Part 8 out of 8
Claxton and rounding the point, they came in full sight of the Priory,
every window of which was blazing with light. They could see dark
figures passing to and fro against the glare.
"Look there," Girdlestone whispered.
"Ay, the police have not taken long," his son answered.
John Girdlestone was silent for some time. Then he suddenly dropped his
face upon his hands, and sobbed hoarsely for the first and last time in
"I am thinking of Monday in Fenchurch Street," he said. "My God! is
this the end of a life of hard work! Oh, my business, my business, that
I built up myself! It will break my heart!"
And so through the long cold winter's night they sat together while the
boat ploughed its way down the English Channel. Who shall say what
their thoughts were as they stared with pale, rigid faces into the
darkness, while their minds, perhaps, peered even more cheerlessly into
the dismal obscurity which lay over their future. Better be the
lifeless wreck whom they have carried up to the Priory, than be torn as
these men are torn, by the demons of fear and remorse and grief, and
crushed down by the weight of a sin-stained and irrevocable past.
LAW AND ORDER.
The ruffian Burt was so horror-stricken at the sight of the girl whom he
imagined that he had murdered, that he lay grovelling on the railway
lines by the side of his victim, moaning with terror, and incapable of
any resistance. He was promptly seized by the major's party, and the
Nihilist secured his hands with a handkerchief so quickly and
effectively that it was clearly not the first time that he had performed
the feat. He then calmly drew a very long and bright knife from the
recesses of his frock-coat, and having pressed it against Burt's nose to
ensure his attention, he brandished it in front of him in a menacing
way, as a hint that an attempt at escape might be dangerous.
"And who is dis?" asked Baumser, lifting up the dead woman's head, and
resting it upon his knee.
"Poor girl! She will niver spake again, whoever she may have been," the
major said, holding the lantern to her cold pale face. "Here's where
the cowards struck her. Death must have been instantaneous and
painless. I could have sworn it was the young lady we came afther, if
it were not that we have her safe down there, thank the Lord!"
"Vere are those oders?" asked Von Baumser, peering about through the
darkness. "If dere is justice in de country, dey vill hang for the work
of dis night."
"They are off," the major answered, laying the girl's head reverently
down again. "It's hopeless to follow them, as we know nothing of the
counthry, nor which direction they took. They ran like madmen.
Hullo! What the divil can this be?"
The sight which had attracted the veteran's attention was nothing less
than the appearance at the end of the lane of three brilliant luminous
discs moving along abreast of one another. They came rapidly nearer,
increasing in brilliancy as they approached. Then a voice rang out of
the darkness, "There they are, officers! Close with them! Don't let
'em get away!" And before the major and his party could quite grasp the
situation they were valiantly charged by three of those much-enduring,
stout-hearted mortals known as the British police force.
It takes courage to plunge into the boiling surf and to carry the rope
to the breaking vessel. It takes courage to spring from the ship's side
and support the struggling swimmer, never knowing the moment at which a
flickering shadow may appear in the deep green water, and the tiger of
the deep turn its white belly upwards as it dashes on its prey.
There is courage too in the infantryman who takes a sturdy grip of his
rifle and plants his feet firmly as he sees the Lancers sweeping down on
his comrades and himself. But of all these types of bravery there is
none that can compare with that of our homely constable when he finds on
the dark November nights that a door on his beat is ajar, and, listening
below, learns that the time has come to show the manhood that is in him.
He must fight odds in the dark. He must, single-handed, cage up
desperate men like rats in a hole. He must oppose his simple weapon to
the six-shooter and the life-preserver. All these thoughts, and the
remembrance of his wife and children at home, and of how easy it would
be not to observe the open door, come upon him, and then what does he
do? Why, with the thought of duty in his heart, and his little cudgel
in his hand, he goes to what is too often his death, like a valiant
high-minded Englishman, who fears the reproach of his own conscience
more than pistol bullet, or bludgeon stroke.
Which digression may serve to emphasize the fact that these three burly
Hampshire policemen, having been placed upon our friends' track by the
ostler of the _Flying Bull_, and having themselves observed manoeuvres
which could only be characterized as suspicious, charged down with such
vehemence, that in less time than it takes to tell it, both Tom and the
major and Von Baumser were in safe custody. The Nihilist, who had an
unextinguishable hatred of the law, and who could never be brought to
understand that it might under any circumstances be on his side, pulled
himself very straight and held his knife down at his hip as though he
meant to use it, while Bulow, of Kiel, likewise assumed an aggressive
attitude. Fortunately, however, the appearance of their prisoners and a
few hurried words from the major made the inspector in charge understand
how the land lay, and he transferred his attention to Burt, on whose
wrists he placed the handcuffs. He then listened to a more detailed
account of the circumstances from the lips of the major.
"Who is this young lady?" he asked, pointing to Kate.
"This is the Miss Harston whom we came to rescue, and for whom no doubt
the blow was intended which killed this unhappy girl."
"Perhaps, sir," said the inspector to Tom, "you had better take her up
to the house."
"Thank you," said Tom, and went off through the wood with Kate upon his
arm. On their way, she told him how, being unable to find her bonnet
and cloak, which Rebecca had abstracted, she had determined to keep her
appointment without them. Her delay rendered her a little late,
however; but on reaching the withered oak she heard voices and steps in
front of her, which she had followed. These had led her to the open
gate, and the lighting of the lantern had revealed her to friends and
foes. Ere she concluded her story Tom noticed that she leaned more and
more heavily upon him, until by the time that they reached the Priory he
was obliged to lift her up and carry her to prevent her from falling.
The hardships of the last few weeks, and this final terrible and yet
most joyful incident of all, had broken down her strength. He bore her
into the house, and laying her by the fire in the dining-room, watched
tenderly over her, and exhausted his humble stock of medical knowledge
in devising remedies for her condition.
In the meantime the inspector, having thoroughly grasped the major's
lucid narrative, was taking prompt and energetic measures.
"You go down to the station, Constable Jones," he ordered. "Wire to
London, 'John Girdlestone, aged sixty-one, and his son, aged
twenty-eight, wanted for murder. Address, Eccleston Square and
Fenchurch Street, City.' Send a description of them. 'Father, six feet
one inch in height, hatchet-faced, grey hair and whiskers, deep-set
eyes, heavy brows, round shoulders. Son, five feet ten, dark-faced,
black eyes, black curly hair, strongly made, legs rather bandy, well
dressed, usually wears a dog's head scarf-pin.' That ought to do!"
"Yes, that's near enough," observed the major.
"Wire to every station along the line to be on the look-out. Send a
description to the chief constable of Portsmouth, and have a watch kept
on the shipping. That should catch them!"
"It vill," cried Von Baumser confidentially. "I'll bet money dat it
vill." It was as well that the German's sporting offer found no takers,
otherwise our good friend would have been a poorer man.
"Let us carry the poor soul up to the house," the inspector continued,
after making careful examination of the ground all round the body.
The party assisted in raising the girl up, and in carrying her back
along the path by which she had been brought.
Burt tramped stolidly along behind with the remaining policeman beside
him. The Nihilist brought up the rear with his keen eye fixed upon the
navvy, and his knife still ready for use. When they reached the Priory
the prisoner was safely locked away in one of the numerous empty rooms,
while Rebecca was carried upstairs and laid upon the very bed which had
"We must search the house," the inspector said; and Mrs. Jorrocks having
been brought out of her room, and having forthwith fainted and been
revived again, was ordered to accompany the police in their
investigation, which she did in a very dazed and stupefied manner.
Indeed, not a word could be got from her until, entering the
dining-room, she perceived her bottle of Hollands upon the table, on
which she raised up her voice and cursed the whole company, from the
inspector downwards, with the shrillest volubility of invective.
Having satisfied her soul in this manner, she wound up by a perfect
shriek of profanity, and breaking away from her guardians, she regained
the shelter of her room and locked herself up there, after which they
could hear by the drumming of her heels that she went into a violent
hysterical attack upon the floor.
Kate had, however, recovered sufficiently to be able to show the police
the different rooms, and to explain to them which was which.
The inspector examined the scanty furniture of Kate's apartment with
"You say you have been living here for three weeks?" he said.
"Nearly a month," Kate answered.
"God help you! No wonder you look pale and ill. You have a fine
prospect from the window." He drew the blind aside and looked out into
the darkness. A gleam of moonlight lay upon the heaving ocean, and in
the centre of this silver streak was a single brown-sailed fishing-boat
running to the eastward before the wind. The inspector's keen eye
rested upon it for an instant, and then he dropped the blind and turned
away. It never flashed across his mind that the men whom he was hunting
down could have chosen that means of escape, and were already beyond his
He examined very carefully the rooms of Ezra and of his father.
Both had been furnished comfortably, if not solidly, with spring
mattresses to their beds and carpets upon the floor. The young man's
room had little in it beyond the mere furniture, which was natural, as
his visits were so short. In the merchant's chamber, however, were many
books and papers. On the little square table was a long slip of
foolscap covered with complex figures. It appeared to be a statement of
his affairs, in which he had been computing the liabilities of the firm.
By the side of it was a small calf-bound diary. The inspector glanced
over one of the pages and uttered an exclamation of disgust. "Here are
some pretty entries," he cried. "'Feel the workings of grace within
me!' 'Prayed that I might be given a livelier interest in the Holy
Scriptures!' The book's full of that sort of thing!" he added, turning
over the leaves. "The fellow seems to have played the hypocrite even
with himself, for he could never have known that other eyes would rest
"Dere'll be some queer company among de elect if he is dere!" Von
"What's all this?" asked the inspector, tumbling a heap of clothes out
of the corner with his foot. "Why, here's a monk's dress!"
Kate sprang forward at the words. "Then I did see him!" she cried.
"I had almost persuaded myself that it was a dream."
"What was that?"
Kate told her story as well as she could, and the inspector made notes
"The crafty old dog!" he cried. "No doubt he could reconcile it with
his conscience more easily to frighten you to death than to actually
kill you. He told you that cock-and-a-bull story to excite your
imagination, and then, feeling sure that you would sooner or later try
and escape by night, he kept guard in this rig. The only wonder is that
he didn't succeed in either killing you or driving you mad with fright."
"Never mind now, dear," Tom whispered, as he saw the look of fear spring
into her eyes at the recollection of what had passed. "Don't think of
these terrible things. You will soon be safe in Phillimore Gardens in
my mother's arms. In the meanwhile, I think you would be the better for
"I think I should, Tom."
"Are you afraid to sleep in your own room?"
"No; I am afraid of nothing, now that I know you are near me. I knew so
well that you would come. I have been expecting you all the evening."
"I can never thank my good friends here enough for the help which they
have given me!" Tom exclaimed, turning to his companions.
"It is I who should thank them," said Kate earnestly, "I have found
friends, indeed. Who can say now that the days of chivalry are past?"
"Me dear young lady," the major answered, bowing with all the innate
grace of an Irish gentleman, "ye have warmed us by what ye say.
I personally was, as ye know, under orders which left me no choice but
to come. I hope, however, that ye will believe that had Mrs. Scully not
occupied the place in me affections which she does, I should still be as
prompt as me friends here to hasten to the rescue of a lady.
Tobias Clutterbuck may be ould, Miss Harston, but his heart will niver
grow so hardened but that it will milt at the thought of beauty in
distriss." With this beautiful sentiment the major placed his fat hand
over his heart, and bowed again, even more gracefully than before.
The three foreigners behind made no remark, but they all stood in a line
grinning in a most amicable fashion, and nodding their heads as if to
intimate that the major was expressing their united sentiments to a
nicety. Kate's last recollection of that eventful evening was the
smiling visages of Von Baumser, Bulow, and the nameless Russian as they
beamed their good night at her.
CAPTAIN HAMILTON MIGGS SEES A VISION.
Ezra Girdlestone had given many indications during his life, both in
Africa and elsewhere, of being possessed of the power of grasping a
situation and of acting for the best at the shortest notice. He never
showed this quality more conclusively than at that terrible moment, when
he realized not only that the crime in which he bad participated had
failed, but that all was discovered, and that his father and he were
hunted criminals. With the same intuitive quickness which made him a
brilliant man of business, he saw instantly what were the only available
means of escape, and proceeded at once to adopt them. If they could but
reach the vessel of Captain Hamilton Miggs they might defy the pursuit
of the law.
The _Black Eagle_ had dropped down the Thames on the very Saturday which
was so fruitful of eventful episodes. Miggs would lie at Gravesend, and
intended afterwards to beat round to the Downs, there to await the final
instructions of the firm. If they could catch him before he left, there
was very little chance that he would know anything of what had occurred.
It was a fortunate chance that the next day was Sunday, and there would
be no morning paper to enlighten him as to the doings in Hampshire.
They had only to invent some plausible excuse for their wish to
accompany him, and get him to drop them upon the Spanish coast. Once
out of sight of England and on the broad ocean, what detective could
follow their track?
Of course upon Sampson's return all would come out. Ezra reckoned,
however, that it would be some time before the fisherman got back from
his journey. What was a favourable wind going would be dead in his
teeth coming back. It might take him a week's tacking and beating about
before he got home. By that time Ezra hoped to be beyond the reach of
all danger. He had a thousand five pound Bank of England notes sewn
into the back of his waistcoat, for knowing that a crash might come at
any moment, he had long made provision against it. With this he felt
that he could begin life again in the new world, and with his youth and
energy he might hope to attain success. As to his father, he was fully
determined to abandon him completely at the first opportunity.
Through the whole of that wintry night the fishing-boat scudded away to
the eastward, and the two fugitives remained upon deck, drenched through
with rain and with spray, but feeling that the wild turmoil around them
was welcome as a relief to their own thoughts. Better the cutting wind
and the angry sea than the thought of the dead girl upon the rails and
of the bloodhounds of the law.
Ezra pointed up once at the moon, on whose face two storm wreaths had
marked a rectangular device.
"Look at that!" he cried. "It looks like a gallows."
"What is there to live for?" said his father, looking up with the cold
light glittering on his deep-set eyes.
"Not much for you, perhaps," his son retorted. "You've had your fling,
but I am young and have not yet had a fair show. I have no fancy to be
"Poor lad!" the father muttered; "poor lad!"
"They haven't caught me yet," said Ezra. "If they did I question
whether they could do much. They couldn't hang three for the death of
one. You would have to swing, and that's about all."
About two in the morning they saw a line of lights, which the fisherman
informed them was from the town of Worthing. Again before daybreak they
scudded past another and far brighter and larger area of twinkling
points, which marked the position of Brighton. They were nearly
half-way upon their journey already. As the dawn approached the dark
storm-clouds gathered away to the northern horizon and lay in a great
shadow over the coast. On all other points the sky was clear, save that
here and there a single puff of white vapour sailed along like the
feather of some gigantic bird floating in the ocean of air.
These isolated clouds, which had been pearly grey in the dim light of
early day, gradually took a lilac tint, which deepened into pink, and
then blushed suddenly to a fiery scarlet as the red rim of the sun rose
majestically over the horizon. All the heaven was filled with colour
from the palest, lightest blue at the zenith to the most brilliant
crimson in the east, as though it were nature's palette on which she had
dashed every tint that she possessed. The sea reflected the rich glow,
and the tossing waves were gashed with scarlet streaks. "It looks like
a sea of blood," the merchant remarked with a shudder, as he gazed at
the wonderful spectacle.
By the returning light the two fugitives were able to notice each
other's appearance. Both were pale, haggard, dishevelled, with
bloodshot, dark-rimmed eyes and anxious, weary faces.
"This won't do!" remarked Ezra. "If Miggs sees us like this he'll smell
He dipped a bucket overboard, and after some search a small piece of
soap and a broken comb were extracted from one of the lockers.
With these materials they managed to perform their toilets.
They re-arranged and cleaned each other's clothing too, and Ezra
purchased a yachting-cap from Sampson for his father, the jaunty nature
of which contrasted strangely with the old man's grim angular visage.
"There's a fine view!" Sampson observed, pointing towards the land, just
as his two passengers had finished their toilet.
They were passing a high range of cliffs which ran along for a great
distance. Some were of chalk and others were brownish, as though
consisting of some sort of earth. There was one which terminated the
line towering up above the rest, and as remarkable for the boldness of
its outline as for its height. A lighthouse stood upon the summit, and
the whole showed up so clearly in the bright morning air that the
fugitives could see the green grass round the house and the
coastguardsman at the signal station, who was strolling leisurely about
and looking down from his elevation at their little craft. To the
eastward of this chalk promontory was a large fine-looking town, which
stretched in a wide semicircle round the shores of a curving bay.
"That's Beachy Head," said Sampson, pointing at the cliff. "It's the
hoiest p'int down Channel, and they have a look-out place up there to
report ships as pass. It was a Muster Lloyd as put it up. I doan't
know who he be, that same Muster Lloyd, but he do seem to take a
powerful deal of interest in everythink which has to do wi' shipping.
He's an admiral belike, or something o' the sort."
Neither of the Girdlestones appeared inclined to enlighten him upon the
"What's the town?" asked Ezra.
"Eastbourne," the fisherman answered shortly, and lounged away into the
bows, while his son remained at the tiller.
The two fugitives had their breakfast; but as it consisted of nothing
more appetising than tinned corned-beef and ships' biscuits, and as
neither of them had much inclination for food, it was not a very lengthy
meal. Then they sat in the sheets once more, watching the grand
panorama of green woodland and swelling down and towering cliff, which
passed before them on the one side while on the other the great ocean
highway was dotted with every variety of vessel, from the Portland ketch
or the Sunderland brig, with its cargo of coals, to the majestic
four-masted liner which swept past, with the green waves swirling round
her forefoot and breaking away into a fork of eddying waters in her
Ezra cautioned his father to sit down, for he observed a row of curious
faces gazing at them over the quarter of one great vessel.
"Our dress isn't quite what you would expect to see in a fishing-boat,"
he said. "There is no use setting tongues wagging." There was still a
fresh breeze, and the little boat continued to fly before it at the rate
of six or eight knots. "This wind is a lucky chance," Ezra remarked,
rather to himself than to his companion.
"It is the working of Providence," answered John Girdlestone, with an
earnestness which showed that his mind still retained its habitual
By ten o'clock they were abreast of the long stone terraces of Hastings;
at half-past eleven they saw the masts of the fishing-smacks of
Winchelsea. By one they were rounding the sharp bold promontory of
Dungeness. They kept further to sea after that, so that the long white
wall and the spires of Folkestone and of Dover lay far on the horizon.
On the other side a dim haze upon the blue water marked the position of
the French coast. It was nearly five, and the sun was beginning to sink
down again in the west, when the fisherman, after gazing steadily ahead
for some time, with his horny hand shading his eyes, touched Ezra on the
"See them breakers over there," he said, pointing over the starboard
bow. Far away Ezra could see a long roll of foam breaking the monotony
of the broad stretch of ocean. "Them's the Goodwins," he went on; "and
them craft ahead is at anchor in the Downs."
The vessels in question were miles away, but Ezra brightened up at the
sight of their destination, and he once again arranged his toilet and
that of his father.
"Thank goodness!" he muttered, with a long sigh of relief as he peered
at the ships, which were growing clearer and larger every moment.
"That outer one is the _Black Eagle_, or I am much mistaken. He's not
"That is the _Black Eagle_," his father said with confidence. "I know
her by the cut of her stern and the rake of her masts."
As they came nearer still, any lingering doubt was finally dispelled.
"There's the white paint line," said Ezra. "It's certainly her.
Take us alongside that ship which is lying to the outside there,
The fisherman looked ahead once more. "To the barque which has just got
her anchor up?" he said. "Why, we won't be in time to catch her."
"Her anchor up!" screamed Ezra. "You don't mean to tell me she's
"Look at that!" the man answered.
As he spoke they saw first one great square of canvas appear above the
vessel, and then another, until she had spread her white wings to their
"Don't say we can't catch her!" cried Ezra, with a furious oath.
"I tell you, man, that we must catch her. Everything depends on that."
"She must take three short tacks before she's out from the Goodwins.
If we run right on as we are going, we may get near her before she's
"For God's sake! clap on all the sail you can! Get these reefs out!"
With trembling fingers Ezra let out the sail, and the boat lay over
further under the increased pressure. "Is there no other sail that we
could put up?"
"If we were running, we could rig up a spinnaker," the fisherman
answered; "but the wind has come round three points. We can do no
"I think we are catching her," John Girdlestone cried, keeping his eyes
fixed upon the barque, which was about a mile and a half ahead.
"Yes, we are now, but she hain't got her way on yet. She'll draw ahead
presently; won't she, Jarge?"
The fisherman's son nodded, and burst into hoarse merriment.
"It's better'n a race," he cried.
"With our necks for a prize," Ezra muttered to himself.
"It's a little too exciting to be pleasant. We are still gaining."
They had a clear view of the dark hull and towering canvas of the barque
as she swept along in front of them, intending evidently to take
advantage of the wind in order to get outside the Goodwins before
beating up Channel.
"She's going about," Sampson remarked. As he spoke the snow-white pile
lay over in the opposite direction, and the whole broadside of the
vessel became visible to them, every sail standing out as though carved
from ivory against the cold blue sky. "If we don't catch her on this
tack we won't get her at all," the fisherman observed. "When they put
about next they'll reach right out into the Channel."
"Where's something white?" said Ezra excitedly. He dived into the cabin
and reappeared with a dirty table-cloth. "Stand up here, father!
Now keep on waving it! They may see you."
"I think as we are overhaulin' of them," remarked the boy.
"We're doing that," his father answered. "The question is, will we get
near enough to stop 'em afore they gets off on the next tack?"
The old merchant was standing in the bows waving the signal in the air.
His son sprang up beside him and flourished his handkerchief.
"They don't look more than half a mile off. Let us shout together."
The two blended their voices in a hoarse roar, which was taken up by the
boatman and his son. "Once again!" cried Ezra; and again their shout
resounded over the sea--a long-drawn cry it was, with a ring of despair
and of sorrow. Still the barque kept steadily on her way.
"If they don't go about we shall catch them," the fisherman said.
"If they keep on another five minutes we are right."
"Do you hear that?" Ezra cried to his father; and they both shouted with
new energy and waved their signals.
"They're goin' about," George burst in. "It's all up." Girdlestone
groaned as he saw the mainyard swing back. They all strained their
eyes, waiting for the other to follow. It remained stationary.
"They have seen us!" cried the fisherman. "They are waitin' to pick us
"Then we are saved!" said Ezra, stepping down and wiping the
perspiration which poured from his forehead. "Go down into the cabin,
father, and put yourself straight. You look like a ghost."
Captain Hamilton Miggs had found the liquor of the _Cock and Cowslip_ so
very much to his taste, in spite of its vitriolic peculiarities recorded
in a preceding chapter, that he rejoined his ship in a very shaky and
demoralized condition. He was a devout believer in the homoeopathic
revelation that like may be cured by like, so he forthwith proceeded to
set himself straight by the consumption of an unlimited quantity of
ship's rum. "What's the good of having a pilot aboard if I am to keep
sober?" he hiccoughed to his mate McPherson. After which piece of logic
he shut himself up in his cabin and roared comic songs all the way from
London to Gravesend. He was so exhausted by his performance that he
fell fast asleep, and snored stertorously for fifteen hours, at the end
of which time he came on deck and found that the _Black Eagle_ was lying
off Deal, and that her anchor was just being hoisted for a start up
Captain Hamilton Miggs watched the sail-setting with his hands in his
pockets, and swore promiscuously at every one, from the mate downwards,
in a hearty comprehensive way, which showed a mind that was superior to
petty distinctions. Having run over all the oaths that he could think
of, he dived below and helped himself from the rum bottle, a process
which appeared to aid his memory or his invention, for he reappeared
upon deck and evolved a new many-jointed expletive at the man at the
wheel. He then strode in gloomy majesty up and down the quarter-deck,
casting his eyes at the sails and at the clouds in a critical way
calculated to impress the crew generally with a sense of their captain's
The _Blank Eagle_ had gone about for the second time, and was just about
to free herself from the Goodwins and reach out into the Channel, when
Miggs' eye happened to fall upon the fishing boat in pursuit and the
white flutter in her bows. He examined her with his glass, steadying it
as well as he could by leaning it across the rail, as his hand was very
shaky. After a short inspection, a look of astonishment, followed by
one of resignation, stole over his features.
"I've got them again, Mac," he remarked to the mate.
"Got what, sir?"
"The diddleums, the jumps, the visions. It's the change of air as has
"You look all right," remarked the mate in a sympathetic voice.
"So I may; but I've got 'em. It's usually rats--rats, and sometimes
cockroaches; but it's worse than that this time. As I'm a livin' man, I
looked through the glass at that fishing-boat astern of us, and I saw
young Muster Ezra Girdlestone in it, and the old boss standin' up wi' a
yachtin'-cap at the side of his head and waving a towel. This is the
smartest bout that ever I have had. I'll take some of the medicine left
from my last touch and I'll turn in." He vanished down the companion,
and having taken a strong dose of bromide of potassium, tumbled into his
bunk, cursing loudly at his ill luck.
The astonishment of McPherson upon deck was as great as that of Captain
Miggs, when, on looking through the glass, he ascertained beyond all
doubt that both of his employers were in the fishing-boat. He at once
ordered the mainyard to be hauled back and awaited their arrival. In a
few minutes the boat was alongside, a ladder thrown down, and the two
Girdlestones were on the deck of their own ship.
"Where's the captain?" asked the head of the firm.
"He's below, sir. He's no very salubrious." The mate's love of long
words rose superior to any personal emotion.
"You can square the yard," said Ezra. "We are going with you."
"Ay, ay, sir. Square away that yard there!" It swung round into
position, and the _Black Eagle_ resumed her voyage.
"There is some business to be looked after in Spain," Girdlestone
remarked to McPherson. "It came up suddenly or we should have given you
notice. It was absolutely necessary that we should be there personally.
It was more convenient to go in our own vessel than to wait for a
"Where will you sleep, sir?" asked the mate. "I doubt the
accommodation's no very munificent."
"There are two settees in the cabin. We can do on them very well.
I think we can't do better than go down there at once, for we have had a
long and tiring journey."
After they had disappeared into the cabin, McPherson trod the deck for
the remainder of his watch with a grave and a thoughtful face. Like
most of his countrymen he was shrewd and long-headed. It struck him
that it was a very strange thing for the two partners to be absent at
the same time from their business. Again, where was their luggage?
Grave misgivings arose in his mind as to the reason of it all. He kept
them to himself, however, and contented himself with remarking to the
carpenter that in all his experience he had never met with a more
A VOYAGE IN A COFFIN SHIP.
The early part of the voyage of the _Black Eagle_ was extremely
fortunate. The wind came round to the eastward, and wafted them
steadily down Channel, until on the third day they saw the Isle of
Ushant lying low upon the sky-line. No inquisitive gunboat or lurking
police launch came within sight of them, though whenever any vessel's
course brought her in their direction the heart of Ezra Girdlestone sank
within him. On one occasion a small brig signalled to them, and the
wretched fugitives, when they saw the flags run up, thought that all was
lost. It proved, however, to be merely some trivial message, and the
two owners breathed again.
The wind fell away on the day that they cleared the Channel, and the
whole surface of the sea was like a great expanse of quicksilver, which
shimmered in the rays of the wintry sun. There was still a considerable
swell after the recent gale, and the _Black Eagle_ lay rolling about as
though she had learned habits of inebriation from her skipper. The sky
was very clear above, but all round the horizon a low haze lay upon the
water. So silent was it that the creaking of the boats as they swung
at the davits, and the straining of the shrouds as the ship rolled,
sounded loud and clear, as did the raucous cries of a couple of gulls
which hovered round the poop. Every now and then a rumbling noise
ending in a thud down below showed that the swing of the ship had caused
something to come down with a run. Underlying all other sounds,
however, was a muffled clank, clank, which might almost make one forget
that this was a sailing ship, it sounded so like the chipping of a
"What is that noise, Captain Miggs?" asked John Girdlestone as he stood
leaning over the quarter rail, while the old sea-dog, sextant in hand,
was taking his midday observations. The captain had been on his good
behaviour since the unexpected advent of his employers, and he was now
in a wonderful and unprecedented state of sobriety.
"Them's the pumps a-goin'," Miggs answered, packing his sextant away in
"The pumps! I thought they were only used when a ship was in danger?"
Ezra came along the deck at this moment, and listened with interest to
"This ship is in danger," Miggs remarked calmly.
"In danger!" cried Ezra, looking round the clear sky and placid sea.
"Where is the danger? I did not think you were such an old woman,
"We will see about that," the seaman answered angrily. "If a ship's got
no bottom in her she's bound to be in danger, be the weather fair or
"Do you mean to tell me this ship has no bottom?"
"I mean to tell you that there are places where you could put your
fingers through her seams. It's only the pumpin' that keeps her
"This is a pretty state of things," said Girdlestone. "How is it that I
have not been informed of it before! It is most dangerous."
"Informed!" cried Miggs. "Informed of it! Has there been a v'yage yet
that I haven't come to ye, Muster Girdlestone, and told ye I was
surprised ever to find myself back in Lunnon? A year agone I told ye
how this ship was, and ye laughed at me, ye did. It's only when ye find
yourselves on her in the middle o' the broad sea that ye understan' what
it is that sailor folk have to put up wi'."
Girdlestone was about to make some angry reply to this address, but his
son put his hand on his arm to restrain him. It would never do to
quarrel with Hamilton Miggs before they reached their port of refuge.
They were too completely in his power.
"What the captain says has a great deal of truth in it," he remarked,
with a laugh. "You don't realize a thing until you've had to experience
it. The _Black Eagle_ shall certainly have an overhauling next time,
and we'll see if we can't give her captain an increase at the same
Miggs gave a grunt which, might be taken as expressing thanks or as
signifying doubt. Perhaps there was a mixture of both in his mind.
"I presume," Girdlestone said, in a conciliatory voice, "that there
would be no real danger as long as the weather was fine?"
"It won't be fine long," the captain answered gruffly. "The glass was
well under thirty when I come up, and it is fallin' fast. I've been
about here before at this time o' year in a calm, with a ground swell
and a sinkin' glass. No good ever came of it. Look there at the
norrard. What d'ye make o' that, Sandy?"
"In conjunction wi' the descending glass, it has an ominous appairance,"
the Scotchman answered, with much stress on the first syllable of the
The phenomenon which had attracted their professional attention did not
appear to either of the Girdlestones to be a very important one.
The haze on the horizon to the north was rather thicker than elsewhere,
and a few thin streaky clouds straggled upwards across the clear cold
heaven, like the feelers of some giant octopus which lay behind the fog
bank. At the same time the sea changed in places from the appearance of
quicksilver to that of grained glass.
"There's the wind," Miggs said confidently. "I'd furl the top-gallant
sails and get her stay-sails down, Mr. McPherson." Whenever he gave an
order he was careful to give the mate his full title, though at other
times he called him indiscriminately Sandy or Mac.
The mate gave the necessary commands, while Miggs dived down into the
cabin. He came up again looking even graver than when he left the deck.
"The glass is nearly down to twenty-eight," he said. "I never seed it
as low since I've been at sea. Take in the mains'l, Mr. McPherson, and
have the topsails reefed down!"
"Ay, ay, sir."
There was no lack of noise now as the men hauled at the halliards with
their shrill strange cries, which sounded like the piping of innumerable
sea-birds. Half a dozen lay out on the yard above, tucking away the
great sail and making all snug.
"Take a reef in the fores'l!" the mate roared, "and look alive about
"Hurry up, ye swabs!" Miggs bellowed. "You'll be blown away, every
mother's son of ye, if you don't stir yourselves!"
Even the two landsmen could see now that the danger was no imaginary
one, and that a storm was about to burst over them. The long black
lines of vapour had lengthened and coalesced, until now the whole
northern heaven was one great rolling black cloud, with an angry, ragged
fringe which bespoke the violence of the wind that drove it. Here and
there against the deep black background a small whitish or
sulphur-coloured wreath stood clearly out, looking livid and dangerous.
The whole great mass was sweeping onwards with prodigious and majestic
rapidity, darkening the ocean beneath it, and emitting a dull, moaning,
muttering sound, which was indescribably menacing and mournful.
"This may be the same gale as was on some days ago," Miggs remarked.
"They travel in circles very often, and come back to where they start
"We are all snug aloft, but this ship won't stand much knocking about,
an' that's a fact," observed the mate gloomily.
It was blowing now in short frequent puffs, which ruffled the surface of
the water, and caused the _Black Eagle_ to surge slowly forward over the
rollers. A few drops of rain came pattering down upon the deck.
The great bank of cloud was above the ship, still hurrying wildly across
"Look out!" cried an old quartermaster. "Here she comes!"
As he spoke the storm burst with a shriek, as though all the demons of
the air had been suddenly unchained and were rejoicing in their freedom.
The force of the blast was so great that Girdlestone could almost have
believed that he had been struck by some solid object. The barque
heeled over until her lee rail touched the water, and lay so for a
minute or more in a smother of foam. Her deck was at such an angle that
it seemed as though she never could right herself. Gradually, however,
she rose a little, staggered and trembled like a living thing, and then
plunged away through the storm, as a piece of paper is whirled before
By evening the gale was at its height. The _Black Eagle_ was running
under maintopsail and foretopmast staysail. The sea had risen very
quickly, as it will when wind comes upon a swell. As far as the eye
could see from the summit of a wave there was a vista of dark towering
ridges with their threatening crests of foam. When the barque sank in
the hollow these gleaming summits rose as high as her mainyard, and the
two fugitives, clinging to the weather-shrouds, looked up in terror and
amazement at the masses of water which hung above them. Once or twice
waves actually broke over the vessel, crashing and roaring down the
deck, and washing hither and thither until gradually absorbed between
the planks or drained away through the scupper-holes. On each of these
occasions the poor rotten vessel would lurch and shiver in every plank,
as if with a foreknowledge of her fate.
It was a dreary night for all on board. As long as there was light they
could at least see what danger was to be faced, but now the barque was
plunging and tossing through an inky obscurity. With a wild scooping
motion she was hurled up on the summit of a great wave, and thence she
shot down into the black gulf beyond with such force that when checked
by meeting the next billow her whole fabric jarred from truck to
keelson. There were two seamen at the wheel and two at the relieving
tackles, yet it was all that they could do among the wild commotion to
keep her steady.
No one thought of going below. It was better to see and know the worst
than to be shut up in a coffin where one could not stretch out a hand to
help one's self. Once Captain Hamilton Miggs clawed his way along the
rail to where the Girdlestones were standing.
"Look there!" he roared, pointing to windward.
It was difficult to turn one's face straight to the wild rush of wind
and spray and hail. Shading their eyes, they peered into the storm.
Right in the heart of it, and apparently not more than a couple of
hundred yards from the barque, was a lurid glare of ruddy light, rising
and falling with the sea, but advancing rapidly through it. There was a
bright central glowing spot, with smaller lights glimmering above and
beside it. The effect of the single glare of light against the inky
darkness of the sea and sky would have made a study for a Turner.
"It's a steamer," the captain shouted. It was only by great exertions
that he could make himself audible above the shrieking of the wind and
the dash of the waves.
"What do you think of it all?" Ezra asked.
"Very bad," Miggs answered. "Couldn't be worse;" and with that he
clawed his way aft again, grasping every stanchion or shroud on his way,
like a parroquet in a cage.
The clouds above broke somewhat towards morning, but there was no sign
of abatement in the tempest. Here and there through the rifts the
glimmer of the stars might be seen, and once the pale moon gleamed
through the storm wreath. The dawn broke cheerless and dreary,
disclosing the great turmoil of endless slate-coloured waves and the
solitary little barque, with her rag of canvas, like a broken-winged
seabird, staggering to the south.
Even the Girdlestones had noticed that, whereas towards the commencement
of the storm it had been a rare occurrence for a wave to break over the
ship, the decks were now continually knee-deep in water, and there was a
constant splashing and crashing as the seas curled over the weather
bulwark. Miggs had already observed it, and conferred gravely with his
mate on the point.
"I don't like the looks of her, Mac," he shouted. "She don't rise to
"She's near water-logged, I'm thinkin'," the mate responded gravely.
He knew the danger, and his thoughts were wandering away to a little
slate-tiled cottage near Peterhead. It is true that there was not much
in it save a wife, who was said to give Sandy the rough side of her
tongue, and occasionally something rougher still. Affection is a
capricious emotion, however, and will cling to the most unlikely
objects; so the big Scotchman's eyes were damp with something else
beside the sea spray as he realized that he might never look upon
cottage or occupant again.
"No wonder," said Miggs, "when she's takin' in water above and below
too. The men are weary wi' pumpin', and it still gains."
"I doot it's our last v'yage thgither," the mate remarked, his Scottish
accent waxing broader under the influence of emotion.
"What d'ye say to heavin' her to?"
"I'd let her run on. She would na rise tae the waves, I'm fearin'.
We canna be vera fa' frae the Spanish coast, accordin' to my
surmisation. That wud gie us a chance o' savin' oorsels, though I'm a
feared na boat would live in siccan a sea."
"You're right. We have a better chance so than if we let her ride.
She'd founder as sure as eggs are eggs. Damn it, Mac, I could almost be
glad this has happened now we've got them two aboard. We'll teach 'em
what coffin ships is like in a gale o' wind." The rough seaman laughed
hoarsely as he spoke.
The carpenter came aft at this moment, balancing himself as best he
could, for the deck was only a few degrees off the perpendicular.
"The leak is gaining fast," he said. "The hands are clean done up.
There's land on the port bow."
The mate and the captain peered out through the dense wrack and haze.
A great dark cliff loomed out upon the left, jagged, inhospitable, and
"We'd best run towards it," the mate said. "We've na chance o' saving
the ship, but we might run her ashore."
"The ship will go down before you reach it," the carpenter remarked
"Keep your heart up!" Miggs shouted, and then crawled along to the
Girdlestones. "There is no hope for the ship but we may save
ourselves," he said. "You'll have to take your turn at the pumps."
They followed him forward without a word. The crew, listless and weary,
were grouped about the pumps. The feeble clanking sounded like the
ticking of a watch amid the horrible uproar which filled the air.
"Buckle to again, boys!" cried Miggs. "These two will help you and the
carpenter and mate."
Ezra and his father, the old man's grizzled locks flying wildly from his
head, seized the rope and worked with the crew, hardly able to retain
their foothold upon the slippery sloping decks. Miggs went down into
the cabin. His behaviour during the gale had been most exemplary, but
he recognized now that there was nothing more to be done, and, having
thrown off his public responsibilities, he renewed his private
peculiarities. He filled out nearly a tumblerful of raw rum and took it
off at a gulp. Then he began to sing and made his way on deck in a very
hilarious and reckless mood.
The vessel was still flying towards the rugged line of cliffs, which
were now visible along the whole horizon, the great projection on the
left being their culminating point. She was obviously sinking lower in
the water, and she plunged in a heavy, sulky manner through the waves,
instead of rising to them as she did before. The water was steadily
gaining in her interior, and it was clear that she would not float long.
The straining of the gale had increased the long-neglected rifts between
her timbers, and no amount of pumping could save her. On the other
hand, the sky had broken above them, and the wind was by no means so
violent as before. The sun broke through between two great hurrying
clouds, and turned all the waves to the brightest emerald green, with
sparkling snow-white crests of foam. This sudden change and the
brightness of the scene made their fate seem all the harder to the
seamen aboard the sinking vessel.
"The gale is clearin'," remarked McPherson. "If we'd had a ship that
wasna rotten to the hairt, like her owners, we'd ha pu'ed through."
"Right you are, old Sandy! But we're all goin' together, captain and
owners and the whole bilin'," yelled Miggs recklessly.
The mate looked at him half in surprise and half in contempt.
"You've been at the bottle," he said. "Eh mun, mun, if we are a'
drooned, as seems likely, it's an awfu' thing to appear before your
Maker wi' your meeserable soul a' steeped in drink."
"You go down and have a drink yourself," Miggs cried huskily.
"Na, na. If I am to dee, I'll dee sober."
"You'll die a fool," the skipper shouted wrathfully.
"Well, old preacher, you've brought us into a nice hole with your damned
insurance cheating, cheese-paring business. What d'ye think of it now,
when the ship's settlin' down under our feet, eh? Would you repair her
if you had her back in the Albert Dock, eh?"
This speech was addressed to the old merchant, who had ceased pumping,
and was leaning against the cuddy and looking up hopelessly at the long
line of brown cliffs which were now only half a mile away. They could
hear the roar of the surf, and saw the white breakers where the
Atlantic stormed in all its fury against nature's break-water.
"He's not fit to command," said Ezra to the mate. "What would you
"We'll bring her round and lower the boats on the lee side. They may
live or no, but it's the only chance for us. Them twa boats will hold
us a' easy."
The ship was settling down in the water so fast that it was no difficult
matter to let the boats down. They only hung a few feet above the
surface. The majority of the crew got safely into the long boat, and
the Girdlestones, with Miggs and four seamen, occupied the gig. It was
no easy thing to prevent the boats from being stove, as the waves
alternately drove them from the ship's side or brought the two together
with a force which seemed irresistible. By skilful management, however,
they both succeeded in casting off and getting clear without accident.
It was only when they emerged from under the shelter of the vessel that
they felt the full power of the sea. If it had appeared stupendous when
they trod the deck of the barque, how much more so now, when, by leaning
the arm over the side, they could touch the surface. The great glassy
green billows hurled them up and down, and tossed them and buffeted them
as though the two boats were their playthings, and they were trying what
antics they could perform with them without destroying them.
Girdlestone sat very grim and pale, with Ezra at his side. The young
fellow's expression was that of a daring man who realizes his danger,
but is determined to throw no chance of safety away. His mouth was set
firm and hard, and his dark eyebrows were drawn down over his keen eyes,
which glanced swiftly to right and left, like a rat in a trap.
Miggs held the tiller, and laughed from time to time in a drunken
fashion, while the four seamen, quiet and subdued, steadied the boat as
long as they could with their oars, and looked occasionally over their
shoulders at the breakers behind them. The sun was shining on the
rugged precipices, showing out the green turf upon their summit and a
little dark group of peasants, who were watching the scene from above,
but making no effort to assist the castaways. There was no alternative
but to row straight in for the nearest point of land, for the boats were
filling, and might go down at any moment.
"The ship's gone!" Ezra said, as they rose on the summit of a wave.
When they came up again all looked round, but there was no sign of the
ill-fated _Black Eagle_.
"We'll all be gone when we get among the breakers," shouted Captain
Hamilton Miggs. "Pull, ye devils, pull! Beat the mate's boat. It's a
race, my lads, and the winnin' post is hell."
Ezra glanced at his father, and saw that his lips were moving
tremulously as they pattered forth prayers.
"Still at it!" he said, with a sneer.
"Making my peace," the old man said solemnly. "My faith is now indeed a
staff and a comfort. I look back at my long life, and though I humbly
confess that I have erred, and erred grievously, still in the main I
have walked straight. From my youth I have been frugal and industrious.
Oh, my boy, look with candid eyes into your own heart, and see if you
are fit to be called away."
"Look to your own beam," Ezra answered, keeping his eye upon the line of
boiling surf, which came nearer and nearer every moment. "How about
John Harston's daughter, eh?" Even at that awful hour Ezra felt a
sinister pleasure at observing the spasm which shot across his father's
face at the mention of his ward.
"If I sinned I sinned for a worthy purpose," he answered. "It was to
preserve my business. Its fall was a blow to righteousness and a
triumph to evil. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit!"
As he spoke a great wave hurled the boat in upon its broad bosom, and
flung it down upon the cruel jagged rocks, which bristled from the base
of the cliff. There was a horrible rending crash, and the stout keel
snapped asunder, while a second wave swept over it, tearing out the
struggling occupants and bearing them on, only to hurl them upon a
second ridge beyond. The peasants upon the cliff gave piteous cries of
grief and pity, which blended with the agonized groans and screams of
drowning men and the thunder of the pitiless surge. Looking down they
could see the black dots, which indicated the heads of the poor wretches
below, diminishing one by one as they were hurled upon the rocks or
dragged down by the under-current.
Ezra was a strong swimmer, but when he had shaken himself free of the
boat, and kicked away a seaman who clung to him, he made no attempt to
strike out. He knew that the waves would bear him quickly enough on to
the rocks, and he reserved himself for the struggle with them. A great
roller came surging over the outlying reef. It carried him in like a
feather and hurled him up against the face of the cliff. As he
struggled upon its crest, he mechanically put out his hands and seized a
projecting portion of the rock. The shock of the contact was
tremendous, but he retained his grasp and found himself, when the wave
receded, standing battered and breathless upon a small niche in the
front of the rock which just gave him foothold. It was a marvellous
escape, for looking on either side he could not see any break in the
He was by no means safe as yet. If a wave had landed him there another
might come as high and drag him away. Looking down he saw one or two
smaller ones break into spray far below him, and then a second great
green billow came rolling majestically towards him. He eyed it as it
came foaming in, and calculated that it would come at least as high as
his knees. Would it drag him back with it, or could he hold his own?
He braced himself as firmly as he could, placing his feet apart, and
digging his nails into the inequalities of the rock until the blood
gushed from them. The water surged up upon him, and he felt it tugging
like some murderous demon at his legs, but he held on bravely until the
pressure decreased. Looking below the saw the wave sinking down the
face of the cliff. Another wave overtook it and welled it up again, and
then from the depths of the green waters Ezra saw a long white arm shoot
up, and grasp the edge of the ledge upon which he stood.
Even before the face appeared the young man knew that the hand was his
father's. A second followed the first, and then the old merchant's face
was uplifted from the waves. He was cruelly bruised and battered, and
his clothes had been partly torn away. He recognized his son, however,
and looked up at him beseechingly, while he held on with all his
strength to the ledge of rock. So small was the space that his clinging
fingers touched Ezra's toes.
"There's no room here," the young man said brutally.
"For God's sake!"
"Hardly room for one."
The merchant was hanging with the lower portion of his body in the
water. It was but a few instants, but the old man had time to think of
many an incident in his past life. Once more he saw the darkened
sick-room, and his own form standing by the bed of the dying man.
What are these words which ring in his ears above the crash of the surf?
"May your flesh and blood treat you as you treat her." He looked up
appealing at his son. Ezra saw that the next wave would lift him right
up on to the ledge. In that case he might be hustled off.
"Leave go!" he cried.
"Help me, Ezra."
His son brought down his heavy heel upon the bloodless hands. The old
African trader gave a wild shriek and fell back into the sea. Looking
down, Ezra saw his despairing face gazing at him through the water.
Slowly it sank until it was but a flickering white patch far down in the
green depths. At the same instant a thick rope came dangling down the
face of the cliff, and the young man knew that he was saved.
WINDS UP THE THREAD AND TIES TWO KNOTS AT THE END.
Great was the excitement of the worthy couple at Phillimore Gardens when
Kate Harston was brought back to them. Good Mrs. Dimsdale pressed her
to her ample bosom and kissed her, and scolded her, and wept over her,
while the doctor was so moved that it was only by assuming an expression
of portentous severity and by bellowing and stamping about that he was
able to keep himself in decent control.
"And you really thought we had forgotten you because we were insane
enough to stop writing at that villain's request?" he said, patting
Kate's pale cheeks tenderly and kissing her.
"I was very foolish," she said, blushing prettily and rearranging her
hair, which had been somewhat tumbled by her numerous caresses.
"Oh, that scoundrel--that pair of scoundrels!" roared the doctor,
shaking his fist and dancing about on the hearth-rug. "Pray God they
may catch 'em before the trial comes off!"
The good physician's prayer was not answered in this case, for Burt was
the only criminal who appeared in the dock. Our friends all went down
to the Winchester Assizes to give evidence, and the navvy was duly
convicted of the death of Rebecca Taylforth and condemned to death.
He was executed some three weeks afterwards, dying as he had lived,
stolid and unrepenting.
There is a little unpretending church not far from Phillimore Gardens,
in which a little unpretending clergyman preaches every Sunday out of a
very shabby pulpit. It lies in Castle Lane, which is a narrow by-way,
and the great crowd of church-goers ebbs and flows within a hundred
yards of it, but none know of its existence, for it has never risen to
the dignity of a spire, and the bell is so very diminutive that the
average muffin man produces quite as much noise. Hence, with the
exception of some few families who have chanced to find their way there,
and have been so pleased with their spiritual welcome that they have
returned, there is a poor and fluctuating congregation. So scanty is it
that the struggling incumbent could very well weep when he has spent the
week in polishing and strengthening his sermon, and then finds upon the
Sunday how very scanty is the audience to whom it is to be addressed.
Imagine, then, this good man's surprise when asked to publish the banns
of marriage of two couples simultaneously, each of whom he knew to be in
the upper circles of life, and when informed at the same time that the
said marriages were actually to be celebrated under his own auspices and
in his own church. In the fullness of his heart he at once bought a
most unwearable black bonnet with lilac flowers and red berries, which
he brought in triumph to his wife, who, good woman, affected extreme
delight, and afterwards cut away all the obnoxious finery and replaced
it to her own taste. The scanty congregation was no less surprised when
they heard that Tobias Clutterbuck, bachlelor, was about to marry
Lavinia Scully, widow, and that Thomas Dimsdale, bachelor, was to do as
much to Catherine Harston, spinster. They communicated the tidings to
their friends, and the result was a great advertisement to the little
church, so that the incumbent preached his favourite sermon upon barren
fig trees to a crowded audience, and received such an offertory as had
never entered into his wildest dreams.
And if this was an advertisement to the Castle Lane church, how much
more so was it when the very pompous carriages came rolling up with
their very pompous drivers, all of whom, being married men, had a
depreciatory and wearied expression upon their faces, to show that they
had done it all before and that it was nothing new to them. Out of the
one carriage there jumped a very jaunty gentleman, somewhat past the
middle age and a little inclined to stoutness, but looking very healthy
and rosy nevertheless. Besides him there walked a tall, tawny-bearded
man, who glanced solicitously every now and again at his companion, as
though he were the bottle-holder at a prize-fight and feared that his
man might collapse at a moment's notice. From a second carriage there
emerged an athletic brown-faced young fellow accompanied by a small
wizened gentleman in spotless attire, who was in such a state of
nervousness that he dropped his lavender glove twice on his way up the
aisle. These gentlemen grouped themselves at the end of the church
conversing in low whispers and looking exceedingly uncomfortable, as is
the prerogative of the sterner sex under such circumstances.
Mr. Gilray, who was Tom's best man, was introduced to Herr von Baumser,
and every one was very affable and nervous.
Now there comes a rustling of drapery, and every one turns their heads
as the brides sweep up to the altar. Here Is Mrs. Scully, looking quite
as charming as she did fifteen years ago on the last occasion when she
performed the ceremony. She was dressed in a French grey gown with
bonnet to match, and the neatest little bouquet in the world, for which
the major had ransacked Covent Garden. Behind her came bonny Kate, a
very vision of loveliness in her fairy-like lace and beautiful ivory
satin. Her dark lashes drooped over her violet eyes and a slight flush
tinged her cheeks, but she glided steadily into her place and did her
share in the responses when the earnest little clergyman appeared upon
the scene. There was Dr. Dimsdale too, with the brightest of smiles and
snowiest of waistcoats, giving away the brides in the most open-handed
fashion. His wife too was by his side in tears and purple velvet, and
many other friends and relations, including the two Socialists, who came
at the major's invitation, and beamed on every one out of a side pew.
Then there was the signing of the registers, and such a kissing and a
weeping and a distributing of fees as never was seen in Castle Lane
church before. And Mrs. Dimsdale, as one of the witnesses, would insist
upon writing her name in the space reserved for the bride, on which
there were many small jokes passed and much laughter. Then the wheezy
old organ struck up Mendelssohn's wedding march, and the major puffed
out his chest and stumped down the aisle with his bride, while Tom
followed with his, looking round with proud and happy eyes.
The carriages rolled up, there was a slamming of doors and a cracking of
whips, and two more couples had started hand in hand down the long road
of life which leads--who shall say whither!
The breakfast was at Phillimore Gardens, and a very glorious breakfast
it was. Those who were present still talk of the manner in which the
health of the brides was proposed by Dr. Dimsdale and of the enthusiasm
with which the toast was received by the company. Also of the flowery
address in which the major returned thanks for the said toast, and the
manly demeanour of the younger man as he followed suit. They speak too
of many other pleasant things said and done upon that occasion. How Von
Baumser proposed the health of the little incumbent, and the little
incumbent that of Dr. Dimsdale, and the doctor drank to the
unpronounceable Russian, who, being unable to reply, sang a
revolutionary song which no one could understand. Very happy and very
hearty was every one by the time that the hour came at which the
carriages were ordered, when, amid a patter ing of rice and a chorus of
heartfelt good wishes, the happy couples drove off upon their travels.
The liabilities of the firm of Girdlestone proved to be less serious
than was at first imagined. After the catastrophe which had befallen
the founder of the business, there was almost a panic in Fenchurch
Street, but on examination it proved that though the books had been
deliberately falsified for some time, yet trade had been so brisk of
late that, with a little help, the firm could continue to exist.
Dimsdale threw all his money and his energy into the matter, and took
Gilray into partnership, which proved to be an excellent thing for both
of them. The firm of Dimsdale and Gilray is now among the most
successful and popular of all the English firms connected with the
African trade. Of their captains there is none upon whom they place
greater reliance than upon McPherson, whose boat was providentially
saved from the danger which destroyed his former captain and his
What became of Ezra Girdlestone was never known. Some years after Tom
heard from a commercial traveller of a melancholy, broken man who
haunted the low betting-houses of San Francisco, and who met his death
eventually in some drunken fracas. There was much about this
desperado which tallied with the description of young Girdlestone, but
nothing certain was ever known about the matter.
And now I must bid adieu to the shadowy company with whom I have walked
so long. I see them going on down the vista of the future, gathering
wisdom and happiness as they go. There is the major, as stubby-toed and
pigeon-breasted as ever, broken from many of his Bohemian ways, but
still full of anecdote and of kindliness. There is his henchman, Von
Baumser, too, who is a constant diner at his hospitable board, and who
conveys so many sweets to a young Clutterbuck who has made his
appearance, that one might suspect him of receiving a commission from
the family doctor. Mrs. Clutterbuck, as buxom and pleasant as ever,
makes noble efforts at stopping these contraband supplies, but the wily
Teuton still manages to smuggle them through in the face of every
obstacle. I see Kate and her husband, chastened by their many troubles,
and making the road to the grave pleasant to the good old couple who are
so proud of their son. All these I watch as they pass away into the dim
coming time, and I know as I shut the book that, whatever may be in
store for us there, they, at least, can never in the eternal justice of
things come to aught but good.