"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 FATE OF THE HARA DIAMOND.
JANET IN A NEW CHARACTER.
On entering Lady Chillington's room for the second time, Janet found that the mistress of Deepley Walls had completed her toilette in the interim, and was now sitting robed in stiff rustling silk, with an Indian fan in one hand and a curiously-chased vinaigrette in the other. She motioned with her fan to Janet. "Be seated," she said, in the iciest of tones; and Janet sat down on a chair a yard or two removed from her ladyship.
"Since you were here last, Miss Hope," she began, "I have seen Sister Agnes, who informs me that she has already given you an outline of the duties I shall require you to perform should you agree to accept the situation which ill-health obliges her to vacate. At the same time, I wish you clearly to understand that I do not consider you in any way bound by what I have done for you in the time gone by, neither would I have you in this matter run counter to your inclinations in the slightest degree. If you would prefer that a situation as governess should be obtained for you, say so without hesitation; and any small influence I may have shall be used ungrudgingly in your behalf. Should you agree to remain at Deepley Walls, your salary will be thirty guineas a-year. If you wish it, you can take a day for consideration, and let me have your decision in the morning."
Lady Chillington's mention of a fixed salary stung Janet to the quick: it was so entirely unexpected. It stung her, but only for a moment; the next she saw and gratefully recognised the fact that she should no longer be a pensioner on the bounty of Lady Chillington. A dependent she might be—a servant even, if you like; but at least she would be earning her living by the labour of her own hands; and even about the very thought of such a thing there was a sweet sense of independence that flushed her warmly through and through.
Her hesitation lasted but a moment, then she spoke. "Your ladyship is very kind, but I require no time for consideration," she said. "I have already made up my mind to take the position which you have so generously offered me; and if my ability to please you only prove equal to my inclination, you will not have much cause to complain."
A faint smile of something like satisfaction flitted across Lady Chillington's face. "Very good, Miss Hope," she said, in a more gracious tone than she had yet used. "I am pleased to find that you have taken so sensible a view of the matter, and that you understand so thoroughly your position under my roof. How soon shall you be prepared to begin your new duties?"
"I am ready at this moment."
"Come to me an hour hence, and I will then instruct you."
In this second interview, brief though it was, Janet could not avoid being struck by Lady Chillington's stately dignity of manner. Her tone and style were those of a high-bred gentlewoman. It seemed scarcely possible that she and the querulous, shrivelled-up old woman in the cashmere dressing-robe could be one and the same individual.
Unhappily, as Janet to her cost was not long in finding out, her ladyship's querulous moods were much more frequent than her moods of quiet dignity. At such times she was very difficult to please; sometimes, indeed, it was utterly impossible to please her: not even an angel could have done it. Then, indeed, Janet felt her duty weigh very hardly upon her. By nature her temper was quick and passionate—her impulses high and generous; but when Lady Chillington was in her worse moods, she had to curb the former as with an iron chain; while the latter were outraged continually by Lady Chillington's mean and miserly mode of life, and by a certain low and sordid tone of thought which at such times pervaded all she said and did. And yet, strange to say, she had rare fits of generosity and goodwill—times when her soul seemed to sit in sackcloth and ashes, as if in repentance for those other occasions when the "dark fit" was on her, and the things of this world claimed her too entirely as their own.
After her second interview with Lady Chillington, Janet at once hurried off to Sister Agnes to tell her the news. "On one point only, so far as I see at present, shall I require any special information," she said. "I shall need to know exactly the mode of procedure necessary to be observed when I pay my midnight visits to Sir John Chillington."
"It is not my intention that you should visit Sir John," said Sister Agnes. "That portion of my old duties will continue to be performed by me."
"Not until you are stronger—not until your health is better than it is now," said Janet earnestly. "I am young and strong; it is merely a part of what I have undertaken to do, and you must please let me do it. I have outgrown my childish fears, and could visit the Black Room now without the quiver of a nerve."
"You think so by daylight, but wait until the house is dark and silent, and then say the same conscientiously, if you can do so."
But Janet was determined not to yield the point, nor could Sister Agnes move her from her decision. Ultimately a compromise was entered into by which it was agreed that for one evening at least they should visit the Black Room together, and that the settlement of the question should be left until the following day.
Precisely as midnight struck they set out together up the wide, old-fashioned staircase, past the door of Janet's old room, up the narrower staircase beyond, until the streak of light came into view and the grim, nail-studded door itself was reached. Janet was secretly glad that she was not there alone; so much she acknowledged to herself as they halted for a moment while Sister Agnes unlocked the door. But when the latter asked her if she were not afraid, if she would not much rather be snug in bed, Janet only said: "Give me the key; tell me what I have to do inside the room, and then leave me."
But Sister Agnes would not consent to that, and they entered the room together. Instead of seven years, it seemed to Janet only seven hours since she had been there last, so vividly was the recollection of her first visit still impressed upon her mind. Everything was unchanged in that chamber of the dead, except, perhaps, the sprawling cupids on the ceiling, which looked a shade dingier than of old, and more in need of soap and water than ever. But the black draperies on the walls, the huge candles in the silver tripods, the pall-covered coffin in the middle of the room, were all as Janet had seen them last. There, too, was the oaken prie-dieu a yard or two away from the head of the coffin. Sister Agnes knelt on it for a few moments, and bent her head in silent prayer.
"My visit to this room every midnight," said Sister Agnes, "is made for the simple purpose of renewing the candles, and of seeing that everything is as it should be. That the visit should be made at midnight, and at no other time, is one of Lady Chillington's whims—a whim that by process of time has crystallised into a law. The room is never entered by day."
"Was it whim or madness that caused Sir John Chillington to leave orders that his body should be kept above ground for twenty years?"
"Who shall tell by what motive he was influenced when he had that particular clause inserted in his will? Deepley Walls itself hangs on the proper fulfilment of the clause. If Lady Chillington were to cause her husband's remains to be interred in the family vault before the expiry of the twenty years, the very day she did so the estate would pass from her to the present baronet, a distant cousin, between whom and her ladyship there has been a bitter feud of many years' standing. Although Deepley Walls has been in the family for a hundred and fifty years, it has never been entailed. The entailed estate is in Yorkshire, and there Sir Mark, the present baronet, resides. Lady Chillington has the power of bequeathing Deepley Walls to whomsoever she may please, providing she carry out strictly the instructions contained in her husband's will. It is possible that in a court of law the will might have been set aside on the ground of insanity, or the whole matter might have been thrown into Chancery. But Lady Chillington did not choose to submit to such an ordeal. All the courts of law in the kingdom could have given her no more than she possessed already—they could merely have given her permission to bury her husband's body, and it did not seem to her that such a permission could compensate for turning into public gossip a private chapter of family history. So here Sir John Chillington has remained since his death, and here he will stay till the last of the twenty years has become a thing of the past. Two or three times every year Mr. Winter, Sir Mark's lawyer, comes over to Deepley Walls to satisfy himself by ocular proof that Sir John's instructions are being duly carried out. This he has a legal right to do in the interests of his client. Sometimes he is conducted to this room by Lady Chillington, sometimes by me; but even in his case her ladyship will not relax her rule of not having the room visited by day."
Sister Agnes then showed Janet that behind the black draperies there was a cupboard in the wall, which on being opened proved to contain a quantity of large candles. One by one Sister Agnes took out of the silver tripods what remained of the candles of the previous day, and filled up their places with fresh ones. Janet looked on attentively. Then, for the second time, Sister Agnes knelt on the prie-dieu for a few moments, and then she and Janet left the room.
Next day Sister Agnes was so ill, and Janet pressed so earnestly to be allowed to attend to the Black Room in place of her, and alone, that she was obliged to give a reluctant consent.
It was not without an inward tremor that Janet heard the clock strike twelve. Sister Agnes had insisted on accompanying her part of the way upstairs, and would, in fact, have gone the whole distance with her, had not Janet insisted on going forward alone. In a single breath, as it seemed to her, she ran up the remaining stairs, unlocked the door, and entered the room. Her nerves were not sufficiently composed to allow of her making use of the prie-dieu. All she cared for just then was to get through her duty as quickly as possible, and return in safety to the world of living beings downstairs. She set her teeth, and by a supreme effort of will went through the small duty that was required of her steadily but swiftly. Her face was never turned away from the coffin the whole time; and when she had finished her task she walked backwards to the door, opened it, walked backwards out, and in another breath was downstairs, and safe in the protecting arms of Sister Agnes.
Next night she insisted upon going entirely alone, and made so light of the matter that Sister Agnes no longer opposed her wish to make the midnight visit to the Black Room a part of her ordinary duty. But inwardly Janet could never quite overcome her secret awe of the room and its silent occupant. She always dreaded the coming of the hour that took her there, and when her task was over, she never closed the door without a feeling of relief. In this case, custom with her never bred familiarity. To the last occasion of her going there she went the prey of hidden fears—fears of she knew not what, which she derided to herself even while they made her their victim. There was a morbid thread running through the tissue of her nerves, which by intense force of will might be kept from growing and spreading, but which no effort of hers could quite pluck out or eradicate.
THE DAWN OF LOVE.
Major Strickland did not forget his promise to Janet. On the eighth morning after his return from London he walked over from Eastbury to Deepley Walls, saw Lady Chillington, and obtained leave of absence for Miss Hope for the day. Then he paid a flying visit to Sister Agnes, for whom he had a great reverence and admiration, and ended by carrying off Janet in triumph.
The park of Deepley Walls extends almost to the suburbs of Eastbury, a town of eight thousand inhabitants, but of such small commercial importance that the nearest railway station is three miles away across country and nearly five miles from Deepley Walls.
Major Strickland no longer resided at Rose Cottage, but at a pretty little villa just outside Eastbury. Some small accession of fortune had come to him by the death of a relative; and an addition to his family in the person of Aunt Felicite, a lady old and nearly blind, the widow of a kinsman of the Major. Besides its tiny lawn and flower-beds in front, the Lindens had a long stretch of garden ground behind, otherwise the Major would scarcely have been happy in his new home. He was secretary to the Eastbury Horticultural Society, and his fame as a grower of prize roses and geraniums was in these latter days far sweeter to him than any fame that had ever accrued to him as a soldier.
Janet found Aunt Felicite a most quaint and charming old lady, as cheerful and full of vivacity as many a girl of seventeen. She kissed Janet on both cheeks when the Major introduced her; asked whether she was fiancee; complimented her on her French; declaimed a passage from Racine; put her poodle through a variety of amusing tricks; and pressed Janet to assist at her luncheon of cream cheese, French roll, strawberries and white wine.
A slight sense of disappointment swept across Janet's mind, like the shadow of a cloud across a sunny field. She had been two hours at the Lindens without having seen Captain George. In vain she told herself that she had come to spend the day with Major Strickland, and to be introduced to Aunt Felicite, and that nothing more was wanting to her complete contentment. That something more was needed she knew quite well, but she would not acknowledge it even to herself. HE knew of her coming; he had been with Aunt Felicite only half an hour before—so much she learned within five minutes of her arrival; yet now, at the end of two hours, he had not condescended even to come and speak to her. She roused herself from the sense of despondency that was creeping over her and put on a gaiety that she was far from feeling. A very bitter sense of self-contempt was just then at work in her heart; she felt that never before had she despised herself so utterly. She took her hat in her hand, and put her arm within the Major's and walked with him round his little demesne. It was a walk that took up an hour or more, for there was much to see and learn, and Janet was bent this morning on having a long lesson in botany; and the old soldier was only too happy in having secured a listener so enthusiastic and appreciative to whom he could dilate on his favourite hobby.
But all this time Janet's eyes and ears were on the alert in a double sense of which the Major knew nothing. He was busy with a description of the last spring flower show, and how the Duke of Cheltenham's auriculas were by no means equal to those of Major Strickland, when Janet gave a little start as though a gnat had stung her, and bent to smell a sweet blush-rose, whose tints were rivalled by the sudden delicate glow that flushed her cheek.
"Yes, yes!" she said, hurriedly, as the Major paused for a moment; "and so the Duke's gardener was jealous because you carried away the prize?"
"I never saw a man more put out in my life," said the Major. "He shook his fist at my flowers and said before everybody, 'Let the old Major only wait till autumn and then see if my dahlias don't—' But yonder comes Geordie. Bless my heart! what has he been doing at Eastbury all this time?"
Janet's instinct had not deceived her; she had heard and recognised his footstep a full minute before the Major knew that he was near. She gave one quick, shy glance round as he opened the gate, and then she wandered a yard or two further down the path.
"Good-morning, uncle," said Captain George, as he came up. "You set out for Deepley Walls so early this morning that I did not see you before you started. I am glad to find that you did not come back alone."
Janet had turned as he began to speak, but did not come back to the Major's side. Captain George advanced a few steps and lifted his hat.
"Good-morning, Miss Hope," he said, with outstretched hand. "I need hardly say how pleased I am to see you at the Lindens. My uncle has succeeded so well on his first embassy that we must send him again, and often, on the same errand."
Janet murmured a few words in reply—what, she could not afterwards have told; but as her eyes met his for a moment, she read in them something that made her forgive him on the spot, even while she declared to herself that she had nothing to forgive, and that brought to her cheek a second blush more vivid than the first.
"All very well, young gentleman," said the Major; "but you have not yet explained your four hours' absence. We shall order you under arrest unless you have some reasonable excuse to submit."
"The best of all excuses—that of urgent business," said the Captain.
"You! business!" said the laughing Major. "Why, it was only last night that you were bewailing your lot as being one of those unhappy mortals who have no work to do."
"To those they love, the gods lend patient hearing. I forget the Latin, but that does not matter just now. What I wish to convey is this—that I need no longer be idle unless I choose. I have found some work to do. Lend me your ears, both of you. About an hour after you, sir, had started for Deepley Walls, I received a note from the editor of the Eastbury Courier, in which he requested me to give him an early call. My curiosity prompted me to look in upon him as soon as breakfast was over. I found that he was brother to the editor of one of the London magazines—a gentleman whom I met one evening at a party in town. The London editor remembered me, and had written to the Eastbury editor to make arrangements with me for writing a series of magazine articles on India and my experiences there during the late mutiny. I need not bore you with details; it is sufficient to say that my objections were talked down one by one; and I left the office committed to a sixteen-page article by the sixth of next month."
"You an author!" exclaimed the Major. "I should as soon have thought of your enlisting in the Marines."
"It will only be for a few months, uncle—only till my limited stock of experiences shall be exhausted. After that I shall be relegated to my natural obscurity, doubtless never to emerge again."
"Hem," said the Major, nervously. "Geordie, my boy, I have by me one or two little poems which I wrote when I was about nineteen—trifles flung off on the inspiration of the moment. Perhaps, when you come to know your friend the editor better than you do now, you might induce him to bring them out—to find an odd corner for them in his magazine. I shouldn't want payment for them, you know. You might just mention that fact; and I assure you that I have seen many worse things than they are in print."
"What, uncle, you an author! Oh, fie! I should as soon have thought of your wishing to dance on the tight-rope as to appear in print. But we must look over these little effusions—eh, Miss Hope. We must unearth this genius, and be the first to give his lucubrations to the world."
"If you were younger, sir, or I not quite so old, I would box your ears," said the Major, who seemed hardly to know whether to laugh or be angry. Finally he laughed, George and Janet chimed in, and all three went back indoors.
After an early dinner the Major took rod and line and set off to capture a few trout for supper. Aunt Felicite took her post-prandial nap discreetly, in an easy-chair, and Captain George and Miss Hope were left to their own devices. In Love's sweet Castle of Indolence the hours that make up a summer afternoon pass like so many minutes. These two had blown the magic horn and had gone in. The gates of brass had closed behind them, shutting them up from the common outer world. Over all things was a glamour as of witchcraft. Soft music filled the air; soft breezes came to them as from fields of amaranth and asphodel. They walked ever in a magic circle, that widened before them as they went. Eros in passing had touched them with his golden dart. Each of them hid the sweet sting from the other, yet neither of them would have been whole again for anything the world could have offered. What need to tell the old story over again—the story of the dawn of love in two young hearts that had never loved before?
Janet went home that night in a flutter of happiness—a happiness so sweet and strange and yet so vague that she could not have analysed it even had she been casuist enough to try to do so. But she was content to accept the fact as a fact; beyond that she cared nothing. No syllable of love had been spoken between her and George: they had passed what to an outsider would have seemed a very common-place afternoon. They had talked together—not sentiment, but every-day topics of the world around them; they had read together—poetry, but nothing more passionate than "Aurora Leigh;" they had walked together—rather a silent and stupid walk, our friendly outsider would have urged; but if they were content, no one else had any right to complain. And so the day had worn itself away—a red-letter day for ever in the calendar of their young lives.
THE NARRATIVE OF SERGEANT NICHOLAS.
One morning when Janet had been about three weeks at Deepley Walls, she was summoned to the door by one of the servants, and found there a tall, thin, middle-aged man, dressed in plain clothes, and having all the appearance of a discharged soldier.
"I have come a long way, miss," he said to Janet, carrying a finger to his forehead, "in order to see Lady Chillington and have a little private talk with her."
"I am afraid that her ladyship will scarcely see you, unless you can give her some idea of the business that you have called upon."
"My name, miss, is Sergeant John Nicholas. I served formerly in India, where I was body-servant to her ladyship's son, Captain Charles Chillington, who died there of cholera nearly twenty years ago, and I have something of importance to communicate."
Janet made the old soldier come in and sit down in the hall while she took his message to Lady Chillington. Her ladyship was not yet up, but was taking her chocolate in bed, with a faded Indian shawl thrown round her shoulders. She began to tremble violently the moment Janet delivered the old soldier's message, and could scarcely set down her cup and saucer. Then she began to cry, and to kiss the hem of the Indian shawl. Janet went softly out of the room and waited. She had never even heard of this Captain Charles Chillington, and yet no mere empty name could have thus affected the stern mistress of Deepley Walls. Those few tears opened up quite a new view of Lady Chillington's character. Janet began to see that there might be elements of tragedy in the old woman's life of which she knew nothing: that many of the moods which seemed to her so strange and inexplicable might be so merely for want of the key by which alone they could be rightly read.
Presently her ladyship's gong sounded. Janet went back into the room, and found her still sitting up in bed, sipping her chocolate with a steady hand. All traces of tears had vanished: she looked even more stern and repressed than usual.
"Request the person of whom you spoke to me a while ago to wait," she said. "I will see him at eleven in my private sitting-room."
So Sergeant Nicholas was sent to get his breakfast in the servants' room, and wait till Lady Chillington was ready to receive him.
At eleven precisely he was summoned to her ladyship's presence. She received him with stately graciousness, and waved him to a chair a yard or two away. She was dressed for the day in one of her stiff brocaded silks, and sat as upright as a dart, manipulating a small fan. Miss Hope stood close at the back of her chair.
"So, my good man, I understand that you were acquainted with my son, the late Captain Chillington, who died in India twenty years ago?"
"I was his body-servant for two years previous to his death."
"Were you with him when he died?"
"I was, your ladyship. These fingers closed his eyes."
The hand that held the fan began to tremble again. She remained silent for a few moments, and by a strong effort overmastered her agitation.
"You have some communication which you wish to make to me respecting my dead son?"
"I have, your ladyship. A communication of a very singular kind."
"Why has it not been made before now?"
"That your ladyship will learn in the course of what I have to say. But perhaps you will kindly allow me to tell my story my own way."
"By all means. Pray begin: I am all attention."
The Sergeant touched his forelock, gave a preliminary cough, fixed his clear grey eye on Lady Chillington, and began his narrative as under:—
"Your ladyship and miss: I, John Nicholas, a Staffordshire man born and bred, went out to India twenty-three years ago as lance corporal in the hundred-and-first regiment of foot. After I had been in India a few months, I got drunk and misbehaved myself, and was reduced to the ranks. Well, ma'am, Captain Chillington took a fancy to me, thought I was not such a bad dog after all, and got me appointed as his servant. And a better master no man need ever wish to have—kind, generous, and a perfect gentleman from top to toe. I loved him, and would have gone through fire and water to serve him."
Her ladyship's fan was trembling again. "Oblige me with my salts, Miss Hope," she said. She pressed them to her nose, and motioned to the Sergeant to proceed.
"When I had been with the Captain a few months," resumed the old soldier, "he got leave of absence for several weeks, and everybody knew that it was his intention to spend his holiday in a shooting excursion among the hills. I was to go with him, of course, and the usual troop of native servants; but besides himself there was only one European gentleman in the party, and he was not an Englishman. He was a Russian, and his name was Platzoff. He was a gentleman of fortune, and was travelling in India at the time, and had come to my master with letters of introduction. Well, Captain Chillington just took wonderfully to him, and the two were almost inseparable. Perhaps it hardly becomes one like me to offer an opinion on such a point; but, knowing what afterwards happened, I must say that I never either liked or trusted that Russian from the day I first set eyes on him. He seemed to me too double-faced and cunning for an honest English gentleman to have much to do with. But he had travelled a great deal, and was very good company, which was perhaps the reason why Captain Chillington took so kindly to him. Be that as it may, however, it was decided that they should go on the hunting excursion together—not that the Russian was much of a shot, or cared a great deal about hunting, but because, as I heard him say, he liked to see all kinds of life, and tiger-stalking was something quite fresh to him.
"He was a curious-looking gentleman, too, that Russian—just the sort of face that you would never forget after once seeing it, with skin that was dried and yellow like parchment; black hair that was trained into a heavy curl on the top of his forehead, and a big hooked nose.
"Well, your ladyship and miss, away we went with our elephants and train of servants, and very pleasantly we spent our two months' leave of absence. The Captain he shot tigers, and the Russian he did his best at pig-sticking. Our last week had come, and in three more days we were to set off on our return, when that terrible misfortune happened which deprived me of the best of masters, and your ladyship of the best of sons.
"Early one morning I was roused by Rung Budruck, the Captain's favourite sycee or groom. 'Get up at once,' he said, shaking me by the shoulder. 'The sahib Captain is very ill. The black devil has seized him. He must have opium or he will die.' I ran at once to the Captain's tent, and as soon as I set eyes on him I saw that he had been seized with cholera. I went off at once and fetched M. Platzoff. We had nothing in the way of medicine with us except brandy and opium. Under the Russian's directions these were given to my poor master in large quantities, but he grew gradually worse. Rung and I in everything obeyed M. Platzoff, who seemed to know quite well what ought to be done in such cases; and to tell the truth, your ladyship, he seemed as much put about as if the Captain had been his own brother. Well, the Captain grew weaker as the day went on, and towards evening it grew quite clear that he could not last much longer. The pain had left him by this time, but he was so frightfully reduced that we could not bring him round. He was lying in every respect like one already dead, except for his faint breathing, when the Russian left the tent for a moment, and I took his place at the head of the bed. Rung was standing with folded arms a yard or two away. None of the other native servants could be persuaded to enter the tent, so frightened were they of catching the complaint. Suddenly my poor master opened his eyes, and his lips moved. I put my ear to his mouth. 'The diamond,' he whispered. 'Take it—mother—give my love.' Not a word more on earth, your ladyship. His limbs stiffened; his head fell back; he gave a great sigh and died. I gently closed the eyes that could see no more, and left the tent crying.
"Your ladyship, we buried Captain Chillington by torchlight four hours later. We dug his grave deep in a corner of the jungle, and there we left him to his last sleep. Over his grave we piled a heap of stones, as I have read that they used to do in the old times over the grave of a chief. It was all we could do.
"About an hour later M. Platzoff came to me. 'I shall start before daybreak for Chinapore,' he said, 'with one elephant and a couple of men. I will take with me the news of my poor friend's untimely fate, and you can come on with the luggage and other effects in the ordinary way. You will find me at Chinapore when you reach there.' Next morning I found that he was gone.
"What my dear master had said with his last breath about a diamond puzzled me. I could only conclude that amongst his effects there must be some valuable stone of which he wished special care to be taken, and which he desired to be sent home to you, madam, in England. I knew nothing of any such stone, and I considered it beyond my position to search for it among his luggage. I decided that when I got to Chinapore I would give his message to the Colonel, and leave that gentleman to take such steps in the matter as he might think best.
"I had hardly settled all this in my mind when Rung Budruck came to me. 'The Russian sahib has gone: I have something to tell you,' he said, only he spoke in broken English. 'Yesterday, just after the sahib Captain was dead, the Russian came back. You had left the tent, and I was sitting on the ground behind the Captain's big trunk, the lid of which was open. I was sitting with my chin in my hand, very sad at heart, when the Russian came in. He looked carefully round the tent. Me he could not see, but I could see him through the opening between the hinges of the box. What did he do? He unfastened the bosom of the sahib Captain's shirt, and then he drew over the Captain's head the steel chain with the little gold box hanging to it that he always wore. He opened the box, and saw there was that in it which he expected to find there. Then he hid away both chain and box in one of his pockets, rebuttoned the dead man's shirt, and left the tent.' 'But you have not told me what there was in the box,' I said. He put the tips of his fingers together and smiled: 'In that box was the Great Hara Diamond!'
"Your ladyship, I was so startled when Rung said this that the wind of a bullet would have knocked me down. A new light was all at once thrown on the Captain's dying words. 'But how do you know, Rung, that the box contained a diamond?' I asked when I had partly got over my surprise. He smiled again, with that strange slow smile which those fellows have. 'It matters not how, but Rung knew that the diamond was there. He had seen the Captain open the box, and take it out and look at it many a time when the Captain thought no one could see him. He could have stolen it from him almost any night when he was asleep, but that was left for his friend to do.' 'Was the diamond you speak of a very valuable one?' I asked. 'It was a green diamond of immense value,' answered Rung; 'it was called The Great Hara because of its colour, and it was first worn by the terrible Aureng-Zebe himself, who had it set in the haft of his scimitar.' 'But by what means did Captain Chillington become possessed of so valuable a stone?' Said he, 'Two years ago, at the risk of his own life, he rescued the eldest son of the Rajah of Gondulpootra from a tiger who had carried away the child into the jungle. The Rajah is one of the richest men in India, and he showed his gratitude by secretly presenting the Great Hara Diamond to the man who had saved the life of his child.' 'But why should Captain Chillington carry so valuable a stone about his person?' I asked. 'Would it not have been wiser to deposit it in the bank at Bombay till such time as the Captain could take it with him to England?' 'The stone is a charmed stone,' said Rung, 'and it was the Rajah's particular wish that the sahib Chillington should always wear it about his person. So long as he did so he could not come to his death by fire by water, or by sword thrust.' Said I, 'But how did the Russian know that Captain Chillington carried the diamond about his person?' 'One night when the Captain had had too much wine he showed the diamond to his friend,' answered Rung. Said I, 'But how does it happen, Rung, that you know this?' Rung, smiling and putting his finger tips together, replied, 'How does it happen that I know so much about you?' And then he told me a lot of things about myself that I thought no soul in India knew. It was just wonderful how he did it. 'So it is: let that be sufficient,' he finished by saying. 'Why did you not tell me till after the Russian had gone away that you saw him steal the diamond?' said I. 'If you had told me at the time I could have charged him with it.' 'You are ignorant,' said Rung; 'you are little more than a child. The Russian sahib had the evil eye. Had I crossed his purpose before his face he would have cursed me while he looked at me, and I should have withered away and died. He has got the diamond, and only by magic can it ever be recovered from him.'
"Your ladyship and miss, I hope I am not tedious nor wandering from the point. It will be sufficient to say that when I got down to Chinapore I found that M. Platzoff had indeed been there, but only just long enough to see the Colonel and give him an account of Captain Chillington's death, after which he had at once engaged a palanquin and bearers and set out with all speed for Bombay. It was now my turn to see the Colonel, and after I had given over into his hands all my dead master's property that I had brought with me from the Hills, I told him the story of the diamond as Rung had told it to me. He was much struck by it, and ordered me to take Rung to him the next morning. But that very night Rung disappeared, and was never seen in the camp again. Whether he was frightened at what he called the Russian's evil eye—frightened that Platzoff could blight him even from a distance, I have no means of knowing. In any case, gone he was; and from that day to this I have never set eyes on him. Well, the Colonel said he would take a note of what I had told him about the diamond, and that I must leave the matter entirely in his hands.
"Your ladyship, a fortnight after that the Colonel shot himself.
"To make short a long story—we got a fresh Colonel, and were removed to another part of the country; and there, a few weeks later, I was knocked down by fever, and was a long time before I thoroughly recovered my strength. A year or two later our regiment was ordered back to England, but a day or two before we should have sailed I had a letter telling me that my old sweetheart was dead. This news seemed to take all care for life out of me, and on the spur of the moment I volunteered into a regiment bound for China, in which country war was just breaking out. There, and at other places abroad, I stopped till just four months ago, when I was finally discharged, with my pension, and a bullet in my pocket that had been taken out of my skull. I only landed in England nine days ago, and as soon as it was possible for me to do so, I came to see your ladyship. And I think that is all." The Sergeant's forefinger went to his forehead again as he brought his narrative to an end.
Lady Chillington kept on fanning herself in silence for a little while after the old soldier had done speaking. Her features wore the proud, impassive look that they generally put on when before strangers: in the present case they were no index to the feelings at work underneath. At length she spoke.
"After the suicide of your Colonel did you mention the supposed robbery of the diamond to anyone else?"
"To no one else, your ladyship. For several reasons. I was unaware what steps he might have taken between the time of my telling him and the time of his death to prove or disprove the truth of the story. In the second place, Rung had disappeared. I could only tell the story at secondhand. It had been told me by an eye-witness, but that witness was a native, and the word of a native does not go for much in those parts. In the third place, the Russian had also disappeared, and had left no trace behind. What could I do? Had I told the story to my new Colonel, I should mayhap only have been scouted as a liar or a madman. Besides, we were every day expecting to be ordered home, and I had made up my mind that I would at once come and see your ladyship. At that time I had no intention of going to China, and when once I got there it was too late to speak out. But through all the years I have been away my poor dear master's last words have lived in my memory. Many a thousand times have I thought of them both day and night, and prayed that I might live to get back to Old England, if it was only to give your ladyship the message with which I had been charged."
"But why could you not write to me?" asked Lady Chillington.
"Your ladyship, I am no scholar," answered the old soldier, with a vivid blush. "What I have told you to-day in half-an-hour would have taken me years to set down—in fact, I could never have done it."
"So be it," said Lady Chillington. "My obligation to you is all the greater for bearing in mind for so many years my poor boy's last message, and for being at so much trouble to deliver it." She sighed deeply and rose from her chair. The Sergeant rose too, thinking that his interview was at an end, but at her ladyship's request he reseated himself.
Rejecting Janet's proffered arm, which she was in the habit of leaning on in her perambulations about the house and grounds, Lady Chillington walked slowly and painfully out of the room. Presently she returned, carrying an open letter in her hand. Both the ink and the paper on which it was written were faded and yellow with age.
"This is the last letter I ever received from my son," said her ladyship. "I have preserved it religiously, and it bears out very singularly what you, Sergeant, have just told me respecting the message which my darling sent me with his dying breath. In a few lines at the end he makes mention of a something of great value which he is going to bring home with him; but he writes about it in such guarded terms that I never could satisfy myself as to the precise meaning of what he intended to convey. You, Miss Hope, will perhaps be good enough to read the lines in question aloud. They are contained in a postscript."
Janet took the letter with reverent tenderness. Lady Chillington's trembling fingers pointed out the lines she was to read. Janet read as under:—
"P.S.—I have reserved my most important bit of news till the last, as lady correspondents are said to do. Observe, I write 'are said to do,' because in this matter I have very little personal experience of my own to go upon. You, dear mum, are my solitary lady correspondent, and postscripts are a luxury in which you rarely indulge. But to proceed, as the novelists say. Some two years ago it was my good fortune to rescue a little yellow-skinned princekin from the clutches of a very fine young tiger (my feet are on his hide at this present writing), who was carrying him off as a tit-bit for his supper. He was terribly mauled, you may be sure, but his people followed my advice in their mode of doctoring him, and he gradually got round again. The lad's father is a Rajah, immensely rich, and a direct descendant of that ancient Mogul dynasty which once ruled this country with a rod of iron. The Rajah has daughters innumerable, but only this one son. His gratitude for what I had done was unbounded. A few weeks ago he gave me a most astounding proof of it. By a secret and trusty messenger he sent me—But no, dear mum, I will not tell you what the Rajah sent me. This letter might chance to fall into other hands than yours (Indian letters do sometimes miscarry), and the secret is one which had better be kept in the family—at least for the present. So, mother mine, your curiosity must rest unsatisfied for a little while to come. I hope to be with you before many months are over, and then you shall know everything.
"The value of the Rajah's present is something immense. I shall sell it when I get to England, and out of the proceeds I shall—well, I don't exactly know what I shall do. Purchase my next step for one thing, but that will cost a mere trifle. Then, perhaps, buy a comfortable estate in the country, or a house in Park Lane. Your six weeks every season in London lodgings was always inexplicable to me.
"Or shall I not sell the Rajah's present, but offer myself in marriage to some fair princess, with my heart in one hand and the G.H.D. in the other? Madder things than that are recorded in history. In any case, don't forget to pray for the safe arrival of your son, and (if such a petition is allowable) that he may not fail to bring with him the G.H.D.
"I never could understand before to-day what the letters G.H.D. were meant for," said Lady Chillington, as Janet gave her back the letter. "It is now quite evident that they were intended for Great Hara Diamond; all of which, as I said before, is confirmatory of the story you have just told me. Of course, after the lapse of so many years, there is not the remotest possibility of recovering the diamond; but my obligation to you, Sergeant Nicholas, is in no wise lessened by that fact. What are your engagements? Are you obliged to leave here immediately, or can you remain a short time in the neighbourhood?"
"I can give your ladyship a week, or even a fortnight, if you wish it."
"I am greatly obliged to you. I do wish it—I wish to talk to you respecting my son, and you are the only one now living who can tell me about him. You shall find that I am not ungrateful for what you have done for me. In the meantime, you will stop at the King's Arms, in Eastbury. Miss Hope will give you a note to the landlord. Come up here to-morrow at eleven. And now I must say good-morning. I am not very strong, and your news has shaken me a little. Will you do me the honour of shaking hands with me? It was your hands that closed my poor boy's eyes—that touched him last on earth; let those hands now be touched by his mother."
Lady Chillington stood up and extended both her withered hands. The old soldier came forward with a blush and took them respectfully, tenderly. He bent his head and touched each of them in turn with his lips. Tears stood in his eyes.
"God bless you, Sergeant Nicholas! You are a good man and a true gentleman," said Lady Chillington. Then she turned and slowly left the room.
COUNSEL TAKEN WITH MR. MADGIN.
After her interview with Sergeant Nicholas, Lady Chillington dismissed Janet for the day, and retired to her own rooms, nor was she seen out of them till the following morning. No one was admitted to see her save Dance. Janet, after sitting with Sister Agnes all the afternoon, went down at dusk to the housekeeper's room.
"Whatever did you do to her ladyship this morning?" asked Dance as soon as she entered. "She has tasted neither bit nor sup since breakfast, but ever since that old shabby-looking fellow went away she has lain on the sofa, staring at the wall as if there was some writing on it she was trying to read but didn't know how. I thought she was ill, and asked her if I should send for the doctor. She laughed at me without taking her eyes off the wall, and bade me begone for an old fool. If there's not a change by morning, I shall just send for the doctor without asking her leave. Surely you and that old fellow have bewitched her ladyship between you."
Janet in reply told Dance all that had passed at the morning's interview, feeling quite sure that in doing so she was violating no confidence, and that Lady Chillington herself would be the first to tell everything to her faithful old servant as soon as she should be sufficiently composed to do so. As a matter of course Dance was full of wonder.
"Did you know Captain Chillington?" asked Janet, as soon as the old dame's surprise had in some measure toned itself down.
"Did I know curly-pated, black-eyed Master Charley?" asked the old woman. "Ay—who better? These arms, withered and yellow now, then plump and strong, held him before he had been an hour in the world. The day he left England I went with her ladyship to see him aboard ship. As he shook me by the hand for the last time he said, 'You will never leave my mother, will you, Dance?' And I said, 'Never, while I live, dear Master Charles,' and I've kept my word."
"Her ladyship has never been like the same woman since she heard the news of his death," resumed Dance after a pause. "It seemed to sour her and harden her, and make her altogether different. There had been a great deal of unhappiness at home for some years before he went away. He and his father, Sir John—he that now lies so quiet upstairs—had a terrible quarrel just after Master Charles went into the army, and it was a quarrel that was never made up in this world. He was an awful man—Sir John—a wicked man: pray that such a one may never cross your path. The only happiness he seemed to have on earth was in making those over whom he had any power miserable. It was impossible for my lady to love him, but she tried to do her duty by him till he and Master Charles fell out. What the quarrel was about I never rightly understood, but my lady would have it that Master Charles was in the right and her husband in the wrong. One result was that Sir John stopped the income that he had always allowed his son, and took a frightful oath that if Master Charles were dying of starvation before his eyes he would not give him as much as a penny to buy bread with. But her ladyship, who had money in her own right, said that Master Charles's income should go on as usual. Then she and Sir John quarrelled; and she left him and came to live at Deepley Walls, leaving him at Dene Folly; and here she stayed till Sir John was taken with his last illness and sent for her. He sent for her, not to make up the quarrel, but to jibe and sneer at her, and to make her wait on him day and night, as if she were a paid nurse from a hospital. While this was going on, and after Sir John had been quite given up by the doctors, news came from India of Master Charles's death. Well, her ladyship went nigh distracted; but as for the baronet, it was said, though I won't vouch for the truth of it, that he only laughed when the news was told him, and said that if he was plagued as much with corns in the next world as he had been in this, he should find Master Charles's arm very useful to lean upon. Two days later he died, and the title, and Dene Folly with it, went to a far-away cousin, whom neither Sir John nor his wife had ever seen. Then it was found how the baronet had contrived that his spite should outlive him—for only out of spite and mean cruelty could he have made such a will as he did make: that Deepley Walls should not become her ladyship's absolute property till the end of twenty years, during the whole of which time his body was to remain unburied, and to be kept under the same roof with his widow, wherever she might live. The mean, paltry scoundrel! Perhaps her ladyship might have had the will set aside, but she would not go to law about it. Thank Heaven! the twenty years are nearly at an end. Deepley Walls has been a haunted house ever since that midnight when Sir John was borne in on the shoulders of six strong men. And now tell me whether her ladyship is not a woman to be pitied."
* * * * *
At a quarter before eleven next morning, Mr. Solomon Madgin, Lady Chillington's agent and general man-of-business, arrived by appointment at Deepley Walls. Mr. Madgin was indispensable to her ladyship, who had a considerable quantity of house property in and around Eastbury, consisting chiefly of small tenements, the rents of which had to be collected weekly. Then Mr. Madgin was bailiff for the Deepley Walls estate, in connection with which were several small farms or "holdings" which required to be well looked after in many ways. Besides all this, her ladyship, having a few spare thousands, had taken of late years to dabbling in scrip and shares in a small way, and under the skilful pilotage of Mr. Madgin had hitherto contrived to steer clear of those rocks and shoals of speculation on which so many gallant argosies are wrecked. In short, everything except the law-business of the estate filtered through Mr. Madgin's hands, and as he did his work cheaply and well, and put up with her ladyship's ill-temper without a murmur, the mistress of Deepley Walls could hardly have found anyone who would have suited her better.
Mr. Solomon Madgin was a little dried-up man, about sixty years old. His tail-coat and vest of rusty black were of the fashion of twenty years ago. He wore drab trousers, and shoes tied with bows of black ribbon. His head, bald on the crown, had an ample fringe of white hair at the back and sides, and was covered, when he went abroad, with a beaver hat, very fluffy and much too tall for him, and which, once upon a time, had probably been nearly as white as his hair, but was now time-worn and weather-stained to one uniform and consistent drab. Round his neck he always wore a voluminous cravat of unstarched muslin fastened in front with an old-fashioned pearl brooch, above which protruded the two spiked points of a very stiff and pugnacious-looking collar. A strong alpaca umbrella, unfashionably corpulent, was his constant companion. Mr. Madgin's whiskers were shaved off in an exact line with the end of his nose. His eyebrows were very white and bushy, and could serve on occasion as a screen to the greenish, crafty-looking eyes below them, which never liked to be peered into too closely. The ordinary expression of his thin, dried-up face was one of hard, worldly shrewdness; but there was a lurking bonhommie in his smile which seemed to imply that, away from business, he might possibly mellow into a boon companion.
Mr. Madgin had to wait a few minutes this morning before Lady Chillington could receive him. When he was ushered into her sitting-room he was surprised to find that she and Miss Hope were not alone; that a plainly-dressed man, who looked almost as old as Mr. Madgin himself, was seated at the table. After one suspicious glance at the stranger, Mr. Madgin made his bow to the ladies and walked up to the table with his bag of papers.
"You can put all those things away for the day, Mr. Madgin," said her ladyship. "A far more important matter claims our attention just now. In the first place I must introduce to you Sergeant Nicholas, many years ago servant to my son, Captain Chillington, who died in India. (Sergeant, this is Mr. Madgin, my man of business.) The Sergeant, who has only just returned to England, told me yesterday a very curious story which I am desirous that he should repeat in your presence to-day. The story relates to a diamond of great value, said to have been stolen from the body of my son immediately after death, and I shall require you to give me your opinion as to the feasibility of its recovery. You will take such notes of the narrative as you may think necessary, and the Sergeant will afterwards answer, to the best of his ability, any questions you may choose to put to him." Then turning to the old soldier, she added: "You will be good enough, Sergeant, to repeat to Mr. Madgin such parts of your narrative of yesterday as have any reference to the diamond. Begin with my son's dying message. Repeat, word for word, as closely as you can remember, all that was told you by the sycee Rung. Describe as minutely as possible the personal appearance of M. Platzoff; and detail any other points that bear on the loss of the diamond."
So the Sergeant began, but the repetition of a long narrative not learnt by heart is by no means an easy matter, especially when they to whom it was first told hear it for the second time, but rather as critics than as ordinary listeners. Besides, the taking of notes was a process that smacked of a court-martial and tended to flurry the narrator, making him feel as if he were upon his oath and liable to be browbeat by the counsel for the other side. He was heartily glad when he got to the end of what he had to tell. The postscript to Captain Chillington's letter was then read by Miss Hope.
Mr. Madgin took copious notes as the Sergeant went on, and afterwards put a few questions to him on different points which he thought not sufficiently clear. Then he laid down his pen, rubbed his hands, and ran his fingers through his scanty hair. Lady Chillington rang for her butler, and gave the Sergeant into his keeping, knowing that he could not be in better hands. Then she said: "I will leave you, Mr. Madgin, for half-an-hour. Go carefully through your notes, and let me have your opinion when I come back as to whether, after so long a time, you think it worth while to institute any proceedings for the recovery of the diamond."
So Mr. Madgin was left alone with what he called his "considering cap." As soon as the door was closed behind her ladyship, he tilted back his chair, stuck his feet on the table, buried his hands deep in his pockets and shut his eyes, and so remained for full five-and-twenty minutes. He was busy consulting his notes when Lady Chillington re-entered the room. Mr. Madgin began at once.
"I must confess," he said, "that the case which your ladyship has submitted to me seems, from what I can see of it at present, to be surrounded with difficulties. Still, I am far from counselling your ladyship to despair entirely. The few points which, at the first glance, present themselves as requiring solution are these:—Who was the M. Platzoff who is said to have stolen the diamond? and what position in life did he really occupy? Is he alive or dead? If alive, where is he now living? If he did really steal the diamond, are not the chances as a hundred to one that he disposed of it long ago? But even granting that we were in a position to answer all these questions; suppose, even, that this M. Platzoff were living in Eastbury at the present moment, and that fact were known to us, how much nearer should we be to the recovery of the diamond than we are now? Your ladyship must please to bear in mind that as the case is now we have not an inch of legal ground to stand upon. We have no evidence that would be worth a rush in a court of law that M. Platzoff really purloined the diamond. We have no trustworthy evidence that the diamond itself ever had an existence."
"Surely, Mr. Madgin, my son's letter is sufficient to prove that fact."
"Sufficient, perhaps, in conjunction with the other evidence, to prove it in a moral sense, but certainly not in a legal one," said Mr. Madgin, quietly but decisively. "Your ladyship must please to bear in mind that Captain Chillington in his letter makes no absolute mention of the diamond by name; he merely writes of it vaguely under certain initials, and, if called upon, how could you prove that he intended those initials to stand for the words Great Hara Diamond, and not for something altogether different? If M. Platzoff were your ladyship's next-door neighbour, and you knew for certain that he had the diamond still in his possession, you could only get it from him as he himself got it from your son—by subterfuge and artifice. Your ladyship will please to observe that I have put forward no opinion on the case. I have merely offered a statement of plain facts as they show themselves on the surface. With those facts before you it rests with your ladyship to decide what further steps you wish taken in the matter."
"My good Madgin, do you know what it is to hate?" demanded Lady Chillington. "To hate with a hatred that dwarfs all other passions of the soul, and makes them pigmies by comparison? If you know this, you know the feeling with which I regard M. Platzoff. If you want the key to the feeling, you have it in the fact that his accursed hands robbed my dead son: even then you must have a mother's heart to feel all that I feel." She paused for a moment as if to recover breath; then she resumed. "See you, Mr. Solomon Madgin; I have a conviction, an intuition, call it what you will, that this Russian scoundrel is still alive. That is the first fact you have to find out. The next is, where he is now residing. Then you will have to ascertain whether he has the diamond still in his possession, and if so, by what means it can be recovered. Only recover it for me—I ask not how or by what means—only put into my hands the diamond that was stolen off my son's breast as he lay dead; and the day you do that, my good Madgin, I will present you with a cheque for five thousand pounds!"
Mr. Madgin sat as one astounded; the power of reply seemed taken from him.
"Go, now," said Lady Chillington, after a few moments. "Ordinary business is out of the question to-day. Go home and carefully digest what I have just said to you. That you are a man of resources, I know well; had you not been so, I would not have employed you in this matter. Come to me to-morrow, next day, next week—when you like; only don't come barren of ideas; don't come without a plan, likely or unlikely, of some sort of a campaign."
Mr. Madgin rose and swept his papers mechanically into his bag. "Your ladyship said five thousand pounds, if I mistake not?" he stammered out.
"A cheque for five thousand pounds shall be yours on the day you bring me the diamond. Is not my word sufficient, or do you wish to have it under bond and seal?" she asked with some hauteur.
"Your ladyship's word is an all-sufficient bond," answered Mr. Madgin, with sweet humility. He paused, with the handle of the door in his hand. "Supposing I were to see my way to carrying out your ladyship's wishes in this respect," he said deferentially, "or even to carrying out a portion of them only, still it could not be done without expense—not without considerable expense, maybe."
"I give you carte-blanche as regards expenses," said her ladyship with decision.
Then Mr. Madgin gave a farewell duck of the head and went. He took his way homeward through the park like a man walking in his sleep. With wide-open eyes and hat well set on the back of his head, with his blue bag in one hand and his umbrella under his arm, he trudged onward, even after he had reached the busy streets of the little town, without seeing anything or anyone. What he saw, he saw introspectively. On the one hand glittered the tempting bait held out by Lady Chillington; on the other loomed the dark problem that had to be solved before he could call the golden apple his.
"The most arrant wild-goose chase that ever I heard of in all my life," he muttered to himself, as he halted at his own door. "Not a single ray of light anywhere—not one."
"Popsey," he called out to his daughter, when he was inside, "bring me the decanter of whisky, some cold water, my tobacco-jar and a new churchwarden into the office; and don't let me be disturbed by anyone for four hours."
(To be continued.)
It is a matter of common remark that the epistolary art has been killed by the penny post, not to speak of post-cards.
This is a result which was hardly anticipated by Sir Rowland Hill, when, in the face of many obstacles, he carried his great scheme; and certainly it did not dwell very vividly before the mind of Mr. Elihu Burritt, the learned blacksmith, when he travelled over England, speaking there, as he had already done in America, in favour of an ocean penny postage.
It is urged that in the old days when postage was dear, and "franks" were difficult to procure, and when the poor did not correspond at all, writers were very careful to write well and to say the very best they could in the best possible way—to make their letters, in a word, worthy of the expense incurred. But those who argue on this ground leave out of consideration one little fact.
The classes to whom English literature is indebted for the epistolary samples on which reliance is placed for proof of this proposition, very seldom indeed paid for the conveyance of the letters in question. The system of "franking"—by which the privileged classes got not only their letters carried, but a great deal too often their dressing-cases and bandboxes as well—grew into a most serious grievance; so serious indeed that the opposition for a long period carried on against cheap postage arose solely from over nice regard to the vested interests of those who could command a little favour from a Peer, a Member of Parliament, or an official of high rank, not to speak of those patriotic worthies themselves.
The fact may thus be made to cut two ways.
From our point of view, it may be cited in direct denial of the conclusion that people wrote well in past days simply because the conveyance of their letters was costly. We believe that the mass wrote just as badly and loosely then as the mass do now, in fact that they were rather loose on rules of spelling; and that the specimens preserved and presented to us in type are exceptional, and escaped destruction with the mass precisely because they were exceptional.
Other circumstances may be taken to account for the loose epistolary style or rather no-style now so common; and this refers us to the general question of education—more especially the education of women. In those days the few were educated; and to be educated was regarded as the distinctive mark of a leisured and cultivated class: now, education is general, but, like many other things, it has suffered in the process of diffusion, whether or not it may in the long run suffer by the diffusion itself.
The truth is, time alone can tell whether among the select nowadays the epistolary art is not simply as perfect as it was in days past; at all events we believe so, and proceed to set down a few reflections on letter-writing.
To write a really good letter, two things in especial are demanded. The first is, that you write only of that which is either familiar to you or in which you have some interest; and in the next, that you can write with ease, and on a footing of freedom as regards your correspondent. "The pen," says Cervantes, "is the tongue of the mind," and in no form of composition is this more strictly true than of letters. In a certain degree a letter should share the characteristics of good conversation: the writer must realise the presence and the mood of the person for whom the letter is destined. Just as good-breeding suggests that you must have the tastes and sentiments of your interlocutor before you for ends of enjoyable conversation, and that, within the limits of propriety and self-respect, you should at once humour them and use them; so in good letter-writing you must write for your correspondent's pleasure as well as please, by merely communicating, yourself.
Here comes in the delightful element of vicarious sympathy, or dramatic transference, which, brought into play successfully, with some degree of wit and sprightliness of expression, may raise letter-writing to the level of a fine art.
And this allowed, it is clear that letters may just be as good now as at any former period, and accidental circumstances have really little to do with it. Humboldt has well said that "A letter is a conversation between the present and the absent. Its fate is that it cannot last, but must pass away like the sound of the voice."
And just as in conversation all attempt at eloquence and personal celebration in this kind is rigidly proscribed, so in letter-writing are all kinds of fine-writing and rhetoric. "Brilliant speakers and writers," it has been well said, "should remember that coach wheels are better than Catherine wheels to travel on." One's first business, in letter-writing is to say what one has to say, and the second to say it well and with taste and ease.
A.H. JAPP, LL.D.
THE SILENT CHIMES.
SILENT FOR EVER.
Breakfast was on the table in Mr. Hamlyn's house in Bryanstone Square, and Mrs. Hamlyn waited, all impatience, for her lord and master. Not in any particular impatience for the meal itself, but that she might "have it out with him"—the phrase was hers, not mine, as you will see presently—in regard to the perplexity existing in her mind connected with the strange appearance of the damsel watching the house, in her beauty and her pale golden hair.
Why had Philip Hamlyn turned sick and faint—to judge by his changing countenance—when she had charged him at dinner, the previous evening, with knowing something of this mysterious woman? Mysterious in her actions, at all events; probably in herself. Mrs. Hamlyn wanted to know that. No further opportunity had then been given for pursuing the subject. Japhet had returned to the room, and before the dinner was at an end, some acquaintance of Mr. Hamlyn had fetched him out for the evening. And he came home with so fearful a headache that he had lain groaning and turning all through the night. Mrs. Hamlyn was not a model of patience, but in all her life she had never felt so impatient as now.
He came into the room looking pale and shivery; a sure sign that he was suffering; that it was not an invented excuse. Yes, the pain was better, he said, in answer to his wife's question; and might be much better after a strong cup of tea; he could not imagine what had brought it on. She could have told him though, had she been gifted with the magical power of reading minds, and have seen the nervous apprehension that was making havoc with his.
Mrs. Hamlyn gave him his tea in silence, and buttered a dainty bit of toast to tempt him to eat. But he shook his head.
"I cannot, Eliza. Nothing but tea this morning."
"I am sorry you are ill," she said, by-and-by. "I fear it hurts you to talk; but I want to have it out with you."
"Have it out with me!" cried he, in real or feigned surprise. "Have what out with me?"
"Oh, you know, Philip. About that woman who has been watching the house these two days; evidently watching for you."
"But I told you I knew nothing about her: who she is, or what she is, or what she wants. I really do not know."
Well, so far that was true. But all the while a sick fear lay on his heart that he did know; or, rather, that he was destined to know very shortly.
"When I told you her hair was like threads of fine, pale gold, you seemed to start, Philip, as if you knew some girl or woman with such hair, or had known her."
"I daresay I have known a score of women with such hair. My dear little sister who died, for instance."
"Do not attempt to evade the subject," was the haughty reprimand. "If—"
Mrs. Hamlyn's sharp speech was interrupted by the entrance of Japhet, bringing in the morning letters. Only one letter, however, for they were not as numerous in those days as they are in these.
"It seems to be important, ma'am," Japhet remarked, with the privilege of an old servant, as he handed it to his mistress. She saw it was from Leet Hall, in Mrs. Carradyne's handwriting, and bore the words: "In haste," above the address.
Tearing it open, Eliza Hamlyn read the short, sad news it contained. Captain Monk had been taken suddenly ill with inward inflammation. Mr. Speck feared the worst, and the Captain had asked for Eliza. Would she come down at once?
"Oh, Philip, I must not lose a minute," she exclaimed, passing the letter to him, and forgetting the pale gold hair and its owner. "Do you know anything about the Worcestershire trains?"
"No," he answered. "The better plan will be to get to the station as soon as possible, and then you will be ready for the first train that starts."
"Will you go down with me, Philip?"
"I cannot. I will take you to the station."
"Why can't you?"
"Because I cannot just now leave London. My dear, you may believe me, for it is the truth. I cannot do so. I wish I could."
And she saw it was true: for his tone was so earnest as to tell of pain.
Making what haste she could, kissing her boy a hundred times, and recommending him to the special care of his nurse and of his father during her absence, she drove with her husband to the station, and was just in time for a train. Mr. Hamlyn watched it steam out of the station, and then looked up at the clock.
"I suppose it's not too early to see him," he muttered. "I'll chance it, at any rate. Hope he will be less suffering than he was yesterday, and less crusty, too."
Dismissing his carriage, for he felt more inclined to walk than to drive, he went through the park to Pimlico, and gained the house of Major Pratt.
This was Friday. On the previous Wednesday evening a note had been brought to Mr. Hamlyn by Major Pratt's servant, a sentence in which, as the reader may remember, ran as follows:
"I suppose there was no mistake in the report that that ship did go down—and that none of the passengers were saved from it?"
This puzzled Philip Hamlyn: perhaps somewhat troubled him in a hazy kind of way. For he could only suppose that the ship alluded to must be the sailing vessel in which his first wife, false and faithless, and his little son of a twelvemonth old had been lost some five or six years ago—the Clipper of the Seas. And the next day, (Thursday) he had gone to Major Pratt's, as requested, to carry the prescription for gout he had asked for, and also to inquire of the Major what he meant.
But the visit was a fruitless one. Major Pratt was in bed with an attack of gout, so ill and so "crusty" that nothing could be got out of him excepting a few bad words and as many groans. Mr. Hamlyn then questioned Saul—of whom he used to see a good deal in India, for he had been the Major's servant for years and years.
"Do you happen to know, Saul, whether the Major wanted me for anything in particular? He asked me to call here this morning."
Saul began to consider. He was a tall, thin, cautious, slow-speaking man, honest as the day, and very much attached to his master.
"Well, sir, he got a letter yesterday morning that seemed to put him out, for I found him swearing over it. And he said he'd like you to see it."
"Who was the letter from? What was it about?"
"It looked like Miss Caroline's writing, sir, and the postmark was Essex. As to what it was about—well, the Major didn't directly tell me, but I gathered that it might be about—"
"About what?" questioned Mr Hamlyn, for the man had come to a dead standstill. "Speak out, Saul."
"Then, sir," said Saul, slowly rubbing the top of his head, and the few grey hairs left on it, "I thought—as you tell me to speak—it must be something concerning that ship you know of; she that went down on her voyage home, Mr. Philip."
"The Clipper of the Seas?"
"Just so, sir; the Clipper of the Seas. I thought it by this," added Saul: "that pretty nigh all day afterwards he talked of nothing but that ship, asking me if I should suppose it possible that the ship had not gone down and every soul on board, leastways of her passengers, with her. 'Master,' said I, in answer, 'had that ship not gone down and all her passengers with her, rely upon it, they'd have turned up long before this.' 'Ay, ay,' stormed he, 'and Caroline's a fool'—Which of course meant his sister, you know, sir."
Philip Hamlyn could not make much of this. So many years had elapsed now since news came out to the world that the unfortunate ship, Clipper of the Seas, went down off the coast of Spain on her homeward voyage, and all her passengers with her, as to be a fact of the past. Never a doubt had been cast upon any part of the tidings, so far as he knew.
With an uneasy feeling at his heart, he went off to the city, to call upon the brokers, or agents, of the ship: remembering quite well who they were, and that they lived in Fenchurch Street. An elderly man, clerk in the house for many years, and now a partner, received him.
"The Clipper of the Seas?" repeated the old gentleman, after listening to what Mr. Hamlyn had to say. "No, sir, we don't know that any of her passengers were saved; always supposed they were not. But lately we have had some little cause to doubt whether one or two might not have been."
Philip Hamlyn's heart beat faster.
"Will you tell me why you think this?"
"It isn't that we think it; at best 'tis but a doubt," was the reply. "One of our own ships, getting in last month from Madras, had a sailor on board who chanced to remark to me, when he was up here getting his pay, that it was not the first time he had served in our employ: he had been in that ship that was lost, the Clipper of the Seas. And he went on to say, in answer to a remark of mine about all the passengers having been lost, that that was not quite correct, for that one of them had certainly been saved—a lady or a nurse, he didn't know which, and also a little child that she was in charge of. He was positive about it, he added, upon my expressing my doubts, for they got to shore in the same small boat that he did."
"Is it true, think you?" gasped Mr. Hamlyn.
"Sir, we are inclined to think it is not true," emphatically spoke the old gentleman. "Upon inquiring about this man's character, we found that he is given to drinking, so that what he says cannot always be relied upon. Again, it seems next to an impossibility that if any passenger were saved we should not have heard of it. Altogether we feel inclined to judge that the man, though evidently believing he spoke truth, was but labouring under an hallucination."
"Can you tell me where I can find the man?" asked Mr. Hamlyn, after a pause.
"Not anywhere at present, sir. He has sailed again."
So that ended it for the day. Philip Hamlyn went home and sat down to dinner with his wife, as already spoken of. And when she told him that the mysterious lady waiting outside must be waiting for him—probably some acquaintance of his of the years gone by—it set his brain working and his pulses throbbing, for he suddenly connected her with what he had that day heard. No wonder his head ached!
To-day, after seeing his wife off by train, he went to find Major Pratt. The Major was better, and could talk, swearing a great deal over the gout, and the letter.
"It was from Caroline," he said, alluding to his sister, Miss Pratt, who had been with him in India. "She lives in Essex, you know, Philip."
"Oh, yes, I know," answered Philip Hamlyn. "But what is it that Caroline says in her letter?"
"You shall hear," said the Major, producing his sister's letter and opening it. "Listen. Here it is. 'The strangest thing has happened, brother! Susan went to London yesterday to get my fronts recurled at the hairdresser's, and she was waiting in the shop, when a lady came out of the back room, having been in there to get a little boy's hair cut. Susan was quite struck dumb when she saw her: She thinks it was poor erring Dolly; never saw such a likeness before, she says; could almost swear to her by the lovely pale gold hair. The lady pulled her veil over her face when she saw Susan staring at her, and went away with great speed. Susan asked the hairdresser's people if they knew the lady's name, or who she was, but they told her she was a stranger to them; had never been in the shop before. Dear Richard, this is troubling me; I could not sleep all last night for thinking of it. Do you suppose it is possible that Dolly and the boy were not drowned? Your affectionate sister, Caroline.' Now, did you ever read such a letter?" stormed the Major. "If that Susan went home and said she'd seen St. Paul's blown up, Caroline would believe it. Who's Susan, d'ye say? Why, you've lost your memory, Philip. Susan was the English maid we had with us in Calcutta."
"It cannot possibly be true," cried Mr. Hamlyn with quivering lips.
"True, no! of course it can't be, hang it! Or else what would you do?"
That might be logical though not satisfactory reasoning. And Mr. Hamlyn thought of the woman said to be watching for him, and her pale gold hair.
"She was a cunning jade, if ever there was one, mark you, Philip Hamlyn; that false wife of yours and kin of mine; came of a cunning family on the mother's side. Put it that she was saved: if it suited her to let us suppose she was drowned, why, she'd do it. I know Dolly."
And poor Philip Hamlyn, assenting to the truth of this with all his heart, went out to face the battle that might be coming upon him, lacking the courage for it.
The cold, clear afternoon air touching their healthy faces, and Jack Frost nipping their noses, raced Miss West and Kate Dancox up and down the hawthorn walk. It had pleased that arbitrary young damsel, who was still very childish, to enter a protest against going beyond the grounds that fine winter's day; she would be in the hawthorn walk, or nowhere; and she would run races there. As Miss West gave in to her whims for peace' sake in things not important, and as she was young enough herself not to dislike running, to the hawthorn walk they went.
Captain Monk was recovering rapidly. His sudden illness had been caused by drinking some cold cider when some out-door exercise had made him dangerously hot. The alarm and apprehension had now subsided; and Mrs. Hamlyn, arriving three days ago in answer to the hasty summons, was thinking of returning to London.
"You are cheating!" called out Kate, flying off at a tangent to cross her governess's path. "You've no right to get before me!"
"Gently," corrected Miss West. "My dear, we have run enough for to-day."
"We haven't, you ugly, cross old thing! Aunt Eliza says you are ugly. And—"
The young lady's amenities were cut short by finding herself suddenly lifted off her feet by Mr. Harry Carradyne, who had come behind them.
"Let me alone, Harry! You are always coming where you are not wanted. Aunt Eliza says so."
A sudden light, as of mirth, illumined Harry Carradyne's fresh, frank countenance. "Aunt Eliza says all those things, does she? Well, Miss Kate, she also says something else—that you are now to go indoors."
"What for? I shan't go in."
"Oh, very well. Then that dandified silk frock for the new year that the dressmaker is waiting to try on can be put aside until midsummer."
Kate dearly loved new silk frocks, and she raced away. The governess followed more slowly, Mr. Carradyne talking by her side.
For some months now their love dream had been going on; aye, and the love-making too. Not altogether surreptitiously; neither of them would have liked that. Though not expedient to proclaim it yet to Captain Monk and the world, Mrs. Carradyne knew of it and tacitly sanctioned it.
Alice West turned her face, blushing uncomfortably, to him as they walked. "I am glad to have this opportunity of saying something to you," she spoke with hesitation. "Are you not upon rather bad terms with Mrs. Hamlyn?"
"She is with me," replied Harry.
"And—am I the cause?" continued Alice, feeling as if her fears were confirmed.
"Not at all. She has not fathomed the truth yet, with all her penetration, though she may have some suspicion of it. Eliza wants to bend me to her will in the matter of the house, and I won't be bent. Old Peveril wishes to resign the lease of Peacock Range to me; I wish to take it from him, and Eliza objects. She says Peveril promised her the house until the seven years' lease was out, and that she means to keep him to his bargain."
"Do you quarrel?"
"Quarrel! no," laughed Harry Carradyne. "I joke with her, rather than quarrel. But I don't give in. She pays me some left-handed compliments, telling me that I am no gentleman, that I'm a bear, and so on; to which I make my bow."
Alice West was gazing straight before her, a troubled look in her eyes. "Then you see that I am the remote cause of the quarrel, Harry. But for thinking of me, you would not care to take the house on your own hands."
"I don't know that. Be very sure of one thing, Alice: that I shall not stay an hour longer under the roof here if my uncle disinherits me. That he, a man of indomitable will, should be so long making up his mind is a proof that he shrinks from committing the injustice. The suspense it keeps me in is the worst of all. I told him so the other evening when we were sitting together and he was in an amiable mood. I said that any decision he might come to would be more tolerable than this prolonged suspense."
Alice drew a long breath at his temerity.
Harry laughed. "Indeed, I quite expected to be ordered out of the room in a storm. Instead of that, he took it quietly, civilly telling me to have a little more patience; and then began to speak of the annual new year's dinner, which is not far off now."
"Mrs. Carradyne is thinking that he may not hold the dinner this year, as he has been so ill," remarked the young lady.
"He will never give that up, Alice, as long as he can hold anything; and he is almost well again, you know. Oh, yes; we shall have the dinner and the chimes also."