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hat. Yes-he had a heart and-and-viscera!! The world, his world, would laugh if they could see him playing nurse to a waif who had lost everything, including her memory; but this little Frenchman understood and bowed. It may have occurred to him that gentlemen of like kidney had fought at Crécy and Agincourt. From such foes one might accept defeat without a sense of humiliation. At the moment, too, the Channel Squadron was being entertained at Brest. The entente cordiale had been established.
He took the chalet overlooking the Seine, engaged a couple of stout, rosy-cheeked Norman girls, added a few articles of furniture, and returned to Southampton.
Esther's mental condition remained the same, but the terrible lines were fading out of her face. She greeted Mr. Browne with sweet effusion ; evidently she had missed him. Alone with her, he whispered his plans. She clapped hands like a child.
' France! How lovely! How kind you are, Mr. Browne!'
' Oh, I couldn't. I knew a Harry. Poor fellow! I couldn't call anybody else Harry. You mustn't ask me.'
'You would like to come to France with me?'
The journey was accomplished easily. The English nurse accompanied her patient as far as Havre, where she was met by the French nurse and doctor. That evening they reached the chalet. It was called Mont Plaisir. And it had a history. A French artist had built it for the woman he loved. And here man and wife had lived tranquilly and happily for some three
years, during which time the man's best work had been accomplished. Then fame and fortune lured him to Paris ; and from that moment the fickle goddesses turned their backs on him. The poor fellow lost wife and health, and all appetite for work. The little doctor, who told the tale to our paladin, had seen him in Montmartre sipping absinthe, a scarecrow, haggard, ragged, indifferent to present or future, for ever gazing, with lack-lustre eyes, into the mists of the past !
The garden which encompassed the chalet was charming. Roses in wildest profusion bordered a terrace. A big chestnut tree overshadowed a small lawn. Beyond was an orchard with its
crop of apples yet ungathered. In the early morning and evening one could smell the apples. From the terrace the ground, broken by moss-covered rocks, sloped sharply to the river. And of course there was a fountain, a miniature affair, but made of fine stone delicately carved : a trouvaille of the artist, who had found it in the courtyard of some ruined Renaissance château. From the mouth of Time, a bearded sage who supported a sun-dial, spouted a jet of clearest water, the bubbling moments of life tinkling melodiously as they splashed into the basin beneath, and overflowing in a tiny rivulet which trickled through the rocks to the river, and thence to the sea.
Esther's delight in the cottage, the fountain, the view of the river, the spires of Rouen, in the rosy-cheeked handmaidens, was pleasant to behold. She slept like a baby. Our Harry slept well also, wondering, as he laid his curly head upon his pillow, how many men of his upbringing would have risen adequately to such an occasion.
We pass over two sunny weeks. Lady Matilda knew that her boy was abroad, and that letters addressed Poste Restante, Rouen, would reach him. When he disappeared from London, she wondered whether Miss Alice Godolphin would continue dancing at the Terpsichore Theatre. She did. She danced every night of the month that Harry was in France. Balm this, to a fond and anxious mamma!
At the end of the fortnight Esther had become the counterfeit presentment of his own girl, whom he had never expected to see again in the flesh. And in a subtle, inexplicable way our paladin was sensible that he had regained his youth. The simple life agreed with him vastly well. Except when engaged in field sports, he had always been of a slightly indolent disposition. He liked to take things easy. The Hague, dear sleepy town, suited him. Buenos Ayres, the land of mañana, would suit him even better, if his Chief were the right sort.
He read aloud to Esther; he spent hours with her upon the river ; no brother could have been more devoted to a sister.
She called him “Brownie.'
But he never looked at her without reflecting that he had found her in a slum. Four years of her life were a sealed book! That she had lost reason at sight of him was a fact
with horror. In her hollowed cheeks, before they were filled out by the good Normandy fare, he visualised nightmare imaginings.
The little doctor began to shake his head. Mademoiselle might not find her memory. He cited cases. To all intents and purposes the Bon Dieu had assigned a new lease of life without reference to the old one. Certainly, she was of the most reasonable. It would be idiotic, impertinent, to describe her as insane. Physiologists would say that Mademoiselle exhibited an interesting illustration of double consciousness with a complete break between the past and the present.
With a bitter-sweet shock, our Harry realised that he had become an object of supreme interest to her. In his absence the nurse remarked that she seemed unhappy and irritable. With him, alone or in company, she was as gay and joyous as a child. Half of his leave had expired ; in three months he must set sail for the Argentine. What then ?
One day he spoke of Miranda, of Sabrina, of her life in Palace Gardens. She listened attentively, with a puzzled, piteous expression.
* You make my head ache,' she said, and burst into tears.
He kissed away the tears, soothing her gently. Was this taking advantage of a helpless girl ? By no means. She was his dear little sister; she expected brotherly kisses from Brownie, and she received them.
To describe our paladin as gently stewing in his own juice is, perhaps, a vulgar metaphor, but it expresses the condition of affairs. Harry simmered, sometimes with satisfaction, often with apprehension; and Miranda-had she been in the kitchen-would have exclaimed : 'Here's a pretty kettle of fish!'
It is too painful to speculate upon what would have happened had Esther not recovered her memory, which came back, as it had gone, quite suddenly and from the same cause : a shock. Harry and she were drifting down the river, when a boat ran into them, bow on, striking them amidships. Harry dragged an insensible woman to the bank. For the second time he thought she was dead : animation seemed to be suspended. She struggled back to life in her pretty room at the cottage, and opened her eyes to recognise Harry.
Where am I ?’she asked feebly. ' I'm taking care of you,' he answered eagerly. 'Don't worry.' ' But I can't understand
' * You mustn't try to understand yet. Lie quiet! You have been ill.'
'She stared at him with dilating pupils. Then she saw her own hand, and gasped out :
Harry, that is not my hand.'
He remembered the hands outstretched towards him in that mean lodging. They were claw-like, with needle-marks upon them.
'Esther, you've been ill for weeks, and now you're well. But, for Heaven's sake, keep quiet!'
The doctor administered morphia, and she slept for nearly twelve hours, while our paladin wondered what he should say to her when she woke up.
When they met, next day, his task was not made any the easier by the discovery that she had not the slightest remembrance of anything which had taken place since her first seizure, while everything preceding it had become perfectly clear.
He explained, with admirable modesty, what he had done. She listened, the colour ebbing and flowing in her cheeks. Surprise feebly expresses her emotions. She was astounded and confounded, for she had seen herself in the glass before she joined him in the garden, and the nurse, you may be sure, had prattled enthusiastically of Monsieur's devotion and patience. Indeed, the doctor and she-romantic souls, both—had exchanged & word or two. Monsieur would marry his so sweet young Mees! What a story! What an ending, O mon Dieu !
They sat side by side on the little rose-embowered terrace overlooking the Seine. The sun shone delicately through a lavendergrey haze : upon the water-meadow below a row of poplars cast translucent shadows where the cows were lying down : the river reflected the mother-of-pearl tints of the sky.
'Does anybody know ? ' she asked.
'Not a soul. I thought of telling Miranda Jagg. Perhaps I ought to have done so. But I felt that even she might misapprehend my motives. And so I-well, I marked time.'
The old expression struck her. She looked at him more critically.
' Harry, why have you done all this for me?'
The Hague to find you vanished. I simply had to find the woman I had asked to become my wife.'
'I see,' she said quietly.
* There is a fairly decent inn near here. I shall put up there till, till other arrangements can be made.'
'Why should you go ? '
I have been taking care of a young child, not a young woman.'
To cover an awkward moment he picked a rose, and fastened it into her dress.
'You bought me clothes ?'
The English nurse attended to that. Not a bad sort, but a gossip. The doctor suggested my bringing you here.'
'You are wonderful !'
She tried to compute her debt to him, and failed. How could she repay him ?
"We shall have déjeuner together, out here, under the chestnut tree, as usual.'
As usual ?'
She passed the hand he had given back to her across her forehead.
' It is a dream, Harry, a dream. And I remembered nothing?
'Nothing. You were a jolly little kid. We had great larks together.'
'I almost wish I had not woke up.'
Esther," he said in a low voice, 'you are not strong yet. Please let things go on for a bit just as they are. You will do this, dear, won't you ?
She answered 'Yes,' with a tender sparkle in her eyes.
He noticed then and afterwards that her instant acceptance was meek. The burden of poverty, of a compulsory dependence upon others, the habit of obedience ground into her when she was a shop-girl—these had crushed her spirit. She looked at Harry with a piteous little smile upon her face, slightly deprecating, slightly derisive, which seemed to say: 'Your word is law. Who am I, now, that I should impose my wishes or desires upon anybody?'
Argentine, one of the rosy-cheeked girls, came out to lay the cloth for the mid-day meal. She brought long crisp rolls, golden butter, and cyder in glass decanters. From the kitchen, hard by, was wafted the fragrance of a cunningly compounded ragoût.