One thing there was that troubled her considerably, and this was that, though Madeira was almost empty, there were enough people in it to get up a good deal of gossip about herself and Arthur. Now, it would have been difficult to find anybody more entirely careless of the judgments of society than Mildred, more especially as her great wealth and general popularity protected her from slights. But, for all her oddities, she was a thorough woman of the world; and she knew, none better, that, in pursuance of an almost invariable natural law, there is nothing that lowers a woman so much in the estimation of a man as the knowledge that she is talked about, even though he himself is the cause of the talk. This may be both illogical and unjust, but it is, none the less, true.
But, if Mildred still hesitated, Arthur did not. He was very anxious that they should be married; indeed, he almost insisted on it. The position was one that was far from being agreeable to him, for all such intimacies must, from their very nature, necessitate a certain amount of false swearing. They are throughout an acted lie; and, when the lie is acted, it must sometimes be spoken. Now, this is a state of affairs that is repugnant to an honourable man, and one that not unfrequently becomes perfectly intolerable. Many is the love-affair that comes to a sudden end because the man finds it impossible to permanently constitute himself a peregrinating falsehood. But, oddly enough, it has been found difficult to persuade the other contracting party of the validity of the excuse, and, however unjust it may be, one has known of men who have seen their defection energetically set down to more vulgar causes.
Arthur was no exception to this rule. He found himself in a false position, and he hated it. Indeed, he determined before long he would place it before Mildred in the light of an alternative, that he should either marry her, or that an end should be put to their existing relations.
As the autumn came on, a great south-west gale burst over Madeira, and went sweeping away up the Bay of Biscay. It blew for three days and nights, and was one of the heaviest on record. When it first began, the English mail was due; but when it passed there were still no signs of her, and prophets of evil were not wanting who went to and fro shaking their heads, and suggesting that she had probably foundered in the Bay.
Two more days went by, and there were still no signs of her, though the telegraph told them that she had left Southampton Docks at the appointed time and date. By this time, people in Madeira could talk of nothing else.
“Well, Arthur, no signs of the Roman?” said Mildred, on the fifth day.
“No, the Garth Castle is due in to-day. Perhaps she may have heard something of her.”
“Yes,” said Miss Terry, absently; “she may have fallen in with some of the wreckage.”