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"As I have informed you. It is a union to which we have been looking hopefully forward for some time past--a most excellent conjunction of hearts and fortunes. My ward possesses some means, as you are doubtless aware,"--with an insolent thrust of the pince-nez at the would-be suitor's honour,--"and my son is also well provided for in that respect."
"Then--I am afraid my visit is something in the nature of an intrusion." Mr. Pixley bowed his fullest acquiescence in this very proper estimate of his position, and the pince-nez intimated that the way out lay just behind him and that the sooner he took advantage of it the better.
"I can only say, by way of apology," added Graeme, "that I was wholly unaware of what you have just told me. I will wish you good-day, Mr.
Mr. Pixley and the pince-nez wafted him towards the door, and the lumpy cobbles of the courtyard outside seemed to him, for the moment, absolutely typical of life.
He went back home numbed and sore at heart. It was hard to believe this of Margaret Brandt.
And yet--he said to himself--it was wholly he who was to blame. He had deceived himself. He had wished to believe what he had so earnestly desired should be. Possibly he had closed his eyes to facts and indications which might have enlightened him if he had been on the look-out for them. Possibly--well, there!--he had played the fool unconsciously, and he was not the first. It only remained for him now to play the man.
He felt sore, and bruised, and run down, and for the moment somewhat at odds with life. He would get away from it all to some remote corner, to rest for a time and recover tone, and then to work. For work, after all, is the mighty healer and tonic, and when it is to one's taste there are few wounds it cannot salve.
PART THE THIRD
Six o'clock next morning found Graeme on the deck of the _Ibex_ as she threaded her way swiftly among the bristling black rocks that guard the coast of Guernsey.
Herm and Jethou lay sleeping in the eye of the sun. Beyond them lay a filmy blue whaleback of an island which he was told was Sark, and it was to Sark he was bound.
And wherefore Sark, when, within reasonable limits, all the wide world lay open to him?
Truly, it might not be easy to say. But this I know,--having so far learned the lesson of life, though missing much else--that at times, perhaps at all times, when we think our choice of ways our very own,--when we stand in doubt at the crossroads of life, and then decide on this path or that, and pride ourselves on the exercise of our high prerogative as free agents,--the result, when we look back, bears in upon our hearts the mighty fact that a higher mind than our own has been quietly at work, shaping our ends and moulding and rounding our lives. We may doubt it at times. We may take all the credit to ourselves for dangers pa.s.sed and tiny victories won, but in due time the eyes of our understanding are opened--and we know.
Possibly it was the rapt eulogiums of his friend Black--who had spent the previous summer in Sark, and had ever since been seeking words strong enough in which to paint its charms--that forced its name to the front when he stood facing the wide world, that lacked, for him at all events, a Margaret Brandt, and was therefore void and desolate.
"If ever you seek perfect peace, relief from your fellows, and the simple life, try Sark--and see that you live in a cottage!" he remembered Adam Black murmuring softly, as they sat smoking at the Travellers' one night, shortly after that memorable dinner of the Whitefriars'. And then he had heaved a sigh of regret at thought of being where he was when he might have been in Sark.
Graeme knew nothing whatever of Sark save what his friend had let fall at times. "Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark," recalled his short-jacket and broad-collar days, and the last of the quartette had always somehow conjured up in his mind the image of a bleak, inaccessible rock set in a stormy sea, where no one lived if he could possibly find shelter elsewhere,--an Ultima Thule, difficult of access and still more difficult of exit, a weather-bound little spot into which you scrambled precariously by means of boats and ladders, and out of which you might not be able to get for weeks on end.
But Sark was to hold a very different place in his mind henceforth.
The name of Calais burnt itself into the heart of Queen Mary by reason of loss. Surely on John Graeme's heart the name of Sark may hope to find itself in living letters, for in Sark he was to find more than he had lost--new grace and charm in life, new hopes, new life itself.
He had gone straight home from Lincoln's Inn, and packed his portmanteau, knowing only that he was going away somewhere out of things, caring little where, so long as it was remote and lonely.
Fellow-man--and especially woman--was distasteful to him at the moment. He craved only Solitude the Soother, and Nature the Healer.
He packed all he thought he might need for a couple of months' stay, and among other things the ma.n.u.script he had been at work upon until more pressing matters intervened. He felt, indeed, no slightest inclination towards it, or anything else, at present. But that might come, for Work and he were tried friends.
He wrote briefly to Lady Elspeth telling her how things were with him, and that he was going away for a time. He did not tell her where, for the simple reason that at the moment of writing he did not know himself. Sark came into his mind later.
He told his landlady that he was going away for a change, and she remarked in motherly fashion that she was glad to hear it, and it was high time too. He told her to keep all his letters till he sent for them. He had no importunate correspondents, his next book was as good as placed, and all he desired at the moment was to cut the painter, and drift into some quiet backwater where he could lie up till life should wear a more cheerful face.
And so no single soul knew where he had gone, and he said to himself, somewhat bitterly, and quite untruthfully, that no single soul cared.
He had paced the deck all night. The swift smooth motion of the boat, with a slight slow roll in it, was very soothing; and the first tremulous hints of the dawn, and the wonder of its slow unfolding, and the coming of the sun were things to be remembered.
The cold gaunt aloofness, and weltering loneliness of the Casquets appealed to him strongly. Just the kind of place, he said to himself, for a heart-sick traveller to crawl into and grizzle until he found himself again.
As they turned and swung in straight between the little lighthouse on White Rock and Castle Cornet, the bright early sunshine was bathing all the rising terraces of St. Peter Port in a golden haze. Such a quaint medley of gray weathered walls and mellowed red roofs, from which the thin blue smoke of early fires crept lazily up to mingle with the haze above! Such restful banks of greenery! Such a startling blaze of windows flashing back unconscious greetings to the sun! This too was a sight worth remembering. For a wounded soul he was somewhat surprised at the enjoyment these things afforded him.
A further surprise was the pleasure he found in the reduction of a hearty appet.i.te at an hotel on the front. Come! He was not as hard hit as he had thought! There was life in the young dog yet.
But these encouraging symptoms were doubtless due to the temporary exhilaration of the journey. The workaday bustle of the quays renewed his desire for the solitary places, and he set out to find means of transport to the little whalebacked island out there in the golden shimmer of the sun.
There was no steamer till the following day, he learned, and delay was not to his mind. So presently he came to an arrangement with an elderly party in blue, with a red-weathered face and grizzled hair, to put him and his two portmanteaux across to Sark for the sum of five shillings English.
"To Havver Gosslin," said the aged mariner, with much emphasis, and a canny look which conveyed to Graeme nothing more than a simple and praiseworthy desire on his part to avoid any possibility of mistake.
"To Sark," said Graeme, with equal emphasis.
"Ay, ay!" said the other; and so it came that the new-comer's initial experience of the little island went far towards the confirmation of the vague ideas of his childhood as to its inaccessibility.
The ancient called to a younger man, and they strolled away along the harbour wall to get the baggage.
"Ee see," said the old gentleman, as soon as they had pulled out past Castle Cornet, and had hoisted the masts and two rather dirty sprit sails, and had run out the bowsprit and a new clean jib with a view to putting the best possible face on matters, and were beginning to catch occasional puffs of a soft westerly breeze and to wallow slowly along,--"Ee see, time's o' consekens to me and my son. We got to arn our livin'. An' Havver Gosslin's this side the island an' th' Creux's t'other side, an' th' currents round them points is the very divvle."
"That's all right, as long as you land me in Sark."
"The very divvle," and the grizzled head wagged reminiscently. "I seen 'em go right up to Casquets and haf-way to Ja.r.s.ey trying to get across to Sark. An' when time's o' consekens an' you got to arn your livin', you don' want to be playin' 'bout Casquets an' Ja.r.s.ey 'stid of gittin'
'cross to Sark an' done wi' it."
"Not a bit of it. You're quite right. Try some of this,"--as he began fumbling meaningly with a black stump of a pipe.
He filled up, and pa.s.sed on the pouch to his son, who was lying on the thwarts forward, and he also filled up and pa.s.sed it back with a nod.
"What's this?" asked Graeme.
"Jetto. Mr. Lee--Sir Austin 'e is now--brother o' Pa.s.son Lee o' the Port," with a backward jerk of the head, "'e rents it."
"And the bigger island yonder?"
"'At's Harm. 'T's a Garman man has that--Prince Bloocher, they calls him. Keeps kangyroos there an' orstrichers an' things. Don't let annybody ash.o.r.e there now 'cept just to Sh.e.l.l Beach, which he can't help."
They struck straight across to the long high-ridged island in front, and Graeme's untutored eyes found no special beauty in it.