Harold Bindloss.

For Jacinta

скачать книгу бесплатно

"I know where Miss Gascoyne is, but you suggested that you had something to ask me, and I shall be busy by and by," he said.

Gascoyne appeared anxious, but evidently very uncertain whether it would be advisable to take him into his confidence.

"I understand that you are a friend of Mr. Jefferson's?" he said.

"I am. I may add that I am glad to admit it, and I almost fancy I know what you mean to ask me."

Gascoyne, who appeared grateful for this lead, looked at him steadily. "Perhaps I had better be quite frank. Indeed, Mr. Brown, who informed me that you could tell more about Jefferson than any one in the islands, recommended it," he said. "I am, Mr. Austin, a clergyman who has never been outside his own country before, and I think it is advisable that I should tell you this, because there may be points upon which our views will not coincide. It was not easy for me to get away now, but the future of my motherless daughter is a matter of the greatest concern to me, and I understand that Mr. Jefferson is in Africa. I want you to tell me candidly – as a gentleman – what kind of man he is."

Austin felt a little better disposed towards Gascoyne after this. His anxiety concerning his daughter was evident, and he had, at least, not adopted quite the attitude Austin had expected. But as Austin was not by any means brilliant himself, he felt the difficulty of making Gascoyne understand the character of such a man as Jefferson, while his task was complicated by the fact that he recognised his responsibility to both of them. Gascoyne had put him on his honour, and he could not paint Jefferson as he was not. In the meanwhile he greatly wished to think.

"I wonder if I might offer you a glass of wine, sir, or perhaps you smoke?" he said.

"No, thanks," said Gascoyne, with uncompromising decision. "I am aware that many of my brethren indulge in these luxuries. I do not."

"Well," said Austin, "if you will tell me what you have already heard about Jefferson it might make the way a little plainer."

"I have been told that he is an American seafarer, it seems of the usual careless type. Seafarers are, perhaps, liable to special temptations, and it is generally understood that the lives most of them lead are not altogether – "

Austin smiled a little when Gascoyne stopped abruptly. "I'm afraid that must be admitted, sir. I can, however, assure you that Jefferson is an abstemious man – Americans are, as a rule, you see – and, though there are occasions when his conversation might not commend itself to you, he has had an excellent education. Since we are to be perfectly candid, has it ever occurred to you that it was scarcely likely a dissolute sailor would meet with Miss Gascoyne's approbation?"

Gascoyne flushed a trifle. "It did not – though, of course, it should have. Still, he told her that he was mate of the Sachem, which was a painful shock to me. I, of course, remember the revolting story."

He stopped a moment, and his voice was a trifle strained when he went on again.

"I left England, Mr. Austin, within three days of getting my daughter's letter, and have ever since been in a state of distressing uncertainty. Mr. Jefferson is in Africa – I cannot even write him. I do not know where my duty lies."

Had the man's intense anxiety been less evident, Austin would have been almost amused. The Reverend Gascoyne appeared to believe that his affairs were of paramount importance to everybody, as, perhaps, they were in the little rural parish he came from; but there was something in his somewhat egotistical simplicity that appealed to the younger man.

"One has to face unpleasant facts now and then, sir," he said. "There are times when homicide is warranted at sea, and man's primitive passions are very apt to show themselves naked in the face of imminent peril. It is in one respect unfortunate that you have probably never seen anything of the kind, but one could not expect too much from a man whose comrade's head had just been shorn open by a drink-frenzied mutineer. Can you imagine the little handful of officers, driven aft away from the boats while the ship settled under them, standing still to be cut down with adze and axe? You must remember, too, that they were seafarers and Americans who had few of the advantages you and your friends enjoy in England."

He could not help the last piece of irony, but Gascoyne, who did not seem to notice it, groaned.

"To think of a man who appears to hold my daughter's confidence being concerned in such an affair at all is horribly unpleasant to me."

"I have no doubt it was almost as distressing to Jefferson at the time. Still, as you have probably never gone in fear of your life for weeks together, you may not be capable of understanding what he felt, and we had perhaps better get on a little further."

Gascoyne seemed to pull himself together. "Mr. Jefferson has, I understand, no means beyond a certain legacy. It is not, after all, a large one."

"If he is alive in six months I feel almost sure he will have twice as much, which would mean an income of close upon ?600 a year from sound English stock, and that, one would fancy, would not be considered abject poverty in a good many English rural parishes."

Gascoyne sighed. "That is true – it is certainly true. You said – if he were alive?"

"As he is now on his way to one of the most deadly belts of swamp and jungle in Western Africa, I think I was warranted. Knowing him as I do, it is, I fancy, certain that if he does not come back with ?16,000 in six months he will be dead."

"Ah," said Gascoyne, with what was suspiciously like a sigh of relief. "One understands that it is a particularly unhealthy climate. Still, when one considers that all is arranged for the best – "

Austin, who could not help it, smiled sardonically, though he felt he had an almost hopeless task. It appeared impossible that Gascoyne should ever understand the character of a man like Jefferson. But he meant to do what he could.

"It is naturally easier to believe that when circumstances coincide with our wishes, sir," he said. "Now, I do not exactly charge you with wishing Jefferson dead, though your face shows that you would not be sorry. I am, of course, another careless seafarer, a friend of his, and I can understand that what you have seen of me has not prepossessed you in my favour. Still, if I can, I am going to show you Jefferson as he is. To begin with, he believes, as you do, that Miss Gascoyne is far above him – and in this he is altogether wrong. Miss Gascoyne is doubtless a good woman, but Jefferson is that harder thing to be, a good man. His point of view is not yours, it is, perhaps, a wider one; but he has, what concerns you most directly now, a vague, reverential respect for all that is best in womanhood, which, I think, is sufficient to place Miss Gascoyne under a heavy responsibility."

He stopped a moment, looking steadily at Gascoyne, who appeared blankly astonished.

"Because it was evident to him that a woman of Miss Gascoyne's conventional upbringing must suffer if brought into contact with the unpleasant realities of the outside world, he has staked his life willingly – not recklessly – on the winning of enough to place her beyond the reach of adversity. He realised that it was, at least, even chances he never came back from Africa; but it seemed to him better that she should be proud of him dead than have to pity him and herself living. I know this, because he told me he would never drag the woman who loved him down. He fell in love with her without reflection, instinctively – or, perhaps, because it was arranged so – I do not understand these things. As surely – conventionalities don't always count – she fell in love with him, and then he had to grapple with the position. Your daughter could not live, as some women do, unshocked and cheerfully among rude and primitive peoples whose morality is not your morality, in the wilder regions of the earth. It was also evident that she could not live sumptuously in England on the interest of ?8,000. You see what he made of it. If he died, Miss Gascoyne would be free. If he lived, she could avoid all that would be unpleasant. Isn't that sufficient? Could there be anything base or mean in a nature capable of devotion of that description?"

Gascoyne sat silent almost a minute. Then he said very quietly: "I have to thank you, Mr. Austin – the more so because I admit I was a little prejudiced against you. Perhaps men living as I do acquire too narrow a view. I am glad you told me. And now where is my daughter and Mrs. Hatherly?"

"Wait another minute! Jefferson is, as you will recognise, a man of exceptional courage, but he is also a man of excellent education, and, so far as that goes, of attractive presence; such a one, in fact, as I think a girl of Miss Gascoyne's station is by no means certain to come across again in England. Now, if I have said anything to offend you, it has not been with that object, and you will excuse it. Your daughter and Mrs. Hatherly are on board this ship. It seemed better that you should hear me out before I told you."

"Ah," said Gascoyne. "Well, I think you were right, and again I am much obliged to you. Will you take me to Mrs. Hatherly?"

Austin did so, and coming back flung himself down on the settee in Macallister's room.

"Give me a drink – a long one. I don't know that I ever talked so much at once in my life, and I only hope I didn't make a consummate ass of myself," he said.

"It's no that difficult," said Macallister, reflectively, as he took out a syphon and a bottle of wine. "Ye made excuses for yourself and Jefferson?"

Austin laughed. "No," he said. "I made none for Jefferson. I think I rubbed a few not particularly pleasant impressions into the other man. I felt I had to. It was, of course, a piece of abominable presumption."

Macallister leaned against the bulkhead and regarded him with a sardonic grin.

"I would have liked to have heard ye," he said.


Austin was writing in the saloon, which was a little cooler than his room, at about eight o'clock that night, while Jacinta and Mrs. Hatherly made ineffectual attempts to read in the ladies' cabin, for the Estremedura was on her way south again, with the trade-wind combers tumbling after her. She rolled with a long, rhythmic swing, and now and then shook and trembled with the jar of her lifted propeller. Muriel Gascoyne was accordingly alone with her father on the deck above. She sat in a canvas chair, while Gascoyne leaned upon the rails in front of her. There was a full moon overhead, and a fantastic panorama of fire-blackened hills, wastes of ash and lava, whirling clouds of sand, black rocks lapped by spouting surf, and bays of deepest indigo, unrolled itself upon one hand. It is, however, probable that neither of the pair saw much of it, for their thoughts were not concerned with the volcanic desolation.

"It is a pity I did not come a few weeks earlier," said Gascoyne with a sigh.

Muriel's eyes were a trifle hazy, but her voice was even. "If you had come then, and insisted upon it, I might have given him up," she said.

"That means it is irrevocable now? I want you to make quite sure, my dear. This man does not belong to our world. Even his thoughts must be different from ours. You cannot know anything of his past life – I scarcely think he could explain it to you. He would regard nothing from the same standpoint as we do."

"Still, it cannot have been a bad one. I can't tell you why I am sure of that, but I know."

Gascoyne made a little, hopeless gesture. "Muriel," he said, a trifle hoarsely, "it is a terrible risk – and if you marry him you must inevitably drift away from me. You are all I have, and I am getting old and lonely, but that is not of the greatest moment. It would be horrible to think of you drifting away from all you have been taught to believe in and hold sacred."

It was a strong appeal, perhaps the strongest he could have made, for the girl had been without breadth of view when she left home, and the boundaries of her outlook had coincided with those of the little rural parish. Still, in some strange fashion she had gained enlightenment, and she was resolute, though her blue eyes slowly brimmed with moisture. It was true that he would be very lonely.

"Ah," she said, and it was a significant sign that she questioned the comprehension of the man whom she had regarded as almost infallible a few weeks earlier, "how can I make you understand? There are, perhaps, many worlds, and we know there are many kinds of men. They must think differently, but does that matter so very much, after all? There is the same humanity in all of us."

"Undoubtedly! In Turks, idolaters, and unbelievers. Humanity in itself is fallen and evil."

Muriel smiled. "Father," she said, "you don't believe that there is no good in all those who have not been taught to believe as we do."

Gascoyne did not answer her, though it is possible that there were circumstances under which he would have returned a very slightly qualified affirmative.

"There is a perilous optimism abroad," he said.

"Still," said Muriel, unconscious of the irony of her deprecatory answer, "Mr. Jefferson is neither a Turk nor an idolater. He is only an American sailor."

Gascoyne sighed dejectedly, for there was, it seemed, nothing left for him to appeal to. The girl's beliefs had gone. The simple, iron-fast rules of life she had once acknowledged were now apparently discredited; but even in his concern he was vaguely sensible that an indefinite something which he did not recognise as the charity that love teaches was growing up in place of them. Still, he felt its presence as he watched her, and knew that it could not be altogether born of evil.

"My dear," he said, "how shall I implore you to consider?"

Muriel smiled out of hazy eyes. "It is too late. He has my promise, and I belong to him. Nothing that you could say would change that now. He has gone out – to Africa – believing in me, and I know that he may never come back again."

Gascoyne appeared a trifle startled, and remembered a curious remark that Austin had made to the effect that there was a heavy responsibility upon his daughter. He could not altogether understand why this should be, but he almost fancied that she recognised it now. There was also a finality and decision in the girl's tone which was new to him.

"I think you know how hard it was for me to get away, but it seemed necessary. I came out to implore you to give this stranger up," he said.

The girl rose, and stood looking at him gravely, with one hand on the chair arm to steady herself as the steamer rolled, and the moonlight upon her face. It was almost reposeful in its resolution.

"Father," she said, "you must try to understand. Perhaps I did wrong when I gave him my promise without consulting you, but it is given, and irrevocable. He has gone out to Africa – and may die there – believing in me. I don't think I could make you realise how he believes in me, but, though, of course, he is wrong, I grow frightened now and then, and almost hope he may never see me as I really am. That is why I – daren't – fail him. If there was no other reason I must keep faith with him."

"Then," said Gascoyne, very slowly, "I must, at least, try to resign myself – and perhaps, my apprehensions may turn out to be not quite warranted, after all. I was horribly afraid a little while ago, but this man seems to have the faculty of inspiring confidence in those who know him. They cannot all be mistaken, and the man who is purser on this steamer seems to believe in him firmly. His views are peculiar, but there was sense in what he said, and he made me think a little less hardly of Mr. Jefferson."

Muriel only smiled. She realised what this admission, insufficient and grudging as it was, must have cost her father, and – for she had regarded everything from his point of view until a few weeks ago – she could sympathise with him. Still, she was glad when she saw Jacinta and Mrs. Hatherly coming towards them along the deck.

It was an hour later when Jacinta met Austin at the head of the ladder, and stopped him with a sign.

"I have had a long talk with Mr. Gascoyne, and found him a little less disturbed in mind than I had expected," she said. "I want to know what you said to him."

"Well," said Austin, reflectively, "I really can't remember, and if I could it wouldn't be worth while. Of course, I knew what I wanted to say, but I'm almost afraid I made as great a mess of it as I usually do."

"Still, I think Miss Gascoyne is grateful to you."

"That," said Austin, "affords me very little satisfaction, after all. You see, I didn't exactly do it to please Miss Gascoyne."

"Then I wonder what motive really influenced you?"

Austin pursed his lips, as if thinking hard. "I don't quite know. For one thing, very orthodox people of the Reverend Gascoyne's description occasionally have an irritating effect upon me. I feel impelled to readjust their point of view, or, at least to allow them an opportunity of recognising the advantages of mine, which, however, isn't necessarily the correct one. I hope this explanation contents you."

Jacinta smiled. "I think I shall remember it," she said. "I believe I generally do when anybody does a thing to please me. Still, Miss Gascoyne's gratitude will not hurt you."

Then she swept away, and left him standing meditatively at the head of the ladder. He saw no more of her that night, and he was busy when the Estremedura steamed into Las Palmas early next morning, while it was nearly three weeks later when he met her again at a corrida de toros in the bull ring at Santa Cruz, Teneriffe, which was, perhaps, the last place where one would have expected to find an English lady.

The spacious amphitheatre was open to the sky, and all its tiers of stone benches packed with excited humanity, for half the inhabitants of the island had apparently gathered to enjoy the sanguinary spectacle. Black is the colour affected by men who can afford it on a Spanish holiday, but the white cotton the bare-legged hillmen wore, and the pink and chrome of their wives' and daughters' dresses, flecked with luminous colour the sombre ranks of the close-packed multitude. Blazing sunlight beat down upon them, for it is only the richer citizens who sit in the shadow, and the topmost row was projected, a filagree of black and motley, against the hard glaring blue. Below, the arena shone dazzlingly yellow, and the smell of blood and fresh sawdust came up from it through the many-toned murmur of the crowd. When this sank a little one could hear the deep boom of the Atlantic swell crumbling on the lava beach.

The revolting picador scene was over. Two or three worn-out and blindfolded horses had been gored or trampled to death, and one picador's arm had been broken. The tawny, long-horned bull, which had shown unusual courage, stood panting in the middle of the arena, with a crimson smear on one shoulder where a lance had scored it deep, and while the bugles rang, the vast assembly waited for the banderillero scene in high good humour. Just then a little party descended one of the avenues on the shady side, and Austin, who had a note from Pancho Brown in his pocket, with some difficulty made his way to meet them. He was quite aware that Brown was probably the only Englishman in those islands who would have been able to reserve desirable places at a corrida de toros.

Jacinta, who accompanied him, was attended by his Spanish housekeeper and two sunburnt English naval officers, but she made room for Austin on one side of her, and appeared in no way displeased by his indifferently veiled approbation. Miss Brown had been dressed by a Castilian modeste, mostly in black lace, that day, and her clustering brown hair was ornamented by a little mantilla of the same material. It was not a dress which would have suited every Englishwoman, especially of substantial type, but Jacinta was slight, and delicately round, and altogether sylph-like.

"You venture to approve of this get-up?" she said. "The tourists were a little horrified at the hotel."

Austin, who wore white duck, noticed that she smiled at the Governor, who sat above them amidst his glittering staff, and that almost sufficed to spoil his satisfaction, though it was only one of the many little things that emphasised the difference between them. Still, he contrived to laugh.

"I expect they were envious. It's bewilderingly effective, and I am a bit of an artist, as you know," he said. "I was wondering whether you would have the courage to come."

"Jacinta," said Pancho Brown, "has courage enough for anything. Still, she came because I asked her. I make my living out of these people, and, perhaps, a little more. It was policy."

Jacinta laughed. "Well," she said, "I rather like it, and I have been before. Of course, I mean after they have killed the horses and smashed the picadores. That part is not only cruel, but ineffective. It's not inspiriting to see a man padded with leather sit quite still to be knocked over. They should either wipe it out or give them stuffed horses. By the way, you don't know my companions."

скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26