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   Chapter 10 BETWEEN DAY AND DARK

Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 19442

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


From the beginning Galt Roscoe's fever was violent. It had been hanging about him for a long time, and was the result of malarial poisoning. I devoutly wished that we were in the Mediterranean instead of the Red Sea, where the heat was so great; but fortunately we should soon be there. There was no other case of sickness on board, and I could devote plenty of time to him. Offers of assistance in nursing were numerous, but I only encouraged those of the bookmaker, strange as this may seem; yet he was as gentle and considerate as a woman in the sick-room. This was on the first evening of his attack. After that I had reasons for dispensing with his generous services. The night after Roscoe was taken ill we were passing through the canal, the search-light of the 'Fulvia' sweeping the path ahead of it and glorifying everything it touched. Mud barges were fairy palaces; Arab punts beautiful gondolas; the ragged Egyptians on the banks became picturesque; and the desolate country behind them had a wide vestibule of splendour. I stood for half an hour watching this scene, then I went below to Roscoe's cabin and relieved the bookmaker. The sick man was sleeping from the effects of a sedative draught. The bookmaker had scarcely gone when I heard a step behind me, and I turned and saw Justine Caron standing timidly at the door, her eyes upon the sleeper. She spoke quietly. "Is he very ill?"

I answered that he was, but also that for some days I could not tell how dangerous his illness might be. She went to the berth where he lay, the reflected light from without playing weirdly on his face, and smoothed the pillow gently.

"If you are willing, I will watch for a time," she said. "Everybody is on deck. Madame said she would not need me for a couple of hours. I will send a steward for you if he wakes; you need rest yourself."

That I needed rest was quite true, for I had been up all the night before; still I hesitated. She saw my hesitation, and added:

"It is not much that I can do, still I should like to do it. I can at least watch." Then, very earnestly: "He watched beside Hector."

I left her with him, her fingers moving the small bag of ice about his forehead to allay the fever and her eyes patiently regarding him. I went on deck again. I met Miss Treherne and her father. They both inquired for the sick man, and I told Belle-for she seemed much interested-the nature of such malarial fevers, the acute forms they sometimes take, and the kind of treatment required. She asked several questions, showing a keen understanding of my explanations, and then, after a moment's silence, said meditatively: "I think I like men better when they are doing responsible work; it is difficult to be idle-and important too."

I saw very well that, with her, I should have to contend for a long time against those first few weeks of dalliance on the 'Fulvia'.

Clovelly joined us, and for the first time-if I had not been so egotistical it had appeared to me before-I guessed that his somewhat professional interest in Belle Treherne had developed into a very personal thing. And with that thought came also the conception of what a powerful antagonist he would be. For it improves some men to wear glasses; and Clovelly had a delightful, wheedling tongue. It was allusive, contradictory (a thing pleasing to women), respectful yet playful, bold yet reverential. Many a time I have longed for Clovelly's tongue. Unfortunately for me, I learned some of his methods without his art; and of this I am occasionally reminded at this day. A man like Clovelly is dangerous as a rival when he is not in earnest; when he IS in earnest, it becomes a lonely time for the other man-unless the girl is perverse.

I left the two together, and moved about the deck, trying to think closely about Roscoe's case, and to drive Clovelly's invasion from my mind. I succeeded, and was only roused by Mrs. Falchion's voice beside me.

"Does he suffer much?" she murmured.

When answered, she asked nervously how he looked-it was impossible that she should consider misery without shrinking. I told her that he was only flushed and haggard as yet and that he was little wasted. A thought flashed to her face. She was about to speak, but paused. After a moment, however, she remarked evenly: "He is likely to be delirious?"

"It is probable," I replied.

Her eyes were fixed on the search-light. The look in them was inscrutable. She continued quietly: "I will go and see him, if you will let me. Justine will go with me."

"Not now," I replied. "He is sleeping. To-morrow, if you will."

I did not think it necessary to tell her that Justine was at that moment watching beside him. We walked the deck together in silence.

"I wonder," she said, "that you care to walk with me. Please do not make the matter a burden."

She did not say this with any invitation to courteous protest on my part, but rather with a cold frankness-for which, I confess, I always admired her. I said now: "Mrs. Falchion, you have suggested what might easily be possible in the circumstances, but I candidly admit that I have never yet found your presence disagreeable; and I suppose that is a comment upon my weakness. Though, to speak again with absolute truth, I think I do not like you at this present."

"Yes, I fancy I can understand that," she said. "I can understand how, for instance, one might feel a just and great resentment, and have in one's hand the instrument of punishment, and yet withhold one's hand and protect where one should injure."

At this moment these words had no particular significance to me, but there chanced a time when they came home with great force. I think, indeed, that she was speaking more to herself than to me. Suddenly she turned to me.

"I wonder," she said, "if I am as cruel as you think me-for, indeed, I do not know. But I have been through many things."

Here her eyes grew cold and hard. The words that followed seemed in no sequence. "Yet," she said, "I will go and see him to-morrow.... Good-night." After about an hour I went below to Galt Roscoe's cabin. I drew aside the curtain quietly. Justine Caron evidently had not heard me. She was sitting beside the sick man, her fingers still smoothing away the pillow from his fevered face and her eyes fixed on him. I spoke to her. She rose. "He has slept well," she said. And she moved to the door.

"Miss Caron," I said, "if Mrs. Falchion is willing, you could help me to nurse Mr. Roscoe?"

A light sprang to her eyes. "Indeed, yes," she said.

"I will speak to her about it, if you will let me?" She bowed her head, and her look was eloquent of thanks. After a word of good-night we parted.

I knew that nothing better could occur to my patient than that Justine Caron should help to nurse him. This would do far more for him than medicine-the tender care of a woman-than many pharmacopoeias.

Hungerford had insisted on relieving me for a couple of hours at midnight. He said it would be a good preparation for going on the bridge at three o'clock in the morning. About half-past two he came to my cabin and waked me, saying: "He is worse-delirious; you had better come."

He was indeed delirious. Hungerford laid his hand on my shoulder. "Marmion," he said, "that woman is in it. Like the devil, she is ubiquitous. Mr. Roscoe's past is mixed up with hers somehow. I don't suppose men talk absolute history in delirium, but there is no reason, I fancy, why they shouldn't paraphrase. I should reduce the number of nurses to a minimum if I were you."

A determined fierceness possessed me at the moment. I said to him: "She shall nurse him, Hungerford-she, and Justine Caron, and myself."

"Plus Dick Hungerford," he added. "I don't know quite how you intend to work this thing, but you have the case in your hands, and what you've told me about the French girl shows that she is to be trusted. But as for myself, Marmion M.D., I'm sick-sick-sick of this woman, and all her words and works. I believe that she has brought bad luck to this ship; and it's my last voyage on it; and-and I begin to think you're a damned good fellow-excuse the insolence of it; and-good-night."

For the rest of the night I listened to Galt Roscoe's wild words. He tossed from side to side, and murmured brokenly. Taken separately, and as they were spoken, his words might not be very significant, but pieced together, arranged, and interpreted through even scant knowledge of circumstances, they were sufficient to give me a key to difficulties which, afterwards, were to cause much distress. I arrange some of the sentences here to show how startling were the fancies-or remembrances-that vexed him.

"But I was coming back-I was coming back-I tell you I should have stayed with her for ever.... See how she trembles!-Now her breath is gone-There is no pulse-Her heart is still-My God, her heart is still!-Hush! cover her face.... Row hard, you devils!-A hundred dollars if you make the point in time.... Whereaway?-Whereaway?-Steady now!-Let them have it across the bows!-Low! low!-fire low!... She is dead-she is dead!"

These things he would say over and over again breathlessly, then he would rest a while, and the trouble would begin again. "It was not I that did it-no, it was not I. She did it herself!-She plunged it in, deep, deep, deep! You made me a devil!... Hush! I WILL tell!-I know you-yet-Mercy-Mercy-Falchion-"

Yes, it was best that few should enter his cabin. The ravings of a sick man are not always counted ravings, no more than the words of a well man are always reckoned sane. At last I got him into a sound sleep, and by that time I was thoroughly tired out. I called my own stew

ard, and asked him to watch for a couple of hours while I rested. I threw myself down and slept soundly for an hour beyond that time, the steward having hesitated to wake me.

By that time we had passed into the fresher air of the Mediterranean, and the sea was delightfully smooth. Galt Roscoe still slept, though his temperature was high.

My conference with Mrs. Falchion after breakfast was brief, but satisfactory. I told her frankly that Roscoe had been delirious, that he had mentioned her name, and that I thought it best to reduce the number of nurses and watchers. I made my proposition about Justine Caron. She shook her head a little impatiently, and said that Justine had told her, and that she was quite willing. Then I asked her if she would not also assist. She answered immediately that she wished to do so. As if to make me understand why she did it, she added: "If I did not hear the wild things he says, some one else would; and the difference is that I understand them, and the some one else would interpret them with the genius of the writer of a fairy book."

And so it happened that Mrs. Falchion came to sit many hours a day beside the sick couch of Galt Roscoe, moistening his lips, cooling his brow, giving him his medicine. After the first day, when she was, I thought, alternating between innate disgust of misery and her womanliness and humanity,-in these days more a reality to me,-she grew watchful and silently solicitous at every turn of the malady. What impressed me most was that she was interested and engrossed more, it seemed, in the malady than in the man himself.

And yet she baffled me even when I had come to this conclusion.

During most of his delirium she remained almost impassive, as if she had schooled herself to be calm and strong in nerve; but one afternoon she did a thing that upset all my opinions of her for a moment. Looking straight at her with staring, unconscious eyes, he half rose in his bed, and said in a low, bitter tone: "I hate you. I once loved you-but I hate you now!" Then he laughed scornfully, and fell back on the pillow. She had been sitting very quietly, musing. His action had been unexpected, and had broken upon a silence. She rose to her feet quickly, gave a sharp indrawn breath, and pressed her hand against her side, as though a sudden pain had seized her. The next moment, however, she was composed again, and said in explanation that she had been half asleep, and he had startled her. But I had seen her under what seemed to me more trying conditions, and she had not shown any nervousness such as this.

The passengers, of course, talked. Many "true histories" of Mrs. Falchion's devotion to the sick man were abroad; but it must be said, however, that all of them were romantically creditable to her. She had become a rare product even in the eyes of Miss Treherne, and more particularly her father, since the matter at the Tanks. Justine Caron was slyly besieged by the curious, but they went away empty; for Justine, if very simple and single-minded, was yet too much concerned for both Galt Roscoe and Mrs. Falchion to give the inquiring the slightest clue. She knew, indeed, little herself, whatever she may have guessed. As for Hungerford, he was dumb. He refused to consider the matter. But he roundly maintained once or twice, without any apparent relevance, that a woman was like a repeating decimal-you could follow her, but you never could reach her. He usually added to this: "Minus one, Marmion," meaning thus to exclude the girl who preferred him to any one else. When I ventured to suggest that Miss Treherne might also be excepted, he said, with maddening suggestion: "She lets Mrs. Falchion fool her, doesn't she? And she isn't quite sure the splendour of a medical professor's position is superior to that of an author."

In these moments, although I tried to smile on him, I hated him a little. I sought to revenge myself on him by telling him to help himself to a cigar, having first placed the box of Mexicans near him. He invariably declined them, and said he would take one of the others from the tea-box-my very best, kept in tea for sake of dryness. If I reversed the process he reversed his action. His instinct regarding cigars was supernatural, and I almost believe that he had-like the Black Dwarf's cat-the "poo'er" of reading character and interpreting events-an uncanny divination.

I knew by the time we reached Valetta that Roscoe would get well; but he recognised none of us until we arrived at Gibraltar. Justine Caron and myself had been watching beside him. As the bells clanged to "slow down" on entering the harbour, his eyes opened with a gaze of sanity and consciousness. He looked at me, then at Justine.

"I have been ill?" he said.

Justine's eyes were not entirely to be trusted. She turned her head away.

"Yes, you have been very ill," I replied, "but you are better."

He smiled feebly, adding: "At least, I am grateful that I did not die at sea." Then he closed his eyes. After a moment he opened them, and said, looking at Justine: "You have helped to nurse me, have you not?" His wasted fingers moved over the counterpane towards her.

"I could do so little," she murmured.

"You have more than paid your debt to me," he gently replied. "For I live, you see, and poor Hector died."

She shook her head gravely, and rejoined: "Ah no, I can never pay the debt I owe to you and to God-now." He did not understand this, I know. But I did. "You must not talk any more," I said to him.

But Justine interposed. "He must be told that the nurse who has done most for him is Mrs. Falchion." His brows contracted as if he were trying to remember something. He moved his head wearily.

"Yes, I think I remember," he said, "about her being with me, but nothing clearly-nothing clearly. She is very kind."

Justine here murmured: "Shall I tell her?"

I was about to say no; but Roscoe nodded, and said quietly, "Yes, yes."

Then I made no objection, but urged that the meeting should only be for a moment. I determined not to leave them alone even for that moment. I did not know what things connected with their past-whatever it was-might be brought up, and I knew that entire freedom from excitement was necessary. I might have spared myself any anxiety on the point. When she came she was perfectly self-composed, and more as she seemed when I first knew her, though I will admit that I thought her face more possible to emotion than in the past.

It seems strange to write of a few weeks before as the past; but so much had occurred that the days might easily have been months and the weeks years.

She sat down beside him and held out her hand. And as she did so, I thought of Boyd Madras and of that long last night of his life, and of her refusal to say to him one comforting word, or to touch his hand in forgiveness and friendship. And was this man so much better than Boyd Madras? His wild words in delirium might mean nothing, but if they meant anything, and she knew of that anything, she was still a heartless, unnatural woman, as I had once called her.

Roscoe took her hand and held it briefly. "Dr. Marmion says that you have helped to nurse me through my illness," he whispered. "I am most grateful."

I thought she replied with the slightest constraint in her voice. "One could not let an old acquaintance die without making an effort to save him."

At that instant I grew scornful, and longed to tell him of her husband. But then a husband was not an acquaintance. I ventured instead: "I am sorry, but I must cut short all conversation for the present. When he is a little better, he will be benefited by your brightest gossip, Mrs. Falchion."

She rose smiling, but she did not again take his hand, though I thought he made a motion to that end. But she looked down at him steadily for a moment. Beneath her look his face flushed, and his eyes grew hot with light; then they dropped, and the eyelids closed on them. At that she said, with an incomprehensible airiness: "Good-night. I am going now to play the music of 'La Grande Duchesse' as a farewell to Gibraltar. They have a concert on to-night."

And she was gone.

At the mention of La Grande Duchesse he sighed, and turned his head away from her. What it all meant I did not know, and she had annoyed me as much as she had perplexed me; her moods were like the chameleon's colours. He lay silent for a long time, then he turned to me and said: "Do you remember that tale in the Bible about David and the well of Bethlehem?" I had to confess my ignorance.

"I think I can remember it," he continued. And though I urged him not to tax himself, he spoke slowly thus:

"And David was in an hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was

then in Bethlehem.

"And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me to drink of

the water of the well of Bethlehem that is at the gate!

"And the three brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew

water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took

and brought it to David; nevertheless, he would not drink thereof,

but poured it out unto the Lord.

"And he said, My God forbid it me that I should do this; is not this

the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?

Therefore he would not drink it."

He paused a moment, and then added: "One always buys back the past at a tremendous price. Resurrections give ghosts only."

"But you must sleep now," I urged. And then, because I knew not what else more fitting, I added: "Sleep, and

"'Let the dead past bury its dead.'"

"Yes, I will sleep," he answered.

* * *

BOOK II. THE SLOPE OF THE PACIFIC

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