F. Anstey.

Tourmalin's Time Cheques

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After all, it seemed to him that she must understand about the Time Cheques – or, why should she urge him to give them up if Sophia demanded such a sacrifice?

"No, I shall not," he said; "I shall miss these times terribly. You don't know what they are to me, or you wouldn't speak like that!"

"Mr. Tourmalin!" she cried, "I – I must not listen to you! You can't possibly mean what you seem to mean. It is wrong – wrong to me, and wrong to her – to say things that – that, for all you know, you are not free to say! Don't let me think badly of you!"

Peter was absolutely horrified! What had he said to agitate her like that? He had merely meant to express the pleasure he found in these brief and stolen visits to the Boomerang; and she had misconstrued him like this! At all hazards, he must explain now, if it took him days to make it clear.

"My dear Miss Tyrrell," he protested earnestly, "you quite misunderstood me – you did, indeed! Pray be calm, and I will endeavour to make my position a little clearer than I'm afraid I have done. The worst of it is," he added, "that the whole thing has got into such a muddle that, for the life of me, I can't exactly make out what my position is at the present moment!"

"You can if you will only recollect that you are this mourning-pin," said a familiar voice; and, with the abruptness characteristic of the Time Cheque system, he was back in his study, staring at the ground glass globe of the lamp and the transfixed orange. The clock behind him was striking nine, and Sophia was offering him a pin with a big black head.

"Oh! am I the mourning-pin?" he repeated, helplessly.

"Really, Peter," said Sophia, "I think the pin, just at this moment, has the more intelligent expression of the two. Do try to look a little less idiotic! Now, see; you stick the pin into the orange to represent your point of view, and then keep on twirling it slowly round."

So Peter twirled the orange slowly round for the remainder of the evening, though his thoughts were far away with Miss Tyrrell. He was wondering what she could have thought of him, and, worse still, what she would think if she could see him as he was employed at that moment?

"I tell you what we must do, Peter, – when you get a little more advanced," said Sophia, enthusiastically, that evening, "we must see if we can't pick up a small secondhand orrery somewhere – it would be so nice to have one!"

"Oh, delightful!" he said, absently.

He was not very clear as to what an orrery was, unless it was the dusty machine that was worked with handles at sundry Assembly-room lectures he had attended in early youth. But of one thing he felt grimly certain – that it was something which would render it necessary to draw more Time Cheques!

Periodic Drawings

A Series of Cheques: their Advantages and Drawbacks. – An Unknown Factor. – Uncompleted Confidences. – Ibsen, with Intervals. – A Disappointment. – A "Search-question" from Sophia. – Confidence Restored'.

Whether it was natural sin on Peter's part, or an excusable spirit of revolt against the oppression of an orrery which Sophia succeeded in picking up a great bargain at an auction somewhere, his drafts on the Anglo-Australian Joint Stock Time Bank Limited did not end with the one recorded in the preceding chapter.

And, which was more discreditable still, he no longer pretended to himself that he meant to stop until his balance was completely exhausted.

His only care now was to economise, to regulate his expenditure by spreading his drawings over as long a period as possible. With this object he made a careful calculation, and found there were still several hours to his credit; whereupon, lest he should yield to the temptation of drawing too much at any one time, he made out a number of cheques for fifteen minutes apiece, and limited himself to one a week – an allowance which, even under the severest provocation, he rarely permitted himself to exceed.

These weekly excursions, short as they were, were a source of the greatest comfort to him, especially now that he had thrown off any idea of moral responsibility.

By degrees he possessed himself of most of the back-numbers, if they may be so termed, of his dual romance. At one time, he found himself being presented by the grateful Sir William to his daughter; and now that he knew what service he had rendered the Judge, he was less at sea than he would certainly have been otherwise. Another time, he discovered himself in the act of dragging Miss Davenport unceremoniously back from the bulwarks; but here again his memory furnished him with the proper excuse for conduct which, considering that he was not supposed to be acquainted with her, he might have found it difficult to account for satisfactorily. So, after all, there did seem to be a sort of method in the operation of the Time Cheques, arbitrary as it appeared.

One fact that went far to reconcile him to his own conscience was the circumstance that, though the relations he stood in towards both young ladies varied at each interview with the most bewildering uncertainty, so that one week he would be upon the closest and most confidential terms, and the next be thrown back into the conventional formality of a first introduction – these relations never again approached the dangerous level of sentiment which had so alarmed him.

He flattered himself that the judicious attitude he was adopting to both was correcting the false impressions which might have – and for that matter actually had – been given.

He was always pleased to see them again, whichever one it was; they were simply charming friends – frank, natural, unaffected girls – and not too clever. Sometimes, indeed, he recognised, and did his best to discourage, symptoms of a dawning tenderness on their part which it was not in his power to reciprocate.

Peter was in no danger of losing his heart to either; possibly the attractions of each served as a conductor to protect him from the influence of the other. He enjoyed their society, their evident appreciation of all he said and did, but that was all; and as they recognised that there could be no closer bond than that of cordial friendship between them, he was relieved of all misgivings.

Surely it was a blameless and legitimate manner, even for a married man, of spending the idle moments which belonged properly to the days of his bachelorhood! Still, he did not confide this harmless secret of his to Sophia; he might tell her when it was all over, but not so long as her disapproval could affect his plans. And he had an instinct that such a story as he had to tell would fail to appeal to a person of her accurately logical habit of mind.

So, on one occasion when he discovered that he had lost one of the loose cheques he now carried constantly about with him, it was with a feeling very like panic that he reflected that he might have dropped it about the house, where its unusual form would inevitably provoke Sophia's curiosity; and he was much reassured when he was able to conclude, from the fact that she made no reference to it, that he must have lost it out of doors.

It must have been some time after this before his serenity again met with a slight shock: he was walking up and down the deck with Miss Davenport – it happened to be one of the days when he knew her very well indeed.

"Sometimes," she was saying, "I feel as if I must speak to somebody!"

"You know where you will always find a very willing listener!" he said, with a kind of fatherly floweriness that he felt sat well upon him.

"I didn't mean you," she said, – "to some girl of my own age, I meant."

"Oh!" said Peter, "well, that's a very natural feeling, I'm sure. I can quite understand it!"

"Then you wouldn't mind – you wouldn't be angry if I did?" she said, looking up at him with her great childishly serious eyes.

"My dear child," said Peter, getting more fatherly every moment, "how could I possibly object to your speaking to any lady on board if you want to?"

He would have liked to make one or two exceptions, perhaps; but he thought he had better not.

"I am so glad," she said, "because I did – this very morning. I did so want someone to advise me – to tell me what a girl ought to do, what she would do herself in my place."

"Ah!" said Peter, sympathetically, "it is – er – a difficult position for you, no doubt."

"And for you, too!" she said quickly; "remember that."

"And for me too, of course," said Peter, assenting, as he always did now from habit, to anything he did not understand at the moment. "My position might be described as one of – er – difficulty, certainly. And so you asked advice about yours, eh?"

"I couldn't very well help myself," she said. "There was a girl, a little older than I am, perhaps, sitting next to me on deck, and she mentioned your name, and somehow – I hardly know how it came about – but she seemed so kind, and so interested in it all, that – that I believe I told her everything… You aren't angry with me, are you, Peter?"

She had been making a confidante of Miss Tyrrell! It was awkward, extremely awkward and annoying, if, as he began to fear, her confidences were of a tender character.

"I – I am not exactly angry," he said; "but I do think you might be more careful whom you speak to. What did you tell her?"

"All!" she said, with the same little quiver in her underlip he had noticed before.

"That is no answer," said Peter (it certainly was none for him). "Tell me what you said?"

"I – I told her about you, and about me … and – and about him!"

"Oh!" said Peter, "about me, and you, and him? Well, and – and how did she take it?"

"She didn't say very much; she turned very pale. It was rather rough at the time, and I don't think she can be a very good sailor; for before I had even finished she got up and went below, and I haven't seen her since."

"But you told her about 'him'?" he persisted; "and when you say 'him,' I presume you refer to – ?"

Here he paused expectantly.

"Of course!" she answered, with a touch of impatience. "Whom else should I be likely to refer to?"

"It's excessively absurd!" said Peter, driven to candour at last. "I – I remember perfectly that you did mention all the circumstances at the time: but I've a shocking memory for names; and, just for the minute, I – I find it difficult to recall where 'he' comes in exactly. Curious, isn't it?"

"Curious?" she said, passionately; "it's abominable!"

"It is," agreed Peter; "I quite admit that I ought to know – only, I don't."

"This is cruel, unmanly!" she said, brokenly. "How could you forget – how can you insult me by pretending that you could forget such a thing as that? It is odious of you to make a – a joke of it all, when you know perfectly well that – "

"My – my dear young lady!" he declared, as she left her speech unfinished, "I am as far from any disposition to be jocular as ever I was in my life. Let me beg you to be a little more explicit. We seem to have got into a trifling misunderstanding, which, I am sure, a little patience will easily put right." …

"Put right?" said Sophia, behind him. "I was not aware, Peter, that the clock was out of order. What is the matter with it?"

He almost staggered back from the chimneypiece, upon which he had found himself leaning in an attitude of earnest persuasion.

"I – I was only thinking, my love," he said, "that it wanted regulating."

"If it does," said Sophia, "you are hardly the proper person to do it, Peter. The less you meddle with it the better, I should think!"

"Perhaps so, my dear Sophia, perhaps so!" said Peter, sitting down with the utmost docility.

He had narrowly escaped exciting suspicion. It was fortunate that there was nothing compromising in the few words she had overheard, but he must not allow himself to be caught so near the clock again.

He was not a little disturbed by the tenor of this last interview. It was bad enough that in some way he seemed to have seriously displeased Miss Davenport; but, besides that, he could not contemplate without uneasiness the probable effect which her confidences, whatever their exact purport, might have upon Miss Tyrrell. For hitherto he had seen no necessity to mention to one young lady that he was even distantly acquainted with the other. As he never by any chance drew them both together, there seemed no object in volunteering such information.

But this only made him more apprehensive of a scene when his next turn with Miss Tyrrell arrived. Perhaps, he thought, it would be wiser to keep away from the Boomerang for a week or two, and give them all time to calm down a little.

However, he had the moral, or rather the immoral, courage to present a cheque as usual at the end of the next week, with results that were even less in accordance with his anticipations than before.

It came about in this way: He was comfortably seated by the fireplace opposite Sophia in a cosy domesticated fashion, and was reading to her aloud; for he had been let off the orrery that evening. The book he was reading by Sophia's particular request was Ibsen's Doll's House, and it was not the fault of the subject (which interested her deeply), but of Peter's elocution, which was poor, that, on glancing from the text, he found that she had sunk into a profound and peaceful slumber.

It was a chance he had been waiting for all day. He was rather tired of Nora, with her innocence and her macaroons, her tarantella and her taradiddles, her forgery and her fancy dress, and he had the cheque by him in readiness; so he stole on tiptoe to the mantelpiece, slipped the paper under the clock, and was just in time to sink back into his easy-chair, before it turned out to be one of the revolving-seats in the dining-saloon on the Boomerang.

There was a tumbler of whisky-and-seltzer on the table in front of him, and he was sitting in close confabulation with his former acquaintance, Mr. Perkins, the Bank Manager.

"That's precisely what I don't know, sir, and what I'm determined to find out!" were the first words he heard from the latter gentleman, who looked flushed and angry. "But it's a scandalous thing, isn't it?"

"Very," said Peter, rather bored and deeply disappointed; for the Manager was but an indifferent substitute for the companion he had been counting upon. "Oh, very!"

"Have you happened to hear anything said about it yourself?" inquired his friend.

"Not a word!" said Peter, with the veracity he always endeavoured to maintain on these occasions.

"To go and shift a statement of that kind on to my shoulders like that, it's like the fellow's confounded impudence!"

For the moment Peter felt a twinge: could the other be referring to anything he had said himself in the music-room? But the Manager was evidently not angry with him, so it must be some other fellow. Only, Peter decided not to allude to the faulty working of the Time Cheques, as he had half-intended to do. Perkins was not in the mood for remonstrances just then.

"Most impudent, I must say," he replied. "By-the-way," he added carelessly, "what was the statement exactly?"

"Why, God bless my soul, sir!" cried the Manager, with unnecessary vehemence, "haven't I been telling you the whole story? Didn't you just ask me who the fellow was who has brought me into this business?"

"So I did," said Peter, "and – and who was he?"

"Your attention seems very wandering this evening! Why, I told you the old woman wouldn't give me his name."

Peter's alarm returned at this allusion to an old woman: what old woman could it be but the terrible matron whom he had encountered in the music-room? However, it was fortunate that she had not mentioned any names: if Perkins knew that he had put all the blame of his entanglements upon the Manager's broad shoulders, he would certainly consider it an ungrateful return for what was intended as a kindness.

"So you said before," he remarked; "some old women are so obstinate!"

"Obstinate? That's the first sensible remark you've made for a long while!" said his candid friend. "I should think she was obstinate! Why, I talked myself hoarse trying to make that old harridan believe that I was as innocent as an unborn babe of any responsibility for this precious scandal – that I'd never so much as heard it breathed till she told me of it: but it wasn't any good, sir; she would have it that I was the originator!"

("So you were!" thought Peter, though he prudently refrained from saying so.)

"She's going to kick up the dooce's own delight as soon as she meets her brother; and all I could get her to say was that then, and not till then, she would give me an opportunity of having it out with the cowardly villain, whoever he may be, that has dared to lay all this gossip at my door!"

Peter did not quarrel with this arrangement of the old lady's, for he would certainly not be on board the Boomerang when she arrived at Plymouth.

"Ah!" he said, with as much interest as he could display in a subject that did not concern him, "he'll find that unpleasant, I daresay."

"I think he will!" said Mr. Perkins, emphatically. "Unless he retracts his infamous calumny, I – I'll kick him from one end of the ship to the other!"

Involuntarily Peter's eyes sought his friend's boots, which, as he sat in a corner seat with his feet extended, were much in evidence; they were strong, suitable boots, stouter than those generally worn on a sea-voyage, and Peter could not repress a slight shudder.

"From one end of the ship to the other," he repeated; "that – that's rather a long way!"

"Quite long enough for him, though not nearly long enough for me!" said the Manager. "I'll teach him to mix me up in these squabbles, when I find him, sir – when I find him! Here, steward, bring some more of these dry biscuits: you'll have some more, won't you?"

But Peter was not in the vein for dry biscuits at that moment, and the Manager continued:

"By-the-by, you might help me in this if you only will. I want to find out if I can before we reach Gib, who this fellow is, but the less I talk about the affair the better."

"Oh! yes," said Peter. "I – I wouldn't talk about it at all, if I were you."

"No, I daresay you're right – can't be too careful with an old cat like that. Well, what I want you to do is to try and find out – quietly, you know – who this infernal fellow is!"

"Well, I daresay I could do that," said Peter.

"No one would think a mild, innocent-looking little chap like you had any particular motive for asking: you might ask some of the men in the smoking-room, and pick up some clue or other."

"So I might," said Peter, – "good idea!"

"Or, I'll tell you what – you might pump the old lady for me, eh?"

"I don't think I quite care about pumping the old lady," said Peter, "but anything else I'll do with pleasure."

"Thanks," said the Manager; "that's a good fellow. I knew I could depend upon you!"

"You can," replied Peter, "though, I fancy," he added, soothingly, – "indeed, I am sure you will find that the old woman has made a good deal out of nothing at all." …

"What old woman, Peter?" asked Sophia with drowsy asperity. "Not Mrs. Linden, surely!"

Mrs. Linden! Was that the name of the old she-dragon of the music-room? Why, of course not; he was in his arm-chair by his own fire, reading Ibsen to his wife!

"I don't know, indeed, my love – it may be Mrs. Linden," he answered cautiously.

"Nonsense!" said Sophia, crossly. "She's not meant to be old in the play, and who says 'the old woman has made a good deal out of nothing'? Helmer, or Doctor Rank, or Krogstad, or who? You do read so badly, it's quite impossible to make out!"

"No one says it, my dear Sophia; at least, it's not in my edition of the text. You – you must have imagined it, I think!"

"I certainly thought I heard you read it out," she replied; "but your voice is so monotonous, that it's just possible I dropped off for a minute or two."

"I dropped off myself about the same time," he confessed hypocritically.

"You wouldn't drop off, or allow me to drop off either, Peter," said Sophia, who was now thoroughly awake again, "if you felt a more intelligent interest in the tremendous problem Ibsen has set in this play. I don't believe you realise in the least what the lesson is that he means to teach; now do you, Peter?"

"Well, I'm not sure that I do altogether, my love," he admitted.

"I thought as much! What Ibsen insists upon is, the absolute necessity of one-ness between man and wife, Peter. They must belong to each other, complete each other – they must be Twin Souls. Are you a Twin Soul, Peter?"

"Upon my word, my dear, I can't say!" he replied, in some perplexity. In the present very divided state of his sympathies, he could not help thinking that his Soul was more like a Triplet.

"But think," persisted Sophia, earnestly: "have you shared all your Past with me? Is there nothing you have kept back – no feelings, no experiences, which you confine to your own bosom? When you left me to take that voyage, you promised that nothing should induce you to be more than civil to any woman, however young and attractive, with whom Fate might bring you in contact. I want you to tell me, Peter, whether, when you were returning home on board the Boomerang, you kept that promise or not?"

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