THE steamer was to start at daylight with its precious cargo of metals, and still more precious cargo of the richest and best
that humanity knows or can imagine – true hearts, noble intellects, pure affections. The change from the rough hot ride to the smooth cool sea surface was felt as an inexpressible relief and delight by Margaret, as, leaning on Noel’s arm, she paced the deck long after the sun had sunk, and the place of its light was supplied by the glistening orbs of the tropic night. Maynard was below in the saloon, writing, and now, in the first conversation Margaret had held alone with Noel since the night in the open air, she was telling him all that that night had taught her, and how that she seemed to have been in a dream ever since, a dream which showed her that she had never been awake until it came.
‘Oh, Edmund, I know now what love is. I know what has been the depth of James’s disappointment in me. I know what I can never be to you. My dream was more than I can tell or interpret. And you – you say you passed the night with your arm around me, and willed holy thoughts to come into my vision. Yes, I am sure you did, otherwise there could have been no peacefulness in my sleep. I should have started, and awoke, and left you, had I felt your heart to be other than it was. And after the revelations to me of the heights and depths of all human love, differing from and surpassing all that I had ever imagined, I dreamt on; dreamt that we were both in heaven, just so reclining on a lovely slope, with glorious landscape round, and sitting hand in hand, one arm round each, my head upon your shoulder, both perfectly glad, and both unconscious quite if ’twere eternity or time that sped. Only to be so, seemed enough for joy. I am sure it was not wrong, for he was there, near us, quick pacing up and down; awhile absorbed in thought, and then towards us glancing without a shade of shadow on his face; as if to say, “be happier now for all: for me, I feel through you.” Oh, Edmund, could I but have died then!’
‘Margaret, that is the whisper of despair. I live. Therefore, I have hope.’
‘Think not my despair is all for myself. No; I believe that to him my memory will be a greater blessing than ever I have been. And to you; for, living, I do but stand in your way and come between you and your proper fate.’
‘To me, at least, your death would be useless,’ he replied, ‘for having known you and been loved by you, I could never descend to a lower reality.’
‘I sometimes think and fear,’ she said, ‘that I am not of
the dying kind, otherwise I should not have lasted until now.’
After a pause she added, –
‘Can you explain to me the weight of dread that oppresses me about James? I may be very foolish and fanciful, but the feeling is irresistible that he is contemplating some step which he dares not tell me. What can it be?’
‘Margaret, the conviction has forced itself on me that if he were certain that his death would bring you happiness, he would commit suicide rather than be a bar to it.’
‘As if I would allow myself to benefit by such a sacrifice!’ she exclaimed. ‘No, he cannot wrong me so cruelly as to think that.’
‘He may contrive it so as to appear an accident, as by falling overboard from this vessel. But it may be that only our fancies are speaking, and that he is merely occupied by necessary business.’
‘I don’t think you quite know James,’ she returned. ‘He is not one to relinquish
me to another, however willing he might be to give me up himself. He has a sense
of duty which would interfere with such a notion as you expressed just now; and
I am not sure that he would not consider it his duty to adhere to me, if only by
way of moral discipline, if he thought that I wished for a change. But now I
must say good night. The coming days will show if there be any truth in our
presentiments. How odd it is of him to insist on my taking my little Mexican
maid with me. I could so have managed the children by myself till we reach
So Margaret went to her cabin, proffering a good night to James as she passed through the saloon where he was occupied. He glanced shortly at her, and nodded, and after she disappeared went on writing.
Noel remained on deck to smoke a cigarette and then went below, saying to Maynard that he hoped to be up in time to see them get under way.
Maynard rose, and grasping his hand firmly, said, –
‘It is very good of you to look after Margaret for me. I sometimes think she really has found a brother in you. But however that may be, I trust and beg you will be as a brother to her should any trouble or emergency come; or if at any time I am not by to aid her. Good night, my dear fellow.’
Returning his grip Noel retired to his cabin, to ponder awhile over Maynard’s words, and then to fall asleep.
As for Maynard, he wrote some time longer, and then approached Margaret’s cabin. After holding the handle of the door for some moments as if irresolute, he opened it gently and went in. The sound woke her from the light sleep into which she had fallen, and she looked towards him.
‘Margaret, darling,’ he said, in a low strange tone of voice, ‘I did not half say good night to you before, my thoughts were so occupied. Good night, darling. Good night. Good night. May all voyages be pleasant, all seas smooth for you, henceforward for ever.’
And he kissed her brow, and her hands, and her hair, but not her lips; and then left the cabin and went on deck, where she heard his quick familiar step pacing up and down, until, at length weary of conjecture, she fell asleep.