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- The Trespasser, Volume 1. - 6/13 -
"If the clothes do not fit, sir?"
"Your father was about your height and nearly as large, and fashions have not changed much."
A few moments afterwards Gaston was in the room which his father had occupied twenty-seven years before. The taciturn housekeeper, eyeing him excitedly the while, put out the clothes. He did not say anything till she was about to go. Then:
"Hovey, were you here in my father's time?"
"I was under-parlourmaid, sir," she said.
"And you are housekeeper now--good!"
The face of the woman crimsoned, hiding her dour wrinkles. She turned away her head.
"I'd have given my right hand if he hadn't gone, sir."
Gaston whistled softly, then:
"So would he, I fancy, before he died. But I shall not go, so you will not need to risk a finger for me. I am going to stay, Hovey. Good- night. Look after Brillon, please."
He held out his hand. Her fingers twitched in his, then grasped them nervously.
"Yes, sir. Good-night, Sir. It's--it's like him comin' back, sir."
Then she suddenly turned and hurried from the room, a blunt figure to whom emotion was not graceful. "H'm!" said Gaston, as he shut the door. "Parlourmaid then, eh? History at every turn! 'Voici le sabre de mon pere!'"
HE TELLS THE STORY OF HIS LIFE
Gaston Belward was not sentimental: that belongs to the middle-class Englishman's ideal of civilisation. But he had a civilisation akin to the highest; incongruous, therefore, to the general as the sympathy between the United States and Russia. The highest civilisation can be independent. The English aristocrat is at home in the lodge of a Sioux chief or the bamboo-hut of a Fijian, and makes brothers of "savages," when those other formal folk, who spend their lives in keeping their dignity, would be lofty and superior.
When Gaston looked at his father's clothes and turned them over, he had a twinge of honest emotion; but his mind was on the dinner and his heritage, and he only said, as he frowned at the tightness of the waistband:
"Never mind, we'll make 'em pay, shot and wadding, for what you lost, Robert Belward; and wherever you are, I hope you'll see it."
In twelve minutes from the time he entered the bedroom he was ready. He pulled the bell-cord, and then passed out. A servant met him on the stairs, and in another minute he was inside the dining-room. Sir William's eyes flashed up. There was smouldering excitement in his face, but one could not have guessed at anything unusual. A seat had been placed for Gaston beside him. The situation was singular and trying. It would have been easier if he had merely come into the drawing-room after dinner. This was in Sir William's mind when he asked him to dine; but it was as it was. Gaston's alert glance found the empty seat. He was about to make towards it, but he caught Sir William's eye and saw it signal him to the end of the table near him. His brain was working with celerity and clearness. He now saw the woman whose portrait had so fascinated him in the library. As his eyes fastened on her here, he almost fancied he could see the boy's--his father's-face looking over her shoulder.
He instantly went to her, and said: "I am sorry to be late."
His first impulse had been to offer his hand, as, naturally, he would have done in "barbaric" lands, but the instinct of this other civilisation was at work in him. He might have been a polite casual guest, and not a grandson, bringing the remembrance, the culmination of twenty-seven years' tragedy into a home; she might have been a hostess with whom he wished to be on terms: that was all.
If the situation was trying for him, it was painful for her. She had had only a whispered announcement before Sir William led the way to dinner. Yet she was now all her husband had been, and more. Repression had been her practice for unnumbered years, and the only heralds of her feelings were the restless wells of her dark eyes: the physical and mental misery she had endured lay hid under the pale composure of her face. She was now brought suddenly before the composite image of her past. Yet she merely lifted a slender hand with long, fine fingers, which, as they clasped his, all at once trembled, and then pressed them hotly, nervously. To his surprise, it sent a twinge of colour to his cheek. "It was good of you to come down after such a journey," she said. Nothing more.
Then he passed on, and sat down to Sir William's courteous gesture. The situation had its difficulties for the guests--perfect guests as they were. Every one was aware of a dramatic incident, for which there had been no preparation save Sir William's remark that a grandson had arrived from the North Pole or thereabouts; and to continue conversation and appear casual put their resources to some test. But they stood it well, though. their eyes were busy, and the talk was cheerfully mechanical. So occupied were they with Gaston's entrance, that they did not know how near Lady Dargan came to fainting.
At the button-hole of the coat worn by Gaston hung a tiny piece of red ribbon which she had drawn from her sleeve on the terrace twenty-seven years ago, and tied there with the words:
"Do you think you will wear it till we meet again?" And the man had replied:
"You'll not see me without it, pretty girl--pretty girl."
A woman is not so unaccountable after all. She has more imagination than a man; she has not many resources to console her for disappointments, and she prizes to her last hour the swift moments when wonderful things seemed possible. That man is foolish who shows himself jealous of a woman's memories or tokens--those guarantees of her womanliness.
When Lady Dargan saw the ribbon, which Gaston in his hurry had not disturbed, tied exactly as she had tied it, a weird feeling came to her, and she felt choking. But her sister's eyes were on her, and Mrs. Gasgoyne's voice came across the table clearly:
"Sophie, what were Fred Bideford's colours at Sandown? You always remember that kind of thing." The warning was sufficient. Lady Dargan could make no effort of memory, but she replied without hesitation--or conscience:
"Yellow and brown."
"There," said Mrs. Gasgoyne, "we are both wrong, Captain Maudsley. Sophie never makes a mistake." Maudsley assented politely, but, stealing a look at Lady Dargan, wondered what the little by-play meant. Gaston was between Sir William and Mrs. Gasgoyne. He declined soup and fish, which had just been served, because he wished for time to get his bearings. He glanced at the menu as if idly interested, conscious that he was under observation. He felt that he had, some how, the situation in his hands. Everything had gone well, and he knew that his part had been played with some aplomb--natural, instinctive. Unlike most large men, he had a mind always alert, not requiring the inspiration of unusual moments. What struck him most forcibly now was the tasteful courtesy which had made his entrance easy. He instinctively compared it to the courtesy in the lodge of an Indian chief, or of a Hudson's Bay factor who has not seen the outer world for half a century. It was so different, and yet it was much the same. He had seen a missionary, a layreader, come intoxicated into a council of chiefs. The chiefs did not show that they knew his condition till he forced them to do so. Then two of the young men rose, suddenly pinned him in their arms, carried him out, and tied him in a lodge. The next morning they sent him out of their country. Gaston was no philosopher, but he could place a thing when he saw it: which is a kind of genius.
Presently Sir William said quietly:
"Mrs. Gasgoyne, you knew Robert well; his son ought to know you."
Gaston turned to Mrs. Gasgoyne, and said in his father's manner as much as possible, for now his mind ran back to how his father talked and acted, forming a standard for him:
"My father once told me a tale of the Keithley Hunt--something 'away up,' as they say in the West--and a Mrs. Warren Gasgoyne was in it."
He made an instant friend of Mrs. Gasgoyne--made her so purposely. This was one of the few things from his father's talks upon his past life. He remembered the story because it was interesting, the name because it had a sound.
She flushed with pleasure. That story of the Hunt was one of her sweetest recollections. For her bravery then she had been voted by the field "a good fellow," and an admiral present declared that she had a head "as long as the maintop bow-line." She loved admiration, though she had no foolish sentiment; she called men silly creatures, and yet would go on her knees across country to do a deserving man-friend a service. She was fifty and over, yet she had the springing heart of a girl--mostly hid behind a brusque manner and a blunt, kindly tongue.
"Your father could always tell a good story," she said.
"He told me one of you: what about telling me one of him?"
Adaptable, he had at once fallen in with her direct speech; the more so because it was his natural way; any other ways were "games," as he himself said.
She flashed a glance at her sister, and smiled half-ironically.
"I could tell you plenty," she said softly. "He was a startling fellow, and went far sometimes; but you look as if you could go farther."
Gaston helped himself to an entree, wondering whether a knife was used with sweetbreads.
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