Mrs. Falchion - Volume 1

Mrs. Falchion - Volume 1

MRS. FALCHION - VOLUME 1. GILBERT PARKER INTRODUCTION This novel was written in the days of the three-decker and it went out to sea as such. Every novel of mine written until 1893 was published in two or three volumes and the sale to the libraries was greater than the sale to the general public. This book was begun in 1892 at the time when the Pierre stories were being written and it was finished in the summer of 1893. It did not appear serially; indeed I made no attempt at serial publication. I had a feeling that as it was to be my first novel it should be judged as a whole and taken at a gasp as it were. I believe that the reader of Messrs. Methuen & Company was not disposed to publish the book but Mr. Methuen himself (or Mr. Stedman as he was then called) was impressed by it and gave it his friendly confidence. He was certain that it would arrest the attention of the critics and of the public whether it became popular or not. I have not a set of those original three volumes. I wish I had because they won for me an almost unhoped- for pleasure. The 'Daily Chronicle' gave the volumes over a column of review and headed the notice "A Coming Novelist." The 'Athenaeum' said that 'Mrs. Falchion' was a splendid study of character; 'The Pall Mall Gazette' said that the writing was as good as anything that had been done in our time while at the same time it took rather a dark view of my future as a novelist because it said I had not probed deep enough into the wounds of character which I had inflicted. The article was written by Mr. George W. Stevens and he was right in saying that I had not probed deep enough. Few very young men--and I was very young then--do probe very deeply. At the appearance of 'When Valmond Came to Pontiac' however Mr. Stevens came to the conclusion that my future was assured. I mention these things because they were burnt into my mind at the time. 'Mrs. Falchion' was my first real novel as I have said though it had been preceded by a short novel called 'The Chief Factor' since rescued from publication and never published in book form in England. I realised when I had written 'Mrs. Falchion' that I had not found my metier and I was fearful of complete failure. I had come but a few years before from the South Seas; I was full of what I had seen and felt; I was eager to write of it all and I did write of it; but the thing which was deeper still in me was the life which 'Pierre and His People' 'The Seats of the Mighty' 'The Trail of the Sword' 'The Lane That Had no Turning' and 'The Right of Way' portrayed. That life was destined to give me an assured place and public while 'Mrs. Falchion' and the South Sea stories published in various journals before the time of its production and indeed anterior to the writing of the Pierre series only assured me attention. Happily for the book which has faults of construction superficialities as to incident and with some crudity of plot it was in the main a study of character. There was focus there was illumination in the book to what degree I will not try to say; and the attempt to fasten the mind of the reader upon the central figure and to present that central figure in many aspects safeguarded the narrative from the charge of being a mere novel of adventure or as one writer called it "an impudent melodrama which has its own fascinations." Reading Mrs. Falchion again after all these years I seem to realise in it an attempt to combine the objective and subjective methods of treatment--to combine analysis of character and motive with arresting episode. It is a difficult thing to do as I have found. It was not done on my part wholly by design but rather by instinct and I imagine that this tendency has run through all my works. It represents the elements of romanticism and of realism in one and that kind of representation has its dangers to say nothing of its difficulties. It sometimes alienates the reader who by instinct and preference is a realist and it troubles the reader who wants to read for a story alone who cares for what a character does and not for what a character is or says except in so far as it emphasises what it does. One has to work however in one's own way after one's own idiosyncrasies and here is the book that represents one of my own idiosyncrasies in its most primitive form. CONTENTS: BOOK I BELOW THE SUN LINE I. THE GATES OF THE SEA II. "MOTLEY IS YOUR ONLY WEAR" III. A TALE OF NO MAN'S SEA IV. THE TRAIL OF THE ISHMAELITE V. ACCUSING FACES VI. MUMMERS ALL VII. THE WHEEL COMES FULL CIRCLE VIII. A BRIDGE OF PERIL IX. "THE PROGRESS OF THE SUNS" X. BETWEEN DAY AND DARK BOOK II THE SLOPE OF THE PACIFIC XI. AMONG THE HILLS OF GOD XII. THE WHIRLIGIG OF TIME XIII. THE SONG OF THE SAW XIV. THE PATH OF THE EAGLE XV. IN THE TROUGH OF THE WINDS XVI. A DUEL IN ARCADY XVII. RIDING THE REEFS XVIII. THE STRINGS OF DESTINY XIX. THE SENTENCE XX. AFTER THE STORM XXI. IN PORT BOOK I BELOW THE SUN LINE CHAPTER I THE GATES OF THE SEA The part I played in Mrs. Falchion's career was not very noble but I shall set it forth plainly here else I could not have the boldness to write of her faults or those of others. Of my own history little need be said in preface. Soon after graduating with honours as a physician I was offered a professional post in a college of medicine in Canada. It was difficult to establish a practice in medicine without some capital else I had remained in London; and being in need of instant means I gladly accepted the offer. But six months were to intervene before the beginning of my duties--how to fill that time profitably was the question. I longed to travel having scarcely been out of England during my life. Some one suggested the position of surgeon on one of the great steamers running between England and Australia. The idea of a long sea- voyage was seductive for I had been suffering from over-study though the position itself was not very distinguished. But in those days I cared more for pleasing myself than for what might become a newly-made professor and I was prepared to say with a renowned Irish dean: "Dignity and I might be married for all the relations we are." I secured the position with humiliating ease and humiliating smallness of pay. The steamer's name was the 'Fulvia'. It was one of the largest belonging to the Occidental Company. It carried no emigrants and had a passenger list of fashionable folk. On the voyage out to Australia the weather was pleasant save in the Bay of Biscay; there was no sickness on board and there were many opportunities for social gaiety the cultivation of pleasant acquaintances and the encouragement of that brisk idleness which aids to health. This was really the first holiday in my life and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Nothing of unusual interest occurred on the outward voyage; for one thing because there were no unusual people among the passengers; for another because the vessel behaved admirably. The same cannot be said of the return voyage: and with it my story really begins. Misfortune followed us out of Sydney harbour. We broke a crank-shaft between there and Port Phillip Melbourne; a fire in the hold occurred at Adelaide; and at Albany we buried a passenger who had died of consumption one day out from King George's Sound. At Colombo also we had a misfortune but it was of a peculiar kind and did not obtrude itself at once; it was found in an addition to our passenger list. I had spent a day in exploring Colombo-- visiting Arabi Pasha inspecting Hindu temples watching the jugglers and snake-charmers evading guides and the sellers of brummagem jewellery and idling in the Cinnamon Gardens. I returned to the ship tired out. After I had done some official duties I sauntered to the gangway and leaning against the bulwarks idly watched the passengers come on board from the tender. Two of these made an impression on me. One was a handsome and fashionably-dressed woman who was followed by a maid or companion (as I fancied) carrying parcels; the other a shabbily-dressed man who was the last to come up from the tender. The woman was going down the companion-way when he stepped on deck with a single bag in his hand and I noticed that he watched her with a strange look in his eyes. He stood still as he gazed and remained so for a moment after she had gone; then he seemed to recover himself and started as I thought almost guiltily when he saw that my attention was attracted. He nervously shifted his bag from one hand to the other and looked round as though not certain of where he should go. A steward came to him officiously and patronisingly too--which is the bearing of servants to shabbily-dressed people--but he shook his head caught his bag smartly away from the steward's fingers and moved towards the after part of the ship reserved for intermediate passengers. As he went he hesitated came to the side of the vessel looked down at the tender for a moment cast his eyes to where the anchor was being weighed made as if he would go back to the tender then seeing that the ladder was now drawn up sighed and passed on to the second-class companion-way through which he disappeared. I stood commenting idly to myself upon this incident which slight though it was appeared to have significance of a kind when Hungerford the fifth officer caught me slyly by the arm and said "Lucky fellow! Nothing to do but watch the world go by. I wish I had you in the North Atlantic on a whaler or in the No Man's Sea on a pearl-smack for a matter of thirty days." "What would come of that Hungerford?" said I. "An exchange of matter for mind Marmion; muscle for meditation physics for philosophy." "You do me too much honour; at present I've neither mind meditation nor philosophy; I am simply vegetating." "Which proves you to be demoralised. I never saw a surgeon on a ship who wasn't. They began with mind--more or less--they ate the fruits of indolence got precious near being sinful as well as indolent and ended with cheap cynicism with the old 'quid refert'--the thing Hamlet plagiarised in his 'But it is no matter.'" "Isn't this an unusual occupation for you Hungerford--this Swift-like criticism?" "Swift-like is it? You see I've practised on many of your race Marmion and I have it pat now. You are all of two classes--those who sicken in soul and leave after one trip and those who make another trip and are lost." "Lost? How?" Hungerford pressed his fingers hard on my breastbone looked at me enigmatically from under his well-hung brows and replied: "Brains put out to seed morals put out to vegetate--that's 'lost.'" "What about fifth officers?" "Fifth officers work like navvies and haven't time for foolishness. They've got to walk the bridge and practise the boats and be responsible for luggage--and here I am talking to you like an infallible undergraduate while the lascars are in endless confusion with a half- dozen pieces of baggage and the first officer foams because I'm not there to set them right. I leave you to your dreams. Good-bye." Hungerford was younger than myself but he knew the world and I was flattered by these uncommon remarks because he talked to no one else on the ship in the same way. He never sought to make friends had a thorough contempt for social trifling and shrugged his shoulders at the "swagger" of some of the other officers. I think he longed for a different kind of sea-life so accustomed had he been to adventurous and hardy ways. He had entered the Occidental service because he had fallen in love with a pretty girl and thought it his duty to become a "regular" and thus have the chance of seeing her every three months in London. He had conceived a liking for me reciprocated on my part; the more so because I knew that behind his blunt exterior there was a warm and manly heart. When he left me I went to my cabin and prepared for dinner laughing as I did so at his keen uncompromising criticism which I knew was correct enough; for of all official posts that of a ship- surgeon is least calculated to make a man take a pride in existence. At its best it is assisting in the movement of a panorama; at its worst worse than a vegetation. Hungerford's solicitude for myself however was misplaced because this one voyage would end my career as ship- surgeon and besides I had not vegetated but had been interested in everything that had occurred humdrum as it was. With these thoughts I looked out of the port-hole to see the shores of Colombo Galle Face and Mount Lavinia fading in the distance and heard seven bells--the time for dinner. When I took my seat at the table of which I was the head my steward handed to me a slip of paper saying that the chief steward had given a new passenger a lady the seat at my right hand which had been vacated at Colombo. The name on the paper was "Mrs. Falchion." The seat was still empty and I wondered if this was the beautiful passenger who had attracted me and interested the Intermediate Passenger. I was selfish enough to wish so: and it was so. We had finished the soup before she entered. The chief steward with that anxious civility which beauty can inspire in even so great a personage conducted her to her seat beside me. I confess that though I was at once absorbed in this occurrence I noticed also that some of the ladies present smiled significantly when they saw at whose table Mrs. Falchion was placed and looked not a little ironically at the purser who as it was known always tried to get for his table the newest addition to the passenger list--when it was a pretty woman. I believe that one or two rude people chaffed the chief steward about "favouring the doctor"; but he had a habit of saying uncomfortable things in a deferential way and they did not pursue the subject. Then they commiserated the purser who was an unpleasant little Jew of an envious turn of mind; and he as I was told likened me to Sir John Falstaff. I was sensitive in those days and this annoyed me particularly that I had had nothing to do with placing Mrs. Falchion at my table. We are always most sensitive when guilty concerning the spirit and not the letter. One who has lived the cosmopolitan life of London should be quick at detecting nationalities but I found it difficult even after I heard her speak to guess at Mrs. Falchion's native land. There were good reasons for this as may be duly seen. Her appearance in the saloon caused an instant buzz of admiration and interest of which she seemed oblivious. If it was acting it was good acting; if it was lack of self- consciousness it was remarkable. As I soon came to know it was the latter--which in such a woman increased the remarkableness. I was inclined at first to venture the opinion that she was an actress; but I discovered that she possessed the attracting power of an actress without the calculated manner of one; her very lack of self-consciousness was proof of this emancipation. When she sat down I immediately welcomed her by name to my table. The only surprise she showed at my knowledge of her name and my self- introduction was to lift her head slightly and look at me as if wondering whether I was likely to be an inquisitive and troublesome host; and also as I thought to measure me according to her measure. It was a quick look and the interest she showed was of a passive kind. She asked me as she might an old acquaintance--or a waiter--if the soup was good and what the fish was like; decided on my recommendation to wait for the entrees; requested her next neighbour to pass the olives; in an impersonal way began to talk about the disadvantages of life at sea; regretted that all ship food tasted alike; wondered if the cook knew how to make a Russian salad; and added that the menu was a national compromise. Now that she was close to me I could see that her beauty was real and notable. Her features were regular her eyes of a greyish violet her chin strong yet not too strong--the chin of a singer; her hands had that charming quiet certainty of movement possessed by so few; and her colour was of the most delightful health. In this delightful health in her bountiful yet perfect physical eloquence her attractiveness as it seemed to me chiefly lay. For no one would ever have guessed her to possess an emotional temperament. All that was outer was fascinating all that was inner suggested coldness. After experience assured me that all who came to know her shared this estimate even in those days when every man on the ship was willing to be her slave. She had a compelling atmosphere a possessive presence; and yet her mind at this time was unemotional--like Octavia the wife of Mark Antony "of a cold conversation." She was striking and unusual in appearance and yet well within convention and "good form." Her dress was simply and modestly worn and had little touches of grace and taste which I understand many ladies on board sought to imitate when they recovered from the first feeling of envy. She was an example of splendid life. I cared to look at her as one would dwell on the sleek beauty of a deer--as indeed I have many a time since then in India watched a tigress asleep on her chain claws hidden wild life latent but slumbering. I could have staked my life that Mrs. Falchion was insensible to love or passion and unimpeachable in the broad scheme of right and wrong; imperious in requiring homage incapable of giving it. I noticed when she laughed as she did once at table that her teeth were very white and small and square; and like a schoolgirl she had a habit of clicking them together very lightly but not conspicuously as if trying their quality. This suggested however something a little cruel. Her appetite was very good. She was coolly anxious about the amusements; she asked me if I could get her a list of the passengers said that she was never sea-sick and took a languid interest in the ladies present. Her glance at the men was keen at first then neutral. Once again during the meal she slowly turned and flashed an inquiring glance at me. I caught her eyes. She did not show the least embarrassment and asked me if the band insisted on playing every day. Before she left the saloon one could see that many present were talking about her. Even the grim old captain followed her with his eyes as she went. When she rose I asked her if she was going on deck. I did it casually as though it was her usual custom to appear there after dinner. In like fashion she replied that her maid had some unpacking to do she had some things to superintend and when this was done she intended to spend a time on deck. Then with a peculiar smile she passed out. [Note by Dr. Marmion appended to his MSS.:--"Many of the conversations and monologues in this history not heard by myself when they occurred were told to me afterwards or got from the diaries and notes of the persons concerned. Only a few are purely imaginary."] CHAPTER II "MOTLEY IS YOUR ONLY WEAR" I went to my cabin took a book sat down and began to smoke. My thoughts drifted from the book and then occurred a strange incongruous thing. It was a remembered incident. It came like a vision as I was lighting a fresh cigar: A boy and a girl in a village chemist's shop; he with a boy's love for her she responding in terms but not in fact. He passed near her carrying a measure of sulphuric acid. She put out her hand suddenly and playfully as though to bar his way. His foot slipped on the oily floor and the acid spilled on his hands and the skirt of her dress. He turned instantly and plunged his hands into a measure of alcohol standing near before the acid had more than slightly scalded them. She glanced at his startled face; hers was without emotion. She looked down and said petulantly: "You have spoiled my dress; I cannot go into the street." The boy's clothes were burnt also. He was poor and to replace them must be a trial to him; her father owned the shop and was well-to-do. Still he grieved most that she should be annoyed though he saw her injustice. But she turned away and left him. Another scene then crossed the disc of smoke: The boy and girl now man and woman standing alone in the chemist's shop. He had come out of the big working world after travel in many countries. His fame had come with him. She was to be married the next day to a seller of purple and fine linen. He was smiling a good-bye and there was nothing of the old past in the smile. The flame now was in her eyes and she put out both her hands to stop him as he turned to go; but his face was passionless. "You have spoiled my heart" she said; "I cannot go into the world so." "It is too late; the measures are empty" he replied. "I love you to-day I will loathe you to-morrow" was the answer. But he turned and left her and she blindly stretched out her hands and followed him into the darkness weeping. Was it the scent of the chemicals in my cabin coupled with some subterranean association of things which brought these scenes vividly before me at this moment? What had they to do with Mrs. Falchion? A time came when the occurrence appeared to me in the light of prescience but that was when I began to understand that all ideas all reason and philosophy are the result of outer impression. The primal language of our minds is in the concrete. Afterwards it becomes the cypher and even at its highest it is expressed by angles lines and geometrical forms--substances and allusive shapes. But now as the scene shifted by I had involuntarily thrust forward my hands as did the girl when she passed out into the night and in doing so touched the curtain of my cabin door swinging in towards me. I recovered myself and a man timidly stepped inside knocking as he did so. It was the Intermediate Passenger. His face was pale; he looked ill. Poor as his dress was I saw that he had known the influences and practised the graces of good society though his manner was hesitating and anxious now. I knew at a glance that he was suffering from both physical pain and mental worry. Without a word I took his wrist and ...