"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.
MR. MADGIN AT THE HELM.
Mr. Madgin's house stood somewhat back from the main street of Eastbury. It was an old-fashioned house, of modest exterior, and had an air of being elbowed into the background by the smarter and more modern domiciles on each side of it. Its steep, overhanging roof and porched doorway gave it a sleepy, reposeful look, as though it were watching the on-goings of the little town through half-closed lids, and taking small cognizance thereof.
Entering from the street through a little wooden gateway of a bright green colour, a narrow pathway, paved with round pebbles that were very trying to people with tender feet, conducted you to the front door, on which shone a brass plate of surpassing brightness, whereon was inscribed:—
_______ MR. SOLOMON MADGIN. _General Agent_, _Valuer, &c._ ______
The house was a double-fronted one. On one side of the passage as you went in was the office; on the other side was the family sitting-room. Not that Mr. Madgin's family was a large one. It consisted merely of himself, his daughter Mirpah, and one strong servant-girl with an unlimited capacity for hard work. Mirpah Madgin deserves some notice at our hands.
She was a tall, superb-looking young woman of two-and-twenty, and bore not the slightest resemblance in person, whatever she might do in mind or disposition, to that sly old fox her father. Mirpah's mother had been of Jewish extraction, and in Mirpah's face you read the unmistakable signs of that grand style of beauty which is everywhere associated with the downtrodden race. She moved about the little house in her inexpensive prints and muslins like a discrowned queen. That she had reached the age of two-and-twenty without having been in love was no source of surprise to those who knew her; for Mirpah Madgin hardly looked like a girl who would marry a poor clerk or a petty tradesman, or who could ever sink into the commonplace drudge of a hand-to-mouth household. She looked like a girl who would some day be claimed by a veritable hero of romance—by some Ivanhoe of modern life, well endowed with this world's goods—who would wed her, and ride away with her to the fairy realms of Tyburnia and Rotten Row.
And yet, truth to tell, the thread of romance inwoven with the composition of Mirpah Madgin was a very slender one. In so far she belied her own beauty. For a young woman she was strangely practical, and that in a curiously unfeminine way. She was her father's managing clerk and alter ego. The housewifely acts of sewing and cooking she held in utter distaste. For domestic management in any of its forms she had no faculty, unless it were for that portion of it which necessitated a watchful eye upon the purse-strings. Such an eye she had been trained to use since she was quite a girl, and Mirpah the superb could on occasion haggle over a penny as keenly as the most ancient fishwife in Eastbury market.
At five minutes past nine precisely, six mornings out of every seven, Mirpah Madgin sat down in her father's office and proceeded to open the letters. Mr. Madgin's business was a multifarious one. Not only was he Lady Chillington's general agent and man of business, although that was his most onerous and lucrative appointment, and the one that engaged most of his time and thoughts, but he was also agent for several lesser concerns, always contriving to have a number of small irons in the fire at one time. Much of Mr. Madgin's time was spent in the collection of rents and in out-door work generally, so that nearly the whole of the office duties devolved upon Mirpah, and by no clerk could they have been more efficiently performed. She made up and balanced the numerous accounts with which Mr. Madgin had to deal in one shape or another. Three-fourths of the letters that emanated from Mr. Madgin's office were written by her. From long practice she had learned to write so like her father that only an expert could have detected the difference between the two hands; and she invariably signed herself, "Yours truly, Solomon Madgin." Indeed, so accustomed was she to writing her father's name that in her correspondence with her brother, who was an actor in London, she more frequently than not signed it in place of her own; so that Madgin junior had to look whether the letter was addressed to him as a son or as a brother before he could tell by whom it had been written.
As her father's assistant Mirpah was happy after a quiet, staid sort of fashion. The energies of her nature found their vent in the busy life in which she took so much delight. She was not at all sentimental: she was not the least bit romantic. She was thoroughly practical, and was as keen in money-making as her father himself. Yet with all this, Mirpah Madgin could be charitable on occasion, and was by no means deficient of high and generous impulses—only she never allowed her impulses to interfere with "business."
Mr. Madgin never took any important step without first consulting his daughter. Herein he acted wisely, for Mirpah's clear, good sense, and feminine quickness at penetrating motives where he himself was sometimes at fault, had often proved invaluable to him in difficult transactions. In a matter of so much moment as that of the Great Hara Diamond it was not likely that he would be long contented without taking her into his confidence. He had scarcely finished his first pipe when he heard her opening the door with her latch-key, and his face brightened at the sound. She had been on one of those holy pilgrimages in which all who are thus privileged take so much delight: she had been to the bank to increase the little store which lay there already in her father's name. She came into the room tired but smiling. A white straw bonnet, a black silk mantle, and a muslin dress, small in pattern, formed the chief items of her quiet attire. She was carefully gloved and booted; but to whatever she wore Mirpah imparted an air of distinction that put it at once beyond a suggestion of improvement.
"Smoking at this time of day, papa!" exclaimed Mirpah. "And the whisky out, too! Are we about to retire on our fortunes, or what does it all mean?"
"It means, child, that I have got one of the hardest nuts to crack that were ever put before me. If I crack it, I get five thousand pounds for the kernel. If I don't crack it—but that's a possibility I can't bear to think about."
"Five thousand pounds! That would indeed be a kernel worth having. My teeth are younger than yours, and perhaps I may be able to help you."
Mr. Madgin smoked in silence for a little while, while Mirpah toyed patiently with her bonnet strings. "The nut is simply this," said the old man at last. "In India, twenty years ago, a diamond was stolen from a dying man. I am now told to find the thief, to obtain from him the diamond either by fair means or foul—supposing always that he is still alive and has the diamond still in his possession—and on the day I give the stone to its rightful owner the aforementioned five thousand pounds become mine."
"A grand prize, and one worth striving for!"
"Even so; but how can I strive, when I have nothing to strive against? I am like a man put into a dark room to fight a duel. I cannot find my antagonist. I grope about, not knowing whether he is on the right hand of me or the left, before me or behind me. In fact, I am utterly at sea; and the more I think about the matter the more hopelessly bewildered I seem to become."
"Two heads are better than one, papa. Let me try to help you. Tell me the case from beginning to end, with all the details as they are known to you."
Mr. Madgin willingly complied, and related in extenso all that he had heard that morning at Deepley Walls. The little man had a high opinion of his daughter's sagacity. That such an opinion was in nowise lessened by the result of the present case will be best seen by the following excerpts from Mr. Madgin's diary, which, as having a particular bearing on the case of the Great Hara Diamond, we proceed at once to lay before the reader:—
EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARY OF MR. SOLOMON MADGIN.
"July 9th, Evening.—After the wonderful revelation made to me by Lady Chillington this morning, I came home, and got behind a churchwarden, and set my wits to work to think the matter out. I shut my eyes and puffed away for an hour and a half, but at the end of that time I was as much in a fog as when I first sat down. Nowhere could I discern a single ray of light. Then in came Mirpah, and when she begged of me to tell her the story, I was glad to do so, remembering how often she had helped me through a puzzle in days gone by—but none of them of such magnitude as this one. So I told her everything as far as it was known to myself. After that we discussed the whole case carefully step by step. The immediate result of this discussion was, that as soon as tea was over, I went as far as the White Hart tavern in search of Sergeant Nicholas. I found him on the bowling-green, watching the players. I called for a quart of old ale and some tobacco, and before long we were as cosy as two old cronies who have known each other for twenty years. The morning had shown me that the Sergeant was a man of some intelligence, and of much worldly experience; and when I had lowered myself imperceptibly to the level of his intellect, so as to put him more completely at his ease, I had no difficulty in inducing him to talk freely and fully on that one subject which, for the last few hours, has had for me an interest paramount to that of any other. My primary object was to induce him to retail to me every scrap of information that he could call to mind respecting the Russian, Platzoff, who is said to have stolen the diamond. It was Mirpah's opinion and mine, that he must be in possession of many bits of special knowledge, such as might seem of no consequence to him, but which might be invaluable to us in our search, and such as he would naturally leave out of the narrative he told Lady Chillington. The result proved that our opinion was well founded. I did not leave the Sergeant till I had pumped him thoroughly dry. (Mem.: An excellent tap of old ale at the White Hart. Must try some of it at home.)
"I found Mirpah watering her geraniums in the back garden. She was all impatience to learn the result of my interview. I am thankful that increasing years have not impaired my memory. I repeated to Mirpah every word bearing on the case in point that the Sergeant had confided to me. Then I waited in silence for her opinion. I was anxious to know whether it coincided in any way with my own. I am happy to think that it did coincide. Father and daughter were agreed.
"'I think that you have done a very good afternoon's work, papa,' said Mirpah, after a few moments given to silent thought. 'After a lapse of twenty years, it is not likely that Sergeant Nicholas should have a very clear recollection of any conversation that he may have overheard between Captain Chillington and M. Platzoff. Indeed, had he pretended to repeat any such conversation, I should have felt strongly inclined to doubt the truth of his entire narrative. Happily he disclaims any such abnormal powers of memory. He can remember nothing but a chance phrase or two which some secondary circumstance fixed indelibly on his mind. But he can remember a great number of little facts bearing on the relations between his master and the Russian. These facts, considered singly, may seem of little or no importance, but taken in the aggregate, and regarded as so many bits of mosaic work forming part of a complicated whole, they assume an aspect of far greater importance. In any case, they put us on a trail, which may turn out to be the right one or the wrong one, but at present certainly seems to be worth following up. Finally, they all tend to deepen our first suspicion that M. Platzoff was neither more nor less than a political refugee. The next point is to ascertain whether he is still alive.'
"Here again the clear logical intellect of Mirpah (so like my own) came to my assistance. Before parting for the night we were agreed as to what our mode of procedure ought to be on the morrow. This most extraordinary case engages all my thoughts. I am afraid that I shall not be able to sleep much to-night.
"July 10th.—I owe it to Mirpah to say that it was entirely in consequence of a hint from her that I went at an early hour this morning to the office of the Eastbury Courier, there to consult a file of that newspaper. Six months ago the daughter of Sir John Pennythorne was married to a rich London gentleman. Mirpah had read the account of the festivities consequent on that event, and seemed to remember that among other friends of the bridegroom invited down to Finch Hall was some foreign gentleman, who was stated in the newspaper to belong to the Russian Legation in London. Acting on Mirpah's hint, I went back through the files of the Courier till I lighted on the account of the wedding. True enough, among other guests on that occasion, I found catalogued the name of a certain Monsieur H—— of the Russian Embassy. I had got all I wanted from the Eastbury Courier.
"My next proceeding was to hasten up to Deepley Walls, to obtain an interview with Lady Chillington, and to induce her ladyship to write to Sir John Pennythorne, asking him to write to the aforesaid M. H——, and inquire whether, among the archives (I think that is the correct word) of the Embassy, they had any record of a political refugee by name Paul Platzoff, who, twenty years ago, was in India, etc. I had considerable difficulty in persuading her ladyship to write, but at last the letter was sent. I await the result anxiously. The chances seem to me something like a thousand to one against our inquiry being productive of any tangible result. What I dread more than all is that M. Platzoff is no longer among the living.
"July 20th.—Nine days without a word from Sir John Pennythorne, except to say that he had written his friend Monsieur H——, as requested by Lady Chillington. I began to despair. Each morning I inquired of her ladyship whether she had received any reply from Sir John, and each morning her ladyship said: 'I have had no reply, Mr. Madgin, beyond the one you have already seen.'
"Certain matters connected with a lease took me up to Deepley Walls this afternoon for the second time to-day. The afternoon post came in while I was there. Among other letters was one from Sir John Pennythorne, which, when she had read it, her ladyship tossed over to me. It enclosed one from M. H—— to Sir John. It was on the latter that I pounced. It was written in French, but even at the first hasty reading I could make it out sufficiently to know that it was of far greater importance than even in my wildest dreams I had dared to imagine.
"I never saw Lady Chillington so excited as she was during the few moments which I took up in reading the letter. During the nine days that had elapsed since the writing of her letter to Sir John she had treated me somewhat slightingly; there was, or so I fancied, a spice of contempt in her manner towards me. The step I had induced her to take in writing to Sir John had met with no approbation at her hands; it had seemed to her an utterly futile and ridiculous thing to do; therefore was I now proportionately well pleased to find that my wild idea had been productive of such excellent fruit.
"'I must certainly compliment you, Mr. Madgin, on the success of your first step,' said her ladyship. 'It was like one of the fine intuitions of genius to imagine that you saw a way to reach M. Platzoff through the Russian Embassy. You have been fully justified by the result. Madgin, the man yet lives!—the man whose sacrilegious hands robbed my dead son of that which he had left as a sacred gift to his mother. May the curse of a widowed mother attend him through life! Let me hear the letter again, Madgin; or stay, I will read it myself: your French is execrable. Ha, ha! Monsieur Paul Platzoff, we shall have our revenge out of you yet.'
"She read the letter through for the second time with a sort of deliberate eagerness which showed me how deeply interested her heart was in the affair. She dropped her eye-glass and gave a great sigh when she came to the end of it. 'And what do you propose to do next, Mr. Madgin?' she asked. 'Your conduct so far satisfies me that I cannot do better than leave the case entirely in your hands.'
"'With all due deference to your ladyship,' I replied, 'I think that my next step ought to be to reconnoitre the enemy's camp.'
"'Exactly my own thought,' said her ladyship. 'When can you start for Windermere?'
"'To-morrow morning, at nine.'
"After a little more conversation I left her ladyship. She seemed in better spirits than I had seen her for a long time.
"I need not attempt to describe dear Mirpah's delight when I read over to her the contents of Monsieur H.'s note. She put her arms round me and kissed me. 'The five thousand pounds shall yet be yours, papa,' she said. Stranger things than that have come to pass before now. But I am working only for her and James. Should I ever be so fortunate as to touch the five thousand pounds, one-half of it will go to form a dowry for my Mirpah. Below is a free translation of the business part of M.H.'s letter, which was simply an extract from some secret ledger kept at the Embassy:—
"'Platzoff, Paul. A Russian by birth and a conspirator by choice. Born in Moscow in 1802, his father being a rich leather-merchant of that city. Implicated at the age of nineteen in sundry insurrectionary movements; tried, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment in a military fortress. After his release, left Russia without permission, having first secretly transferred his property into foreign securities. Went to Paris. Issued a scurrilous pamphlet directed against his Majesty the Emperor. Spent several years in travel—now in Europe, now in the East, striving wherever he went to promulgate his revolutionary ideas. More than suspected of being a member of several secret political societies. Has resided for the last few years at Bon Repos, on the banks of Windermere, from which place he communicates constantly with other characters as desperate as himself. Russia has no more bitter and determined enemy than Paul Platzoff. He is at once clever and unscrupulous. While he lives he will not cease to conspire.'
"After this followed a description of Platzoff's personal appearance, which it is needless to transcribe here.
"I start for Windermere by the first train to-morrow."
MR. MADGIN'S SECRET JOURNEY.
Mr. Madgin left home by an early train on the morning of the day following that on which Lady Chillington had received a reply from Sir John Pennythorne. His first intention had been to make the best of his way to Windermere, and there ascertain the exact locality of Bon Repos. But a fresh view of the case presented itself to his mind as he lay thinking in bed. Instead of taking the train for the North, he took one for the South, and found himself at Euston as the London clocks were striking twelve. After an early dinner, and a careful consultation of the Post-Office Directory, Mr. Madgin ordered a hansom, and was driven to Hatton Garden, in and about which unfragrant locality the diamond merchants most do congregate. After due inquiries made and answered, Mr. Madgin was driven eastward for another mile or more. Here a similar set of inquiries elicited a similar set of answers. Mr. Madgin went back to his hotel well pleased with his day's work.
His inquiries had satisfied him that no green diamond of the size and value attributed to the Great Hara had either been seen or heard of in the London market during the last twenty years. It still remained to test the foreign markets in the same way. Mr. Madgin's idea was that this work could be done better by some trustworthy agent well acquainted with the trade than by himself. He accordingly left instructions with an eminent diamond merchant to have all needful inquiries made at Paris, Amsterdam, and St. Petersburg, as to whether such a stone as the Great Hara had come under the cognizance of the trade any time during the last twenty years. The result of the inquiry was to be communicated to Mr. Madgin by letter.
Next day Mr. Madgin journeyed down to Windermere. Arrived at Bowness, he found no difficulty in ascertaining the exact locality of Bon Repos, the house and its owner being known by sight or repute to almost every inhabitant of the little town. Mr. Madgin stopped all night at Bowness. Next morning he hired a small boat, and was pulled across the lake to a point about half a mile below Bon Repos, and there he landed.
Mr. Madgin was travelling incog. The name upon his portmanteau was "Joshua Deedes, Esq." He was dressed in a suit of glossy black, with a white neck-cloth, and gold-rimmed spectacles. He had quite an episcopal air. He did not call himself a clergyman, but people were at liberty to accept him as one if they chose.
Assisted by the most unimpeachable of malaccas, Mr. Madgin took the high-road that wound round the grounds of Bon Repos. But so completely was the house hidden in its nest of greenery that the chimney-pots were all of it that was visible from the road. But under a spur of the hill by which the house was shut in at the back, Mr. Madgin found a tiny hamlet of a dozen houses, by far the most imposing of which was the village inn—hotel, it called itself, and showed to the world the sign of The Jolly Fishers. Into this humble hostelry Mr. Madgin marched without hesitation, and called for some refreshment. So impressed was the landlord with the clerical appearance of his guest that he whipped off his apron, ushered him into the state parlour, and made haste to wait upon him himself. He, the guest, had actually called for a bottle of the best dry sherry, and when the landlord took it in he invited him to fetch another glass, and come and join him over it. Mr. Joshua Deedes was a tourist—well-to-do, without doubt; the landlord could see as much as that—and having never visited Lakeland before, he was naturally delighted with the freshness and novelty of everything that he saw. The change from London life was so thorough, so complete in every respect, that he could hardly believe he had left the great Babel no longer ago than yesterday. It seemed years since he had been there. He had thought Bowness a charming spot, but this little nook surpassed Bowness, inasmuch as it was still farther removed and shut out from the frivolities and follies of the great world. Here one was almost alone with Nature and her wondrous works. Then Mr. Deedes filled up his own glass and that of the landlord.
"Perhaps, sir, you would like to stay here for a night or two," suggested the host timidly; "we have a couple of spare beds."
"Nothing would please me better," answered Mr. Deedes, with solemn alacrity. "I feel that the healthful air of these hills is doing me an immensity of good. Kindly send to the Crown at Bowness for my portmanteau, and ascertain what you have in the house for dinner."
After a while came dinner, and a little later on, Mr. Deedes having expressed a desire to see something of the lake, the landlord sent to borrow a boat, and then took his guest for an hour's row on Windermere. From the water they had a capital view of the low white front of Bon Repos. There were two gentlemen smoking on the terrace. The lesser of the two, said the landlord, was M. Platzoff. The taller man was Captain Ducie, at present a guest at Bon Repos. Then the landlord wandered off into a long, rambling account of Bon Repos and its owner. Mr. Deedes was much interested in hearing about the eccentric habits and strange mode of life of M. Platzoff, with the details of which the landlord was as thoroughly acquainted as though he had formed one of the household. Their row on the lake was prolonged for a couple of hours, and Mr. Deedes went back to the hotel much edified.
In the dusk of evening he encountered Cleon, M. Platzoff's valet, as he was lounging slowly down the village street on his way to The Jolly Fishers. Mr. Deedes scrutinised the dark-skinned servant narrowly in passing. "The face of a cunning, unscrupulous rascal, if ever I saw one," he muttered to himself. "Nevertheless, I must make his acquaintance."
And he did make his acquaintance. As Cleon and the landlord sat hob-nobbing together in the little snuggery behind the bar, Mr. Deedes put in his head to ask a question of the latter. Thereupon the landlord begged permission to introduce his friend Mr. Cleon to the notice of his guest, Mr. Deedes. The two men bowed, Mr. Cleon rather sulkily; but Mr. Deedes was all affability and smiling bonhommie. He had several questions to ask, and he sat down on the only vacant chair in the little room. He wanted to know the distance to Keswick; how much higher Helvellyn was than Fairfield; whether it was possible to get any potted char for breakfast, and so on; on all which questions both Cleon and the landlord had something to say. But talking being dry work, as Mr. Deedes smilingly observed, brought naturally to mind the fact that the landlord had some excellent dry sherry, and that one could not do better this warm evening than have another bottle fetched up out of the cool depths of the cellar. Mr. Cleon, being pressed, was nothing loth to join Mr. Deedes over this bottle. Mr. Deedes, without condescending into familiarity, made himself very agreeable, but did not sit long. After imbibing a couple of glasses, he bade the landlord and the valet an affable good-night, and went off decorously to bed.
Mr. Deedes was up betimes next morning, and took a three miles' trudge over the hills before breakfast. He spent a quiet day mooning about the neighbourhood, and really enjoying himself after his own fashion, although his mind was busily engaged all the time in trying to solve the mystery of the Great Diamond. In the evening he took care to have a few pleasant words with Cleon, and then early to bed. Two more days passed away after a similar quiet fashion, and then Mr. Deedes began to chafe inwardly at the small progress he was making.
Although he had been so successful in tracing out M. Platzoff, and in working the case up to its present point in a remarkably short space of time, he acknowledged to himself that he was completely baffled when he came to consider what his next step ought to be. He could not, indeed, see his way to a single step beyond his present standpoint. Much as he seemed to have gained at a single leap, was he in reality one hair's-breadth nearer the secret object of his quest than on that day when the name of the Great Hara Diamond first made music in his ears? He doubted it greatly.
When he first decided on coming down to Bon Repos, he trusted that the chapter of accidents and the good fortune which had so far attended him would somehow put it in his power to scrape an acquaintance with M. Platzoff himself, and such an acquaintance once made, it would be his own fault if, in one way or another, he did not make it subservient to the ambitious end he had in view.
But in M. Platzoff he found a recluse: a man who made no fresh acquaintanceships; who held the whole tourist tribe in horror, and who even kept himself aloof from such of the neighbouring families as might be considered his equals in social position. It was quite evident to Mr. Deedes that he might reside close to Bon Repos for twenty years, and at the end of that time not have succeeded in addressing half-a-dozen words to its owner.
Then again he had succeeded little better with regard to Cleon than with regard to Cleon's master. All his advances, made with a mixture of affability and bonhommie which Mr. Deedes flattered himself was irresistible with most people, were productive of little or no effect upon the mulatto. He received them, not with suspicion, for he had nothing of which to suspect harmless Mr. Deedes, but with a sort of sulky indifference, as though he considered them rather a nuisance than otherwise, and would have preferred their being offered to anyone else. Did Mr. Deedes, in conversation with him and the landlord, venture to bring the talk round to Bon Repos and M. Platzoff; did he hazard the remark that since his arrival in Lakeland several people had spoken to him of the strange character and eccentric mode of life of Mr. Cleon's employer—he was met with a stony silence, which told him as plainly as any words could have done that M. Platzoff and his affairs were matters that in no wise concerned him. It was quite evident that neither the Russian nor his dark-skinned valet was of any avail for the furtherance of that scheme which had brought Mr. Deedes all the way to the wilds of Westmoreland.
He began to despair, and was on the point of writing to Mirpah, thinking that her shrewd woman's wit might be able to suggest some stratagem or mode of attack other than that made use of by him, when suddenly a prospect opened before him such as in his wildest dreams of success he dared not have bodied forth. He was not slow to avail himself of it.
ENTER MADGIN JUNIOR.
"Beg your pardon, sir," said the landlord of The Jolly Fishers one morning to his guest, Mr. Deedes, "but I think I have more than once heard you say that you came from London?"
"I do come from London," answered Mr. Deedes; "I am Cockney born and bred. I came direct from London to Windermere. But why do you ask?"
"Simply, sir, because they are in want of a footman at Bon Repos, to fill up the place of one who has gone away to get married. Mossoo Platzoff don't like advertising for servants, and Mr. Cleon is at a loss where to find a fellow that can wait at table and has some manners about him. You see sir, the country louts about here are neither useful nor ornamental in a gentleman's house. Now, sir, it struck me that among your friends you might perhaps know some gentleman who would be glad to recommend a respectable man for such a place. Must have a good character from his last situation, and be able to wait at table; and I hope, sir, you will pardon the liberty I've taken in mentioning it to you."
Mr. Deedes was holding up a glass of wine to the light as the landlord brought his little speech to a close. He sipped the wine slowly, with his eyes bent on the floor; then he put down the glass and rubbed his hands softly one within the other. Then he spoke.
"It happens, singularly enough," he said, "that a particular friend of mine—Mr. Madgin, a gentleman, I daresay, whose name you have never heard—spoke to me only three weeks ago about one of his people for whom he was desirous of obtaining another situation, he himself being about to break up his establishment and go to reside on the Continent. I will write Mr. Madgin to-night, and if the young man has not engaged himself, I will ask my friend to send him down here. He will have a first-class testimonial, and I have no doubt he would suit M. Platzoff admirably. I am obliged to you, landlord, for mentioning this matter to me."
Mr. Deedes went off at once to his room, and wrote and despatched the following letter:—
"MY DEAR BOY,—I saw by an advertisement in last week's Era that you are still out of an engagement. I have an opening for you down here in a drama of real life. It will be greatly to your advantage to accept it, so do not hesitate for a moment. Come without delay. Book yourself from Euston Square to Windermere. Take steamer from the latter place to Newby Bridge. There, at the hotel, await my arrival. Bear in mind that down here my name is Mr. Joshua Deedes, and that yours is James Jasmin, a footman, at present out of a situation. To a person of your intelligence I need not say more.
"Your affectionate father, "S.M.
"N.B.—This communication is secret and confidential. All expenses paid. Do not on any account fail to come. I will be at the Newby Bridge Hotel on Thursday morning at eleven."
This letter he addressed, "Mr. James Madgin, Royal Tabard Theatre, Southwark, London." Having posted it with his own hands, he went for a long, solitary ramble among the hills. He wanted to think out and elaborate the great scheme that had unfolded itself before his dazzled eyes while the landlord was talking to him. He had seen the whole compass of it at a glance; he wanted now to consider it in detail. There was an elation in his eye and an elasticity in his tread that made him seem ten years younger than on the previous day.
He had requested the landlord to tell Mr. Cleon what steps he was about to take with the view of supplying M. Platzoff with a new footman. In these proceedings the mulatto acquiesced ungraciously. Truth to tell, he was bored by Mr. Deedes and his friendly officiousness, and although secretly glad that the trouble of hunting out a new servant had been taken off his hands, he was not a man willingly to acknowledge his obligations to another.
Mr. Deedes set out immediately after breakfast on Thursday morning, and having walked to the Ferry Hotel, he took the steamer from that place to Newby Bridge. Mr. James Jasmin was at the landing-stage, awaiting his arrival. After shaking hands heartily, and inquiring as to each other's health, the two wandered off arm-in-arm down one of the quiet country roads. Then Mr. Deedes explained to Mr. Jasmin his reasons for sending for him from London, and with what view he was desirous of introducing him into Bon Repos. The younger man listened attentively. When the elder one had done, he said:
"Father, this is a very pretty scheme of yours; but it seems to me that I am to be nothing more than a cat's-paw in the affair. You have only given me half your confidence. You must give me the whole of it before I can agree to act as you wish. I want to hear the whole history of the case, and how you came to be mixed up in it. Further, I want to know how much Lady Chillington intends to give you in case you succeed in getting back the diamond, and what my share of the recompense is to be?"
"Dear, dear! what a headstrong boy you are!" moaned Mr. Deedes. "Why can't you be content with what I tell you, and leave the rest to me?"
The younger man made no reply in words, but turned abruptly on his heel and began to walk back.
"James! James!" cried the old man, catching his son by the coat tails, "do not go off in that way. It shall be as you wish. I will tell you everything. You headstrong boy! Do you want to break your poor father's heart?"
"Break your fiddlestick!" said Mr. Jasmin, irreverently. "Let us sit down on this green bank, and you shall tell me all about the Diamond while I try the quality of these cigars. I am all attention."
Thus adjured, Mr. Deedes sighed deeply, wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, looked meditatively into his hat for a few seconds, and then began.
Beginning with the narrative of Sergeant Nicholas, Mr. Deedes went on from that point to detail by what means he had discovered that M. Platzoff was still alive and where he was now living. Then he told of his coming down to Bon Repos, and all that had happened to him since that time. He had already told his son with what view he had sent for him from London—that not being able to make any further headway in the case himself, he was desirous of introducing his dear James, in the guise of a servant, into Bon Repos, as an agent on whose integrity and cleverness he could alike depend.
"But you have not yet told your dear James the amount of the honorarium you will be entitled to receive in case you recover the stolen Diamond."
"What do you say to five thousand pounds?" asked Mr. Deedes in a solemn whisper.
The younger man opened his eyes. "Hum! A very pretty little amount," he said, "but I have yet to learn what proportion of that sum will percolate into the pockets of this child. In other words, what is to be my share of the plunder?"
"Plunder, my dear boy, is a strange word to make use of. Pray be more particular in your choice of terms. The mercenary view you take of the case is very distressing to my feelings. A proper recompense for your time and trouble it was my intention to make you; but as regards the five thousand pounds, I hoped to be able to fund it in toto, to add it to my little capital, and to leave it intact for those who will come after me. And you know very well, James, that there will only be you and Mirpah to divide whatever the old man may die possessed of."
"But, my dear dad, you are not going to die for these five-and-twenty years. My present necessities are imperative: like the daughters of the horse-leech, they are continually asking for more."
"James! James! how changed you are from the dear, unselfish boy of ten years ago!"
"And very proper too. But do let us be business-like, if you please. The role of the 'heavy father' doesn't suit you at all. Keep sentiment out of the case, and then we shall do very well. Listen to my ultimatum. The day I place the Hara Diamond in your hands you must give me a cheque for fifteen hundred pounds."
"Fifteen hundred pounds!" gasped the old man. "James! James! do you wish to see me die in a workhouse?"
"Fifteen hundred pounds. Not one penny less," reiterated Madgin, junior. "What do you mean by a workhouse? You will then have three thousand, five hundred pounds to the good, and will have got the job done very cheaply. But there is another side to the question. Both you and I have been counting our chickens before they are hatched. Suppose I don't succeed in laying hold of the Diamond—what then? And, mind you, I don't think I shall succeed. To begin with—I don't half believe in the existence of your big Diamond. It looks to me very much like a hoax from beginning to end. But granting the existence of the stone, and that it was stolen by your Russian friend, are not the chances a thousand to one either that he has disposed of it long ago, or else that he has hidden it away in some place so safe that the cleverest burglar in London would be puzzled to get at it? Suppose, for instance, that it is deposited by him at his banker's: in that case, what are your expectations worth? Not a brass farthing. No, my dear dad, the risk of failure is too great, outweighing, as it does, the chances of success a thousandfold, for me to have the remotest hope of ever fingering the fifteen hundred pounds. I have, therefore, to appraise my time and services as the hero of a losing cause. I say the hero; for I certainly consider that I am about to play the leading part in the forthcoming drama—that I am the bright particular 'star' round which the lesser lights will all revolve. Such being the case, I do not consider that I am rating my services too highly when I name two hundred guineas as the lowest sum for which I am willing to play the part of James Jasmin, footman, spy and amateur detective."
Again Mr. Deedes gasped for breath. He opened his mouth, but words refused to come. He shook his head with a fine tragic air, and wiped his eyes.
"Take an hour or two to consider it," said the son, indulgently. "If you agree to my proposition, I shall want it put down in black and white and properly signed. If you do not agree to it, I start back for town by this night's mail."
"James, James, you are one too many for me!" said the old man, pathetically. "Let us go and dine."
The first thing Madgin junior did after they got back to the hotel was to place before his father a sheet of note-paper, an inkstand and a pen. "Write," he said; and the old man wrote to his dictation:—
"I, Solomon Madgin, on the part of Lady Chillington, of Deepley Walls, do hereby promise and bind myself to pay over into the hands of my son, James Madgin, the sum of fifteen hundred pounds (L1,500) on the day that the aforesaid James Madgin places safely in my hands the stone known as the Hara Diamond.
"Should the aforesaid James Madgin, from causes beyond his own control, find himself unable to obtain possession of the said Diamond, I, Solomon Madgin, bind myself to reimburse him in the sum of two hundred guineas (L210) as payment in full for the time and labour expended by him in his search for the Hara Diamond.
"(Signed) SOLOMON MADGIN.
"July 21st, 18—."
Mr. Madgin threw down the pen when he had signed his name and chuckled quietly to himself. "You don't think, dear boy, that a foolish paper like that would be worth anything in a court of law?" he said, interrogatively.
"As a legal document it would probably be laughed at," said Madgin junior. "But in another point of view I have no doubt that it would carry with it a certain moral weight. For instance, suppose the claim embodied in this paper were disputed, and I were compelled to resort to ulterior measures, the written promise given by you might not be found legally binding, but, on the other hand, neither Lady Chillington nor you would like to see that document copied in extenso into all the London papers, nor the whole of your remarkable scheme for the recovery of the Hara Diamond detailed by the plaintiff in open court, to be talked over next morning through the length and breadth of England. "Extraordinary Case between a Lady of Rank and an Actor." How would that read, eh?"
"My dear James, let me shake hands with you," exclaimed the old man with emotion. "You are a most extraordinary young man. I am proud of you, my dear boy, I am indeed. What a pity that you adopted the stage as your profession! You ought to have entered the law. In the law you would have risen—nothing could have kept you down."
"That is as it may be," returned James. "If I am satisfied with my profession you have no cause to grumble. But here comes dinner."
Mr. James Madgin was first low comedian at one of the transpontine theatres. The height of his ambition was to have the offer of an engagement from one of the West-end managers. Only give him the opportunity, and he felt sure that he could work his way with a cultivated audience. When a lad of sixteen he had run away from home with a company of strolling players, and from that time he had been a devoted follower of Thespis. He had roughed it patiently in the provinces for years, his only consolation during a long season of poverty and neglect arising from the conviction that he was slowly but surely improving himself in the difficult art he had chosen as his mode of earning his daily bread. When the manager of the Royal Tabard, then on a provincial tour, picked him out from all his brother actors, and offered him a Metropolitan engagement, James Madgin thought himself on the high road to fame and fortune. Time had served to show him the fallacy of his expectations. He had been four years at the Royal Tabard, during the whole of which time he had been in receipt of a tolerable salary for his position—that of first low comedian; but fame and fortune still seemed as far from his grasp as ever. With opportunity given him, he had hoped one day to electrify the town. But that hope was now buried very deep down in his heart, and if ever brought out, like an "old property," to be looked at and turned about, its only greeting was a quiet sneer, after which it was relegated to the limbo whence it had been disinterred. James Madgin had given up the expectation of ever shining in the theatrical system as a "great star;" he was trying to content himself with the thought of living and dying a respectable mediocrity—useful, ornamental even, in his proper sphere, but certainly never destined to set the Thames on fire. The manager of the Tabard had recently died, and at present James Madgin was in want of an engagement.
As father and son sat together at table, you might, knowing their relationship to each other, have readily detected a certain likeness between them; but it was a likeness of expression rather than of features, and would scarcely have been noticed by any casual observer.
Madgin junior was a fresh complexioned, sprightly young fellow of six or seven and twenty, with dark, frank-looking eyes, a prominent nose, and thin mobile lips. He had dark-brown hair, closely cropped; and, as became one of his profession, he was guiltless of either beard or moustache. Like Mirpah, he inherited his eyes and nose from his mother, but in no other feature could he be said to resemble his beautiful sister.
Father and son were very merry over dinner, and did not spare the wine afterwards. The old man could not sufficiently admire the shrewd business-like aptitude shown by his son in their recent conference. The latter's extraction of a written promise by his own father was an action that the elder man could fully appreciate; it was a stroke of business that touched him to the heart, and made him feel proud of his "dear James."
"But how will you manage about waiting at table?" asked Solomon of his son as they strolled out together to smoke their cigars on the little bridge by the hotel. "I am afraid that you will betray your ignorance, and break down when you come to be put to the test."
"Never fear; I shall pull through somehow," answered James. "I am not so ignorant on such matters as you may suppose. Geary used to say that I did the flunkey business better than any man he ever had at the Tabard: I have always been celebrated for my footmen. Of course I am quite aware that the real article is very different from its stage counterfeit, but I have actually been at some pains to study the genus in its different varieties, and to arrive at some knowledge of the special duties it has to perform. One of our supers had been footman in the family of a well-known marquis, and from him I picked up a good deal of useful information. Then, whenever I have been out to a swell dinner of any kind, I have always kept my eye on the fellows who waited at table. So what with one thing and what with another, I don't think I shall make any very terrible blunders."
"I hope not, or else Mr. Cleon will give you your conge, and that will spoil everything. Further, as regards the mulatto, I have a word or two to say to you. It is quite evident to me that he is the presiding genius at Bon Repos. If you wish to retain your situation you must pay court to him far more than to M. Platzoff, with whom, indeed, it is doubtful whether you will ever come into personal contact. You must therefore, my dear boy, swallow your pride for the time being, and take care to let the mulatto see that you regard him as a patron to whose kindness you hold yourself deeply indebted."
"All that I can do, and more, to serve my own ends," answered the son. "Your words are words of wisdom, and shall live in my memory."
Mr. Madgin stopped with his son till summoned by the whistle of the last steamer. The two bade each other an affectionate farewell. When next they met it would be as strangers.
Mr. Cleon and the landlord were enjoying the cool of the evening and their cigars outside the house as Mr. Deedes walked up to The Jolly Fishers. He stopped for a moment to speak to them.
"I had a note this morning from my friend Mr. Madgin, of Deepley Walls," he said, "in which that gentleman informs me that the young man, James Jasmin, will be with you in the course of the day after to-morrow at the latest. He hopes that Jasmin will suit you, and he is evidently much pleased that a position has been offered him in an establishment in every way so unexceptionable as that of Bon Repos."
The mulatto's white teeth glistened in the twilight. Evidently he was pleased. He muttered a few words in reply. Mr. Deedes bowed courteously, wished him and the landlord a very good night, and withdrew.
Late in the afternoon of the day but one following that of his visit to Newby Bridge, as Mr. Deedes was busy with a London newspaper three or four days old, the landlord ushered a young man into his room, who, with a bow and a carrying of the forefinger to his forehead, announced himself as James Jasmin, from Deepley Walls.
"Don't you go, landlord," said Mr. Deedes; "I may want you." Then he deliberately put on his gold-rimmed glasses, and proceeded to take a leisurely survey of the new corner, who was dressed in a neat (but not new) suit of black, and was standing in a respectful attitude, and slowly brushing his hat with one sleeve of his coat.
"So you are James Jasmin, from Deepley Walls, are you?" asked Mr. Deedes, looking him slowly down from head to feet.
"Yes, sir, I am the party, sir," answered James.
"Well, Jasmin, and how did you leave my friend Mr. Madgin? and what is the latest news from Deepley Walls?"
"Master and family all pretty well, sir, thank you. Master has got a tenant for the old house, and the family will all start for the Continong next week."
"Well, Jasmin, I hope you will contrive to suit your new employer as well as you appear to have suited my friend. Landlord, let him have some dinner, and he had better perhaps wait here till Mr. Cleon comes down this evening."
When Mr. Cleon arrived a couple of hours later, Jasmin was duly presented to him. The mulatto scrutinised him keenly and seemed pleased with his appearance, which was decidedly superior to that of the ordinary run of Jeameses. He finished by asking him for his testimonials.
"I have none with me, sir," answered Jasmin, discreetly emphasising the sir. "I can only refer you to my late master, Mr. Madgin, of Deepley Walls, who will gladly speak as to my qualifications and integrity."
"That being the case, I will take you for the present on the recommendation of Mr. Deedes, and will write Mr. Madgin in the course of a post or two. You can go up to Bon Repos at once, and I will induct you into your new duties to-morrow."
Jasmin thanked Mr. Cleon respectfully and withdrew. Ten minutes later, with his modest valise in his hand, he set out for his new home. He and Mr. Deedes did not see each other again. Next day Mr. Deedes announced that he was summoned home by important letters. He bade the landlord and Cleon a friendly farewell, and left early on the following morning in time to catch the first train from Windermere going south.
MADGIN JUNIOR'S FIRST REPORT.
Mr. Madgin senior lost no time after his arrival at home before hastening up to Deepley Walls to see Lady Chillington. He had a brief conference with Mirpah while discussing his modest chop and glass of bitter ale; and he found time to read a letter which had arrived for him some days previously from the London diamond merchant whom he had employed to make inquiries as to whether any such gem as the Great Hara had been offered for sale at any of the great European marts during the past twenty years. The letter was an assurance that no such stone had been in the market, nor was any such known to be in the hands of any private individual.
Mr. Madgin took the letter with him to Deepley Walls. In her grim way Lady Chillington seemed greatly pleased to see him. She was all impatience to hear what news he had to tell her. But Mr. Madgin had his reservations; he did not deem it advisable to detail to her ladyship step by step all that he had done. Her sense of honour might revolt at certain things he had found it necessary to do in furtherance of the great object he had in view. He told her of his inquiries among the London diamond merchants, and read to her the letter he had received from one of them. Then he went on to describe Bon Repos and its owner from the glimpses he had had of both. For all such details her ladyship betrayed a curiosity that seemed as if it would never be satisfied. He next went on to inform her that he had succeeded in placing his son as footman at Bon Repos, and that everything now depended on the discoveries James might succeed in making. But nothing was said as to the false pretences and the changed name under which Madgin junior had entered M. Platzoff's household. Those were details which Mr. Madgin kept judiciously to himself. Her ladyship was perfectly satisfied with his report; she was more than satisfied—she was pleased. She was very sanguine as to the existence of the diamond, and also as to its retention by M. Platzoff; far more so, in fact, than Mr. Madgin himself was. But the latter was too shrewd a man of business to parade his doubts of success before a client who paid so liberally, so long as her hobby was ridden after her own fashion. Mr. Madgin's chief aim in life was to ride other people's hobbies, and be well paid for his jockeyship.
"I am highly gratified, Mr. Madgin," said her ladyship, "by the style, plein de finesse, in which you have so far conducted this delicate investigation. I will not ask you what your next step is to be. You know far better than I can tell you what ought to be done. I leave the matter with confidence in your hands."
"Your ladyship is very kind," observed Mr. Madgin, deferentially. "I will do my best to deserve a continuance of your good opinion."
"As week after week goes by, Mr. Madgin," resumed Lady Chillington, "the conviction seems to take deeper root within me that that man—that villain—M. Platzoff, has my son's diamond still in his possession. I have a sort of spiritual consciousness that such is the case. My waking intuitions, my dreams by night, all point to the same end. You, with your cold, worldly sense, may laugh at such things; we women, with our finer organisation, know how often the truth comes to us on mystic wings. The diamond will yet be mine!"
"What nonsense women sometimes talk," said Mr. Madgin contemptuously to himself as he walked back through the park. "Who would believe that my lady, so sensible on most things, could talk such utter rubbish. But women have a way of leaping to results, and ignoring processes, that is simply astounding to men of common sense. The diamond hers, indeed! Although I have been so successful so far, there is as much difference between what I have done and what has yet to be done as there is between the simple alphabet and a mathematical theorem. To-morrow's post ought to bring me a letter from Bon Repos."
To-morrow's post did bring Mr. Madgin a letter from Bon Repos. The writer of it was not his son, but Cleon. It was addressed, as a matter of course, to Deepley Walls, of which place the mulatto had been led to believe Mr. Madgin was the proprietor. The note, which was couched in tolerable English, was simply a request to be furnished with a testimonial as to the character and abilities of James Jasmin, late footman at Deepley Walls. Mr. Madgin replied by return of post as under:—
"Deepley Walls, July 27th.
"SIR,—In reply to your favour of the 25th inst, inquiring as to the character and respectability of James Jasmin, late a footman in my employ, I beg to say that I can strongly recommend him, and have much pleasure in so doing, for any similar employment under you. Jasmin was with me for several years; during the whole time I found him to be trustworthy, sober and intelligent in an eminent degree. Had I not been reducing my establishment previous to a lengthened residence in the south of Europe, I should certainly have retained Jasmin in the position which he has occupied for so long a time with credit to himself and with satisfaction to me.
"I have the honour, sir, to remain, "Your obedient servant, "SOLOMON MADGIN.
"—— CLEON, Esq., "Bon Repos, Windermere."
After writing and despatching the above epistle, over the composition of which he chuckled to himself several times, Mr. Madgin was obliged to wait, with what contentment was possible to him, the receipt of a communication from his son. But one day passed after another without bringing news from Bon Repos, till Mr. Madgin grew fearful that some disaster had befallen both James and his scheme. At length he made up his mind to wait two days longer, and should no letter come within that time, to start at once for Windermere. Fortunately his anxiety was relieved and the journey rendered unnecessary by the receipt, next day, of a long letter from his son. It was Mirpah who took it from the postman's hand, and Mirpah took it to her father in high glee. She knew the writing and deciphered the post-mark. For once in his life Mr. Madgin was too agitated to read. He put his hand to his side, and motioned Mirpah to open the letter.
"Read it," he said in a husky voice, as she was about to hand it to him. So Mirpah sat down near her father and read what follows:—
"Bon Repos, July "(some date, but I'll be hanged if I know what).
"MY DEAR DAD,—In some rustic nook reclining, silken tresses softly twining, Far-off bells so faintly ringing, While we list the blackbird singing, Merrily his roundelay. There! I composed those lines this morning during the process of shaving. I don't think they are very bad. I put them at the beginning of my letter so as to make sure that you will read them, a process of which I might reasonably be doubtful had I left them for the fag end of my communication. Learn, sir, that you have a son who is a born poet!!!
"But now to business.
"Don't hurry over my letter, dear dad; don't run away with the idea that I have any grand discovery to lay before you. My epistle will be merely a record of trifles and commonplaces, and that simply from the fact that I have nothing better to write about. To me, at least, they seem nothing but trifles. For you they may possess an occult significance of which I know nothing.
"In the first place. On the day following that of your departure from Windermere, I was duly inducted by Cleon into my new duties. They are few in number, and by no means difficult. So far I have contrived to get through them without any desperate blunder. Another thing I have done of which you will be pleased to hear: I have contrived to ingratiate myself with the mulatto, and am in high favour with him. You were right in your remarks; he is worth cultivation, in so far that he is all-powerful in our little establishment. M. Platzoff never interferes in the management of Bon Repos. Everything is left to Cleon; and whatever the mulatto may be in other respects, so far as I can judge he is quite worthy of the trust reposed in him. I believe him to be thoroughly attached to his master.
"Of M. Platzoff I have very little to tell you. Even in his own house and among his own people he is a recluse. He has his own special rooms, and three-fourths of his time is spent in them. Above all things he dislikes to see strange faces about him, and I have been instructed by Cleon to keep out of his way as much as possible. Even the old servants, people who have been under his roof for years, let themselves be seen by him as seldom as need be. In person he is a little, withered-up, yellow-skinned man, as dry as a last year's pippin, but very keen, bright and vivacious. He speaks such excellent English that he must have lived in this country for many years. One thing I have discovered about him, that he is a great smoker. He has a room set specially apart for the practice of the sacred rite to which he retires every day as soon as dinner is over, and from which he seldom emerges again till it is time to retire for the night. Cleon alone is privileged to enter this room. I have never yet been inside it. Equally forbidden ground is M. Platzoff's bedroom, and a small study beyond, all en suite.
"Those who keep servants keep spies under their roof. It has been part of my purpose to make myself agreeable to the older domestics at Bon Repos, and from them I have picked up several little facts which all Mr. Cleon's shrewdness has not been able entirely to conceal. In this way I have learned that M. Platzoff is a confirmed opium-smoker. That once, or sometimes twice, a week he shuts himself up in his room and smokes himself into a sort of trance, in which he remains unconscious for hours. That at such times Cleon has to look after him as though he were a child; and that it depends entirely on the mulatto as to whether he ever emerges from his state of coma, or stops in it till he dies. The accuracy of this latter statement, however, I must beg leave to doubt.
"Further gossip has informed me, whether truly or falsely I am not in a position to judge, that M. Platzoff is a refugee from his own country. That were he to set foot on the soil of Russia, a life-long banishment to Siberia would be the mildest fate that he could expect; and that neither in France nor in Austria would he be safe from arrest. The people who come as guests to Bon Repos are, so I am informed, in nearly every instance foreigners, and, as a natural consequence, they are all set down by the servants' gossip as red-hot republicans, thirsting for the blood of kings and aristocrats, and willing to put a firebrand under every throne in Europe. In fact, there cannot be a popular outbreak against bad government in any part of Europe without M. Platzoff and his friends being credited with having at least a finger in the pie.
"All these statements and suppositions you will of course accept cum grano salis. They may have their value as serving to give you a rude and exaggerated idea as to what manner of man is the owner of Bon Repos; and it is quite possible that some elements of truth may be hidden in them. To me, M. Platzoff seems nothing more than a mild old gentleman; a little eccentric, it may be, as differing from our English notions in many things. Not a smiling fiend in patent boots and white cravat, whose secret soul is bent on murder and rapine; but a shy valetudinarian, whose only firebrand is a harmless fusee wherewith to light a pipe of fragrant cavendish.
"One permanent guest we have at Bon Repos—a guest who was here before my arrival, and of whose departure no signs are yet visible. That is why I call him permanent. His name is Ducie, and he is an ex-captain in the English army. He is a tall, handsome man of four or five and forty, and is a thorough gentleman both in manners and appearance. I like him much, and he has taken quite a fancy to me. One thing I can see quite plainly; that he and Cleon are quietly at daggers drawn. Why they should be so I cannot tell, unless it is that Cleon is jealous of Captain Ducie's influence over Platzoff; although the difference in social position of the two men ought to preclude any feeling of that kind. Captain Ducie might be M. Platzoff's very good friend without infringing in the slightest degree on the privileges of Cleon as his master's favourite servant. On one point I am certain: that the mulatto suspects Ducie of some purpose or covert scheme in making so long a stay at Bon Repos. He has asked me to act as a sort of spy on the Captain's movements; to watch his comings and goings, his hours of getting up and going to bed, and to report to him, Cleon, anything that I may see in the slightest degree out of the common way.
"It was not without a certain inward qualm that I accepted the position thrust upon me by Cleon. In accepting it, I flatter myself that I took a common-sense view of the case. In the petit drama of real life in which I am now acting an uneventful part, I look upon myself as a 'general utility' man, bound to enact any and every character which my manager may think proper to entrust into my hands. Now, you are my manager, and if it seem to me conducive to your interests (you being absent) that, in addition to my present character, I should be a 'cast' for that of spy or amateur detective, I see no good reason why I should refuse it. So far, however, all my Fouche-like devices have resulted in nothing. The Captain's comings and goings—in fact, all his movements—are of a commonplace and uninteresting kind. But I have this advantage, that the character I have undertaken enables me to assume, with Cleon's consent, certain privileges such as under other circumstances would never have been granted me. Further, should I succeed in discovering anything of importance, it by no means follows that I should consider myself bound to reveal the same to Cleon. It might be greatly more to my interest to retain any such facts for my own use. Meanwhile, I wait and watch.
"Thus you will perceive, my dear dad, that an element of interest—a dramatic element—is being slowly evolved out of the commonplace duties of my position. This nucleus of interest may grow and develop into something startling; or it may die slowly out and expire for lack of material to feed itself upon. In any case, dear dad, you may expect a frequent feuilleton from
"Your affectionate Son, "J.M. (otherwise JAMES JASMIN).
"P.S.—I should not like to be a real flunkey all my life. Such a position is not without its advantages to a man of a lazy turn, but it is terribly soul-subduing. Not a sign yet of the G.H.D."
"There is nothing much in all this to tell her ladyship," said Mr. Madgin, as he took off his spectacles and refolded the letter. "Still, I do not think it by any means a discouraging report. If James's patience only equal his shrewdness and audacity, and if there be really anything to worm out, he will be sure to make himself master of it in the course of time. Ah! if he had only my patience, now—the patience of an old man who has won half his battles by playing a waiting game."
"Is it not possible that Lady Chillington may want you to read the letter?"
"It is quite possible. But James's irreverent style is hardly suited in parts for her ladyship's ears. You, dear child, must make an improved copy of the letter. Your own good taste will tell you which sentences require to be altered or expunged. Here and there you may work in a neat compliment to your father; as coming direct from James, her ladyship will not deem it out of place—it will not sound fulsome in her ears, and will serve to remind her of what she too often forgets—that in Solomon Madgin she has a faithful steward, who ought to be better rewarded than he is. Write out the copy at once, my child, and I will take it up to Deepley Walls the first thing to-morrow morning."
(To be continued.)
ABOUT THE WEATHER.
Why is it that we in England talk so much about the weather? One reason, I suppose, is because we are shy and awkward in the presence of strangers, and the weather is a safe subject far removed from personalities of any kind. Then the variableness of our climate furnishes an opportunity for comment which does not exist in countries where for months there is not a cloud in the sky, and you can tell long before what kind of weather there will be on any particular day.
Whatever else may be said of our English climate, it cannot be accused of monotony. You are not sure of seeing the same sky every morning you arise, than which there is no greater source of ennui. Those of us who have lived long abroad know how tired we got of a cloudless blue sky. We can sympathise with the sailor who, on returning to London from the Mediterranean, joyfully exclaimed—"Here's a jolly old fog, and no more of your confounded blue skies!" Certainly we could do with a little more sunshine in England than we get. It is not true that while we have much weather we have no sunshine, but we have not as much of it as many of us would like. Still England is not as bad as some places; for instance, Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they have nine months' winter and three months' bad weather. Indeed, the English takes rather a good place amongst the climates of the world. It is free from extremes, and allows us to go out every day and at all hours.
However, judging from the way we grumble, it would seem that we are anything but satisfied with our climate.
Scene—Drawing-room at Scarborough. Melissa (writing): "Aunty, darling, how do you spell damnable?" "Good gracious, darling, never use such a word. I am surprised." "Well, but, auntie, I am writing to papa, to tell him about the weather." "Oh, well, my darling, I suppose I may tell you. D-a-m-n-a-b-l-e; but remember that you must not use the word except to describe the weather."
I suppose the clerk of the weather office has long ago ceased trying to satisfy us in this matter. What seems wretched weather to one person makes another happy. Cold, that the young enjoy because it makes them feel their vitality to the tips of their fingers, is death to the old. Those who are fond of skating look out of the windows of their bedrooms, hoping to see a good hard frost. The man who has three or four hunters "eating their heads off" in the stable wishes for open weather, so that he and they may have a run. The farmer says that frost is good for his land; the sportsman, who has hired an expensive shooting, does not like it. A young lady enjoys her walk and looks her best on a fine frosty morning; but she should not forget that the weather which is so pleasant to her puts thousands of people out of work.
Idle people feel changes of weather most. A man who lives a busy life in a hot climate once said to me: "I do not know why people growl about the heat; for my part, I have no time to be hot." And if the energetic feel heat less than do the indolent, they certainly feel cold less. They are too active to be cold; and perhaps it is easier to make oneself warm in a cold climate than cool in a hot one.
A man who had been complaining because it had not rained for a good while, when the rain did come then grumbled because it did not come sooner. The rich, however, rather than the poor, talk of the "wretched weather," because they have fewer real sorrows to grumble at. Indeed, the poor often set an example of cheerfulness and resignation in this matter which is very praiseworthy. "What wretched weather we are having!" said a man to an old woman of his acquaintance whom he passed on the road. "Well, sir," she replied, "any weather is better than none." Fuller tells us of a gentleman travelling on a misty morning who asked a shepherd—such men being generally skilled in the physiognomy of the heavens—what weather it would be. "It will be," said the shepherd, "what weather shall please me." Being asked to explain his meaning, he said, "Sir, it shall be what weather pleaseth God; and what weather pleaseth God, pleaseth me."
The people who are most satisfied with their climate are the Australians and New Zealanders. I never met one of them who did not, in five minutes, begin to abuse the English climate and glorify his own. They will not admit that it has a single fault, though we have all heard of the hot winds that make the Australian summer terribly oppressive. The fact is that every country has a bad wind, or some other kind of supposed drawback, which is very trying to strangers, but which, whether they know it or not, suits the inhabitants. God knows better than we do the sort of weather that each country should have.
What are we to say about the winter we have lately been enduring? Well, it was very "trying" for us all, and an even stronger word might be used by the poor, the aged, and the delicate. Still, let us remember that without omniscience it is impossible to say whether any given season is good or bad. So infinitely complex are the relations of things that we are very bad judges as to what is best for us. How do we know that our past winter of discontent may not be followed by a glorious summer, and that the two may not be merely antecedent and consequent, but in some degree cause and effect?
On no other subject are people so prone to become panegyrists of the past as in this matter of the weather. "Ah," they say, "we never now have the lovely summers we used to have." Reading the other day Walpole's Letters, I discovered that so far from the summers in his day being "lovely," they were not uniformly better than the winters: "The way to ensure summer in England," he writes, "is to have it framed and glazed in a comfortable room." This remark was made of the summer of 1773; that of 1784 was not more balmy, judging from the same writer's comment: "The month of June, according to custom immemorial, is as cold as Christmas. I had a fire last night, and all my rosebuds, I believe, would have been very glad to sit by it."
Here is another weather grumble from the same quaint letter-writer: "The deluge began here but on Monday last, and then rained nearly eight-and-forty hours without intermission. My poor bag has not a dry thread to its back. In short, every summer one lives in a state of mutiny and murmur, and I have found the reason: it is because we will affect to have a summer, and have no title to any such thing."
This reminds us of Quin, who, being asked if he had ever seen so bad a winter, replied: "Yes, just such an one last summer." If people could be satisfied about the weather, this sort of summer ought to have pleased the Irishman who, as he warmed his hands at a fire remarked: "What a pity it is that we can't have the cold weather in the summer."
"Come out! the moon is white, and on the river The white mist lies; The twilight deepens, and the stars grow brighter In the pure, perfect skies; The dewy woods with silent voices call you; Come out, heart of my heart, light of my eyes!
"Come out, for where you are not, beauty is not; Come out, my Dear! See how the fairies will adorn the meadows The moment you draw near; And the world wear that robe and crown of glory It never wears except when you are here."
In vain!—a little light among the jasmine Her lattice gleams, Her white hand at the closing of it lingers A moment—so it seems— To drop an unseen rose down to her lover: White rose—whose scent will sanctify his dreams!
BY ANGUS GREY.
"And when I had your own bottle finished, Doctor, an ould man that was passing by to the fair of Kinvarra told me that there was nothin' in the world so good for a stiff arm as goose's grease or crane's lard, rendered, rubbed in, and, says he, in a few days your arm will be as limber as limber. So I went to the keeper at Inchguile, and he shot a crane for me; but there wasn't so much lard in it as I thought there'd be, because it was just after rearing a chitch."
"Well, we must try and get you a better one next time," said the Doctor, nodding farewell to his loquacious patient, one of those non-paying ones who look on a "dispensary ticket" as conveying an unlimited right of discourse on the one hand and attention on the other. But the Doctor was just now in a position of vantage, being seated on his car, on which he slowly jogged out of sight, leaving the victim of rheumatism who had stopped him still experimentally rubbing the joints of his arm.
It was the first of June by the calendar, but the outward signs of the season were but slightly visible in that grey West Country, where stones lay as the chief crop in the fields and innumerable walls took the place of hedges, and a drizzling mist from the Atlantic hid all distant outlines.
The Doctor had been all day face to face with such cheerless surroundings, and was on his way homewards. But presently he stopped at the entrance of a little "boreen," where a wrinkled, red-skirted dame was standing sentry, leaning on a stout blackthorn stick. "Is it me you're looking out for, Mrs. Capel?" he asked. "I hope Mary is no worse to-day."
"She's the one way always," was the reply; "and it wasn't of you I was thinking, Doctor, but standing I was to watch that ruffian of a pig of Mr. Rourke's that had me grand cabbages eat last night, and me in Cloon buying a pound of madder to colour a petticoat. Ah, then, look at him now standing there by the wall watching me out of the corner of his eye!" and flourishing her stick the energetic old lady trotted off to the attack.
"I may as well go in and see Mary," muttered the Doctor, tying the reins to an isolated gate-post, and walking up the narrow lane to the thatched cottage it led to.
"God save all here," he said, putting his head in over the half-door.
"God save you kindly," was the reply from an old man in corduroy knee-breeches and a tall hat, who sat smoking a short pipe in the deep chimney-corner, and watching with interest the assault of various hens and geese upon the heap of potato-skins remaining in a basket-lid which had done duty as a dinner-table.
The Doctor passed through to a little room beyond, whitewashed and containing a large four-post bed. The invalid, a gentle, consumptive-looking girl, lay on the pillows and smiled a greeting to the Doctor.
His eye, however, passed her, and rested with startled curiosity on a visitor who was sitting by her side, and who rose and bowed slightly. The stranger was a lady, young and slight, with dark eyes and hair and a small, graceful head. He guessed at once she must be Miss Eden, the new Resident Magistrate's sister, of whose ministrations to the poor he had heard much since his return from his late holiday.
He stopped awkwardly, rather confused at so unexpected a meeting; but the stranger held out her hand, and looking up at him said: "I am so glad you have come back; we have wanted you so much."
The Doctor did not answer. The sweet, low voice, with no touch of Irish accent, was a new sound to him, the little hand that she gave him was fairer and smaller and more dainty than any he had ever touched. To say the truth, his early farm-house life and his hospital training and dispensary practice had not brought him into contact with much refinement, and this girl with her slight, childlike figure and soft, earnest eyes seemed to him to have stepped from some unreal world. Then, finding he still held the little hand, he blushed and let it go.
"How are you getting on, Mary?" he asked, turning to his patient.
"Middling, sir, thank you," said the girl. "I do have the cough very bad some nights, but more nights it's better; and the lady, may God enable her, has me well cared."
"I could not do much," said the lady, with an appealing glance, "and you must not be angry with me for meddling with your patients. But now that you have come I am sure Mary will be better."
"Don't be troubling yourself about me," said the sick girl, gently. "I'll never be better till I see Laurence again."
"Oh, don't be giving yourself up like that," said the Doctor, cheerily; "we won't let you die yet awhile."
"I won't die," she answered, gravely, "till the same day that Laurence died: the 13th of September. There's no fear of me till then."
She looked tired, and her visitors left, the Doctor telling his new acquaintance as they walked down the lane what a strong, bright girl this had been till a year ago, when her brother had died of consumption. From that day her health had begun to fail, the winter had brought a cough, and Easter had found her kept to her bed. It was a hopeless case, he thought, though she might linger for a time.
"Indeed, and she's a loss to us," put in old Mrs. Capel, who had now joined them, having returned from her pursuit of the predatory pig. "She was a great one for slavin', and as strong as any girl on the estate, but she did be frettin' greatly after her brother, and then she got cold out of her little boots that let in the water, and there she's lying now, and couldn't get up if all Ireland was thrusting for it."
The mist had now turned to definite rain, and Louise Eden accepted "a lift" on the Doctor's car, as he had to pass her gate in going home. His shyness soon wore off as the girl talked to him with complete ease and simplicity, first of some of his poor patients, then of herself and her interest in them.
She was half-Irish, she said, her mother having come from this very West Country, but she had lost both her parents early and been brought up at school and with English relatives. Lately her brother, or rather step-brother, having been made an R.M. and appointed to the Cloon district, had asked her to live with him, and this she was but too happy to do. She had always longed to give her life to the poor and especially the Irish poor, of whose wants she had heard so much. She had even thought of becoming a deaconess, but her friends would not hear of it, and she had been obliged to submit herself to their conventional suburban life. "But here at last," she said, "I find my hands full and my heart also. These people welcome me so warmly and need so much, the whole day is filled with work for them; and now that you have come, Dr. Quin," she added, smiling at him, "I can do so much more, for you will tell me how to work under you and to nurse your patients back to health again."
It was almost dark when they came to the gate of Inagh, the house usually tenanted by the Resident Magistrate of the day, and here Louise Eden took leave of her new acquaintance, again giving him her hand in its little wet glove. The Doctor watched her as she ran lightly towards the house. She wore a grey hat and cloak, and the rough madder-dyed skirt of the peasant women of the district. None of the "young ladies" he had hitherto met would have deigned to appear in one of these fleecy crimson garments, so becoming to its present wearer. She turned and waved her hand at the corner of the drive, and the Doctor having gazed a moment longer into the grey mist that shrouded her, went on his journey home.
His little house on the outskirts of Cloon had not many outward charms, being built in the inverted box style so usual in Ireland. A few bushes of aucuba and fuchsia scarcely claimed for the oblong space enclosed in front the name of a garden. But within he found a cheerful turf fire, and his old housekeeper soon put a substantial meal on the table.
"Any callers to-day, Mamie?" he asked as he sat down.
"Not a one, sir, only two," was the reply. "The first was a neighbouring man from Killeen that was after giving himself a great cut with a reaping-hook where he was cutting a few thorns out of the hedge for to stop a gap where the cows did be coming into his oatfield. Sure I told him you wouldn't be in this long time, and he went to Cloran to bandage him up."
"And who was the other, Mamie?"
"The second first, sir, was a decent woman, Mrs. Cloherty, from Cranagh, with a sore eye she has where she was cuttin' potatoes and a bit flew up and hot it, and she's after going to the Friars at Loughrea to get a rub off the blessed cross, but it did no good after."
The old woman rambled on, but the Doctor gave her but a divided attention. He laughed and blushed a little presently to find himself gazing in the small round mirror that hung against the wall, his altitude of six feet just bringing his head to its level. The face that laughed and blushed back at him was a pleasant one: frank, blue eyes and a square brow surmounted by wavy fair hair were reflected, and the glad healthfulness of four-and-twenty years. He had been looked on as a "well-looking" man in his small social circle of Galway and Dublin, and had laughed and joked and danced with the girls he had met at merry gatherings, but without ever having given a preference in thought to one above another. Certainly no eyes had ever followed him into his solitude as the dark ones first seen to-day were doing.
He went out presently, the rain having ceased, and sauntered down the unattractive "Main Street" of Cloon.
The shops were shut, save those frequent ones which added the sale of liquor to that of more innocent commodities. In one a smart-looking schoolboy was reading the Weekly Freeman aloud to a group of frieze-coated hearers. At the door of another a ballad-singer was plaintively piping the "Mother's Farewell," with its practical refrain:—
"Then write to me often, and send me all you can, And don't forget where'er you are that you're an Irishman."
The Doctor might at another time have joined and enlivened one of the listless groups standing about, but, after a moment or two of hesitation, he turned his back to them and walked in the direction of the gate of Inagh. "There's Mrs. Connell down there, that I ought to go and see; she's always complaining," he said to himself, in self-excuse. But having arrived at her cottage, he saw by a glance at the unshuttered window that his visit would be a work of supererogation, as she was busily engaged in carding wool by the fireside, the clear light of the paraffin lamp, which without any intervening stage of candles had superseded her rushlight, showing her comely face to be hale and hearty.