AUF WIEDERSEHN

“Goodbye! Goodbye!–our lives divide,
We drift apart on Life’s broad tide,
Faint-hearted, sad and solemn-eyed,
By Fate’s decree.

“Goodbye! Goodbye!–but not farewell,
Tho’ side by side we may not dwell.
Some day we’ll meet–But who can tell
If this will be?”

So the time of parting had come at last, as it must come to all, and
these men and women who had met by chance at the Italian Lakes were
about to separate. But who could tell what effect the intimacy of the
last few weeks would have on their future lives?

It seemed as though the love-romance of Victoria and Otterburn were
over, killed by the woman, and even if they did meet again, it would
be under such widely different circumstances that they would surely
never be able to renew their earlier intimacy.

True to his resolve Otterburn departed for Como without seeing
Victoria again, and Eustace saw him safely off in the train with the
faithful Johnnie in attendance. He then went to say goodbye to the
Erringtons, who were going up by the St. Gothard line, intending to
stay a few days in Paris prior to returning to England.

“Goodbye, old fellow,” said Guy, shaking hands with Eustace in the
tumult of the station. “When you come back to Town don’t forget to
look us up.”

“No, I won’t forget,” replied Eustace gravely, though he privately
determined to keep out of temptation’s way as much as possible. “But I
don’t know when I’ll be in England. I go to Cyprus first, and then may
look in at Athens and go up the Dardanelles.”

“You should get married and settle down,” said Guy gaily. “What do you
say, Alizon?”

“I’m afraid to give an opinion,” replied Lady Errington discreetly.
“When Mr. Gartney returns I may be able to say something.”

She looked at Eustace in a friendly manner, and as he saw the cold,
pure look in her eyes, he knew at once that whatever passion for this
woman he might feel, he had not succeeded in awakening any response in
her impassive nature.

“A statue! A statue,” he said to himself. “Poor Guy.”

“Say goodbye to Mr. Macjean for me,” said Lady Errington, giving him
her hand. “And as to yourself I will not say goodbye, but _au
revoir_.”

The whistle blew shrilly, the train moved slowly off, and Eustace,
with bare head, holding his hat in his hand, stood silently amid the
crowd with a vision before his mind’s eye of the sweet face with the
cold pure light in the blue eyes.

“A statue! a statue,” he said again, as he went back to Cemobbio. “It
is a foolish passion I have for her, but I dare say a few months’
travelling will make me forget that such chilly perfection exists.”

On his return to the Villa Medici, he told his valet to pack up
everything and be ready to start by the early train next morning, in
order to meet Otterburn and leave Milan by the afternoon train for
Venice, as Victoria would be at Milan the next day, and Otterburn did
not wish to meet her again.

As for that young lady, although she did not care much about
Otterburn, yet her self-love received rather a severe shock when she
learned how promptly he had taken his dismissal.

“Where is Mr. Macjean?” she asked Eustace that night, after dinner, as
he sat smoking outside in the garden.

“He has gone away,” replied Eustace, who was anxious to prolong her
curiosity as much as he could and let her drag the facts of the case
piecemeal from his reluctant mouth.

“Where to?”

“Milan.”

Victoria flushed a little under his keen gaze and tapped her foot
impatiently on the ground.

“I thought he was going with you to-morrow.”

“So did I. But for some reason he preferred going by himself to-day.”

“Oh!”

There was a vexed tone in the ejaculation, and Eustace smiled to
himself as he thought of her anger. She knew the reason of this abrupt
departure, so did Eustace, and each of them perfectly understood one
another; therefore, when Victoria saw the smile curling the corners of
Gartney’s mouth, she felt inclined to strike him in her exasperation.

“Why did he not say goodbye?” she demanded sharply. “I don’t know. He
did not honour me with his confidence.”

It was lucky for Eustace that Victoria did not at that moment possess
regal power, for she would then and there have ordered him off to
execution, but as she could not do this she did the next best thing to
it, and retreated gracefully from the field of battle.

“If I were you, Mr. Gartney, I would teach that friend of yours
manners,” she said superciliously. “However, we are not likely to meet
again, so it does not matter. You go to-morrow morning, do you not?”

“Yes.”

“And we go in the afternoon, so we won’t have the pleasure of being
fellow-travellers–goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

They shook hands coldly, with mutual dislike, and then Victoria went
away gaily, so as to afford Eustace no opportunity of seeing her
mortification, but when she arrived in her own room she raged like a
young lioness.

“How dare he treat me in such a way!” she said wrathfully, referring
to the absent Otterburn. “Because I do not choose to marry him, he
need not slight me so openly before his friend. Ah! that wretched Mr.
Gartney, how detestable he is. Always sneering and supercilious. I
should like to kill him, and he knows it.”

There was no doubt that the triumph was now with Gartney, and all
through her own fault. She had refused offers before, but the makers
of them had always taken their defeat meekly and continued to haunt
her steps. Otterburn, however, had treated her as no man had ever
treated her before, and when she grew calmer, with the whimsical
inconsequence of a woman, she actually began to admire his
independence.

“He’s a man at all events,” she said, drying her tears, “and I’m glad
he’s got a mind of his own. If I do meet him again I’ll make him
propose again, in spite of his temper, and then I’ll pay him out for
going off like this.”

It was truly a bad look-out for Otterburn if she remained in the same
mind, but then the chances were that his promptitude of action, having
secured her admiration, would end up by making her love him, and when
they met again it was doubtful who would come off victor.

Eustace, on his side was very much gratified by the conversation he
had had with Victoria, and after bidding farewell to Mr. and Mrs.
Trubbles, went to bed in quite a good temper.

Next morning he left Cemobbio and started for Milan.

On arriving he found Otterburn at the station, looking tired and
haggard, but this was due to want of sleep and not to dissipation, as
Eustace charitably surmised. The young man was in a fearfully bad
temper, and although he was burning to question Eustace about
Victoria, yet his own sense of dignity would not allow him. So during
their journey to Venice, he sat in sulky silence, reading a book and
inwardly raging at the fickleness, ingratitude and caprices of
womankind.

Since they had last occupied a railway carriage together, a change had
certainly come over both of them, and instead of friendly talk, they
sat in dour silence, each regarding the other as an insufferable
nuisance.

The cynical French proverb anent women was, without doubt, very
applicable to them both in the present case, and it might have been
some gratification to Victoria’s wounded pride to know that she had
effectually estranged these two quondam friends. The bond of sympathy
formerly existing between them had entirely vanished, and though each
was burning to make a confidant of the other, yet neither would make
the first advance, so both sat grimly silent, each cursing his luck in
having the other for a companion.

Otterburn did not venture to speak to Eustace about his rejection by
Victoria, as he was afraid of being laughed at by the cynic, and
Eustace held his tongue concerning his passion for his cousin’s wife,
as he thought, and with good reason, that Otterburn would consider it
dishonourable. It was the quick coupled with the dead, and they both
felt it, so when they reached Venice, although they put up together at
Danieli’s, by tacit consent they saw as little of one another as
possible.

To his great delight Otterburn picked up an old Oxford chum one day,
and finding that he was going on a shooting excursion to the
Carpathian Mountains with another friend, agreed to join him. To this
desertion, Eustace by no means objected, as he was heartily sick of
Macjean’s love-lorn sulkiness, so, at the end of the week, the young
man, with his two friends, keen sportsmen and capital company, left
Eustace in Venice, and departed in high spirits on his excursion.

Eustace therefore was left entirely alone, and preferred his solitude,
for had he so chosen he could have found plenty of pleasant companions
willing to go to Cyprus if needful, but having a fancy for a solitary
journey, and the idea of a new book of travels in his head, he held
aloof from Anglo-Italian society and wandered about Venice with no
other company than his own dreary thoughts.

Fate, however, evidently had a spite against Mr. Gartney, for one day,
while he was sitting at Florian’s, smoking cigarettes and watching the
white pigeons whirling aloft in the blue sky, someone touched him on
the shoulder, and on turning he found himself facing Billy Dolser, a
dapper little man-about-town, whom he particularly disliked.

Mr. Dolser owned a spiteful society paper called “The Pepper Box,”
which was always getting into trouble for the lies it told, and
Eustace himself had been pretty severely handled in its columns, as
the proprietor hated him with all the malignant venom of a little
soul. Everybody in society was afraid of Billy, who had an unpleasant
knack of finding out things people did not want known, and publishing
them in his paper, so everyone was civil to him, except one or two men
who had the bad taste to horsewhip him, but Billy did not mind, as it
made his paper sell, so there was positively no way of society ridding
itself of this little wasp.

“How do, Gartney?” said Mr. Dolser, offering two fingers to Eustace,
which that gentleman refused to see. “Heard you were here–yes! Cut
away from town I suppose because of your book? No! we thought you did.
You’re getting it hot–rather!”

“I’m hanged if I care,” retorted Eustace indolently, “it will only
make the book sell. How’s ‘The Pepper Box’ going?”

“Oh capitally–yes!” said Billy, taking a seat. “Three actions of
libel on–ha! ha!”

“That sounds well–any horsewhippings?”

Billy grinned, not being a bit offended at this allusion, as it all
came under the head of business.

“No, dear boy, no! I’m here with the Pellingers you know–yes! Showing
them round. They’re paying my ex’s.”

“Of course. I knew you wouldn’t pay them yourself.”

“Ah! but they like travelling with me–yes!”

“I shouldn’t care about a pet monkey myself,” said Eustace rudely.

“No! you’re a Robinson Crusoe kind of chap, ain’t you?” said Billy,
quite unmoved by his epithet. “By the way, I saw your cousin and his
wife in Paris–yes! Wife cut me. Beastly rude I think, when I knew her
father so well–he was a great friend of mine–rather!”

“Not a very creditable thing to boast of,” replied Eustace, enraged at
this reference to Lady Errington.

“Oh, who cares? If Asmodeus unroofed the houses in town, you bet
there’d be ‘ructions. Just so!”

“You do your best to play Asmodeus.”

“Yes–want to purify Society. By the way, Mrs. Veilsturm was asking
after you.”

“Very kind of her!”

“And Major Griff. I wonder Society tolerates those two, Eh?”

“Oh, Society tolerates all kinds of noxious beasts now-a-days,” said
Eustace, with a significant glance at Billy.

“Yes! horrid, isn’t it? Those two have got hold of Dolly Thambits, you
know–young fool that came in for a lot of money–rather. She’s
plucking him, and the Major is pocketing the feathers–yes!”

“Can’t you share the spoil?” asked Eustace drily.

“No! wish I could, but Mrs. Veilsturm doesn’t like me–not much! I
say, look here, where do you go?”

“That’s my business,” retorted Eustace, rising. “I’m not going to tell
you my movements and have them recorded in that scurrilous paper of
yours.”

“No,” said Billy calmly, “that’s a pity, because they’re all curious
about you in town–yes. Never mind, I’ll say I met you at Venice.”

“You’ll say I dropped you into the Grand Canal also, if you don’t mind
your own business,” growled Gartney wrathfully, moving towards him.

“Eh! I don’t care. Anything for a paragraph.”

The impudence of the little man so tickled Eustace that he burst out
laughing, and without carrying out his threat, walked away, while Mr.
Dolser, pulling out his note-book, dotted down a few remarks.

“I’ll get two columns out of him,” he said to himself in a gratified
tone. “He’s staying at Danieli’s I know, so I’ll look up his valet and
find out where he’s off to–yes.”

Which Mr. Dolser did, and the result appeared in an abusive article a
fortnight afterwards in “The Pepper Box” headed “Gartney’s Gaddings”
which several of the poet’s friends enjoyed very much.

As for Eustace, after getting rid of Billy Dolser, he went off to his
hotel, and arranged all about his departure for Cyprus, anxious to get
away at once so as to avoid another meeting with the proprietor of
“The Pepper Box.”

Consequently next day be found himself on board an Austrian-Lloyd
steamer, slowly steaming down the Adriatic into the shadow of the
coming night, and as he stood on the deck with the salt wind blowing
in his face, he murmured:

“Well, that chapter of my life is closed.”

He was wrong, for that chapter of his life had just opened.