Part 7 out of 8
drawing-room, engaged in needle-work, was alarmed by a shrill shriek,
followed by a heavy fall on the floor beneath, in Mrs. Basil's parlor.
She had heard the front-door closed but a minute before, and the thought
that was never wholly absent from her mind now flashed upon it with
terrible distinctness--the Avenger had come at last! Her next hurried
reflection was one of thankfulness that neither Charley nor Solomon was
at home. Then, pale and trembling, she stole out on the landing of the
stairs, and listened intently. Not a sound was to be heard save the
throbs of her own fluttering breast. The cook and the waiting-maid, who
alone composed the domestic staff, had apparently not heard the noise;
for the former was singing loudly in the kitchen, as was her wont when
she had been "put out," as happened some half dozen times per diem. It
was frightful to think that in yonder parlor her once-loved Richard
might even then be closeted with his mother, deaf to her appeals for
mercy, resolute for revenge, and only demanding where his enemies might
be found: it was better to face him than to picture him thus. That his
sudden appearance had terrified Mrs. Basil into a fit she had little
doubt from that shriek and fall; and, indeed, all was now so still
within there that she might be dead. The fear for her offspring,
however, made Harry almost bold. Indeed, as has been said, she did not
entertain any apprehension of personal violence at Richard's hands; and,
perhaps, in spite of Mrs. Basil's assurance to the contrary, she had
some hope of moving him from his set purpose by her prayers and tears.
Step by step, and clinging to the hand-rail for support, for her limbs
scarcely obeyed her will, she descended the stairs, stood a moment in
the passage, listening like a frightened hare, and then opened the
parlor door. There was no one within it: yes, upon the hearth-rug lay
the motionless form of Mrs. Basil; she was lying on her face; and,
rushing forward, Harry knelt down beside her, and strove to lift her in
her arms. Some instinct seemed to forbid her to call for assistance.
"What is it? what is it?" gasped the old woman, looking vacantly up in
the other's face.
"You have been unwell, dear madam. I am afraid you have had a fainting
fit; but, thank Heaven, you are better now."
Harry was truly grateful; first, that her original suspicion had proved
to be unfounded; secondly, that Mrs. Basil was alive. She had contrived
to place her in a sitting posture, with her back against the heavy
arm-chair; and now she brought a carafe of water from the side-board,
and sprinkled her face and hands.
"Let me call Mary, and we will get you up to your own room as soon as
you feel equal to the effort."
Mrs. Basil's eyes had closed again. Her face was white and stiff as that
of a corpse; but she shook her head with vehemence. "The door--lock the
door!" she murmured.
Not without some hesitation, for she began to fear that her companion
was wandering in her mind, Harry obeyed her. "Get me into my chair. Oh,
why did I ever wake to weary life again!"
"What has troubled you? Can any new misfortune have happened to us?"
inquired Harry, woefully.
"To _you_--no," answered the old woman, with sudden fierceness; "to
me--yes. Do you see that letter?" She pointed to one lying beneath the
table. "Twenty years ago that would have been my death-warrant; but now
I am so used to suffer that, like the man who lived on poisons, nothing
kills. Read it--read it."
The letter was an official one; the envelope immense, with "On her
Majesty's Service" stamped upon it, and out of all proportion to the
scanty contents, which ran as follows:
"LINGMOOR PRISON, _December 22._
"MADAM,--I am instructed by the Governor of this Jail to acquaint
you with the sad news that your son, Richard Yorke, is no more.
Four weeks ago he escaped from prison by night, and took refuge in
an adjoining wood. His body was discovered only four days ago, and
an inquest held upon it, when a verdict was returned in accordance
with the facts. I am, Madam, yours obediently,
"THOMAS SPARKES (_for the Governor_).
"I am instructed to inclose a locket with miniature, which was
found upon your son on his arrival here. The rest of his property
will be forwarded by rail."
This locket contained the little picture of Harry painted by Richard
himself, and which, though he had contrived to secrete while at Cross
Key, had been taken from him at Lingmoor.
Harry's breast was agitated by conflicting emotions. To know that her
boy was safe--that there could be no murder done--gave her a sense of
intense relief, which could scarcely be called selfish. But that
reflection was but transient, and a passionate burst of sorrow succeeded
it. The only man she had ever loved--around whom, centred her most
precious memories--had died, then, thus miserably, after miserable years
of bondage endured on her account. She saw him with her mind's eye once
more as when he had clasped her in his arms for the first time upon the
ruined tower--as when he had rained his kisses on her lips beside the
Wishing Well--in his youth and beauty and passion. Her nineteen years of
loveless wedlock were swept away, and left her as she saw herself in the
little portrait he himself had painted, and which was now his legacy.
His menaces and vows of vengeance against her and hers were all
forgotten; her woman's heart was loyal to him whom she had owned its
lord, and once more did him fealty.
"Oh, Richard, Richard, my dear love," cried she; "God knows I would have
died to save you!"
"Come here, Harry--come here," whispered Mrs. Basil, "and let me kiss
you. I would that I could weep like you; but the fountain of my tears
has long been dry. I thought you would have been glad to feel that you
and yours were safe--that retribution was averted from the man, your
husband; but I now see I did you wrong. Your heart is touched--you
remember him as he was before the taint of crime was on him."
"It never was!" cried Harry, passionately. "He never meant to wrong my
father of a shilling."
"Well said, dear Harry; well said. He was himself a wronged--a murdered
man. Imprisoned for nineteen years, and then to perish thus! And yet men
talk of Heaven's justice! My boy! my boy!"
The two women were silent for a while--the one gazing with dry eyes but
tender yearning face upon the other, as she rocked herself to and fro,
and shook with stifled sobs.
"Dear Harry, you must not desert me now," pleaded the former, pitifully;
"I am very old, and this has broken me. He was my all--my only one on
earth--and he is dead. I shall not trouble you long. We two, child, were
the only ones that loved him, and we love him still. Let me cling to
you, Harry, since it is but for a little while; and let us talk of him
together, when we are alone, and think of what he was. So bright, so
gay, so--Oh, my boy! my boy!"
The tears rushed to the mother's eyes at last. Hard Fate was softened
for a while toward it's life-long victim; and side by side sat the two
bereaved women, each striving to comfort the other, after woman's
fashion, by painting in its brightest colors that dead Past which both
deplored. Begotten of their common sorrow, Love sprang up between them,
and on one side confidence; and into Mrs. Basil's hungry ears Harry, for
the first time, poured the story of her courtship. Richard's death had
cemented between them the bond which it would seem to have destroyed.
The fatal letter lay open on Harry's lap, but the envelope had fallen on
the floor. Stooping to pick it up, she found something still within
it--some folded slips from a local newspaper, with an account of the
inquest, the details of which the governor's clerk had, perhaps
humanely, preferred to communicate in that form, to be read or not as
the mother's feelings might dictate to her. The two women read it
together, not aloud, for neither had the voice for that. With most of
the evidence there recounted we are already familiar. It was proved that
No. 421 had long been in a desponding, brooding state; but, as only a
year intervened between the expiration of his term of punishment, his
attempt to escape was almost unaccountable, and certainly unparalleled.
No punishment was impending over him. The opinion of the authorities was
expressed that the convict's reason was unhinged. The method of
obtaining his freedom showed indeed considerable cunning, but also an
audacity that was scarcely consistent with sanity. The height of the
prisoner was known, and his proportionate reach of arm; and it seemed
incredible how he could have succeeded in reaching the parapet above his
cell window; in that attempt he must have risked certain death. His
descent from the roof was explained by the presence of the rope. The
immediate means by which he surmounted the external wall were, of
course, evident enough, since the rope was there also; but the question
was, how did it come there? The prisoner must have been assisted by some
one outside the wall. The warder who fired the shot which subsequently
proved fatal had seen but one man; but the night was dark, and the whole
affair had passed very rapidly. Indeed, the convict had only fully shown
himself when at the top of the wall, and the musket had been fired
almost at a venture. On the alarm being given, pursuit was at once
attempted; but, under cover of the night, the fugitive had gained Bergen
Wood. The next morning his footsteps were traced so far, and it was
proved that he was unaccompanied. A cordon was placed round the wood,
and the place itself thoroughly searched for many days. It was deemed
certain, from the report of the scouts who were made use of on such
occasions, that the convict had not left that covert to seek shelter in
any hamlet in the neighborhood; the quest was therefore still continued.
Not, however, until three weeks afterward was No. 421 discovered. It was
supposed that the unhappy fugitive had died of his wounds upon the very
night of his escape, for the body was so decomposed that it could never
have been identified but for its convict clothes; the nights had been
wet and tempestuous, and it lay in an unsheltered part of the wood, a
mere sodden heap of what had been once humanity. The bullet that had
been the cause of death was, however, detected in the remains.
What an end to the high-spirited, handsome lad that had been the pride
of his mother, the joy of his betrothed! What wonder that they sat over
the bald record of it with bowed-down faces, and filled up the gaps with
only too easily imagined horrors! Each kept hold of the other's hand, as
though in sign of the dread bond between them, and sat close to one
another in silence. Presently Harry started up, at the sound of a
latch-key in the house door.
"That is Solomon," cried she.
"Impossible," said Mrs. Basil. "He told me himself that he should stop
for the last day's sale, and to-day is but the fifth."
"Hush! it is."
Yes, it was certainly Solomon's voice in the passage; and apparently, by
the answering tone, he had a male companion with him.
Harry seized the letter, with its inclosures, and thrust them into her
bosom, which, full of grief for his victim, seemed to spurn her
husband's approach. Then she heard him calling her impatiently, as was
his wont, from the foot of the stairs.
"Harry, come down; I have brought a gentleman home with me. Let's have
something to eat at once, will you?"
"Answer him--answer him!" gasped Harry. She could not speak; her tongue
Mrs. Basil rose at once, walked with steady step to the door, and opened
it. "Your wife is here, Mr. Coe. I am glad you are come home, for she is
far from well, and I was getting quite nervous about her."
"She _must_ be ill," grumbled Solomon, "not to be able to say 'Here,'
when I am breaking a blood-vessel with holloing to her in the attics.
Come in here, Sir." This to his companion--a man considerably his
senior, thin and spare, who stood peering curiously at the landlady. "I
am sorry to see you unwell, wife. I have brought a friend to stay with
us for a day or two. Mr. Robert Balfour--Mrs. Coe."
A PROJECTED PARTNERSHIP.
Though by no means in either the mental or physical condition in which a
lady should be who is called upon to play the part of hostess, Harry was
not displeased that Solomon had not returned alone. The presence of this
stranger, whom she greeted mechanically, and almost without a glance at
his features, was welcome to her, because it was likely to distract from
herself her husband's regards. What she would like to have done would
have been to shut herself up alone in her chamber, to weep and pray. As
it was, she had to be cheerful, to affect an interest in her husband's
late expedition, and pleasure at his unexpected return. Mrs. Basil was
here invaluable; you would never have imagined that it was the same
woman--so stricken and full of anguish but a few minutes before, and now
so self-possessed and cheerful. But she had been used to playing parts
throughout her life, and acting was easy to her. She dreaded silence,
lest with it should come observation and remark upon the agitation and
distress only too visible in Harry's countenance; and yet it was
difficult, even for her, to keep up the ball of small-talk, for Solomon
was always slow and scant of speech, and the new-comer rarely opened his
mouth, and then only to utter a monosyllable. His manner, too, was
embarrassing; he turned his white and stony face from one woman to the
other, like an automaton, but with a weird and searching gaze.
They had never so much as heard his name before, for Richard had been
cautious never to mention Balfour in his letters, since they were, of
course, perused by the authorities, and friendships were not encouraged
at Lingmoor; but, on the other hand, it was evident that these ladies
had an interest for the visitor. Presently, while they were yet all
below stairs, arrived Charles and Agnes, which effected, indeed,
diversion enough, but also a great disturbance and alteration for the
worse in Mr. Coe's temper. No sooner, as it seemed to him, had his back
been turned, then, than the intimacy between this girl and his son,
which he had strictly forbidden, had been recommenced, and with the
connivance and encouragement of his wife too, or else how should the lad
dare thus to bring her home? For the first time Solomon was openly rude
to Agnes; and the latter, being a girl of spirit, resented it by quietly
rising to depart. Charley, rash and impetuous, rose to accompany her.
Solomon stormed displeasure; and it seemed that the presence of the
visitor would have been wholly inadequate to prevent a family scene,
when Agnes herself interposed with dignity. "No, Charles; I would rather
go alone. If your father objects to my presence here, it shall not be
intruded; and if he considers your company a condescension, I can not
accept it upon such terms."
Charles would have taken her arm, in defiance of all consequences, and
led her off under Solomon's nose; but this opposition on her part
offended him. He was almost as angry with her for thwarting him as he
was with his father. It was a triangular duel, the combatants in which
were narrowly watched by the disregarded stranger. When Agnes got her
way and departed, "That's a girl of character," observed he, with a
"She is a girl without a penny," answered Solomon, gloomily, with a
scowl at his son, "upon whom this young fool wishes to throw himself
"What! so early?" observed Mr. Balfour, good-humoredly addressing
Charles. "When I was your age, I thought of enjoying life, and not of
marriage. I don't wonder, however, that any girl should strive to
enslave so handsome a young fellow as your son, Sir. It is quite
natural, and there is no need to blame her, and far less _him_."
Ashamed, perhaps, of having exhibited such violence of temper before his
guest, Solomon was very willing to be mollified, and grimly smiled
approval of these sentiments; Charles, too, though fully resolved to set
himself right with Agnes on the morrow, was not displeased with the
visitor's remark; but the two women justly resented it as an impertinent
freedom. If Charles's thoughts had not been so preoccupied with his own
wrongs--the deprivation of his Agnes's society, which he had promised
himself for the rest of the day, and the snub which he conceived she had
administered to him--he would have noticed too, for he was by no means
wanting in observation, that the new-comer's manner to his hostess and
Mrs. Basil was not what it should have been. It was not absolutely rude,
but it was studiously careless of their presence. He no longer stared at
them as at first, but, on the contrary, seemed to ignore the fact of
their existence--never addressed them; and if either spoke to him,
replied as briefly as possible, and then turned at once to Solomon or
his son. Mrs. Basil concluded that he was a vulgar fellow, who, having
penetration enough to discover that the males had the upper hand in the
establishment, did not give himself the trouble to conciliate the less
important members of it; but Harry, always timid and suspicious, was
alarmed at him; his air had, in her eyes, something hostile in it as
well as contemptuous. She could not understand, and therefore
mistrusted, the influence he had evidently obtained over her husband,
and which already had superseded that of Mrs. Basil.
That Solomon should no longer take pains to make himself agreeable to
the latter, now that he had obtained from her his object, was, to any
one who knew his character, explicable enough; but why should this
stranger have taken her place as his counselor and friend? The idea of
some personal advantage was, of course, at the bottom of it; but it was
clear, not only to sage Mrs. Basil, but even to Harry--since even a
moderately skillful looker-on sees more of the game than the best
player--that in any contest of wits Solomon would have small chance with
his new friend. The opinion of Mrs. Basil was, that some new
speculation, in some manner connected with the Crompton sale, had been
entered into by the two men, and that Mr. Balfour would in the end
secure the oyster, while Mr. Coe was left with the shell. But Harry had
darker forebodings still; she was instinctively confident that there was
enmity at work in the new-comer, as well as the readiness common to all
speculators to overreach a friend. There was a look in his pallid face,
when it glanced, as he thought unheeded, on either Charles or Solomon,
which, to her mind, boded ill. If it did so, it was certainly
unsuspected by those on whom it fell. Mr. Coe had apparently never found
a companion so agreeable to him; and, curiously enough, this idea seemed
to be shared by Charles. According to his own account, Mr. Balfour had
been abroad in Western America for many years, and had there retrieved a
fortune which, originally inherited, had been speedily dissipated in the
pleasures of the town. His long absence from such scenes had by no means
dulled his taste for them, and his conversation ran on little else. He
had a light rattling way with him--that, to Harry's view, resembled
youthful spirit no more than galvanism in a corpse resembles life, and
which was certainly not in harmony with his age and appearance--and very
graphic powers of description; he expressed himself curious about the
changes in public amusements since he left town, near twenty years ago,
and seriously placed himself under Charles's guidance on the expeditions
of pleasure for which the latter was always ready. To this, strangely
enough, Solomon made no objection, notwithstanding that his own
purse-strings had to be drawn pretty wide to supply these extravagances.
His new friend had only to suggest that he should give the lad a
five-pound note to enjoy himself with, and the thing was done at once.
As for himself, Mr. Balfour seemed to be made of money, so freely did he
spend it; and if he did not offer the use of his purse to his young
companion, it was only, as he told him, because he feared to offend his
pride. "Besides," said he, when they were alone together on one of these
expeditions of amusement, from which Solomon, whose notions of enjoyment
were mainly confined to money-making, always excused himself upon
pretense of having business to do, "it is only right your father should
be made to fork out; he is as rich as Croesus. It is quite unreasonable
that he should stint you in enjoyment when, one day or another, you will
have all the pleasures of life to pick and choose from."
It would have tested Solomon's new-born friendship severely if he could
have heard Mr. Balfour dilate upon this topic, which he did with such
earnestness and fervor that the lad was soon convinced of those great
expectations which the cautious reticence of his parents had so long
concealed from him. On the other hand, Charley's companion deduced an
argument from this fair prospect which was not so welcome to the lad; he
maintained that, under the circumstances, it would be madness to risk
his father's displeasure by uniting himself irretrievably to Agnes, or
to any other young woman. "My good offices will be always at your
disposal, my lad," urged he, gravely, "and I don't deny that, at
present, I have considerable influence with Mr. Coe; but it would not be
proof against so flagrant an act of disobedience as that which you
contemplate. The great bulk of his property is at his own disposal; and
his nature, if I may speak plainly to you in so important a matter, is
obstinate and implacable. At all events, there is no hurry, since you
and this charming young lady are but boy and girl at present. Life is
uncertain, and you may be your own master any day; wait till you are so,
or wait for a little, at all events, to see what may turn up; and in the
mean time, lad, enjoy yourself." The last part of Mr. Balfour's advice,
at all events, was palatable enough, and that much of it Charles
accepted; in doing which, as was anticipated, the whole intention of his
Mentor became fulfilled. Plunged in dissipation, the young man thought
less and less of his love; gave himself little trouble, though he still
avowed his unalterable attachment, to set himself right with her; grew
more and more dissatisfied with his own home, at the same time that that
of Agnes became less and less attractive; and, in short, he drifted away
daily farther and farther from the safe moorings of love and duty.
Harry perceived all this with a dread so deep that it even drove her to
invoke her husband's aid against this man, who, inexplicable as his
hostility might be, was bent, she firmly believed, upon the ruin of her
darling boy. With Solomon, as she well knew, the fact of his son's
dissipation was not likely to move him to interfere; he saw that the
companionship of Balfour was gradually producing an estrangement between
Charles and the portionless artist's daughter, and so far he cordially
approved of it, nor cared to question by what means this new friend made
himself agreeable. She had no argument available except that of expense,
and, to her astonishment and dismay, this failed to affect her prudent
"Just let things be a while," was Solomon's reply, "and mind your own
business. It is quite true the lad's throwing my money in the gutter at
a fine rate; but in the end I shall get it all back again, and more with
it. This Balfour takes me for a foolish doting father, but he shall pay
for all himself before I've done with him. I throw a sprat to catch a
whale; and neither you nor any other fool shall interfere with my
Harry dared not say more; her husband had been in the worst of humors
ever since he had returned from Crompton, and was all the more brutal
and tyrannical to her that he had to be civil and conciliatory to his
new friend, and involuntarily indulgent, upon his account, to Charles.
The unhappy mother was powerless to check the evil the growth of which
was so patent to her loving instinct, and there was none to whom she
could look for help. Mrs. Basil had no longer any influence with
Solomon, and, besides, she was seriously ill, and had now been confined
to her own room for weeks. In her extremity, Harry had even resolved to
make a personal appeal to this man Balfour; to ask him in what her
husband had injured him, to adjure him to forgive the wrong, or at least
not to visit it upon her Charley's innocent head. But she shrank with an
inexplicable terror from putting this design into effect; she felt she
should humiliate herself to no purpose; he would deny, in his cold,
cynical way, that he entertained any thing but friendship for her astute
husband and affection for her bright and impulsive son. Besides, to say
truth, she was afraid to speak with the man; and she had a suspicion
that this weird and shadowy fear was in some degree shared by Mrs.
Basil; at times she even imagined that it was not so much indisposition
as a desire to avoid his presence that caused the landlady to absent
herself from the family circle.
Mr. Coe, at all events, entertained no such prejudice against his guest;
day by day he grew more communicative with him, and more solicitous to
hear his opinions, with which he seldom failed to agree. The two men
were in reality, as it was easy to see, as opposite in character as the
poles. Mr. Balfour was, and apparently always had been, a man of
pleasure; but he had seen men and cities, and his remarks were shrewd,
and selfish, and worldly-wise enough. It was rarely that his talk ever
strayed to matters of business, so that Solomon was perforce a listener;
but that unambitious part he played to admiration.
Upon one occasion, however, their after-dinner converse happened to turn
upon partnerships; Solomon urged their great convenience, how one man
brought money and the other brains, and how pleasant it must be for the
former to live at ease while the latter gathered honey for him, both for
present use and for the wintry store. He rose with the familiar subject
to quite a flight of poetry.
Mr. Balfour, with half-shut eves and a mocking smile, dilated upon the
sentiment involved in such communities of enterprise, the sympathy
engendered by them, and the happy social effects that were produced by
them. His host either did not, or would not, perceive that these remarks
were ironical, and pursued the subject to its details, proportions of
profits, balance-sheets, etc., until Charles rose with a yawn, and left
his two elders together.
"Well, Balfour," said Solomon, frankly, as soon as they were alone,
"this talk reminds me of the matter that first introduced us to one
another--your purchase of that outlying bit of the Crompton property,
[Illustration: "I WILL GIVE YOU A THOUSAND POUNDS FOR THAT CROMPTON
"Ay," replied the other, carelessly lighting another cigar. It was
quite wonderful to see how many cigars Mr. Balfour got through daily;
you might have almost thought that he had been denied tobacco for years
by his physician, and had only just been permitted to resume the habit.
"Yes; you disappointed me there immensely, I must confess. I went down
to the sale on purpose to secure it."
"So you told me, or, at least, so I guessed from your manner; and yet I
don't know why you should have been so sweet upon it. It's only a bare
bit of ground with a round hole in it, close by the sea."
"That's all," said Solomon, puffing at his clay pipe. "What on earth
could have made you buy it?"
"Well, I told you once. I lost my yacht off Turlock, when coming to
England last autumn, and very nearly my life with it. When one escapes
with a whole skin from such a storm as wrecked me there, the first piece
of dry land one comes to seems very attractive. I happened to be cast
ashore beneath that very spot, and so I took a fancy to it. If I had
been a good Papist I should have built a chapel there to my patron saint
in gratitude for my preservation; as it was, I resolved to erect a villa
for myself there. It will have an excellent view, and the situation is
healthy. If you seek for any other reason for the purchase, I have none
to give you; it was a whim, if you like, but then I can afford to
indulge my whims."
"This one cost you a good deal, however; you gave five hundred pounds
for it, did you not?"
Balfour nodded assent.
"A great sum for a few barren acres," said Solomon, thoughtfully.
"Yes; and so the trustees of the estate thought, Mr. Coe. They closed
with my offer sharp enough, and withdrew the lot from public
competition; else, perhaps, I should have got it cheaper."
"Not if I had been bidding against you," observed the host,
"You don't say so! You were never shipwrecked thereabouts, were you? Oh,
I remember: you were brought up in the neighborhood. You had some tender
recollection of the spot, perhaps, with relation to madame up stairs.
What creatures of sentiment you men of business sometimes are--dear me!"
"I did live near the spot," said Solomon, slowly, "though I should
deceive you if I pretended that that had any thing to do with my wish to
"You would not deceive me, my good friend," answered Balfour, coolly;
"but, as you were about to say, it would not be frank. Let us be frank
and open, above all things."
"I wish to be so, I assure you," was Solomon's meek reply. "When I
offered you a hundred pounds for your bargain, I think I showed you that
deception was no part of my nature. In all matters of business I always
go straight to the point at once."
"As in the present instance, for example," remarked the guest, with an
"I am coming to the point, Mr. Balfour--once for all. I will give you a
thousand pounds down for that Crompton lot--twice the money that you
gave for it within a month; that's twelve hundred per cent, per annum."
Balfour shook his head. "I am not a religious man, my dear Sir--far from
it. But I believe, like Miss Joanna yonder, in inspirations: all my
whims are inspirations, and therefore sacred. It was an inspiration that
made me buy Wheal Danes, and I mean to keep it. If you offered me ten
thousand pounds, I'd keep it."
Solomon was silent for a while, his heavy brows knit in thought; then
once again he advanced to the attack. "You may keep it, and yet share
the profit, Mr. Balfour."
"Ay, the profit. I told you I was going to be frank with you, but you
would never guess _how_ frank. I am about to put thousands a year into
your pocket, on condition that you will let me fill my own at the same
rate. We were talking of partnerships just now; let us be partners in
"Balfour and Coe sounds natural enough," returned the other, coolly.
"But I must hear your plan."
"My plan is a secret--invaluable, indeed, as such--but which, once told,
will be worth nothing--that is, to _me_."
"You may do as you like, my friend, about revealing it," yawned Mr.
Balfour. "I care nothing for your plan; only, until I hear it I stick to
my plot, my lot, my acreage. Tell me the whole story without
reservation--don't attempt to deceive me on the slightest point--and
then you shall have your way. We will divide this land of gold between
us, or, as seems to me much more likely, browse like twin donkeys on its
crop of thistles."
"I have nothing but your bare word to trust to," said Solomon,
doubtfully; "but still, I must risk it. Come, it's a bargain. Then,
here's my hand upon it."
"Never mind my hand, my good friend," returned the other, coolly. "In
the part of the world from which I hailed last, folks didn't shake
hands, and I've fallen out of the habit. Come, give us this story of
"It's a very old one, Mr. Balfour. The plot of ground you purchased gets
its strange name from an ancient tin mine that is comprised in it, once
worked by the Romans, but disused since their time. There are many such
"So I've heard," said Balfour, while the other sipped his glass. It was
curious to contrast the grave and earnest manner of the host with the
careless and uninterested air of his guest, who presently, as the
narrative proceeded, leaned his face upon his hand and gazed into the
fire, an occasional glance sideways at his companion through his fingers
alone testifying that his attention was still preserved. He never
stirred a limb nor winked an eyelid when Solomon came out with his great
"This mine that is said to be worked out, Mr. Balfour, and which you
have purchased by mere accident, as being in the same lot with your
proposed building-ground, will, I have reason to believe, turn out a
"You don't say so! I did not know that there _was_ gold in Cornwall."
"There is as good, or at least there are metals that bring gold--tin and
copper; and Wheal Danes is full of the latter. The old Romans worked it
for tin only, and left their prize just as it was getting to be worth
having. There's a copper vein in the lowest level of that mine that may
be worth all the old Carew estate."
"And you have seen this vein?"
"No; but my wife's father, John Trevethick, as good a judge as any man
on earth, or under it, saw it, and told me of its existence on his
"When did he die, and how? Was it a lingering, painful death, or was he
struck down suddenly?" interposed Balfour. "I ask," added he, hastily,
for Solomon looked up in wonder at his companion's vehemence, "because
the credibility of such a story as you tell me would depend upon the
state of the man's brain."
"He did die a painful and a lingering death, but his wits were clear
enough," answered Solomon. "It was ten years ago, and more, but I mind
it as well as though it was but yesterday--indeed, I've thought of
little else since. 'The best legacy I have to leave you, Sol, lies in
these last words of mine,' said he; 'so do you listen, and lay them to
heart.' Then he told me how, as a boy, he had once explored Wheal Danes
in play with other boys, and found the copper lode in a certain spot. He
was not so young even then but that he knew the value of such a find,
and he had held his tongue; and though he visited the place pretty
often--for he couldn't help that--he kept the secret close from that
time until his death."
"He had never told any other person but yourself, you think?" inquired
"No one to speak of. There was one fellow who had an inkling of the
thing, it seems, but he is dead now. I read of it in the newspaper quite
lately. He died in jail, or rather in escaping from it, and had never
been in a position to profit by his suspicion. You may say, in fact,
that not a living soul besides John Trevethick ever knew this secret.
For fifty years he strove to possess himself of this mine; he even
offered for it, valueless as it was thought to be, four times the money
you did; only Carew was mad and obstinate; and now, for ten years, I
have had my own eyes fixed upon it, and got the earliest news of when it
was in the market, as I thought, when, here, without a hint to guide
you, a whiff of fortune blows it to your hand. It's a hard case _I_ call
"Well, it _is_ hard," said Balfour; "that is, supposing all you say is
true. But frankly, my good Sir, I don't believe you. I mean no offense;
but, since you have not seen the lode with your own eyes, you must
pardon me for doubting its existence."
"Well, then, Sir, I _have_ seen it, and that's the long and short of it.
I would not take such a thing on trust from an angel."
"So I suspected," observed Balfour, coolly. "But as you have told me one
lie you may tell me another. What am I to believe now?"
"The mine is yours, Sir," answered Solomon, gruffly. "Let us go down
together and look at it. If Trevethick and I were mistaken--and I'll bet
you a thousand pounds that we were not--it is but coming back again,
"And being made the laughing-stock of all the folks among whom I mean to
spend my days," interrupted Balfour. "No, no. If we go, I'll not have a
soul to know of it. And mind you, if this turns out to be a mare's nest,
I sha'n't be pleased, my friend."
"It will not do that, Sir, you may take my word for it," answered
Solomon, earnestly; "and as for going _incog._, that matter's easy. I
can start for Gethin, which is my home, and but a stone's-throw from the
very place, on pretense of business; and you, a day or two after, may
come down to the inn at Turlock, just to see your purchase. We need not
be so much as seen together, if you so prefer it."
"I would much prefer it," observed Balfour, sententiously.
"Very good. Then here's my plan: my father-in-law used to visit Wheal
Danes at night; from his doing so, instead of its drawing dangerous
attention to the place, as one would think, the rumor arose that the old
mine was haunted; corpse-candles, with no hand to carry them, were seen
there going up and down the levels, and so the poor fools shunned it
after dark. Well, let _us_ take torch and ladder, and play at
corpse-candle. What say you?"
"Well, I'll come," said Balfour, reluctantly, "though I don't much like
the chance of being made a fool of. What day will suit you best to
start? All's one to me."
"I'll start to-morrow," said Solomon, with excitement. "Do you come
down, as if into Midlandshire, on Friday: that's an unlucky day with
Turlock folk, but not with you, I reckon?"
"You're right there, man," answered Balfour, slowly. "Well?"
"On Saturday, at midnight, I will meet you at the old pit's mouth. Come,
there's my hand upon it."
This time Balfour took his companion's hand, and griped it firmly.
"Then, that's a bargain, partner," cried Solomon, gayly. "Fill up your
glass. Here's luck to the old mine!"
"Here's luck," echoed Balfour, looking steadily at his host, "and to our
next merry midnight meeting!"
"Ay, good! Here's luck!" quoth Solomon.
IN THE TOILS.
Solomon started for Gethin on the ensuing morning; but his wife did not,
as usual, find his departure a relief, since Balfour remained behind.
Her last instructions from her husband were to treat this unwelcome
guest with marked consideration, and to let him have his way in every
thing. He also hinted, though it was scarcely necessary to insure her
obedience, at certain brilliant prospects which were about to present
themselves, through Balfour's means, if he were only kept in good-humor.
Harry would have much preferred to relinquish his favor at the price of
his absence; but not so her son. Notwithstanding the disparity in their
ages, he and this new acquaintance were already fast friends. The latter
had laid himself out to please the lad, and had succeeded; partly,
perhaps, from the very novelty of companionship, for Charley knew no one
in town, and was tired of taking his pleasure therein alone, but chiefly
through his store of agreeable anecdotes, all illustrative of the
enjoyments which wealth conferred, with which Balfour tickled his ears.
"In a few years--perhaps sooner, who knows?--all these things of which I
speak will be within your own means. You will be rich; and he who is so
can please himself in almost every thing. You can then marry your Agnes,
if you will, without fear of being disinherited; or, what is better and
more likely, you may choose from a score of Agneses, or even take them
He had a light amusing way with him, this Balfour, that hid the cynicism
which would otherwise have jarred upon his young companion; for Charles,
though selfish and fond of pleasure, was good-natured, and had not
reached that period of life when our sherry must needs not only be dry,
but have bitters in it. He was genuinely fond of his mother; yet even in
this short time Balfour, as she well knew, had taught him to disobey
her; not setting her at open defiance, indeed, but regarding her advice
and remonstrances with a sort of tender contempt. She meant all for his
good, his Mentor admitted, but women had not much knowledge of the
world; and if a young man was not to be his own master at eighteen, he
must look to be in leading-strings all his life. Harry perceived her
darling's plastic nature changing daily for the worse in the hands of
this crafty potter; and though it was an admission humiliating to her,
as a mother, to make, she made it to Mrs. Basil in her sick-room.
"Mr. Balfour is doing my Charley harm," she said. "He is an altered boy
already, and yet my husband talks as though we are never to be rid of
the man. What money, what gain, can ever compensate for the
demoralization of our child?"
"Nothing, indeed," said Mrs. Basil, quietly. "But have a little
patience. Is not this gentleman going on Friday?"
"Yes; but he will come back again. It is only some business that calls
him into Midlandshire. He does not even take all his luggage away. I
have a great mind to tell him point-blank that his presence in this
house--at all events in Mr. Coe's absence--is unwelcome; but I dare not
do it; I am afraid."
"Yes, your husband would be very angry, without doubt," said Mrs. Basil,
"That is not it. I am afraid of the man himself. He reminds me of that
hateful creature--what is he?--in the opera, for which Mr. Aird gave us
the tickets, and which Agnes went with us to see--Mephistopheles."
"What a strange fancy! He is only a sour, pleasure-jaded man. If I was
not so ill I would speak to him myself; but you are right not to do so;
that is your husband's place, who has brought him here. Let things be as
they are till Friday."
Harry sighed, but perforce assented. Friday came, and Mr. Balfour went
as he had designed, but not without stating at breakfast his intention
of returning on the ensuing Monday or Tuesday at latest, and even making
an engagement with Charley to spend the latter evening with him at the
"Do you happen to know when my husband will be home?" inquired Harry,
"No, madam. He was good enough to say, however, that his absence was to
make no difference as to my remaining here as his guest."
This reply, which might easily have been made offensive, was delivered
with the most studied courtesy: it cut the hostess's ground from under
her; for it had answered the very objection which she had intended to
imply. She felt herself not only defeated, but reproved.
"Let us hope you will both return together," said she.
"I do not think that very probable," answered Mr. Balfour, slowly.
An hour later and he had departed, his hostess, under pretense of being
engaged with her sick friend up stairs, not having so much as shaken his
hand. Charles, indignant at this slight, would have accompanied him to
the railway station, but Balfour would not hear of it. For this he had
two reasons: in the first place, he was anxious to keep his route
secret; and secondly, it was a part of his system to give the young man
no sort of trouble or inconvenience on his account. He wished every
association that linked them together to be one of pleasure.
Mrs. Basil, as we have said, had not made her appearance that morning
below stairs; she was, in fact, no better, but rather worse: that news
from Lingmoor, outwardly borne so well, had shaken her to the core.
Still, no sooner had Balfour left than she made shift to rise, and even
came down to dinner. She discussed with Charley, who had a considerable
regard for her, the character of their late guest--not with hostility,
as his mother was wont to do, but with the air of one who asks for
information, and has confidence in the verdict which she seeks. The lad,
flattered by this implied compliment to his sagacity, answered her
questions readily enough. He praised his friend, of course, and thought
he praised him even when he spoke ill of him. He repeated his pungent
sayings, and served up his anecdotes--such of them as were adapted, at
least, for the ears of the ladies--anew. By this means he hoped to bring
his hearers to a better opinion of so capital a fellow; and in Mrs.
Basil's case he apparently succeeded. His mother still reiterated her
opinion that Mr. Balfour was a dangerous personage, and not a fit
companion for any young man. Charles smiled at this, for it was the
almost literal fulfillment of a prophecy which Balfour had made to him,
and believed in that gentleman's sagacity, accordingly, more than ever.
Women were so ludicrously prejudiced; the fact of Mrs. Basil's--"the
white witch"--not being so was an exception that proved the rule. She
had been evidently interested in his anecdotes, of one of which she had
even requested to hear the particulars twice over; not that, in his own
judgment, it was the best, but, being of a weird sort, it had probably
struck her fancy. It had lost in the telling, too--for he did not
pretend to have the gift of narrative, as Mr. Balfour had--and his
mother had seen in the story in question nothing at all.
Mrs. Basil came down stairs no more after that evening. She grew worse
and worse, and was not only confined to her room, but to her bed. Harry
was not much with her; she seized with avidity this opportunity of being
alone with Charley to undo, as far as she could, Mr. Balfour's work with
him. This was not hard, for the boy was a creature of impulse, and
swayed for good or ill with equal ease. But she discovered that it would
be useless to attempt henceforth to conceal from him the nature of his
future prospects. He was now firmly convinced that he was the heir to a
large fortune, and she regretted too late that she had left the
disclosure to a stranger. What grieved her much more, and with reason,
was that an attempt which she now made to bring the influence of Agnes
to hear upon him proved unsuccessful; the girl resolutely refused to
come to the house in the absence of its master, and contrary, as she
knew, to his express commandment. Charley himself, too, whose visits to
Mr. Aird's studio had been intermitted for some time, was received in
Soho with coldness. It was not in Harry's nature to understand this
independence of spirit, and she deeply deplored it on her son's account.
She had looked to this young girl to be his guardian angel, and had
never anticipated that she could possibly decline to watch over a charge
so precious. She would not allow, even to herself, that her son's own
conduct was as much the cause of this as her husband's ill favor; but
she saw in it, clearly enough, the mark of the cloven hoof, the work of
Sick Mrs. Basil could give her small comfort, though she did not attempt
to defend their late visitor, as she had so unwarrantably appeared to do
when discussing him with Charley.
"The man is gone, my dear," said she, wearily; "perhaps he may never
come back: let us not meet troubles half-way. Charley has a kind, good
heart"--for "the white witch" showed great favor to the lad at all
times--"and all will come right at last."
She seemed too ill and weary to argue the matter, and Harry left her, as
she thought, to repose. No sooner was she gone, however, than the closed
lids of Mrs. Basil were opened wide, and revealed a sleepless and
unutterable woe. Her sharp, pinched face showed pain and fear. Her
parched lips muttered unceasingly words like these, which were, perhaps,
the ravings of her fevered brain: "I am sure of it now, quite sure;
those stags, those stags! There is no room for hope. His heart has
become a stone, which no power can soften. It is no use to speak, or
rather I am like one in a dream who watches murder done, and can not cry
THE MINE AT MIDNIGHT.
Mr. Balfour--for so we must call him now, since he is attired
respectably, travels first-class, and, moreover, even looks like a
gentleman--did not go to the Midlands, as he had given out was his
purpose, but took his ticket to Plymouth, to which place the railway had
just extended in those days. He bought neither book nor newspaper, but
sat in the corner, with his hat drawn over his eyes, for the whole nine
hours, thinking. From Plymouth he posted to Turlock, where he arrived
late at night, and without having broken fast since morning. He took no
pains either to divulge or conceal his name; he asked no questions, nor
was asked any except "whether he preferred to sleep between sheets or
blankets"--for Turlock was still an out-of-the-way region, and the
little inn about three-quarters of a century behind our modern
caravansaries, with their "daily fly-bills" and "electric bells."
After dinner, which he scarcely touched, he wandered out--it was his
habit to do so, as he told the hostler, who was also the
night-chamberlain--and did not return till long after midnight. He
observed, as he gave the man half a crown for sitting up for him to so
late an hour, that the moon looked very fine upon the sea.
"You must be a painter, I guess, Sir," said the hostler, with a grin of
"Why?" asked Balfour, sharply. "What makes you think that?"
"Well, Sir," returned the man, apologetically, "I mean no offense; but
it is always the gentlemen-painters--or, at least, so they say at
Gethin, and I wish more of 'em came here--as is so free with their
money, and so fond of the moon."
"Lunatics, eh?" said the new arrival, with a loud, quick laugh. "Well,
I'm no painter, my friend."
Then he took his candle and retired to his room, but not to bed. He
disarranged the bed-clothes and rumpled the pillow; then walked softly
to and fro in his slippers until morning. On the following day he made
no attempt to visit his newly acquired property, but strolled about the
harbor, or stood, in sheltered and, therefore, secluded places in the
rocks, watching the winter sea. His meals at the inn were sent down
almost as they were served up, yet he showed no sign of weakness or
fatigue, but in the evening sallied forth as before. The night was very
cloudy, with driving showers, and the landlady good-naturedly warned him
of the danger of venturing on the cliff-path, which was narrow, and had
been broken in places by a late storm.
"I will take care," said he, mechanically.
"Perhaps you would like supper--some cold meat, or something--since you
have eaten so little, placed in your sitting-room against your return?"
"Yes, yes," said he, approvingly; "you are right; I shall doubtless be
hungry to-night." Then he went out into the bleak, black night.
He hung about the harbor as before until near eleven, when all the
lights of the little town had faded away, save that at the inn, which
was burning for him alone; then he climbed the cliff, and pushed
southward along the very path against the dangers of which he had been
cautioned. He walked fast, too, with his gaze fixed before him, like one
who has an appointment of importance for which there is a fear of being
late. Presently he struck inland over the down, when he began to move
less quickly, and to peer cautiously before him. All was dark: the grass
on which he trod seemed to be black, until he suddenly arrived at a
large circular patch of it which _was_ black, and made the surrounding
soil less sombre by contrast. This was the mouth of a great pit; and he
sat on the brink of it, with his face to seaward, and his ear in his
hollowed hand, listening. Nothing was to be heard, however, but the
occasional scud of the rain, and the ceaseless roar of the now distant
waves. Far out to sea there was a round red light, which fell upon him
at regular intervals, its absence making the place which it had filled
more dark than elsewhere. It had a weird effect, as though some evil
spirit was keeping watch upon him, but he knew it for what it was--the
revolving lamp of a light-house. Presently, in the same direction as the
red light, he perceived a white one, which, though moving slowly, was
certainly advancing toward him; nor did it, like the other, become
"He is coming," said Balfour to himself, with a great sigh. He had begun
to have doubts of the other's keeping his appointment; though, indeed,
it was not yet the time that he had himself fixed for it. The light came
on, quite close to the ground, and with two motions--across as well as
along. It was that of a lantern, which guided thus the footsteps of a
tall, stout man, who bore upon his shoulders a ladder so long that it
both projected above his head and trailed behind him. Balfour rose up,
and stood motionless in the path of the new-comer till this light fell
full upon him. "Hollo!" cried the man, a little startled by the white,
worn face that so suddenly confronted him, although he had been looking
for it. "Is that you, Mr. Balfour?"
"Yes. Hush! There is no need to mention names."
"Quite true, Sir; but you gave me quite a turn," remonstrated the other,
"coming out of the darkness like a ghost. This Wheal Danes, at midnight,
puts queer thoughts into one's head."
"John Trevethick was not afraid of coming here," observed Balfour.
"Well, so he always said. He told me at the last that he only pretended
to believe in any of the foolish stories that folks talk about, and in
favor of which he used to argue. But he's dead and gone, and _that_
don't make this place less uncanny. Nobody since his time has been
a-near it; they think he haunts the pit, it seems, so every body gives
it a wide berth, both night and day. We shall see, however, and pretty
soon, I hope, whether that notion can not be got over. Why, in six
months' time we ought to have a hundred men at work here."
"Let us hope so. But in the mean time you say nobody comes here even in
the daytime, eh?"
"Never. The place lies out of the way, you see: about midway between the
cliff-path and the road."
"That's well," said Balfour, mechanically. "And you have not been
babbling to any one of our prospects, Mr. Coe--nor of me, I hope?"
"Certainly not, Sir; that was the first article of our partnership, as I
understood. Not a soul at Gethin has heard a whisper of Wheal Danes, or
of your coming; they think I'm fast asleep at my own house, this
instant. But it's been hard work lugging this cursed ladder up here in
such a breakneck night as this, _I_ can tell you, and I am glad enough
to rest a bit."
"Well, it's all over now, Mr. Coe."
"Except that I have got to take it back again," grumbled Solomon.
"True, I had forgotten that. We must not leave it here, must we?"
"Of course not. I do not complain of the trouble, however, only you must
admit I've kept my tryst under some little difficulties, eh, partner?"
and Solomon chuckled self-approval.
"You will be paid in full for all, my good Sir," answered Balfour,
gravely; "that is," he added, hastily, "if the mine should turn out as
you predict. How deep is it? That ladder of yours will surely never
reach the bottom."
"No, indeed. Did I not tell you that there are three levels, each about
the same depth? The copper lode lies at the bottom of the last, in the
northeastern corner. You will find I have concealed nothing from you.
Well, I have got my breath again now. Are you ready, Mr. Balfour?"
"Quite; but walk slowly, I beg, for your lantern is very dim."
"Yes, yes. But wait a minute; I came here yesterday and hid something."
Solomon seated himself upon the edge of the pit, with his legs hanging
over, and began to peer and feel about him.
"Take care what you are at," cried Balfour, eagerly; "you may slip down
and kill yourself, sliding along like that."
Solomon laughed contemptuously. "Never fear, Sir; I have had too many
mischances with mines to fear them. I have fallen down worse places, and
been shut up in others far deeper and darker than Wheal Danes, without
food or candle, for a week, and yet lived through it. The shaft has not
yet been dug, I reckon, as will prove--Oh, here's the torch."
He dragged from under the overhanging rim of the pit a piece of wood
like a bludgeon, one end of which was smeared with pitch; and placing
the lantern with its back to the wind, pushed the stick inside, which
came out a torch, flaming and dropping flame.
"There's our corpse-candle!" cried Coe, triumphantly; "that would keep
us without witnesses, even if any one were so bold as, in a night like
this, to venture near Wheal Danes, to trespass on Tom Tiddler's ground,
where we shall pick up the gold and the silver." There was a wild
excitement, quite foreign to his habit, about this man, and he whirled
the torch about his head in flaring circles.
"Keep your wits steady, if you please," observed Balfour, sternly.
"It is over now, Sir, and I am in the counting-house again," answered
Solomon, submissively. "I felt a little exhilarated at the prospect of
plucking a fruit that has been ripening for fifty years, that's all.
This Wheal Danes is the very aloe of mines, and it is about to blossom
for us only. You had better take the torch yourself; the lantern will
serve for me; but just show a light here while I place the ladder."
Balfour held the blazing pine aloft, and disclosed the gaping mouth of
the old pit, its margin wet with the rain, and its sheer sides slippery
with the damps of ages.
"It would be easy enough to get down without this contrivance," observed
Solomon, grimly, as he carefully adjusted the ladder, the foot of which
was lost in gloom; "but it would take us some trouble to find our way
back again without wings."
"In daylight, however, I dare say it looks easier," said Balfour,
"It may look so, but it ain't. Nothing but a sea-gull ever goes in and
out of Wheal Danes; even the bats keep there, where indeed they are snug
and warm enough."
"It doesn't feel very warm at present," replied the other, who did not
seem to be in a hurry to explore this unpromising territory.
"Ay, but you wait till we get to the lower level; you might live there,
if the rats would let you, for a whole winter, and never need a fire."
"Oh, there are rats, are there? Why, what do _they_ live upon?"
"Well, that's _their_ look-out," laughed Solomon; "they would be very
glad to have _us_, no doubt. It would be only just in my case, for I
have lived on them before now; with rats and water a man may do very
well for a week or two."
"What! there is water laid on in this establishment, is there?"
"No; the low levels are quite dry. But come, let us see for ourselves.
We are losing time. I will start first, and do you follow close upon me,
but without treading on my fingers;" and Solomon placed his heavy foot
upon the first rung.
"No, no," said Balfour, drawing back; "I will not trust myself on the
same ladder with a man of your weight. When you are at the bottom give
me a call, and then I'll join you."
"As you like, Sir," responded Solomon, civilly; but his thick lips
curled contemptuously, and he muttered, "So this man is lily-livered
after all; so much the better: it is well to have a coward for a
The next moment his descending form was lost in the gloom.
Balfour waited, torch in hand, until an "All right," that sounded like a
voice from the tomb, assured him that his companion had reached terra
firma. Then he descended very carefully, and joined him.
"Stand close to the wall, Sir, while I move the ladder," said Coe; "your
head don't seem made for these deep places. Ah, here's the spot. This is
a drop of twenty feet."
"And what is the depth of the last level?"
"Five-and-twenty. But don't you be afraid; the ladder will just reach
it, only you won't have so much to hold on by at the top. It's only the
getting down that's unpleasant; you'll find going back quite easy work.
And then, just think of the lode!"
Solomon began to be anxious lest his companion's fears should induce him
to give up the expedition altogether. It had never entered into his mind
that what was so easy to himself could prove so formidable to another;
and, besides, he had somehow concluded that Balfour was a man of strong
"Make haste," said the latter, in the tone of one who has achieved some
mental victory: "let us go through with it."
In the second level it was perceptibly warmer. Dark, noiseless objects
began to flit about the torch, and once something soft struck against
Balfour's foot, and then scampered away.
He looked behind him, and not a trace of light was to be discerned,
while before him was impenetrable gloom, except for the feeble gleam of
his companion's lantern. Above him the roof was just discernible, from
which long strings of fungi, white and clammy, hung down and brushed
against his face as he moved slowly forward.
"Come on!" said Solomon, impatiently, whose spirits seemed to rise in
this familiar scene. "We are only a few score yards from Golconda."
Balfour stopped short. "I thought you said there was another level?"
There was a strange look of disappointment in his face, and even of
"Yes, yes, and here it is," cried the other, putting down the ladder,
which he had carried from place to place. "It is only depth that
separates us from it. They dug well, those Romans, but left off, as you
shall see, upon the very threshold of fortune. You have only to be a
little careful, because the ladder does not quite reach."
He descended, as before, in advance, while Balfour followed slowly and
cautiously. "How steep and smooth the rock is!" observed he, examining
"Yes, indeed; it is like a wall of marble. But what matters that? It
baffles the rats, but not us. Here is the land of gold, here is--What
the devil are you at?"
Solomon, in his impatience, had stridden on to the object of his
desires; and Balfour, halting midway in his descent, suddenly retraced
his footsteps, and having reached the top, was dragging the ladder up
Solomon heard this noise, with which his ear was familiar, and his tone
had some alarm in it as he cried out, "I say, no tricks, Mr. Balfour."
There was no reply. He hastened back to the spot he had just left, and
from thence could dimly perceive his late companion sitting on the verge
of the steep wall, peering down upon him.
"Come, come, a joke is a joke," remonstrated Coe. "What a fellow you are
to be at such games when an important matter is at stake! Why, here is
the lode, man."
"It is very valuable, I dare say, Mr. Coe, but it is worth more to one
man than to two."
"Great Heaven! what do you mean?" cried Solomon, while a sudden sweat
bedewed his forehead. "You would not murder a man to dissolve a
"Certainly not. I shall leave him to die, that's all. He and the rats
will have to settle it together. Six months hence, perhaps, we may have
a picnic here, and explore the place. Then we shall find, where you are
now standing, some well-picked bones and the metal part of your lantern.
That will cause quite an excitement; and we shall search further, and in
the northeast corner there will be found a copper lode. I will take your
word for that."
"Mr. Balfour, I am sure you will not do this," pleaded the wretched man.
"It is not in man's nature to treat a fellow-creature with such
barbarity. You are trying to frighten me, I know, and I own you have
succeeded. I know what it is to be shut up in desolate, dark places
alone, out of reach of succor; and even for eight-and-forty hours or so
it is terrible."
"_What must it be, then, to suffer so for twenty years?_"
It was a third voice that seemed to wake the echoes of that lonesome
cavern. Solomon looked up in terror, and beheld a third face, that of
Robert Balfour, but transfigured. He held the glowing brand above him,
so that his deep-lined features could be distinctly seen, and they were
all instinct with a deadly rage and malice. There was a fire in his eyes
that might well have been taken for that of madness, and Solomon's heart
sank within him as he looked.
"Mr. Balfour," said he, in a coaxing voice, "come and look at your
treasure. It sparkles in the light of my lantern like gold, and you
shall have it all if you please; I do not wish to share it with you."
"So you take me for a madman, do you? Look again; look fixedly upon me,
Solomon Coe. You do not recognize me even yet? I do not wonder. It is
not you that are dull, but I that am so changed by wrong and misery. My
own mother does not know me, nor the woman of whom you robbed me
nineteen years ago. Yes, you know me now. I am Richard Yorke!"
"Mercy, mercy!" gasped Solomon, dropping on his knees.
Richard laughed long and loud. The echoes of his ghastly mirth died
slowly away, and when his voice was heard again it was stern and solemn.
"It is my turn at last, man; I am the judge to-day, as you were the
witness nineteen years ago who doomed me wrongfully to shame and misery.
Night and day I have had this hour in my mind; the thought of it has
been my only joy--in chains and darkness, in toil and torment, fasting
and wakeful on my prison pillow, I have thought of nothing else. I did
not know how it would come about, but I was sure that it would come. You
swore falsely once that I was a thief; I am now about to be a murderer,
and your whitening bones will not be able to witness against me."
"I never swore it, Mr. Yorke," pleaded Solomon, passionately.
"Your memory is defective," answered Richard, gloomily; "you forget that
I was in court myself on that occasion. You did your very worst to
blacken me before judge and jury, and you succeeded."
"But it was Trevethick--it was father-in-law who urged me to do it; it
"I know it," replied the other, coldly; "he was a greater villain than
yourself, but unhappily an older one. Death has robbed me of him, and
made my vengeance incomplete. Still there is something left for me.
While you die slowly here--But no; I shall wait at Turlock for that to
happen. A strong man like you, who have rats to live upon, may last ten
days, perhaps. Well, when you are dead, I shall return to your London
house, and lead your son to ruin. You permitted me to begin the work in
hopes of getting half this mine; I shall finish it while you are in sole
possession of the whole of it."
"Devil!" cried Solomon, furiously.
"The appellation is a true one, my good Sir; but I was a man once. Evil
is now my good, thanks to your teaching. Look at me--look at me, and see
what you have brought me to at eight-and-thirty! You almost drove me
mad, and it was easy, for I had the Carew blood in my veins; but I
contrived to keep my wits for the enjoyment of this hour. I feel very
old, and have few pleasures left, you see. It is impossible,
unfortunately, to return here and see you rot; there would be danger in
it; just the least risk in the world of somebody coming here to look for
us. I must be off now, too, for there is a worthy man sitting up for me
at the inn, and I have got to take this ladder back to Gethin."
A cry of mingled rage and despair burst forth from Richard's foe.
"What! you had calculated upon the absence of that ladder producing
suspicion? It is curious how great wits jump together: that had also
struck me. I shall take it back, for I well know where it ought to be; I
am quite familiar with your house at Gethin, as you may remember,
perhaps. You may keep the lantern, which will not be missed; but, if you
will take my advice, you will put out the light, to preserve the
candle--as an article of food. Put it somewhere where the rats can not
eat it, and it may prolong your torments half a day. You can also eat
the horn of the lantern, but you will doubtless preserve that for a
_bonne bouche_. You are not superstitious, else I would suggest that
your father-in-law's spirit is exceedingly likely to haunt that
northeastern corner down yonder."
Here there was a dull scrambling noise, a violent struggle as of feet
and hands against a wall, and then a heavy thud.
"Now that is very foolish of you, Solomon, to attempt to get out of a
place which you yourself informed me could never be escaped from without
wings. I sincerely hope you have not hurt yourself much. I hear you
moving slowly about again, so I may leave you without anxiety. Good-by,
Solomon." Richard waited a moment, a frightful figure of hate and
triumph, peering down into the pit beneath, where all was now dark. "You
are too proud to speak to a convict, perhaps. Well, well, that is but
natural in so honest a man. I take my leave, then. You have no message,
I conclude, for home?"
An inarticulate cry, like that of a wild animal caught in a snare, was
the only reply.
"That is the worst of letting his candle go out," mused Richard, aloud;
"some rat has got hold of him already." Then, with a steady foot and
smiling face, which showed how all his previous fears had been assumed,
he retraced his steps, and mounted to the upper air. The sky was clearer
now; and, casting the torch, for which he had no further need, far into
the mine, and shouldering the ladder, he started for Gethin at good
speed. It was past two o'clock before he reached his inn at Turlock; but
before he retired to rest he sat down to the supper that had been
prepared for him, but without the appetite which he had anticipated.
THE SMOKING-ROOM OF THE GEORGE AND VULTURE.
Robert Balfour did not remain at Turlock, as he had originally intended.
Perhaps the vicinity to Wheal Danes was not so attractive to him as he
had promised himself that it would be, although not for a single instant
did his purpose of revenge relax. Other considerations, had he needed
them, were powerful, now that he had taken the first step, to keep him
on that terrible path which he had so long marked out for himself. To
disclose the position of his victim now would have been not only to make
void his future plans, but to place his own fate at Solomon's mercy. Yet
he found his heart less hard than the petrifaction it had undergone, the
constant droppings of wrong and hardship for twenty years, should have
rendered it. He did not wake until late, and the first sound that broke
upon his ear was the tinkling of the bell of the little church, for it
was Sunday morning. He compared it for a moment with something that he
had been dreaming of: a man in a well chipping footsteps for himself in
the brick wall, up which he climbed a few feet, and then fell down
again. Then a pitiful, unceasing cry of "Help, help!--help, help!" rang
in his ears, instead of the voice that called people to prayers. Even
when that ceased, the wind and rain--for the weather was wild and
wet--beating against the window-pane, brought with them doleful shrieks.
Sometimes a sudden gust seemed to bear upon it confused voices and the
tramp of hurrying feet; and then he would knit his brow and clench his
hand, with the apprehension that they had found his enemy, and were
bringing him to the door. Not the slightest fear of the consequences to
himself in such a case agitated his mind; he had quite resolved what to
do, and that no prison walls should ever hem him in again; but the bare
idea that Solomon should escape his vengeance drove him to the brink of
frenzy. He would have left the place at once, but that he thought the
coincidence of his departure with the disappearance of his foe might
possibly awaken suspicion; so he staid on through the day, waiting for
the news which he knew must arrive sooner or later. At noon he thought
the landlady wore an unusually grave air, and he felt impelled to ask
her what was the matter. But then, if there was nothing--if she only
looked sour, as folks often did, just because it was Sunday--she might
think him too curious.
From his window, a little later, he saw a knot of people in the rain
talking eagerly together, and one of them pointing with his hand toward
Gethin. But they were too far off to be overheard, and he did not dare
go down and interrogate them. It was his object to appear utterly
indifferent to local affairs, and as a total stranger. He felt half
stifled within doors, and yet, if he should go out, he knew that he
would be incontrollably impelled to take the cliff path that he had
followed the preceding night, to watch that nobody came near the place
that held his prey, and thereby, like the bird who shows her nest by
keeping guard too near, attract attention. The tidings for which he
waited came at six o'clock, just as he was sitting down to his dinner.
The parlor-maid who served him had that happy and excited look which the
possession of news, whether it be good or bad, but especially the
latter, always imparts to persons of her class.
"There's strange news come from Gethin, Sir," said she, as she arranged
"Indeed," said Balfour, carelessly, though he felt his brain spin round
and his heart stop at the same moment. "What is it?"
"Mr. Coe, Sir, a very rich man--he as owns all Dunloppel--has
"Well, Sir, he went to his room last night, they say, at his usual hour,
but never slept in his bed, and the front-door was found unlocked in the
morning, so that he must have gone away of himself. That would not be so
odd, for he is a secret sort of man, as is always coming and going; but
he has taken nothing with him; only the clothes he stood in."
"Well, I dare say he has come back again by this time, my good girl.
What's this? Is there no fish?"
"No, Sir; the weather was too bad yesterday for catching them, and all
last night there was a dreadful sea: that's what they fear about Mr.
Coe--that he has fell into the sea. His footsteps have been tracked to
the cliff edge, and there they stop."
"Poor fellow! Has he any relatives?"
"Oh yes, Sir; a wife and son--a very handsome, nice young gentleman."
"Then his widow will be rich, I suppose?"
"Oh, pray, don't call her a widow yet, Sir; let us hope her husband may
be found. It's a dreadful thing to be drowned like that on a Sunday
morning; and for one who knows the cliff path so well as he did, too. He
was a hard man, and no favorite, but one forgets that now, of course."
"You have also forgotten the Harvey Sauce, my good girl; oblige me by
bringing it, will you?" said Mr. Balfour, beginning to whistle something
which did not sound like a psalm tune. "You must excuse my
hard-heartedness, but I had not the pleasure of knowing this gentleman."
An hour afterward the solitary guest had left the inn, and was on his
road to Plymouth. His departure caused little surprise, for the weather
was such as to induce no visitor to prolong his stay.
Whether from his long enforced abstinence from society, or from the
unwelcome nature of his thoughts, Robert Balfour was always disinclined
to be alone. His expeditions with Charley in search of pleasure had
been, though he did not find pleasure, more agreeable to him than the
being left to his own resources; and now this was more the case than
ever. He preferred even such company as that which the smoking-room of
an hotel afforded to none at all. The voices of his fellow-creatures
could not shape themselves, as every inarticulate sound did to his
straining ear, into groans and feeble cries for aid. Not twenty-four
hours had elapsed since his prisoner was placed in hold, so that such
sounds of weakness and agony must have been in every sense chimerical;
and yet he heard them. What, then, if these echoes from the tomb should
always be heard? A terrible idea indeed, but one which bred no
repentance. It was not likely that remorse should seize him in the very
place where his hated foe had clutched and consigned him to _his_ living
The hotel at which he now put up was the same at which he had then
lodged; this public room was the same in which he had smoked his last
cigar upon his fatal visit to the Miners' Bank. He had had only one
companion then, but now it was full of people. By their talk it was
evident that they were townsfolk, and all known to one another; in fact,
it was a tradesmen's club, which met at the _George and Vulture_ on
Sunday nights through the winter months. In spite of his willingness to
be won from his thoughts, he could not fix his attention on the small
local gossip that was going on about him. Men came in and out without
his observing them; and indeed it was not easy to take note of faces
through the cloud of smoke that filled the room; he was fast relapsing
into his own reflections, wondering what Solomon was doing in the dark,
and if he slept much, when an event occurred which roused him as
thoroughly as the prick of a lance or a sudden douche of cold water.
"Let us have no misunderstanding and no obligation--that is my motto."
The speaker was a thin, gray man, whose entrance into the apartment
Balfour had not perceived, and who was seated in an elevated chair,
which had apparently been reserved for him as president of the assembly.
The face was unfamiliar, for twenty years had made an old man of the
astute and lively detective; but his phrase, and the manner of
delivering it, identified him at once as his old friend Mr. Dodge.
"It was in this very room," continued the latter, "that I sat and talked
with him as sociable as could be, not a quarter of an hour before I put
the darbies on him; and it's a thing that has been upon my mind ever
since. I was only doing my duty, of course, but still it seemed hard to
take advantage of such a frank young fellow. As for stealing them notes,
it's my belief he had no more intention of doing it than I had."
"And yet he got it hot at the 'sizes, Mr. Dodge, didn't he?" inquired
one of the company.
"Got it hot, Sir?" replied Mr. Dodge, with dignity; "he got an infamous
and most unjustly severe sentence, if you mean that, Sir. Of course what
he did was contrary to law, but it's my opinion as the law was strained
agin him. There was some as swore hard and fast to get him punished as
knew he deserved no such treatment. Why, the girl as he loved, and whose
picture I found upon him myself when I searched him, and gave it him
back, too--ay, that I did--even she took a false oath, as Weasel himself
told me, who was his lawyer, and had built up his case with that same
hussy for its corner-stone. Ah!" said Mr. Dodge, with a gesture of
abhorrence, "if there ever was a murdered man, it was that poor young
fellow, Richard Yorke."
"But I thought he got twenty years' penal servitude," observed the same
individual who had interposed before, and whose thankless office it
seemed to be to draw the old gentleman out for the benefit of society.
"I say he was murdered, Sir. He was shut up for nigh twenty years, and
then shot in the back in trying to get away from Lingmoor. It was the
hardest case I ever knew in all my professional experience. Lord, if you
had seen him--the handsomest, brightest, gayest young chap! And he was
what some folks call well-born, too; he was the son--that is, though, in
a left-handed sort of way, it's true--of mad Carew of Crompton, about
whose death the papers were so full a month ago or so; and that, in my
judgment, was the secret of all his misfortune: it was the Carew blood
as did it. To take his own way in the world; to seek nobody's advice,
nor use it if 'twas given; to be spoiled and petted by all the women and
half the men as came nigh him; to own no master nor authority; to act
without thought, and to scorn consequences--well, all that was bred in
the bone with him."
"Then he had never any one to look after him at home, I reckon, Mr.
"Well, yes; he had a mother; and though she was a queer one too, she
loved him dearly. She was the cleverest woman, Weasel used to say, as
ever he had to do with; and a perfect lady too, mind you. She worked to
get the poor lad off like a slave; and when all was over, instead of
breaking down, as most would, she swallowed her pride, and went down on
her bended knees to that old miserly devil, Trevethick, the prosecutor,
and to his son-in-law, Coe, likewise: they lived down Cross Key
way--where was it?--at Gethin--and begged and prayed him to join in
petitioning in her son's favor. She got down there the very day after
his lying daughter was married to Solomon Coe, he as has got Dunloppel,
and is a big man now. But he'll never be any thing but a scurvy lot, if
he was to be king o' Cornwall. I shall never forget the way he insulted
that poor young fellow when he was took up. Damme, I would have given a
ten-pound note to have had _him_ charged with something, and I'd ha'
seen that the handcuffs weren't none too big for his wrists neither."
"And this Trevethick refused to help the lady, did he?"
"Why, of course he did. He broke her heart, poor soul. I saw her when
she passed through Plymouth afterward, and she looked twenty years older
than before that trial. Even then she didn't give the matter up, but
laid it before the crown. But poor Yorke had offended government--helped
some fool or another through one of them public examinations; he had
wits enough for any thing, had that young fellow. But there--I can't
a-bear to talk about him; and yet somehow I can't help doing on it when
I get into this room. He sat just where that gentleman sits yonder. I
think I see him now, smoking the best of cigars, one of which he offered
to me--for he was free as free; but I was necessitated to restore it,
for I couldn't take a gift from one as I was just a-going to nab. 'Thank
you kindly,' says I, 'but let us have no misunderstanding and no
obligation.' Poor fellow! poor fellow!"
No more was said about the case of Richard Yorke; but it was evidently a
standing topic with the chairman of the _George and Vulture_ club. A
yearning to behold and embrace that mother who had done and suffered so
much for his sake took possession of Richard's soul. His heart had been
steeled against her when he found harbored under her roof the objects of
his rage and loathing; but he felt now that that must have come to pass
with some intention of benefit to himself. The very truth, indeed,
flashed upon him that she entertained some plan of frustrating his
revenge against them, with the idea of protecting him from the
consequences that were likely to ensue from it; and he forgave her,
while he hated his foes the more. He would carry out his design to the
uttermost, but very cautiously, and with a prudence that he would
certainly not have used had his own safety been alone concerned; and
then, when he had avenged himself and her, he would disclose himself to
her. The statement he had just heard affected him deeply, but in
opposite ways. The justification of himself in no way moved him--he did
not need that; it was also far too late for his heart to be touched by
the expression of the old detective's good-will, though the time had
been when he would have thanked him for its utterance with honest tears;
but the revelation of his mother's toil and suffering in his behalf
reawakened all his dormant love for her, while it made his purpose
firmer than ever to be the Nemesis of her enemies and his own.
As he went to bed that night the clock struck twelve. It was just
four-and-twenty hours since he had left his victim in the bowels of
Wheal Danes. If a free pardon could have been offered to him for the
crime, and the mine been filled with gold for him to its mouth, he would
not have stretched out his hand to save him.
Mr. Balfour atoned for his previous indifference to the wares of the
news-boy by sending him next morning to the station for all the local
papers. In each, as he expected, there was a paragraph headed
_Mysterious Disappearance_, and as lengthened an account as professional
ingenuity could devise of the unaccountable departure of Mr. Solomon Coe
from his house at Gethin. The missing man was "much respected;" and, "as
the prosperous owner of the Dunloppel mine, which had yielded so largely
for so many years, he could certainly not have been pressed by pecuniary
embarrassments, and therefore the idea of suicide was out of the
question." Unlikely as it seemed in the case of one who knew the country
so well, the most probable explanation of the affair was that the
unfortunate gentleman, in taking a walk by night along the cliff top,
must have slipped into the sea. The weather had been very rough of late
and the wind blowing from off the land, which would have accounted--if
this supposition was correct--for the body not having been washed
ashore. "In the mean time an active search was going on."
Balfour had resolved not to return to London for at least ten days. Mrs.
Coe and her son would, without doubt, be telegraphed for, and he could
not repair to their house in their absence. The idea of being under the
same roof alone with his mother was now repugnant to him. He felt that
he could not trust himself in such a position. It had been hard and
grievous, notwithstanding his resentment against her, to see her in
company with others, and her absence of late from table had been a great
relief to him. With his present feeling toward her it would be
impossible to maintain his incognito; and, if that was lost, his future
plans--to which he well knew she would oppose herself--would be rendered
futile. He had seen with rage and bitter jealousy that both Harry and
her boy, and especially the latter, were dear to her; and it was certain
she would interfere to protect them, for their sake as well as for his
own. He had other reasons also for not returning immediately to town. It
might hereafter be expedient to show that he _had_ really been to
Midlandshire, where he had given out he had designed to go; and,
moreover, though his purpose was relentless as respected Solomon, he did
not perhaps care to be in a house where hourly suggestions would be
dropped as to the whereabouts of his victim, or the fate that had
happened to him. Harry and her son might even not have gone to Gethin,
and in that case their apprehensions and surmises would have been
Richard was more human than he would fain believe himself to be. Though
he had gone to bed so inexorable of purpose, it had been somewhat shaken
through the long hours of a night in which he had slept but little, and
waked to think on what his feverish dreams had dwelt upon--the fate of
his unhappy foe, perishing slowly beside his useless treasure. More than
once, indeed, the impulse had been strong upon him that very morning to
send word anonymously where Solomon was to be found to the police at
Plymouth. Remorse had not as yet become chronic with him, but it seized
him by fits and starts.
There had been a time when he had looked (through his prison bars) on
all men with rage and hatred; but now he caught himself, as it were, at
attempts at self-justification with respect to the retribution he had
exacted even from his enemy. Had he not been rendered miserable, he
argued, supremely wretched, for more than half his lifetime, through
this man's agency? for it was certain that Solomon had sworn falsely, in
the spirit if not in the letter, and caused him to be convicted of a
crime which his rival was well aware he had not in intention committed.
His conduct toward him on the occasion of his arrest had also been most
brutal and insulting; while, after conviction had been obtained, this
wretch's malice, as Mr. Dodge had stated, had known no cessation. In the
arms of his young bride he had been deaf to the piteous cry of a mother
beseeching for her only son.
But, on the other hand, had not he (Richard) deeply wronged this man in
the first instance? Had he not robbed him--for so much at least must
Solomon have known--of the love of his promised wife? If happiness from
such an ill-assorted union was not to have been anticipated, still, had
he not rendered it impossible? If their positions had been reversed,
would not he have exacted expiation from such an offender to the
uttermost? He would doubtless have scorned to twist the law as Solomon
had done, and make it, as it were, the crooked instrument of his
revenge. He would not, of course, have evoked its aid at all. But was
that to be placed to his credit? He had put himself above the law
throughout his life; he had never acknowledged any authority save that
of his own selfish will; nay, he owned to himself that his bitterness
against his unhappy victim had been caused not so much by the wrong he
had suffered at his hands as by the contempt which he (Richard) had
entertained for him. Without materials such as his father had possessed
to back his pretensions he had imagined himself a sort of irresponsible
and sovereign being. (Such infatuation is by no means rare, nor confined
to despots and brigands, and when it exists in a poor man it is always
fatal to himself.) His education, if it could be called such, had
doubtless fostered this delusion; but Mr. Dodge was right; the Carew
blood had been as poison in his veins, and had destroyed him.
All this might be true; but such philosophy could scarcely now obtain a
hearing, while his enemy was dying of starvation in his living tomb. It
was in vain for him to repeat mechanically that he had also suffered a
sort of lingering death for twenty years. The present picture of his
rival's torments presented itself in colors so lively and terrible that
it blotted out the reminiscence of his own. The recollection of his
wrongs was no longer sufficient for his vindication. He therefore strove
to behold his victim in another light than as his private foe--as the
murderer of his friend Balfour, the history of whose end may here be
On the night that Richard escaped from Lingmoor, it was Balfour, of
course, who assisted him, and who was awaiting him in person at the foot
of the prison wall. The old man's arms had received him as he slipped
down the rope; and the object at which the sentry had fired had been two
men, though in the misty night they had seemed but one. Balfour had been
mortally wounded, and it was with the utmost difficulty that, laden
with the burden of his dying friend, Richard had contrived to reach
Bergen Wood. As his own footsteps were alone to be traced along the
moor, the idea of another having accompanied his flight--though they
knew there was complicity--had not occurred to the authorities. Balfour
had hardly reached that wretched asylum when he expired, pressing
Richard's hand, and bidding him remember Earl Street, Spitalfields.
"What you find there is all yours, lad," was his dying testament and
last words of farewell. And over his dead body Richard swore anew his
vow of vengeance against the man that had thus, though indirectly,
deprived him of his only friend. He had watched by the dead body, on its
bed of rotten leaves, through that night and the whole of the next day;
then, changing clothes with it, he had fled under cover of the ensuing
darkness, and got away eventually to town.
He had found the house in Earl Street a wretched hovel, tenanted by a
few abjects, whom the money found on Balfour--which he had received on
leaving prison--was amply sufficient to buy out. Once alone in this
tenement, he had easily possessed himself of the spoil so long secreted,
and, furnished with it, he had hastened down to Crompton--the news of
Carew's death having reached London on the very day that he found
himself in a position to profit by it. The very plan which he had
suggested to Balfour, whose name he also assumed, he himself put into
execution. He made a private offer for the disused mine, which was
gladly accepted by those who had the disposal of the property, acting
under the advice of Parson Whymper. Trevethick, the only man that had
attached any importance to the possession of it, was dead; and it was
not likely that any one at the sale should bid one-half of the sum which
this stranger was prepared to give for the mere gratification of his
whim. The mine itself, indeed, had scarcely been mentioned in the
transaction; it merely formed a portion in the lot comprising the few
barren acres on which this capricious purchaser had expressed his fancy
to build a home. "Disposed of by private contract" was the marginal note
written in the auctioneer's catalogue which dashed Solomon's
long-cherished hopes to the ground.
Richard staid on in the neighborhood to attend the sale. It attracted an
immense concourse; and no less than a guinea a head was the price of
admission to those who explored the splendid halls of Crompton,
discussing the character of its late owner, and retailing wild stories
of his eccentricities. Poor Parson Whymper, who had not a shilling left
to him--for Carew had died intestate, though, thanks to him, not
absolutely a beggar--was perhaps the only person present who felt a
touch of regret. He had asked for his patron's signet-ring, as a
keepsake, and this request had been refused on the part of the
creditors; he wandered among the gay and jeering crowd like a ghost,
little thinking that the one man who looked at him with a glance of pity
was he whom he had once regarded as the heir of Crompton. It was the
general opinion now that the unhappy chaplain had been Carew's evil
genius, and had "led him on." Even Richard bestowed but that single
glance upon him; he _was_ looking in vain for the face that had so
terrible an interest for himself. He had not heard that Trevethick was
dead, but he knew it was so the instant that his eyes fell upon Solomon
Coe, and all his hate was at once transferred to his younger enemy. The
business upon which this man had come was as clear to him as though it
had been written on his forehead. The first gleam of pleasure which had
visited his dark soul for twenty years was the sight of Solomon's
countenance when, on the sixth day's sale, the auctioneer gave out that
lot 970 had been withdrawn. Solomon might have received the intimation
long before but for the cautious prudence which had prevented him from
making any inquiries upon the subject. For a minute or two he stood
stunned and silent, then hurriedly made his way to the rostrum. Richard,
who was sitting at the long table with the catalogue before him, kept
his eyes fixed upon its pages while the auctioneer pointed him out as
the purchaser of the lot in question. He knew the inquiry that was being
asked, and its reply; he knew whose burly form it was that thrust itself
the next minute in between him and his neighbor; every drop of blood in
his body, every hair on his head, seemed to be cognizant that the man he
hated most on earth was seated cheek by jowl with him--that the first
step in the road of retribution had been taken voluntarily by his victim
himself. The rest is soon told. Solomon at once commenced his clumsy
efforts at conciliation; and his endeavors to recommend himself to the
stranger's friendship were suffered quickly to bear fruit. He invited
him to his house in London, which, to Richard's astonishment and
indignation, he found to be his mother's home; and, in short, fell of
his own accord into the very snare which the other, had he had the
fixing of it, would himself have laid for him.
And now, as we have said, when all had gone exactly as Richard would
have had it go, and Solomon was being punished to the uttermost, the
executor of his doom was beginning to feel, if not compunction, at all
events remorse. No adequate retribution had indeed overtaken Harry. To
have made her a widow was, in fact, to have freed her from the yoke of a
harsh and unloved master; but the fact was, notwithstanding the perjury
of which he believed her to have been guilty, he had never hated her as
he had hated the other authors of his wrongs. She had once on the
rock-bound coast at Gethin preserved his life; she had accorded to his
passion all that woman can grant, and had reciprocated it; not even in
his fiercest hour of despair had he harbored the thought of raising his
hand against her; he had hated her, indeed, as his betrayer, and as
Solomon's wife, but never regarded her with that burning detestation
which he felt toward her husband. There was another motive also, though
he did not even admit it to himself, which, now that his chief foe was
expiating his offense, had no inconsiderable weight in the scale of
mercy as regarded the others.
His endeavors to win Charley's favor had had a reflex action. In spite
of himself, a certain good-will had grown up in him toward this boy,
whom his mission it was to ruin. If there had been less of his mother in
the lad's appearance, or any thing of his father in his character, his
heart might have been steeled against his youth and innocence of
transgression. As a mere son of Solomon Coe's he would have beheld in
him the whelp of a wolf, and treated him accordingly; but between the
wolf and his offspring there was evidently as little of affection as
there was of likeness. The very weaknesses of Charley's character--his
love of pleasure, his credulity, his wayward impulsiveness, of all which
Balfour had made use for his own purposes--were foreign to the nature of
the elder Coe; while the lad's high spirit, demonstrativeness, and
geniality were all his own. If he had one to guide as well as love
him--a woman with sound heart and brain, such as this Agnes Aird was
represented to be, what a happy future might be before this youth!
Without such a wise counselor, how easy it would be, and how likely, for
him to drift on the tide of self-will and self-indulgence to the devil!
The decision rested in Richard's own hands, he knew. Should he blast
this young life in the bud, in revenge for acts for which he was in no
way accountable, and which were already being so bitterly expiated? The
apprehension that Solomon might even yet be found alive perhaps alone
prevented Richard from resolving finally to molest Harry and her son no
further. If his victim should have been rescued, his enmity would have
doubtless blazed forth afresh against them as inextinguishable as ever,
but in the mean time it smouldered, and was dying out for want of fuel.
If he had no penitence with respect to the terrible retribution he had
already wrought, the idea of it disturbed him. If he had no scruples, he
had pangs: when all was over--in a day or two, for even so strong a man
as Solomon could scarcely hold out longer--he would doubtless cease to
be troubled with them; when he was once dead Richard did not fear his
ghost; but the thought of this perishing wretch at present haunted him.
He was still not far from Gethin, and its neighborhood was likely to
encourage such unpleasant feelings. He had only executed a righteous
judgment, since there was no law to right him; but even a judge would
avoid the vicinity of a gallows on which hangs a man on whom he had
He would go into Midlandshire--where he was now supposed to be--until
the affair had blown over. That watching and waiting for the Thing to be
discovered would, he foresaw, be disagreeable, nervous work. And when it
happened, how full the newspapers would be of it! How Solomon got to the
place where he would be found would be as much a matter of marvel as the
object of his going there. If the copper lode--the existence of which
Richard did not doubt--were discovered, as it most likely would be when
the mine became the haunt of the curious and the morbid, it was only too
probable that public attention would be drawn to the owner. The
identification of Robert Balfour with the visitor who had visited
Turlock might then be established, whence would rise suspicion, and
perhaps discovery. Richard had no terrors upon his own account, but he
was solicitous to spare his mother this new shame. He had been hitherto
guiltless in her eyes, or, when blameworthy, the victim of
circumstances; but could her love for him survive the knowledge that he
was a murderer? But why encourage these morbid apprehensions? Was it not
just as likely that the Thing would never be discovered at all? Once set
upon a wrong scent, as folks already were, since the papers had
suggested the man was drowned, why should they ever hit upon the right
one? Wheal Danes had not been explored for half a century. Why should
not Solomon's bones lie there till the judgment-day?
At this point in his reflections the door opened--he was taking his
breakfast in a private sitting-room--and admitted, as he thought, the
waiter. Richard stood in such profound thought that it was almost
stupor, with his arms upon the mantel-piece, and his head resting on his
hands. He did not change his posture; but when the door closed, and
there was silence in place of the expected clatter of the breakfast
things, he turned about, and beheld Harry standing before him--in deep
black, and, as it seemed to him, in widow's weeds!
FACE TO FACE.
If Solomon himself, half starved and imbecile with despair, had suddenly
presented himself from his living tomb, Richard could not have been more
astonished than at the appearance of his present visitor. He had left
her but three days ago for Midlandshire. How was it possible she had
tracked him hither? With what purpose she had done so he did not ask
himself, for he had already read it in her haggard face and hopeless
"Have I come too late?" moaned she in a piteous, terror-stricken voice.
"For breakfast?--yes, madam," returned Richard, coldly; "but that can
easily be remedied;" and he feigned to touch the bell. His heart was
steel again; this woman's fear and care he felt were for his enemy, and
for him alone. It was plain she had no longer fear of himself.
"Where is my husband?" she gasped out. "Is he still alive?"
"I am not your husband's keeper, madam."
"But you are his murderer!" She held out her arm, and pointed at him
with a terrible significance. There was something clasped in her
trembling fingers which he could not discern.
"You speak in riddles, madam; and it seems to me your humor is somewhat
"I ask you once more, is my husband dead, and have I come too late?"
"I have not seen him for some days; I left him alive and well. What
makes you think him otherwise, or that I have harmed him?"
"This"--she advanced toward him, keeping her eyes steadily fixed upon
his own--"this was found among your things after you left my house!"
It was a ticket-of-leave--the one that had been given to Balfour on his
discharge from Lingmoor. It seemed impossible that Richard's colorless
face could have become still whiter, but it did so.
"Yes, that is mine," said he. "It was an imprudence in me to leave such
a token among curious people. You took an interest in my effects, it
"It was poor Mrs. Basil who found it, and who gave it to me." Her voice
was calm, and even cold; but the phrase "poor Mrs. Basil" alarmed him.
"The good lady is still unwell, then, is she?"
"She is dead."
"Dead!" Richard staggered to a chair, and pressed his hands to his
forehead. The only creature in the world on whom his slender hopes were
built had, then, departed from it! "When did she die?" inquired he in a
hollow voice, "and how?"
"On the evening of the day you left, and, as I believe, of a disease
which one like you will scarcely credit--of a broken heart."
Her manner and tone were hostile; but that moved not Richard one whit;
the cold and measured tones in which she had alluded to his mother's
death angered him, on the other hand, exceedingly. If his mother had
died of a broken heart, it was this woman's falsehood that had broken
it; and yet she could speak with calmness and unconcern of the loss
which had left him utterly forlorn! He forgot all his late remorse; and
in his eyes glittered malice and cruel rage.
"I do not fear you," cried she, in answer to this look; "for the
wretched have no fear. The hen will do battle with the fox, the rabbit
with the stoat, to save her young. If I can not save my husband, I will
save my son. I have come down here to do it. You are known to me now for
what you are--a jail-bird. If you dare to meet my Charley's honest face
again, I will tell him who and what you are."
"Did Mrs. Basil tell you that, then?"
"Thus far she did," cried Harry, pointing to the ticket which Richard
had taken from her hand. "Is not that enough? She warned me with her
latest breath against you. 'Beware of him,' said she; 'and yet pursue
him, if you would save your husband and your son. Where Solomon is,
there will this man also be. Pursue, pursue!' I did but stay to close
"And so she knew me, did she?"
"She knew enough, as I do. Of course she could not guess--who
could?--your shameful past, the fruit of which is there!" and again she
pointed to the ticket.
"_My_ shameful past!" cried Richard, rising and drawing himself to his
full height. "Who are you, that dare to say so? Do you, then, need one
to rise from the dead to remind you of _your_ past! Look at me, Harry
Trevethick--look at _me_!"
"Richard!" It was but one word; but in the tone which she pronounced it
a thousand memories seemed to mingle. An inexpressible awe pervaded her;
she stood spell-bound, staring at his white hair and withered face.
"Yes, it _is_ Richard," answered the other, mockingly, "though it is
hard to think so. Twenty years of wretchedness have worked the change.
It is you he has to thank for it, you perjured traitress!"
"No, no; as Heaven is my judge, Richard, I tell you No!" She threw
herself on her knees before him; and as she did so her bonnet fell, and
the rippling hair that he had once stroked so tenderly escaped from its
bands; the color came into her cheeks, and the light into her eyes, with
the passionate excitement of her appeal; and for the moment she looked
almost as he had known her in the far-back spring-tide of her youth.
"Fair and false as ever!" cried Richard, bitterly.
"Listen, listen!" pleaded she; "then call me what you will."
He sat in silence while she poured forth all the story of the trial, and
of the means by which her evidence had been obtained, listening at first
with a cold, cynical smile, like one who is prepared for falsehood, and
beyond its power; but presently he drooped his head and hid his
features. She knew that she had persuaded him of her fidelity, but
feared that behind those wrinkled hands there still lay a ruthless
purpose. She had exculpated herself, but only (of necessity) by showing
in blacker colors the malice of his enemies. She knew that he had sworn
to destroy them root and branch; and there was one green bough which he
had already done his worst to bend to evil ways. "Richard, Richard!"
said she, softly.
He withdrew his chair with a movement which she mistook for one of
"He hates me for their sake," thought she, "although he knows me to be
innocent. How much more must he hate those who made me seem so guilty!"
But, in truth, his withdrawal from her touch had a very different
explanation. He would have kissed her, and held out both his hands, but
for the blood which he dreaded might be even now upon them. He saw that
she loved him still, and had ever done so, even when she seemed his foe:
all the old affection that he thought had been dead within him awoke to
life, and yet he dared not give it voice.
"You have said my husband was alive and well, Richard?"
"I said I had left him so," answered he, hoarsely.
"Then you have spared him thus far; spare him still, even for my sake;
and, for Heaven's sake, spare my son! Harden not your heart against one
more dear to me by far than life itself. He has done you no wrong."
Richard shook his head; he yearned to clasp her to his breast; he could
have cried, "I forgive them all," but he could not trust himself to
speak, lest he should say, "I love you."
"You have seen my boy, Richard, many times. The friendship you have
simulated for him must have made you know how warm-hearted and kind and
unsuspicious his nature is. You have listened to his merry laugh, and
felt the sunshine of his gayety. Oh! can you have the heart to harm
Still he did not speak; he scarcely heard her words. The murdered man
was standing between her and him; and he would always stand there, seen
by him, though not by her. From the grave itself he had come forth to
triumph over him to the end.
"Richard"--her voice had sunk to a tremulous whisper--"I must save my
son, and save you from yourself, no matter what it costs me. You little
know on the brink of what a crime you stand."
He laughed a bitter laugh; for was he not already steeped in crime? She
thought him pitiless and malignant when he was only hopeless and
"Do you remember Gethin, Richard, and all that happened there? Can you