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Ko Méri, or, A Cycle of Cathay: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter XIII. Mr. Morgan's Views

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Chapter XIII. Mr. Morgan's Views.

On the afternoon of the next day, Lenore and Captain Deering strolled over to Mr. Morgan's house, the former for the loan of a book and a chat with the master of the house; the latter, if chance offered, to inquire for Mary after the unfortunate accident the night before, and to bask in the sunlight of the half-caste's presence.

Lenore, after exchanging a few words with Mrs. Morgan and her niece, left the Captain to be entertained by them in the drawing-room, while she made her way to the exquisite half-study, half-library, in which Mr. Morgan was generally to be found at this house when he was at home.

She knocked gently, and, at the “Come in,” opened the door and entered.

“Oh! it is you, is it ? Glad to see you. How did you” (emphasizing the pronoun harshly) “enjoy your ride last night? Did Cupid blind your eyes?” he cried, with a grim look on his face that Lenore knew well. But the question surprised her a little; nothing had happened that she knew of.

“Very well, thank you—or as much as usual,” she answered, demurely. “I don't fancy the moon had any extraordinary effect upon me, and Luna last night had more influence than Cupid.”

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“Humph! I am not so sure of that, but so much the better for your father.” And then he rose abruptly. “I suppose you have come for another book?”

“Yes, please. I should like Jean Paul's ‘Titan’ if you are not using it. I have read all his other works, and on this one Miss Holbrook told me he has lavished all the merits and beauties of those that ‘go before.’”

“Humph!” said Mr. Morgan again, derisively Lenore thought. “I am not using it; you are welcome to the loan of it. Miss Holbrook—Come in,” as another knock sounded at the door.

“If you please, Mr. Everard wants to see you,” said the maid, in the doorway.

“Show him in here; don't you go, child, we shall soon have tea,” cried Mr. Morgan, as Lenore rose to make her escape to the drawing-room.

“Ah! how do you do, Mr. Everard? Come and sit by the window, the air is close to-day,” said the host.

“Thank you,” answered Mr. Everard, and shook hands with Lenore, who would gladly have retreated, but she knew that to say any more would be useless without being rude, as Mr. Morgan was an autocrat in his way.

“I did not expect to see you here, Miss Dayton, as you were not with the others, and Mrs. Morgan did not mention your name,” said the minister.

“Then you have been in the drawing-room?” remarked Mr. Morgan, sitting down in his favourite chair.

“Yes,” answered the other, “and I may as well explain my errand at once and be done with, for it is one I rather dislike. I have come to beg a subscription to help the family of poor H–. They are going home again, you know, and the best thing for them.”

“Charity, what pretences are carried on in thy name, after Madame Roland,” cried Mr. Morgan, page 159 comically, and throwing himself back in his chair with the air of a man about to be compelled from force of circumstances to perform an action contrary to his opinions.

“I understood from Mr. Willoughby—nay, I know myself—that you are always generous to the poor. This is the first time in Auckland that I have attempted to raise money in this way, but as a large sum is required, Mr. Willoughby advised me to ask help,” said the minister, with a little surprise in his tone. He had not expected a refusal in this quarter at least.

“Pray, Mr. Everard, do not imagine that it is a question of pounds, shillings, and pence; it is a matter of principle. People come to me in the name of charity, and to get rid of them I put my name down for more or less, and because they would not understand nor appreciate my views, which I am very careful to keep to myself.”

Lenore smiled to herself at the minister's puzzled look—it was an old story to her, but evidently the subject had not before been discussed by the two men—and at the ironical, mocking expression on their host's rugged face, which was thrown into strong relief by the rich, warm colour of the silk covering of the chair in which he sat.

“To make my meaning plainer,” he went on, “I do not believe in most of the so-called charity as practised in these days; it is contrary to the whole spirit of that advocated by the Man, Christ Jesus, whom we all take in a greater or lesser degree for our model.”

“I fail to comprehend your argument, Mr. Morgan. Surely there can be nothing contrary to the Bible teaching, in our giving of the gifts that have been showered upon us to our less favoured brethren—those whose temporal wants are but too poorly supplied,” objected the minister, the sympathy and earnestness of his voice and bearing page 160 contrasting forcibly with the irony and bitterness of the massive man before him.

“I have nothing whatever to urge against giving—it is the kind of giving and the spirit of giving which I feel are, as a rule, most lamentably lacking in the Christian spirit of to-day. No one can know better than you, Mr. Everard, a worker in the slums of the world's metropolis, the throw-at-the-beggar principle of so many of the good deeds, Christian actions, and so on, of which we hear so much. A thousand leagues is placed between the giver and recipient, and in this way the poor are made to feel their poverty to the very dregs.”

When Mr. Morgan felt strongly, his voice, at all times harsh, took a deeper tone that impressed his hearers more by the restrained force of his utterance than by a sonorous delivery, which he held in high contempt, when unaccompanied by ability.

“To a great extent all that you say is only too true; but according to the existing order of things it cannot be remedied; and the money, in whatever way it comes, is most acceptable,” answered the minister, from his practical acquaintance with the poverty stricken.

“The fault lies in the fact that most charity is external—beginning, as it were, on the outside—instead of being evolved from man's inner consciousness. What we want is charity in deed and thought, and a charity that gives help to our more unfortunate brothers—action that costs us something, and does not hurt the honest independence of our fellow creatures in distress. Does it cost the man rolling in wealth any thought or exercise of kindly feeling to give a few hundred pounds of his money? Nor, probably, in nine cases out of ten, does he do it as an outcome of the true spirit, but because it is expected from him and looks extremely well in print.”

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Words could hardly express the irony conveyed in the man's tone—his scorn of the paltriness of that which he denounced. But on his hearer the scathing sentences fell with a saddening effect. All his impatience at the incompetence of his co-religionists to deal with the practical questions and burning needs of the day rushed upon him with overwhelming force. The luxury and refined taste of the room—all seemed to come before him with a sense of unreality; the very air of the room aroused within him an antagonism to its owner's principles, weighty and pregnant with force as they were. The two men had tacitly avoided at all times any direct argument with regard to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, Mr. Everard from a delicacy of feeling that forbade him to bare his own weakness to a man who had gone so far on a road that he could never follow, and Mr. Morgan from an honest conviction that all men should follow the light implanted in every individual soul to lead it in the path that seemeth to it just and right.

“I have had experience of all that you speak,” said Mr. Everard, absently, “but unless the state of the world vastly improves, things will go along in the same old rut.”

Mr. Morgan looked at the minister from under the heavy brows with, a grim smile, and with a trace of amusement in his eyes.

“How? Do you ask me? But now we have come to a question that betwixt you and me there is a gulf, and into which I will not go very far; but I want to know how it is that one of the most venerable of all religions—a religion that Christianity professes to improve upon—has to a great extent solved it.”

“You mean the Jews,” commented the other.

“Yes, the Jews. Now you know that it is claimed that Christianity is more enlightened, more liberal, that it possesses a more humanizing influence; and page 162 to a certain extent all this is true, if the spirit is carried out, and not the form. But, if not, Christianity is a husk with the kernel taken out, and is far less potent than Judaism. Jesus Christ saw the magnificent framework that had been prepared for him by the mightiest figure that has ever appeared upon the earth, with the exception of the Nazarene Himself; and the latter gave the grandest, almost divine lessons to make the structure complete. Probably no other leader will appear upon the earth, because, if we live up to the ideal of the Man of Sorrows, we shall have reached the acme of human religious progress.”

“We are a very long way from the realization of that moral grandeur which you seem to believe will be attained; and so far I agree with you. What we require to-day is a thoroughly practical side to religion, which men see deals to such a great extent with the future life only, and at the same time they are told that our sojourn in this world is a sort of apprenticeship for the next; therefore, what we want is teaching that will help us in the stern realities and difficulties of this life.”

“You are on the right path,” cried Mr. Morgan, approvingly—the minister winced, “but, strange to say, what many are only finding out at this late date was a principle with Moses and other law-givers of the Old Testament, and with two great figures in the New—Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul—Moses enters into every little detail of Jewish social life. For instance, in Josephus you will find he tells the Hebrews to take only one crop from the ground—grapes only—not grapes and grass at the same time, (I wish they would have the common-sense to do the same in this country), and in a hundred other instances you see the same practical principle. The grand feature of Judaism is its intense reality—patriotism, reverence to parents, in fact everything is a part of religion, and God is in everything. If page 163 not, how comes the sublime faith that has lasted thousands of years, and is as strong to day as at the beginning? Get a little Jewish faith, Jewish constancy, Jewish patience grafted on to the Church and all will be well; the Son of Man did not hold in disdain the fine features of the old dispensation. Have you read Zunz's ‘Synagogale Poesie’?”

“No, but I should like a loan of it,” as Mr. Morgan took down the great work of the German from the case behind him.

“Here is the extract that I think particularly fine—you know it,” he said, turning to Lenore, who was sitting back in her chair, dreamily regarding both men, but taking in the sense of their remarks all the same: “‘If there is a gradation in suffering, Israel has reached the highest acme; if the long duration of sufferings, and the patience with which they are borne, ennobles, the Jews defy the high-born of all countries; if a literature is called rich which contains a few classical dramas, what place deserves a tragedy lasting a millennium and a half composed and enacted by the heroes themselves!' And yet their faith is strong, and the advanced thinkers amongst them are more religious, and at the same time not a whit behind the most enlightened thought of this part of the nineteenth century.”

Mr. Everard listened in silence, and after his host had ceased there was a pause.

“Before I forget, here is my contribution to help the H—s. It is a pity their father was so thoughtless of the future,” said Mr. Morgan, handing the minister a bank-note doubled up.

“I knew your heart could not refuse it,” cried Lenore; “you could not help giving to anyone that asks.”

“Yes, because as the existing order of things stand, I must. Let us hope the next generation will have before their eyes loftier aims and greater things.”

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The sun was now beginning to cast long shadows preparatory to sinking behind the hills, leaving the cliff in front of Mr. Morgan's house in shadow.

It was a very watery sun indeed that struggled behind banks of grey clouds to make his usual brilliant exit; but his efforts were futile against the strong north wind that bore masses of clouds in his path in its wild course that would surely end in rain.

Sadly did this north wind sigh round the house and amongst the trees, as if loth to mar the fair summer landscape with his rough, tempestuous outbursts that better became more boisterous spring.

The rays of the setting sun penetrated into Mr. Morgan's library, through the glass-door, bringing out the golden threads in Lenore's bronze-gold hair, and her face into strong relief, which latter attracted the host's attention.

“Are you not well, child?” he said, anxiously. “I never saw you look so pale as you have these last few weeks. Working over an easel is not good for you—Mary and you were always fond of plenty of fresh air.”

“I noticed Miss Dayton's paleness when I came in, and now it is more noticeable in this strong light,” put in the minister, with grave kindliness.

There was no need to complain of Lenore's paleness now; a whole wave of colour had surged into her face at the attention bestowed upon it.

“It is nothing,” she said, quietly, “only the heat of the summer. I am always better in cold weather.”

“Is it so ?” cried Mr. Everard, more eagerly than the occasion seemed to warrant.

“Yes; I always feel more energetic and bright with the bracing winds we get from the south, and–

“I knew you were all here,” cried Mary, opening the door unceremoniously. “We have been waiting tea for at least half-an-hour—not with my wish though. Auntie said it was of no consequence waiting a little while, and so I had to submit.”

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“We were just coming,” said Mr. Morgan, rising as he spoke. “I knew you would tell us when it was time.”

“I am positive you would have stayed here another hour—unless Lenore woke up to the fact that there was such a thing as tea time—if I had not been good enough to come for you. I don't wonder you look pale at the amount of philosophy Mr. Everard and Uncle Leonard have discussed before you,” cried Mary, in a sweet, charming fashion all her own.

“Mr. Everard caught the fleeting shadow of annoyance on Lenore's face, and argued from it that she felt as he did with respect to the half-caste—a sort of irritation at what he considered her childishness. But he was mistaken; Lenore winced only at Mary's allusion to herself.

It wanted nearly an hour to dinner time when Captain Deering and his cousin sauntered into the drawing-room, where sat Mrs. Dayton, and, a most unusual thing, alone.

“Has Ellie gone out, mamma? “asked Lenore, as she sat down near the window to get the benefit of any fresh air that might wander in. “If I had known I would have come home to give you your tea.”

“But you did not know, and so I had it all my own way to-day,” answered the mother, smiling. “Did Mrs. Morgan have any visitors to-day, except yourselves?”

“None, except Mr. Everard,” Lenore answered, with a soft, dreamy look upon her face.

“Mr. Everard will end by becoming a convert to Mr. Morgan's principles,” cried Mrs. Dayton, a little impatiently. “Indeed, he is half way there already, if all that people say of him. be true.”

“The same people, however, are very glad to accept his kindness and money. Very few would spend their time and labour without remuneration as Mr. Everard does,” said Captain Deering, warmly.

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“I think you are mistaken, mamma. Mr. Everard and Mr. Morgan never discuss vital religious points—their views are so dissimilar,” said Lenore.

“You ought to know better than most, cousin, for you had time enough to-day to settle all the doubtful points' that were ever raised,” laughed the Captain.

He had no idea of hurting his cousin's feelings, or of causing any annoyance to Mrs. Dayton; he only spoke from the circumstances of the afternoon. He remembered all, at once Mr. Morgan's remarks with regard to his cousin's character, and her mother's disapproval of her independence of action, but it was too late.

“Now, Lenore, I do wish, dear, that you would not listen to Mr. Morgan's learned conversation, nor allow him to influence you. If you stay with Mrs. Morgan he will not trouble you with his advanced thought, or whatever he chooses to call it.”

“He does not influence me in any way, mamma. In fact, the talk this afternoon turned upon the Jews, or, at least, the true features of their religion,” said the girl, desperately.

“The Jews!” Worse and worse! What did her daughter know of the Jews? Was Mr. Morgan going to turn Hebrew? “I daresay that is one of his arguments,” she went on, calmly, ignorant that there was no meaning in what she said. “He can twist any text in the Bible to suit himself.”

Captain Deering saw, to his dismay, what a mistake he had made, and, man-like, retreated from a situation he had himself brought about.

Mother and daughter were thus left alone.

“I think, Lenore, you had better borrow no more books from Mr. Morgan. You can get all you want from the library, or buy what you would like. Papa can surely explain what you don't understand.” Lenore smiled inwardly at her father taking Mr. page 167 Morgan's place as instructor. “And don't listen to any more of his sophistries. I don't say for a moment that he would lead you astray willingly, but he believes he is right. And, Lenore,” continued Mrs. Dayton, gently and lovingly, “I would not take so much interest in Mr. Everard's parish work, if I were you” (Lenore's face flushed hotly). “It is quite a different matter with Mr. Willoughby. I don't want to pain you, dear, but people will talk, as you know, even although there is no harm in it. Of course I don't mean you to stop altogether, but only to be more careful. There are many older than you who are only too glad to take up charitable work, and the field is very limited here as yet, so that you are not absolutely necessary.”

She patted her daughter's hand tenderly as she saw her words were a bitter pill to the girl's proud spirit.

“I understand it all,” she answered, with strange gentleness, if and it is better for you to tell me than a stranger.”

“You must not imagine, Lenore, that you have done anything that could for a moment be called in question; but in a place like Auckland it is best to keep on the safe side.”

“Yes, I know. I think I'll go out to the gate and meet papa,” she said, glad of an excuse to get into the fresh air and to be alone. When anything tried Lenore, to be alone was all her desire—to think or struggle it out, as she expressed it herself.

She paused at the wide open hall door, and stood leaning against it, instead of going to the gate as she had at first intended. Her eyes filled with tears as the consequences of her mother's words were borne upon her mind, for her intercourse with a learning and intellect so great as Mr. Morgan's had been very dear to her. She would not let the tears fall, however, as she remembered that her father might come upon her any minute, and would be almost certain to inquire the reason of her trouble, which she wished to keep to herself.

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Not that she disputed the justice of her mother's warning for a moment—but it was a disappointment—one of those circumstances that occur in every life, when a course of action is checked for a seemingly trivial reason, that after all is a most intense factor in this every-day life of ours, what we term keeping up appearances. Lenore had grown to look forward to her visits to Mr. Morgan, to mark paragraphs in books that he lent her, so that anything that was not perfectly clear might be explained by him, and now it was all taken from her by one blow.

Two or three sparrows alighted on the path in front of her, looking up at the still figure in the doorway with their bright eyes, but she scarcely heeded them, nor ran as she usually did for bread crumbs to tempt her feathered favourites that lived on far daintier food, and at last they flew away disappointed.

A gust of wind startled Lenore out of her reverie, and shaking herself impatiently, she gazed at the scene in front of her, that seemed in harmony with her mood; grey clouds that were gradually getting darker, and broken by the pale beams of the slowly sinking sun, great waves tossed into foam by the wind that came in gusts, scattering dead leaves from the trees and bending their crowns like a child with a plaything, and the sighing of the north wind among the pines—all had a fascination for her at any time, but especially now that she felt out of spirits.

Presently she saw her father and brother enter the gate, the latter pausing to chat with Captain Deering, Lenore moved forward, trying to smile and appear as bright as usual, but the attempt was not very successful.

“Is that you, Lenore?” he cried, tenderly, noticing that something was wrong with her. “Who has offended you? Just tell me, and I'll settle it all.”

She smiled and took his arm.

“No one has offended me, papa. Something has page 169 happened that I did not like very well, but I am getting over it now.”

“You know best, little girl,” taking her hand within his own. “But I fancy you are not so lively as you used to be; and I liked the old Lenore better.”

“I am getting older, papa, and more sensible.” Four times in this one day she had been reminded that she was changed; this would not do at all.

“You were always sensible enough for me—time enough to be sedate when responsibilities come upon you; and that will not be long,” he said, looking at her keenly.

Mr. Dayton was not an observant man by any means; but love made him quick where this much-loved daughter was concerned; and to his eye she was changed.

They came into the drawing-room together, where Mrs. Dayton still sat, sunk in a reverie; and, after kissing his wife, the husband sat down as if tired, while Lenore made her escape.

“What is the matter with Lenore, Marion? Do you know?”

“Nothing that I know of. Why ?”

“She seems dull, and has lost all her colour. I have noticed it for some time.”

“Ellie says the same thing. But I fancy the heat tires her, and she will read and think about matters she would do better to leave alone,” said Mrs. Dayton, with a note of anxiety in her tone. She was beginning to believe that things were not as she would have them.

“I would let her do what she likes—it won't hurt her. But it seems to me Mr. Everard comes here a great deal—he is very welcome. Has that anything to do with the matter ? And she seemed to take that Observer hit very badly for one that takes a joke in good part.”

“I don't know,” answered Mrs. Dayton, slowly. “I did hope we should be able to keep Lenore with us page 170 a few years longer, and I know you have felt the same about it. It would be folly, though, for us to stand in her way, especially as Mr. Everard is in every sense of the word eligible.”

The mother was coming down to the inevitable; but the father's heart was heavy.

“That is one of the questions in which we are not consulted. The lover comes: good-bye to the parents. Lenore is only going the same old road; but she was always the best of daughters,” he said, absently, rising at the same time to go upstairs to get ready for dinner.

Captain Deering had arranged to pay Mr. Morgan a visit of a fortnight's duration. At the end of that time he was to proceed with his host to the famous Lake District of the Waikato.

The night before his proposed change the family retired rather early, but the soldier felt no inclination to sleep. His thoughts were busy with anticipations of his visit to the house that stood up dark and shadowy on the summit of the cliff. He felt that it marked a step in the road in which he was treading; and he wished to place the case in all its bearings clearly before his mind prior to going any further.

The air of the room seemed to stifle him; so putting on an overcoat he crept gently downstairs, opened the hall door, and closing it softly after him, walked rapidly down the slope to the small cove between the two cliffs.

Here he could think, could face his position, could lay out for himself a plan of action before he went further into the toils.

He was about to enter a path to which he saw no end, and in which he would be subject to the glamour cast over him by the beauty and fascination of the half-caste. Though he was perfectly sure of his own sentiments with regard to her, he was quite ignorant of the precise nature of her feelings towards himself. Simple and unaffected as Mary Balmain's manner page 171 was, a gentle dignity and reserve characterized her that effectually masked any emotion of a tender kind from every eye—a repression that baffled all attempts to read her soul. He saw little difference in her treatment of him the day before to that of the first night he had been in her company, more than two months ago.

He knew that he must make up his mind, and that soon. His love had now grown so strong that it would be impossible for him to leave New Zealand without asking the half-caste to be his wife, and his uncertainty with regard to Mary's heart made him dread to precipitate matters. He would wait a little longer—a week or two would make no difference—and, perhaps, when he was constantly in her presence, he might form a better idea of her feelings towards him. That she loved no one else he was certain, and that she was well-disposed towards himself he was well assured; but further than that he could not tell.

But on the other hand, what would his two sisters say to his choice of a wife? One of them was married to a baronet and a Member of Parliament, and the other to a gentleman who had made a large fortune in Australia, and had made his home in England to enjoy the same. He knew they expected him to marry well, as they termed it, one of his own station, certainly not to a Colonial of any kind, still less to a girl with native blood in her veins. They would not take into consideration her beauty, her grace, her culture, nor even her large fortune—two fortunes, indeed—nor that her father was better born than he himself. But after all he should please his own taste in selecting a wife; and he had no fear but that they would make the first advances at reconciliation after his marriage, if not before.

Neither would his choice please his aunt, Mrs. Dayton, much as she admired and liked Mary; nor was he at all sure of Mr. Morgan's attitude. Ah! page 172 there lay a great difficulty to be overcome. Would Mr. Morgan permit his niece to marry a man who would carry her off to England so far from his own ken? He had heard him, only two or three days before, commenting on an English gentleman who had married the youngest and last remaining daughter of an acquaintance, and who had taken her “home” immediately after the ceremony. How would it be with his own niece?

But he comforted himself with the thought that Mary's happiness and Mary's interest were of paramount importance with Mr. and Mrs. Morgan; and, therefore, might they not take up their permanent residence in England, like thousands of wealthy Australians before them? How selfish we all are where our own desires and interest are at stake!

He walked up and down, thinking it all over; and at the thought that perhaps this spoiled and much-loved girl might not care for him, his heart grew sick. But he would not dwell on that probability—his was not a nature to take a pessimistic view of a question. Why should he? Had not fortune always smiled upon him—this frank, chivalrous, soldierly favourite of hers—and would surely not desert him now.

The man was not very imaginative, or the scene would have awakened some emotion within him. But he heeded it not—the soft rain that pattered on the leaves of the pohutukawas, the wind that came in furious gusts blowing about his ears and tossing the pines and native trees that loomed shadowy and grotesque in front of him, and completely hiding the grey old church on the summit of the cliff. He did not seem to realize the uncanniness of the hour and the strangeness of the place, all alone with the silent dead, within a few seconds' walk the tombstones now and again standing out like phantoms against the intense darkness as the wind played with the trees and undergrowth of the cemetery.

To Lenore, this scene, magnificent as it was, with page 173 the forces of nature at their gloomiest and grandest, would have awakened strong emotion, but to her cousin it was merely a stormy night and happened to be in harmony with his mood. The weird, melancholy effects on every side had no power to draw him from the consideration of what lay nearest his heart.

To have decided the matter in his own mind was a sort of relief, and he gave himself up to a pleasant reverie of the coming future with the half-caste as his wife—her beauty, her fascination, her grace.

“Mary,” he said, aloud. (It seemed to resound from the rocks and hills around with a wail, but not to him.) “I shall gain her, I know—this southern Cleopatra, this bewildering half-caste, half child, half woman.”

The waves laughed in mockery as they swept almost to his feet across the sandy beach; they thundered in protest against the base of the cliffs that rose on either side, and the wind moaned drearily among the pines. Far away on the wild waste of heaving waters of almost inky blackness, like a star of hope, gleamed the steady beams of Tiri-Tiri lighthouse, the only brightness visible from where he stood, and standing out clearly from the towering form of Rangitoto, sombre as Erebus. All around was dark and impenetrable, the heavens above, the waters beneath, the background of trees, all frowned upon this man upon the beach, unconscious of his fate. The forces of nature had instituted themselves augurs to those who cared to read the signs, and the fates were unpropitious.

He slowly turned from the shore and ascended the cliff, pausing for an instant to look back, and then walked quickly onward.

Man proposes, God disposes.