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   Chapter 15 IN THE TROUGH OF THE WINDS

Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 29109

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The three days following the events recorded in the preceding chapter were notable to us all. Because my own affairs and experiences are of the least account, I shall record them first: they will at least throw a little light on the history of people who appeared previously in this tale, and disappeared suddenly when the 'Fulvia' reached London, to make room for others.

The day after Phil Boldrick's death I received a letter from Hungerford, and also one from Belle Treherne. Hungerford had left the Occidental Company's service, and had been fortunate enough to get the position of first officer on a line of steamers running between England and the West Indies. The letter was brusque, incisive, and forceful, and declared that, once he got his foot firmly planted in his new position, he would get married and be done with it. He said that Clovelly the novelist had given a little dinner at his chambers in Piccadilly, and that the guests were all our fellow-passengers by the 'Fulvia'; among them Colonel Ryder, the bookmaker, Blackburn the Queenslander, and himself.

This is extracted from the letter:

... Clovelly was in rare form.-Don't run away with the idea

that he's eating his heart out because you came in just ahead in the

race for Miss Treherne. For my part-but, never mind!-You had

phenomenal luck, and you will be a phenomenal fool if you don't

arrange for an early marriage. You are a perfect baby in some

things. Don't you know that the time a woman most yearns for a man

is when she has refused him? And Clovelly is here on the ground,

and they are in the same set, and though I'd take my oath she would

be loyal to you if you were ten thousand miles from here for ten

years, so far as a promise is concerned, yet remember that a promise

and a fancy are two different things. We may do what's right for

the fear o' God, and not love Him either. Marmion, let the marriage

bells be rung early-a maiden's heart is a ticklish thing....

But Clovelly was in rare form, as I said; and the bookmaker, who

had for the first time read a novel of his, amiably quoted from it,

and criticised it during the dinner, till the place reeked with

laughter. At first every one stared aghast ("stared aghast!"-how

is that for literary form?); but when Clovelly gurgled, and then

haw-hawed till he couldn't lift his champagne, the rest of us

followed in a double-quick. And the bookmaker simply sat calm and

earnest with his eye-glass in his eye, and never did more than

gently smile. "See here," he said ever so candidly of Clovelly's

best character, a serious, inscrutable kind of a man, the dignified

figure in the book-"I liked the way you drew that muff. He was

such an awful outsider, wasn't he? All talk, and hypocrite down to

his heels. And when you married him to that lady who nibbled her

food in public and gorged in the back pantry, and went 'slumming'

and made shoulder-strings for the parson-oh, I know the kind!"-

[This was Clovelly's heroine, whom he had tried to draw, as he said

himself, "with a perfect sincerity and a lovely worldly-mindedness,

and a sweet creation altogether."] "I said, that's poetic justice,

that's the refinement of retribution. Any other yarn-spinner would

have killed the male idiot by murder, or a drop from a precipice, or

a lingering fever; but Clovelly did the thing with delicate torture.

He said, 'Go to blazes,' and he fixed up that marriage-and there

you are! Clovelly, I drink to you; you are a master!"

Clovelly acknowledged beautifully, and brought off a fine thing

about the bookmaker having pocketed L5000 at the Derby, then

complimented Colonel Ryder on his success as a lecturer in London

(pretty true, by the way), and congratulated Blackburn on his coming

marriage with Mrs. Callendar, the Tasmanian widow. What he said of

myself I am not going to repeat; but it was salaaming all round,

with the liquor good, and fun bang over the bulwarks.

How is Roscoe? I didn't see as much of him as you did, but I liked

him. Take my tip for it, that woman will make trouble for him some

day. She is the biggest puzzle I ever met. I never could tell

whether she liked him or hated him; but it seems to me that either

would be the ruin of any "Christom man." I know she saw something

of him while she was in London, because her quarters were next to

those of my aunt the dowager (whose heart the gods soften at my

wedding!) in Queen Anne's Mansions, S.W., and who actually liked

Mrs. F., called on her, and asked her to dinner, and Roscoe too,

whom she met at her place. I believe my aunt would have used her

influence to get him a good living, if he had played his cards

properly; but I expect he wouldn't be patronised, and he went for a

"mickonaree," as they say in the South Seas.... Well, I'm off

to the Spicy Isles, then back again to marry a wife. "Go thou and

do likewise."

By the way, have you ever heard of or seen Boyd Madras since he

slipped our cable at Aden and gave the world another chance?

I trust he will spoil her wedding-if she ever tries to have one.

May I be there to see!

Because we shall see nothing more of Hungerford till we finally dismiss the drama, I should like to say that this voyage of his to the West Indies made his fortune-that is, it gave him command of one of the finest ships in the English merchant service. In a storm a disaster occurred to his vessel, his captain was washed overboard, and he was obliged to take command. His skill, fortitude, and great manliness, under tragical circumstances, sent his name booming round the world; and, coupled, as it was, with a singular act of personal valour, he had his pick of all vacancies and possible vacancies in the merchant service, boy (or little more) as he was. I am glad to say that he is now a happy husband and father too.

The letter from Belle Treherne mentioned having met Clovelly several times of late, and, with Hungerford's words hot in my mind, I determined, though I had perfect confidence in her, as in myself, to be married at Christmas-time. Her account of the courtship of Blackburn and Mrs. Callendar was as amusing as her description of an evening which the bookmaker had spent with her father, when he said he was going to marry an actress whom he had seen at Drury Lane Theatre in a racing drama. This he subsequently did, and she ran him a break-neck race for many a day, but never making him unhappy or less resourceful. His verdict, and his only verdict, upon Mrs. Falchion had been confided to Blackburn, who in turn confided it to Clovelly, who passed it on to me.

He said: "A woman is like a horse. Make her beautiful, give her a high temper and a bit of bad luck in her youth, and she'll take her revenge out of life; even though she runs straight, and wins straight every time; till she breaks her heart one day over a lost race. After that she is good to live with for ever. A heart-break for that kind is their salvation: without it they go on breaking the hearts of others."

As I read Belle's and Hungerford's letters my thoughts went back again-as they did so often indeed-to the voyage of the 'Fulvia', and then to Mrs. Falchion's presence in the Rocky Mountains. There was a strange destiny in it all, and I had no pleasant anticipations about the end; for, even if she could or did do Roscoe no harm, so far as his position was concerned, I saw that she had already begun to make trouble between him and Ruth.

That day which saw poor Boldrick's death put her in a conflicting light to me. Now I thought I saw in her unusual gentleness, again an unusual irony, an almost flippant and cruel worldliness; and though at the time she was most touched by the accident, I think her feeling of horror at it made her appear to speak in a way which showed her unpleasantly to Mr. Devlin and his daughter. It may be, however, that Ruth Devlin saw further into her character than I guessed, and understood the strange contradictions of her nature. But I shall, I suppose, never know absolutely about that; nor does it matter much now.

The day succeeding Phil's death was Sunday, and the little church at Viking was full. Many fishers had come over from Sunburst. It was evident that people expected Roscoe to make some reference to Phil's death in his sermon, or, at least, have a part of the service appropriate. By a singular chance the first morning lesson was David's lamentation for Saul and Jonathan. Roscoe had a fine voice. He read easily, naturally-like a cultivated layman, not like a clergyman; like a man who wished to convey the simple meaning of what he read, reverently, honestly. On the many occasions when I heard him read the service, I noticed that he never changed the opening sentence, though there were, of course, others from which to choose. He drew the people to their feet always with these words, spoken as it were directly to them:

"When the wicked man turneth away from the wickedness that he hath

committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save

his soul alive."

I noticed this morning that he instantly attracted the attention of every one, and held it, with the first words of the lesson:

"The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the

mighty fallen!"

It seemed to me as if the people at first almost tried to stop breathing, so intense was the feeling. Mrs. Falchion was sitting very near me, and though she had worn her veil up at first, as I uncharitably put it then, to disconcert him, she drew it rather quickly down as his reading proceeded; but, so far as I could see, she never took her eyes off his face through the whole service; and, impelled in spite of myself, I watched her closely. Though Ruth Devlin was sitting not far from her, she scarcely looked that way.

Evidently the text of the sermon was not chosen that it might have some association with Phil's death, but there was a kind of simple grandeur, and certainly cheerful stalwartness, in his interpretation and practical rendering of the text:

"Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?

... travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak

in righteousness, mighty to save."

A man was talking to men sensibly, directly, quietly. It was impossible to resist the wholesome eloquence of his temperament; he was a revelation of humanity: what he said had life.

I said to myself, as I had before, Is it possible that this man ever did anything unmanly?

After the service, James Devlin-with Ruth-came to Roscoe and myself, and asked us to lunch at his house. Roscoe hesitated, but I knew it was better for him not to walk up the hills and back again immediately after luncheon; so I accepted for us both; and Ruth gave me a grateful look. Roscoe seemed almost anxious not to be alone with Ruth-not from any cowardly feeling, but because he was perplexed by the old sense of coming catastrophe, which, indeed, poor fellow, he had some cause to feel. He and Mr. Devlin talked of Phil's funeral and the arrangements that had been made, and during the general conversation Ruth and I dropped behind.

Quite abruptly she said to me: "Who is Mrs. Falchion?"

"A widow-it is said-rich, unencumbered," I as abruptly answered.

"But I suppose even widows may have pedigrees, and be conjugated in the past tense," was the cool reply. She drew herself up a little proudly.

I was greatly astonished. Here was a girl living most of her life in these mountains, having only had a few years of social life in the East, practising with considerable skill those arts of conversation so much cultivated in metropolitan drawing-rooms. But I was a very dull fellow then, and had yet to learn that women may develop in a day to wonderful things.

"Well," I said in reply, "I suppose not. But I fear I cannot answer regarding the pedigree, nor a great deal about the past, for I only met her under two years ago."

"And yet I have imagined that you knew her pretty well, and that Mr. Roscoe knew her even better-perhaps," she said suggestively.

"That is so," I tried to say with apparent frankness, "for she lived in the South Seas with her father, and Roscoe knew her there."

"She is a strange woman, and quite heartless in some ways; and yet, do you know, I like her while I dislike her; and I cannot tell why."

"Do not try to tell," I answered, "for she has the gift of making people do both.-I think she likes and dislikes herself-as well as others."

"As well-as others," she replied slowly. "Yes, I think I have noticed that. You see," she added, "I do not look at people as most girls of my age: and perhaps I am no better for that. But Mrs. Falchion's introduction to me occurred in such peculiar circumstances, and the coincidence of your knowing her was so strange, that my interest is not unnatural, I suppose."

"On the contrary," I said, "I am only surprised that you have restrained your curiosity so much and so long. It was all very strange; though the meeting was quite to be expected, as Mrs. Falchion herself explained that day. She had determined on coming over to the Pacific Coast; this place was in her way; it is a fashionable resort; and she stood a good chance of finding old friends."

"Yes-of finding-old friends," was the abstracted reply. "I like Miss Caron, her companion, very much better than-most women I have met."

This was not what she was going to say, but she checked herself, lest she might be suspected of thinking uncharitably of Mrs. Falchion. I, of course, agreed with her, and told her the story of Galt Roscoe and Hector Caron, and of Justine's earnestness regarding her fancied debt to Roscoe.

I saw that the poison of anxiety had entered the girl's mind; and it might, perhaps, bear fruit of no engaging quality. In her own home, however, it was a picture to see her with her younger sisters and brothers, and invalid mother. She went about very brightly and sweetly among them, speaking to them as if she was mother to them all, angel of them all, domestic court for them all; as indeed she was. Here there seemed no disturbing element in her; a close observer might even have said (and in this case I fancy I was that) that she had no mind or heart for anything or anybody but these few of her blood and race. Hers was a fine nature-high, wholesome, unselfish. Yet it struck me sadly also, to see how the child

-like in her, and her young spirit, had been so early set to the task of defence and protection: a mother at whose breasts a child had never hung; maternal, but without the relieving joys of maternity.

I knew that she would carry through her life that too watchful, too anxious tenderness; that to her last day she would look back and not remember that she had a childhood once; because while yet a child she had been made into a woman.

Such of the daughters of men make life beautiful; but themselves are selfish who do not see the almost intolerable pathos of unselfishness and sacrifice. At the moment I was bitter with the thought that, if Mrs. Falchion intended anything which could steal away this girl's happiness from her, even for a time, I should myself seek to retaliate-which was, as may appear, in my power. But I could not go to Mrs. Falchion now and say: "You intend some harm to these two: for God's sake go away and leave them alone!" I had no real ground for making such a request. Besides, if there was any catastrophe, any trouble, coming, or possible, that might hasten it, or, at least, give it point.

I could only wait. I had laid another plan, and from a telegram I had received in answer to one I had sent, I believed it was working. I did not despair. I had, indeed, sent a cable to my agent in England, which was to be forwarded to the address given me by Boyd Madras at Aden. I had got a reply saying that Boyd Madras had sailed for Canada by the Allan Line of steamers. I had then telegraphed to a lawyer I knew in Montreal, and he had replied that he was on the track of the wanderer.

All Viking and Sunburst turned out to Phil Boldrick's funeral. Everything was done that he had requested. The great whistle roared painfully, revolvers and guns were fired over his grave, and the new-formed corporation appeared. He was buried on the top of a foot-hill, which, to this day, is known as Boldricks' Own. The grave was covered by an immense flat stone bearing his name. But a flagstaff was erected near, no stouter one stands on Beachy Head or elsewhere,-and on it was engraved:

PHIL BOLDRICK,

Buried with Municipal Honours on

the Thirtieth day of June 1883.

This to his Memory, and for the honour of

Viking and Sunburst.

"Padre," said a river-driver to Galt Roscoe after the rites were finished, "that was a man you could trust."

"Padre," added another, "that was a man you could bank on, and draw your interest reg'lar. He never done a mean thing, and he never pal'd with a mean man. He wasn't for getting his teeth on edge like some in the valley. He didn't always side with the majority, and he had a gift of doin' things on the square."

Others spoke in similar fashion, and then Viking went back to work, and we to our mountain cottage.

Many days passed quietly. I saw that Galt Roscoe wished to speak to me on the subject perplexing him, but I did not help him. I knew that it would come in good time, and the farther off it was the better. I dreaded to hear what he had to tell, lest, in spite of my confidence in him, it should really be a thing which, if made public, must bring ruin. During the evenings of these days he wrote much in his diary-the very book that lies by me now. Writing seemed a relief to him, for he was more cheerful afterwards. I know that he had received letters from the summer hotel, but whether they were from Mrs. Falchion or Justine Caron I was not then aware, though I afterwards came to know that one of them was from Justine, asking him if she might call on him. He guessed that the request was connected with Hector Caron's death; and, of course, gave his consent. During this time he did not visit Ruth Devlin, nor did he mention her name. As for myself, I was sick of the whole business, and wished it well over, whatever the result.

I make here a few extracts from Roscoe's diary, to show the state of his mind at this period:

Can a man never get away from the consequences of his wickedness,

even though he repents?... Restitution is necessary as well

as repentance; but when one cannot make restitution, when it is

impossible-what then? I suppose one has to reply, Well, you have

to suffer, that is all.... Poor Alo! To think that after all

these years, you can strike me!

There is something malicious in the way Mercy Falchion crosses my

path. What she knows, she knows; and what she can do if she

chooses, I must endure. I cannot love Mercy Falchion again, and

that, I suppose, is the last thing she would wish now. I cannot

bring Alo back. But how does that concern her! Why does she hate

me so? For, underneath her kindest words,-and they are kind

sometimes,-I can detect the note of enmity, of calculating scorn.

... I wish I could go to Ruth and tell her all, and ask her to

decide if she can take a man with such a past.... What a

thing it is to have had a clean record of unflinching manliness at

one's back!

I add another extract:

Phil's story of Danger Mountain struck like ice at my heart. There

was a horrible irony in the thing: that it should be told to me, of

all the world, and at such a time. Some would say, I suppose, that

it was the arrangement of Providence. Not to speak it profanely, it

seems to be the achievement of the devil. The torture was too

malicious for God....

Phil's letter has gone to his pal at Danger Mountain....

The fourth day after the funeral Justine Caron came to see Galt Roscoe. This was the substance of their conversation, as I came to know long afterwards.

"Monsieur," she said, "I have come to pay something of a debt which I owe to you. It is a long time since you gave my poor Hector burial, but I have never forgotten, and I have brought you at last-you must not shake your head so-the money you spent.... But you MUST take it. I should be miserable if you did not. The money is all that I can repay; the kindness is for memory and gratitude always."

He looked at her wonderingly, earnestly, she seemed so unworldly, standing there, her life's ambition not stirring beyond duty to her dead. If goodness makes beauty, she was beautiful; and yet, besides all that, she had a warm, absorbing eye, a soft, rounded cheek, and she carried in her face the light of a cheerful, engaging spirit.

"Will it make you happier if I take the money?" he said at last, and his voice showed how she had moved him.

"So much happier!" she answered, and she put a roll of notes into his hand.

"Then I will take it," he replied, with a manner not too serious, and he looked at the notes carefully; "but only what I actually spent, remember; what I told you when you wrote me at Hector's death; not this ample interest. You forget, Miss Caron, that your brother was my friend."

"No I cannot forget that. It lives with me," she rejoined softly. But she took back the surplus notes. "And I have my gratitude left still," she added, smiling.

"Believe me, there is no occasion for gratitude. Why, what less could one do?"

"One could pass by on the other side."

"He was not fallen among thieves," was his reply; "he was among Englishmen, the old allies of the French."

"But the Priests and the Levites, people of his own country-Frenchmen-passed him by. They were infamous in falsehood, cruel to him and to me.-You are an Englishman; you have heart and kindness."

He hesitated, then he gravely said: "Do not trust Englishmen more than you trust your own countrymen. We are selfish even in our friendships often. We stick to one person, and to benefit that one we sacrifice others. Have you found all Englishmen-and WOMEN unselfish?" He looked at her steadily; but immediately repented that he had asked the question, for he had in his mind one whom they both knew, too well, perhaps; and he added quickly: "You see, I am not kind."

They were standing now in the sunlight just outside the house. His hands were thrust down in the pockets of his linen coat; her hands opening and shutting her parasol slightly. They might, from their appearance, have been talking of very inconsequent things.

Her eyes lifted sorrowfully to his. "Ah, monsieur," she rejoined, "there are two times when one must fear a woman." She answered his question more directly than he could have conjectured. But she felt that she must warn him.

"I do not understand," he said.

"Of course you do not. Only women themselves understand that the two times when one must fear a woman are when she hates, and when she loves-after a kind. When she gets wicked or mad enough to hate, either through jealousy or because she cannot love where she would, she is merciless. She does not know the honour of the game. She has no pity. Then, sometimes when she loves in a way, she is, as you say, most selfish. I mean a love which-is not possible. Then she does some mad act-all women are a little mad sometimes. Most of us wish to be good, but we are quicksilver...."

Roscoe's mind had been working fast. He saw she meant to warn him against Mrs. Falchion. His face flushed slightly. He knew that Justine had thought well of him, and now he knew also that she suspected something not creditable or, at least, hazardous in his life.

"And the man-the man whom the woman hates?"

"When the woman hates-and loves too, the man is in danger."

"Do you know of such a man?" he almost shrinkingly said.

"If I did I would say to him, The world is wide. There is no glory in fighting a woman who will not be fair in battle. She will say what may appear to be true, but what she knows in her own heart to be false-false and bad."

Roscoe now saw that Justine had more than an inkling of his story.

He said calmly: "You would advise that man to flee from danger?"

"Yes, to flee," she replied hurriedly, with a strange anxiety in her eyes; "for sometimes a woman is not satisfied with words that kill. She becomes less than human, and is like Jael."

Justine knew that Mrs. Falchion held a sword over Roscoe's career; she guessed that Mrs. Falchion both cared for him and hated him too; but she did not know the true reason of the hatred-that only came out afterwards. Woman-like, she exaggerated in order that she might move him; but her motive was good, and what she said was not out of keeping with the facts of life.

"The man's life even might be in danger?" he asked.

"It might."

"But surely that is not so dreadful," he still said calmly.

"Death is not the worst of evils."

"No, not the worst; one has to think of the evil word as well. The evil word can be outlived; but the man must think of those who really love him-who would die to save him-and whose hearts would break if he were killed. Love can outlive slander, but it is bitter when it has to outlive both slander and death. It is easy to love with joy so long as both live, though there are worlds between. Thoughts fly and meet; but Death makes the great division.... Love can only live in the pleasant world."

Very abstractedly he said: "Is it a pleasant world to you?"

She did not reply directly to that, but answered: "Monsieur, if you know of such a man as I speak of, warn him to fly." And she raised her eyes from the ground and looked earnestly at him. Now her face was slightly flushed, she looked almost beautiful.

"I know of such a man," he replied, "but he will not go. He has to answer to his own soul and his conscience. He is not without fear, but it is only fear for those who care for him, be they ever so few. And he hopes that they will be brave enough to face his misery, if it must come. For we know that courage has its hour of comfort.... When such a man as you speak of has his dark hour he will stand firm."

Then with a great impulse he added: "This man whom I know did wrong, but he was falsely accused of doing a still greater. The consequence of the first thing followed him. He could never make restitution. Years went by. Some one knew that dark spot in his life-his Nemesis."

"The worst Nemesis in this life, monsieur, is always a woman," she interrupted.

"Perhaps she is the surest," he continued. "The woman faced him in the hour of his peace and-" he paused. His voice was husky.

"Yes, 'and,' monsieur?"

"And he knows that she would ruin him, and kill his heart and destroy his life."

"The waters of Marah are bitter," she murmured, and she turned her face away from him to the woods. There was no trouble there. The birds were singing, black squirrels were jumping from bough to bough, and they could hear the tapping of the woodpecker. She slowly drew on her gloves, as if for occupation.

He spoke at length as though thinking aloud: "But he knows that, whatever comes, life has had for him more compensations than he deserves. For, in his trouble, a woman came, and said kind words, and would have helped him if she could."

"There were TWO women," she said solemnly.

"Two women?" he repeated slowly.

"The one stayed in her home and prayed, and the other came."

"I do not understand," he said: and he spoke truly.

"Love is always praying for its own, therefore one woman prayed at home. The other woman who came was full of gratitude, for the man was noble, she owed him a great debt, and she believed in him always. She knew that if at any time in his life he had done wrong, the sin was without malice or evil."

"The woman is gentle and pitiful with him, God knows."

She spoke quietly now, and her gravity looked strange in one so young.

"God knows she is just, and would see him fairly treated. She is so far beneath him! and yet one can serve a friend though one is humble and poor."

"How strange," he rejoined, "that the man should think himself miserable who is befriended in such a way! Mademoiselle, he will carry to his grave the kindness of this woman."

"Monsieur," she added humbly, yet with a brave light in her eyes, "it is good to care whether the wind blows bitter or kind. Every true woman is a mother, though she have no child. She longs to protect the suffering, because to protect is in her so far as God is.... Well, this woman cares that way...." She held out her hand to say good-bye. Her look was simple, direct, and kind. Their parting words were few and unremarkable.

Roscoe watched Justine Caron as she passed out into the shade of the woods, and he said to himself: "Gratitude like that is a wonderful thing." He should have said something else, but he did not know, and she did not wish him to know: and he never knew.

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