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   Chapter 9 “THE PROGRESS OF THE SUNS”

Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 14944

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


News of the event had preceded us to the 'Fulvia', and, as we scrambled out on the ship's stairs, cheers greeted us. Glancing up, I saw Hungerford, among others, leaning over the side, and looking at Mrs. Falchion in a curious cogitating fashion, not unusual to him. The look was non-committal, yet earnest. If it was not approval, it was not condemnation; but it might have been slightly ironical, and that annoyed me. It seemed impossible for him-and it was so always, I believe-to get out of his mind the thought of the man he had rescued on No Man's Sea. I am sure it jarred upon him that the band foolishly played a welcome when Mrs. Falchion stepped on the deck. As I delivered Miss Treherne into the hands of her father, who was anxiously awaiting us, Hungerford said in my ear: "A tragedy queen, Marmion." He said it so distinctly that Mrs. Falchion heard it, and she gave him a searching look. Their eyes met and warred for a moment, and then he added: "I remember! Yes, I can respect the bravery of a woman whom I do not like."

"And this is to-morrow," she said, "and a man may change his mind, and that may be fate-or a woman's whim." She bowed, turned away, and went below, evidently disliking the reception she had had, and anxious to escape inquiries and congratulations. Nor did she appear again until the 'Fulvia' got under way about six o'clock in the evening. As we moved out of the harbour we passed close to the 'Porcupine' and saw its officers grouped on the deck, waving adieus to some one on our deck, whom I guessed, of course, to be Galt Roscoe.

At this time Mrs. Falchion was standing near me. "For whom is that demonstration?" she said.

"For one of her officers, who is a passenger by the 'Fulvia'," I replied. "You remember we passed the 'Porcupine' in the Indian Ocean?"

"Yes, I know that very well," she said, with a shade of meaning. "But"-here I thought her voice had a touch of breathlessness-"but who is the officer? I mean, what is his name?"

"He stands in the group near the door of the captain's cabin, there. His name is Galt Roscoe, I think."

A slight exclamation escaped her. There was a chilly smile on her lips, and her eyes sought the group until it rested on Galt Roscoe. In a moment she said "You have met him?"

"In the cemetery this morning, for the first time."

"Everybody seems to have had business this morning at the cemetery. Justine Caron spent hours there. To me it is so foolish, heaping up a mound, and erecting a tombstone over-what?-a dead thing, which, if one could see it, would be dreadful."

"You would prefer complete absorption-as of the ocean?" I brutally retorted.

She appeared not to notice the innuendo. "Yes, what is gone is gone. Graves are idolatry. Gravestones are ghostly. It is people without imagination who need these things, together with crape and black-edged paper. It is all barbaric ritual. I know you think I am callous, but I cannot help that. For myself, I wish the earth close about me, and level green grass above me, and no one knowing of the place; or else, fire or the sea."

"Mrs. Falchion," said I, "between us there need be no delicate words. You appear to have neither imagination, nor idolatry, nor remembrances, nor common womanly kindness."

"Indeed!" she said. "Yet you might know me better." Here she touched my arm with the tips of her fingers, and, in spite of myself, I felt my pulse beat faster. It seemed to me that in her presence, even now, I could not quite trust myself. "Indeed!" she repeated. "And who made you omniscient, Dr. Marmion? You hardly do yourself justice. You hold a secret. You insist on reminding me of the fact. Is that in perfect gallantry? Do you know me altogether, from your knowledge of that one thing? You are vain. Or does the secret wear on you, and-Mr. Hungerford? Was it necessary to seek HIS help in keeping it?"

I told her then the true history of Hungerford's connection with Boyd Madras, and also begged her pardon for showing just now my knowledge of her secret. At this she said, "I suppose I should be grateful," and was there a slightly softer cadence to her voice?

"No, you need not be grateful," I said. "We are silent, first, because he wished it; then because you are a woman."

"You define your reasons with astonishing care and taste," she replied.

"Oh, as to taste!-" said I; but then I bit my tongue.

At that she said, her lips very firm and pale, "I could not pretend to a grief I did not feel. I acted no lie. He died as we had lived-estranged. I put up no memorials."

But I, thinking of my mother lying in her grave, a woman after God's own heart, who loved me more than I deserved, repeated almost unconsciously these lines (clipped from a magazine):

"Sacred the ring, the faded glove,

Once worn by one we used to love;

Dead warriors in their armour live,

And in their relics saints survive.

"Oh, Mother Earth, henceforth defend

All thou hast garnered of my friend,

From winter's wind and driving sleet,

From summer's sun and scorching heat.

"Within thine all-embracing breast

Is hid one more forsaken nest;

While, in the sky, with folded wings,

The bird that left it sits and sings."

I paused; the occasion seemed so little suited to the sentiment, for around us was the idle excitement of leaving port. I was annoyed with myself for my share in the conversation so far. Mrs. Falchion's eyes had scarcely left that group around the captain's door, although she had appeared acutely interested in what I was saying. Now she said:

"You recite very well. I feel impressed, but I fancy it is more your voice than those fine sentiments; for, after all, you cannot glorify the dead body. Look at the mummy of Thothmes at Boulak, and think what Cleopatra must look like now. And please let us talk about something else. Let us-" She paused.

I followed the keen, shaded glance of her eyes, and saw, coming from the group by the captain's door, Galt Roscoe. He moved in our direction. Suddenly he paused. His look was fixed upon Mrs. Falchion. A flush passed over his face, not exactly confusing, but painful, and again it left him pale, and for a moment he stood motionless. Then he came forward to us. He bowed to me, then looked hard at her. She held out her hand.

"Mr. Roscoe, I think?" she said. "An old friend," she added, turning to me. He gravely took her extended hand and said:

"I did not think to see you here, Miss-"

"MRS. Falchion," she interrupted clearly.

"MRS. Falchion!" he said, with surprise. "It is so many years since we had met, and-"

"And it is so easy to forget things? But it isn't so many, really-only seven, the cycle for constitutional renewal. Dear me, how erudite that sounds!... So, I suppose, we meet the same, yet not the same."

"The same, yet not the same," he repeated after her, with an attempt at lightness, yet abstractedly.

"I think you gentlemen know each other?" she said.

"Yes; we met in the cemetery this morning. I was visiting the grave of a young French officer."

"I know," she said-"Justine Caron's brother. She has told me; but she did not tell me your name."

"She has told you?" he said.

"Yes. She is-my companion." I saw that she did not use the word that first came to her.

"How strangely things occur! And yet," he added musingly, "I suppose, after all, coincidence is not so strange in these days of much travel, particularly with people whose

lives are connected-more or less."

"Whose lives are connected-more or less," she repeated after him, in a steely tone.

It seemed to me that I had received my cue to leave. I bowed myself away, and went about my duties. As we steamed bravely through the Straits of Babelmandeb, with Perim on our left, rising lovely through the milky haze, I came on deck again, and they were still near where I had left them an hour before. I passed, glancing at them as I did so. They did not look towards me. His eyes were turned to the shore, and hers were fixed on him. I saw an expression on her lips that gave her face new character. She was speaking, as I thought, clearly and mercilessly. I could not help hearing her words as I passed them.

"You are going to be that-you!" There was a ring of irony in her tone. I heard nothing more in words, but I saw him turn to her somewhat sharply, and I caught the deep notes of his voice as he answered her. When, a moment after, I looked back, she had gone below.

Galt Roscoe had a seat at Captain Ascott's table, and I did not see anything of him at meal-times, but elsewhere I soon saw him a great deal. He appeared to seek my company. I was glad of this, for I found that he was an agreeable man, and had distinct originality of ideas, besides being possessed of very considerable culture. He also had that social aplomb so much a characteristic of the naval officer. Yet, man of the world as he was, he had a strain of asceticism which puzzled me. It did not make him eccentric, but it was not a thing usual with the naval man. Again, he wished to be known simply as Mr. Roscoe, not as Captain Roscoe, which was his rank. He said nothing about having retired, yet I guessed he had done so. One evening, however, soon after we had left Aden, we were sitting in my cabin, and the conversation turned upon a recent novel dealing with the defection of a clergyman of the Church of England through agnosticism. The keenness with which he threw himself into the discussion and the knowledge he showed, surprised me. I knew (as most medical students get to know, until they know better) some scientific objections to Christianity, and I put them forward. He clearly and powerfully met them. I said at last, laughingly: "Why, you ought to take holy orders."

"That is what I am going to do," he said very seriously, "when I get to England. I am resigning the navy." At that instant there flashed through my mind Mrs. Falchion's words: "You are going to be that-you!"

Then he explained to me that he had been studying for two years, and expected to go up for deacon's orders soon after his return to England. I cannot say that I was greatly surprised, for I had known a few, and had heard of many, men who had exchanged the navy for the Church. It struck me, however, that Galt Roscoe appeared to view the matter from a stand-point not professional; the more so, that he expressed his determination to go to the newest part of a new country, to do the pioneer work of the Church. I asked him where he was going, and he said to the Rocky Mountains of Canada. I told him that my destination was Canada also. He warmly expressed the hope that we should see something of each other there. This friendship of ours may seem to have been hastily hatched, but it must be remembered that the sea is a great breeder of friendship. Two men who have known each other for twenty years find that twenty days at sea bring them nearer than ever they were before, or else estrange them.

It was on this evening that, in a lull of the conversation, I casually asked him when he had known Mrs. Falchion. His face was inscrutable, but he said somewhat hurriedly, "In the South Sea Islands," and then changed the subject. So, there was some mystery again? Was this woman never to be dissociated from enigma? In those days I never could think of her save in connection with some fatal incident in which she was scathless, and some one else suffered.

It may have been fancy, but I thought that, during the first day or two after leaving Aden, Galt Roscoe and Mrs. Falchion were very little together. Then the impression grew that this was his doing, and again that she waited with confident patience for the time when he would seek her-because he could not help himself. Often when other men were paying her devoted court I caught her eyes turned in his direction, and I thought I read in her smile a consciousness of power. And it so was. Very soon he was at her side. But I also noticed that he began to look worn, that his conversation with me lagged. I think that at this time I was so much occupied with tracing personal appearances to personal influences that I lost to some degree the physician's practical keenness. My eyes were to be opened. He appeared to be suffering, and she seemed to unbend to him more than she ever unbent to me, or any one else on board. Hungerford, seeing this, said to me one day in his blunt way: "Marmion, old Ulysses knew what he was about when he tied himself to the mast."

But the routine of the ship went on as before. Fortunately, Mrs. Falchion's heroism at Aden had taken the place of the sensation attending Boyd Madras's suicide. Those who tired of thinking of both became mildly interested in Red Sea history. Chief among these was the bookmaker. As an historian the bookmaker was original. He cavalierly waved aside all such confusing things as dates: made Moses and Mahomet contemporaneous, incidentally referred to King Solomon's visits to Cleopatra, and with sad irreverence spoke of the Exodus and the destruction of Pharaoh's horses and chariots as "the big handicap." He did not mean to be irreverent or unhistorical. He merely wished to enlighten Mrs. Callendar, who said he was very original, and quite clever at history. His really startling points, however, were his remarks upon the colours of the mountains of Egypt and the sunset tints to be seen on the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. To him the grey, and pink, and melancholy gold only brought up visions of a race at Epsom or Flemington-generally Flemington, where the staring Australian sun pours down on an emerald course, on a score of horses straining upon the start, the colours of the jockeys' coats and caps changing in the struggle like a kaleidoscope, and making strange harmonies of colour. The comparison between the mountains of Egypt and a race-course might seem most absurd, if one did not remember that the bookmaker had his own standards, and that he thought he was paying unusual honour to the land of the Fellah. Clovelly plaintively said, as he drank his hock and seltzer, that the bookmaker was hourly saving his life; and Colonel Ryder admitted at last that Kentucky never produced anything quite like him.

The evening before we came to the Suez Canal I was walking with Miss Treherne and her father. I had seen Galt Roscoe in conversation with Mrs. Falchion. Presently I saw him rise to go away. A moment after, in passing, I was near her. She sprang up, caught my arm, and pointed anxiously. I looked, and saw Galt Roscoe swaying as he walked.

"He is ill-ill," she said.

I ran forward and caught him as he was falling. Ill?

Of course he was ill. What a fool I had been! Five minutes with him assured me that he had fever. I had set his haggard appearance down to some mental trouble-and I was going to be a professor in a medical college!

Yet I know now that a troubled mind hastened the fever.

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