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Anyway he was out of it, and Margaret Brandt was henceforth nothing to him. If he said it once he said it hundreds of times, as if the simple reiteration of so obvious a truth would make it one whit the truer, when his whole heart was clamouring that Margaret was all the worlds to him and the only thing in the world that he wanted.
With an eye, perhaps, to his obvious lack of cheerfulness, his namesake and host suggested various diversions,--fishing for congers and rock-fish, a voyage round the island, a trip across to Herm, a day among the rabbits on. Brecqhou. But he wanted none of them. His life was flapping on a broken wing and all he wanted was to be left alone.
In time the wound would heal, and he would take up his work again and find his solace in it. But wounds such as this are not healed in a day. It was raw and sore yet, the new skin had not had time to form.
He recalled Lady Elspeth's dissatisfaction with his love-scenes, and thought, grimly, that now he could at all events enter fully into the feelings of the man who had lost the prize, and would be able to depict them to the life. If the choice had been left to him he would gladly have dispensed with all such knowledge to its profoundest depths, if only the prize had remained to him. But the choice had been Margaret's, and the prize was Charles Pixley's.
If there was one thing he could have imagined without actual experience, it was how a man may feel when he loses. What he could not at present by any possibility conceive was--how it might feel to be the accepted lover of such a girl as Margaret Brandt.
Confound her money! If it were not for that, Pixley would probably never have wanted to marry her. Money was answerable for half the ills of life, and the contrariness of woman for the other half.
Confound money! Confound--Well, truly, his state of mind was not a happy one.
But there was something in the crisp Sark air that, by degrees and all unconsciously, braced both mind and body;--something broadening and uplifting in the wide free outlook from every headland; something restorative of the grip of life in the rush and roar of the mighty waves and the silent endurance of the rocks; something so large and aloof and restful in the wide sweep of sea and sky; something so hopeful and regenerative in the glorious exuberance of the spring--the flaming gorse, the mystic stretches of bluebells, the sunny sweeps of primroses, the soft uncurlings of the bracken, the bursting life of the hedgerows, the joyous songs of the larks--that presently, and in due season, earthly worries began to fall back into their proper places below the horizon, and a new Graeme--a Graeme born of Sark and Trouble--looked out of the old Graeme eyes and began to contemplate life from new points of view.
It took time, however. Love is a plant of most capricious and surprising growth. It may take years to root and blossom. It may spring up in a day, yet strike its roots right through the heart and hold it as firmly as the growth of the years. And, once the heart is enmeshed in the golden filaments, it is a most dolorous work to disentangle it.
For the first two weeks his mind ran constantly on his loss.
Momentarily it might be diverted by outward things, but always it came back with a sharp shock, and a bitter sense of deprivation, to the fact that Margaret Brandt had pa.s.sed out of his life and left behind her an aching void.
Did he sit precariously among the ragged scarps and pinnacles of Little Sark, while the western seas raged furiously at his feet and the Souffleur shot its rockets of snowy spray high into the gray sky--through the pa.s.sing film of the spray, and the marbled coils of the tumbling waves, the face of Margaret Brandt looked out at him.
Did he stride among the dew-drenched, gold-spangled gorse bushes on the Eperquerie, while the sun came up with ever fresh glories behind the distant hills of France--Margaret's face was there in the sunrise.
Did he stand above Havre Gosselin in the gloaming, while the sun sank behind Herm and Guernsey in splendours such as he had never dreamed of--just so, he said to himself, Margaret had gone out of his life and left it gray and cheerless as the night side of Brecqhou.
Wherever he was and whatever he did, it was always Margaret, Margaret,--and Margaret lost to him.
By the end of the third week, however, the tonic effects of the strong sea air and water began to work inwards. Healthy body would no longer suffer sick heart. He had taken his morning plunge hitherto as a matter of course, now he began to enjoy it and to look forward to it--certain index of all-round recovery.
His appet.i.te grew till he felt it needed an apology, at which Mrs.
Carre laughed enjoyably. He began to take more interest in his surroundings for their own sakes. His thoughts of Margaret, with their after-glow of tender memory, were like the soft sad haze which falls on Guernsey when the sun has sunk and left behind it, in the upper sky, its slowly dying fires of dull red amber and gold.
Towards the end of the fourth week he tentatively fished out his ma.n.u.script and began to read it--with pauses. He grew interested in it. He saw new possibilities in the story.--His life was getting back on to the rails again.
Greater bodily peace and comfort than he found in that thick-set, creeper-covered, little cottage in the Rue Lucas, man might scarcely hope for. Anything more would have tended to luxury and made for restraint.
He was free as the wind to come and go as he listed, to roam the lonely lanes all night and watch the coming of the dawn--which he did; or to lie abed all day--which he did not; to do any mortal thing that pleased him, so long only as he gave his hostess full and fair warning of the state of his appet.i.te and the times when it must be satisfied.
His quarters were not perhaps palatial, but what man, king of himself alone, would live in a palace?
He b.u.mped his head with the utmost regularity against the lintel of the front door each time he entered, and only learned at last to bob by instinct. And the beams in the ceilings were so low that they claimed recognition somewhat after the manner of a boisterous acquaintance.
But doors and windows were always open, night and day, and his good friends the dogs came in to greet him by way of the windows quite as often as by the doors.
All through the black times those two were his close companions, and no better could he have had. They asked nothing of him--or almost nothing, and they gave him all they had. They were grateful from the bottom of their large hearts for any slightest sign of recognition.
And they were proud of his company, which to others would have proved somewhat of a wet blanket. Without a doubt they a.s.sisted mightily in his cure, though neither he nor they knew it.
Every morning when he jumped up to see the weather, the first things that met him when he reached the open window, were four eager eyes full of welcome, and a grave intelligent brown face and hopeful swinging tail, and a dancing white face and little wriggling body.
Then he would pull up the blinds and they would enter with an easy bound and a scramble, and while he hastily flung on his things they would prowl about, now pushing investigating noses into an open drawer, and again taking a pa.s.sing drink out of his water-jug by way of first breakfast.
Then, away through the gaps in the jewelled hedges, with the larks at their matins overhead, and the tethered cows nuzzling out the dainty morning gra.s.ses, and watching the intruders speculatively till they pa.s.sed out of sight into the next field.
"Which way? Which way? Which way?" shrieked Scamp, as he tore to and fro down every possible road to show that all were absolutely alike to him. While Punch bounded lightly to the first dividing of the ways and waited there with slow-swinging tail to see which road Man would choose.
The Harbour--or Les Laches--which? Every morning Scamp raced hopefully towards the sweet-smelling tunnel of hawthorn trees that led down to the other tunnel in the rock and the tiny harbour, because, for a very small dog, the granite slip was much easier to compa.s.s than the steep ledges of Les Laches. And every morning Punch waited quietly at Colinette to see how Man would go.
And when the tide was low and the harbour empty, Punch knew it was Les Laches almost before Man's face had turned that way, and off he went at a gallop, and Scamp came tearing back with expostulatory yelps, and got in Punch's way and was rolled head over heels, but always came right side up at the fourth turn and rushed on without even a remonstrance, for that was a very small price to pay for the exalted companionship of Punch and Man.
So, past La Peignerie and La Forge, with the thin blue smoke of gorse fires floating down from every dumpy chimney and adding a flavour to the sweetest air in the world,--with a morning greeting from everyone they met--over the heights and down the zigzag path to the sloping ledges, and in they went, all three, into the clearest and crispest water in the world, water that tingled and sparkled, full charged with life and energy.
Then shivers and shakes, and hasty play with a towel, and they were racing back across the heights to breakfast and the pa.s.sing of another day, of which the greatest charm had pa.s.sed already with that plunge into the life-giving sea.
If you are inclined to think that I enlarge too much on these two friends of his, let me remind you that a man is known by the company he keeps, and these two were Graeme's sole companions for many a day--those first dark days in the sunny little isle, when all human companionship would have been abhorrent to him.
In their company he found himself again. Their friendship weaned him by degrees from the jaundiced view of life which Margaret's dereliction had induced. They drew him, in time, from his brooding melancholy, and through the upbuilding of the body restored him to a quieter mind.
Let no man despise the help of a dog, for there are times when the friendship of a dog is more sufferable, and of more avail, and far more comforting, than that of any ordinary human being.
PART THE FOURTH
It was just two days before the end of Graeme's fourth week in Sark.
His spirits were rising to the requirements of his work, and he was looking forward with quite novel enjoyment to a steady spell of writing, when his hostess startled him, as she cleared away his breakfast, by saying--
"It iss the day after to-morrow you will be going?"
"Eh? What? Going? No, I'm not going, Mrs. Carre. What made you think I was going? Why, I've only just come."
His landlady put down the dishes on the table again as a concrete expression of surprise, put her hands on her hips by way of taking grip of herself, and stared at him.
"You are not going? Noh? But it wa.s.s just for the month I thought you kem."
"Not at all. I may stop two months, three months,--all my life perhaps. Won't you let me live and die here if I want to?"
"Ach, then! It iss not to die we woult want you. But I thought my man said it wa.s.s just for the month you kem, and--my Good!--I haf let your roomss for the day after to-morrow," and her face had lost its usual smile and was full of distress and bewilderment.
"You've let my rooms? Oh, come now!--But now I think of it, I believe I did say something about a month or so, when I spoke to John Philip.