For Fortune and Glory A Story of the Soudan War
By Lewis Hough We were a little nervous to know how Lewis Hough got on writing a book with such a very different setting to his masterly "Doctor Jolliffe's Boys." In fact the story opens in a boarding school (the British Public School) called Harton. This is probably meant to be a word based on "Eton" and another school that has an annual cricket match with Eton, called "Harrow". In fact there is plenty of internal evidence that it really is Eton, with the dropping of local slang terms only in use at that school.
Before I knew the story I was also nervous about the title. What could Fortune possibly have to do with the Soudan War? What actually happened was that a certain Will had been stolen by a former employe, an Egyptian, of a Dublin solicitor, together with a previous version of the Will. This had resulted in a family losing all their money, since the father had been a Partner in an Eastern Bank that foundered in the events leading up to the Soudan War.
Eventually the two Wills are tracked down, and justice done as regards the estate.
But all this is a parallel story to the description of events in the Soudan War. This is well worth reading for its own sake, especially in this day and age, when certain events seem about to repeat themselves. NH
FOR FORTUNE AND GLORY A STORY OF THE SOUDAN WAR
BY LEWIS HOUGH A STORY OF THE SOUDAN WAR.
A MYSTERIOUS RELATIVE.
It is nice to go home, even from Harton, though we may be leaving all our sports behind us. It used to be specially nice in winter; but you young fellows are made so comfortable at school nowadays that you miss one great luxury of return to the domestic hearth. Why, they tell me that the school-rooms at Harton are warmed! And I know that the Senate House at Cambridge is when men are in for their winter examinations, so it is probable that the younger race is equally pampered; and if the present Hartonians' teeth chatter at six o'clock lesson, consciousness of unprepared lessons is the cause, not cold.
But you have harder head-work and fewer holidays than we had, so you are welcome to your warm school-rooms. I am not sure that you have the best of it: at any rate, we will cry quits.
But the superior material comforts of home are but a small matter in the pleasure of going there after all. It is the affections centred in it which cause it to fill the first place in our hearts, "be it never so humble."
Harry Forsyth was fond of Harton; fond of football, which was in full swing; fond of his two chums, Strachan and Kavanagh. He rather liked his studies than otherwise, and, indeed, took a real pleasure in some classical authors—Homer and Horace, for example—as any lad who has turned sixteen who has brains, and is not absolutely idle, is likely to do. He was strong, active, popular; he had passed from the purgatorial state of fag to the elysium of fagger. But still his blood seemed turned to champagne, and his muscles to watch-springs, when the cab, which carried him and his portmanteau, passed through the gate into the drive which curved up to the door of Holly Lodge. For Holly Lodge contained his mother and Trix, and the thought of meeting either of them after an absence of a school-term set his heart bounding, and his pulse throbbing, in a way he would not have owned to his best friends for the choice of bats in the best maker's shop. He loved his father also, but he did not know so much of him. He was a merchant, and his business had necessitated his living very much abroad, while Cairo did not suit his wife's health. His visits to England were for some years but occasional, and did not always coincide with Harry's holidays. Two years previously, indeed, he had wound up his affairs, and settled permanently at home; but he was still a busy man—a director of the Great Transit Bank, and interested in other things, which took him up to London every day. He was also fond of club-life and public dinners; and, though he was affectionate with his wife and children, too much of their society rather bored him.
When she heard the cab-wheels crunching the gravel, Beatrice Forsyth ran out without a hat, and Harry seeing her, opened the door and "quitted the vehicle while yet in motion," as the railway notices have it, whereby he nearly came a cropper, but recovered his balance, and was immediately fitted with a live necklace. Beatrice was a slight, fair, blue-eyed, curly-haired girl of fifteen; so light and springy that her brother carried her, without an effort, to the hall steps, where, being set down, she sprang into the cab and began collecting the smaller packages, rug, umbrella, and other articles, inside it, while Harry hugged his mother in the hall.
"Your father will be home by four," said Mrs Forsyth, when the first greetings and inquiries as to health were over.
"And Haroun Alraschid has taken possession of his study," added Trix, with a sort of awe.
"Haroun, how much?" asked Harry.
"Don't be absurd, Trix!" said Mrs Forsyth. "It is only your uncle, Ralph Burke."
"Burke, that was your name, mother; this uncle was your brother then?"
"Of course, Harry. Have you never heard me speak of your uncle Ralph?"
"Now you mention it, yes, mother. But I had a sort of idea that he was dead."
"So we thought him for some time," said Mrs Forsyth, "for he left the Indian Civil Service, in which he had a good appointment, and disappeared for years. He met with disappointments, and had a sunstroke, and went to live with wild men in the desert, and, I believe, has taken up with some strange religious notions. In fact, I fear that he is not quite right in his head. But he talks sensibly about things too, and seems to wish to be kind. We were very fond of one another when we were children, and he seems to remember it in spite of all he has gone through."
"I am frightened to death at him," said Trix. "I know he has a large cupboard at home with the heads of all the wives he has decapitated hanging up in a row by the back hair!"
"I wonder at your talking so foolishly, Beatrice. You must not be prejudiced by what she says, Harry. Except your uncle in Ireland, he has no other relatives, and he may be very well off; and he is quite harmless."
"You know that you were afraid of him yourself, mamma, when he first came."
"A little, perhaps, because I did not recognise him, and thought him dead. And then, you know, I fear he is not quite orthodox. But go and see him, Harry, and never mind what any one says."
"All right, mother; you have made me a bit curious, I confess," said Harry, leaving the room.
The garden in front of Holly Lodge was formal—just a carriage-drive, and a bit of shrubbery, and a grass-plat with prim beds on it, which had various flower eruptions at different periods of the year. First snowdrops, aconites, and crocuses, then tulips, then geraniums. The real garden was at the back, and the study looked out upon it. Not upon the lawn, where bowls, or lawn-tennis, or other disturbing proceedings might be going on; no, from the oriel window, which alone lighted the room, one saw a fountain, a statue, rose-bushes, and a catalpa tree, enclosed in a fringe of foliage, syringa, lilac, laurel, chestnut, high and thick enough to make it as private and quiet as any man with a speech to prepare, or sums to do, might require. Harry went along a passage, turned to the left up five steps, passed through a green-baize swing door, and knocked at that of the study.
A deep musical voice, which seemed, however, to come from a strange distance, told him to "come in," and on opening the door, he found that he had to push aside a curtain hanging over it, and which had dulled the sound of the voice. Smoke wreaths floated about the apartment, bearing an aromatic odour quite different from ordinary tobacco, and a curious gurgling sound, like that of water on the boil, only intermittent, came from the direction of the broad low sofa, which had been brought from the drawing-room, and was placed between the fire and the window. Close to this was a small table with writing materials, a note-book, and a pile of letters ready for the post, upon it.
On the sofa reclined a man dressed in a black frock-coat, buttoned, and dark trousers, the only Oriental thing about him being the red cap with a silk tassel which he wore on his head. But smokers often have a fancy for wearing the fez, so there was nothing peculiar in that. And yet there was something different from other people about him. Most men lounging on a sofa are ungainly and awkward-looking, while the attitude of this one was easy and graceful, and the motion of his hand, with which he indicated the chair on which he wished his nephew to be seated, was courteous and yet commanding.
His complexion was sallow, and appeared the darker from the contrast afforded by the silvery whiteness of his long beard, moustache, and thick bushy eyebrows, from the deep cavities beneath which his dark eyes seemed literally to flash. His nose was aquiline, his cheek-bones prominent. His hands were small, but strong and nervous, with little flesh upon them, and the fingers were long and shapely.
When Harry was seated he resettled himself on the sofa, and, keeping his eyes fixed on the lad, placed the amber mouth-piece of a long spiral tube connected with a narghile which was smouldering on the floor to his lips, and the gurgling sound was once more produced. But to Harry's astonishment, no cloud issued from his uncle's mouth; like a law-abiding factory chimney, he appeared to consume his own smoke. Then, deliberately removing the amber tube which he held in his hand, he said—
"And you are my sister's son? I like your looks, and my heart yearns towards you. Pity that she did not wed with one of her own land, so that you might not have had the blood of the accursed race in your veins. But it was the will of the All-Powerful, and what can we avail against fate?"
What these words meant Harry could not imagine. Were not his parents of the same land and race? His mother was Irish and his father English, and he had no more idea of Irish, Scotch, Welsh, or English being of different races than of the inhabitants of Surrey and Essex being so. They were all Englishmen he had always thought. His bewilderment was by no means diminished when, after this speech, and without again putting the stem of his narghile near his mouth, his uncle raised his head and poured out a volume of smoke, which it would have taken the united efforts of a couple of Germans about five minutes to produce. He was quite veiled by the cloud, through which the gleam of his eyes seemed to Harry to have an almost supernatural effect.
"You are nearly seventeen years of age, and will soon be leaving school," he resumed. "What are they going to do with you then?"
"I have not quite made up my mind what profession I should like," said Harry, somewhat hesitatingly. "I am fond of drawing, and like being out of doors, and so I have thought at times of getting articled to a civil engineer."
"Ay, ay; to aid the march of civilisation, as the cant phrase goes; to bring nations closer together, that they may cut one another's throats when they meet. To make machines do the work by which men earn their living, and so first drive them into cities, and then starve them. Or, perhaps, you will be a lawyer, and learn how to darken language into obscure terms, by which a simple, honest man may be made to sell his birthright without knowing what he is doing. Or a doctor, fighting madly against the decree of the Omnipotent, daring to try to stem the flowing tide of death. If your eyes were but opened, how gladly would you cast off the trammels of an effete society, and follow me to a land where a man can breathe freely. I will give you a horse fleet as the wind, and a sword that would split a hair or sever an iron bar, boy!"
"I have thought I should like the army, too, sir," said bewildered Harry, trying vainly to understand, and catching at the sword and horse as something tangible.
"The army! To be a European soldier! A living machine—the slave of slaves! To fight without a cause, even without an object! To waste your blood in the conquest of a country and the ruin and slaughter of its inhabitants, and then to leave it! Madmen! Ye kill and are killed for nothing; not even plunder."
He drew several long inhalations, repeating the conjuring trick of swallowing the smoke and emitting it several seconds afterwards, for quite ten minutes before he spoke again.
"But the ties of home and kindred are strong," he continued in a calmer tone. "Your mother, your sister, will draw you back from the nobler lot. I know what the love of family is; I, who have returned to this seething cauldron of misery, vice, disease, and degradation which fools call civilisation, and take a pride in, in order to see my sister once more. Partly for that at least. And you are her son, and you have the stamp of the Burke upon your face. Hark you, boy! In the time of Cromwell, not two hundred and fifty years ago, your direct ancestor was a powerful Irish chief, with large domains and many brave men to follow him to battle. When the English came with the cold-blooded, preconceived scheme of pacifying Ireland once and for all by the wholesale massacre of the inhabitants, our grandsire was overpowered by numbers, betrayed, surprised, and driven to his last refuge, a castle but little capable of defence. He was surrounded; his wife and children were with him, all young, one an infant at the breast; and there were other women, helpless and homeless, who had sought shelter within the walls. Therefore, resistance being quite hopeless, our chief offered to surrender. But the English leader replied, 'Give no quarter; they are wild beasts, not men. Burn up the wasps' nest, maggots and all!' They did it; faggots were piled round the building and set on fire, and those who attempted to escape were received on the English spears and tossed back into the flames. The eldest son was away with a detachment at the time, and so escaped the fate which would otherwise have annihilated our race. But his estates were stolen from him and conferred on the murderers, whose descendants hold them to the present day. Have the Burkes best reason to love the English or to hate them?"
Harry Forsyth was a practical youth, who took things as he found them, and he could not even understand how anybody's feelings, much less their actions, should be affected by anything which happened in the days of Oliver Cromwell. He might just as well refuse a penny to an Italian organ-grinder, because Julius Caesar ill-treated the ancient Britons. Besides, he was half a Forsyth, and the Forsyths were probably all English. For all he knew, some old Forsyth might have had a hand in burning up the Burkes. He did not offer any such suggestion, however, but sat somewhat awe-stricken, wondering what this strange uncle would say or do next.
He relapsed into thought, and for some time the silence was only broken by the bubbling of the water in the narghile. When at last he spoke again, it was in a calmer tone of voice, and with eyes withdrawn from his nephew's face.
"Serve not the English Government, civil or military," he said. "Or, if you do, confine yourself to your allotted task. That which is exactly due for the pay you receive, do for honour and honesty's sake. But do no more; show no zeal: above all, trust not to any sense of justice for reward of any work done in excess of the bargain. Incur no responsibility, or you will be made a cat's-paw of.
"Listen. At the time of the Crimean War a young man in the Indian service had a severe illness which obliged him to return to England on furlough. At one of the stations where his ship touched a number of women and children and invalids belonging to a regiment which had gone on to the seat of war were taken on board, and he, according to previous arrangement, was placed in charge of them.
"It came on to blow hard in the Gulf of Lyons, and the old transport strained so that she sprang a leak, which put her fires out. Later on her masts went, and after beating about for several wretched days, she went ashore on a desolate part of the coast of Spain. The officers and crew of the ship behaved well enough, and though many of them, including the captain and chief mate, were lost, nearly all the passengers were safely landed. But though rescued from the sea, there seemed to be every prospect of their perishing from exposure and famine. With great difficulty the officer in charge managed to find some rude shelter and insufficient food for immediate succour, and then, making his way to the nearest town, he applied to the authorities, and being a linguist who included something of the language in which Don Quixote was written amongst his acquisitions, he obtained clothes, food, and a sum of money for present necessities, with the promise of a vessel to transfer the unfortunates to Gibraltar.
"Of course he had lost everything when the ship went to pieces, and he could only get this aid by signing bills and making himself personally responsible. True, he was engaging himself for more than he could perform, but he could neither desert these people who were entrusted to his care, nor stand idly by to see them perish. And he never doubted but that the authorities at home would take the responsibility off his hands. They refused to do so, or rather, worse than that, they drove him about from pillar to post, one official directing him to a second, the second to a third, the third to the first again. And they made him fill up forms, and returned them as incorrect, and broke his heart with subterfuges.
"In the meantime he had to meet the claims, and was impoverished. Then, excited by this infamous treatment, he forced his way into a great man's presence, and was violent, and the consequence of his violence was that he lost his Indian appointment. It was well for him that he did so; but his story will none the less show you what a country England is to serve."
Again there was a long period of stillness, broken only by the hubble- bubble. Gradually the smoker raised his eyes in the direction of his nephew, but Harry saw that he was looking beyond him, not at him. And this gaze became so steadfast and eager that he turned his head to see what attracted it, almost expecting to see a face on the other side of the window.
There was nothing, but still the intense look remained, and it made Harry feel as if cold water was running down his back. His uncle spoke at length, low and slowly at first, more energetically as he went on.
"I see it; the crescent rises; the sordid hordes of the West fall in ruin around. The squalid denizens of cities find the fiendish devices of destruction to which they trust for putting the weak over the strong fail them. Man to man they have to stand, and they fall like corn before the scythe."
He dropped his pipe tube, and slowly rose to his feet, still gazing fixedly at nothing in particular in the same uncanny manner, and bringing his right-hand round towards his left hip, as if ready to grasp a sword-hilt.
"One prophet," he continued, "was raised up for the destruction of idolatry, and wherever he appeared the false gods vanished. There were those who worshipped the True God, but received not his Prophet, and with them Islam has for centuries waged equal war, for their time was not yet come, and the mission of Mohammed was not for them. But the years of probation have expired, and the nations of the West remain in wilful darkness. They receive not the commandments of the Prophet; they drink fermented liquor, they eat the unclean beast, their worship of gold and science has become a real idolatry. Another prophet has arisen for their destruction, and Asia and Africa shall, ere another generation has come and gone, be swept clean of the Infidel. Swept clean! Swept clean! With the scimitar for a besom!"
He remained with his eyes fixed and his lips parted, and Harry did not quite know what to do next. But he summoned courage to rise and say that he hoped his father would have come home by now and as he had not seen him yet, he thought he would go.
Filial affection might surely be taken as a valid excuse for withdrawal. And yet, having had no experience of the etiquette due to prophets when the orgy of vaticination is upon them, he was not quite comfortable on the question of being scathed. There was no need for fear; Sheikh Burrachee was too rapt to heed his presence or absence. He heard not his voice, and knew not when he crossed the room and closed the door softly behind him. He found Trix in the hall looking out for him.
"Well?" she cried.
"Oh, my prophetic uncle!" ejaculated Harry.
"That is a mis-quotation."
"It is not a quotation at all; it is an exclamation, and a very natural one under the circumstances."
"Has he been telling your fortune?" asked Beatrice, her large eyes expanding with the interest which is begotten of mystery.
"Not exactly," replied Harry; "except that he hinted something about the propriety of my choosing the profession of a Bedouin, and, I suppose, making a fortune by robbing caravans. But he told the misfortunes of other people with a vengeance. The Mohammedans are going to turn the Christians out of Asia and Africa everywhere."
"Good gracious, Harry! Why, papa's a director of the Great Transit Bank, and all our money is in it, and it does all its business in the East."
"By Jove! Let us hope the prophet doesn't know, then. But, upon my word, he looked like seeing into futurity. At least, I could not make out what else he was looking at."
"Poor man, he had a sunstroke when he was quite young in India, and has led a queer life amongst savages ever since. But papa has come home and been asking for you. You will find him in the drawing-room."
Harry thought his father thinner and older than when he had last seen him, and asked how he was in a more earnest and meaning manner than is customary in the conventional "How do you do?"
"Do I look altered?" asked Mr Forsyth, quickly.
"Oh, no, father, only a little pale; tired-looking, you know," said Harry, rather hesitatingly, in spite of the effort made to speak carelessly.
"I have not been quite the thing, and have seen a physician about it. Only a little weakness about the heart, which affects the circulation. But do not mention it to your mother or sister; women are so easily frightened, and their serious faces would make me imagine myself seriously ill. Well, how did you get on with your uncle? You see he has turned me out of my private den."
"Is he at all—a little—that is, a trifle cracked, father?"
"A good deal, I should say. And yet he is a very clever man, and sensible enough at times, and upon some subjects. He was most useful to me out in Egypt on several occasions when we happened to meet. A great traveller and a wonderful linguist."
"Was he badly treated by Government? He told me a story in the third person, but I expect that he referred to himself all the time," said Harry.
"Well," replied Mr Forsyth, "it is difficult to tell all the rights of the story. Ever since he had an illness in India, as a very young man, he has been subject to delusions. No doubt he behaved well on the occasion of a certain shipwreck—if that is what you allude to—and incurred heavy expense, which ought to have been made up to him. But I doubt if he went the right way to work, and suspect that his failure was due very much to impatience and wrong-headedness, and the mixing up of political questions with his personal claims. He wrote a book, which made some noise, and caused him to lose his appointment. Then he came to me in Egypt, and was very useful.
"I should have liked him for a partner, but he went off to discover the source of the Nile. He thought he had succeeded, and after a disappearance of some years came back triumphant. But he had followed the Blue Nile instead of the real branch, and the discoveries of Speke, Grant, Livingstone, and Stanley were terribly bitter to him—drove him quite mad, I think. Since then he has identified himself with the Arab race, and seems to hate all Europeans, except his sister and her family. With me he has never quarrelled, and I think remembers that I offered him a home and employment when his career was cut short. What he is in England for now I do not know. Perhaps only to see your mother once more, but I suspect there is something else.
"He writes many letters, and makes a point of posting them himself. I fear that he takes opium, or some drug of that kind, and altogether, though it is inhospitable perhaps to say so, it will be a relief when he is gone, and that will not be many days now."
After leaving his uncle in such a rapt state, it was curious to Harry to see him walk into the drawing-room before dinner in correct evening costume, and not wearing his fez. He was somewhat taciturn, ate very little, and drank nothing but water, but his manners were those of a perfect gentleman. After dinner he retired, and they saw no more of him that evening.
Harry Forsyth had several other interviews with his uncle, who showed more fondness for his company than he had for that of any other member of the family, but who kept a greater guard over himself, and was more reticent than he had been on the occasion of his first interview. He spoke of Eastern climes, war, sport, and scenery, with enthusiasm indeed, but rationally, and Harry grew interested, and liked to hear him, though he never got over the feeling that there was something uncanny about him.
One night, after dinner, when a fortnight of Harry's holidays had elapsed, the uncle, on retiring, asked his nephew to come and see him in the study at eleven on the following morning, and Harry, punctually complying, found him seated on a chair before the large table with three packets before him.
"Sit down, my lad," he said, and the deep musical tones of his voice had an affectionate sadness in them.
"I am going back to my own land to-morrow, and shall never leave it again. But we shall meet, for such is the will of the All-Powerful, unless the inward voice deceives me, as it has never hitherto done. You will, or let us say you may, need my aid. You will learn where and how to find the Sheikh Burrachee—which is my real name—from Yusuff, the sword dealer, in the armourers' bazaar, at Cairo. But you will more certainly do so by applying to the head Dervish at the mosques of Suakim, Berber, or Khartoum. At the last town, indeed, you will have no difficulty in learning where I am, and being conducted to me; and, indeed, in any considerable place above the second cataract of the Nile, you will probably learn at the mosque how and where to obtain the required direction, even if they cannot give it you themselves. If there is hesitation, show the holy man this ring, and it will be removed at once. Should you meet with hindrance in your journey from any desert tribe, ask to be led to the chief, and give him this parchment. He may not be an ally to help you, but he may, and if not, he will probably not hinder you. Lastly, take these three stones, and see that you keep them securely in a safe place, and that no one knows that you possess them. They are sapphires of some value I exact no promise, but I bid you not to part with these for any purpose but that of coming to me. For that, sell them. Should you hear of my death, or should ten years elapse without your coming to me, they are yours to do what you like with. Lest you should forget any part of my directions, I have written them on a paper which is at the bottom of the box containing the sapphires. Come."
Harry rose and stood by his side. His uncle fitted the ring on his fore-finger, put the morocco box containing the sapphires, and the thin silver case, like a lady's large-sized card-case, that protected the written document, into his breast pocket, and then rising himself, rested his two hands on the lad's shoulders, and gazed long and earnestly into his face.
Then turning his eyes upwards, he muttered a prayer in Arabic, after which he gently drew him to the door, and, releasing him, opened it, and said, "Farewell."
MR. RICHARD BURKE VISITS HIS LAWYER.
Mrs Forsyth had another brother, named Richard, living in Ireland. When Ralph Burke—the Sheikh Burrachee of to-day—was in trouble, and lost his Indian appointment, he went to his brother, whom he had not met since boyhood, and who welcomed him at first cordially. But Ralph, possessed by the one idea of injury received from the Government, engaged in seditious plots, and nearly involved his host in serious trouble. The brothers quarrelled about it, and Ralph left in anger, and never afterwards mentioned his brother's name.
Probably he did not know at present whether he was dead or alive. But alive he was, though in failing health. He was the eldest of the family, ten years senior to Ralph, and seventeen to his sister, Mrs Forsyth. In spite of Ralph's story about Oliver Cromwell, the elder brother had some land, though whether it was part of the original estates, or had been acquired since, I know not. He had no tenants, but farmed himself, and was therefore not shot at. The farming consisted principally, however, in breeding horses, in which he was very successful.
It was not that he realised such large profits, or grew rich rapidly, but he always made more than he spent in the course of the year, and invested the balance judiciously. And in twenty years hundreds grow to thousands in that way.
Rather late in life Mr Burke had married a widow with a son, an only child. He lost her early, and, having no children of his own, attached himself to her boy for her sake, and made a will leaving him sole heir to his property, after a legacy had been paid to his sister, Mrs Forsyth, and a provision of 200 pounds a year made for Reginald Kavanagh, an orphan cousin for whom Richard Burke had stood godfather, and was now educating at his own expense, the boy spending all his holidays with him in Ireland, and becoming a greater favourite with him as time went on.
For his step-son, Stephen Philipson, had disappointed him grievously, developing idle, dissipated, and extravagant habits as he grew into manhood. Mr Burke bore with him for some years, hoping that he would sow his wild oats and reform. But instead of this, he became worse and worse, till at last it was evident that he would make the worst possible use of any money which came to him.
And then Mr Burke had an accident in the hunting field, and, while he lay between life and death, his step-son behaved and spoke in a heartless and ungrateful manner, which was reported to him on his unexpected recovery; and in his indignation he determined to take a step which he had for some time contemplated. For, though he was able to get about again, he felt that he had received injuries which would bring him to the grave before very long, and that he would never be the man he had been. And, indeed, when pressed, his doctor did not deny that he had reason for his conclusion.
So as soon as he was strong enough to get about, he wrote to secure a room at the hotel he used in Dublin, and took the train to that city. And the next day called upon his solicitor, Mr Burrows, of the firm of Burrows and Fagan.
Mr Burrows, a sleek little man, particular about his dress, and as proud of his small hands and feet as a cat is of her fur, was waiting for him in his private room.
"I am going to alter my will," said Mr Burke.
"Exactly," said the lawyer, with a slight shrug of the shoulders, which intimated that he was not at all surprised.
"I have drawn up a rough copy of what I want put into legal terms; it is very short and simple; we can get it done to-day, can we not?"
"Certainly, I expect so. Let me see what you wish," replied Mr Burrows, taking the sheet of note-paper.
Now, do not skip, reader, if you please. If you do you will either have to turn back again from a more interesting chapter, or you will fail to follow the thread of my story. I promise not to bore you with legal terms; only read straight on, as Mr Burrows did.
"I revoke my former will. I now leave to two trustees as much money as will yield 240 pounds a year to be paid monthly to Stephen Philipson, the son of my late wife by a former husband. My land to be sold, and that, with the rest of my property, to be equally divided between my sister, Mary Forsyth, or her heirs, and Reginald Kavanagh."
"Not long, certainly, as you have put it," said Mr Burrows, with a smile. "But here is land to be sold, and other descriptions of property to be entered correctly. Can you not give us till the day after to- morrow? If not, I will send the will to you, and you can sign it, and get it witnessed at home."
"No, no; I had sooner remain in Dublin, and get the thing off my mind at once. The day after to-morrow, then, at this time."
"It will be all ready by then."
As he passed through the outer office, the head clerk came from his desk, smiling and bowing obsequiously. He was a young man of dark complexion, and black hair, worn rather long.
"Ah, Daireh, how do you do?" said Mr Burke with a nod, but not offering to shake hands, as the other evidently expected.
Daireh was an Egyptian protege of Mr Forsyth, who had employed him as a boy-clerk, brought him to England with him, and placed him in a lawyer's office. He was clever, sharp, and a most useful servant; and, entering the employ of Messrs Burrows and Fagan, had ingratiated himself with both of them, so that he was trusted to an extraordinary degree. He professed great gratitude to Mr Burke, as the brother-in-law of his benefactor, and as having spoken for him when he was seeking his present engagement. But Mr Burke did not like the look of him. He was prejudiced, however, against all foreigners, especially Greeks and Egyptians, so that his dislike did not go for much. But certainly an acute physiognomist would have said that Daireh looked sly.
Mr Burke had friends to call on, and business to transact, so the delay did not really matter to him; and he called at the lawyer's office again at the appointed time, Daireh, bowing obsequiously as usual, ushering him into Mr Burrows' private room.
"Well, we have put your good English into what you profanely call legal jargon," said that gentleman.
"Just listen, and try to understand your own directions while I read them over."
It was all plain enough, and short enough, in spite of Mr Burrows' little joke, and then Mr Burke put his mouth to a speaking-tube, and called Daireh to come and witness the document. Then there was some signing, and the new will was consigned to the tin box bearing the name of Richard Burke, Esquire, upon it.
"Better destroy the old one," said he.
"Certainly," replied Mr Burrows. "Throw it behind the fire, Daireh."
Then Daireh did a curious thing. He took another parchment, exactly like the old will, out of his breast coat pocket, and managed, unperceived, to exchange it for the document; so that the object which Mr Burke and the lawyer watched curling, blazing, sputtering, till it was consumed, was not the old will at all, but a spoilt skin of some other matter, and the old will was lying snugly in Daireh's pocket.
What motive could he have? What earthly use could this old will be, when one of more recent date lay in that tin box? Daireh could not have answered the question. He kept it on the off-chance of being able to make something out of it. He was a thorough rogue, though not found out yet, and he knew that Stephen Philipson, who had just been disinherited, was both rogue and fool.
So he carried off the now valueless document, which would not eat or drink, he reckoned, and might be put to some purpose some day.
Mr Burke returned home and wrote to his sister, and to Stephen Philipson, telling them what he had done. He did not write about it to Reginald Kavanagh, not thinking it necessary to take from him any inducement to exert himself, for though he was a good-enough lad in most respects, he certainly was not studious. He was also accused by his schoolfellows of what they called "putting on a good deal of swagger," a weakness not likely to be improved by the knowledge of his godfather's kind intentions towards him.
So that altogether Mr Richard Burke was, perhaps, judicious.
FROM GAY TO GRAVE.
Tea was a comfortable meal at Harton in the winter half of the year, when the boys had fires in their rooms, at least, for social fellows who clubbed together. Not but what it is cosy to linger over the meal with a book in your hand, or propped up, as you sit alone at the corner of the table, half turned to the hearth.
But Forsyth, Strachan, and Kavanagh liked to mess together, and Strachan's room being the largest of the three, they selected that to have their breakfast and tea in. All their cups, saucers, and so on, were kept in a cupboard in that room, but toasting or such other light cookery as their fags performed for them was done in their respective apartments, for the avoidance of overcrowding and dispute amongst the operators. Also, when bloaters, sprats, or sausages were in question, it was well not to feed in the room in which the smell of preparation was most powerful.
Though the half was drawing to its close, the evening board was bountifully spread; for Forsyth's birthday had come off two days before, and brought with it a token from home—a wicker token which the Lord Mayor himself would not have despised. There was a ham, succulent and tender; a tongue, fresh, not tinned, boiled, not stewed, of most eloquent silence; a packet of sausages, a jar of marmalade, and, most delicious of all, some potted shrimps. Harry knew, but did not tell, that every one of those shrimps had been stripped of its shell by the hands of Trix, who plumed herself, with unquestionable justice, upon her shrimp-potting. Unfathomable is the depth of female devotion; fancy any one being able to skin a shrimp, prawn, or walnut, and not eat it! The shrimps, the sausages, were gone, the tongue was silent for ever, but the ham and the marmalade remained.
The three friends were the oldest boys in the house, and almost in the school. Two of them, Strachan and Kavanagh, were to leave at the end of the half, and Forsyth was to do so after the next.
"Where's Kavanagh?" said the latter, coming into the room and sitting down by the fire.
"At his tutor's," said Strachan; "he is bound to be in directly. Let the tea brew a bit longer."
"It's uncommonly cold this evening; going to snow, I think. I hate snow in February; there is no chance of real frost for skating, and it spoils the football. Oh, here's Kavanagh."
The youth named strolled deliberately in at the moment, sat down at the table, and began to shave off a slice of ham.
"Has the cold wind made you hungry, or has the effort to understand that chorus in Euripides exhausted you?"
"I never try to understand what I firmly believe to have no meaning whatever," drawled Kavanagh; "and I am never hungry. I consider it bad form to be hungry; it shows that a fellow does not eat often enough. Now the distinguishing mark of a gentleman is that he has too many meals a day ever to feel hungry."
"I see; then you are only carving the ham for us."
"That does not exactly follow. Never jump to conclusions. A fire may not actually require coals, yet you may put some on to keep it going; so it is with a gentleman's stomach. You may take ham to appease hunger, or you may take it to prevent the obtrusion of that vulgar sensation. Not that I object to helping you fellows. The carving of ham is an art, a fourpenny piece representing the maximum of thickness which the lean should obtain. With a carving-knife and fork this ideal is not too easy of attainment, but with these small blunt tools it requires a first-rate workman to approach it. Now this slice, which I sacrifice on the altar of friendship, is, I regret to say, fully as thick as a shilling."
At this moment a little boy, Kavanagh's fag, came into the room bearing a muffin on a toasting-fork.
"Devereux!" said Kavanagh, severely, "do you know what Louis the Fourteenth of France said when his carriage drew up, as he stepped outside his front door?"
"He said, 'I almost had to wait!' Now I, too, say to you that my tea is poured out, my ham cut, and I almost had to wait. Not quite, happily not quite, or the consequences to you would have been—terrible!"
The little boy did not look very frightened, in spite of the tone in which the last word was uttered. Kavanagh had never been known wilfully to hurt anything weaker than himself in his life. As he was tall and strong, this is saying a great deal.
The two other fags grinned; one of them filled up the tea-pot, and then Strachan said "Go!" and all three lower boys vanished in a twinkling to prepare their own teas.
"We shall not have many more teas together," said Forsyth.
"No, but we may dinners," replied Strachan.
"Suppose we all get into the same regiment."
"The job is to get into any regiment at all," said Kavanagh. "There is that abominable examination to be got over. Awfully clever and hard reading fellows get beaten in it every time, I can tell you."
"Well, but I believe it is easier through the Militia than direct into Sandhurst, is it not? And that is the way you and I are going to try. At any rate, then we can go into the same Militia regiment, and that will give us two trainings, besides preliminary drills, and so forth, to have some fun together. And Forsyth must come in too."
"I have not quite made up my mind to go into the army, or rather to try for it, at all yet," said Forsyth. "It seems such a waste of time to sap for it, and then be sold after all. I can never do half so well as I fairly ought in an examination, because I take so long to remember things I know quite well, even if I have plenty of time to think them out. I can learn, but I can't cram, so I fear I should never be in it."
"Oh, have a shy, man; it is only going in for something else if you fail. And there is no life like the army if you succeed."
"If we fail, we fail. 'But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we'll not fail,'" quoted Kavanagh.
"Well, it is very tempting; perhaps I shall try," said Forsyth.
"Look here, then," said Strachan, "there are two vacancies amongst the sub-lieutenants in the fourth battalion of the Blankshire, and my father is a friend of the Colonel. I am to have one, and I have no doubt you, Kavanagh, will get the other. There is almost sure to be another vacancy before the next training, and if there is, don't you think your friends would let you leave Harton at once, and take it? Then you could serve one training this year, and another next year, and be ready to go in for the Competitive at the same time that we do."
"Thanks, old fellow," said Forsyth. "I will talk it over with my people when I go home at Easter, and will let you know as quickly as I can."
"That is settled then. Oh, we won't say good-bye yet awhile."
"It is a strange thing," said Kavanagh, who, having finished his tea, had tilted his chair so that his back leaned against the wall, while his feet rested on another chair, less for the comfort of the position, than to afford him an opportunity of admiring his well-cut trousers, his striped socks, and his dandy shoes; "it is a strange thing that there should only be one career fit for a fellow to follow, and that it should be impossible for a fellow to get into it."
"It sounds rather like a sweeping assertion that, doesn't it?" observed Strachan, who was helping himself to marmalade.
"That is because you do not grasp the meaning which I attach to the word fellow. I do not allude to the ordinary mortal, who might be a lawyer, or a parson, or a painter, or fiddler, or anything, and who might get any number of marks in an examination. I mean by fellows, the higher order of beings, who are only worth consideration; I do not define them, because that is impossible; you must know, or you mustn't know, according to your belonging to them or not. Anyhow, there they are, and everything and everybody else is only of value so far as he, she, or it is conducive to their comfort and well-being. For them the army is the only fit profession, and only a few of them can get enough marks to enter it."
"Am I one of these extra superfines?" asked Strachan.
"You may be, perhaps, if you don't eat too much marmalade."
"Come, you are pretty fond of jam yourself, Kavanagh," cried Forsyth.
"Well, yes; we all have our little weaknesses."
"That reminds me," said Strachan, turning round and poking the fire. "Our school career is drawing to a close, and I have never made my confession. I committed a crime last November which I have never owned, which no one suspects, but which weighs, whenever I think of it, on my conscience."
"Unburden," said Kavanagh.
"Well, then, you may remember that the weather was very mild up to the seventh of the month."
"Don't; but grant it. Go ahead."
"On the eighth of November it grew suddenly colder, and I got out my winter things, and in the afternoon I changed. Having done so, I put my pencil in the right-hand waistcoat pocket. There was something round and hard there—a lozenge? No, a shilling, which had remained there ever since I changed my winter clothes in the spring. Now at that time we were reduced to anchovy paste for breakfast, and our bare rations for tea. Money was spent, tick was scarce, stores were exhausted. Faithful to a friendship which has all things in common. I went out to Dell's and bought a pot of apricot jam for tea, the time for which had arrived. As ill-luck would have it, both you fellows were detained at something or another—French, I rather think. I had to go to my tutor myself at seven, so I could not wait, and began my tea alone. Well, the jam was good, very good, hanged good; I never ate such jam! Had I had quite a third of it? Not quite, perhaps; I gave myself the benefit of the doubt. But, then, the gap looked awful. Happy thought! I would turn it out into a saucer, and you might take it for a sixpenny pot. After all, not expecting any, you would be pleased with that. But it looked rather more than a sixpenny pot, so I had a bit more to reduce. And then—you would not come, and you knew nothing about it. Why make two bites of a cherry? I finished it, threw the pot out of window, and held my tongue. But oh! Next day, when Kavanagh received his weekly allowance, and laid it out in treacle and sprats for the public good, I did indeed feel guilty."
"But you ate the sprats and treacle all the same, I expect."
"I did. I would not shirk my punishment, and flinch from the coals of fire which were heaped on my head. I even enjoyed them. But my conscience has been very sore, and feels better now than it has done for a long time."
"You have not got absolution yet," said Forsyth.
"Not by long chalks," cried Kavanagh. "Jam! And apricot of all jams. If you really want to wipe out the crime you must make restitution."
"Gladly; but would not that be difficult?"
"Not at all; you can do it in kind. At compound interest three pots will clear you, I should say; or, if it don't run to that, say two."
"Two will do," echoed Forsyth. "Who's that at the door?"
"It's me," said a youth—dressed in a chocolate coat with brass buttons—entering the room.
"Oh, happy Josiah!" exclaimed Kavanagh; "careless of rules, and allowing your nominative and accusative cases to wander about at their own sweet will; what pangs would be yours at mid-day to-morrow if you were a scholar instead of a page, and said 'Hominem sum,' or uttered any other equivalent to your late remark! Shades of Valpy and Arnold—'It's me!'"
"Mr Wheeler wants to see you at once," said Josiah, not listening to the criticism on his grammar, and addressing Forsyth.
"My tutor wants to see me? What on earth about, I wonder?"
Obviously, the best way to satisfy his curiosity on this head was to go at once, and this he did.
Mr Wheeler sat at the paper-laden desk in his private study, under the brilliant light of a lamp with a green glass shade over it. There was no other light in the room, which was consequently in shadow, while the tutor was in a flood of illumination.
"Sit down, Forsyth," he said. "I am sorry to say I have bad news for you from home."
"No, no, my boy; bad enough, but not so bad as that. There are money losses. Your father was connected with a bank, and it has been unfortunate. It seems that it was a great shock to him, and he was not in very good health. You may have known that?"
"Yes, sir, yes. I noticed that he looked ill when I went home at Christmas."
"To be sure—yes. Then you will not be surprised at this sudden blow having affected him very seriously?"
Harry could not take it all in at once; he had to sit silent awhile, and let the meaning of his tutor's words sink in. At length he asked—"Is he dead?" And the sound of his own voice uttering the word made him give a sob.
"No," said Mr Wheeler; "he is very ill, and insensible, but living, and while there is life there is hope, you know. People often recover from fits, and this seems to be an attack of that nature. But it is as well that you should go home at once. Put a few things together, and you will catch the 8:30 train. A fly and your travelling money shall be ready by the time you are."
"Thank you, sir," said Harry, and went back to his Dame's House in a dazed state. Strachan and Kavanagh heard him come upstairs, and as he went straight to his own room they followed him.
"Well, have you got the medal for alcaics?" asked Strachan, for they had concluded that that was the news his tutor had for him. But seeing his friend's face he stopped short.
"Something the matter, old fellow, I am afraid," he said. "Bad news from home?"
"Yes," said Harry, in a voice he just kept from faltering. "I must go home to-night; my father is ill."
"I am awfully sorry," said Strachan, uncomfortably, wanting to do something to aid or cheer his friend, and unable to think what. Kavanagh made no remark, but, seeing at a glance how the land lay, took a candle to the box-room, caught up a travelling bag belonging to Forsyth, and brought it down to him just as he was going to call Josiah to find it for him.
It was not long before he got some things into it, and was ready to start. A grip of the hand from each of his friends and he was gone.
What a bad time he had during that short journey; feverishly impatient, and yet dreading to get to the end of it. It was an express train, and he got to London in an hour, and was just in time for another on the short line to his home. So he reached Holly Lodge by eleven. Before he could ring the door opened. Trix was listening for the wheels, and ran to let him in. She had been crying, but was very quiet.
"He is alive, but cannot see or hear," she said. "Come."
His mother was there, and two doctors, who looked very grave. One soon left, but the other, who was the regular medical attendant and a friend, remained, not, as he plainly said, that he could do anything for the sick man, who was dying. And in the course of the night he passed away without regaining consciousness.
But there is no good in dwelling upon that, or on the gloom of the next few weeks. Poor Mr Forsyth had a heart disease, and when the Great Transit Bank came to final smash, the agitation killed him then and there.
For he was quite ruined. It was not only the money he had invested in the bank which was gone, but, as a large shareholder, he was responsible for the enormous sums due to those who had dealt with the bank.
Harry thought at first that they were penniless, and wondered almost in despair how he should be able to support his mother and sister. For he had learned no trade, he was not a skilled artisan, and mere manual labour and clerk-work are, he knew, very poorly paid.
But when Mrs Forsyth had recovered sufficiently from the first shock of her grief to grapple with the cares of every-day life, she showed him that it was not so bad as he had feared.
"There is my five thousand pounds," she said—"my very own, which I had before marriage, and which is secured to me. Two hundred and fifty pounds a year I get from it, and it has always been a little pocket- money which I had, without going to your dear father for every penny. And now we must manage to live upon it."
Of course they had to go into a very small house, and could not take the whole of that. And Harry did not go back to Harton, but began to try at once for immediate employment which might bring some little grist to the mill. And he was more fortunate than young fellows generally are when starting on that heart-breaking search, for he had something to go upon. He went straight to the London representative of the Egyptian house of business with which his father had been connected, told his story, and asked for employment.
"But your father was bought out fully, and you have no claim on us, you know," said the merchant.
"I make no claim, sir," replied Harry; "I ask a favour. I don't know why you should employ me more than anybody else, but still I thought the connection might interest you. My father had a hand in establishing the business, and I had a hope that that might weigh with you, if you have found it a good one."
"Well, you have had a hard trial, and it is to your credit that you want to go to work at once instead of sitting down in despair. The worst of it is that you have been educated at Harton, and can know nothing of what is useful in an office. What sort of hand do you write?"
"A shocking bad one, I fear, but any one can read it. And I am not so very bad at figures. And I am ready to learn. Won't you give me a chance, and pay me nothing till I am useful?"
"There is one thing, at any rate, you have learned at Harton," said the other, with a smile, "and that is to speak up boldly, and to speak out plainly. I was a friend of your poor father's, and shall be glad to help you, since you are reasonable and see matters in their right light. But you must not expect much."
So Harry was taken into the office as a clerk just for a month on trial. And he showed so much zeal and intelligence that he was taken into regular employment at the end of it, and received a five-pound note for his work during the time of probation. And the joy and triumph with which he brought home this, the first money he had ever earned, to his mother and sister in the evening, cheered them all up in a manner to which they had been strangers since ruin and death had fallen upon the household.
Many castles did they build in the air that evening, but they were not extravagant, their highest present ambition being to have the whole cottage, which was but eight-roomed, to themselves, and to keep two maids instead of one. And this, if Harry's salary rose to a hundred and fifty, they thought they might manage. Of course it was a dreary life for him after what he had been accustomed to, but he made the best of it, and really interested himself in Egyptian trade, till he became a connoisseur in gum. His principal recreation was shooting at the Wimbledon butts on Saturday afternoons, he having joined a volunteer corps for that purpose. He had done so at Harton, and was the best shot there. He now had to compete with the best in the world, but he had a marvellous eye, and up to three hundred yards could hold his own with anybody. At any rate he won enough in prizes to pay all his expenses, and a little over.
Even when their resources looked lowest, he never thought of selling the sapphires his mysterious uncle had given him. He did not look upon them as his own till the ten years were up, or to be used for any purpose but that of going to find him. They, together with the silver case containing the parchment and the ring, were locked up in his old- fashioned, brass-bound desk which he kept in his bedroom. Nobody, not even Trix, knew anything about them.
That was the one secret the brother and sister did not share. Beatrice was disrespectful to her Mohammedan relative, and always called him Uncle Renegade till Harry read Byron's "Siege of Corinth" aloud one evening. After that she called him Uncle Alp.
But Harry Forsyth was destined to go to Egypt without needing his uncle. He became more and more trusted by the firm which employed him, and at last it was determined to send him out to the house at Cairo on important business. His absence was a desolation for Mrs Forsyth and Beatrice; but it meant money for one thing, and, what was far more important in the mother's estimation, it was a change for Harry from the gloomy monotony of a London office. As for the future she was under no concern. She knew of Richard Burke's will, and that her children at all events would be comfortably provided for by it, though she herself might not outlive her elder brother.
Harry, as he was actually going to the country to which his uncle had prophesied he would, took to wearing his ring, and carried the silver case in an inner waistcoat pocket. The sapphires he left in his desk.
"WAYS THAT ARE DARK AND TRICKS THAT ARE VAIN."
While the Forsyth family was passing through its time of trial there had been other chops and changes going on in the lives of those with whom their fortunes were more or less connected. Mr Richard Burke had still further declined in health, and could not be expected to last long; but what was unexpected by those who knew them both was that he outlived his legal adviser, Mr Burrows, who was attacked with pleurisy, which carried him off soon after he had made Mr Richard Burke's last will.
His son came into his place, but he was a mild and not very intelligent young man, not long out of his articles, and very dependent upon Daireh, who knew all the details of his father's clients' business, and was so deferential and obsequious, that he made him think very often that he had originated the course of conduct which the wily Egyptian had suggested. As for the other partner, Fagan, he confined himself entirely, as he always had done, to the criminal and political part of the business.
Daireh was a bachelor, living in lodgings, and might have saved money to a reasonable extent in a modest way. But he was anything but modest in his desire for wealth, and the law would have given a very ugly name to some of the transactions by which he sought to acquire it if they had but come to light.
One February afternoon he left the office rather earlier than usual, and after a hurried dinner repaired to his lodgings, where he mixed himself a strong glass of whisky. Then he took a flask of glass and leather with a metal cup fitting to the bottom, and, unlocking a bureau, took out of a drawer a small phial.
He listened; went to the door—opened it, and looked out on the staircase; shut it again, locked it, and returned to the bureau. His hand shook so that he took another pull at his grog, and then uncorking the phial he poured the contents into the flask, filled it up with whisky, screwed the top on, and put it into his pocket.
Then he went out once more, and bent his steps to a railway station, where he took a ticket to a small country place about an hour's ride from Dublin. It was growing dark when he arrived, but there was a moon, and the sky was fairly clear from clouds.
He walked for a mile along the road, and then turned off by a path which crossed a moor, and pursued this until he came within sight of a small disused quarry, from which all the valuable stone had been long ago carried.
As Daireh approached the place he clapped his hands three times, and a man came out of the shadow into the moonlight.
"Stebbings, is that you?" said Daireh.
"Yes, it is," replied the other, sulkily. "No thanks to you for having to skulk like a fox. As I told you in my letter, the police are after me, and if I cannot get out of the country I'm done."
"What made you come to Ireland, then? It would have been just as easy to have shipped abroad."
"Because I wanted to see you, for I couldn't trust you to send me a farthing."
"How was it? You must have managed very badly."
"The numbers of those bonds were known, though you were so sure they could not be, and they are advertised, and traced to having passed through my hands. That is certain to bring it out that I passed the forged cheque, too. Bad management yourself! However, there's no good in blaming one another. Have you got the two hundred?"
"It is a large sum; but still, if it will get you out of your scrape, I will make the sacrifice. Only—"
"Get me out of my scrape! If I am taken, my fine fellow, you will be taken too."
"Why, what good would it do you to pull me in with you?" asked Daireh.
"You know precious well. If all the facts came out I should get about two years, and you fourteen at least. You actually took the bonds; you forged the cheque. I was only your tool, employed to cash the things."
"And am I to have you sucking me like a leech all my life?" cried Daireh in a shrill voice, stamping his foot.
"That is as it may be; you must take your chance of that. Perhaps you had sooner I gave myself up and told the whole story. I am not sure that it would not be the best thing for me to do."
"That is nonsense. Here is the money. You know how to get to South America, you said."
"Ay, I know. If the police have not tracked me here; and I think I have given them the slip," said Stebbings, counting the notes before putting them away. "Now the sooner you are off the better."
"It is a chilly night," said Daireh, producing his flask, "and I am going to have a sup of whisky. Will you have a drop?"
"Don't mind if I do," replied Stebbings.
And the Egyptian filled the metal cup and handed it to him.
"Here's better luck," he said, taking a mouthful.
Then suddenly he spat it out again.
"No, hang me, if I will trust you!" he cried. "And there is a queer taste about it, too!"
"What nonsense!" said Daireh, forcing a laugh. "It is good whisky, very good; I had a glass just before I left. Well, good-night, for all your bad suspicions."
And Daireh walked quickly away in the direction of the road which led to the station. When he was well hidden from the quarry he poured away the rest of what was in the flask.
"If he had but swallowed it," he muttered fiercely between his teeth, "I should have been two hundred pounds richer, and safe!"
When he went to the office in the morning, one of the under clerks told him that Mr Burke was dead, and Mr Burrows was wanted to go over as soon as he could.
"All right," said Daireh, "I will tell him when he comes. Where are those papers about the Ballyhoonish Estates? In his private room, I think."
He passed in, and without hesitation took out a pass key which unlocked a drawer where all the keys of the deed boxes were. Selecting that belonging to the Burke box, he opened it; took out the will, put it in his pocket; locked, and replaced the box; put the keys back in the drawer, and locked that, and walked out with the documents he had spoken of under his arm. It had not taken him more than three minutes to do the whole thing.
His plan was this. He had now both wills in his possession. He did not exactly know where Stephen Philipson was to be found, but he was sure to turn up now, and he would make terms with him for destroying the second will and producing the first, which was in his favour. But he would not destroy the second will, but keep it to extort more money out of him with it. Also, if Philipson were to die—and his habits were such that he was not likely to be long lived—he would find out Mary Forsyth or Reginald Kavanagh, the persons interested, and see what they would give for the document, the loss of which had disinherited them.
When Mr Burrows came in and received the news of Mr Burke's death, his first idea was to open the deed box bearing his name, to see if there was a will there. Finding none, he called Daireh, and asked him if he knew of any such document. Yes, Daireh said, he did; he had witnessed one not so many months ago. He fancied Mr Burke had taken it away with him, but he was not sure. It might be well to look in the deed box. Mr Burrows had already done that? Ah, then, no doubt Mr Burke had taken it. Had made another since, very likely; he believed Mr Burke was constantly altering his mind about the disposal of his property. But no doubt Mr Burrows would find a will among the papers at the house.
But Mr Burrows didn't, and Daireh, as he went home that evening, bought a large piece of oil silk, in which he afterwards wrapped each of the two wills separately. Then he spent a considerable portion of the evening in making two large pockets inside a new waistcoat, one on each side, between the lining and the cloth, and each of these was to contain a will.
Stephen Philipson heard of his step-father's death, and soon appeared at the office to know if the old man had really been as good, or bad, as his word, and cut him off with a mere allowance. He asked to see Daireh, with whom he had had a good many transactions.
"That was a real will, was it?" he asked.
"Real enough. I witnessed it."
"But it cannot be found, I hear."
"Oh, it will turn up at the funeral, never fear."
"I wish it might not."
"Because then, by the old will, I should come in for the lot."
"But if the old will is not forthcoming, or the new one, or any other, the property devolves to the heir-at-law, Ralph Burke, and you will not even get your allowance."
Philipson, whose nervous system was considerably shattered, was so affected by this consideration, that Daireh thought it better to revive him with a dram of hope.
"If I can see you privately, without fear of interruption, I may be able to give you a useful hint," he said. "The funeral takes place on Saturday, and if nothing is heard of a will then I will meet you next day. Where are you staying?"
Philipson gave his present address and left, thinking to himself as he walked up the street—
"I wonder what bit of roguery that scoundrel is up to now? If he has got anything good for me I shall have to pay rarely for it. Well, I am in too bad a way to care much for that; but he shall not bring me within the reach of the law. I have no fancy for going to jail, where there's no liquor to be got—not likely. None of that, Mr Nigger. If he will take the risk I will pay the piper, and that is a fair enough division, I think. But I wonder what his little game is!"
But Daireh never made that Sunday call on Philipson. For on Saturday evening he heard a cry in the streets—"Important Arrest! Great Bond Robbery! Scandalous Disclosures!"
He invested a penny in the evening paper, and carried it up to his room.
His fears were verified. It was Stebbings who had been arrested. He had thought much about what he would do in such a case, and kept his wits about him. Of course, the "Scandalous Disclosures" heading was premature—inserted, indeed, to give a fillip to the sale of the paper. But the disclosures would certainly come very soon, and there was no time to be lost.
He destroyed a good many letters and papers; stowed all his money, and documents which meant money, about his person; packed a small valise which he could carry in his hand, and started for the station. He crossed the Channel that night, and got to Liverpool early on the following morning. He knew—so carefully had he laid his plans—that there was a trading vessel, with accommodation for two or three passengers, which was advertised to start from the port of Liverpool for Trieste that afternoon, and he would be unusually unlucky if he could not get a passage in her. He found, indeed, no difficulty about that, and might go on board at once if he liked.
Before he did so, however, he had a good meal on shore, and wrote a letter to Mr Burrows regretting that he was forced to absent himself, without leave, from the office. And then, his imagination warming as he sat pen in hand, he told how his poor father, a stranger, speaking little English, had arrived in London, and been there seized with a serious illness; that he had not received the news till the night before, and had started at once to see that his aged parent received proper attention.
When the letter was finished, he went to the railway station and found a guard, whom he asked whether he was going to London that night. The guard said he was.
"Then I wish you would do me a favour," said Daireh. "A lady—a friend of mine—wants to send a valentine to a man in Ireland, and is anxious to mystify him. She has got me to direct it, and would like it to have the London post-mark. Will you drop it in for her?"
He tendered the letter and a shilling, which the guard took with a grin and an "All right, sir," and the foxy Egyptian walked back to the quay, having done his best to put the police on a wrong scent when the revelations of Stebbings should set them trying to track him. At the same time he felt that he was taking needless trouble, making assurance doubly sure; for, once at home in Alexandria, for which place he was bound, he would be safe enough. Or, if there were any fear, he had only to go up the Nile to Berber, where he had relatives, and what detective dare follow him there, or dare touch him even if he did?
A more anxious consideration was—how to make any profit out of the wills which he had stolen. To treat for their restitution, or even for that of the last and true one, would be a very ticklish operation indeed. I think it is really the worst part about rogues that they are so utterly selfish, and regardless of the misery they inflict upon other people, even when they cannot benefit themselves by it. If Daireh had had an ounce of good nature in his composition, he would have torn up the old will and sent back the new one, now there was so poor a chance of his making money out of his scheme.
But that idea never even occurred to him. I am glad to say, however, that he had a bad voyage, and suffered much from sea-sickness.
The fierce sun was declining towards the west, and it was becoming possible to breathe and move about with a little more comfort on board the somewhat cumbrous vessel, fitted with huge lateen sails, which went swinging down the Nile between the lofty black rocks near Samneh. I say fitted with the sails, not borne along by them, for the stream just there took all the carrying power upon itself, rushing along its narrowed channel like a mill race.
High above rose a hill, on the top of which was a temple, entire, with a balcony round it, heedless of the lapse of ages. There is some little difference between the ancient and modern ideas of substantial building.
They had no ninety-nine year leases in the time of the Pharaohs; if there were such things at all, nine thousand would probably be nearer the mark.
Harry Forsyth sat on the deck admiring the different points as they went by, and delighting in the glorious pace at which they were going; a great contrast to their sluggish progress earlier in the day, when the river was broad, placid, and leisurely, and there was hardly a breath of wind stirring to urge them on.
He had been entrusted with a trading expedition as far as Dongola, carrying merchandise and exchanging it for gum, and ostrich and marabout feathers. He had been allowed a little venture on his own account, and had embarked it all in the latter article of commerce—marabout feathers—and had been rather lucky in his bargain. On returning to Cairo he expected to go back to England, and that made him none the less glad to be spinning along so quickly.
"I wish we could go like this all the way, Hassib," he said to the Nubian sitting by him; "we should soon get home then, eh?"
"We shall go faster than this when we come to the cataract," said Hassib, with a grin; for there was a joke here. Harry on the way up had not shown any liking for the cataracts. In fact, had preferred, under pretence of shooting doves, to walk round while the operation of towing the vessel up took place.
He and Hassib conversed in a queer lingo, for Harry was trying his hardest to learn Arabic, but had to eke it out at present with a good many English and French words. Hassib had a smattering of both those languages, and after a little practice they got on glibly enough.
But I am sure you will pardon my translating the palaver between this supercargo and the reis or captain of the boat. The reis was the proper companion for Harry, being a respectable fellow, and wearing some clothes. Harry himself was dressed in a linen suit of European cut, with a tarboosh or red cap on his head, with a turban twisted round it. Not elegant, but sovereign against sunstroke they told him.
"I wish I could get a crocodile," he said. "Every day we get lower down the river there is less chance."
"Plenty of them yet. There is an island near where we stop to-night where there are always many crocodiles."
"And do you think that I shall get one?"
Hassib thought a bit over this, and then replied gravely—
"If it is the will of Allah that you should get a crocodile, you will get a crocodile. If it is not the will of Allah that you should get a crocodile, you will not get a crocodile."
There was no gainsaying this. Mohammedan races are fond of propounding truisms with an air of having evolved a new idea out of their unassisted brains, and that is why people often think them so very wise.
"You see," said Harry, after bowing his head in assent to the last proposition, "I promised my mother a crocodile, and it seems so absurd to go up the Nile and not be able to get one. Then they are all white, and I expected them to be black."
"White men call the devil and crocodiles black; black men call them white," replied Hassib, who was a wag. "You now see which is right."
"Good again; that is one for me!" laughed Harry. "But I should really like to get one if I could."
"And the English think the crocodile such a pretty ornament!" said Hassib. "It is a strange taste."
And then Harry thought for the first time where on earth would they put the crocodile if they got it. But that was a future consideration.
"Shall we shoot the cataract to-night?" he asked, presently.
"No," said Hassib, "there will not be light enough. We shall anchor for the night soon, and start at daybreak."
The river soon grew broader and calmer, and in half an hour they came to the place where they were to remain, and cast anchor.
Harry went ashore with his rifle, in hopes of a shot at the amphibious creatures, and his fishing tackle to keep him in patience while he was waiting for it. Hassib accompanied him to point out the place he had mentioned where the monsters were wont to lie.
For some time he got neither a shot nor a bite; but presently there came a tremendous tug at his line. The fish tugged, and Harry tugged, and the line being strong enough to hold a whale nearly, it seemed to be a question whether Harry pulled the fish out, or the fish pulled Harry in. In fact it was a regular tug of war.
Harry was the victor, and his opponent came to bank with a bound and flop.
"By jove! I have got a crocodile after all!" cried Harry, jumping back, as a hideous thing four feet long, and having the same number of legs, and a tail, seemed making towards him. The reis, laughing in a manner most contrary to our notions of the staid impassive Arab, began hammering the creature with a stick, until it lay quiet enough.
"What is it?" asked the captor, approaching cautiously.
"A big lizard," replied Hassib, "so your learned white men say; 'alligator lizard' I heard one call it. But it is really a thing that comes out of an addled crocodile's egg."
Harry looked up quickly, but the reis was perfectly grave. And on such occasions he always pretended to believe, whether he did or no. Hassib was quite confident of the correctness of his information, and how could it be disproved, or, for that matter, why should it be?
The sun was now very low on the horizon, and would soon take its sand- bath. Hassib laid his hand on Forsyth's arm and ducked behind a mound on the edge of the bank. Harry did the same.
"One, two, five, seven," counted Hassib. Harry peeped, and saw that mystic number of grey crocodiles lying on the island where he had been looking for them.
The nearest was about two hundred yards off. By stalking him along the bank, as he was not quite opposite, he got perhaps thirty yards nearer. As has been said, he was a really first-rate rifle-shot, and the prospects of that crocodile could not be considered rosy.
Scales are hard, but so are conical bullets. Harry took a steady aim at what he had been taught to consider the most vulnerable part get-at- able, and pulled. Crack! Smack! He heard the ball tell as plainly as if it were on an iron target. But the absurd crocodile acted as all the others he had shot at had done: he rolled over into the water and disappeared, and the other six kept him company.
"He is killed! Oh, he is killed!" cried the reis, much excited. "He will float soon, you will see. When they are shot dead their bodies soon float."
Whether this creature was an exception, or was not shot dead, or was carried down to the cataract before he got to the floating stage, and so came up where no one wanted him, cannot be said. But they saw him no more, and he was numbered among the partridges who have gone away to die, and the rabbits that were hit so hard, but crept away into holes!
Going back to where the boat lay they found another lying near her, which had been dragged up the last bit of the cataract and brought up so far since their arrival, while the crew had gone ashore and lit a fire, round which they were gathered.
Forsyth and Hassib went up to them for news, but there was not much. Alexandria was being rebuilt after the bombardment; Arabi's insurrection was quite over, and Mohammed Tewfik Pasha firmly established. The English soldiers were leaving, and the country would soon be quit of them entirely.
"Not it," said one of the new-comers, who seemed to be a passenger. Certainly not a sailor, for his hands were delicate, and he lacked manliness when compared with the others of the party. "The English will not be so easy to get rid of, make sure of that."
And one of the others said to Hassib, alluding to the speaker—
"You knew his father; this is Daireh."
"And I knew him as a boy," said Hassib.
"It is years since I left," said Daireh.
Here Reouf the pilot joined the group, and he, too, was a friend of the family, and was made known.
Harry Forsyth, seeing that old acquaintances had met after an absence, kept in the background, and lit his pipe. He listened indeed, but simply to try what words of Arabic, in which the conversation was being held, he could pick up, not from any interest or curiosity which he felt in the subject of their talk.
"Quite a boy when you went to England," said Reouf; "and yet I think I can recognise you. Do you remember you went in my diabeheeh from Berber home to Alexandria?"
"Have you been to Berber lately? Are my people there well?"
"I was there less than a year ago, and all was well with them. You are journeying there now?" said Reouf.
"I am," replied Daireh. "I returned from the land of exile to visit my home, hoping to share my hard-earned gains with my own people, when what did I find? Ruins in the place of my home, my family dispersed, my father slain by the English."
"Not so," said Hassib. "I heard of the misfortune; but it was by the hand of Arabi's soldiers that he fell; not that of the English. Arabi's soldiers, or plunderers who called themselves such. The English sailors caught them red-handed, and hung them up for it then and there."
"May their graves be defiled, whoever they were," said Daireh. "I have no friends now except at Berber."
Harry made out a good deal of this, and his heart bled for the Egyptian, coming back as he thought to a home, to find nothing but desolation, and to be driven out again from his native land. For there is nothing in common between the Egyptian and the Nubian but religion. The former race affects to despise the latter, and the latter really despises the former. And with reason.
So when he rose to go back to his diabeheeh (Nile boat), he bade him good-night in English, and expressed regret for the grievous disappointment and sorrow he had experienced. And Daireh said of course it was a great affliction, but he hoped to make a new home in the Soudan. And so they parted, courteously enough.
The diabeheeh Daireh was travelling by had sustained some injury from a sharp rock during the process of being hauled up the cataract, and the crew were going to remain where they were for the purpose of repairs. So when a sudden red flush burst on the eastern horizon, and spread and deepened till it seemed as if a large city was on fire, and Hassib, recognising this as the dawn, began kicking his lazy sailors into wakefulness, the down-stream boat was the only one which made preparations for a start.
By the time the anchor was up and the sails hoisted, however, there was some movement on board the other diabeheeh, and parting greetings were exchanged. Harry Forsyth, seeing the man who had excited his compassion the night before on deck, waved his hand to him and shouted good-bye! And the other returned the salutation. And the local pilot for the second cataract took the helm, and the vessel entered the boiling waters, and was whirled in apparent helplessness, though really guided with great skill amidst innumerable rocks, any one of which would have crushed her like an egg-shell.
And Harry, in the excitement and anxiety of the passage, forgot all about the casual traveller from whom he had just parted. Little did he dream that that man carried in his breast the document upon which his fortune depended, and the obtaining of which would establish his mother and sister in comfort, besides changing all the future prospects of his old friend Kavanagh. And Daireh, had he but known that the Englishman he had just parted from was Harry Forsyth, what a lucky opportunity he would have esteemed it for making a bargain, and securing at least some profit out of what threatened to be the barren crime he had committed.
For though it was not to be expected that the poor clerk and agent should have command of sufficient funds to pay even the more moderate ransom which he was now prepared to accept, he had formed all his plans for eventually securing it. Something of course would have to be trusted to the pledged word of the man with whom he treated, but though he had no scruples about breaking his word, or his oath, indeed, for that matter, himself, he knew well that other people had, and had before traded, not without success, on what he considered a foolish weakness.
But the chance was gone both for the robber and the robbed. They had met, and not known it, and now their paths diverged more widely every minute.
Is there any truth in the notion of people having presentiments? Whether or no, certainly Forsyth had none, for he was only too eager to get back to Cairo. And the boat went well, though not fast enough for his impatience, making a quick trip of it.
His employers were well satisfied with the result of their venture, and Harry himself made as much as he expected out of his marabout feathers.
Shortly afterwards, as had been arranged, he sailed for England, and had a warm greeting from his mother and Trix, though he did not bring the promised crocodile.
And then he learned that his uncle, Richard Burke, was dead, and that his will had mysteriously disappeared, as well as the confidential clerk of the Dublin solicitors who had charge of it, who was therefore supposed to have taken it.
"We would not write to you about it," said Mrs Forsyth, "because you were on your way home, and the will might have been found in the interim. But it hasn't."
IN FARNHAM PARK.
Church parade was over, and quiet reigned in the camp of the Fourth Battalion Blankshire Regiment, which was undergoing its annual training at Aldershot.
A young man in civilian clothes sat at breakfast in the officers' mess- tent. He was a visitor and guest, who had no obligation to early rising, so he lay snug till the band, marching the Church of Englanders off at nine o'clock, roused him and then performed a leisurely toilet.
And now he, the subaltern of the day, and the officer who was to take the Roman Catholics, had the tent to themselves. The former was some distance off, the latter sat next to him.
"I came only just in time for mess yesterday, so we had no opportunity for a private chat," said the one in plain clothes. "But I have a lot to say to you."
"Well, look here," replied the other, "my parade is at eleven; the dress bugle has just gone for it. I shall be back by half-past twelve. Then we will have lunch and go for a walk, you, I, and Strachan, if you like."
"I should like it very much, though how you can expect me to eat lunch after such a breakfast as this at such a late hour, I cannot imagine."
"Oh, the air here is wonderful for the appetite. Not like London and Egypt, which seem to be your haunts."
"And the unaccountable disappearance of this will of uncle Richard's, Kavanagh, has it put you in a very big hole?"
"Not just yet. The dear old man felt himself failing, and thought he might forget me as weeks went on. So, instead of sending a quarterly cheque, he paid my allowance for the whole year into the agent's hands. So kind and thoughtful of him, was it not? But for the future, of course, it will be rather awkward for me if the will does not turn up. I go in directly after the training for the Competitive Examination, and so does Strachan. We have both passed the Preliminary, and shall have served our two trainings. Well, if I pass, it will be hard enough to live on my pay, but I must get into the Indian or Gold Coast Services, and try it that way. If I don't succeed, why then I have no idea what to do next. At least, I have an idea, but there is no need to think it out till the necessity comes."
"What do you think of your chance?"
"Well, my coach thinks it doubtful. He has known fellows get their commissions who were worse up than I am, and he has known fellows fail who were better up than I am. It depends on the lot of competitors, and also on their quality, and a little bit on luck. There is a good bit of luck in having the questions you have crammed set, you know."
"I can imagine there must be. And how about Strachan?"
"Well, if he has not got a good bit in hand, I am not in it, that's all. He could give me a hundred marks and a beating. However, I fancy that he must be safe. But there is the Fall-in; I must be off."
As Kavanagh left the tent Strachan came into it.
"Well, old fellow, and how did you sleep?" he asked.
"Not badly," said Forsyth. "I fancy? Should have been still at it but for that big drum of yours."
"Hush! It is lucky the Colonel is not here. Never speak of the big drum in that irreverent tone to him, I pray. It would well-nigh give him a fit. The big drum is his fetish, though he nearly smashed it himself last year."
"How was that?"
"We were out on the Queen's Birthday, and had to fire a feu de joie. Rattle up the front rank, rattle down the rear rank, three times, you know. The horses hate it, and the chief had a young one who did not like ordinary firing very well, though he had got him in hand for that. But the roll was too much for the gee's nerves; he went wild with terror, bolted slap through the band, and finally reared up till he rolled over. It looked as if the Colonel was under him, and those who went to help thought him smashed. But he got up, and said, with a face of intense anxiety—
"'Is the big drum safe?' But, I say, how jolly it is to meet you again, old fellow. Don't you remember that last evening at Harton, we said we were sure to meet, we three; and here we are, you see. But, I say, this is a bad story for Kavanagh about this will being missing, is it not? Bad for you, too, though. Your mother was in it, was she not?"
"Yes; but as the testator's sister she will come in for something, probably, anyhow. True, it is mostly land, and I believe an uncle abroad will inherit that. But I don't know the legal rights of the matter yet quite. Anyhow, she has something of her own, and I have learned how to get work and earn my bread by it. So all round it is worse for Kavanagh. What is his chance of passing?"
"Not very good, I fear," said Strachan. "I don't feel safe, and I have read more than he has. And he is such a good fellow! He was awfully sorry about Mr Burke's death, but made no trouble whatever of the missing will. That is, of course, he thought the prospect of being penniless a great bore, but he never got into low spirits, or worried others about it. And with his tastes and ideas, too!"
"Yes," said Harry; "fellows at Harton used to think him a tremendous swell. And those who did not know him were apt to take a prejudice against him. 'Lady Kavanagh' some called him, you remember. But we must have a long talk, we three, for my time is short; I must go back to-morrow. Kavanagh proposed a walk after lunch."
"Certainly, if you like. We generally walk over to Farnham on a fine Sunday afternoon: where the bishop's palace is."
"I know. I have often heard of Farnham, and should like to see it," said Harry. And others coming in, the conversation became general.
Then lunch time arrived, and was on the table very punctually, though Harry did not want anything. But with the majority, who had breakfasted before eight, it was different. Kavanagh came in ready dressed for the walk, and expressed impatience at Strachan being still in uniform.
"I have got to pay my company," explained Strachan; "but I shall do it directly the dinners are over, and then it won't take me five minutes to change." And he was as good as his word, for by a quarter to two he was ready to start.
It was a fine afternoon and a pretty walk; round the end of the Long Valley by Cocked Hat Wood, skirting the steeple-chase course; through shady lanes to the wild furze-clad common land; up the sides of the hill range, where the old Roman encampments can still be clearly traced.
"This one looks precious modern," said Harry, doubtfully.
"Oh, the engineers may have been digging about a bit. And this certainly is a modern shelter trench. There are battles fought here, you know, whenever the generals are too lazy to go as far as the Fox Hills," said Strachan, irreverently.
"But look at the view. Over there to the left, where you see the queer- shaped black wood, is Sir Walter Scott's novel—what's his name: the first one and the least interesting; at least, I could never get through it."
"Waverley," said Kavanagh. "Don't expose your ignorance and want of taste, Strachan. You could not see the abbey if we went there, Forsyth, or else I should have proposed it. But the grass is not cut yet, and till it is no one may go to the ruins. That is Farnham Park below us. Yonder is the Hog's Back."
A pretty road led them down to the park paling, which they skirted till they came to a ladder stile, which they crossed into the park, close to the solid old-world walls and towers of the bishop's castle.
"What splendid trees!" cried Harry, as the three old friends settled themselves comfortably under one of them. "I don't know when I have seen such beeches."
"Very condescending of you to admire anything in England, such a traveller as you have been," said Strachan. "And you have been to Egypt? I envy you; I have always longed to see Egypt."
"There are more unlikely things than that when you are in the Line. Things are not settled there yet."
"Why, Arabi's insurrection is completely quelled, and he is a prisoner. And the Government will have nothing to do with the Soudan business, they say."
"Who is they? One set of theys say so, and another set of theys say we can't help having to do with it, let the Quakers say what they will. For my part, I hope all will be quiet," said Forsyth.
"Quiet!" cried Strachan. "Why, if there is no war there will be fewer vacancies, and I am less likely to get my commission in the Line!"
"Modest youth! So you want some tens of thousands of fellow-creatures to be slaughtered, palms and fruit-trees to be destroyed, and a whole country made desolate and miserable for years, and millions upon millions of pounds drained from the British tax-payer, in order that you may get your commission with a little less trouble! You remind me of the reasonable prayer in the poem—
"'Oh, gods! Annihilate both Time and Space To make two lovers happy.'"
"Oh, bother! I don't look so deep into things as that," said Strachan; "I can't declare a war, and I would not take the responsibility if I could; but if it comes and does me good, I can't help liking it. It is like winning a wager—I am sorry the other chap should lose, but I am consoled by the reflection that I win."
"Exactly," said Harry; "and I strongly expect that I should lose by any disturbance in the Soudan, and that Kavanagh would too. It is a long story; but you are such an old friend that it won't bore you, Strachan, though it does not concern you personally. You both know all about the will and its mysterious disappearance, so I need not recapitulate that. Well, I have been to Ireland and seen the lawyers—Burrows and Fagan. I could not make much of Burrows, who is a duffer; but Fagan has his wits about. He had never had to do with that branch of the business, but now the credit of the firm was at stake he busied himself in making searching and pertinent inquiry. A sharpish boy-clerk was certain that the will was left at the office, and kept in the Burke deed box in the late Mr Burrows' time; and, when closely pressed and questioned, the present Burrows recalled having seen it there since he came into the partnership. Then the question arose—Who could profit by its disappearance? The answer was, if a former will were in existence, Philipson—my uncle's son-in-law, who was his original heir—would. But the old will is not forthcoming either, and Philipson is done both ways, for he neither gets the property left him by the first will, nor the allowance secured to him by the second. Indeed, he is barely existing on small sums advanced him by a speculative solicitor on the chance of one of the wills turning up. I saw a lot of Philipson: such a jolly nose—like a big red truffle. He said he was certain the late head clerk—a chap of Egyptian or Arab extraction, named Daireh—had got the will, or wills, having abstracted them after my uncle's death, because he had hinted at being able to tell him how to find them, and had appointed the Sunday to meet him, but had failed to keep tryst, and had disappeared. All this had to be wormed out of Philipson, who spoke very reluctantly at first. And I suspect he is as big a rascal as the other, and was in a plot with him to destroy will Number 2, and prove will Number 1, only the other would not trust him, but wanted money down. The reason he did not keep his appointment is evident, for the police wanted him for forgery about a fortnight later, and of course he had found out that he was discovered, and made tracks at once without waiting to come to terms with Philipson. The police have tried to track him everywhere without hitting on a ghost of a clue beyond London, from which place a letter was sent to his employers. But I know the direction in which to look for him."
"You do?" cried Kavanagh, much interested.
"Yes. The ugly beggar was vain, and liked being photographed, so there were lots of his likenesses extant. I was certain I knew the face from the first, and I soon was able to associate it with that of a fellow I passed on the Nile just above the Second Cataract. He was going up, and I was coming down, and I did not see very much of him; but I would swear to his ugly face anywhere."
"And you heard where he was going?" asked Strachan.
"Yes, to Berber. And I know natives who know him, so I have a good chance of tracking him; and if he don't produce the will he shall eat stick."
"Let him eat a little stick, as you poetically call it, even if he does produce the will. I think a hundred on his feet, or any suitable portion of his person, might have a good moral influence upon him," said Kavanagh. "Oh, to have the handling of the bamboo!"
"We have got to catch the beggar first," said Harry.
"And are you going after him really?" said Kavanagh.
"Or are you only chaffing? It seems a wild goose chase."
"Yes, I am going," said Harry; "and I think better of our chances than you seem to do. In the first place, I have picked up a smattering of Arabic, and that is a help; and then I have friends who can give me recommendations to the Egyptian authorities in any town which is held for the Khedive on the Upper Nile, and I am pretty confident I can make them help me."
"But suppose this fellow has not got the will, or has destroyed it, or has hidden it somewhere, and won't tell?"
"That would be hard lines for you, Kavanagh, and I hope better things. But even in that case it would not follow that my journey would be useless to myself. I have got a crazy uncle, a brother of uncle Richard, who is heir-at-law if a will is not forthcoming. He has turned Mohammedan, and lives like an Arab, and I believe has considerable authority amongst them. He was in England the last Christmas we were at Harton, and I saw him in the holidays, and he gave me directions how to find him if ever I wanted, for he took a fancy to me, and wanted me to go and live as he does. With all his eccentricity, he has a strong love for his sister—that is my mother, you know—and if he could be told that his brother was dead, and that he had made a will in his sister's favour which had been stolen, by which means he had become heir to the Irish property, I am convinced he would try to do something to set matters straight. Anyhow, it is worth trying."