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- Jeanne Of The Marshes - 4/52 -


CHAPTER III

Perhaps there was never a moment in the lives of these two men when their utter and radical dissimilarity, physically as well as in the larger ways, was more strikingly and absolutely manifest. Like a great sea animal, huge, black-bearded, bronzed, magnificent, but uncouth, Andrew de la Borne, in the oilskins and overalls of a village fisherman, stood in the great bare hall in front of the open fireplace, reckless of his drippings, at first only mildly amused by the half cynical, half angry survey of the very elegant young man who had just descended the splendid oak staircase, with its finely carved balustrade, black and worm-eaten, Cecil de la Borne stared at his brother with the angry disgust of one whose sense of all that is holiest stands outraged. Slim, of graceful though somewhat undersized figure, he was conscious of having attained perfection in matters which he reckoned of no small importance. His grey tweed suit fitted him like a glove, his tie was a perfect blend between the colour of his eyes and his clothes, his shoes were of immaculate shape and polish, his socks had been selected with care in the Rue de la Paix. His hair was brushed until it shone with the proper amount of polish, his nails were perfectly manicured, even his cigarette came from the dealer whose wares were the caprice of the moment. That his complexion was pallid and that underneath his eyes were faint blue lines, which were certainly not the hall-marks of robust health, disturbed him not at all. These things were correct. Health was by no means a desideratum in the set to which he was striving to belong. He looked through his eyeglass at his brother and groaned.

"Really, Andrew," he said calmly, but with an undernote of anger trembling in his tone, "I am surprised to see you like this! You might, I think, have had a little more consideration. Can't you realize what a sight you are, and what a mess you're making!"

Andrew took off his cap and shook it, so that a little shower of salt water splashed on to the polished floor.

"Never mind, Cecil," he said good-humouredly. "You've all the deportment that's necessary in this family. And salt water doesn't stain. These boards have been washed with it many a time."

The young man's face lost none of his irritation.

"But what on earth have you been doing?" he exclaimed. "Where have you been to get in a state like that?"

Andrew's face was suddenly overcast. It did not please him to think of those last few hours.

"I had to go out to bring a mad woman home," he said. "Kate Caynsard was out in her catboat a day like this. It was suicide if I hadn't reached her in time."

"You--did reach her in time?" the young man asked quickly.

Andrew turned to face the questioner, and the eyes of the brothers met. Again the differences between them seemed to be suddenly and marvellously accentuated. Andrew's cheeks, bronzed and hardened with a life spent wholly out of doors, were glistening still with the salt water which dripped down from his hair and hung in sparkling globules from his beard. Cecil was paler than ever; there was something almost furtive in that swift insistent look. Perhaps he recognized something of what was in the other's mind. At any rate the good-nature left his manner--his tone took to itself a sterner note.

"I came back," he said grimly. "I should not have come back alone. She was hard to save, too," he added, after a moment's pause.

"She is mad," Cecil muttered. "A queer lot, all the Caynsards."

"She is as sane as you or I," his brother answered. "She does rash things, and she chooses to treat her life as though it were a matter of no consequence. She took a fifty to one chance at the bar, and she nearly lost. But, by heaven, you should have seen her bring my little boat down the creek, with the tide swelling, and a squall right down on the top of us. It was magnificent. Cecil!"

"Well?"

"Why does Kate Caynsard treat her life as though it were of less value than the mackerel she lowers her line for? Do you know?"

The younger man dropped his eyeglass and shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"Since when," he demanded, "have I shown any inclination to play the village Lothario? Thick ankles and robust health have never appealed to me--I prefer the sicklier graces of civilization."

"Kate Caynsard," Andrew said thoughtfully, "is not of the villagers. She leads their life, but her birth is better on her father's side, at any rate, than our own."

"If I might be allowed to make the suggestion," Cecil said, regarding his brother with supercilious distaste, "don't you think it would be just as well to change your clothes before our guests arrive?"

"Why should I?" Andrea asked calmly.

"They are not my friends. I scarcely know even their names. I entertain them at your request. Why should I be ashamed of my oilskins? They are in accord with the life I live here. I make no pretence, you see, Cecil," he added, with a faintly amused smile, "at being an ornamental member of Society."

His brother regarded him with something very much like disgust.

"No!" he said sarcastically. "No one could accuse you of that."

Something in his tone seemed to suggest to Andrew a new idea. He looked down at the clothes he wore beneath his oilskins--the clothes almost of a working man. He glanced for a moment at his hands, hardened and blistered with the actual toil which he loved--and he looked his brother straight in the face.

"Cecil," he said, "I believe you're ashamed of me."

"Of course I am," the younger man answered brutally. "It's your own fault. You choose to make a fisherman or a labouring man of yourself. I haven't seen you in a decent suit of clothes for years. You won't dress for dinner. Your hands and skin are like a ploughboy's. And, d--n it all, you're my elder brother! I've got to introduce you to my friends as the head of the De la Bornes, and practically their host. No wonder I don't like it!"

There was a moment's silence. If his words hurt, Andrew made no sign. With a shrug of the shoulders he turned towards the staircase.

"There is no reason," he remarked, carelessly enough, "why I should inflict the humiliation of my presence on you or on your friends. I am going down to the Island. You shall entertain your friends and play the host to your heart's content. It will be more comfortable for both of us."

Cecil prided himself upon a certain impassivity of features and manner which some fin de siecle oracle of the cities had pronounced good form, but he was not wholly able to conceal his relief. Such an arrangement was entirely to his liking. It solved the situation satisfactorily in more ways than one.

"It's a thundering good idea, Andrew, if you're sure you'll be comfortable there," he declared. "I don't believe you would get on with my friends a bit. They're not your sort. Seems like turning you out of your own house, though."

"It is of no consequence," Andrew said coldly. "I shall be perfectly comfortable."

"You see," Cecil continued, "they're not keen on sport at all, and you don't play bridge--"

Andrew had already disappeared. Cecil turned back into the hall and lit a cigarette.

"Phew! What a relief!" he muttered to himself. "If only he has the sense to keep away all the time!"

He rang the bell, which was answered by a butler newly imported from town.

"Clear away all this mess, James," Cecil ordered, pointing in disgust to the wet places upon the floor, and the still dripping southwester, "and serve tea here in an hour, or directly my friends arrive--tea, and whisky and soda, and liqueurs, you know, with sandwiches and things."

"I will do my best, sir," the man answered. "The kitchen arrangements are a little--behind the times, if I might venture to say so."

"I know, I know," Cecil answered irritably. "The place has been allowed to go on anyhow while I was away. Do what you can, and let them know outside that they must make room for one, or perhaps two automobiles...."

Upstairs Andrew was rapidly throwing a few things together. With an odd little laugh he threw into the bottom of a wardrobe an unopened parcel of new clothes and a dress suit which had been carefully brushed. In less than twenty minutes he had left the house by the back way, with a small portmanteau poised easily upon his massive shoulders. As he turned from the long ill-kept avenue, with its straggling wind-smitten trees all exposed to the tearing ocean gales, into the high road, a great automobile swung round the corner and slackened speed. Major Forrest leaned out and addressed him.

"Can you tell me if this is the Red Hall, my man--Mr. De la Borne's place?" he asked.

Andrew nodded, without a glance at the veiled and shrouded women who were leaning forward to hear his answer.

"The next avenue is the front way," he said. "Mind how you turn in-- the corner is rather sharp."

He spoke purposely in broad Norfolk, and passed on.


Jeanne Of The Marshes - 4/52

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