A Question of Trust by Ethel M. Dell
After he was gone, Stephanie sat up and gazed for a long, long time at the scud of water leaping past the porthole.
She felt stunned by the events of the past twenty-four hours. She could only review them with a numbed amazement. The long suspense had ended so suddenly and so terribly. She could hardly begin to realise that it was indeed over, that the storm she had foreseen for so long had burst at last, sweeping away the Governor in headlong overthrow, and leaving her bruised and battered indeed, but still alive. She had never thought to survive him. She had not loved him, but her lot had been so inextricably bound up with his, that she had never seriously contemplated the possibility of life without him. What would happen to her? she asked herself. How would it end?
There was no denying the fact that, however inexplicable Pierre's treatment might be, she was completely and irretrievably his prisoner.
There was no one to deliver her from him; no one to know or care what became of her. Her importance had crumbled to nothing so far as the world was concerned. She had simply ceased to count. What did he mean to do with her? Why had he refused to discuss the future?
Gradually, with a certain reluctance, her thoughts came down to her recent interview with him, and again the feeling that he had been trying to convey something that she had failed to grasp possessed her. Why had he warned her against attempting to define her position? What had those last words of his meant?
One thing at least was certain. Though he had done little to reassure her, she must make a determined effort to overcome her fear of the man. She must not again shrink openly in his presence. She must feign confidence, though she felt it not. Something that he had said a week before on the occasion of his extraordinary proposal of marriage recurred to her at this point with curious force.
"It is all a question of trust," he had said, and she recalled the faint, derisive smile with which he had spoken. "Whatever you expect, that you will receive." The words dwelt in her memory with a strange persistence. She had a feeling that they meant a good deal. It was possible--surely it was possible--that if she trusted him, he might prove himself to be trustworthy. If only her nerves were equal to the task! If only the terrible memory of his kiss could be blotted for ever and ever from her mind!
She rose at last and began to move about the little state cabin. It was furnished luxuriously in every detail--almost, she told herself with a shiver, as though for a bride. Catching sight of her reflection in a mirror, she stared aghast, scarcely recognising herself in the wild-eyed, haggard woman who met her gaze. Small wonder that she had deemed him repressive, she told herself, for she looked like a demented creature.
That astounding glimpse did more for her than any mental effort. Quite calmly she set to work to render her appearance more normal, and, crippled though she was, she succeeded at length in attaining a fairly satisfactory result. At least she did not think that a masculine eye would detect anything amiss.
This achieved, she finally drew her travelling cloak about her and went to the door. It resisted her effort to open, but in a moment she heard a step on the other side and the withdrawal of a bolt.
Pierre opened the door for her, and stood back for her to pass. But she remained on the threshold.
"Monsieur Dumaresq, why did you lock me in?" she asked him, with something of her old stateliness of demeanour, which had made men deem her proud.
His grey eyes comprehended her in a single glance. He made her his curt, British bow.
"You were overwrought, Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said. "I was not sure of your intentions. But I see that the precaution was unnecessary."
She understood him, and a faint flush rose in her pale face.
"Quite," she responded. "I have come to my senses, monsieur, and I know how to value your protection. I shall not seek that means of escape so long as you are safeguarding me."
She smiled with the words, a brave and steadfast smile, and extended her hand to him.
The gesture was queenly, but the instant his fingers closed upon it she quivered uncontrollably from head to foot. A sudden mist descended before her eyes, and she groped out blindly for support. Her overtaxed nerves had betrayed her again.
"Come and sit down, mademoiselle," a quiet voice said; and a steady arm impelled her forward. "There is something of a swell to-night. I am afraid you feel it."
So courteous was the tone that she almost gasped her astonishment. She sank into a chair, and made a desperate effort to regain her self-control.
"You are very kind, monsieur," she said, not very steadily. "No doubt I shall become accustomed to it."
"I do not think you are quite fit for this," he said gravely.
She looked up at him with more confidence.
"I am really stronger than you think," she said. "And I wanted to speak to you on the subject of our destination."
She fancied that he stiffened a little at the words, but he merely said:
"Will you not sit down," she said, "and tell me where the yacht is going?"
He sat down on the edge of the table. There was undeniable restlessness in his attitude.
"We are running due west at the present moment," he said.
"With what object?" she asked.
"With no object, mademoiselle," he rejoined, "except to keep out of reach of our enemies."
"You have left Maritas for good?" she asked.
He uttered a short laugh.
"Certainly. I have nothing to go back for."
"And you are indifferent," she questioned, with slight hesitation, "as to the direction you take?"
"No, I am not indifferent," he answered curtly.
She was silent. His manner puzzled her, made her afraid in spite of herself.
There followed a short pause, then he turned slightly and looked at her.
"Have you any particular wishes upon the subject?" he asked.
Her reply was very low.
"Let me hear them," said Pierre.
"I should like," she said slowly, "if it be possible, to go to England. I have relations there who might help me."
"Help you, mademoiselle?"
His tone sounded harsh.
"To earn my living," she answered simply.
His brows met suddenly.
"It is a far cry to England," he observed.
"I know it," she said. "I am counting upon your kindness."
"I see," said Pierre. "I am to take you there, and--leave you. Is that it?"
She bent her head.
"If you will, monsieur."
"And if I will not?" he said.
She was silent.
He stood up abruptly, and walked to the farther end of the saloon. When he came back his face was set and grim. He halted in front of her.
"I am to do this thing for nothing?" he said. And it seemed to her that, though uttered quietly, his words came through clenched teeth.
Again wild panic was at her heart, but with all her strength she held it back.
"You offered to serve me, monsieur," she reminded him.
"Even a servant expects to be paid," he rejoined curtly.
"But I have nothing to offer you," she said.
She saw the grey eyes glitter as steel in sudden sunshine. Their brightness was intolerable. She turned her own away.
"Does it not occur to you, Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said, "that your life is more my property than your own at the present moment? Have I no claim to be consulted as to its disposal?"
"None, monsieur," she made answer quickly. "None whatever."
"And yet," he said, "you asked me to save you when--had you preferred it--I would have died with you."
She was silent, remembering with bitterness her wild cry for deliverance.
He waited a little. Then:
"You may have nothing to offer me, Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said, "but, by heaven, you shall take nothing away."
She heard a deep menace in his voice that was like the growl of an angry beast. She shuddered inwardly as she listened, but outwardly she remained calm. She even, after a few moments, mustered strength to rise and face him.
"What is it that you want of me, Monsieur Dumaresq?" she asked. "How can I purchase your services?"
He flung back his head abruptly. She thought that he was going to utter his scoffing laugh. But it did not come. Instead, he looked at her, looked at her long and piercingly, while she stood erect and waited.
At last: "The price for my services," he said deliberately, "is that you marry me as soon as we reach England."
"Marry you!" In spite of her utmost resolution she started, and slightly shrank. "You still desire that?"
"I still desire it," he said.
"And if I refuse?" she questioned, her voice very low.
"You will not refuse," he returned, with conviction. "You dare not refuse."
She stood silent.
"And that being so," said Pierre, with a certain doggedness peculiarly at variance with his fierce and headlong nature, "that being so, Mademoiselle Stephanie, would it not be wiser for you to yield at once?"
"To yield, monsieur?"
Her eyes sought his for the fraction of a second. He was still closely watching her.
"To give me your promise," he said. "It is all I shall ask of you. I shall be satisfied with that."
"And what have you to offer in exchange?" she said.
A strange expression, that was almost a smile, flitted over his hard face.
"I will give you my friendship," he said, "no more, no less."
But still she hesitated, till suddenly, with a gesture wholly arrogant, he held out his hand.
"Trust me," he said, "and I will be trustworthy."
She knew it for a definite promise, however insolently expressed. It was plain that he meant what he said. It was plain that he desired to win her confidence. And in a measure she was reassured. His actions testified to a patience of which she had not deemed him capable.
Slowly, in unconscious submission to his will, she laid her hand in his.
"And afterwards, monsieur?" she said. "Shall I be able to trust you then?"
He leaned slightly towards her, looking more closely into her face.
Then: "All my life, Stephanie," he said, and before she realised his intention he had pressed her hand to his lips with the action of a man who seals an oath.