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True Tilda by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

Part 6 out of 6

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"You are sure it is Glasson?"

Parson Chichester produced the card, badly crumpled, from his
riding-glove. Miss Sally pushed her Sunday spectacles higher on her
brows and examined it with her clear eyes.

"This," she said "is going to be a treat. The man cannot possibly have
guessed that the children are in this neighbourhood. You haven't
enlightened him, I hope?"

"Certainly not," Mr. Chichester answered indignantly.

"Well, you said a moment since that you'd been infernally stupid, and I
don't yet know what form it took."

"I let him know what I'd discovered--that he had been pumping Matters
for Sir Miles's address."

"There is no harm in that. He can have the address from me as soon as
he likes."

"But surely you see through his game? He has tracked out the boy's
parentage, and he's out after blackmail."

"To be sure he is; and, what's more, he's going to have a run for his
money. What on earth is the matter outside?"

For a noise of furious barking had broken out suddenly, and, as she
spoke, there mingled with it a sound very like a human scream.

Miss Sally hurried out to the hall, the parson close at her heels.
They had scarcely crossed the threshold when Doctor Glasson staggered by
them like a maniac, with Tryphosa hanging on to his clerical skirts and
Tryphena in full cry behind. Butts brought up the rear of the chase,
vainly shouting to call them off.

"Down, Tryphosa!" Miss Sally ran in, planted a well-directed kick on the
mastiff's ribs, caught her by the scruff of the neck and banged her
ears. "Back, you brutes!"

Catching a dog-whip down from the rack, she lashed and drove them
yelping; while Glasson flung himself on a couch and lay panting, with a
sickly yellow face and a hand pressed to his heart.

"Oh, ma'am, your lady dogs!"

"'Bitches' in the country, Doctor Glasson. I must apologise for them.
Butts, bring some brandy and water to the drawing-room. . . . Not
bitten, I hope? If the skin's broken we had better cauterise."

Miss Sally confessed afterwards that she would have enjoyed operating on
the man with a red-hot poker: "and I'd have used the biggest poker in
the house." But Doctor Glasson arose, felt himself, and announced that
it was unnecessary.

"Mr. Chichester tells me you wish for Sir Miles Chandon's address.
He was, until a couple of days ago, at the Grand Hotel, Monte Carlo, and
I have no doubt is there yet."

Doctor Glasson's face fell somewhat.

"I thank you," he murmured. "It is a long distance."

"A letter will reach him in less than two days."

"Yes," said Glasson, and said no more.

"But a letter addressed to him at Meriton would, of course, be
forwarded. So I conclude you wish to see him personally. Are you--
pardon the question--a friend of his?"

"Not a personal friend, ma'am. I came to see him on a matter of

"From Bursfield," said Miss Sally, with a glance at the card.

It was a superstition with Glasson to tell the truth about trifles.

"From Plymouth, to be exact, ma'am. I have been indulging in a--er--
brief holiday."

"Ah," thought Miss Sally to herself, "researching, no doubt!"

Aloud she said--

"Well, I am sorry, sir; but Monte Carlo's the address, and that's all I
can do for you except to offer you some refreshment, and--yes, let me
see--you are returning to-night?"

"As speedily as possible, ma'am."

"Sunday trains are awkward. There is one at Fair Anchor at 4.35, and
after that no other until the 7.12, which picks up the evening mail at
Taunton. You are on foot, I understand, and will certainly not catch
the first unless you let my man drive you over."

Doctor Glasson was evidently anxious to get away at the earliest moment.
He protested, with many thanks, that he was trespassing on her kindness.

"Not a bit," said Miss Sally; "and you shall be as comfortable as we can
make you in the barouche. Mr. Chichester, would you mind stepping out
and ringing them up at the stables, while Butts is bringing the brandy?"

The Parson guessed that she was sending him with a purpose; and he was
right, for he had scarcely left the room when, on an excuse, she
followed him.

"Tossell and the children are about due. This man must not see them, of
course. As you leave the stables you go up on the Inistow road and head
'em off--keep 'em out of sight until the barouche is past the
cross-roads and on the way to Fair Anchor."

He nodded, and having left his order with the coachman, climbed by a
footpath to a rise of the moor whence he commanded a view of the
cross-roads on his right, and on his left of the road running
northward like a pale ribbon across the brown heather. Neither vehicle
nor horseman was in sight. Nor, though he waited more than half an
hour, did any appear coming from the direction of Inistow.

At the end of that time, however, he saw the barouche roll past the
cross-roads towards Fair Anchor. The coast was clear. So, wondering a
little at the farmer's delay, he wended his way back to Culvercoombe.
To his amazement, in the hall he ran against Butts carrying a
portmanteau, and at the same moment Miss Sally issued from the yellow
drawing-room with a Bradshaw in her hand.

"Where are the children?" she asked.

"Nowhere in sight."

"That's odd. Tossell's punctual in everything as a rule--rent included.
Well, I must leave you to keep an eye on them. . . . Do you know
anything about Bursfield? The best hotel there, for instance? I see
there are two advertised here, The Imperial--everything's Imperial
nowadays--with a night-porter and a lift--I detest lifts--never use
'em--and the Grand Central, family and commercial, electric light.
I abominate commercials, but they know how to feed. Why the deuce can't
these people advertise something worth knowing? Electric light--who
wants to eat overdone steaks by electricity?"

"But, my dear lady, why this sudden curiosity about Bursfield and its

"Because, my dear man, I'm going there, to-night; by the 7.12. Butts
has just carried my portmanteau upstairs."

"Your portmanteau?"

"Yes; I don't believe in trunks and dress boxes--my things will bear
folding, and Humphreys"--meaning her maid--"is already folding 'em.
Man, don't stare. I'm going to have the time of my life at Bursfield in
Glasson's absence. You saw Glasson depart? Well, he didn't tell; but
you may pack me in another portmanteau if he's not posting off to Monte


"Well, he won't find Miles Chandon there. Because why? Because
I've written out this telegram, which I'll trouble you to send as soon
as the post office opens to-morrow. Nuisance there's no telegraphing in
the country on Sundays. I thought of getting a porter to dispatch it
for me at Taunton; but it wouldn't reach Monte Carlo until some
unearthly hour, and we've plenty of time. Miles Chandon will get it
to-morrow, probably just as Glasson is beginning to get on terms with
the Channel crossing. He's the very subject for sea-sickness, the
brute! . . . And the two will probably pass one another at some time in
the middle of the night, while I'm sleeping like a top after a happy day
at Bursfield."

"You count on Chandon's coming?"

"Here's the telegram--'_Return Meriton Wednesday at latest. Important.
Sally Breward._'"

"Will that fetch him?"

"Of course it will. Miles Chandon owes me something, as I think I told
you, and is a gentleman moreover."

"Oh, very well, I'll send it, and I have only one other question.
What precisely is your business at Bursfield?"

Miss Sally grinned.

"Hay-making," she answered, "while the sun shines--that is to say, in
Glasson's absence. I propose to make a considerable deal of hay.
Something will depend on Mr. Hucks; but from the child's account of him,
I build great hopes on Mr. Hucks. . . . There's one thing more. I've
sent the barouche to the station. If I drive my own cart over to Fair
Anchor, there's nobody but Butts to bring it back, and you know Butts's
driving. If I take the brown, the brown'll bolt with him, and if I take
the chestnut filly he'll let her down. So I must commandeer you and

Accordingly Parson Chichester drove Miss Sally over to the station, and
bestowed her comfortably in the 7.12 up train. She was in the highest
spirits. Having dispatched her and watched the train out of sight, the
parson lit his lamps, climbed into his dog-cart again, and headed
Archdeacon back for home.

He had struck the Inistow road, when his ear caught the beat of hoofs
approaching at a gallop through the darkness. He quartered and cried
hullo! as the rider drew close. On the moors it was unusual to meet a
rider at night; nobody rode so hard unless for a doctor, and no doctor
dwelt in this direction.

"Hullo, friend!"


The rider reined up, and by the light of his lamps Parson Chichester
recognised the young giant Roger.

"What's your errand, my friend?"

"To Culvercoombe. The children--"

"Miss Sally has left by the night train. I drove her over to Fair
Anchor myself. What of the children? We were expecting them all the

"They are gone--lost! Last night, as we reckon, they took the boat and
made a bolt for it. All this day we've been searching, and an hour
agone word comes from the coast-guard that the boat has driven ashore,
empty, on Clatworthy beach."



"_And to shew Thy pity upon all prisoners and captives._"--THE LITANY

Mr. Hucks sat in his counting-house, counting out his money--or so much
of it as he had collected from his tenantry on his Saturday rounds.
It amounted to 12 pounds 2 shillings and 9 pence in cash; but to this
must be added a caged bullfinch, a pair of dumb-bells, a down mattress
and an ophicleide. He had coveted the ophicleide for weeks; but he knew
how to wait, and in the end it had fallen to his hand--if the simile may
be permitted--like a ripe peach.

The clock at the Great Brewery struck ten, the hour at which the banks
opened. Mr. Hucks whistled to himself softly, but out of tune--sure
sign that he was in a good humour--as he closed the neck of his
money-bag and tied the string with a neat knot. Just as he was
reaching, however, for coat and walking-stick, someone knocked at the

"Come in!" he called, and resumed his seat as a lady entered--a stranger
to him. At first glance he guessed she might be the wife of some
impecunious musician, come to plead for restitution of an instrument.
Such things happened now and again on Monday mornings; nor was the
mistake without excuse in Miss Sally's attire. When travelling without
her maid she had a way of putting on anything handy, and in the order
more or less as it came to hand. Without specifying, it may be said
that two or three articles usually ranked as underclothing had this
morning partially worked their way up to the top stratum, and that by
consequence her person presented more than one example of what
geologists call a "fault"--though it is actually rather a misfortune.
As for her hat, she had started by putting it on sideways, and then,
since it would not "sit," and she had mislaid her hat-pins, had bound it
boldly in place with a grey woollen comforter, and knotted the ends
under her chin. What gave Mr. Hucks pause was, first, the brusqueness
of her entry, and next, the high clear tone of her accost.

"Mr. Christopher Hucks?"

"At your service, ma'am."

"I hope so, because I want your help."

"As for that, ma'am, I don't know who sent you; but it ain't generally
reckoned in my line."

Miss Sally glanced round the counting-house.

"You have the materials for doing quite a lot of miscellaneous good in
the world. But I'm not come to borrow money, if that makes you

"It do, ma'am."

"--and I don't know a note of music."

"Me either," murmured Mr. Hucks regretfully.

"That being so, we'll come to business. May I take a seat?"

"Where you--" He was going to say "please," but substituted "choose"

"Thank you. My name's Breward--Sally Breward, and I live at a place
called Culvercoombe, on the Devon and Somerset border. My business is
that I'm interested in a couple of children, about whom you know
something. They broke out, some days ago, from an Orphanage kept here
by one Glasson; and I gather that you gave them a helping hand."

"Whoever told you that--" began Mr. Hucks.

"Nobody told me. I said that I gathered it. The girl never gave you
away for a moment. We will agree, if you prefer it, that I put two and
two together. But look here: you can be open with me or not, as you
please; I'm going to be open with you. And first let me say that the
boy is pretty certainly the son of a neighbour of mine, and heir to
considerable estates."

Mr. Hucks whistled softly to himself.

"As for the girl who helped him to escape, she's probably just what she
says--a show-child who, happening to be laid up lame in hospital,
chanced on this scent, and has held to it--to make an addition of my
own--with the pluck of a terrier."

Mr. Hucks nodded, but would not commit himself.

"Where are they now?" he asked. "In your keepin'?"

"That's just the trouble." Miss Sally unfolded a scrap of
pinkish-coloured paper. "I left them in good keeping with an honest
farmer and his wife--tenants of mine; I had a telegram sent to the boy's
father, who is abroad; and I posted up here by night mail to satisfy
myself by a few inquiries."

"You've seen Glasson, then?" Mr. Hucks interrupted.

"I have; but not in any way you suspect. I haven't called, for
instance, at the Orphanage--though I intend to. Glasson's not at home.
He was down in my neighbourhood yesterday afternoon, nosing around for

"Then he knows the children are thereabouts?"

"No, he does not. But has been pushing researches. He has learnt who
is the boy's probable father, and where he lives--at a place called
Meriton. He came to Meriton to get the father's foreign address, and
when the butler refused it, he called on me."

"I see." Mr. Hucks nodded. "And you refused it too?"

"I did better. I gave it to him--"


"--at the same time taking care that the father--his name is Chandon, by
the way, and he's a baronet--should get a wire from me to come home by
the first train he can catch. By this means, you see, I not only get
Glasson out of the neighbourhood, where he might have run against the
children, or picked up news of them, but I send him all the way to the
South of France expressly to find his bird flown. It's cruel, I grant
you; but I've no tenderness for blackmailers--especially when they keep

"You're right there. You've no call to waste any pity on Glasson.
But the question is, Will he come? The father, I mean."

"Certainly, since I tell him," Miss Sally answered with composure.

"And him a bart--a bloomin' bart--what the Tichborne chap used to call a
bart of the B.K.!"

Mr. Hucks stared at his visitor with rounded eyes, drew a long breath,
puffed out his cheeks and emitted it, and wound up by removing his hat
and laying it on the ledge of the desk.

"Well," said he, "you've done it clever. You've done it so mighty
clever that I don't see why you come to me to help. _I_ can't order
barts about."

"No," said Miss Sally; "in this part of the business I fear you cannot
help. Read _that_, please."

She spread open the telegraph form which she had been holding all this
while, and laid it on the desk before him.

"Breward, Grand Central Hotel, Bursfield."
"'Regret to say children missing. Supposed left
Inistow Cove Tossell's boat Saturday night. Boat
found ashore Clatworthy Beach. Search parties along
coast. Will report any news.--Chichester.'"

"When did you get this, ma'am, making so bold?"

"At nine this morning. If you look, you will see the telegram was
handed in at 8.37, and received here at 8.50--is it not? The sender is
a Mr. Chichester, a clergyman and a friend of mine."

"Aye," said Mr. Hucks, after slowly examining the telegram and the
office stamp. He raised his formidable grey eyes and fixed them full on
Miss Sally.

"Oh," she said after awhile, but without blanching, "I see what's in
your mind."

"No you don't," he answered abruptly. "It _did_ cross my mind, but it's
not there any longer. You're straight. And you're quality--though
maybe your kind don't answer to the pictcher-books. . . . Well, about
this wire now. . . . What's your opinion?"

"Why, that the children are lost."

"Meanin' by that drowned--or just missing?"

"From that message what must one conclude?"

"Well," said Mr. Hucks slowly, after another perusal of the telegram,
"I don't conclude much from it; but from my knowledge of the gal-child,
I jolly well conclude that they're no more drowned than you or me.
They've just made another bolt for it, and the shipwrecked boat's no
more than a blind."

"They were comfortable enough at Inistow Farm. Why should they want to
bolt?" Miss Sally urged.

"Because, ma'am, that gal has a business conscience developed to a
degree I never struck yet in man or woman. You've dealt open with me,
and I'll deal open with you. I _did_ help that pair to give Glasson the
slip; not from any kindheartedness, I'd have you to know, if you're
thinkin' to accuse me of it; but as a kind of by-speculation. For I saw
that dirty thief Glasson was mad to get the boy back, and it seemed to
me there was likely some money in it. I gave 'em their chance, yes;
because it happened so, and I couldn't see no other way. Now, observe
me--that gal knew all the time I wasn't doing it for my health, as you
might say; she knew well enough I was just as hard as Glasson, though
maybe in a different way. She knew this, and as things turned out, she
might have run off with the boy and snapped her fingers at me. But does
she? Nothing o' the sort. She freezes to her bargain, same as if she'd
all a lawyer's knowledge and none of his conscience. First, she clears
me back every penny I've invested in Mortimer, and with interest; and
I'm the first man that ever invested on that scamp and saw his money
again. When that's paid she strikes out on a trail of her own--but not
to lose herself and the boy: not she. At every halt she reports herself
and him; and by her last I was to write to her at a place called
Holmness, which I posted a letter there yesterday."

"Holmness!" ejaculated Miss Sally. "Holmness, did you say?"

"That's so. Might it be anywhere in your parts?"

"Of course it is. But Holmness, my good sir, is an island."

"She mentioned that, now I come to think of it. Island or not, she'll
get there, if she bursts; and I won't believe other till I hear from the
Dead Letter Office."

"You addressed a letter to Holmness? . . . But it's too absurd; the
place is a mere barren rock, three good miles from the mainland.
Nothing there but rabbits, and in summer a few sheep."

"Mayhap she didn't know it when she gave the address. But," persisted
Mr. Hucks doggedly, "she's there if she's alive. You go back and try."

[He gave Tilda, as the reader knows, more credit than she deserved; but
from this may be deduced a sound moral--that the value of probity, as an
asset in dealing, is quite incalculable.]

Miss Sally considered for a full minute--for two minutes, Mr. Hucks
watching her face from under his shaggy eyebrows.

"It is barely possible," she owned at length. "But supposing they have
reached Holmness, it can only be to starve. Good Lord! they may be
starving to death there at this moment!"

Mr. Hucks kept his composure.

"It's plain to me you haven't measured that gal," he said slowly.
"Is this Holmness in sight from the farm--whatever you call it--where
they were missed?"

"Right opposite the coast there."

"And not more than three miles away? Then you may take it she won't
have started without provisions. It wouldn't be her way."

[Again, the reader perceives, he gave Tilda undeserved credit; but
always in this world the Arthur Miles's will be left out of account by
men of business, to upset again and again their calculations.]

"So," he continued, "there's no need for you to be running and sending
telegrams to folks there to chivvy 'em. Take the next train home and
pick up the credit yourself."

"Mr. Hucks," said Miss Sally after a pause, "you are a remarkable man.
I am half inclined to believe you; and if you should prove to be right,
I shall not know how to repay you."

"Well," said Mr. Hucks, "it seems likely I've helped, after all.
I'm not pressing for payment; though, as between persons of business,
I'm glad you mention it."

"If these children are recovered, you shall name any price in reason.
But there is another matter in which you can help me, I hope. I want
admission to Glasson's Orphanage."

"The 'Oly Innocents? It goes by nomination, and I'm not a subscriber,"
said Mr. Hucks with a grin, which Miss Sally ignored.

"Will it be enough if I call and ask to be shown over the institution?"

"Quite enough--to get the door slammed in your face."

"Well, I mean to have a look inside, even though I get you to put me in
a sack and lower me into the coal-cellar."

"That's an idea, though," said Mr. Hucks rising.

He went to the door and, stepping into the yard, emitted a loud roar
like the bellow of a bull. Apparently it was his method of telephoning
to his employees. After a moment a distant voice called back,
"Aye, aye, boss!"

"Where's Sam Bossom?"

"In the stables."

"Then send him along here, and tell him to look sharp. He's the man for
our job," explained Mr. Hucks, returning to the counting-house;
"and maybe you'll like to make his acquaintance, too, after what you've

"Before he comes I should like even better to hear your plan of
campaign; for it seems that you have one."

"I have; but it being what you might call a trifle 'igh-'anded, I wasn't
proposin' to drag a lady into it--leastways, not to make her an
accomplice before the fac'."

"I'll risk that," she assured him.

"Well, you see, Glasson owes me for coal; thirteen ten on the last lot
delivered, and six pounds owin' before that--total nineteen ten.
I warned him he'd got the last lot out o' me by a trick; an' I'm goin'
to send Sam to see if there's a chance to recover it. That'll be by
the back way--same as the children got out. Eh? Here's the man," he
wound up as Sam Bossom's honest face appeared in the doorway.

"Good morning, Mr. Bossom." Miss Sally held out a hand. "I'm proud to
make your acquaintance."

"Thank ye, ma'am." Sam looked at the hand, but rubbed his own up and
down the seat of his trousers. "What for, if it's not makin' too bold?"

"The lady here," explained Mr. Hucks, "is a friend of two children that
broke out of 'Oly Innocents t'other day--as it maybe you'll remember.
What's more, she 's brought news o' them."

"Oh!" said Sam, his face clearing. "Doin' pretty well, I 'ope?"

"They were quite well when I left them, two days ago. Come, shake hands
and tell me. How is everyone at the 'Four Alls'?"

"If it 'adn't been for them children--" blurted Sam, and came to a full

Miss Sally nodded.

"They are wonders, those Babes in the Wood; and the funniest thing about
'em is, while they went along asking their way, they were all the time
teaching it to others."

"Well," struck in Mr. Hucks, while Sam scratched his head over this,
"I suggest the conspiracy may just as well get going at once. Sam, I
want you to step along to 'Oly Innocents with us, and on the road I'll
fix up _your_ modest hopper'andy."

Of this _modus operandi_ the opening move was made as the trio reached
the confines of the Orphanage premises. Here, by the angle of the red
brick wall, Mr. Bossom halted to strike a match for his pipe. He struck
it upon the iron cover of the manhole, and thus made opportunity to
assure himself that the cover was still removable. Satisfied of this,
he lit his pipe and stood for a minute puffing at it, and staring, now
at the stagnant canal water, now after the retreating figures of Miss
Sally and Mr. Hucks, as without a backward look they passed down the
towpath to the Iron Bridge.

At the bridge they turned, as Tilda had turned, to the left, and came,
as Tilda had come, to the Orphanage gate with its box labelled,
"For Voluntary Donations."

Mr. Hucks rang the bell; and after a minute or so Mrs. Huggins,
slatternly as ever, opened the front door and came shuffling down the

"Eh?" said she, halting within the gate, a pilaster of which hid Miss
Sally from her. "Mr. 'Ucks? And what might _you_ be wantin', Mr.

"Nineteen pound ten," Mr. Hucks answered tersely.

"Then you can't 'ave it."

"That's a pity." He appeared to ruminate for a second or two. "And I
can't offer to take it out in orphans, neither. Very well, then, I must
see Glasson."

"You can't; 'e's not at 'ome."

"That's a worse pity. Hist, now!" he went on with a sudden change of
tone, "it's about the runaways. I've news of 'em."

He said it at the top of his voice.

"For the Lord's sake--" entreated the woman, glancing nervously across
his shoulder at the traffic in the street. "The Doctor don't want it
discussed for all the town to 'ear."

"No, I bet he don't. But it's your own fault, missus. This side o' the
gate a man can't scarcely hear hisself speak."

"Come in, then, if you've brought news. The Doctor'll be glad enough
when 'e comes back."

"Will he?" Mr. Hucks, as she opened, planted his bulk against the gate,
pushing it back and at the same time making way for Miss Sally to follow
him. "Yes, I got news; but here's a lady can tell it better than me--
'avin' come acrost them right away down in Somerset."

Mrs. Huggins stepped forward, but too late. "I don't want no crowd in
'ere," she muttered, falling back a pace, however, as Miss Sally
confronted her.

"You'll have one in two two's if you make any disturbance," Miss Sally
promised her, with half a glance back at the street. "Show me into the
house, if you please."


The woman placed herself in the pathway, with arms akimbo, barring her

"You behave very foolishly in denying me," said Miss Sally.

"Maybe; but I got my orders. _You_ never took no orders from a man, I
should say--not by the looks o' yer."

"You are right there."

Miss Sally regarded her with a smile of conscious strength, stern but
good-natured. Her gaze wandered past the woman's shoulder, and the
smile broadened. Mrs. Huggins saw it broaden, and cast a look behind
her, towards the house--to see Mr. Bossom, coal-grimed but cheerful,
grinning down on her from the front door-step.

"It's a trap!" she gasped, shooting a venomous look at Mr. Hucks.

"It _looks_ like one," said Miss Sally, stepping past her; "and I shall
be curious to know, by and by, who baited it."

"Where shall I take ye, ma'am?" asked Sam Bossom.

"Show me the children first, if you please."

He walked before her down the unsavoury passage. He was unacquainted
with the interior, and knew only that the way through the kitchens, by
which he had come, led to the kitchen garden and missed the children's
quarters. Avoiding this, and opening a door at random--a door on his
right--he stepped into the bare drawing-room. Miss Sally followed, and
Mrs. Huggins at her heels, protesting. Mr. Hucks brought up the rear.
Finding himself in an apartment which apparently led nowhither, Sam
would have turned and shepherded the party back into the corridor; but
Miss Sally strode past him, attempted to fling up the window-sash, but
in vain, and looking over it, beheld what Tilda had beheld--the
gravelled yard, the children walking listlessly to and fro, the groups
passing and repassing with scarce a lift of the eyes, the boys walking
with the boys and the girls with the girls.

"But it is horrible--horrible!" cried Miss Sally. "Mr. Hucks, lend me
your stick, if you please. This window won't open."

He passed his stick to her, supposing that she meant in some way to
prise the window open. But she took it and deliberately smashed a
pane--two panes--all the six panes with their coloured transparencies of
the Prodigal Son. And the worst was, that the children in the yard, as
the glass broke and fell, scarcely betrayed surprise. One or two
glanced furtively towards the window. It seemed that they dared do no

"Save us!" exclaimed Miss Sally. "They're starving; that's what's the

"They are not, ma'am!" still protested Mrs. Huggins.

"Tut, woman, don't talk to _me_. I've bred cattle, and I know. Fetch
a list of the pious persons that have lent their names to this swindle.
You, Mr. Hucks, take me upstairs; I'll explore this den from garret to
basement, though it cost my stomach all that by the smell I judge it
will. And you, Sam Bossom--here's a five-pound note: take it to the
nearest pastry-cook's and buy up the stock. Fetch it here in cabs; hire
every cab you meet on the way; and when you've brought 'em, tell 'em to

An hour later a procession of fifteen cabs drove up to the Grand Central
Hotel, Bursfield, to the frank dismay of hall-porters and manager; a
dismay which Miss Sally accepted with the lordliest indifference.

"You see that they're stowed," she advised Mr. Hucks shortly, as they
helped the dazed children to alight. "And if there's any difficulty,
send the manager to me. He'll find me in the telegraph office."
She consulted a prospectus of the Holy Innocents, extorted from Mrs.
Huggins. "I shall be there for an hour at least. There are two dozen
patrons on this list--besides a score of executive committee, and I'm
going--bless you, Mr. Hucks--to give those philanthropists the dry

"A telegram for you, ma'am," said the hall-porter, advancing with a
nervous eye on the children congregated, and still congregating, in the

Miss Sally took it and read:--

"Coming Fair Anchor, 4.30 Tuesday. Chandon."

She knit her brows and examined the telegraph form carefully.
The message was forwarded from Fair Anchor. It had been handed in at
the Monte Carlo post office on Sunday night, addressed to Culvercoombe,
but at what hour she could not decipher. The Fair Anchor office was
closed on Sunday, and opened on Monday at eight o'clock. The telegram
had been received there at 8.12; had been taken to Culvercoombe, and
apparently re-transmitted at 12.15. All this was unimportant. But how
on earth had her telegram, to which this was evidently a reply, reached
Monte Carlo on Sunday evening--last evening?

She considered awhile, and hit on the explanation. Parson Chichester
last evening, calling on the coast-guard in his search, must have used
their telephone and got the message through by some office open on



"_O, who lives on the Island,
Betwix' the sea an' the sky?
--I think it must be a lady, a lady,
I think it must be a genuwine lady,
She carries her head so high._"--OLD BALLAD.

In the moonlit garden of the Casino at Monte Carlo Miles Chandon smoked
a cigar pensively, leaning against the low wall that overlooks the
pigeon-shooters' enclosure, the railway station and the foreshore.
He was alone, as always. That a man who, since the great folly of his
life, had obstinately cultivated solitude should make holiday in Monte
Carlo, of all places, is paradoxical enough; but in truth the crowd
around the tables, the diners at the hotel, the pigeon-shooters, the
whole cosmopolitan gathering of idle rich and predatory poor, were a
Spectacle to him and no more. If once or twice a day he staked a few
napoleons on black or red in the inner room of the Casino, it was as a
man, finding himself at Homburg or Marienbad, might take a drink of the
waters from curiosity and to fill up the time. He made no friends in
the throng. He found no pleasure in it. But when he grew weary at home
in his laboratory, or when his doctor advised that confinement and too
much poring over chemicals were telling on his health, he packed up and
made for Monte Carlo, or some other expensive place popularly supposed
to be a "pleasure-resort." As a matter of fact, he did not understand
pleasure, or what it means.

Finding him in this pensive attitude in the moonlit garden by the sea,
you might guess that he was sentimentalising over his past. He was
doing nothing of the sort. He was watching a small greyish-white object
the moon revealed on the roof of the railway station below, just within
the parapet. He knew it to be a pigeon that had escaped, wounded, from
the sportsmen in the enclosure. Late that afternoon he had seen the
poor creature fluttering. He wondered that the officials (at Monte
Carlo they clean up everything) had not seen it before and removed it.
He watched it, curious to know if it were still alive. He had a fancy
at the back of his head--that if the small body fluttered again he would
go back to his rooms, fetch a revolver, and give the _coup de grace_.
And he smiled as he played with the fancy, foreseeing the rush of
agitated officials that a revolver-shot in the gardens would instantly
bring upon him. It would be great fun, explaining; but the offence no
doubt would be punishable. By what? Banishment, probably.

He turned for a moment at the sound of a footstep, and was aware of his
man Louis.

"A telegram, sir."

"Eh? Now who in the world--Matters hasn't burnt down Meriton, I hope?"

He opened the telegram and walked with it to the nearest of the electric
lamps; read it, and stood pondering.

"Louis, when does the new night-express leave for Paris?"

"In twenty-five minutes, sir."

"Then I've a mind to catch it. Put up a travelling-suit in my bag.
I can get out of these clothes in the train. You had better pack the
rest, pay the bill, and follow to-morrow."

"If you wish it, sir. But if I may suggest--"


"In twenty minutes I can do all that easily, and book the
sleeping-berths too. I suggest, sir, you will find it more comfortable,
having me on the train."

"Admirable man--hurry up, then!"

The admirable man saluted respectfully and retired "hurt," as they say
in the cricket reports. He never hurried; it was part of the secret by
which he was always punctual. At the station he even found time to
suggest that his master might wish to send a telegram, and to dispatch

This was on Sunday. They reached London late on Monday evening, and
there--Louis having telegraphed from Paris--Sir Miles found his
favourite room ready for him at Claridge's. Next morning, as his hansom
drew up a few minutes after eleven o'clock by the entrance to Paddington
Station, he observed that the porter who stepped forward from the rank
to attend on him, did so with a preoccupied air. The man was grinning,
and kept glancing along the pavement to his right.

"Luggage on the cab just behind," said Sir Miles, alighting.
"Never mind me; my man will take the tickets and get me a seat.
But what's the excitement here?"

"Lady along there, sir--offering to fight her cabby. Says he can't
drive for nuts--"


Sir Miles looked, recognised Miss Sally, and walked briskly towards her.
She caught sight of him and nodded.

"Thought you would come. Excuse me a moment."

She lifted her voice and addressed the cabby again--

"Oh, you can talk. They taught you that at the Board School, no doubt.
But drive you cannot; and talk you would not, if you knew the respect
due to a mouth--your own or your horse's."

With this parting shot she turned to Sir Miles again, and held out her

"Tell your man he needn't trouble about a seat for you. I've engaged a
compartment where we can talk."

"Well?" he asked, ten minutes later, lowering his newspaper as the train
drew out of the station.

"Well, in the first place, it's very good of you to come."

"Oh, as for that . . . You know that if I can ever do you any service--"

"But you can't. It was for your own sake I telegraphed."

"Mine? Is Meriton really burnt to the ground, then? But even that news
wouldn't gravely afflict me."

"It isn't--and it would. At any rate, it might now, I hope," said Miss
Sally enigmatically.

He waited for her to continue.

"Your wife's dead!" she said.

She heard him draw a quick breath.

"Indeed?" he asked indifferently.

"But your son isn't--at least, I hope not."

He looked up and met her eyes.

"But I had word," he said slowly, "word from her, and in her own
handwriting. A boy was born, and died six or seven weeks later--as I
remember, the letter said within a week after his christening."

Miss Sally nodded.

"That settles it," she said; "being untrue, as I happen to know.
The child was alive and hearty a year after the christening, when they
left Cawsand and moved to the East coast. The fact is, my friend, you
had run up--if not in your wife, then in the coastguardsman Ned
Commins--against a pride as stubborn as your own. They wrote you a
lie--that's certain; and I'm as hard as most upon liars; but,
considering all, I don't blame 'em. They weren't mercenary, anyway.
They only wanted to have no more truck with you."

"Have you seen the boy?"

Again Miss Sally nodded.

"Yes, and there's no doubting the parentage. I never saw that
cross-hatched under-lip in any but a Chandon, though you _do_ hide it
with a beard: let alone that he carries the four lozenges tattooed on
his shoulder. Ned Commins did that. There was a moment, belike, when
they weakened--either he or the woman. But you had best hear the story,
and then you can judge the evidence for yourself."

She told it. He listened with set face, interposing here and there to
ask a question, or to weigh one detail of her narrative against another.

"If the children should be lost--which God forbid!" she wound up, "--and
if I never did another good day's work in my life, I'll remember that
they started me to clear that infernal Orphanage. It's by the
interposition of Heaven that you didn't find me on Paddington platform
with three-and-twenty children under my wing. 'Interposition of
Heaven,' did I say? You may call it, if you will, the constant and
consistent foolishness of my brother Elphinstone. In every tight corner
of my life I've learnt to trust in Elphinstone for a fool, and he has
never betrayed me yet. There I was in the hotel with these
twenty-three derelicts, all underfed, and all more or less mentally
defective through Glasson's ill-treatment. Two or three were actually
crying, in a feeble way, to be 'taken home,' as they called it. They
were afraid--afraid of their kind, afraid of strange faces, afraid of
everything but to be starved and whipped. I was forced to send out and
buy new clothes for some, there and then; and their backs, when I
stripped 'em, were criss-crossed with weals--not quite fresh, you
understand, for Glasson had been kept busy of late, and the woman
Huggins hadn't his arm. Well, there I was, stranded, with these
creatures on my hands, all of 'em, as you may say, looking up at me in a
dumb way, and wanting to know why I couldn't have let 'em alone--and if
ever I smash up another Orphanage you may call me a Turk, and put me in
a harem--when all of a sudden it occurred to me to look up the names of
the benevolent parties backing the institution. The woman had given me
a copy of the prospectus, intending to impress me. I promised myself
I'd rattle these philanthropists as they 'd never been rattled before in
their lives. And then--why had I ever doubted him?--half-way down the
list I lit on Elphinstone's name. . . . His place is at Henley-in-Arden,
you see, and not far from Bursfield. . . . So I rattled the others
(I spent three-quarters of an hour in the telegraph office, and before
eleven last night I had thirty-two answers. They are all in my bag, and
you shall look 'em over by and by, if you want to be tickled), but I
sent Elphinstone what the girl Tilda would call a cough-drop. It ran to
five sheets or thereabouts, and cost four-and-eightpence; and I wound up
by telling him I meant every word I'd said. He's in Bursfield at this
moment, you may bet, carting those orphans around into temporary
quarters. And Elphinstone is a kind-hearted man, but orphans are not
exactly his line--not what he'd call congenial to him."

"But these two? You seem to me pretty sure about finding them on
Holmness: too sure, I suggest. Either you've forgotten to say why
you're certain, or I may have missed--"

"You are getting keen, I see. No, I have no right to be sure, except
that I rely on the girl--and on Hucks. (You ought to know Hucks, by the
way; he is a warrior.) But I _am_ sure: so sure that I have wired for a
steam-launch to be ready by Clatworthy pier. . . . Will you come?"

"I propose to see this affair through," he said deliberately.

Miss Sally gave him a sharp look, and once again nodded approval.

"And, moreover, so sure," she went on, "that I have not wired to send
Chichester in search. That's worrying me, I confess; for although Hucks
is positive the girl would not start for Holmness without provisions--
and on my reading of her, he's right--this is Tuesday, and they have
been missing ever since Saturday night, or Sunday morning at latest."

"If that is worrying you," said Chandon, "it may ease your mind to know
that there is food and drink on the Island. I built a cottage there two
years ago, with a laboratory; I spent six weeks in it this summer; and--
well, ships have been wrecked On Holmness, and, as an old naval officer,
I've provided for that sort of thing."

Miss Sally slapped her knee. (Her gestures were always unconventional.)

"We shall find 'em there!" she announced. "I'm willing to lay you five
to one in what you like."

They changed at Taunton for Fair Anchor. At Fair Anchor Station Sir
Miles's motor awaited them. It had been ordered by Parson Chichester,
instructed by telegram from Taunton.

The parson himself stood on the platform, but he could give no news of
the missing ones.

"We'll have 'em before nightfall," promised Miss Sally. "Come with us,
if you will."

So all three climbed into the motor, and were whirled across the moor,
and down the steep descent into Clatworthy village, and by Clatworthy
pier a launch lay ready for them with a full head of steam.

During the passage few words were said; and indeed the eager throb of
the launch's engine discouraged conversation. Chandon steered, with his
eyes fixed on the Island. Miss Sally, too, gazed ahead for the most
part; but from time to time she contrived a glance at his weary face--
grey even in the sunset towards which they were speeding.

Sunset lay broad and level across the Severn Sea, lighting its milky
flood with splashes of purple, of lilac, of gold. The sun itself, as
they approached the Island, dropped behind its crags, silhouetting them
against a sky of palest blue.

They drove into its chill shadow, and landed on the very beach from
which the children had watched the stag swim out to meet his death.
They climbed up by a pathway winding between thorn and gorse, and on the
ridge met the flaming sunlight again.

Miss Sally shielded her eyes.

"They will be here, if anywhere," said Sir Miles, and led the way down
the long saddle-back to the entrance of the gully.

"Hullo!" exclaimed he, coming to a halt as the chimneys of the bungalow
rose into view above the gorse bushes. From one of them a steady stream
of smoke was curling.

"It's a hundred to one!" gasped Miss Sally triumphantly.

They hurried down--to use her own expression--like a pack in full cry.
It was Parson Chichester who claimed afterwards that he won by a short
length, and lifting the latch, pushed the door open. And this was the
scene he opened on, so far as it has since been reconstructed:--

Tilda stood with her back to the doorway and a couple of paces from it,
surveying a table laid--so far as Sir Miles's stock of glass and cutlery
allowed--for a dinner-party of eight. She was draped from the waist
down in a crimson window-curtain, which spread behind her in a
full-flowing train. In her hand she held her recovered book--the
_Lady's Vade-Mecum_; and she read from it, addressing Arthur Miles, who
stood and enacted butler by the side-table, in a posture of studied

"Dinner bein' announced, the 'ostess will dismiss
all care, or at least appear to do so: and, 'avin'
marshalled 'er guests in order of precedence (see
page 67 supra) will take the arm of the gentleman
favoured to conduct 'er. Some light and playful
remark will 'ere be not out of place, such as--"

"Well, I'm d--d, if you'll excuse me," ejaculated Miss Sally.

Late that night, in his smoking-room at Meriton, Sir Miles Chandon
knocked out the ashes of his pipe against the bars of the grate, rose,
stretched himself, and looked about him. Matters had left a bedroom
candle ready to hand on a side-table, as his custom was. But Sir Miles
took up the lamp instead.

Lamp in hand, he went up the great staircase, and along the unlit fifty
yards of corridor to the room where his son lay. In all the great house
he could hear no sound, scarcely even the tread of his own foot on the
thick carpeting.

He opened the door almost noiselessly and stood by the bed, holding the
lamp high.

But noiselessly though Sir Miles had come, the boy was awake. Nor was
it in his nature, being awake, to feign sleep. He looked up, blinking a
little, but with no fear in his gentle eyes.

His father had not counted on this. He felt an absurd bashfulness tying
his tongue. At length he struggled to say--

"'Thought I'd make sure you were comfortable. That's all."

"Oh, yes--thank you. Comfortable and--and--only just thinking a bit."

"We'll have a long talk to-morrow. That girl--she's a good sort, eh?"

"Tilda? . . . Why, of course, she did it _all_. She's the best in the


The time is seven years later--seven years and a half, rather; the
season, spring; the hour, eight in the morning; and the place, a corner
of Culvercoombe, where Miss Sally's terraced garden slopes to meet the
wild woodland through an old orchard billowy overhead with pink and
white blossom and sheeted underfoot with blue-bells. At the foot of the
orchard, and on the very edge of the woodland, lies a small enclosure,
where from the head of the slope you catch sight, between the apple
trees, of a number of white stones glimmering; but your eyes rest rather
on the figure of a girl who has just left the enclosure, and is mounting
the slope with a spade on her shoulder.

You watch her, yourself invisible, while she approaches. You might gaze
until she has passed, and yet not recognise her for Tilda. She wears a
coat and skirt of grey homespun, fashioned for country wear yet
faultless in cut, the skirt short enough to reveal a pair of trim ankles
cased in shooting-gaiters. Beneath her grey shooting-cap, also of
homespun, her hair falls in two broad bands over the brows, and is
gathered up at the back of the head in a plain Grecian knot. By the
brows, if you had remarked them in days gone by, when neither you nor
she gave a second thought to her looks, you might know her again; or
perhaps by the poise of the chin, and a touch of decision in the eyes.
In all else the child has vanished, and given place to this good-looking
girl, with a spring in her gait and a glow on her cheek that tell of
clean country nurture.

At the head of the path above the orchard grows an old ash tree, and so
leans that its boughs, now bursting into leaf, droop pendent almost as a
weeping willow. Between them you catch a glimpse of the Bristol
Channel, blue-grey beyond a notch of the distant hills. She pauses here
for a look. The moors that stretch for miles on all sides of
Culvercoombe are very silent this sunny morning. It is the season when
the sportsman pauses and takes breath for a while, and neither gun nor
horn is abroad. The birds are nesting; the stag more than a month since
has "hung his old head on the pale," and hides while his new antlers are
growing amid the young green bracken that would seem to imitate them in
its manner of growth; the hinds have dropped their calves, and fare with
them unmolested. It is the moors' halcyon time, and the weather to-day
well befits it.

Tilda's face is grave, however, as she stands there in the morning
sunshine. She is looking back upon the enclosure where the white stones
overtop the bluebells. They are headstones, and mark the cemetery where
Miss Sally, not ordinarily given to sentiment, has a fancy for interring
her favourite dogs.

You guess now why Tilda carries a spade, and what has happened, but may
care to know how it happened.

Sir Elphinstone is paying a visit just now to Culvercoombe.
He regards Tilda with mixed feelings, and Tilda knows it. The knowledge
nettles her a little and amuses her a good deal. Just now Miss Sally
and he are improving their appetites for breakfast by an early canter
over the moor, and no doubt are discussing her by the way.

Last night, with the express purpose of teasing him, Miss Sally had
asked Tilda to take up a book and read to her for a while. The three
were seated in the drawing-room after dinner, and Sir Elphinstone
beginning to grow impatient for his game of piquet. On the hearth-rug
before the fire were stretched Godolphus and three of Miss Sally's prize
setters; but Godolphus had the warmest corner, and dozed there

The book chanced to be Gautier's _Emaux et Camees_, and Tilda to open it
at the _Carnaval de Venise_--

"Il est un vieil air populaire
Par tous les violons racle,
Aux abois de chiens en colere
Par tous les orgues nasille."

She read the first verse with a pure clear accent and paused, with a
glance first at the hearth-rug, then at Sir Elphinstone in his chair.
Perhaps the sight of him stirred a small flame of defiance. At any rate
she closed the book, went straight to the piano, and recklessly rattled
out the old tune, at once so silly and haunting. Had she not heard it a
thousand times in the old circus days?

Her eyes were on the keyboard. Hardly daring to lift them, she followed
up the air with a wild variation and dropped back upon it again--not
upon the air pure and simple, but upon the air as it might be rendered
by a two-thirds-intoxicated coachful of circus bandsmen. The first
half-a-dozen bars tickled Miss Sally in the midriff, so that she laughed
aloud. But the laugh ended upon a sharp exclamation, and Tilda, still
jangling, looked up as Sir Elphinstone chimed in with a "What the
devil!" and started from his chair.

'Dolph was the cause of it. 'Dolph at the first notes had lifted his
head, unobserved. Then slowly raising himself on his rheumatic
fore-legs, the old dog heaved erect and waddled towards the piano.
Even so no one paid any heed to him until, halting a foot or so from the
hem of Tilda's skirt, he abased his head to the carpet while his
hind-legs strained in a grotesque effort to pitch his body over in a

It was at this that Sir Elphinstone had exclaimed. Tilda, glancing down
sideways across her shoulder, saw and checked a laugh. She understood.
She let her fingers rest on a crashing chord, and rose from the
music-stool as the dog rolled over on his flank.

"'Dolph! My poor old darling!"

She knelt to him, stretching out her arms. The candlelight fell on
them, and on the sheen of her evening frock, and on the small dark curls
clustering on the nape of her bowed neck; and by the same light 'Dolph
lifted his head and gazed up at her. That look endured for five
seconds, perhaps; but in it shone more than she could remember, and more
than she could ever forget--a life's devotion compressed into one last
leap of the flame, to expire only with life itself. As her hands went
swiftly down to him, his tongue strove to lick them; but his head fell
back, and his spirit went out into whatever darkness the spirits of dead
dogs possess.

You know now why Tilda is not riding this morning, why she carries a
spade on her shoulder, and why her face on this sunny morning wears a
pensive shadow as she gazes back through the orchard trees. But 'Dolph,
the circus mongrel, sleeps among hounds of nobler breed, and shall have
a stone as honourable as any.

Now, if you were to look more closely, you might perceive a small stain
of green on the front of the homespun skirt otherwise so trim, and might
jump to the erroneous conclusion that before leaving the enclosure she
had knelt to say a prayer over the snapping of this last tie with her
old disreputable life. It is not precisely Christian, perhaps, to pray
over a dog's grave; but I am pretty sure that Parson Chichester, who has
made some tentative openings towards preparing Tilda for Confirmation,
would overlook the irregularity, and even welcome it as a foreshadowing
of grace. But Parson Chichester is a discerning man, as well as an
honest; and for some reason, although Tilda has long passed the normal
age to be prepared for that rite, he has forborne to press her as yet
even to be baptised. It will all come in time, he hopes; but he has a
queer soul to deal with.

--A queer soul, and (as he perceives) a self-respecting one. If she
come to it, she will come in her own time. So let it be confessed, as a
secret she would be extremely annoyed to hear revealed, that she did
indeed kneel five minutes since, but with no thought of religion; to try
rather, over 'Dolph's grave, if she could bend her body back in the old
acrobatic trick.

She could not, of course. She had known that she could not even as--
with a glance around her to make sure she was unobserved--she had made
the effort. Time had taken away the old Tilda with the old 'Dolph.
She was a girl grown, a girl with limbs firmed by outdoor sports and
country living. And she had learnt much--so much, that to have learnt
it she had necessarily forgotten much. You or I, meeting her this
morning for the first time, had made no doubt of her being a young lady
of rather exceptional breeding.

She looked back to the spot where 'Dolph rested among dogs of loftiest
race. She knew that Sir Elphinstone and Miss Sally were discussing her
while they rode, and she could hear two words Sir Elphinstone let fall.
She repeated them to herself--"Nobody's child."

She did not remember that she had once thanked her gods for it.

The rural postman carried a brass cowhorn, and made a practice of
sounding it as he mounted the road leading to Culvercoombe. Its note,
sounding through the clear morning air, aroused Tilda from her brown
study, and she ran lightly up the slope to catch him on the upper

He handed her the day's mail--a dozen letters or more, and among them
one addressed to her. In the whole world was but one handwriting that
ever came for her; recognisable always, though with each post it grew
firmer in character.

The envelope bore an Italian stamp and a Neapolitan postmark.
Arthur Miles was a midshipman now, soon to be a second-lieutenant; his
ship, the _Indomitable_, attached to the Mediterranean fleet. She broke
the seal. . . . The letter was a boyish one, full of naval slang,
impersonal, the sort of letter growing boys write to their mothers.
But Arthur Miles had no mother; and if he wrote to his father, Tilda
knew that he wrote more formally.

"We were sent up here," the letter said, "on getting word that Vesuvius
meant to erupt badly, and that we might be useful. But the show seems
to be hanging fire, and we may be ordered back to Malta at any moment.
Half a dozen of us made up a picnic yesterday, to have a look at the
crater at close quarters. We cooked some eggs on it, to show our
unconcern, and while we were cooking them up came an American, who had
pitched camp in the foolhardiest spot. Guess why--to paint it!
Guess who he was--why, Jessup! Do you remember Jessup? He introduced
himself, and I knew him at once; but he did not know me, and I did not
enlighten him. He said that the Art of the Future must depend on the
development of wireless telegraphy, and that in the meanwhile he was
just marking time with earthquakes."

Tilda, having read thus far, looks up at the sound of horses' hoofs.
Miss Sally and Sir Elphinstone are returning from their ride.

"And, after all, why not?" Miss Sally is saying.

"The very mistake his father made!"

"Homoeopathy is one of my fads, remember."

"A nobody's child!"

"True; and so would _he_ have been, but for her."

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