The girl, too, meant it quite seriously. In her tone was no trace of impudence. She had divined her adversary’s secret, and thrust home the question with a kind of anxious honesty. Miss Bracy, red and gasping, tingling with shame, yet knew that she was not being exulted over. She dropped the unequal fight between conventional argument and naked insight, and stood up, woman to woman. She neither denied nor exclaimed. She too told the truth.
“Never!”—she paused. “After what has happened I would never marry my cousin.”
“I thought that, miss. You mean it, I am sure; and it eases my mind; because you have been a good mistress to me, and it would always have been a sorry thought that I’d stood in your way. Not that it would have prevented me.”
“Do you still stand there and tell me that you will hold this unhappy boy to his word?”
“He’s twenty-two, miss; my own age. Yes, I shall hold him to it.”
“To save yourself!”
“For his own sake, then?” Miss Bracy’s laugh was passing bitter.
“No, miss—though there might be something in that.”
“For whose then?”
The girl did not answer. But in the silence her mistress understood, and moved to the door. She was beaten, and she knew it; beaten and unforgiving, In the doorway she turned.
“It is not for your own sake that you persist? It was not to gratify yourself—to be made a lady—that you plotted this? Very well; you shall be taken at your word. I cannot counsel Frank against his honour; if he insists, and you still accept the sacrifice, he shall marry you. But from that hour—you understand?—you have seen the last of him. I know Frank well enough to promise it.”
She paused to let the words sink in and watch their effect. This was not only cruel, but a mistake; for it gave Bassett—who was past caring for it—the last word.
“If you do, miss,” she said drearily, yet with a mind made up, “I daresay that will be best.”
Long before I heard this story I knew three of the characters in it. Just within the harbour beside which I am writing this—on your left as you enter it from the sea—a little creek runs up past Battery Point to a stout sea-wall with a turfed garden behind it and a low cottage, and behind these a steep-sided valley, down which a stream tumbles to a granite conduit. It chokes and overflows the conduit, is caught again into a granite-covered gutter by the door of the cottage, and emerges beyond it in a small cascade upon the beach. At spring tides the sea climbs to the foot of this cascade, and great then is the splashing. The land-birds, tits and warblers, come down to the very edge to drink; but none of them—unless it be the wagtail—will trespass on the beach below. The rooks and gulls, on their side, never forage above the cascade, but when the ploughing calls them inland, mount and cross the frontier-line high overhead. All day long in summer the windows of the cottage stand open, and its rooms are filled with song; and night and day, summer and winter, the inmates move and talk, wake and sleep, to the contending music of the waters.