Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Colonel Quaritch, V.C. by H. Rider Haggard

Part 7 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

paper from which he had made the great discovery. There was nothing in
it, of course, but somehow the sight impressed him very much. It
seemed months since he awoke to find the lamp gone out. How much may
happen between the lighting of a candle and its burning away! Smiling
at this trite reflection, he blew that light out, and, taking another,
went to his room. Here he found a stout hand-bag, with which he made
haste to return to the Mount.

"Are you all right, George?" he shouted down the hole.

"Well, Colonel, yes, but not sorry to see you back. It's lonesome like
down here with these deaders."

"Very well. Look out! There's a bag. Put as much gold in it as you can
lift comfortably, and then make it fast to the rope."

Some three minutes passed, and then George announced that the bagful
of gold was ready. Harold hauled away, and with a considerable effort
brought it to the surface. Then, lifting the bag on his shoulder he
staggered with it to the house. In his room stood a massive sea-going
chest, the companion of his many wanderings. It was about half full of
uniforms and old clothes, which he bundled unceremoniously on to the
floor. This done, he shot the bagful of shining gold, as bright and
uncorrupted now as when it was packed away two and a half centuries
ago, into the chest, and returned for another load.

About twenty times did he make this journey. At the tenth something
happened.

"Here's a writing, sir, with this lot," shouted George. "It was packed
away in the money."

He took the "writing," or rather parchment, out of the mouth of the
bag, and put it in his pocket unread.

At length the store, enormous as it was, was exhausted.

"That's the lot, sir," shouted George, as he sent up the last bagful.
"If you'll kindly let down that there rope, I'll come up too."

"All right," said the Colonel, "put the skeleton back first."

"Well, sir," answered George, "he looks wonderful comfortable where he
lay, he du, so if you're agreeable I think I'll let him be."

Harold chuckled, and presently George arrived, covered with filth and
perspiration.

"Well, sir," he said, "I never did think that I should get dead tired
of handling gold coin, but it's a rum world, and that's a fact. Well,
I niver, and the summer-house gone, and jist look at thim there oaks.
Well, if that beant a master one."

"You never saw a masterer, that's what you were going to say, wasn't
it? Well, and take one thing with another, nor did I, George, if
that's any comfort to you. Now look here, just cover over this hole
with some boards and earth, and then come in and get some breakfast.
It's past eight o'clock and the gale is blowing itself out. A merry
Christmas to you, George!" and he held out his hand, covered with
cuts, grime and blood.

George shook it. "Same to you, Colonel, I'm sure. And a merry
Christmas it is. God bless you, sir, for what you've done to-night.
You've saved the old place from that banker chap, that's what you've
done; and you'll hev Miss Ida, and I'm durned glad on it, that I am.
Lord! won't this make the Squire open his eyes," and the honest fellow
brushed away a tear and fairly capered with joy, his red nightcap
waving on the wind.

It was a strange and beautiful sight to see the solemn George capering
thus in the midst of that storm-swept desolation.

Harold was too moved to answer, so he shouldered his last load of
treasure and limped off with it to the house. Mrs. Jobson and her
talkative niece were up now, but they did not happen to see him, and
he reached his room unnoticed. He poured the last bagful of gold into
the chest, smoothed it down, shut the lid and locked it. Then as he
was, covered with filth and grime, bruised and bleeding, his hair
flying wildly about his face, he sat down upon it, and from his heart
thanked heaven for the wonderful thing that had happened to him.

So exhausted was he that he nearly fell asleep as he sat, but
remembering himself rose, and taking the parchment from his pocket cut
the faded silk with which it was tied and opened it.

On it was a short inscription in the same crabbed writing which he had
seen in the old Bible that Ida had found.

It ran as follows:

"Seeing that the times be so troublous that no man can be sure of
his own, I, Sir James de la Molle, have brought together all my
substance in money from wheresoever it lay at interest, and have
hid the same in this sepulchre, to which I found the entry by a
chance, till such time as peace come back to this unhappy England.
This have I done on the early morn of Christmas Day, in the year
of our Lord 1642, having ended the hiding of the gold while the
great gale was blowing.

"James de la Molle."

Thus on a long gone Christmas Day, in the hour of a great wind, was
the gold hid, and now on this Christmas Day, when another great wind
raged overhead, it was found again, in time to save a daughter of the
house of de la Molle from a fate sore as death.

CHAPTER XLII

IDA GOES TO MEET HER FATE

Most people of a certain age and a certain degree of sensitiveness, in
looking back down the vista of their lives, whereon memory's
melancholy light plays in fitful flashes like the alternate glow of a
censer swung in the twilight of a tomb, can recall some one night of
peculiar mental agony. It may have come when first we found ourselves
face to face with the chill and hopeless horror of departed life;
when, in our soul's despair, we stretched out vain hands and wept,
called and no answer came; when we kissed those beloved lips and
shrunk aghast at contact with their clay, those lips more eloquent now
in the rich pomp of their unutterable silence than in the brightest
hour of their unsealing. It may have come when our honour and the hope
of all our days lay at our feet shattered like a sherd on the world's
hard road. It may have come when she, the star of our youth, the type
of completed beauty and woman's most perfect measure, she who held the
chalice of our hope, ruthlessly emptied and crushed it, and, as became
a star, passed down our horizon's ways to rise upon some other sky. It
may have come when Brutus stabbed us, or when a child whom we had
cherished struck us with a serpent-fang of treachery and left the
poison to creep upon our heart. One way or another it has been with
most of us, that long night of utter woe, and all will own that it is
a ghastly thing to face.

And so Ida de la Molle had found it. The shriek of the great gale
rushing on that Christmas Eve round the stout Norman towers was not
more strong than the breath of the despair which shook her life. She
could not sleep--who could sleep on such a night, the herald of such a
morrow? The wail and roar of the wind, the crash of falling trees, and
the rattle of flying stones seemed to form a fit accompaniment to the
turmoil of her mind.

She rose, went to the window, and in the dim light watched the trees
gigantically tossing in struggle for their life. An oak and a birch
were within her view. The oak stood the storm out--for a while.
Presently there came an awful gust and beat upon it. It would not
bend, and the tough roots would not give, so beneath the weight of the
gale the big tree broke in two like a straw, and its spreading top was
whirled into the moat. But the birch gave and bent; it bent till its
delicate filaments lay upon the wind like a woman's streaming hair,
and the fierceness of the blast wore itself away and spared it.

"See what happens to those who stand up and defy their fate," said Ida
to herself with a bitter laugh. "The birch has the best of it."

Ida turned and closed the shutters; the sight of the tempest affected
her strained nerves almost beyond bearing. She began to walk up and
down the big room, flitting like a ghost from end to end and back
again, and again back. What could she do? What should she do? Her fate
was upon her: she could no longer resist the inevitable--she must
marry him. And yet her whole soul revolted from the act with an
overwhelming fierceness which astonished even herself. She had known
two girls who had married people whom they did not like, being at the
time, or pretending to be, attached to somebody else, and she had
observed that they accommodated themselves to their fate with
considerable ease. But it was not so with her; she was fashioned of
another clay, and it made her faint to think of what was before her.
And yet the prospect was one on which she could expect little
sympathy. Her own father, although personally he disliked the man whom
she must marry, was clearly filled with amazement that she should
prefer Colonel Quaritch, middle-aged, poor, and plain, to Edward
Cossey--handsome, young, and rich as Croesus. He could not comprehend
or measure the extraordinary gulf which her love dug between the two.
If, therefore, this was so with her own father, how would it be with
the rest of the world?

She paced her bedroom till she was tired; then, in an access of
despair, which was sufficiently distressing in a person of her
reserved and stately manner, flung herself, weeping and sobbing, upon
her knees, and resting her aching head upon the bed, prayed as she had
never prayed before that this cup might pass from her.

She did not know--how should she?--that at this very moment her prayer
was being answered, and that her lover was then, even as she prayed,
lifting the broken stone and revealing the hoard of ruddy gold. But so
it was; she prayed in despair and agony of mind, and the prayer
carried on the wild wings of the night brought a fulfilment with it.
Not in vain were her tears and supplications, for even now the
deliverer delved among

"The dust and awful treasures of the dead,"

and even now the light of her happiness was breaking on her tortured
night as the cold gleams of the Christmas morning were breaking over
the fury of the storm without.

And then, chilled and numb in body and mind, she crept into her bed
again and at last lost herself in sleep.

By half-past nine o'clock, when Ida came down to breakfast, the gale
had utterly gone, though its footprints were visible enough in
shattered trees, unthatched stacks, and ivy torn in knotty sheets from
the old walls it clothed. It would have been difficult to recognise in
the cold and stately lady who stood at the dining-room window, noting
the havoc and waiting for her father to come in, the lovely,
passionate, dishevelled woman who some few hours before had thrown
herself upon her knees praying to God for the succour she could not
win from man. Women, like nature, have many moods and many aspects to
express them. The hot fit had passed, and the cold fit was on her now.
Her face, except for the dark hollows round the eyes, was white as
winter, and her heart was cold as winter's ice.

Presently her father came in.

"What a gale," he said, "what a gale! Upon my word I began to think
that the old place was coming down about our ears, and the wreck among
the trees is dreadful. I don't think there can have been such a wind
since the time of King Charles I., when the top of the tower was blown
right off the church. You remember I was showing you the entry about
it in the registers the other day, the one signed by the parson and
old Sir James de la Molle. The boy who has just come up with the
letters tells me he hears that poor old Mrs. Massey's summer-house on
the top of Dead Man's Mount has been blown away, which is a good
riddance for Colonel Quaritch. Why, what's the matter with you, dear?
How pale you look!"

"The gale kept me awake. I got very little sleep," answered Ida.

"And no wonder. Well, my love, you haven't wished me a merry Christmas
yet. Goodness knows we want one badly enough. There has not been much
merriment at Honham of late years."

"A merry Christmas to you, father," she said.

"Thank you, Ida, the same to you; you have got most of your
Christmases before you, which is more than I have. God bless me, it
only seems like yesterday since the big bunch of holly tied to the
hook in the ceiling there fell down on the breakfast table and smashed
all the cups, and yet it is more than sixty years ago. Dear me! how
angry my poor mother was. She never could bear the crockery to be
broken--it was a little failing of your grandmother's," and he laughed
more heartily than Ida had heard him do for some weeks.

She made no answer but busied herself about the tea. Presently,
glancing up she saw her father's face change. The worn expression came
back upon it and he lost his buoyant bearing. Evidently a new thought
had struck him, and she was in no great doubt as to what it was.

"We had better get on with breakfast," he said. "You know that Cossey
is coming up at ten o'clock."

"Ten o'clock?" she said faintly.

"Yes. I told him ten so that we could go to church afterwards if we
wished to. Of course, Ida, I am still in the dark as to what you have
made up your mind to do, but whatever it is I thought that he had
better once and for all hear your final decision from your own lips.
If, however, you feel yourself at liberty to tell it to me as your
father, I shall be glad to hear it."

She lifted her head and looked him full in the face, and then paused.
He had a cup of tea in his hand, and held it in the air half way to
his mouth, while his whole face showed the over-mastering anxiety with
which he was awaiting her reply.

"Make your mind easy, father," she said, "I am going to marry Mr.
Cossey."

He put the cup down in such a fashion that he spilt half the tea, most
of it over his own clothes, without even noticing it, and then turned
away his face.

"Well," he said, "of course it is not my affair, or at least only
indirectly so, but I must say, my love, I congratulate you on the
decision which you have come to. I quite understand that you have been
in some difficulty about the matter; young women often have been
before you, and will be again. But to be frank, Ida, that Quaritch
business was not at all suitable, either in age, fortune, or in
anything else. Yes, although Cossey is not everything that one might
wish, on the whole I congratulate you."

"Oh, pray don't," broke in Ida, almost with a cry. "Whatever you do,
pray do not congratulate me!"

Her father turned round again and looked at her. But Ida's face had
already recovered its calm, and he could make nothing of it.

"I don't quite understand you," he said; "these things are generally
considered matters for congratulation."

But for all he might say and all that he might urge in his mind to the
contrary, he did more or less understand what her outburst meant. He
could not but know that it was the last outcry of a broken spirit. In
his heart he realised then, if he had never clearly realised it
before, that this proposed marriage was a thing hateful to his
daughter, and his conscience pricked him sorely. And yet--and yet--it
was but a woman's fancy--a passing fancy. She would become reconciled
to the inevitable as women do, and when her children came she would
grow accustomed to her sorrow, and her trouble would be forgotten in
their laughter. And if not, well it was but one woman's life which
would be affected, and the very existence of his race and the very
cradle that had nursed them from century to century were now at stake.
Was all this to be at the mercy of a girl's whim? No! let the
individual suffer.

So he argued. And so at his age and in his circumstances most of us
would argue also, and, perhaps, considering all things, we should be
right. For in this world personal desires must continually give way to
the welfare of others. Did they not do so our system of society could
not endure.

No more was said upon the subject. Ida made pretence of eating a piece
of toast; the Squire mopped up the tea upon his clothes, and then
drank some more.

Meanwhile the remorseless seconds crept on. It wanted but five minutes
to the hour, and the hour would, she well knew, bring the man with it.

The five minutes passed slowly and in silence. Both her father and
herself realised the nature of the impending situation, but neither of
them spoke of it. Ah! there was the sound of wheels upon the gravel.
So it had come.

Ida felt like death itself. Her pulse sunk and fluttered; her vital
forces seemed to cease their work.

Another two minutes went by, then the door opened and the parlour-maid
came in.

"Mr. Cossey, if you please, sir."

"Oh," said the Squire. "Where is he?"

"In the vestibule, sir."

"Very good. Tell him I will be there in a minute."

The maid went.

"Now, Ida," said her father, "I suppose that we had better get this
business over."

"Yes," she answered, rising; "I am ready."

And gathering up her energies, she passed out to meet her fate.

CHAPTER XLIII

GEORGE IS SEEN TO LAUGH

Ida and her father reached the vestibule to find Edward Cossey
standing with his face to the mantelpiece and nervously toying with
some curiosities upon it. He was, as usual, dressed with great care,
and his face, though white and worn from the effects of agitation of
mind, looked if anything handsomer than ever. As soon as he heard them
coming, which owing to his partial deafness he did not do till they
were quite close to him, he turned round with a start, and a sudden
flush of colour came upon his pale face.

The Squire shook hands with him in a solemn sort of way, as people do
when they meet at a funeral, but Ida barely touched his outstretched
fingers with her own.

A few random remarks followed about the weather, which really for once
in a way was equal to the conversational strain put upon it. At length
these died away and there came an awful pause. It was broken by the
Squire, who, standing with his back to the fire, his eyes fixed upon
the wall opposite, after much humming and hawing, delivered himself
thus:

"I understand, Mr. Cossey, that you have come to hear my daughter's
final decision on the matter of the proposal of marriage which you
have made and renewed to her. Now, of course, this is a very important
question, very important indeed, and it is one with which I cannot
presume even to seem to interfere. Therefore, I shall without comment
leave my daughter to speak for herself."

"One moment before she does so," Mr. Cossey interrupted, drawing
indeed but a poor augury of success from Ida's icy looks. "I have come
to renew my offer and to take my final answer, and I beg Miss de la
Molle to consider how deep and sincere must be that affection which
has endured through so many rebuffs. I know, or at least I fear, that
I do not occupy the place in her feelings that I should wish to, but I
look to time to change this; at any rate I am willing to take my
chance. As regards money, I repeat the offer which I have already
made."

"There, I should not say too much about that," broke in the Squire
impatiently.

"Oh, why not?" said Ida, in bitter sarcasm. "Mr. Cossey knows it is a
good argument. I presume, Mr. Cossey, that as a preliminary to the
renewal of our engagement, the persecution of my father which is being
carried on by your lawyers will cease?"

"Absolutely."

"And if the engagement is not renewed the money will of course be
called in?"

"My lawyers advise that it should be," he answered sullenly; "but see
here, Ida, you may make your own terms about money. Marriage, after
all, is very much a matter of bargaining, and I am not going to stand
out about the price."

"You are really most generous," went on Ida in the same bitter tone,
the irony of which made her father wince, for he understood her mood
better than did her lover. "I only regret that I cannot appreciate
such generosity more than I do. But it is at least in my power to give
you the return which you deserve. So I can no longer hesitate, but
once and for all----"

She stopped dead, and stared at the glass door as though she saw a
ghost. Both her father and Edward Cossey followed the motion of her
eyes, and this was what they saw. Up the steps came Colonel Quaritch
and George. Both were pale and weary-looking, but the former was at
least clean. As for George, this could not be said. His head was still
adorned with the red nightcap, his hands were cut and dirty, and on
his clothes was an unlimited quantity of encrusted filth.

"What the dickens----" began the Squire, and at that moment George,
who was leading, knocked at the door.

"You can't come in now," roared the Squire; "don't you see that we are
engaged?"

"But we must come in, Squire, begging your pardon," answered George,
with determination, as he opened the door; "we've got that to say as
won't keep."

"I tell you that it must keep, sir," said the old gentleman, working
himself into a rage. "Am I not to be allowed a moment's privacy in my
own house? I wonder at your conduct, Colonel Quaritch, in forcing your
presence upon me when I tell you that it is not wanted."

"I am sure that I apologise, Mr. de la Molle," began the Colonel,
utterly taken aback, "but what I have to say is----"

"The best way that you can apologise is by withdrawing," answered the
Squire with majesty. "I shall be most happy to hear what you have to
say on another occasion."

"Oh, Squire, Squire, don't be such a fule, begging your pardon for the
word," said George, in exasperation. "Don't you go a-knocking of your
head agin a brick wall."

"Will you be off, sir?" roared his master in a voice that made the
walls shake.

By this time Ida had recovered herself. She seemed to feel that her
lover had something to say which concerned her deeply--probably she
read it in his eyes.

"Father," she said, raising her voice, "I won't have Colonel Quaritch
turned away from the door like this. If you will not admit him I will
go outside and hear what it is that he has to say."

In his heart the Squire held Ida in some awe. He looked at her, and
saw that her eyes were flashing and her breast heaving. Then he gave
way.

"Oh, very well, since my daughter insists on it, pray come in," and he
bowed. "If such an intrusion falls in with your ideas of decency it is
not for me to complain."

"I accept your invitation," answered Harold, looking very angry,
"because I have something to say which you must hear, and hear at
once. No, thank you, I will stand. Now, Mr. de la Molle, it is this,
wonderful as it may seem. It has been my fortune to discover the
treasure hidden by Sir James de la Molle in the year 1643!"

There was a general gasp of astonishment.

"/What!/" exclaimed the Squire. "Why, I thought that the whole thing
was a myth."

"No, that it ain't, sir," said George with a melancholy smile, "cos
I've seen it."

Ida had sunk into a chair.

"What is the amount?" she asked in a low eager voice.

"I have been unable to calculate exactly, but, speaking roughly, it
cannot be under fifty thousand pounds, estimated on the value of the
gold alone. Here is a specimen of it," and Harold pulled out a handful
of rials and other coins, and poured them on to the table.

Ida hid her face in her hand, and Edward Cossey realising what this
most unexpected development of events might mean for him, began to
tremble.

"I should not allow myself to be too much elated, Mr. de la Molle," he
said with a sneer, "for even if this tale be true, it is treasure
trove, and belongs to the Crown."

"Ah," said the Squire, "I never thought of that."

"But I have," answered the Colonel quietly. "If I remember right, the
last of the original de la Molles left a will in which he especially
devised this treasure, hidden by his father, to your ancestor. That it
is the identical treasure I am fortunately in a position to prove by
this parchment," and he laid upon the table the writing he had found
with the gold.

"Quite right--quite right," said the Squire, "that will take it out of
the custom."

"Perhaps the Solicitor to the Treasury may hold a different opinion,"
said Cossey, with another sneer.

Just then Ida took her hand from her face. There was a dewy look about
her eyes, and the last ripples of a happy smile lingered round the
corners of her mouth.

"Now that we have heard what Colonel Quaritch had to say," she said in
her softest voice, and addressing her father, "there is no reason why
we should not finish our business with Mr. Cossey."

Here Harold and George turned to go. She waved them back imperiously,
and began speaking before any one could interfere, taking up her
speech where she had broken it off when she caught sight of the
Colonel and George coming up the steps.

"I can no longer hesitate," she said, "but once and for all I decline
to marry you, Mr. Cossey, and I hope that I shall never see your face
again."

At this announcement the bewildered Squire put his hand to his head.
Edward Cossey staggered visibly and rested himself against the table,
while George murmured audibly, "That's a good job."

"Listen," said Ida, rising from her chair, her dark eyes flashing as
the shadow of all the shame and agony that she had undergone rose up
within her mind. "Listen, Mr. Cossey," and she pointed her finger at
him; "this is the history of our connection. Some months ago I was so
foolish as to ask your help in the matter of the mortgages which your
bank was calling in. You then practically made terms that if it should
at any time be your wish I should become engaged to you; and I, seeing
no option, accepted. Then, in the interval, while it was inconvenient
to you to enforce those terms, I gave my affection elsewhere. But when
you, having deserted the lady who stood in your way--no, do not
interrupt me, I know it, I know it all, I know it from her own lips--
came forward and claimed my promise, I was forced to consent. But a
loophole of escape presented itself and I availed myself of it. What
followed? You again became possessed of power over my father and this
place, you insulted the man I loved, you resorted to every expedient
that the law would allow to torture my father and myself. You set your
lawyers upon us like dogs upon a hare, you held ruin over us and again
and again you offered me money, as much money as I wished, if only I
would sell myself to you. And then you bided your time, leaving
despair to do its work.

"I saw the toils closing round us. I knew that if I did not yield my
father would be driven from his home in his old age, and that the
place he loved would pass to strangers--would pass to you. No, father,
do not stop me, I /will/ speak my mind!

"And at last I determined that cost what it might I would yield.
Whether I could have carried out my determination God only knows. I
almost think that I should have killed myself upon my marriage day. I
made up my mind. Not five minutes ago the very words were upon my lips
that would have sealed my fate, when deliverance came. And now /go/. I
have done with you. Your money shall be paid to you, capital and
interest, down to the last farthing. I tender back my price, and
knowing you for what you are, I--I despise you. That is all I have to
say."

"Well, if that beant a master one," ejaculated George aloud.

Ida, who had never looked more beautiful than she did in this moment
of passion, turned to seat herself, but the tension of her feelings
and the torrent of her wrath and eloquence had been too much for her.
She would have fallen had not Harold, who had been listening amazed to
this overpowering outburst of nature, run up and caught her in his
arms.

As for Edward Cossey, he had shrunk back involuntarily beneath the
volume of her scorn, till he stood with his back against the panelled
wall. His face was white as a sheet; despair and fury shone in his
dark eyes. Never had he desired this woman more fiercely than he did
now, in the moment when he knew that she had escaped him for ever. In
a sense he was to be pitied, for passion tore his heart in twain. For
a moment he stood thus. Then with a spring rather than a step, he
advanced across the room till he was face to face with Harold, who,
with Ida still half fainting in his arms, and her head upon his
shoulder, was standing on the further side of the fire-place.

"Damn you," he said, "I owe this to you--you half-pay adventurer," and
he lifted his arm as though to strike him.

"Come, none of that," said the Squire, speaking for the first time. "I
will have no brawling here."

"No," put in George, edging his long form between the two, "and
begging your pardon, sir, don't you go a-calling of better men than
yourself adwenturers. At any rate, if the Colonel is an adwenturer, he
hev adwentured to some purpose, as is easy for to see," and he pointed
to Ida.

"Hold your tongue, sir," roared the Squire, as usual relieving his
feelings on his retainer. "You are always shoving your oar in where it
isn't wanted."

"All right, Squire, all right," said George the imperturbable; "thin
his manners shouldn't be sich."

"Do you mean to allow this?" said Cossey, turning fiercely to the old
gentleman. "Do you mean to allow this man to marry your daughter for
her money?"

"Mr. Cossey," answered the Squire, with his politest and most old-
fashioned bow, "whatever sympathy I may have felt for you is being
rapidly alienated by your manner. I told you that my daughter must
speak for herself. She has spoken very clearly indeed, and, in short,
I have absolutely nothing to add to her words."

"I tell you what it is," Cossey said, shaking with fury, "I have been
tricked and fooled and played with, and so surely as there is a heaven
above us I will have my revenge on you all. The money which this man
says that he has found belongs to the Queen, not to you, and I will
take care that the proper people are informed of it before you can
make away with it. When that is taken from you, if, indeed, the whole
thing is not a trick, we shall see what will happen to you. I tell you
that I will take this property and I will pull this old place you are
so fond of down stone by stone and throw it into the moat, and send
the plough over the site. I will sell the estate piecemeal and blot it
out. I tell you I have been tricked--you encouraged the marriage
yourself, you know you did, and forbade that man the house," and he
paused for breath and to collect his words.

Again the Squire bowed, and his bow was a study in itself. You do not
see such bows now-a-days.

"One minute, Mr. Cossey," he said very quietly, for it was one of his
peculiarities to become abnormally quiet in circumstances of real
emergency, "and then I think that we may close this painful interview.
When first I knew you I did not like you. Afterwards, through various
circumstances, I modified my opinion and set my dislike down to
prejudice. You are quite right in saying that I encouraged the idea of
a marriage between you and my daughter, also that I forbade the house
to Colonel Quaritch. I did so because, to be honest, I saw no other
way of avoiding the utter ruin of my family; but perhaps I was wrong
in so doing. I hope that you may never be placed in a position which
will force you to such a decision. Also at the time, indeed never till
this moment, have I quite realised how the matter really stood. I did
not understand how strongly my daughter was attached in another
direction, perhaps I was unwilling to understand it. Nor did I
altogether understand the course of action by which it seems you
obtained a promise of marriage from my daughter in the first instance.
I was anxious for the marriage because I believed you to be a better
man than you are, also because I thought that it would place my
daughter and her descendants in a much improved position, and that she
would in time become attached to you. I forbade Colonel Quaritch the
house because I considered that an alliance with him would be
undesirable for everybody concerned. I find that in all this I was
acting wrongly, and I frankly admit it. Perhaps as we grow old we grow
worldly also, and you and your agents pressed me very hard, Mr.
Cossey. Still I have always told you that my daughter was a free agent
and must decide for herself, and therefore I owe you no apology on
this score. So much then for the question of your engagement to Miss
de la Molle. It is done with.

"Now as regards the threats you make. I shall try to meet them as
occasion arises, and if I cannot do so it will be my misfortune. But
one thing they show me, though I am sorry to have to say it to any man
in a house which I can still call my own--they show me that my first
impressions of you were the correct ones. /You are not a gentleman/,
Mr. Cossey, and I must beg to decline the honour of your further
acquaintance," and with another bow he opened the vestibule door and
stood holding the handle in his hand.

Edward Cossey looked round with a stare of rage. Then muttering one
most comprehensive curse he stalked from the room, and in another
minute was driving fast through the ancient gateway.

Let us pity him, for he also certainly received his due.

George followed him to the outer door and then did a thing that nobody
had seen him do before; he burst out into a loud laugh.

"What are you making that noise about?" asked his master sternly.
"This is no laughing matter."

"/Him!/" replied George, pointing to the retreating dog-cart--"/he's/
a-going to pull down the Castle and throw it into the moat and to send
the plough over it, is he? /Him/--that varmint! Why, them old towers
will be a-standing there when his beggarly bones is dust, and when his
name ain't no more a name; and there'll be one of the old blood
sitting in them too. I knaw it, and I hev allus knawed it. Come,
Squire, though you allus du say how as I'm a fule, what did I tell
yer? Didn't I tell yer that Prowidence weren't a-going to let this
place go to any laryers or bankers or thim sort? Why, in course I did.
And now you see. Not but what it is all owing to the Colonel. He was
the man as found it, but then God Almighty taught him where to dig.
But he's a good un, he is; and a gintleman, not like /him/," and once
more he pointed with unutterable scorn to the road down which Edward
Cossey had vanished.

"Now, look here," said the Squire, "don't you stand talking all day
about things you don't understand. That's the way you waste time. You
be off and look after this gold; it should not be left alone, you
know. We will come down presently to Molehill, for I suppose that is
where it is. No, I can't stop to hear the story now, and besides I
want Colonel Quaritch to tell it to me."

"All right, Squire," said George, touching his red nightcap, "I'll be
off," and he started.

"George," halloaed his master after him, but George did not stop. He
had a trick of deafness when the Squire was calling, that is if he
wanted to go somewhere else.

"Confound you," roared the old gentleman, "why don't you stop when I
call you?"

This time George brought his long lank frame to a standstill.

"Beg pardon, Squire."

"Beg pardon, yes--you're always begging pardon. Look here, you had
better bring your wife and have dinner in the servants' hall to-day,
and drink a glass of port."

"Thank you, Squire," said George again, touching his red nightcap.

"And look here, George. Give me your hand, man. Here's a merry
Christmas to you. We've gone through some queerish times about this
place together, but now it almost looks as though we were going to end
our days in peace and plenty."

"Same to you, Squire, I'm sure, same to you," said George, pulling off
his cap. "Yes, yes, we've had some bad years, what with poor Mr. James
and that Quest and Cossey (he's the master varmint of the lot he is),
and the bad times, and Janter, and the Moat Farm and all. But, bless
you, Squire, now that there'll be some ready money and no debts, why,
if I don't make out somehow so that you all get a good living out of
the place I'm a Dutchman. Why, yes, it's been a bad time and we're
a-getting old, but there, that's how it is, the sky almost allus
clears toward night-fall. God Almighty hev a mind to let one down
easy, I suppose."

"If you would talk a little less about your Maker, and come to church
a little more, it would be a good thing, as I've told you before,"
said the Squire; "but there, go along with you."

And the honest fellow went.

CHAPTER XLIV

CHRISTMAS CHIMES

The Squire turned and entered the house. He generally was fairly noisy
in his movements, but on this occasion he was exceptionally so.
Possibly he had a reason for it.

On reaching the vestibule he found Harold and Ida standing side by
side as though they were being drilled. It was impossible to resist
the conclusion that they had suddenly assumed that attitude because it
happened to be the first position into which they could conveniently
fall.

There was a moment's silence, then Harold took Ida's hand and led her
up to where her father was standing.

"Mr. de la Molle," he said simply, "once more I ask you for your
daughter in marriage. I am quite aware of my many disqualifications,
especially those of my age and the smallness of my means; but Ida and
myself hope and believe that under all the circumstances you will no
longer withhold your consent," and he paused.

"Quaritch," answered the Squire, "I have already in your presence told
Mr. Cossey under what circumstances I was favourably inclined to his
proposal, so I need not repeat all that. As regards your means,
although they would have been quite insufficient to avert the ruin
which threatened us, still you have, I believe, a competence, and
owing to your wonderful and most providential discovery the fear of
ruin seems to have passed away. It is owing to you that this
discovery, which by the way I want to hear all about, has been made;
had it not been for you it never would have been made at all, and
therefore I certainly have no right to say anything more about your
means. As to your age, well, after all forty-four is not the limit of
life, and if Ida does not object to marrying a man of those years, I
cannot object to her doing so. With reference to your want of
occupation, I think that if you marry Ida this place will, as times
are, keep your hands pretty full, especially when you have an
obstinate donkey like that fellow George to deal with. I am getting
too old and stupid to look after it myself, and besides things are so
topsy-turvy that I can't understand them. There is one thing more that
I want to say: I forbade you the house. Well, you are a generous-
minded man, and it is human to err, so I think that perhaps you will
understand my action and not bear me a grudge on that account. Also, I
dare say that at the time, and possibly at other times, I said things
I should be sorry for if I could remember what they were, which I
can't, and if so, I apologise to you as a gentleman ought when he
finds himself in the wrong. And so I say God bless you both, and I
hope you will be happy in life together; and now come here, Ida, my
love, and give me a kiss. You have been a good daughter all your life,
and so Quaritch may be sure that you will be a good wife too."

Ida did as she was bid. Then she went over to her lover and took him
by his hand, and he kissed her on the forehead. And thus after all
their troubles they finally ratified the contract.

* * * * *

And we, who have followed them thus far, and have perhaps been a
little moved by their struggles, hopes, and fears, will surely not
grudge to re-echo the Squire's old-fashioned prayer, "God bless them
both."

God bless them both. Long may they live, and happily.

Long may they live, and for very long may their children's children of
the race, if not of the name of de la Molle, pass in and out through
the old Norman gateway and by the sturdy Norman towers. The Boisseys,
who built them, here had their habitation for six generations. The de
la Molles who wedded the heiress of the Boisseys lived here for
thirteen generations. May the Quaritchs whose ancestor married Ida,
heiress of the de la Molles, endure as long!

Surely it is permitted to us to lift a corner of the curtain of
futurity and in spirit see Ida Quaritch, stately and beautiful as we
knew her, but of a happier countenance. We see her seated on some
Christmas Eve to come in the drawing-room of the Castle, telling to
the children at her knees the wonderful tale of how their father and
old George on this very night, when the gale blew long years ago,
discovered the ruddy pile of gold, hoarded in that awful storehouse
amid the bones of Saxon or Danish heroes, and thus saved her to be
their mother. We can see their wide wondering eyes and fixed faces, as
for the tenth time they listen to a story before which the joys of
Crusoe will grow pale. We can hear the eager appeal for details made
to the military-looking gentleman, very grizzled now, but grown
better-looking with the advancing years, who is standing before the
fire, the best, most beloved husband and father in all that country
side.

Perhaps there may be a vacant chair, and another tomb among the ranks
of the departed de la Molles; perhaps the ancient walls will no longer
echo to the sound of the Squire's stentorian voice. And what of that?
It is our common lot.

But when he goes the country side will lose a man of whom they will
not see the like again, for the breed is dead or dying; a man whose
very prejudices, inconsistencies, and occasional wrong-headed violence
will be held, when he is no longer here, to have been endearing
qualities. And for manliness, for downright English God-fearing
virtues, for love of Queen, country, family and home, they may search
in vain to find his equal among the cosmopolitan Englishmen of the
dawning twentieth century. His faults were many, and at one time he
went near to sacrificing his daughter to save his house, but he would
not have been the man he was without them.

And so to him, too, farewell. Perchance he will find himself better
placed in the Valhalla of his forefathers, surrounded by those stout
old de la Molles whose memory he regarded with so much affection, than
here in this thin-blooded Victorian era. For as has been said
elsewhere the old Squire would undoubtedly have looked better in a
chain shirt and bearing a battle axe than ever he did in a frock coat,
especially with his retainer George armed to the teeth behind him.

* * * * *

They kissed, and it was done.

Out from the church tower in the meadows broke with clash and clangour
a glad sound of Christmas bells. Out it swept over layer, pitle and
fallow, over river, plantain, grove and wood. It floated down the
valley of the Ell, it beat against Dead Man's Mount (henceforth to the
vulgar mind more haunted than ever), it echoed up the Castle's Norman
towers and down the oak-clad vestibule. Away over the common went the
glad message of Earth's Saviour, away high into the air, startling the
rooks upon their airy courses, as though the iron notes of the World's
rejoicing would fain float to the throned feet of the World's
Everlasting King.

Peace and goodwill! Ay and happiness to the children of men while
their span is, and hope for the Beyond, and heaven's blessing on holy
love and all good things that are. This is what those liquid notes
seemed to say to the most happy pair who stood hand in hand in the
vestibule and thought on all they had escaped and all that they had
won.

* * * * *

"Well, Quaritch, if you and Ida have quite done staring at each other,
which isn't very interesting to a third party, perhaps you will not
mind telling us how you happened on old Sir James de la Molle's
hoard."

Thus adjured, Harold began his thrilling story, telling the whole
history of the night in detail, and if his hearers had expected to be
astonished certainly their expectations were considerably more than
fulfilled.

"Upon my word," said the Squire when he had done, "I think I am
beginning to grow superstitious in my old age. Hang me if I don't
believe it was the finger of Providence itself that pointed out those
letters to you. Anyway, I'm off to see the spoil. Run and get your
hat, Ida, my dear, and we will all go together."

And they went and looked at the chest full of red gold, yes, and
passed down, all three of them, into those chill presences in the
bowels of the Mount. Then coming thence awed and silent they sealed up
the place for ever.

CONCLUSION

GOOD-BYE

On the following morning such of the inhabitants of Boisingham as
chanced to be about were much interested to see an ordinary farm
tumbrel coming down the main street. It was being driven, or rather
led, by no less a person than George himself, while behind it walked
the well-known form of the old Squire, arm-in-arm with Colonel
Quaritch.

They were still more interested, however, when the tumbrel drew up at
the door of the bank--not Cossey's, but the opposition bank--where,
although it was Boxing Day, the manager and the clerk were apparently
waiting for its arrival.

But their interest culminated when they perceived that the cart only
contained a few bags, and yet that each of these bags seemed to
require three or four men to lift it with any comfort.

Thus was the gold safely housed. Upon being weighed its value was
found to be about fifty-three thousand pounds of modern money. But as
some of the coins were exceedingly rare, and of great worth to museums
and collectors, this value was considerably increased, and the
treasure was ultimately sold for fifty-six thousand two hundred and
fifty-four pounds. Only Ida kept back enough of the choicest coins to
make a gold waistband or girdle and a necklace for herself, destined
no doubt in future days to form the most cherished heirloom of the
Quaritch family.

On that same evening the Squire and Harold went to London and opened
up communications with the Solicitor to the Treasury. Fortunately they
were able to refer to the will of Sir Edward de la Molle, the second
baronet, in which he specially devised to his cousin, Geoffrey
Dofferleigh, and his heirs for ever, not only his estates, but his
lands, "together with the treasure hid thereon or elsewhere by my late
murdered father, Sir James de la Molle." Also they produced the
writing which Ida had found in the old Bible, and the parchment
discovered by George among the coin. These three documents formed a
chain of evidence which even officials interested for the Treasury
could not refuse to admit, and in the upshot the Crown renounced its
claims, and the property in the gold passed to the Squire, subject to
the payment of the same succession duty which he would have been
called upon to meet had he inherited a like sum from a cousin at the
present time.

And so it came to pass that when the mortgage money was due it was
paid to the last farthing, capital and interest, and Edward Cossey
lost his hold upon Honham for ever.

As for Edward Cossey himself, we may say one more word about him. In
the course of time he sufficiently recovered from his violent passion
for Ida to allow him to make a brilliant marriage with the only
daughter of an impecunious peer. She keeps her name and title and he
plays the part of the necessary husband. Anyhow, my reader, if it is
your fortune to frequent the gilded saloons of the great, you may meet
Lady Honoria Tallton and Mr. Cossey. If you do meet him, however, it
may be as well to avoid him, for the events of his life have not been
of a nature to improve his temper. This much then of Edward Cossey.

If after leaving the gilded saloons aforesaid you should happen to
wander through the London streets, you may meet another character in
this history. You may see a sweet pale face, still stamped with a
child-like roundness and simplicity, but half hidden in the coarse
hood of the nun. You may see her, and if you care to follow you may
find what is the work wherein she seeks her peace. It would shock you;
but it is her work of mercy and loving kindness and she does it
unflinchingly. Among her sister nuns there is no one more beloved than
Sister Agnes. So good-bye to her also.

Harold Quaritch and Ida were married in the spring and the village
children strewed the churchyard path with primroses and violets--the
same path where in anguish of soul they had met and parted on that
dreary winter's night.

And there at the old church door, when the wreath is on her brow and
the veil about her face, let us bid farewell to Ida and her husband,
Harold Quaritch.

THE END

Book of the day: