Part 8 out of 8
not guess why I was made to marry--within--what was it?--a month, a
week, a day--it seemed but the next hour--after I lost you? You have had
twenty years of misery for my sake; but so have I for yours. Did my
husband love me, think you? Did he love my child? He had good cause, if
he had only known, to hate us both. Can you not guess it?"
He looked at her with eager hope--a trembling joy pervaded him. But hope
and joy had been strangers to him so long that he could scarce recognize
them for what they were.
"My Charley is yours also, Richard--your own son."
Richard burst into tears. There was somebody still to love him in the
world--his own flesh and blood--somebody to live for! The thought
intoxicated him with delight; a vision of happiness floated before him
for an instant; then was swallowed up in darkness, as a single star by
the gloom of night. His own flesh and blood; ay, perhaps inheriting the
same nature as his father. It was only too likely, from what he had seen
of the lad; and he had himself done his best to develop the evil in him,
and to crush the good.
"Don't weep, dear Richard: kiss me."
He shrank from her proffered lips with a cold shudder. "Nay, I can not
kiss you. Do not ask me why, Harry. Never ask me; but I never can."
She looked at him with wonder, for she saw that his wrath had vanished.
His tone was tender, though woeful, and his touch as he put her aside
was as gentle as a child's.
"As you please, Richard," said she, humbly, and with a deep blush. "I
only wished for it as a token of your forgiveness. It is not necessary;
those tears have told me we are reconciled. But you will kiss Charley."
"Nay; he must never know," answered Richard gloomily.
"I had forgotten," said Harry, simply. "You can guess by that the
loyalty of my heart toward you, Richard. I forgot that to reveal it
would be to tell my darling of his mother's shame. But you will be kind
and good to him; you will undo what you have done of harm; you will lead
him back to Agnes, and then he will be safe."
"Yes, yes," muttered Richard, mechanically; "I will undo so far as I can
what I have done of harm. I will do my best, as I have done my worst."
He rose hastily, and rang the bell. Harry eyed him like some attached
creature that sympathizes with but can not comprehend its master.
The waiter entered.
"I shall not go by the train," said Richard; "let a carriage and pair be
brought round instantly, without a moment's delay."
The waiter hurried out to execute the order.
"But you will surely return home, Richard, after what has happened?"
said Harry, thinking of his mother's funeral.
"The dead can wait," returned he, solemnly. "Go you back to town. In
three days' time, if you do not hear from me, come down to Gethin with
Charles and Agnes."
"But I dare not, unless my husband send for me."
"He _will_ send for you," said Richard, solemnly; "or others will in his
Without one word or sign of farewell he suddenly rushed by her, and was
gone. A carriage stood at the front-door of the hotel, which had just
returned from taking a bride and bridegroom to the railway station, and
she saw him hurry into it.
"Fast! fast!" she heard him cry, through the open window; and then he
was whirled away.
Richard had many subjects for thought to beguile his lonely way to
Gethin, but one was paramount, and absorbed the rest, though he strove
to dismiss it all he could.
He endeavored to think of his dead mother. His heart was full of her
patient love and weary, childless life; but her portrait faded from his
mind like a dissolving view, and in its place stood that of Solomon Coe,
haggard, emaciated, hideous. Still less could he think of Harry and her
son, between whom and himself this spectre of the unhappy man rose up at
once, summoned by the thought of them, as by a spell. It did not occur
to Richard even now that he had had no right to kill him; but he
shuddered to think, if he had really done so, how this late opening
flower of love which he had just discovered would blossom into fear and
loathing. In that case his heart would have been softened only to be
pierced. His mother's death, the knowledge of Harry's fidelity, and of
the existence of his son, to whom his affection had been already drawn,
unknowingly and in spite of himself, had dissolved his cruel purpose. He
was eager to spare his mother's memory the shame of the foul crime he
had contemplated, and passionately anxious that in the veins of his
new-found son there should at least run no murderer's blood.
"Faster! faster!" was still his cry, though the horses galloped whenever
it was practicable, and the wheels cast the winter's mire into his eager
face. This haste was made, as he well knew, upon the road to his own
ruin. To find Solomon alive was to be accused of having compassed his
death. There was no hope in the magnanimity of such a foe. But yesterday
Richard had cared little or nothing for his own safety, and was only
bent upon the prosecution of his scheme against his foe; now life had
mysteriously become dear to him, and he was about to risk it in saving
the man he had hated most on earth from the doom to which he had himself
consigned him. He had calculated the possibilities which were in his own
favor, and they had resolved themselves into this single chance--that
Solomon might be induced, by the unconditional offer of Wheal Danes and
its golden treasure, to forego his revenge. His greed was great; but his
malice, as Richard had good cause to know, was also not easily
satisfied. Moreover, even if his victim should decline to be his
prosecutor, he would still stand in great peril. It was only too
probable that he would be recognized at Gethin for the stranger that had
so lately been staying at Turlock; he had not, indeed, mentioned his
assumed name at the latter place; but his lack of interest in the fate
of Solomon--whose disappearance had been narrated to him by the
waitress--and his departure from the town under such circumstances,
would (in case of his identification) be doubtless contrasted with this
post-haste journey of his to deliver this same man. He had made up his
mind, however, to neglect no precautions to avoid this contingency. It
would be dark when he got to Gethin; and his purpose once accomplished
he might easily escape recognition, unless he should be denounced by
Solomon himself. In that case Richard was fully determined that he would
glut no more the curiosity of the crowd. He would never stand in the
prisoner's dock, or be consigned again to stone walls. The gossips
should have a dead man's face to gaze at, and welcome; they might make
what sport they pleased of that, but not again of his living agony.
Then, instead of his being Solomon's murderer, he would be his victim.
To judge by his present feeling, thought Richard, bitterly, this man
would not enjoy his triumph even then. Revenge, as his mother had once
told him, was like a game of battle-door--it is never certain who gets
the last stroke. If Solomon was now dead, starved skeleton or rat-eaten
corpse as he might be, Richard felt that he would still have had the
advantage over him.
"What is it? Why are we stopping?" cried he, frantically, as the man
pulled up on the top of a hill.
"Let me breathe the horses for an instant," pleaded the driver; "we
shall gain time in the end."
"How far are we still from Gethin?" inquired Richard, impatiently.
"In time, two hours, Sir, for the road is bad, though me and the horses
will do our best; but the distance is scarce twelve miles. Do you see
that black thing out to seaward yonder? That's the castled rock. He
stands out fine against the sunset, don't he?"
"Yes, yes; make haste;" and on they sped again at a gallop.
Within a mile or two of this spot Richard had first caught sight of that
same object twenty years ago. The occasion flashed upon him with every
minutest circumstance, even to the fact of how hungry he had been at the
moment. The world was all before him then, and life was young. Now,
prematurely aged, his interest centred in three human beings, and one of
those was his bitter enemy.
The dusk thickened into dark; and the tired horses--for the stage had
been a very long one--made but slow way.
"Faster! faster!" was Richard's constant cry, till the brow of the last
hill was gained, and the scanty lights of Gethin showed themselves. Then
it suddenly struck him for the first time what unnecessary speed had
been made. Why, this man, Solomon, strong and inured to privation, had,
after all, been but eight-and-forty hours in the mine, and would surely
be alive, unless the rats had killed him. Where had he somewhere read of
a strong man overpowered in a single night by a legion of rats, and
discovered a heap of clean-picked bones by morning?
The inn, as usual at that season, showed few signs of life; but there
were some half dozen miners drinking at the bar.
"Keep those men," said Richard to the inn-keeper; for Solomon had long
delegated that office to another, though his own name was still over the
door, and the _Gethin Castle_ was still his home. "I shall want their
"Their help, Sir?" said the astonished landlord.
"Yes; but say nothing for the present. Bring me a bottle of brandy and
some meat--cold chicken, if you have it; then let me have a word with
Richard did not order the food for himself. While it was being brought
he sat down in the very chair that he had used so often--for he had been
ushered into his old parlor--and gazed about him. There were the same
tawdry ornaments on the mantel-piece, and the same books on the dusty
shelf. Nothing was altered except the tenant of that room; but how great
a change had taken place in _him_! What a face the dingy mirror offered
him in place of that which it had shown him last! When the inn-keeper
returned his mind involuntarily conjured up old Trevethick, as he had
received from him the key of the ruin, and doggedly taken his
compliments upon its workmanship. Truly, "there is no such thing as
forgetting;" and to recall our past to its minutest details at the
judgment-day will not be so impracticable as some of us would desire.
Richard had made up his mind exactly as to what he would say to this
man, but a question suddenly presented itself, which had been absent
from his thoughts from the moment that he had resolved to rescue his
enemy. It was a very simple one, too, and would have occurred to any one
else, as it had done already many times to himself.
"Has Mr. Coe been found yet?"
He listened for the answer eagerly, for if such was the case, not only
was his journey useless, but had brought him into the very jaws of
destruction. He would have thrown away his life for nothing.
"No, Sir, indeed--and he never will be," replied the inn-keeper. "When
the sea don't give a man up in four-and-twenty hours, it keeps him for
good--at least we always find it so at Gethin."
"Well, listen to me. My name is Balfour. I knew Mr. Coe, and have had
dealings with him. We had arranged a partnership together in a certain
mine; and it is my opinion that he came down here upon that business."
"Very like, Sir. He was much engaged that way, and made, they say, a
pretty penny at it."
"I was at Plymouth, on my way to join him, when I heard this sad news. I
came to-day post-haste in consequence of it. The search for him must be
"Lor, Sir, it is easy to see you are a stranger in these parts! I
wouldn't like to go myself where poor Mr. Coe met his end, on so dark a
night as this. It's a bad path even in daylight along Turlock cliff."
"He did not take that way, at least I think not. Have you a ladder about
"And a lantern?"
"Now that's strange enough, Sir, that you should have inquired for a
lantern; for we wanted one just now to see to your horses, and, though
they're looking for it high and low, it can't be found nowhere."
"It doesn't strike you, then, that Mr. Coe might have taken it with
"Lor, Sir," cried the inn-keeper, with admiration, "and so he must ha'
done! Of course it strikes one when the thing has been put into one's
head. Well, 'twas a good lantern, and now 'tis lost. Dear me, dear me!"
Golden visions of succeeding to the management of the inn, and of taking
to the furniture and fixings in the gross, had flitted across this
honest gentleman's brain, and the disappearance of the lantern affected
him with the acute sense of pecuniary damage. The general valuation
would probably be no less because of the absence of this article.
"Send out and borrow another, as many, in fact, as you can get," said
Richard, impatiently; "and get ready a torch or two besides. Pick out
four of the strongest men yonder, and bid them come with me, and search
"What! that old pit. Sir? You'll not find a man to do it--no, not if
they knowed as master was at the bottom of it. You wait till morning."
"Your master _is_ at the bottom of it. I feel sure he took the lantern
with him to search that mine. I will give them a pound apiece to start
at once. Pack up this food, and lend them a mattress to bring him home
upon. Be quick! be quick!"
Richard's energy fairly overpowered the phlegmatic inn-keeper, whose
conscience, perhaps, also smote him with respect to his missing master;
and he set about the execution of these orders promptly. Wheal Danes, he
had truly hinted, was a very unpopular spot with its neighbors after
nightfall; but, on the other hand, sovereigns were rare in Gethin, and
greatly prized. In less than half an hour the necessaries which Richard
had indicated were procured, and a party, consisting of himself, four
stalwart miners, and the inn-keeper, started for the pit. These were
followed by half the inhabitants of the little village, attracted by the
rumor of their purpose, which had oozed out from the bar of the _Gethin
Castle_. The windy down had probably never known so strange a concourse
as that which presently streamed over it, with torch and lantern, and
stood around the mouth of the disused mine. The night was dark, and
nothing could be seen save what the flare of the lights they carried
showed them--a jagged rim of pit without a bottom. Notwithstanding their
numbers there was but little talk among them; they had a native dread of
this dismal place, and, besides, there might now be a ghastly secret
hidden within it. A muffled exclamation, half of admiration, half of
awe, broke from the circling crowd as, the ladder planted, Richard was
seen descending it torch in hand. No other man followed; none had
volunteered, and he had asked for no companion. They watched him, as the
countrymen of those who had formerly worked Wheal Danes might have
watched Curtius when he leaped into the gulf; and as in _his_ case, when
they saw the ladder removed, and the light grow dim, and finally die out
before their eyes, it seemed that the pit had closed on Richard--that he
was swallowed up alive. No one, unless the strange story about their
missing neighbor which this man had brought was true, had ventured into
Wheal Danes for these fifty years! They kept an awe-struck silence,
straining eye and ear. Some thought they could still see a far-off
glimmer, others that they could hear a stifled cry, when the less
fortunate or the less imaginative could hear or see nothing. But after a
little darkness and silence reigned supreme beneath them; they seemed
standing on the threshold of a tomb.
WHAT WAS FOUND IN WHEAL DANES.
A full half hour--which to the watchers above seemed a much longer
interval--had elapsed since Richard had disappeared in the depths of
Wheal Danes, and not a sign of his return had reached the attentive
"I thought he'd come to harm," muttered a fisherman to his neighbor; "it
was a sin and a shame to let him venture."
"Ay, you may say that," returned the other, aloud. "I call it downright
murder in them as sent him."
"It was not I as sent him," observed the inn-keeper, with the honest
indignation of a man that has not right habitually on his own side.
"What _I_ said to the gentleman was, 'Wait till morning.' Why should _I_
send him?" Here he stopped, though his reasons for not wishing to hurry
matters would have been quite conclusive.
"Why was he let to go down at all, being a stranger?" resumed the first
speaker. "Why didn't somebody show him the way?"
"Because nobody knowed it," answered one of the four miners whose
services Richard had retained, and who justly imagined that the
fisherman's remark had been a reflection on his own profession. "I'd ha'
gone down Dunloppel with him at midnight, or any other mine as can be
called such; but this is different."
"Ay, ay, that's so," said a second miner. "We know no more of this place
than you fishermen. There may be as much water in it as in the sea, for
aught we can tell."
"It's my belief they're more afraid of the Dead Hand than the water,"
observed a voice from the crowd, the great majority of which was
composed of fisher folk.
No reply was given to this; perhaps because the speaker, an old cripple,
the Thersites of the village, was beneath notice, perhaps because the
remark was unanswerable. The miners were bold enough against material
enemies, but they were superstitious to a man.
"If Solomon Coe were alive," continued the same voice, "he wouldn't ha'
"That's the first word, old man, as ever I heard you speak in his
favor," said a miner, contemptuously; "and you've waited for that till
"Still, he would ha' gone, and you durstn't," observed the old fellow,
cunningly, "and that's the p'int."
These allusions to the Dead Hand and to the missing Solomon were not of
a nature to inspire courage in those to whom it was already lacking, and
a silence again ensued. There was less light, for a torch or two had
gone out, and the mine looked blacker than ever.
"Well, who's a-going down?" croaked the old cripple. "The gentleman came
from your inn, Jonathan, and it's your place, I should think, to look
"Certainly not," answered the inn-keeper, hastily. "These men here were
hired for this very service."
"That's true," said the first miner. "But what's the use of talking when
the gentleman has got the ladder with him?"
"There's more ladders in the world than one," observed the cripple.
"Here's my grandson, John; he and half a dozen of these young fellows
would fetch Farmer Gray's in less than no time. Come, lads--be off with
This suggestion was highly applauded, except by the miner who had so
injudiciously compromised himself, and was carried out at once.
When the ladder arrived the three other miners, ashamed of deserting
their comrade, volunteered to descend with him. The excitement among the
spectators was great, indeed, when these four men disappeared in the
levels of Wheal Danes, as Richard had done before them. The light of
their combined torches lingered a little in their rear; the sound of
their voices, as they halloed to one another or to the missing man, was
heard for several minutes. But darkness and silence swallowed _them_ up
also, and the watchers gazed on one another aghast.
It is not an easy thing, even for those accustomed to underground labor,
to search an unfamiliar spot by torch-light; the fitful gleam makes the
objects on which it falls difficult of identification. It is doubtful
whether one has seen this or that before or not--whether we are not
retracing old ground. Even to practiced eyes these objects, too, are not
so salient as the tree or the stone which marks a locality above-ground;
add to this, in the present case, that the searchers were momently in
expectation of coming upon something which they sought and yet feared to
find, and it will be seen that their progress was of necessity but slow.
They kept together, too, as close as sheep, which narrowed the compass
of their researches, and caused their combined torches to distribute
only as much light as one man would have done provided with a
chandelier. They knew, however, that their predecessor had descended
into the second level, so that they did not need to explore the first at
all. The ground was hard, and gave forth echoes to their cautious but
heavy tread; their cries of "Hollo!" "Are you there?" which they
reiterated, like nervous children playing hide-and-seek, reverberated
from roof to wall.
Presently, when they stopped to listen for these voices of the rock to
cease, there was heard a human moan. It seemed to come up from a great
depth out of the darkness before them. They listened earnestly, and the
sound was repeated--the faint cry of a man in grievous pain.
"There must be another level," observed the miner who had volunteered
the search. "This man has fallen down it."
They had therefore to go back for the ladder. Pushing this before them,
the end began presently to run freely, and then stopped; it had adjusted
itself by the side of the shorter ladder which Richard had brought down
"He could not have fallen, then," observed a miner, answering his
comrade's remark--as is the custom with this class of great doers and
small talkers--at a considerable interval.
"Yes, he could," replied the one who had first spoken. "See, his ladder
was short, and he may have pitched over."
They stood and listened, peering down into the darkness beneath them;
but there was no repetition of the cries. The wounded man had apparently
spent his last strength, perhaps his last breath, in uttering them.
"He must be down here somewhere. Come on."
The situation was sufficiently appalling; but these men had lost half
their terrors, now that they knew there was a fellow-creature needing
help. They descended slowly; and he who was foremost presently cried
out, "I see him; here he is."
The man was lying on his face quite still; and when they lifted him,
each looked at the other with a grave significance--they had carried too
many from the bowels of the earth to the pit's mouth not to know when a
man was dead. Even a senseless body is not the same to an experienced
bearer as a dead weight. The corpse was still warm, but the head fell
back with a movement not of life.
"You were right, mate. His neck is broke; the poor gentleman pitched
over on his head."
"Stop a bit," exclaimed the man addressed; "see here. Why, it ain't him
at all--it's Solomon Coe."
An exclamation of astonishment burst involuntarily from the other three.
"Then where's the other?" cried they all together.
"I am here," answered a ghastly whisper.
Within but a few feet of Solomon, so that they could hardly have
overlooked him had not the former monopolized their attention, lay
Richard, grievously hurt. Some ribs were broken, and one of them was
pressed in upon the lungs. Still he was alive, and the men turned their
attention first to him, since Solomon was beyond their aid. By help of
the two ladders, side by side, they bore him up the wall of rock; and so
from level to level--a tedious and painful journey to the wounded
man--to the upper air.
He was carried to the inn upon the mattress which his own care had
provided for another; while the four miners, to the amazement of the
throng, once more descended into the pit for a still more ghastly
Richard could speak a little, though with pain. By his orders a
messenger was dispatched that night to Plymouth to telegraph the news of
the discovery of her husband's body to Mrs. Coe. His next anxiety was to
hear the surgeon's report, not on his own condition, but on that of
Solomon. This gentleman did not arrive for some hours, and Richard was
secretly well pleased at his delay. It was his hope, for a certain
reason, that he would not arrive until the body was stiff and cold.
He saw Richard first, of course. The case was very serious; so much so
that he thought it right to mention the fact, in order that his patient
might settle his worldly affairs if they needed settlement.
"There is no immediate danger, my good Sir; but it is always well in
such cases to have the mind free from anxiety."
"I understand; it is quite right," said Richard, gravely. "Moreover,
since the opportunity may not occur again, let me now state how it all
"Nay, you must not talk. We know it all, or at least enough of it for
"What do you know?" asked Richard, with his eyes half shut, but with
"That in your benevolent attempt to seek after Mr. Coe you met with the
same accident--though I trust it will not have the same ending--as that
unfortunate gentleman himself. He pitched upon his head and broke his
neck, while you fell upon your side."
"That is so," murmured Richard. "He and I were partners, you see--"
"There, there; not a word more," insisted the doctor; "your deposition
And having done what he could for his patient, he left him, in order to
examine the unfortunate Solomon. His investigation corroborated all that
he had already heard of the circumstances of his death, with which also
Richard's evidence accorded. An observation made by one of the miners
who had found the body, to the effect that it was yet warm when they had
come upon it, excited the surgeon's ridicule.
"It is now Tuesday morning, my friend," said he, "and this poor fellow
met with his death on Saturday night for certain. He could not,
therefore, have been much warmer when you found him than he is now."
"Well, me and my mate here we both fancied--"
"I dare say you did, my man," interrupted the doctor; "and fancy is a
very proper word to apply to such an impression. If you take my advice,
however, you will not repeat such a piece of evidence when put upon your
oath, for the thing is simply impossible."
"Then I suppose we be in the wrong," said Dick to Jack; and on that
supposition they acted.
In this way too self-reliant Science, whose mission it is to explode
fallacies, occasionally assists in the explosion or suffocation of a
fact, for Solomon Coe had not been dead half an hour when his body was
When Richard, alone on his errand of mercy, was approaching the brink of
the third level, he could hear Solomon calling lustily for help. Nay, it
was not only "Help!" but "Murder!" that he cried out; and
notwithstanding the menace that that word implied toward himself,
Richard hurried on, well pleased to hear it; the vigor of the cry
assured him that his enemy was not only living, but unhurt. As the light
he carried grew more distinct to him, indeed, these shouts redoubled;
but when it came quite near, and disclosed the features of its bearer,
there was a dead silence. The two men stood confronting one another--the
one in light, distinctly seen, looking down upon the other in shade,
just as they had parted only eight-and-forty hours ago. To one of them,
as we know, this space had been eventful; but to the other it had seemed
a lifetime--an age of hopes and fears, and latterly of cold despair,
which had now been warmed once more to hope only to freeze again. For
was not this man, to whom he had looked for aid, his cruel foe come back
to taunt him--to behold him already half-way toward death, and to make
its slow approach more bitter? But great as was his agony Solomon held
his peace, nor offered to this monarch of his fate the tribute of a
"I am come to rescue you," said Richard, in low but distinct tones; "to
undo the evil that I have already done, although it was no less than you
deserved, nor an overpayment of the debt I owed you. In return you will
doubtless denounce me as having meant to murder you."
No answer. If Richard had not heard his cries, it would have seemed that
this poor wretch had lost the power of speech. His huge head drooped
upon his shoulder, and he leaned against the rocky wall as though his
limbs could not have otherwise supported themselves; they shook,
indeed--but was it with weakness or with hate?--as though he had the
"Well, you will have reason to do so," continued Richard, calmly, "for I
did mean to murder you. In ten minutes hence you will find yourself
among your neighbors, free to act as you please. I shall make no appeal
to your mercy; it would, I know, be as fruitless as was yours to mine
the other day; but if you abstain from molesting me, this mine, with all
its hidden treasure, shall be your own. I have nothing more to say."
Solomon answered nothing. "Perhaps," thought Richard, "he still doubts
me.--Well, here is the ladder;" and he suited the action to the word.
Solomon's great hand flew out from his side, and clutched a rung as a
dog's teeth close upon a bone; a dog's growl, too, half triumph and half
threat, came from his deep chest; then he began slowly to ascend,
keeping his eyes fixed on Richard. The latter drew back a little to give
him space, and watched him with folded arms.
"Now," said Solomon, stepping off the ladder with the prolonged "Ha!" of
one who breathes freely after long oppression, "it is _my_ turn!"
"What are you about to do?" asked Richard, calmly.
"What! you think we are quits, Richard Yorke, do you? or at least that
when I had seen you hung it would seem so to me? You don't know what it
is to die here slowly in the dark; you are about to learn that."
"Yes. You complained the other day of my having used the law against
you. Well, you shall not have to reproach me with that a second time. We
are about to change places, you and I, that's all. You shall keep sentry
down yonder till Death comes to relieve _you_. It was indiscreet in you
to venture here alone to dictate terms, my friend."
Solomon's voice was grating and terrible; it had grown hoarse with
calling. His form was gaunt and pinched with hunger; his eyes flashed
like those of some starving beast of prey.
"I swear to you I came here to rescue you, and with no other purpose,"
said Richard, earnestly. "I was not afraid of you when you were hale and
strong, and much less now when you are weakened with privation; but I do
not wish to have your blood upon my hands. I came here to-night--"
"Is it night?" interrupted the other, eagerly. "I did not know that it
was night; how should I, in this place, where there is no day? Well,
that was still more indiscreet of you, for I shall get away unseen,
while you lie here unsought."
"Your scheme is futile. There are fifty men about the pit's mouth now. I
have told them--"
"Liar!" Solomon darted forward; and Richard, throwing away the torch, as
though disdaining to use any advantage in the way of weapon, grappled
with him at once. At the touch of his foe his scruples vanished, and his
hate returned with tenfold fury. But he was in the grasp of a giant.
Privation had doubtless weakened Solomon, but he had still the strength
of a powerful man, and his rage supplied him for the time with all that
he had lost. They clung to one another like snakes, and whirled about
with frantic violence. Whichever fell undermost was a dead man for
certain. For a few moments the expiring torch still showed them each
other's hot, vindictive faces; then they battled in the dark, with
laboring breath and eager strain, swaying they knew not whither. At last
the huge weight of Solomon overbore his lesser antagonist. Richard's
limbs gave way beneath him, and he fell, but fell through space; for in
their gyrations they had, without knowing it, returned to the top of the
ladder. His foe, fast clutched, fell with him, but, pitching on his
head, was killed, as we have seen, upon the instant.
This was the true history of what had occurred in the mine, as Richard,
on his bed of pain, recalled it step by step, and strove to shape it to
Whether Richard's own injuries proved fatal or not was with him a matter
of secondary importance. His anxiety was to prove that they were
received by misadventure; upon the whole, matters promised favorably for
this, and were in other respects as satisfactory as could reasonably be
expected. The blood of Solomon Coe was upon his own head. Richard had no
need even to reproach himself with having struck in self-defense the
blow that killed his enemy; and he did not reflect that he was still to
blame for having, in the first instance, placed him in the mine. He had
at least done his best to extricate him, and his conscience was (perhaps
naturally) not very tender respecting the man who had repaid his attempt
at atonement with such implacable animosity. At all events, Richard's
mind was too much engaged in calculating the consequences of what had
happened to entertain remorse. The question that now monopolized it was,
what conclusion was likely to be arrived at by the coroner's inquest
that would, of course, be held upon the body. The verdict was of the
most paramount importance to him, not because upon it depended his own
safety (for he valued his life but lightly, and, besides, his inward
pain convinced him that it was already forfeited), but all that now made
life worth having--the good regards of Harry and her son. He had no
longer any scruple on his own part with respect to accepting or
returning their affection. His fear was, lest, having been compelled to
take so active a part in the rescue of the unhappy Solomon, something
should arise to implicate him in his incarceration.
Fortunately he was far too ill to be summoned as a witness. His
deposition alone could be taken, and that he framed with the utmost
caution, and as briefly as was possible. His wounded lung defended him
from protracted inquiries. Solomon himself had proposed the idea of a
partnership in Wheal Danes, and his interest in the mine, the knowledge
of which had suggested to Richard the place of his concealment, had
evidently proved fatal to him. That he should have broken his neck just
as Richard had broken his ribs on such a quest was by no means
extraordinary; but how he ever reached the spot where he was found at
all, without the aid of a ladder, was inexplicable. The line of evidence
was smooth enough but for this ugly knot, and it troubled Richard much,
though, as it happened, unnecessarily. Had the place of the calamity
been a gravel-pit at Highgate, it would have been guarded by
constabulary, and all things preserved as they were until after the
official investigation. But Wheal Danes, from having been a deserted
mine, had suddenly become the haunt of the curious and the morbid. There
was nothing more likely than that Solomon's ladder had been carried off,
and perhaps disposed of at a high price per foot as an interesting
relic. The presence of the half-extinguished torch that Richard had
flung away in the second level (and which should by rights have been
found in the third) was still more easily explained: there were a score
of such things now lying about the mine, which had been left there by
visitors. In short, an "active" coroner and an "intelligent" jury could
have come to no other conclusion than that of "accidental death;" and
they came to it accordingly.
Other comforters had arrived to the wounded man, before the receipt of
that good news, in the persons of Harry and her son and Agnes. There was
a reason why all three should be now warmly attracted toward him, which,
while it effectually worked his will in that way, gave him many a
twinge. They looked upon him, as did the rest of the world, as the man
who had lost his life (for his wound was by this time pronounced to be
fatal) to save his friend. He told them that it was not so, and they did
not believe him. He had not the heart to tell them how matters really
stood; but their praise pained him more than the agony of his wound, and
he peremptorily forbade the subject to be alluded to. This command was
not difficult to obey. Solomon's death, although the awful character of
it shocked them much, was, in reality, regretted neither by wife nor
son: such must be the case with every husband and father who has been a
domestic tyrant, no matter how dutifully wife and son may strive to
mourn: his loss was a release, and his memory a burden that they very
willingly put aside; and, in particular, his name was never mentioned
before Agnes without strong necessity.
Mrs. Coe, always at her best and wisest in matters wherein her son was
concerned, had never told this girl of the part which Robert Balfour had
taken against her. It would have wounded her self-love to have learned
that the influence of a comparative stranger had been used, and with
some effect, to estrange her Charley. She would scarcely have made
sufficient allowance for a man of the world's insidious arts,
notwithstanding the circumstances that had so favored them. Thus Harry
had justly reasoned, and kept silence concerning him. Agnes had
therefore set down the gradual cessation of her lover's visits to Soho,
and his growing coldness, solely to the hostility of Solomon. They had
pained her deeply, though she had been too proud to evince aught but
indignation; still she strove to persuade herself it was but natural
that this lad, entirely dependent upon his father for the means of
livelihood, and daily exposed to his menaces or arguments, should
endeavor to steel himself against her; that he really loved her less she
did not in her own faithful heart believe. It was, however, with no
thought of regaining his affection that she had obeyed the widow's hasty
summons on the news of the catastrophe at Wheal Danes, but solely from
sympathy and affection. She had always loved and pitied her, for Harry
had shown her kindness and great good-will; and, notwithstanding the
girl's high spirit, she did not now forget, as many would have done, all
other debts in that obligation so easy of discharge, namely, "what she
owed to herself."
Her presence, notwithstanding the sad occasion of it, at once reawakened
Charley's slumbering passion, and the coldness with which she received
its advances only made it burn more brightly, like fire in frost. He
felt that he had not even deserved the friendship she now offered him in
place of her former love, and was patient and submissive under his just
punishment. He hoped in time to re-establish himself in her affections;
but at present, somewhat to Mrs. Coe's indignation, she had showed no
sign of yielding. He did in reality occupy the same position in her
heart as of old; but now that he was rich, and his own master (for his
mother was his slave), she was not inclined to confess it. Had he been
poor and dependent, she would have forgiven him readily enough; nor are
such natures unparalleled in her sex, notwithstanding the pictures which
are nowadays presented to us as types of girlhood.
Such, then, was the mutual relation in which these two young people
stood, who ministered by turns (for Harry was always with him) to the
wants of the dying Balfour. The feelings with which he was regarded by
all three were in curious contrast with their former ones. What those of
Harry were now toward him we can easily guess; her hate and fear had
vanished to make room for love--not the love of old times, indeed, but a
deeper and a purer passion; it could never bear fruit, she knew--it was
but a prolonged farewell. To-morrow, or the next day, Death would
interpose between them; but in the mean time they were together, and she
clung to him.
Charley, on the other hand, with whom Balfour had once been such a
favorite, felt, though attentive to his needs, by no means cordially
toward him. Gratitude for the fancied service he had done to his late
father compelled him to give Richard his company; but it was not
accorded willingly, as heretofore. He could not but set down to the
account of his companionship the present frigidity of Agnes, and at
first he had even seen him a material obstacle to his hopes. This
audacious man of the world, who had at one time so excited his
admiration, had suddenly become in his eyes an impudent _roue_, who even
on his sick-bed was only too likely to make their past adventures
together the subject of his talk. True, his mother had told him that Mr.
Balfour was now an altered man; but the young gentleman had entertained
some reasonable doubts of this conversion. His manner to the sick man
was so reserved and cool, indeed, that it seemed to all but Richard (who
guessed the cause of it, and yet felt its effect more bitterly than all)
unkind. This behavior on the part of his former ally did not injure
Balfour in the regards of Agnes; she resented Charley's conduct, and did
her best to redress it by manifesting her own good-will; she had herself
had experience of his shifting moods and causeless changes of demeanor,
and perhaps she was willing to show what small importance she attached
to his capricious humors. Thus it happened that Richard and herself "got
on" together much better (as well, of course, as much more speedily)
than the former could have hoped for; for indeed he had, with reason,
expected to find a bitter enemy in Agnes. He improved this advantage to
the utmost by taking occasion, in Charley's absence, to praise the lad,
under whose displeasure he manifestly lay. She answered that he had not,
at least from Mr. Balfour's lips, deserved such praise.
"Nay, nay," said Richard, gently; "it is I who have not deserved the
lad's good-will; and you, my dear young lady, ought to be the last to
pity me, as I see you do."
"How so?" asked she, in surprise.
"Because," answered he, gravely, "I once strove to keep him from you."
She looked annoyed, and cast a hurried glance toward the place where
Mrs. Coe had been sitting; but there was now only an empty chair there.
The widow had purposely withdrawn herself, in accordance with Richard's
wish. Agnes could scarcely leave the sick man without attendance.
"When I say, 'keep him from you,'" continued Richard, "I mean that,
being lonely and friendless (as you see I am but for you three), the
society of this bright boy was very dear to me, and I selfishly strove
to secure it when he would fain have been elsewhere. I needed, as you
may well imagine, authority to back me in such efforts, but, unhappily
for him, I possessed its aid. He now resents, and very naturally, the
restraint which my companionship once imposed upon him, and sets down to
my account the estrangement which he so bitterly rues. An old man's
friendship is of no great worth at any time; but weighed in the balance
against a woman's love--"
"Sir!" interrupted Agnes, with indignation.
"Pardon me," continued Richard, gently; "I see you do not love him. I am
deeply grieved, for the sake of this poor lad, who is as devoted to you
as ever, to find it so, and to feel that it was in part my fault. I will
ask him to forgive me if he can."
"Nay, Mr. Balfour, I beseech you, don't do that," cried Agnes, with
"As you please," murmured he, gravely. "But, remember, a few days hence,
or perhaps a few hours, and I may be beyond his forgiveness. It will
then rest with you, young lady, to clear my memory. You are not angry
with me--you can not be vexed with a dying man."
"No, no." She was sobbing violently; her heart was touched, not only by
his own condition, as she would have had him believe, but by these
confidences respecting Charley. There is nothing more dear to a young
girl than the testimony of another man to her lover's fealty; the
witness himself is even guerdoned with some payment of the rich store he
bears; and from that moment Balfour was not only forgiven by Agnes, but
even beloved by her.
REST AT LAST.
That the termination of Richard's malady would be fatal did not from the
first admit of doubt, but he lingered on beyond all expectation. The
spring came on and found him yet alive at Gethin. He was never moved
from the room to which he had been carried after his mischance--the same
which had been his bedroom in the old times, when he was full of
strength and vigor--wherein he had so often lain awake, revolving
schemes to win his Harry, or slept and dreamed of her. The comparison of
his "now" and "then" was melancholy enough, but it was not bitter. His
pain was great, but not out of proportion to his comfort. He had still
Harry's love, and he had even that of two other hearts besides, which he
had reconciled and drawn together. In him Charles had had an unwearying
advocate with Agnes, and at last he had won his cause. She had been
driven to take refuge in her last intrenchment--her poverty--and
Richard had made that untenable.
"You will not be an heiress, perhaps, my dear," he had said to her,
"though you deserve to be one; but neither will you be undowered. I have
left you all I have. Nay, it is not much--a few score acres by the
sea--but they will soon be yours."
She had accepted them unwillingly, and under protest; but a day came
when it became necessary for her to remonstrate with the sick man once
again concerning this matter, sorry as she was to thwart or vex him; she
therefore requested, to have a few minutes' talk alone with him.
"Dear Mr. Balfour," said she, gently, "I am going to disobey you in once
more reopening the matter of your kind bequest. Something has happened
which has given the affair a wholly different aspect. Among the visitors
yesterday to that dreadful mine, to which people still flock, there was
a Mr. Stratum--a young engineer, it seems, of some reputation; and in
his researches in Wheal Danes they say he has hit upon a great treasure,
or what may turn out to be such."
"Ay," said Richard, with a smile; "what's that?"
"A copper lode. It is curious that so many folks should have come and
gone there and never found it before; but there it is, for certain. Mr.
Stratum has seen Charles, and tells him that he can hardly trust himself
to speak of its probable value."
"Well, I congratulate you, my dear, on being an heiress."
"Nay, my dear Mr. Balfour, but this must not be. Overborne by your kind
pressure I consented to receive this bequest--a considerable one in
itself, indeed--for what it was. I could not now take advantage of your
ignorance of its real value; it distresses me deeply to give you trouble
in your present sad condition, but you must see yourself that
circumstances compel me."
"Give me the will, my dear; it is in yonder drawer. Here is a letter
folded in it in my handwriting. What does the superscription say?"
"_To Agnes Aird_."
"Just so. You were to have opened it after my death, but you may read it
now. Please to do so aloud."
"MY DEAR YOUNG LADY,--When I am gone, it is my earnest desire that your
marriage with Charles Coe shall take place as early as may be found
convenient. He will make a good husband to you, I think; I am sure you
will make him a good wife. He loves you for your own sake, which is the
only love worth having. But, as it happens, you are very rich. In the
mine which I have left you--in the northeastern corner of the bottom
level--there is a copper lode, the existence of which is known to me,
and to me only. I have every reason to believe that it will be found in
the highest degree productive, and for your dear sake I trust it may be
so. True, you will have money enough and to spare for your own needs,
but wealth will not spoil you--in your hands it will be a great good. To
the two injunctions which here follow I have no means to give effect,
and must trust solely to your loyal heart to carry them out. I do so
with the most perfect confidence. (1.) I wish that this bequest of mine,
be the value of it ever so great, be strictly settled, upon your
marriage, on yourself and your children, so that it can not be alienated
by any act of your husband; and this I do not from any preference to
yourself over him, or from any prejudice against him, God knows. (2.) In
case the estate of Crompton, of which Wheal Danes formed a fragment,
should again be in the market, and the mine turn out so valuable that
its proceeds should enable you to purchase such estate (without
inconvenience or damage to your interests), I do enjoin that you do so
purchase it, and make Crompton your future home. This is a 'sick man's
fancy,' some will tell you; and yet you will not neglect it."
* * * * *
"And you _will_ not, Agnes dear?" whispered Richard, eagerly, when she
had thus finished. "This is the last favor I shall ever ask of you.
Promise me! promise me!"
"Oh, Sir, I promise you," cried Agnes, earnestly, and scared by his
anxious feebleness; "your wishes shall be obeyed in all points."
"Good girl, good girl," sighed he; and though the effort pained him
sharply, his face exhibited a great content. "Send Charley to me," said
he, presently, in a faint voice.
"But you are tired already," remonstrated Agnes. "You have talked enough
for to-day; see him to-morrow."
"To-morrow!" repeated Richard, with a smile that chilled her heart.
"There will be no to-morrow, dear, for me. Reflect hereafter that you
made my last day a happy one. Kiss me, daughter." This term, which was
uttered very fondly, did not surprise her, for she little guessed its
full significance. She bent down, and kissed his forehead. "Send me
Those were the last words she ever heard him speak.
Agnes had told the young fellow how much feebler Mr. Balfour seemed that
day, and warned him to make his interview as brief as possible; but
Charley was of a sanguine temperament, and to his view the sick man
looked better. The recent excitement had heightened his color, and,
besides, he always strove to look his best and cheerfulest with Charley.
Balfour told him all that he had already said to Agnes respecting the
provision he had made for her; he thought it better to relieve her from
that task. But, to do Charley justice, he was neither grasping nor
jealous. Nothing seemed more natural to him, or even more reasonable,
than that Agnes should be made sole heiress.
"As for me, I should only make a mess of so much money," said he,
laughing. "_She_ understands how to manage"--meaning that she had a
talent for administration of affairs--"five thousand times better than I
do. Her father has taught her all sorts of good things, and that among
them. You see the poor governor and I--we never pulled together. Perhaps
if I had had a father a little less unlike myself, I might have been a
better son, and a wiser one. It was unfortunate, as Mrs. Basil used to
say. You remember her, of course?"
The sick man's tone was so full of interest that Charley, with great
cheerfulness, proceeded to pursue this subject.
"She was an excellent old soul; and, for her age, how sprightly and
appreciative! I remember--the very last time she came down to
dinner--telling her that story of yours about the stags in harness, and
it so interested her that she made me repeat it. It seemed to remind her
of something that she had heard before; and yet the incident was
original, and happened within your own experience, did it not?"
"It did," said Balfour, hoarsely.
"I am tiring you, my dear Sir," said Charley, anxiously. "What a fool I
have been to chatter on so, when Agnes particularly told me to be brief!
I shall leave you now, Sir; I shall indeed. Is there any thing I can do
for you before I leave?"
"Nothing, nothing. If I strove to take Agnes from you, lad, I did my
best to make her yours again. You don't dislike me now, dear boy, do
"Dislike you, Sir!" cried the young man. "That would indeed be base
ingratitude; you were always most kind to me, and you have loaded my
Agnes with benefits. I can not say, Sir, how unhappy it makes me to see
you lying here in pain, and--"
"And dying, Charley. Yes, you are sorry for me, good lad."
"Indeed, indeed I am, Sir."
"When your Agnes left me last she kissed me on the forehead--here. I
would not ask it else--but--kiss me, Charley."
The sick man's voice was very weak and faint, but its tones were full of
pathos. In some surprise, but without the least hesitation, the young
man stooped down and kissed him. "I shall leave you now, dear Mr.
Balfour, and only hope my thoughtless chatter may not have done you
mischief. I will send my mother to you, who is so quiet, and so good a
nurse, as an antidote. Good-by for the present, Sir."
"Good-by, dear lad--good-by."
Richard well knew it was good-by, not for the present, but forever.
When Mrs. Coe came into the sick man's room she perceived in him a
change for the worse, so marked that it alarmed her greatly, and she was
about to softly pull the bell, when Richard stopped her with a look.
"Don't ring," whispered he, faintly. "Sit down by me, Harry; put your
little hand in mine. I am quite happy. Our boy has kissed me."
"You did not tell him? He does not know?" inquired Harry, anxiously.
"Nay, dear, nay; I am not quite so selfish as that," answered he,
There was a long pause.
"Do you think my mother knew about him?" asked Richard, presently.
"Oh yes--though I strove to deceive her--from the first moment she saw
him, Richard, she knew it well. We never spoke of it, but it was a
secret we had in common. She loved him as though he had been your very
self; I am sure of that."
"And she knew _me_ too, Harry."
"Impossible! She could never have concealed that knowledge--with you
before her; for you were her idol, Richard."
"It was afterward," murmured the dying man. "When I had left the house
Charley told her something I had related to him, which convinced her of
my identity. I see it all now. She felt that I was bent on vengeance,
and sent you after me to use that weapon of which she knew you were
possessed. If we once came face to face, and you reproached me, my
secret was certain to come out--just as it did, Harry--and then you had
but to say, 'Charley is your son.'"
"But why did she not tell me who you were?"
"Because, if you were too late--if the mischief had been done on which
she deemed me bent--if your--if Solomon had come to harm, she would not
have had you know that Richard Yorke--the father of your child--had
blood upon his hands. Oh, mother, mother, your last thought was to keep
my memory free from stain!"
He spoke no more for full a minute; no sound was heard except the
distant murmur of the sea, for the day was fine and windless. The April
sun shone brightly in upon the pair, as if to bless their parting.
"Where is Charley?" murmured he.
"He is gone with Agnes for a walk; they will not be long; they talked of
going to the Watch Tower. You remember the old Watch Tower, Richard?"
"Well, ah, well!" answered he, smiling. "It is just twenty years ago.
How often have I thought of it!"
For a moment--before they separated forever--these two seemed to
themselves to relive the youth to which another generation had
"Agnes is a far better girl than I was, Richard; but she can not love
our boy more than _I_ loved _you_."
Richard answered with a smile that glorified each ghastly feature, and
brought out in them a likeness to himself of old.
"She will be his good angel, Harry," whispered Richard, gravely, "and
will guard him from himself. He will need her aid, but it will be
sufficient. I trust, I believe, that evil is not Bred in the Bone with
him, as it was with me."
There was a long, long silence, broken by a silvery laugh, which came
through the half-opened window like a strain of cheerful music, then was
suddenly cut short.
"Hush, Charley; you forget," said the soft voice of Agnes; "he may be
Through the calm spring air the reproof was borne into the sick man's
room as clearly as the sound which had called it forth.
"He is so happy," whispered Harry, gently; "you must forgive him;
remember he does not know."
"Yes, yes; it is better so. Dear Charley--happy, happy Charley!"
And a smile once more came over the sick man's face, which did not pass
away, for Death had frozen it there.
Years have passed since Richard Yorke was laid in the church-yard on the
hill at Gethin, close beside his mother, whose bones Harry's pious care
had caused to be transported thither.
If aught of things that here befall
Touch a spirit among things divine--
If love has force to move us there at all,
her ghost was glad. "In time," thought Harry, "I too shall lie by his
side, at last, once more."
Old Trevethick's prophecy was accomplished in the almost fabulous
success that attended the working of Wheal Danes. If its shares are not
quoted in the market, that is because the family have retained it in
their own hands, in spite of the most dazzling offers.
Mr. Dodge has a codicil to his story at _The George and Vulture_ now,
and expresses his infinite satisfaction at the fact that "that 'ere Coe"
came to grief in the end, as he had so richly deserved to do. "I don't
doubt," says he, "that while he was underground with the bats and rats
he thought of that poor lad as he had treated so spiteful. Things mostly
does work round all right" (he would add) "under Providence, whose motto
(if I may say so without disrespect) is summat like mine: 'Let us have
no misunderstandings and no obligation.'" On the other hand, what
"sticks in Mr. Dodge's throat," as he expresses it, and is "a'most
enough to make a man an infidel," is, that "the widow of that 'ere
Coe--she as was young Yorke's ruin--is living at Crompton (in the very
house his father had) with all her brood."
Mr. Dodge is right in his facts, if not in his deductions. Out of the
proceeds of the mine the whole home-estate of Crompton has been
purchased by Charles Coe, or rather by his wife; and they both dwell
there quite unconscious that he is the lineal descendant of the mad
Carew, with whose wild exploits the country side still teems. If the old
blood shows itself, it is but in quick starts of temper, and occasional
"cursory remarks," which sound quite harmless in halls that have echoed
to the Squire's thunderous tones; and even at such times Agnes can calm
him with a word. If the open hand which is Bred in the Bone with him
scatters its _largesse_ somewhat broadcast, the revenues of Crompton,
thanks to her, are in the main directed to good ends. In that stately
mansion, whose hospitality is as proverbial though less promiscuous than
of old, not only is there room for Mrs. Coe the elder to dwell with her
young folks, without jar, but in a certain ground-floor chamber, the
same he used to inhabit in old times, there dwells an ancient divine,
once Carew's chaplain. He is still hale and stout, and has a quiet air
that becomes his age and calling. Life's fitful fever is past, and he
lives on in calm. The children--for there is small chance of Crompton
being heirless in time to come--are very fond of him; and grandmamma
spends so much time in the old gentleman's apartments, that Charley
declares it is quite scandalous. What _can_ Parson Whymper and she have
to talk about in common? In spite of the attractions of her beautiful
home, and the infirmities of advancing years, not a summer passes
without Mrs. Coe the elder revisiting Gethin. The castled rock, up which
she used to run so lightly, is beyond her powers; she is content to gaze
on that with dewy eyes; but she never fails to seek the church-yard on
"He was what one would call a hardish husband to her, was old Solomon,"
say the neighbors; "and yet you see, when a man is dead, how a wife will
keep his memory green!"