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- Mrs. Falchion, Volume 1. - 6/25 -


"Well, Mrs. Valiant did ride Carbine on that Saturday. Such a scene it was! I see it now--the mottled plump of hounds upon the scent, the bright sun showing up the scarlet coats of the whips gloriously, the long stride of the hunters, ears back and quarters down! She rode Carbine, and the fences WERE stiff--so stiff that I couldn't have taken half of them. Afterward I was not sorry that I couldn't; for she rode for a fall that day on Carbine, her own horse, she had bought him of Major Karney a few days before,--and I heard her last words as she lay beside him, smiling through the dreadful whiteness of her lips. 'Goodbye, Marmy,' she whispered. 'Carbine and I go together. It is better so, in the full cry and a big field. Tell the men at Luke's that I hope they will pass at the coming exams. . . . I am going up--for my final--Marmy.-- I wonder--if I'll--pass.' And then the words froze on her lips.

"It was persecution that did it--diabolical persecution and selfishness. That was the worst day the college ever knew. At the funeral, when the provost read, 'For that it hath pleased Thee to deliver this our sister out of the miseries of this sinful world,' Big Wallington, the wildest chap among the grads, led off with a gulp in his throat, and we all followed. And that gold-spectacled sneak stood there, with a lying white handkerchief at his eyes.

"I laid myself out to make the college too hot for him. In a week I had every man in the place with me, and things came to such a pass that all of us must be sent down, or Valiant resign. He resigned. He found another professorship; but the thing followed him, and he was obliged to leave the country."

When I finished the story, Mrs. Falchion was silent for a time, then, with a slight air of surprise, and in a quite critical way, she said: "I should think you would act very well, if you used less emotion. Mrs. Valiant had a kind of courage, but she was foolish to die. She should have stayed and fought him--fought him every way, until she was his master. She could have done it; she was clever, I should think. Still, if she had to die, it was better to go with a good horse that way. I think I should prefer to go swiftly, suddenly, but without the horror of blood and bruises, and that sort of thing. . . . I should like to meet Professor Valiant. He was hard, but he was able too. . . . But haven't we had enough of horror? I asked you to amuse me, and you have merely interested me instead. Oh!--"

This exclamation, I thought, was caused by the voice of the quartermaster humming:

"I'm a-sailing, I'm a-sailing on the sea, To a harbour where the wind is still"--

Almost immediately she said: "I think I will go below." Then, after a slight pause: "This is a liberal acquaintance for one day, Dr. Marmion; and, you know, we were not introduced."

"No, Mrs. Falchion, we were not introduced; but I am in some regards your host, and I fear we should all be very silent if we waited for regular introductions here. The acquaintance gives me pleasure, but it is not nearly so liberal as I hope it may become."

She did not answer, but smiled at me over her shoulder as she passed down the staircase, and the next instant I could have bitten my tongue for playing the cavalier as I had done; for showing, as I think I did, that she had an influence over me--an influence peculiar to herself, and difficult to account for when not in her presence.

I sat down, lit a cigar, and went over in my mind all that had been said between us; all that had occurred in my cabin after dinner; every minute since we left Colombo was laid bare to its minutest detail. Lascars slipped by me in the half-darkness, the voices of two lovers near alternated with their expressive silences, and from the music saloon there came the pretty strains of a minuet, played very deftly. Under the influence of this music my thoughts became less exact; they drifted. My eyes shifted to the lights of the 'Porcupine' in the distance, and from them again to the figures passing and repassing me on the deck. The "All's well" of the look-out seemed to come from an endless distance; the swish of water against the dividing hull of the 'Fulvia' sounded like a call to silence from another world; the phosphorescence swimming through the jarred waters added to the sensation of unreality and dreams. These dreams grew, till they were broken by a hand placed on my shoulder, and I saw that one of the passengers, Clovelly, an English novelist, had dropped out from the promenade to talk with me. He saw my mood, however, and said quietly: "Give me a light for my cigar, will you? Then, astride this stool, I'll help you to make inventory of the rest of them. A pretty study; for, at our best, 'What fools we mortals be!'"

"'Motley is your only wear,'" was my reply; and for a full half-hour, which, even for a man, is considerable, we spoke no word, but only nodded when some one of the promenaders noticed us. There was a bookmaker fresh from the Melbourne races; an American, Colonel Ryder, whose eloquence had carried him round the world; a stalwart squatter from Queensland; a pretty widow, who had left her husband under the sods of Tasmania; a brace of girls going to join their lovers and be married in England; a few officers fleeing from India with their livers and their lives; a family of four lanky lasses travelling "home" to school; a row of affable ladies, who alternated between envy and gaiety and delight in, and criticism of, their husbands; a couple of missionaries, preparing to give us lectures on the infamous gods of the heathen,--gods which, poor harmless little creatures! might be bought at a few annas a pint at Aden or Colombo,--and on the Exodus and the Pharaohs--pleasures reserved for the Red Sea; a commercial traveller, who arranged theatricals, and cast himself for all the principal parts; a humorous and naive person who industriously hinted at the opulence of his estates in Ireland; two stately English ladies of title; a cheerful array of colonial knights and judges off to Europe for a holiday; and many others, who made little worlds unto themselves, called cliques by blunt people.

"To my mind, the most interesting persons on the ship," said Clovelly at last, "are the bookmaker, Miss Treherne, and the lady with whom you have just been talking--an exceptional type."

"An unusual woman, I fancy," was my reply. "But which is Miss Treherne? I am afraid I am not quite sure."

He described her and her father, with whom I had talked--a London Q.C., travelling for his health, a notable man with a taste for science, who spent his idle hours in reading astronomy and the plays of Euripides.

"Why not include the father in the list of the most interesting persons?" I questioned.

"Because I have met many men like him, but no one quite like his daughter, or Mrs.--what is her name?"

"Mrs. Falchion."

"Or Mrs. Falchion or the bookmaker."

"What is there so uncommon about Miss Treherne? She had not struck me as being remarkable."

"No? Well, of course, she is not striking after the fashion of Mrs. Falchion. But watch her, study her, and you will find her to be the perfection of a type--the finest expression of a decorous convention, a perfect product of social conservatism; unaffected, cheerful, sensitive, composed, very talented, altogether companionable."

"Excuse me," I said, laughing, though I was impressed; "that sounds as if you had been writing about her, and applying to her the novelist's system of analysis, which makes an imperfect individual a perfect type. Now, frankly, are you speaking of Miss Treherne, or of some one of whom she is the outline, as it were?"

Clovelly turned and looked at me steadily. "When you consider a patient," he said, "do you arrange a diagnosis of a type or of a person? --And, by the way, 'type' is a priggish word."

"I consider the type in connection with the person."

"Exactly. The person is the thing. That clears up the matter of business and art. But now, as to Miss Treherne: I want to say that, having been admitted to her acquaintance and that of her father, I have thought of them only as friends, and not as 'characters' or 'copy.'"

"I beg your pardon, Clovelly," said I. "I might have known."

"Now, to prove how magnanimous I am, I shall introduce you to Miss Treherne, if you will let me. You've met her father, I suppose?" he added, and tossed his cigar overboard.

"Yes, I have talked with him. He is a courteous and able man, I should think."

We rose. Presently he continued: "See, Miss Treherne is sitting there with the Tasmanian widow--what is HER name?"

"Mrs. Callendar," I replied. "Blackburn, the Queenslander, is joining them."

"So much the better," he said. "Come on."

As we passed the music saloon, we paused for an instant to look through the port-hole at a pale-faced girl with big eyes and a wonderful bright red dress, singing "The Angels' Serenade," while an excitable bear-leader turned her music for her. Near her stood a lanky girl who adored actors and tenors, and lived in the hope of meeting some of those gentlemen of the footlights, who plough their way so calmly through the hearts of maidens fresh from school.

We drew back to go on towards Miss Treherne, when Hungerford touched me on the arm, and said: "I want to see you for a little while, Marmion, if Mr. Clovelly will excuse you."

I saw by Hungerford's face that he had something of importance to say, and, linking my arm in his, I went with him to his cabin, which was near those of the intermediate passengers.

CHAPTER III

A TALE OF NO MAN'S SEA

Inside the cabin Hungerford closed the door, gripped me by the arm, and then handed me a cheroot, with the remark: "My pater gave them to me last voyage home. Have kept 'em in tea." And then he added, with no appearance of consecutiveness: "Hang the bally ship, anyhow!"

I shall not attempt to tone down the crudeness of Hungerford's language. It contents me to think that the solidity of his character and his worth will appear even through the crust of free-and-easy idioms, as they will certainly be seen in his acts;--he was sound at heart and true as steel.


Mrs. Falchion, Volume 1. - 6/25

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