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   Chapter 6 ADRIFT

The Danger Mark By Robert W. Chambers Characters: 34139

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


During the week the guests at Roya-Neh were left very much to their own devices. Nobody was asked to do anything; there were several good enough horses at their disposal, two motor cars, a power-boat, canoes, rods, and tennis courts and golf links. The chances are they wanted sea-bathing. Inland guests usually do.

Scott Seagrave, however, concerned himself little about his guests. All day long he moused about his new estate, field-glasses dangling, cap on the back of his head, pockets bulging with untidy odds and ends until the increasing carelessness of his attire and manners moved Kathleen Severn to protest.

"I don't know what is the matter with you, Scott," she said. "You were always such a fastidious boy-even dandified. Doesn't anybody ever cut your hair? Doesn't somebody keep your clothes in order?"

"Yes, but I tear 'em again," he replied, carefully examining a small dark-red newt which he held in the palm of one hand. "I say, Kathleen, look at this little creature. I was messing about under the ledges along Hurryon Brook, and found this amphibious gentleman occupying the ground-floor apartment of a flat stone."

Kathleen craned her dainty neck over the shoulder of his ragged shooting coat.

"He's red enough to be poisonous, isn't he? Oh, do be careful!"

"It's only a young newt. Take him in your hand; he's cool and clammy and rather agreeable."

"Scott, I won't touch him!"

"Yes, you will!" He caught her by the arm; "I'm going to teach you not to be afraid of things outdoors. This lizard-like thing is perfectly harmless. Hold out your hand!"

"Oh, Scott, don't make me--"

"Yes, I will. I thought you and I were going to be in thorough accord and sympathy and everything else."

"Yes, but you mustn't bully me."

"I'm not. I merely want you to get over your absurd fear of live things, so that you and I can really enjoy ourselves. You said you would, Kathleen."

"Can't we be in perfect sympathy and roam about and-and everything, unless I touch such things?"

He said reproachfully, balancing the little creature on his palm: "The fun is in being perfectly confident and fearless. You have no idea how I like all these things. You said you were going to like 'em, too."

"I do-rather."

"Then take this one and pet it."

She glanced at the boy beside her, realising how completely their former relations were changing.

Long ago she had given all her heart to the Seagrave children-all the unspent passion in her had become an unswerving devotion to them. And now, a woman still young, the devotion remained, but time was modifying it in a manner sometimes disquieting. She tried not to remember that now, in Scott, she had a man to deal with, and tried in vain; and dealt with him weakly, and he was beginning to do with her as he pleased.

"You do like to bully me, don't you?" she said.

"I only want you to like to do what I like to do."

She stood silent a moment, then, with a shudder, held out her hand, fingers rigid and wide apart.

"Oh!" she protested, as he placed the small dark-red amphibian on the palm, where it crinkled up and lowered its head.

"That's the idea!" he said, delighted. "Here, I'll take it now. Some day you'll be able to handle snakes if you'll only have patience."

"But I don't want to." She stood holding out the contaminated hand for a moment, then dropped on her knees and scrubbed it vigorously in the brook.

"You see," said Scott, squatting cheerfully beside her, "you and I don't yet begin to realise the pleasure that there is in these woods and streams-hidden and waiting for us to discover it. I wouldn't bother with any other woman, but you've always liked what I like, and its half the fun in having you see these things. Look here, Kathleen, I'm keeping a book of field notes." He extracted from his stuffed pockets a small leather-covered book, fished out a stylograph, and wrote the date while she watched over his shoulder.

"Discovered what seems to be a small dark-red newt under a stone near Hurryon Brook. Couldn't make it bite me, so let Kathleen hold it. Query: Is it a land or water lizard, a salamander, or a newt; and what does it feed on and where does it deposit its eggs?"

Kathleen's violet eyes wandered to the written page opposite.

"Did you really see an otter, Scott?"

"Yes, I did!" he exclaimed. "Out in the Gray Water, swimming like a dog. That was yesterday afternoon. It's a scarce creature here. I'll tell you what, Kathleen; we'll take our luncheon and go out and spend the day watching for it."

"No," she said, drying her hands on her handkerchief, "I can't spend every minute of the day with you. Ask some other woman."

"What other woman?" She was gazing out at the sunlit ripples. A little unquiet thrill leaped through her veins, but she went on carelessly:

"Take some pretty woman out with you. There are several here--"

"Pretty woman," he repeated. "Do you think that's the only reason I want you to come?"

"Only reason? What a silly thing to say, Scott. I am not a pretty woman to you-in that sense--"

"You are the prettiest I ever saw," he said, looking at her; and again the unquiet thrill ran like lightning through her veins. But she only laughed carelessly and said:

"Oh, of course, Geraldine and I expect our big brother to say such things."

"It has nothing to do with Geraldine or with brothers," he said doggedly. She strove to laugh, caught his gaze, and, discountenanced, turned toward the stream.

"We can cross on the stepping stones," she suggested. And after a moment: "Are you coming?"

"See here, Kathleen," he said, "you're not acting squarely with me."

"What do you mean?"

"No, you're not. I'm a man, and you know it."

"Of course you are, Scott."

"Then I wish you'd recognise it. What's the use of mortifying me when I act-speak-behave as any man behaves who-who-is-fond of a-person."

"But I don't mean to-to mortify you. What have I done?"

He dug his hands into the pockets of his riding breeches, took two or three short turns along the bank, came back to where she was standing.

"You probably don't remember," he said, "one night this spring when-when-" He stopped short. The vivid tint in her cheeks was his answer-a swift, disconcerting answer to an incomplete question, the remainder of which he himself had scarcely yet analysed.

"Scott, dear," she said steadily, in spite of her softly burning cheeks, "I will be quite honest with you if you wish. I do know what you've been trying to say. I am conscious that you are no longer the boy I could pet and love and caress without embarrassment to either of us. You are a man, but try to remember that I am several years older--"

"Does that matter!" he burst out.

"Yes, dear, it does.... I care for you-and Geraldine-more than for anybody in the world. I understand your loyalty to me, Scott, and I-I love it. But don't confuse it with any serious sentiment."

"I do care seriously."

"You make me very happy. Care for me very, very seriously; I want you to; I-I need it. But don't mistake the kind of affection that we have for each other for anything deeper, will you?"

"Don't you want to care for me-that way?"

"Not that way, Scott."

"Why?"

"I've told you. I am so much older--"

"Couldn't you, all the same?"

She was trembling inwardly. She leaned against a white birch-tree and passed one hand across her eyes and upward through the thick burnished hair.

"No, I couldn't," she whispered.

The boy walked to the edge of the brook. Past him hurried the sun-tipped ripples; under them, in irregular wedge formation, little ones ahead, big ones in the rear, lay a school of trout, wavering silhouettes of amber against the bottom sands.

One arm encircling the birch-tree, she looked after him in silence, waiting. And after a while he turned and came back to her:

"I suppose you knew I fell in love with you that night when-when-you remember, don't you?"

She did not answer.

"I don't know how it happened," he said: "something about you did it. I want to say that I've loved you ever since. It's made me serious.... I haven't bothered with girls since. You are the only woman who interests me. I think about you most of the time when I'm not doing something else," he explained na?vely. "I know perfectly well I'm in love with you because I don't dare touch you-and I've never thought of-of kissing you good-night as we used to before that night last spring.... You remember that we didn't do it that night, don't you?"

Still no answer, and Kathleen's delicate, blue-veined hands were clenched at her sides and her breath came irregularly.

"That was the reason," he said. "I don't know how I've found courage to tell you. I've often been afraid you would laugh at me if I told you.... If it's only our ages-you seem as young as I do...." He looked up, hopefully; but she made no response.

The boy drew a long breath.

"I love you, anyway," he said. "And that's how it is."

She neither spoke nor stirred.

"I suppose," he went on, "because I was such a beast of a boy, you can never forget it."

"You were the sweetest, the best-" Her voice broke; she swung about, moved away a few paces, stood still. When he halted behind her she turned.

"Dearest," she said tremulously, "let me give you what I can-love, as always-solicitude, companionship, deep sympathy in your pleasures, deep interest in your amusements.... Don't ask for more; don't think that you want more. Don't try to change the loyalty and love you have always had for something you-neither of us understand-neither of us ought to desire-or even think of--"

"Why?"

"Can't you understand? Even if I were not too old in years, I dare not give up what I have of you and Geraldine for this new-for anything more hazardous.... Suppose it were so-that I could venture to think I cared for you that way? What might I put in peril?-Geraldine's affection for me-perhaps her relations with you.... And the world is cynical, Scott, and you are wealthy even among very rich men, and I was your paid guardian-quite penniless-engaged to care for and instruct--"

"Don't say such things!" he said angrily.

"The world would say them-your friends-perhaps Geraldine might be led to doubt-Oh, Scott, dear, I know, I know! And above all-I am afraid. There are too many years between us-too many blessed memories of my children to risk.... Don't try to make me care for you in any other way."

A quick flame leaped in his eyes.

"Could I?"

"No!" she exclaimed, appalled.

"Then why do you ask me not to try? I believe I could!"

"You cannot! You cannot, believe me. Won't you believe me? It must not happen; it is all wrong-in every way--"

He stood looking at her with a new expression on his face.

"If you are so alarmed," he said slowly, "you must have already thought about it. You'll think about it now, anyway."

"We are both going to forget it. Promise that you will!" She added hurriedly: "Drop my hand, please; there is Geraldine-and Mr. Grandcourt, too!... Tell me-do my eyes look queer? Are they red and horrid?... Don't look at me that way. For goodness' sake, don't display any personal interest in me. Go and turn over some flat rocks and find some lizards!"

Geraldine, bare-armed and short-skirted, came swinging along the woodland path, Delancy Grandcourt dogging her heels, as usual, carrying a pair of rods and catching the artificial flies in the bushes at every step.

"We're all out of trout at the house!" she called across to the stream to her brother. "Jack Dysart is fishing down the creek with Na?da and Sylvia. Where is Duane?"

"Somewhere around, I suppose," replied Scott sulkily. His sister took a running jump, cleared the bank, and alighted on a rock in the stream. Poised there she looked back at Grandcourt, laughed, sprang forward from stone to stone, and leaped to the moss beside Kathleen.

"Hello, dear!" she nodded. "Where did you cross? And where is Duane?"

"We crossed by the log bridge below," replied Kathleen. She added: "Duane left us half an hour ago. Wasn't it half an hour ago, Scott?" with a rising inflection that conveyed something of warning, something of an appeal. But on Scott's face the sullen disconcerted expression had not entirely faded, and his sister inspected him curiously. Then without knowing why, exactly, she turned and looked at Kathleen.

There was a subdued and dewy brilliancy in Kathleen's eyes, a bright freshness to her cheeks, radiantly and absurdly youthful; and something else-something so indefinable, so subtle, that only another woman's instinct might divine it-something invisible and inward, which transfigured her with a youthful loveliness almost startling.

They looked at one another. Geraldine, conscious of something she could not understand, glanced again at her sulky brother.

"What's amiss, Scott?" she asked. "Has anything gone wrong anywhere?"

Scott, pretending to be very busy untangling Grandcourt's cast from the branches of a lusty young birch, said, "No, of course not," and the girl, wondering, turned to Kathleen, who sustained her questioning eyes without a tremor.

"What's the matter with Scott?" asked his sister. "He's the guiltiest-looking man-why, it's absurd, Kathleen! Upon my word, the boy is blushing!"

"What!" exclaimed Scott so furiously that everybody laughed. And presently Geraldine asked again where Duane was.

"Rosalie Dysart is canoeing on the Gray Water, and she hailed him and he left us and went down to the river," said Kathleen carelessly.

"Did Duane join her?"

"I think so-" She hesitated, watching Geraldine's sombre eyes. "I really don't know," she added. And, in a lower voice: "I wish either Duane or Rosalie would go. They certainly are behaving unwisely."

Geraldine turned and looked through the woods toward the Gray Water.

"It's their affair," she said curtly. "I've got to make Delancy fish or we won't have enough trout for luncheon. Scott!" calling to her brother, "your horrid trout won't rise this morning. For goodness' sake, try to catch something beside lizards and water-beetles!"

For a moment she stood looking around her, as though perplexed and preoccupied. There was sunlight on the glade and on the ripples, but the daylight seemed to have become duller to her.

She walked up-stream for a little distance before she noticed Grandcourt plodding faithfully at her heels.

"Oh!" she said impatiently, "I thought you were fishing. You must catch something, you know, or we'll all go hungry."

"Nothing bites on these bally flies," he explained.

"Nothing bites because your flies are usually caught in a tree-top. Trout are not arboreal. I'm ashamed of you, Delancy. If you can't keep your line free in the woods"-she hesitated, then reddening a little under her tan-"you had better go and get a canoe and find Duane Mallett and help him catch-something worth while."

"Don't you want me to stay with you?" asked the big, awkward fellow appealingly. "There's no fun in being with Rosalie and Duane."

"No, I don't. Look! Your flies are in that bush! Untangle them and go to the Gray Water."

"Won't you come, too, Miss Seagrave?"

"No; I'm going back to the house.... And don't you dare return without a decent brace of trout."

"All right," he said resignedly. The midges bothered him; he mopped his red face, tugged at the line, but the flies were fast in a hazel bush.

"Damn this sort of thing," he muttered, looking piteously after Geraldine. She was already far away among the trees, skirts wrapped close to avoid briers, big straw hat dangling in one hand.

As she walked toward the Sachem's Gate she was swinging her hat and singing, apparently as unconcernedly as though care rested lightly upon her young shoulders.

Out on the high-road a number of her guests whizzed past in one of Scott's motors; there came a swift hail, a gust of wind-blown laughter, and the car was gone in a whirl of dust. She stood in the road watching it recede, then walked forward again toward the house.

Her accustomed elasticity appeared to have left her; the sun was becoming oppressive; her white-shod feet dragged a little, which was so unusual that she straightened her head and shoulders with nervous abruptness.

"What on earth is the matter with me?" she said, half aloud, to herself.

During these last two months, and apparently apropos of nothing at all, an unaccustomed sense of depression sometimes crept upon her.

At first she disregarded it as the purely physical lassitude of spring, but now it was beginning to disquiet her. Once a hazy suspicion took shape-hastily dismissed-that some sense, some temporarily suppressed desire was troubling her. The same idea had awakened again that evening on the terrace when the faint odour from the decanter attracted her. And again she suspected, and shrank away into herself, shocked, frightened, surprised, yet still defiantly incredulous.

Yet her suspicions h

ad been correct. It was habit, disturbed by the tardiness of accustomed tribute, that stirred at moments, demanding recognition.

Since that night in early spring when fear and horror of herself had suddenly checked a custom which she had hitherto supposed to be nothing worse than foolish, twice-at times inadvertently, at times deliberately-she had sought relief from sleepless nervousness and this new depression in the old and apparently harmless manner of her girlhood. For weeks now she had exercised little control of herself, feeling immune, yet it scared her a little to recognise again in herself the restless premonitions of desire. For here, in the sunshine of the forest-bordered highway, that same dull uneasiness was stirring once more.

It was true, other things had stirred her to uneasiness that morning-an indefinable impression concerning Kathleen-a definite one which concerned Rosalie Dysart and Duane, and which began to exasperate her.

All her elasticity was gone now; tired without reason, she plodded on along the road in her little white shoes, head bent, brown eyes brooding, striving to fix her wandering thoughts on Duane Mallett to fight down the threatening murmurs of a peril still scarcely comprehended.

"Anyway," she said half aloud, "even if I ever could care for him, I dare not let myself do it with this absurd inclination always threatening me."

She had said it! Scarcely yet understanding the purport of her own words, yet electrified, glaringly enlightened by them, she halted. A confused sense that something vital had occurred in her life stilled her heart and her breathing together.

After a moment she straightened up and walked forward, turned across the lawn and into the syringa-bordered drive.

There was nobody in the terrace except Bunbury Gray in a brilliant waistcoat, who sat smoking a very large fa?ence pipe and reading a sporting magazine. He got up with alacrity when he saw her, fetched her a big wicker chair, evidently inclined to let her divert him.

"Oh, I'm not going to," she observed, sinking into the cushions. For a moment she felt rather limp, then a quiver passed through her, tightening the relaxed nerves.

"Bunbury," she said, "do you know any men who ever get tired of idleness and clothes and their neighbours' wives?"

"Sure," he said, surprised, "I get tired of those things all right. I've got enough of this tailor, for example," looking at his trousers. "I'm tired of idleness, too. Shall we do something and forget the cut of my clothes?"

"What do you do when you tire of people and things?"

"Change partners or go away. That's easy."

"You can't change yourself-or go away from yourself."

"But I don't get tired of myself," he explained in astonishment. She regarded him curiously from the depths of her wicker chair.

"Bunbury, do you remember when we were engaged?"

He grinned. "Rather. I wouldn't mind being it again."

"Engaged?"

"Sure thing. Will you take me on again, Geraldine?"

"I thought you cared for Sylvia Quest."

"I do, but I can stop it."

She still regarded him with brown-eyed curiosity.

"Didn't you really tire of our engagement?"

"You did. You said that my tailor is the vital part of me."

She laughed. "Well, you are only a carefully groomed combination of New York good form and good nature, aren't you?"

"I don't know. That's rather rough, isn't it? Or do you really mean it that way?"

"No, Bunny dear. I only mean that you're like the others. All the men I know are about the same sort. You all wear too many ties and waistcoats; you are, and say, and do too many kinds of fashionable things. You play too much tennis, drink too many pegs, gamble too much, ride and drive too much. You all have too much and too many-if you understand that! You ask too much and you give too little; you say too much which means too little. Is there none among you who knows something that amounts to something, and how to say it and do it?"

"What the deuce are you driving at, Geraldine?" he asked, bewildered.

"I'm just tired and irritable, Bunny, and I'm taking it out on you.... Because you were always kind-and even when foolish you were often considerate.... That's a new waistcoat, isn't it?"

"Well-I don't-know," he began, perplexed and suspicious, but she cut him short with a light little laugh and reached out to pat his hand.

"Don't mind me. You know I like you.... I'm only bored with your species. What do you do when you don't know what to do, Bunny?"

"Take a peg," he said, brightening up. "Do you-shall I call somebody--"

"No, please."

She extended her slim limbs and crossed her feet. Lying still there in the sunshine, arms crooked behind her head, she gazed straight out ahead. Light breezes lifted her soft bright hair; the same zephyrs bore from tennis courts on the east the far laughter and calling of the unseen players.

"Who are they?" she inquired.

"The Pink 'uns, Na?da, and Jack Dysart. There's ten up on every set," he added, "and I've side obligations with Rosalie and Duane. Take you on if you like; odds are on the Pink 'uns. Or I'll get a lump of sugar and we can play 'Fly Loo.'"

"No, thanks."

A few moments later she said:

"Do you know, somehow, recently, the forest world-all this pretty place of lakes and trees-" waving her arm toward the horizon-"seems to be tarnished with the hard living and empty thinking of the people I have brought into it.... I include myself. The region is redolent of money and the things it buys. I had a better time before I had any or heard about it."

"Why, you've always had it--"

"But I didn't know it. I'd like to give mine away and do something for a living."

"Oh, every girl has that notion once in a lifetime."

"Have they?" she asked.

"Sure. It's hysteria. I had it myself once. But I found I could keep busy enough doing nothing without presenting my income to the Senegambians and spending life in a Wall Street office. Of course if I had a pretty fancy for the artistic and useful-as Duane Mallett has-I suppose I'd get busy and paint things and sell 'em by the perspiration of my brow--"

She said disdainfully: "If you were never any busier than Duane, you wouldn't be very busy."

"I don't know. Duane seems to keep at it, even here, doesn't he?"

She looked up in surprise: "Duane hasn't done any work since he's been here, has he?"

"Didn't you know? What do you suppose he's about every morning?"

"He's about-Rosalie," she said coolly. "I've never seen any colour box or easel in their outfit."

"Oh, he keeps his traps at Hurryon Lodge. He's made a lot of sketches. I saw several at the Lodge. And he's doing a big canvas of Rosalie down there, too."

"At Hurryon Lodge?"

"Yes. Miller lets them have the garret for a studio."

"I didn't know that," she said slowly.

"Didn't you? People are rather catty about it."

"Catty?"

Sheer surprise silenced her for a while, then hurt curiosity drove her to questions; but little Bunbury didn't know much more about the matter, merely shrugging his shoulders and saying: "It's casual but it's all right."

Later the tennis players, sunburned and perspiring, came swinging up from the courts on their way to the showers. Bunbury began to settle his obligations; Na?da and the Pink 'uns went indoors; Jack Dysart, handsome, dishevelled, sat down beside Geraldine, fastening his sleeves.

"I lost twice twenty," he observed. "Bunny is in fifty, I believe. Duane and Rosalie lose."

"Is that all you care about the game?" she asked with a note of contempt in her voice.

"Oh, it's good for one's health," he said.

"So is confession, but there's no sport in it. Tell me, Mr. Dysart, don't you play any game for it's own sake?"

"Two, mademoiselle," he said politely.

"What two?"

"Chess is one."

"What is the other?"

"Love," he replied, smiling at her so blandly that she laughed. Then she thought of Rosalie, and it was on the tip of her tongue to say something impudent. But "Do you do that game very well?" was all she said.

"Would you care to judge how well I do it?"

"As umpire? Yes, if you like."

He said: "We will umpire our own game, Miss Seagrave."

"Oh, we couldn't do that, could we? We couldn't play and umpire, too." Suddenly the thought of Duane and Rosalie turned her bitter and she said:

"We'll have two perfectly disinterested umpires. I choose your wife for one. Whom do you choose?"

Over his handsome face the slightest muscular change passed, but far from wincing he nodded coolly.

"One umpire is enough," he said. "When our game is well on you may ask Rosalie to judge how well I've done it-if you care to."

The bright smile she wore changed. Her face was now only a lovely dark-eyed mask, behind which her thoughts had suddenly begun racing-wild little thoughts, all tumult and confusion, all trembling, too, with some scarcely understood hurt lashing them to recklessness.

"We'll have two umpires," she insisted, scarcely knowing what she said. "I'll choose Duane for the second. He and Rosalie ought to be able to agree on the result of our game."

Dysart turned his head away leisurely, then looked around again unsmiling.

"Two umpires? Soit! But that means you consent to play."

"Play?"

"Certainly."

"With you?"

"With me."

"I'll consider it.... Do you know we have been talking utter nonsense?"

"That's part of the game."

"Oh, then-do you assume that the-the game has already begun?"

"It usually opens that way, I believe."

"And where does it end, Mr. Dysart?"

"That is for you to say," he replied in a lower voice.

"Oh! And what are the rules?"

"The player who first falls really in love loses. There are no stakes. We play as sportsmen-for the game's sake. Is it understood?"

She hesitated, smiling, a little excited, a little interested in the way he put things.

At that same moment, across the lawn, Rosalie and Duane strolled into view. She saw them, and with a nervous movement, almost involuntary, she turned her back on them.

Neither she nor Dysart spoke. She gazed very steadily at the horizon, as though there were sounds beyond the green world's rim. A few seconds later a shadow fell over the terrace at her feet-two shadows intermingled. She saw them on the grass at her feet, then quietly lifted her head.

"We caught no trout," said Rosalie, sitting down on the arm of the chair that Duane drew forward. "I fussed about in that canoe until Duane came along, and then we went in swimming."

"Swimming?" repeated Geraldine, dumfounded.

Rosalie balanced herself serenely on her chair-arm.

"Oh, we often do that."

"Swim-where?"

"Why across the Gray Water, child!"

"But-there are no bath houses--"

Rosalie laughed outright.

"Quite Arcadian, isn't it? Duane has the forest on one side of the Gray Water for a dressing-room, and I the forest on the other side. Then we swim out and shake hands in the middle. Our bathing dresses are drying on Miller's lawn. Please do tell me somebody is scandalised. I've done my best to brighten up this house party."

Dysart, really discountenanced, but not showing it, lighted a cigarette and asked pleasantly if the water was agreeable.

"It's magnificent," said Duane; "it was like diving into a lake of iced Apollinaris. Geraldine, why on earth don't you build some bath houses on the Gray Waters?"

Perhaps she had not heard his question. She began to talk very animatedly to Rosalie about several matters of no consequence. Dysart rose, stretched his sunburned arms with over-elaborate ease, tossed away his cigarette, picked up his tennis bat, and said: "See you at luncheon. Are you coming, Rosalie?"

"In a moment, Jack." She went on talking inconsequences to Geraldine; her husband waited, exchanging a remark or two with Duane in his easy, self-possessed fashion.

"Dear," said Rosalie at last to Geraldine, "I must run away and dry my hair. How did we come out at tennis, Jack?"

"All to the bad," he replied serenely, and nodding to Geraldine and Duane he entered the house, his young wife strolling beside him and twisting up her wet hair.

Duane seated himself and crossed his lank legs, ready for an amiable chat before he retired to dress for luncheon; but Geraldine did not even look toward him. She was lying deep in the chair, apparently relaxed and limp; but every nerve in her was at tension, every delicate muscle taut and rigid, and in her heart was anger unutterable, and close, very close to the lids which shadowed with their long fringe the brown eyes' velvet, were tears.

"What have you been up to all the morning?" he asked. "Did you try the fishing?"

"Yes."

"Anything doing?"

"No."

"I thought they wouldn't rise. It's too clear and hot. That's why I didn't keep on with Kathleen and Scott. Two are enough on bright water. Don't you think so?"

She said nothing.

"Besides," he added, "I knew you had old Grandcourt running close at heel and that made four rods on Hurryon. So what was the use of my joining in?"

She made no reply.

"You didn't mind, did you?" he asked carelessly.

"No."

"Oh, all right," he nodded, not feeling much relieved.

The strange blind anger still possessed her. She lay there immobile, expressionless, enduring it, not trying even to think why; yet her anger was rising against him, and it surged, receded helplessly, flushed her veins again till they tingled. But her lids remained closed; the lashes rested softly on the curve of her cheeks; not a tremor touched her face.

"I am wondering whether you are feeling all right," he ventured uneasily, conscious of the tension between them.

With an effort she took command of herself.

"The sun was rather hot. It's a headache; I walked back by the road."

"With the faithful one?"

"No," she said evenly, "Mr. Grandcourt remained to fish."

"He went to worship and remained to fish," said Duane, laughing. The girl lifted her face to look at him-a white little face so strange that the humour died out in his eyes.

"He's a good deal of a man," she said. "It's one of my few pleasant memories of this year-Mr. Grandcourt's niceness to me-and to all women."

She set her elbow on the chair's edge and rested her cheek in her hollowed hand. Her gaze had become remote once more.

"I didn't know you took him so seriously," he said in a low voice. "I'm sorry, Geraldine."

All her composure had returned. She lifted her eyes insolently.

"Sorry for what?"

"For speaking as I did."

"Oh, I don't mind. I thought you might be sorry for yourself."

"Myself?"

"And your neighbour's wife," she added.

"Well, what about myself and my neighbour's wife?"

"I'm not familiar with such matters." Her face did not change, but the burning anger suddenly welled up in her again. "I don't know anything about such affairs, but if you think I ought to I might try to learn." She laughed and leaned back into the depths of her chair. "You and I are such intimate friends it's a shame I shouldn't understand and sympathise with what most interests you."

He remained silent, gazing down at his shadow on the grass, hands clasped loosely between his knees. She strove to study him calmly; her mind was chaos; only the desire to hurt him persisted, rendered sterile by the confused tumult of her thoughts.

Presently, looking up:

"Do you doubt that things are not right between-my neighbour's wife-and me?" he inquired.

"The matter doesn't interest me."

"Doesn't it?"

"No."

"Then I have misunderstood you. What is the matter that does interest you, Geraldine?"

She made no reply.

He said, carelessly good-humoured: "I like women. It's curious that they know it instinctively, because when they're bored or lonely they drift toward me.... Lonely women are always adrift, Geraldine. There seems to be some current that sets in toward me; it catches them and they drift in, linger, and drift on. I seem to be the first port they anchor in.... Then a day comes when they are gone-drifting on at hazard through the years--"

"Wiser for their experience at Port Mallett?"

"Perhaps. But not sadder, I think."

"A woman adrift has no regrets," she said with contempt.

"Wrong. A woman who is in love has none."

"That is what I mean. The hospitality of Port Mallett ought to leave them with no regrets."

He laughed. "But they are not loved," he said. "They know it. That's why they drift on."

She turned on him white and tremulous.

"Haven't you even the excuse of caring for her?"

"Who?"

"A neighbour's wife-who comes drifting into your hospitable haven!"

"I don't pretend to love her, if that is what you mean," he said pleasantly.

"Then you make her believe it-and that's dastardly!"

"Oh, no. Women don't love unless made love to. You've only read that in books."

She said a little breathlessly: "You are right. I know men and women only through books. It's time I learned for myself."

* * *

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