Read CHAPTER II of Adam Johnstone's Son , free online book, by F. Marion Crawford, on

The people from the yacht belonged to that class of men and women whose uncertainty, or indifference, about the future leads them to take possession of all they can lay hands on in the present, with a view to squeezing the world like a lemon for such enjoyment as it may yield.  So long as they tarried at the old hotel, it was their private property.  The Bowrings were forgotten; the two English old maids had no existence; the Russian invalid got no more hot water for his tea; the plain but obstinately inquiring German family could get no more information; even the quiet young French couple ­a honeymoon couple ­sank into insignificance.  The only protest came from an American, whose wife was ill and never appeared, and who staggered the landlord by asking what he would sell the whole place for on condition of vacating the premises before dinner.

“They will be gone before dinner,” the proprietor answered.

But they did not go.  When it was already late somebody saw the moon rise, almost full, and suggested that the moonlight would be very fine, and that it would be amusing to dine at the hotel table and spend the evening on the terrace and go on board late.

“I shall,” said the little lady in white serge, “whatever the rest of you do.  Brook!  Send somebody on board to get a lot of cloaks and shawls and things.  I am sure it is going to be cold.  Don’t go away!  I want you to take me for a walk before dinner, so as to be nice and hungry, you know.”

For some reason or other, several of the party laughed, and from their tone one might have guessed that they were in the habit of laughing, or were expected to laugh, at the lady’s speeches.  And every one agreed that it would be much nicer to spend the evening on the terrace, and that it was a pity that they could not dine out of doors because it would be far too cool.  Then the lady in white and the man called Brook began to walk furiously up and down in the fading light, while the lady talked very fast in a low voice, except when she was passing within earshot of some of the others, and the man looked straight before him, answering occasionally in monosyllables.

Then there was more confusion in the hotel, and the Russian invalid expressed his opinion to the two English old maids, with whom he fraternised, that dinner would be an hour late, thanks to their compatriots.  But they assumed an expression appropriate when speaking of the peerage, and whispered that the yacht must belong to the Duke of Orkney, who, they had read, was cruising in the Mediterranean, and that the Duke was probably the big man in grey clothes who had a gold cigarette case.  But in all this they were quite mistaken.  And their repeated examinations of the hotel register were altogether fruitless, because none of the party had written their names in it.  The old maids, however, were quite happy and resigned to waiting for their dinner.  They presently retired to attempt for themselves what stingy nature had refused to do for them in the way of adornment, for the dinner was undoubtedly to be an occasion of state, and their eyes were to see the glory of a lord.

The party sat together at one end of the table, which extended the whole length of the high and narrow vaulted hall, while the guests staying in the hotel filled the opposite half.  Most of the guests were more subdued than usual, and the party from the yacht seemed noisy by contrast.  The old maids strained their ears to catch a name here and there.  Clare and her mother talked little.  The Russian invalid put up a single eyeglass, looked long and curiously at each of the new comers in turn, and then did not vouchsafe them another glance.  The German family criticised the food severely, and then got into a fierce discussion about Bismarck and the Pope, in the course of which they forgot the existence of their fellow-diners, but not of their dinner.

Clare could not help glancing once or twice at the couple that had attracted her attention, and she found herself wondering what their relation to each other could be, and whether they were engaged to be married.  Somebody called the lady in white “Mrs. Crosby.”  Then somebody else called her “Lady Fan” ­which was very confusing.  “Brook” never called her anything.  Clare saw him fill his glass and look at Lady Fan very hard before he drank, and then Lady Fan did the same thing.  Nevertheless they seemed to be perpetually quarrelling over little things.  When Brook was tired of being bullied, he calmly ignored his companion, turned from her, and talked in a low tone to a dark woman who had been a beauty and was the most thoroughly well-dressed of the extremely well-dressed party.  Lady Fan bit her lip for a moment, and then said something at which all the others laughed ­except Brook and the advanced beauty, who continued to talk in undertones.

To Clare’s mind there was about them all, except Brook, a little dash of something which was not “quite, quite,” as the world would have expressed it.  In her opinion Lady Fan was distinctly disagreeable, whoever she might be ­as distinctly so as Brook was the contrary.  And somehow the girl could not help resenting the woman’s way of treating him.  It offended her oddly and jarred upon her good taste, as something to which she was not at all accustomed in her surroundings.  Lady Fan was very exquisite in her outward ways, and her speech was of the proper smartness.  Yet everything she did and said was intensely unpleasant to Clare.

The Bowrings and the regular guests finished their dinner before the yachting party, and rose almost in a body, with a clattering of their light chairs on the tiled floor.  Only the English old maids kept their places a little longer than the rest, and took some more filberts and half a glass of white wine, each.  They could not keep their eyes from the party at the other end of the table, and their faces grew a little redder as they sat there.  Clare and her mother had to go round the long table to get out, being the last on their side, and they were also the last to reach the door.  Again the young girl felt that strong desire to turn her head and look back at Brook and Lady Fan.  She noticed it this time, as something she had never felt until that afternoon, but she would not yield to it.  She walked on, looking straight at the back of her mother’s head.  Then she heard quick footsteps on the tiles behind her, and Brook’s voice.

“I beg your pardon,” he was saying, “you have dropped your shawl.”

She turned quickly, and met his eyes as he stopped close to her, holding out the white chudder which had slipped to the floor unnoticed when she had risen from her seat.  She took it mechanically and thanked him.  Instinctively looking past him down the long hall, she saw that the little lady in white had turned in her seat and was watching her.  Brook made a slight bow and was gone again in an instant.  Then Clare followed her mother and went out.

“Let us go out behind the house,” she said when they were in the broad corridor.  “There will be moonlight there, and those people will monopolise the terrace when they have finished dinner.”

At the western end of the old monastery there is a broad open space, between the buildings and the overhanging rocks, at the base of which there is a deep recess, almost amounting to a cave, in which stands a great black cross planted in a pedestal of whitewashed masonry.  A few steps lead up to it.  As the moon rose higher the cross was in the shadow, while the platform and the buildings were in the full light.

The two women ascended the steps and sat down upon a stone seat.

“What a night!” exclaimed the young girl softly.

Her mother silently bent her head, but neither spoke again for some time.  The moonlight before them was almost dazzling, and the air was warm.  Beyond the stone parapet, far below, the tideless sea was silent and motionless under the moon.  A crooked fig-tree, still leafless, though the little figs were already shaped on it, cast its intricate shadow upon the platform.  Very far away, a boy was singing a slow minor chant in a high voice.  The peace was almost disquieting ­there was something intensely expectant in it, as though the night were in love, and its heart beating.

Clare sat still, her hand upon her mother’s thin wrist, her lips just parted a little, her eyes wide and filled with moon-dreams.  She had almost lost herself in unworded fancies when her mother moved and spoke.

“I had quite forgotten a letter I was writing,” she said.  “I must finish it.  Stay here, and I will come back again presently.”

She rose, and Clare watched her slim dark figure and the long black shadow that moved with it across the platform towards the open door of the hotel.  But when it had disappeared the white fancies came flitting back through the silent light, and in the shade the young eyes fixed themselves quietly to meet the vision and see it all, and to keep it for ever if she could.

She did not know what it was that she saw, but it was beautiful, and what she felt was on a sudden as the realisation of something she had dimly desired in vain.  Yet in itself it was nothing realised; it was perhaps only the certainty of longing for something all heart and no name, and it was happiness to long for it.  For the first intuition of love is only an exquisite foretaste, a delight in itself, as far from the bitter hunger of love starving as a girl’s faintness is from a cruel death.  The light was dazzling, and yet it was full of gentle things that smiled, somehow, without faces.  She was not very imaginative, perhaps, else the faces might have come too, and voices, and all, save the one reality which had as yet neither voice nor face, nor any name.  It was all the something that love was to mean, somewhere, some day ­the airy lace of a maiden life-dream, in which no figure was yet wrought amongst the fancy-threads that the May moon was weaving in the soft spring night.  There was no sadness in it, at all, for there was no memory, and without memory there can be no sadness, any more than there can be fear where there is no anticipation, far or near.  Most happiness is really of the future, and most grief, if we would be honest, is of the past.

The young girl sat still and dreamed that the old world was as young as she, and that in its soft bosom there were exquisite sweetnesses untried, and soft yearnings for a beautiful unknown, and little pulses that could quicken with foretasted joy which only needed face and name to take angelic shape of present love.  The world could not be old while she was young.

And she had her youth and knew it, and it was almost all she had.  It seemed much to her, and she had no unsatisfiable craving for the world’s stuff in which to attire it.  In that, at least, her mother had been wise, teaching her to believe and to enjoy, rather than to doubt and criticise, and if there had been anything to hide from her it had been hidden, even beyond suspicion of its presence.  Perhaps the armour of knowledge is of little worth until doubt has shaken the heart and weakened the joints, and broken the terrible steadfastness of perfect innocence in the eyes.  Clare knew that she was young, she felt that the white dream was sweet, and she believed that the world’s heart was clean and good.  All good was natural and eternal, lofty and splendid as an archangel in the light.  God had made evil as a background of shadows to show how good the light was.  Every one could come and stand in the light if he chose, for the mere trouble of moving.  It seemed so simple.  She wondered why everybody could not see it as she did.

A flash of white in the white moonlight disturbed her meditations.  Two people had come out of the door and were walking slowly across the platform side by side.  They were not speaking, and their footsteps crushed the light gravel sharply as they came forward.  Clare recognised Brook and Lady Fan.  Seated in the shadow on one side of the great black cross and a little behind it, she could see their faces distinctly, but she had no idea that they were dazzled by the light and could not see her at all in her dark dress.  She fancied that they were looking at her as they came on.

The shadow of the rock had crept forward upon the open space, while she had been dreaming.  The two turned, just before they reached it, and then stood still, instead of walking back.

“Brook ­” began Lady Fan, as though she were going to say something.

But she checked herself and looked up at him quickly, chilled already by his humour.  Clare thought that the woman’s voice shook a little, as she pronounced the name.  Brook did not turn his head nor look down.

“Yes?” he said, with a sort of interrogation.  “What were you going to say?” he asked after a moment’s pause.

She seemed to hesitate, for she did not answer at once.  Then she glanced towards the hotel and looked down.

“You won’t come back with us?” she asked, at last, in a pleading voice.

“I can’t,” he answered.  “You know I can’t.  I’ve got to wait for them here.”

“Yes, I know.  But they are not here yet.  I don’t believe they are coming for two or three days.  You could perfectly well come on to Genoa with us, and get back by rail.”

“No,” said Brook quietly, “I can’t.”

“Would you, if you could?” asked the lady in white, and her tone began to change again.

“What a question!” he laughed drily.

“It is an odd question, isn’t it, coming from me?” Her voice grew hard, and she stopped.  “Well ­you know what it means,” she added abruptly.  “You may as well answer it and have it over.  It is very easy to say you would not, if you could.  I shall understand all the rest, and you will be saved the trouble of saying things ­things which I should think you would find it rather hard to say.”

“Couldn’t you say them, instead?” he asked slowly, and looking at her for the first time.  He spoke gravely and coldly.

“I!” There was indignation, real or well affected, in the tone.

“Yes, you,” answered the man, with a shade less coldness, but as gravely as before.  “You never loved me.”

Lady Fan’s small white face was turned to his instantly, and Clare could see the fierce, hurt expression in the eyes and about the quivering mouth.  The young girl suddenly realised that she was accidentally overhearing something which was very serious to the two speakers.  It flashed upon her that they had not seen her where she sat in the shadow, and she looked about her hastily in the hope of escaping unobserved.  But that was impossible.  There was no way of getting out of the recess of the rock where the cross stood, except by coming out into the light, and no way of reaching the hotel except by crossing the open platform.

Then she thought of coughing, to call attention to her presence.  She would rise and come forward, and hurry across to the door.  She felt that she ought to have come out of the shadows as soon as the pair had appeared, and that she had done wrong in sitting still.  But then, she told herself with perfect justice that they were strangers, and that she could not possibly have foreseen that they had come there to quarrel.

They were strangers, and she did not even know their names.  So far as they were concerned, and their feelings, it would be much more pleasant for them if they never suspected that any one had overheard them than if she were to appear in the midst of their conversation, having evidently been listening up to that point.  It will be admitted that, being a woman, she had a choice; for she knew that if she had been in Lady Fan’s place she should have preferred never to know that any one had heard her.  She fancied what she should feel if any one should cough unexpectedly behind her when she had just been accused by the man she loved of not loving him at all.  And of course the little lady in white loved Brook ­she had called him “dear” that very afternoon.  But that Brook did not love Lady Fan was as plain as possible.

There was certainly no mean curiosity in Clare to know the secrets of these strangers.  But all the same, she would not have been a human girl, of any period in humanity’s history, if she had not been profoundly interested in the fate of the woman before her.  That afternoon she would have thought it far more probable that the woman should break the man’s heart than that she should break her own for him.  But now it looked otherwise.  Clare thought there was no mistaking the first tremor of the voice, the look of the white face, and the indignation of the tone afterwards.  With a man, the question of revealing his presence as a third person would have been a point of honour.  In Clare’s case it was a question of delicacy and kindness as from one woman to another.

Nevertheless, she hesitated, and she might have come forward after all.  Ten slow seconds had passed since Brook had spoken.  Then Lady Fan’s little figure shook, her face turned away, and she tried to choke down one small bitter sob, pressing her handkerchief desperately to her lips.

“Oh, Brook!” she cried, a moment later, and her tiny teeth tore the edge of the handkerchief audibly in the stillness.

“It’s not your fault,” said the man, with an attempt at gentleness in his voice.  “I couldn’t blame you, if I were brute enough to wish to.”

“Blame me!  Oh, really ­I think you’re mad, you know!”

“Besides,” continued the young man, philosophically, “I think we ought to be glad, don’t you?”


“Yes ­that we are not going to break our hearts now that it’s over.”

Clare thought his tone horribly business-like and indifferent.

“Oh no!  We sha’n’t break our hearts any more!  We are not children.”  Her voice was thin and bitter, with a crying laugh in it.

“Look here, Fan!” said Brook suddenly.  “This is all nonsense.  We agreed to play together, and we’ve played very nicely, and now you have to go home, and I have got to stay here, whether I like it or not.  Let us be good friends and say good-bye, and if we meet again and have nothing better to do, we can play again if we please.  But as for taking it in this tragical way ­why, it isn’t worth it.”

The young girl crouching in the shadow felt as though she had been struck, and her heart went out with indignant sympathy to the little lady in white.

“Do you know?  I think you are the most absolutely brutal, cynical creature I ever met!” There was anger in the voice, now, and something more ­something which Clare could not understand.

“Well, I’m sorry,” answered the man.  “I don’t mean to be brutal, I’m sure, and I don’t think I’m cynical either.  I look at things as they are, not as they ought to be.  We are not angels, and the millennium hasn’t come yet.  I suppose it would be bad for us if it did, just now.  But we used to be very good friends last year.  I don’t see why we shouldn’t be again.”

“Friends!  Oh no!”

Lady Fan turned from him and made a step or two alone, out through the moonlight, towards the house.  Brook did not move.  Perhaps he knew that she would come back, as indeed she did, stopping suddenly and turning round to face him again.

“Brook,” she began more softly, “do you remember that evening up at the Acropolis ­at sunset?  Do you remember what you said?”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“You said that if I could get free you would marry me.”

“Yes.”  The man’s tone had changed suddenly.

“Well ­I believed you, that’s all.”

Brook stood quite still, and looked at her quietly.  Some seconds passed before she spoke again.

“You did not mean it?” she asked sorrowfully.

Still he said nothing.

“Because you know,” she continued, her eyes fixed on his, “the position is not at all impossible.  All things considered, I suppose I could have a divorce for the asking.”

Clare started a little in the dark.  She was beginning to guess something of the truth she could not understand.  The man still said nothing, but he began to walk up and down slowly, with folded arms, along the edge of the shadow before Lady Fan as she stood still, following him with her eyes.

“You did not mean a word of what you said that afternoon?  Not one word?” She spoke very slowly and distinctly.

He was silent still, pacing up and down before her.  Suddenly, without a word, she turned from him and walked quickly away, towards the hotel.  He started and stood still, looking after her ­then he also made a step.

“Fan!” he called, in a tone she could hear, but she went on.  “Mrs. Crosby!” he called again.

She stopped, turned, and waited.  It was clear that Lady Fan was a nickname, Clare thought.

“Well?” she asked.

Clare clasped her hands together in her excitement, watching and listening, and holding her breath.

“Don’t go like that!” exclaimed Brook, going forward and holding out one hand.

“Do you want me?” asked the lady in white, very gently, almost tenderly.  Clare did not understand how any woman could have so little pride, but she pitied the little lady from her heart.

Brook went on till he came up with Lady Fan, who did not make a step to meet him.  But just as he reached her she put out her hand to take his.  Clare thought he was relenting, but she was mistaken.  His voice came back to her clear and distinct, and it had a very gentle ring in it.

“Fan, dear,” he said, “we have been very fond of each other in our careless way.  But we have not loved each other.  We may have thought that we did, for a moment, now and then.  I shall always be fond of you, just in that way.  I’ll do anything for you.  But I won’t marry you, if you get a divorce.  It would be utter folly.  If I ever said I would, in so many words ­well, I’m ashamed of it.  You’ll forgive me some day.  One says things ­sometimes ­that one means for a minute, and then, afterwards, one doesn’t mean them.  But I mean what I am saying now.”

He dropped her hand, and stood looking at her, and waiting for her to speak.  Her face, as Clare saw it, from a distance now, looked whiter than ever.  After an instant she turned from him with a quick movement, but not towards the hotel.

She walked slowly towards the stone parapet of the platform.  As she went, Clare again saw her raise her handkerchief and press it to her lips, but she did not bend her head.  She went and leaned on her elbows on the parapet, and her hands pulled nervously at the handkerchief as she looked down at the calm sea far below.  Brook followed her slowly, but just as he was near, she, hearing his footsteps, turned and leaned back against the low wall.

“Give me a cigarette,” she said in a hard voice.  “I’m nervous ­and I’ve got to face those people in a moment.”

Clare started again in sheer surprise.  She had expected tears, fainting, angry words, a passionate appeal ­anything rather than what she heard.  Brook produced a silver case which gleamed in the moonlight.  Lady Fan took a cigarette, and her companion took another.  He struck a match and held it up for her in the still air.  The little flame cast its red glare into their faces.  The young girl had good eyes, and as she watched them she saw the man’s expression was grave and stern, a little sad, perhaps, but she fancied that there was the beginning of a scornful smile on the woman’s lips.  She understood less clearly then than ever what manner of human beings these two strangers might be.

For some moments they smoked in silence, the lady in white leaning back against the parapet, the man standing upright with one hand in his pocket, holding his cigarette in the other, and looking out to sea.  Then Lady Fan stood up, too, and threw her cigarette over the wall.

“It’s time to be going,” she said, suddenly.  “They’ll be coming after us if we stay here.”

But she did not move.  Sideways she looked up into his face.  Then she held out her hand.

“Good-bye, Brook,” she said, quietly enough, as he took it.

“Good-bye,” he murmured in a low voice, but distinctly.

Their hands stayed together after they had spoken, and still she looked up to him in the moonlight.  Suddenly he bent down and kissed her on the forehead ­in an odd, hasty way.

“I’m sorry, Fan, but it won’t do,” he said.

“Again!” she answered.  “Once more, please!” And she held up her face.

He kissed her again, but less hastily, Clare thought, as she watched them.  Then, without another word, they walked towards the hotel, side by side, close together, so that their hands almost touched.  When they were not ten paces from the door, they stopped again and looked at each other.

At that moment Clare saw her mother’s dark figure on the threshold.  The pair must have heard her steps, for they separated a little and instantly went on, passing Mrs. Bowring quickly.  Clare sat still in her place, waiting for her mother to come to her.  She feared lest, if she moved, the two might come back for an instant, see her, and understand that they had been watched.  Mrs. Bowring went forward a few steps.

“Clare!” she called.

“Yes,” answered the young girl softly.  “Here I am.”

“Oh ­I could not see you at all,” said her mother.  “Come down into the moonlight.”

The young girl descended the steps, and the two began to walk up and down together on the platform.

“Those were two of the people from the yacht that I met at the door,” said Mrs. Bowring.  “The lady in white serge, and that good-looking young man.”

“Yes,” Clare answered.  “They were here some time.  I don’t think they saw me.”

She had meant to tell her mother something of what had happened, in the hope of being told that she had done right in not revealing her presence.  But on second thoughts she resolved to say nothing about it.  To have told the story would have seemed like betraying a confidence, even though they were strangers to her.

“I could not help wondering about them this afternoon,” said Mrs. Bowring.  “She ordered him about in a most extraordinary way, as though he had been her servant.  I thought it in very bad taste, to say the least of it.  Of course I don’t know anything about their relations, but it struck me that she wished to show him off, as her possession.”

“Yes,” answered Clare, thoughtfully.  “I thought so too.”

“Very foolish of her!  No man will stand that sort of thing long.  That isn’t the way to treat a man in order to keep him.”

“What is the best way?” asked the young girl idly, with a little laugh.

“Don’t ask me!” answered Mrs. Bowring quickly, as they turned in their walk.  “But I should think ­” she added, a moment later, “I don’t know ­but I should think ­” she hesitated.

“What?” inquired Clare, with some curiosity.

“Well, I was going to say, I should think that a man would wish to feel that he is holding, not that he is held.  But then people are so different!  One can never tell.  At all events, it is foolish to wish to show everybody that you own a man, so to say.”

Mrs. Bowring seemed to be considering the question, but she evidently found nothing more to say about it, and they walked up and down in silence for a long time, each occupied with her own thoughts.  Then all at once there was a sound of many voices speaking English, and trying to give orders in Italian, and the words “Good-bye, Brook!” sounded several times above the rest.  Little by little, all grew still again.

“They are gone at last,” said Mrs. Bowring, with a sigh of relief.