"Laden with Golden Grain"
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EDITED BY CHARLES W. WOOD.
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January to June, 1891.
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RICHARD BENTLEY & SON, 8, NEW BURLINGTON STREET, LONDON, W.
Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty.
All rights reserved.
LONDON: PRINTED BY OGDEN, SMALE AND CO. LIMITED, GREAT SAFFRON HILL, E.C.
THE FATE OF THE HARA DIAMOND. Illustrated by M.L. GOW.
Chap. I. My Arrival at Deepley Walls Jan II. The Mistress of Deepley Walls Jan III. A Voyage of Discovery Jan IV. Scarsdale Weir Jan V. At Rose Cottage Feb VI. The Growth of a Mystery Feb VII. Exit Janet Hope Feb VIII. By the Scotch Express Feb IX. At "The Golden Griffin" Mar X. The Stolen Manuscript Mar XI. Bon Repos Mar XII. The Amsterdam Edition of 1698 Mar XIII. M. Platzoff's Secret—Captain Ducie's Translation of M. Paul Platzoff's MS Mar XIV. Drashkil-Smoking Apr XV. The Diamond Apr XVI. Janet's Return Apr XVII. Deepley Walls after Seven Years Apr XVIII. Janet in a New Character May XIX. The Dawn of Love May XX. The Narrative of Sergeant Nicholas May XXI. Counsel taken with Mr. Madgin May XXII. Mr. Madgin at the Helm Jun XXIII. Mr. Madgin's Secret Journey Jun XXIV. Enter Madgin Junior Jun XXV. Madgin Junior's First Report Jun
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THE SILENT CHIMES. By JOHNNY LUDLOW (Mrs. HENRY WOOD).
Putting Them Up Jan Playing Again Feb Ringing at Midday Mar Not Heard Apr Silent for Ever May
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THE BRETONS AT HOME. By CHARLES W. WOOD, F.R.G.S. With 35 Illustrations Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun
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About the Weather Jun Across the River. By HELEN M. BURNSIDE Apr After Twenty Years. By ADA M. TROTTER Feb A Memory. By GEORGE COTTERELL Feb A Modern Witch Jan An April Folly. By GILBERT H. PAGE Apr A Philanthropist. By ANGUS GREY Jun Aunt Phoebe's Heirlooms: An Experience in Hypnotism Feb A Social Debut Mar A Song. By G.B. STUART Jan Enlightenment. By E. NESBIT Feb In a Bernese Valley. By ALEXANDER LAMONT Feb Legend of an Ancient Minster. By JOHN GRAEME Mar Longevity. By W.F. AINSWORTH, F.S.A. Apr Mademoiselle Elise. By EDWARD FRANCIS Jun Mediums and Mysteries. By NARISSA ROSAVO Feb Miss Kate Marsden Jan My May Queen. By JOHN JERVIS BERESFORD, M.A. May Old China Jun On Letter-Writing. By A.H. JAPP, LL.D. May Paul. By the Author of "Adonais, Q.C." May "Proctorised" Apr Rondeau. By E. NESBIT Mar Saint or Satan? By A. BERESFORD Feb Sappho. By MARY GREY Mar Serenade. By E. NESBIT Jun Sonnets. By JULIA KAVANAGH Jan, Feb, Apr, Jun So Very Unattractive! Jun Spes. By JOHN JERVIS BERESFORD, M.A. Apr Sweet Nancy. By JEANIE GWYNNE BETTANY May The Church Garden. By CHRISTIAN BURKE May The Only Son of his Mother. By LETITIA MCCLINTOCK Mar To my Soul. From the French of Victor Hugo Jun Unexplained. By LETITIA MCCLINTOCK Apr Who Was the Third Maid? Jan Winter in Absence Feb
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Sonnets. By JULIA KAVANAGH Jan, Feb, Apr, Jun A Song. By G.B. STUART Jan Enlightenment. By E. NESBIT Feb Winter in Absence Feb A Memory. By GEORGE COTTERELL Feb In a Bernese Valley. By ALEXANDER LAMONT Feb Rondeau. By E. NESBIT Mar Spes. By JOHN JERVIS BERESFORD, M.A. Apr Across the River. By HELEN M. BURNSIDE Apr My May Queen. By JOHN JERVIS BERESFORD, M.A. May The Church Garden. By CHRISTIAN BURKE May Serenade. By E. NESBIT Jun To my Soul. From the French of Victor Hugo Jun Old China Jun
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By M.L. Gow.
"I advanced slowly up the room, stopped, and curtsied."
"I saw and recognised the mysterious midnight visitor."
"He came back in a few minutes, but so transformed in outward appearance that Ducie scarcely knew him."
"Sister Agnes knelt for a few moments and bent her head in silent prayer."
"He put his hand to his side, and motioned Mirpah to open the letter."
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Illustrations to "The Bretons at Home."
THE SILENT CHIMES.
PUTTING THEM UP.
I hardly know whether to write this history, or not; for its events did not occur within my own recollection, and I can only relate them at second-hand—from the Squire and others. They are curious enough; especially as regards the three parsons—one following upon another—in their connection with the Monk family, causing no end of talk in Church Leet parish, as well as in other parishes within ear-shot.
About three miles' distance from Church Dykely, going northwards across country, was the rural parish of Church Leet. It contained a few farmhouses and some labourers' cottages. The church, built of grey stone, stood in its large grave-yard; the parsonage, a commodious house, was close by; both of them were covered with time-worn ivy. Nearly half a mile off, on a gentle eminence, rose the handsome mansion called Leet Hall, the abode of the Monk family. Nearly the whole of the parish—land, houses, church and all—belonged to them. At the time I am about to tell of they were the property of one man—Godfrey Monk.
The late owner of the place (except for one short twelvemonth) was old James Monk, Godfrey's father. Old James had three sons and one daughter—Emma—his wife dying early. The eldest son (mostly styled "young James") was about as wild a blade as ever figured in story; the second son, Raymond, was an invalid; the third, Godfrey, a reckless lad, ran away to sea when he was fourteen.
If the Monks were celebrated for one estimable quality more than another, it was temper: a cross-grained, imperious, obstinate temper. "Run away to sea, has he?" cried old James when he heard the news; "very well, at sea he shall stop." And at sea Godfrey did stop, not disliking the life, and perhaps not finding any other open to him. He worked his way up in the merchant service by degrees, until he became commander and was called Captain Monk.
The years went on. Young James died, and the other two sons grew to be middle-aged men. Old James, the father, found by signs and tokens that his own time was approaching; and he was the next to go. Save for a slender income bequeathed to Godfrey and to his daughter, the whole of the property was left to Raymond, and to Godfrey after him if Raymond had no son. The entail had been cut off in the past generation; for which act the reasons do not concern us.
So Raymond, ailing greatly always, entered into possession of his inheritance. He lived about a twelvemonth afterwards, and then died: died unmarried. Therefore Godfrey came into all.
People were curious, the Squire says, as to what sort of man Godfrey would turn out to be; for he had not troubled home much since he ran away. He was a widower; that much was known; his wife having been a native of Trinidad, in the West Indies.
A handsome man, with fair, curling hair (what was left of it); proud blue eyes; well-formed features with a chronic flush upon them, for he liked his glass, and took it; a commanding, imperious manner, and a temper uncompromising as the grave. Such was Captain Godfrey Monk; now in his forty-fifth year. Upon his arrival at Leet Hall after landing, with his children and one or two dusky attendants in their train, he was received by his sister Emma, Mrs. Carradyne. Major Carradyne had died fighting in India, and his wife, at the request of her brother Raymond, came then to live at Leet Hall. Not of necessity, for Mrs. Carradyne was well off and could have made her home where she pleased, but Raymond had liked to have her. Godfrey also expressed his pleasure that she should remain; she could act as mother to his children.
Godfrey's children were three: Katherine, aged seventeen; Hubert, aged ten; and Eliza, aged eight. The girls had their father's handsome features, but in their skin there ran a dusky tinge, hinting of other than pure Saxon blood; and they were every whit as haughtily self-willed as he was. The boy, Hubert, was extremely pretty, his face fair, his complexion delicately beautiful, his auburn hair bright, his manner winning; but he liked to exercise his own will, and appeared to have generally done it.
A day or two, and Mrs. Carradyne sat down aghast. "I never saw children so troublesome and self-willed in all my life, Godfrey," she said to her brother. "Have they ever been controlled at all?"
"Had their own way pretty much, I expect," answered the Captain. "I was not often at home, you know, and there's nobody else they'd obey."
"Well, Godfrey, if I am to remain here, you will have to help me manage them."
"That's as may be, Emma. When I deem it necessary to speak, I speak; otherwise I don't interfere. And you must not get into the habit of appealing to me, recollect."
Captain Monk's conversation was sometimes interspersed with sundry light words, not at all orthodox, and not necessarily delivered in anger. In those past days swearing was regarded as a gentleman's accomplishment; a sailor, it was believed, could not at all get along without it. Manners change. The present age prides itself upon its politeness: but what of its sincerity?
Mrs. Carradyne, mild and gentle, commenced her task of striving to tame her brother's rebellious children. She might as well have let it alone. The girls laughed at her one minute and set her at defiance the next. Hubert, who had good feeling, was more obedient; he did not openly defy her. At times, when her task pressed heavily upon her spirits, Mrs. Carradyne felt tempted to run away from Leet Hall, as Godfrey had run from it in the days gone by. Her own two children were frightened at their cousins, and she speedily sent both to school, lest they should catch their bad manners. Henry was ten, the age of Hubert; Lucy was between five and six.
Just before the death of Raymond Monk, the living of Church Leet became vacant, and the last act of his life was to present it to a worthy young clergyman named George West. This caused intense dissatisfaction to Godfrey. He had heard of the late incumbent's death, and when he arrived home and found the living filled up he proclaimed his anger loudly, lavishing abuse upon poor dead Raymond for his precipitancy. He had wanted to bestow it upon a friend of his, a Colonial chaplain, and had promised it to him. It was a checkmate there was no help for now, for Mr. West could not be turned out again; but Captain Monk was not accustomed to be checkmated, and resented it accordingly. He took up, for no other reason, a most inveterate dislike to George West, and showed it practically.
In every step the Vicar took, at every turn and thought, he found himself opposed by Captain Monk. Had he a suggestion to make for the welfare of the parish, his patron ridiculed it; did he venture to propose some wise measure at a vestry meeting, the Captain put him and his measure down. Not civilly either, but with a stinging contempt, semi-covert though it was, that made its impression on the farmers around. The Reverend George West was a man of humility, given to much self-disparagement, so he bore all in silence and hoped for better times.
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The time went on; three years of it; Captain Monk had fully settled down in his ancestral home, and the neighbours had learnt what a domineering, self-willed man he was. But he had his virtues. He was kind in a general way, generous where it pleased him to be, inordinately attached to his children, and hospitable to a fault.
On the last day of every year, as the years came round, Captain Monk, following his late father's custom, gave a grand dinner to his tenants; and a very good custom it would have been, but that he and they got rather too jolly. The parson was always invited—and went; and sometimes a few of Captain Monk's personal friends were added.
Christmas came round this year as usual, and the invitations to the dinner went out. One came to Squire Todhetley, a youngish man then, and one to my father, William Ludlow, who was younger than the Squire. It was a green Christmas; the weather so warm and genial that the hearty farmers, flocking to Leet Hall, declared they saw signs of buds sprouting in the hedges, whilst the large fire in the Captain's dining-room was quite oppressive.
Looking from the window of the parsonage sitting-room in the twilight, while drawing on his gloves, preparatory to setting forth, stood Mr. West. His wife was bending over an easy-chair, in which their only child, little Alice, lay back, covered up. Her breathing was quick, her skin parched with fever. The wife looked sickly herself.
"Well, I suppose it is time to go," observed Mr. West, slowly. "I shall be late if I don't."
"I rather wonder you go at all, George," returned his wife. "Year after year, when you come back from this dinner, you invariably say you will not go to another."
"I know it, Mary. I dislike the drinking that goes on—and the free conversation—and the objectionable songs; I feel out of place in it all."
"And the Captain's contemptuous treatment of yourself, you might add."
"Yes, that is another unwelcome item in the evening's programme."
"Then, George, why do you go?"
"Well, I think you know why. I do not like to refuse the invitation; it would only increase Captain Monk's animosity and widen still further the breach between us. As patron he holds so much in his power. Besides that, my presence at the table does act, I believe, as a mild restraint on some of them, keeping the drinking and the language somewhat within bounds. Yes, I suppose my duty lies in going. But I shall not stay late, Mary," added the parson, bending to look at the suffering child; "and if you see any real necessity for the doctor to be called in to-night, I will go for him."
"Dood-bye, pa-pa," lisped the little four-year-old maiden.
He kissed the little hot face, said adieu to his wife and went out, hoping that the child would recover without the doctor; for the living of Church Leet was but a poor one, though the parsonage house was so handsome. It was a hundred-and-sixty pounds a year, for which sum the tithes had been compounded, and Mr. West had not much money to spare for superfluities—especially as he had to substantially help his mother.
The twilight had deepened almost to night, and the lights in the mansion seemed to smile a cheerful welcome as he approached it. The pillared entrance, ascended to by broad steps, stood in the middle, and a raised terrace of stone ran along before the windows on either side. It was quite true that every year at the conclusion of these feasts, the Vicar resolved never to attend another; but he was essentially a man of peace, striving ever to lay oil upon troubled waters, after the example left by his Master.
Dinner. The board was full. Captain Monk presided, genial to-day; genial even to the parson. Squire Todhetley faced the Captain at the foot; Mr. West sat at the Squire's right hand, between him and Farmer Threpp, a quiet man and supposed to be a very substantial one. All went on pleasantly; but when the elaborate dinner gave place to dessert and wine-drinking, the company became rather noisy.
"I think it's about time you left us," cried the Squire by-and-by to young Hubert, who sat next him on the other side: and over and over again Mr. Todhetley has repeated to us in later years the very words that passed.
"By George, yes!" put in a bluff and hearty fox-hunter, the master of the hounds, bending forward to look at the lad, for he was in a line with him, and breaking short off an anecdote he was regaling the company with. "I forgot you were there, Master Hubert. Quite time you went to bed."
"I daresay!" laughed the boy. "Please let me alone, all of you. I don't want attention drawn to me."
But the slight commotion had attracted Captain Monk's notice. He saw his son.
"What's that?—Hubert! What brings you there now, you young pirate? I ordered you to go out with the cloth."
"I am not doing any harm, papa," said the boy, turning his fair and beautiful face towards his father.
Captain Monk pointed his stern finger at the door; a mandate which Hubert dared not disobey, and he went out.
The company sat on, an interminable period of time it seemed to the Vicar. He glanced stealthily at his watch. Eleven o'clock.
"Thinking of going, Parson?" said Mr. Threpp. "I'll go with you. My head's not one of the strongest, and I've had about as much as I ought to carry."
They rose quietly, not to disturb the table; intending to steal away, if possible, without being observed. Unluckily, Captain Monk chanced to be looking that way.
"Halloa! who's turning sneak?—Not you, surely, Parson!—" in a meaningly contemptuous tone. "And you, Threpp, of all men! Sit down again, both of you, if you don't want to quarrel with me. Odds fish! has my dining-room got sharks in it, that you'd run away? Winter, just lock the door, will you; you are close to it; and pass up the key to me."
Mr. Winter, a jovial old man and the largest tenant on the estate, rose to do the Captain's behest, and sent up the key.
"Nobody quits my room," said the host, as he took it, "until we have seen the old year out and the new one in. What else do you come for—eh, gentlemen?"
The revelry went on. The decanters circulated more quickly, the glasses clicked, the songs became louder, the Captain's sea stories broader. Mr. West perforce made the best of the situation, certain words of Holy Writ running through his memory:
"Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth its colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright!"
Well, more than well, for Captain Monk, that he had not looked upon the red wine that night!
In the midst of all this, the hall clock began to strike twelve. The Captain rose, after filling his glass to the brim.
"Bumpers round, gentlemen. On your legs. Ready? Hooray! Here's to the shade of the year that's gone, and may it have buried all our cares with it! And here's good luck to the one setting-in. A happy New Year to you all; and may we never know a moment in it worse than the present! Three-times-three—and drain your glasses."
"But we have had the toast too soon!" called out one of the farmers, making the discovery close after the cheers had subsided. "It wants some minutes yet to midnight, Captain."
Captain Monk snatched out his watch—worn in those days in what was called the fob-pocket—its chain and bunch of seals at the end hanging down.
"By Jupiter!" he exclaimed. "Hang that butler of mine! He knew the hall clock was too fast, and I told him to put it back. If his memory serves him no better than this, he may ship himself off to a fresh berth.—Hark! Listen!"
It was the church clock striking twelve. The sound reached the dining-room very clearly, the wind setting that way. "Another bumper," cried the Captain, and his guests drank it.
"This day twelvemonth I was at a feast in Derbyshire; the bells of a neighbouring church rang-in the year with pleasant melody; chimes they were," remarked a guest, who was a partial stranger. "Your church has no bells, I suppose?"
"It has one; an old ting-tang that calls us to service on a Sunday," said Mr. Winter.
"I like to hear those midnight chimes, for my part. I like to hear them chime-in the new year," went on the stranger.
"Chimes!" cried out Captain Monk, who was getting very considerably elated, "why should we not have chimes? Mr. West, why don't we have chimes?"
"Our church does not possess any, sir—as this gentleman has just remarked," was Mr. West's answer.
"Egad, but that parson of ours is going to set us all ablaze with his wit!" jerked out the Captain ironically. "I asked, sir, why we should not get a set of chimes; I did not say we had got them. Is there any just cause or impediment why we should not, Mr. Vicar?"
"Only the expense," replied the Vicar, in a conciliatory tone.
"Oh, bother expense! That's what you are always wanting to groan over. Mr. Churchwarden Threpp, we will call a vestry meeting and make a rate."
"The parish could not bear it, Captain Monk," remonstrated the clergyman. "You know what dissatisfaction was caused by the last extra rate put on, and how low an ebb things are at just now."
"When I will a thing, I do it," retorted the Captain, with a meaning word or two. "We'll send out the rate and we'll get the chimes."
"It will, I fear, lie in my duty to protest against it," spoke the uneasy parson.
"It may lie in your duty to be a wet-blanket, but you won't protest me out of my will. Gentlemen, we will all meet here again this time twelvemonth, when the chimes shall ring-in the new year for you.—Here, Dutton, you can unlock the door now," concluded the Captain, handing the key to the other churchwarden. "Our parson is upon thorns to be away from us."
Not the parson only, but several others availed themselves of the opportunity to escape.
It perhaps did not surprise the parish to find that its owner and master, Captain Monk, intended to persist in his resolution of embellishing the church-tower with a set of chiming-bells. They knew him too well to hope anything less. Why! two years ago, at the same annual feast, some remarks or other at table put it into his head to declare he would stop up the public path by the Rill; and his obstinate will carried it out, regardless of the inconvenience it caused.
A vestry meeting was called, and the rate (to obtain funds for the bells) was at length passed. Two or three voices were feebly lifted in opposition; Mr. West alone had courage to speak out; but the Captain put him down with his strong hand. It may be asked why Captain Monk did not provide the funds himself for this whim. But he would never touch his own pocket for the benefit of the parish if he could help it: and it was thought that his antagonism to the parson was the deterring motive.
To impose the rate was one thing, to collect it quite another. Some of the poorer ratepayers protested with tears in their eyes that they could not pay. Superfluous rates (really not necessary ones) were perpetually being inflicted upon them, they urged, and were bringing them, together with a succession of recent bad seasons, to the verge of ruin. They carried their remonstrances to their Vicar, and he in turn carried them to Captain Monk.
It only widened the breach. The more persistently, though gently, Mr. West pleaded the cause of his parishioners, asking the Captain to be considerate to them for humanity's sake, the greater grew the other's obstinacy in holding to his own will. To be thus opposed roused all the devil within him—it was his own expression; and he grew to hate Mr. West with an exceeding bitter hatred.
The chimes were ordered—to play one tune only. Mr. West asked, when the thing was absolutely inevitable, that at least some sweet and sacred melody, acceptable to church-going ears, might be chosen; but Captain Monk fixed on a sea-song that was a favourite of his own—"The Bay of Biscay." At the end of every hour, when the clock had struck, the Bay of Biscay was to burst forth to charm the parish.
The work was put in hand at once, Captain Monk finding the necessary funds, to be repaid by the proceeds of the rate. Other expenses were involved, such as the strengthening of the belfry. The rate was not collected quickly. It was, I say, one of those times of scarcity that people used to talk so much of years ago; and when the parish beadle, who was the parish collector, went round with the tax-paper in his hand, the poorer of the cottagers could not respond to it. Some of them had not paid the last levy, and Captain Monk threatened harsh measures. Altogether, what with one thing or another, Church Leet that year was kept in a state of ferment. But the work went on.
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One windy day in September, Mr. West sat in his study writing a sermon, when a jarring crash rang out from the church close by. He leaped from his chair. The unusual noise had startled him; and it struck on every chord of vexation he possessed. He knew that workmen were busy in the tower, but this was the first essay of the chimes. The bells had clashed in some way one upon the other; not giving out The Bay of Biscay or any other melody, but a very discordant jangle indeed. It was the first and the last time that poor George West heard their sound.
He put the blotting-paper upon his sermon; he was in no mind to continue it then; took up his hat and went out. His wife spoke to him from the open window.
"Are you going out now, George? Tea is all but ready."
Turning back on the path, he passed into the sitting-room. A cup of tea might soothe his nerves. The tea-tray stood on the table, and Mrs. West, caddy in hand, was putting the tea into the tea-pot. Little Alice sat gravely by.
"Did you hear dat noise up in the church, papa?" she asked.
"Yes, I heard it, dear," sighed the Vicar.
"A fine clashing it was!" cried Mrs. West. "I have heard something else this afternoon, George, worse than that: Bean's furniture is being taken away."
"What?" cried the Vicar.
"It's true. Sarah went out on an errand and passed the cottage. The chairs and tables were being put outside the door by two men, she says: brokers, I conclude."
Mr. West made short work of his tea and started for the scene. Thomas Bean was a very small farmer indeed, renting about thirty acres. What with the heavy rates, as he said, and other outgoings and bad seasons, and ill-luck altogether, he had been behind in his payments this long while; and now the ill-luck seemed to have come to a climax. Bean and his wife were old; their children were scattered abroad.
"Oh, sir," cried the old lady when she saw the Vicar, the tears raining from her eyes, "it cannot be right that this oppression should fall upon us! We had just managed—Heaven knows how, for I'm sure I don't—to pay the Midsummer rent; and now they've come upon us for the rates, and have took away things worth ten times the sum."
"For the rates!" mechanically spoke the Vicar.
She supposed it was a question. "Yes, sir; two of 'em we had in the house. One was for putting up the chimes; and the other—well, I can't just remember what the other was. The beadle, old Crow, comes in, sir, this afternoon. 'Where be the master?' says he. 'Gone over to t'other side of Church Dykely,' says I. 'Well,' says he, upon that, 'you be going to have some visitors presently, and it's a pity he's out.' 'Visitors, for what, Crow?' says I. 'Oh, you'll see,' says he; 'and then perhaps you'll wish you'd bestirred yourselves to pay your just dues. Captain Monk's patience have been running on for a goodish while, and at last it have run clean out.' Well, sir—"
She had to make a pause; unable to control her grief.
"Well, sir," she went on presently, "Crow's back was hardly turned, when up came two men, wheeling a truck. I saw 'em afar off, by the ricks yonder. One came in; t'other stayed outside with the truck. He asked me whether I was ready with the money for the taxes; and I told him I was not ready, and had but a couple of shillings in the house. 'Then I must take the value of it in kind,' says he. And without another word, he beckons in the outside man to help him. Our middle table, a mahogany, they seized; and the handsome oak chest, which had been our pride; and the master's arm-chair—But, there! I can't go on."
Mr. West felt nearly as sorrowful as she, and far more angry. In his heart he believed that Captain Monk had done this oppressive thing in revenge. A great deal of ill-feeling had existed in the parish touching the rate made for the chimes; and the Captain assumed that the few who had not yet paid it would not pay—not that they could not.
Quitting the cottage in an impulse of anger, he walked swiftly to Leet Hall. It lay in his duty, as he fully deemed, to avow fearlessly to Captain Monk what he thought of this act of oppression, and to protest against it. The beams of the setting sun, sinking below the horizon in the still autumn evening, fell across the stubbled fields from which the corn had not long been reaped; all around seemed to speak of peace.
To accommodate two gentlemen who had come from Worcester that day to Leet Hall on business, and wished to quit it again before dark, the dinner had been served earlier than usual. The guests had left, but Captain Monk was seated still over his wine in the dining-room when Mr. West was shown in. In crossing the hall to it, he met Mrs. Carradyne, who shook hands with him cordially.
Captain Monk looked surprised. "Why, this is an unexpected pleasure—a visit from you, Mr. Vicar," he cried, in mocking jest. "Hope you have come to your senses! Sit down. Will you take port or sherry?"
"Captain Monk," returned the Vicar, gravely, as he took the chair the servant had placed, "I am obliged for your courtesy, but I did not intrude upon you this evening to drink wine. I have seen a very sad sight, and I am come hoping to induce you to repair it."
"Seen what?" cried the Captain, who, it is well to mention, had been taking his wine very freely, even for him. "A flaming sword in the sky?"
"Your tenants, poor Thomas Bean and his wife, are being turned out of house and home, or almost equivalent to it. Some of their furniture has been seized this afternoon to satisfy the demand for these disputed taxes."
"Who disputes the taxes?"
"The tax imposed for the chimes was always a disputed tax; and—"
"Tush!" interrupted the Captain; "Bean owes other things as well as taxes."
"It was the last feather, sir, which broke the camel's back."
"The last feather will not be taken off, whether it breaks backs or leaves them whole," retorted the Captain, draining his glass of port and filling it again. "Take you note of that, Mr. Parson."
"Others are in the same condition as the Beans—quite unable to pay these rates. I pray you, Captain Monk—I am here to pray you—not to proceed in the same manner against them. I would also pray you, sir, to redeem this act of oppression, by causing their goods to be returned to these two poor, honest, hard-working people."
"Hold your tongue!" retorted the Captain, aroused to anger. "A pretty example you'd set, let you have your way. Every one of the lot shall be made to pay to the last farthing. Who the devil is to pay, do you suppose, if they don't?"
"Rates are imposed upon the parish needlessly, Captain Monk; it has been so ever since my time here. Pardon me for saying that if you put up chimes to gratify yourself, you should bear the expense, and not throw it upon those who have a struggle to get bread to eat."
Captain Monk drank off another glass. "Any more treason, Parson?"
"Yes," said Mr. West, "if you like to call it so. My conscience tells me that the whole procedure in regard to setting up these chimes is so wrong, so manifestly unjust, that I have determined not to allow them to be heard until the rates levied for them are refunded to the poor and oppressed. I believe I have the power to close the belfry-tower, and I shall act upon it."
"By Jove! do you think you are going to stand between me and my will?" cried the Captain passionately. "Every individual who has not yet paid the rate shall be made to pay it to-morrow."
"There is another world, Captain Monk," interposed the mild voice of the minister, "to which, I hope, we are all—"
"If you attempt to preach to me—"
At this moment a spoon fell to the ground by the sideboard. The Vicar turned to look; his back was towards it; the Captain peered also at the end of the rapidly-darkening room: when both became aware that one of the servants—Michael, who had shown in Mr. West—stood there; had stood there all the time.
"What are you waiting for, sirrah?" roared his master. "We don't want you. Here! put this window open an inch or two before you go; the room's close."
"Shall I bring lights, sir?" asked Michael, after doing as he was directed.
"No: who wants lights? Stir the fire into a blaze."
Michael left them. It was from him that thus much of the conversation was subsequently known.
Not five minutes had elapsed when a commotion was heard in the dining-room. Then the bell rang violently, and the Captain opened the door—overturning a chair in his passage to it—and shouted out for a light. More than one servant flew to obey the order: in his hasty moods their master brooked not delay: and three separate candles were carried in.
"Good lack, master!" exclaimed the butler, John Rimmer, who was a native of Church Dykely, "what's amiss with the Parson?"
"Lift him up, and loosen his neck-cloth," said Captain Monk, his tone less imperious than usual.
Mr. West lay on the hearthrug near his chair, his head resting close to the fender. Rimmer raised his head, another servant took off his black neck-tie; for it was only on high days that the poor Vicar indulged in a white one. He gasped twice, struggled slightly, and then lay quietly in the butler's arms.
"Oh, sir!" burst forth the man in a horror-stricken voice to his master, "this is surely death!"
It surely was. George West, who had gone there but just before in the height of health and strength, had breathed his last.
How did it happen? How could it have happened? Ay, how indeed? It was a question which has never been entirely solved in Church Leet to this day.
Captain Monk's account, both privately and at the inquest, was this: As they talked further together, after Michael left the room, the Vicar went on to browbeat him shamefully about the new chimes, vowing they should never play, never be heard; at last, rising in an access of passion, the Parson struck him (the Captain) in the face. He returned the blow—who wouldn't return it?—and the Vicar fell. He believed his head must have struck against the iron fender in falling: if not, if the blow had been an unlucky one (it took effect just behind the left ear), it was only given in self-defence. The jury, composed of Captain Monk's tenants, expressed themselves satisfied, and returned a verdict of Accidental Death.
"A false account," pronounced poor Mrs. West, in her dire tribulation. "My husband never struck him—never; he was not one to be goaded into unbecoming anger, even by Captain Monk. George struck no blow whatever; I can answer for it. If ever a man was murdered, he has been."
Curious rumours arose. It was said that Mrs. Carradyne, taking the air on the terrace outside in the calmness of the autumn evening, heard the fatal quarrel through the open window; that she heard Mr. West, after he had received the death blow, wail forth a prophecy (or whatever it might be called) that those chimes would surely be accursed; that whenever their sound should be heard, so long as they were suffered to remain in the tower, it should be the signal of woe to the Monk family.
Mrs. Carradyne utterly denied this; she had not been on the terrace at all, she said. Upon which the onus was shifted to Michael: who, it was suspected, had stolen out to listen to the end of the quarrel, and had heard the ominous words. Michael, in his turn, also denied it; but he was not believed. Anyway, the covert whisper had gone abroad and would not be laid.
Captain Monk speedily filled up the vacant living, appointing to it the Reverend Thomas Dancox, an occasional visitor at Leet Hall, who was looking out for one.
The new Vicar turned out to be a man after the Captain's heart, a rollicking, jovial, fox-hunting young parson, as many a parson was in those days—and took small blame to himself for it. He was only a year or two past thirty, good-looking, of taking manners and hail-fellow-well-met with the parish in general, who liked him and called him to his face Tom Dancox.
All this pleased Captain Monk. But very soon something was to arrive that did not please him—a suspicion that the young parson and his daughter Katherine were on rather too good terms with one another.
One day in November he stalked into the drawing-room, where Katherine was sitting with her aunt. Hubert and Eliza were away at school, also Mrs. Carradyne's two children.
"Was Dancox here last night?" began Captain Monk.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Carradyne.
"And the evening before—Monday?"
Mrs. Carradyne felt half afraid to answer, the Captain's tone was becoming so threatening. "I—I think so," she rather hesitatingly said. "Was he not, Katherine?"
Katherine Monk, a dark, haughty young woman, twenty-one now, turned round with a flush on her handsome face. "Why do you ask, papa?"
"I ask to be answered," replied he, standing with his hands in the pockets of his velveteen shooting coat, a purple tinge of incipient anger rising in his cheeks.
"Then Mr. Dancox did spend Monday evening here."
"And I saw him walking with you in the meadow by the rill this morning," continued the Captain. "Look here, Katherine, no sweet-hearting with Tom Dancox. He may do very well for a parson; I like him as such, as such only, you understand; but he can be no match for you."
"You are disturbing yourself unnecessarily, sir," said Katherine, her own tone an angry one.
"Well, I hope that is so; I should not like to think otherwise. Anyway, a word in season does no harm; and, take you notice that I have spoken it. You also, Emma."
As he left the room, Mrs. Carradyne spoke, dropping her voice: "Katherine, you know that I had already warned you. I told you it would not do to fall into any particular friendship with Mr. Dancox; that your father would never countenance it."
"And if I were to?—and if he did not?" scornfully returned Katherine. "What then, Aunt Emma?"
"Be silent, child; you must not talk in that strain. Your papa is perfectly right in this matter. Tom Dancox is not suitable in any way—for you."
This took place in November. Katherine paid little heed to the advice; she was not one to put up with advice of any sort, and she and Mr. Dancox met occasionally under the rose. Early in December she went with Mr. Dancox into the Parsonage, while he searched for a book he was about to lend her. That was the plea; the truth, no doubt, being that the two wanted a bit of a chat in quiet. As ill-luck had it, when she was coming out again, the Parson in attendance on her as far as the gate, Captain Monk came by.
A scene ensued. Captain Monk, in a terrible access of passion, vowed by all the laws of the Medes and Persians, which alter not, that never, in life or after death, should those two rebellious ones be man and wife, and he invoked unheard-of penalties on their heads should they dare to contemplate disobedience to his decree.
Thenceforth there was no more open rebellion; upon the surface all looked smooth. Captain Monk understood the folly to be at an end: that the two had come to their senses; and he took Tom Dancox back into favour. Mrs. Carradyne assumed the same. But Katherine had her father's unyielding will, and the Parson was bold and careless, and in love.
* * * * *
The last day of the year came round, and the usual banquet would come with it. The weather this Christmas was not like that of last; the white snow lay on the ground, the cold biting frost hardened the glistening icicles on the trees.
And the chimes? Ready these three months past, they had not yet been heard. They would be to-night. Whether Captain Monk wished the remembrance of Mr. West's death to die away a bit first, or that he preferred to open the treat on the banqueting night, certain it was that he had kept them silent. When the church clock should toll the midnight knell of the old year, the chimes would ring out to welcome the new one and gladden the ears of Church Leet.
But not without a remonstrance. That morning, as the Captain sat in his study writing a letter, Mrs. Carradyne came to him.
"Godfrey," she said in a low and pleading tone, "you will not suffer the chimes to play to-night, will you? Pray do not."
"Not suffer the chimes to play?" cried the Captain. "But indeed I shall. Why, this is the special night they were put up for."
"I know it, Godfrey. But—you cannot think what a strangely-strong feeling I have against it: an instinct, it seems to me. The chimes have brought nothing but discomfort and disaster yet; they may bring more in the future."
Captain Monk stared at her. "What d'ye mean, Emma?"
"I would never let them be heard," she said impressively. "I would have them taken down again. The story went about, you know, that poor George West in dying prophesied that whenever they should be heard woe would fall upon this house. I am not superstitious, Godfrey, but—"
Sheer passion had tied, so far, Godfrey Monk's lips. "Not superstitious!" he raved out. "You are worse than that, Emma—a fool. How dare you bring your nonsense here? There's the door."
The banquet hour approached. Nearly all the guests of last year were again present in the warm and holly-decorated dining-room, the one notable exception being the ill-fated Parson West. Parson Dancox came in his stead, and said grace from the post of honour at the Captain's right hand. Captain Monk did not appear to feel any remorse or regret: he was jovial, free, and grandly hospitable; one might suppose he had promoted the dead clergyman to a canonry instead of to a place in the churchyard.
"What became of the poor man's widow, Squire?" whispered a gentleman from the neighbourhood of Evesham to Mr. Todhetley, who sat on the left-hand of his host; Sir Thomas Rivers taking the foot of the table this year.
"Mrs. West? Well, we heard she opened a girls' school up in London," breathed the Squire.
"And what tale was that about his leaving a curse on the chimes?—I never heard the rights of it."
"Hush!" said the Squire cautiously. "Nobody talks of that here. Or believes it, either. Poor West was a man to leave a blessing behind him; never a curse."
Hubert, at home for the holidays, was again at table. He was fourteen now, tall of his age and slender, his blue eyes bright, his complexion delicately beautiful. The pleated cambric frill of his shirt, which hung over the collar of his Eton jacket after the fashion of the day, was carried low in front, displaying the small white throat; his golden hair curled naturally. A boy to admire and be proud of. The manners were more decorous this year than they ever had been, and Hubert was allowed to sit on. Possibly the shadow of George West's unhappy death lay insensibly upon the party.
It was about half-past nine o'clock when the butler came into the room, bringing a small note, twisted up, to his master from Mrs. Carradyne. Captain Monk opened it and held it towards one of the lighted branches to read the few words it contained.
"A gentleman is asking to speak a word to Mr. Dancox. He says it is important."
Captain Monk tore the paper to bits. "Not to-night, tell your mistress, is my answer," said he to Rimmer. "Hubert, you can go to your aunt now; it's past your bed-time."
There could be no appeal, as the boy knew; but he went off unwillingly and in bitter resentment against Mrs. Carradyne. He supposed she had sent for him.
"What a cross old thing you are, Aunt Emma!" he exclaimed as he entered the drawing-room on the other side the hall. "You won't let Harry go in at all to the banquets, and you won't let me stay at them! Papa meant—I think he meant—to let me remain there to hear the chimes. Why need you have interfered to send for me?"
"I neither interfered with you, Hubert, nor sent for you. A gentleman, who did not give his name and preferred to wait outside, wants to see Mr. Dancox; that's all," said Mrs. Carradyne. "You gave my note to your master, Rimmer?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied the butler. "My master bade me say to you that his answer was not to-night."
Katherine Monk, her face betraying some agitation, rose from the piano. "Was the message not given to Mr. Dancox?" she asked of Rimmer.
"Not while I was there, Miss Katherine. The master tore the note into bits, after reading it; and dropped them under the table."
Now it chanced that Mr. Dancox, glancing covertly at the note while the Captain held it to the light, had read what was written there. For a few minutes he said nothing. The Captain was busy sending round the wine.
"Captain Monk—pardon me—I saw my name on that bit of paper; it caught my eye as you held it out," he said in a low tone. "Am I called out? Is anyone in the parish dying?"
Thus questioned, Captain Monk told the truth. No one was dying, and he was not called out to the parish. Some gentleman was asking to speak to him; only that.
"Well, I'll just see who it is, and what he wants," said Mr. Dancox, rising. "Won't be away two minutes, sir."
"Bring him back with you; tell him he'll find good wine here and jolly cheer," said the Captain. And Mr. Dancox went out, swinging his table-napkin in his hand.
In crossing the hall he met Katherine, exchanged a hasty word with her, let fall the serviette on a chair as he caught up his hat and overcoat, and went out. Katherine ran upstairs.
Hubert lay down on one of the drawing-room sofas. In point of fact, that young gentleman could not walk straight. A little wine takes effect on youngsters, especially when they are not accustomed to it. Mrs. Carradyne told Hubert the best place for him was bed. Not a bit of it, the boy answered: he should go out on the terrace at twelve o'clock; the chimes would be fine, heard out there. He fell asleep almost as he spoke; presently he woke up, feeling headachy, cross and stupid, and of his own accord went up to bed.
Meanwhile, the dining-room was getting jollier and louder as the time passed on towards midnight. Great wonder was expressed at the non-return of the parson; somebody must be undoubtedly grievously sick or dying. Mr. Speck, the quiet little Hurst Leet doctor, dissented from this. Nobody was dying in the parish, he affirmed, or sick enough to need a priest; as a proof of it, he had not been sent for.
Ring, ring, ring! broke forth the chimes on the quiet midnight air, as the church clock finished striking twelve. It was a sweet sound; even those prejudiced against the chimes could hear that: the windows had been opened in readiness.
The glasses were charged; the company stood on their legs, some of them not at all steady legs just then, bending their ears to listen. Captain Monk stood in his place, majestically waving his head and his left hand to keep time in harmony with the Bay of Biscay. His right hand held his goblet in readiness for the toast when the sounds should cease.
Ring, ring, ring! chimed the last strokes of the bells, dying away to faintness on the still evening air. Suddenly, amidst the hushed silence, and whilst the sweet melody fell yet unbroken on the room, there arose a noise as of something falling outside on the terrace, mingled with a wild scream and the crash of breaking glass.
One of the guests rushed to the window, and put his head out of it. So far as he could see, he said (perhaps his sight was somewhat obscured), it was a looking-glass lying further up on the terrace.
Thrown out from one of the upper windows! scornfully pronounced the Captain, full of wrath that it should have happened at that critical moment to mar the dignity of his coming toast. And he gave the toast heartily; and the new year came in for them all with good wishes and good wine.
Some little time yet ere the company finally rose. The mahogany frame of the broken looking-glass, standing on end, was conspicuous on the white ground in the clear frosty night, as they streamed out from the house. Mr. Speck, whose sight was rather remarkably good, peered at it curiously from the hall steps, and then walked quickly along the snowy terrace towards it.
Sure enough, it was a looking-glass, broken in its fall from an open window above. But, lying by it in the deep snow, in his white nightshirt, was Hubert Monk.
When the chimes began to play, Hubert was not asleep. Sitting up in bed, he disposed himself to listen. After a bit they began to grow fainter; Hubert impatiently dashed to the window and threw it up to its full height as he jumped on the dressing-table, when in some unfortunate way he overbalanced himself, and pitched out on the terrace beneath, carrying the looking-glass with him. The fall was not much, for his room was in one of the wings, the windows of which were low; but the boy had struck his head in falling, and there he had lain, insensible, on the terrace, one hand still clasping the looking-glass.
All the rosy wine-tint fading away to a sickly paleness on the Captain's face, he looked down on his well-beloved son. The boy was carried indoors to his room, reviving with the movement.
"Young bones are elastic," pronounced Mr. Speck, when he had examined him; "and none of these are broken. He will probably have a cold from the exposure; that's about the worst."
He seemed to have it already: he was shivering from head to foot now, as he related the above particulars. All the family had assembled round him, except Katherine.
"Where is Katherine?" suddenly inquired her father, noticing her absence.
"I cannot think where she is," said Mrs. Carradyne. "I have not seen her for an hour or two. Eliza says she is not in her room; I sent her to see. She is somewhere about, of course."
"Go and look for your sister, Eliza. Tell her to come here," said Captain Monk. But though Eliza went at once, her quest was useless.
Miss Katherine was not in the house: Miss Katherine had made a moonlight flitting from it that evening with the Reverend Thomas Dancox.
You will hear more in the next paper.
Blue eyes that laugh at early morn May weep ere close of day; And weeping is a thing of scorn To those whose hearts are gay. Ah, simple souls, beware, beware! Time's finger changeth smile to care!
Gold locks that glitter as the sun May sudden fade to grey; And who shall favour anyone Despoiled of bright array? Ah, simple souls, beware of loss, Time's finger changeth gold to dross!
Good lack! we talk, yet all the same We throw our words away! The smiles, the gold, the tears, the shame, Each tries them in his day. And Time, with vengeful finger, makes Of fondest goods our chief mistakes!
MISS KATE MARSDEN.
In this practical age we are inclined to estimate people by the worth of what they do, and thus it happens that Miss Kate Marsden and her mission are creating an interest and genuine admiration in the hearts of the people such as few individuals or circumstances have power to call forth.
The work she has set herself to do, regardless of the dangers and difficulties she will have to encounter, seems to us, who look out from the security of our homes in this favoured land, almost beyond human power to perform. It is, in fact, appalling.
Even Miss Nightingale, who never exaggerates, writes of this lady: "Surely no human being ever needed the loving Father's help and guidance more than this brave woman." And in this the readers of THE ARGOSY will fully agree.
Her purpose is to travel through Russia to the extreme points of Siberia, chiefly for the purpose of seeing the condition of those affected with incurable disease, and what can be done to improve their surroundings and mitigate their sufferings.
This, if it stood alone, would be a grand work; but it is by no means all she hopes to do.
It is her purpose to join the gangs of exiles on their way to Siberia, to note their treatment, to halt at their halting-stages, and see if it be true that there is an utter absence of all sanitary appliances; that filth and cruelty are in evidence; and that the strongest constitutions break down under conditions unfit for brute beasts. She will investigate the assertions that delicate innocent women and children are chained to vile criminals, and so made to take their way on foot thousands of miles to far-off Siberia; often for no other crime than some careless words spoken against the Greek Church or the Czar.
She hopes fully to inspect the prisons and mines in those far-off regions, described by the Russians themselves as "living tombs." She will, if possible, go into the cells of the condemned exiles, whose walls are bare, except for their living covering of myriads of insects; and, lastly, she intends to visit the Jews' quarters, and satisfy our minds as to the existence of the terrible cruelties inflicted upon this persecuted race, the hearing of which alone is heart-breaking.
And all through her perilous journeys we may be sure she will lose no opportunity of comforting and helping the suffering ones who come under her notice, no matter what their race or condition.
This line of conduct will have its dangers; but she holds not her life dear unto her, so that she may accomplish her heart's desire. The practical result looked forward to by her is, that, having gained an intimate knowledge of the sufferings and cruelties inflicted upon so many thousands of Russian subjects, and of which there have been such conflicting accounts, she may be admitted a second time into the presence of the Empress, there to place the actual scenes before her, and to plead the cause of the sufferers personally.
Strange to say, she is convinced in her own mind that the Emperor and Empress of Russia are ignorant of a great deal that is done in their name; or, as the phrase is, "By order of the Czar;" and that they know little of the results of those Edicts and Ukase which are causing such dire misery to thousands of their subjects, not only to the long-suffering Jews but also to Christian women and children; and it is her belief that if the truth could be placed before them, as she hopes to place it, they will attack the evil even at the cost of life or crown.
This is quite a different view from that which obtains generally; and if Miss Kate Marsden should be able to prove her point, and bring before them the pictures of what she may see on her journey to and from Siberia, she will score a result such as has fallen to no one's endeavour hitherto.
It is only now and then in a lifetime that we meet a woman capable of such a grand work as this which Miss Kate Marsden has taken upon herself; and the reason is that the qualifications necessary are so rarely found in combination in one and the same individual. Many among us may have one or other of the characteristics, but it is the existence of them all in one person that makes the heroine and gives the power.
You cannot be an hour in Miss Kate Marsden's company without becoming aware of her enthusiasm, her courage, her self-devotion, her fearlessness, and above all her simple child-like faith. It avails nothing that you place before her the trials, the horrors, the dangers, the possible failure of such an undertaking as hers. The necessity of the work to be done she considers imperative, and the certainty in her mind that it is her mission to do it carries all before it.
The bravest among us would hesitate before deciding upon a tour in Russia and Siberia, supposing it were one of pleasure or of scientific research, because even under these favourable conditions we should be subject to ignominious surveillance night and day, and the chances of leaving the country when we pleased would be very small; but what can we say of a young and delicate woman who, voluntarily and without thought of self, deliberately walks into the country where deeds are done daily which make us shrink with fear, and which, for very shame for the century in which we live, we try hard not to believe? It is as if with eyes open she walked into a den of lions and expected them to give her a loving welcome and a free egress.
Heaven help her, for she is in the midst of it and has begun her work; the result of her fearlessness remains to be seen. I doubt greatly whether we shall be allowed to receive reports of her daily life out there, even where postal regulations are in force. We can but follow her on her way from Moscow to Tomsk in thought, and picture to ourselves the thousands of exiles she will find waiting there herded together like brute beasts. She will not turn from them, even though typhoid be raging amongst them—one can see her moving in and out among these miserable, debased human beings, who lie tossing on those terrible wooden shelves, helping them according to their needs; for she carries with her remedies for pain and disease of body, and her simple faith will find means of comforting heart and soul.
If any of those twenty thousand exiles who have this year trod the weary way between Petersburg and Tomsk, and on again to the far-off districts of Siberia, should hear of the coming of this gentle woman, strong only in her love for them, I think it would kindle a spark of hope again in their hearts. They would know that at least they were remembered by someone in the land of the living.
Miss Kate Marsden has dared so much for these poor suffering ones that she will not easily be turned aside by excessive politeness or brutality on the part of officials from seeing the actual state of things. She will not, I think, be content with viewing the Provincial Prison at Tomsk, which is light and airy and occupied by local offenders, instead of the forwarding prison which, according to the accounts that reach us, is a disgrace to the civilized world, and where the exiles are lodged while waiting to be "forwarded."
I pity Miss Kate Marsden if it should ever be her lot to witness the knout used to a woman without the power of stopping it, or retaliating upon the brute who is inflicting it. It would be almost the death of her.
If we have been successful in interesting the readers of THE ARGOSY in this lady and her mission, they will like to know that she is not a wilful person starting off on a wild-goose chase on a generous impulse without at all counting the cost. On the contrary, the work she is now doing has been the desire of her life, and all the training and discipline to which she has subjected herself has been for the purpose of fitting her for it.
From her earliest childhood she has been an indefatigable worker among the sick and wounded, with whom she has ever had the most intense sympathy, and consequently an extraordinary power to soothe and comfort.
Young as she was at the time of the Turko-Russian war, she did good service on the battle-fields and worked untiringly among every kind of depressing surrounding. The beautiful cross upon her breast is a gift from the Empress of Russia, as a recognition of the good work she did among the wounded soldiers at that time. From that day to this, whether in England or in New Zealand, her work has been steadily going on, ever gaining information and experience, and at the same time doing an amount of good difficult to calculate.
For one whole year she became, what I call for want of a better name, an itinerant teacher of ambulance work, in places out of reach of doctors in New Zealand. She taught the people how to deal with accidents caused by the falling of trees, cuts with the axe, or kicks from vicious horses, all of which are of frequent occurrence in the Bush. Again, she taught the miners how to make use of surrounding materials in case of an injury: how to bandage, and how to make a stretcher for moving a wounded person from one place to another with such things as were handy, viz., with two poles and a man's coat, the poles to be placed through the arms and the coat itself to be buttoned securely over the poles. Another thing she taught in these out-of-the-way places was how to deal with burns and foreign matter in the eye or ear—also accidents of frequent occurrence.
Many interesting and exciting scenes could be related of this part of her life, but I hesitate to do more than show her training and fitness for the work she is now doing.
It is a work we all want done, and would gladly take part in had we the qualifications for it. It is a work which, if well and honestly done, will deserve the best thanks of England and of the whole civilized world. She may not live to tell us, but her life will not have been lived in vain if she prove successful in getting at the truth of what is done By order of the Czar, and presenting it to the Czar himself.
We cannot travel with her bodily; we cannot hunger or perish with cold in her company; we cannot fight with dogs and wolves as she must do; we cannot, with her, go into the dens of immorality and fever; but we can determine upon some way of helping her, and I think we shall only be too thankful to join her friends who by giving of their means are participating in so grand a mission.
THE FATE OF THE HARA DIAMOND.
A Story Re-told.
MY ARRIVAL AT DEEPLEY WALLS.
"Miss Janet Hope, To the care of Lady Chillington, Deepley Walls, near Eastbury, Midlandshire."
"There, miss, I'm sure that will do famously," said Chirper, the overworked, oldish young person whose duty it was to attend to the innumerable wants of the young lady boarders of Park Hill Seminary. She had just written out, in a large sprawling hand, a card as above which card was presently to be nailed on to the one small box that held the whole of my worldly belongings.
"And I think, miss," added Chirper, meditatively, as she held out the card at arm's length, and gazed at it admiringly, "that if I was to write out another card similar, and tie it round your arm, it would, mayhap, help you in getting safe to your journey's end."
I, a girl of twelve, was the Janet Hope indicated above, and I had been looking over Chirper's shoulder with wondering eyes while she addressed the card.
"But who is Lady Chillington, and where is Deepley Walls, and what have I to do with either, Chirper, please?" I asked.
"If there is one thing in little girls more hateful than another, it is curiosity," answered Chirper, with her mouth half-full of nails. "Curiosity has been the bane of many of our sex. Witness Bluebeard's unhappy wife. If you want to know more, you must ask Mrs. Whitehead. I have my instructions and I act on them."
Meeting Mrs. Whitehead half-an-hour later, as she was coming down the stone corridor that led from the refectory, I did ask that lady precisely the same questions that I had put to Chirper. Her frosty glance, filled with a cold surprise, smote me even through her spectacles; and I shrank a little, abashed at my own boldness.
"The habit of asking questions elsewhere than in the class-room should not be encouraged in young ladies," said Mrs. Whitehead, with a sort of prim severity. "The other young ladies are gone home; you are about to follow their example."
"But, Mrs. Whitehead—madam," I pleaded, "I never had any other home than Park Hill."
"More questioning, Miss Hope? Fie! Fie!"
And with a lean finger uplifted in menacing reproval, Mrs. Whitehead sailed on her way, nor deigned me another word.
I stole out into the playground, wondering, wretched, and yet smitten through with faint delicious thrillings of a new-found happiness such as I had often dreamed of, but had scarcely dared hope ever to realise. I, Janet Hope, going home! It was almost too incredible for belief. I wandered about like one mazed—like one who, stepping suddenly out of darkness into sunshine, is dazzled by an intolerable brightness whichever way he turns his eyes. And yet I was wretched: for was not Miss Chinfeather dead? And that, too, was a fact almost too incredible for belief.
As I wandered, this autumn morning, up and down the solitary playground, I went back in memory as far as memory would carry me, but only to find that Miss Chinfeather and Park Hill Seminary blocked up the way. Beyond them lay darkness and mystery. Any events in my child's life that might have happened before my arrival at Park Hill had for me no authentic existence. I had been part and parcel of Miss Chinfeather and the Seminary for so long a time that I could not dissociate myself from them even in thought. Other pupils had had holidays, and letters, and presents, and dear ones at home of whom they often talked; but for me there had been none of these things. I knew that I had been placed at Park Hill when a very little girl by some, to me, mysterious and unknown person, but further than that I knew nothing. The mistress of Park Hill had not treated me in any way differently from her other pupils; but had not the bills contracted on my account been punctually paid by somebody, I am afraid that the even-handed justice on which she prided herself—which, in conjunction with her aquiline nose and a certain antique severity of deportment, caused her to be known amongst us girls as The Roman Matron—would have been somewhat ruffled, and that sentence of expulsion from those classic walls would have been promptly pronounced and as promptly carried into effect.
Happily no such necessity had ever arisen; and now the Roman Matron lay dead in the little corner room on the second floor, and had done with pupils, and half yearly accounts, and antique deportment for ever.
In losing Miss Chinfeather I felt as though the corner-stone of my life had been rent away. She was too cold, she was altogether too far removed for me to regard her with love, or even with that modified feeling which we call affection. But then no such demonstration was looked for by Miss Chinfeather. It was a weakness above which she rose superior. But if my child's love was a gift which she would have despised, she looked for and claimed my obedience—the resignation of my will to hers, the absorption of my individuality in her own, the gradual elimination from my life of all its colour and freshness. She strove earnestly, and with infinite patience, to change me from a dreamy, passionate child—a child full of strange wild moods, capricious, and yet easily touched either to laughter or tears—into a prim and elegant young lady, colourless and formal, and of the most orthodox boarding-school pattern; and if she did not quite succeed in the attempt, the fault, such as it was, must be set down to my obstinate disposition and not to any lack of effort on the part of Miss Chinfeather. And now this powerful influence had vanished from my life, from the world itself, as swiftly and silently as a snowflake in the sun. The grasp of the hard but not unkindly hand, that had held me so firmly in the narrow groove in which it wished me to move, had been suddenly relaxed, and everything around me seemed tottering to its fall. Three nights ago Miss Chinfeather had retired to rest, as well, to all appearance, and as cheerful as ever she had been; next morning she had been found dead in bed. This was what they told us pupils; but so great was the awe in which I held the mistress of Park Hill Seminary that I could not conceive of Death even as venturing to behave disrespectfully towards her. I pictured him in my girlish fancy as knocking at her chamber door in the middle of the night, and after apologising for the interruption, asking whether she was ready to accompany him. Then would she who was thus addressed arise, and wrap an ample robe about her, and place her hand with solemn sweetness in that of the Great Captain, and the two would pass out together into the starlit night, and Miss Chinfeather would be seen of mortal eyes nevermore.
Such was the picture that had haunted my brain for two days and as many nights, while I wandered forlorn through house and playground, or lay awake on my little bed. I had said farewell to one pupil after another till all were gone, and the riddle which I had been putting to myself continually for the last forty-eight hours had now been solved for me by Mrs. Whitehead, and I had been told that I too was going home.
"To the care of Lady Chillington, Deepley Walls, Midlandshire." The words repeated themselves again and again in my brain, and became a greater puzzle with every repetition. I had never to my knowledge heard of either the person or the place. I knew nothing of one or the other. I only knew that my heart thrilled strangely at the mention of the word Home; that unbidden tears started to my eyes at the thought that perhaps—only perhaps—in that as yet unknown place there might be someone who would love me just a little. "Father—Mother." I spoke the words, but they sounded unreal to me, and as if uttered by another. I spoke them again, holding out my arms and crying aloud. All my heart seemed to go out in the cry, but only the hollow winds answered me as they piped mournfully through the yellowing leaves, a throng of which went rustling down the walk as though stirred by the footsteps of a ghost. Then my eyes grew blind with tears and I wept silently for a time as if my heart would break.
But tears were a forbidden luxury at Park Hill, and when, a little later on, I heard Chirper calling me by name, I made haste to dry my eyes and compose my features. She scanned me narrowly as I ran up to her. "You dear, soft-hearted little thing!" she said. And with that she stooped suddenly and gave me a hearty kiss, that might have been heard a dozen yards away. I was about to fling my arms round her neck, but she stopped me, saying, "That will do, dear. Mrs. Whitehead is waiting for us at the door."
Mrs. Whitehead was watching us through the glass door which led into the playground. "The coach will be here in half-an-hour, Miss Hope," she said; "so that you have not much time for your preparations."
I stood like one stunned for a moment or two. Then I said: "If you please, Mrs. Whitehead, may I see Miss Chinfeather before I go?"
Her thin, straight lips quivered slightly, but in her eyes I read only cold disapproval of my request. "Really," she said, "what a singular child you must be. I scarcely know what to say."
"Oh, if you please!" I urged. "Miss Chinfeather was always kind to me. I remember her as long as I can remember anything. To see her once more—for the last time. It would seem to me cruel to go away without."
"Follow me," she said, almost in a whisper. So I followed her softly up stairs into the little corner room where Miss Chinfeather lay in white and solemn state, grandly indifferent to all mundane matters. As I gazed, it seemed but an hour ago since I had heard those still lips conjugating the verb mourir for the behoof of poor ignorant me, and the words came back to me, and I could not help repeating them to myself as I looked: Je meurs, tu meurs, etc.
I bent over and kissed the marble-cold forehead and said farewell in my heart, and went downstairs without a word.
Half-an-hour later the district coach, a splendid vision, pulled up impetuously at the gates. I was ready to the moment. Mrs. Whitehead's frosty fingers touched mine for an instant; she imprinted a chill kiss on my cheek and looked relieved. "Good-bye, my dear Miss Hope, and God bless you," she said. "Strive to bear in mind through after life the lessons that have been instilled into you at Park Hill Seminary. Present my respectful compliments to Lady Chillington, and do not forget your catechism."
At this point the guard sounded an impatient summons on his bugle; Chirper picked up my box, seized me by the hand, and hurried with me to the coach. My luggage found a place on the roof; I was unceremoniously bundled inside; Chirper gave me another of her hearty kisses, and pressed a crooked sixpence into my hand "for luck," as she whispered. I am sure there was a real tear in her eye as she did so. Next moment we were off.
I kept my eyes fixed on the Seminary as long as it remained in view, especially on the little corner room. It seemed to me that I must be a very wicked girl indeed, because I felt no real sorrow at quitting the place that had been my home for so many years. I could not feel anything but secretly glad, but furtively happy with a happiness which I felt ashamed of acknowledging even to myself. Miss Chinfeather's white and solemn face, as seen in her coffin, haunted my memory, but even of her I thought only with a sort of chastened regret. She had never touched my heart. There had been about her a bleakness of nature that effectually chilled any tender buds of liking or affection that might in the ordinary course of events have grown up and blossomed round her life. Therefore, in my child's heart there was no lasting sorrow for her death, no gracious memories of her that would stay with me, and smell sweet, long after she herself should be dust.
My eight miles' ride by coach was soon over. It ended at the railway station of the county town. The guard of the coach had, I suppose, received his secret instructions. Almost before I knew what had happened, I found myself in a first-class carriage, with a ticket for Eastbury in my hand, and committed to the care of another guard, he of the railway this time—a fiery-faced man, with immense red whiskers, who came and surveyed me as though I were some contraband article, but finished by nodding his head and saying with a smile, "I dessay we shall be good friends, miss, before we get to the end of our journey."
It was my first journey by rail, and the novelty of it filled me with wonder and delight. The train by which I travelled was a fast one, and after my first feeling of fright at the rapidity of the motion had merged into one of intense pleasure and exhilaration of mind, I could afford to look back on my recent coach experience with a sort of pitying superiority, as on a something that was altogether rococo and out of date. Already the rash of new ideas into my mind was so powerful that the old landmarks of my life seemed in danger of being swept clean away. Already it seemed days instead of only a brief hour or two since I had bidden Mrs. Whitehead farewell, and had taken my last look at Park Hill Seminary.
The red-faced guard was as good as his word; he and I became famous friends before I reached the end of my journey. At every station at which we stopped he came to the window to see how I was getting on, and whether I was in want of anything, and was altogether so kind to me that I was quite sorry to part from him when the train reached Eastbury, and left me, a minute later, standing, a solitary waif, on the little platform.
The one solitary fly of which the station could boast was laid under contribution. My little box was tossed on to its roof; I myself was shut up inside; the word was given, "To Deepley Walls;" the station was left behind, and away we went, jolting and rumbling along the quiet country lanes, and under over-arching trees, all aglow just now with autumn's swift-fading beauty. The afternoon was closing in, and the wind was rising, sweeping up with melancholy soughs from the dim wooded hollows where it had lain asleep till the sun went down; garnering up the fallen leaves like a cunning miser, wherever it could find a hiding-place for them, and then dying suddenly down, and seeming to hold its breath as if listening for the footsteps of the coming winter.
In the western sky hung a huge tumbled wrack of molten cloud like the ruins of some vast temple of the gods of eld. Chasmed buttresses, battlements overthrown; on the horizon a press of giants, shoulder against shoulder, climbing slowly to the rescue; in mid-sky a praying woman; farther afield a huge head, and a severed arm the fingers of which were clenched in menace: all these things I saw, and a score others, as the clouds changed from minute to minute in form and brightness, while the stars began to glow out like clusters of silver lilies in the eastern sky.
We kept jolting on for so long a time through the twilight lanes, and the evening darkened so rapidly, that I began to grow frightened. It was like being lifted out of a dungeon, when the old fly drew up with a jerk, and a shout of "House there!" and when I looked out and saw that we were close to the lodge entrance of some park.
Presently a woman, with a child in her arms, came out of the lodge and proceeded to open the gate for us. Said the driver—"How's Johnny to-night?"
The woman shouted something in reply, but I don't think the old fellow heard her.
"Ay, ay," he called out, "Johnny will be a famous young shaver one of these days;" and with that, he whipped up his horse, and away we went.
The drive up the avenue, for such at the time I judged it to be, and such it proved to be, did not occupy many minutes. The fly came to a stand, and the driver got down and opened the door. "Now, young lady, here you are," he said; and I found myself in front of the main entrance to Deepley Walls.
It was too dark by this time for me to discern more than the merest outline of the place. I saw that it was very large, and I noticed that not even one of its hundred windows showed the least glimmer of light. It loomed vast, dark and silent, as if deserted by every living thing.
The old driver gave a hearty pull at the bell, and the muffled clamour reached me where I stood. I was quaking with fears and apprehensions of that unknown future on whose threshold I was standing. Would Love or Hate open for me the doors of Deepley Walls? I was strung to such a pitch that it seemed impossible for any lesser passion to be handmaiden to my needs.
What I saw when the massive door was opened was an aged woman, dressed like a superior domestic, who, in sharp accents, demanded to know what we meant by disturbing a quiet family in that unseemly way. She was holding one hand over her eyes, and trying to make out our appearance through the gathering darkness. I stepped close up to her. "I am Miss Janet Hope, from Park Hill Seminary," I said, "and I wish to speak with Lady Chillington."
THE MISTRESS OF DEEPLEY WALLS.
The words were hardly out of my lips when the woman shrank suddenly back, as though struck by an invisible hand, and gave utterance to an inarticulate cry of wonder and alarm. Then, striding forward, she seized me by the wrist, and drew me into the lamp-lighted hall. "Child! child! why have you come here?" she cried, scanning my face with eager eyes. "In all the wide world this is the last place you should have come to."
"Miss Chinfeather is dead, and all the young ladies have been sent to their homes. I have no home, so they have sent me here."
"What shall I do? What will her ladyship say?" cried the woman, in a frightened voice. "How shall I ever dare to tell her?"
"Who rang the bell, Dance, a few minutes ago? And to whom are you talking?"
The voice sounded so suddenly out of the semi-darkness at the upper end of the large hall, which was lighted only by a small oil lamp, that both the woman and I started. Looking in the direction from which the sound had come, I could dimly make out, through the obscurity, the figures of two women who had entered without noise through the curtained doorway, close to which they were now standing. One of the two was very tall, and was dressed entirely in black. The second one, who was less tall, was also dressed in black, except that she seemed to have something white thrown over her head and shoulders; but I was too far away to make out any details.
"Hush! don't you speak," whispered the woman warningly to me. "Leave me to break the news to her ladyship." With that, she left me standing on the threshold, and hurried towards the upper end of the hall.
The tall personage in black, then, with the harsh voice—high pitched, and slightly cracked—was Lady Chillington! How fast my heart beat! If only I could have slipped out unobserved I would never have braved my fortune within those walls again.
She who had been called Dance went up to the two ladies, curtsied deeply, and began talking in a low, earnest voice. Hardly, however, had she spoken a dozen words when the lesser of the two ladies flung up her arms with a cry like that of some wounded creature, and would have fallen to the ground had not Dance caught her round the waist and so held her.
"What folly is this?" cried Lady Chillington, sternly, striking the pavement of the hall sharply with the iron ferrule of her cane. "To your room, Sister Agnes! For such poor weak fools as you solitude is the only safe companion. But, remember your oath! Not a word; not a word." With one lean hand uplifted, and menacing forefinger, she emphasised those last warning words.
She who had been addressed as Sister Agnes raised herself, with a deep sigh, from the shoulder of Dance, cast one long look in the direction of the spot where I was standing, and vanished slowly through the curtained arch. Then Dance took up the broken thread of her narration, and Lady Chillington, grim and motionless, listened without a word.
Even after Dance had done speaking, her ladyship stood for some time looking straight before her, but saying nothing in reply. I felt intuitively that my fate was hanging on the decision of those few moments, but I neither stirred nor spoke.
At length the silence was broken by Lady Chillington. "Take the child away," she said; "attend to her wants, make her presentable, and bring her to me in the Green Saloon after dinner. It will be time enough to-morrow to consider what must be done with her."
Dance curtsied again. Her ladyship sailed slowly across the hall, and passed out through another curtained doorway.
Dance's first act was to pay and dismiss the driver, who had been waiting outside all this time. Then, taking me by the hand, "Come along with me, dear," she said. "Why, I declare, you look quite white and frightened! You have nothing to fear, child. We shall not eat you—at least, not just yet; not till we have fed you up a bit."
At the end of a long corridor was Mrs. Dance's own room, into which I was now ushered. Scarcely had I made a few changes in my toilette when tea for two persons was brought in, and Mrs. Dance and I sat down to table. The old lady was well on with her second cup before she made any remark other than was required by the necessities of the occasion.
I have called her an old woman, and such she looked in my youthful eyes, although her years were only about sixty. She wore a dark brown dress and a black silk apron, and had on a cap with thick frilled borders, under which her grey hair was neatly snooded away. She looked ruddy and full of health. A shrewd, sensible woman, evidently; yet with a motherly kindness about her that made me cling to her with a child's unerring instinct.
"You look tired, poor thing," she said, as she leisurely stirred her tea; "and well you may, considering the long journey you have had to-day. I don't suppose that her ladyship will keep you more than ten minutes in the Green Saloon, and after that you can go to bed as soon as you like. What a surprise for all of us your coming has been! Dear, dear! who would have expected such a thing this morning? But I knew by the twitching of my corns that something uncommon was going to happen. I was really frightened of telling her ladyship that you were here. There's no knowing how she might have taken it; and there's no knowing what she will decide to do with you to-morrow."
"But what has Lady Chillington to do with me in any way?" I asked. "Before this morning I never even heard her name; and now it seems that she is to do what she likes with me."
"That she will do what she likes with you, you may depend, dear," said Mrs. Dance. "As to how she happens to have the right so to do, that is another thing, and one about which it is not my place to talk nor yours to question me. That she possesses such a right you may make yourself certain. All that you have to do is to obey and to ask no questions."
I sat in distressed and bewildered silence for a little while. Then I ventured to say: "Please not to think me rude, but I should like to know who Sister Agnes is."
Mrs. Dance stirred uneasily in her chair and bent her eyes on the fire, but did not immediately answer my question.
"Sister Agnes is Lady Chillington's companion," she said at last. "She reads to her, and writes her letters, and talks to her, and all that, you know. Sister Agnes is a Roman Catholic, and came here from the convent of Saint Ursula. However, she is not a nun, but something like one of those Sisters of Mercy in the large towns, who go about among poor people and visit the hospitals and prisons. She is allowed to live here always, and Lady Chillington would hardly know how to get through the day without her."
"Is she not a relative of Lady Chillington?" I asked.
"No, not a relative," answered Dance. "You must try to love her a great deal, my dear Miss Janet; for if angels are ever allowed to visit this vile earth, Sister Agnes is one of them. But there goes her ladyship's bell. She is ready to receive you."
I had washed away the stains of travel, and had put on my best frock, and Dance was pleased to say that I looked very nice, "though, perhaps, a trifle more old-fashioned than a girl of your age ought to look." Then she laid down a few rules for my guidance when in the presence of Lady Chillington, and led the way to the Green Saloon, I following with a timorous heart.
Dance flung open the folding-doors of the big room. "Miss Janet Hope to see your ladyship," she called out; and next moment the doors closed behind me, and I was left standing there alone.
"Come nearer—come nearer," said her ladyship's cracked voice, as with a long, lean hand she beckoned me to approach.
I advanced slowly up the room, stopped and curtsied. Lady Chillington pointed out a high footstool about three yards from her chair. I curtsied again, and sat down on it. During the interview that followed my quick eyes had ample opportunity for taking a mental inventory of Lady Chillington and her surroundings.
She had exchanged the black dress in which I first saw her for one of green velvet, trimmed with ermine. This dress was made with short sleeves and low body, so as to leave exposed her ladyship's arms, long, lean and skinny, and her scraggy neck. Her nose was hooked and her chin pointed. Between the two shone a row of large white, even teeth, which long afterwards I knew to be artificial. Equally artificial was the mass of short black, frizzly curls that crowned her head, which was unburdened with cap or covering of any kind. Her eyebrows were dyed to match her hair. Her cheeks, even through the powder with which they were thickly smeared, showed two spots of brilliant red, which no one less ignorant than I would have accepted without question as the last genuine remains of the bloom of youth. But at that first interview I accepted everything au pied de la lettre, without doubt or question of any kind.
Her ladyship wore long earrings of filigree gold. Round her neck was a massive gold chain. On her fingers sparkled several rings of price—diamonds, rubies and opals. In figure her ladyship was tall, and upright as a dart. She was, however, slightly lame of one foot, which necessitated the use of a cane when walking. Lady Chillington's cane was ivory-headed, and had a gold plate let into it, on which was engraved her crest and initials. She was seated in an elaborately-carved high-backed chair, near a table on which were the remains of a dessert for one person.
The Green Saloon was a large gloomy room; at least it looked gloomy as I saw it for the first time, lighted up by four wax candles where twenty were needed. These four candles being placed close by where Lady Chillington was sitting, left the other end of the saloon in comparative darkness. The furniture was heavy, formal and old-fashioned. Gloomy portraits of dead and gone Chillingtons lined the green walls, and this might be the reason why there always seemed to me a slight graveyard flavour—scarcely perceptible, but none the less surely there—about this room which caused me to shudder involuntarily whenever I crossed its threshold.
Lady Chillington's black eyes—large, cold and steady as Juno's own—had been bent upon me all this time, measuring me from head to foot with what I felt to be a slightly contemptuous scrutiny.
"What is your name, and how old are you?" she asked, with startling abruptness, after a minute or two of silence.
"Janet Hope, and twelve years," I answered, laconically. A feeling of defiance, of dislike to this bedizened old woman began to gnaw my child's heart. Young as I was, I had learned, with what bitterness I alone could have told, the art of wrapping myself round with a husk of cold reserve, which no one uninitiated in the ways of children could penetrate, unless I were inclined to let them. Sulkiness was the generic name for this quality at school, but I dignified it with a different term.
"How many years were you at Park Hill Seminary? and where did you live before you went there?" asked Lady Chillington.
"I have lived at Park Hill ever since I can remember anything. I don't know where I lived before that time."
"Are your parents alive or dead? If the latter, what do you remember of them?"
A lump came into my throat, and tears into my eyes. For a moment or two I could not answer.
"I don't know anything about my parents," I said. "I never remember seeing them. I don't know whether they are alive or dead."
"Do you know why you were consigned by the Park Hill people to this particular house—to Deepley Walls—to me, in fact?"
Her voice was raised almost to a shriek as she said these last words, and she pointed to herself with one claw-like finger.
"No, ma'am, I don't know why I was sent here. I was told to come, and I came."
"But you have no claim on me—none whatever," she continued, fiercely. "Bear that in mind: remember it always. Whatever I may choose to do for you will be done of my own free will, and not through compulsion of any kind. No claim whatever; remember that. None whatever."
She was silent for some time after this, and sat with her cold, steady eyes fixed intently on the fire. For my part, I sat as still as a mouse, afraid to stir, longing for my dismissal, and dreading to be questioned further.
Lady Chillington roused herself at length with a deep sigh, and a few words muttered under her breath.
"Here is a bunch of grapes for you, child," she said. "When you have eaten them it will be time for you to retire."
I advanced timidly and took the grapes, with a curtsey and a "Thank you, ma'am," and then went back to my seat.
As I sat eating my grapes my eyes went up to an oval mirror over the fire-place, in which were reflected the figures of Lady Chillington and myself. My momentary glance into its depths showed me how keenly, but furtively, her ladyship was watching me. But what interest could a great lady have in watching poor insignificant me? I ventured another glance into the mirror. Yes, she looked as if she were devouring me with her eyes. But hothouse grapes are nicer than mysteries, and how is it possible to give one's serious attention to two things at a time?
When I had finished the grapes, I put my plate back on the table.
"Ring that bell," said Lady Chillington. I rang it accordingly, and presently Dance made her appearance.
"Miss Hope is ready to retire," said her ladyship.
I arose, and going a step or two nearer to her, I made her my most elaborate curtsey, and said, "I wish your ladyship a very good-night."
The ghost of a smile flickered across her face. "I am pleased to find, child, that you are not entirely destitute of manners," she said, and with a stately wave of the arm I was dismissed.
It was like an escape from slavery to hear the door of the Green Saloon close behind me, and to get into the great corridors and passages outside. I could have capered for very glee; only Mrs. Dance was a staid sort of person, and might not have liked it.
"Her ladyship is pleased with you, I am sure," she remarked, as we went along.
"That is more than I am with her," I answered, pertly. Mrs. Dance looked shocked.
"You must not talk in that way, dear, on any account," she said. "You must try to like Lady Chillington; it is to your interest to do so. But even should you never learn to like her, you must not let anyone know it."
"I'm sure that I shall like the lady that you call Sister Agnes," I said. "When shall I see her? To-morrow?"
Mrs. Dance looked at me sharply for a moment. "You think you shall like Sister Agnes, eh? When you come to know her, you will more than like her; you will love her. But perhaps Lady Chillington will not allow you to see her."
"But why not?" I said abruptly, and I could feel my eyes flash with anger.
"The why not I am not at liberty to explain," said Mrs. Dance, drily. "And let me tell you, Miss Janet Hope, there are many things under this roof of which no explanation will be given you, and if you are a wise, good girl, you will not ask too many questions. I tell you this simply for your own good. Lady Chillington cannot abear people that are always prying and asking 'What does this mean?' and 'What does the other mean?' A still tongue is the sign of a wise head."
Ten minutes later I had said my prayers and was in bed. "Don't go without kissing me," I said to Dance as she took up the candle.
The old lady came back and kissed me tenderly. "Heaven bless you and keep you, my dear!" she said, with solemn dignity. "There are those in the world who love you very dearly, and some day perhaps you will know all. I dare not say more. Good-night, and God bless you."
Mrs. Dance's words reached a chord in my heart that vibrated to the slightest touch. I cried myself silently to sleep.
How long I had been asleep I had no means of knowing, but I was awakened some time in the night by a rain of kisses, soft, warm, and light, on lips, cheeks and forehead. The room was pitch dark, and for a second or two I thought I was still at Park Hill, and that Miss Chinfeather had come back from heaven to tell me how much she loved me. But this thought passed away like the slide of a magic lantern, and I knew that I was at Deepley Walls. The moment I knew this I put out my arms with the intention of clasping my unknown visitor round the neck. But I was not quick enough. The kisses ceased, my hands met each other in the empty air, and I heard a faint noise of garments trailing across the floor. I started up in bed, and called out, in a frightened voice, "Who's there?"
"Hush! not a word!" whispered a voice out of the darkness. Then I heard the door of my room softly closed, and I felt that I was alone.
I was left as wide awake as ever I had been in my life. My child's heart was filled with an unspeakable yearning, and yet the darkness and the mystery frightened me. It could not be Miss Chinfeather who had visited me, I argued with myself. The lips that had touched mine were not those of a corpse, but were instinct with life and love. Who, then, could my mysterious visitor be? Not Lady Chillington, surely! I half started up in bed at the thought. Just as I did so, without warning of any kind, a solemn muffled tramp became audible in the room immediately over mine. A tramp, slow, heavy, measured, from one end of the room to the other, and then back again. I slipped back into the bedclothes and buried myself up to the ears. I could hear the beating of my heart, oppressed now with a new terror before which the lesser one faded utterly. The very monotony of that dull measured walk was enough to unstring the nerves of a child, coming as it did in the middle of the night. I tried to escape from it by going still deeper under the clothes, but I could hear it even then. Since I could not escape it altogether, I had better listen to it with all my ears, for it was quite possible that it might come down stairs, and so into my room. Had such a thing happened, I think I should have died from sheer terror. Happily for me nothing of the kind took place; and, still listening, I fell asleep at last from utter weariness, and knew nothing more till I was awoke by a stray sunbeam smiting me across the eyes.