Part 4 out of 4
And at last Eva spoke.
"I loved him before he was one," said she. "We were engaged."
She looked at him standing by, his head bowed, his arms folded; next
moment she was very close to me, and fresh tears were in her eyes.
But I stepped backward, for I had had enough.
"Can you not forgive me?"
"Oh, dear, yes."
"Can't you understand?"
"Perfectly," said I.
"You know you said - "
"I have said so many things!"
"But this was that you - you loved me well enough to - give me up."
And the silly ego in me - the endless and incorrigible I - imagined
her pouting for a withdrawal of those brave words.
"I not only said it," I declared, "but I meant every word of it."
None the less had I to turn from her to hide my anguish. I leaned
my elbows on the narrow stone chimney-piece, which, with the grate
below and a small mirror above, formed an almost solitary oasis in
the four walls of books. In the mirror I saw my face; it was
wizened, drawn, old before its time, and merely ugly in its sore
distress, merely repulsive in its bloody bandages. And in the
mirror also I saw Rattray, handsome, romantic, audacious, all that
I was not, nor ever would be, and I "understood" more than ever, and
loathed my rival in my heart.
I wheeled round on Eva. I was not going to give her up - to him.
I would tell her so before him - tell him so to his face. But she
had turned away; she was listening to some one else. Her white
forehead glistened. There were voices in the hall.
"Mr. Cole! Mr. Cole! Where are you, Mr. Cole?"
I moved over to the locked door. My hand found the key. I turned
round with evil triumph in my heart, and God knows what upon my
face. Rattray did not move. With lifted hands the girl was merely
begging him to go by the door that was open, down the stair. He
shook his head grimly. With an oath I was upon them.
"Go, both of you!" I whispered hoarsely. "Now - while you can - and
I can let you. Now! Now!"
Still Rattray hung back.
I saw him glancing wistfully at my great revolver lying on the table
under the lamp. I thrust it upon him, and pushed him towards the
"You go first. She shall follow. You will not grudge me one last
word? Yes, I will take your hand. If you escape - be good to her!"
He was gone. Without, there was a voice still calling me; but now
it sounded overhead.
"Good-by, Eva, I said. "You have not a moment to lose."
Yet those divine eyes lingered on my ugliness.
"You are in a very great hurry," said she, in the sharp little voice
of her bitter moments.
"You love him; that is enough."
"And you, too!" she cried. "And you, too!"
And her pure, warm arms were round my neck; another instant, and
she would have kissed me, she! I know it. I knew it then. But it
was more than I would bear. As a brother! I had heard that tale
before. Back I stepped again, all the man in me rebelling.
"That's impossible," said I rudely.
"It isn't. It's true. I do love you - for this!"
God knows how I looked!
"And I mayn't say good-by to you," she whispered. "And - and I
love you - for that!"
"Then you had better choose between us," said I.
THE STATEMENT OF FRANCIS RATTRAY
In the year 1858 I received a bulky packet bearing the stamp of the
Argentine Republic, a realm in which, to the best of my belief, I
had not a solitary acquaintance. The superscription told me nothing.
In my relations with Rattray his handwriting had never come under
my observation. Judge then of my feelings when the first thing I
read was his signature at the foot of the last page.
For five years I had been uncertain whether he was alive or dead.
I had heard nothing of him from the night we parted in Kirby Hall.
All I knew was that he had escaped from England and the English
police; his letter gave no details of the incident. It was an
astonishing letter; my breath was taken on the first close page; at
the foot of it the tears were in my eyes. And all that part I must
pass over without a word. I have never shown it to man or woman.
It is sacred between man and man.
But the letter possessed other points of interest - of almost
universal interest - to which no such scruples need apply; for it
cleared up certain features of the foregoing narrative which had
long been mysteries to all the world; and it gave me what I had
tried in vain to fathom all these years, some explanation, or rather
history, of the young Lancastrian's complicity with Joaquin Santos
in the foul enterprise of the Lady Jermyn. And these passages I
shall reproduce word for word; partly because of their intrinsic
interest; partly for such new light as they day throw on this or
that phase of the foregoing narrative; and, lastly, out of fairness
to (I hope) the most gallant and most generous youth who ever slipped
upon the lower slopes of Avemus.
"You wondered how I could have thrown in my lot with such a man.
You may wonder still, for I never yet told living soul. I pretended
I had joined him of my own free will. That was not quite the case.
The facts were as follows:
"In my teens (as I think you know) I was at sea. I took my second
mate's certificate at twenty, and from that to twenty-four my
voyages were far between and on my own account. I had given way
to our hereditary passion for smuggling. I kept a 'yacht' in
Morecambe Bay, and more French brandy than I knew what to do with
in my cellars. It was exciting for a time, but the excitement did
not last. In 1851 the gold fever broke out in Australia. I shipped
to Melbourne as third mate on a barque, and I deserted for the
diggings in the usual course. But I was never a successful digger.
I had little luck and less patience, and I have no doubt that many
a good haul has been taken out of claims previously abandoned by me;
for of one or two I had the mortification of hearing while still in
the Colony. I suppose I had not the temperament for the work. Dust
would not do for me - I must have nuggets. So from Bendigo I drifted
to the Ovens, and from the Ovens to Ballarat. But I did no more
good on one field than on another, and eventually, early in 1853, I
cast up in Melbourne again with the intention of shipping home in
the first vessel. But there were no crews for the homeward-bounders,
and while waiting for a ship my little stock of gold dust gave out.
I became destitute first - then desperate. Unluckily for me, the
beginning of '53 was the hey-day of Captain MelviHe, the notorious
bushranger. He was a young fellow of my own age. I determined to
imitate his exploits. I could make nothing out there from an honest
life; rather than starve I would lead a dishonest one. I had been
born with lawless tendencies; from smuggling to bushranging was an
easy transition, and about the latter there seemed to be a gallantry
and romantic swagger which put it on the higher plane of the two.
But I was not born to be a bushranger either. I failed at the very
first attempt. I was outwitted by my first victim, a thin old
gentleman riding a cob at night on the Geelong road.
"'Why rob me?' said he. 'I have only ten pounds in my pocket, and
the punishment will be the same as though it were ten thousand.'
"'I want your cob,' said I (for I was on foot); 'I'm a starving
Jack, and as I can't get a ship I'm going to take to the bush.'
"He shrugged his shoulders.
"'To starve there?' said he. 'My friend, it is a poor sport, this
bushranging. I have looked into the matter on my own account. You
not only die like a dog, but you live like one too. It is not worth
while. No crime is worth while under five figures, my friend. A
starving Jack, eh? Instead of robbing me of ten pounds, why not
join me and take ten thousand as your share of our first robbery?
A sailor is the very man I want!'
"I told him that what I wanted was his cob, and that it was no use
his trying to hoodwink me by pretending he was one of my sort,
because I knew very well that he was not; at which he shrugged
again, and slowly dismounted, after offering me his money, of which
I took half. He shook his head, telling me I was very foolish, and
I was coolly mounting (for he had never offered me the least
resistance), with my pistols in my belt, when suddenly I heard one
cocked behind me.
"'Stop!' said he. 'It's my turn! Stop, or I shoot you dead!'
The tables were turned, and he had me at his mercy as completely as
he had been at mine. I made up my mind to being marched to the
nearest police-station. But nothing of the kind. I had misjudged
my man as utterly as you misjudged him a few months later aboard
the Lady Jermyn. He took me to his house on the outskirts of
Melbourne, a weather-board bungalow, scantily furnished, but
comfortable enough. And there he seriously repeated the proposal
he had made me off-hand in the road. Only he put it a little
differently. Would I go to the hulks for attempting to rob him of
five pounds, or would I stay and help him commit a robbery, of
which my share alone would be ten or fifteen thousand? You know
which I chose. You know who this man was. I said I would join him.
He made me swear it. And then he told me what his enterprise was:
there is no need for me to tell you; nor indeed had it taken
definite shape at this time. Suffice it that Santos had wind that
big consignments of Austrailian gold were shortly to be shipped
home to England; that he, like myself, had done nothing on the
diggings, where he had looked to make his fortune, and out of
which he meant to make it still.
"It was an extraordinary life that we led in the bungalow, I the
guest, he the host, and Eva the unsuspecting hostess and innocent
daughter of the house. Santos had failed on the fields, but he
had succeeded in making valuable friends in Melbourne. Men of
position and of influence spent their evenings on our veranda,
among others the Melbourne agent for the Lady Jermyn, the likeliest
vessel then lying in the harbor, and the one to which the first
consignment of gold-dust would be entrusted if only a skipper could
be found to replace the deserter who took you out. Santos made up
his mind to find one., It took him weeks, but eventually he found
Captain Harris on Bendigo, and Captain Harris was his man. More
than that he was the man for the agent; and the Lady Jermyn was
once more made ready for sea.
Now began the complications. Quite openly, Santos had bought the
schooner Spindrift, freighted her with wool, given me the command,
and vowed that he would go home in her rather than wait any longer
for the Lady Jermyn. At the last moment he appeared to change his
mind, and I sailed alone as many days as possible in advance of the
ship, as had been intended from the first; but it went sorely
against the grain when the time came. I would have given anything
to have backed out of the enterprise. Honest I might be no longer;
I was honestly in love with Eva Denison. Yet to have backed out
would have been one way of losing her for ever. Besides, it was
not the first time I had run counter to the law, I who came of a
lawless stock; but it would be the first time I had deserted a
comrade or broken faith with one. I would do neither. In for a
penny, in for a pound.
"But before my God I never meant it to turn out as it did; though
I admit and have always admitted that my moral responsibility is
but little if any the less on that account. Yet I was never a
consenting party to wholesale murder, whatever else I was. The
night before I sailed, Santos and the captain were aboard with me
till the small hours. They promised me that every soul should
have every chance; that nothing but unforeseen accident could
prevent the boats from making Ascension again in a matter of hours;
that as long as the gig was supposed to be lost with all hands,
nothing else mattered. So they promised, and that Harris meant
to keep his promise I fully believe. That was not a wanton ruffian;
but the other would spill blood like water, as I told you at the
hall, and as no man now knows better than yourself. He was
notorious even in Portuguese Africa on account of his atrocious
treatment of the blacks. It was a favorite boast of his that he
once poisoned a whole village; and that he himself tampered with
the Lady Jermyn's boats you can take my word, for I have heard
him describe how he left it to the last night, and struck the
blows during the applause at the concert on the quarter-deck. He
said it might have come out about the gold in the gig, during the
fire. It was safer to run no risks.
"The same thing came into play aboard the schooner. Never shall
I forget the horror of that voyage after Santos came aboard! I
had a crew of eight hands all told, and two he brought with him
in the gig. Of course they began talking about the gold; they
would have their share or split when they got ashore; and there
was mutiny in the air, with the steward and the quarter-master of
the Lady Jermyn for ring-leaders. Santos nipped it in the bud with
a vengeance! He and Harris shot every man of them dead, and two
who were shot through the heart they washed and dressed and set
adrift to rot in the gig with false papers! God knows how we made
Madeira; we painted the old name out and a new name in, on the way;
and we shipped a Portuguese crew, not a man of whom could speak
English. We shipped them aboard the Duque de Mondejo's yacht
Braganza; the schooner Spindrift had disappeared from the face of
the waters for ever. And with the men we took in plenty of sour
claret and cigarettes; and we paid them well; and the Portuguese
sailor is not inquisitive under such conditions.
"And now, honestly, I wished I had put a bullet through my head
before joining in this murderous conspiracy; but retreat was
impossible, even if I had been the man to draw back after going so
far; and I had a still stronger reason for standing by the others
to the bitter end. I could not leave our lady to these ruffians.
On the other hand, neither could I take her from them, for (as you
know) she justly regarded me as the most flagrant ruffian of them
all. It was in me and through me that she was deceived, insulted,
humbled, and contaminated; that she should ever have forgiven me for
a moment is more than I can credit or fathom to this hour ... So
there we were. She would not look at me. And I would not leave
her until death removed me. Santos had been kind enough to her
hitherto; he had been kind enough (I understand) to her mother
before her. It was only in the execution of his plans that he
showed his Napoleonic disregard for human life; and it was precisely
herein that I began to fear for the girl I still dared to love.
She took up an attitude as dangerous to her safety as to our own.
She demanded to be set free when we came to land. Her demand was
refused. God forgive me, it had no bitterer opponent than myself!
And all we did was to harden her resolution; that mere child
threatened us to our faces, never shall I forget the scene!
You know her spirit: if we would not set her free, she would tell
all when we landed. And you remember how Santos used to shrug?
That was all he did then. It was enough for me who knew him. For
days I never left them alone together. Night after night I watched
her cabin door. And she hated me the more for never leaving her
alone! I had to resign myself to that.
"The night we anchored in Falmouth Bay, thinking then of taking
our gold straight to the Bank of England, as eccentric lucky
diggers - that night I thought would be the last for one or other
of us. He locked her in her cabin. He posted himself outside on
the settee. I sat watching him across the table. Each had a hand
in his pocket, each had a pistol in that hand, and there we sat,
with our four eyes locked, while Harris went ashore for papers.
He came back in great excitement. What with stopping at Madeira,
and calms, and the very few knots we could knock out of the
schooner at the best of times, we had made a seven or eight weeks'
voyage of it from Ascension - where, by the way, I had arrived
only a couple of days before the Lady Jermyn, though I had nearly
a month's start of her. Well, Harris came back in the highest
state of excitement: and well he might: the papers were full of
you, and of the burning of the Lady Jermyn!
"Now mark what happened. You know, of course, as well as I do;
but I wonder if you can even yet realize what it was to us! Our
prisoner hears that you are alive, and she turns upon Santos and
tells him he is welcome to silence her, but it will do us ne good
now, as you know that the ship was wilfully burned, and with what
object. It is the single blow she can strike in self-defence;
but a shrewder one could scarcely be imagined. She had talked to
you, at the very last; and by that time she did know the truth.
What more natural than that she should confide it to you? She had
had time to tell you enough to hang the lot of us; and you may
imagine our consternation on hearing that she had told you all she
knew! From the first we were never quite sure whether to believe
it or not. That the papers breathed no suspicion of foul play was
neither here nor there. Scotland Yard might have seen to that.
Then we read of the morbid reserve which was said to characterize
all your utterances concerning the Lady Jermyn. What were we to
do? What we no longer dared to do was to take our gold-dust
straight to the Bank. What we did, you know.
"We ran round to Morecambe Bay, and landed the gold as we Rattrays
had landed lace and brandy from time immemorial. We left Eva in
charge of Jane Braithwaite, God only knows how much against my will,
but we were in a corner, it was life or death with us, and to find
out how much you knew was a first plain necessity. And the means
we took were the only means in our power; nor shall I say more to
you on that subject than I said five years ago in my poor old house.
That is still the one part of the whole conspiracy of which I
myself am most ashamed.
"And now it only remains for me to tell you why I have written all
this to you, at such great length, so long after the event. My
wife wished it. The fact is that she wants you to think better
of me than I deserve; and I - yes - I confess that I should like
you not to think quite as ill of me as you must have done all
these years. I was villain enough, but do not think I am
"I am an outlaw from my country. I am morally a transported felon.
Only in this no-man's land am I a free man; let me but step across
the border and I am worth a little fortune to the man who takes me.
And we have had a hard time here, though not so hard as I deserved;
and the hardest part of all ... "
But you must guess the hardest part: for the letter ended as it
began, with sudden talk of his inner life, and tentative inquiry
after mine. In its entirety, as I say, I have never shown it to a
soul; there was just a little more that I read to my wife (who
could not hear enough about his); then I folded up the letter, and
even she has never seen the passages to which I allude.
And yet 1 am not one of those who hold that the previous romances
of married people should be taboo between them in after life. On
the contrary, much mutual amusement, of an innocent character, may
be derived from a fair and free interchange upon the subject; and
this is why we, in our old age (or rather in mine), find a still
unfailing topic in the story of which Eva Denison was wayward
heroine and Frank Rattray the nearest approach to a hero. Sometimes
these reminiscences lead to an argument; for it has been the fate of
my life to become attached to argumentative persons. I suppose
because I myself hate arguing. On the day that I received Rattray's
letter we had one of our warmest discussions. I could repeat every
word of it after forty years.
"A good man does not necessarily make a good husband," I innocently
"Why do you say that?" asked my wife, who never would let a
generalization pass unchallenged.
"I was thinking of Rattray," said I. "The most tolerant of judges
could scarcely have described him as a good man five years ago.
Yet I can see that he has made an admirable husband. On the whole,
and if you can't be both, it is better to be the good husband!"
It was this point that we debated with so much ardor. My wife
would take the opposite side; that is her one grave fault. And I
must introduce personalities; that, of course, is among the least
of mine. I compared myself with Rattray, as a husband, and (with
some sincerity) to my own disparagement. I pointed out that he was
an infinitely more fascinating creature, which was no hard saying,
for that epithet at least I have never earned. And yet it was the
word to sting my wife.
"Fascinating, perhaps!" said she. "Yes, that is the very word;
but - fascination is not love!"
And then I went to her, and stroked her hair (for she had hung her
head in deep distress), and kissed the tears from her eyes. And I
swore that her eyes were as lovely as Eva Denison's, that there
seemed even more gold in her glossy brown hair, that she was even
younger to look at. And at the last and craftiest compliment my
own love looked at me through her tears, as though some day or other
she might forgive me.
"Then why did you want to give me up to him?" said she.