I shall, first asking your pardon thereunto, recount the occasion of my sudden and more strange return.

O limèd soul, that, struggling to be free,

Art more engaged.

Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.—Hamlet.

QUITE three hours had passed before Colonel Gerald was able to return to the hotel. The stranger was sitting in the coffee-room with a tumbler and a square bottle of cognac in front of him as the colonel entered.

“Ah, General,” cried the stranger, “you are come. I was sorry I said two hours, you know, because, firstly, I might have known that at the admiral's quarters the young lady would get as many doses as would make her fancy something was the matter with her; and, secondly, because I didn't think that they would take three hours to dry a suit of tweed like this. You see it, General; this blooming suit is a proof of the low state of morality that exists in this colony. The man I bought it from took an oath that it wouldn't shrink, and yet, just look at it. It's a wicked world this we live in, General. I went to bed while the suit was being dried, and I believe they kept the fire low so that they may charge me with the bed. And how is the young lady?”

“I am happy to say that she has quite recovered from the effects of her exhaustion and her wetting,” said Colonel Gerald. “Had you not been near, and had you not had that brave heart you showed, my daughter would have been lost. But I need not say anything to you—you know how I feel.”

“We may take it for granted,” said the man.

“Nothing that either of us could say would make it plainer, at any rate. You don't live in this city, General?”

“No, I live near Cape Town, where I am now returning with my daughter,” said Colonel Gerald.

“That's queer,” said the man. “Here am I too not living here and just waiting to get the post-cart to bring me to Cape Town.”

“I need scarcely say that I should be delighted if you would accept a seat with me,” remarked the colonel.

“Don't say that if there's not a seat to spare, General.”

“But, my dear sir, we have two seats to spare. Can I tell my man to put your portmanteau in?”

“Yes, if he can find it,” laughed the stranger. “Fact is, General, I haven't any property here except this tweed suit two sizes too small for me now. But these trousers have got pockets, and the pockets hold a good many sovereigns without bursting. I mean to set up a portmanteau in Cape Town. Yes, I'll take a seat with you so far.”

The stranger was scarcely the sort of man Colonel Gerald would have chosen to accompany him under ordinary circumstances, but now he felt towards the rough man who had saved the life of his daughter as he would towards a brother.

The wagonette drove round to the commodore's house for Daireen, and the stranger expressed very frankly the happiness he felt at finding her nothing the worse for her accident.

And indeed she did not seem to have suffered greatly; she was a little paler, and the commodore's people insisted on wrapping her up elaborately.

“It was so very foolish of me,” she said to the stranger, when they had passed out of Simon's Town and were going rapidly along the road to Wynberg. “It was so very foolish indeed to sit down upon that rock and forget all about the tide. I must have been there an hour.”

“Ah, miss,” said the man, “I'll take my oath it wasn't of your pa you were thinking all that time. Ah, these young fellows have a lot to answer for.”

This was not very subtle humour, Colonel Gerald felt; he found himself wishing that his daughter had owed her life to a more refined man; but on the whole he was just as glad that a man of sensitiveness had not been in the place of this coarse stranger upon that beach a few hours before.

“I don't think I am wrong in believing that you have travelled a good deal,” said Colonel Gerald, in some anxiety lest the stranger might pursue his course of humorous banter.

“Travelled?” said the stranger. “Perhaps I have. Yes, sir, I have travelled, not excursionised. I've knocked about God's footstool since I was a boy, and yet it seems to me that I'm only beginning my travels. I've been——”

And the stranger continued telling of where he had been until the oak avenue at Mowbray was reached. He talked very freshly and frankly of every place both in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The account of his travels was very interesting, though perhaps to the colonel's servant it was the most entertaining.

“I have taken it for granted that you have no engagement in Cape Town,” said Colonel Gerald as he turned the horses down the avenue. “We shall be dining in a short time, and I hope you will join us.”

“I don't want to intrude, General,” said the man. “But I allow that I could dine heartily without going much farther. As for having an appointment in Cape Town—I don't know a single soul in the colony—not a soul, sir—unless—why, hang it all, who's that standing on the walk in front of us?—I'm a liar, General; I do know one man in the colony; there he stands, for if that isn't Oswin Markham I'll eat him with relish.”

“It is indeed Markham,” said Colonel Gerald. “And you know him?”

“Know him?” the stranger laughed. “Know him?” Then as the wagonette pulled up beside where Markham was standing in front of the house, the stranger leapt down, saying, as he clapped Oswin on the shoulder, “The General asks me if I know you, old boy; answer for me, will you?”

But Oswin Markham was staring blankly from the man to Daireen and her father.

“You told me you were going to New York,” he said at last.

“And so I was when you packed me aboard the Virginia brig so neatly at Natal, but the Virginia brig put into Simon's Bay and cut her cable one night, leaving me ashore. It's Providence, Oswin—Providence.”

Oswin had allowed his hand to be taken by the man, who was the same that had spent the night with him in the hotel at Pietermaritzburg. Then he turned as if from a fit of abstraction, to Daireen and the colonel.

“I beg your pardon a thousand times,” he said. “But this meeting with Mr. Despard has quite startled me.”

“Mr. Despard,” said the colonel, “I must ever look on as one of my best friends, though we met to-day for the first time. I owe him a debt that I can never repay—my daughter's life.”

Oswin turned and grasped the hand of the man whom he had called Mr. Despard, before they entered the house together.

Daireen went in just before Markham; they had not yet exchanged a sentence, but when her father and Despard had entered one of the rooms, she turned, saying:

“A month—a month yesterday.”

“More,” he answered; “it must be more.”

The girl laughed low as she went on to her room. But when she found herself apart from every one, she did not laugh. She had her own preservation from death to reflect upon, but it occupied her mind less than the thought that came to her shaping itself into the words, “He has returned.”

The man of whom she was thinking was standing pale and silent in a room where much conversation was floating, for Mr. Harwood had driven out with Markham from Cape Town, and he had a good deal to say on the Zulu question, which was beginning to be no question. The Macnamara had also come to pass the evening with Colonel Gerald, and he was not silent. Oswin watched Despard and the hereditary monarch speaking together, and he saw them shake hands. Harwood was in close conversation with Colonel Gerald, but he was not so utterly absorbed in his subject but that he could notice how Markham's eyes were fixed upon the stranger. The terms of a new problem were suggesting themselves to Mr. Harwood.

Then Daireen entered the room, and greeted Mr. Harwood courteously—much too courteously for his heart's desire. He did not feel so happy as he should have done, when she laughed pleasantly and reminded him of her prophecy as to his safe return. He felt as he had done on that morning when he had said good-bye to her: his time had not yet come. But what was delaying that hour he yearned for? She was now standing beside Markham, looking up to his face as she spoke to him. She was not smiling at him. What could these things mean? Harwood asked himself—Lottie Vincent's spiteful remark with reference to Daireen at the lunch that had taken place on the hillside in his absence—Oswin's remark about not being strong enough to leave the associations of Cape Town—this quiet meeting without smiles or any of the conventionalities of ordinary acquaintance—what did all these mean? Mr. Harwood felt that he had at last got before him the terms of a question the working out of which was more interesting to him than any other that could be propounded. And he knew also that this man Despard was an important auxiliary to its satisfactory solution.

“Dove of Glenmara, let me look upon your sweet face again, and say that you are not hurt,” cried The Macnamara, taking the girl by both her hands and looking into her face. “Thank God you are left to be the pride of the old country. We are not here to weep over this new sorrow. What would life be worth to us if anything had happened to the pulse of our hearts? Glenmara would be desolate and Slieve Docas would sit in ashes.”

The Macnamara pressed his lips to the girl's forehead as a condescending monarch embraces a favoured subject.

“Bravo, King! you'd make a fortune with that sort of sentiment on the boards; you would, by heavens!” said Mr. Despard with an unmodulated laugh.

The Macnamara seemed to take this testimony as a compliment, for he smiled, though the remark did not appear to strike any one else as being imbued with humour. Harwood looked at the man curiously; but Markham was gazing in another direction without any expression upon his face.

In the course of the evening the Bishop of the Calapash Islands dropped in. His lordship had taken a house in the neighbourhood for so long as he would be remaining in the colony; and since he had had that interview with Mrs. Crawford, his visits to his old friend Colonel Gerald were numerous and unconventional. He, too, smiled upon Dairecn in his very pleasantest manner, and after hearing from the colonel—who felt perhaps that some little explanation of the stranger's presence might be necessary—of Daireen's accident, the bishop spoke a few words to Mr. Despard and shook hands with him—an honour which Mr. Despard sustained without emotion.

In spite of these civilities, however, this evening was unlike any that the colonel's friends had spent at the cottage. The bishop only remained for about an hour, and Harwood and Markham soon afterwards took their departure.

“I'll take a seat with you, Oswin, my boy,” said Despard. “We'll be at the same hotel in Cape Town, and we may as well all go together.”

And they did all go together.

“Fine fellow, the colonel, isn't he?” remarked Despard, before they had got well out of the avenue. “I called him general on chance when I saw him for the first time to-day—you're never astray in beginning at general and working your way down, with these military nobs. And the bishop is a fine old boy too—rather too much palm-oil and glycerine about him, though—too smooth and shiny for my taste. I expect he does a handsome trade amongst the Salamanders. A smart bishop could make a fortune there, I know. And then the king—the Irish king as he calls himself—well, maybe he's the best of the lot.”

There did not seem to be anything in Mr. Despard's opening speech that required an answer. There was a considerable pause before Harwood remarked quietly: “By the way, Mr. Despard, I think I saw you some time ago. I have a good recollection for faces.”

“Did you?” said Despard. “Where was it? At 'Frisco or Fiji? South Carolina or South Australia?”

“I am not recalling the possibilities of such faraway memories,” said Harwood. “But if I don't mistake, you were the person in the audience at Pietermaritzburg who made some remark complimentary to Markham.”

The man laughed. “You are right, mister. I only wonder I didn't shout out something before, for I never was so taken aback as when I saw him come out as that Prince. A shabby trick it was you played on me the next morning, Oswin—I say it was infernally shabby. You know what he did, mister: when I had got to the outside of more than one bottle of Moët, and so wasn't very clear-headed, he packed me into one of the carts, drove me to Durban before daylight, and sent me aboard the Virginia brig that I had meant to leave. That wasn't like friendship, was it?”

But upon this delicate question Mr. Harwood did not think it prudent to deliver an opinion. Markham himself was mute, yet this did not seem to have a depressing effect upon Mr. Despard. He gave a résumé of the most important events in the voyage of the Virginia brig, and described very graphically how he had unfortunately become insensible to the fact that the vessel was leaving Simon's Bay on the previous morning; so that when he awoke, the Virginia brig was on her way to New York city, while he was on a sofa in the hotel surrounded by empty bottles.

When Markham was alone with this man in a room at the hotel at Cape Town, Despard became even more talkative.

“By heavens, Oswin,” he said, “you have changed your company a bit since you were amongst us; generals, bishops, and kings—kings, by Jingo—seem to be your chums here. Well, don't you think that I don't believe you to be right. You were never of our sort in Australia—we all felt you to be above us, and treated you so—making a pigeon of you now and again, but never looking on ourselves as your equal. By heavens, I think now that I have got in with these people and seem to get on so well with them, I'll turn over a new leaf.”

“Do you mean to stay here longer than this week?” asked Oswin.

“This week? I'll not leave for another month—another six months, maybe. I've money, my boy, and—suppose we have something to drink—something that will sparkle?”

“I don't mean to drink anything,” Oswin replied.

“You must have something,” Despard insisted. “You must admit that though the colonel is a glorious old boy, he didn't do the hospitable in the liquid way. But I'll keep in with the lot of them. I'll go out to see the colonel and his pretty daughter now and again. Ah, by George, that pretty daughter seems to have played the mischief with some of the young fellows about here. 'Sir,' says the king of Ireland to me, 'I fale more than I can till ye: the swate girl ye saved is to be me sonn's broide.' This looked well enough for the king, and we got very great friends, as you saw. But then the bishop comes up to me and, says he, 'Sir, allow me to shake you by the hand. You do not know how I feel towards that young lady who owes her life to your bravery.' I looked at him seriously: 'Bishop,' said I, 'I can't encourage this sort of thing. You might be her father.' Well, my boy, you never saw anything so flustered as that bishop became; it was more than a minute before he could tell me that it was his son who had the tender heart about the girl. That bishop didn't ask me to dine with him; though the king did, and I'm going out to him to-morrow evening.”

“You are going to him?” said Markham.

“To be sure I am. He agreed with me about the colonel's hospitality in the drink way. 'You'll find it different in my house,' said the king; and I think you know, Oswin, that the king and me have one point in common.”

“Good-night,” said Markham, going to the door. “No, I told you I did not mean to drink anything.”

He left Mr. Despard on the sofa smoking the first of a box of cigars he had just ordered.

“He's changed—that boy is,” said Despard. “He wouldn't have gone out in that fashion six months ago. But what the deuce has changed him? that's what I'd like to know. He wants to get me away from here—that's plain—plain? by George, it's ugly. But here I am settled for a few months at least if—hang that waiter, is he never going to bring me that bottle of old Irish?”

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