F. Anstey.

Tourmalin's Time Cheques



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CHAPTER II.
The Second Cheque

Furnishing.—A Cosy Corner.—"Sitting Out."—Fresh Discoveries.—Twice a Hero.—Bewilderment and Bathos.

The knowledge that one has a remedy within reach is often as effectual as the remedy itself, if not more so; which may account for the fact that, although a considerable number of weeks had elapsed since Peter Tourmalin had drawn his second cheque on the Anglo-Australian Joint Stock Time Bank Limited, that cheque still remained unpresented.

The day fixed for his wedding with Sophia was drawing near; the flat in the Marylebone Road, which was to be the scene of their joint felicity, had to be furnished, and this occupied most of his time. Sophia took the entire business upon herself, for she had scientific theories on the subject of decoration and colour harmonies which Peter could only accept with admiring awe; but, nevertheless, she required him to be constantly at hand, so that she could consult him after her own mind had been irrevocably made up.

One February afternoon he was wandering rather disconsolately about the labyrinthine passages of one of the monster upholstery establishments in the Tottenham Court Road, his chief object being to evade the courtesies of the numerous assistants as they anxiously inquired what they might have the pleasure of showing him. He and Sophia had been there since mid-day; and she had sat in judgment upon carpets which were brought out, plunging like unbroken colts, by panting foremen, and unrolled before her in a blinding riot of colour. Peter had only to express the mildest commendation of any carpet to seal that carpet's doom instantly; so that he soon abstained from personal interference.

Now Sophia was in the ironmongery department, choosing kitchen utensils, and his opinion being naturally of no value on such matters, he was free to roam wherever he pleased within the limits of the building. He felt tired and rather faint, for he had had no lunch; and presently he came to a series of show-rooms fitted up as rooms in various styles: there was one inviting-looking interior, with an elaborate chimneypiece which had cosy cushioned nooks on either side of the fireplace, and into one of these corners he sank with heartfelt gratitude; for it was a comfortable seat, and he had not sat down for hours. But as his weariness wore away, he felt the want of something to occupy his mind, and searched in his pockets to see if he had any letters there – even notes of congratulation upon his approaching marriage would be better than nothing in his present reduced condition. But he had left all his correspondence at his chambers. The only document he came upon was the identical time cheque he had drawn long ago: it was creased and rumpled; but none the less negotiable, if he could find a clock. And on the built-up chimneypiece there was a clock, a small faience affair surmounted by a Japanese monster in peacock-blue. Moreover, by some chance, this clock was actually going – he could hear it ticking as he sat there.

Should he present his cheque or not? He was feeling a little aggrieved at Sophia's treatment of him, she had snubbed him so unmercifully over the carpets; it was pleasant to think that, if he chose, he could transport himself that very instant to the society of a sweet and appreciative companion from whom snubbing was the last thing to be apprehended.

Yes; Sophia's treatment quite justified him in making an exception to the rule he had laid down for himself – he would present that cheque. And he rose softly from his seat and pushed the cheque under the little timepiece…

As before, his draft was honoured immediately: he found himself on a steamer-chair in a sheltered passage between two of the deck-cabins. It was night, and he could not clearly distinguish any objects around him for some little time, owing to the darkness; but from a glimmer of white drapery that was faintly visible close by, he easily inferred that there was another chair adjoining his, which could only be occupied by Miss Tyrrell. He could just hear the ship's band playing a waltz at the further end of the ship; it was one of the evenings when there had been dancing, and he and Miss Tyrrell were sitting out together.

All this he realised instantly, and not without a thrill of interest and expectation, which, however, the first words she uttered were sufficient to reduce to the most prosaic perplexity.

"What have I said?" she was moaning, in a voice hardly recognisable from emotion and the fleecy wrap in which her face was muffled, – "oh! what have I said?"

Peter was naturally powerless to afford her any information on this point, even if she really required it; he made a rapid mental note to the effect that their intimacy had evidently made great progress since their last interview.

"I'm afraid," he said, deciding that candour was his only course, "I can't exactly tell you what you did say; for, as a matter of fact, I didn't quite catch it."

"Ah! you say that to spare me," she murmured: "you must have heard; but, promise me you will forget it?"

"Willingly," said Peter, with the greatest readiness to oblige; "I will consider it forgotten."

"If I could but hope that!" she said. "And yet," she added, recklessly, "why should I care what I say?"

"To be sure," agreed Tourmalin at random, "why should you, you know?"

"You must have seen from the first that I was very far from being happy?"

"I must confess," said Peter, with the air of a man whom nothing escaped, "that I did observe that."

"And you were right! Was it unnatural that I should be nothing but grateful to the chance which first brought us together?"

"Not at all," said Peter, delighted to feel himself on solid ground again; "indeed, if I may speak for myself, I have even greater reason to feel grateful to that monkey."

"To what monkey?" she exclaimed.

"Why, naturally, my dear Miss Tyrrell, to the animal which was the unconscious instrument in making us acquainted. You surely cannot have forgotten already that it was a monkey?"

She half rose with an impetuous movement, the mantilla fell from her face, and, even in the faint starlight, he could perceive that, beautiful as that face undoubtedly was, it was as certainly not the face of Miss Tyrrell!

"You seem to have forgotten a great deal," she retorted, with a suppressed sob in her voice, "or you would at least remember that my name is Davenport. Why you should choose to call me Miss Tyrrell, whom I don't even know by sight, I can't conceive!"

Here was a discovery, and a startling one! It appeared that he had not merely one, but two dear friends on board this P. and O. steamer; and the second seemed, if possible, even dearer than the first! He must have made the very most of those extra hours!

There was one comfort, however, Miss Davenport did not, contrary to his impression, know Miss Tyrrell; so that they need not necessarily clash – still, it was undeniably awkward. He had to get out of his mistake as well as he could, which was but lamely.

"Why, of course," he protested, "I know you are Miss Davenport. Most stupid of me to address you as Miss Tyrrell! The – the only explanation I can offer is, that before I had the pleasure of speaking to you, I was under the impression that your proper name was Tyrrell, and so it slipped out again just then from habit."

This – though the literal, if not the moral, truth – did not seem to satisfy her entirely.

"That may be so," she said, curtly; "still, it does not explain why you should address me as Miss Anybody, after asking and receiving permission, only last night, to call me by my Christian name!"

Obviously, their relations were even closer than he had imagined. He had no idea they had got as far as Christian names already, any more than he had of what hers might happen to be.

There was a painful want of method in the manner this Time Bank conducted its business, as he could not help remarking to himself; however, Peter, perhaps from the very timidity in his character, developed unexpected adroitness in a situation of some difficulty.

"So you did!" he said. "You allowed me to call you by your – er – Christian name; but I value such a privilege too highly to use it – er – indiscriminately."

"You are very strange to-night!" she said, with a plaintive and almost childish quiver of the lip. "First you call me 'Miss Tyrrell' and then 'Miss Davenport,' and then you will have it that we were introduced by a monkey! As if I should ever allow a monkey to introduce anybody to me! Is saving a girl's life such an ordinary event with you, that you forget all about such a trifle?"

This last sentence compensated Peter for all that had gone before. Here was a person whose life he really had saved; and his heart warmed to her from that moment. Rescuing a girl from imminent bodily peril was a more heroic achievement than capturing the most mischievous of monkeys; and, besides, he felt it was far more in his style. So it was in his best manner he replied to her question:

"It would be strange, indeed," he said, reproachfully, "if I could ever forget that I was the humble means of preserving you from – from a watery grave" – (he risked the epithet, concluding that on a voyage it could hardly be any other description of grave; and she did not challenge it, so he continued) – "a watery grave; but I had hoped you would appreciate the motive which restrained me from – er – seeming to dwell upon such a circumstance."

This appeal, unprincipled as it was, subdued her instantly.

"Oh, forgive me!" she said, putting out her hand with the prettiest penitence. "I might have known you better than that. I didn't mean it. Please say you forgive me, and – and call me Maud again!"

Relief at being supplied with a missing clue made Peter reckless; indeed, it is to be feared that demoralisation had already set in; he took the hand she gave him, and it did not occur to him to let it go immediately.

"Maud, then," he said obediently; "I forgive you, Maud."

It was a prettier name to pronounce than Sophia.

"How curious it is," she was saying, dreamily, as she nestled comfortably in her chair beside him, "that, up to the very moment when you rushed forward that day, I scarcely gave your existence a thought! And now – how little we ever know what is going to happen to us, do we?"

["Or what has happened, for that matter!" he thought.] This time he would not commit himself to details until he could learn more about the precise nature of his dauntless act, which he at once proceeded to do.

"I should very much like to know," he suggested, "what your sensations were at that critical moment."

"My sensations? I hardly know," she said. "I remember leaning over the – bulwarks, is it?" (Peter said it was bulwarks) – "the bulwarks, watching a sailor in a little balcony below, who was doing something with a long line – "

"Heaving the lead," said Peter; "so he was – go on!"

He was intensely excited; it was all plain enough: she had lost her balance and fallen overboard; he had plunged in, and gallantly kept her above water till help arrived. He had always known he was capable of this sort of thing; now he had proved it!

" – When all at once," she continued, "I felt myself roughly dragged back by somebody – that was you! I was rather angry for the moment, for it did seem quite a liberty for a total stranger to take, – when, that very instant, I saw the line with a great heavy lump of lead at the end of it whirled round exactly where my head had been, and then I knew that I owed my life to your presence of mind!"

Peter was more than disappointed – he was positively disgusted at this exceedingly tame conclusion; it did seem hard that, even under conditions when any act of daring might have been possible to him, he could do nothing more brilliant than this. It was really worse than the monkey business!

"I'm afraid you make too much of the very little I did," he said.

"Do I? Perhaps that is because if you had not done it, we should never have come to know one another as we do!" (So far, it was a very one-sided sort of knowledge, Peter thought.) "And yet," she added, with a long-drawn sigh, "I sometimes think that we should both be happier if we never had known one another; if you had stood aside, and the lead had struck me, and I had died!"

"No, no!" said Peter, unfeignedly alarmed at this morbid reflection, "you mustn't take such a gloomy view of it as all that, you know!"

"Why not?" she said, in a sombre tone. "It is gloomy —how gloomy I know better than you!" ("She might well do that," thought Tourmalin.) "Why did I not see that I was slowly, imperceptibly drifting – drifting?"

"Well," said Peter, with a levity he was far from feeling, "if the drifting was imperceptible, you naturally wouldn't see it, you know!"

"You might have spared a joke at such a time as this!" she cried, indignantly.

"I – I wasn't aware there was a close time for jokes," he said, humbly; "not that it was much of a joke!"

"Indeed it was not," she replied. "But oh, Peter, how we have both drifted!"

"Have we?" he exclaimed, blankly. "I – I mean —haven't we?"

"I was so blind – so wilfully, foolishly blind! I told myself we were friends!"

"Surely we are?" he said, retaking possession of her hand; he had entirely forgotten Sophia in the ironmongery department, at Tottenham Court Road. "I – I understood we were on that footing?"

"No," she said; "let us have no subterfuges any more – we must look facts in the face. After what we have both said to-night, we can no longer deceive ourselves by words… Peter," she broke off suddenly, "I am going to ask you a question, and on your answer my fate – and yours too, perhaps – will depend! Tell me truthfully…" Her voice failed her for the moment, as she bent over towards him, and clutched his arm tightly in her excitement; her eyes shone with a wild, intense eagerness for his reply… "Would you – " she repeated…

"Would you have the bottle-jack all brass, or japanned? The brass ones are a shilling more."

Peter gave a violent start, for the voice in which this most incongruous and irrelevant question was put was that of Sophia!

Miss Davenport with her hysterical appeal, the steamer-chairs, and the starlight, all had fled, and he stood, supporting himself limply by the arm of the chimney-nook in the upholsterer's showroom, staring at Sophia, who stood there, sedate and practical, inviting his attention to a couple of bottle-jacks which an assistant was displaying with an obsequious smile: the transition was rather an abrupt one.

"Oh, I think the brass one is very nice," he stammered, feebly enough.

"Then that settles it," remarked Sophia; "we'll take the japanned one, please," she said to the assistant.

"Aren't you feeling well, Peter dear?" she asked presently, in an undertone. "You look so odd!"

"Quite well," he said; "I – ah! – was thinking of something else for the moment, and you startled me, that's all."

"You had such a far-away expression in your eyes," said Sophia, "and you did jump so when I spoke to you; you should really try to conquer that tendency to let yourself wander, Peter."

"I will, my love," he said; and he meant it, for he had let himself wander farther than he quite intended.

CHAPTER III.
The Third Cheque

Good Resolutions.—Casuistry.—A Farewell Visit.—Small Profit and a Quick Return.

As the reader may imagine, this second experience had an effect upon Peter that was rather deterrent than encouraging.

It was a painful piece of self-revelation to find that, had he chosen to avail himself of the extra hours on board the Boomerang as they occurred, he would have so employed them as to place himself in relations of considerable ambiguity towards two distinct young ladies. How far he was committed to either, or both, he could not tell; but he had an uneasy suspicion that neither of them would have been quite so emotional had he conducted himself with the same prudence that had marked his behaviour throughout the time which he was able to account for.

And yet his conscience acquitted him of any actual default; if he had ever really had any passages at all approaching the sentimental with either Miss Tyrrell or Miss Davenport, his mind could hardly be so utterly blank on the subject as it certainly was. No; at the worst, his failings were only potential peccadillos, the kind of weaknesses he might have given way to if he had not wisely postponed the hours in which the occasions were afforded.

He had had a warning, a practical moral lesson which had merely arrived, as such things often do, rather after date.

But, so far as it was possible to profit by it, he would: at least, he would abstain from making any further inroads upon the balance of extra time which still remained to his credit at the bank; he would draw no further cheques; he would return to that P. and O. steamer no more. For an engaged man whose wedding-day was approaching by leaps and bounds, it was, however innocent, too disturbing and exciting a form of distraction to be quite safely indulged in.

The resolution cost him something, nevertheless. Peter was not a man who had hitherto been spoilt by feminine adoration. Sophia was fond of him, but she never affected to place him upon any sort of pinnacle; on the contrary, she looked down upon him protectingly and indulgently from a moral and intellectual pedestal of her own. He had not objected to this, in fact he rather liked it, but it was less gratifying and stimulating to his self-esteem than the romantic and idealising sentiments which he had seemingly inspired in two exceedingly bewitching young persons with whom he felt so much in sympathy. It was an agreeable return from the bread-and-butter of engaged life to the petits fours of semi-flirtation. After all, Peter was but human, and a man is seldom esteemed for being otherwise. He could not help a natural regret at having to abandon experiences which, judging from the fragmentary samples he had obtained, promised so much and such varied interest. That the interest was not consecutive, only made it the more amusing, – it was a living puzzle-picture, the pieces of which he could fit together as he received them. It was tantalising to look at his cheque-book and feel that upon its leaves the rest of the story was written, but that he must never seek to decipher it: it became so tantalising, that he locked the cheque-book up at last.

But already some of the edge had worn off his resolution, and he had begun to see only the more seductive side of interviews which, at the time, had not been free from difficulty and embarrassment. Having put himself beyond the reach of temptation, he naturally began to cast about for some excuse for again exposing himself to it.

It was the eve of his wedding-day; he was in his chambers for the last time, and alone, for he would not see Sophia again until he met her in bridal array at the church door, and he had no bachelor friends whom he cared to invite to help him to keep up his spirits.

Peter was horribly restless and nervous; he needed a sedative of some kind, and even trying on his wedding garments failed to soothe him, as he felt almost certain there was a wrinkle between the shoulders, and it was too late to have it altered.

The idea of one more visit to the Boomerang, – one more interview, the last, with one or other of his amiable and fascinating friends – it did not matter very much which, – presented itself in a more and more attractive light. If it did nothing else, it would provide him with something to think about for the rest of the evening.

Was it courteous, was it even right, to drop his friends without the slightest apology or explanation? Ought he not, as a gentleman and a man of honour, to go back and bid them "Good-bye"? Peter, after carefully considering the point, discovered that it was clearly his duty to perform this trifling act of civility.

As soon as he had settled that, he got out his cheque-book from the despatch-box, in which he had placed it for his own security, and, sitting down just as he was, drew another fifteen minutes, and cashed them, like the first, at the ormolu clock…

This time he found himself sitting on a cushioned bench in the music-room of the Boomerang. It was shortly after sunset, as he could tell from the bar of dusky crimson against the violet sea, which, framed in the ports opposite, rose and sank with each roll of the ship. There was a swell on, and she rolled more than he could have wished.

As he expected, he was not alone; but, as he had not expected, his companion was neither Miss Tyrrell nor Miss Davenport, but a grim and portly matron, who was eyeing him with a look of strong disfavour, which made Peter wish he had not come. "What," he wondered, "was he in for now?" His uneasiness was increased as he glanced down upon his trousers, which, being new and of a delicate lavender tint, reminded him that in his impatience he had come away in his wedding garments. He feared that he must present rather an odd appearance on board ship in this festal attire; but there he would have to stay for the next quarter of an hour, and he must make the best of it.



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