and they were all washed off. No one raised a cry. They were busy fighting Death.

Gaston was a strong swimmer. It did not occur to him that perhaps this was the easiest way out of the maze. He had ever been a fighter. The seas tossed him here and there. He saw faces about him for an instant-- shaggy wild Breton faces--but they dropped away, he knew not where. The current kept driving him inshore. As in a dream, he could hear the breakers--the pumas on their tread-mill of death. How long would it last? How long before he would be beaten upon that tread-mill--fondled to death by those mad paws? Presently dreams came-kind, vague, distant dreams. His brain flew like a drunken dove to far points of the world and back again. A moment it rested. Andree! He had made no provision for her, none at all. He must live, he must fight on for her, the homeless girl, his wife.

He fought on and on. No longer in the water, as it seemed to him. He had travelled very far. He heard the clash of sabres, the distant roar of cannon, the beating of horses' hoofs--the thud-thud, tread-tread of an army. How reckless and wild it was! He stretched up his arm to strike- what was it? Something hard that bruised: then his whole body was dashed against the thing. He was back again, awake. With a last effort he drew himself up on a huge rock that stands lonely in the wash of the bay. Then he cried out, "Andree!" and fell senseless--safe.

The storm went down. The cold, fast-travelling moon came out, saw the one living thing in that wild bay, and hurried on into the dark again; but came and went so till morning, playing hide-and-seek with the man and his Ararat.

Daylight saw him, wet, haggard, broken, looking out over the waste of shaken water. Upon the shore glared the stone of the vanished City of Ys in the warm sun, and the fierce pumas trod their grumbling way. Sea- gulls flew about the quiet set figure, in whose brooding eyes there were at once despair and salvation.

He was standing between two worlds. He had had his great crisis, and his wounded soul rested for a moment ere he ventured out upon the highways again. He knew not how it was, but there had passed into him the dignity of sorrow and the joy of deliverance at the same time. He saw life's responsibilities clearer, duties swam grandly before him. It was a large dream, in which, for the time, he was not conscious of those troubles which, yesterday, had clenched his hands and knotted his forehead. He had come a step higher in the way of life, and into his spirit had flowed a new and sobered power. His heart was sore, but his mind was lifted up. The fatal wrangle of the pumas there below, the sound of it, would be in his ears for ever, but he had come above it; the searching vigour of the sun entered into his bones.

He knew that he was going back to England--to ample work and strong days, but he did not know that he was going alone. He did not know that Andree was gone forever; that she had found her true place: in his undying memory.

So intent was he, that at first he did not see a boat making into the bay towards him.