Flower of the Gorse
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"I couldn't have danced tonight, Lorry, on any account."
"I don't see why. Your father took a very sensible view. 'Why shouldn't twenty hop because one has hooked it?' he said."
"Did he really say that?"
"Well, something to that effect."
"Poor old dad! He has had to sacrifice himself all his life."
"Don't you think you're making too much of the death of one man? Suppose we hadn't taken Peridot with us? We couldn't possibly have approached the reef, and twelve people would have gone under."
"Ten were strangers, and one cannot grieve for all the people who die around us. But father knew Mr. and Mrs. Carmac years ago. Didn't he tell you that?"
"Then you may be sure he is greatly upset. Now, Lorry, if there is any talk of dancing when I appear, help my excuses by saying that I ought to rest. In one sense I'm not really tired; in another I could fling myself down in a dark corner and weep my eyes out."
"Your eyes are too pretty to spoil in that way," said Tollemache. "I'll give M?re Pitou the tip, and she'll fix things, I have no doubt."
But Yvonne was not pressed to dance. She was so pale, the eyes that Tollemache deemed too attractive that they should be marred by weeping were so dilated and luminous with unshed tears, that these big-hearted Bretons sympathized with her, and she was soon permitted to escape to her own room.
Father and daughter exchanged few words. She supplied a brief account of the doctor's view of the injured, and he only said:
"Thus far things are progressing well. Tomorrow morning I'm going to Forbes's place, at Concarneau, for a few days. Tollemache and you can help Mr. Raymond in his negotiations with the authorities. Mr. Carmac was an American, by birth, if not by domicile; so it is probable that his relatives will wish the body to be embalmed and taken to the United States. I would advise Mr. Raymond to consult a notary, because French procedure differs essentially from American methods. I've told Lorry about our altered plans. Perhaps we three can take a combined trip to Paris after Christmas. Goodnight, Sweetheart. Sleep well, and don't meet tomorrow's cares halfway."
Tollemache heard all that passed. Why, he knew not, but he found himself regretting that they were not leaving Pont Aven by the first train in accord with Ingersoll's original intent. He was more than ever conscious of that invisible wall which was now casting its shadow on their cheery intimacy. Yvonne would never again be a demure Breton maid or straight-legged, long-haired American schoolgirl. She had become a woman in an hour. Life had flung wide its portals, and the prospect thus unfolded had saddened her inexpressibly.
What sinister influence had brought about this change? Could there be any actual foundation for Peridot's vaporings? As he walked back to the hotel through darkened streets he recalled certain vague rumors that had reached his ears in early days.Ingersoll had always posed as a widower; but someone had said that his married life was rather mysterious, since there was no record of his wife's death or place of interment. It would indeed be passing strange if the wreck of the Stella had brought to Pont Aven the woman who was at once Yvonne's mother and the wife of a complete stranger.
Tollemache buttoned the deep collar of an overcoat round his ears as he crossed the river, because the wind was still bitingly cold. He caught a glimpse of M?re Pitou's cottage on the opposite bank of the Aven. There was a light in Yvonne's bedroom. Frankly in love, he threw her a kiss with his fingers.
The action did him, in his own phrase, "a heap of good." After all, such displays of emotion come naturally in France.
"I don't give a red cent who her mother was, or is, or what she has been, or turns out to be," he communed. "It's Yvonne I want. If Yvonne marries me some day, I'll be the happiest man who ever lived, and the most miserable if she doesn't. So there you are, Lorry, my boy! You must make the best of it, whichever way the flag falls."
Memories of peaceful and contented years flitted through Ingersoll's mind while the steam tram lumbered next morning through tiny fields and across rambling lanes to the quay of Concarneau. Other memories, vivid and piercing, came of the period of love and dreams in Paris. Lithe and graceful and divinely beautiful as her daughter was now, Stella Fordyce had been then. An artist to her fingertips, she came to the studio where Ingersoll was working, turning readily to the palette after some slight defect in the vocal cords had put difficulties in the way of an operatic career.
It seemed to be a genuine instance of love at first sight, and they were married within three months of what was practically their first meeting; though Ingersoll had seen her as a girl of fourteen several years earlier. This step was not so foolish as it might have been in the case of two young people without means. Ingersoll had an income of three thousand dollars a year, and complete devotion to art in his student days had enabled him to save a small capital, which he spent on an establishment, and particularly on adorning an exceptionally handsome and attractive wife.
It had been far better were they poverty-stricken. Mutual privations and combined effort to improve their lot would have bound them by insoluble ties. As it was the taste for pleasure and excitement crept into Stella Ingersoll's blood. The first tiff between the two was the outcome of some mild protest on Ingersoll's part when his wife wished to increase rather than diminish her personal expenditure after Yvonne's birth. There were tears, and of course the man yielded: only to raise the point again more determinedly when an absurdly expensive dress was ordered for a ball at the opera.
Thenceforth the road to the precipice became ever smoother and steeper; though Ingersoll did not begin to suspect the crash that lay ahead until his wife left him and fled to her relatives in America. Her callous abandonment of the baby girl not yet a year old crushed to the dust the man who loved her. She told him plainly why she had gone. She was "sick to death" of petty economies. Indeed, her letter of farewell was brutally frank.
"I think I have qualities that equip me for a society that you and I together could never enter," she wrote. "Why, then, should I deny myself while I am young, so that I may console vain regrets with copybook maxims when I am old? I see clearly that I would only embitter your life and spoil your career. Be wise, and take time to reflect, and you will come to believe that I am really serving you well by seeking my own liberty. Meanwhile I shall do nothing to bring discredit on your name. I promise that, on my honor!"
Her honor! All his life John Ingersoll had hated cant, either in dogma or phrase, and this ill-judged appeal stung him to the quick. He threw the letter into the fire, left Paris next day, and his wife's strenuous efforts to discover his whereabouts during the subsequent year failed completely.
Then he heard by chance that she had divorced him, and married Walter H. Carmac in her maiden name, and the tragic romance of his life closed with a sigh of relief, because, as he fancied, the curtain had fallen on its last act. He little dreamed that an epilogue would be staged nearly nineteen years later.
He was in such a state of mental distress that at Concarneau he sat a whole hour in a caf? opposite the station, meaning to return to Pont Aven by the next train. But the man's natural clarity of reasoning came to his aid. He forced himself to think dispassionately. Two vital principles served as rallying points in that time of silent battle, – Yvonne must not be reft with crude violence from the grief-stricken and physically broken woman who claimed a daughter's sympathy, and he himself must avoid meeting this wife risen from the tomb. He had acted right, after all, in seeking refuge with his friend.
Yvonne that same morning found her mother sitting up in bed, sipping a cup of chocolate. The nurse, a woman from the village, hailed the girl's presence gleefully.
"Will you be remaining a few minutes, Mademoiselle she inquired, seeing that invalid and visitor were on terms of intimacy.
"Yes, as long as you like, or will permit, Madame Bertrand," said Yvonne.
"That is well, then. I can go to my house for a little half-hour. There only two instructions. Madame must remain quiet. If she shows any signs of faintness, send at once for Dr. Garnier."
"I shall be strict and watchful," smiled the girl, and the two were left alone.
Her mother's first question threatened to disobey at least one of the doctor's instructions. "Does your father know you have come here?" she asked, and her voice trembled with foreboding.
"Yes, Dear. Now if you excite yourself in that way, I shall be expelled by the doctor," for the graceful head collapsed to the pillow in sheer gratitude, and the chocolate was nearly spilled.
"But you must tell me, Yvonne! Will he permit us to meet?"
"Do you think my father would forbid it? How you must have misunderstood his real nature! He has even gone away from Pont Aven for a few days, so that his presence in the village may not be irksome to you. Shall we try and pretend to forget what has passed, Dear? It is useless to grieve now over the mistakes of other years. And you will see, I am sure, that no one in Pont Aven should be able even to guess at our true relationship. I ask that for my father's sake. I love him dearly, and would not have him suffer."
With a splendid effort the older woman raised herself in the bed and summoned a wan smile. "Indeed, indeed," she cried, "I will do nothing more to injure him! Is that a hand mirror on the dressing table? Please give it me."
Yvonne hesitated, and her mother smiled again.
"I shall not grieve because of white and drawn cheeks," she said.
When she held, the mirror in a thin hand, and compared its reflection with Yvonne herself with critical eyes, the girl grasped her true intent. Her abundant hair, only a shade darker than Yvonne's own brown tresses, framed the well poised head and slender neck. Distress and lack of solid food had lent a pallor to cheeks and forehead which had the curious effect of rendering the clear-cut features strikingly youthful. Mouth and chin had a certain quality of hardness and obstinacy not discernible in the girl's face. Otherwise they resembled sisters rather than mother and daughter.
"Yvonne," she said wistfully, "if we say we are strangers, no one will believe. I shall invent a twin sister. You are my niece. I quarreled with my sister because she married an impoverished painter. Thin ice; but it must carry us. Your father has done the wisest possible thing in leaving Pont Aven today. He refuses to forgive my shabby treatment of a sister; but Christian charity impels him not to forbid you from visiting me. Don't volunteer this information. Let it be dragged from you unwillingly. It is a cruel thing that my first advice to you should be a lesson in duplicity; but I have earned that sort of scourge, and must endure. Now you understand. We are aunt and niece. Don't be surprised if I act a little when the nurse returns. By the way, write to your father and tell him what I have said. I'm sure he will approve, and the fact that I am eager to make this small atonement for the wrong I did him will show that I still retain some sense of fair dealing."
"Yes, Dear, I'll write today. I don't think it is very wicked to adopt a pretense that enables me to visit you without – without setting idle tongues wagging."
"Without causing a village scandal, you might well have said," came the bitter retort. "Very well, Yvonne, I will not say such things," for the girl winced at the unerring judgment that supplied the words that had nearly escaped her. "Now let us talk of other matters. Tell me something of yourself. Where and how do you live? Why are you wearing that costume? Do you dress like that habitually? And how wonderfully it becomes you! Talk, Dear, and I'll listen, and if I fall asleep when you are talking don't imagine that I am heedless and inattentive; for I have been brought nearer happiness in this hour than I would have believed possible yesterday. Do you realize that the wreck was directly due to my folly? The captain wished to put into the Aven estuary when the storm became very bad; but I refused to permit it. Wallie – that is Mr. Carmac – always yielded to my whims, and he imagined I preferred Lorient to Pont Aven. I didn't. I knew that your father lived here. His art proved more enduring than a woman's faith. It has made him famous; though I had the cruelty, the impertinence, to tell him once that he would never emerge from the ruck. I never heard of you. For some reason I thought you had died in infancy. Yvonne, Heaven forgive me, I may even have wished it! But you see now why I wanted to avoid Pont Aven. As though any of God's creatures can resist when He points the way!"
So it was the mother who did most of the talking, and the daughter who listened, with never a word of reproach, and not even a hint that had a wilful and conscience-tortured woman not imposed her imperious will on the Stella's course the yacht would have ridden the gale in safety in a roadstead five miles removed from the village of Pont Aven itself!
When Madame Bertrand bustled in her patient was asleep, and Yvonne's cheeks were tear-stained.
"Poor lady!" murmured the Breton woman. "She's nothing but a bundle of nerves. All night long, after the effect of the bromide had passed, she kept crying out for her daughter – meaning you, Mademoiselle. What a notion! Yet you are so alike!"
"With good reason, Madame," said the girl. "She is my mother's sister. There was a family quarrel years ago. Please keep this to yourself; though Madame Carmac will probably tell you of it later."
Yvonne was glad, when her father's letter arrived, to find that he agreed with the little deception, which hurt none, and explained away the seemingly inexplicable.
On the second day after the wreck Mrs. Carmac, outwardly at least, was restored to good health, and assumed direction of her husband's affairs.
Sending for Captain Popple, she asked if any effort had been made to salve the large sum of money and store of jewelry on board the yacht. The red-faced mariner had evidently been giving thought to the same problem.
"No, Ma'am," he said. "When the vessel struck those on deck had no mind to go below, and those below were hard put to it to get on deck. We all lost everything except what we stood up in. It has been blowin' great guns ever since, and a French gentleman who knows every inch of the coast tells me that the reef may be ungetatable for a fortnight, or even a month, unless there's a change in the weather."
"When you say you lost everything do you mean that you and some members of the crew lost money as well as clothing?"
"No, Ma'am. If any swab has the howdacity to pretend that a sovereign or two has slipped out of his pockets, I won't believe 'im; but it'll be hard to prove the contrary."
"Are you in any special hurry to return home? Have you another yacht in view?"
Some men might have hesitated, but Popple was bluntly honest, both in nature and speech. "Bless your heart, Ma'am!" he said huskily, "I'll get no more yachts unless I'm a luckier man after turnin' fifty than ever I was afore. The Stella was my last seagoin' job, an' no mistake."
"Then you will not suffer professionally by remaining here?"
"I'll stop as long as you like, Ma'am."
"Very well. I have telegraphed to my London bankers for a supply of money, which should reach me tomorrow. I want you to arrange for salvage operations. Employ a diver, and hire such other assistance as may be necessary. It is important that a jewelcase in one of my trunks should be recovered, if possible, also five thousand pounds in French and English bank-notes which is in a leather wallet locked in a steamer trunk beneath my husband's bed. That trunk also contains a number of important papers. I shall be glad if it is brought to me unopened, no matter what the expense. Meanwhile make out a list of all that is reasonably owing to the men, and tell them I shall arrange at once for their return to Southampton."
"I've done that already, Ma'am. Mr. Raymond tole me to get busy."
"Ah! That was thoughtful of him. In future, however, take orders from no one but me."
Captain Popple was evidently about to offer a comment, but checked himself in time. "Right you are, Ma'am," he said.
Mrs. Carmac smiled quietly. This outspoken sailor's face was easy to read. Yvonne was present, and he hardly knew what to say.
"You had something else on the tip of your tongue, Captain," she prompted. "Out with it! I have no secrets from this young lady."
"I don't like contradict'ry sailin' orders, Ma'am, an' that's a fact," admitted the skipper. "Mr. Raymond axed me not to do a thing, no matter who gev the word, without consultin' him."
"His arm is broken, I believe?"
"Yes, Ma'am; but he's able to get about today."
"That simplifies matters. Kindly send him here."
The sailor raised his hand in a clumsy salute, and went out.
"I am not an admirer of Mr. Raymond," said Mrs. Carmac to Yvonne. "He was a useful sort of person to my husband; but he has a Uriah Heep manner which I dislike intensely. Now I shall get rid of him."
For an instant the Breton shrewdness of judgment came uppermost in the girl. "Don't make an unnecessary enemy," she ventured to suggest.
"I simply purpose dismissing him on very generous terms."
"But – have you – forgotten – perhaps you never knew – how wildly you spoke that night in the cabin of the Hirondelle? Mr. Raymond was there too. He may have overheard a good deal."
Mrs. Carmac was momentarily staggered. "Do you think so?" she cried rather breathlessly.
"There was every opportunity. I saw the man, and he retained his senses, though in great pain."
"Thanks for the warning, Dear. I'll handle him gently."
"Shall I go?"
"I prefer that you should remain."
"But it might be better if you were to see him alone. He has not met me since we came ashore."
"Well – you may be right. I'll take your advice. Don't leave me too long alone. I mope when you are away."
Yvonne slipped out. She passed Raymond on the stairs; but he gave her no heed, regarding her as belonging to the establishment.
The secretary was a small, slightly built man, and, contrary to the rule that renders undersized mortals rather aggressive in manner, carried himself with a shrinking air, as though he wished to avoid observation. He had an intelligent face; though its general expression was somewhat marred by a heavy chin and eyes set too closely together. He looked pale and ill; which was only natural, because his broken arm, the right one, had not been attended to by a doctor until nearly three hours after the accident. He was about thirty-five, but looked much older that morning, and Yvonne wondered if he had any forewarning of trouble, so compressed were his thin lips and so frowning his brows.
He found his late employer's wife standing at the window, gazing down into the little triangular Place, as Pont Aven calls its public square. Yvonne was passing in front of the four sycamores. She had, in fact, secured a mourning order for her friend, Le Sellin the tailor, and was going to his shop on some errand connected therewith. Her mother noted the girl's free and graceful walk, and approved the proud carriage of her head, on which the white coif sat like a coronet. She sighed, and did not turn until Yvonne had vanished. Then she faced the waiting secretary.
"Ah, that you?" she said carelessly. "Pardon me if I seemed rude, Mr. Raymond. My thoughts were wandering. My niece has just left me, and, as I have not seen her for many years until she and her father saved our lives the other evening, I was minded to watch her crossing the square."
"Your niece, did you say, Mrs. Carmac?"
Raymond's voice was pitched in the right key of hesitancy and interested surprise; but this worldly wise woman was far too skilled a student of human nature to miss the underlying note of skepticism.
"Usually I speak clearly," she said, with a touch of hauteur.
"Yes, of course. I caught the word quite accurately. But may I remind you that you addressed her as your daughter in the cabin of the Hirondelle?"
"Does it matter to you, Mr. Raymond, how I addressed her?"
"No, no. I was only anxious to correct my own false impression."
Mrs. Carmac suddenly bethought herself. "My wits are still wool gathering," she cried. "Won't you sit down? I have a good many things to discuss with you. Is your arm very painful? Happily I have never suffered from a broken limb; but it sounds quite dreadful."
Raymond sank into a comfortable chair, steadying himself with his left hand. "It's not so bad now," he said. "By comparison with the torture of Thursday afternoon it is more than bearable. The chief misfortune lies in the fact that my right arm is out of action. I had no idea how little use I made of my left hand until I tried to write with it."
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