This world is not for aye, nor'tis not strange

That even our loves should with our fortunes change;

For'tis a question left us yet to prove,

Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.

Diseases desperate grown

By desperate appliance are relieved,

Or not at all.

... so you must take your husbands.

It is our trick. Nature her custom holds

Let shame say what it will: when these are gone

The woman will be out.—Hamlet.

OF course,” said Lottie, as she stood by the side of Oswin Markham when the small steamer which had been specially engaged to take the field-officers of the Bayonetteers over the dreaded bar of Durban harbour was approaching the quay—“of course we shall all go together up to Pietermaritzburg. I have been there before, you know. We shall have a coach all to ourselves from Durban.” She looked up to his face with only the least questioning expression upon her own. But Mr. Markham thought that he had made quite enough promises previously: it would be unwise to commit himself even in so small a detail as the manner of the journey from the port of Durban to the garrison town of Pietermaritzburg, which he knew was at a distance of upwards of fifty miles.

“I have not the least idea what I shall do when we land,” he said. “It is probable that I shall remain at the port for some days. I may as well see all that there is on view in this part of the colony.”

This was very distressing to the young lady.

“Do you mean to desert me?” she asked somewhat reproachfully.

“Desert you?” he said in a puzzled way. “Ah, those are the words in a scene in your part, are they not?”

Lottie became irritated almost beyond the endurance of a naturally patient soul.

“Do you mean to leave me to stand alone against all my difficulties, Mr. Markham?”

“I should be sorry to do that, Miss Vincent. If you have difficulties, tell me what they are; and if they are of such a nature that they can be curtailed by me, you may depend upon my exerting myself.”

“You know very well what idiots these Bayonetteers are,” cried Lottie.

“I know that most of them have promised to act in your theatricals,” replied Markham quietly; and Lottie tried to read his soul in another of her glances to discover the exact shade of the meaning of his words, but she gave up the quest.

“Of course you can please yourself, Mr. Markham,” she said, with a coldness that was meant to appal him.

“And I trust that I may never be led to do so at the expense of another,” he remarked.

“Then you will come in our coach?” she cried, brightening up.

“Pray do not descend to particulars when we are talking in this vague way on broad matters of sentiment, Miss Vincent.”

“But I must know what you intend to do at once.”

“At once? I intend to go ashore, and try if it is possible to get a dinner worth eating. After that—well, this is Tuesday, and on Thursday week your entertainment will take place; before that day you say you want three rehearsals, then I will agree to be by your side at Pietermaritzburg on Saturday next.”

This business-like arrangement was not what Lottie on leaving Cape Town had meant to be the result of the voyage to Natal. There was a slight pause before she asked:

“What do you mean by treating me in this way? I always thought you were my friend. What will papa say if you leave me to go up there alone?”

This was a very daring bit of dialogue on the part of Miss Lottie, but they were nearing the quay where she knew Oswin would be free; aboard the mail steamer of course he was—well, scarcely free. But Mr. Markham was one of those men who are least discomfited by a daring stroke. He looked steadfastly at the girl so soon as she uttered her words.

“The problem is too interesting to be allowed to pass, Miss Vincent,” he said. “We shall do our best to have it answered. By Jove, doesn't that man on the quay look like Harwood? It is Harwood indeed, and I thought him among the Zulus.”

The first man caught sight of on the quay was indeed the special correspondent of the Dominant Trumpeter. Lottie's manner changed instantly on seeing him, and she gave one of her girlish laughs on noticing the puzzled expression upon his face as he replied to her salutations while yet afar. She was very careful to keep by the side of Oswin until the steamer was at the quay; and when at last Harwood recognised the features of the two persons who had been saluting him, she saw him look with a little smile first to herself, then to Oswin, and she thought it prudent to give a small guilty glance downwards and to repeat her girlish laugh.

Oswin saw Harwood's glance and heard Lottie's laugh. He also heard the young lady making an explanation of certain matters, to which Harwood answered with a second little smile.

“Kind? Oh, exceedingly kind of him to come so long a distance for the sake of assisting you. Nothing could be kinder.”

“I feel it to be so indeed,” said Miss Vincent. “I feel that I can never repay Mr. Markham.”

Again that smile came to Mr. Harwood as he said: “Do not take such a gloomy view of the matter, my dear Miss Vincent; perhaps on reflection some means may be suggested to you.”

“What can you mean?” cried the puzzled little thing, tripping away.

“Well, Harwood, in spite of your advice to me, you see I am here not more than a week behind yourself.”

“And you are looking better than I could have believed possible for any one in the condition you were in when I left,” said Harwood. “Upon my word, I did not expect much from you as I watched you go up the stairs at the hotel after that wild ride of yours to and from no place in particular. But, of course, there are circumstances under which fellows look knocked up, and there are others that combine to make them seem quite the contrary; now it seems to me you are subject to the influence of the latter just at present.” He glanced as if by accident over to where Lottie was making a pleasant little fuss about some articles of her luggage.

“You are right,” said Markham—“quite right. I have reason to be particularly elated just now, having got free from that steamer and my fellow-passengers.”

“Why, the fellows of the Bayonetteers struck me as being particularly good company,” said Harwood.

“And so they were. Now I must look after this precious portmanteau of mine.”

“And assist that helpless little creature to look after hers,” muttered Harwood when the other had left him. “Poor little Lottie! is it possible that you have landed a prize at last? Well, no one will say that you don't deserve something for your years of angling.”

Mr. Harwood felt very charitably inclined just at this instant, for his reflections on the behaviour of Markham during the last few days they had been at the same hotel at Cape Town had not by any means been quieted since they had parted. He was sorry to be compelled to leave Cape Town without making any discovery as to the mental condition of Markham. Now, however, he knew that Markham had been strong enough to come on to Natal, so that the searching out of the problem of his former weakness would be as uninteresting as it would be unprofitable. If there should chance to be any truth in that vague thought which had been suggested to him as to the possibility of Markham having become attached to Daireen Gerald, what did it matter now? Here was Markham, having overcome his weakness, whatever it may have been, by the side of Lottie Vincent; not indeed appearing to be in great anxiety regarding the welfare of the young lady's luggage which was being evil-treated, but still by her side, and this made any further thought on his behalf unnecessary.

Mr. Markham had given his portmanteau into the charge of one of the Natal Zulus, and then he turned to Harwood.

“You don't mind my asking you what you are doing at Durban instead of being at the other side of the Tugela?” he said.

“The Zulus of this province require to be treated of most carefully in the first instance, before the great question of Zulus in their own territory can be fully understood by the British public,” replied the correspondent. “I am at present making the Zulu of Durban my special study. I suppose you will be off at once to Pietermaritzburg?”

“No,” said Markham. “I intend remaining at Durban to study the—the Zulu characteristics for a few days.”

“But Lottie—I beg your pardon—Miss Vincent is going on at once.”

There was a little pause, during which Markham stared blankly at his friend.

“What on earth has that got to say to my remaining here?” he said.

Harwood looked at him and felt that Miss Lottie was right, even on purely artistic grounds, in choosing Oswin Markham as one of her actors.

“Nothing—nothing of course,” he replied to Markham's question.

But Miss Lottie had heard more than a word of this conversation. She tripped up to Mr. Harwood.

“Why don't you make some inquiry about your old friends, you most ungrateful of men?” she cried. “Oh, I have such a lot to tell you. Dear old Mrs. Crawford was in great grief about your going away, you know—oh, such great grief that she was forced to give a picnic the second day after you left, for fear we should all have broken down utterly.”

“That was very kind of Mrs. Crawford,” said Harwood; “and it only remains for me to hope fervently that the required effect was produced.”

“So far as I was concerned, it was,” said Lottie. “But it would never do for me to speak for other people.”

“Other people?”

“Yes, other people—the charming Miss Gerald, for instance; I cannot speak for her, but Mr. Markham certainly can, for he lay at her feet during the entire of the afternoon when every one else had wandered away up the ravine. Yes, Mr. Markham will tell you to a shade what her feelings were upon that occasion. Now, bye-bye. You will come to our little entertainment next week, will you not? And you will turn up on Saturday for rehearsal?” she added, smiling at Oswin, who was looking more stern than amused. “Don't forget—Saturday. You should be very grateful for my giving you liberty for so long.”

Both men went ashore together without a word; nor did they fall at once into a fluent chat when they set out for the town, which was more than two miles distant; for Mr. Harwood was thinking out another of the problems which seemed to suggest themselves to him daily from the fact of his having an acute ear for discerning the shades of tone in which his friends uttered certain phrases. He was just now engaged linking fancy unto fancy, thinking if it was a little impulse of girlish jealousy, meant only to give a mosquito-sting to Oswin Markham, that had caused Miss Lottie Vincent to make that reference to Miss Gerald, or if it was a piece of real bitterness designed to wound deeply. It was an interesting problem, and Mr. Harwood worked at its solution very patiently, weighing all his recollections of past words and phrases that might tend to a satisfactory result.

But the greatest amount of satisfaction was not afforded to Mr. Harwood by the pursuit of the intricacies of the question he had set himself to work out, but by the reflection that at any rate Markham's being at Natal and not within easy riding distance of a picturesque Dutch cottage at Mowbray, was a certain good. What did it signify now if Markham had previously been too irresolute to tear himself away from the association of that cottage? Had he not afterwards proved himself sufficiently strong? And if this strength had come to him through any conversation he might have had with Miss Gerald on the hillside to which Lottie had alluded, or elsewhere, what business was it to anybody? Here was Markham—there was Durban, and this was satisfactory. Only—what did Lottie mean exactly by that little bit of spitefulness or bitterness?

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook