Laura was silent.
“And so they’re a trouble to you. Have you taken them to the Lord in prayer?”
“Oh, many times.”
“Couldn’t seem to hear any answer?”
“The only answer I could hear was, ’So long as you have them I will not speak with you.’”
“That seems pretty plain and clear. And yet,” said the Colonel, fondling the turquoises, “nobody can say there’s any harm in such things, especially if you don’t, wear them.”
“Colonel, they are my great temptation. I don’t know that I wouldn’t wear them. And when I wear them I can think of nothing sacred, nothing holy. When they were given to me I used—I used to get up in the night to look at them.”
“Shall I lay it before the Almighty? That bracelet’s got a remarkably good clasp.”
“Oh no—no! I must part with them. To-night I can do it, to-night——”
“There’s nobody on this ship that will give you any price for them.”
“I would not think of selling them. It would be sending them from my hands to do harm to some other poor creature, weaker than I!”
“You can’t return them to-night.”
“I wouldn’t return them. That would be the same as keeping them.”
“Then what—oh, I see—” exclaimed Markin. “You want to give them to the Army! Well, in my capacity, on behalf of General Booth——”
“No,” cried Laura, with sudden excitement, “not that either. I will give them to nobody. But this is what I will do!” She seized the bracelet and flung it far out into the opaline track of the vessel, and the smaller objects, before her companion could stop her, followed it. Then he caught her wrist.
“Stop!” he cried. “You’ve gone off your head—you’ve got fever. You’re acting wicked with that jewelry. Stop and let us reason it out together.”
She already had the turquoises, and with a jerk of her left hand she freed it and threw them after the rest. The necklace caught the handrail as it fell, and Markin made a vain spring to save it. He turned and stared at Laura, who stood fighting the greatest puissance of feeling she had known, looking at the pearls. As he stared, she kissed them twice, and then, leaning over the ship’s side, let them slowly slide out of her fingers and fall, into the waves below. The moonlight gave them a divine gleam as they fell. She turned to Markin with tears in her eyes. “Now,” she faltered, “I can be happy again. But not to-night.”
While the Coromandel was throbbing out her regulation number of knots toward Colombo, October was passing over Bengal. It went with lethargy, the rains were too close on its heels; but at the end of the long hot days, when the resplendent sun struck down on the glossy trees and the over-lush Maidan, there often stole through Calcutta a breath of the coming respite of December. The blue smoke of the people’s cooking fires began to hang again in the streets, the pungent smell of it was pleasant in the still air. The south wind turned back at the Sunder-bunds; instead of it, one met around corners a sudden crispness that stayed just long enough to be recognised and melted damply away. A week might have two or three of such promises and foretastes.