Their enthusiasm had ample opportunity to strengthen, their mutual satisfactions to expand, in the close confines of life on board ship, and as if to seal and sanctify the voyage permanently a conversion took place in the second saloon, owning Laura’s agency. It was the maid of the lady in the cavalry regiment, a hardened heart, as two stewards and a bandmaster on board could testify. When this occurred the time that was to elapse between Laura’s marriage and her return to the ranks was shortened to one week. “And quite long enough,” Colonel Markin said, “considering how much more we need you than your gentleman does, my dear sister.”
It was plain to them all that Colonel Markin had very special views about his dear sister. The other dear sisters looked on with pleasurable interest, admitting the propriety of it, as Colonel Markin walked up and down the deck with Laura, examining her lovely nature, “drawing her out” on the subject of her faith and her assurance. It was natural, as he told her, that in her peculiar situation she should have doubts and difficulties. He urged her to lay bare her heart, and she laid it bare. One evening—it was heavenly moonlight on the Indian Ocean, and they were two days past Aden on the long south-east run to Ceylon—she came and stood before him with a small packet in her hand. She was all in white, and more like an angel than Markin expected ever to see anything in this world, though as to the next his anticipations may have been extravagant.
“Now I wonder,” said he, “where you are going to sit down?”
A youngster in the Police got up and pushed his chair forward, but Laura shook her head.
“I am going out there,” she said, pointing to the farthermost stern where passengers were not encouraged to sit, “and I want to consult you.”
Markin got up. “If there’s anything pressin’ on your mind,” he said, “you can’t do better.”
Laura said nothing until they were alone with the rushing of the screw, two Lascars, some coils of rope, and the hand-steering gear. Then she opened the packet. “These,” she said, “these are pressing on my mind.”
She held out a string of pearls, a necklace of pearls and turquoises, a heavy band bracelet studded, Delhi fashion, with gems, one or two lesser fantasies.
“Jewellery!” said Markin. “Real or imitation?”
“So far as that goes they are good. Mr. Lindsay gave them to me. But what have I to do with jewels, the very emblem of the folly of the world, the desire that itches in palms that know no good works, the price of sin!” She leaned against the masthead as she spoke, the wind blew her hair and her skirt out toward the following seas. With that look in her eyes she seemed a creature who had alighted on the ship but who could not stay.
Colonel Markin held the pearls up in the moonlight.
“They must have cost something to buy,” he said.