Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Charles Neville Buck > Tyranny of Weakness > This page

The Tyranny of Weakness, a novel by Charles Neville Buck

Chapter 3

< Previous
Table of content
Next >

The sand bar rose like a white island beyond the mild surf of the shore, distant enough to make it a reservation for those hardier swimmers who failed to find contentment between beach and float. Outside the bar the surf boiled in spume-crowned, and went out again sullenly howling an in-sucking of sands and an insidious tug of undertow.

One head only bobbed far out as a single swimmer shaped his course in unhurried strokes toward the bar. This swimmer had come alone from the hotel bath-houses and had strolled down into the streaming bubbles of an outgoing wave without halting to inspect the other bathers. There was a businesslike directness in the way he kept onward and outward until a comber lifted him and his swimming had begun.

The young man might have been between twenty and twenty-five and a Greek feeling for line and form and rhythmic strength would have called his body beautiful. Its flesh was smooth and brown, flowing in frictionless ease over muscles that escaped bulkiness; its shoulders swung with a sort of gladiatorial freedom. But the Hellenic sculptor would have found the head suited to his use as well as the torso and limbs, for it was a head well shaped and well carried, dominated by eyes alert with intelligence, and enlivened with humor.

As he rocked between crest and trough, the swimmer's glance caught the shattered form of a breaker at the end of the bar. He liked things to be the biggest of their sort. If there was to be surf, he wanted it to be like that beyond, with a fierce song in its breaking and the foam of the sea's endless sweat in its lashings.

When at last he let himself down and his feet touched bottom, he wiped the brine out of his eyes and hurried up the shallow rise--then halted suddenly. The bar had appeared empty of human life, but now he caught a glimpse of a head and a pair of shoulders and they were feminine. A normal curiosity as to further particulars asserted itself. He had a distinct feeling of apprehension lest the face, when seen, should prove a disappointment, because unless it was singularly attractive--more attractive than wits warranted by any law of probability--it would be distressingly out of keeping with the charm and grace of the figure which came into full view as he waded ashore in spite of the masses of dark and lustrous hair which fell free. The unknown lady was sitting on the sand with her back half turned and, in the soaked and clinging silk of her bathing dress, she had an alluring lissomness of line and curve. If her face _did_ match her beauty of body she would have rather more than one woman's share of Life's gifts, he philosophized, and by Nature's law of compensation she would probably be vapid and insipid of mind.

But while he was engaging himself in these personal speculations the lady herself was obviously quite serene in her ignorance of his presence or existence. She conceived herself to be in sole possession of her island kingdom of an hour and was complacently using it as an exclusive terrain.

She had removed her blue bathing cap and tossed it near by on the sand. She had let her hair out free to the sun, in whose light it glowed between the rich darkness of polished mahogany and the luster of jet.

After all perhaps he had better announce himself in some audible fashion since, secure in her supposed isolation, the other occupant of the bar proceeded to remove a silk stocking, which matched the cap in color, and to examine with absorbed interest what he supposed to be a stone-bruise on an absurdly small and pink heel. Discreetly he coughed.

The young woman looked quickly over her shoulder and their eyes met. A perfunctory apology for invasion shaped itself in his mind, but remained unuttered. He stood instead, his lips parted and his eyes brimming with astonishment. The face not only met the high requirements set for it by his idea of appropriateness, but abundantly surpassed the standard. Moreover, it was a face he recognized. He was not at first quite certain that her recognition of him had been as swift. A half dozen years, involving the transition from boyhood to manhood might have dimmed his image in her memory, so he hastened to introduce himself, striding across as she came a little confusedly to her feet--one silk shod and one bare.

"Heaven be praised, Conscience," he shouted with an access of boyish elation in his voice. "This is too lucky to believe. Don't say you've absolutely forgotten me--Stuart Farquaharson."

She stood there before him, dangling a stocking in her left hand as she extended her right. Dark hair falling below her waist framed a face whose curves and feature-modelings were all separate delights uniting to make a total of somewhat gorgeous loveliness. Her lips were crimson petals in a face as creamy white as a magnolia bloom, and her dark eyes twinkled with inward mischief. It was a face which in repose held that serenely grave quality which a painter might have selected for his study of a saint--and which, when her little teeth flashed and her eyes kindled in a smile, broke into a dazzling and infectious gayety. She was smiling now.

"'Up from the meadows rich with corn'?" she inquired, as though they had parted yesterday.

Stuart Farquaharson broke into a peal of laughter as he caught the extended hand in both his own and finished the quotation.

"Clear in the cool September morn, the clustered spires of Frederick stand,
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland ...

By the way," his voice took on a note of sudden trepidation--"you aren't married, are you?"

It was a point upon which she did not at the moment resolve his doubts. She was standing at gaze herself, critically taking him in. She let her appraisal begin at the dark hair which the water had twisted into a curling lawlessness and end at his feet which were somewhat small for his stature. The general impression of that scrutiny was one which she secretly acknowledged to be startlingly, almost thrillingly, favorable. Then she realized that while one of her hands continued to dangle a wet stocking, the other was still tightly clasped in his own and that he was repeating his question.

"Why do you ask?" she naively inquired, as she quietly sought to disengage her imprisoned fingers.

"Why!" he echoed, in a shocked voice, pretending unconsciousness of her efforts at self-liberation. "Why does one ever ask a vital question? The last time I saw you I told you candidly that I meant to marry you. If you're already married--why, it might complicate matters, don't you think?"

"It _might_," the young woman conceded. "It might even alter matters altogether--but don't you think that even for a reunion we seem to have shaken hands almost long enough?"

With reluctance he released the captive fingers and reminded her that he was still unanswered.

"No," she told him, "I'm not married so far--of course I've tried hard, but the honest gander hasn't volunteered."

"Thank God!" was his instant and fervent comment.

Beyond her were the sands of the bar and the Atlantic Ocean stretching unbroken to the Madeiras and a flawless sky against which the gulls dipped and screamed.

She was straight and vivid, and his pulses quickened, taking fire. Sun, air and water; sparkle, radiance and color--these things were about him filling his senses with delight and she seemed to epitomize them all in a personal incarnation.

"Don't let me keep you standing," he begged her, belatedly remembering his manners. "You were taking your case when I came. Besides, Old Neptune in person will be along soon to claim this sandbar for himself. Meanwhile, 'The time has come,' the walrus said, 'to talk of many things.'"

"As for instance?"

"As for instance that there's less of the fortuitous in this meeting than appears upon the surface."

"Then you knew I was on the sandbar?"

Stuart Farquaharson shook his head. "I didn't even know that you were at Chatham. I just got here this morning driving through to Provincetown. But I did know that you were on Cape Cod, and that is why I'm on Cape Cod."

She dropped lightly to the sand and sat nursing her knees between interlocked fingers. Stuart Farquaharson spread himself luxuriantly at length, propped on one elbow. He could not help noting that the bare knee was dimpled and that the curved flesh below it was satin-smooth and the hue of apple blossoms. The warm breeze kept stirring her hair caressingly and, against the glare, she lowered her long lashes, half veiling her eyes. But at his avowal of the cause of his coming her lips curved with humorous scepticism.

"I'm afraid you acted very hastily," she murmured. "You've only known I was here for about six years."

He nodded, entirely unruffled.

"I have only recently been promoted to the high office of 'Master of my fate'--but before we get to that--where are you stopping?"

"Our party will be here at Chatham for several days. We're stopping at The Arms."

"You speak of a party, and that makes me realize the imperative need of improving this golden moment," Stuart Farquaharson announced urbanely, "because I have certain rude and elementary powers of deduction."

"Which lead you to what conclusion?" She turned eyes riffled with amusement from the contemplation of a distant sail to his face, and he proceeded to enlighten her.

"To two. First, that in Chatham, Massachusetts, as in the Valley of Virginia, there is probably a Jimmy Hancock buzzing about. Secondly, that since 'misfortunes come not single spies, but in battalions,' there are probably a flock of Jimmies. By the by, will you swim out here with me to-morrow morning?"

"To-morrow morning," she demurred. "I believe I have an engagement for a horseback ride with Billy Stirling. We're going to look at a wind mill or something."

The man shook his head in mock distress.

"I knew it," he sighed, then his tone grew serious and he began to speak rapidly. "You say I've known where you were for six years and that's true. It's also true that until this summer, I haven't in any genuine sense been the master of my movements. Four years were spent in college, and two in law school. There were vacations, of course, but my mother claimed them at home. She is dead now, and her last few years were years of partial invalidism--so she wanted her family about her."

"Oh," the girl's eyes deepened with sympathy. "I didn't know that. She was, I think, almost the loveliest woman I ever knew. She was everything that blue blood ought to be--and so rarely is."

"Thank you. Yes, I think my mother was just that--but what I meant to claim was that this summer is the first I have been free to use in whatever way I wanted: the first time I've been able to say to myself, 'Go and do whatever seems to you the most delightful thing possible in a delightful world.' What I did was to come to Cape Cod and why I did it I've already told you."

Conscience studied his expression and back of the whimsical glint in his eyes she recognized an entire sincerity. Perhaps he had retained out of boyhood some of that militant attitude of believing in his dreams and making them realities. She found herself hoping something of the sort as she reminded him, "After I had outgrown pigtails, you know, they would have let me read a letter from you--if it had arrived."

"Certainly. There were a good many times when I started to write; a good many times when I got as far as a half-finished letter. But I always tore it up. You see, it never appeared to me that that was the way. A letter from me, after a long absence would have been a shadowy sort of message. I couldn't guess how clearly you remembered me or even whether you remembered me at all. You were a child then, who was growing into a woman. Your life was an edifice which you were building for yourself. What niches it had for what saints and deities, I couldn't hope to know. I might have been scornfully thrust in among the cobwebs with other promiscuous rummage of outgrown days. I might have been hardly more important than the dolls that preceded me in your affections by only a couple of years. How could I tell?" He paused and questioned her with direct eyes. "No, I meant to come back into your life not as a ghost speaking from the past but as a man intent on announcing himself in person. It was no part of my scheme that you should say, 'Oh, yes, I remember him. A long, thin kid with a vile temper. I used to love to stir him up and hear him roar.' That's why I never wrote."

Her smile was still a little doubtful and so he went on.

"It would have been too easy for you to have simply dropped me cold. Now it happens that in life I am endowed with a certain india-rubber quality. I am practically indestructible. When you biff me into the corner I can come bouncing back for more. In short, I am not so easy to be rid of, when I'm on the ground."

Conscience laughed. They were still young enough to respond thrillingly to the remembered fragrance of honeysuckle and the plaintive note of the whippoorwill, and perhaps to other memories, as well.

She rose abruptly and went down to the water's edge where she stood with the breeze whipping the silk draperies of her blue bathing skirt against her knees and stirring her hair into a dark nimbus about her head. After retrieving from the sand the blue cap and the blue stocking, her companion followed her.

"Now that I'm here," he asseverated, "I hold that we stand just where we stood when we parted."

But at that she shook her head and laughed at him. "Quite the reverse," she declared. "I hold that by years of penitence I've lived down my past. We're simply two young persons who once knew each other."

"Very well," acceded he. "It will come to the same thing in the end. We will start as strangers, but I have a strong conviction that when we become acquainted, I'm going to dog your steps to the altar. I'm willing to cancel all the previous chapter, except that I sha'n't forget it.... Can _you_ forget it?"

She flushed, but shook her head frankly, and answered without evasion, "I haven't forgotten it yet."

He was gazing into her face with such a hypnotism of undisguised admiration that she smilingly inquired, "Well, have I changed much?"

"You have. You've changed much and radiantly. Since you insist on regarding me as a new acquaintance I must be conservative and restrained, so I'll only say that you have the most flawless beauty I've ever seen."

"The tide is rising," she reminded him irrelevantly. "We'd better be starting back." She put her hands up to her wind-blown hair and began coiling it into abundant masses on her head, while he was kneeling on the sand and tying the ribbon of her bathing slipper.

They crossed the bar and went into the water, swimming side by side with easy strokes, and when the return trip was half completed they saw the head of another swimmer coming out.

"That's Billy Stirling," she told him. "He seems to have guessed where I was."

"I was right," sighed the Virginian. "He out-Jimmies Jimmy Hancock. I don't like this Stirling person."

"You don't know him yet, you know."

"Quite true, but I don't have to know him to dislike him. It's a matter of general principle."

But in spite of his announcement, Stuart did like Billy Stirling. He liked him from the moment that gentleman thrust a wet paw out of the water to shake hands and tossed the brine from a grinning face to acknowledge the girl's introduction. He liked him even better for the Puck-like irresponsibility of his good humor as, later on, he introduced Stuart to the others of the party.

"Now that you've met this crew, you are to consider yourself a member," declared Stirling, though he added accusingly, "I promoted this expedition and used great discrimination in its personnel. It struck me as quite complete before your intrusion marred its symmetry, but you're here and we've got to make the best of you."

The women differed with Mr. Stirling and scathingly told him so, to his immense delight.

"The difference between a party made up in handcuffed pairs, like this has been, and one equipped with an extra man or two is the exact difference between frugal necessity and luxury," protested Henrietta Raven, sententiously.

"I suppose you get the fact that these guileless kids over here are our venerated chaperons?" said the host with a pointed finger. "They are so newly-wed that they still spoon publicly--which is disgraceful, of course, but reduces the obnoxiousness of chaperons."

The week that followed in Chatham was a momentous time and a turning point for the young Virginian. In a way it was epochal in his life. Though he was assimilated into the party as if he had been one of them from childhood, he found little opportunity to be alone with Conscience. Indeed the idea came to him at first vaguely, then persistently, that she herself was seeking to avoid anything savoring of the quality of a tete-a-tete.

The realization haunted and troubled him because even in this general association, her personality had flashed varyingly and amazingly from many facets. The dream which had meant so much to his boyhood was swiftly ripening also into the dream of his manhood, or, as he would have expressed it, a fulfillment. His heart had been fallow when he had first known her. It had not been subjected to subsequent conquest and now its predisposed allegiance was ready to grow with tropical swiftness into a purposeful and fiery ardor. _

Read next: Chapter 4

Read previous: Chapter 2

Table of content of Tyranny of Weakness


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book