An Illustrated Monthly
Vol. 5, Issue. 26.
A WEDDING GIFT
(A WIFE'S STORY.)
BY LEONARD OUTRAM.
"I will have you! I will have you! I will! I will! I will!!" I can see his dark face now as he spoke those words.
I remember noticing how pale his lips were as he hissed out through his clenched teeth: "Though I had to fight with a hundred men for you—though I had to do murder for your sake, you should be mine. In spite of your love for him, in spite of your hate for me, in spite of all your struggles, your tears, your prayers, you shall be mine, mine, only mine!"
I had known Kenneth Moore ever since I was a little child. He had made love to me nearly as long. People spoke of us as sweethearts, and Kenneth was so confident and persevering that when my mother died and I found myself without a relative, without a single friend that I really cared for, I did promise him that I would one day be his wife. But that had scarcely happened, when Phillip Rutley came to the village and—and everybody knows I fell in love with him.
It seemed like Providence that brought Phillip to me just as I had given a half-consent to marry a man I had no love for, and with whom I could never have been happy.
I had parted from Kenneth at the front gate, and he had gone off to his home crazy with delight because at last I had given way.
It was Sunday evening late in November, very dark, very cold, and very foggy. He had brought me home from church, and he kept me there at the gate pierced through and through by the frost, and half choked by the stifling river mist, holding my hand in his own and refusing to leave me until I promised to marry him.
Home was very lonely since mother died. The farm had gone quite wrong since we lost father. My near friends advised me to wed with Kenneth Moore, and all the village people looked upon it as a settled thing. It was horribly cold, too, out there at the gate—and—and that was how it came about that I consented.
I went into the house as miserable as Kenneth had gone away happy. I hated myself for having been so weak, and I hated Kenneth because I could not love him. The door was on the latch; I went in and flung it to behind me, with a petulant violence that made old Hagar, who was rheumatic and had stayed at home that evening on account of the fog, come out of the kitchen to see what was the matter.
"It's settled at last," I cried, tearing off my bonnet and shawl; "I'm to be Mrs. Kenneth Moore. Now are you satisfied?"
"It's best so—I'm sure it's much best so," exclaimed the old woman; "but, deary-dear!" she added as I burst into a fit of sobbing, "how can I be satisfied if you don't be?"
I wouldn't talk to her about it. What was the good? She'd forgotten long ago how the heart of a girl like me hungers for its true mate, and how frightful is the thought of giving oneself to a man one does not love!
Hagar offered condolence and supper, but I would partake of neither; and I went up to bed at once, prepared to cry myself to sleep, as other girls would have done in such a plight as mine.
As I entered my room with a lighted candle in my hand, there came an awful crash at the window—the glass and framework were shivered to atoms, and in the current of air that rushed through the room, my light went out. Then there came a crackling, breaking sound from the branches of the old apple tree beneath my window; then a scraping on the bricks and window-ledge; then more splintering of glass and window-frame: the blind broke away at the top, and my toilet table was overturned—the looking-glass smashing to pieces on the floor, and I was conscious that someone had stepped into the room.
At the same moment the door behind me was pushed open, and Hagar, frightened out of her wits, peered in with a lamp in her hand.
By its light I first saw Phillip Rutley.
A well-built, manly, handsome young fellow, with bright eyes and light, close-cropped curly hair, he seemed like a merry boy who had just popped over a wall in search of a cricket ball rather than an intruder who had broke into the house of two lone women in so alarming a manner.
My fear yielded to indignation when I realized that it was a strange man who had made his way into my room with so little ceremony, but his first words—or rather the way in which he spoke them—disarmed me.
"I beg ten thousand pardons. Pay for all the damage. It's only my balloon!"
"Good gracious!" ejaculated Hagar.
My curiosity was aroused. I went forward to the shattered window.
"Your balloon! Did you come down in a balloon? Where is it?"
"All safe outside," replied the aeronaut consolingly. "Not a bad descent, considering this confounded—I beg pardon—this confound-ing fog. Thought I was half a mile up in the air. Opened the valve a little to drop through the cloud and discover my location. Ran against your house and anchored in your apple tree. Have you any men about the place to help me get the gas out?"
We fetched one of our farm labourers, and managed things so well, in spite of the darkness, that about midnight we had the great clumsy thing lying upon the lawn in a state of collapse. Instead of leaving it there with the car safely wedged into the apple-tree, until the morning light would let him work more easily, Rutley must needs "finish the job right off," as he said, and the result of this was that while he was standing in the car a bough suddenly broke and he was thrown to the ground, sustaining such injuries that we found him senseless when we ran to help him.
We carried him into the drawing-room, by the window of which he had fallen, and when we got the doctor to him, it was considered best that he should remain with us that night How could we refuse him a shelter? The nearest inn was a long way off; and how could he be moved there among people who would not care for him, when the doctor said it was probable that the poor fellow was seriously hurt internally?
We kept him with us that night; yes, and for weeks after. By Heaven's mercy he will be with me all the rest of my life.
It was this unexpected visit of Phillip's, and the feeling that grew between us as I nursed him well and strong again, that brought it about that I told Kenneth Moore, who had become so repugnant to me that I could not bear to see him or hear him speak, that I wanted to be released from the promise he had wrung from me that night at the garden gate.
His rage was terrible to witness. He saw at once that my heart was given to someone else, and guessed who it must be; for, of course, everybody knew about our visitor from the clouds. He refused to release me from my pledge to him, and uttered such wild threats against poor Phillip, whom he had not seen, and who, indeed, had not spoken of love to me at that time, that it precipitated my union with his rival. One insult that he was base enough to level at Phillip and me stung me so deeply, that I went at once to Mr. Rutley and told him how it was possible for evil minds to misconstrue his continuing to reside at the farm.
When I next met Kenneth Moore I was leaving the registrar's office upon the arm of my husband. Kenneth did not know what had happened, but when he saw us walking openly together, his face assumed an expression of such intense malignity, that a great fear for Phillip came like a chill upon my heart, and when we were alone together under the roof that might henceforth harmlessly cover us both, I had but one thought, one intense desire—to quit it for ever in secret with the man I loved, and leave no foot-print behind for our enemy to track us by.
It was now that Phillip told me that he possessed an independent fortune, by virtue of which the world lay spread out before us for our choice of a home.
"Sweet as have been the hours that I have passed here—precious and hallowed as this little spot on the wide earth's surface must ever be to me," said my husband, "I want to take you away from it and show you many goodly things you have as yet hardly dreamed of. We will not abandon your dear old home, but we will find someone to take care of it for us, and see what other paradise we can discover in which to spend our life-long honeymoon."
I had never mentioned to Phillip the name of Kenneth Moore, and so he thought it a mere playful caprice that made me say:—
"Let us go, Phillip, no one knows where—not even ourselves. Let Heaven guide us in our choice of a resting-place. Let us vanish from this village as if we had never lived in it. Let us go and be forgotten."
He looked at me in astonishment, and replied in a joking way:—
"The only means I know of to carry out your wishes to the letter, would be a nocturnal departure, as I arrived—that is to say, in my balloon."
"Yes, Phillip, yes!" I exclaimed eagerly, "in your balloon, to-night, in your balloon!"
* * * * *
That night, in a field by the reservoir of the gas-works of Nettledene, the balloon was inflated, and the car loaded with stores for our journey to unknown lands. The great fabric swayed and struggled in the strong breeze that blew over the hills, and it was with some difficulty that Phillip and I took our seats. All was in readiness, when Phillip, searching the car with a lantern, discovered that we had not with us the bundle of rugs and wraps which I had got ready for carrying off.
"Keep her steady, boys!" he cried. "I must run back to the house." And he leapt from the car and disappeared in the darkness.
It was weird to crouch there alone, with the great balloon swaying over my head, each plunge threatening to dislodge me from the seat to which I clung, the cords and the wicker-work straining and creaking, and the swish of the silk sounding like the hiss of a hundred snakes. It was alarming in no small degree to know how little prevented me from shooting up solitarily to take an indefinite place among the stars. I confess that I was nervous, but I only called to the men who were holding the car to please take care and not let me go without Mr. Rutley.
The words were scarcely out of my mouth when a man, whom we all thought was he, climbed into the car and hoarsely told them to let go. The order was obeyed and the earth seemed to drop away slowly beneath us as the balloon rose and drifted away before the wind.
"You haven't the rugs, after all!" I exclaimed to my companion. He turned and flung his arms about me, and the voice of Kenneth Moore it was that replied to me:—
"I have you. I swore I would have you, and I've got you at last!"
In an instant, as I perceived that I was being carried off from my husband by the very man I had been trying to escape, I seized the grapnel that lay handy and flung it over the side. It was attached to a long stout cord which was fastened to the body of the car, and by the violent jerks that ensued I knew that I was not too late to snatch at an anchorage and the chance of a rescue. The balloon, heavily ballasted, was drifting along near the ground with the grappling-iron tearing through hedges and fences and trees, right in the direction of our farm. How I prayed that it might again strike against the house as it did with Phillip, and that he might be near to succour me!
As we swept along the fields the grapnel, taking here and there a secure hold for a moment or so, would bring the car side down to the earth, nearly jerking us out, but we both clung fast to the cordage, and then the grapnel would tear its way through and the balloon would rise like a great bird into the air.
It was in the moment that one of these checks occurred, when the balloon had heeled over in the wind until it lay almost horizontally upon the surface of the ground, that I saw Phillip Rutley standing in the meadow beneath me. He cried to me as the car descended to him with me clinging to the ropes and framework for my life:—
"Courage, dearest! You're anchored. Hold on tight. You won't be hurt."
Down came the car sideways, and struck the ground violently, almost crushing him. As it rebounded he clung to the edge and held it down, shouting for help. I did not dare let go my hold, as the balloon was struggling furiously, but I shrieked to Phillip that Kenneth Moore had tried to carry me off, and implored him to save me from that man. But before I could make myself understood, Kenneth, who like myself had been holding on for dear life, threw himself suddenly upon Phillip, who, to ward off a shower of savage blows, let go of the car.
There was a heavy gust of wind, a tearing sound, the car rose out of Phillip's reach, and we dragged our anchor once more. The ground flew beneath us, and my husband was gone.
I screamed with all my might, and prepared to fling myself out when we came to the earth again, but my captor, seizing each article that lay on the floor of the car, hurled forth, with the frenzy of a madman, ballast, stores, water-keg, cooking apparatus, everything, indiscriminately. For a moment this unburdening of the balloon did not have the effect one would suppose—that of making us shoot swiftly up into the sky, and I trusted that Phillip and the men who had helped us at the gas-works had got hold of the grapnel line, and would haul us down; but, looking over the side, I perceived that we were flying along unfettered, and increasing each minute our distance from the earth.
We were off, then, Heaven alone could tell whither! I had lost the protection of my husband, and fallen utterly into the power of a lover who was terrifying and hateful to me.
Away we sped in the darkness, higher and higher, faster and faster; and I crouched, half-fainting, in the bottom of the car, while Kenneth Moore, bending over me, poured his horrible love into my ear:—
"Minnie! My Minnie! Why did you try to play me false? Didn't you know your old playmate better than to suppose he would give you up? Thank your stars, girl, you are now quit of that scoundrel, and that the very steps he took to ruin you have put it in my power to save you from him and from your wilful self."
I forgot that he did not know Phillip and I had been married that morning, and, indignant that he should speak so of my husband, I accused him in turn of seeking to destroy me. How dared he interfere with me? How dared he speak ill of a man who was worth a thousand of himself—who had not persecuted me all my life, who loved me honestly and truly, and whom I loved with all my soul? I called Kenneth Moore a coward, a cruel, cowardly villain, and commanded him to stop the balloon, to let me go back to my home—back to Phillip Rutley, who was the only man I could ever love in the whole wide world!
"You are out of your senses, Minnie," he answered, and he clasped me tightly in his arms, while the balloon mounted higher and higher. "You are angry with me now, but when you realize that you are mine for ever and cannot escape, you will forgive me, and be grateful to me—yes, and love me, for loving you so well."
"Never!" I cried, "never! You are a thief! You have stolen me, and I hate you! I shall always hate you. Rather than endure you, I will make the balloon fall right down, down, and we will both be dashed to pieces."
I was so furious with him that I seized the valve-line that swung near me at the moment, and tugged at it with all my might. He grasped my hand, but I wound the cord about my arms, held on to it with my teeth, and he could not drag it from me. In the struggle we nearly overturned the car. I did not care. I would gladly have fallen out and lost my life now that I had lost Phillip.
Then Kenneth took from his pocket a large knife and unclasped it. I laughed aloud, for I thought he meant to frighten me into submission. But I soon saw what he meant to do. He climbed up the cordage and cut the valve-line through.
"Now you are conquered!" he cried, "and we will voyage together to the world's end."
I had risen to my feet and watched him, listened to him with a thrill of despair; but even as his triumphant words appalled me the car swayed down upon the side opposite to where I stood—the side where still hung the long line with the grapnel—and I saw the hands of a man upon the ledge; the arms, the head, and the shoulders of a man, of a man who the next minute was standing in the car, I fast in his embrace: Phillip Rutley, my true love, my husband!
Then it seemed to me that the balloon collapsed, and all things melted, and I was whirling away—down, down, down!
How long I was unconscious I do not know, but it was daylight when I opened my eyes. It was piercingly cold—snow was falling, and although I lay in Phillip's arms with his coat over me, while he sat in his shirt-sleeves holding me. On the other side stood Kenneth Moore. He also was in his shirt-sleeves. His coat also had been devoted to covering me. Both those men were freezing there for my sake, and I was ungrateful enough to shiver.
I need not tell you that I gave them no peace until they had put their coats on again. Then we all crouched together in the bottom of the car to keep each other warm. I shrank from Kenneth a little, but not much, for it was kind of him—so kind and generous—to suffer that awful cold for me. What surprised me was that he made no opposition to my resting in Phillip's arms, and Phillip did not seem to mind his drawing close to me.
But Kenneth explained:—
"Mr. Rutley has told me you are already his wife, Minnie. Is that true?"
I confirmed it, and asked him to pardon my choosing where my heart inclined me.
"If that is so," he said, "I have little to forgive and much to be forgiven. Had I known how things stood, I loved you too well to imperil your happiness and your life, and the life of the man you prefer to me."
"But the danger is all over now," said I; "let us be good friends for the future."
"We may at least be friends," replied Kenneth; and I caught a glance of some mysterious import that passed between the men. The question it would have led me to ask was postponed by the account Phillip gave of his presence in the balloon-car—how by springing into the air as the grapnel swung past him, dragged clear by the rising balloon, he had caught the irons and then the rope, climbing up foot by foot, swinging to and fro in the darkness, up, up, until the whole length of the rope was accomplished and he reached my side. Brave, strong, dear Phillip!
And, now, once more he would have it that I must wear his coat.
"The sun's up, Minnie, and he'll soon put warmth into our bones. I'm going to have some exercise. My coat will be best over you."
Had it not been so excruciatingly cold we might have enjoyed the grandeur of our sail through the bright, clear heavens, the big brown balloon swelling broadly above us. Phillip tried to keep up our spirits by calling attention to these things, but Kenneth said little or nothing, and looked so despondent that, wishing to divert his thoughts from his disappointment concerning myself, which I supposed was his trouble, I heedlessly blurted out that I was starving, and asked him to give me some breakfast.
Then it transpired that he had thrown out of the car all the provisions with which we had been supplied for our journey.
The discovery took the smiles out of Phillip's merry face.
"You'll have to hold on a bit, little woman," said he. "When we get to a way-station or an hotel, we'll show the refreshment contractors what sort of appetites are to be found up above."
Then I asked them where we were going; whereabouts we had got to; and why we did not descend. Which elicited the fact that Kenneth had thrown away the instruments by which the aeronaut informs himself of his location and the direction of his course. For a long time Phillip playfully put me off in my petition to be restored to terra firma, but at last it came out that the valve-line being cut we could not descend, and that the balloon must speed on, mounting higher and higher, until it would probably burst in the extreme tension of the air.
"Soon after that," said Phillip, with a grim, hard laugh, "we shall be back on the earth again."
We found it difficult to enjoy the trip after this prospect was made clear. Nor did conversation flow very freely. The hours dragged slowly on, and our sufferings increased.
At last Phillip made up his mind to attempt a desperate remedy. What it was he would not tell me, but, kissing me tenderly, he made me lie down and covered my head with his coat.
Then he took off his boots, and then the car creaked and swayed, and suddenly I felt he was gone out of it. He had told me not to look out from under his coat; but how could I obey him? I did look, and I saw him climbing like a cat up the round, hard side of the balloon, clinging with hands and feet to the netting that covered it.
As he mounted, the balloon swayed over with his weight until it was right above him and he could hardly hold on to the cords with his toes and his fingers. Still he crept on, and still the great silken fabric heeled over, as if it resented his boldness and would crush him.
Once his foothold gave way, and he dropped to his full length, retaining only his hand-grip of the thin cords, which nearly cut his fingers in two under the strain of his whole weight. I thought he was gone; I thought I had lost him for ever. It seemed impossible he could keep his hold, and even if he did the weak netting must give way. It stretched down where he grasped it into a bag form and increased his distance from the balloon, so that he could not reach with his feet, although he drew his body up and made many a desperate effort to do so.
But while I watched him in an agony of powerlessness to help, the balloon slowly regained the perpendicular, and just as Phillip seemed at the point of exhaustion his feet caught once more in the netting, and, with his arms thrust through the meshes and twisted in and out for security, while his strong teeth also gripped the cord, I saw my husband in comparative safety once more. I turned to relieve my pent-up feelings to Kenneth, but he was not in the car—only his boots. He had seen Phillip's peril, and climbed up on the other side of the balloon to restore the balance.
But now the wicked thing served them another trick; it slowly lay over on its side under the weight of the two men, who were now poised like panniers upon the extreme convexity of the silk. This was very perilous for both, but the change of position gave them a little rest, and Phillip shouted instructions round to Kenneth to slowly work his way back to the car, while he (Phillip) would mount to the top of the balloon, the surface of which would be brought under him by Kenneth's weight. It was my part to make them balance each other. This I did by watching the tendency of the balloon, and telling Kenneth to move to right or left as I saw it become necessary. It was very difficult for us all. The great fabric wobbled about most capriciously, sometimes with a sudden turn that took us all by surprise, and would have jerked every one of us into space, had we not all been clinging fast to the cordage.
At last Phillip shouted:—
"Get ready to slip down steadily into the car."
"I am ready," replied Kenneth.
"Then go!" came from Phillip.
"Easy does it! Steady! Don't hurry! Get right down into the middle of the car, both of you, and keep quite still."
We did as he told us, and as Kenneth joined me, we heard a faint cheer from above, and the message:—
"Safe on the top of the balloon!"
"Look, Minnie, look!" cried Kenneth; and on a cloud-bank we saw the image of our balloon with a figure sitting on the summit, which could only be Phillip Rutley.
"Take care, my dearest! take care!" I besought him.
"I'm all right as long as you two keep still," he declared; but it was not so.
After he had been up there about ten minutes trying to mend the escape-valve, so that we could control it from the car, a puff of wind came and overturned the balloon completely. In a moment the aspect of the monster was transformed into a crude resemblance to the badge of the Golden Fleece—the car with Kenneth and me in it at one end, and Phillip Rutley hanging from the other, the huge gas-bag like the body of the sheep of Colchis in the middle.
And now the balloon twisted round and round as if resolved to wrench itself from Phillip's grasp, but he held on as a brave man always does when the alternative is fight or die. The terrible difficulty he had in getting back I shudder to think of. It is needless to recount it now. Many times I thought that both men must lose their lives, and I should finish this awful voyage alone. But in the end I had my arms around Phillip's neck once more, and was thanking God for giving him back to me.
I don't think I half expressed my gratitude to poor Kenneth, who had so bravely and generously helped to save him. I wish I had said more when I look back at that time now. But my love for Phillip made me blind to everything.
Phillip was very much done up, and greatly dissatisfied with the result of his exertions; but he soon began to make the best of things, as he always did.
"I'm a selfish duffer, Minnie," said he. "All the good I've done by frightening you like this is to get myself splendidly warm."
"What, have you done nothing to the valve?"
"Didn't have time. No, Moore and I must try to get at it from below, though from what I saw before I started to go aloft, it seemed impossible."
"But we are descending."
"Descending rapidly. See how fast we are diving into that cloud below!"
"It's true! We're dropping. What can it mean?"
As he spoke we were immersed in a dense white mist, which wetted us through as if we had been plunged in water. Then suddenly the car was filled with whirling snow—thick masses of snow that covered us so that we could not see each other; choked us so that we could hardly speak or breathe.
And the cold! the cold! It cut us like knives; it beat the life out of us as if with hammers.
This sudden, overwhelming horror struck us dumb. We could only cling together and pray. It was plain that there must be a rent in the silk, a large one, caused probably by the climbing of the men, a rent that might widen at any moment and reduce the balloon to ribbons.
We were being dashed along in a wild storm of wind and snow, the headlong force of which alone delayed the fate which seemed surely to await us. Where should we fall? The world beneath us was near and palpable, yet we could not distinguish any object upon it. But we fell lower and lower, until our eyes informed us all in an instant, and we exclaimed together:—
"We are falling into the sea!" Yes, there it was beneath us, raging and leaping like a beast of prey. We should be drowned! We must be drowned! There was no hope, none!
Down we came slantwise to the water. The foam from the top of a mountain-wave scudded through the ropes of the car. Then the hurricane bore us up again on its fierce breast, and—yes, it was bearing us to the shore!
We saw the coast-line, the high, red cliffs—saw the cruel rocks at their base! Horrible! Better far to fall into the water and drown, if die we must.
The balloon flew over the rugged boulders, the snow and the foam of the sea indistinguishable around us, and made straight for the high, towering precipice.
We should dash against the jagged front! The balloon was plunging down like a maddened bull, when suddenly, within 12 ft. of the rock, there was a thrilling cry from Kenneth Moore, and up we shot, almost clearing the projecting summit. Almost—not quite—sufficiently to escape death; but the car, tripping against the very verge, hurled Phillip and myself, clasped in each other's arms, far over the level snow.
We rose unhurt, to find ourselves alone.
What had become of our comrade—my childhood's playfellow, the man who had loved me so well, and whom I had cast away?
He was found later by some fishermen—a shapeless corpse upon the beach.
I stood awe-stricken in an outbuilding of a little inn that gave us shelter, whither they had borne the poor shattered body, and I wept over it as it lay there covered with the fragment of a sail.
My husband was by my side, and his voice was hushed and broken, as he said to me:—
"Minnie, I believe that, under God, our lives were saved by Kenneth Moore. Did you not hear that cry of his when we were about to crash into the face of the cliff?"
"Yes, Phillip," I answered, sobbing, "and I missed him suddenly as the balloon rose."
"You heard the words of that parting cry?"
"Yes, oh, yes! He said: 'A Wedding Gift! Minnie! A Wedding Gift!'"
"He left us together."
BY BECKLES WILSON
The hand, like the face, is indicative or representative of character. Even those who find the path to belief in the doctrines of the palmist and chirognomist paved with innumerable thorns, cannot fail to be interested in the illustrious manual examples, collected from the studios of various sculptors, which accompany this article.
Mr. Adams-Acton, a distinguished sculptor, tells me his belief that there is as great expression in the hand as in the face; and another great artist, Mr. Alfred Gilbert, R.A., goes even a step further: he invests the bare knee with expression and vital identity. There would, indeed, appear to be no portion of the human frame which is incapable of giving forth some measure of the inherent distinctiveness of its owner. This is, I think, especially true of the hand. No one who was fortunate enough to observe the slender, tapering fingers and singular grace of the hand of the deceased Poet Laureate could possibly believe it the extremity of a coarse or narrow-minded person. In the accompanying photographs, the hand of a cool, yet enthusiastic, ratiocinative spirit will be found to bear a palpable affinity to others whose possessors come under this head, and yet be utterly antagonistic to Carlyle's, or to another type, Cardinal Manning's.
We have here spread out for our edification hands of majesty, hands of power; of artistic creativeness; of cunning; hands of the ruler, the statesman, the soldier, the author, and the artist. To philosophers disposed to resolve a science from representative examples here is surely no lack of matter. It would, on the whole, be difficult to garner from the century's history a more glittering array of celebrities in all the various departments of endeavour than is here presented.
First and foremost, entitled to precedence almost by a double right, for this cast antedates, with one exception, all the rest, are the hands of Her Majesty the Queen. They were executed in 1844, when Her Majesty had sat upon the throne but seven years, and, if I do not greatly err, in connection with the first statue of the Queen after her accession. They will no doubt evoke much interest when compared with the hand of the lamented Princess Alice, who was present at the first ceremony, an infant in arms of eight months. In addition to that of the Princess Alice, taken in 1872, we have the hands of the Princesses Louise and Beatrice, all three of whom sat for portrait statues to Sir Edgar Boehm, R.A., from whose studio, also, emanates the cast of the hand of the Prince of Wales.
In each of the manual extremities thus presented of the Royal Family, similar characteristics may be noticed. The dark hue which appears on the surface of the hands of the two last named Princesses is not the fault of the photograph but of the casts, which are, unfortunately, in a soiled condition.
It is a circumstance not a little singular, but the only cast in this collection which is anterior to the Queen's, itself appertains to Royalty, being none other than the hand of Caroline, sister of the first Napoleon, who also, it must not be forgotten, was a queen. It is purposely coupled in the photograph with that of Anak, the famous French giant, in order to exhibit the exact degree of its deficiency in that quality which giants most and ladies least can afford to be complaisant over size. Certainly it would be hard to deny it grace and exquisite proportion, in which it resembles an even more beautiful hand, that of the Greek lady, Zoe, wife of the late Archbishop of York, which seems to breathe of Ionian mysticism and elegance.
One cannot dwell long upon this quality of grace and elegance without adverting to a hand which, if not the most wonderful among the hands masculine, is with one exception the most beautiful. When it is stated that this cast of Mr. Gladstone's hand was executed by Mr. Adams-Acton, quite recently; that one looks upon the hand not of a youth of twenty, but of an octogenarian, it is difficult to deny it the epithet remarkable. Although the photograph is not wholly favourable to the comparison, yet in the original plaster it is possible at once to detect its similarity to the hand of Lord Beaconsfield.
In truth, the hands of these statesmen have much in common. Yet, for a more striking resemblance between hands we must turn to another pair. The sculptor calls attention to the eminently ecclesiastical character of the hand of Cardinal Manning. It is in every respect the hand of the ideal prelate. Yet its every attribute is common to one hand, and one hand only, in the whole collection, that of Mr. Henry Irving, the actor. The general conformation, the protrusion of the metacarpal bones, the laxity of the skin at the joints, are characteristic of both.
There could be no mistaking the bellicose traits visible in the hands of the two warriors Lord Napier of Magdala and Sir Bartle Frere. Both bespeak firmness, hardihood, and command, just as Lord Brougham's hand, which will be found represented on the next page, suggest the jurist, orator, and debater. But it can scarcely be said that the great musician is apparent in Liszt's hand, which is also depicted on the following page. The fingers are short and corpulent, and the whole extremity seems more at variance with the abilities and temperament of the owner than any other represented in these casts, and, as a case which seems to completely baffle the reader of character, is one of the most interesting in the collection.
Highly gruesome, but not less fascinating, are the hands of the late Wilkie Collins, with which we will conclude this month's section of our subject.
In this connection a gentleman, who had known the novelist in life, on being shown the cast, exclaimed: "Yes, those are the hands, I assure you; none other could have written the 'Woman in White!'"
NOTE.—Thanks are due to Messrs. Hamo Thorneycroft, R.A., Adams-Acton, Onslow Ford, R.A., T. Brock, R.A., W. R. Ingram, Alfred Gilbert, R.A., J. T. Tussaud, Professor E. Lanteri, and A. B. Skinner, Secretary South Kensington Museum, for courtesies extended during the compilation of this paper.
(To be continued.)
QUASTANA, THE BRIGAND
FROM THE FRENCH OF ALFONSE DAUDET
Misadventures? Well, if I were an author by profession, I could make a pretty big book of the administrative mishaps which befell me during the three years I spent in Corsica as legal adviser to the French Prefecture. Here is one which will probably amuse you:—
I had just entered upon my duties at Ajaccio. One morning I was at the club, reading the papers which had just arrived from Paris, when the Prefect's man-servant brought me a note, hastily written in pencil: "Come at once; I want you. We have got the brigand, Quastana." I uttered an exclamation of joy, and went off as fast as I could to the Prefecture. I must tell you that, under the Empire, the arrest of a Corsican banditto was looked upon as a brilliant exploit, and meant promotion, especially if you threw a certain dash of romance about it in your official report.
Unfortunately brigands had become scarce. The people were getting more civilized and the vendetta was dying out. If by chance a man did kill another in a row, or do something which made it advisable for him to keep clear of the police, he generally bolted to Sardinia instead of turning brigand. This was not to our liking; for no brigand, no promotion. However, our Prefect had succeeded in finding one; he was an old rascal, Quastana by name, who, to avenge the murder of his brother, had killed goodness knows how many people. He had been pursued with vigour, but had escaped, and after a time the hue and cry had subsided and he had been forgotten. Fifteen years had passed, and the man had lived in seclusion; but our Prefect, having heard of the affair and obtained a clue to his whereabouts, endeavoured to capture him, with no more success than his predecessor. We were beginning to despair of our promotion; you can, therefore, imagine how pleased I was to receive the note from my chief.
I found him in his study, talking very confidentially to a man of the true Corsican peasant type.
"This is Quastana's cousin," said the Prefect to me, in a low tone. "He lives in the little village of Solenzara, just above Porto-Vecchio, and the brigand pays him a visit every Sunday evening to have a game of scopa. Now, it seems that these two had some words the other Sunday, and this fellow has determined to have revenge; so he proposes to hand his cousin over to justice, and, between you and me, I believe he means it. But as I want to make the capture myself, and in as brilliant a manner as possible, it is advisable to take precautions in order not to expose the Government to ridicule. That's what I want you for. You are quite a stranger in the country and nobody knows you; I want you to go and see for certain if it really is Quastana who goes to this man's house."
"But I have never seen this Quastana," I began.
My chief pulled out his pocket-book and drew forth a photograph much the worse for wear.
"Here you are!" he exclaimed. "The rascal had the cheek to have his portrait taken last year at Porto-Vecchio!"
While we were looking at the photo the peasant drew near, and I saw his eyes flash vengefully; but the look quickly vanished and his face resumed its usual stolid appearance.
"Are you not afraid that the presence of a stranger will frighten your cousin, and make him stay away on the following Sunday?" we asked.
"No!" replied the man. "He is too fond of cards. Besides, there are many new faces about here now on account of the shooting. I'll say that this gentleman has come for me to show him where the game is to be found."
Thereupon we made an appointment for the next Sunday, and the fellow walked off without the least compunction for his dirty trick. When he was gone, the Prefect impressed upon me the necessity for keeping the matter very quiet, because he intended that nobody else should share the credit of the capture. I assured him that I would not breathe a word, thanked him for his kindness in asking me to assist him, and we separated to go to our work and dream of promotion.
The next morning I set out in full shooting costume, and took the coach which does the journey from Ajaccio to Bastia. For those who love Nature, there is no better ride in the world, but I was too busy with my castles in the air to notice any of the beauties of the landscape.
At Bonifacio we stopped for dinner. When I got on the coach again, just a little elevated by the contents of a good-sized bottle, I found that I had a fresh travelling companion, who had taken a seat next to me. He was an official at Bastia, and I had already met him; a man about my own age, and a native of Paris like myself. A decent sort of fellow.
You are probably aware that the Administration, as represented by the Prefect, etc., and the magistrature never get on well together; in Corsica it is worse than elsewhere. The seat of the Administration is at Ajaccio, that of the magistrature at Bastia; we two therefore belonged to hostile parties. But when you are a long way from home and meet someone from your native place, you forget all else, and talk of the old country.
We were fast friends in less than no time, and were consoling each other for being in "exile" as we termed it. The bottle of wine had loosened my tongue, and I soon told him, in strict confidence, that I was looking forward to going back to France to take up some good post as a reward for my share in the capture of Quastana, whom we hoped to arrest at his cousin's house one Sunday evening. When my companion got off the coach at Porto-Vecchio, we felt as though we had known each other for years.
I arrived at Solenzara between four and five o'clock. The place is populated in winter by workmen, fishermen, and Customs officials, but in summer everyone who can shifts his quarters up in the mountains on account of fever. The village was, therefore, nearly deserted when I reached it that Sunday afternoon.
I entered a small inn and had something to eat, while waiting for Matteo. Time went on, and the fellow did not put in an appearance; the innkeeper began to look at me suspiciously, and I felt rather uncomfortable. At last there came a knock, and Matteo entered.
"He has come to my house," he said, raising his hand to his hat. "Will you follow me there?"
We went outside. It was very dark and windy; we stumbled along a stony path for about three miles—a narrow path, full of small stones and overgrown with luxuriant vegetation, which prevented us from going quickly.
"That's my house," said Matteo, pointing among the bushes to a light which was flickering at a short distance from us.
A minute later we were confronted by a big dog, who barked furiously at us. One would have imagined that he meant to stop us going farther along the road.
"Here, Bruccio, Bruccio!" cried my guide; then, leaning towards me, he said: "That's Quastana's dog. A ferocious animal. He has no equal for keeping watch." Turning to the dog again, he called out: "That's all right, old fellow! Do you take us for policemen?"
The enormous animal quieted down and came and sniffed around our legs. It was a splendid Newfoundland dog, with a thick, white, woolly coat which had obtained for him the name of Bruccio (white cheese). He ran on in front of us to the house, a kind of stone hut, with a large hole in the roof which did duty for both chimney and window.
In the centre of the room stood a rough table, around which were several "seats" made of portions of trunks of trees, hacked into shape with a chopper. A torch stuck in a piece of wood gave a flickering light, around which flew a swarm of moths and other insects.
At the table sat a man who looked like an Italian or Provencal fisherman, with a shrewd, sunburnt, clean-shaven face. He was leaning over a pack of cards, and was enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke.
"Cousin Quastana," said Matteo as we went in, "this is a gentleman who is going shooting with me in the morning. He will sleep here to-night, so as to be close to the spot in good time to-morrow."
When you have been an outlaw and had to fly for your life, you look with suspicion upon a stranger. Quastana looked me straight in the eyes for a second; then, apparently satisfied, he saluted me and took no further notice of me. Two minutes later the cousins were absorbed in a game of scopa.
It is astonishing what a mania for card-playing existed in Corsica at that time—and it is probably the same now. The clubs and cafes were watched by the police, for the young men ruined themselves at a game called bouillotte. In the villages it was the same; the peasants were mad for a game at cards, and when they had no money they played for their pipes, knives, sheep—anything.
I watched the two men with great interest as they sat opposite each other, silently playing the game. They watched each other's movements, the cards either face downwards upon the table or carefully held so that the opponent might not catch a glimpse of them, and gave an occasional quick glance at their "hand" without losing sight of the other player's face. I was especially interested in watching Quastana. The photograph was a very good one, but it could not reproduce the sunburnt face, the vivacity and agility of movement, surprising in a man of his age, and the hoarse, hollow voice peculiar to those who spend most of their time in solitude.
Between two and three hours passed in this way, and I had some difficulty in keeping awake in the stuffy air of the hut and the long stretches of silence broken only by an occasional exclamation: "Seventeen!" "Eighteen!" From time to time I was aroused by a heavy gust of wind, or a dispute between the players.
Suddenly there was a savage bark from Bruccio, like a cry of alarm. We all sprang up, and Quastana rushed out of the door, returning an instant afterwards and seizing his gun. With an exclamation of rage he darted out of the door again and was gone. Matteo and I were looking at one another in surprise, when a dozen armed men entered and called upon us to surrender. And in less time than it takes to tell you we were on the ground, bound, and prisoners. In vain I tried to make the gendarmes understand who I was; they would not listen to me. "That's all right; you will have an opportunity of making an explanation when we get to Bastia."
They dragged us to our feet and drove us out with the butt-ends of their carbines. Handcuffed, and pushed about by one and another, we reached the bottom of the slope, where a prison-van was waiting for us—a vile box, without ventilation and full of vermin—into which we were thrown and driven to Bastia, escorted by gendarmes with drawn swords.
A nice position for a Government official!
It was broad daylight when we reached Bastia. The Public Prosecutor, the colonel of the gendarmes, and the governor of the prison were impatiently awaiting us. I never saw a man look more astonished than the corporal in charge of the escort, as, with a triumphant smile, he led me to these gentlemen, and saw them hurry towards me with all sorts of apologies, and take off the handcuffs.
"What! Is it you?" exclaimed the Public Prosecutor. "Have these idiots really arrested you? But how did it come about—what is the meaning of it?"
Explanations followed. On the previous day the Public Prosecutor had received a telegram from Porto-Vecchio, informing him of the presence of Quastana in the locality, and giving precise details as to where and when he could be found. The name of Porto-Vecchio opened my eyes; it was that travelling companion of mine who had played me this shabby trick! He was the Prosecutor's deputy.
"But, my dear sir," said the Public Prosecutor, "whoever would have expected to see you in shooting costume in the house of the brigand's cousin! We have given you rather a bad time of it, but I know you will not bear malice, and you will prove it by coming to breakfast with me." Then turning to the corporal, and pointing to Matteo, he said: "Take this fellow away; we will deal with him in the morning."
The unfortunate Matteo remained dumb with fright; he looked appealingly at me, and I, of course, could not do otherwise than explain matters. Taking the Prosecutor on one side, I told him that Matteo was really assisting the Prefect to capture the brigand; but as I told him all about the matter, his face assumed a hard, judicial expression.
"I am sorry for the Prefecture," he said; "but I have Quastana's cousin, and I won't let him go! He will be tried with some peasants, who are accused of having supplied the brigand with provisions."
"But I repeat that this man is really in the service of the Prefecture," I protested.
"So much the worse for the Prefecture," said he with a laugh. "I am going to give the Administration a lesson it won't forget, and teach it not to meddle with what doesn't concern it. There is only one brigand in Corsica, and you want to take him! He's my game, I tell you. The Prefect knows that, yet he tries to forestall me! Now I will pay him out. Matteo shall be tried; he will, of course, appeal to your side; there will be a great to-do, and the brigand will be put on his guard against his cousin and gentlemen of the Prefecture who go shooting."
Well, he kept his word. We had to appear on behalf of Matteo, and we had a nice time of it in the court. I was the laughing-stock of the place. Matteo was acquitted, but he could no longer be of use to us, because Quastana was forewarned. He had to quit the country.
As to Quastana, he was never caught. He knew the country, and every peasant was secretly ready to assist him; and although the soldiers and gendarmes tried their best to take him, they could not manage it. When I left the island he was still at liberty, and I have never heard anything about his capture since.
ZIG-ZAG AT THE ZOO
J. A. Shepherd
ZIG ZAG PHOCINE
The seal is an affable fellow, though sloppy. He is friendly to man: providing the journalist with copy, the diplomatist with lying practice, and the punster with shocking opportunities. Ungrateful for these benefits, however, or perhaps savage at them, man responds by knocking the seal on the head and taking his skin: an injury which the seal avenges by driving man into the Bankruptcy Court with bills for his wife's jackets. The puns instigated by the seal are of a sort to make one long for the animal's extermination. It is quite possible that this is really what the seal wants, because to become extinct and to occupy a place of honour beside the dodo is a distinction much coveted amongst the lower animals. The dodo was a squabby, ugly, dumpy, not to say fat-headed, bird when it lived; now it is a hero of romance. Possibly this is what the seal is aiming at; but personally I should prefer the extinction of the punster.
The punster is a low person, who refers to the awkwardness of the seal's gait by speaking of his not having his seal-legs, although a mariner or a sealubber, as he might express it. If you reply that, on the contrary, the seal's legs, such as they are, are very characteristic, he takes refuge in the atrocious admission, delivered with a French accent, that they are certainly very sealy legs. When he speaks of the messages of the English Government, in the matter of seal-catching in the Behring Sea, he calls it whitewashing the sealing, and explains that the "Behrings of this here observation lies in the application on it." I once even heard a punster remark that the Russian and American officials had got rather out of their Behrings, through an excess of seal on behalf of their Governments; but he was a very sad specimen, in a very advanced stage, and he is dead now. I don't say that that remark sealed his fate, but I believe there are people who would say even that, with half a chance.
Another class of frivoller gets his opportunity because it is customary to give various species of seals—divers species, one might say—inappropriate names. He tells you that if you look for sea-lions and sea-leopards, you will not see lions, nor even see leopards, but seal-lions and seal-leopards, which are very different. These are called lions and leopards because they look less like lions and leopards than anything else in the world; just as the harp seal is so called because he has a broad mark on his back, which doesn't look like a harp. Look at Toby, the Patagonian sea-lion here, who has a large pond and premises to himself. I have the greatest possible respect and esteem for Toby, but I shouldn't mistake him for a lion, in any circumstances. With every wish to spare his feelings, one can only compare him to a very big slug in an overcoat, who has had the misfortune to fall into the water. Even his moustache isn't lion-like. Indeed, if he would only have a white cloth tucked round his neck, and sit back in that chair that stands over his pond, he would look very respectably human—and he certainly wants a shave.
Toby is a low-comedy sea-lion all over. When I set about organizing the Zoo Nigger Minstrels, Toby shall be corner-man, and do the big-boot dance. He does it now, capitally. You have only to watch him from behind as he proceeds along the edge of the pond, to see the big-boot dance in all its quaint humour. Toby's hind flappers exhale broad farce at every step. Toby is a cheerful and laughter-moving seal, and he would do capitally in a pantomime, if he were a little less damp.
Toby is fond of music; so are most other seals. The complete scale of the seal's preferences among the various musical instruments has not been fixed with anything like finality; but one thing is certain—that far and away above all the rest of the things designed to produce music and other noises, the seal prefers the bagpipes. This taste either proves the seal to be a better judge of music than most human beings, or a worse one than any of the other animals, according as the gentle reader may be a native of Scotland or of somewhere in the remainder of the world. You may charm seals by the bagpipes just as a snake is charmed by pipes with no bag. It has even been suggested that all the sealing vessels leaving this country should carry bagpipes with them, and I can see no sound objection to this course—so long as they take all the bagpipes. I could also reconcile myself to a general extrusion of concertinas for this useful purpose—or for any other; not to mention barrel organs.
By-the-bye, on looking at Toby again I think we might do something better for him than give him a mere part in a pantomime; his fine moustache and his shiny hair almost point to a qualification for managership. Nothing more is wanted—except, perhaps, a fur-trimmed coat and a well-oiled hat—to make a very fine manager indeed, of a certain sort.
I don't think there is a Noah's ark seal—unless the Lowther Arcade theology has been amended since I had a Noah's ark. As a matter of fact, I don't see what business a seal would have in the ark, where he would find no fish to eat, and would occupy space wanted by a more necessitous animal who couldn't swim. At any rate, there was originally no seal in my Noah's ark, which dissatisfied me, as I remember, at the time; what I wanted not being so much a Biblical illustration as a handy zoological collection. So I appointed the dove a seal, and he did very well indeed when I had pulled off his legs (a little inverted v). I argued, in the first place, that as the dove went out and found nothing to alight on, the legs were of no use to him; in the second place, that since, after all, the dove flew away and never returned, the show would be pretty well complete without him; and, thirdly, that if, on any emergency, a dove were imperatively required, he would do quite well without his legs—looking, indeed, much more like a dove, as well as much more like a seal. So, as the dove was of about the same size as the cow, he made an excellent seal; his bright yellow colour (Noah's was a yellow dove on the authority of all orthodox arks) rather lending an air of distinction than otherwise. And when a rashly funny uncle, who understood wine, observed that I was laying down my crusted old yellow seal because it wouldn't stand up, I didn't altogether understand him.
Toby is a good soul, and you soon make his acquaintance. He never makes himself common, however. As he swims round his circular pond, behind the high rails, he won't have anything to say to a stranger—anybody he has not seen before. But if you wait a few minutes he will swim round several times, see you often, and become quite affable. There is nothing more intelligent than a tame seal, and I have heard people regret that seals can't talk, which is nonsense. When a seal can make you understand him without it, talking is a noisy superfluity. Toby can say many things without the necessity of talking. Observe his eyes fixed upon you as he approaches for the first time. He turns and swaps past with his nose in the air. "Pooh, don't know you," he is saying. But wait. He swims round once, and, the next time of passing, gives you a little more notice. He lifts his head and gazes at you, inquisitively, but severely. "Who's that person?" he asks, and goes on his round.
Next time he rises even a little more. He even smiles, slightly, as he recognises you from the corner of his eye. "Ah! Seen you before, I fancy." And as he flings over into the side stroke he beams at you quite tolerantly.
He comes round again; but this time he smiles genially, and nods. "'Morning!" he says, in a manner of a moderately old acquaintance. But see next time; he is an old, intimate friend by this; a chum. He flings his fin-flappers upon the coping, leans toward the bars with an expansive grin and says: "Well, old boy, and how are you?"—as cordially and as loudly as possible without absolutely speaking the words. He will stay thus for a few moments' conversation, not entirely uninfluenced, I fear, by anticipations of fish. Then, in the case of your not being in the habit of carrying raw fish in your pockets, he takes his leave by the short process of falling headlong into his pond and flinging a good deal of it over you. There is no difficulty in becoming acquainted with Toby. If you will only wait a few minutes he will slop his pond over you with all the genial urbanity of an intimate relation. But you must wait for the proper forms of etiquette.
The seal's sloppiness is annoying. I would have a tame seal myself if he could go about without setting things afloat. A wet seal is unpleasant to pat and fondle, and if he climbs on your knees he is positively irritating. I suppose even a seal would get dry if you kept him out of water long enough; but can you keep a seal out of water while there is any within five miles for him to get into? And would the seal respect you for it if you did? A dog shakes himself dry after a swim, and, if he be your own dog, he shakes the water over somebody else, which is sagacious and convenient; but a seal doesn't shake himself, and can't understand that wet will lower the value of any animal's caresses. Otherwise a seal would often be preferable to a dog as a domestic pet. He doesn't howl all night. He never attempts to chase cats—seeing the hopelessness of the thing. You don't need a license for him; and there is little temptation to a loafer to steal him, owing to the restricted market for house-seals. I have frequently heard of a dog being engaged to field in a single-wicket cricket match. I should like to play somebody a single-wicket cricket match, with a dog and a seal to field for me. The seal, having no legs to speak of—merely feet—would have to leave the running to the dog, but it could catch. You may see magnificent catching here when Toby and Fanny—the Cape sea-lion (or lioness), over by the turkeys—have their snacks of fish. Sutton the Second, who is Keeper of the Seals (which is a fine title—rather like a Cabinet Minister), is then the source of a sort of pyrotechnic shower of fish, every one of which is caught and swallowed promptly and neatly, no matter how or where it may fall. Fanny, by the way, is the most active seal possible; it is only on extremely rare occasions that she indulges in an interval of comparative rest, to scratch her head with her hind foot and devise fresh gymnastics. But, all through the day, Fanny never forgets Sutton, nor his shower of fish, and half her evolutions include a glance at the door whence he is wont to emerge, and a sort of suicidal fling back into the pond in case of his non-appearance, all which proceedings the solemn turkeys regard with increasing amazement.
Toby, however, provides the great seal-feeding show. Toby has a perfect set of properties and appliances for his performance, including a chair, a diving platform, an inclined plane leading thereunto, and a sort of plank isthmus leading to the chair. He climbs up on to the chair, and, leaning over the back, catches as many fish as Sutton will throw for him. He dives off the chair for other fish. He shuffles up the inclined plane for more fish, amid the sniggers of spectators, for Toby's march has no claim to magnificence. He tumbles himself unceremoniously off the platform, he clambers up and kisses Sutton (keeping his eye on the basket), and all for fish. It is curious to contrast the perfunctory affection with which Toby gets over the kiss and takes his reward, with the genuine fondness of his gaze after Sutton when he leaves—with some fish remaining for other seals. Toby is a willing worker; he would gladly have the performance twice as long, while as to an eight hours' day——!
The seals in the next pond, Tommy and Jenny, are insulted with the epithet of "common" seals; but Tommy and Jenny are really very respectable, and if a seal do happen to be born only Phoca vitulina, he can't really help it, and doesn't deserve humiliation so long as he behaves himself. Phoca vitulina has as excellent power of reason as any other kind of seal—brain power, acquired, no doubt, from a continual fish diet. Tommy doesn't feel aggrieved at the slight put upon him, however, and has a proper notion of his own importance. Watch him rise from a mere floating patch—slowly, solemnly, and portentously, to take a look round. He looks to the left—nothing to interest a well-informed seal; to the front—nothing; to the right everything is in order, the weather is only so-so, but the rain keeps off, and there are no signs of that dilatory person with the fish; so Tommy flops in again, and becomes once more a floating patch, having conducted his little airing with proper dignity and self-respect. Really, there is nothing common in the manners of Tommy; there is, at any rate, one piece of rude mischief which he is never guilty of, but which many of the more aristocratic kinds of seal practise habitually. He doesn't throw stones.
He doesn't look at all like a stone-thrower, as a matter of fact; but he—and other seals—can throw stones nevertheless. If you chase a seal over a shingly beach, he will scuffle away at a surprising pace, flinging up the stones into your face with his hind feet. This assault, directed toward a well-intentioned person who only wants to bang him on the head with a club, is a piece of grievous ill-humour, particularly on the part of the crested seal, who can blow up a sort of bladder on the top of his head which protects him from assault; and which also gives him, by-the-bye, an intellectual and large-brained appearance not his due, for all his fish diet. I had been thinking of making some sort of a joke about an aristocratic seal with a crest on it—beside a fine coat with no arms—but gave up the undertaking on reflecting that no real swell—probably not even a parvenu—would heave half-bricks with his feet.
All this running away and hurling of clinkers may seem to agree ill with the longing after extermination lately hinted at; but, in fact, it only proves the presence of a large amount of human nature in the composition of the seal. From motives of racial pride the seal aspires to extinction and a place beside the dodo, but in the spirit of many other patriots, he wants the other seals to be exterminated first; wants the individual honour, in fact, of being himself the very last seal, as well as the corporate honour of extinction for the species. This is why, if he live in some other part, he takes such delighted interest in news of wholesale seal slaughter in the Pacific; and also why he skedaddles from the well-meant bangs of the genial hunter—these blows, by the way, being technically described as sealing-whacks.
The sea-lion, as I have said, is not like a lion; the sea-leopard is not like a leopard; but the sea-elephant, which is another sort of seal, and a large one, may possibly be considered sufficiently like an elephant to have been evolved, in the centuries, from an elephant who has had the ill-luck to fall into the sea. He hasn't much of a trunk left, but he often finds himself in seas of a coldness enough to nip off any ordinary trunk; but his legs and feet are not elephantine.
What the previous adventures of the sea-lion may have been in the matter of evolution, I am at a loss to guess, unless there is anything in the slug theory; but if he keep steadily on, and cultivate his moustache and his stomach with proper assiduity, I have no doubt of his one day turning up at a seaside resort and carrying on life in future as a fierce old German out for a bathe. Or the Cape sea-lion, if only he continue his obsequious smile and his habit of planting his fore-flappers on the ledge before him as he rises from the water, may some day, in his posterity, be promoted to a place behind the counter of a respectable drapery warehouse, there to sell the skins his relatives grow.
But after all, any phocine ambition, either for extinction or higher evolution, may be an empty thing; because the seal is very comfortable as he is. Consider a few of his advantages. He has a very fine fur overcoat, with an admirable lining of fat, which, as well as being warm, permits any amount of harmless falling and tumbling about, such as is suitable to and inevitable with the seal's want of shape. He can enjoy the sound of bagpipes, which is a privilege accorded to few. Further, he can shut his ears when he has had enough, which is a faculty man may envy him. His wife, too, always has a first-rate sealskin jacket, made in one piece, and he hasn't to pay for it. He can always run down to the seaside when so disposed, although the run is a waddle and a flounder; and if he has no tail to speak of—well, he can't have it frozen off. All these things are better than the empty honour of extinction; better than evolution into bathers who would be drownable, and translation into unaccustomed situations—with the peril of a week's notice. Wherefore let the seal perpetuate his race—his obstacle race, as one might say, seeing him flounder and flop.
The Major's Commission.
BY W. CLARK RUSSELL.
My name is Henry Adams, and in 1854 I was mate of a ship of 1,200 tons named the Jessamy Bride. June of that year found her at Calcutta with cargo to the hatches, and ready to sail for England in three or four days.
I was walking up and down the ship's long quarter-deck, sheltered by the awning, when a young apprentice came aft and said a gentleman wished to speak to me. I saw a man standing in the gangway; he was a tall, soldierly person, about forty years of age, with iron-grey hair and spiked moustache, and an aquiline nose. His eyes were singularly bright and penetrating. He immediately said:—
"I wanted to see the captain; but as chief officer you'll do equally well. When does this ship sail?"
"On Saturday or Monday next."
He ran his eye along the decks and then looked aloft: there was something bird-like in the briskness of his way of glancing.
"I understand you don't carry passengers?"
"That's so, sir, though there's accommodation for them."
"I'm out of sorts, and have been sick for months, and want to see what a trip round the Cape to England will do for me. I shall be going home, not for my health only, but on a commission. The Maharajah of Ratnagiri, hearing I was returning to England on sick-leave, asked me to take charge of a very splendid gift for Her Majesty the Queen of England. It is a diamond, valued at fifteen thousand pounds."
He paused to observe the effect of this communication, and then proceeded:—
"I suppose you know how the Koh-i-noor was sent home?"
"It was conveyed to England, I think," said I, "by H.M.S. Medea, in 1850."
"Yes, she sailed in April that year, and arrived at Portsmouth in June. The glorious gem was intrusted to Colonel Mackieson and Captain Ramsay. It was locked up in a small box along with other jewels, and each officer had a key. The box was secreted in the ship by them, and no man on board the vessel, saving themselves, knew where it was hidden."
"Was that so?" said I, much interested.
"Yes; I had the particulars from the commander of the vessel, Captain Lockyer. When do you expect your skipper on board?" he exclaimed, darting a bright, sharp look around him.
"I cannot tell. He may arrive at any moment."
"The having charge of a stone valued at fifteen thousand pounds, and intended as a gift for the Queen of England, is a deuce of a responsibility," said he. "I shall borrow a hint from the method adopted in the case of the Koh-i-noor. I intend to hide the stone in my cabin, so as to extinguish all risk, saving, of course, what the insurance people call the acts of God. May I look at your cabin accommodation?"
I led the way to the companion hatch, and he followed me into the cabin. The ship had berthing room for eight or ten people irrespective of the officers who slept aft. But the vessel made no bid for passengers. She left them to Blackwall Liners, to the splendid ships of Green, Money Wigram, and Smith, and to the P. & O. and other steam lines. The overland route was then the general choice; few of their own decision went by way of the Cape. No one had booked with us down to this hour, and we had counted upon having the cabin to ourselves.
The visitor walked into every empty berth, and inspected it as carefully as though he had been a Government surveyor. He beat upon the walls and bulkheads with his cane, sent his brilliant gaze into the corners and under the bunks and up at the ceiling, and finally said, as he stepped from the last of the visitable cabins:—
"This decides me. I shall sail with you."
I bowed and said I was sure the captain would be glad of the pleasure of his company.
"I presume," said he, "that no objection will be raised to my bringing a native carpenter aboard to construct a secret place, as in the case of the Koh-i-noor, for the Maharajah's diamond?"
"I don't think a native carpenter would be allowed to knock the ship about," said I.
"Certainly not. A little secret receptacle—big enough to receive this," said he, putting his hand in his side pocket and producing a square Morocco case, of a size to berth a bracelet or a large brooch. "The construction of a nook to conceal this will not be knocking your ship about?"
"It's a question for the captain and the agents, sir," said I.
He replaced the case, whose bulk was so inconsiderable that it did not bulge in his coat when he had pocketed it, and said, now that he had inspected the ship and the accommodation, he would call at once upon the agents. He gave me his card and left the vessel.
The card bore the name of a military officer of some distinction. Enough if, in this narrative of a memorable and extraordinary incident, I speak of him as Major Byron Hood.
The master of the Jessamy Bride was Captain Robert North. This man had, three years earlier, sailed with me as my chief mate; it then happened I was unable to quickly obtain command, and accepted the offer of mate of the Jessamy Bride, whose captain, I was surprised to hear, proved the shipmate who had been under me, but who, some money having been left to him, had purchased an interest in the firm to which the ship belonged. We were on excellent terms; almost as brothers indeed. He never asserted his authority, and left it to my own judgment to recognise his claims. I am happy to know he had never occasion to regret his friendly treatment of me.
He came on board in the afternoon of that day on which Major Hood had visited the ship, and was full of that gentleman and his resolution to carry a costly diamond round the Cape under sail, instead of making his obligation as brief as steam and the old desert route would allow.
"I've had a long talk with him up at the agents," said Captain North. "He don't seem well."
"Suffering from his nerves, perhaps," said I.
"He's a fine, gentlemanly person. He told Mr. Nicholson he was twice wounded, naming towns which no Christian man could twist his tongue into the sound of."
"Will he be allowed to make a hole in the ship to hide his diamond in?"
"He has agreed to make good any damage done, and to pay at the rate of a fare and a half for the privilege of hiding the stone."
"Why doesn't he give the thing into your keeping, sir? This jackdaw-like hiding is a sort of reflection on our honesty, isn't it, captain?"
He laughed and answered, "No; I like such reflections for my part. Who wants to be burdened with the custody of precious things belonging to other people? Since he's to have the honour of presenting the diamond, let the worry of taking care of it be his; this ship's enough for me."
"He'll be knighted, I suppose, for delivering this stone," said I. "Did he show it to you, sir?"
"He has it in his pocket."
"He produced the case," said Captain North. "A thing about the size of a muffin. Where'll he hide it? But we're not to be curious in that direction," he added, smiling.
Next morning, somewhere about ten o'clock, Major Hood came on board with two natives; one a carpenter, the other his assistant. They brought a basket of tools, descended into the cabin, and were lost sight of till after two. No; I'm wrong. I was writing at the cabin table at half-past twelve when the Major opened his door, peered out, shut the door swiftly behind him with an extraordinary air and face of caution and anxiety, and coming along to me asked for some refreshments for himself and the two natives. I called to the steward, who filled a tray, which the Major with his own hands conveyed into his berth. Then, some time after two, whilst I was at the gangway talking to a friend, the Major and the two blacks came out of the cabin. Before they went over the side I said:—
"Is the work finished below, sir?"
"It is, and to my entire satisfaction," he answered.
When he was gone, my friend, who was the master of a barque, asked me who that fine-looking man was. I answered he was a passenger, and then, not understanding that the thing was a secret, plainly told him what they had been doing in the cabin, and why.
"But," said he, "those two niggers'll know that something precious is to be hidden in the place they've been making."
"That's been in my head all the morning," said I.
"Who's to hinder them," said he, "from blabbing to one or more of the crew? Treachery's cheap in this country. A rupee will buy a pile of roguery." He looked at me expressively. "Keep a bright look-out for a brace of well-oiled stowaways," said he.
"It's the Major's business," I answered, with a shrug.
When Captain North came on board he and I went into the Major's berth. We scrutinized every part, but saw nothing to indicate that a tool had been used or a plank lifted. There was no sawdust, no chip of wood: everything to the eye was precisely as before. No man will say we had not a right to look: how were we to make sure, as captain and mate of the ship for whose safety we were responsible, that those blacks under the eye of the Major had not been doing something which might give us trouble by-and-by?
"Well," said Captain North, as we stepped on deck, "if the diamond's already hidden, which I doubt, it couldn't be more snugly concealed if it were twenty fathoms deep in the mud here."
The Major's baggage came on board on the Saturday, and on the Monday we sailed. We were twenty-four of a ship's company all told: twenty-five souls in all, with Major Hood. Our second mate was a man named Mackenzie, to whom and to the apprentices whilst we lay in the river I had given particular instructions to keep a sharp look-out on all strangers coming aboard. I had been very vigilant myself too, and altogether was quite convinced there was no stowaway below, either white or black, though under ordinary circumstances one never would think of seeking for a native in hiding for Europe.
On either hand of the Jessamy Bride's cabin five sleeping berths were bulkheaded off. The Major's was right aft on the starboard side. Mine was next his. The captain occupied a berth corresponding with the Major's, right aft on the port side. Our solitary passenger was exceedingly amiable and agreeable at the start and for days after. He professed himself delighted with the cabin fare, and said it was not to be bettered at three times the charge in the saloons of the steamers. His drink he had himself laid in: it consisted mainly of claret and soda. He had come aboard with a large cargo of Indian cigars, and was never without a long, black weed, bearing some tongue-staggering, up-country name, betwixt his lips. He was primed with professional anecdote, had a thorough knowledge of life in India, both in the towns and wilds, had seen service in Burmah and China, and was altogether one of the most conversible soldiers I ever met: a scholar, something of a wit, and all that he said and all that he did was rendered the more engaging by grace of breeding.
Captain North declared to me he had never met so delightful a man in all his life, and the pleasantest hours I ever passed on the ocean were spent in walking the deck in conversation with Major Byron Hood.
For some days after we were at sea no reference was made either by the Major or ourselves to the Maharajah of Ratnagiri's splendid gift to Her Majesty the Queen. The captain and I and Mackenzie viewed it as tabooed matter: a thing to be locked up in memory, just as, in fact, it was hidden away in some cunningly-wrought receptacle in the Major's cabin. One day at dinner, however, when we were about a week out from Calcutta, Major Hood spoke of the Maharajah's gift. He talked freely about it; his face was flushed as though the mere thought of the thing raised a passion of triumph in his spirits. His eyes shone whilst he enlarged upon the beauty and value of the stone.
The captain and I exchanged looks; the steward was waiting upon us with cocked ears, and that menial, deaf expression of face which makes you know every word is being greedily listened to. We might therefore make sure that before the first dog-watch came round all hands would have heard that the Major had a diamond in his cabin intended for the Queen of England, and worth fifteen thousand pounds. Nay, they'd hear even more than that; for in the course of his talk about the gem the Major praised the ingenuity of the Asiatic artisan, whether Indian or Chinese, and spoke of the hiding-place the two natives had contrived for the diamond as an example of that sort of juggling skill in carving which is found in perfection amongst the Japanese.
I thought this candour highly indiscreet: charged too with menace. A matter gains in significance by mystery. The Jacks would think nothing of a diamond being in the ship as a part of her cargo, which might include a quantity of specie for all they knew. But some of them might think more often about it than was at all desirable when they understood it was stowed away under a plank, or was to be got by tapping about for a hollow echo, or probing with the judgment of a carpenter when the Major was on deck and the coast aft all clear.
We had been three weeks at sea; it was a roasting afternoon, though I cannot exactly remember the situation of the ship. Our tacks were aboard and the bowlines triced out, and the vessel was scarcely looking up to her course, slightly heeling away from a fiery fanning of wind off the starboard bow, with the sea trembling under the sun in white-hot needles of broken light, and a narrow ribbon of wake glancing off into a hot blue thickness that brought the horizon within a mile of us astern.
I had charge of the deck from twelve to four. For an hour past the Major, cigar in mouth, had been stretched at his ease in a folding chair; a book lay beside him on the skylight, but he scarcely glanced at it. I had paused to address him once or twice, but he showed no disposition to chat. Though he lay in the most easy lounging posture imaginable, I observed a restless, singular expression in his face, accentuated yet by the looks he incessantly directed out to sea, or glances at the deck forward, or around at the helm, so far as he might move his head without shifting his attitude. It was as though his mind were in labour with some scheme. A man might so look whilst working out the complicated plot of a play, or adjusting by the exertion of his memory the intricacies of a novel piece of mechanism.
On a sudden he started up and went below.
A few minutes after he had left the deck, Captain North came up from his cabin, and for some while we paced the planks together. There was a pleasant hush upon the ship; the silence was as refreshing as a fold of coolness lifting off the sea. A spun-yarn winch was clinking on the forecastle; from alongside rose the music of fretted waters.
I was talking to the captain on some detail of the ship's furniture; when Major Hood came running up the companion steps, his face as white as his waistcoat, his head uncovered, every muscle of his countenance rigid, as with horror.
"Good God, captain!" cried he, standing in the companion, "what do you think has happened?" Before we could fetch a breath he cried: "Someone's stolen the diamond!"
I glanced at the helmsman who stood at the radiant circle of wheel staring with open mouth and eyebrows arched into his hair. The captain, stepping close to Major Hood, said in a low, steady voice:—
"What's this you tell me, sir?"
"The diamond's gone!" exclaimed the Major, fixing his shining eyes upon me, whilst I observed that his fingers convulsively stroked his thumbs as though he were rolling up pellets of bread or paper.
"Do you tell me the diamond's been taken from the place you hid it in?" said Captain North, still speaking softly, but with deliberation.
"The diamond never was hidden," replied the Major, who continued to stare at me. "It was in a portmanteau. That's no hiding-place!"
Captain North fell back a step. "Never was hidden!" he exclaimed. "Didn't you bring two native workmen aboard for no other purpose than to hide it?"
"It never was hidden," said the Major, now turning his eyes upon the captain. "I chose it should be believed it was undiscoverably concealed in some part of my cabin, that I might safely and conveniently keep it in my baggage, where no thief would dream of looking for it. Who has it?" he cried with a sudden fierceness, making a step full of passion out of the companion-way; and he looked under knitted brows towards the ship's forecastle.
Captain North watched him idly for a moment or two, and then with an abrupt swing of his whole figure, eloquent of defiant resolution, he stared the Major in the face, and said in a quiet, level voice:—
"I shan't be able to help you. If it's gone, it's gone. A diamond's not a bale of wool. Whoever's been clever enough to find it will know how to keep it."
"I must have it!" broke out the Major. "It's a gift for Her Majesty the Queen. It's in this ship. I look to you, sir, as master of this vessel, to recover the property which some one of the people under your charge has robbed me of!"
"I'll accompany you to your cabin," said the captain; and they went down the steps.
I stood motionless, gaping like an idiot into the yawn of hatch down which they had disappeared. I had been so used to think of the diamond as cunningly hidden in the Major's berth, that his disclosure was absolutely a shock with its weight of astonishment. Small wonder that neither Captain North nor I had observed any marks of a workman's tools in the Major's berth. Not but that it was a very ingenious stratagem, far cleverer to my way of thinking than any subtle, secret burial of the thing. To think of the Major and his two Indians sitting idly for hours in that cabin, with the captain and myself all the while supposing they were fashioning some wonderful contrivance or place for concealing the treasure in! And still, for all the Major's cunning, the stone was gone! Who had stolen it? The only fellow likely to prove the thief was the steward, not because he was more or less of a rogue than any other man in the ship, but because he was the one person who, by virtue of his office, was privileged to go in and out of the sleeping places as his duties required.
I was pacing the deck, musing into a sheer muddle this singular business of the Maharajah of Ratnagiri's gift to the Queen of England, with all sorts of dim, unformed suspicions floating loose in my brains round the central fancy of the fifteen thousand pound stone there, when the captain returned. He was alone. He stepped up to me hastily, and said:—
"He swears the diamond has been stolen. He showed me the empty case."
"Was there ever a stone in it at all?" said I.
"I don't think that," he answered, quickly; "there's no motive under Heaven to be imagined if the whole thing's a fabrication."
"What then, sir?"
"The case is empty, but I've not made up my mind yet that the stone's missing."
"The man's an officer and a gentleman."
"I know, I know!" he interrupted, "but still, in my opinion, the stone's not missing. The long and short of it is," he said, after a very short pause, with a careful glance at the skylight and companion hatch, "his behaviour isn't convincing enough. Something's wanting in his passion and his vexation."
"Ah! I don't intend that this business shall trouble me. He angrily required me to search the ship for stowaways. Bosh! The second mate and steward have repeatedly overhauled the lazarette: there's nobody there."
"And if not there, then nowhere else," said I. "Perhaps he's got the forepeak in his head."
"I'll not have a hatch lifted," he exclaimed, warmly, "nor will I allow the crew to be troubled. There's been no theft. Put it that the stone is stolen. Who's going to find it in a forecastle full of men—a thing as big as half a bean perhaps? If it's gone, it's gone, indeed, whoever may have it. But there's no go in this matter at all," he added, with a short, nervous laugh.
We were talking in this fashion when the Major joined us; his features were now composed. He gazed sternly at the captain and said, loftily:—
"What steps are you prepared to take in this matter?"
His face darkened. He looked with a bright gleam in his eyes at the captain, then at me: his gaze was piercing with the light in it. Without a word he stepped to the side and, folding his arms, stood motionless.
I glanced at the captain; there was something in the bearing of the Major that gave shape, vague indeed, to a suspicion that had cloudily hovered about my thoughts of the man for some time past. The captain met my glance, but he did not interpret it.
When I was relieved at four o'clock by the second mate, I entered my berth, and presently, hearing the captain go to his cabin, went to him and made a proposal. He reflected, and then answered:—
"Yes; get it done."
After some talk I went forward and told the carpenter to step aft and bore a hole in the bulkhead that separated the Major's berth from mine. He took the necessary tools from his chest and followed me. The captain was now again on deck, talking with the Major; in fact, detaining him in conversation, as had been preconcerted. I went into the Major's berth, and quickly settled upon a spot for an eye-hole. The carpenter then went to work in my cabin, and in a few minutes bored an orifice large enough to enable me to command a large portion of the adjacent interior. I swept the sawdust from the deck in the Major's berth, so that no hint should draw his attention to the hole, which was pierced in a corner shadowed by a shelf. I then told the carpenter to manufacture a plug and paint its extremity of the colour of the bulkhead. He brought me this plug in a quarter of an hour. It fitted nicely, and was to be withdrawn and inserted as noiselessly as though greased.
I don't want you to suppose this Peeping-Tom scheme was at all to my taste, albeit my own proposal; but the truth is, the Major's telling us that someone had stolen his diamond made all who lived aft hotly eager to find out whether he spoke the truth or not; for, if he had been really robbed of the stone, then suspicion properly rested upon the officers and the steward, which was an infernal consideration: dishonouring and inflaming enough to drive one to seek a remedy in even a baser device than that of secretly keeping watch on a man in his bedroom. Then, again, the captain told me that the Major, whilst they talked when the carpenter was at work making the hole, had said he would give notice of his loss to the police at Cape Town (at which place we were to touch), and declared he'd take care no man went ashore—from Captain North himself down to the youngest apprentice—till every individual, every sea-chest, every locker, drawer, shelf and box, bunk, bracket and crevice had been searched by qualified rummagers.
On this the day of the theft, nothing more was said about the diamond: that is, after the captain had emphatically informed Major Hood that he meant to take no steps whatever in the matter. I had expected to find the Major sullen and silent at dinner; he was not, indeed, so talkative as usual, but no man watching and hearing him would have supposed so heavy a loss as that of a stone worth fifteen thousand pounds, the gift of an Eastern potentate to the Queen of England, was weighing upon his spirits.
It is with reluctance I tell you that, after dinner that day, when he went to his cabin, I softly withdrew the plug and watched him. I blushed whilst thus acting, yet I was determined, for my own sake and for the sake of my shipmates, to persevere. I spied nothing noticeable saving this: he sat in a folding chair and smoked, but every now and again he withdrew his cigar from his mouth and talked to it with a singular smile. It was a smile of cunning, that worked like some baleful, magical spirit in the fine high breeding of his features; changing his looks just as a painter of incomparable skill might colour a noble, familiar face into a diabolical expression, amazing those who knew it only in its honest and manly beauty. I had never seen that wild, grinning countenance on him before, and it was rendered the more remarkable by the movement of his lips whilst he talked to himself, but inaudibly.
A week slipped by; time after time I had the man under observation; often when I had charge of the deck I'd leave the captain to keep a look out, and steal below and watch Major Hood in his cabin.
It was a Sunday, I remember. I was lying in my bunk half dozing—we were then, I think, about a three-weeks' sail from Table Bay—when I heard the Major go to his cabin. I was already sick of my aimless prying; and whilst I now lay I thought to myself: "I'll sleep; what is the good of this trouble? I know exactly what I shall see. He is either in his chair, or his bunk, or overhauling his clothes, or standing, cigar in mouth, at the open porthole." And then I said to myself: "If I don't look now I shall miss the only opportunity of detection that may occur." One is often urged by a sort of instinct in these matters.
I got up, almost as through an impulse of habit, noiselessly withdrew the plug, and looked. The Major was at that instant standing with a pistol-case in his hand: he opened it as my sight went to him, took out one of a brace of very elegant pistols, put down the case, and on his apparently touching a spring in the butt of the pistol, the silver plate that ornamented the extremity sprang open as the lid of a snuff-box would, and something small and bright dropped into his hand. This he examined with the peculiar cunning smile I have before described; but owing to the position of his hand, I could not see what he held, though I had not the least doubt that it was the diamond.
I watched him breathlessly. After a few minutes he dropped the stone into the hollow butt-end, shut the silver plate, shook the weapon against his ear as though it pleased him to rattle the stone, then put it in its case, and the case into a portmanteau.