Haply the seas and countries different

With variable objects shall expel

This something-settled matter in his heart,

Whereon his brain still beating puts him thus

From fashion of himself.—Hamlet

HE had got a good deal to think about, this Mr. Oswin Markham, as he stood on the bridge of the steamer that was taking him round the coast to Natal, and looked back at that mountain whose strange shape had never seemed stranger than it did from the distance of the Bay.

Table Mountain was of a blue dimness, and the white walls of the houses at its base were quite hidden; Robbin Island lighthouse had almost dwindled out of sight; and in the water, through the bright red gold shed from a mist in the west that the falling sun saturated with light, were seen the black heads of innumerable seals swimming out from the coastway of rocks. Yes, Mr. Oswin Markham had certainly a good deal to think about as he looked back to the flat-ridged mountain, and, mentally, upon all that had taken place since he had first seen its ridges a few weeks before.

He had thought it well to talk of love to that girl who had given him the gift of the life he was at present breathing—to talk to her of love and to ask her to love him. Well, he had succeeded; she had put her hand trustfully in his and had trusted him with all her heart, he knew; and yet the thought of it did not make him happy. His heart was not the heart of one who has triumphed. It was only full of pity for the girl who had listened to him and replied to him.

And for himself he felt what was more akin to shame than any other feeling—shame, that, knowing all he did of himself, he had still spoken those words to the girl to whom he owed the life that was now his.

“God! was it not forced upon me when I struggled against it with all my soul?” he said, in an endeavour to strangle his bitter feeling. “Did not I make up my mind to leave the ship when I saw what was coming upon me, and was I to be blamed if I could not do so? Did not I rush away from her without a word of farewell? Did not we meet by chance that night in the moonlight? Were those words that I spoke to her thought over? Were not they forced from me against my own will, and in spite of my resolution?” There could be no doubt that if any one acquainted with all the matters to which he referred had been ready to answer him, a satisfactory reply would have been received by him to each of his questions. But though, of course, he was aware of this, yet he seemed to find it necessary to alter the ground of the argument he was advancing for his own satisfaction. “I have a right to forget the wretched past,” he said, standing upright and looking steadfastly across the glowing waters. “Have not I died for the past? Is not this life a new one? It is God's justice that I am carrying out by forgetting all. The past is past, and the future in all truth and devotion is hers.”

There were, indeed, some moments of his life—and the present was one of them—when he felt satisfied in his conscience by assuring himself, as he did now, that as God had taken away all remembrance of the past from many men who had suffered the agonies of death, he was therefore entitled to let his past life and its recollections drift away on that broken mast from which he had been cut in the middle of the ocean; but the justice of the matter had not occurred to him when he got that bank order turned into money at the Cape, nor at the time when he had written to the agents of his father's property in England, informing them of his escape. He now stood up and spoke those words of his, and felt their force, until the sun, whose outline had all the afternoon been undefined in the mist, sank beneath the horizon, and the gorgeous colours drifted round from his sinking place and dwindled into the dark green of the waters. He watched the sunset, and though Lottie Vincent came to his side in her most playful mood, her fresh and artless young nature found no response to its impulses in him. She turned away chilled, but no more discouraged than a little child, who, desirous of being instructed on the secret of the creative art embodied in the transformation of a handkerchief into a rabbit, finds its mature friend reflecting upon a perplexing point in the theory of Unconscious Cerebration. Lottie knew that her friend Mr. Oswin Markham sometimes had to think about matters of such a nature as caused her little pleasantries to seem incongruous. She thought that now she had better turn to a certain Lieutenant Clifford, who, she knew, had no intricate mental problems to work out; and she did turn to him, with great advantage to herself, and, no doubt, to the officer as well. However forgetful Oswin Markham may have been of his past life, he could still recollect a few generalities that had struck him in former years regarding young persons of a nature similar to this pretty little Miss Vincent's. She had insisted on his fulfilling his promise to act with her, and he would fulfil it with a good grace; but at this point his contract terminated; he would not be tempted into making another promise to her which he might find much more embarrassing to carry out with consistency.

It had been a great grief to Lottie to be compelled, through the ridiculous treatment of her father by the authorities in ordering him to Natal, to transfer her dramatic entertainment from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg. However, as she had sold a considerable number of tickets to her friends, she felt that “the most deserving charity,” the augmentation of whose funds was the avowed object of the entertainment, would be benefited in no inconsiderable degree by the change of venue. If the people of Pietermaritzburg would steadfastly decline to supply her with so good an audience as the Cape Town people, there still would be a margin of profit, since her friends who had bought tickets on the understanding that the performance would take place where it was at first intended, did not receive their money back. How could they expect such a concession, Lottie asked, with innocent indignation; and begged to be informed if it was her fault that her father was ordered to Natal. Besides this one unanswerable query, she reminded those who ventured to make a timid suggestion regarding the returns, that it was in aid of a most deserving charity the tickets had been sold, so that it would be an act of injustice to give back a single shilling that had been paid for the tickets. Pursuing this very excellent system, Miss Lottie had to the credit of the coming performance a considerable sum which would provide against the contingencies of a lack of dramatic enthusiasm amongst the inhabitants of Pietermaritzburg.

It was at the garden-party at Government House that Markham had by accident mentioned to Lottie that he had frequently taken part in dramatic performances for such-like objects as Lottie's was designed to succour, and though he at first refused to be a member, of her company, yet at Mrs. Crawford's advocacy of the claims of the deserving object, he had agreed to place his services and experience at the disposal of the originator of the benevolent scheme.

At Cape Town he had not certainly thrown himself very heartily into the business of creating a part in the drama which had been selected. He was well aware that if a good performance of the nature designed by Lottie is successful, a bad performance is infinitely more so; and that any attempt on the side of an amateur to strike out a new character from an old part is looked upon with suspicion, and is generally attended with disaster; so he had not given himself any trouble in the matter.

“My dear Miss Vincent,” he had said in reply to a pretty little remonstrance from the young lady, “the department of study requiring most attention in a dramatic entertainment of this sort is the financial. Sell all the tickets you can, and you will be a greater benefactress to the charity than if you acted like a Kemble.”

Lottie had taken his advice; but still she made up her mind that Mr. Markham's name should be closely associated with the entertainment, and consequently, with her own name. Had she not been at pains to put into circulation certain stories of the romance surrounding him, and thus disposed of an unusual number of stalls? For even if one is not possessed of any dramatic inclinations, one is always ready to pay a price for looking at a man who has been saved from a shipwreck, or who has been the co-respondent in some notorious law case.

When the fellows of the Bayonetteers, who had been indulging in a number of surmises regarding Lottie's intentions with respect to Markham, heard that the young lady's father had been ordered to proceed to Natal without delay, the information seemed to give them a good deal of merriment. The man who offered four to one that Lottie should not be able to get any lady friend to take charge of her in Cape Town until her father's return, could get no one to accept his odds; but his proposal of three to one that she would get Markham to accompany her to Natal was eagerly taken up; so that there were several remarks made at the mess reflecting upon the acuteness of Mr. Markham's perception when it was learned that he was going with the young lady and her father.

“You see,” remarked the man who had laid the odds, “I knew something of Lottie in India, and I knew what she was equal to.”

“Lottie is a devilish smart child, by Jove,” said one of the losers meditatively.

“Yes, she has probably cut her eye-teeth some years ago,” hazarded another subaltern.

There was a considerable pause before a third of this full bench delivered final judgment as the result of the consideration of the case.

“Poor beggar!” he remarked; “poor beggar! he's a finished coon.”

And that Mr. Oswin Markham was, indeed, a man whose career had been defined for him by another in the plainest possible manner, no member of the mess seemed to doubt.

During the first couple of days of the voyage round the coast, when Miss Lottie would go to the side of Mr. Markham for the purpose of consulting him on some important point of detail in the intended performance, the shrewd young fellows of the regiment of Bayonetteers pulled their phantom shreds of moustaches, and brought the muscles of their faces about the eyes into play to a remarkable extent, with a view of assuring one another of the possession of an unusual amount of sagacity by the company to which they belonged. But when, after the third day of rehearsals. Lottie's manner of gentle persuasiveness towards them altered to nasty bitter upbraidings of the young man who had committed the trifling error of overlooking an entire scene here and there in working out the character he was to bring before the audience, and to a most hurtful glance of scorn at the other aspirant who had marked off in the margin of his copy of the play all the dialogue he was to speak, but who, unfortunately, had picked up a second copy belonging to a young lady in which another part had been similarly marked, so that he had, naturally enough, perfected himself in the dialogue of the lady's rôle without knowing a letter of his own—when, for such trifling slips as these, Lottie was found to be so harsh, the deep young fellows made their facial muscles suggest a doubt as to whether it might not be possible that Markham was of a sterner and less malleable nature then they had at first believed him.

The fact was that since Lottie had met with Oswin Markham she had been in considerable perplexity of mind. She had found out that he was in by no means indigent circumstances; but even with her guileless, careless perceptions, she was not long in becoming aware that he was not likely to be moulded according to her desires; so, while still behaving in a fascinating manner towards him, she had had many agreeable half-hours with Mr. Glaston, who was infinitely more plastic, she could see; but so soon as the order had come for her father to go up to Natal she had returned in thought to Oswin Markham, and had smiled to see the grins upon the expressive faces of the officers of the Bayonetteers when she found herself by the side of Oswin Markham. She rather liked these grins, for she had an idea—in her own simple way, of course—that there is a general tendency on the part of young people to associate when their names have been previously associated. She knew that the fact of her having persuaded this Mr. Markham to accompany her to Natal would cause his name to be joined with hers pretty frequently, and in her innocence she had no objection to make to this.

As for Markham himself, he knew perfectly well what remarks people would make on the subject of his departure in the steamer with Lottie Vincent; he knew before he had been a day on the voyage that the Bayonetteers regarded him as somewhat deficient in firmness; but he felt that there was no occasion for him to be utterly broken down in spirit on account of this opinion being held by the Bayonetteers. He was not so blind but that he caught a glimpse now and again of a facial distortion on the part of a member of the company. He felt that it was probable these far-seeing fellows would be disappointed at the result of their surmises.

And indeed the fellows of the regiment were beginning, before the voyage was quite over, to feel that this Mr. Oswin Markham was not altogether of the yielding nature which they had ascribed to him on the grounds of his having promised Lottie Vincent to accompany her and her father to Natal at this time. About Lottie herself there was but one opinion expressed, and that was of such a character as any one disposed to ingratiate himself with the girl by means of flattery would hardly have hastened to communicate to her; for the poor little thing had been so much worried of late over the rehearsals which she was daily conducting aboard the steamer, that, failing to meet with any expression of sympathy from Oswin Markham, she had spoken very freely to some of the company in comment upon their dramatic capacity, and not even an amateur actor likes to receive unreserved comment of an unfavourable character upon his powers.

“She is a confounded little humbug,” said one of the subalterns to Oswin in confidence on the last day of the voyage. “Hang me if I would have had anything to say to this deuced mummery if I had known what sort of a girl she was. By George, you should hear the stories Kirkham has on his fingers' ends about her in India.”

Oswin laughed quietly. “It would be rash, if not cruel, to believe all the stories that are told about girls in India,” he said. “As for Miss Vincent, I believe her to be a charming girl—as an actress.”

“Yes,” said the lieutenant, who had not left his grinder on English literature long enough to forget all that he had learned of the literature of the past century—“yes; she is an actress among girls, and a girl among actresses.”

“Good,” said Oswin; “very good. What is it that somebody or other remarked about Lord Chesterfield as a wit?”

“Never mind,” said the other, ceasing the laugh he had commenced. “What I say about Lottie is true.”

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