The Mystery of the Sea/Chapter 19



With a smile Marjory began:

"You are satisfied that it was because of the fireworks and Joan of Arc business that I came away?"

"Oh yes!"

"And that this was the final and determining cause?"

"Why certainly!"

"Then you are wrong!" I looked at her in wonder and in some secret concern. If I were wrong in this belief, then why not in others? If Adams's belief and my acceptance of it were erroneous, what new mystery was there to be revealed? Just at present things had been looking so well for the accomplishment of my wishes that any disturbance must be unwelcome. Marjory, watching me from under her eyelashes, had by this time summed me up. The stern look which she always had when her brows were fixed in thought, melted into a smile which was partly happy, partly mischievous, and wholly girlish.

"Make your mind easy, Archie" she said, and oh! how my heart leaped when she addressed me by my Christian name for the first time. "There isn't anything to get uneasy about. I'll tell you what it was if you wish."

"Certainly I wish, if you don't dislike telling me." So she went on:

"I did not mind the fireworks; that is I did mind them and liked them too. Between you and me, there has to be a lot of fireworks for one to object to them. People may say what they please, but it's only those who have not tasted popular favour that say they don't like it. I don't know how Joan of Arc felt, but I've a pretty cute idea that she was like other girls. If she enjoyed being cheered and made much of as well as I did, no wonder that she kept up the game as long as she could. What broke me all up was the proposals of marriage! It's all very well getting proposed to by people you know, and that you don't dislike. But when you get a washing basket full of proposals every morning by the post; when seedy looking scallywags ogle you; when smug young men with soft hats and no chins wait outside your door to hand you their own poems; and when greasy cranks stop your carriage to proffer their hearts to you before your servants, it becomes too much. Of course you can burn the letters, though there are some of them too good and too honest not to treat their writers with respect. But the cranks and egotists, and scallywags and publicans and sinners, the loafers that float round one like an unwholesome miasma; these are too many and too various, and too awful to cope with. I felt the conviction so driven in to me that the girl, or at any rate her personality, counts for so little, but that her money, or her notoriety, or celebrity or whatever it is, counts for so much, that I couldn't bear to meet strangers at all. Burglars and ghosts and tigers and snakes and all kinds of things that dart out on you are bad enough; but I tell you that proposers on the pounce are a holy terror. Why, at last I began to distrust everyone. There wasn't an unmarried man of my acquaintance that I didn't begin to suspect of some design; and then the funny part of it was that if they didn't come up to the scratch I felt aggrieved. It was awfully unfair wasn't it? But I could not help it. I wonder if there is a sort of moral jaundice which makes one see colours all wrong! If there is, I had it; and so I just came away to get cured if I could.

"You can't imagine the freedom which it was to me not to be made much of and run after. Of course there was a disappointing side to it; I'm afraid people's heads swell very quick! But, all told, it was delightful. Mrs. Jack had come with me, and I had covered up my tracks at home so that no one would be worried. We ran up to Canada, and at Montreal took a steamer to Liverpool. We got out, however, at Moville. We had given false names, so that we couldn't be tracked." Here she stopped; and a shy look grew over her face. I waited, for I thought it would embarrass her less to tell things in her own way than to be asked questions. The shy look grew into a rosy blush, through which came that divine truth which now and again can shine from a girl's eyes. She said in quite a different way from any in which she had spoken to me as yet; with a gentle appealing gravity:

"That was why I let you keep the wrong impression as to my name. I couldn't bear that you, who had been so good to me, should, at the very start of our—our friendship, find me out in a piece of falsity. And then when we knew each other better, and after you had treated me with so much confidence about the Second Sight and Gormala and the Treasure, it made me feel so guilty every time I thought of it that I was ashamed to speak." She stopped and I ventured to take her hand. I said in as consolatory a way as I could:

"But my dear, that was not any deceit—to me at any rate. You took another name to avoid trouble before ever I even saw you; how then could I be aggrieved. Besides" I added, feeling bolder as she did not make any effort to draw away her hand, "I should be the last person in the world to object to your changing your name!"

"Why?" she asked raising her eyes to mine with a glance which shot through me. This was pure coquetry; she knew just as well as I did what I meant. All the same, however, I said:

"Because I too want you to change it!" She did not say a word, but looked down.

I was now sure of my ground, and without a word I bent over and kissed her. She did not draw back. Her arms went round me; and in an instant I had a glimpse of heaven.

Presently she put me away gently and said:

"There was another reason why I did not speak all that time. I can tell it to you now."

"Pardon me" I interrupted "but before you tell me, am I to take it that—well, what has just been between us—is an affirmative answer to my question?" Her teeth flashed as well as her eyes as she answered:

"Have you any doubt? Was there any imperfection in the answer? If so, perhaps we had better read it as 'no.'"

My answer was not verbal; but it was satisfactory to me. Then she went on:

"I can surely tell you now at all events. Have you still doubts?"

"Yes" said I, "many, very many, hundreds, thousands, millions, all of which are clamouring for instant satisfaction!" She said quietly and very demurely, at the same time raising that warning hand which I already well knew, and which I could not but feel was apt to have an influence on my life, though I had no doubt but that it would always be for good:

"Then as there are so many, there is not the slightest use trying to deal with them now."

"All right" I said "we shall take them in proper season and deal with them seriatim." She said nothing, but she looked happy.

I felt so happy myself that the very air round us, and the sunshine, and the sea, seemed full of joyous song. There was music even in the screaming of the myriad seagulls sweeping overhead, and in the wash of the rising and falling waves at our feet. I kept my eyes on Marjory as she went on to speak:

"Oh, it is a delight to be able to tell you now what a pleasure it was to me to know that you, who knew nothing of me, of my money, or my ship, or all the fireworks and Joan of Arc business—I shall never forget that phrase—had come to me for myself alone. It was a pleasure which I could not help prolonging. Even had I had no awkwardness in telling my name, I should have kept it back if possible; so that, till we had made our inner feelings known to each other, I should have been able to revel in this assurance of personal attraction;" I was so happy that I felt I could interrupt:

"That sounds an awfully stilted way of putting it, is it not?" I said. "May I take it that what you mean is, that though you loved me a little—of course after I had shown you that I loved you a great deal—you still wished to keep me on a string; so that my ignorance of your extrinsic qualities might add a flavour to your enjoyment of my personal devotion?"

"You talk" she said with a joyful smile "like a small book with gilt edges! And now, I know you want to know more of my surroundings, where we are living and what are our plans."

Her words brought a sort of cold shiver to me. In my great happiness I had forgotten for the time all anxiety for her safety. In a rush there swept over me all the matters which had caused me such anguish of mind for the last day and a half. She saw the change in me, and with poetic feeling put in picturesque form her evident concern:

"Archie, what troubles you? your face is like a cloud passing over a cornfield!"

"I am anxious about you" I said. "In the perfection of happiness which you have given me, I forgot for the moment some things that are troubling me." With infinite gentleness, and with that sweet tenderness which is the sympathetic facet of love, she laid her hand on mine and said:

"Tell me what troubles you. I have a right to know now, have I not?" For answer I raised her hand and kissed it; then holding it in mine I went on:

"At the same time that I learned about you, I heard of some other things which have caused me much anxiety. You will help to put me at ease, won't you?"

"Anything you like I shall do. I am all yours now!"

"Thank you, my darling, thank you!" was all I could say; her sweet surrender of herself overwhelmed me. "But I shall tell you later; in the meantime tell me all about yourself, for that is a part of what I wait for." So she spoke:

"We are living, Mrs. Jack and I, in an old Castle some miles back in the country from here. First I must tell you that Mrs. Jack is my old nurse. Her husband had been a workman of my father's in his pioneer days. When Dad made his own pile he took care of Jack—Jack Dempsey his name was, but we never called him anything but Jack. His wife was Mrs. Jack then, and has been so ever since to me. When mother died, Mrs. Jack, who had lost her husband a little while before, came to take care of me. Then when father died she took care of everything; and has been like a mother to me ever since. As I dare say you have noticed, she has never got over the deferential manner which she used to have in her poorer days. But Mrs. Jack is a rich woman as women go; if some of my proposers had an idea of how much money she has they would never let her alone till she married some one. I think she got a little frightened at the way I was treated; and there was a secret conviction that she might be the next to suffer. If it hadn't been for that, I doubt if she would ever, even to please me, have fallen in with my mad scheme of running away under false names. When we came to London we saw the people at Morgan's; and the gentleman who had charge of our affairs undertook to keep silence as to us. He was a nice old man, and I told him enough of the state of affairs for him to understand that I had a good reason for lying dark. I thought that Scotland might be a good place to hide in for a time; so we looked about amongst the land agents for a house where we would not be likely to be found. They offered us a lot; but at last they told us of one between Ellon and Peterhead, way back from the road. We found it in a dip between a lot of hills where you would never suspect there was a house at all, especially as it was closely surrounded with a wood. It is in reality an old castle, built about two or three hundred years ago. The people who own it—Barnard by name, are away, the agent told us, and the place was to let year after year but no one has ever taken it. He didn't seem to know much about the owners as he had only seen their solicitor; but he said they might come some time and ask to visit the house. It is an interesting old place, but awfully gloomy. There are steel trellis gates, and great oak doors bound with steel, that rumble like thunder when you shut them. There are vaulted roofs; and windows in the thickness of the wall, which though they are big enough to sit in, are only slits at the outside. Oh! it is a perfect daisy of an old house. You must come and see it! I will take you all over it; that is, over all I can, for there are some parts of it shut off and locked up."

"When may I go?" I asked.

"Well, I had thought," she answered, "that it would be very nice if you were to get your wheel and ride over with me to-day."

"Count me in every time! By the way what is the name of the place?"

"Crom Castle. Crom is the name of the little village, but it is a couple of miles away." I paused a while thinking before I spoke. Then with my mind made up I said:

"Before we leave here I want to speak of something which, however unimportant you may think it, makes me anxious. You will let me at the beginning beg, won't you, that you do not ask me who my informant is, or not to tell you anything except what I think advisable." Her face grew grave as she said:

"You frighten me! But Archie, dear, I trust you. I trust you; and you may speak plainly. I shall understand."