Carteret prophesied—and truly as the event richly proved—a finely fascinating book would eventually come of it. Meanwhile—though this argument, in favour of the scheme, he kept to himself—the preparation of the said book would supply occupation and interest of which his old friend appeared to him to stand rather gravely in need. For that something was, just now, amiss with Charles Verity, Carteret could not disguise from himself. He was changed, in a way a little broken—so at least the younger man’s kindly, keenly observant, blue eyes regretfully judged him. He fell into long silences, seeming to sink away into some abyss of cheerless thought; while his speech had, too often, a bitter edge to it. Carteret mourned these indications of an unhappy frame of mind. Did more—sought by all means in his power to conjure them away.
“We must make your father fight his battles over again, dear witch,” he told Damaris, pacing the terrace walk topping the sea-wall beside her, one evening in the early November dusk. “His record is a very brilliant one and he ought to get more comfort out of the remembrance of it. Let’s conspire, you and I, to make him sun himself in the achievements and activities of those earlier years. What do you say?”
“Oh! do it, do it,” she answered fervently. “He is sad—and I am so afraid that it is partly my fault.”
“Your fault? Why what wicked practises have you been up to since I was here last?” he asked, teasing her.
A question evoking, in Damaris, sharp inward debate. For her father’s melancholy humour weighed on her, causing her perplexity and a measure of self-reproach. She would have given immensely much to unburden herself to this wise and faithful counsellor; and confide to him the—to her—strangely moving fact of Darcy Faircloth’s existence. Yet, notwithstanding her conviction of Colonel Carteret’s absolute loyalty, she hesitated; restrained in part by modesty, in part by the fear of being treacherous. Would it be altogether honourable to give away the secret places of Charles Verity’s life—of any man’s life if it came to that—even to so honourable and trusted a friend? She felt handicapped by her own ignorance moreover, having neither standards nor precedents for guidance. She had no idea—how should she?—in what way most men regard such affairs, how far they accept and condone, how far condemn them. She could not tell whether she was dealing with a case original and extraordinary, or one of pretty frequent occurrence in the experience of those who, as the phrase has it, know their world. These considerations kept her timid and tongue-tied; though old habit, combined with Carteret’s delightful personality and the soothing influence of the dusky evening quiet, inclined her to confidences.
“It’s not anything I’ve done,” she presently took him up gravely. “But, quite by chance, I learned something which I think the Commissioner Sahib would rather not have had me hear. I had to be quite truthful with him about it; but I was bewildered and ill. I blurted things out rather I’m afraid, and hurt him more than I need have done. I was so taken by surprise, you see.”