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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 26057

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"There is the Phantom getting under way," the skipper said, as his turn up and down the deck brought him close to Frank.

"So she is. I saw her owner go ashore less than an hour ago."

"Yes; he came on board again five minutes ago. The men began to bustle about directly he got on deck. I do hope they won't put in again as long as we are here. The hands are as savage as bulls, and though they remembered what you told them, and there were no rows on shore last night, I shall be glad when we ain't in the same port with the Phantom, for I am sure that if two or three men of each crew were to drop in to the same pub, there would be a fight in no time. And really I could not blame them. It is not in human nature to lose a race like that without feeling very sore over it. I hope she is off. Anyhow, as we are going to Cowes this evening, it will be a day or two before the hands are likely to run against each other, and that will give them time to cool down a bit.

"There is one thing. I bet the Phantom won't enter against us at Cowes. If we were to give them a handsome beating there, it would show everyone that they would have had no chance of winning the Cup if it had not been for the accident."

"No, I don't suppose that we shall meet again this season, and indeed I don't know that I shall do any more racing myself, except that I shall feel it as a sort of duty to enter for the Squadron's open race.

"I think, by the course she is laying, that the Phantom is off to Southampton. Perhaps she is going to meet somebody there. Anyhow, she is not likely to be back until we have started for Cowes."

Frank sat for some time with the paper in his hand, but, although he glanced at it occasionally, his mind took in nothing of its contents. Again and again he watched the Phantom. Yes, she was certainly going to Southampton Water.

From what Bertha had said to him the evening before, he had received a strong hope that she would reject Carthew. Nothing was more probable than that he should have gone ashore that morning, fresh from his victory, to put the question to her, and his speedy return and his order to make sail as soon as he got on deck certainly pointed to the fact that she had refused him.

A load of care seemed to be lifted from Frank's mind. From the first, when he had found that Carthew was a visitor at Lady Greendale's, he had been uncomfortable. He knew the man's persevering nature, and recognised his power of pleasing when he desired to do so. He was satisfied that, when he himself was refused, the reason Bertha gave him was, as far as she knew, the true one; but he had since thought that possibly she might then, although unsuspected by herself, have been to some extent under the spell of Carthew's influence. When she had declined two unexceptional offers, he had been almost convinced that Carthew, when the time came, would receive a more favourable answer. But he had watched them closely on the few occasions when he had seen them together in society, and, certain as he had felt at other times, he had come away somewhat puzzled, and said to himself:

"She is captivated by his manner, as any girl might be, but I doubt whether she loves him."

This impression, however, had always died out in a short time, and he had somehow come to accept the general opinion unquestioningly, that she would accept Carthew when he proposed. He had been prepared to face the alternative of either suffering her to marry a scoundrel, or of taking a step more repugnant to him, which would probably end by an entire breach of his friendship with the Greendales, that of telling them this story. He was therefore delighted to find that the difficulty had been solved by Bertha herself without his intervention, and felt absolutely grateful for the accident which had cost him the Queen's Cup, but had at the same time opened Bertha's eyes to the man's true character. Soon after two o'clock he went ashore in the gig, and at the half hour Lady Greendale and Bertha came down.

"The Osprey looks like a bird shorn of its wings," he said, as he handed them into the boat; "and though the men have made everything as tidy as they could, the two missing spars quite spoil her appearance."

"That does not matter in the least, Frank," Lady Greendale said. "We know how she looks when she is at her best. We shall enjoy a quiet sail in her just as much as if she were in apple-pie order."

"You look fagged, Lady Greendale, though you are pretty well accustomed to gaiety in town."

Lady Greendale did indeed look worn and worried. For the last two or three days, Bertha's manner had puzzled her and caused her some vague anxiety. That morning the girl had come in from the garden and told her that she had just refused Mr. Carthew, and, although she had never been pleased at the idea of Bertha's marrying him, the refusal had come as a shock.

Personally she liked him. She believed him to be very well off, but she had expected Bertha to do much better, and she by no means approved of his fondness for the turf. She had been deeply disappointed at the girl's refusal of Lord Chilson, on whom she had quite set her mind. The second offer had also been a good one. Still, she had reconciled herself to the thought of Bertha's marrying Carthew. His connection with the turf had certainly brought him into contact with a great many good men, he was to be met everywhere, and she could hardly wonder that Bertha should have been taken with his good looks and the brilliancy of his conversation. The refusal, then, came to her not only as an absolute surprise, but as a shock.

She considered that Bertha had certainly given him, as well as everyone else, reason to suppose that she intended to accept him. Many of her intimate friends had spoken to her as if the affair was already a settled matter, and when it became known that Bertha had refused him, she would be set down as a flirt, and it would certainly injure her prospects of making the sort of match that she desired. She had said something of all this to the girl, and had only received the reply:

"I know what I am doing, mamma. I can understand that you thought I was going to marry him. I thought so myself, but something has happened that has opened my eyes, and I have every reason to be thankful that it has. I dare say you think that I have behaved very badly, and I am sorry; but I am sure that I am doing right now."

"What have you discovered, Bertha? I don't understand you at all."

"I don't suppose you do, mamma. I cannot tell you what it is. I told him that I would not tell anybody."

"But you don't seem to mind, Bertha; that is what puzzles me. A girl who has made up her mind to accept a man, and who finds out something that seems to her so bad that she rejects him, would naturally be distressed and upset. You seem to treat it as if it were a matter of no importance."

"I don't quite understand it myself, mamma. I suppose that my eyes have been opened altogether. At any rate, I feel that I have had a very narrow escape. I was certainly very much worried when I first learned about this, two days ago, and I was even distressed; but I think that I have got over the worry, and I am sure that I have quite got over the distress."

"Then you cannot have cared for him," Lady Greendale said, emphatically.

"That is just the conclusion that I have arrived at myself, mamma," Bertha said, calmly. "I certainly thought that I did, and now I feel sure that I was mistaken altogether."

Lady Greendale could say nothing further.

"I had better send off a note to Frank, my dear," she said, plaintively. "Of course you are not thinking of going out sailing after this."

"Indeed, I am, mamma. Why shouldn't we? Of course I am not going to say anything here of what has happened. If he chooses to talk about it he can, but I don't suppose that he will. It is just the end of the season, and we need not go back to town at all, and next spring everyone will have forgotten all about it. You know what people will say: 'I thought that Greendale girl was going to marry Carthew. I suppose nothing has come of it. Did she refuse him I wonder, or did he change his mind?' And there will be an end of it. The end of the season wipes a sponge over everything. People start afresh, and, as somebody says-Tennyson, isn't it? or Longfellow?––they 'let the dead past bury its dead.'"

Lady Greendale lifted her hands in mild despair, put on her things, and went down to the boat with Bertha.

"I have brought a book, mamma," the latter said as they went down. "I shall tell Frank about this, though I shall tell no one else. I always knew that he did not like Mr. Carthew. So you can amuse yourself reading while we are talking."

"You are a curious girl, Bertha," her mother said, resignedly. "I used to think that I understood you; now I feel that I don't understand you at all."

"I don't know that I understand myself, mamma, but I know enough of myself to see that I am not so wise as I thought I was, and somebody says that 'When you first discover you are a fool it is the first step towards being wise,' or something of the sort.

"There is Major Mallett standing at the landing, and there is the gig. I think that she is the prettiest boat here."

The mainsail was hoisted by the time they reached the side of the yacht, and the anchor hove short, so that in two or three minutes they were under way.

"She looks very nice," Lady Greendale said. "I thought that she would look much worse."

"You should have seen her yesterday, mamma, when we passed her, with the jagged stumps of the topmast and bowsprit and all her ropes in disorder, the sails hanging down in the water and the wreckage alongside. I could have cried when I saw her. At any rate, she looks very neat and trim now.

"Where is the Phantom, Major Mallett?"

"She got under way at eleven o'clock, and has gone up to Southampton," he replied, quietly, but with a half-interrogatory glance towards her.

She gave a little nod, and took a chair a short distance from that in which Lady Greendale had seated herself.

"Has he gone for good?" Frank asked, as he sat down beside her.

"Of course he has," she said. "You don't suppose, after what I told you last night, that I was going to accept him."

"I hoped not," he said, gravely. "You cannot tell what a relief it has been to me. Of course, dear, you will understand that so long as you were to marry a man who would be likely to make you happy I was content, but I could not bear to think of your marrying a man I knew to be altogether unworthy of you."

"You know very well," she said, "that you never intended to let me marry him. As I said to you last night, I feel very much aggrieved, Major Mallett. You had said you would be my friend, and yet you let this go on when you could have stopped it at once. You let me get talked about with that man, and you would have gone on letting me get still more talked about before you interfered. That was not kind or friendly of you."

"But, Bertha," he remonstrated, "the fact that we had not been friends, and that he had beaten me in a variety of matters, was no reason in the world why I should interfere, still less why you should not marry him. When I was stupid enough to tell you that story, years ago, I stated that I had no grounds for saying that it was he who played that trick upon my boat, and it would have been most unfair on my part to have brought that story up again."

"Quite so, but there was the other story."

"What other story?" Frank asked in great surprise.

"The story that George Lechmere came and told me two days ago," she said, gravely.

"George Lechmere! You don't mean to say-"

"I do mean to say so. He behaved like a real friend, and came to tell me the story of Martha Bennett.

"He told me," she went on, as he was about to speak, "that you had made up your mind to tell mamma about it, directly you heard that I was engaged to Mr. Carthew. That would have been something, but would hardly have been fair to me. If I had once been engaged to him, it would have been very hard to break it off, and naturally it would have been much greater pain to me then than it has been now."

"I felt that. But you see, Bertha, until you did accept him, I had no right to assume that you would do so. At least so I understood it, and I did not feel that in my position I was called upon to interfere until I learned that you were really in danger of what I considered wrecking your life's happiness."

"I understand that," she said, gently, "and I know that you acted for the best. But there are other things you have not told me, Major Mallett-other things that George Lechmere has told me. Did you think that it would have been of no interest to me to know that you had forgiven the man who tried to take your life; and, more than that, had restored his self respect, taken him as your servant, treated him as a friend?"

The tears stood

in her eyes now.

"Don't you think, Frank, that was a thing that I might have been interested to know-a thing that would raise you immeasurably in the eyes of a woman––that would show her vastly more of your real character than she could know by meeting you from day to day as a friend?"

"It was his secret and not mine, Bertha. It was known to but him and me. Never was a man more repentant or more bitterly regretful for a fault––that was in my eyes scarcely a fault at all-except that he had too rashly assumed me to be the author of the ruin of the girl he loved. The poor fellow had been half maddened, and was scarce responsible for his actions. He had already suffered terribly, and the least I could do was to endeavour to restore his self respect by showing him that I had entirely forgiven him. Any kindness that I have shown him he has repaid ten-fold, not only by saving my life, but in becoming my most sincere and attached friend. I promised him that I would tell no one, and I have never done so, and no one to this day knows it, save his father and mother.

"How then could I tell even you? You must see yourself that it was impossible that I could tell you. Besides, the story was of no interest save to him and me; and above all, as I said, it was his secret and not mine."

"I see that now," she said. "Still, I am so sorry, so very sorry, that I did not know it before.

"You see, Frank," she went on, after a pause; "we women have to make or unmake our lives very much in the dark. No one helps us, and if we have not a brother to do so, we are groping in the dark. Look at me. Here was I, believing that Mr. Carthew, whom I met everywhere in society, was, except that he kept race horses and bet heavily, as good as other men. He was very pleasant, very good looking, generally liked, and infinitely more amusing than most men one meets. How was I to tell what he really was?

"On the other hand, there were you, my dear friend, who, I knew, had shown yourself a very brave soldier, and whom also everyone liked and spoke well of, but of whose real character I did not know much, except on the side that was always presented to me; and now I find you capable of what I consider a grand act of generosity."

"You overrate the matter altogether, Bertha. The man shot me by mistake. The fellow he took me for richly deserved shooting. When he found it was a mistake, the poor fellow was bitterly sorry for it. Surely, there was nothing more to be said about it."

The girl sat silent for some time.

"Well, it is all cleared up now," she said at last. "There is no reason why we should not be friends as of old."

"None whatever," he said. "There has been only-" and he stopped short.

"Only what, Frank?"

"Nothing," he said. "We will be just as we were, Bertha. I will try and be the good elder brother, and scold you and look after you, and warn you, if it should be necessary, until you get under other guidance."

"It will be some time," she said, quietly, "before that happens. I have had a sharp lesson."

"And did you really care for him much, Bertha?"

"I don't think that I really cared for him at all," she said. "That is not the lesson that I was thinking of."

He saw the colour mount into her cheeks as she twisted the handkerchief she held into a knot. Then, turning to him, she said:

"Frank, are you never going to give me a chance again?"

He could not misunderstand her.

"Do you mean-can you mean, Bertha?" he said, in a low tone. "Do you mean that if I ask you the same question again you will give me a different answer?"

"I did not know then," she said. "I had never thought of it. You took me altogether by surprise, and what I said I thought was true. Afterwards I knew that I had been mistaken. I hoped that you would ask me again, but you did not, and I soon felt that you never would. You tried hard to be as you were before, but you were not the same, and I was not the same. Then I did not seem to care. There were three men who wanted me. I did not care much which it was, but I would not have anyone say that I had married for position-I hated the idea of that-and so I would have taken the third. He was bright and pleasant, and all that sort of thing, and I thought that I could be happy with him, until George Lechmere opened my eyes. Then, of course, that was over; but his story showed me still more what a fool I had been, what a heart I had thrown away, and I said, 'I will at least make an effort to undo the past. I will not let my chance of happiness go away from me merely from false pride. If he loves me still he will forgive me. If not, at least I shall not, all through my life, feel that I might have made it different could I have brought myself to speak a word.'"

"I love you as much as ever," Frank said, taking her hand. "I love you more for speaking as you have. I can hardly believe my happiness. Can it be that you really love me, Bertha?"

"I think I have proved it, Frank. I do love you. I have known it for some time, but it seemed all too late. It was a grief rather than a pleasure. Every time you came it was a pain to me, for I felt that I had lost you; and it was only when I learned, two days ago, how you could forgive, and that at the same time I could free myself from the chain I had allowed to be wound round me, and which I don't think I could otherwise have broken, that I made up my mind that it should not be my fault if things were not put right between us.

"Now let us tell mother."

Her hand was still in his, and they went across the deck together.

"Mamma," she said, "please put down that book. I have a piece of news for you. Frank and I are going to be married."

Lady Greendale sat for a moment, speechless in astonishment. She knew that Bertha had wished to tell him that she had refused Carthew's offer, but that this would come of it she had never dreamt. A year before she had approved of Bertha's rejection of Frank, but since then much had happened. Bertha had shown that she would not marry for position only, and that she would be likely to take her own way entirely in the matter; and, although this was a downfall to the hopes that she had once entertained, Lady Greendale was herself very fond of Frank, and it was at any rate better than having Bertha marry a man of whose real means she was ignorant, and who, as everyone knew, bet heavily on the turf. These ideas flashed rapidly through her mind, and holding out one hand to each, she said:

"There is no one to whom I could more confidently entrust her happiness, Frank. God bless you both."

Then she betook herself to her pocket handkerchief, for her tears came easily, and on this occasion she herself could hardly have said whether they were the result of pleasure in Bertha's happiness, or regret at the downfall of the air castles she had once built.

"I think, Bertha, our best plan will be to go below now," Frank suggested, quietly.

"What for?" Bertha asked, shyly.

The thing had been done. She felt radiantly happy, but more shocked at her own boldness than she had been when she perpetrated it.

"Well, my dear, I thought that perhaps you would rather not kiss me in sight of the whole crew, and certainly I shan't be able to restrain myself much longer."

"Then, in that case," she said, demurely, "perhaps we had better go below."

It was half an hour before they came on deck again.

"Well, my dears," Lady Greendale said, "the more I think of it the better I am pleased. As far as I am concerned, nothing could be nicer. I shall have Bertha within a short drive of me, and it won't be like losing her.

"Do you know, Bertha, your father said to me once, 'I would give anything if some day Frank Mallett and our Bertha were to take a fancy to each other. There is nothing I should like more than to have her settled near us, and there is no one I know more likely to make her happy than he would be.' I am sure, dear, that you will be glad to know that your engagement would have had his approval, as it has mine."

Bertha bent down and kissed her mother, with tears standing in her eyes.

"It will be a great pleasure to us both to have you so near us," Frank said, earnestly. "You know that, having lost my own mother so long ago, I have always looked upon you as more of a mother than anyone else, and have always felt almost as much at home in your house as in my own.

"Now, let us sit down and talk it over quietly. In the first place, I propose that on Monday, when you leave Lord Haverley's, you shall both come here for a time. The Solent will be very pleasant for the next fortnight, and we can then take a fortnight's cruise west, and, if you like, land at Plymouth, and go straight home."

"I should be very glad," Lady Greendale said at once, rejoiced at the thought that she would thus avoid the necessity of answering any questions about Bertha; "and there will be no occasion at all to speak of this at my cousin's. There might be all sorts of questions asked, and expressions of surprise, and so on. It will be quite time enough to write to our friends after we have been comfortably settled at home for a time. We can talk over all that afterwards."

"Yes, and I should think, Lady Greendale, that it would save the trouble of two letters if, while mentioning that Bertha is engaged to your neighbour, Major Mallett, you could add that the marriage will come off in the course of a few weeks.

"Don't you think so, Bertha?"

"Certainly not," she said, saucily. "It will be quite time to talk about that a long time hence."

"Well, I will put off talking about it for a short time, but, you see, I have had a year's waiting already."

Very pleasant was the three hours' cruise. No one gave a thought of the missing topmast and bowsprit. There was a nice sailing breeze, and, clipped as her wings were, the Osprey was still faster than the majority of the yachts.

As soon as the two ladies had been put ashore, Frank sailed for Cowes. It was too late when they got there for anything to be done that evening, but Frank went ashore with the captain, and found that the spars were all ready to receive the iron work and sheaves from the old ones; and as these had been towed up to the yard to be in readiness, Messieurs White promised that they would arrange for a few hands to come to work early, and that the spars should be brought off by half-past eight on Monday morning.

As soon as he had returned in the gig, after putting the ladies ashore at Ryde, Frank had called George Lechmere to him.

"It is all right, George, thanks to your interview with Miss Greendale. It was a bold step to take, but it was the best possible thing, and succeeded splendidly, and everything is to be as I wish it."

"I am glad, indeed, to hear it, Major, and I hoped that you would have something of the sort to tell me. There was a look about you both that I took to mean that things were going on well."

"Yes, George. At first, when she told me that you had told her about that affair at Delhi, I felt that there was really no occasion for you to have said anything about it; but it did me a great deal of good. She made much more of it than there was any occasion for; but, you know, when women are inclined to take a pleasant view of a thing, they will magnify molehills into mountains."

"I thought that it would do good, Major. I don't mean that it would do you any good, but that it would do good generally. I had to tell the other story, and that came naturally with it; and, at any rate, she could not but see that there was a deal of difference between the nature of the man who had been so good to me, and that of that scoundrel."

"That is just the effect it did have. Well, don't say anything about it forward, at present. The men shall be told later on."

By one o'clock on Monday the Osprey was back at Ryde, and at two o'clock the dinghy went ashore with the mate and two of the hands, who waited a quarter of an hour till a vehicle brought down the ladies' luggage. Soon afterwards Frank went ashore in the gig, and brought Lady Greendale and Bertha off.

As they went down to their cabin, Bertha, looking into the saloon, saw George Lechmere preparing the tea tray to bring it up on deck. She at once went to him.

"I did not thank you before," she said, holding out her hand; "but I thank you now, and shall thank you all my life. You did me the greatest service."

"I am glad, indeed, Miss Greendale, that it was so; for I know that the Major would never have been a happy man if this had not come about."

For the next fortnight the Osprey was cruising along the coast, getting as far as Torquay, and returning to Cowes. Frank did not enter her for any of the races. Lady Greendale, although a fair sailor, grew nervous when the yacht heeled over far, and even Bertha did not care for racing, the memory of the last race being too fresh in her mind for her to wish to take part in another for the present.

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