Part 2 out of 4
litter on the floor to remind me of what had happened earlier in
the night. Yet I was less disconcerted than you might suppose. A
common housebreaker can have few terrors for one who has braved
those of mid-ocean single-handed; my would-be visitor had no longer
any for me; for it had not yet occurred to me to connect him with
the voices and the footsteps to which, indeed, I had been unable
to swear before the doctor. On the other hand, these morbid
imaginings (as I was far from unwilling to consider them) had one
and all deserted me in the sane, clean company of the capital young
fellow in the next room.
I have confessed my condition up to the time of this queer meeting.
I have tried to bring young Rattray before you with some hint of his
freshness and his boyish charm; and though the sense of failure is
heavy upon me there, I who knew the man knew also that I must fail
to do him justice. Enough may have been said, however, to impart
some faint idea of what this youth was to me in the bitter and
embittering anti-climax of my life. Conventional figures spring to
my pen, but every one of them is true; he was flowers in spring, he
was sunshine after rain, he was rain following long months of
drought. I slept admirably after all; and I awoke to see the
overturned toilet-table, and to thrill as I remembered there was one
fellow-creature with whom I could fraternize without fear of a rude
reopening of my every wound.
I hurried my dressing in the hope of our breakfasting together. I
knocked at the next door, and, receiving no answer, even ventured
to enter, with the same idea. He was not there. He was not in the
coffee-room. He was not in the hotel.
I broke my fast in disappointed solitude, and I hung about
disconsolate all the morning, looking wistfully for my new-made
friend. Towards mid-day he drove up in a cab which he kept waiting
at the curb.
"It's all right!" he cried out in his hearty way. "I sent my
telegram first thing, and I've had the answer at my club. The
rooms are vacant, and I'll see that Jane Braithwaite has all ready
for you by to-morrow night."
I thanked him from my heart. "You seem in a hurry!" I added, as I
followed him up the stairs.
"I am," said he. "It's a near thing for the train. I've just time
to stick in my things."
"Then I'll stick in mine," said I impulsively, "and I'll come with
you, and doss down in any corner for the night."
He stopped and turned on the stairs.
"You mustn't do that," said he; "they won't have anything ready.
I'm going to make it my privilege to see that everything is as cosey
as possible when you arrive. I simply can't allow you to come to-day,
Mr. Cole!" He smiled, but I saw that he was in earnest, and of
course I gave in.
"All right," said I; "then I must content myself with seeing you
off at the station."
To my surprise his smile faded, and a flush of undisguised annoyance
made him, if anything, better-looking than ever. It brought out a
certain strength of mouth and jaw which I had not observed there
hitherto. It gave him an ugliness of expression which only
emphasized his perfection of feature.
"You mustn't do that either," said he, shortly. "I have an
appointment at the station. I shall be talking business all the
He was gone to his room, and I went to mine feeling duly snubbed;
yet I deserved it; for I had exhibited a characteristic (though not
chronic) want of taste, of which I am sometimes guilty to this day.
Not to show ill-feeling on the head of it, I nevertheless followed
him down again in four or five minutes. And I was rewarded by his
brightest smile as he grasped my hand.
"Come to-morrow by the same train," said he, naming station, line,
and hour; "unless I telegraph, all will be ready and you shall be
met. You may rely on reasonable charges. As to the fishing, go
up-stream - to the right when you strike the beck - and you'll find
a good pool or two. I may have to go to Lancaster the day after
to-morrow, but I shall give you a call when I get back."
With that we parted, as good friends as ever. I observed that my
regret at losing him was shared by the boots, who stood beside me
on the steps as his hansom rattled off.
"I suppose Mr. Rattray stays here always when he comes to town?"
"No, sir," said the man, "we've never had him before, not in my time;
but I shouldn't mind if he came again." And he looked twice at the
coin in his hand before pocketing it with evident satisfaction.
Lonely as I was, and wished to be, I think that I never felt my
loneliness as I did during the twenty-four hours which intervened
between Rattray's departure and my own. They dragged like wet days
by the sea, and the effect was as depressing. I have seldom been
at such a loss for something to do; and in my idleness I behaved
like a child, wishing my new friend back again, or myself on the
railway with my new friend, until I blushed for the beanstalk growth
of my regard for him, an utter stranger, and a younger man. I am
less ashamed of it now: he had come into my dark life like a lamp,
and his going left a darkness deeper than before.
In my dejection I took a new view of the night's outrage. It was
no common burglar's work, for what had I worth stealing? It was
the work of my unseen enemies, who dogged me in the street; they
alone knew why; the doctor had called these hallucinations, and I
had forced myself to agree with the doctor; but I could not deceive
myself in my present mood. I remembered the steps, the steps - the
stopping when I stopped - the drawing away in the crowded streets
- the closing up in quieter places. Why had I never looked round?
Why? Because till to-day I had thought it mere vulgar curiosity;
because a few had bored me, I had imagined the many at my heels; but
now I knew - I knew! It was the few again: a few who hated me even
The idea took such a hold upon me that I did not trouble my head
with reasons and motives. Certain persons had designs upon my
life; that was enough for me. On the whole, the thought was
stimulating; it set a new value on existence, and it roused a certain
amount of spirit even in me. I would give the fellows another chance
before I left town. They should follow me once more, and this time
to some purpose. Last night they had left a knife on me; to-night
I would have a keepsake ready for them.
Hitherto I had gone unarmed since my landing, which, perhaps, was
no more than my duty as a civilized citizen. On Black Hill Flats,
however, I had formed another habit, of which I should never have
broken myself so easily, but for the fact that all the firearms I
ever had were reddening and rotting at the bottom of the Atlantic
Ocean. I now went out and bought me such a one as I had never
The revolver was then in its infancy; but it did exist; and by dusk
I was owner of as fine a specimen as could be procured in the city
of London. It had but five chambers, but the barrel was ten inches
long; one had to cap it, and to put in the powder and the wadded
bullet separately; but the last-named would have killed an elephant.
The oak case that I bought with it cumbers my desk as I write, and,
shut, you would think that it had never contained anything more
lethal than fruit-knives. I open it, and there are the green-baize
compartments, one with a box of percussion caps, still apparently
full, another that could not contain many more wadded-bullets, and
a third with a powder-horn which can never have been much lighter.
Within the lid is a label bearing the makers' names; the gentlemen
themselves are unknown to me, even if they are still alive;
nevertheless, after five-and-forty years, let me dip my pen to Messrs.
Deane, Adams and Deane!
That night I left this case in my room, locked, and the key in my
waistcoat pocket; in the right-hand side-pocket of my overcoat I
carried my Deane and Adams, loaded in every chamber; also my right
hand, as innocently as you could wish. And just that night I was
not followed! I walked across Regent's Park, and I dawdled on
Primrose Hill, without the least result. Down I turned into the
Avenue Road, and presently was strolling between green fields
towards Finchley. The moon was up, but nicely shaded by a thin
coating of clouds which extended across the sky: it was an ideal
night for it. It was also my last night in town, and I did want
to give the beggars their last chance. But they did not even
attempt to avail themselves of it: never once did they follow me:
my ears were in too good training to make any mistake. And the
reason only dawned on me as I drove back disappointed: they had
followed me already to the gunsmith's!
Convinced of this, I entertained but little hope of another midnight
visitor. Nevertheless, I put my light out early, and sat a long
time peeping through my blind; but only an inevitable Tom, with
back hunched up and tail erect, broke the moonlit profile of the
back-garden wall; and once more that disreputable music (which none
the less had saved my life) was the only near sound all night.
I felt very reluctant to pack Deane and Adams away in his case next
morning, and the case in my portmanteau, where I could not get at
it in case my unknown friends took it into their heads to accompany
me out of town. In the hope that they would, I kept him loaded,
and in the same overcoat pocket, until late in the afternoon, when,
being very near my northern destination, and having the compartment
to myself, I locked the toy away with considerable remorse for the
price I had paid for it. All down the line I had kept an eye for
suspicious characters with an eye upon me; but even my
self-consciousness failed to discover one; and I reached my haven
of peace, and of fresh fell air, feeling, I suppose, much like any
other fool who has spent his money upon a white elephant.
MY CONVALESCENT HOME
The man Braithwaite met me at the station with a spring cart. The
very porters seemed to expect me, and my luggage was in the cart
before I had given up my ticket. Nor had we started when I first
noticed that Braithwaite did not speak when I spoke to him. On the
way, however, a more flagrant instance recalled young Rattray's
remark, that the man was "not like other people." I had imagined it
to refer to a mental, not a physical, defect; whereas it was clear
to me now that my prospective landlord was stone-deaf, and I
presently discovered him to be dumb as well. Thereafter I studied
him with some attention during our drive of four or five miles. I
called to mind the theory that an innate physical deficiency is
seldom without its moral counterpart, and I wondered how far this
would apply to the deaf-mute at my side, who was ill-grown, wizened,
and puny into the bargain. The brow-beaten face of him was certainly
forbidding, and he thrashed his horse up the hills in a dogged,
vindictive, thorough-going way which at length made me jump out and
climb one of them on foot. It was the only form of protest that
occurred to me.
The evening was damp and thick. It melted into night as we drove.
I could form no impression of the country, but this seemed desolate
enough. I believe we met no living soul on the high road which we
followed for the first three miles or more. At length we turned
into a narrow lane, with a stiff stone wall on either hand, and this
eventually led us past the lights of what appeared to be a large
farm; it was really a small hamlet; and now we were nearing our
destination. Gates had to be opened, and my poor driver breathed
hard from the continual getting down and up. In the end a long and
heavy cart-track brought us to the loneliest light that I have ever
seen. It shone on the side of a hill - in the heart of an open
wilderness - as solitary as a beacon-light at sea. It was the light
of the cottage which was to be my temporary home.
A very tall, gaunt woman stood in the doorway against the inner
glow. She advanced with a loose, long stride, and invited me to
enter in a voice harsh (I took it) from disuse. I was warming
myself before the kitchen fire when she came in carrying my heaviest
box as though it had nothing in it. I ran to take it from her, for
the box was full of books, but she shook her head, and was on the
stairs with it before I could intercept her.
I conceive that very few men are attracted by abnormal strength in
a woman; we cannot help it; and yet it was not her strength which
first repelled me in Mrs. Braithwaite. It was a combination of
attributes. She had a poll of very dirty and untidy red hair; her
eyes were set close together; she had the jowl of the traditional
prize-fighter. But far more disagreeable than any single feature
was the woman's expression, or rather the expression which I caught
her assuming naturally, and banishing with an effort for my benefit.
To me she was strenuously civil in her uncouth way. But I saw her
give her husband one look, as he staggered in with my comparatively
light portmanteau, which she instantly snatched out of his feeble
arms. I saw this look again before the evening was out, and it was
such a one as Braithwaite himself had fixed upon his horse as he
flogged it up the hills.
I began to wonder how the young squire had found it in his conscience
to recommend such a pair. I wondered less when the woman finally
ushered me upstairs to my rooms. These were small and rugged, but
eminently snug and clean. In each a good fire blazed cheerfully; my
portmanteau was already unstrapped, the table in the sitting-room
already laid; and I could not help looking twice at the silver and
the glass, so bright was their condition, so good their quality.
Mrs. Braithwaite watched me from the door.
"I doubt you'll be thinking them's our own," said she. "I wish they
were; t'squire sent 'em in this afternoon."
"For my use?"
"Ay; I doubt he thought what we had ourselves wasn't good enough.
An' it's him 'at sent t' armchair, t'bed-linen, t'bath, an' that
there lookin'-glass an' all."
She had followed me into the bedroom, where I looked with redoubled
interest at each object as she mentioned it, and it was in the glass
- a masqueline shaving-glass - that I caught my second glimpse of my
landlady's evil expression - levelled this time at myself.
I instantly turned round and told her that I thought it very kind of
Mr. Rattray, but that, for my part, I was not a luxurious man, and
that I felt rather sorry the matter had not been left entirely in her
hands. She retired seemingly mollified, and she took my sympathy with
her, though I was none the less pleased and cheered by my new friend's
zeal for my comfort; there were even flowers on my table, without a
doubt from Kirby Hall.
And in another matter the squire had not misled me: the woman was
an excellent plain cook. I expected ham and eggs. Sure enough,
this was my dish, but done to a turn. The eggs were new and all
unbroken, the ham so lean and yet so tender, that I would not have
exchanged my humble, hearty meal for the best dinner served that
night in London. It made a new man of me, after my long journey
and my cold, damp drive. I was for chatting with Mrs. Braithwaite
when she came up to clear away. I thought she might be glad to
talk after the life she must lead with her afflicted husband, but
it seemed to have had the opposite effect on her. All I elicited
was an ambiguous statement as to the distance between the cottage
and the hall; it was "not so far." And so she left me to my pipe
and to my best night yet, in the stillest spot I have ever slept
in on dry land; one heard nothing but the bubble of a beck; and it
seemed very, very far away.
A fine, bright morning showed me my new surroundings in their true
colors; even in the sunshine these were not very gay. But gayety
was the last thing I wanted. Peace and quiet were my whole desire,
and both were here, set in scenery at once lovely to the eye and
bracing to the soul.
>From the cottage doorstep one looked upon a perfect panorama of
healthy, open English country. Purple hills hemmed in a broad,
green, undulating plateau, scored across and across by the stone
walls of the north, and all dappled with the shadows of rolling
leaden clouds with silver fringes. Miles away a church spire stuck
like a spike out of the hollow, and the smoke of a village dimmed
the trees behind. No nearer habitation could I see. I have
mentioned a hamlet which we passed in the spring-cart. It lay
hidden behind some hillocks to the left. My landlady told me it
was better than half a mile away, and "nothing when you get there;
no shop; no post-office; not even a public - house."
I inquired in which direction lay the hall. She pointed to the
nearest trees, a small forest of stunted oaks, which shut in the
view to the right, after quarter of a mile of a bare and rugged
valley. Through this valley twisted the beck which I had heard
faintly in the night. It ran through the oak plantation and so to
the sea, some two or three miles further on, said my landlady; but
nobody would have thought it was so near.
"T'squire was to be away to-day," observed the woman, with the
broad vowel sound which I shall not attempt to reproduce in print.
"He was going to Lancaster, I believe."
"So I understood," said I. "I didn't think of troubling him, if
that's what you mean. I'm going to take his advice and fish the
And I proceeded to do so after a hearty early dinner: the keen,
chill air was doing me good already: the "perfect quiet" was finding
its way into my soul. I blessed my specialist, I blessed Squire
Rattray, I blessed the very villains who had brought us within each
other's ken; and nowhere was my thanksgiving more fervent than in
the deep cleft threaded by the beck; for here the shrewd yet gentle
wind passed completely overhead, and the silence was purged of
oppression by the ceaseless symphony of clear water running over
But it was no day for fishing, and no place for the fly, though I
went through the form of throwing one for several hours. Here the
stream merely rinsed its bed, there it stood so still, in pools of
liquid amber, that, when the sun shone, the very pebbles showed
their shadows in the deepest places. Of course I caught nothing;
but, towards the close of the gold-brown afternoon, I made yet
another new acquaintance, in the person of a little old clergyman
who attacked me pleasantly from the rear.
"Bad day for fishing, sir," croaked the cheery voice which first
informed me of his presence. "Ah, I knew it must be a stranger,"
he cried as I turned and he hopped down to my side with the activity
of a much younger man.
"Yes," I said, "I only came down from London yesterday. I find the
spot so delightful that I haven't bothered much about the sport.
Still, I've had about enough of it now." And I prepared to take my
rod to pieces.
"Spot and sport!" laughed the old gentleman. "Didn't mean it for
a pun, I hope? Never could endure puns! So you came down yesterday,
young gentleman, did you? And where may you be staying?"
I described the position of my cottage without the slightest
hesitation; for this parson did not scare me; except in appearance
he had so little in common with his type as I knew it. He had,
however, about the shrewdest pair of eyes that I have ever seen,
and my answer only served to intensify their open scrutiny.
"How on earth did you come to hear of a God-forsaken place like this?"
said he, making use, I thought, of a somewhat stronger expression than
quite became his cloth.
"Squire Rattray told me of it," said I.
"Ha! So you're a friend of his, are you?" And his eyes went
through and through me like knitting-needles through a ball of wool.
"I could hardly call myself that," said I. "But Mr. Rattray has
been very kind to me."
"Meet him in town?"
I said I had, but I said it with some coolness, for his tone had
dropped into the confidential, and I disliked it as much as this
string of questions from a stranger.
"Long ago, sir?" he pursued.
"No, sir; not long ago," I retorted.
"May I ask your name?" said he.
"You may ask what you like," I cried, with a final reversal of all
my first impressions of this impertinent old fellow; "but I'm hanged
if I tell it you! I am here for rest and quiet, sir. I don't ask
you your name. I can't for the life of me see what right you have
to ask me mine, or to question me at all, for that matter."
He favored me with a brief glance of extraordinary suspicion. It
faded away in mere surprise, and, next instant, my elderly and
reverend friend was causing me some compunction by coloring like
"You may think my curiosity mere impertinence, sir," said he; "you
would think otherwise if you knew as much as I do of Squire Rattray's
friends, and how little you resemble the generality of them. You
might even feel some sympathy for one of the neighboring clergy, to
whom this godless young man has been for years as a thorn in their
He spoke so gravely, and what he said was so easy to believe, that
I could not but apologize for my hasty words.
"Don't name it, sir," said the clergyman; "you had a perfect right
to resent my questions, and I enjoy meeting young men of spirit;
but not when it's an evil spirit, such as, I fear, possesses your
friend! I do assure you, sir, that the best thing I have heard of
him for years is the very little that you have told me. As a rule,
to hear of him at all in this part of the world, is to wish that
we had not heard. I see him coming, however, and shall detain you
no longer, for I don't deny that there is no love lost between us."
I looked round, and there was Rattray on the top of the bank, a
long way to the left, coming towards me with a waving hat. An
extraordinary ejaculation brought me to the right-about next instant.
The old clergyman had slipped on a stone in mid-stream, and, as he
dragged a dripping leg up the opposite bank, he had sworn an oath
worthy of the "godless young man" who had put him to flight, and
on whose demerits he had descanted with so much eloquence and
WINE AND WEAKNESS
Sporting old parson who knows how to swear?" laughed Rattray.
"Never saw him in my life before; wondered who the deuce he was."
"Really?" said I. "He professed to know something of you."
"Against me, you mean? My dear Cole, don't trouble to perjure
yourself. I don't mind, believe me. They're easily shocked, these
country clergy, and no doubt I'm a bugbear to 'em. Yet, I could
have sworn I'd never seen this one before. Let's have another look."
We were walking away together. We turned on the top of the bank.
And there the old clergyman was planted on the moorside, and watching
us intently from under his hollowed hands.
"Well, I'm hanged!" exclaimed Rattray, as the hands fell and their
owner beat a hasty retreat. My companion said no more; indeed, for
some minutes we pursued our way in silence. And I thought that it
was with an effort that he broke into sudden inquiries concerning
my journey and my comfort at the cottage.
This gave me an opportunity of thanking him for his little
attentions. "It was awfully good of you," said I, taking his arm
as though I had known him all my life; nor do I think there was
another living man with whom I would have linked arms at that time.
"Good?" cried he. "Nonsense, my dear sir! I'm only afraid you
find it devilish rough. But, at all events, you're coming to dine
with me to-night."
"Am I?" I asked, smiling.
"Rather!" said he. "My time here is short enough. I don't lose
sight of you again between this and midnight."
"It's most awfully good of you," said I again.
"Wait till you see! You'll find it rough enough at my place; all
my retainers are out for the day at a local show."
"Then I certainly shall not give you the trouble "
He interrupted me with his jovial laugh.
"My good fellow," he cried, "that's the fun of it! How do you
suppose I've been spending the day? Told you I was going to
Lancaster, did I? Well, I've been cooking our dinner instead
- laying the table - getting up the wines - never had such a joke!
Give you my word, I almost forgot I was in the wilderness!"
"So you're quite alone, are you?"
"Yes; as much so as that other beggar who was monarch of all he
surveyed, his right there was none to dispute, from the what-is-it
down to the glade -"
"I'll come," said I, as we reached the cottage. "Only first you
must let me make myself decent."
"You're decent enough!"
"My boots are wet; my hands -"
"All serene! I'll give you five minutes."
And I left him outside, flourishing a handsome watch, while, on my
way upstairs, I paused to tell Mrs. Braithwaite that I was dining
at the hall. She was busy cooking, and I felt prepared for her
unpleasant expression; but she showed no annoyance at my news. I
formed the impression that it was no news to her. And next minute I
heard a whispering below; it was unmistakable in that silent cottage,
where not a word had reached me yet, save in conversation to which I
was myself a party.
I looked out of window. Rattray I could no longer see. And I
confess that I felt both puzzied and annoyed until we walked away
together, when it was his arm which was immediately thrust through
"A good soul, Jane," said he; "though she made an idiotic marriage,
and leads a life which might spoil the temper of an archangel. She
was my nurse when I was a youngster, Cole, and we never meet without
a yarn." Which seemed natural enough; still I failed to perceive
why they need yarn in whispers.
Kirby Hall proved startlingly near at hand. We descended the bare
valley to the right, we crossed the beck upon a plank, were in the
oak-plantation about a minute, and there was the hall upon the
And a queer old place it seemed, half farm, half feudal castle: fowls
strutting at large about the back premises (which we were compelled
to skirt), and then a front door of ponderous oak, deep-set between
walls fully six feet thick, and studded all over with wooden pegs.
The facade, indeed, was wholly grim, with a castellated tower at one
end, and a number of narrow, sunken windows looking askance on the
wreck and ruin of a once prim, old-fashioned, high-walled garden.
I thought that Rattray might have shown more respect for the house
of his ancestors. It put me in mind of a neglected grave. And yet
I could forgive a bright young fellow for never coming near so
desolate a domain.
We dined delightfully in a large and lofty hall, formerly used (said
Rattray) as a court-room. The old judgment seat stood back against
the wall, and our table was the one at which the justices had been
wont to sit. Then the chamber had been low-ceiled; now it ran to
the roof, and we ate our dinner beneath a square of fading autumn
sky, with I wondered how many ghosts looking down on us from the
oaken gallery! I was interested, impressed, awed not a little, and
yet all in a way which afforded my mind the most welcome distraction
from itself and from the past. To Rattray, on the other hand, it
was rather sadly plain that the place was both a burden and a bore;
in fact he vowed it was the dampest and the dullest old ruin under
the sun, and that he would sell it to-morrow if he could find a
lunatic to buy. His want of sentiment struck me as his one
deplorable trait. Yet even this displayed his characteristic merit
of frankness. Nor was it at all unpleasant to hear his merry,
boyish laughter ringing round hall and gallery, ere it died away
against a dozen closed doors.
And there were other elements of good cheer: a log fire blazing
heartily in the old dog-grate, casting a glow over the stone flags,
a reassuring flicker into the darkest corner: cold viands of the
very best: and the finest old Madeira that has ever passed my lips.
"Now, all my life I have been a "moderate drinker" in the most
literal sense of that slightly elastic term. But at the sad time
of which I am trying to write, I was almost an abstainer, from the
fear, the temptation - of seeking oblivion in strong waters. To
give way then was to go on giving way. I realized the danger, and
I took stern measures. Not stern enough, however; for what I did
not realize was my weak and nervous state, in which a glass would
have the same effect on me as three or four upon a healthy man.
Heaven knows how much or how little I took that evening! I can
swear it was the smaller half of either bottle - and the second we
never finished - but. the amount matters nothing. Even me it did
not make grossly tipsy. But it warmed my blood, it cheered my heart,
it excited my brain, and - it loosened my tongue. It set me talking
with a freedom of which I should have been incapable in my normal
moments, on a subject whereof I had never before spoken of my own
free will. And yet the will to - speak - to my present companion
- was no novelty. I had felt it at our first meeting in the private
hotel. His tact, his sympathy, his handsome face, his personal charm,
his frank friendliness, had one and all tempted me to bore this
complete stranger with unsolicited confidences for which an
inquisitive relative might have angled in vain. And the temptation
was the stronger because I knew in my heart that I should not bore
the young squire at all; that he was anxious enough to hear my story
from my own lips, but too good a gentleman intentionally to betray
such anxiety. Vanity was also in the impulse. A vulgar newspaper
prominence had been my final (and very genuine) tribulation; but to
please and to interest one so pleasing and so interesting to me,
was another and a subtler thing. And then there was his sympathy
- shall I add his admiration? - for my reward.
I do not pretend that I argued thus deliberately in my heated and
excited brain. I merely hold that all these small reasons and
motives were there, fused and exaggerated by the liquor which
was there as well. Nor can I say positively that Rattray put no
leading questions; only that I remember none which had that sound;
and that, once started, I am afraid I needed only too little
encouragement to run on and on.
Well, I was set going before we got up from the table. I continued
in an armchair that my host dragged from a little book-lined room
adjoining the hall. I finished on my legs, my back to the fire, my
hands beating wildly together. I had told my dear Rattray of my
own accord more than living man had extracted from me yet. He
interrupted me very little; never once until I came to the murderous
attack by Santos on the drunken steward.
"The brute!" cried Rattray. "The cowardly, cruel, foreign devil!
And you never let out one word of that!"
"What was the good?" said I. "They are all gone now - all gone to
their account. Every man of us was a brute at the last. There was
nothing to be gained by telling the public that."
He let me go on until I came to another point which I had hitherto
kept to myself: the condition of the dead mate's fingers: the cries
that the sight of them had recalled.
"That Portuguese villain again!" cried my companion, fairly leaping
from the chair which I had left and he had taken. "It was the work
of the same cane that killed the steward. Don't tell me an
Englishman would have done it; and yet you said nothing about that
It was my first glimpse of this side of my young host's character.
Nor did I admire him the less, in his spirited indignation, because
much of this was clearly against myself. His eyes flashed. His
face was white. I suddenly found myself the cooler man of the two.
"My dear fellow, do consider!" said I. "What possible end could
have been served by my stating what I couldn't prove against a man
who could never be brought to book in this world? Santos was
punished as he deserved; his punishment was death, and there's an
"You might be right," said Rattray, "but it makes my blood boil to
hear such a story. Forgive me if I have spoken strongly;" and he
paced his hall for a little in an agitation which made me like him
better and better. "The cold-blooded villain!" he kept muttering;
"the infernal, foreign, blood-thirsty rascal! Perhaps you were
right; it couldn't have done any good, I know; but - I only wish
he'd lived for us to hang him, Cole! Why, a beast like that is
capable of anything: I wonder if you've told me the worst even now?"
And he stood before me, with candid suspicion in his fine, frank
"What makes you say that?" said I, rather nettled.
I shan't tell you if it's going to rile you, old fellow," was his
reply. And with it reappeared the charming youth whom I found it
impossibile to resist. "Heaven knows you have had enough to worry
you!" he added, in his kindly, sympathetic voice.
"So much," said I, "that you cannot add to it, my dear Rattray.
Now, then! Why do you think there was something worse?"
"You hinted as much in town: rightly or wrongly I gathered there
was something you would never speak about to living man."
I turned from him with a groan.
"Ah! but that had nothing to do with Santos."
"Are you sure?" he cried.
"No," I murmured; "it had something to do with him, in a sense; but
don't ask me any more." And I leaned my forehead on the high oak
mantel-piece, and groaned again.
His hand was upon my shoulder.
"Do tell me," he urged. I was silent. He pressed me further. In
my fancy, both hand and voice shook with his sympathy.
"He had a step-daughter," said I at last.
"I loved her. That was all."
His hand dropped from my shoulder. I remained standing, stooping,
thinking only of her whom I had lost for ever. The silence was
intense. I could hear the wind sighing in the oaks without, the
logs burning softly away at my feet And so we stood until the voice
of Rattray recalled me from the deck of the Lady Jermyn and my lost
"So that was all!"
I turned and met a face I could not read.
"Was it not enough?" cried I. "What more would you have?"
"I expected some more-foul play!"
"Ah!" I exclaimed bitterly. "So that was all that interested you!
No, there was no more foul play that I know of; and if there was, I
don't care. Nothing matters to me but one thing. Now that you know
what that is, I hope you're satisfied."
It was no way to speak to one's host. Yet I felt that he had pressed
me unduly. I hated myself for my final confidence, and his want of
sympathy made me hate him too. In my weakness, however, I was the
natural prey of violent extremes. His hand flew out to me. He was
about to speak. A moment more and I had doubtless forgiven him. But
another sound came instead and made the pair of us start and stare.
It was the soft shutting of some upstairs door.
"I thought we had the house to ourselves?" cried I, my miserable
nerves on edge in an instant.
"So did I," he answered, very pale. "My servants must have come
back. By the Lord Harry, they shall hear of this!"
He sprang to a door, I heard his feet clattering up some stone
stairs, and in a trice he was running along the gallery overhead;
in another I heard him railing behind some upper door that he had
flung open and banged behind him; then his voice dropped, and
finally died away. I was left some minutes in the oppressively
silent hall, shaken, startled, ashamed of my garrulity, aching
to get away. When he returned it was by another of the many closed
doors, and he found me awaiting him, hat in hand. He was wearing
his happiest look until he saw my hat.
"Not going?" he cried. "My dear Cole, I can't apologize sufficiently
for my abrupt desertion of you, much less for the cause. It was my
man, just come in from the show, and gone up the back way. I accused
him of listening to our conversation. Of course he denies it; but it
really doesn't matter, as I'm sorry to say he's much too 'fresh' (as
they call it down here) to remember anything to-morrow morning. I
let him have it, I can tell you. Varlet! Caitiff! But if you bolt
off on the head of it, I shall go back and sack him into the bargain!"
I assured him I had my own reasons for wishing to retire early. He
could have no conception of my weakness, my low and nervous condition
of body and mind; much as I had enjoyed myself, he must really let
me go. Another glass of wine, then? Just one more? No, I had drunk
too much already. I was in no state to stand it. And I held out my
hand with decision.
Instead of taking it he looked at me very hard.
"The place doesn't suit you," said he. "I see it doesn't, and I'm
devilish sorry! Take my advice and try something milder; now do,
to-morrow; for I should never forgive myself if it made you worse
instead of better; and the air is too strong for lots of people."
I was neither too ill nor too vexed to laugh outright in his face.
"It's not the air," said I; "it's that splendid old Madeira of yours,
that was too strong for me, if you like! No, no, Rattray, you don't
get rid of me so cheaply-much as you seem to want to!"
"I was only thinking of you," he rejoined, with a touch of pique
that convinced me of his sincerity. "Of course I want you to stop,
though I shan't be here many days; but I feel responsible for you,
Cole, and that's the fact. Think you can find your way?" he
continued, accompanying me to the gate, a postern in the high garden
wall. "Hadn't you better have a lantern?"
No; it was unnecessary. I could see splendidly, had the bump of
locality and as many more lies as would come to my tongue. I was
indeed burning to be gone.
A moment later I feared that I had shown this too plainly. For his
final handshake was hearty enough to send me away something ashamed
of my precipitancy, and with a further sense of having shown him
small gratitude for his kindly anxiety on my behalf. I would behave
differently to-morrow. Meanwhile I had new regrets.
At first it was comparatively easy to see, for the lights of the
house shone faintly among the nearer oaks. But the moon was hidden
behind heavy clouds, and I soon found myself at a loss in a terribly
dark zone of timber. Already I had left the path. I felt in my
pocket for matches. I had none.
My head was now clear enough, only deservedly heavy. I was still
quarrelling with myself for my indiscretions and my incivilities,
one and all the result of his wine and my weakness, and this new
predicament (another and yet more vulgar result) was the final
mortification. I swore aloud. I simply could not see a foot in
front of my face. Once I proved it by running my head hard against
a branch. I was hopelessly and ridiculously lost within a hundred
yards of the hall!
Some minutes I floundered, ashamed to go back, unable to proceed
for the trees and the darkness. I heard the heck running over its
stones. I could still see an occasional glimmer from the windows
I had left. But the light was now on this side, now on that; the
running water chuckled in one ear after the other; there was nothing
for it but to return in all humility for the lantern which I had
been so foolish as to refuse.
And as I resigned myself to this imperative though inglorious course,
my heart warmed once more to the jovial young squire. He would
laugh, but not unkindly, at my grotesque dilemma; at the thought of
his laughter I began to smile myself. If he gave me another chance
I would smoke that cigar with him before starting home afresh, and
remove, front my own mind no less than from his, all ill impressions.
After all it was not his fault that I had taken too much of his wine;
but a far worse offence was to be sulky in one s cups. I would show
him that I was myself again in all respects. I have admitted that
I was temporarily, at all events, a creature of extreme moods. It
was in this one that I retraced my steps towards the lights, and at
length let myself into the garden by the postern at which I had
shaken Rattray's hand not ten minutes before.
Taking heart of grace, I stepped up jauntily to the porch. The
weeds muffled my steps. I myself had never thought of doing so,
when all at once I halted in a vague terror. Through the deep
lattice windows I had seen into the lighted hall. And Rattray was
once more seated at his table, a little company of men around him.
I crept nearer, and my heart stopped. Was I delirious, or raving
mad with wine? Or had the sea given up its dead?
I LIVE AGAIN
Squire Rattray, as I say, was seated at the head of his table,
where the broken meats still lay as he and I had left them; his
fingers, I remember, were playing with a crust, and his eyes fixed
upon a distant door, as he leant back in his chair. Behind him
hovered the nigger of the Lady Jermyn, whom I had been the slower
to recognize, had not her skipper sat facing me on the squire's
right. Yes, there was Captain Harris in the flesh, eating heartily
between great gulps of wine, instead of feeding the fishes as all
the world supposed. And nearer still, nearer me than any, with his
back to my window but his chair slued round a little, so that he
also could see that door, and I his profile, sat Joaquin Santos
with his cigarette!
None spoke; all seemed waiting; and all were silent but the captain,
whose vulgar champing reached me through the crazy lattice, as I
stood spellbound and petrified without.
They say that a drowning man lives his life again before the last;
but my own fight with the sea provided me with no such moments of
vivid and rapid retrospect as those during which I stood breathless
outside the lighted windows of Kirby Hall. I landed again. I was
dogged day and night. I set it down to nerves and notoriety; but
took refuge in a private hotel. One followed me, engaged the next
room, set a watch on all my movements; another came in by the window
to murder me in my bed; no party to that, the first one nevertheless
turned the outrage to account, wormed himself into my friendship
on the strength of it, and lured me hither, an easy prey. And here
was the gang of them, to meet me! No wonder Rattray had not let me
see him off at the station; no wonder I had not been followed that
night. Every link I saw in its right light instantly. Only the
motive remained obscure. Suspicious circumstances swarmed upon my
slow perception: how innocent I had been! Less innocent, however,
than wilfully and wholly reckless: what had it mattered with whom
I made friends? What had anything mattered to me? What did
anything matter -
I thought my heart had snapped!
Why were they watching that door, Joaquin Santos and the young
squire? Whom did they await? I knew! Oh, I knew! My heart leaped,
my blood danced, my eyes lay in wait with theirs. Everything began
to matter once more. It was as though the machinery of my soul,
long stopped, had suddenly been set in motion; it was as though
I was born again.
How long we seemed to wait I need not say. It cannot have been
many moments in reality, for Santos was blowing his rings of smoke
in the direction of the door, and the first that I noticed were but
dissolving when it opened - and the best was true! One instant I
saw her very clearly, in the light of a candle which she carried
in its silver stick; then a mist blinded me, and I fell on my knees
in the rank bed into which I had stepped, to give such thanks to
the Almighty as this heart has never felt before or since. And I
remained kneeling; for now my face was on a level with the sill;
and when my eyes could see again, there stood my darling before
them in the room.
Like a queen she stood, in the very travelling cloak in which I had
seen her last; it was tattered now, but she held it close about her
as though a shrewd wind bit her to the core. Her sweet face was
all peeked and pale in the candle-light: she who had been a child
was come to womanhood in a few weeks. But a new spirit flashed in
her dear eyes, a new strength hardened her young lips. She stood
as an angel brought to book by devils; and so noble was her calm
defiance, so serene her scorn, that, as I watched and listened; all
present fear for her passed out of my heart.
The first sound was the hasty rising of young Rattray; he was at
Eva's side next instant, essaying to lead her to his chair, with
a flush which deepened as she repulsed him coldly.
"You have sent for me, and I have come," said she. "But I prefer
not to sit down in your presence; and what you have to say, you
will be good enough to say as quickly as possible, that I may
go again before I am - stifled!"
It was her one hot word; aimed at them all, it seemed to me to
fall like a lash on Rattray's cheek, bringing the blood to it like
lightning. But it was Santos who snatched the cigarette from his
mouth, and opened upon the defenceless girl in a torrent of
Portuguese, yellow with rage, and a very windmill of lean arms and
brown hands in the terrifying rapidity of his gesticulations. They
did not terrify Eva Denison. When Rattray took a step towards the
speaker, with flashing eyes, it was some word from Eva that checked
him; when Santos was done, it was to Rattray that she turned with
"He calls me a liar for telling you that Mr. Cole knew all," said
she, thrilling me with my own name. "Don't you say anything," she
added, as the young man turned on Santos with a scowl; you are one
as wicked as the other, but there was a time when I thought
differently of you: his character I have always known. Of the two
evils, I prefer to speak to you."
Rattray bowed, humbly enough, I thought; but my darling's nostrils
only curled the more.
"He calls me a liar," she continued; "so may you all. Since you
have found it out, I admit it freely and without shame; one must
be false in the hands of false fiends like all of you. Weakness
is nothing to you; helplessness is nothing; you must be met with
your own weapons, and so I lied in my sore extremity to gain the
one miserable advantage within my reach. He says you found me out
by making friends with Mr. Cole. He says that Mr. Cole has been
dining with you in this very room, this very night. You still
tell the truth sometimes; has that man - that demon - told it
"It is perfectly true," said Rattray in a low voice.
"And poor Mr. Cole told you that he knew nothing of your villany?"
"I found out that he knew absolutely nothing - after first thinking
"Suppose he had known? What would you have done?"
Rattray said nothing. Santos shrugged as he lit a fresh cigarette.
The captain went on with his supper.
"Ashamed to say!" cried Eva Denison. "So you have some shame left
still! Well, I will tell you. You would have murdered him, as you
murdered all the rest; you would have killed him in cold blood, as
I wish and pray that you would kill me!"
The young fellow faced her, white to the lips. "You have no right
to say that, Miss Denison!" he cried. "I may be bad, but, as I am
ready to answer for my sins, the crime of murder is not among them.
Well, it is still some satisfaction to remember that my love never
punished me with such a look as was the young squire's reward for
this protestation. The curl of the pink nostrils, the parting of
the proud lips, the gleam of the sound white teeth, before a word
was spoken, were more than I, for one, could have borne. For I
did not see the grief underlying the scorn, but actually found it
in my heart to pity this poor devil of a Rattray: so humbly fell
those fine eyes of his, so like a dog did he stand, waiting to be
"Yes; you are very innocent!" she began at last, so softly that I
could scarcely hear. "You have not committed murder, so you say;
let it stand to your credit by all means. You have no blood upon
your hands; you say so; that is enough. No! you are comparatively
innocent, I admit. All you have done is to make murder easy for
others; to get others to do the dirty work, and then shelter them
and share the gain; all you need have on your conscience is every
ife that was lost with the Lady Jermyn, and every soul that lost
itself in losing them. You call that innocence? Then give me
honest guilt! Give me the man who set fire to the ship, and who
sits there eating his supper; he is more of a man than you. Give
me the wretch who has beaten men to death before my eyes; there's
something great about a monster like that, there's something to
loathe. His assistant is only little - mean - despicable!" Loud
and hurried in its wrath, low and deliberate in its contempt, all
this was uttered with a furious and abnormal eloquence, which would
have struck me, loving her, to the ground. On Rattray it had a
different effect. His head lifted as she heaped abuse upon it,
until he met her flashing eye with that of a man very thankful to
take his deserts and something more; and to mine he was least
despicable when that last word left her lips. When he saw that it
was her last, he took her candle (she had put it down on the ancient
settle against the door), and presented it to her with another bow.
And so without a word he led her to the door, opened it, and bowed
yet lower as she swept out, but still without a tinge of mockery in
He was closing the door after her when Joaquin Santos reached it.
"Diablo!" cried he. "Why let her go? We have not done with her."
"That doesn't matter; she is done with us," was the stern reply.
"It does matter," retorted Santos; "what is more, she is my
step-daughter, and back she shall come!"
"She is also my visitor, and I'm damned if you're going to make her!"
An instant Santos stood, his back to me, his fingers working, his
neck brown with blood; then his coat went into creases across the
shoulders, and he was shrugging still as he turned away.
"Your veesitor!" said he. "Your veesitor! Your veesitor!"
Harris laughed outright as he raised his glass; the hot young squire
had him by the collar, and the wine was spilling on the cloth, as
I rose very cautiously and crept back to the path.
"When rogues fall out!" I was thinking to myself. "I shall save
her yet - I shall save my darling!"
Already I was accustomed to the thought that she still lived, and
to the big heart she had set beating in my feeble frame; already
the continued existence of these villains, with the first dim
inkling of their villainy, was ceasing to be a novelty in a brain
now quickened and prehensile beyond belief. And yet - but a few
minutes had I knelt at the window - but a few more was it since
Rattray and I had shaken hands!
Not his visitor; his prisoner, without a doubt; but alive! alive!
and, neither guest nor prisoner for many hours more. 0 my love!
0 my heart's delight! Now I knew why I was spared; to save her; to
snatch her from these rascals; to cherish and protect her evermore!
All the past shone clear behind me; the dark was lightness and the
crooked straight. All the future lay clear ahead it presented no
difficulties yet; a mad, ecstatic confidence was mine for the
wildest, happiest moments of my life.
I stood upright in the darkness. I saw her light!
It was ascending the tower at the building's end; now in this window
it glimmered, now in the one above. At last it was steady, high up
near the stars, and I stole below.
There was no answer. Low as it was, my voice was alarming; it
cooled and cautioned me. I sought little stones. I crept back to
throw them. Ah God! her form eclipsed that lighted slit in the
gray stone tower. I heard her weeping high above me at her window.
There was a pause, and then a little cry of gladness.
"Is it Mr. Cole?" came in an eager whisper through her tears.
"Yes! yes! I was outside the window. I heard everything."
"They will hear you!" she cried softly, in a steadier voice.
"No-listen!" They were quarrelling. Rattray's voice was loud and
angry. "They cannot hear," I continued, in more cautious tones;
"they think I'm in bed and asleep half-a-mile away. Oh, thank God!
I'll get you away from them; trust me, my love, my darling!"
In my madness I knew not what I said; it was my wild heart speaking.
Some moments passed before she replied.
"Will you promise to do nothing I ask you not to do?"
"My life might answer for it -"
"I promise - I promise."
"Then wait - hide - watch my light. When you see it back in the
window, watch with all your eyes! I am going to write and then
throw it out. Not another syllable!"
She was gone; there was a long yellow slit in the masonry once more;
her light burnt faint and far within.
I retreated among some bushes and kept watch.
The moon was skimming beneath the surface of a sea of clouds: now
the black billows had silver crests: now an incandescent buoy bobbed
among them. 0 for enough light, and no more!
In the hall the high voices were more subdued. I heard the captain's
tipsy laugh. My eyes fastened themselves upon that faint and lofty
light, and on my heels I crouched among the bushes.
The flame moved, flickered, and shone small but brilliant on the
very sill. I ran forward on tip-toe. A white flake fluttered to
my feet. I secured it and waited for one word; none came; but the
window was softly shut.
I stood in doubt, the treacherous moonlight all over me now, and
once more the window opened.
And again it was shut; next moment I was stealing close by the spot
where I had knelt. I saw within once more.
Harris nodded in his chair. The nigger had disappeared. Rattray was
lighting a candle, and the Portuguese holding out his hand for the
"Did you lock the gate, senhor?" asked Santos.
"No; but I will now."
As I opened it I heard a door open within. I could hardly let the
latch down again for the sudden trembling of my fingers. The key
turned behind me ere I had twenty yards' start.
Thank God there was light enough now! I followed the beck. I found
my way. I stood in the open valley, between the oak-plantation and
my desolate cottage, and I kissed my tiny, twisted note again and
again in a paroxysm of passion and of insensate joy. Then I
unfolded it and held it to my eyes in the keen October moonshine.
MY LADY'S BIDDING
Scribbled in sore haste, by a very tremulous little hand, with a
pencil, on the flyleaf of some book, my darling's message is still
difficult to read; it was doubly so in the moonlight, five-and-forty
autumns ago. My eyesight, however, was then perhaps the soundest
thing about me, and in a little I had deciphered enough to guess
correctly (as it proved) at the whole: -
"You say you heard everything just now, and there is no time for
further explanations. I am in the hands of villains, but not
ill-treated, though they are one as bad as the other. You will not
find it easy to rescue me. I don't see how it is to be done. You
have promised not to do anything I ask you not to do, and I implore
you not to tell a soul until you have seen me again and heard more.
You might just as well kill me as come back now with help.
"You see you know nothing, though I told them you knew all. And so
you shall as soon as I can see you for five minutes face to face.
In the meantime do nothing - know nothing when you see Mr. Rattray
- unless you wish to be my death.
"It would have been possible last night, and it may be again
to-morrow night. They all go out every night when they can,
except Jose, who is left in charge. They are out from nine or
ten till two or three; if they are out to-morrow night my
candle will be close to the window as I shall put it when I have
finished this. You can see my window from over the wall. If
the light is in front you must climb the wall, for they will
leave the gate locked. I shall see you and will bribe Jose to
let me out for a turn. He has done it before for a bottle of
wine. I can manage him. Can I trust to you? If you break
your promise - but you will not? One of them would as soon
kill me as smoke a cigarette, and the rest are under his thumb.
I dare not write more. But my life is in your hands.
"Oh! beware of the woman Braithwaite; she is about the worst
of the gang."
I could have burst out crying in my bitter discomfiture,
mortification, and alarm: to think that her life was in my hands,
and that it depended, not on that prompt action which was the one
course I had contemplated, but on twenty-four hours of resolute
inactivity! I would not think it. I refused the condition. It
took away my one prop, my one stay, that prospect of immediate
measures which alone preserved in me such coolness as I had retained
until now. I was cool no longer; where I had relied on practical
direction I was baffled and hindered and driven mad; on my honor
believe I was little less for some moments, groaning, cursing, and
beating the air with impotent fists - in one of them my poor love's
letter crushed already to a ball.
Danger and difficulty I had been prepared to face; but the task
that I was set was a hundred-fold harder than any that had whirled
through my teeming brain. To sit still; to do nothing; to pretend
I knew nothing; an hour of it would destroy my reason - and I was
invited to wait twenty-four!
No; my word was passed; keep it I must. She knew the men, she must
know best; and her life depended on my obedience: she made that so
plain. Obey I must and would; to make a start, I tottered over the
plank that spanned the beck, and soon I saw the cottage against the
moonlit sky. I came up to it. I drew back in sudden fear. It was
alight upstairs and down, and the gaunt strong figure of the woman
Braithwaite stood out as I had seen it first, in the doorway, with
the light showing warmly through her rank red hair.
"Is that you, Mr. Cole?" she cried in a tone that she reserved for
me; yet through the forced amiability there rang a note of genuine
surprise. She had been prepared for me never to return at all!
My knees gave under me as I forced myself to advance; but my wits
took new life from the crisis, and in a flash I saw how to turn my
weakness into account. I made a false step on my way to the door;
when I reached it I leant heavily against the jam, and I said with
a slur that I felt unwell. I had certainly been flushed with wine
when I left Rattray; it would be no bad thing for him to hear that
I had arrived quite tipsy at the cottage; should he discover I had
been near an hour on the way, here was my explanation cut and dried.
So I shammed a degree of intoxication with apparent success, and
Jane Braithwaite gave me her arm up the stairs. My God, how strong
it was, and how weak was mine!
Left to myself, I reeled about my bedroom, pretending to undress;
then out with my candles, and into bed in all my clothes, until the
cottage should be quiet. Yes, I must lie still and feign sleep,
with every nerve and fibre leaping within me, lest the she-devil
below should suspect me of suspicions! It was with her I had to
cope for the next four-and-twenty hours; and she filled me with a
greater present terror than all those villains at the hall; for had
not their poor little helpless captive described her as "about the
worst of the gang?"
To think that my love lay helpless there in the hands of those
wretches; and to think that her lover lay helpless here in the
supervision of this vile virago!
It must have been one or two in the morning when I stole to my
sitting-room window, opened it, and sat down to think steadily,
with the counterpane about my shoulders.
The moon sailed high and almost full above the clouds; these were
dispersing as the night wore on, and such as remained were of a
beautiful soft tint between white and gray. The sky was too light
for stars, and beneath it the open country stretched so clear and
far that it was as though one looked out at noonday through
slate-colored glass. Down the dewy slope below my window a few
calves fed with toothless mouthings; the beck was very audible, the
oak-trees less so; but for these peaceful sounds the stillness and
the solitude were equally intense.
I may have sat there like a mouse for half an hour. The reason was
that I had become mercifully engrossed in one of the subsidiary
problems: whether it would be better to drop from the window or to
trust to the creaking stairs. Would the creaking be much worse
than the thud, and the difference worth the risk of a sprained ankle?
Well worth it, I at length decided; the risk was nothing; my window
was scarce a dozen feet from the ground. How easily it could be
done, how quickly, how safely in this deep, stillness and bright
moonlight! I would fall so lightly on my stocking soles; a single
soft, dull thud; then away under the moon without fear or risk of
a false step; away over the stone walls to the main road, and so to
the nearest police-station with my tale; and before sunrise the
villains would be taken in their beds, and my darling would be safe!
I sprang up softly. Why not do it now? Was I bound to keep my
rash, blind promise? Was it possible these murderers would murder
her? I struck a match on my trousers, I lit a candle, I read her
letter carefully again, and again it maddened and distracted me.
I struck my hands together. I paced the room wildly. Caution
deserted me, and I made noise enough to wake the very mute; lost
to every consideration but that of the terrifying day before me,
the day of silence and of inactivity, that I must live through with
an unsuspecting face, a cool head, a civil tongue! The prospect
appalled me as nothing else could or did; nay, the sudden noise upon
the stairs, the knock at my door, and the sense that I had betrayed
myself already even now all was over - these came as a relief after
the haunting terror which they interrupted.
I flung the door opcn, and there stood Mrs. Braithwaite, as fully
dressed as myself.
"You'll not be very well sir?"
No, I'm not."
"What's t' matter wi' you?"
This second question was rude and fierce with suspicion: the real
woman rang out in it, yet its effect on me was astonishng: once
again was I inspired to turn my slip into a move.
"Matter?" I cried. "Can't you see what's the matter; couldn't you
see when I came in? Drink's the matter! I came in drunk, and now
I'm mad. I can't stand it; I'm not in a fit state. Do you know
nothng of me? Have they told you nothing? I'm the only man that
was saved from the Lady Jermyn, the ship that was burned to the
water's edge with every soul but me. My nerves are in little ends.
I came down here for peace and quiet and sleep. Do you bow that
I have hardly slept for two months? And now I shall never sleep
again! O my God I shall die for want of it! The wine has done it.
I never should have touched a drop. I can't stand it; I can't
sleep after it; I shall kill myself if I get no sleep. Do you hear,
you woman? I shall kill myself in your house if I don't get to
I saw her shrink, virago as she was. I waved my arms, I shrieked
in her face. It was not all acting. Heaven knows how true it was
about the sleep. I was slowly dying of insomnia. I was a nervous
wreck. She must have heard it. Now she saw it for herself.
No; it was by no means all acting. Intending only to lie, I found
myself telling little but the strictest truth, and longing for sleep
as passionately as though I had nothing to keep me awake. And yet,
while my heart cried aloud in spite of me, and my nerves relieved
themselves in this unpremeditated ebullition, I was all the time
watching its effect as closely as though no word of it had been
Mrs. Braithwaite seemed frightened; not at all pitiful; and as I
calmed down she recovered her courage and became insolent. I had
spoilt her night. She had not been told she was to take in a
raving lunatic. She would speak to Squire Rattray in the morning.
"Morning?" I yelled after her as she went. "Send your husband to
the nearest chemist as soon as it's dawn; send him for chloral,
chloroform, morphia, anything they've got and as much of it as
they'll let him have. I'll give you five pounds if you get me
what'll send me to sleep all to-morrow - and to-morrow night!"
Never, I feel sure, were truth and falsehood more craftily
interwoven; yet I had thought of none of it until the woman was
at my door, while of much I had not thought at all. It had rushed
from my heart and from my lips. And no sooner was I alone than I
burst into hysterical tears, only to stop and compliment myself
because they sounded genuine - as though they were not! Towards
morning I took to my bed in a burning fever, and lay there, now
congratulating myself upon it, because when night came they would
all think me so secure; and now weeping because the night might
find me dying or dead. So I tossed, with her note clasped in my
hand underneath the sheets; and beneath my very body that stout
weapon that I had bought in town. I might not have to use it,
but I was fatalist enough to fancy that I should. In the meantime
it helped me to lie still, my thoughts fixed on the night, and the
day made easy for me after all.
If only I could sleep!
About nine o'clock Jane Braithwaite paid me a surly visit; in half
an hour she was back with tea and toast and an altered mien. She
not only lit my fire, but treated me the while to her original
tone of almost fervent civility and respect and determination. Her
vagaries soon ceased to puzzle me: the psychology of Jane Braithwaite
was not recondite. In the night it had dawned upon her that Rattray
had found me harmless and was done with me, therefore there was no
need for her to put herself out any further on my account. In the
morning, finding me really ill, she had gone to the hall in alarm;
her subsequent attentions were an act of obedience; and in their
midst came Rattray himself to my bedside.
THE LONGEST DAY OF MY LIFE
The boy looked so blithe and buoyant, so gallant and still so frank,
that even now I could not think as meanly of him as poor Eva did.
A rogue he must be, but surely not the petty rogue that she had made
him out. Yet it was dirty work that he had done by me; and there
I had to lie and take his kind, false, felon's hand in mine.
"My poor dear fellow," he cried, "I'm most sorry to find you like
this. But I was afraid of it last night. It's all this infernally
How I longed to tell him what it was, and to see his face! The
thought of Eva alone restrained me, and I retorted as before, in a
tone I strove to make as friendly, that it was his admirable wine
and nothing else.
"But you took hardly any."
"I shouldn't have touched a drop. I can't stand it. Instead of
soothing me it excites me to the verge of madness. I'm almost over
the verge - for want of sleep - my trouble ever since the trouble."
Again I was speaking the literal truth, and again congratulating
myself as though it were a lie: the fellow looked so distressed
at my state; indeed I believe that his distress was as genuine as
mine, and his sentiments as involved. He took my hand again, and
his brow wrinkled at its heat. He asked for the other hand to feel
my pulse. I had to drop my letter to comply.
"I wish to goodness there was something I could do for you," he
said. "Would you - would you care to see a doctor?"
I shook my head, and could have smiled at his visible relief.
"Then I'm going to prescribe for you," he said with decision. "It's
the place that doesn't agree with you, and it was I who brought you
to the place; therefore it's for me to get you out of it as quick as
possible. Up you get, and I'll drive you to the station myself!"
I had another work to keep from smiling: he was so ingenuously
disingenuous. There was less to smile at in his really nervous
anxiety to get me away. I lay there reading him like a book: it
was not my health that concerned him, of course: was it my safety?
I told him he little knew how ill I was - an inglorious speech that
came hard, though not by any means untrue. "Move me with this
fever on me?" said I; "it would be as much as my miserable life is
"I'm afraid," said he, "that it may be as much as your life's worth
to stay on here!" And there was such real fear, in his voice and
eyes, that it reconciled me there and then to the discomfort of a
big revolyer between the mattress and the small of my back. "We
must get you out of it," he continued, "the moment you feel fit to
stir. Shall we say to-morrow?"
"If you like," I said, advisedly; "and if I can get some sleep
"Then to-morrow it is! You see I know it's the climate," he added,
jumping from tone to tone; "it couldn't have been those two or three
glasses of sound wine."
"Shall I tell you what it is?" I said, looking him full in the face,
with eyes that I dare say were wild enough with fever and insomnia.
"It's the burning of the Lady Jermyn!" I cried. "It's the faces and
the shrieks of the women; it's the cursing and the fighting of the
men; it's boat-loads struggling in an oily sea; it's husbands and
wives jumping overboard together; it's men turned into devils, it's
hell-fire afloat - "
"Stop! stop! " he whispered, hoarse as a crow. I was sitting up
with my hot eyes upon him. He was white as the quilt, and the bed
shook with his trembling. I had gone as far as was prudent, and
I lay back with a glow of secret satisfaction.
"Yes, I will stop," said I, "and I wouldn't have begun if you hadn't
found it so difficult to understand my trouble. Now you know what
it is. It's the old trouble. I came up here to forget it; instead
of that I drink too much and tell you all about it; and the two
things together have bowled me over. But I'll go to-morrow; only
give me something to put me asleep till then."
"I will!" he vowed. "I'll go myself to the nearest chemist, and
he shall give me the very strongest stuff he's got. Good-by, and
don't you stir till I come back - for your own sake. I'll go this
minute, and I'll ride like hell!" And if ever two men were glad
to be rid of each other, they were this young villain and myself.
But what was his villany? It was little enough that I had
overheard at the window, and still less that poor Eva had told me
in her hurried lines. All I saw clearly was that the Lady Jermyn
and some hundred souls had perished by the foulest of foul play;
that, besides Eva and myself, only the incendiaries had escaped;
that somehow these wretches had made a second escape from the gig,
leaving dead men and word of their own death behind them in the
boat. And here the motive was as much a mystery to me as the
means; but, in my present state, both were also matters of supreme
indifference. My one desire was to rescue my love from her
loathsome captors; of little else did I pause to think. Yet
Rattray's visit left its own mark on my mind; and long after he
was gone I lay puzzling over the connection between a young
Lancastrian, of good name, of ancient property, of great personal
charm, and a crime of unparalleled atrocity committed in cold blood
on the high seas. That his complicity was flagrant I had no
room to doubt, after Eva's own indictment of him, uttered to his
face and in my hearing. Was it then the usual fraud on the
underwriters, and was Rattray the inevitable accomplice on dry
land? I could think of none but the conventional motive for
destroying a vessel. Yet I knew there must be another and a
subtler one, to account not only for the magnitude of the crime,
but for the pains which the actual perpetrators had taken to
conceal the fact of their survival, and for the union of so
diverse a trinity as Senhor Santos, Captain Harris, and the young
It must have been about mid-day when Rattray reappeared, ruddy,
spurred, and splashed with mud; a comfort to sick eyes, I declare,
in spite of all. He brought me two little vials, put one on the
chimney-piece, poured the other into my tumbler, and added a little
"There, old fellow," said he; "swallow that, and if you don't get
some sleep the chemist who made it up is the greatest liar unhung."
"What is it?' I asked, the glass in my hand, and my eyes on those
of my companion.
"I don't know," said he. "I just told them to make up the strongest
sleeping-draught that was safe, and I mentioned something about your
case. Toss it off, man; it's sure to be all right."
Yes, I could trust him; he was not that sort of villain, for all
that Eva Denison had said. I liked his face as well as ever. I
liked his eye, and could have sworn to its honesty as I drained
the glass. Even had it been otherwise, I must have taken my chance
or shown him all; as it was, when he had pulled down my blind, and
shaken my pillow, and he gave me his hand once more, I took it with
involuntary cordiality. I only grieved that so fine a young fellow
should have involved himself in so villainous a business; yet for
Eva's sake I was glad that he had; for my mind failed (rather than
refused) to believe him so black as she had painted him.
The long, long afternoon that followed I never shall forget. The
opiate racked my head; it did not do its work; and I longed to sleep
till evening with a longing I have never known before or since.
Everything seemed to depend upon it; I should be a man again, if
only I could first be a log for a few hours. But no; my troubles
never left me for an instant; and there I must lie, pretending that
they had! For the other draught was for the night; and if they but
thought the first one had taken due effect, so much the less
would they trouble their heads about me when they believed that I
had swallowed the second.
Oh, but it was cruel! I lay and wept with weakness and want of
sleep; ere night fell I knew that it would find me useless, if
indeed my reason lingered on. To lie there helpless when Eva was
expecting me, that would be the finishing touch. I should rise a
maniac if ever I rose at all. More probably I would put one of
my five big bullets into my own splitting head; it was no small
temptation, lying there in a double agony, with the loaded weapon
by my side.
Then sometimes I thought it was coming; and perhaps for an instant
would be tossing in my hen-coop; then back once more. And I swear
that my physical and mental torments, here in my bed, would have
been incomparably greater than anything I had endured on the sea,
but for the saving grace of one sweet thought. She lived! She
lived! And the God who had taken care o me, a castaway, would
surely deliver her also from the hands of murderers and thieves.
But not through me - I lay weak and helpless - and my tears ran
again and yet again as I felt myself growing hourly weaker.
I remember what a bright fine day it was, with the grand open
country all smiles beneath a clear, almost frosty sky, once when
I got up on tip-toe and peeped out. A keen wind whistled about the
cottage; I felt it on my feet as I stood; but never have I known a
more perfect and invigorating autumn day. And there I must lie,
with the manhood ebbing Out of me, the manhood that I needed
so for the night! I crept back into bed. I swore that I would
sleep. Yet there I lay, listening sometimes to that vile woman's
tread below; sometimes to mysterious whispers, between whom
I neither knew nor cared; anon to my watch ticking by my side, to
the heart beating in my body, hour after hour - hour after hour.
I prayed as I have seldom prayed. I wept as I have never wept.
I railed and blasphemed - not with my lips, because the woman must
think I was asleep - but so much the more viciously in my heart.
Suddenly it turned dark. There were no gradations - not even a
tropical twilight. One minute I aw the sun upon the blind; the
next - thank God! Oh, thank God! No light broke any longer through
the blind; just a faint and narrow glimmer stole between it and the
casement; and the light that had been bright golden was palest
It was the moon. I had been in dreamless sleep for hours.
The joy of that discovery! The transport of waking to it, and
waking refreshed! The swift and sudden miracle that it seemed! I
shall never, never forget it, still less the sickening thrill of
fear which was cruelly quick to follow upon my joy. The cottage was
still as the tomb. What if I had slept too long!
With trembling hand I found my watch.
Luckily I had wound it in the early morning. I now carried it to
the window, drew back the blind, and held it in the moonlight. It
was not quite ten o'clock. And yet the cottage was so still - so
I stole to the door, opened it by cautious degrees, and saw the
reflection of a light below. Still not a sound could I hear, save
the rapid drawing of my own breath, and the startled beating of
my own heart.
I now felt certain that the Braithwaites were out, and dressed
hastily, making as little noise as possible, and still hearing
absolutely none from below. Then, feeling faint with hunger, though
a new being after my sleep, I remembered a packet of sandwiches
which I had not opened on my journey north. These I transferred
from my travelling-bag (where they had lain forgotten to my jacket
pocket, before drawing down the blind, leaving the room on tip-toe,
and very gently fastening the door behind me. On the stairs, too,
I trod with the utmost caution, feeling the wall with my left
hand (my right was full), lest by any chance I might be mistaken
in supposing I had the cottage to myself. In spite of my caution
there came a creak at every step. And to my sudden horror I heard
a chair move in the kitchen below.
My heart and I stood still together. But my right hand tightened
on stout wood, my right forefinger trembled against thin steel. The
sound was not repeated. And at length I continued on my way down,
my teeth set, an excuse on my lips, but determination in every fibre
of my frame.
A shadow lay across the kitchen floor; it was that of the deaf mute,
as he stood on a chair before the fire, supporting himself on the
chimney piece with one puny arm, while he reached overhead with the
other. I stood by for an instant, glorying in the thought that he
could not hear me; the next, I saw what it was he was reaching up
for - a bell-mouthed blunderbuss - and I knew the little devil for
the impostor that he was.
"You touch it," said I, "and you'll drop dead on that hearth."
He pretended not to hear me, but he heard the click of the splendid
spring which Messrs. Deane and Adams had put into that early
revolver of theirs, and he could not have come down much quicker
with my bullet in his spine.
"Now, then," I said, "what the devil do you mean by shamming deaf
"I niver said I was owt o' t' sort," he whimpered, cowering behind
the chair in a sullen ague.
"But you acted it, and I've a jolly good mind to shoot you dead!"
(Remember, I was so weak myself that I thought my arm would break
from presenting my five chambers and my ten-inch barrel; otherwise
I should be sorry to relate how I bullied that mouse of a man.)
"I may let you off," I continued, "if you answer questions. Where's
"Eh, she'll be back directly! " said Braithwaite, with some tact;
but his look was too cunning to give the warning weight.
"I've a bullet to spare for her," said I, cheerfully; "now, then,
where is she?"
"Gone wi' the oothers, for owt I knaw."
"And where are the others gone?"
"Where they allus go, ower to t' say."
"Over to the sea, eh? We're getting on! What takes them there?"
"That's more than I can tell you, sir," said Braithwaite, with so
much emphasis and so little reluctance as to convince me that for
once at least he had spoken the truth. There was even a spice of
malice in his tone. I began to see possibilities in the little
"Well," I said, "you're a nice lot! I don't know what your game
is, and don't want to. I've had enough of you without that. I'm
"Before they get back?" asked Braithwaite, plainly in doubt about
his duty, and yet as plainly relieved to learn the extent of my
"Certainly," said I; "why not? I'm not particularly anxious to
see your wife again, and you may ask Mr. Rattray from me why the
devil he led me to suppose you were deaf and dumb? Or, if you
like, you needn't say anything at all about it," I added, seeing
his thin jaw fall; "tell him I never found you out, but just felt
well enough to go, and went. When do you expect them back?"
"It won't be yet a bit," said he.
"Good! Now look here. What would you say to these?" And I showed
him a couple of sovereigns: I longed to offer him twenty, but feared
to excite his suspicions. "These are yours if you have a conveyance
at the end of the lane - the lane we came up the night before last
- in an hour's time."
His dull eyes glistened; but a tremor took him from top to toe, and
he shook his head.
"I'm ill, man!" I cried. "If I stay here I'll die! Mr. Rattray
knows that, and he wanted me to go this morning; he'll be only too
thankful to find me gone."
This argument appealed to him; indeed, I was proud of it.
"But I was to stop an' look after you," he mumbled; "it'll get me
into trooble, it will that!"
I took out three more sovereigns; not a penny higher durst I go.
"Will five pounds repay you? No need to tell your wife it was five,
you know! I should keep four of them all to myself."
The cupidity of the little wretch was at last overcoming his abject
cowardice. I could see him making up his miserable mind. And I
still flatter myself that I took only safe (and really cunning)
steps to precipitate the process. To offer him more money would
have been madness; instead, I poured it all back into my pocket.
"All right!" I cried; "you're a greedy, cowardly, old idiot, and
I'll just save my money." And out I marched into the moonlight,
very briskly, towards the lane; he was so quick to follow me that
I had no fears of the blunderbuss, but quickened my step, and soon
had him running at my heels.
"Stop, stop, sir! You're that hasty wi' a poor owd man." So he
whimpered as he followed me like the little cur he was.
"I'm hanged if I stop," I answered without looking back; and had
him almost in tears before I swung round on him so suddenly that he
yelped with fear. "What are you bothering me for?" I blustered.
"Do you want me to wring your neck?"
"Oh, I'll go, sir! I'll go, I'll go," he moaned.
"I've a good mind not to let you. I wouldn't if I was fit to walk
"But I'll roon 'em, sir! I will that! I'll go as fast as iver I
"And have a conveyance at the road-end of the lane as near an hour
hence as you possibly can?"
"Why, there, sir!" he cried, crassly inspired; "I could drive you
in our own trap in half the time."
"Oh, no, you couldn't! I - I'm not fit to be out at all; it must
be a closed conveyance; but I'll come to the end of the lane to
save time, so let him wait there. You needn't wait yourself; here's
a sovereign of your money, and I'll leave the rest in the jug in my
bedroom. There! It's worth your while to trust me, I think. As
for my luggage, I'll write to Mr. Rattray about that. But I'll be
shot if I spend another night on his property."
I was rid of him at last; and there I stood, listening to his
headlong steps, until they stumbled out of earshot down the lane;
then back to the cottage, at a run myself, and up to my room to be
no worse than my word. The sovereigns plopped into the water and
rang together at the bottom of the jug. In another minute I was
hastening through the plantation, in my hand the revolver that had
served me well already, and was still loaded and capped in all five
IN THE GARDEN
It so happened that I met nobody at all; but I must confess that my
luck was better than my management. As I came upon the beck, a new
sound reached me with the swirl. It was the jingle of bit and
bridle; the beat of hoofs came after; and I had barely time to fling
myself flat, when two horsemen emerged from the plantation, riding
straight towards me in the moonlight. If they continued on that
course they could not fail to see me as they passed along the
opposite bank. However, to my unspeakable relief, they were scarce
clear of the trees when they turned their horses' heads, rode them
through the water a good seventy yards from where I lay, and so away
at a canter across country towards the road. On my hands and knees
I had a good look at them as they bobbed up and down under the moon;
and my fears subsided in astonished curiosity. For I have already
boasted of my eyesight, and I could have sworn that neither Rattray
nor any one of his guests was of the horsemen; yet the back and
shoulders of one of these seemed somehow familiar to me. Not that
I wasted many moments over the coincidence, for I had other things
to think about as I ran on to the hall.
I found the rear of the building in darkness unrelieved from within;
on the other hand, the climbing moon beat so full upon the garden
wall, it was as though a lantern pinned me as I crept beneath it.
In passing I thought I might as well try the gate; but Eva was right;
it was locked; and that made me half inclined to distrust my eyes
in the matter of the two horsemen, for whence could they have come,
if not from the hall? In any case I was well rid of them. I now
followed the wall some little distance, and then, to see over it,
walked backwards until I was all but in the beck; and there, sure
enough, shone my darling's candle, close as close against the
diamond panes of her narrow, lofty window! It brought those ready
tears back to my foolish, fevered eyes. But for sentiment there
was no time, and every other emotion was either futile or premature.
So I mastered my full heart, I steeled, my wretched nerves, and
braced my limp muscles for the task that lay before them.
I had a garden wall to scale, nearly twice my own height, and
without notch or cranny in the ancient, solid masonry. I stood
against it on my toes, and I touched it with my finger-tips as high
up as possible. Some four feet severed them from the coping that
left only half a sky above my upturned eyes.
I do not know whether I have made it plain that the house was not
surrounded by four walls, but merely filled a breach in one of the
four, which nipped it (as it were) at either end. The back entrance
was approachable enough, but barred or watched, I might be very
sure. It is ever the vulnerable points which are most securely
guarded, and it was my one comfort that the difficult way must also
be the safe way, if only the difficulty could be overcome. How to
overcome it was the problem. I followed the wall right round to
the point at which it abutted on the tower that immured my love;
the height never varied; nor could my hands or eyes discover a
single foot-hole, ledge, or other means of mounting to the top.
Yet my hot head was full of ideas; and I wasted some minutes in
trying to lift from its hinges a solid, six-barred, outlying gate,
that my weak arms could hardly stir. More time went in pulling
branches from the oak-trees about the beck, where the latter ran
nearest to the moonlit wall. I had an insane dream of throwing a
long forked branch over the coping, and so swarming up
hand-over-hand. But even to me the impracticability of this plan
came home at last. And there I stood in a breathless lather, much
time and strength thrown away together; and the candle burning
down for nothing in that little lofty window; and the running water
swirling noisily over its stones at my back.
This was the only sound; the wind had died away; the moonlit valley
lay as still as the dread old house in its midst but for the splash
and gurgle of the beck. I fancied this grew louder as I paused and
listened in my helplessness. All at once - was it the tongue of
Nature telling me the way, or common gumption returning at the
eleventh hour? I ran down to the water's edge, and could have
shouted for joy. Great stones lay in equal profusion on bed and
banks. I lifted one of the heaviest in both hands. I staggered
with it to the wall. I came back for another; for some twenty
minutes I was so employed; my ultimate reward a fine heap of
boulders against the wall.
Then I began to build; then mounted my pile, clawing the wall to
keep my balance. My fingers were still many inches from the coping.
I jumped down and gave another ten minutes to the back-breaking work
of carrying more boulders from the water to the wall. Then I
widened my cairn below, so that I could stand firmly before
springing upon the pinnacle with which I completed it. I knew well
that this would collapse under me if I allowed my weight to rest
more than an instant upon it. And so at last it did; but my fingers
had clutched the coping in time; had grabbed it even as the insecure
pyramid crumbled and left me dangling.
Instantly exerting what muscle I had left, and the occasion gave me,
I succeeded in pulling myself up until my chin was on a level with
my hands, when I flung an arm over and caught the inner coping. The
other arm followed; then a leg; and at last I sat astride the wall,
panting and palpitating, and hardly able to credit my own
achievement. One great difficulty had been my huge revolver. I had
been terribly frightened it might go off, and had finally used my
cravat to sling it at the back of my neck. It had shifted a little,
and I was working it round again, preparatory to my drop, when I
saw the light suddenly taken from the window in the tower, and a
kerchief waving for one instant in its place. So she had been
waiting and watching for me all these hours! I dropped into the
garden in a very ecstasy of grief and rapture, to think that I had
been so long in coming to my love, but that I had come at last.
And I picked myself up in a very frenzy of fear lest, after all,
I should fail to spirit her from this horrible place.
Doubly desolate it looked in the rays of that bright October moon.
Skulking in the shadow of the wall which had so long baffled me, I
looked across a sharp border of shade upon a chaos, the more
striking for its lingering trim design. The long, straight paths
were barnacled with weeds; the dense, fine hedges, once prim and
angular, had fattened out of all shape or form; and on the velvet
sward of other days you might have waded waist high in rotten hay.
Towards the garden end this rank jungle merged into a worse
wilderness of rhododendrons, the tallest I have ever seen. On all
this the white moon smiled, and the grim house glowered, to the
eternal swirl and rattle of the beck beyond its walls.
Long enough I stood where I had dropped, listening with all my being
for some other sound; but at last that great studded door creaked
and shivered on its ancient hinges, and I heard voices arguing in
the Portuguese tongue. It was poor Eva wheedling that black rascal
Jose. I saw her in the lighted porch; the nigger I saw also,
shrugging and gesticulating for all the world like his hateful
master; yet giving in, I felt certain, though I could not understand
a word that reached me.
And indeed my little mistress very soon sailed calmly out, followed
by final warnings and expostulations hurled from the step: for the
black stood watching her as she came steadily my way, now raising
her head to sniff the air, now stooping to pluck up a weed, the very
picture of a prisoner seeking the open air for its own sake solely.
I had a keen eye apiece for them as I cowered closer to the wall,
revolver in hand. But ere my love was very near me (for she would
stand long moments gazing ever so innocently at the moon), her
jailer had held a bottle to the light, and had beaten a retreat so
sudden and so hasty that I expected him back every moment, and so
durst not stir. Eva saw me, however, and contrived to tell me so
without interrupting the air that she was humming as she walked.
"Follow me," she sang, "only keep as you are, keep as you are, close
to the wall, close to the wall."
And on she strolled to her own tune, and came abreast of me without
turning her head; so I crept in the shadow (my ugly weapon tucked out
of sight), and she sauntered in the shine, until we came to the end
of the garden, where the path turned at right angles, running behind
the rhododendrons; once in their shelter, she halted and beckoned me,
and next instant I had her hands in mine.
"At last!" was all that I could say for many a moment, as I stood
there gazing into her dear eyes, no hero in my heroic hour, but the
bigger love-sick fool than ever. "But quick - quick - quick!" I
added, as she brought me to my senses by withdrawing her hands.
"We've no time to lose." And I looked wildly from wall to wall,
only to find them as barren and inaccessible on this side as on the
"We have more time than you think," were Eva's first words. "We can
do nothing for half-an-hour."
"I'll tell you in a minute. How did you manage to get over?"
"Brought boulders from the beck, and piled 'em up till I could reach
I thought her eyes glistened.
"What patience!" she cried softly. "We must find a simpler way of
getting out - and I think I have. They've all gone, you know, but
"The captain has been gone all day."
Then the other two must have been my horse-men, very probably in
some disguise; and my head swam with the thought of the risk that
I had run at the very moment when I thought myself safest. Well,
I would have finished them both! But I did not say so to Eva. I
did not mention the incident, I was so fearful of destroying her
confidence in me. Apologizing, therefore, for my interruption,
without explaining it, I begged her to let me hear her plan.
It was simple enough. There was no fear of the others returning
before midnight; the chances were that they would be very much
later; and now it was barely eleven, and Eva had promised not
to stay out above half-an-hour. When it was up Jose would come
and call her.
"It is horrid to have to be so cunning!" cried little Eva, with
an angry shudder; "but it's no use thinking of that," she was
quick enough to add, "when you have such dreadful men to deal with,
such fiends! And I have had all day to prepare, and have suffered
till I am so desperate I would rather die to-night than spend
another in that house. No; let me finish! Jose will come round
here to look for me. But you and I will be hiding n the other side
of these rhododendrons. And when we hear him here we'll make a
dash for it across the long grass. Once let us get the door shut
and locked in his face, and he'll be in a trap. It will take him
some time to break in; time enough to give us a start; what's more,
when he finds us gone, he'll do what they all used to do in any
"Say nothing till it's found out; then lie for their lives; and it
was their lives, poor creatures on the Zambesi!" She was silent a
moment, her determined little face hard - set upon some unforgotten
horror. "Once we get away, I shall be surprised if it's found out
till morning," concluded Eva, without a word as to what I was to do
with her; neither, indeed, had I myself given that question a
"Then let's make a dash for it now!" was all I said or thought.
"No; they can't come yet, and Jose is strong and brutal, and I have
heard how ill you are. "That you should have come to me
notwithstanding - " and she broke off with her little hands lying so
gratefully on my shoulders, that I know not how I refrained from
catching her then and there to my heart. Instead, I laughed and
said that my illness was a pure and deliberate sharp, and my
presence there its direct result. And such was the virtue in my
beloved's voice, the magic of her eyes, the healing of her touch,
that I was scarce conscious of deceit, but felt a whole man once
more as we two stood together in the moonlight.
In a trance I stood there gazing into her brave young eyes. In a
trance I suffered her to lead me by the hand through the rank, dense
rhododendrons. And still entranced I crouched by her side near the
further side, with only unkempt grass-plot and a weedy path between
us and that ponderous door, wide open still, and replaced by a
section of the lighted hail within. On this we fixed our attention
with mingled dread and impatience, those contending elements of
suspense; but the black was slow to reappear; and my eyes stole
home to my sweet girl's face, with its glory of moonlit curls, and
the eager, resolute, embittered look that put the world back two
whole months, and Eva Denison upon the Lady Jermyn's poop, in the
ship's last hours. But it was not her look alone; she had on her
cloak, as the night before, but with me (God bless her!) she found
no need to clasp herself in its folds; and underneath she wore the
very dress in which she had sung at our last concert, and been
rescued in the gig. It looked as though she had worn it ever since.
The roses were crushed and soiled, the tulle all torn, and tarnished
some strings of beads that had been gold: a tatter of Chantilly lace
hung by a thread: it is another of the relics that I have unearthed
in the writing of this narrative.
"I thought men never noticed dresses?" my love said suddenly, a
pleased light in her eyes (I thought) in spite of all. "Do you
really remember it?"
"I remember every one of them," I said indignantly; and so I did.
"You will wonder why I wear it," said Eva, quickly. "It was the