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The Tyranny of Weakness, a novel by Charles Neville Buck

Chapter 16

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Stuart Farquaharson's first impulse upon finding his surprise for the meeting unshared, was an astonishment at Marian herself. Unless some great urgency existed for an immediate return to the States he supposed that she would have avoided sailing with him.

"The circumstance that the one man I knew in Yokohama should also be an acquaintance of yours only heightens the effect of the coincidence," he hazarded, and his companion smiled as though amused at some unimpaired element of humor as she naively responded: "Yes--except that in a foreign town we would be apt to meet the same people."

However it had happened, thought Stuart, it was a deplorable accident: their being thrown together for ten days in the narrowed companionship of a sea-voyage. For her, even more than himself, it must bring back the painful notoriety of their last companionship.

It had all been so bootless and uncalled for! Marian Holbury might have divorced her husband had she wished, and remained unstigmatized. Yet she had, by yielding to an ungoverned impulse, reversed their positions of justification. Now the news of their names on the same sailing lists would come to ears at home and set tongues wagging afresh. There had been enough of that.

As she stood there regarding him quietly, with the thorough self-possession of her sex and her class, he reminded himself that there was no profit in a sulkiness of attitude.

"What are your sentiments," he inquired, "regarding a cup of tea?" And she laughed frankly and easily as she responded:

"They are of the friendliest." Together they turned and went toward the nearest white-jacketed deck steward.

As he made a pretense of sipping his tea Farquaharson admitted to himself that the lady whom he was meeting after a long interval had lost nothing of her charm.

The ten days of enforced companionship would at all events be relieved of tedium, but he was in a quandary as to what should be his attitude. Later in the seclusion of the smoking-room he shaped a tentative policy of such deferential courtesy as he would have tendered a new acquaintance. He fancied that she would appreciate a manner which neither bordered on intimacy nor presumed upon the past.

But as the days went on a variance developed between the excellence of his plan in theory and in practical application. For one thing, Marian herself seemed less grateful in her acceptance of it than he had anticipated. He sometimes felt, from a subtle hint of her manner, that her confidence in her own adroitness and _savoir faire_ needed no such assistance from him.

There were moments, too, between their casual conversations when a wistful sort of weariness brought a droop to her lips, as though she would have welcomed a less constrained companionship.

Sometimes when off guard, he found himself slipping into the manner which seemed more natural, and then he wondered if his policy of aloofness might not savor of the priggish.

Not until they were nearing Honolulu did they refer to the past and then it was Marian and not Stuart who broached the subject.

"We were fortunate in being in Japan in cherry-blossom time," suggested Stuart in a matter of fact fashion, as they strolled on deck at sunset. "We saw it all at its best."

"Cherry-blossom time in Japan--" she echoed musingly. Then suddenly she broke out with an almost impassioned bitterness, "Yes, I suppose we were--fortunate! We are both still in our twenties. I am rich and you are better than that--you are along the way of being famous. And yet it occurs to me that neither of us is precisely happy. We are both outcasts from contentment--just Bedouins in the world's desert, after all."

His question came vaguely and uncomfortably, "What do you mean, Marian?"

She laughed, banishing the gravity from her face.

"Nothing--nothing at all, Stuart," she assured him. "It was just a woman's mood." But after a moment she went on in a voice of greater seriousness: "It seems as good a time as any to tell you that I've come to realize with a wretched guiltiness--how I pulled you into the mess I made of my own affairs. If there were any way of undoing it--"

He interrupted her quickly, "Please don't brood over that, Marian. It's all ended now. You were too confused just then by your own foreground wretchedness to be able to gauge the perspectives."

"One has a right," she declared with self-scorn, "to expect from an adult human being, a reasonable degree of intelligence. I didn't display it to any conspicuous extent."

"You gave way to a moment of panic."

"Yes--and you suffered for it. I didn't quite understand then that sealing the evidence in the divorce, while it was supposed to protect me, really left you no chance to clear yourself."

"Naturally not," he smilingly rejoined. "You weren't a lawyer, you know. But it must pain you to discuss these things and I'm not asking any explanation. Why shouldn't we let them rest in peace?"

Her face flushed a little and she seemed on the point of argument, but she only said: "Yes, I suppose that is better."

The evening before the _Nippon Maru_ was due in the Hawaiian port there was no moon, but all the softly blazing stars of the tropics were kindled in the sky and the phosphor waters of the Pacific played in an exquisite echo of light. Marian Holbury, in her simplicity of white skirt and white blouse looked as young as a school girl and, Stuart thought, more beautiful than he had ever seen her. They sat together on the after-deck which, as it chanced, they held in monopoly and the woman said musingly:

"To-morrow we part company, don't we?"

"I'm afraid so," he answered. "My ticket reads to Honolulu."

"I suppose I should thank you," she continued in the same pensiveness of manner. "I guess your unbroken reserve was meant for considerateness."

"Under the circumstances," he replied, a shade piqued by her tone, "anything else might have been embarrassing--for you."

With eyes traveling seaward she spoke again and there was a ghost of quiet irony in her voice.

"That seems to be a thing a man's chivalry never leaves to a woman's own judgment; the determination of what she may find embarrassing."

"At least a man doesn't want to force the dilemma on her." Possibly he did not succeed in saying it entirely without stiffness.

"If I'd been afraid of your doing that," she reminded him, "I might have changed my sailing date."

"I was just a little surprised that you didn't," he admitted.

A strolling couple passed and Marian watched them turn out of sight before she spoke again.

"As a matter of fact, I did change it. I left the friends with whom I'd been traveling and took this earlier steamer home." She caught the expression of surprise in his face, but before he could put it into words she heightened it to amazement with the calm announcement: "I did that because Lieutenant Hancock told me that you were sailing by it."

"But I--I don't understand!"

"No. You wouldn't."

"I'm dense, I suppose," he acknowledged, "but I should have fancied the only result of that would be unpleasant gossip."

"Yes, Stuart, you _are_ dense," she interrupted, and into her eyes leaped an insurgent flame of scorn. "Why should I care what gossips thought? Their verdict was rendered long since. I had a reason more important to myself than their opinions."

"Will you tell me what it was? If my attitude was silly, Marian, at least it was sincere."

"I was wondering whether I would tell you or not, Stuart. Most women would not; but I'm reported to be startlingly--perhaps shockingly candid--so perhaps I will."

Formerly he had thought her clever with a play of wit which made for fascination, but he had believed her processes of thought transparent to his own scrutiny. Of late he had discovered in her something baffling and subtle. This was not the same Marian but a Marian of whom his old acquaintance had been merely the matrix as iron is the beginning of tempered steel. The woman whose eyes dwelt on him now with a sort of inscrutable indulgence was one who reversed their positions. It was as if she read him easily in these days, while in herself she retained depths which he had no means of fathoming. But two things he _could_ read in her eyes: courage and utter honesty--and these were qualities which he esteemed.

After a little she asked him with a direct reading of his thoughts which made him start uncomfortably, "You find me changed?"

Stuart drew a long breath. It broke suddenly upon him that if this woman had begun life under other auspices she might have developed into something rather magnificent.

"Not changed--" he answered promptly. "Transformed!"

"Thank you," she said, holding her voice steady. "It was the realization of the change that made me try the experiment."

"What experiment?" His bewilderment was growing.

"If I'm going to tell you--and one can talk frankly of things that belong unmistakably to the past--I must lay the foundation."


"Of course, you realize that everyone said I fled to you--because we had had an affair. Later when I was divorced and you saw nothing more of me, they laughed at me--they thought I had grabbed at the reflection and dropped my bone in the stream."

"But, Marian! You understood--"

She raised a hand. "Please let me finish in my own way. It's not too easy at best."

"Forgive me."

"To their eyes, my one chance of rehabilitating my life lay in marrying you. I mention this to forestall misunderstanding; because in what I've got to say next it might logically occur to you as a thing I'd contemplated myself."

"Surely," he exclaimed, "you don't think me so mean of mind as that."

With a somewhat rueful smile, she continued:

"When things became unendurable at home and I fled to your cottage, what did you think of me?"

His response was immediate: "That you were in a panic. It seemed to you a case of any port in a storm. I was geographically near and--"

"You really thought that?" A queer note came into her voice and she added almost in a whisper as if echoing it to herself: "Just because you were geographically near!"

"Why else?" he demanded. "Of course, in your indignation against that brute Holbury, you momentarily thought of me with contrasting emotion. I understood that, but I never exaggerated it into anything more important--or permanent."

"No. You just thought me a frivolous little idiot, and the estimate was annoyingly correct. I knew that--and yet I hadn't quite realized how meanly you _did_ think of me--until now."

"But, Marian--!"

"If you thought," she went on, and in the starlight, he could not see how the color had left even her lips, "if you thought that--even in those circumstances--even driven by terror of my life--I would have fled to any other man in the world--" Abruptly she broke off.

Stuart Farquaharson's forgotten pipe had died to ashes. Now it fell with a tiny crash to the deck. The man leaned forward toward her and his eyes mirrored an astonishment genuine and absolute.

"Do you mean ... that you really fancied ... that you loved me?"

She turned her face away until he could see only the roundness of her check's contour and the curling softness of the hair on her neck. Her voice carried a burden of lethargic weariness. "No, I didn't fancy it ... I knew it ... I've known it ever since."

As Stuart Farquaharson remained silent in the amazement of these declarations, Marian turned her face again upon him. This time she spoke with a fiery impetuosity:

"I suppose I should be burning with shame at confessing that ... only somehow I've never been able to realize why people should blush so at the truth ... and, as I said a moment ago, since it's over, there's no reason why I shouldn't tell you, is there?"

"So now--it is over?" He spoke very softly yet with a sense of relief.

Marian's eyes held his own with their remarkably candid gaze, making no effort to mask their misery. Her finely shaped head carried itself high as if in disdain for all dissimulation, and once more she went on in a forced evenness:

"Yes, now it's over, but I'm not through talking. Please don't interrupt me. I've said too much to let it rest there and I've got to say the rest in my own fashion." She paused, then went resolutely forward. "You had spoken to me of Miss Williams, but--you know you were always reticent about the things you felt deeply--I didn't know enough to thoroughly understand. In the last year I've done a lot of thinking.... The point from which I always started was obvious. If you had cared at all about me, you would have looked me up--when the divorce was ended.... But later I heard of her marriage--Miss Williams'.... Perhaps, I told myself, things were different with you now. I heard of you from time to time ... and never as of one who was very happy."

She paused and Stuart laid a hand gently on hers, but she withdrew her own and began afresh:

"I don't care for the word 'chastened,' but I knew that I'd learned some things. I knew that I wasn't that same woman any more. The irresponsible lightness had been pretty well cured ... and I wasn't very happy, either.

"Marian," he declared feelingly, "you don't have to defend yourself to me. The man who won your love could feel nothing but pride."

"Thank you," she said briefly. "I'm not through yet.... I thought that if you met the _new_ me ... you might revise your _old_ opinion.... I thought at least that I could study you and that afterward there would be no uncertainty.... You spoke of the coincidence of our meeting. There was no coincidence about it. I was traveling more or less at random, but I knew you must come through Yokohama and I waylaid you. When Jimmy Hancock told me at the chance that you were taking this boat, I took it, too.... It meant ten days in which to study you--but I needed only ten seconds. I saw your face when we met on deck ... and that told me all there was to tell." _

Read next: Chapter 17

Read previous: Chapter 15

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