Read CHAPTER XXX. of An Unknown Lover , free online book, by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey, on

Alone in the quaint un-English bedroom Katrine bathed and made her toilette.  Dorothea’s loving hands had already opened the box which had come safely through so many perils, and there, upon the topmost tray, lay the clothes which had been packed with careful forethought for this special occasion.  A fine white gown of an elaborate simplicity which bore the hall-mark of Grizel’s taste, dainty shoes and stockings, the touch of blue which was necessary to the success of any costume intended for Katrine, even the large tortoise-shell pins for her hair.  With what expectation, what fond, shy hopes had they been laid together!  It had been with something like the reverence of a bride for her wedding robe, that she had smoothed those folds.  Katrine shivered.  An overwhelming pity rose in her heart, not alone for herself, but also for the good, tender man for whom was stored so bitter a disappointment.  Patient, trustful Jim Blair, who was even now awaiting her coming with a lover’s eagerness and impatience!  A moment later, her thoughts had flown back on the wing of a feminine impulse to a still dearer personality.

On shipboard it had been difficult to attain a delicacy of toilette; she had been swathed in veils, hot and wind-blown,-it was impossible to strangle a truant wish that Bedford might see her now!

Katrine stood rigid by the doorway, gathering courage, then desperately flung it open.  The unfamiliar scent of the East assailed her nostrils, that scent which even more than sight proclaimed a change of country.  She paced the long corridor, and caught the sound of Dorothea’s voice.  She was talking; a deeper tone was heard in reply.  Jim Blair had arrived!  In another moment she would meet him face to face.  It seemed to Katrine as if at that sound every pulse in her own body ceased beating; there came a moment of breathlessness, of almost swooning inability to think or move, then once again she braced herself, and opened the door.

Against the light, his back turned towards her, stood a tall, uniformed figure.  Dorothea, flushed and trembling, swept forward and enveloped her friend in a fervid embrace. “It is Jim!” she whispered in low, intent accents.  “Jim Blair.  Be kind to him, Katrine, be kind!”

She slid out of the retaining arms, a wraith-like embodiment of the Dorothea who had been, and sped from the room.  The door closed behind her, and Katrine stood, a motionless figure, watching another, motionless as her own.  Had he heard?  Did he realise her presence?

He was tall and broad; the lines of his uniform fitted tightly to his figure.  He looked a man of whom a woman might be proud, but he was a man without a personality; a man whose face was hidden.

Katrine laid her hand on the back of a couch and spoke two trembling words: 

“Captain Blair!”

At the sound of her voice he turned, wheeling towards her with a swift light movement, so that she might see his face, might look in his eyes- grey, magnetic eyes, curiously light against the sunburn of his face...

Five minutes later, seated upon the huge bamboo couch, supported by strong arms which seemed to bound the world, Katrine slowly recovered collected thought.

“You-are-Jim! ...  Jim is-You! ...  Then what of Captain Bedford?  Where is he? Is there a Captain Bedford?  Is he a real living man, or just a fictitious person invented for-”

“Indeed no!  He is real enough, poor fellow, but in Egypt still, laid by the heel; unable to move.  I only-only took his place!”

“I think,” announced Katrine slowly, “I am very angry!”

It seemed an incongruous statement to make, considering the position and appearance of the speaker, but the hearer received it with a gravity which showed that his own conscience was not altogether at ease.

“Dearest, before you judge, let me speak!  Hear what I have to say!  I had no intention of deceiving you.  Such an idea never entered my head until at the last moment a cable arrived to say that Bedford was incapacitated, and could not sail.  We were worried, all of us, to think that you should miss his help.  I was racking my brains to think what I could do, when the inspiration came to meet you myself.  It was an easy matter to get off for a few weeks, as there was leave owing to me, and I had started almost before I had time to think.  Then came misgivings!  I did not know how you would take it, if it would seem to you like going back on my promise.  I had promised to keep on neutral ground for three months, and a tete-a-tete on shipboard seemed hardly playing the game.-I started on the heat of an impulse, afire to see you at the first possible moment; I landed at Port Said in a blue funk, the joy at the thought of meeting swallowed in dread of what you might say.  I would have given a pile at that moment to have been safely back in India.  Then-you know how! we met on shore.  I knew you at the first glance, and, Katrine! you knew me.  No matter who I was, or by what name I called myself, you belonged to me, and you knew it!

“At that moment, for the first time, it flashed into my head to take Bedford’s place in Bedford’s name.  I had seen the list of passengers, and I knew no one on board.  Ours is an out-of-the-way station, and I have seldom been home these last years.  It seemed to me that if I kept close and avoided the smoke-room, I might very well get through the rest of the voyage without an explanation as to name.  And I remembered what you had said-all the little feminine arguments you had used rose up and argued with me as they had never done before.  You said that to meet a man with whom you were expected, almost pledged, to fall in love, was a big handicap to success; that if we could have a chance of meeting in the ordinary way, as strangers pledged to no special interest, we could test the strength of the mutual attraction far more surely.  And another time you said (I think this influenced me more than anything else!) you said that one glance at my face, five minutes in my society, would tell you more than a hundred letters!  Do you remember saying that?  The inference was that the shape of my nose or ears was to count more than character.”

His strong hands pulled her round, so that her eyes met his.

“Katrine! do you like my ears?  Are you satisfied with them now that you see them in flesh?”

“I take no interest in your ears.  What are your ears to me?  I was thinking of Jim Blair’s ears, and you are,-I don’t know what you are-a compound person, more strange than a hundred strangers...  Oh, Jim! how could you?  If you realised so much, why couldn’t you realise more?  If I was already yours, then why trouble to play a part?  Yes, I am angry; I am!  I think you were wrong.”

“Sweetheart, I know it!  Nobody knows it better than I. I am not excusing myself, only explaining how it came about.  One false step, and then it seemed impossible to go back.  I could not face the thought of owning up on board, we were so happy, so innocently happy, that it seemed criminal to break it all up.  Confess now that I behaved well, that I made an exemplary escort?”

“You-you-made me dreadfully in love with you,” protested Katrine, stiffening her back, and holding him off with determined hands, when his delight at the confession took an active form. “And unhappy!  Did you think it was a light thing to me to feel my loyalty slipping from me day by day-to be obliged to love one man, when another man was waiting?  Did you think I had no heart for Jim Blair?”

“I knew you had, and I loved you for it.  Do you remember how you put me on my guard?  But I was Jim Blair, you darling, so all was well.  I was afraid you’d worry, but at the worst it was a matter of days, and those days were going to save us months of waiting.  That’s the way I put it, trying to convince myself that all would work out for the best.  We should have remained on terms of the strictest friendship, if-if it hadn’t been for-”

Katrine shuddered.  It would be long before she could talk calmly of the awesome experience through which she had passed.  Her arms relaxed, she sank back, and they clung together in silence for long healing minutes.

“You never told me,” she whispered, “even at the end-what we thought was the end!  You let me leave you, not knowing...  Why did you not tell me then, and let me die in peace?”

His eyes met hers, gravely, questioning.

Would it have made for peace?  Would death have seemed more easy, or less?  Was your brain clear enough to grasp explanations, or to have felt any comfort, if you had?  And, beloved,-in the face of death what was a name?  I loved you, you loved me, what did it matter by what name I was called?  If it had been the end,-well! it would not have been as Miss Beverley and Captain-anything, that we should have met on another plane.-If we were saved, it was only a matter of two or three days...”

“One can suffer a good deal in two or three days!  How do you suppose I felt in that train, looking forward to meeting you-both!”

His eyes twinkled; the grave face broke into a smile.

“Exactly as you would have done, for months instead of days, if we had kept to the original agreement!  No! beloved, I apologise, but don’t expect me to be abject.  I’ve thought it out, not once, but a dozen times, and I can’t see that on the whole you’ve suffered more than you were bound to do in any case.  And what have you been saved?  Three months of uncertainty and waiting.  And what have you gained?  Three months of happiness to add to the score of life.  It’s a big haul, my Katrine!  It is worth a few pangs?”

“You twist things about; your arguments are specious; they are arguments without premises.  Who said I was going to waive three months?  I’m not at all sure that I shall.  What would they say at home?  They know I’m not the sort of girl to fall in love on a few days’ acquaintance.”

“Why bring Cranford into the question?  Does it matter one button what they think?  Besides, I don’t wish to be boastful, but as a matter of fact, you did!”

“I didn’t!” Katrine contradicted.  “No! thank goodness, I am restored to my own confidence.  I understand now that it was only because you were Jim, because I recognised yourself in spite of disguises that I did-fall!  I was really absolutely loyal throughout, but other people won’t understand-Mrs Mannering, for instance!  I told her there was `some one else.’”

“And I went one better, and told her who I was!  We had a heart-to-heart talk that morning in Bombay before I left, and cleared up all misunderstandings.  She’s a good sort.  We owe her a lot.  Perhaps some day we may be able to pay some of it back, to her boy.”

Katrine nodded dumbly.  She was occupied in reviewing her journey up country in the light of the revelation, and seeing in it an explanation of her companion’s idiosyncrasies, her mysterious chuckles of laughter, her tenderness, alternated with raillery, her suppressed excitement at the moment of arrival.  She had known all the time, even in Bombay, when the letter arrived!  Katrine started, confronted by another mystery.

“The letter!  The one at Bombay-”

“What about it?”

“You wrote it, of course, but how, when?  Not before our voyage.  You knew when you wrote-”

“Yes; I knew,” he said softly.  “It was written on the night we arrived.  I trusted to your ignorance of the country in the matter of postmarks, and to your femininity to pass the absence of date!  Was it selfish of me to send it?  I knew you would be expecting to hear, and it was a comfort to me to write.  Besides, I felt that a moment would come when it would be a comfort to you, too.  You had trained me to understand that your mind worked in flashes, and that at a glance you could grasp a situation which would petrify a poor male thing.  Remembering this, I believed-I hoped that at the very moment of discovery you might remember what I had said, and realise that all was right between us- always had been right, always would be to the end!  I wanted you to realise that that letter had been written after we had met, and that my love had changed only to grow deeper.”

Katrine sighed; a deep, long-drawn sigh in which was the sound of immeasurable content.

“Oh, I am glad,” she sighed.  “I am glad!  Even at the height of my love the thought of Jim Blair tugged at my heart.  It hurt me to hurt him.  He had wound his life so closely with mine that I couldn’t drag them apart.  And a bit of me loved him still, went on loving, and wanting his love.  After having accepted so much, I could never have been really satisfied to throw him over, even for-Jim!  I was going to say for `_you_’ but you are Jim, and I can have you both!  There’s no one to throw over; no one to be unhappy-”

Katrine paused; in her deep eyes a gleam of laughter awoke and danced.  “There’s only one drawback, Captain Bedford-Blair-Jim-John-whatever you chose to call yourself, and for that you have yourself to blame!”

“I’ll bear it.  I’ll bear anything!  What is it now?” asked Jim, smiling.

“I shall always,” replied Katrine demurely, “I shall always feel that I am married to two men!”