THE EVERLASTING ARMS
BY JOSEPH HOCKING
AUTHOR OF "All FOR A SCRAP OF PAPER," "THE TRAMPLED CROSS," ETC., ETC.
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
A Woman's Face"There may be a great deal in it."
"Undoubtedly there is. Imagination, superstition, credulity," said Dick Faversham a little cynically.
"Well, I can't dismiss it in that fashion," replied the other. "Where there's smoke there's fire, and you can't get men from various parts of the world testifying that they saw the Angels at Mons unless there is some foundation of truth in it."
"Again I say imagination. Imagination can do a great deal. Imagination can people a churchyard with ghosts; it can make dreams come true, and it can also make clever men foolish."
"Admit that. You still haven't got to the bottom of it. There's more than mere imagination in the stories of the Angels at Mons, and at other places. Less than three weeks ago I was at a hospital in London. I was talking with a wounded sergeant, and this man told me in so many words that he saw the Angels. He said there were three of them, and that they remained visible for more than an hour. Not only did he see them, but others saw them. He also said that what appeared like a great calamity was averted by their appearance."
There was a silence after this somewhat lengthy speech, and something like an uncanny feeling possessed the listeners.
The conversation took place in the smoke-room of a steamship bound for Australia, and at least a dozen men were taking part in it. The subject of the discussion was the alleged appearance of the Angels at Mons, and at other places in France and Belgium, and although at least half of the little party was not convinced that those who accepted the stories had a good case, they could[Pg 2] not help being affected by the numerous instances that were adduced of the actual appearance of spiritual visitants. The subject, as all the world knows, had been much discussed in England and elsewhere, and so it was not unnatural that it should form the topic of conversation in the smoke-room of the outgoing vessel.
One of the strongest opponents to the supernatural theory was a young man of perhaps twenty-seven years of age. From the first he had taken up an antagonistic attitude, and would not admit that the cases given proved anything.
"Excuse me," he urged, "but, really, it won't do. You see, the whole thing, if it is true, is miraculous, and miracles, according to Matthew Arnold, don't happen."
"And who is Matthew Arnold, or any other man, to say that what we called miracles don't happen?" urged Mr. Bennett, the clergyman, warmly. "In spite of Matthew Arnold and men of his school, the world still believes in the miracles of our Lord; why, then, should miracles happen in Palestine and not in France?"
"If they did happen," interpolated Faversham.
"Either they happened, or the greatest movement, the mightiest and noblest enthusiasms the world has ever known, were founded on a lie," said the clergyman solemnly.
"That may be," retorted Faversham, "but don't you see where you are leading us? If, as you say, we accept the New Testament stories, there is no reason why we may not accept the Angels at Mons and elsewhere. But that opens up all sorts of questions. The New Testament tells of people being possessed by devils; it tells of one at least being tempted by a personal devil. Would you assert that a personal devil tempts men to-day?"
"I believe that either the devil or his agents tempt men to-day," replied the clergyman.
"Then you would, I suppose, also assert that the old myth of guardian angels is also true."
"Accepting the New Testament, I do," replied Mr. Bennett.
Dick Faversham laughed rather uneasily.[Pg 3]
"Think," went on the clergyman; "suppose someone who loved you very dearly in life died, and went into the great spirit world. Do you not think it natural that that person should seek to watch over you? Is it not natural that he or she who loved you in life should love you after what we call death? A mother will give her life for her child in life. Why should she not seek to guard that same child even although she has gone to the world of spirits?"
"But the whole thing seems so unreal, so unnatural," urged Faversham.
"That is because we live in a materialistic age. The truth is, in giving up the idea of guardian angels and similar beliefs we have given up some of the greatest comforts in life. Because we have become so materialistic, we have lost that grand triumphant conviction that there is no death. Why—why—"—and Mr. Bennett rose to his feet excitedly—"there is not one of those splendid lads who has fallen in battle, who is dead. God still cares for them all, and not one is outside His protection. I can't explain it, but I know."
"Yes, I know. And I'll tell you why I know. My son Jack was killed at Mons, but he's near me even now. Say it's unreal if you like, say it's unnatural if you will, but it's one of the great glories of life to me."
"I don't like to cast a doubt upon a sacred conviction," ventured Faversham after a silence that was almost painful, "but is not this clearly a case of imagination? Mr. Bennett has lost a son in the war. We are all very sorry for him, and we are all glad that he gets comfort from the feeling that his son is near him. But even admitting the truth of this, admitting the doctrine that a man's spirit does not die because of the death of the body, you have proved nothing. The appearance of the Angels in France and Belgium means something more than this. It declares that these spirits appear in visible, tangible forms; that they take an interest in our mundane doings; that they take sides; that they help some and hinder others."
"Exactly," assented Mr. Bennett.
"You believe that?"[Pg 4]
"I believe it most fervently," was the clergyman's solemn answer. "I am anything but a spiritualist, as the word is usually understood; but I see no reason why my boy may not communicate with me, why he may not help me. I, of course, do not understand the mysterious ways of the Almighty, but I believe in the words of Holy Writ. 'Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?' says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. While our Lord Himself, when speaking of little children, said, 'I say unto you that their angels do always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.'"
Again there was a silence which was again broken by Dick Faversham turning and speaking to a man who had not spoken during the whole discussion, but who, with a sardonic, cynical smile upon his face, had been listening intently.
"What is your opinion, Count Romanoff?" asked Faversham.
"I am afraid I must be ruled out of court," he replied. "These stories smack too much of the nursery."
"You believe that they are worn-out superstitions?"
"I should shock you all if I told you what I believe."
"Shock us by all means."
"No, I will spare you. I remember that we have a clergyman present."
"Pray do not mind me," urged Mr. Bennett eagerly.
"Then surely you do not accept the fables recorded in the New Testament?"
"I do not admit your description. What you call fables are the greatest power for righteousness the world has ever known. They have stood the test of ages, they have comforted and inspired millions of lives, they stand upon eternal truth."
Count Romanoff shrugged his shoulders, and a smile of derision and contempt passed over his features.
"All right," he replied, and again lapsed into silence.
The man had spoken only a very few commonplace words, and yet he had changed the atmosphere of the room. Perhaps this was because all felt him utterly[Pg 5] antagonistic to the subject of discussion. He was different from Dick Faversham, who in a frank, schoolboy way had declared his scepticism. He had been a marked man ever since the boat had left England. There were several reasons for this. One was his personal appearance. He was an exceedingly handsome man of perhaps forty years of age, and yet there was something repellent in his features. He was greatly admired for his fine physique and courtly bearing, and yet but few sought his acquaintance. He looked as though he were the repository of dark secrets. His smile was cynical, and suggested a kind of contemptuous pity for the person to whom he spoke. His eyes were deeply set, his mouth suggested cruelty.
And yet he could be fascinating. Dick Faversham, who had struck up an acquaintance with him, had found him vastly entertaining. He held unconventional ideas, and was widely read in the literature of more than one country. Moreover, he held strong views on men and movements, and his criticisms told of a man of more than ordinary intellectual acumen.
"You refuse to discuss the matter?"
"There is but little use for an astronomer to discuss the stars with an astrologer. A chemist would regard it as waste of time to discuss his science with an alchemist. The two live in different worlds, speak a different language, belong to different times."
"Of course, you will call me a fanatic," cried the clergyman; "but I believe. I believe in God, and in His Son Jesus Christ who died for our sins, and who rose from the dead. On that foundation I build all the rest."
A change passed over the Count's face. It might be a spasm of pain, and his somewhat pale face became paler; but he did not speak. For some seconds he seemed fighting with a strong emotion; then, conquering himself, his face resumed its former aspect, and a cynical smile again passed over his features.
"The gentleman is too earnest for me," he remarked, taking another cigar from his case.
Dick Faversham did not see the change that passed over the Count's face. Indeed, he had ceased to take[Pg 6] interest in the discussion. The truth was that the young man was startled by what was an unusual occurrence. The room, as may be imagined, bearing in mind that for a long time a number of men had been burning incense to My Lady Nicotine, was in a haze of tobacco smoke, and objects were not altogether clearly visible; but not far from the door he saw a woman standing. This would not have been remarkable had not the lady passengers, for some reason known to themselves, up to the present altogether avoided the smoke-room. More than this, Dick did not recognise her. He had met, or thought he had met during the voyage, every lady passenger on the boat; but certainly he had never seen this one before. He was perfectly sure of that, for her face was so remarkable that he knew he could not have forgotten her.
She was young, perhaps twenty-four. At first Dick thought of her as only a girl in her teens, but as, through the thick smoky haze he watched her face, he felt that she had passed her early girlhood. What struck him most forcibly were her wonderful eyes. It seemed to him as though, while they were large and piercing, they were at the same time melting with an infinite tenderness and pity.
Dick Faversham looked at her like a man entranced. In his interest in her he forgot the other occupants of the room, forgot the discussion, forgot everything. The yearning solicitude in the woman's eyes, the infinite pity on her face, chained him and drove all other thoughts away.
"I say, Faversham."
He came to himself at the mention of his name and turned to the speaker.
"Are you good for a stroll on deck for half an hour before turning in?"
It was the Count who spoke, and Dick noticed that nearly all the occupants of the room seemed on the point of leaving.
"Thank you," he replied, "but I think I'll turn in."
He looked again towards the door where he had seen the woman, but she was gone.[Pg 7]
"By the way," and he touched the sleeve of a man's coat as he spoke, "who was that woman?"
"The woman standing by the door."
"I saw no woman. There was none there."
"But there was, I tell you. I saw her plainly."
"You were wool-gathering, old man. I was sitting near the door and saw no one."
Dick was puzzled. He was certain as to what he had seen.
The smoke-room steward appeared at that moment, to whom he propounded the same question.
"There was no lady, sir."
"But—are you sure?"
"Certainly, sir. I've been here all the evening, and saw everyone who came in."
Dick made his way to his berth like a man in a dream. He was puzzled, bewildered.
"I am sure I saw a woman," he said to himself.
The MarconigramHe had barely reached his room when he heard a knock at the door.
"Yes; what is it?"
"You are Mr. Faversham, aren't you?"
"Yes; what do you want?"
"Wireless for you, sir. Just come through."
A few seconds later Dick was reading a message which promised to alter the whole course of his life:
"Your uncle, Charles Faversham, Wendover Park, Surrey, just died. Your immediate return essential. Report to us on arrival. Bidlake& Bilton, Lincoln's Inn."The words seemed to swim before his eyes. His uncle, Charles Faversham, dead! There was nothing wonderful about that, for Dick had heard quite recently that he was an ailing man, and not likely to live long. He was old, too, and in the course of nature could not live long. But what had Charles Faversham's death to do with him? It was true the deceased man was his father's stepbrother, but the two families had no associations, simply because no friendship existed between them.
Dick knew none of the other Favershams personally. His own father, who had died a few years before, had left him practically penniless. His mother, whose memory his father adored, had died at his, Dick's, birth, and thus when he was a little over twenty he found himself alone in the world. Up to that time he had spent his life at school and at college. His father, who was a man of scholarly instincts, had made up his mind that his son should adopt one of the learned professions, although[Pg 9]Dick's desires did not lean in that direction. At his father's death, therefore, he set to work to carve out a career for himself. He had good abilities, a determined nature, and great ambitions, but his training, which utterly unfitted him for the battle of life, handicapped him sorely. For three years nothing went well with him. He obtained situation after situation only to lose it. He was impatient of control, he lacked patience, and although he had boundless energies, he never found a true outlet for them.
At length fortune favoured him. He got a post under a company who did a large business in Austria and in the Balkan States, and he made himself so useful to his firm that his progress was phenomenal.
It was then that Dick began to think seriously of a great career. It was true he had only climbed a few steps on fortune's ladder, but his prospects for the future were alluring. He pictured himself becoming a power in the commercial world, and then, with larger wealth at his command, he saw himself entering Parliament and becoming a great figure in the life of the nation.
He had social ambitions too. Although he had had no serious love affairs, he dreamed of himself marrying into an old family, by which means the doors of the greatest houses in the land would be open to him.
"Nothing shall stop me," he said to himself again and again; and the heads of his firm, realising his value to them, gave him more and more responsibility, and also pointed hints about his prospects.
At the end of 1913, however, Dick had a serious disagreement with his chiefs. He had given considerable attention to continental politics, and he believed that Germany would force war. Because of this he advocated a certain policy with regard to their business. To this his chiefs gave a deaf ear, and laughed at the idea of England being embroiled in any trouble with either Austria or the Balkan States. Of course, Dick was powerless. He had no capital in the firm, and as his schemes were rather revolutionary he was not in a position to press them.
On the outbreak of war in 1914 Dick's firm was ruined.[Pg 10] What he had predicted had come to pass. Because they had not prepared for this possible contingency, and because large sums of money were owing them in Austria and Serbia, which they could not recover, all their energies were paralysed. Thus at twenty-seven years of age, with only a few hundreds of pounds in his possession, Dick had to begin at the bottom again.
At length a firm who knew something of his associations with his previous employers offered to send him to Australia to attend to matters in which they believed he could render valuable service, but payment for which would depend entirely on his own success. Dick accepted this offer with avidity.
This in bare outline was his story up to the commencement of the history which finds him on his way to Australia with the momentous marconigram in his hands.
Again and again he read the wireless message which had been handed to him. It was so strange, so unexpected, so bewildering. He had never seen or spoken to his uncle, never expected to. He was further removed from this representative of his family than the Jews from the Samaritans. It is true he had seen Wendover Park from the distance. He remembered passing the lodge gates some year or two before when cycling through Surrey. From a neighbouring hill he had caught sight of the old house standing in its broad park-lands, and a pang of envy had shot through his heart as he reflected that although its owner and his father were stepbrothers he would never be admitted within its walls.
But this message had altered everything: "Your uncle, Charles Faversham, Wendover Park, just died. Your immediate return essential. Report to us on arrival."
The words burnt like fire into his brain. A wireless message, sent to him in mid-ocean, must be of more than common purport. Men of Bidlake & Bilton's standing did not send such messages as a pastime. They would not urge his immediate return without serious reasons.
It must mean—it could only mean—one thing. He must in some way be interested in the huge fortune which Charles Faversham had left behind him. Perhaps,[Pg 11] perhaps—and again he considered the probable outcome of it all.
Hour after hour he sat thinking. Was his future, after all, to become great, not simply by his own energies, but because of a stroke of good fortune? Or, better still, was his uncle's death to be the means whereby he could climb to greatness and renown? After all he had not longed so much for money for its own sake, but as a means whereby he could get power, distinction, high position. With great wealth at his command he could—and again a fascinating future spread before him.
He could not sleep; of course, he couldn't! How could he sleep when his brain was on fire with wild imaginings and unknown possibilities?
He reflected on the course of his voyage, and considered where the vessel would first stop. Yes, he knew they were to call at Bombay, which was a great harbour from which ships were frequently returning to England. In three days they would be there, and then——
Should he take anyone into his confidence? Should he give reasons for leaving the ship? Oh, the wonder, the excitement of it all! The discussion about the Angels at Mons, and the talk about visitants from the spirit world caring for the people who lived on earth, scarcely entered his mind. What need had he for such things?
But who was that woman? For he was sure he had seen her. Tyler, to whom he had spoken, and the smoke-room steward might say that no woman was there, but he knew better. He could believe his own eyes anyhow, and the wonderful yearning look in her eyes still haunted him in spite of the disturbing message.
It was not until towards morning that sleep came to him, and then he was haunted by dreams. Strange as it may seem, he did not dream of Bidlake & Bilton's message nor of his late uncle's mansion. He dreamt of his father and mother. He had never seen his mother; she had died at his birth. He had never seen a picture of her, indeed. He believed that his father possessed her portrait, but he had never shown it to him. His father seldom spoke of his mother, but when he did it[Pg 12] was in tones of awe, almost of worship. She was like no other woman, he said—a woman with all the possible beauty and glory of womanhood stored in her heart.
And she was with his father in his dream. They stood by his bedside watching over him. His father's face he remembered perfectly. It was just as he had seen it when he was alive, except that there was an added something which he could not describe. His mother's face was strange to him. Yet not altogether so. He knew instinctively that she was his mother—knew it by the look on her almost luminous face, by the yearning tenderness of her eyes.
Neither of them spoke to him. They simply stood side by side and watched him. He wished they would speak; he felt as though he wanted guidance, advice, and each looked at him with infinite love in their eyes.
Where had he seen eyes like those of his mother before? Where had he seen a face like the face in his dream? He remembered asking himself, but could recall no one.
"Mother, mother," he tried to say, but he could not speak. Then his mother placed her hand on his forehead, and her touch was like a benediction.
When he woke he wondered where he was; but as through the porthole he saw the sheen of the sea he remembered everything. Oh, the wonder of it all!
A knock came to the door. "Your bath is ready, sir," said a steward, and a minute later he felt the welcome sting of the cold salt water.
He scarcely spoke throughout breakfast; he did not feel like talking. He determined to find some lonely spot and reflect on what had taken place. When he reached the deck, however, the longing for loneliness left him. The sky was cloudless, and the sun poured its warm rays on the spotless boards. Under the awning, passengers had ensconced themselves in their chairs, and smoked, or talked, or read just as their fancy led them.
In spite of the heat the morning was pleasant. A fresh breeze swept across the sea, and the air was pure and sweet.[Pg 13]
Acquaintances spoke to him pleasantly, for he had become fairly popular during the voyage.
"I wonder if they have heard of that wireless message?" he reflected. "Do they know I have received news of Charles Faversham's death, and that I am probably a rich man?"
He turned and saw Count Romanoff.
"You look rather pale this morning," went on the Count; "did you sleep well?"
"Not very well," replied Dick.
"Your mind exercised about the discussion, eh?"
"That and other things."
"It's the 'other things' that make the great interest of life," remarked the Count, looking at him intently.
"Yes, I suppose they do," was Dick's reply. He was thinking about the wireless message.
"Still," and the Count laughed, "the discussion got rather warm, didn't it? I'm afraid I offended our clerical friend. His nod was very cool just now. Of course, it's all rubbish. Years ago I was interested in such things. I took the trouble to inform myself of the best literature we have on the whole matter. As a youth I knew Madame Blavatsky. I have been to seances galore, but I cease to trouble now."
"Yes?" queried Dick.
"I found that the bottom was knocked out of all these so-called discoveries by the first touch of serious investigation and criticism. Nothing stood searching tests. Everything shrivelled at the first touch of the fire."
"This talk about angels, about a hereafter, is so much empty wind," went on the Count. "There is no hereafter. When we die there is a great black blank. That's all."
"Then life is a mockery."
"Is it? It all depends how you look at it. Personally I find it all right."
Dick Faversham looked at his companion's face intently. Yes, it was a handsome face—strong, determined, forceful. But it was not pleasant. Every[Pg 14] movement of his features suggested mockery, cynicism, cruelty. And yet it was fascinating. Count Romanoff was not a man who could be passed by without a thought. There was a tremendous individuality behind his deep-set, dark eyes—a personality of great force suggested by the masterful, mobile features.
"You have nerves this morning, Faversham," went on the Count. "Something more than ordinary has happened to you."
"How do you know?"
"I feel it. I see it. No, I am not asking you to make a confidant of me. But you want a friend."
"Yes," cried Dick, speaking on impulse; "I do."
The other did not speak. He simply fixed his eyes on Faversham's face and waited.
The ShipwreckFor a moment Dick was strongly tempted to tell his companion about the wireless he had received. But something, he could not tell what, seemed to forbid him. In spite of the fact that he had spent a good deal of time with Count Romanoff he had given him no confidences. There was something in his presence, in spite of his fascination, that did not inspire confidence.
"By the way," ventured Dick, after an awkward silence, "I have often been on the point of asking you, but it felt like a liberty. Are you in any way connected with the great Russian family of your name?"
The Count hesitated before replying. "I do not often speak of it," he told him presently, "but I come of a Royal Family."
"The Romanoffs of Russia?"
The Count smiled.
"I do not imagine that they would admit me into their family circle," he replied. "I make no claims to it, but I have the right."
Dick was duly impressed.
"Then, of course, you are a Russian. You were born there?"
"A Russian!" sneered the other. "A vast conglomeration of savagery, superstition, and ignorance! I do not claim to be a Russian. I have estates there, but I am a citizen of the world. My sympathies are not national, insular, bounded by race, paltry landmarks, languages. I live in a bigger world, my friend. Yes, I am a Romanoff, if you like, and I claim kinship with the greatest families of the Russian Empire—but la la, what is it? Thistledown, my friend, thistledown."
"But you were educated in Russia?" persisted Dick.[Pg 16]
"Educated! What is it to be educated? From childhood I have been a wanderer. I have taken my degrees in the University of the world. I have travelled in China, Japan, Egypt, America, the Antipodes. In a few days we shall call at Bombay. If you will accompany me I will take you to people in that city, old Indian families whose language I know, whose so-called mysteries I have penetrated, and who call me friend. Ecco! I owe my education to all countries, all peoples."
He did not speak boastfully; there was no suggestion of the boaster, the braggadocio, in his tones; rather he spoke quietly, thoughtfully, almost sadly.
"Tell me this," asked Dick: "you, who I judge to be a rich man, do you find that riches bring happiness?"
"Yes—and no. With wealth you can buy all that this world can give you."
Dick wondered at the strange intonation of his voice.
"It is the only thing that can bring happiness," added Romanoff.
"I fancy our friend Mr. Bennett would not agree with you," laughed Dick. "He would say that a clear conscience meant happiness. He would tell you that a good life, a clean mind, and a faith in God were the secrets of happiness."
"What makes a clear conscience? It is a feeling that you have done what is right. But what is right? What is right in China is wrong in England. What makes the Chinaman happy makes the Englishman miserable. But why should the Englishman be miserable because he does the thing that makes the Chinaman happy? No, no, it won't do. There is no right; there is no wrong. The Germans are wise there. What the world calls morality is a bogy to frighten foolish people. 'It is always right to do the thing youcan do,' says Brother Fritz. Personally I believe it to be right to do what satisfies my desires. It is right because it brings happiness. After all, you haven't long to live. A few years and it is all over. A shot from a pistol and voilà! your brains are blown out—you are dead! Therefore, take all that life can give you—there is nothing else."[Pg 17]
"I wonder?" said Dick.
"That is why money is all-powerful. First of all, get rid of conventional morality, rid your mind of all religious twaddle about another life, and then suck the orange of this life dry. You, now, you are keen, ardent, ambitious; you love beautiful things; you can enjoy to the full all that life can give you. Nature has endowed you with a healthy body, ardent desires, boundless ambitions—well, satisfy them all. You can buy them all."
"But I am not rich," interposed Dick.
"Aren't you?" queried the other. "Who knows? Anyhow, you are young—make money. 'Money talks,' as the Americans say."
Again Dick was on the point of telling him about the wireless message, but again he refrained.
"By the way, Count Romanoff," he said, "did you see that woman in the smoke-room last night?"
"Woman! what woman?"
"I don't know. I never saw her before. But while you were talking I saw a woman's face through the haze of tobacco smoke. She was standing near the door. It was a wonderful face—and her eyes were beyond description. Great, pure, yearning, loving eyes they were, and they lit up the face which might have been—the face of an angel."
"You were dreaming, my friend. I have seen every woman on board, and not one of them possesses a face worth looking at twice."
"I asked another man," admitted Dick, "and he told me I was dreaming. He had been sitting near the door, he assured me, and he had seen no woman, while the smoke-room steward was just as certain."
"Of course there was no woman."
"And yet I saw a woman, unless——" He stopped suddenly.
"Unless what, my friend?"
"Unless it was a kind of rebuke to my scepticism last night; unless it was the face of an angel."
"An angel in mid-ocean!" Romanoff laughed. "An angel in the smoke-room of a P. & O. steamer![Pg 18] Faversham, you are an example of your own arguments. Imagination can do anything."
"But it would be beautiful if it were so. Do you know, I'm only half a sceptic after all. I only half believe in what I said in the smoke-room last night."
"Perhaps I can say the same thing," said Romanoff, watching his face keenly.
"I say!" and Dick laughed.
"Yes, laugh if you will; but I told you just now that the world contained no mystery. I was wrong; it does. My residence in India has told me that. Do you know, Faversham, what has attracted me to you?—for I have been attracted, I can assure you."
"Flattered, I'm sure," murmured Dick.
"I was attracted, because the moment I saw your face I felt that your career would be out of the ordinary. I may be wrong, but I believe that great things are going to happen to you, that you are going to have a wonderful career. I felt it when I saw you come on deck a little while ago. If you are wise you are going to have a great future—a greatfuture."
"Now you are laughing."
"No, I'm not. I'm in deadly earnest. I have something of the power of divination in me. I feel the future. Something's going to happen to you. I think great wealth's coming to you."
Dick was silent, and a far-away look came into his eyes. He was thinking of the wireless message, thinking whether he should tell Romanoff about it.
"I started out on this voyage—in the hope that—that I should make money," he stammered.
"You'll not go to Australia."
"I don't know—something's going to happen to you. I feel it."
Dick was again on the point of taking him into his confidence when two acquaintances came up and the conversation ended. But Dick felt that Romanoff knew his secret all the time.[Pg 19]
The day passed away without further incident, but towards afternoon there was a distinct change in the weather. The sky became overclouded, and the gentle breeze which had blown in the morning strengthened into a strong, boisterous wind. The smooth sea roughened, and the passengers no longer sat on deck. The smoke-room was filled with bridge players, while other public rooms became the scenes of other amusements.
But Dick preferred being alone. He was still hugging his news to his heart, still reflecting on the appearance of the strange woman's face in the smoke-room, and all the time he was under the influence of Count Romanoff's conversation.
Perhaps the great, dark, heaving waste of waters excited his nerves and made him feel something of the mysterious and resistless forces around him. After all, he asked himself, how small the life of a man, or a hundred men, appeared to be amidst what seemed infinite wastes of ocean.
After dinner, in spite of the fact that the weather remained boisterous, he again went on deck. The sky had somewhat cleared now, and although there were still great black angry clouds, spaces of blue could be seen between them. Here the stars appeared, and shone with great brilliancy. Then the moon rose serene, majestic. Now it was hidden by a great storm cloud, and again it showed its silvery face in the clear spaces.
"Great heavens!" cried Dick, "how little a man knows of the world in which he lives, and what rot we often talk. The air all around me may be crowded with visitants from the unseen world! My dream last night may have an objective reality. Perhaps my father and my mother were there watching over me! Why not?"
It is said that atheists are bred in slums, and amidst brick walls and unlovely surroundings. It is also said that there are few sailors but who are believers—that the grandeur of the seas, that the wonder of great star spaces create a kind of spiritual atmosphere which makes it impossible for them to be materialists. Whether that is so I will not argue. This I know: Dick Faversham felt very near the unseen[Pg 20] world as he leaned over the deck railings that night and gazed across the turbulent waters.
But this also must be said. The unseen world seemed to him not good, but evil. He felt as though there were dark, sinister forces around him—forces which were inimical to what he conceived to be best in him.
Before midnight he turned in, and no sooner did he lay his head on his pillow than he felt himself falling asleep. How long he slept he did not know. As far as he remembered afterwards, his sleep was dreamless. He only knew that he was awakened by a tremendous noise, and that the ship seemed to be crashing to pieces. Before he realised what had taken place he found himself thrown on the floor, while strange grating noises reached his ears. After that he heard wild shouts and despairing screams. Hastily putting on a coat over his night clothes, he rushed out to see what had happened; but all seemed darkness and confusion.
"What's the matter?" he cried, but received no answer.
Stumblingly he struggled towards the companion-way, where he saw a dark moving object.
"What's happened?" he gasped again.
"God only knows, except the vessel going down!"
"Vessel going down?"
"Yes; struck a mine or something!"
Even as the man spoke the ship seemed to be splitting asunder. Harsh, grating, bewildering noises were heard everywhere, while above the noises of timber and steel were to be faintly heard the cries of frantic women and excited men.
Then something struck him. He did not know what it was, but he felt a heavy blow on his head, and after that a great darkness fell upon him.
How long the darkness lasted he could not tell. It might have been minutes, it might have been hours; but he knew that he suddenly came to consciousness through the touch of icy-cold water. The cold seemed to pierce his very marrow, to sting him with exquisite pain. Then he was conscious that he was struggling in the open sea.
He had been a strong swimmer from early boyhood,[Pg 21] and he struck out now. He had no idea which way to swim, but swim he did, heedless of direction or purpose. A kind of instinct forced him to get as far away as possible from the spot where he came to consciousness.
There was still a heavy sea running. He found himself lifted on the crest of huge waves, and again sinking in the depths. But he held on. He had a kind of instinct that he was doing something to save his life.
Presently his mind became clear. The past came vividly before him—the talk in the smoke-room, the wireless message——
Yes, he must live! Life held out so much to him. His immediate return to England was essential. Bidlake & Bilton had told him so.
Where were the other passengers? He had heard women's cries, the wild shouts of men, the creaking of timbers, the grating of steel; he had felt that the great steamship was being torn to pieces. But now there was nothing of this. There was nothing but the roar of waters—great, heaving, turbulent waters.
He still struggled on, but he knew that his strength was going. It seemed to him, too, as though some power was paralysing his limbs, sapping his strength. He still had the desire to save himself, to live; but his will power was not equal to his desire.
Oh, the sea was cruel, cruel! Why could not the waves cease roaring and rolling if only for five minutes? He would have time to rest then, to rest and regain his strength.
Still he struggled on. Again he felt himself carried on the crest of waves, and again almost submerged in the great troughs which seemed to be everywhere.
"O God, help me!" he thought at length. "My strength is nearly gone. I'm going to be drowned!"
A sinister power seemed to surround him—a power which took away hope, purpose, life. He thought of Count Romanoff, who had said there was nothing after death—that death was just a great black blank.
The thought was ghastly! To cease to be, to die there amidst the wild waste of the sea, on that lonely night! He could not bear the thought of it.
But his strength was ebbing away; his breath came[Pg 22] in panting sobs; his heart found it difficult to beat. He was going to die.
Oh, if only something, someone would drive away the hateful presence which was following him, surrounding him! He could still struggle on then; he could live then. But no, a great black shadow was surrounding him, swallowing him up. Yes, and the ghastly thing was taking shape. He saw a face, something like the face of—no, he could liken it to no one he knew.
The waves still rolled on; but now he heard what seemed like wild, demoniacal laughter. Once, when a boy, he had seen Henry Irving inFaust; he saw the devils on the haunted mountain; he heard their hideous cries. And there was a ghastly, evil influence with him now. Did it mean that devils were there waiting to snatch his soul directly it left his body?
Then he felt a change. Yes, it was distinct, definite. There was a light, too—a pale, indistinct light, but still real, and as his tired eyes lifted he saw what seemed to be a cross of light shining down upon him from the clouds. What could it mean?
It seemed to him that the sinister presence was somehow losing power, that there was something, someone in the light which grew stronger.
Then a face appeared above him. At first it was unreal, intangible, shadowy; but it grew clearer, clearer. Where had he seen it before? Those great, tender, yearning eyes—where had he seen them? Then the form of a woman became outlined—a woman with arms outstretched. Her face, her lips, her eyes seemed to bid him hope, and it felt to him as though arms were placed beneath him—arms which bore him up.
It was all unreal, as unreal as the baseless fabric of a dream; and yet it was real, wondrously real.
"Help me! Save me!" he tried to say, but whether he uttered the words he did not know. He felt that his grip on life became weaker and weaker—then a still, small voice seemed to whisper, "The Eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms."
The roar of the waves grew less, and he knew no more.
"The Enemy of Your Soul"When again Dick Faversham regained something like consciousness he had a sensation of choking, of a hard struggle to breathe, which ended in partial failure.
He did not know where he was, but he had a sense of warmth, of restfulness. He thought he heard the ripple of waves on a sunlit shore, and of wide-spreading trees which grew close to the edge of the sea.
But it was all indistinct, unreal, and he did not care very much. He was trying to breathe, trying to overcome the awful sense of choking, and after a while, dazed, bewildered though he was, he felt his breath come easier and the weight on his chest grow lighter. But he was terribly tired—so tired that he had no desire to struggle, so languid that his very efforts to breathe were the result not of his own will, but of some claims of nature over which he had no control. He was just a piece of machinery, and that was all.
He felt himself going to sleep, and he was glad. He had no curiosity as to where he was, no desire to know how he came to be there, no remembrance of the past; he only knew that warm air wrapped him like a garment, and that he was deliciously tired and sleepy.
How long he slept he did not know, but presently when he woke he saw the sun setting in a blaze of glory. Scarcely a breath of wind stirred the warm, fragrant air, and all was silent save the lapping of the waves and the screaming of birds in the distance.
He sat up and looked around him. Great tropical trees grew in wild profusion, while gorgeous vegetation abounded. It was like some land of dreams.[Pg 24]
Then suddenly memory asserted itself, and the past flashed before his mind. Everything became clear, vivid.
"I am saved! I am alive!" he exclaimed aloud.
Again he saw the wild upheaving sea; he felt himself struggling in the deep, while his strength, strength of body, of mind, and will were failing him. He recalled the dark, fearful presence that surrounded him, and then the coming of the light, and in the light the outline of a woman's form. Nothing would ever destroy that memory! The face, the lips, the eyes! No, he should never forget! And he had seen her arms outstretched, felt her arms placed beneath him—the arms that bore him up, brought him to safety.
"I was saved," he murmured—"saved by an angel!"
He was startled by the sound of a footstep, and, turning, he saw Romanoff, and with him came back something of the feeling that some evil presence surrounded him.
"That's right, Faversham. I was afraid, hours ago, that I should never bring you round, but at length you made good, and then, like a sensible fellow, went to sleep."
Romanoff spoke in the most matter-of-fact way possible, banishing the mere thought of angels or devils.
"Where are we? How did we get here?" gasped Faversham. Up to now he had not given a thought to the other passengers.
"Where are we? On an island in the Pacific, my dear fellow. How did we get here? After the accident—or whatever it was—the boats were lowered, and all hands were got away. I looked out for you, but could not find you. There was a great commotion, and it was easy to miss anyone in the darkness. I was among the last to leave the sinking vessel, and the boat was pretty full. We had got perhaps half a mile away from the scene of the wreck, when I saw someone struggling in the sea. It was by the purest chance possible that I saw. However, I managed to get hold of—what turned out to be you. You were nearly gone—I never thought you'd—live."[Pg 25]
"But how did I get here?" asked Dick, "and—and where are the others?"
"It was this way," and Romanoff still continued to speak in the same matter-of-fact tones. "As I told you, the boat was jammed full—overweighted, in fact—so full that your weight was a bit of a danger. More than one said you were dead, and suggested that—that it was no use endangering the safety of the others. But I felt sure you were alive, so I held out against them."
"And then?" asked Dick. He was only giving half his mind to Romanoff's story; he was thinking of what he saw when he felt his strength leaving him.
"You see the bar out yonder?" and Romanoff pointed towards a ridge of foam some distance out at sea. "It's mighty rough there—dangerous to cross even when the sea is smooth; when it is rough—you can guess. I was holding you in my arms in order to—give room. The oarsmen were making for land, of course; you see, we had been many hours in a mere cockleshell, and this island promised safety. But in crossing the bar we were nearly upset, and I suddenly found myself in the sea with you in my arms. It was fairly dark, and I could not see the boat, but I was fortunate in getting you here. That's all."
"Yes; what should there be else?"
"But the others?"
"Oh, I expect they've landed somewhere else on the island—sure to, in fact. But I've not looked them up. You see, I did not want to leave you."
"Then you—you've saved me?"
"Oh, that's all right, my dear fellow. You are here, and you are looking better every minute; that's the great thing. See, I've brought you some food—fruit. Delicious stuff. I've tried it. Lucky for us we got to this place."
Dick ate almost mechanically. He was still wondering and trying to square Romanoff's story with his own experiences. Meanwhile, Romanoff sat near him and watched him as he ate.
"How long have we been here?"[Pg 26]
"Ten hours at least. Look, my clothes are quite dry. By Jove, I was thankful for the hot sun."
"You saved me!" repeated Dick. "I owe my life to you, and yet even now——"
"What, my dear fellow?"
"I thought I was saved in another way."
"Another way? How?"
Dick hesitated a few seconds, and then told him, while Romanoff listened with a mocking smile on his lips.
"Of course, you were delirious; it was pure hallucination."
"Was it? It was very real to me."
"Such things don't happen, my friend. After all, it was a very matter-of-fact, mundane affair. You were lucky, and I happened to see you—that's all—and if there was an angel—I'm it."
The laugh that followed was anything but angelic!
"I suppose that's it," and with a sigh Dick assented to Romanoff's explanation. Indeed, with this strange, matter-of-fact man by his side, he could not believe in anything miraculous. That smile on his face made it impossible.
"I don't know how to thank you," he said fervently. "You've done me the greatest service one man can do for another. I can't thank you enough, and I can never repay you, but if we ever get away from here, and I have an opportunity to serve you—all that I have shall be yours."
"I'll remember that," replied Romanoff quietly, "and I accept what you offer, my friend. Perhaps the time will come when I can take advantage of it."
"I hope you will—you must!"—Dick's mind had become excited—"and I want to tell you something," he continued, for he was strangely drawn towards his deliverer. "I want to live. I want to get back to England," he went on. "I have not told you before, but I feel I must now."
Whereupon he told him the story of the wireless message and what it possibly might mean.
Romanoff listened gravely, and Dick once again[Pg 27] experienced that uncanny feeling that he was telling the other a story he already knew.
"Didn't I tell you on the boat that something big was in store for you?" he said, after many questions were asked and answered. "I shall certainly look you up when I go to England again, and it may be I shall be able to render you some—further service."
Night came on, and Dick slept. He was calm now and hopeful for the future. Romanoff had told him that as the island was on the great trade route it was impossible for them to be left there long. Vessels were always passing. And Dick trusted Romanoff. He felt he could do no other. He was so strong, so wise, so confident.
For hours he slept dreamlessly, but towards morning he had a vivid dream, and in his dream he again saw the face of the angel, just as he had seen on the wild, heaving sea.
"Listen to me," she said to him. "That man Romanoff is your enemy—the enemy of your soul. Do you realise it?—your soul. He is an emissary of the Evil One, and you must fight him. You must not yield to him. You will be tempted, but you must fight. He will be constantly near you, tempting you. He is your enemy, working for your downfall. If you give way to him you will be for ever lost!"
Dick heard her words quite plainly. He watched her face as she spoke, wondered at the yearning tenderness in her eyes.
"How can he be my enemy?" he asked. "He risked his life to save mine; he brought me to safety."
"No," she replied; "it was the arms of another that were placed beneath you, and bore you up. Don't you know whose arms? Don't you remember my face?"
"Who are you?" asked Dick.
Then, as it seemed to him in his dream, Romanoff came, and there was a battle between him and the angel, and he knew that they were fighting for him, for the possession of his soul.
He could see them plainly, and presently he saw the face of Romanoff gloat with a look of unholy joy. His form became more and more clearly outlined, while that[Pg 28] of the angel became dimmer and dimmer. The evil power was triumphant. Then a change came. Above their heads he saw a luminous cross outlined, and he thought Romanoff's face and form became less and less distinct. But he was not sure, for they were drifting away from him farther and farther——
Again he saw the angel's face, and again she spoke. "You will be tempted—tempted," she said, "in many ways you will be tempted. But you will not be alone, for the angel of the Lord encampeth around them that fear Him. You will know me by the same sign. Always obey the angel."
He awoke. He was lying where he had gone to sleep hours before. He started to his feet and looked around him.
Near him, passing under the shadows of the great trees, he thought he saw a woman's face. It was the face he had seen on the outgoing vessel, the face he had seen when he was sinking in the deep waters, the face that had come to him in his dreams.
He was about to speak to her, to follow her, when he heard someone shouting.
"Faversham! Faversham!" It was Romanoff's voice. "Come quickly. We've hailed a vessel; our signal has been seen. Come to the other side of the island."
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