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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 460

CHAPTER X

THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION

SULLENLY, persistently, the rain came down. In the harbour the wash was just sufficient to make the ravelled fruit‐baskets, the shredded vegetables, the crusts and offal thrown out from the galleys, heave and sway upon the oily surface of the water, while screaming gulls dropped greedily upon the floating refuse, and rising, circled over the black, liquid lanes and open spaces between the hulls of the many ships. But it was insufficient to lift the yacht, tied up to the southern quay of the Porto Grande. She lay there inert and in somewhat sorry plight under the steady downpour. For the moment all the winsome devilry of a smart, sea‐going craft was dead in her; and she sulked, ashamed through all her eight hundred tons of wood and iron, copper, brass, and steel. For she was coaling overdeck, and was grimy from stem to stern. While, arrayed in the cast clothes of all Europe, tattered, undersized, gesticulating, the human scum of Naples swarmed up the steep, narrow planks from the inky lighters and in over her side.

“Beastly dirty job this. Shan’t get her paint clean under a page: 461 week!” the first mate grumbled to his companion, the second mate—a dark‐haired, dreamy‐eyed, West‐country lad, but just out of his teens.

The two officers, in dripping oilskins, stood at the gangway checking the tally of coal‐baskets as they came on board. Just now there was a pause in the black procession, as an empty lighter sheered off, making room for a full one to come alongside, thus rendering conversation momentarily possible.

“Pity the Boss couldn’t have stayed on shore till we were through with it and cleaned up a bit,” the speaker continued. “Makes the old man no end waxy to have anyone on board when the yacht’s like she is. I don’t blame him. She’s as neat and pretty as a white daisy in a green pasture when she’s away to sea. And now, poor little soul, she’s a regular slut.”

“I know I’d ’ave stayed ashore fast enough if I was the Boss,” the boy said, half wistfully. “That villa of his is like a piece of poetry. I keep on saying over to myself how it looks.”

“Oh! it’s not so bad for foreign parts,” the senior officer replied. “And you’re young yet and soft, Penberthy. You’ll come off that presently. England’s best for houses, town and country; and most other things—women, and fights, and even sunshine, for when you do get sunshine at home there’s no spite in it.—Hi! there, you, ganger,” he shouted suddenly, and resentfully, leaning out over the bulwarks, “hurry ’em up a bit, can’t you? You don’t suppose I mean to stand here till the second anniversary of the Day of Judgment, watching your blithering, chicken‐shanked macaronies suck rotten oranges, do you? Start ’em up again. Whatever are you waiting for, man? Start ’em up, I say.”

The boy’s dreamy eyes, full of unwritten verse, dwelt with a curious indifference upon the broken procession of ascending, black figures. He had but lately joined, and to him both the fine vessel and her owner were invested with a certain romance.

“What was the fancy for calling the yacht the Reprieve?” he asked presently.

“Wait till you’ve had the chance to take a good look at Sir Richard, and you’ll answer your question yourself,” the other man answered oracularly. Then he broke out again into sustained invective:—“Hold up there, you little fool of a tightrope‐dancing, bella Napoli gorilla, and don’t go dropping good, honest, Welsh steam‐coal overboard into your confounded, stinking, local sewer! I don’t care to see any of your blamed posturings, don’t flatter yourself. Hold up your grimacing, great‐grandson of a lousy she‐ape, can’t you, and walk straight.—Take page: 462 him all round Sir Richard Calmady’s the best Boss I ever sailed with—one of the sternest, but the civilest too.—Shove ’em along, ganger, will you? Shove ’em along, I say.—He’s one of the few men I’ve loved, I’m not ashamed to say it, Mr. Penberthy, and about the only one I ever remember to have feared, in all my life.”

Meanwhile, if the scene to seaward was cheerless, that to landward offered but small improvement. For the murk of low‐brooding cloud and falling rain blotted out the Castel S. Elmo, and the Capo di Monte and Pizzafalcone heights. Even the Castello del’Ovo down on the shore line, comparatively near at hand, loomed up but a denser mass of indigo‐grey amid the all obtaining greyness. The tall multi‐coloured, many‐shuttered houses fronting the quays—restaurants, cafés, money‐changers’ bureaux, ships’ chandlers, and slop‐shops—looked tawdry and degraded as a clown’s painted face seen by daylight. Thick, malodorous vapours arose from the squalid streets, lying back on the level, and from the crowded shipping of the port. These hung in the stagnant air, about the forest of masts and the funnels of steamers. And the noise of the place was as that of Bedlam let loose.—The long‐drawn, chattering rush of the coal pitched from the baskets down the echoing, iron shoots. The grate and scream of saws cutting through blocks of stone and marble. The grind of heavy wheels upon the broken, irregular flags. The struggling clatter of hoofs, lashing of whips, squeal of mules, savage voices raised in cries and imprecations. The clank and roar of machinery. The repeated bellowing of a great liner, blowing off steam as she took up her berth in the outer harbour. The shattering rattle of the chains of a steam crane, when the monster iron‐arm swung round seeking or depositing its burden and the crank ran out in harsh anger, as it seemed, and defiance. And through all this, as undercurrent, the confused clamour of the ever‐shifting, ever‐present crowd, and the small, steady drip of the rain. Squalid, sordid, brutal even, the coarse actualities of her trade and her poverty alike disclosed, her fictions and her foulness uncondoned by reconciling sunshine, Naples had declined from radiant goddess to common drab.

It was in this character that Richard Calmady, driving yesterday and for the first time through the streets at noon, had been fated to see his so‐fondly‐idealised city. It was in this character that he apprehended it again to‐day, waiting in his deck‐cabin until cessation of the rain and on‐coming of the friendly dusk should render it not wholly odious to sit out on deck. The hours lagged, and into even this bright and usually spotless apartment page: 463 —with its shining, white walls, its dark, blue leather and polished, mahogany fittings—the coal dust penetrated. It rimmed the edge of the books neatly ranged on the racks. It smirched the charts laid out on the square locker‐table below. It drifted in at the cabin windows, along with the babel of sound and the all‐pervading stench of the port. This was, in itself, sufficiently distasteful, sufficiently depressing. And to Richard, just now, the disgust of it came with the heightened sensibility of physical illness, and as accompaniment to an immense private shame and immense self‐condemnation, a conviction of outlawry and a desolation passing speech. He looked for comfort, for promise of restoration, and found none, in things material or things intellectual, in others or in himself. For his mind, always prone to apprehend by images rather than by words, and to advance by analogy rather than by argument, discovered in surrounding aspects and surrounding circumstance a rather hideously apt parable and illustration of its present state. Just as this seemingly fair city was proven, on intimate acquaintance, repulsive beyond the worst he had ever feared and earnestly refused to know of it, so a certain fair woman, upon whom, since boyhood, his best, most chivalrous, most unselfish, affections had centred, was proven—herself, moreover, flagrantly contributing to that proving—vile beyond all that rumour, heard and passionately denied by him, had ever ventured to whisper concerning her. Nor was the misery of this revelation lessened by the knowledge that his own part in it all had been very base. He had sinned before. He would sin again probably. Richard had long ceased to regard these matters from a strictly puritanic standpoint. But this particular sinning was different to any that had gone before, or which could come after it. For it partook—so at least, it now appeared to him—of the nature of sacrilege, since he had sinned against his ideal, degrading that to gross uses which he had agreed with himself to hold sacred, defiling it and, thereby, very horribly defiling himself.

And this disgrace of their relation, his own and hers, the inherent abomination of it all and its inherent falsity, had been forced home on him with a certain violence of directness just in the common course of daily happenings. For among the letters, brought to him along with his first breakfast yesterday after that night of secret licence, had been three of serious import. One was from Lady Calmady; and that he put aside with a certain anger, calling himself unwilling, knowing himself unfit, to read it. Another he tore open. The handwriting was unknown to him. He began reading it in bewilderment. Then he understood.

page: 464

“MONSIEUR,”—it ran,—“You are in process of exterminating me. But, since I have reason to believe that no sufficient opportunity has been afforded you of realising the enormity of your conduct, I rally the profoundness of nobility which I discover within me‐ I calm myself. I go further, I explain. Living in retirement, you may not have learned that I am in Naples. I followed your cousin here—Madame de Vallorbes. My connection with her represents the supreme passion of my passionate youth. At once a frenzy and an anodyne, I have found in it the inspiration of my genius in its later development. This work must not be put a stop to. It is too majestic, it is weighted with too serious consequences to the whole of thinking France, of thinking Europe. A less experienced woman cannot satisfy the extravagance of my desires, the demands of my all‐consuming imagination. The reverence with which a person, such as yourself, must regard commanding talent, the concessions he must be willing to make to its necessities, are without limit. This I cannot doubt that you will admit. The corollary is obvious. Either, monsieur, you will immediately invite me to reside with you at your villa—thereby securing for yourself daily intercourse with a nature of distinguished merit—or you will restore Madame de Vallorbes to me without hesitation or delay. Her devotion to me is absolute. How could it fail to be so, since I have lavished upon her the treasures of my extraordinary personality? But a fear of insular prejudice on your part withholds her at this moment from full expression of that devotion. She suffers as well as myself. It will be your privilege to put a term to this suffering by requesting me to join her, or by restoring her to me. To do otherwise will be to prolong the eclipse of my genius, and thereby outrage the conscience of civilised humanity which breathlessly awaits the next utterance of its chosen poet. If you require the consolation of feminine society, marry—it would be very simple—some white‐souled, English miss. But restore to me, to whom her presence is indispensable, this woman of regal passions. I shall present myself at your house to‐day to receive your answer in person. The result of a refusal, on your part, to receive me will be attended by calamitous consequences to yourself.—Accept, monsieur, the expression of my highest consideration,

PAUL AUGUSTE DESTOURNELLE.”

For the moment Richard saw red, mad with rage at the insolence of the writer. And then came the question, was it true, that which this letter implied? Had Helen, indeed, lied to him? page: 465 And, notwithstanding its insane vanity, did this precious epistle give a more veracious account of her relation to the young poet than that which she had herself volunteered? He tried to put the thought from him. Who was he—to‐day of all days—to be nice about the conduct of another? Who was he to sit in judgment? So he turned to his correspondence again, taking another letter, at random, from the pile. And then, looking at the superscription, he turned somewhat sick.

“MON CHER,”— wrote M. de Vallorbes,—“My steward informs me that he has just received your draft for a quarter’s rent of the villa. I thank you a thousand times for your admirable punctuality. Decidedly you are of those with whom it is a consolation to do business. Need I assure you that the advent of this money is far from inopportune, since a grateful country, while showering distinctions upon me with one hand, with the other picks my pocket? I find it not a little expensive this famous military service! But then, ever since I can remember, I have found all that afforded me the slightest active pleasure equally that! And this sport of war, I promise you, is the most excellent sport in which I have as yet participated. It satisfies the primitive instincts more thoroughly than even your English fox‐hunting. A battue of Communards is obviously superior to a battue of pheasants. To the dignity of killing one’s fellow‐men is added the satisfaction of ridding oneself of vermin. It becomes a matter of sanitation and self‐respect. And this, indirectly, recalls to me, that report declares my wife to be with you at Naples. Mon cher je vous en fais câdeau. With you, at least, I know that my honour is safe. You may even instil into her mind some faint conception of the rudiments of morality. To be frank with you, she needs that. A couple of months ago she did me the honour to elope—temporarily, of course—with M. Paul Destournelle. You may have glanced, one day, at his crapulous verses. I suppose honour demanded that I should pursue the guilty pair and account for one, if not both, of them. But I was too busily engaged with my little Communards. We set these gentry up against a wall and dispose of them in batches.. I have had a good deal of this, but, as I say, it has not yet become monotonous. Traits of individual character lend it vivacity. And then, putting aside the exigencies of my profession, I do not know that anything is to be gained by inviting public scandal. You have an English proverb to the effect that one should wash one’s dirty linen at home. This I have tried to do, as you cannot but be aware, all along. If one has had the page: 466 misfortune to marry Messalina, one learns to be philosophic. A few lovers more or less, in that connection, what, after all, does it matter? Indeed, I begin to derive ironical consolation from the fact of their multiplicity. The existence of one would have constituted a reflection upon my charms. But a matter of ten, fifteen, twenty, ceases to be in any degree personal to myself. Only I object to Destournelle. He is too young, too rococco. He represents a descent in the scale. I prefer des hommes mures, generals, ministers, princes. The devil knows we have had our share of such! Your generosity to her has saved us from Jews so far, and from nouveaux riches, by relieving the business of commercial aspects. Give her some salutary advice, therefore, mon cher, and if she becomes inconvenient forward her to Paris. I forgive to seventy‐times‐seven, being still proud enough to struggle after an appearance of social and conjugal decency. Enfin it is a relief to have unburdened myself for once, and you have been the good genius of my unfortunate ménage, for which Heaven reward you.—Yours, in true cousinly regard and supreme reliance on your discretion,

ANGELO LUIGI FRANCESCO DE VALLORBES.”

That this, in any case, had a stamp of sincerity upon it, Richard could not doubt. It must be admitted that he had long ceased to accept Madame de Vallorbes’ estimate of her husband with unqualified belief. But, be that as it might, whether he were a consummate, or merely an average profligate, one thing was certain that this man trusted him—Richard Calmady,—and that he—Richard Calmady—had very vilely betrayed that trust. He stared at the letter, and certain sentences in it seemed to sear him, even as the branding‐iron used on a felon might. This was a new shame, different to, and greater than, any his deformity had ever induced in him, even as evil done is different to, and greater than, evil suffered. Morality may be relative only and conventional. Honour, for all persons of a certain standing and breeding, remains absolute. And it was precisely of his own honour that he had deprived himself. Not only in body, but in character, he was henceforth monstrous. For a while Richard had remained very still, looking at this thing into which he had made himself as though it were external and physically visible to him.

Then, suddenly, he had reached out his hand for his mother’s letter. A decision of great moment was impending. He would know what she had to say before finally making that decision. He wondered bitterly, grimly, whether her words page: 467 would plunge him yet deeper in this abyss of self‐hatred and self‐contempt.

“MY DARLING,”—she wrote,—“I am foolishly glad to learn that you are back at Naples. It gives me comfort to know you are even thus much nearer home and in a country where I too have travelled and of which I retain many dear and delightful recollections. You may be surprised, perhaps, to see the unaccustomed address upon my notepaper and may wonder what has made me guilty of deserting my post. Now, since the worst of it is certainly over, I may tell you that my health has failed a good deal of late. Nothing of a really serious nature—you need not be alarmed about me. But I had got into a rather weak and unworthy state, from which it became very desirable I should rouse myself. Selfishness is insidious, and none the less reprehensible because it takes the apparently innocent form of sitting in a chair with one’s eyes shut! However that best of men, John Knott, brought very bracing influences to bear on me, convincing me of sin—in the gentlest way in the world—by means of Honoria St. Quentin. And so I picked myself up, dear Dickie,—picked the whole of myself up, as I hope, always saving and excepting my self‐indulgent inertia,—and came away here to Ormiston. At first, I confess, I felt very much like a dog at a fair, or the proverbial mummy at a feast. But they all bore with me in the plenty of their kindness; and, in the last week, I have banished the mummy and trained the scared dog to altogether polite and pretty behaviour. Till I came back to it, I hardly realised how truly I loved this place. How should it be otherwise? I met your father first here after his third term at Eton. I remember he snubbed me roundly. I met him again the year before our marriage. Without vanity I declare that then he snubbed me not one little bit. These things are very far away. But to me, though far away, they are very vivid and very lovely. I see them as you, when you were small, so often pleaded to see a fairy landscape by looking through the large end of the gold and tortoiseshell spy‐glass upon my writing‐table. All of which may seem to you somewhat childish and trivial, but I grow an old woman and have a fancy for toys and tender make‐believes—such as fairy landscapes seen through the big end of a spy‐glass. The actual landscape, at times, is a trifle discouragingly rain‐blotted and cloudy!—Roger and Mary are here. Their two boys are just gone back to school again. They are fine, courteous, fearless, little fellows. Roger makes a rather superb middle‐aged man. He has much of my father— page: 468 your grandfather’s reticence and dignity. Indeed, he might prove slightly alarming, was one not so perfectly sure of him, dear creature. Mary remains, as of old, the most wholesome and helpful of women. Yes, it is good to dwell, for a time, among one’s own people. And I cannot but rejoice that my eldest brother has come to an arrangement by which, at his death, your uncle William will receive a considerable sum of money in lieu of the property. This last will go direct to Roger, and eventually to his boys. If your uncle William had a son, the whole matter would be different. But I own it would hurt me that in the event of his death there should be no Ormiston at Ormiston after these many generations. In all probability the place would be sold immediately, for it is an open secret that, through no fault of his own, poor man, William is sadly embarrassed in money matters. And he has other sorrows—of a rather terrible nature, since they are touched with disgrace. But here you will probably detect a point of prejudice, so I had best stop!—I look out upon a grey, northern sea, where ‘the white horses fume and fret’ under a cold, grey, northern sky. The oaks in the park are just thickening with yellow‐green buds. And there, close to my window, perched on a topmost twig, a missel‐thrush is singing, facing the wind like a gentleman. You look out upon a purple sea, I suppose, beneath clear skies and over orange trees and palms. I wonder if any brave bird pipes to you as my storm‐cock to me? It brings up one’s courage to hear his song, so strong and wild and sweet, in the very teeth of the gale too! But now you will have had enough of my news and more than enough. I write to you more freely, you see, than for a long time past, being myself more free of spirit. And therefore I dare add this, in all and every case, my darling, God keep you. And remember, should you weary of wandering, that not only the doors of Brockhurst, but the doors of my heart, stand forever wide open to welcome you home.—Yours always,

K.C.”

Reading which gentle, yet in a sense daring, words, Richard’s shame took on another complexion, but one by no means calculated to mitigate the burning of it. His treachery towards de Vallorbes became almost vulgar and of small moment beside his cruelty to this superbly magnanimous woman, his mother. For, all these years, determinately and of set purpose, defiant of every better impulse, he had hardened his heart against her. To differ from her, to cherish that which was unsympathetic to her, to put aside every tradition in which she had nurtured him, page: 469 to love that which she condemned, to condemn that which she loved—and this, if silently, still unswervingly—had been the ruling purpose of his action. That which had its origin in passionate revolt against his own unhappy disfigurement, had come to be an interest and object in itself. In this quarrel with her—a quarrel intimate, pre‐natal, anterior to consciousness and to volition—he found the justification of his every lapse, his every crookedness of conduct and of thought. Since he could not reach Almighty God, and strike at the eternal First Cause which he held responsible for the inalienable wrong done to him, he would strike, with cold‐blooded persistence, at the woman whom Almighty God had permitted to be His instrument in the infliction of that wrong. And to where had that sustained purpose of striking led him? Even—so he judged just now—to the dishonour and desolation of to‐day, following upon the sacrilegious licence of last night.

All this Richard saw with the alternately groping, benumbed, mental vision and the glaring, mental nakedness of breeding fever. Small wonder that looking for comfort, for promise of restoration, he found none in things material, in things intellectual, in others, or in himself! He felt outcasted beyond hope of redemption; but not repentant, hardly remorseful even, only aware of all that which had happened, and of his own state. For Lady Calmady’s letter was to him little more, as yet, than a placing of facts. To trade upon her magnificent generosity of affection, and seek refuge in those outstretched arms now, with the mark of the branding‐iron so sensibly upon him, appeared to him of all contemptible doings the most radically contemptible. Obviously it was impossible to go back. He must go on rather—out of sight, out of mind. Fantastic schemes of disappearing, of losing himself, far away in remote and nameless places, among the coral islands of the Pacific or the chill majesty of the Antarctic seas, offered themselves to his imagination. The practical difficulties presented by such schemes, their infeasibility, did not trouble him. He would sever all connection with that which had been, with that which had made for good equally with that which had made for evil. By his own voluntary act and choice he would become as a man dead, the disgrace of his malformed body, the closer and more hideous disgrace of his defiled and prostituted soul, surviving in legend merely, as might some ugly, old‐time fable useful for the frightening of unruly babes.

And to that end of self‐obliteration he instantly applied himself, with outward calm, but with the mental hurry and restless‐ page: 470 ness of increasing illness. His first duty was to end the whole matter of his relation to Helen,—Helen shorn of her divinity, convicted liar and wanton, yet mistress still for him, as he feared, of mighty enchantments. So he wrote to her very briefly. The note should be given her later in the day. In it he stated that he should have left the villa before this announcement reached her, left it finally and without remotest prospect of return, since he could not doubt that she recognised, as he did, how impossible it had become that he and she should meet again. He added that he would communicate with her shortly as to business arrangements. That done, he summoned Powell, his valet, bidding him pack. He would go down to the yacht at once. He had received information which made it imperative he should quit Naples immediately.

To be out of all this, rid of it, fairly started on the road of negation of social being, negation of recognised existence, infected him like a madness. But even the most forceful human will must bend to stupidities of detail and of material fact. Unexpected delays had occurred. The yacht was not ready for sea, neither coaled, nor provisioned, nor sound of certain small damages to her machinery. Vanstone, the captain, might mislay his temper, and the first mate expend himself in polysyllabic invective, young Penberthy cease to dream, stewards, engineers, carpenters, cooks, quartermasters, seamen, firemen, do their most willing and urgent best, nevertheless the morning of next day, and even the afternoon of it, still found Richard Calmady seated at the locker‐table of the white‐walled deck‐cabin, his voyage towards self‐obliteration not yet begun.

Charts were out‐spread before him, upon which, at weary intervals, he essayed to trace the course of his coming wanderings. But his brain was dull, he had no power of consecutive thought. That same madness of going was upon him with undiminished power, yet he knew not where he wanted to go, hardly why he wanted to go, only that a blind obsession of going drove him. He was miserably troubled about other matters too—about that same brief letter he had written to Helen before leaving the villa. He was convinced that he had written such a letter; but struggle as he might to remember the contents of it they remained to him a blank. He was haunted by the fear that in that letter he had committed some irremediable folly, had bound himself to some absurdly unworthy course of action. But what it might be escaped and, in escaping, tortured him. And then, this surely was Friday, and Morabita sang at the San Carlo to‐night? And surely he had promised to page: 471 be there, and to meet the famous prima donna and sup with her after the performance, as in former days at Vienna? He had not always been quite kind to her, poor, dear, fat, good‐natured, silly soul! He could not fail her now.—And then he went back to a chart of the South Pacific again. Only he could not see it plainly, but saw, instead of it, the great folio of copper‐plate engravings lying on the broad window‐seat of the eastern bay of the Long Gallery at home. He was sitting there to watch for the racehorses coming back from exercise, Tom Chifney pricking along beside them on his handsome cob. And the long‐ago, boyish desperation of longing for wholeness, for freedom, brought a moistness to his eyes, and a lump into his throat. And all the while the coal dust drifted in at each smallest crevice and aperture; and the air was vibrant with rasping, jarring uproar and nauseous with the stale, heavy odours of the city and the port. And steadily, ceaselessly, the descending rain drummed upon the roofing overhead.

At length a stupor took him. His head sank upon his arms, folded upon those outspread charts, while the noise of all the rude activities surrounding him subtly transformed itself into that of a great orchestra. And above this, superior to, yet nobly supported by it, Morabita’s voice rose in the suave and passionate phrases of the glorious cavatina—“Ernani, Ernani, involami, all’abborito ampleso.”—Yes, her voice was as good as ever! Richard drew a long breath of relief. Here at least, was something true to itself; and amid so much of change, so much of spoiling, still unspoilt!—He raised his head and listened. For something must have happened, something of serious moment. The orchestra, for some unaccountable reason, had suddenly broken down. Yes, it must be the orchestra which disaster had overtaken, for a voice very certainly continued. No, not a voice, but voices—those of Vanstone the captain, and Price the first mate, and old Billy Jinn the boatswain—loud, imperative, violently remonstrant; but swept under and swamped at moments by cries and volleys of foulest, Neapolitan argot from hoarse, Neapolitan throats. And that abruptly silenced orchestra?—Richard came back to himself, came back to actualities of environment and prosaic fact. An infinitely weariful despair seized him. For the sound that had reached so sudden a termination was not that of cunningly‐attuned musical instruments, but the long‐drawn, chattering rush of the coal, pitched from the baskets down the echoing, iron shoots.

The cabin door opened discreetly and Powell, incarnation of page: 472 decorous punctualities even amid existing tumultuously discomposing circumstances, entered.

“From the villa, sir,” he said, depositing letters and newspapers upon the table.

Richard put out his hand, turned them over mechanically. For again, somehow, and notwithstanding the babel without, that exquisite invitation—“Ernani, Ernani, involami,”—assailed his ears.

The valet waited a little, quiet and deferential in bearing, yet observing his master with a certain keenness and anxiety.

“I saw Mr. Bates, as you desired, sir,” he said at last.

Richard looked up at him vaguely. And it struck him that while Powell was on shore to‐day he had undoubtedly had his hair cut. This interested him—though why, he would have found it difficult to say.

“Mr. Bates thought you should be informed that a gentleman called early yesterday afternoon, as he said by appointment.”

Yes—certainly Powell had had his hair cut.—“Did the gentleman give his name?”

“Yes, sir, M. Paul Destournelle.”

Powell spoke slowly, getting his tongue carefully round the foreign syllables, and, for all the confusion of his hearer’s mind, the name went home. Vagueness passed from Richard’s glance.

“He was refused, of course.”

“Her ladyship had given orders that should any person of that name call he was to be admitted.”—Powell spoke with evident reluctance. “Consequently Mr. Bates was uncertain how to act, having received contrary orders from you, sir, the day before yesterday. He explained this to her ladyship, but she insisted.”

Richard’s mind had become perfectly lucid.

“Very well,” he said coldly.

“Mr. Bates also thought you should know, sir, that after M. Destournelle’s visit her ladyship announced she should not remain at the villa. She left about five o’clock, taking her maid. Charles followed with all the baggage.”

The valet paused. Richard’s manner was decidedly discouraging, yet, something further must at least be intimated.

“Her ladyship gave no address to Mr. Bates for the forwarding of her letters.”

But here the cabin door, left slightly ajar by Powell, was opened wide, and that with none of the calm and discretion displayed by the functionary in question. A long perspective of page: 473 grimy deck behind him, his oilskins shiny from the wet, with trim black beard, square‐made, bold‐eyed, hot‐tempered, warm‐hearted, alert, humorous—typical West Countryman as his gentle dreamy cousin, Penberthy, the second mate, though of a very different type—stood Captain Vanstone. His easily‐ruffled temper suffered from the after effects of what is commonly known as a “jolly row,” and his speech was curt in consequence thereof.

“Sorry to disturb you, Sir Richard,” he said, “and still more sorry to disappoint you, but it can’t be helped.”

Dickie turned upon him so strangely drawn and haggard a countenance, that Vanstone with difficulty repressed an exclamation. He looked in quick inquiry at the valet, who so far departed from his usual decorum as to nod his head in assent to the silent questioning.

“What’s wrong now?” Richard said.

“Why, these beggarly rascals have knocked off. Price offered them a higher scale of pay. I had empowered him to do so. But they won’t budge. The rain’s washed the heart out of them. We’ve tried persuasion and we’ve tried threats—it’s no earthly use. Not a basket more coal will they put on board before five to‐morrow morning.”

“Can’t we sail with what we have got?”

“Not enough to carry us to Port Said.”

“What will be the extent of the delay this time?” Richard asked. His tone had an edge to it.

Again Captain Vanstone glanced at the valet.

“With luck we may get off to‐morrow about midnight.”

He stepped back, shook himself like a big dog, scattering the water off his oilskins in a shower upon the slippery deck. Then he came inside the cabin and stood near Richard. His expression was very kindly, tender almost.

“You must excuse me, sir,” he said. “I know it doesn’t come within my province to give you advice. But you do look pretty ill, Sir Richard. Everyone’s remarking that. And you are ill, sir—you know it, and I know it, and Mr. Powell here knows it. You ought to see a doctor, sir—and if you’ll pardon plain language, this beastly cess‐pit of a harbour is no fit place for you to sleep in.”

And poor Dickie, after an instant of sharp annoyance, touched by the man’s honest humanity smiled upon him—a smile of utter weariness, utter hopelessness.

“Perfectly true. Get me out to sea then, Vanstone. I shall be better there than anywhere else,” he said.

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Whereupon the kindly sailor‐man turned away swearing gently into his trim, black beard.

But the valet remained, impassive in manner, actively anxious at heart.

“Have you any orders for the carriage, sir?” he asked. “Garçia drove me down. I told him to wait until I had inquired.”

Richard was long in replying. His brain was all confused and clouded again, while again he heard the voice of the famous soprano—“Ernani, Ernani, involami.”

“Yes,” he said at last. “Tell Garçia to be here in good time to drive me to the San Carlo. I have an appointment at the opera to‐night.”

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