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Title: A Drake by George!
Author: Trevena, John, 1870-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A Drake By George!

By

John Trevena


New York

Alfred A Knopf

MCMXVI



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

      I. SOMETHING ABOUT THE FAMILY
     II. EXHIBITION DAY AT WINDWARD HOUSE
    III. THE CAPTAIN MAKES HISTORY
     IV. CHANGES IN THE ESTABLISHMENT
      V. GEORGE TACKLES THE LABOUR PROBLEM
     VI. HONOURABLE INTENTIONS
    VII. SCANDAL AND EXPOSURE
   VIII. A TANGLED INHERITANCE
     IX. A SUBTLE SINNER'S SUCCESS
      X. THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR PARAMOUNT
     XI. SOME LEADING INCIDENTS
    XII. A SPLENDID BARGAIN
   XIII. WASPS AND OTHER WORRIES
    XIV. THE GRABBERS
     XV. A NEW HOUSE AND THE SAME OLD FURNITURE
    XVI. GEORGE TAKES CONTROL
   XVII. PLOUGHING THE GROUND
  XVIII. SOWING THE SEED
    XIX. REAPING THE HARVEST
     XX. THE GLEANERS



CHAPTER I

SOMETHING ABOUT THE FAMILY


Rumour, introducing the newcomer as a celebrity, began to fly about
immediately Captain Drake appeared upon the scene and distinguished
himself not only by blocking the single narrow street of Highfield with
a presence weighing two hundred and fifty pounds, but by addressing
passing men, women, and children in a voice which sounded from the
church at the top of the hill to the post office at the bottom; top,
middle, and bottom being comparative terms when applied to the great
hills of Highfield. Rumour provoked excitement when it suggested legal
influences were at work about a couple of old semi-detached cottages
belonging to an absentee landlord. The man who found it necessary, on
account of his bulk and stentorian voice, to acquire two cottages would
have plenty of money; and wealth was much the shortest cut to fame that
Highfield knew of. Rumour passed into a condition almost hysterical when
builders arrived, demolished the two old cottages, erected a gabled
villa of suburban type, and set up against the street a massive
noticeboard, which looked as if it had been designed for some important
railway station; but instead of yielding such information as "Mazeworthy
Junction. Change for the Asylum," it bore the inscription, "Windward
House. Captain Francis Drake, Master."

Finally, three vanloads of furniture were dragged up the hill, and the
family arrived to take possession of the parish; for it became at once
evident that Captain Drake regarded himself as "old man" of the place,
the vicar as his sky pilot, and the male inhabitants as crushers,
jollies, flatfeet, and shellbacks, all of whom were amenable to his
discipline.

In any case the Captain was respected by everybody, whether they had the
privilege of knowing him or not--he was one of those men who had to be
known thoroughly and at once--when those vanloads of furniture drew up
alongside Windward House. Such fumed oak had never been seen before in
Highfield. There were vases from China, ivory images from India, living
trees of the forest in flower-pots from Japan, with curiosities from all
corners of the earth. There was also a large cage full of cats, another
cage of monkeys, yet another of parrots, and a giant tortoise, its
carapace completely covered with newspaper cuttings relating to the
numerous voyages of the old sailor who, in hours of leisure, had
committed to the Press columns of adventures wherein fiction was once
more proved to be far more interesting and instructive than truth. Birds
and beasts are not usually classed as furniture, but they were announced
as such in "the inventory of my possessions" duly posted upon the
noticeboard by the worthy Captain whose capacity for self-advertisement
was much too great for a little country parish.

The first visitor to step aboard Windward House was the Dismal Gibcat,
and he came as usual with a scowl and a grievance. The Dismal Gibcat
occupied a house about a mile from the village in the company of a wife
who was more dismal than himself; he called himself a gentleman in
reduced circumstances, and could spell the word embarrassed with ease;
he ruled the parish with his scowl, and spent all the money he could get
in enjoying lawsuits with his neighbours. This gentleman inquired for
Mister Drake with a fearful emphasis, and received the information that
the Admiral was shaving. But a door at the top of the stairs stood open,
and a moment later the master himself appeared in a state of fury, half
clothed and shouting tremendously, "Captain, you rascal! Captain Francis
Drake, late of the Mercantile Marine, descendant of the immortal
Admiral, author of 'Tortoises: and how to treat them,' 'Comments on
Cats,' part owner of the sailing ship _Topper_, now unfortunately lying
at the bottom of the Persian Gulf. Captain Francis Drake, always at the
service of the Admiralty, but never at the beck and call of geese and
asses."

"Willie, dear, you knew your name never was really Francis," called the
troubled voice of Mrs. Drake from somewhere in the parlour.

"Stand off the bridge, Maria. Don't argue with your superior officer,"
roared the Captain.

He carried a shaving brush which might have been mistaken for a mop;
and, as he brandished it, flakes of lather fell around like surf from a
tidal wave. His immense face resembled the Bay of Biscay in a gale; dark
and lowering above, masses of foam below. Removing the field of stubble
was a tempestuous operation at the best of times: members of the crew
kept apart from the quarterdeck, where the Captain gasped and struggled,
scattering lather upon pictures, cats, and furniture. The Dismal Gibcat
could not have pronounced his insult at a more unfavourable moment.

"I have called to tell you that board must be removed," he said rather
nervously; for he had begun to realize that his scowl was directed
against an individual who was not going to be reduced by it.

"You give sailing orders to me--tell me to hoist Blue Peter on my board!
How long have you been harbour-master?" the Captain shouted as he
crashed downstairs.

"We are proud of our scenery," continued the Dismal Gibcat. "That board
is an eyesore. It can be seen a mile away. It completely destroys the
local amenities, and, in my capacity as Chairman of the Parish Council,
I advise you to remove it at once."

"Local amenities are pretty little things, but they aren't half as good
as Englishmen's rights. It's a pity you didn't make a few inquiries
about Captain Francis Drake, at places where's he's known, before you
started on this little voyage of piracy. If you had found out something
about him, and his way with mutineers, you might ha' tossed up, heads I
don't go, tails I stay away. It's no use trying to scare me with rocks
what aren't marked upon the chart. I've cast anchor here, I've paid my
harbour dues. I've got notions about landscape what perhaps don't agree
with yours; but I reckon most passengers would rather find a moorage
opposite my signal station than sail half a knot with a face like yours.
You can drop overboard, Mister Jolly Roger--and take my local amenity
with you!"

So saying the Captain plunged his shaving brush full into the face of
the Dismal Gibcat and drove him discomfited from the premises. The same
evening he posted the following notice:

"Captain Francis Drake will be pleased to receive the names of all
parishioners who desire him to remove this board, in order that he may
attend to each grievance personally. He begs to notify friends and
neighbours that the parrots are shedding their feathers just now, also
that he possesses a barrel of tar. _Verbum sap._, and God save the
King!" The hint was sufficient, for the Dismal Gibcat had been seen upon
the road with his scowl so thoroughly lathered that it looked almost
like a grin. Not a complaint was received. Indeed the vicar went so far
as to declare the noticeboard was a distinct acquisition to Highfield.

Such was the beginning of the absolute monarchy of Captain William
Drake. He dethroned the Dismal Gibcat from his chairmanship and
converted the Parish Council into a monologue. He became vicar's
churchwarden, and kept the key of the church in his pocket. He
introduced a flower show, at which only vegetables were shown, judged
the exhibits himself with a tape measure, and awarded prizes according
to length and circumference. He collected money for the building of a
Parish Hall, where the inhabitants might assemble upon winter evenings,
to drink gassy liquors and listen to his yarns. His voice stormed
continually. Even when darkness had fallen, a muffled roar sounded from
Windward House, where Captain Drake would be reading the newspaper
aloud, denouncing every form of government, and declaring that nothing
sailed between the British Empire and disaster except the ships of the
mercantile marine. And during the night his snores sounded like distant
traffic, except when unable to sleep; and then he would sit up in bed
and sing hymns for those at sea, until cattle ran about the fields, and
cocks began to crow, and dogs set up a howl in every farmyard.

His untruthfulness, which harmed nobody, was due entirely to a powerful
imagination. Voice and body, alike tremendous, made him conceited to
such an extent that, had he been ushered into the presence of any
sovereign, except the King of England--whom he regarded as an equal--he
would perhaps have given Majesty permission to be seated, and might even
have encouraged him to speak with a certain amount of familiarity. After
having commanded a ship for a number of years, he was intolerant of even
the mildest form of opposition; while the knowledge that he had
succeeded in this life supplied him with an extra personality of
self-confidence.

His tyranny was quite a good thing for Highfield. It caused the
inhabitants to remember--and some to discover--there were other places
on the map no less important. It was responsible for certain
improvements, such as the introduction of telegrams and an evening post.
But it did not succeed in impressing upon the people the fairly obvious
fact that some other country would in time become so jealous of their
territory as to lay siege to the church, general store, and post office,
with the idea of breaking open poor-box and till, and escaping with
loose cash and stamps; for Highfield, being in the middle of Devonshire,
therefore at the centre of the universe, evinced a fine contempt for
foreign countries. Captain Drake was fond of his joke, but he simply
made a braying ass of himself when he declared other countries beside
England possessed a mighty army, although the same listeners were well
able to accept the statement that he had once adopted a mermaid.

On this single matter the Captain was a pessimist; and, as he believed
in appealing to the eye when the appeal to the ear failed, he prepared
and set up another noticeboard, upon which he had painted in large
letters with his own hand, "The enemy will be in Highfield tomorrow;"
and he whipped small boys who threw stones at it; and, when their
parents grumbled, he threatened to whip them too. The mild vicar
entirely lost his temper upon this occasion, and told the Captain
plainly he was stirring up evil passions in the parish and corrupting
the morals of the young.

"That board may tell a lie for a good many years; but it will speak the
truth at last," came the answer.

The family at Windward House consisted of the Captain and his wife,
their nephew George, with the two servants, Kezia and Bessie. Mrs. Drake
was a lady of substance, having spent by far the greater part of her
life in a position which, when not recumbent, had been sedentary: when
travelling with her husband the compartment they occupied had a
singularly crowded appearance. She and the Captain were devoted to each
other, in spite of the fact that he had not fallen in love with her
until he had made sure she did possess a comfortable income, even though
it was derived from trust funds in which she enjoyed a life interest
only.

"You commenced, my love, as the loadstone of my career," remarked the
Captain upon the occasion of their silver wedding, "and have continued
as the pole star of my existence."

Having no children, they adopted the son of the Captain's younger
brother, who had died at an early age, after having attempted almost
every form of livelihood, and trying none which did not make him poorer.
George was apparently making it his business in life to defeat this
record. He had occupied thirty years in seeking to discover the most
restful method of leaning against a wall, and the least embarrassing
manner of keeping the hands at ease within his trouser pockets. He had
been sent to school, but ran away. He had been exiled to Canada, but had
returned as a stowaway. He had been placed in business, but dismissed
at the end of a week. Mrs. Drake often wondered why George had been
created. Most human pegs can find a hole somewhere, but George was
neither square nor round; and shapeless holes are somehow not provided.

Kezia had entered Mrs. Drake's service at a very early age, and was
determined upon remaining with the family until the end. She knew
nothing about herself, except that she was a respectable person and
belonged to the Church of England. She did not know her age, but
believed she had been born in Exeter since the building of the
cathedral; for she recalled, as her earliest experience, falling upon
her face beside the west front of that building on a cold winter's day,
and being picked up by no less a person than the Dean, who had made a
joke about the ungodly and slippery places, which was published in a
local paper, quoted in the Press of the country as a witticism of the
Duke of Wellington, and translated into most of the European languages
in consequence. At all events, Kezia had belonged to the Church of
England ever since. She was not sure of her Christian name, but felt
certain it was Biblical, and rather fancied, "'twur one of Job's young
ladies;" and she did not oppose Mrs. Drake's preference for Kezia. Nor
did she know her surname, but had an idea her father had been called Tom
by his wives, of whom he had two; and, as she could remember two Mrs.
Toms, it seemed probable that the first had been her mother. She had
always got along very nicely without a surname, which was not nearly so
necessary to a woman as to a man: she really did not want one, unless
the man who belonged to it had a voice and figure like her dear admiral.
She had looked with enthusiasm upon that massive form, and had listened
in admiration to that mighty voice, until she felt that an ordinary man
with a normal voice would quickly make her dull and peevish.

Bessie had not yet become a person of importance. She was quite young,
fairly good looking, and still growing, which was alarming since she was
already out of proportion with the doors of Windward House. Neither she
nor her master made a dignified entry into the parlour; for Bessie had
to stoop, while the Captain was forced to turn sideways. Mrs. Drake just
fitted when nobody flustered her. Bessie knew the whole history of
herself and family; and was proud of the fact that her father owned a
fishing smack, while both her brothers would have entered the Navy had
they not suffered from an incurable tendency to reject rations at the
first rolling of the ship.

Now that the Captain was settled in the haven of Highfield, he had
solved all his difficulties except the one problem of finding a place in
the world for George. About twice a week he created a thunderstorm
about his nephew, who remained in the attitude of an admiring listener
until the tempest of tangled metaphor concerning starvation ahead,
rudderless vessels, and vagabonds begging their bread, had died away
along the village street; and then the cunning rascal would either place
a trembling hand to his forehead declaring he had not much longer to
live, or shuffle towards the door with the announcement that it might
just as well happen at once, and drowning was the best way he could
think of, as he could not afford to purchase fire-arms or poison;
besides, a watery grave was the proper ending for a Drake. He generally
added it was the man whom he venerated, the man who was content to
remain in a humble position when he should have been First Lord of the
Admiralty, the man who was the British Empire's principal asset--his
uncle--who had driven him to this. Then the Captain, who was a
soft-hearted old simpleton where his family was concerned, would take
George by the shoulders, press him into a chair, give him money to buy
tobacco which might ease his nerves, beg for his forgiveness, and behave
like a beneficent Providence until wind and weather were favourable for
the next thunderstorm.

As a matter of fact, the Captain loved his nephew, who supported his
opinions and flattered him continually. Besides, George was fond of
cats, and respected the monkeys, and would frequently take the tortoise
for a stroll. Mrs. Drake, on the other hand, made no secret of her
contempt for an able-bodied man who seemed to regard Windward House as
an hotel where he could receive board and lodging without payment. She
reminded George constantly she had no money to leave, and when she was
gone he would find himself dependent upon charity; but George would beg
her not to worry, as he had no intention of outliving anyone who was so
good to him. Mrs. Drake then stated that, in her opinion, he would in a
future state of existence be separated from his uncle and herself, and
for that alone he ought to feel ashamed. And George admitted he was
ashamed, but even an ever present sense of shame was better, he thought,
than a separation from his uncle and aunt in this life.

Mrs. Drake had a good reason for not insisting upon George's departure.
Doctors had warned her that the Captain's immense size was not a healthy
symptom: upon his last voyage he had been discovered unconscious in his
cabin; and although he declared subsequently this was nothing more than
a fit of exhaustion easily to be explained by his first mate's habit of
answering back, it was nevertheless accepted as a danger signal which
made retirement necessary. Even the unprofitable George might be of
service should a similar fit of exhaustion seize upon the Captain in his
house.



CHAPTER II

EXHIBITION DAY AT WINDWARD HOUSE


"Mansion and grounds will be thrown open to the public on Sunday
afternoon, between the hours of three and five, for the inspection of
the rare and costly antiquities collected during his numerous voyages by
Captain Francis Drake, who will personally conduct parties. As the hall
carpet is of inestimable value, having formerly covered a floor in the
Yildiz Palace, visitors are earnestly requested to wipe their boots."

"I think you have forgotten, William," said Mrs. Drake, when her husband
had posted this notice, "how you bought that strip of carpet at an
auction sale for eighteen pence. The piece you bought from Turkey is in
Bessie's bedroom."

"Ah, yes, my dear, but it might just as well be in the hall, and for the
purpose of exhibition we can quite easily imagine it _is_ there,"
replied the most capable showman.

By twenty minutes past three, which was punctual for Highfield, a
respectable number of villagers had gathered beside the noticeboard as
though awaiting an excursion train: old men and young, women and
children, stood huddled together like so many prisoners of war, all very
solemn and anxious. One little boy was sobbing bitterly because a report
had reached him concerning another little boy who had been invited
beyond that gate and introduced to the giant tortoise, which had
displayed since then a singularly well-nourished appearance. Therefore
he was vastly relieved when the Captain announced that, owing to the
size of the crowd, which was adopting a closer formation every moment,
children would not be admitted that afternoon, but a separate day would
be arranged for the little ones, when they could play in the garden and
feed the animals; an ominous invitation which made the little boy cry
yet louder.

The Yellow Leaf, who wore a coat not much younger than himself, as the
father of the people, and related to everybody within a ten mile radius,
stepped first into the house. He was, however, better dressed than the
Wallower in Wealth, who was believed to own a mattress so well stuffed
with gold and silver pieces that it could not be turned without the aid
of crowbars. The Gentle Shepherd paused on the threshold to scrape the
soles of his boots with a knife. The Dumpy Philosopher nervously
unfastened a collar which was borrowed. The ladies wore all the finery
they possessed.

"You are now, ladies and gentlemen, standing in the hall of Windward
House, upon the priceless carpet used by a former Sultan of Turkey as a
praying mat," began the Captain.

"Must ha' been a religious gentleman," said the Yellow Leaf approvingly,
as he tapped his stick upon the threadbare patches.

"And fond of a quiet smoke," added Squinting Jack, pointing to some
holes obviously caused by cigar ends.

"What size of a place would this Yildiz Parish be?" inquired the Gentle
Shepherd.

"Palace, my dear old fellow. It's the Windsor Castle of Turkey, where
the Sultan prays and smokes, and signs death sentences of his Christian
subjects."

"Amazing small rooms," remarked the Dumpy Philosopher curtly.

"The Turks don't cover the whole of their floors like we do," explained
the Captain. "When the Sultan wants to pray, they spread a mat like this
before the throne, and he comes down on it. When he's done praying, they
roll up the mat and chuck it out of the window, for the Sultan never
uses the same bit of carpet twice. I happened to be passing underneath
his window when this particular mat was thrown out, so I picked it up
and nipped off with it, though Christians are forbidden by the law of
Turkey to touch anything the Sultan has even looked at."

"Didn't 'em try to stop ye?" asked a lady.

"They did," said the Captain grimly. "Though boasting isn't much in my
line, they did try to stop me--officers of the army, ministers of state,
officials of the court, men in the street--but Turks have enormous
noses, while I own an uncommon big fist; and when one big thing, my
dear, aims at another big thing, they are bound to meet. You can see the
bloodstains on the carpet yet," declared the Captain, indicating a
corner where Bessie had upset the furniture polish.

"I do wish poor dear William wouldn't read so many newspapers," sighed
Mrs. Drake in the background.

"Now, my dear friends and neighbours," continued the showman, warming to
his work, "although fully conscious of my own unworthiness, I beg to
draw your attention to this pedigree of my family, framed in English
oak, and most beautifully decorated in the national colours by one of
our leading artists. It commences, you see, with the name of my
illustrious ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, the mighty admiral who, almost
unaided, sent the Spanish _Armada_ to the bottom of the Irish Sea. The
head of the family has been honoured with the name of Francis ever
since: the same name, ladies and gentlemen, and the same undaunted
spirit. Boasting is painful to any member of the Drake family, yet I
would say--give me the Irish Sea and some English ships; give me a
hostile Navy, such as was faced by my immortal propogand ... my
imperishable protogent ... my eternal prognosticator--that's the word,
dear people--and if you think I'm boasting, I am very sorry for your
opinion of Devonshire manliness and courage."

"You ha' forgot to mention what you might do to the hostile Navy,"
reminded Squinting Jack.

"Send it to the bottom," roared the Captain.

"I can't bear to listen when he gets near the pedigree," murmured Mrs.
Drake. "He will not remember he made it all up. And he has made me
promise to put Francis on the gravestone."

"Wur Queen Elizabeth one of your descendants too?" inquired the Gentle
Shepherd in great awe.

"Not exactly: she was not, what you would describe as one of my
forefathers," explained the Captain. "Her illustrious name is here
inserted within brackets as an indication that the Drakes do not claim
to be of the blood royal; but, as you will remember, Queen Elizabeth
knighted Sir Francis, and there is a pleasant tradition in the family
that she once flirted with him."

"Ain't that wonderful!" gasped one of the ladies.

They entered the parlour, where George was crushing flies with a cork
against the windows. It was his habit to display some form of activity
when his uncle was about.

"The pictures," resumed the Captain, "are chiefly good examples of the
oleographic school; with here and there a choice engraving taken from
the illustrated press: marine landscapes, depicting sea breaking upon
rocks, being a prominent feature. The young lady picking sunflowers was
painted by my wife at the age of seventeen, and is the only example of
that period which survives."

"The flowers are dahlias," Mrs. Drake corrected somewhat sharply.

"My dear, anybody acquainted with our simple wayside plants could tell
that at a glance. I am afraid, ladies and gentlemen, the only flowers I
can name with absolute certainty are sea anemones and jellyfish. The
grandfather clock is unique," hurried on the Captain. "It strikes the
hours upon a gong, chimes them upon bells, and is also provided with a
Burmese instrument which discourses sweet music at the quarters. A clock
like this relieves the unnatural stillness of midnight, and gets the
servants up early. A barometer is affixed to the case; this wind gauge
records the velocity of the draught between door and window; while the
burning glass registers the amount of sunshine received in this portion
of the room daily. Twice during the twenty-four hours this wooden
figure winds up an iron weight which, becoming detached at a certain
point, falls upon a detonating substance contained in this iron vessel.
The explosion occurs at noon and midnight."

"Ah, now I knows it ain't always cats," muttered the Dumpy Philosopher,
who lived about a hundred yards away.

"About four hours behind, ain't it, Captain?" remarked Squinting Jack.

"It does not profess to be a timekeeper," replied the Captain. "Any
ordinary clock will tell you the time. This does more--it instructs and
entertains. It keeps us alive at nights. I like a clock that announces
itself. Last Sunday evening, when in church, I distinctly heard the
explosion, the clock being then seven hours slow, and it seemed to me a
very homely sound."

"I hope Mrs. Drake ain't nervous," said one of the ladies.

"No, indeed," came the reply. "I lived for ten years next door to one of
the trade union halls. I find it very quiet here."

"I reckon this would be another clock," said the Gentle Shepherd,
staring at a grandfatherly shape in the corner.

"No, my friend, that is an Egyptian mummy."

"One o' they what used to go about on Christmas Eve in the gude old days
what be gone vor ever!" exclaimed the Yellow Leaf with great interest.

"Not a mummer, but a body, a corpse--dried up and withered," explained
the Captain.

"Same as I be nearly," murmured the Yellow Leaf; while some of the women
screamed and some giggled, one hoping the creature was quite dead,
another dreadfully afraid there had been a murder, and a third trusting
she wouldn't have to adorn some parlour when she was took.

"Can he do anything, Captain--sing and dance, or tell ye what the
weather's going to be?" asked Squinting Jack.

"'Tis a matter of taste, but I couldn't fancy corpses as furniture,"
observed the Dumpy Philosopher.

"What I ses is this," commented the Wallower in Wealth, "if I wur to dig
bodies out of churchyard, and sell 'em to folk as genuine antiquities, I
would have the policeman calling on me."

"You mustn't dig up Christians--that's blasphemy," said the Captain.
"This chap was a heathen king, one of the Pharaohs you read of in the
Bible, and he died thousands of years ago. He may have known Jacob and
Joseph--and I bought him for five bob."

"Ain't that wonderful!" exclaimed a lady.

"It do make they Children of Israel seem amazing real," admitted the
Gentle Shepherd.

"The remarkable object occupying the centre of the mantelpiece is a
Russian Ikon. It used to hang upon the quarterdeck of a battleship which
was lost in the Baltic," continued the Captain.

"I suppose 'tis useful vor navigating purposes," suggested the Dumpy
Philosopher.

"It is what the Russians call a holy picture. They say their prayers to
such things," shouted the Captain angrily.

"A queer lot of old stuff here along," said the Gentle Shepherd.

"A few articles are priceless," declared the proprietor. "These two
vases, for instance. They were looted from the royal palace at Pekin by
an English sailor lad who had intended them as a present for his
sweetheart; but, as he couldn't carry them about, he sold them to me for
ten shillings. An American gentleman offered me a hundred pounds for the
pair, but I wouldn't part with them for five times that amount. These
blue dragons are covered with a lustre known as glaze, which is now a
lost art. This portfolio of pictures also comes from China: there are
more than fifty, and each represents one of the various kinds of torture
commonly practised by Chinese magistrates upon people who are brought
before them, charged with such offences as forgetting to pay local
rates or being polite to foreigners. Here is the usual punishment for
omitting to lick the dust when a big-pot passes--being impaled upon
three stakes above a slow fire without the option of a fine."

"Nice pictures to look at on a Sunday evening," said Squinting Jack.

"The curiously twisted spike, which bears a close resemblance to iron,
and is indeed almost as heavy as that metal, was given me by an Egyptian
fellah, who said he had discovered it in the Assyrian desert," resumed
the Captain with somewhat less confidence. "It is supposed to be a horn
of that extinct animal the unicorn, but I don't guarantee it. According
to a mate who sailed with me once--a chap who knew a lot about animals,
and had taken prizes at dog shows--the unicorn had a hollow horn, and
this, you see, is solid."

"The Egyptian fellow had you, Captain. It is iron, and there's a mark
upon it that looks to me like a crown," declared the Wallower in Wealth,
who had commenced prosperity as a wheelwright.

"Don't that go to show it is genuine? Ain't the lion and unicorn
the--the motto of the crown of England?" demanded the Yellow Leaf.

"The beast wouldn't have a crown stamped on its horn when he drawed
breath," said Squinting Jack.

"I b'ain't so certain. I ha' seen rummy marks on a ram's horn," answered
the Gentle Shepherd.

"There are wonderful things in Nature," said the Captain. "When I was
off the coast of South Africa, I watched a big fish flap out of the
water, climb a tree, stuff itself with fruit, and then return to its
native element. It may be the unicorn was adopted as one of the
supporters of the Royal Arms, because it had this mark of a crown upon
the base of its horn."

"Some volk ses there never wur no unicorns," remarked the Dumpy
Philosopher.

"Plenty believe creation started after they were born," retorted the
Captain sharply. "The lion and the unicorn are the royal beasts of
England--any child knows that--and when all the lions have been shot,
lots of people will say there never were such creatures. If unicorns
never existed, how is it we possess pictures of the beast? How do we
know what 'twas like? How do we know its name, and how do we know it had
only one horn bang in the middle of its forehead?"

"That's the way to talk to unbelievers," chuckled the Yellow Leaf. "I
make no manner of doubt there wur plenty of unicorns; aye, and lions and
four footed tigers, and alligators too, in this here parish of
Highfield, though I don't seem to able call any of 'em to mind."

"'Tis an iron spike sure enough, and 'twur made in Birmingham,"
whispered the Wallower in Wealth to his nearest neighbour.

"The little creature in this glass case is a stuffed mermaid, supposed
to be about three months old," the Captain continued, indicating a
cleverly faked object, composed of the upper part of a monkey and the
tail of a hake. "I did not see it alive myself, but was told by the
inhabitant of Sumatra, from whom I bought it, he had found it upon a
rock at low tide crying piteously for its mother. He took it home, and
tried to rear it upon ass's milk, but the poor little thing did not live
many days. It was too young to show any intelligence."

"The ass's milk might ha' made it feel a bit silly like," suggested
Squinting Jack.

"Don't it seem a bit like slavery to ha' bought it?" asked a
tender-hearted matron.

"And a bit blasphemous to ha' stuffed the poor mite?" complained
another.

"Oh no, my dear ladies. These creatures do not possess immortal souls,"
replied the Captain.

"How be us to tell?" inquired the Dumpy Philosopher.

"Only creatures who can pray possess immortal souls," declared the
Captain piously. "When we pray we kneel. Mermaids cannot kneel because
they have no legs."

"There used to be a picture in the schuleroom of a camel on his knees,"
began Squinting Jack; but the Captain hurried off to the next object of
interest, which was a snuffbox composed of various woods inlaid with
mother of pearl.

"A tragic and mysterious relic of the French Revolution, found in the
hand of a Duke while his body was being removed for burial," he said in
his most impressive manner. "This box is supposed to possess a most
remarkable history, but it has not been opened since the original
owner's death."

"Will ye please to go on and tell us all about it," requested the Yellow
Leaf.

"It is the mystery of this box that nobody knows its history," came the
answer.

"Why don't ye open it, Captain?"

"The second mystery of this box is that the secret of opening it is
lost. It is alike on both sides, so that you cannot tell which is top
and which bottom."

"I'd open 'en quick enough," said the Wallower in Wealth.

"And smash they lovely pearls all to pieces!" cried a lady indignantly.

"'Twould be a pity to spoil a couple of mysteries," said Squinting Jack.

"That's how I feel about it. As it is, this snuffbox is a genuinely
romantic antique; but if we discovered its history--which I was assured
by some gentleman in Paris is most astounding, although entirely
unknown--it might lose a considerable part of its value. I have charged
my wife to present this box to the President of the French Republic
after I am taken from her. She is not bound to present it personally,
but may either entrust it to the registered post, or hand it to his
Excellency the French Ambassador at his official residence by
appointment, whichever course may be most pleasing to her," said the
Captain handsomely.

A number of curiosities sealed up in bottles were exhibited, and then
the Wallower in Wealth delivered a little speech he had prepared
beforehand. He began by mentioning that his cottage stood near the
garden of Windward House, and went on to explain how, upon certain
evenings, when shadows were lengthening, his soul had been soothed by
distant strains of sweetest music. His wife, who had no ear for harmony,
ventured to attribute these sounds to the rival choirs of cats on the
roof and owls in the trees; his mother-in-law, who was superstitious,
gave all credit to the pixies; his daughter, who was sentimental, had
gone so far as to suggest angelic visitors. But he was convinced the
sounds proceeded from Windward House. And he concluded by imploring the
Captain to entertain the company by a few selections upon his
gramophone.

Captain Drake replied that nothing so commonplace had ever disturbed
the silence of his abode. "Oriental music of the most classical
description is played here," he said, approaching a large black case
upon gilded legs and throwing back the lid. "This, ladies and gentlemen,
is the musical box, formerly in the possession of an Indian potentate,
and bestowed upon me in return for services which I could not mention
without appearing to glory in my sterling nobility of character, which
was one of the phrases employed during the ceremony of presentation. The
Maharajah offered me the choice of three gifts--a young lady, an
elephant, and this musical box. Being already married, and having no
room in my ship for a bulky pet, I--somewhat to the astonishment of my
generous benefactor--selected the musical box. There are only two others
like it in this world; one being in the possession of the Dalai Lama of
Tibet, while the other unfortunately reposes at the bottom of the
Atlantic. The small figures dressed as Chinamen--these boxes were made
in China, but the art is now lost--play upon various instruments after
the fashion of a military band. In a small room such as this the music
is somewhat harsh; but when heard from the garden it is, as our friend
here has said, exquisitely beautiful; the more so when the parrots sing
in unison."

"I thought parrots was like women; they just talked," said the Dumpy
Philosopher.

"They don't sing like nightingales," the Captain admitted. "But their
notes blend very pleasantly with instrumental music. Before we go
outside I will wind up the box; but here is one more interesting relic I
must show you. This Star beneath the glass case, although its rays are
now sadly tarnished, adorned at one time the coat of His Majesty King
George the First. Its history is fully set out upon the parchment
beneath. The thing does look worth twopence, I admit, but then you must
remember it was made in Germany, where they have always been fond of
cheap decorations, which could be worn at Court, and then hung upon
Christmas trees to amuse the children. According to this parchment,
which supplies us with documentary evidence--the writing is somewhat
blurred, as I was forced to use an uncommonly bad pen--this Star was
worn by His Majesty upon his arrival in England. The maid of honour,
whose duty it was to rub up the royal decorations, took the wrong bottle
one day, and used her own matchless preparation for the skin instead of
the usual cleaning mixture; and when all the pretty things turned black
she passed them on to a Jew, and told the king she was very sorry, but
she had accidentally dropped all his Hanoverian decorations down the
sink. What he said with the usual month's notice I can't tell you, but
probably he didn't care much, as he could buy stars and crosses and
eagles by the gross from the toymakers of the Black Forest cheap for
cash.

"This particular Star was cleaned by a patent process and sold to a
tailor, who stitched it on to a magnificent coat he had made for a young
Duke who had just stepped into the title; and he, after a time, passed
on coat and Star to his valet, who parted with them to a quack doctor,
well known as the discoverer of a certain cure for cataract. He had
already made about a score of people totally blind when he was called in
to attend a lady of quality; and when this lady's sight was destroyed,
her relatives invited the quack either to have his own eyes forcibly
treated with his ointment, or to clear out of the country. He soon made
up his mind, sold the coat and Star to a pedlar, and returned to
Germany, where he entered the diplomatic service and blinded a lot more
folk.

"The pedlar made his way up to Scotland and, meeting a very shabby old
fellow upon the road, sold him the coat and Star after the hardest bit
of bargaining he had ever known in his life. This old chap turned out to
be the first Duke in all Scotland, and he was driven to buy the finery
as he had been commanded to appear at Court. When he got to London in
his ramshackle old coach, he rubbed up the Star, put on the coat, inked
the seams a bit, then went to the Palace, where he found the King
playing dominoes with one of the English Dukes. 'Gott in Himmel!' cried
his Majesty, 'His Grace has got my old Star. I know it's mine, for 'twas
made in dear old Sharmany.' The Scot was trying to explain that the Star
had been made to order by his village blacksmith, when the English Duke
chimed in, 'And he's wearing one of my cast-off coats!' At this point
the manuscript breaks off abruptly.

"That's the true English history of this old Star, which I purchased for
sixpence from a sailor in whose family it had been an heirloom for the
last two hundred years."

"Ain't that wonderful!" exclaimed a lady.

"It do seem to make they old kings and Druid volk wonderful clear avore
us," murmured the Yellow Leaf.

The Captain led his guests into the garden, while George, after
laboriously collecting a handful of dead flies, followed, ready to
support his uncle if necessary, but still more anxious to support
himself.

"My cats are famous," said the Captain, approaching a building which had
been once a stable, and was now divided into two compartments; one with
a wired front for use in summer; the other closed and kept warm for
winter quarters. "I have now succeeded in obtaining a highly scientific
animal, combining the sleek beauty of the pure Persian with the
aggressive agility of the British species. For the last twenty years I
have supplied cats to the ships of the mercantile marine, and by so
doing have saved much of the commerce of this country; for a single rat
will destroy five shillings' worth of perishable cargo in one day; while
a single cat of my variety will readily account for fifty rats, not to
mention mice innumerable, during the same period. If you will reckon
sixty cats, let us say, supplied by me annually, each cat accounting for
fifty rats, again not reckoning mice innumerable, every day; if you will
add a dozen cats supplied, again by me, to dockyards and custom houses
swarming with vermin of every description, each rat doing damage to the
extent of some shillings daily, with smaller vermin doing the same
according to size and jaw power; if you will add sixty ships to twelve
dockyards, and add, let us say, twenty cats supplied from my stock to
foreign countries, reckoning in such cases in francs or dollars instead
of shillings, and making due allowance for the different tonnage of
vessels or dimensions of dockyards, if you will remember I have also
supplied most of the cats at present commissioned to kill rats and mice
upon the ships of the Royal Navy; and if you will include in your
estimate the Grimalkins I have sold, or given, to millers, warehousemen,
wholesale grocers, and provision merchants...."

"I reckon, Captain, that will come to about quarter of a million pounds
a year, not taking into account shillings and pence," broke in Squinting
Jack to free the Captain from his obvious difficulty.

"That is a moderate estimate; still I will accept it. Quarter of a
million pounds annually for twenty years, friends and neighbour! Have I
not done my part in liquidating the national debt?"

"Cats aren't what you might call nearly extinct animals same as they
unicorns. Us ha' got more home than us knows what to do with," remarked
a lady timidly.

"Us drowns 'em mostly," observed a matron who looked capable of doing
it.

"Not cats like these--the latest triumph of scientific inbreeding," the
Captain shouted.

"Oh no, sir! Ours be bred all nohow," said the timid lady.

"Don't the monkeys tease 'em, Captain?" asked the Gentle Shepherd.

"The simians have sufficient intelligence to understand that my felidæ
are famous for the claws. Beneath that tree," continued the Captain,
"about three paces from the side of my nephew, you see the giant
tortoise, which is the greatest antiquity that I possess--next, of
course, to the Egyptian mummy. That tortoise, my friends, has lived in
this world during the last five hundred years."

"Ain't that wonderful!" gasped a lady.

"I captured it upon the beach of one of the Galapagos Islands, where it
had just succeeded in laying an egg."

"Him lay eggs! Then all I can say is he'm the funniest old bird I ever
did set eyes on," cried a lady who was famous for her poultry.

"How did you manage to get hold of his birth certificate, Captain?"
asked Squinting Jack.

"Tortoises live for ever, if you let 'em alone--that's a proverbial
fact," stammered the Captain, somewhat taken aback. "You can tell his
age by--by merely glancing at his shell. This tortoise has his shell
covered with tarpaulin to prevent the newspaper cuttings from being
washed off by rain; but if it was removed you would see that the shell
is yellow. It is a well known scientific fact that the shell of a
tortoise is black during the first century of its life; takes on a
bluish tinge for the next two hundred years; and becomes mottled with
yellow when it approaches the enormous age of five hundred years."

"Same as me," said the Yellow Leaf sadly.



CHAPTER III

THE CAPTAIN MAKES HISTORY


One day George entered the churchyard and set his face towards a big
sycamore, with the resolution of setting his back against it. He had
been tempted by the wide trunk and smooth bark for a long time; but his
attempt to reach the tree failed entirely because it stood upon the
unfrequented side of the churchyard, and was surrounded by an
entanglement of brambles and nettles some yards in depth.

Determined to reach that sycamore somehow, George complained to his
uncle about the abominable condition of the churchyard; and Captain
Drake reprimanded the vicar for "allowing the resting places of our
historic dead to become a trackless jungle;" and the vicar once more
implored the sexton to give up the public-house; and the sexton declared
there were no such blackberries in all the parish as could be gathered
from those brambles.

The matter would have ended there had it not been for Captain Drake, who
visited the territory, explored to within fifteen feet of the sycamore,
then called a meeting of parishioners and, with the aid of diagrams,
showed how the foremost line of nettles was advancing so rapidly in a
north-westerly direction as to threaten the main approach to the vestry;
while a screen of brambles had already reached a nameless altar tomb
whereon the youth of the place by traditional right recorded their
initials.

The seriousness of the weed peril had not been realised until then; as
the Dumpy Philosopher remarked, they had all been asleep and thus had
been taken unprepared; but, when the parishioners did realise it, an
army of offence was raised quickly; the nettles were eradicated and the
brambles uprooted; that portion of the churchyard was thrown open to the
public; and George attained his resting place beside the sycamore.

He had lounged against it several times before his eyes fell upon an
inscription which appeared familiar, although obscured by moss and
yellow lichen. As the tombstone was not more than three yards away, he
was able to reach it without much difficulty. Reclining upon the turf,
he summoned up energy to open his pocketknife and to scrape away the
lichen until the full meaning of the discovery burst upon him.

Later in the day the Yellow Leaf met Squinting Jack, and said, "I saw
Mr. Drake running like wildfire down the street this forenoon. If I
hadn't seen 'en wi' my own eyes, I wouldn't ha' believed it."

"I saw 'en too wi' my own eyes," replied Squinting Jack. "And still I
don't believe it."

Captain Drake would have run too had there been less of him. George had
never been a liar--the poor fellow had no imagination and rarely picked
up a newspaper--still his story sounded too impossible to be true. They
reached the newly discovered tombstone; the Captain read the
inscription; and in a voice trembling with emotion murmured, "Amelia
Drake, of Black Anchor Farm, in this parish."

The portion of stone which bore the date of her departure had sunk into
the ground.

"George, my lad," cried the Captain, "this is the grave of my long-lost
great-grandmother."

"The missing link," added the nephew, with the joyous certainty of one
about to negotiate a loan.

"Our pedigree is now complete. I am certain my father used to speak of a
rumour which insisted that his grandmother's name was Amelia; and now we
have discovered she lived in this parish, at Black Anchor Farm, which no
doubt had passed to her husband--who is down on the pedigree as having
been probably lost at sea--from the lineal descendant of the great
Founder himself. The name of the farm proves that. You see, George, the
reference is to a black anchor, a new freshly tarred anchor, not to an
old rusty red one. I must have the stone cleaned. And we will show our
respect by planting roses here."

"If it hadn't been for me, this grave would never have been discovered,"
said George, ready to produce a statement of his bankruptcy.

"That's true, my lad. It's the best day's work you have ever done in
your life."

"Skilled labour, too," reminded George, still advertising.

"I won't forget," his uncle promised.

Black Anchor Farm was situated about two miles from the centre of the
village. It was not a place to covet, consisting of a mean little
thatched house; stable and barn of cob walls propped up by pieces of
timber; and half a dozen fields which brought forth furze and bracken in
great abundance. People named Slack occupied the place; the man was a
lame dwarf who tried to work sometimes, but honestly preferred poaching;
the woman went about in rags and begged; while the children were little
savages, kept from school by their father, and trained to steal by their
mother.

The Captain refused to be discouraged when he visited the home of his
ancestors and discovered a hovel; but wrote to the owner for
information, interviewed the vicar, turned up the registers, and
consulted the Yellow Leaf.

The letter was answered by a solicitor, who expressed his sorrow at
never having heard of the family of Drake. The vicar mentioned that the
name Anchor occurred frequently in the neighbourhood, and was
undoubtedly a corruption of Anchoret, which signified a person who
sought righteousness by retiring from a world of sin. He considered it
probable that the site had been occupied formerly by the cell of a
hermit who had distinguished himself by wearing a black cloak.

Although the Captain gave days and nights to the registers, he could
find no entry concerning his family, of whom most, he was convinced, had
been lost at sea, apart from the funeral of Amelia Drake. The Yellow
Leaf, after remaining some days in a state of meditation, distinctly
recalled a tradition concerning a lady (the Captain thanked him for the
lady) who had lived alone at Black Anchor Farm for a number of years,
receiving no visitors, and leaving the place only to obtain fresh
supplies of liquid consolation. The end of her history was so unpleasant
he did not care to dwell upon it, but apparently this lady was
discovered at last ready for her funeral, and according to report it was
a pity she had not been discovered earlier.

Still the Captain refused to be discouraged. His nobility of character
would not permit him to disown the memory of his great-grandmother,
although he thought it terribly sad she should have sunk so low. If she,
during recurring fits of temporary insanity, had disgraced the great
name, he had added lustre to it. If the former country residence of Sir
Francis Drake had fallen into a ruinous condition, it should be his
privilege to restore it with a few magic touches of the pen. He resolved
to devote the remaining years of his life to the writing of _A History
of the Parish of Highfield_.

"The vicar was not altogether mistaken, my love," he remarked to Mrs.
Drake. "He associates the name of Black Anchor with a hermit who wore a
dark coloured vestment of some description, and no doubt he is right. My
unfortunate great-grandmother did live there entirely alone, and would
naturally be regarded as a hermit by the superstitious people of this
parish. And we need not be surprised to discover that she always wore
black--silk or velvet, I presume--the last poor remnants of her former
greatness. It is an established fact, I believe, that elderly ladies
generally wear black."

As a compiler of history the Captain was in many ways well equipped. He
wrote rapidly, which was of great importance, because the least relevant
chapter in the life of a parish required a vast number of words. He
possessed a gift of making the past real because he owned a powerful
imagination. While confidence in his own abilities freed him from a
slavish adherence to facts which could serve no useful purpose.
Realising the importance of concentrating upon some particular feature,
in order that the narrative might be made continuous, he had not the
slightest difficulty in selecting that feature. The keynote of the
entire work was sounded by the opening sentence:

"Although the Parish of Highfield is but little known to Englishmen, and
occupies an extremely small portion of the map, being entirely excluded
from the standard Atlas used in schools--in our opinion
unjustifiably--it must nevertheless remain for ever famous on account of
its associations with the sublime name of Drake."

The opening chapter dealt with the destruction of the Spanish _Armada_.
The second gave an account of the arrival of Sir Francis Drake in
Highfield parish, fully describing his purchase of a site and the
erection of a stately manor house, of which unfortunately nothing
remained except a few fragments "fraught with sweet Elizabethan
memories." The site was still known as Black Anchor, which was
undoubtedly the name conferred by the great Admiral upon his country
residence, because he regarded it as a place to which he could retire
from the world, where he could muse amid the solitude of nature, where
he could rest, or, in the phrase of the seaman, "cast his anchor." It
was here that Queen Elizabeth visited him, and, according to some
authorities who seemed to deserve serious attention, it was here, and
not in London, that the Queen conferred the honour of knighthood upon
this magnificent bulwark of her throne.

The third chapter was devoted entirely to the royal visit, concerning
which tradition was happily not silent. It was indeed a simple matter to
follow the Queen's progress towards its culminating point, which was
unquestionably Highfield Manor, as Black Anchor Farm was known in those
days, through the adjoining parishes, all possessing manors of which
some had survived to the present time, but most had fallen down, at each
of which the royal lady had enjoyed a few hours' slumber.

Several pages were allotted to this habit of Elizabeth, who was
apparently unable to travel more than five miles without going to bed;
and in these the author sought to prove the existence of some malady, a
kind of travelling sickness, no doubt exaggerated by the roughness of
the roads and constant jolting of the coach, so that the physician in
attendance felt himself compelled to advise his royal mistress to sleep
at every village through which she passed.

The peculiarities of monarchs, remarked the author, are more conspicuous
than the virtues or vices of ordinary people. The nervousness of King
Charles the Second was no less remarkable than Queen Elizabeth's
recurring fits of somnolence: he was continually retiring into
cupboards, standing behind doors, or climbing into oak trees, owing to a
morbid dread of being looked at. King Charles had secreted himself
inside a cupboard within the boundaries of Highfield parish, but this
was not to be regarded as a coincidence, for a patient inquiry into
local traditions elicited the fact that, wherever Queen Elizabeth had
slept in the best bed of the manor house, King Charles had climbed a
tree (usually the common oak, _Quercus robur_) in the garden. As the
writer was dealing with the parish of Highfield only, it would be
outside the scope of his work to give a list of villages, in Devonshire
alone, which claimed to possess pillows upon which Elizabeth had deigned
to rest her weary head; but he was satisfied that the Highfield pillow
had been stored away in precisely the same cupboard used by Charles
during one of his secretive moments. Both these interesting relics had
been destroyed, as was customary, by fire.

The fourth chapter flourished the Drake pedigree, copied from the
original document in the author's possession; and went on to give a
pathetic account of Amelia, the lonely and eccentric lady who was the
last representative of the famous family to reside at Highfield Manor.
Three facts concerning her could be stated with certainty: she was of a
singularly retiring nature, she was accustomed to wear a black silk
dress upon all occasions, and she was murdered by some unknown ruffian
for the sake of certain valuable heirlooms she was known to possess. It
appeared probable that she was a poetess as, according to local
tradition, she could frequently be heard singing; while her fondness for
cats, a weakness which had descended to her great-grandson, was a
clearly marked feature of her character.

The fifth chapter was a triumph of literary and artistic handiwork. Even
Mrs. Drake, who did not approve of the undertaking because she had to
meet the expenses of publication, felt bound to admit that, if William
had not chosen to become a great sea-captain, a certain other William,
who had written plays for a living, might conceivably have been toppled
from his eminence; for nothing could have been more thrilling than the
story of a family vault, "filled with the bones and memories of the
greatest centuries in British history," becoming first neglected, then
forgotten, and finally overgrown by brambles and nettles: a vault, let
the reader remember, not containing rude forefathers of the hamlet, but
members of the family of Drake; a vault, not situated in the Ethiopian
desert, nor abandoned within some Abyssinian jungle, but built beneath
the turf of an English churchyard hard by a simple country Bethel. This
vault became entirely lost! Summer followed spring, autumn preceded
winter, year after year, while the nettles increased, and the brambles
encroached yet more upon the consecrated ground, until the very site of
the famous vault was lost to sight--this sentence being the one literary
flaw upon an otherwise perfect chapter--and the oldest inhabitant had
ceased to tell of its existence.

Here the _History of the Parish of Highfield_ was interrupted by some
chapters dealing with the birth, education, early struggles, voyages,
adventures, success, and retirement of Captain Francis Drake; together
with an account of Mrs. Drake and her relations; with a flattering
notice of George Drake, Esquire, who was later to win renown as the
explorer of Highfield churchyard and the discoverer of the long-missing
vault. It was shown also how the Captain had been guided by Providence
to the village, formerly the home of his ancestors, and how "the lure of
the place had been nothing but the silver cord of an hereditary
attraction stretched through the centuries to reach the golden bowl of
his soul." Mrs. Drake objected to this sentence, and the printer made
still stranger stuff of it; but George upheld his uncle's contention
that poetical prose could not be out of place in a work dealing with the
origin and progress of a wayside village.

At this point the author interpolated, by means of footnotes, a few
remarks, which he owned were unconnected with the purport of his work:
Domesday Book alluded to Highfield in one deplorably curt sentence; the
church contained nothing of interest; an oak tree, which had formerly
shaded the village green, no longer existed; the views were local,
charming, and full of variety; the streams contained fish; botanists
would discover furze and heather upon the adjacent moorland; the name of
the place was derived probably from two Anglo-Saxon words which
signified a field standing in a high place.

The author arrived at that fateful day when George, led by his interest
in arboriculture to inspect a magnificent specimen of sycamore upon the
south side of the churchyard, found his progress checked by tangled
growths which, to the eternal disgrace of the parish, had been permitted
to conceal "the precious memorial and cradle of British supremacy upon
the main." Mrs. Drake opposed this sentence still more strongly, but the
Captain pleaded inspiration and retained it.

There followed a stirring account of "the wave of indignation that burnt
with its hot iron the souls of the villagers, when their attention had
been drawn to a state of neglect which threatened to deprive them of the
obvious benefits of their own burying ground, and was rapidly making it
impossible for the mourner to drop the scalding tear or the fragrant
flower upon the sepulchre of some dear lost one." A vivid page described
the destruction of brambles and nettles, the removal of five cart loads,
the subsequent bonfire in which "these emblems of Thor and Woden melted
into flame and were dissipated into diaphanous smoke clouds."

The style unfortunately became confused when the author dealt at length
with the actual Discovery, and represented himself as head of the family
kneeling in humble thankfulness beside the mouldering stone marking the
hallowed spot where Drakes lay buried.

The work included with an account of Windward House, a description of
the furniture, a complete list of the antiquities, among which, owing to
a printer's error, appeared the names of Kezia and Bessie; with a
reference to the cats, monkeys, parrots, and giant tortoise. Then
Captain Drake lay down his pen, put aside the well-thumbed dictionary,
and, calling wife and nephew, informed them solemnly, "The last words
are written. I have rounded off my existence with a book."

Nothing much was said for some minutes. The author was obviously
struggling with emotion; Mrs. Drake put her handkerchief to her eyes;
George smiled in a nervous fashion and trifled with the coppers in both
pockets. Kezia and Bessie were called in and the news was broken to
them: the Parish of Highfield now possessed a history.

"This," said the Captain gently, "is one of the great moments in the
thrilling record of a most distinguished family. I feel as the sublime
founder must have done while standing with wooden bowl in his hand
gazing across the sparkling sea." Then he murmured brokenly, "Heaven
bless you all," and stumbled from the room.

When the publisher sent in his estimate, Mrs. Drake was quite unable to
understand how a newspaper could be sold for one halfpenny. The leading
item, which was a charge for sufficient paper to print one thousand
copies, came as a revelation to her; for she had always supposed that
paper, like string and pins, could be had for nothing. As the publisher
pressed strongly for a few illustrations of local scenery, the Captain
was compelled to sacrifice, for economical reasons, three chapters of
his voyages, together with the whole of his valuable footnotes. When
George suggested that the history of the parish itself did not appear to
be treated with that fullness the Captain was capable of giving it, the
old gentleman replied, "What we lose in the letterpress we'll make up by
the pictures. I quite agree with the printer, my lad: the beauty and
dignity of my work will be enhanced considerably by the addition of a
few engravings."

Six photographs were therefore taken exclusively for this volume, by the
son of the postmistress who was an expert with the camera; and
reproduced by the usual special process upon a particularly valuable
kind of Oriental paper. The frontispiece represented Captain Francis
Drake in a characteristic attitude. The five other illustrations
depicted Windward House from the southeast; present day aspect of Black
Anchor Farm; George Drake, Esquire, discoverer of the missing vault;
stone marking site of vault and bearing the name of Amelia Drake; and
finally, Captain Francis Drake in another characteristic attitude, with
Mrs. Drake in the background. The lady, having shifted behind her
husband during the moment of exposure, has disappeared entirely.

Two copies were sold. The vicar bought one out of a sense of duty, while
the Dismal Gibcat purchased the other, to discover whether there was
anything in it which would justify him in bringing an action for libel.
Both were disappointed.



CHAPTER IV

CHANGES IN THE ESTABLISHMENT


One doctor had promised Captain Drake eighteen more months of life;
another, less generous, refused to allow him more than twelve; he
presented himself with ten years, and then he did not die from natural
causes. The Dismal Gibcat had his revenge at last. He murdered Captain
Drake before the eyes of the village, in the full light of two oil
lamps; and, instead of being hanged for it, he stepped into the dead
man's place, and ruled the parish with his scowl as he had done in the
good old days when a pair of old cottages had occupied the site whereon
Windward House now stood; although he had the decency to attend his
victim's funeral, and to declare he had always respected the Captain,
who undoubtedly belonged to that class of mortals, none of whom are ever
likely to be seen again.

War for a right of way led up to the murder. The Dismal Gibcat owned a
field, across which people had walked since the world began, according
to the testimony of the Yellow Leaf, who was the final court of appeal
in all such matters. When a stone coffin was disinterred, or a few Roman
coins were turned up, the Yellow Leaf was invariably summoned to decide
the question of ownership. He might confess that the stone coffin had
been made before his time, although he would give the name of the mason,
and narrate a few anecdotes concerning the eccentric parishioner who had
preferred this method of burial. While he would possess a clear
recollection of the thriftless farmer who had dropped the money while
ploughing through a hole in his pocket. The Yellow Leaf declared he had
crossed that field thousands of times when he was a mere bud, and went
on to state that, if the people allowed the Dismal Gibcat to triumph
over them, they would find themselves back in the dark ages, bereft of
all the privileges which Magna Charta, the post office, and Captain
Drake had obtained for them.

The Dismal Gibcat began by ploughing the field and planting it with
potatoes. Then he lay in wait for the first trespasser, who chanced to
be the vicar on his way to baptise a sick baby. Undismayed by the
importance of his capture, the Dismal Gibcat informed the vicar he was
committing an unfriendly act by trespassing across his vested property.

The vicar, with some warmth, asserted there was a path. The Dismal
Gibcat, with exceeding dullness, replied that a man who had received his
education at a public school and an ancient university ought to be able
to distinguish between tilled land and thoroughfare.

The vicar declared that, if there was at the moment no path, it could
only be because the Dismal Gibcat had maliciously removed it, although
he did not use the word maliciously in an offensive manner. The Dismal
Gibcat replied that, as there was no path, the vicar could not walk
along it; and, as he was obviously trying to make one--with a pair of
boots quite suitable for the purpose--he was committing an act of
trespass, and by the law of England a trespasser might be removed by
force.

The vicar explained that he could not stay to argue the matter lest,
while they were quarrelling, the poor little baby should become an
unbaptised spirit. The Dismal Gibcat declared that his vested rights
were more to him than baptised babies, and ordered the vicar to get off
his potatoes by the way he had come.

Finally the vicar abandoned a portion of his Christianity and threatened
to hit the Dismal Gibcat upon the head with his toy font.

Civil war having thus broken out, the entire population of military age,
headed by Captain Drake and the Yellow Leaf, promenaded across the field
and trampled out a new pathway. The Dismal Gibcat replied by putting up
barbed wire entanglements.

Then the Captain called a meeting of the Parish Council, to be held at
seven-thirty in the schoolroom; little dreaming, when he set out a few
minutes after eight to take the chair, that he was about to perform his
last public duty.

The Dismal Gibcat attended the meeting without any idea of doing murder:
he brought no weapon except his scowl, which was possibly a birthmark,
and a tongue which disagreed with everybody out of principle. He
presented his case to the meeting and asked for justice. The chairman
promised he should have it, and went on to inquire whether the Dismal
Gibcat would give an undertaking to remove the entanglements and allow
the public to make free use of the pathway.

The Dismal Gibcat replied that, by so doing, he would be committing an
injustice which must fall most heavily upon all those of his dismal
blood who might come after him.

"Then, sir," the chairman cried in his most tremendous voice, "the
matter must pass from our hands into those of a higher tribunal. We
shall appeal to the District Council, and that body will, if necessary,
carry the case further, even to the Court of County Council itself."

Silence followed, during which every parishioner save one in that
crowded schoolroom felt thankful Highfield had a leader capable of
carrying their grievances to the foot of the Throne if necessary. About
the District Council little was known, beyond the fact that it had never
yet interfered in any parochial affairs; while the Dumpy Philosopher
seemed to be the only person primed with information concerning the
County Council.

"It make roads and builds asylums," he explained. "The gentlemen what
belong to it are called Esquire; and they'm mostly in Parliament."

The Dismal Gibcat had the wickedness to declare that he defied all
Councils. There never had been a right of way across his field, and
there never should be. Out of simple goodness of heart he had refrained
from interfering with the homeward progress of a few weary labourers,
although they had not asked permission to trample down his pasture; and
now he was to be rewarded for this mistaken kindness by having a strip
of territory snatched from him by a person--a fat, vulgar person--one he
was sorry to call an Englishman--whom they had been foolish enough to
elect as their chairman--a man who had written a book about himself--a
common creature who claimed to be a descendant of Sir Francis Drake--a
man who styled himself Captain because he had once stolen a fishing
boat--a coarse bullying brute of a gasbag.

The chairman had been struggling to find breath for some moments. At
last he found it, and released such thunders as had never been heard
before. Even the Dismal Gibcat quailed before the volume of that
tempest, while a few nervous parishioners left the schoolroom with a
dazed look upon their faces. George detached himself from the wall and
implored his uncle to be calm, but his words of warning were lost in
that great tumult. The shocking nature of the scene was considerably
enhanced by the fact that the Dismal Gibcat, for the first time within
living memory, actually tried to smile.

"A right of way has existed time out of mind across that field. Sir
Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth walked there arm in arm," the Captain
shouted, magnanimously ignoring the insults, and fighting for the people
to his last gasp.

"Path warn't hardly wide enough, Captain," piped the Yellow Leaf, who
was for accuracy at any price.

"I tell the chairman to his face he's a liar. He has never spoken a word
of truth since he came to Highfield," cried the Dismal Gibcat.

Again the Captain opened his mouth, but no sounds came. He stretched out
an arm, tried to leave the chair, then gasped, fell against George, and
bore him to the floor. The leader of the people, the great reformer, the
defender of liberty, lay motionless beneath the map of the British
Empire like Cæsar at the foot of Pompey's statue; murdered by the Dismal
Gibcat's smile in the village schoolroom, upon the fifth of April, in
the seventy-fourth year of his age.

At the inquest it was shown by one of the discredited doctors that his
heart had really given way a long time ago, and nothing but indomitable
courage had preserved him in a state of nominal existence: he sought to
impress it upon the jury that the Captain, from a medical point of view,
had been a dead man for the last ten years; but, as everybody knew, this
statement was made by an arrangement with the coroner to prevent a
verdict of wilful murder against the Gibcat.

"'Tis like this right o' way business," commented Squinting Jack. "He
ploughs up the path and ses us can't walk there because there arn't no
path. And doctor ses as how the Captain wur a corpse when he come to the
meeting, and you can't kill a man what be dead and gone already."

The Dismal Gibcat did all that was possible to atone for his crime. He
sent a wreath; he did not smile again; and in the handsomest possible
manner he removed the barbed wire entanglements, and dedicated a right
of way across his field to the public for ever, as a memorial to the
late Captain, whose life would remain as an example to them of truth,
and modesty, and childlike gentleness.

Highfield ceased to progress when the Captain had departed. The
historian would have found no deed to chronicle, although he could
hardly have omitted the brilliant epigram, attributed to the Dumpy
Philosopher, "Captain put us on the map, and now we'm blotted out."
Local improvements were no longer spoken of. Mrs. Drake continued to
live in Highfield, although she took no part in public affairs, and
immediately removed the notice boards which she had never much approved
of. George resumed his disgraceful habits of loafing in fine weather,
and keeping the house clear of flies when it rained. His aunt disowned
him once a week, but he bore up bravely. She threatened to turn him out
of the house every month, but the courageous fellow declared he should
not be ashamed to beg hospitality of the vicar who had loved and
reverenced his dear uncle. George explained that he was leading a
singularly industrious career, but it had always been his way to work
unobtrusively: he fed the giant tortoise, controlled the monkeys, taught
the parrots to open their beaks in proverbs; he attended all meetings of
the Parish Council; sometimes he sneered at the Dismal Gibcat. Above
all, he managed the cat breeding industry, although it was true he had
at the present time no more than six cats in stock.

"That's because you have been too lazy to look after them," Mrs. Drake
interrupted. "You let them out to roam all over the place; dozens have
been shot or trapped; while the others have made friends with common
village cats. You know how particular your uncle was about the company
they kept."

"I'm expecting kittens soon, and I'll take great care of them," George
promised.

"Your uncle used to make a lot out of his cats before we came here. You
do nothing except ask for money to buy them food, which you don't give
them. If it wasn't for Kezia the poor creatures would be starved," said
Mrs. Drake.

She realised that the only way of ridding herself of George would be to
regard him as a lost soul haunting Windward House, and to destroy the
place utterly; as she could not afford to do that, an idea occurred of
inviting an elderly maiden sister to share her home. Miss Yard replied
that the plan would suit her admirably. So Mrs. Drake broke the news to
Kezia, who had become a person of consequence, accustomed to a seat in
the parlour; and Kezia told Bessie she was going to allow Mrs. Drake's
sister to live in the house for a time; and Bessie went to her mistress
and gave notice.

"You don't mean it," stammered the astonished lady. "Why, Bessie, you
have been with me fifteen years."

"Kezia ses Miss Yard's coming here, so I made up my mind all to once."

"I don't know what I shall do without you, Bessie."

"You can't do without me, mum. I'm not going exactly ever to leave you.
I'll just change my name, and go across the road, and drop in when I'm
wanted."

"You are going to be married!" cried Mrs. Drake.

"That's right, mum. May as well do it now as wait."

"I hope you have stopped growing," said the lady absently.

"I don't seem to be making any progress now, mum. Six foot two, and
Robert's five foot three, and has taken the cottage opposite. Robert
Mudge, the baker's assistant, mum. He makes the doughnuts master wur so
fond of vor his tea."

"I remember the doughnuts," said Mrs. Drake softly. "I used to put out
two, but the dear Captain would not content himself with less than half
a dozen."

"He told Bob to exhibit his doughnuts. Master said he would get a gold
medal vor 'em. But he can't find out where the exhibition is."

"I hope Robert Mudge is worthy of you, Bessie."

"He ses he is, mum. He goes to chapel in the morning, and church in the
evening, and he never touches a drop of anything. And he keeps bees,
mum."

"It all sounds very nice. I hope you will be as happy as I have been,"
said Mrs. Drake.

"Thankye, mum. I wouldn't get married if it meant leaving you; but now
that Miss Yard's coming here I may as well go to Robert. Just across the
road, mum. If you ring a bell at the window I'll be over in no time--if
I b'ain't here already, mum."

"You have always been a handy girl, Bessie. The dear Captain had a very
high opinion of you, but he was so afraid you might not be able to stop
growing."

"Thankye, mum. Bob ses 'tis his one ambition to get great like the
Captain; not quite so big, mum, but like him in heart; at least, mum, as
gude in heart. I don't know, mum, whether you would be thinking of
giving me a wedding present?"

"Of course I shall give you a present, Bessie."

"Well, mum, me and Robert think, if 'tis convenient to you, furniture
would be most useful to us."

"You shall have some of Captain Drake's furniture; and you shall have
more when I am gone," the old lady promised.

Bessie married Robert Mudge a month later. Mrs. Drake furnished the
cottage; George presented the bride with a kitten; while Miss Yard, who
had not yet completed her preparations for departure, sent a postal
order for five shillings, together with a Bible, a cookery book, and
pair of bedsocks. Kezia gave the wedding breakfast, and Mrs. Drake paid
for it. The honeymoon, which lasted from Saturday to Monday, was spent
somewhere by the sea. Then Bessie settled down to her new life, which
meant sleeping upon the one side of the road and taking her meals upon
the other.

Miss Yard was a gentle old creature who knew nothing whatever about a
world she had never really lived in. For nearly half a century she
occupied a little house just outside the little town of Drivelford;
during weekdays she would scratch about in a little garden, and twice
each Sunday attend a little church, and about four times in the course
of the year would give a little tea party to ladies much engrossed in
charity. Sometimes she would go for a little walk, but the big world
worried her, and she was glad to get back into her garden. It must have
been rather a mazy garden, as she was continually getting lost in it;
having very little memory she could not easily hit upon the right
pathway to the house, and would circle round the gooseberry bushes until
a servant discovered her. One awful day she lost her servant, luggage,
memory, and herself at a railway junction; and was finally consigned to
the station-master, who was not an intelligent individual; for, when
Miss Yard assured him she was on her way to the seaside, he was quite
unable to direct her. Nobody knew how that adventure ended, because Miss
Yard could not remember.

She accepted her sister's invitation gladly, because a letter came
frequently from the bank to inform her she had overdrawn her account.
Miss Yard did not know much about wickedness, therefore when a servant
told her it was time for a cheque she always smiled and signed one. She
could not understand why no servant would stay with her more than a few
years; but, being a kind-hearted old soul, she was delighted to know one
was going to marry a gentleman, another to open a drapery, and a third
to retire altogether. It was not until she engaged a rather shy little
orphan, whose name of Nellie Blisland was good enough to tempt anybody,
as a lady-servant-companion-housekeeper, that the bank stopped writing
to her; and then Miss Yard, who comprehended a passbook with some
assistance, wondered who had been leaving her money; and at last arrived
at the conclusion that Nellie was a niece who was living with her and
sharing expenses. But this discovery was not made until Mrs. Drake's
invitation had been accepted.

Miss Yard's memory underwent all manner of shocks, when she found
herself installed in the parlour of Windward House. She perceived her
sister clearly enough, but where was Nellie, and what was George? She
had completely forgotten Captain Drake until she turned her spectacles
towards the Egyptian mummy; and then she asked questions which caused
Mrs. Drake to use her smelling salts.

"This is George, our nephew. He does nothing for a living," said the
widow severely.

"Our nephew," repeated Miss Yard, in her earnest fashion. "His name is
Percy, and he came to see me last year, but he seems to have altered a
great deal. What is it he does for a living?"

"Nothing whatever," said Mrs. Drake.

"I've got a weak back," George mumbled.

"He's got a weak back, Maria. He must try red flannel and peppermint
plasters," said Miss Yard with barbaric simplicity.

"Stuff and nonsense! He's got the back of a whale, if he'd only use it.
This is not Percy, our real nephew, who for some reason never comes near
me, but my nephew by marriage. He's not your nephew really."

"I'm sorry for that. I like nephews, because they visit me sometimes.
What's the name of this place, Maria?"

"Highfield, and it's eight hundred feet above the sea," said George, in
a great hurry to change the subject.

"I hope it's somewhere in the south of England. The doctor told me I was
not to go near Yorkshire," said Miss Yard.

"You are in Devonshire, just upon the edge of Dartmoor," George
explained.

"That sounds as if it ought to suit me. I can't explain it, but I was so
afraid this might be Yorkshire. Where is Nellie? I do hope she wasn't
lost at that dreadful railway station."

"Nellie is upstairs," Mrs. Drake replied.

"I wish somebody would go and bring her. I don't know what she can be
doing upstairs. My memory is getting so troublesome, Maria. Before
Nellie came to live with me I had quite forgotten she was Percy's
sister."

"But she isn't," said Mrs. Drake. "Percy's only sister died as a child."

"Did she!" exclaimed Miss Yard. "I wonder how long I shall remember
that. How many children did my brother Peter have?"

"He never married," replied Mrs. Drake.

"Then Nellie must be poor dear Louisa's daughter."

"That would make her Percy's sister. Nellie is your companion. She is
not even so much related to you as George."

"Now I have quite forgotten who George was," said Miss Yard.

At this moment Nellie herself appeared with a load of luxuries, such as
footstool, shawl, wool slippers, and various bottles to sniff at, which
she had just unpacked. Miss Yard fondled the girl's hands, and told her
that somebody--she could not remember who--had bees trying to make
trouble between them by spreading a malicious story about Nellie's birth
and parentage; but she was too muddled to know what it meant.

Mrs. Drake had been aware that her sister's intelligence was not high,
but was dismayed at discovering her mental condition was so low; and she
quickly repented of the new arrangement, which could not be altered now
that Miss Yard had disposed of her house and most of her belongings;
bringing just sufficient furniture to equip a sitting room and bedroom,
and to replace those articles which Mrs. Drake had bestowed upon Bessie.

Her sister's furniture soon became a source of anxiety to Mrs. Drake, as
she did not like to have things in the house which did not belong to
her, and she also foresaw difficulties should the partnership be
dissolved at any time by the death of either her sister or herself. So
she took a sheet of notepaper and wrote upon it, "If I depart before
Sophy, all my things are to belong to her for her lifetime;" and this
document she placed within a sandalwood box standing upon the chest of
drawers in her bedroom.

Then she took another sheet of notepaper and commanded her sister to
write upon it, "If I die before Maria, all my things are to belong to
her." Miss Yard obeyed, but when this piece of paper had been stored
away within the Japanese cabinet standing upon the chest of drawers in
her bedroom, she took a sheet of notepaper upon her own account, and
wrote, "When I am gone, all my things are to belong to Nellie;" and this
was stored away in the bottom drawer of her davonport, as she had
already forgotten the existence of the other hiding place.

And this was the beginning of the extraordinary will-making which was
destined to stir up strife among the beneficiaries.



CHAPTER V

GEORGE TACKLES THE LABOUR PROBLEM


The following summer Percy Taverner visited his aunts. This gentleman,
who was younger than George, would in due course inherit the money left
by the late Mr. Yard to his sons and daughters, of whom the two ladies
of Highfield were now the sole survivors. Therefore Percy had nothing to
lose by being uncivil, although as a matter of fact he had only
neglected Mrs. Drake because he disliked her husband. His Aunt Sophy he
loved with good reason, for he made a living by mortgaging his fruit
farm, and when the borrowed money was spent he had only to explain
matters to Miss Yard, and she would pay off the mortgage and immediately
forget all about it. Percy was not an idler like George, but he
possessed little business capacity, and had selected a form of
occupation about which he knew nothing whatever; and as he would be
quite a rich man when his aunts departed, he did not take the trouble to
learn. Nor did he care to consider such examples of longevity as the
giant tortoise and the Yellow Leaf.

Miss Yard was delighted to see Percy, but greatly distressed when he
declined to kiss his own sister; at least he was willing, but Nellie
positively refused. The usual explanations were gone through, and the
good lady tried hard to understand.

"Of course you are right not to kiss Nellie as she's your cousin. Young
people who can marry must not get into the habit of kissing each other,"
she said.

Mrs. Drake was inclined to be chilly towards Percy, but thawed quickly
when he revealed himself as an attentive and obliging young man. She was
quite sorry he had to sleep across the road in Bessie's cottage because
there was no spare room in Windward House; and was almost indignant when
Percy declared upon the second day he could not stay until the end of
the week, as he dared not neglect his tomato plants.

"Your foreman can look after them," she said. "I have not seen you for
years, and after all there's nothing like one's own relations. It's a
pleasure to have some one to talk to, for your poor Aunt Sophy is
getting so stupid, and George is no company at all. What do you think of
George?" she asked suddenly.

"Not much," replied Percy with a laugh.

"I want to speak to you about George," Mrs. Drake continued. "You're the
head of my family, so I should like your advice about the
good-for-nothing creature. He is getting on for forty, and has never
done a day's work in his life. He sleeps here, and takes his meals, and
grumbles, and begs money--and, my dear Percy, he has been seen coming
out of the public house. He does nothing whatever. He won't even dig up
the potatoes."

"He knows you can't leave him anything?" asked Percy.

"Of course he knows it. He will have the furniture and all the
curiosities collected by the Captain; I think that's only right, and
besides, I promised my husband he should have them. But the things won't
be of much use if he hasn't got a home."

"He can sell them," said Percy.

"Second-hand furniture goes for next to nothing," replied Mrs. Drake.

"That depends," said Percy. Then he pointed to the mantelpiece and
continued, "If I were you, Aunt, I should wrap those two Chinese vases
in cotton-wool, and put them away."

"Are they really valuable? My dear husband thought they were, but I'm
afraid he didn't know much about such things, and he would exaggerate
sometimes. He used to say they were worth a hundred pounds apiece."

"He was under the mark," said Percy. "I'm not an expert, but I know more
about Chinese vases than I do about tomatoes, as a friend of mine deals
in the things, and I've picked up a lot from him. I believe those vases
are worth a heap of money."

"Well, that is a surprise!" cried Mrs. Drake. "I shall take your advice
and pack them away. Don't mention it to George."

"Certainly not," said Percy, somewhat indignantly.

"And now what can you suggest?" Mrs. Drake continued, waddling to the
mantelpiece and flicking a disreputable blowfly from one of the vases.
"I have told George plainly a hundred times he must do something for a
living, but he won't take a hint. I suppose you wouldn't care to give
him employment? He ought to know something about fruit, as he spends
half his time leaning against an apple tree."

"He wouldn't work under me. Besides, I'm doing a losing business as it
is. It's a jolly difficult problem, Aunt."

"Will you open his eyes to his folly and wickedness? If you can't make
him ashamed, you may be able to frighten him. Tell him, if he works, I
will help him; but, if he won't work, I'll do nothing more for him."

"All right, Aunt. I'll shift the beggar," said Percy cheerfully; and he
went out to search for his victim.

George was reclining upon a seat which his uncle had dedicated to the
public for ever, to commemorate the return of the Drakes to Highfield.
When he saw the enemy approaching he closed his eyes; for his cunning
nature suggested that Percy would respect his slumbers unless he came as
a special messenger. When the footsteps ceased, and the ferrule of a
stick was pressed gently against his ribs, George realised that a
certain amount of trouble awaited him.

"I was sound asleep. It's a tiring day, and I've been a long walk," he
explained amiably. "Sit down, old chap, and look at the view; but if you
want to admire the sunset, I should advise you to go higher up."

"I don't want to admire the sunset," replied Percy. "I've been having a
talk with Aunt Maria----"

"And I've been to Black Anchor," broke in George. "I don't suppose
you've read my uncle's history of the parish. It's a classic, and there
are nine hundred copies at home. People called Slack were living there
when we came; a regular bad lot and a disgrace to the village."

"Friends of yours?" asked Percy.

"Not likely! They were no better than savages. The man hobbled off one
day and has never been seen since, and the woman was sent to prison for
stealing, and the children were taken into a Home. The farm has been
without a tenant for the last two years, and now an old man named Brock
has taken it."

"Perhaps he would give you a job," suggested Percy.

"That's a good idea. I'm sorry I forgot to ask him when I went over this
afternoon," said the amiable George, perfectly well aware in which
direction the wind was blowing. "Unluckily the old chap hasn't any
money. He cooks the grub while his grandson drains the bogs. Everybody's
talking about it; they can't get over the idea of two men running a farm
without a woman. Sidney, the young chap, wants to go into the Navy, but
he sacrifices his future to help his grandfather. Funny idea that! Now
if my uncle had been alive he would have got young Brock on a training
ship, I warrant."

"Funny idea he should want to do some good for his grandfather?"

"No; but it's queer that a chap who wants to go into the Navy should
come to Black Anchor with all its associations of us Drakes," said
George loftily. Then he added, "I'm rested now, so I'll take a stroll."

"Just as you like. We'll sit here and talk, or we'll stroll and talk,"
said the pestilential Percy.

"Go on then," said George sourly.

So Percy in his capacity of ambassador delivered the ultimatum: Aunt
Maria had borne with her husband's nephew for a great number of years,
postponing vigorous action out of a mistaken kindness, but she was now
firmly resolved upon the act of expulsion. "It's for your sake
entirely," he continued. "Naturally Aunt wants to see you settled in
some business, as she knows she can't leave you anything."

"Except the furniture," remarked George indifferently.

"That's not exactly a fortune," replied Percy, wondering how much his
cousin knew about Chinese vases.

"My uncle promised I should have the furniture," said the monotonous
George.

"Every man should work," observed Percy virtuously.

"I could manage tomatoes," retorted George.

"I shall be a rich man when the aunts die, while you will have nothing.
I don't require to build up a business. Don't you want a home of your
own, wife and children, and all that sort of thing?"

"No," said George.

"What do you want then?"

"Board and lodging, and some one to look after me," replied the candid
cousin.

"Aunt Maria has said her last word. She won't keep you in idleness any
longer. And I'm going to stay here until you leave the place."

"They never brought me up to do anything," argued George for the
defence.

"They did their best, but you wouldn't work."

"They ought to have made me. I was young then, and it was their duty to
make me submit to discipline. Now I'm middle-aged."

"Thirty-eight is still young."

"With some men; not with me. My habits are formed."

"When you find something to do--"

"That's just what Aunt Maria says," George interrupted bitterly. "She
never suggested anything but once, and then she said I might have gone
abroad as a missionary if I hadn't been unfit for the job. It's all very
well to talk about doing something in this beastly overcrowded world,
but what can a middle-aged bachelor do except put his trust in
Providence? My uncle was at least practical: he did suggest I should
turn pilot or harbour-master, although he knew the very sight of the sea
puts my liver out of order."

"You might open a shop to sell fruit and flowers; and I'll supply you."

"I don't understand buying and selling, and I can't do accounts. You
would take the profit, and I should have the losses."

"You must make up your mind. Aunt is perfectly serious," declared Percy.

"I don't want to offend her, and of course I couldn't abuse her
kindness," said George slowly; "but just suppose I did refuse to leave
home--suppose I insisted upon staying here and leading the sort of life
that suits my health--what could she do?"

"If you were rotten enough for that, I suppose she could appeal to the
magistrates for an ejectment order," replied Percy hazily.

"She is much too kind for that. Besides, I am her nephew."

"Only by marriage. You are not a blood relation; you can't claim to be
dependent on her."

"I was thinking what a scandal it would make in the parish. Aunt and I
don't get on well together, but I'm sure she would never turn me out."

"You ought to have heard her just now. I had no idea Aunt Maria could be
so determined. She will give you money--she will help you--but go you
must."

"Did she say where?"

"That's for you to decide. Isn't there any sort of job that takes your
fancy?"

"I like railways. I always feel at home in a big railway station,"
George admitted.

"Station-master,--or traffic-manager--might suit you."

"Do you know I really believe it would," said George brightly.

"Now we've found it!" exclaimed Percy. "I'm going the day after
tomorrow, and you had better come with me. We will travel up to
Waterloo, and you can see the directors there about getting a job as
station-master. I don't know if there's a premium, but, if there is,
Aunt will pay it. You might get a small suburban station to start with.
We'll go on Friday--that's a bargain, George?"

"Right, old chap! It's a long time since I had a holiday," came the
ominous reply.

Mrs. Drake opened her heart and purse when she discovered George was
about to accept a position as station-master. Miss Yard said she was
sorry to hear he was giving up tomatoes, then in the same breath
implored Percy to keep away from junctions where people were lost and
trains collided with distressing frequency. Kezia mended linen, packed,
and uttered many a dark saying about men who left their homes on Friday
in the pride of life and were not heard of again. Percy assured his
aunts they might always rely upon him to settle any difficulty. While
George basked in popularity, like a sleek cat upon a windowsill, and
took all that he could get in the way of cash, clothing, and
compliments.

"You must come here sometimes. I expect you won't be able to get away
for a year or two; but when you do get leave remember this is always
your home," said Mrs. Drake warmly.

"I feel sure we shall soon meet again," said George hopefully.

"A year anyhow: you cannot expect a holiday before then. I'm sure the
railway will be lucky to get such a fine looking man, though it's a pity
you stoop, and I wish you were not quite so stout. Perhaps the King will
get out at your station some day; and you will have the honour of
putting flower-pots on the platform and laying down the red carpet. You
may be knighted, George, or at the very least get a medal for
distinguished service."

George was not thinking about honours much; for he had glanced towards
the mantelpiece and discovered that the pair of vases were missing.

"I have put them away," explained Mrs. Drake. "They are wrapped up
safely in a box underneath my bed."

"I was afraid Percy might have taken them," said George cautiously.

"He did advise me to put them away, as he thought perhaps we ought to
take care of them," Mrs. Drake admitted.

"I hate the chap," muttered George.

"I was afraid Aunt Sophy might break them. She is always knocking
things over. She takes an ornament from the mantelpiece, and when she
tries to put it back she misjudges the distance. It's the same with
tables and teacups. She has broken such a lot of crockery."

"Uncle said I was to have the vases and everything else that belonged to
him," said George firmly.

"Oh, you needn't worry," Mrs. Drake replied. "Now that you are really
going to work for your living, I will let you into a little secret. When
I married your uncle he insisted upon going to a lawyer and making his
will leaving everything to me, although the dear fellow had nothing to
leave except his odds and ends. So then of course I made a will leaving
everything to him, although I thought I had nothing to leave; but the
lawyer explained that any money I should have in the bank, together with
the proportion of income reckoned up to the day of my death, would go to
him. Then we adopted you, so I went to the lawyer again, and he put on
something called a codicil, which said that, in the event of uncle dying
first, everything that I left would go to you."

"Then there is no reason why I should work for my living," said George
cheerfully.

"How are you going to live upon the interest of two or three hundred
pounds?"

"A man of simple tastes can do with very little," declared the nephew.

Fruit grower and prospective railway magnate went off together on Friday
morning, but the only despatch to reach Windward House came from Percy,
who announced he had reached his mortgaged premises in perfect safety,
after leaving George upon the platform of Waterloo station surrounded by
officials. This might have signified anything. Mrs. Drake supposed it
meant that all the great men of the railway had assembled to greet their
new colleague upon his arrival. What it did mean was that Percy had
freed himself of responsibility at the earliest possible moment,
abandoning his cousin to a knot of porters who claimed the honour and
distinction of dealing with his baggage, which probably they supposed
was the property of a gentleman about to penetrate into one of the
unexplored corners of the earth.

Not a postcard came from George. He disappeared completely; but Mrs.
Drake was delighted to think he was attending to his new duties so
strenuously as to be unable to write; while Miss Yard remembered him
only once, and then remarked in a reverential whisper that she would
very much like to visit his grave.

It was the fourteenth day after the flight of George into the realm of
labour; and during the afternoon Mrs. Drake set out upon her weekly
pilgrimage to the churchyard, accompanied by Kezia, who carried a basket
of flowers, and Bessie with a watering pot. Nellie had settled Miss Yard
in her easy chair with the latest report of the Society for Improving
the Morals of the Andaman Islanders, and had then retired to her bedroom
to do some sewing. The giant tortoise was clearing the kitchen garden of
young lettuces; the monkeys were collecting entomological specimens. One
of the intelligent parrots exclaimed, "Gone for a walk;" a still more
intelligent bird answered, "Here we are again!" Then George passed out
of the sunshine and entered the cool parlour.

"Oh dear! I'm afraid I had nearly gone to sleep," said Miss Yard, rising
to receive the visitor, and wondering whoever he could be, until she
remembered the churchwarden had promised to call for a subscription to
the organ fund.

"Do please sit down," she continued and tried to set the example; but
she missed the chair by a few inches and descended somewhat heavily upon
the footstool. The visitor helped her to rise, and was much thanked.
"You will stay to tea? My sister will be here presently," Miss Yard
continued, while she fumbled in her reticule, and at last produced a
sovereign. "You see I had it all ready for you. I remembered I had
promised it," she said triumphantly.

George pocketed the coin, and thanked her heartily. He mentioned that it
was very dusty walking, and he was weary, having travelled a
considerable distance since the morning. Then he proposed to leave Miss
Yard, who shook hands, and said how sorry her sister would be not to
have seen him; and went to his bedroom, which he was considerably
annoyed to find had been converted into a place for lumber.

"Maria, you have missed the vicar!" cried Miss Yard excitedly, the
moment her sister returned. "I gave him a sovereign for the Andaman
Islanders, and he told me what a lot of sleeping sickness there is in
the village."

"What are you talking about? The vicar can't have been here, for we saw
him in the churchyard, and he never mentioned any sickness in the
village."

"Perhaps I was thinking of something I had just read about. One gets
muddled sometimes. But the vicar--or somebody--has been, and there was
nearly a dreadful accident. He caught his foot in the hearth rug, but
luckily my footstool broke his fall."

At that moment footsteps descended the stairs. With a feeling that the
sounds were horribly familiar, Mrs. Drake hurried into the hall, there
to discover her nephew, who appeared delighted to be home again upon a
thoroughly well earned holiday. "George, I have prayed that you
wouldn't do this," she cried.

"It's all right, Aunt," came the cheery answer. "Though perhaps it _was_
rather silly of me to start work upon a Friday. The railway profession
is very much overcrowded just now, and there's not a single vacancy for
station-master anywhere. They have put my name on the waiting list, and
as soon as there's a job going, they will write and let me know. I am
quite content to wait, and I may just as well do it here as in expensive
lodgings."

"How long do you expect to wait?"

"Can't tell. It may be a slow business, but it's sure. A station-master
told me you may have to wait year after year, but promotion is bound to
come at last--if you live long enough."

"Then you may do nothing for years."

"I'm not going to take anything; I owe it to my uncle's memory to occupy
a respectable position. Still, if I can't get a terminus after a few
months' waiting, I'll put up with a small junction. Rather than not work
at all, I would condescend to act as a mere Inspector," said George with
dignity.

"I wish the vicar would shave off his moustache," Miss Yard murmured.



CHAPTER VI

HONOURABLE INTENTIONS


Every evening at nine Mrs. Drake drank a cup of coffee. This was a
custom of some historical importance, and it originated after the
following manner:

Captain Drake had a great liking for a small glass of whisky and water
after his evening pipe; but, during the first few weeks of married life,
refrained from divulging this weakness to his wife, who could not
understand why he became so restless at the same time every evening. The
Captain explained that, when he had finished smoking, he suffered from
an incurable longing to arise and walk about the house. Mrs. Drake
advised him to take exercise by all means, and the Captain did so,
wandering towards the dining room at nine o'clock, and returning about
ten minutes later in a thoroughly satisfied state of mind. But one
evening the lady heard him whisper to the servant, "Water, my child!
Water!"--the Captain never could whisper properly--and upon another
evening she distinguished the creak of a corkscrew, while every evening
she was able to detect a subtle aroma which could not have been
introduced as one of the ordinary results of walking about the house.

"So you are fond of whisky," she said sharply.

"Well, not exactly fond of it, my dear," stammered the Captain. "Really
I don't care for whisky, but I like the feeling it gives me."

"I don't like hypocrisy, and I dislike still more the feeling it gives
me. In future we will drink together. When you take your glass of
whisky, I will have a cup of coffee," she replied.

After the arrival of Miss Yard at Windward House, she too was offered
the cup, but declined, as she abhorred coffee.

"But it's cocoa," explained Kezia.

"Why do you call it coffee then?" asked Miss Yard, who had quite enough
to perplex her poor brain without this unnecessary difficulty.

"Mrs. Drake used to have coffee once, but, as she never cared for it
much, she took to cocoa. She has drunk cocoa for twenty years, but we
always call it coffee."

Bessie and Robert stayed every evening to drink coffee, which was
generally cocoa, but sometimes beer. One evening Nellie was so late that
Kezia declared she should wait for her no longer. It was Thursday, and
Nellie, who sang in the choir, had gone out to attend the weekly
practice. Suddenly Robert withdrew his head from a steaming bowl and
declared he heard voices in the garden. All listened, and presently
Nellie's laughter passed in at the back door, which stood open as the
night was warm, but Nellie did not accompany it.

Robert made a signal to the others, and they tiptoed out like so many
conspirators, to discover the young lady enjoying a confidential
conversation with somebody else who sang in the choir, and whose voice
had been described by the schoolmaster-organist as a promising baritone.
It looked as if it was promising then.

A few minutes later Kezia and Bessie appeared in the parlour, and asked
Mrs. Drake if she had any objection to Sidney Brock drinking a cup of
coffee.

"Who is Sidney Brock?" demanded Mrs. Drake, like a learned judge of the
King's Bench.

"He'm the grandson of Eli Brock, and he sings in the choir."

Mrs. Drake expressed her approval, but required to know more about the
family before she could issue a permit to Sidney entitling him to drink
coffee.

"They'm the new folk to Black Anchor," explained Bessie. "Mr. Brock used
to keep a post office, they ses, but it failed, and now he'm farming wi'
Sidney, and they ha' got no woman, and they took Black Anchor because
'twas to be had vor nothing nearly, and 'tis wonderful, Robert ses,
what a lot they ha' done already."

"The post office failed!" exclaimed Miss Yard, who had been listening
intently with a hand behind her ear. "What a pity! Now I shan't be able
to write any more letters."

"Mr. Brock's post office, miss," cried Bessie. "It was a shop as well,
but it didn't pay."

"How much does he want?" asked Miss Yard, searching for her reticule.

"Nothing, miss."

"What's he come for then? I hope he hasn't brought a telegram."

"He's one of the choirmen, Sophy," exclaimed Mrs. Drake, adding, "But I
don't know why he should come here."

"He's just brought your Nellie home," said Kezia.

"Oh, I am so thankful!" cried Miss Yard. "I knew Nellie would be lost,
going out these dreadful dark nights."

"She only went to choir practice, miss. Sidney is her young man now, and
they'll make the best looking couple in Highfield," said Bessie.

"How silly of you to tell her that!" said Mrs. Drake crossly.

Miss Yard said nothing for a few moments. She stared at the mummy, then
at the grandfather clock, which was no longer in working order; and
presently her poor old face began to twitch and tears rolled down her
cheeks. She tried to rise, but Kezia restrained her with kindly hands,
saying, "Don't worry, miss. Sidney is a very nice young man, and I'm
sure Nellie couldn't do much better."

"She never told me," sobbed Miss Yard.

"Perhaps she did, but you know you don't remember anything," said Mrs.
Drake soothingly.

"My memory is as good as yours. I can remember you eating a lot of
chocolate on your fifth birthday, and being suddenly sick in the fender.
Nellie has run away and got married--and I never gave her a wedding
present--and I can't get on without her. You know, Maria, I never did
like that fat woman at the post office."

"What has she got to do with Nellie?"

"You told me Nellie had to marry the man because the post office
failed--and that woman opens my letters and reads them."

"Call Nellie and tell her to put Miss Sophy to bed," ordered Mrs. Drake.

"The young man's waiting outside," Kezia reminded her.

"Ask him in, and give him a cup of coffee. And, when she has gone to
bed, tell him to come in here. I want to see what he is like. Get
Nellie, quick!" cried the lady; for Miss Yard had got away from her
chair and was knocking things over.

Nellie appeared in full flower, to scold her mistress for not remaining
dormant until her usual bedtime; but on this occasion Miss Yard rebelled
against discipline.

"You have deceived me," she said bitterly. "You have been a little
viper. Everybody in this house deceives me, and keeps things from me,
except George. He is the only gentleman here. He's the only one who
knows how to behave properly. When I hit my head upon the door, he was
sorry for me; but you laughed, and my sister laughed, and everybody's
laughing now except George. He knows how hard it is to walk out of a
room without hurting yourself."

"It's so easy to laugh somehow," said Nellie.

"Why did you marry the postman without telling me?"

"I have not married the postman, and I'm not thinking of getting
married; and what's more I won't marry while I have you to look after,"
Nellie promised.

"But you went out and got lost, and some man found you, and they all say
you married him."

"There wasn't time," said Nellie. "Now come away to bed, and we'll talk
about it in the morning."

"I hope we shall be able to forget all the malice and wickedness. Maria,
do let us try to begin all over again," said Miss Yard earnestly. "This
evil speaking and slandering is so dreadful. You tried to take away
poor Nellie's character; you heard Kezia say she was a regular bad girl;
and that horrid Bessie, who will _not_ stop growing, said it was because
the woman at the post office couldn't sell her stamps, and then the
postman tempted her to run off with him."

"But he didn't succeed," said the laughing girl, as she conveyed Miss
Yard towards the stairs.

As they disappeared George entered the house, and observed to his aunt
that the night was warm. Mrs. Drake felt cold towards her nephew, whose
letter of appointment had not yet arrived, but she thawed sufficiently
to inquire whether he knew anything about the Brocks. George became
suspicious, and answered guardedly:

"The old man is a marvel. He cooks the food and keeps the house tidy,
and puts in a good day's work as well upon the worst farm in the parish.
But the people don't like him much."

"Why not?" demanded Mrs. Drake.

"They think it's queer a man should do a woman's work; and some of them
say it's not quite decent."

His voice died away into a gasp of amazement, for that moment Kezia
announced Sidney, and that young fellow appeared upon the carpet. George
had been about to give him a remarkably good character, but was now
disposed to reconsider his decision; especially when Mrs. Drake, after a
few preliminary remarks, introduced the name of Nellie. George
immediately withdrew to a back window and began to search for flies.

"She is a very good girl, and my sister is wonderfully attached to her,"
Mrs. Drake resumed.

"Same here," said Sidney promptly.

"I don't know whether you are engaged to her," said Mrs. Drake.

"Well, we don't exactly get engaged. We just walk together until we can
get married, and then we do it," exclaimed Sidney.

"I hope you won't ask her to marry you while my sister is alive."

"Nellie wouldn't leave Miss Yard, and 'twould be no gude my asking her."

"Do you think the farm will pay?" was Mrs. Drake's next question.

"We'll get a living out of it, sure enough," replied Sidney cheerfully.
"The last folk left it in a pretty bad state--they let the bog get into
the best field, and the whole place is vull of verm--but there's plenty
of gude soil. 'Twill take a year to get straight, and after that we
shall go ahead. Grandfather's past seventy, but he's vor ten hours a day
yet."

"An example for some men," commented the lady, with a shrug of her
shoulders towards the fly killer. "The finest man in the world--that's
grandfather. There ain't hardly a job he can't do, whether 'tis man's
work or woman's work."

"How old are you?"

"Past nineteen."

"Would you marry a girl older than yourself?"

"If her name wur Nellie Blisland, I would."

"I hope you will get on," said Mrs. Drake in her kindliest fashion. "You
may come in any evening for a cup of coffee with the others, and tell
your grandfather to stay to supper with you on Sundays after church."

"Thankye kindly," said Sidney.

"That's what I call a man, though he is only nineteen," observed Mrs.
Drake, when she and her nephew were alone again.

"Oh yes, he's a nice boy, a clever boy. A bit mealy-mouthed, and all
that sort of thing," said George indifferently.

"Do you know anything against him?"

"I can see what's going on. The old man is one of the best, but Sidney
isn't quite straight. This singing in the choir, you know, is just a
blind. Nellie's not the only girl."

"Do you mean to say the boy is a humbug--like you are?"

"Find out for yourself," replied George fiercely, and stalked out of the
room.

Local rumour was brought to Windward House every day by Robert, but
Mrs. Drake had no direct communication with him. She inquired of Kezia
concerning Sidney's character, and Kezia appealed to Bessie, who knew
quite as much as her husband, although she could not speak with his
authority. Robert declared he liked Sidney, and had never seen him with
more than one young woman at a time; but he admitted some rather unkind
things were being said against the two occupants of the lonely farm,
especially by the women, who were of opinion that old Brock had disposed
of his former relations by means of those illegal methods which made the
ordinary Sunday newspaper such interesting and instructive reading. At
all events, a man who was independent of female labour could not expect
to be regarded as a Christian, even though he did attend church and had
grown a patriarchal beard. The Brocks, in short, were not like other
men; they were therefore mysteries; and anything of a mysterious nature
was bound to be intimately connected with secret crime.

These things Robert admitted, quite forgetting--if the fact had ever
dawned upon him--that it was the custom in Highfield, as in other places
about the Forest of Dartmoor, for the parishioners to revile each other
amongst themselves, and to defend one another against all outsiders. In
the bad old days a certain vicar of Highfield had been a notorious
drunkard, and was so hated by his people that he could hardly appear in
the street without being insulted; but when the authorities sought to
procure evidence against him, all were for their vicar, and the very men
who had carried him home drunk the previous night swore they had never
known him the worse for liquor. Mrs. Drake did not know of this
peculiarity, and was therefore forced to the conclusion that Mr. Brock
had a past, which was not wonderful considering his age; and that, if
Nellie married Sidney and went to live at Black Anchor, it was quite
possible she would not have a future. So she instructed Kezia not to
encourage the young man, and advised Nellie to fall out of love as
tactfully as possible.

In the meantime, George appeared to be passing through the throes of
reformation. Although actually the same unprofitable person, he
succeeded, by a skilful change of methods, in making his aunt believe
industry was now the one and the only thing he lived for. He displayed a
passion for railways; talked of little but express trains and
timetables; constructed a model of a railway station out of a few
packing cases; and drew caricatures of locomotives. He fumed every
morning because the long expected letter from headquarters still failed
to arrive. Mrs. Drake, who was easily deceived, quite supposed George
had turned over a new leaf; and he had done so, but without changing
his book. He had not the slightest intention of quitting Windward House,
but he could see no prospect of carrying out his programme by
persevering in the old methods. He continued to idle away his time; but
he did so in a different fashion.

His next step was to develop the programme, and to indulge a few of the
leading items to the other person whose name was writ large upon it.
This was no easy matter, since opportunity, resolution, and guileless
speech would have to be obtained simultaneously. George's eloquence was
of the meanest description; he was master of no honeyed phrase, while
his method of expressing affection for another consisted in advertising
the virtues of himself.

One afternoon he was lying beneath a favourite apple tree, when a fine
specimen of the fruit fell upon his chest. He sat up, rubbed his eyes,
and looked round. Then he ate the apple and listened. The silence was
profound; he seemed to be indolent monarch of a lazy world. George
remembered that, shortly before sleep had gently touched his eyelids,
Mrs. Drake and Kezia had passed out of the garden. Miss Yard would be
contentedly muddling through the maze of some missionary magazine. While
the only other person in the house might be sitting beside a window at
the back.

George comprehended that the falling apple had been a call to seize the
opportunity; resolution he seemed to have acquired by devouring it;
eloquence alone was wanting. But big words, he knew, could never fail
brave people.

Fortune was smiling in the kindest way from the little upstairs window,
where Nellie's head was bobbing over a sewing-machine, which she fed
with yards of summer-cloud material. George went on steadily reforming
and strenuously gazing; but Nellie did not condescend to throw a glance
in his direction.

"There's a nice view from your window," he said at last; an unfortunate
beginning, as the girl could see little except himself.

"Lovely," she said, without looking around.

"Are you sewing?" George inquired gently.

"Learning the typewriter," she replied.

George wanted to go into the house and procure a glass of cider, but
dared not lose the opportunity.

"Nellie," he said, making as many syllables possible of her name, "do
you mind me talking to you a little about yourself?"

"I can't prevent it unless I shut the window, and don't want to do
that," she said.

"I wanted to say that--to remind you that my aunt is not going to live
for ever," George continued.

"That's not talking about me."

"Ah, but I'm coming to you presently."

"You can stay where you are," she said coldly.

"Miss Yard won't live for ever either," said George, more confidently.
"She can't leave you anything, because all her money goes to my beastly
cousin Percy. I know she is always promising to leave you money, but she
can't do it."

"I am to have her furniture anyhow," said Nellie, removing her hands
from the machine, and turning at last towards the window.

"Oh no! I get that. Aunt Sophy's furniture is to go with the rest."

"Is that really true?" asked Nellie, who had good reason to be
suspicious of Miss Yard's promises.

"Yes, it all comes to me," said George eagerly. "I shall have the
furniture, and the house, and the cash my aunt leaves. The two Chinese
vases aunt keeps underneath her bed are worth a thousand pounds; that's
a great secret, and I wouldn't tell any one but you. The other things
will fetch five hundred pounds. Then I shall have the money that aunt
leaves--perhaps another five hundred. Then the property will bring
another thousand. So you see, when the old ladies die, I shall have pots
of money."

"It will mean more to be you then than it does now," said Nellie darkly.

"Yes, I shall be quite rich. You see, there's no reason why I should
work, as aunt is well past seventy."

"But I thought you were going to do something great and wonderful on the
railway?"

"That was an idea, but I can't afford to leave the place; that's another
secret, Nellie, and I wouldn't tell any one but you. I am so afraid aunt
may give away the vases. She's getting a bit queer in her memory too,
and she's always giving away things. When I went to see about a job on
the railway she sent a lot of my things to a rummage sale. She has given
Kezia the bed she sleeps on, and a lot more things; but they all belong
to me, and I shall claim them when she dies."

"She has promised me the round table in the parlour," said Nellie.

"Of course I don't mind what she gives you," said George awkwardly.

"Many thanks. Now I must go and put on the kettle for tea. You have told
me such a lot about myself."

"Yes, and I've got still more to say. I shall have quite three thousand
pounds--and my tastes are very simple. I don't expect much, and I don't
ask for much. It's my own belief that I can put up with almost anybody."

"Now I'm in for it!" Nellie murmured, with a scorching glance at the
somewhat dejected figure in the garden.

"I have always flattered myself," George rambled on, with the feeling
that eloquence had come to him at last, "I can get along anyhow with
anyone."

"You mustn't be too complimentary. Flattery alone is not worth much, you
know," she said carelessly.

"I mean all that I say, and--and I'm not so idle as they make out, but
what's the good of breaking your back when you are coming into
thousands? It's only taking a job from some other fellow. I can draw
quite well, and paint, and prune roses, and I shall have all my uncle's
famous furniture, and the house, and the money--"

"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't keep on talking about me," cried Nellie.

"If you won't let me say anything more, I'll write it all down," said
George delightedly. "I have tried, but it's so hard to find a word to
rhyme with Nellie, while Nell is just as bad. Now if your name had been
Mary, there's dairy, and fairy, and hairy--"

"And wary," laughed the girl, as she ran away from the window.



CHAPTER VII

SCANDAL AND EXPOSURE


Squinting Jack declared there were some things better than a murder. He
referred to the mystery which surrounded the unnatural tenants of Black
Anchor Farm. They had received a visitor, who was neither honest
gentleman, nor respectable lady; but a woman with bold red cheeks. She
had driven through Highfield, staring at the inhabitants and smiling at
their dwelling places; her driver had inquired of the first gentleman in
the place--George being set up above the vicar because he did no
work--which of the lanes ahead would be most likely to lead towards
Black Anchor; and a few days later this same red-cheeked lady had been
driven back through the village, staring and smiling as before. Her
clothes where the saddest part about her; for she was dressed in the
height of fashion.

So far the Dismal Gibcat had defended the Brocks because every other
person was against them; he admired their poverty and loved their
humility; he prophesied kindly concerning their future, and sent them
superfluous vegetables. The three stages of manhood were at last
represented in Highfield parish by righteous men: old Brock, young
Sidney, and his middle-aged self. But the vision and visit of the
painted lady caused two vacancies. The Dismal Gibcat drew the line at
well dressed women.

The Yellow Leaf was consulted because of his knowledge of the world's
history, and he gave it as his opinion that the atmosphere of Highfield
had been deprived by the nameless visitor of a considerable amount of
moral oxygen: in the first place she belonged to a higher class than the
Brocks; in the second place she came upon a secret mission, and in the
third place she entered a house which it was notorious contained no
other woman. She could not be a relation; while, if she had come as a
friend, all he could say was heaven preserve Highfield from such
friendships.

"Some poor folk do have rich relations, though mine ain't come along
yet," said Squinting Jack.

"What would you be saying about me, if I wur to receive a visit from a
young lady wi' red-hot painted cheeks?" inquired the Yellow Leaf.

"I should say you wur lucky," replied Squinting Jack.

"Her cheeks wur warmish, I allow; but I wouldn't exactly call 'em
painted," observed the Dumpy Philosopher.

"You'm mixing it up wi' doorpost paint. Ask your missus if her cheeks
warn't plastered wi' cosmetics," said the Yellow Leaf crossly.

"I'd rather not," retorted the Dumpy Philosopher.

"There be two ways of looking at pretty nigh everything, a gude way and
a bad way," urged the Gentle Shepherd. "There be ladies who take a
kindly interest in young men, and try to help 'em along a bit. Us knows
the Brocks ain't got much money, vor they ha' took the poorest farm in
the whole parish. Maybe this lady is helping young Sidney a bit, and her
come along to see how he wur doing."

The others listened doubtfully, then turned to hear the oracle's
opinion.

"I ha' heard tell o' such ladies, but I ain't seen one of 'em; and I
wants to see a thing avore I believes--ay, I wants to see it two or dree
times," said the Yellow Leaf. Then he asked, "How old do you say her
wur?"

The Dumpy Philosopher fancied the region of twenty; the Gentle Shepherd
thought the neighbourhood of forty; while Squinting Jack suggested
second childhood.

"You can tell an old lady when you sees one," replied the Yellow Leaf,
"and you can tell a young maid when you sees one; but when you can't
tell whether a woman be old or young, then you'm looking at something
what ain't respectable. 'Tis old folk what be charitable, and she
warn't old; and when young ladies be charitable to young men, their
charity ain't far away from home, I reckon. They Brocks ha' no woman to
mind vor 'em; 'tis because they don't dare to; 'tis because this lady
wouldn't like it, and they can't tell when she may be coming. She'm a
jealous lady vor certain, and she won't have no woman to Black Anchor
'cept it be herself. And she couldn't come to the farm if they had
another woman, vor her wouldn't have the face to do it."

This was one of the longest, and quite the wisest, of all the opinions
stated by the Yellow Leaf. Although it could hardly add to his
reputation, it destroyed entirely the credit of the Brocks.

"The old man don't hardly ever come into the village, 'cept it be to
church, and he don't pass the time o' day to no one," said the Dumpy
Philosopher.

"Now I come to think of it, young Sidney has a funny, uneducated sort o'
way of answering," added Squinting Jack.

"They'm mysteries," concluded the Yellow Leaf, "and I hopes to live to
see 'em all exposed to the vull light o' day."

Robert passed this scandal to Bessie, and she hurried it across to
Kezia, who carried it while still fresh into the parlour, and presented
it to both the ladies. Miss Yard expressed no interest, but Mrs. Drake
was painfully distressed. She was ageing rapidly, and beginning to lose
her memory too; she had forgotten what a very favourable impression the
boy had made upon her.

"Are you quite sure she did go to Black Anchor?" Mrs. Drake inquired.

"Yes, Aunt," said George, who was busy designing locomotives. "She asked
me the way--at least the driver did. They were both strangers to me."

"Quite a young gal, warn't she, Mr. George?" appealed Kezia.

"Not more than eighteen, I should think. But she wore a wedding ring; I
saw it distinctly."

"Yes, mum; I saw her drive past, so bold and staring. They say she's an
actress, mum."

"How awful! I suppose she's his wife."

"Well, mum, us all hopes she is."

"The wretched young man! How can he be so wicked!"

"Is anybody wicked?" asked Miss Yard vacantly.

"Never mind, Sophy. It's nobody you care about. Has she been told? You
know who I mean."

"Oh no, mum. We wouldn't like to say anything much to her. But of course
she mustn't go out with him any more."

"Of course not," said George vigorously.

"I suppose I must break it to her," said Mrs. Drake. "And he sings in
the choir too--miserable wretch!"

"I warned you, Aunt," said George.

"He must never come into the house again. Ask Robert to tell him."

"Oh no, mum! We couldn't drink coffee with him now. He seemed such a
nice young man too. Robert thought him almost like a gentleman."

"It's often these nice young men who turn out the greatest humbugs,"
said Mrs. Drake severely.

"What is she saying? I do hope there are no such things in the house,"
Miss Yard cried anxiously.

Nellie was thoroughly well told. Kezia, Bessie, and Robert were alike
eager to play the part of candid friend because they liked her so much;
indeed, they somewhat overwhelmed her with candid affection. According
to Bessie, the mysterious lady had been overheard imploring Sidney to
return with her; while Robert declared the young man had confessed the
whole truth. Kezia could invent nothing, so contented herself with
moaning over life's tragedies like the chorus of a Greek play. Nellie,
being a wise maid, argued with nobody, and smiled at everyone; but her
eyes made people sorry for her; and because of their sympathy they
brought yet other charges against Sidney.

Nellie waited for choir practice, when she hoped to hear a healthier
story. She expressed no gratitude when the heroic George offered to
accompany her to church, lest the dragon Sidney should abduct her
forcibly and add her to his collection in the cupboard at home. He
explained these references according to the best of his historical
information, quoting the story of Bluebeard at some length. He was still
talking when Nellie escaped from the house, and went to church by
herself.

During practice the other members of the choir shrank from Sidney, as if
afraid he should make some evil communication; and they practised the
hymns, which were of a penitential nature, at him. It was never the
custom in Highfield to allow even one sinner to go unpunished.

"At last!" exclaimed Nellie, when they were out of the church and alone
together in Dartmoor wind and darkness. "Of course you know what I am
going to say?" she added.

"You'm going to say this place be vull o' liars," suggested Sidney.

"Oh no, indeed! Our friendship is quite over, and you are not to come
near Windward House again."

"What's it all about, Nellie?"

"You know perfectly well. I'm walking with you this evening just to hear
what you have to say."

"You think I'm a bad lot?"

"I'm getting dreadfully certain of it."

"Because you've heard tales. I know you'm the prettiest maid in the
world, but if a stranger wur with us he wouldn't believe me if I said
so, vor 'tis too dark to see you. You can't be sure of anything you'm
told. I'm not the best chap in the world by a long way, but if you could
see me 'just as I am,' as we wur singing in church just now, you might
fancy I b'ain't quite what folks make me out to be."

Nellie was disturbed by this speech, and still more by the manner in
which it was uttered. She had an uncomfortable feeling that Sidney was
trying to bring himself down to her level, although her birth and
education were undoubtedly superior to his.

"I suppose it's easy to sing like that, especially as you must have had
no end of practice," she said crossly.

"Now you'm out o' tune, Nellie."

"Miss Blisland has discovered you have made a fool of her. You asked her
to--to--well, you know what, when all the time you are married--"

"Here, I say, steady! I didn't know it had got to that," he broke in
sharply.

"Then who was that girl who came to see you?"

"She's not a girl. If you want to know her age, I'll tell you. She is
forty-three--and I'm nineteen. Is it likely I'd be married to a lady old
enough to be my mother?"

"Who is she?"

"A very kind lady who has done a lot vor me. Her name is Mrs. Stanley."

"Then she is married!"

"Her husband's been very kind to me too."

"And I suppose you are very fond of her?"

"Well, that's natural, considering what she's done vor me."

"You love her!" cried Nellie, getting out of patience with his coldness.

"There's someone I love better."

"And that's yourself," she snapped.

"'Tis the pretty maid I'm going to marry, and that's you."

"If you dare to say such a thing again," gasped Nellie, "I'll--I'll run
away."

"You can run t'other end of the world, but I shall come and fetch ye
back," declared the bold youth.

"What's to prevent me from marrying someone else?"

"Yourself, I fancy."

"But I never did like you much, and now I hate you," she said, troubled
again by his accent, which recalled her own superior education.

"If you won't hate me any more than what you do now, I shan't grumble,"
replied the confident young man. Then he asked gently, "Won't you come
out Sunday afternoon?"

"No, I will not."

"I could tell you a tale what might make us sweethearts again," he
continued.

"I expect there is hardly any sort of tale that you don't know. But why
don't you?"

"I'm going to make you believe in me and trust me."

"Tell that to Mrs. Stanley--I'm sure she's a widow."

"I trust her, and she knows it. I told her about you, and she wanted me
to promise not to marry till I'm twenty-five."

"By then, I suppose, she'll have become sick and tired of you," said
Nellie, who was rapidly forming Highfield opinions about Mrs. Stanley.

"She doesn't mind who I marry--"

"How perfectly unselfish!"

"So long as 'tis the right sort o' maid."

"I hope you'll find her. Goodnight; I'm going now," said Nellie,
standing beside the garden-gate of Windward House. Then she added rather
faintly, "I'm sorry you ever came to Highfield."

Sidney struck a match and, making a lantern of his hands, turned the
light upon her face.

"Oh, Nellie darling! There's a tear upon your cheek!"

"Don't be rude and wicked," she murmured, searching for the gate handle,
which she generally found quite easily.

"The beautifullest tear from the loveliest eye in the world!"

"What's wrong with the other eye?" she asked trying to laugh.

"It's still more lovely. Nellie, you are--just Nellie, and that means
everything. You shall trust me, and I'll make you love me, if I have to
work a thousand times harder than I do on the farm."

"Will you have nothing more to do with Mrs. Stanley?"

"I can't do that."

"You mean she won't give you up!"

"She's the best and kindest lady in the world. But you come first, and
that's where you'll be always."

"I must be second too. It's no good, Sidney. I'm not going to be talked
about and laughed at--no girl can stand it. Besides, Mrs. Drake has
forbidden me to speak to you, and my poor mistress would go crazy if she
knew what has happened. I have a good home, and I must think of my
future. Leave me alone, please, and let me forget you. But I must give
up the choir and sit at the bottom of the church, for I--I can't sing
any more."

"Is that you, Nellie?" called Kezia; and the faithful band of protectors
and consolers appeared, putting the false Sidney to flight.

George was so pleased when Nellie did not go out upon Sunday afternoon,
that he presented her with a picture of his latest locomotive, very
handsomely designed, but without cylinders. He began about this time to
take an interest in his personal appearance, with the result that Mrs.
Drake, who was not at all prejudiced in his favour, remarked to Kezia
that Mr. George was undoubtedly the best looking man in the place,
which, after all, was not much of a compliment. Kezia, who was a Drake
in everything but surname, and contemplated assuming that to supply her
own deficiency, agreed, and went on to mention Mr. George was regarded
as the perfect pattern of an English gentleman by Highfield, where all
geese were swans.

Mrs. Drake was simple enough to believe George was preparing himself for
the duties of station-master, and he more than suggested this was indeed
the case; having the impudence to hint at negotiations for various
stations where it would be his business to receive all manner of
royalties; but the letters he received were of such a confidential
nature that he was not at liberty to show them to his aunt. He convinced
her they were all typewritten, and this was quite sufficient for his
purpose, because the old-fashioned woman supposed letters written by
machinery could emanate only from departments under the immediate
control of Ministers of State.

The cold-blooded George had drawn up a programme of his career under
such items as Courtship of Nellie, Annihilation of Sidney, Conciliation
of Aunt, Guarding of the Furniture, Departure of Aunt Sophy, Contract
with Nellie, Departure of Aunt, Marriage and Retirement. With fine
prophetic instinct a date was appended to each one of these events: Miss
Yard had but a single year of life remaining, while three more years
were allotted to Mrs. Drake. So far the programme was well ahead of
time, owing to the visit of Mrs. Stanley.

The careful mind of George was troubled concerning his forthcoming
marriage and subsequent retirement. He asked himself frequently whether
it could be prudent to enter into a matrimonial alliance with Nellie, or
indeed with any girl; was a wife preferable on the whole to a
housekeeper? George sought the opinion of the Dismal Gibcat, who replied
that the house presided over by a wife was bound to be respectable,
while the house ruled by spinster or widow was not; besides, a
housekeeper could not be scowled at with impunity, whereas a wife might
easily be taught all the accomplishments of her husband: that was to
say, if the husband found it necessary to slander another man, or to
deprive some woman of her character, the partner of his joys and sorrows
would slander these persons too; whereas a housekeeper might find it her
duty to defend them.

Then George consulted the Yellow Leaf, who was of the decidedly robust
opinion that men and women should not only marry as early as possible,
but should keep on doing it as often as the law allowed; and even if
they did offend against the law sometimes it was better to err upon the
right side. He alluded to his own brilliant example of marrying at
eighteen, with the happy result that the entire population of the
village were more or less related to him; and he went on to declare he
had already appointed a successor to his present wife, who had been
bedridden for some years.

Although George had some doubts remaining, he arrived sorrowfully at the
conclusion that it would be his duty to make Nellie happy, if the ladies
of Windward House should respect his programme and depart from the world
according to scheduled time. The question of his retirement remained the
only point to be disposed of. Should he conclude a life of usefulness as
the most respected parishioner of Highfield, or favour a wider circle?
Certainly it would be more agreeable to retire in a village, where
respect came automatically, than to run the risk of being dishonoured in
some town, where standing at corners or musing beside lamp posts might
be wrongly construed as revealing instability of character.

It might, he feared, become necessary to commence his retirement within
the next few months, for Mrs. Drake was clearly in a restless frame of
mind, and the impending failure of his negotiations with the railway
company might induce her to issue the expulsion order which Percy would
be called upon to execute. In such case George decided his health would
be forced to suffer a breakdown, although it might be possible, now Mrs.
Drake's powers were growing defective, to assure her his career upon the
railway was finished; but, unfortunately, owing to his inability to
serve full time, he enjoyed no pension.

A wet day assisted George in making a discovery which, although not
altering his programme, seemed to promise an extension of the indefinite
time limit.

"I want to go to the sea. Aunt Sophy worries so about her friends, and I
can't make her believe she hasn't got any. She will forget all about
them if we go away. When are you going to your station?" asked Mrs.
Drake, while Miss Yard looked up plaintively and wanted to know what she
had done now.

"Oh, nothing. I'm telling George we are going to the seaside directly he
is ready to leave."

"I think you had better not wait," said George warningly.

"You promised to go this month," his aunt said fretfully.

"Changes have occurred, with the result that I have now broken off the
negotiations."

"Then I have done with you!"

"I'm so glad somebody else has broken something," said Miss Yard
happily.

George left the room, and returned presently with an armful of plans and
diagrams.

"I knew they existed, and at last I have found them," he remarked
triumphantly.

"Take away your rubbish!" said Mrs. Drake.

"My uncle made these plans. These diagrams were the solace of his
closing years," said George; and directly he had spoken his aunt's face
softened, and she fumbled for her spectacles.

"My dear uncle charged me to carry out the work if he should not live to
complete it. These are his plans for a railway to link up the scattered
parishes of this moorland region. It is my earnest hope," said George,
"that I may be permitted to undertake the work which is to give Dartmoor
a railway and Highfield a station."

"I had forgotten all about it," Mrs. Drake murmured.

"I did not forget," said George reprovingly. "I should have acted long
ago, if I could have found these precious plans. Here is the prospectus
in dear uncle's writing. He shows how simple and inexpensive it would be
to build a railway across the Dartmoor, without a single viaduct,
tunnel, embankment, or cutting. It was his intention to make Highfield
Station a terminus, as he could not see his way to surmount the steep
drop into the valley without going to considerable expense. Now you can
understand why it is no longer my intention to occupy the poorly paid
position of station-master. I aim at higher things. I mean to be a
railway magnate."

"What can you do?" asked Mrs. Drake, much impressed by those relics of
her husband.

"I shall communicate with my railway friends; I shall float a company,
and appoint a Board of Directors; I shall pass a Bill through
Parliament."

"Whatever is George doing?" inquired Miss Yard.

"Making a railway," replied her sister.

"I wish I could do something half as useful," sighed Miss Yard.

George borrowed five pounds for postage stamps, converted his bedroom
into an office, and fed the village with false news which percolated
into the ears of Mrs. Drake by means of Robert the dripping tap and
Kezia the filter. George had anticipated this, and, knowing the truthful
ways of the village, was not greatly astonished when Robert informed him
in confidence how engineers had already been seen taking the level of
the Dartmoor heights; while the parishioners had sworn to tear up the
railway as fast as it was made, unless they received ample compensation
for this cynical infringement of their rights.

What he had not anticipated was the action taken by his aunt. Left to
herself she would have remained credulous to the end; but Kezia declared
Mr. George was not spending his days letter writing; while Bessie stated
the postmistress had told her Mr. George had bought no stamps lately.

"I have looked into his room and seen him writing," said Mrs. Drake
despairingly.

"He wur doing poetry, mum," said Kezia sadly.

"Oh, I'm sure he's not so bad as that," cried the lady.

"I don't want to say too much, mum, and I ain't going to say anything
against Mr. George, whom you might call a member of the family,"
continued Kezia in the voice of doom, "but I saw a lot of the paper he
had wrote some of his poetry on."

"I saw it too, mum," chimed in Bessie.

"And, mum, at the end of the first line wur six kisses."

"Crosses, mum," exclaimed Bessie, as an expert in this form of
literature.

"And the second line--oh, mum, I don't know as how I can say it."

"Shall I do it vor ye?" asked Bessie eagerly.

"No, Bess, I'll do it. He said, mum, his heart wur all jelly."

"Think of that, mum!" gasped Bessie.

"Oh no! Not jelly again. We had yesterday," cried Miss Yard, who liked
to be consulted concerning the bill of fare.

"I do hope the poor creature isn't going off his head," said Mrs. Drake.

"Don't you see, mum, that word wur meant to sound like the word at the
end of the first line what he wrote in crosses. And you know, mum,
there's someone in this house whose name do have the same sort of sound
as jelly."

"Ah, but she b'ain't so soft," added Bessie. "And he wrote she was so
bewitching, drinking cocoa in the kitchen. That was a rhyme, mum."

"I have heard quite enough," said Mrs. Drake wearily. "I wish to
goodness I had never seen the fellow," she murmured.

The following week she visited the Captain's grave, staying longer than
usual, and scribbling industriously on scraps of paper the whole
evening. Next day the exodus took place, Kezia and Nellie accompanying
the ladies to the seaside, while George remained in solitary possession.
As any pretence of industry was no longer necessary, he settled down to
enjoy a honeymoon with indolence, until a letter arrived to waken him
completely.

It appeared that Mrs. Drake had written to Percy, informing him of all
George had said and not done; also asking for information about the
floating of companies and the construction of railways, as, she
explained, George had decided to build one across Dartmoor, and was
inviting Miss Yard and herself to become debenture holders.

Percy's answer had crushed the poor lady entirely. He explained that, as
George of course was perfectly well aware, to obtain a position as
station-master it would be necessary to enter the service of the railway
company as a clerk, and work upwards gradually. As for building a
railway, that was not the recreation of a single individual, but a
superhuman undertaking, which in the first place would require to be
discussed by some of the greatest financial magnates upon earth for half
a century--at least such was his own impression--before Parliament could
even be approached; and then another half century would probably be
demanded for the arrangement of preliminary details; and after that a
new generation would have to begin the work all over again. While the
suggestion of a railway across Dartmoor could appeal only to a
Parliament with a sense of humour.

Accordingly Mrs. Drake disowned her nephew. She ordered him to depart
from Highfield, declaring also her intention of not returning to
Windward House while he remained there. For his maintenance she was
prepared to allow the sum of ten shillings weekly so long as she might
live. Should he delay in taking his departure, Percy would instruct
some gentleman learned in the law to hasten the eviction. And if he
took anything in the house away with him, he would thereby forfeit all
benefits under her will.

This letter made the world seem cold to George, who strongly suspected
Percy had dictated the punitory clauses. It was clear that his reign as
first gentleman of Highfield was over. Not being of that faint-hearted
disposition which abdicates without a struggle, George wrote a touching
letter which was also, he considered, a complete vindication of his
conduct; for, as Mrs. Drake must have been aware, he had suffered from
his spine since childhood.

Then he packed his belongings and travelled an hour's journey into the
next parish, where he arranged with the landlord of a wayside inn, which
bore the hospitable title of "Drink and be Thankful," to accommodate him
with board and lodging upon especially reduced terms; and from this
alcoholic address he despatched a daily apology for his existence to
Mrs. Drake, each document more poignant than the one preceding it. His
aunt sent a cheque for a quarter's allowance, which George cashed
gratefully; but she did not write. That business was entrusted to Percy,
who sent an ultimatum, giving George forty-eight hours to retire from
the "Drink and be Thankful," and warning him that, if at any future time
he should be discovered within twenty miles of Highfield village
without obtaining a permit, his prospects would be marred considerably.

George pronounced a malediction against Percy and all his tomatoes.
Then, as compliance seemed necessary--for he was terribly afraid his
aunt might destroy her will--he decided to make a farewell visit to
Highfield, in order that he might muse amid the scenes of his former
slothfulness, and inform the villagers he was going away to oppose on
their behalf the promoters of the Dartmoor Railway Company.

George was not surprised to discover the door of Windward House standing
open, as he supposed Bessie would be cleaning; but he was considerably
astonished to behold Miss Yard nodding in the parlour, with Nellie on
her knees hard by extracting the indifferent lady from a web of wool
which, with amazing thoroughness, she had wound about herself. George
made a sign to the girl not to disturb her mistress, but to follow him
as soon as possible into the garden.

"What's the meaning of this?" he asked, hastily, adding that he was not
at all sorry to see her.

"Miss Sophy was so miserable I had to bring her back. When we went away
she thought she was going back to her old home; and then, when she
couldn't recognise anybody she kept on saying she was forsaken. She
would stop people in the street and ask them where she lived, and if
they didn't remember her. As she got worse every day I had to bring her
back. Aren't you living here now?" asked Nellie.

"No," said George sadly. "You gave me no encouragement."

"So you waited until I was out of the house, and then you ran away!"

"My aunt and I have now agreed to differ. How did you leave her?" asked
George pompously.

"Oh, very well. In fact, Kezia said she had not seen her in such good
health for years."

"Miss Yard is breaking up, I think," said George, thinking of his
programme, which was suffering sadly from interference.

"Indeed she's not. She is just mazed after the journey, as they say
about here. Then you are really not going to live here again?"

"Not for the present. But I shall write to you, Nellie, at least once a
week, and I shall think of you nearly every day."

"Thank you. Are you going to turn blacksmith?"

"Why do you ask a ridiculous question?"

"We have been playing at rhymes lately; and the only rhyme I can find
for your name is forge."

"Nellie," said George heavily, "it is frivolous conduct like this which
breaks a man up completely."

"I'll be serious then. When are you coming back?"

"Not until the place becomes my own. My aunt has injured me; she has
upset all my plans. I do not intend to speak to her again until she has
asked for my forgiveness."

"There goes the gate!" cried Nellie. "It's sure to be Bessie. If you
don't want to be seen here--run!" she laughed.

"I do not stir for Elizabeth Mudge."

"Or budge for any man," sang teasing Nellie. Then her note changed, for
the postmistress appeared from behind the rhododendrons.

"Why, it's Mrs. Cann! And she's got a telegram!"

"Vor you, Miss Blisland. Very bad news, miss. Terrible news. But she wur
an old lady, and 'tis better to be took avore you knows where you be
than to see it coming. I hopes and prays as how I'll be took the like
way--selling a penny stamp, or licking a label, or doing some poor soul
a gude turn by giving her an old-age pension."

She went rambling on, while Nellie tore open the telegram and read,
"Mistress passed away in her sleep. Kezia."

She shivered slightly, then handed it to George.

"Cruel bad news vor you, sir, especially as we'm all so sorry to hear
you be a leaving us," said the postmistress.

"I had meant to go away," replied the self-sacrificing and sorrowful
reprobate. "But I'm afraid I shall have to change my plans now."



CHAPTER VIII

A TANGLED INHERITANCE


George formally took over Windward House, with the exception of his
aunt's bedroom, the door of which was locked. Bessie admitted she held
the key, but was not going to give it up to anybody except Kezia. In the
meantime, Miss Yard wandered about the house, declaring that Maria had
always been able to look after herself, scolding Nellie for wearing
black, "and making yourself look so small I can't see you," driving away
Bessie by waving her hands and calling "Shoo!" but delighted with George
because he looked bright and cheerful.

"Maria has been making up the past again," she said plaintively. "She
told me I was good for nothing, and she wouldn't have me here any
longer. She keeps all my friends away from me--and now she has hidden my
money."

"We'll look for it," said Nellie, glad of the excuse to lure her back
into the parlour. "I expect it is hidden in one of the usual
places--inside the clock, or on top of the bookcase."

"It's no good looking there, Nellie. I have searched the whole
house--and my cheque-book has gone too. My sister takes everything away
from me."

A pleasant quarter of an hour was spent in searching for the missing bag
of money, which had been secreted with more than usual ingenuity. These
games of hide-and-seek were of daily occurrence, as Miss Yard would hide
away everything she possessed, and then accuse the others of robbery by
violence. On this occasion the little bag containing her spare cash had
been deposited behind the register; George made the discovery after
noticing a heap of soot upon the fender; and Miss Yard was more
delighted with him than ever.

"Percy always does the right thing," she declared. "He wrote to that
horrid man who said he was going to come and live here. Nellie, remind
me tomorrow to pay off a mortgage on his railway."

"Percy grows tomatoes, Aunt. I am George, and I'm here to look after
you," explained that gentleman uncomfortably.

"How silly people are!" said Miss Yard. "Of course it's tomatoes, and
not railways. I don't know why they talk about railways, but I suppose
it's because Nellie and I missed a train the other day. Everybody mixes
up George and Percy, but one is quite as good as the other. One quality
only, and that's the best. Now I wonder where I read that."

Then she opened the canvas bag and gave George ten shillings because he
was so clever; and she gave a sovereign to Nellie because she was so
good; but she refused to give Bessie a present, as she felt positive
that young woman had conspired with Mrs. Drake to hide away her money.

"I must write to Maria and tell I've found it, and ask her to forget the
past like I do and begin all over again," she said, shuffling to her
writing table, where nearly every day she wrote letters which Nellie
subsequently destroyed.

"Don't try to make her understand," said this young lady to George. "I
have told her Mrs. Drake is dead, and she quite realised it, but a
minute later had forgotten all about it. It's no use worrying her. She
has no memory, and hardly any mind, left; but she is perfectly healthy
and enjoys life thoroughly. Really, it isn't such a bad state to be in
after all."

George rather looked forward to the funeral, as he meant to enjoy a
settlement with Percy, who arrived only just in time to join the others
in the churchyard. Mrs. Drake's bedroom had been opened the day before:
George discovered the will, while Kezia made off with the box which had
always stood upon the chest of drawers.

After the ceremony they returned to Windward House. Presently George and
Percy went into the garden to discuss business, assuming a brotherly
affection, although George felt sure Percy entertained nothing but evil
thoughts concerning him.

"That was rather a nasty letter you wrote to me, old chap--about
clearing out of the place, you know," he began reproachfully.

"Aunt asked me to write it, and of course I had to. I don't want to rub
it in, George, but you deceived the old lady badly, and you've been a
frightful slacker," replied Percy.

"If it comes to deceit, I expect you put your best tomatoes on top of
the basket," said George, opening a line of attack which made Percy
cough uneasily, before he attempted to point out the difference between
deceiving hostile tradesmen and affectionate relatives. "What do you
propose doing?" he asked.

"This is my home," replied George firmly. "Somebody must be here to look
after Aunt Sophy, keep up the property, and look after the servants."

"I suppose the place belongs to Aunt Sophy now, and in that case it will
come to me," said Percy sternly.

"Grab it all, old chap!" exclaimed George mockingly.

"It's like this," said Percy sharply. "I'm one of the trustees of the
Yard estate, and Hunter is the other. I dare say you have heard the
aunts mention Hunter; he's a partner in Martin and Cross, the family
solicitors. I needn't go into the details of Mr. Yard's will, but of
course you know Aunt Maria enjoyed only a life interest in her share.
Aunt Sophy now inherits the lot, but she can't touch the capital, all of
which comes to me at her death. That's the position."

"And here's mine! Oblige me by running your eye over this, my dear
chap," invited George, producing his aunt's will.

Percy did so, frowning considerably, and when he had finished tried to
mutter a few words of congratulation.

"Not so bad," chuckled George. "The whole place is mine, and everything
in it. Aunt Sophy is now my tenant."

"There's no mention of the house," objected Percy.

"Read this--'all I die possessed of.' The property belonged to aunt;
left her by my uncle."

"But she bought the ground and built the house," cried Percy.

"Out of income," said the triumphant George.

"I suppose you'll be sending this to Martin and Cross?"

"It goes this evening by registered post. Aunt Sophy won't leave
Highfield. She will be enjoying the use of my house and my furniture. In
return she can give me board and pocket-money. Quite a decent scheme,
old chap. Everybody satisfied! No grumblers!"

"I didn't know anything about this will," muttered Percy.

"You can't object to my staying here now--you can't order me out, my
dear old chap. Nice little property, isn't it?" cried George riotously.

Percy had not much more to say, especially as he seemed in a hurry to
catch a train which would carry him towards London and Mr. Hunter's
office. Immediately he had departed, Kezia approached and asked, "Can I
speak to you vor a minute, please?"

"Certainly," replied the prosperous George, following her into the
dining room, where Bessie towered beside the table upon which reposed
the sandalwood box taken from the late mistress's bedroom. George could
not help noticing what a quantity of waste paper appeared to be lying
about.

"This wur lying on the top," explained Kezia, presenting a slip upon
which was written in his late aunt's handwriting, "This box is the
property of Kezia, who has served me faithfully since her childhood."

"I ha' been wi' her forty years, and I don't know how I shall get along
without her. I feels as though she can't be gone vor ever, and will soon
be coming back again maybe," Kezia continued.

"She knows what be going on. She can see me, and you, and Mr. George,
and she can tell what he'm thinking of," added Bessie.

"Went just like the Captain, all to once and no fuss. She said to me
many a time, 'I wants to go like him, Kezia, nice and quick.' So she
did, poor dear! Lay down, and went to sleep, and never woke up again
this side Jordan. And the last thing she said wur, 'Kezia, I ain't felt
so well as I be feeling now vor I can't tell ye how long.'"

"They'm always like that," said Bessie.

"What are all these papers?" asked George.

"These be mine," said Kezia, taking one bundle. "Those belong to Bess.
This one is vor Miss Sophy. And this one is vor Nellie."

"Wasn't there one vor Mr. Percy?" inquired Bessie.

"Here's something on the floor," said George. He picked up the scrap of
paper and read, "I should like Percy to have something to remember me
by. He can take the pair of silver candlesticks given me by his mother
as a wedding present."

"He can't have them," said Bessie, looking across at Kezia.

"No, that he can't," said Kezia, staring rather uneasily at Bessie.

"What are all these papers?" George demanded, feeling in his pocket, to
make sure that the will was safe.

"Will ye please to read 'em?" replied Kezia, extending her bundle.

George opened the first and read, "I want Kezia to have all the
furniture in her bedroom, also six dining room chairs, my sofa, and the
largest bookcase." The second paper included, for Kezia's benefit, much
of the furniture in the parlour, together with "the pair of silver
candlesticks given me by Louisa as a wedding present." The third paper
mentioned most of the articles in Mrs. Drake's bedroom, with the
grandfather clock, the Chinese vases, "and anything else Mr. George does
not want." And so the lists ran on, until Kezia had been left everything
in the house several times over.

Then Bessie proffered her bundle with a sorrowful smile. First of all
she was to have the bed she had once slept on, then all the furniture in
her bedroom, much of that in the parlour, half of that in the dining
room, with "the pair of silver candlesticks given me by Louisa as a
wedding present," most of the ornaments including the Chinese vases, the
Egyptian mummy, and "any other little thing Mr. George does not care
about."

Nellie was to have the round table in the parlour, which had been
already bestowed upon both Kezia and Bessie. While Sophy was requested
to take the musical box and "the pair of silver candlesticks given me as
a wedding present by Louisa."

"This is a nice business!" George muttered.

"Seems to be rather a lot of mixing up, don't it!" said Bessie.

"I can see what has happened," George continued. "Poor old aunt never
had much of a memory, and, when she put away one of these papers in the
box, she forgot about the others. Some of them were written when I was a
child--the ink is beginning to fade--while others are quite recent."

"She would write 'em in the evening. I've seen her doing it. And when
she went into her bedroom, she would put it into the box quick and lock
it up. She wouldn't let no one touch that box," said Kezia.

"You see she wanted to leave you something to remember her by, and she
never looked into the box to see what she had written."

"I suppose we mustn't take the things now?" asked Bessie hurriedly.

"Nothing wur to be touched, Bess, while Miss Sophy lived. Even Mr.
George warn't to touch anything," said Kezia with unnecessary irony;
since, according to these scraps of paper, George had nothing to take.

"I have the will which was made soon after I came to live with my uncle
and aunt. There is no mention of Miss Yard," said George firmly.

"Mrs. Drake wrote a paper and gave it to Miss Sophy. And Miss Sophy
wrote a paper and gave it to Mrs. Drake. Here it is!" exclaimed Kezia,
diving to the bottom of the box, which contained brooches and other
trinkets dropped in from time to time. "You see, Mr. George,' If I die
before Maria, all my furniture is to belong to her.' And 'tis signed
Sophy Yard."

"What did my aunt write on her paper?" cried George, as a horrible
thought flashed across his mind.

"Just the same. If she died avore Miss Sophy, everything she possessed
wur to belong to her."

"And she has died before Aunt Sophy after all," George muttered.

"Why, so she has! I never thought of that avore," said Bessie.

George refused to discuss the matter further, pointing out that nothing
could be done during Miss Yard's lifetime, although he had no intention
of remaining inactive until then. Escaping into a quiet place, he sought
to find a solution of the problem thus suddenly presented to him. By a
properly attested will the entire furniture of Windward House had been
left to him; this furniture had been left also to Miss Yard by a rough
kind of agreement; the same furniture had been bestowed upon Kezia by
means of a number of scraps of paper which were certainly not legal
documents; while the greater part of the furniture had been also
bequeathed to Bessie by means of similar scraps of paper. The conclusion
arrived at by George was that the will must prevail over all other
documents, although it was difficult to see how he could prevent
pilfering; and his final wise decision was to preserve silence
concerning these scraps of paper in all his subsequent dealings with
Messrs. Martin and Cross and Mr. Percy Taverner.

"I feel sure Kezia and Bessie cannot claim anything, but I'm afraid the
lawyers may say the will is cancelled by the document given to Aunt
Sophy," George muttered. "But then they needn't know anything about it.
All the business will be done through the trustees and myself. They
don't know, and I shan't tell them. I'd better strike up a friendship
with Percy; I'll conciliate him; I'll sacrifice the pair of silver
candlesticks."

He went home, sealed the will in an envelope, and addressed it to
Messrs. Martin and Cross. Then wrote to Percy, explaining his discovery
of a scrap of paper written by their late aunt, expressing a wish that
the candlesticks should be given to him upon her death. "Of course they
are mine really," he wrote, "but I feel that I ought to respect her
wishes, especially as the candlesticks were given her as a wedding
present by your mother."

Kezia and Bessie remained chattering vigorously after George departed
from them, but neither ventured to speak upon the subject which
threatened to convert friendship into rivalry. It was true, owing to an
unfortunate slip of the tongue, Bessie mentioned how grand the silver
candlesticks would look upon her mantelpiece; but Kezia merely replied
that Mrs. Drake had been very generous to Mr. George in leaving him a
will as a remembrance of her, although she presently administered a
rebuke by speaking about her future retirement, when she looked forward
to reading her books of religious instruction by the light of wax
candles set in the candlesticks aforesaid. To which Bessie replied
somewhat feebly they wouldn't be of any use to Miss Yard because she
used a reading lamp. She could not trust herself to say more, but, when
gathering up her share of the testamentary documents preparatory to
departure, another idea occurred, and she asked, "Who do the house
belong to?"

"Mrs. Drake said to me a lot of times it wur to go to Miss Sophy."

"Who gets it when she dies?"

"I don't know. If nobody else wants it, I don't mind taking it," said
Kezia.

"Mr. George is sure to ask vor it," said Bessie, moving slowly towards
the door.

"Well, he won't get it," replied Kezia sharply.

Bessie crossed the road and welcomed Robert from the bakery with the
announcement that a domestic crisis was impending. Robert studied the
documents, and agreed with his wife they would certainly be called upon
to fight for their rights. Then he asked for information concerning
George, and Bessie replied, "He ain't to get nothing."

"Didn't Mrs. Drake leave 'en a will?" questioned the cautious Robert.

"Kezia ses it ain't really a will. It's a codicil, and that means he
gets nothing 'cept the little bit o' money in the bank, and he'll have
to pay out all that vor the funeral expenses. Miss Sophy gets the house,
and me and Kezia has the furniture."

"Then Mr. George is ruined!" exclaimed Robert.

"Best thing what could happen to 'en," said Bessie.

Robert had his tea, then went out into the village to report. Since the
days when he had first gazed upward, fascinated by the altitude of
Bessie's windswept features, he had acted as an intermediary between
Windward House and the general public, bringing the scandal, fresh and
greasy as his own doughnuts; and bearing to the village green--which was
not so green as it sounded, for the signpost represented a rising
sun--valuable items of information regarding Mrs. Drake's most recent
act of charity, or Miss Yard's latest partition of a tea service. On
this occasion he brought news which was to set all the tongues wagging:
George Drake, the most respected man in Highfield, the sole gentleman,
the fearless idler, was now a homeless fellow, a destitute person,
without a scrap of inheritance he could call his own. The Drake whom
they had honoured as a swan was hardly worth the price of a goose.

A gentleman was not defined by the worthies of Highfield as a man of
good birth, but as one who declined all labour. George had fulfilled
this definition admirably. An idler, it was argued, possessed ample
means, and for that cause he was respected. Highfield required nothing
further of him, except that he should wear decent clothing and not be
seen with his coat off, digging potatoes or nailing two pieces of board
together; even the picking of peas was a dangerous pastime, while mowing
the lawn would have meant an irremediable loss of caste. It could
honestly be said of George that he had done nothing disgraceful; he had
kept his hands clean; he was far more of a gentleman than his uncle had
been. And now he was exposed as a common impostor who had been wearing
an order of chivalry to which he was not entitled.

"I always thought," said the Wallower in Wealth, who, above all men,
had respected George, "that when Mrs. Drake died he would have her
money."

Everybody in the place had thought the same; and were now to realise
that George had bitterly deceived them.

"He don't get nothing," declared Robert. "The furniture comes to Bessie,
and the house goes to Miss Yard."

"What do old Kezia get?" inquired a charitable voice.

"What me and Bessie like to give her," replied Robert.

George went to sleep that night sure of his position as the most popular
man in Highfield parish; for everybody knew how the odious scheme of a
Dartmoor railway had been brought to nothing owing to his strenuous
opposition. Nor did he suppose, upon going into the village the
following morning, that his glory had departed. He was therefore
unpleasantly surprised to be greeted by nodding of heads, and no longer
by hands uplifted to the forehead. Highfield nodded to equals, and
touched hats to superiors. George did not like the omen.

The Yellow Leaf was enjoying a large slice of bread upon which butter,
cream, and jam were piled in lavish quantities; and when George inquired
after Mrs. Y. Leaf, he received the answer, spoken with some asperity:

"Her be tedious this morning. Ses her be going quick, and I be to hurry
after; but I tells she I b'ain't agoing to hurry."

"Would you like to buy my giant tortoise? I'll sell him for five
shillings," George continued.

"What would I do wi' a tor-toys?" asked the Yellow Leaf with great
deliberation.

"It's a nice friendly animal," explained George.

"Would he make gude eating?" asked the Yellow Leaf.

"Might be a bit tough, but he'd make splendid soup," said George.

"I ha' no craving vor gigantic tor-toyses, thankye. And if I did crave
vor 'en, how be I to know he'm yours to sell?"

"Of course it's mine. Everything belongs to me," said George sharply.

"Then you have been told lies."

"I ha' heard another tale."

"I hears plenty o' they. Don't ye ever think o' driving that old toat of
a tor-toys into my garden, vor if you does I'll kick 'en." And with
these words the Yellow Leaf withdrew into his cottage, munching severely
at his bread and jam.

Bessie has been talking, thought George, as he went along the road, to
pause beside a potato patch where Squinting Jack was whistling as he
worked. He looked up and nodded, then went on digging, while George
drew near and remarked:

"I'm selling off the animals."

"Sorry I b'ain't a butcher, sir," said Squinting Jack.

"I've got a very good half Persian cat for sale at two shillings,"
George continued.

"How much would ye charge vor the whole cat?" asked Squinting Jack.

"I mean it's part Persian."

"Which part?" asked the humourist.

George laughed somewhat feebly, while Squinting Jack continued, "I've
got a whole English cat what you can have vor nothing."

By this time George had discovered he was not so well liked as formerly,
and the reason was not far to seek: Kezia and Bessie were advertising
their own triumph and trumpeting his misfortunes. George went a long
walk, climbed a steep hill, and sat upon the summit, trying to work out
a plan of campaign which might enable him to obtain the victory over all
his enemies.

"Why not shift the responsibility?" he muttered at length. "That's the
plan right enough--shift it on to Percy. He wants to run the whole
show--why not let him?"

George meditated yet more deeply, rubbing his head which was nothing
like so dense as his relations had supposed. "Percy means to do me, so
it's my duty to do him. When you want to catch anything you set a trap.
And now I've got it!" George shouted exultantly. "I'll tempt Percy with
the furniture--I'll get him to buy it! Then I shall have the cash, while
he can settle with Kezia and Bessie, and all the rest of the beastly,
selfish, money grabbing crowd."



CHAPTER IX

A SUBTLE SINNER'S SUCCESS


Mr. Hunter of Messrs. Martin and Cross sent George a very civil letter,
acknowledging the will and announcing that the papers necessary for
obtaining probate would be prepared in due course. As a valuation of the
furniture would be required, he proposed to send down the man usually
employed by his firm for that purpose, his knowledge being extensive and
his fee moderate.

One other point Mr. Hunter wished to refer to. He had gathered, from an
interview with Mr. Percy Taverner, that Miss Yard's mental condition
left something to be desired: although in several respects a person
competent to do business, she might be described as susceptible to the
influence of a superior intelligence, and could therefore be prevailed
upon to act in a manner contrary to her interests: she would--to put the
matter plainly--sign a cheque if ordered by some other person to do so.

Mr. Hunter understood further that Miss Yard positively declined to
leave Highfield House, which was now Mr. Drake's property by virtue of
the phrase "all that I die possessed of" contained in the codicil to
the will of Mrs. Drake deceased; and at her age it might perhaps be
inadvisable to press her. The position was somewhat a delicate one, as
he understood Mr. Drake's financial position was not possibly quite so
strong as could be wished; and he might be desirous of selling the
property. Or, on the other hand, he might be inclined to allow Miss Yard
the use of the premises upon the undertaking that she provided him with
board and lodging, and paid a peppercorn rent.

Both Mr. Percy Taverner and himself, in their joint capacity as trustees
of the Yard estate, agreed that in such case it would be absolutely
necessary to appoint some trustworthy person as the manager of Miss
Yard's affairs, such person to be given the charge of the lady's
cheque-book, and to give an account of all moneys spent. Mr. Taverner
had recommended for this purpose Miss Nellie Blisland, whom he believed
to be a thoroughly trustworthy young person and one, moreover, not only
firmly attached to Miss Yard, but highly favoured by the lady herself.

"More of Percy's dirty little ways," was George's comment. "He thinks I
shall wheedle money out of Aunt Sophy like he does himself. I'm quite
satisfied that Nellie should be appointed; but I should like to be told
for certain that he didn't squeeze her hand when he said good-bye. I saw
him looking sideways at her anyhow. Now for the trap--and I don't care
which of 'em tumbles into it."

He wrote to Mr. Hunter, quite agreeing with all that gentleman had said.
It was unfortunately true that his financial condition was somewhat
embarrassed at the moment, while his physical state did not encourage
him to hope for any considerable increase of income likely to accrue
from his professional duties of civil engineer. The position, as Mr.
Hunter had admitted, was somewhat delicate, since Miss Yard would be
living in his house, enjoying the use of his furniture; and would
probably continue to do so until her death, by which time a great
quantity of domestic utensils would have been destroyed, much valuable
crockery broken, while the whole of the furniture would have suffered
deterioration owing to wear and tear; furthermore he would have no
control over the servants, who might conceivably indulge in a certain
amount of pilfering--indeed a few articles had already unaccountably
disappeared.

He could not, of course, allow Miss Yard, whom he regarded with feelings
of utmost affection, to be disturbed, or even to be troubled by any
suggestion that her tenancy of Windward House should be brought to a
close; but it was perhaps a pity Mr. Hunter had not suggested that Miss
Yard should purchase the furniture--with the exception of a few articles
he would wish to retain because of their sentimental value--for the sum
which might be quoted by the professional valuer. George did not press
the point in the least, but he would remind Mr. Hunter, under such an
arrangement, Mr. Percy Taverner might very likely benefit.

The appointment of Miss Nellie Blisland as custodian of Miss Yard's bank
account met with his entire approval. He had watched this young lady
carefully, and could assure Mr. Hunter that Miss Yard's interests would
be perfectly safe in her hands.

As Mr. Hunter prowled and sniffed through these elegant sentences, he
discovered nothing of a suspicious nature. On the contrary, Mr. George
Drake appeared to him a very obvious gentleman indeed. He wrote to
Percy, requesting another interview, and when the tomato merchant
arrived Mr. Hunter spread George's letter before him and asked him what
he thought about it.

"Nothing until I've heard your opinion," replied the cautious Percy.

"You have the advantage of knowing Mr. Drake."

"It's no advantage," declared Percy.

"What sort of a man is he?" asked Mr. Hunter.

"As this is a privileged communication, he's the most useless,
good-for-nothing chap in the country," replied Percy; and he went on to
narrate the tragical history of his cousin's deception and indolence.

"Then he is, in your opinion, unscrupulous?"

"That's right. If he wants Miss Yard to buy the furniture, it's because
he hopes to benefit by it."

"Naturally," said the lawyer. "There's nothing unscrupulous in that.
Under the will of Mrs. Drake he becomes possessed of a certain amount of
property; and, being a poor man, he is anxious to convert this property,
or a portion of it, into cash. There is apparently no opening for fraud
but, should one exist, you may be quite sure I shall discover it in the
course of negotiations."

"What do you advise?" asked Percy.

"First of all I should like to know whether he has written to you?"

"I had a note from him, offering me a pair of silver candlesticks. It
appears he found a scrap of paper left by my aunt, expressing a wish
that I should have them, as they were given her as a wedding present by
my mother. I don't want them just now, as I live in lodgings, so I wrote
back and said they had better stay in the house until Miss Yard dies."

"It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have destroyed
that piece of paper. Yet Mr. Drake has communicated its contents to
you," said Mr. Hunter, putting on his eyeglasses and again searching the
letter for any possible stratagem or pitfall.

"I don't say George is altogether bad. I suppose he can respect his
aunt's memory to a certain extent," replied Percy.

"His standpoint appears to me not unreasonable," the lawyer continued.
"The furniture belongs to him, and his argument, firstly that he will be
unable to realise upon it during Miss Yard's lifetime, and secondly that
it may deteriorate to some extent in value before her death takes place,
is quite a sound one. It is possible that Miss Yard may live to well
over ninety, and his financial position may become intolerable before
then. I understand the furniture is valuable?"

"Most of it is rubbish; but there are two Chinese vases which, I
believe, are enormously valuable. Captain Drake probably looted them
during one of his eastern expeditions. I have described them to Crampy,
the well known expert, and he says they may be worth almost anything."

"Mr. Drake is careful to mention there are a few articles he would wish
to retain because of their sentimental value. For sentimental read
pecuniary," said Mr. Hunter, in the shocked voice usually adopted by a
lawyer when he discovers another person trifling with the truth. "But
the goods are his, he is aware of their value, and naturally he wishes
to retain them. These vases throw a new light upon the position. The
best thing he can do is to sell them at once: then, if they are as
valuable as you suppose, he can retire from Windward House, and live
upon the interest of his capital."

"Leaving Miss Yard in possession of the house?"

"Exactly--if he will agree to that course."

"Then you are going to advise Miss Yard to buy the furniture?"

"I think not, and I will give you my reasons. In the first place we
ought not to perplex Miss Yard with matters of business she cannot
understand. In the second place it might not be safe for her to become
the owner of the furniture. Miss Yard, I understand, does exactly as she
is told; she is completely under the control of servants; if an entire
stranger entered the house and introduced himself as a relation, she
might give him anything he liked to ask for. It would be easy for Mr.
Drake, if he is unscrupulous as you suggest, to visit Miss Yard and
induce her to sign a will leaving him the furniture she had previously
purchased from himself."

"On the other hand," said Percy, "we shall never get George out of
Windward House while the furniture belongs to him. He is too much afraid
of the servants stealing things."

"I had thought of that difficulty," said Mr. Hunter in his most
omniscient manner. "What I am going to recommend is that you should make
Mr. Drake an offer for the goods."

"George wouldn't sell to me," said Percy.

"It cannot matter to him whether you or Miss Yard purchase the
furniture. If you do so, it will be upon the understanding that Mr.
Drake leaves Miss Yard in undisturbed possession of the premises at a
rental to be agreed upon. By this arrangement she will be left in a
position of absolute security. While, if you decide not to purchase, Mr.
Drake may sell the contents of one room after another according to his
need for money."

"I'll think over it, and let you know," said Percy.

"During the course of the next few days we shall be receiving the
figures from the valuer," Mr. Hunter continued. "I shall then be in a
position to advise you as to the sum you should offer Mr. Drake. You
agree with me, I think, that I have suggested a way out of the
difficulty?"

"I am always ready to take your advice," replied Percy. "But I believe
George hates me and, if I made him an offer for the furniture, he would
smell something fishy."

"He will receive a complete assurance from my firm that his interests
are being adequately protected," said the lawyer, with a dignity that
seemed to make the windows rattle.

A few days afterwards the expert sent in his report, and Mr. Hunter was
considerably astonished to read that the contents of Windward House,
excluding the articles belonging to Miss Yard, were valued for probate
at the sum of £220 5s. 3d. He sent for the valuer, requesting another
interview with Percy at the same time; and, when they came together, an
explanation of these figures was demanded; the lawyer mentioning that,
according to his instructions, the late Captain Drake had died possessed
of a great number of valuable antiques.

"Most of them worthless. At all events, it's no easy matter to value
such things as an Egyptian mummy and a stuffed mermaid for purposes of
probate."

"How about the Russian Ikon and the Indian musical box?" asked Percy.

"There is no market price for articles of that description. They might
fetch a few shillings, or a great number of pounds. It would depend upon
history and association, or upon rivalry between collectors. I value the
Ikon at ten shillings, and the musical box at five pounds. It's all
guesswork, but I doubt whether you would get much more. As for the
mummy, I simply throw it in with the oleographs."

"Why the odd threepence?" asked Percy.

The valuer coughed and said nothing.

"Mr. Taverner and I are particularly interested in a pair of Chinese
vases," began Mr. Hunter cautiously.

"Which were kept in a box under Mrs. Drake's bed," added the more
reckless Percy.

"Those things!" exclaimed the valuer disgustedly. "I remember them well,
for I thought Mr. Drake was getting at me when he pulled out the box and
unwrapped those vases. There's your odd threepence, sir!" he continued,
turning towards Percy. "And dear at the price."

"You have made a mistake, my friend. I'm not an expert, but I would give
five hundred pounds for those vases without having another look at
them," said Percy.

"Then I wish they were mine!" cried the valuer.

"Perhaps you would describe these vases for Mr. Taverner's benefit," the
lawyer suggested.

"They're not worth describing, sir. They are the sort of things
exchanged by hawkers for a rabbit skin. A pair of green vases about
eighteen inches high, with red cabbages meant for roses splashed across
them."

"We need not trouble you any further, I think," said Percy.

"It was the most difficult job I've had in my life. I value plate and
furniture, not the contents of museums," the man protested.

"You have done your work excellently, as usual; and you have also given
us the information we require," said Mr. Hunter, as the valuer took his
hat and his leave.

"Of course you see what has happened," began Percy at once.

"Mr. Drake had concealed the vases. I shall write pretty sharply to
remind him he must not play these tricks with the law," said Mr. Hunter.

"He's a bigger fool than I took him for, if he thought he could deceive
the valuer--not to mention you and me," said Percy.

"Mr. Drake is no fool: on the contrary, he seems a clever fellow. He did
not suppose he could deceive the valuer, nor did he make the attempt. He
simply produced the pair of worthless vases without comment."

"Then what is he playing at?"

"In the first place he tries to evade the death duties as far as
possible; and these fall upon him rather heavily, as he was related to
the deceased only by marriage. Mr. Drake would naturally prefer to
receive one thousand pounds for the vases rather than nine hundred. In
the second place, he is anxious to discover how much we know about these
vases. It is true they belong to him, but he is by no means certain of
their value. If we make a fuss about the vases he will guess they are
genuine; whereas, if we make no inquiry, he will evade the duty and at
the same time be satisfied that you are not scheming to get hold of
them."

"I never thought of such a thing!" exclaimed Percy.

"The best thing we can do is to send down an expert in china. I shall
first write to Mr. Drake, informing him that he must produce the vases."

"Send Crampy! You needn't write; I'll go and see him," cried Percy
eagerly.

"We could not get a better man than Mr. Crampy; but I'm afraid his fee
will be rather high."

"He'll do it for a guinea if I ask him. Crampy is a great friend of
mine. He told me to keep an eye upon the vases."

Mr. Hunter being perfectly agreeable, Percy snatched his hat and made
off, muttering as he reached the street, "For poor old George's sake I
must tell him not to value them too high."

George in the meantime had nothing much to worry about, although
somewhat disgusted at the low figure placed upon the furniture. He and
Mr. Hunter wrote to each other every day like a couple of lovers; George
always hoping that the lawyer enjoyed a continuance of perfect health;
while Mr. Hunter trusted himself to anticipate a complete cure from the
backache which had blighted Mr. Drake's existence for so long. Kezia and
Bessie were moderately happy while taking stock of the goods which
appeared to belong to them under the joint tenancy created by the scraps
of paper; but there was obviously a certain amount of coldness arising
between them at the prospect of a day of settlement. George was not much
accounted of by either, although the interference of the valuer was
bitterly resented, and George had much difficulty in making them
understand that, whenever a person of quality departed this life, the
Government required a perfect stranger from one of the State Departments
to set a price upon the furniture, in order that statistics as to the
national wealth might be obtained.

Although they were both prepared to fight for the possession of the
Egyptian mummy, which Robert was especially anxious to see set up
against the wall of his parlour, and Kezia had long regarded as the joy
and inspiration of her spiritual existence, neither of them showed the
slightest interest in the Chinese vases which they regarded as vulgar.
Vases to Kezia and Bessie were--vases; that is to say, conspicuous
objects set upon either end of mantelpiece or dresser, to be replaced by
others when broken. Any little village shop, or travelling Cheap-Jack,
sold artistic vases, such as those Mr. George had lately purchased to
delight his eyes, of a beautiful bright green painted with lovely roses.
As Kezia and Bessie were quite prepared to make George a free gift of
all the rubbish in the house, they assured him, in the kindest possible
fashion, that the vases with hideous dragons on them were his, together
with the tortoise and cats, and any other little thing he might like to
have as a remembrance of his aunt. George did not thank them much, but
then he had never been demonstrative.

Letters from the lawyer and expert reached George by the same post; the
one informing him the vases must be produced; the other announcing the
day upon which the valuation would be made. When Mr. Crampy arrived he
was received at the door by Bessie, who spent most of the day regarding
her own home from the windows of Windward House and, as no visitor was
expected by any one except George, who as usual had kept his own
counsel, she said, "Not today, thankye," and would have shut him out;
but, perceiving that the gentleman appeared somewhat agitated, she added
with less severity, "Have ye come vor anything?"

Mr. Crampy had a nervous manner and spoke somewhat indistinctly; but
Bessie was able to gather he had come all the way from London to inspect
their china.

"Please to step inside," she said.

Mr. Crampy did so, and Bessie led him like a lamb into the kitchen,
where she announced to Kezia, "Gentleman come to see the cloam."

"That's one lot on the dresser," gasped Kezia, wondering how many more
inquisitors would arrive. "The best dinner service is in the pantry,"
she added.

Mr. Crampy grew more nervous, but managed to explain he had come to see
a certain Mr. Drake.

"I beg your pardon, sir, I'm sure," said Bessie, "but I fancied you said
something about china."

"Yes, I have come to see a pair of vases," stammered Mr. Crampy.

"Best tell Mr. George a gentleman wants to see 'en," said Kezia, when
the situation threatened to become painful.

A minute later Mr. Crampy was left to cool in the dining room. Presently
George descended the stairs, carrying a large white candle beneath each
arm. He apologised for the stupidity of the servants, then locked the
door, and placed the precious bundles on the table, with the
announcement, "I didn't show these things to the other man for, to tell
you the truth, I was afraid he might place a ridiculously false value
upon them. I expect you know what's what in this particular line?"

"I am supposed to have a very fair knowledge of Chinese porcelain. A
great deal of it passes through my hands," said Mr. Crampy, who was now
perfectly composed.

George removed a quantity of twine, unwound some yards of linen, removed
clouds of brown paper, then abstracted from a bushel of fibre the vase
heavily swathed in cotton-wool; and this he handed to Mr. Crampy with
the utmost reverence.

The expert paused a moment to adjust his glasses; then he drew aside the
wool and gazed at the vase with the love and tenderness of a father
regarding his firstborn child. His lips moved to mutter repeatedly the
single word, "Undoubtedly!"

"A dream, isn't it?" remarked George.

"Glazed porcelain, moulded in relief with dragons--belonging probably to
an early period of the Tsing dynasty, about the end of the seventeenth
century."

"And they've been knocked about like a couple of twopenny teacups,"
added George.

"Do you know, Mr. Drake, how they came into your late uncle's
possession?" asked the expert, caressing the glazed surface with tender
fingers.

"My uncle had a yarn for everything. He would have said they were a
present from the Emperor of China. The only thing I'm concerned about is
the price you mean to put upon them."

"Porcelain of this class has its own value," replied Mr. Crampy. "Were
these vases to be offered for sale, they might fetch a thousand pounds
or, on the other hand, they might be knocked down at five hundred. I am
here to value them for purposes of probate, and that means the lowest
possible value I can put upon them. Is the other vase in a perfect
condition?"

"Just the same. Not a mark upon it. Shall I unwrap it?"

"Oh no! It is quite sufficient to have seen the one. I think I may value
them, for legal requirements, at five hundred pounds; but, Mr. Drake, if
you are willing to accept a thousand pounds, I will hand you a cheque
for that amount before I leave this room."

"There's a big difference between the figures," said George.

"I don't say you would get more than a thousand pounds for these vases.
But I am in the trade, I know how to get to work and secure a profit on
the transaction."

"It sounds a very liberal offer, but I won't decide offhand."

"There is no hurry whatever," said the expert hastily.

"If nothing better comes along I'll write and let you know," said
George, tingling with happiness and excitement.

Nor did his triumph end here. A few mornings later came a letter from
Mr. Hunter, and George read as follows:

"With reference to so much of the furniture and other
articles--excluding the pair of Chinese vases, to which you probably
attach a sentimental value--as belonged to your late aunt, I have had an
interview with Mr. Percy Taverner, and I am now authorised on his behalf
to make you an offer of £200 for these effects. Although this sum is
less than the amount of the probate valuation, you might feel disposed
to accept the offer, having regard to the fact that it would save you
the expense of removing the furniture and holding a sale by auction and
the auctioneer's commission on a sale. I shall be glad to hear from you
when you have considered Mr. Taverner's proposal."

"I've caught 'em!" cried George exultantly. "I baited and set my little
trap and I've caught, not only slippery Percy, but that two-faced,
double-tongued, pill-gilding, thimble-rigging, gammoning, diddling
Hunter!"



CHAPTER X

THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR PARAMOUNT


"This is easier than catching flies," was George's comment, when the
cheque for the furniture arrived, together with a document which
pretended to be a receipt, but was unable to disguise the fact that it
was also an agreement; for it contained a clause, by which George
undertook to quit Windward House within three calendar months, and to
accept Miss Yard as his tenant for life at a yearly rental of thirty
pounds.

He looked forward to a busy day without flinching. Some forms of labour
were fascinating, and quashing lawyers was one of them. George did not
write to Mr. Hunter returning thanks, but walked into the market town
and opened an account with the post office savings bank by paying in the
comfortable cheque. Returning to Highfield, he lured Nellie into the
garden, and informed her he was piling up money in a reckless fashion.

"Two hundred pounds this morning," he said. "Another two hundred next
week. And so it will go on."

"Where's it all coming from?" she asked.

"Money Aunt left me. They don't know what a lot she _did_ leave. It's a
great secret and I wouldn't tell any one but you. I'm refusing
money--that gentleman who called the other day begged me to accept a
thousand pounds, but I wouldn't look at it. I can retire any day now."

"From what?" she laughed.

"From business. Making money is business, and I'm making it like the
Mint."

"Did you really get two hundred pounds this morning?"

"Look at this, if you can't believe me," George replied, showing her the
bank book. "It's nothing--just a flea bite--what the French call a game
of bagatelle. Still it would give many an honest soul a start in life."

"You had better lend the money to your cousin," suggested Nellie.

"I'd let it perish first," cried George. "Whatever made you think of
such a thing?"

"Mr. Taverner wrote to Miss Sophy this morning--she shows me all her
letters now--and asked her to lend him two hundred pounds, as he had
suddenly discovered another mortgage he had forgotten to pay off."

"The fellow's a ruffian!" exclaimed George, not without some admiration
for Percy's methods of finance, which compared favourably with his own.

"He had learnt the profession of begging, and isn't ashamed to practise
it. I think he might wait until Miss Sophy is dead."

"Percy has no moral sense," said George, with the utmost severity. "He
has visited here, and I have entertained him; but he has never given me
anything except superciliousness, and on one occasion a cigar which was
useless except as a germicide. I have never yet heard your opinion of
him."

"He's a name and nothing else," she said.

"I did have an idea he wanted to be something to you."

"What rubbish! He never even looked at me properly. When he didn't gaze
at my boots he stared over my head; and he spoke to me like a
gramophone."

"You didn't exactly like him?" George suggested.

"I positively dislike him."

"You never looked at him softly with your nice blue eyes?"

"My eyes are not blue."

"They seem very blue sometimes, but I'm not good at colours. I am glad
you don't like Percy. It has removed a great weight from my mind. I had
a dreadful suspicion, Nellie, and--and I was afraid it might interfere
with my sleep; but I won't say anything more about it now. Don't you
think we had better meet this evening, when it is getting dusk," George
rambled on heavily, "and go a little walk, and talk about plans?"

"I have no plans," said Nellie. "I shall just go on living here until
Miss Yard dies, and then I shall pack up my belongings--including the
round table in the parlour--and disappear from Highfield forever."

"Not you," said George. "I have a quantity of plans, Nellie; a lot for
you as well as for myself."

"Tell me all about them."

"This is not the time."

"Can't you speak while we stand here in the sunshine?"

"It would be easier if we were walking about in the dark."

"That might be bad for me," she reminded him. "When a couple talk in the
dark, other couples talk about them. I will listen to some of your
plans--with a decided preference for those about myself. You shall tell
me four," she said, tapping the first finger of her right hand. "What is
plan number one?"

"About Aunt Sophy," replied George promptly:

"Unless there's a sudden change in temperature," murmured Nellie, "I am
to be frozen out again."

"You come last," said tactless George.

"Just as I expected, and perhaps a little more," she answered.

"Aunt Sophy must die," said George firmly. "That sad event should happen
any time now. The first plan is to get rid of her."

"Let it be done decently," she begged.

"I don't want her to die, for, of course, one is always sorry to lose
old relations. Aunt Maria's death was a great shock to me," George
explained. "But for Aunt Sophy it would be a happy release, especially
as I cannot be master in my own house while she lives. She ought to have
gone before Aunt Maria."

"I suppose she forgot."

"Do you notice any signs of breaking down?"

"In yourself?" asked Nellie gently.

"In Aunt Sophy. I--I don't much like to be made fun of, Nellie."

"I was trying to cheer you up, as this is not Miss Sophy's funeral.
Don't worry about the dear lady; she is perfectly well and thoroughly
happy; her health has been much better since we came to Highfield; and I
shall be quite astonished if she doesn't live another twenty years. She
is a great admirer of the giant tortoise--"

"He's over five hundred years old," cried George in anguish.

"That makes Miss Yard the smallest kind of infant."

"If she lives another two years, I must give her notice. I cannot have
her upsetting all my plans--though I quite agree with you she is a dear
old lady."

"Plan number two!" cried Nellie.

"That concerns myself," said George.

"You should have been number one," she said reproachfully.

"I had to put Aunt Sophy first, because I cannot arrange my own future
while she occupies the house. I don't want to say too much about
myself."

"I know," said Nellie sympathetically. "That's your way. But you should
try to be a little selfish sometimes."

"You are quite right, Nellie; we must think of our own interests. I have
wasted far too much time bothering about Aunt Sophy, Kezia, Bessie--"

"And me!!" cried Nellie. "Do let me come in somewhere."

"Not with them. You come in a class by yourself."

"The fourth," she murmured.

"As Aunt Sophy is so good and religious we cannot want her to live on,
knowing how much happier she will be in the next world; and then I can
settle down as the big man of Highfield--quite the biggest man in the
place, and I hope the most respectable. Mr. and Mrs. George Drake, of
Windward House, in the parish of Highfield and county of Devon, Esquire,
as the lawyers say."

"How unkind! You introduce Mrs. Drake, and then ignore her. You married
her at one end of your sentence and divorced her, for no fault whatever,
at the other end."

"Married ladies are not credited with separate existences," explained
George.

"They generally insist upon taking one."

"By lawyers, I mean. They are not distinct entities like spinsters and
widows."

"I see: while I am single I have a personality, when I marry I lose it,
when I am a widow I regain it. You could not have improved upon that
sentence."

"Why not?" asked George.

"In its repetition of the most important letter in the alphabet. Now for
plan number three."

"But I have said nothing about myself yet!" cried George.

"Don't try. You are finding it very disagreeable, I am sure; and after
all I can guess. This house ought to be converted into a mansion, and
you mean to do it. This village sadly needs a squire, resident
magistrate, pillar of uprightness; and you fully intend to supply that
want."

George nodded, and hoped she would go on talking like that, blinking
after the fashion of a tomcat who has just enjoyed a bowl of cream.

"I have all sorts of plans for my future, but they are not properly
arranged yet. Aunt Sophy blocks them all. I am not ambitious," George
blundered on, "but I do mean to have a comfortable home, luxurious
armchairs, piles of cushions, deep carpets, felt slippers, and good
cigars. I don't care how simple my food is, so long as I have good
tobacco, and the very finest tea obtainable. I should like to turn the
parlour into a tea house, with a divan at one end where I could lie and
smoke--sometimes."

"A dream of Turkish delight!" laughed Nellie. "What is the third plan?"

"Concerning finance, and there I can't be beaten," replied George
promptly.

"I thought you were rolling in money."

"It is coming in nicely now," George admitted, "but after a time the
flow will cease; while I shall still be spending. The problem before me
is how to invest my capital so that I shall be certain of a comfortable
income. Government securities are treacherous things, and I have very
little confidence in railways. The secret of wealth is to invest your
cash in those things which everybody must have. Now every man must buy
tobacco and drink beer; they are necessities of life. And every woman
must carry an umbrella. What is a woman's principal necessity next to an
umbrella?"

"No respectable girl would even think of anything except umbrellas,"
replied Nellie. "But most girls are not respectable, I'm afraid, and,
though it is a horrible confession to make, they cannot be happy unless
they are constantly supplied with chocolates."

"Is that really the truth?" asked George, with much interest.

"It is, indeed. My kind of girl must have chocolates, just as your kind
of man must drink beer."

"Now that you mention it, I seem to remember there are an
extraordinarily lot of sweet shops in every town."

"And I should visit them all, just as naturally as you would go into the
public houses."

"That's a very valuable suggestion," said George. "I shall invest the
whole of my capital in beer, tobacco, umbrellas, and chocolates. You
see, Nellie, that will practically cover the prime necessities of either
sex. A man goes to work with a pipe in his mouth, and he walks straight
into a public-house. A woman comes out with an umbrella, and the first
thing she does is to buy chocolates."

"There are sure to be exceptions," said Nellie. "A bishop, for instance,
might not go to his cathedral with a pipe in his mouth, while a Cabinet
Minister would probably walk straight past several public-houses."

"But they all smoke and drink at home."

"I don't fancy somehow that bishops drink beer."

"Bottled beer," said George eagerly.

"Surely some are teetotallers!"

"Then they drink cocoa, and that's chocolate melted down. On the other
hand, plenty of ladies drink beer. You can see them carrying jugs--"

"Not ladies!" cried Nellie.

"Well, charwomen--they are ladies from a business point of view. I can
see myself making tons of money," said George delightedly. "If only Aunt
Sophy--"

"Do please let the poor old lady live on and enjoy herself. You wouldn't
like to be hunted out of the world to suit anybody's plans. And now,"
said Nellie, "we reach the fourth subject, which I flatter myself has
some connection with a certain person who is quite used to being
regarded as an afterthought."

"Three persons--Kezia, Bessie, Robert. They must go, all of them."

"Really this is the last straw!" cried Nellie. "I was almost certain I
should be at least honourably mentioned."

"But I am talking to you, not about you. I'm telling you my secrets--and
I wouldn't do that to anyone but you. Nellie, you don't think I am
playing with your affections?"

"I'll not listen any longer. I couldn't expect to come first, but I did
hope to be placed last."

"If you would walk after dark--"

"I'm not a ghost; besides, I will not be ashamed to stand in the
light."

"Then we might talk about something that means love," said George, who,
being wound up for that sentence, was bound to finish it.

"Oh, George!" exclaimed one of the parrots.

"I wonder what it would be like," said Nellie, when she had done
laughing.

"You teach those birds to say things," he muttered crossly.

"They are so intelligent. That one can say, 'Nellie's the belle of the
ball.' Even that sort of compliment is better than none."

"I am thinking, Nellie, that you like chocolates. I had better get you
some," George continued, believing it might be threepence well invested.

"That wouldn't be a bad idea."

"And you would take them as a compliment from me?"

"I'll take all I can get," she promised.

"You know, Nellie, I'm older than you, but I'm reliable. I'm not much
good at silly talk, but I do mean what I say. I can quite understand
some men would say very silly things to you, but I can't."

"People will talk rubbish when they are in love," she admitted.

"It's a very serious matter. I wouldn't joke about such a thing," said
George.

"Of course, when a man tells his own particular girl she is a star, a
flower, an angel, and a goddess, he is only joking; but most girls are
so sweet tempered they can take a joke."

"I never made a joke," cried George.

"And I hope you will never try."

"But I'm full of affection."

"I have never seen any one quite so seriously in love as you are."

"I'm so glad you can see it. You have quite sensible eyes, Nellie, and I
think you may improve a good deal as you get older. I am easy-going, and
you are pleasant, so we ought to get along very well."

"You are so much in love," cried Nellie, "that you can't help saying
silly things. You regard the person that you love as the most angelic
creature possible; and angels are always masculine in spite of lovers'
talk."

"I take people as I find them; I never look for their faults," said the
virtuous George.

"Try! If you could discover a few faults in the person that you love, it
might help you to stop saying, 'I am,' and to begin learning, 'Thou
art,'" replied Nellie, as she ran off towards the house.

"There, George!" cried one of the parrots; while the giant tortoise
thoughtfully advanced one millimetre.

"She is not nearly serious enough," said George, "and I'm afraid her
words sometimes have a double meaning; but she is useful and quite
ornamental. She pours out tea beautifully, and I do admire the way she
puts on Aunt Sophy's slippers."

The next duty--a more simple one--was to win the sympathy of Miss Yard.
Every evening, when fine enough, the lady walked once round the garden
and, upon returning to the house, was packed into her chair till supper
time; although she refused to remain quiescent, and would wander about
the room hiding her valuables in secret corners. On this particular
evening she fell asleep and, when George entered the parlour, she did
not recognise him until he had introduced himself.

"I shall soon be getting quite stupid," she said. "I was just going to
ask you to sit down and wait for yourself. But I'm thankful to say my
memory is just as good as ever."

"Then you remember Percy?" began George, seating himself close beside
her.

"Oh dear yes! I often hear from Percy. He tells me he has a fine crop of
potatoes."

"Tomatoes."

"He dug up two hundred pounds' worth last week. I had a letter from him
this morning telling me that."

"And you remember Mr. Hunter?" George went on.

"I've just sent him a subscription for his new church," replied Miss
Yard.

"Ah, that's somebody else. I mean Mr. Hunter, your family solicitor."

"Oh, yes, I remember him quite well. He came to see me when I lived
somewhere else. It must have been a long time ago, because he's been
dead for years."

"He's back again at his office now, and has written to me. He tells me I
am to leave you," said George solemnly.

Miss Yard gasped and looked frightened at this message from the grave.
She seized George's arm and ordered him to say it all over again, more
slowly.

"Mr. Hunter is afraid that, if I live here, I may rob you; so he says I
must go out into the world and make my own living. That's impossible at
my time of life," said George warmly.

"You wouldn't do such a thing," cried Miss Yard, almost in tears. "You
are so kind to me; you find my money when the others hide it away. If I
break anything you are always the first to run for the doctor--I mean
when I bump my head. I shall write to Mr. Hunter and tell him his new
church will never prosper if he does this sort of thing."

"It is hard to be ordered out of my own house," said George.

"Whatever can the man be thinking of! I really cannot understand a
clergyman being so wicked. Perhaps I ought to write to the bishop."

"He's a lawyer, Aunt," George shouted.

"Now why didn't you tell me that before?" said Miss Yard crossly. "Of
course, lawyers will do anything. The people who did my father's
business were the only honest lawyers I ever came across. This house
belongs to me, and you shall stay here as long as you like. If you'll
find my cheque-book I will write to this man at once--I mean, if you
will bring my pen, you shall have a little present, for you are always
so thoughtful. I am so sorry your poor dear mother didn't leave you
much."

George had not time to correct her error; besides, it was useless. He
brought her writing materials after a vain search for the cheque-book,
for Nellie had taken possession of that, and said, "I don't want to
confuse you, Aunt, but I suppose you will be leaving Nellie something?"

"Everything I have," replied Miss Yard earnestly. "I am leaving her the
house, and all the furniture, my clothes and jewels, and as much money
as I can save. I could not rest if I thought dear Nellie would be left
unprovided for. You will look after Nellie, won't you? I should be so
pleased if you would adopt her as your daughter."

"I'm not quite old enough," George stammered.

"Nonsense, you look quite elderly," said Miss Yard encouragingly. "And
Nellie is such a child."

"If I had been younger I might have thought about marrying her," said
George awkwardly.

"Now that would have been a nice idea! What a pity it is you are not
forty years younger."

"You are thinking of someone else," cried George despairingly.

"Oh, I'm sure you are sixty. Your mother married when I was quite a
girl. I do remember that, for I got so excited at the wedding that, when
the clergyman asked her if she wanted the man, I thought he was speaking
to me, and I said, 'Yes, please,' and poor Louisa gave me such a look,
and I went into hysterics. Girls can't go into hysterics in these days
like we used to do. It's funny how well I remember all these things that
happened in our young days, but then for an old woman my memory is
wonderful. What were we talking about before you mentioned your mother's
wedding?"

"About Mr. Hunter, the lawyer who has ordered me to leave you," replied
George, deciding to say no more of his matrimonial intentions.

"I never heard of such impertinence in my life. He will be telling me
next I don't own the place," cried Miss Yard, stabbing with her pen in
the direction of the ink pot. "What am I to say to the wretch?"

"Remind him I am your nephew, and I have every right to enjoy your
hospitality. Tell him I am indispensable to you. Then you might add
something about the wickedness of depriving an orphan of his home, and
conclude by mentioning that you will never consent to my leaving you."

"I'll tell him, if he persecutes you any more, I will put the matter
into the hands of my own solicitor," Miss Yard declared, scribbling away
briskly, for her greatest delight, next to chattering, was letter
writing.

"I wouldn't do that," said George piously. "It sounds too much like a
threat, and after all we must try to forgive our enemies."

"Thank you for reminding me. That's a beautiful idea of yours. I wish I
was a good and clever old woman like you are."

George was stooping over her at the moment, and this compliment made him
groan. "It's my poor back," he explained.

"Oh dear!" exclaimed the innocent old lady. "When you have gone to bed,
I shall send Nellie to wrap you up in red flannel. We old people cannot
be too careful."

Miss Yard wrote letters to all manner of persons, living, dead, and
imaginary; but very few found their way to the post office. George took
possession of the letter to Mr. Hunter and despatched it himself; and,
knowing exactly when the answer would be received, he took the
precaution of going out to meet the postman. By this time he was
prepared for action, as the cheque for two hundred pounds had been
cleared, and the amount was deposited safely to his account.

There were two letters, and one was addressed to himself. Miss Yard's
was merely a note, acknowledging the receipt of her communication and
mentioning that Mr. Taverner would shortly be writing with a view to
clearing away the misunderstanding which had arisen since the death of
Mrs. Drake. George opened a phial of malice and poured out its contents
upon the name of Percy. Then he examined his own letter, which was bulky
and of a strongly acid tendency.

Mr. Hunter was astonished and pained to think that Mr. Drake should have
taken advantage of the age and infirmities of Miss Yard to such an
extent as to have made her the instrument of his plans; as it was
perfectly evident Mr. Drake had dictated, or at least had inspired, the
letter which had been addressed to his firm by Miss Yard. Mr. Hunter
earnestly desired to avoid anything of an unpleasant nature, and he
hoped therefore Mr. Drake would not venture to repeat an experiment
which suggested a state of ethics with which he had not previously been
acquainted; and would adhere to his undertaking, given as a condition
to Mr. Taverner's purchase of the furniture, namely, to leave Miss Yard
in undisturbed possession of the premises bequeathed to Mr. Drake by his
late aunt, and better known and described as Windward House. Mr. Hunter
had also just been informed, to his soul's amusement, that Mr. Drake had
not yet subscribed to this form of agreement, nor had he acknowledged
the receipt of a cheque for two hundred pounds forwarded him some days
previously. Mr. Hunter continued to be sorry to the end of his letter,
which was a memorable piece of philosophic morality, suggesting that the
lawyer's office had been quite recently taken over by some institution
for reforming wicked people.

George expressed a hope that Mr. Hunter some day might be sorry for
himself. He had under-rated the powers of the lawyer, who had now proved
himself to possess the ordinary malevolent, orphan-baiting, legal soul.
However, George had no intention of surrendering without a struggle. He
took his pen and obliterated the highly offensive clause which referred
to his expulsion from Windward House. He then added his signature and
composed an epistle complaining bitterly of the oriental methods of
oppression which were being brought to bear upon him. He mentioned that
he was an invalid Englishman residing in Devonshire; and laid particular
stress upon the fact he never had been an Armenian living somewhere in
the Turkish Empire. He especially desired to draw Mr. Hunter's attention
to the phenomenon that the present age was democratic, and British
workmen--with whom he did not disdain to be associated--were becoming
impatient of high-handed methods. He enclosed the receipt and regretted
the delay, which had been unavoidable owing to the insertion of the
clause--now deleted, as Mr. Hunter would observe--which seemed to strike
far too harshly against his personal liberty. He had given this clause
his serious attention for some days, but had arrived at the conclusion,
regretfully, that it involved a principle he was quite unable to accept.
Messrs. Hunter and Taverner, in their joint capacity as trustees of the
Yard estate, had apparently conspired--he did not use the word in an
objectionable sense, although in his opinion it had but one meaning--to
secure his eviction from premises to which he was legally entitled. They
had offered him a wholly inadequate sum of money for the furniture, and
this offer he had accepted with the sole idea of rendering Miss Yard a
kindness; but now, it appeared, the money had been intended as a bribe
to induce him to quit his home. Was this altogether legal? Was it
honest? Could it be respectable? He felt compelled to remind Mr. Hunter,
again regretfully, that a bribe was something given to corrupt the
conduct of poor but decent men.

Then he went to Miss Yard and told her the lawyer was still tormenting
him, and he was very much afraid it might soon be necessary to go away
and find some hiding place.

"Has the man written to me?" asked Miss Yard, when the whole matter had
been recalled to her memory.

"Don't you remember? He said you were a silly old woman, and you had no
business to interfere."

"Where is the letter? Find it for me, George, and I'll do something,"
she cried indignantly.

"You were so angry that you threw it on the fire. Don't worry, Aunt; I
shall know how to defend myself. The man tried to bribe me to leave you,
and now he's threatening to send me to prison by means of false
evidence."

"I wish you would let me write to my own man, what's his name?"

"That would lead to expense, and you must not spend money on me. If I
don't go away I'm afraid the man may come to Highfield with a gang of
ruffians, and break into the house--and I won't have you worried."

"I'll give you some money," said the generous lady. "Where's my
cheque-book? Tell Nellie to find my cheque-book."

"Thank you, Aunt. A little money will be very useful. This man is just a
blackmailer, and if I hide for a few weeks he will forget all about me.
Then you can write and invite me to come back," said George tenderly.

"I'll write this moment," cried Miss Yard.

"But I haven't gone yet. You are mistress here and, if you like to
invite me, of course, I can come and stay as long as you care to have
me."

"And if that horrid man tries to turn you out again, I shall let Percy
know about it, and I shall get advice from Hunter--I wonder how I came
to remember his name. Do write to Hunter and tell him all about it,"
Miss Yard pleaded.

"To please you, I will," George promised.

That evening he received a letter in strange handwriting, and bearing
the illegible postmark which signified that it came from London. George
opened it and, perceiving the signature of Mr. Crampy, expert in ancient
porcelain, read the contents with interest:

"Since visiting you I have spoken with several collectors about your
pair of vases, which, I have no doubt whatever, are excellent specimens
dating from the Tsing dynasty, although I admit forgeries of this period
are exceedingly difficult to detect. My object in writing is to warn you
against being imposed upon, and to remind you of your promise to give
me first refusal up to a thousand pounds, which sum I am still perfectly
willing to risk.

"It is highly probable some wealthy collectors may call upon you as,
when the existence of such vases as you possess becomes known, there is
invariably a hue and cry after them. I enclose, on a separate sheet of
paper, a list of names; these are all gentlemen whom you can trust
absolutely. The two against whose names I have pencilled the letters,
U.S.A. are, I know, very keen to get your vases. If you should do
business with any of the gentlemen on my list I get a commission. I
don't suppose you will let yourself be humbugged, but I beg you not to
make any offer in writing unless you intend to stick to it, as any of
these collectors would convert your scrap of writing into a stamped
legal document at once, and then sue you for breach of contract if you
tried to get out of it.

"So long as you refuse to part with the vases for less than a thousand,
you'll be all right."



CHAPTER XI

SOME LEADING INCIDENTS


"I do hope there's nothing wrong with Mr. Percy, vor Miss Sophy ha' got
a letter from him, and she's crying something shocking," remarked Kezia,
as she handed George a communication informing him that, not only Mr.
Hunter, but the entire firm of Martin and Cross, had been outraged by
the unspeakable conduct of Mr. Drake, who had dishonoured the title of
gentleman by breaking his plighted word, and had stained his own name
for ever by repudiating a contract. During the whole course of his
professional career Mr. Hunter was thankful to say he never before
received a letter suggesting that he--a solicitor--was capable of
conspiring with another to deprive a third party of his lawful
inheritance. He banished the sinister reflection, and enclosed a fresh
form of receipt, containing the clause which Mr. Drake unaccountably
regarded as oppressive, after having expressed his entire approval of
the conditions contained therein, and he pressed for its execution at
once or, failing that, the immediate return of the cheque for two
hundred pounds. Mr. Taverner had specifically mentioned he would not
purchase the furniture unless Mr. Drake gave an undertaking in writing
to withdraw from Windward House; and now that Mr. Hunter had become more
intimately acquainted with Mr. Drake's character, he was bound to
confess that Mr. Taverner had displayed remarkably shrewd judgment.

"I trapped him, but he doesn't know it; I have trod upon his corn, and
he doesn't like it; now I'll make a fool of him completely," George
muttered.

Then Miss Yard came trembling and half tumbling downstairs, supported by
Nellie, and weeping bitterly in quite a joyful fashion.

"Percy has got a new tomato and he calls it Emily," she announced.

"Emmie Lee," corrected Nellie.

"You mustn't allow that to upset you," said George.

"But he's going to bring her to see me, and he wants me to write to her.
Oh dear! I do pray it may be a blessing to him."

"Try not to cry any more, or you will have such a headache," said Nellie
soothingly.

"I should not have thought," remarked George, "that tomatoes were worth
crying about anyhow."

"All the information was there, but rather too condensed," explained
Nellie. "Mr. Taverner discovered in one of his glass-houses--"

"Oh, no, Nellie, you are silly, child. It was at a garden party."

"You begin breakfast, and let me tell Mr. Drake in my own rambling
fashion," said Nellie, coaxing the lady into her cushioned chair, then
slipping into her own place behind the tea tray. "Mr. Taverner
discovered his foreman had cultivated a particularly fine tomato plant
unawares, and he made up his mind it was a new species, so he means to
introduce it to the market under the name of Emmie Lee."

"He's full of dirty little tricks like that," George grumbled.

"And she's the great-grandchild of a clergyman, so there cannot be
anything wrong with the family," sobbed Miss Yard.

"You must stop crying at once," said Nellie sternly.

"My dear, I will cry and be happy."

"The truth of the matter is, Percy has got a young woman?" George
suggested.

"That's it," said Nellie. "And he's naming the new tomato after her."

"Because it matches her complexion, I suppose. What has he got to be
married on?"

"It's not love, he says. It's money. I am so thankful."

"It is love, Miss Sophy. Love on both sides, at first sight, and all the
way."

"Of course it is, my dear. Poor dear Percy! He was such a gentleman, and
he did work so hard. If I could have seen him once more, just to tell
him how happy I am--"

"Now you are not to say anything more until you have eaten your
breakfast," Nellie ordered, as she rose to supply the old lady with a
fresh handkerchief and a piece of buttered toast.

That morning George wrote a curt and final note to Mr. Hunter,
announcing his intention of leaving Highfield within the next few days,
and enclosing the receipt duly signed. He then approached Nellie,
informed her duty was calling him elsewhere, and explained that, before
his departure, a little cheque from Miss Yard would be acceptable.

"You know the rules," she said. "I have to give an account of my
stewardship to the trustees."

"Yes, but Aunt Sophy owes me rent, and you mustn't allow her generous
nature to be restrained if she wishes to add a few pounds by way of
bonus," said George.

"There are to be no additions whatever," she said firmly. "I'll let Miss
Sophy give you a quarter's rent, but no more. She can't afford it, as
her bank account is low."

"Because she gives all her money to Percy. You let her do that," cried
George wrathfully.

"How can I prevent it? Mr. Taverner does bleed her frightfully, but he's
a trustee, and her nephew."

"So he can levy blackmail, grab all his aunt's money, ransack my home!
He's above the law, while I'm crushed down by it. The kindest thing I
can say about Percy is to call him a kleptomaniac, though I believe he's
a pirate."

"I want you to tell me who really does own the house and furniture. And
why are you going? I'm sure you wouldn't leave Highfield unless you had
to. I promise not to tell anyone," said Nellie eagerly.

"Not even Sidney Brock?"

"You are not to mention his name to me. You know quite well I never see
him now that he's given up the choir," said Nellie, flushing with shame,
indignation, and other things.

"I should have said nothing if he hadn't written to you. I saw the
postmark was Highfield--and of course I felt jealous," said George
composedly.

"Yes, he did write, and asked me to meet him again. Just a selfish
letter," snapped Nellie. "I'm not going to answer it. Now I've told you
my secrets, and I expect to hear yours."

"I never did like the idea of keeping anything from you," said George
doubtfully.

"Especially as Mr. Hunter would tell me everything, if I liked to write
and inform him I cannot undertake my new duties until I have the whole
position explained to me."

"If you tell Kezia and Bessie there will be a fearful rumpus."

"I won't say a word to either. I don't care much about them, now I see
how grasping they are, though it's only natural I suppose. Mrs. Drake
treated them more like relations than servants, and they are quite sure
she meant them to own everything."

"They know my aunt left a will," said George.

"She left about a hundred," laughed Nellie. "Kezia has fifty, Bessie has
forty, Miss Sophy has two, and I have one."

"But the will in my favour is the only legal one; and it's the only one
the trustees know about."

"Some of the papers were signed and dated, though none were witnessed.
Anyhow, they are all later than your will," said Nellie.

George thought he could see what she was driving at. Miss Yard would
leave the entire property to Nellie if she could; and his aunt had
certainly left a scrap of paper expressing a wish that her sister should
own the house. No doubt Nellie has this document hidden away safely. It
did not matter much, and yet George felt uncomfortable at the idea of
his wife owning the property.

"I'll tell you the truth," he said boldly. "My aunt lost her affection
for me rather during the last years of her life, as she thought I didn't
put my whole heart into my work, and perhaps she didn't want me to own
the property. Still, she never destroyed the will, and that leaves the
house to me."

"But who owns the furniture?"

"Last week it was mine. Now it belongs to Aunt Sophy."

"You never gave it her!"

"She has bought it. I offered it to her through Hunter, and he advised
Percy to buy it with her money."

"That means the furniture belongs to Mr. Taverner."

"Aunt Sophy paid every penny of the purchase money, therefore it belongs
to her. I have you as a witness to prove it."

"She advanced the money to Mr. Taverner. She didn't even know what he
wanted it for," cried Nellie.

"It will come out at her death, when Percy claims the furniture. We must
keep the cheque, produce it to Percy, and demand an explanation. If he
refuses to withdraw his claim, we will threaten to expose his knavish
tricks before his high-minded Emmie, the whole of her virtuous family,
and the immaculate firm of Cross and Martin."

"We!" laughed Nellie. "Do you suppose I will be the accomplice of your
villainy?"

"This afternoon," said George, "I am going into town, and there I shall
buy a sixpenny printed form of Will. I shall then insert what is
necessary, words to the effect that all the furniture, with everything
that Aunt Sophy dies possessed of, are to come to you. I have kept a
copy of aunt's will, which was properly drawn up by a lawyer, so I shall
know how to do it. Then you must ask Aunt Sophy to sign it. Kezia and
Bessie ought to be the witnesses. It would serve them right," said
George, chuckling vastly.

"I'll have nothing to do with it," cried Nellie.

"Then I must work alone as usual. I'm not going to let you be defrauded.
The only way to get justice is to help yourself," declared George.
"There's Hunter now! He would give twopence with one hand and steal your
last sovereign with the other. And, if you caught the rascal, he would
swear you had dropped the sovereign in his pocket. And he wouldn't rest
until he had got back the twopence. Hunter stands for justice; he deals
in it like Percy, who puts his sound tomatoes on top of the basket to
hide the rotten ones underneath."

"I'm afraid you don't love Mr. Hunter," laughed Nellie. "Is it because
he has ordered you to clear out?"

"He and Percy between them hatched the dirty plot. They know I want
money--"

"A few days ago you were refusing it."

"Ah, but that was tact. The pair of rascals offered to buy the
furniture, if I would promise to leave my own home. That was bribery and
corruption. They want to get rid of me; they would like me to starve in
a ditch, and they would prefer the ditch to have water in it. Hunter's
not quite so bad as Percy, I think. Hunter has to be a scoundrel, or he
couldn't make a living. But Percy is just a homicidal maniac."

"They are afraid you might try to influence Miss Sophy," suggested
Nellie, when she had done laughing.

"It's Percy's doing entirely. He's a common malefactor himself, so he
thinks I must be the same. He's not going to have any one else milking
his golden goose. Besides, he knows how fond I am of Aunt Sophy, and
what great care I take of her. I have saved her from serious injury many
a time, and that doesn't suit Percy at all. He wants the dear old lady
to fall about, and hurt herself, and die of shock, so that he can get
her money, which I hope will be a curse to him."

"I understand the position," said Nellie. "You really are going?" she
added.

"I must go," replied George gloomily. "It is hard on both of us, but you
must try to be brave, for we shall soon meet again. Aunt Sophy won't
live long when she hasn't me to look after her."

"Thank you for another compliment," cried Nellie.

"You deserve them all," said George, with more tenderness than usual.

He set off presently, carrying the precious vases wrapped up like
twin-babies and, arriving at the market-town, he entered the shop of the
principal ironmonger, who dealt also in all kinds of earthenware goods,
and had the notice, "Art pottery a Specialty," posted in one of his
windows. The proprietor advanced to meet him, and was highly flattered
when George remarked he had come to obtain the impartial opinion of a
specialist regarding the value of some Chinese vases.

"If I can't give it ye, sir, I don't know who can. I ha' handled cloam
all my life, as my father did avore me, and I'll quote ye a fair market
price vor anything you like to show me. They are amazing ugly things,
sure enough, wi' they old snakes all twisted round 'em," said the honest
tradesman when George had undressed his babies.

"They're beautifully glazed," said the owner proudly.

"Yes, they'm nice and shiny. 'Tis done by baking 'em. Now you want me to
tell you how much they'm worth?"

"Suppose I asked you to buy them, how much would you offer?"

"I might give ye eighteen pence vor the pair, though I should fancy I
wur doing ye a favour. Some folks like these ugly things--I sell a lot
o' they china cats wi' the eyes starting out o' their heads--but I would
be satisfied if I got a shilling each vor these old vases."

"A gentleman told me the other day they were worth a lot of
money--hundreds of pounds in fact," said the astounded George.

"I believe ye, sir. Plenty o' gentlemen, when they see a bit o' cloam
that ain't quite the same as ordinary cloam, will tell ye it's worth
money. Cloam is wonderful cheap just now, sir. I can show ye some
amazing bargains in vases at half a crown the pair, and far better value
than these old china things."

"But the gentleman, who told me they were valuable, came from London,"
George protested.

"Well, sir," replied the little provincial, smiling broadly, "ain't that
just where all the vules do come from?"

There was another china shop in the town, so George tried his fortune
there. This shop was kept by a fat lady, who turned sour when George
informed her he had not come to purchase anything; and passed into
indignation when he had unveiled the vases.

"Take 'em away, sir," she said sternly. "I wouldn't show such vulgar
stuff in my window if you paid me for it. My establishment is noted for
chaste designs--flowers, and birds, and butterflies--little lambs, and
shepherdesses--and I deal wi' gentlefolk."

"A thing can be ugly, and yet priceless," said George.

"It's not the ugliness so much as the obscenity," replied the stout
lady, who was herself no gracious object. "They were made, I fancy, by
poor benighted heathens; though why people ship such stuff into England,
when they can buy cheap and beautiful Christian home-made vases from
such establishments as mine, I can't tell ye," she declared, handling
one of the treasures so recklessly that George darted forward in great
terror.

"Oh, you needn't be alarmed," she went on. "If I did break it, I'd give
ye another pair, and something to be proud of. I should smash these
nasty old things into crocks and put 'em in my flower-pots."

George returned to Highfield, wondering greatly. He knew nothing
whatever concerning china, and apparently the local experts were no
better informed than himself. Crampy, on the other hand, had valued the
vases at a thousand pounds, although he admitted the possibility of
their being forgeries; he was, however, prepared to pay the money and
take the risk. Before reaching home George had fully decided to secure
the thousand pounds before he commenced his pilgrimage.

He was absent from the village about three hours, and during that short
period all manner of things had happened. The Yellow Leaf had often
noted with regret that a strong leading incident rarely occurred in
Highfield; but, when one did take place, it was almost sure to be
accompanied by another, to the great confusion of the inhabitants who
were compelled to discuss two incidents at the same time.

The first, and by far the most startling, incident took place quite
early in the afternoon. Nellie had gone into Miss Yard's bedroom to look
up some mending, and presently seated herself beside the window which
overlooked the village street. That letter from Sidney worried her, but
the knowledge of his loose principles troubled her far more. She
remembered the words of his defence, indeed there was nothing much about
him she had forgotten, as her memory was much better than Miss Yard's;
and still she could not decide whether to answer the letter or to ignore
it; whether to meet him once more or to let him go; whether to go on
thinking of him--but that she had to do; or to hate him--though she
couldn't.

"It's a dreary outlook," she murmured. "Little work and no love makes me
a dull maid. I'm alone in the world, and somebody loves me, but he's a
bad somebody. And another somebody is willing to marry me, but he's a
silly old somebody. And I want the bad somebody."

"Hook it!" shrieked a parrot from the garden, addressing a bumblebee
which was threatening to enter its cage.

"Polly gives me advice," she murmured. "Hook it! Hook George, and pour
out rivers of tea, and put on his slippers in respectable humility. No,
thankye, Poll! I won't hook it. I'll fish for something better, else,
when Miss Sophy dies, I must find another job, and go on jobbing it,"
she whispered, looking into the glass, "until I don't look anything like
so saucy as I'm doing now."

"Nellie, where be to?" called the equally saucy parrot.

"Here she be!" answered the girl from the window. "Her's going to write
to the bad somebody, and her's going to meet him, and her's going to be
a soft dafty little vule and believe his nonsense."

While she spoke a rumbling of wheels heralded the approach of the
incident, which had already occurred with disastrous results along the
more important reaches of the street. Nellie remained at the open
window out of curiosity until the incident, which was of no importance
to her at the moment, became revealed in the form of a young and pretty
girl, gazing about in a highly interested fashion as she swept past in
an open wagonette; a beautifully dressed young lady, certainly no more
than eighteen, who looked quite capable of travelling round the world
without an escort.

"Whoever can she be?" Nellie murmured, as she went towards her own room,
to get that letter written before she changed her mind again.

She could hear voices buzzing in the kitchen, where Kezia and Bessie
were discussing the incident; presently she opened the door and
listened, for the air was thrilling with unpleasant sounds of proper
nouns and most improper adjectives; finally she went downstairs and
presented herself at the kitchen door.

"Oh, Miss Nellie!" cried Kezia. "Did you see the person driving past?"

"I did see her," replied Nellie. "Who is she?"

"Ah, that's what every one's asking. I shouldn't like to say who she be.
See how bold she stared as she drove along!" said Bessie.

"She warn't so bold looking as that other one," remarked Kezia.

"She wur just a bit o' painted brass," said Bessie. "This gal's terrible
young. Oh, ain't it awful to see 'em all so wicked! Folks are saying
they won't ha' much more of it."

"Where was she going?" asked Nellie impatiently.

"To Black Anchor Farm. Where else would she be going? The driver stopped
by the green and asked the way to Black Anchor."

"'Tis three o'clock. She can't get away tonight," Kezia whispered.

"She brought a bag--she's going to stay a long while," muttered Bessie,
covering her face for shame.

"Policeman ought to get hold of her and lock her up," cried Kezia
wrathfully.

"Ah, that he ought," agreed Bessie. "If me and Robert wur to have a few
words, he'd be round quick enough and tell us to keep our mouths shut.
Pity I b'ain't an actress! I could do what I liked then. The folks won't
stand much more of it. I wish Captain Drake wur back again; he'd have
they Brocks out of the country in no time."

Nellie crept back to her room and destroyed the unfinished letter. Then
she drew down the blind.

The second incident commenced about an hour later, when another
conveyance reached Highfield and proceeded at once to Windward House. A
gentleman stepped out and inquired for Mr. Drake. Having learnt from
Kezia that George was absent, but expected home at any time, the
gentleman said he would take a stroll round the village and await his
coming.

This incident would have passed almost unnoticed, so far as the general
public were concerned, had the stranger been of the usual speechless
type of tourist, content to stare deferentially at the local antiquities
and to wander aimlessly round the churchyard. But he was not, as he
himself admitted, within measurable distance of an ordinary man; for he
joined a group of villagers, who were discussing the latest tragedy in
whispers, and insisted upon introducing himself and asking questions
about themselves.

In the first place he came from America, and he lost no time in
informing his listeners that an American gentleman was the only perfect
specimen of humanity to be found upon the face of the globe. In the
second place he was a millionaire, and had no bashfulness about
advertising the fact. Finally, he enjoyed use of the name Josiah P.
Jenkins, and his business premises, or at least some of them, were
situated in Philadelphia, which, he explained, was the city of brotherly
love, where Irish toasted English, whites embraced negroes, Jews dined
with Christians, and sharp practice was unknown.

By this time the poor little actress, driving in solitary state towards
Black Anchor, was almost forgotten. Actresses had occurred before,
unhappily, but this was the first occasion during the entire history of
the universe upon which a millionaire had walked and talked in
Highfield. Mr. Jenkins was bestowing a new tradition upon the village;
he was quite the equal of Queen Elizabeth, who had slept, and very much
superior to King Charles, who had hidden, somewhere in the
neighbourhood. Here was an individual who reckoned the weekly wage, not
by a few shillings, according to local custom, but by innumerable
dollars every moment. The people gazed upon him with reverence, while
children approached to touch him, and discover what metal he was made
of, while some of the more intelligent made remarks concerning copper
which the great man did not seem to understand. The Yellow Leaf admitted
afterwards he was thankful he had lived to see it, although he would
have respected millionaires far more had he never set eyes upon the
corporeal presence of Mr. Jenkins. It was wonderful, he added, how
quickly these Americans acquired a superficial knowledge of the English
language.

"What might be your occupation, sir?" asked the Dumpy Philosopher.

"Railways, my friend, with patent medicines as a side-line," replied Mr.
Jenkins.

"I hope you ain't come here to build none, nor make none," said the
Yellow Leaf.

"I have come here in my private capacity as art lover, collector,
connoisseur. I am awaiting the arrival of one of your leading citizens,
Mr. Drake of Windward House."

"And here he be, bringing home the washing," cried Squinting Jack, as
George at the moment appeared upon the road with a fantastic white
bundle beneath each arm.

"Don't you believe his tale," whispered the Dumpy Philosopher to his
friends, as the American started forward to meet George. "He'm going to
make that railway across Dartmoor what'll ruin the whole lot of us--and
Mr. Drake ha' been and brought 'en here."



CHAPTER XII

A SPLENDID BARGAIN


It was the most awkwardly thrilling moment of George's life, when he
found himself confronted by the millionaire before the eyes of the Elder
Inhabitants. Because of the couple of ridiculous bundles he could not
grasp the hand of Mr. Jenkins; he dared not explain he was carrying the
porcelain about with him; so he muttered something about grand weather
and unexpected pleasure, then raced homewards with the American ambling
at his side.

"Crampy flung me a line telling me about your masterpieces. I beat the
sun this morning in an aeroplane invented by a friend; came to turf on
Salisbury plain; friend and driver broke rudder and ankle; caught a
horse, rode him barebacked to the nearest garage; bought a car, drove it
fifty miles; car broke down, sold it second-hand, hired a train, drove
here from the station--all so to speak. If I'm not first, I guess I'm a
derned good second."

"You needn't have hurried quite so much," gasped George, wishing he
could exaggerate like that.

"I guess, sir, when it comes to business, a man has got to put in his
best licks, or some other fellow will pull his foot ahead and spudgel up
the goods. Cramp has unloosed his jaw-tackle to the crowd. I'm not
particular scared of the Britishers, who look before they leap, and
think before they look, and make their wills before they think; but
there's quite a few Americans in your London, England, nosing around for
something specially ancient to take home. There's Wenceslas Q. Alloway
of Milwaukee. Lager-beer he is, or was, for now he's mostly grape juice
for conscience' sake; with an elegant white beard and the innocent ways
of an archangel--he's got this collecting craze so bad he'd mortgage his
immortality, or a thousand years of it, for a bit of old china, though
he'd try to stick in a clause to best the devil, for he's a pretty
derned orthodox First Baptist on a Sunday. I'm a Second Adventist, and
my crowd has just built a church in Philadelphia which for size and
shape makes your Westminster Abbey look a bit retrospective."

"Come inside," said George faintly. "I'm afraid I can't offer you much
hospitality, as I'm only staying here with my aunt who is not able to
receive visitors."

"Don't mention hospitality, sir. Just give me a sight of your vases, and
if they're genuine, you'll be giving me a gorge. Wonderful pretty place.
I'd like to ship the whole of this township across to America, put up a
barbwire fence around, and charge a dollar for admission. Beautiful
place to be buried in! Might I inquire if you are carrying anything
specially out of date?"

"I've been shopping," replied George.

"Mr. Drake!" called the voice of the postmistress. "A telegram vor ye,
sir."

George tore open the envelope and read, "Just heard from Crampy. Fifteen
hundred if O.K. Alloway."

"Knew he'd switch on to the main track up to time, but he can't begin to
best me. Guess he's exceeding your speed limit right now, and about
midnight his automobile will be killing ducks in this neighbourhood,"
said Jenkins complacently.

"I suppose you know something about china?" George suggested, as he
ushered the visitor into the dining room.

"My knowledge of porcelain extends from my head to my finger ends. When
you show me Chinese vases I'm at home, sir, I'm surrounded with familiar
objects, I'm behind the scenes. Crampy knows something, but I can run a
saw upon him. When his wells dry up, that's the time, sir, mine begin to
flow," said Jenkins, ostentatiously producing a long cheque-book and
slapping it upon the table.

"If you will excuse me a moment, I'll go for the vases," said George.

He carried the bundles up to his room, and consulted the list which
Crampy had sent him. Having satisfied himself that the names of Jenkins
and Alloway appeared upon it, he went downstairs with the undraped
vases, thankful his visitor had called at the time of day when Miss Yard
and Nellie were shut up together, and Kezia was occupied in the kitchen.

The millionaire stood in the attitude of a clergyman about to receive a
child for baptism; and, when George extended one of the vases, he
accepted it reverently, then walked to the window, examined it, tapped
and stroked it, hugged and adored it, and very nearly kissed it, before
turning to exclaim, "These are the goods, Mr. Drake!"

"Yes, they are very fine specimens," replied George casually.

"I don't say they are unique at present, though that's what they will be
when I get 'em across to Philadelphia. I guess there's been an empty
mantelpiece in the Emperor of China's palace for quite a few years."

George explained the vases had been discovered by his uncle during one
of the anti-foreign riots in China many years ago.

"Your uncle was a great lad, sir. He saw his chance to loot the pieces,
so he repelled boarders and took 'em. I should call your uncle a public
benefactor. He removed these vases from the custody of the uncivilised
Chinee, and conferred them upon the cultured world of art. When the
potter turned them on his wheel," continued Jenkins, beginning to
rhapsodise, "he little thought they were destined, by a far-seeing
Providence, to find a home in the United States, the illustrious city of
Philadelphia, the unassuming if somewhat palatial mansion--"

"The postmistress again!" exclaimed George, hurrying to the front door.

"I hadn't hardly got back home, sir, when there come another. I do hope,
sir, it ain't bad news again," said the good woman, as she handed over a
second telegram.

"It's of no consequence," said George.

"I'm very glad it ain't no worse, sir. I hope, sir, you'm going on
well," said Mrs. Cann, trusting that an interpretation of these
telegrams might be vouchsafed to her.

George cautiously replied that his lumbago was improving daily; then he
returned to the dining room and said, "Here's a telegram from an
American named Anderson. He asks me not to deal with any one until he
calls, and he offers seventeen hundred."

"I don't know the fellow," said Jenkins suspiciously. "I would advise
you to have nothing to do with him. He may be a crook, a man of straw."

"He's all right," said George. "Crampy sent me a list of collectors I
could trust, and his name is on it. I suppose Crampy himself is safe,
as a firm of lawyers, who are supposed to be respectable, sent him down
here."

"Crampy is as genuine as the rising sun. He's valuer to your Court of
Probate, he's got a fixed place of business, his name's in the
Directory. He's just got to tote fair, but he won't get rich till he
grows more brain. I've known Crampy to pay down big money for a fake."

"He made me an offer for these vases," said George.

"I'll double it," cried the millionaire, nestling down to his
cheque-book.

"He offered me a thousand pounds."

"Then I'll give you two thousand."

"I might get even more at a sale," George muttered greedily.

"I guess you don't know a great lot about sales," said Jenkins
pityingly. "If you put these vases up to auction, collectors and dealers
would get together and fix the price beforehand. I'm playing my lone
hand in this game, for I'm dead set on getting the ornaments, and I
don't mind paying a fancy price for 'em. Crampy won't go beyond a
thousand, and even Alloway reckons he's sure of them for fifteen
hundred. The other chap offers seventeen hundred it's true, but I have
my doubts about him. I didn't mean to bid two thousand, but I've
promised to double Crampy's offer, and I'm a man of my word or I'm
nothing. Now, sir--you to play!"

"I'll take it," said George.

"Easy way of making money, ain't it?" said the American jauntily. "If
you wouldn't mind wrapping some cotton-wool and paper round the things,
I'll take 'em right along with me."

"Are you going to offer me a cheque?" George stammered.

"I was going to, but as you don't know a great lot about me, and perhaps
you don't feel like relying on Crampy's introduction, and as I must take
the pieces right away with me, I'll just hand over the stuff in notes
upon your Bank of England which, so far as I know, hasn't put its
shutters up," said the millionaire, producing a mighty pocketbook. "Here
you are, sir--four five-hundreds, and may they breed you a bonanza.
Kindly hand me a form of receipt; and if at any time within the next
forty-eight hours the vases should be discovered forgeries, I am at
liberty to return them, while you will hand back the money. At the
expiration of the forty-eight hours the deal is closed absolutely and,
if the things are fakes, I come out spindigo. Don't be ashamed of your
suspicions, and don't consider my feelings. Hold up the notes to the
light and take a look at the watermark."

"That's just what I was doing," said George feebly.

A few minutes later the millionaire departed, George walking with him to
the inn where his conveyance waited. Here also wise men were discussing
the state of decadence towards which the parish was being hurried by
moral failures like the Brocks and such a despicable plotter as the
formerly respected Mr. Drake, who was undoubtedly scheming to construct
that Dartmoor railway by means of American dollars. Mr. Jenkins was seen
to drive away by the Gentle Shepherd, who reported the gratifying
intelligence to headquarters, and a hearty sigh of relief went up while
a quantity of inferior beer went down. Yet nobody sighed so deeply or so
joyously as George as he hurried home a man of means at last.

Rapture lost half its charm because there was nobody with whom it could
be shared; for Nellie, he found, had retired with a headache, while
Bessie, upon sentry duty near the bedroom door, repelled the advance of
Miss Yard who was in tears because they would not let her in to see the
poor girl's body.

"I knew she would go like that. I told her she had a heart, because she
was such a good girl, and they always go suddenly. I do hope you won't
be the next, George. Of course you know poor Percy is gone," she
wailed.

"You were very good in your young days," said George gallantly, "but you
are still alive. There's nothing much the matter with Percy, except that
he's going to get married."

"Take that woman away," snapped Miss Yard, "and make her stop growing.
She gets worse every day."

"I finished long ago, thankye, miss," said Bessie.

"What a wicked story! She's done a lot since yesterday," complained Miss
Yard. "Do let me have one peep at my dear little Nellie before they take
her away."

The young lady herself cried out and hoped they would all be taken away.
Peace was restored, after Miss Yard had tumbled down happily, convinced
that the age of miracles was not past.

George woke the next morning with a sense of prosperity which required a
safety valve when the inevitable letter from Mr. Hunter, who had now
shrunk icily into a solitary initial beneath the signature Cross and
Martin, announced, "the probate of your late aunt's will has been
granted, and you are now at liberty to draw cheques against the balance
of two hundred pounds lying in the bank."

George felt sufficiently healthy to dig potatoes, make love, or perform
any other menial act. He ate a huge breakfast, then climbed into an
apple tree and whistled for half an hour: Miss Yard, sitting at the
window, declared she had never heard the blackbirds sing so beautifully.
While thus relieving his high spirits a light carriage could be heard
approaching; its wheels rattled down the hill; the driver shouted to the
horse; and the conveyance drew up beside the garden gate.

"Here's another millionaire!" George chuckled, as he dropped from the
branches. But there was nobody except the driver, whom George recognised
as belonging to the principal hotel of the neighbouring town.

"I was to give you this letter, sir, and to bring you this box, and to
wait for an answer," said the man.

"Did a gentleman called Jenkins send you?" George faltered, receiving
the box with the dignity of an author taking back his rejected
masterpiece.

"That's right, sir. I was to get back as quick as I can, for the
gentleman wants to catch a train. Here's the letter, sir; and I was to
be sure and take back an answer."

George hurried indoors, his knees wobbling; tore open the envelope and
read:

"It's worse than a falling birth rate, but the vases are fakes. I have
examined them carefully with strong glasses and discovered marks which
show beyond a doubt they are not more than a hundred years old. These
pieces would deceive any amateur and quite a few experts: they fairly
hocussed me till I turned on the glasses. This will make your soul sick,
I guess, but you've still got Crampy. I won't say anything to queer your
business; but take my advice and don't hawk the things about, or some
other fellow may get notions. Your best chance is Crampy, right now,
while he's innocent. The longer you keep the vases the more they'll
smell. Kindly return shinplasters by bearer, and pile up my sympathy to
your credit."

George sprang to the box and wrenched off its lid; but a glance
dispelled his suspicions. The vases had not been exchanged for local
beauties; they had been returned undamaged but condemned. Crampy was
honest, and Jenkins was genuine; and he himself had lost a fortune.

"I don't want to gammon a decent fellow like Crampy, but I can't afford
to lose a thousand pounds," George muttered, after the driver had
departed with the banknotes. "I'll walk over to Brimmleton and send him
a telegram. If it goes from here Mrs. Cann will talk all over the
village. And on the way back I'll look in at Black Anchor, and try to
find out what young Sidney is up to."

Before starting he told Nellie of his intentions, which were still
honourable; but the young lady was indifferent to the point of malice.

"They are nothing to me, and the sooner they clear out of the place the
better," she said firmly.

"I'm going to give the lad a little friendly advice. The people are
complaining that he's making Highfield more like London every day; and
naturally they are getting angry about it," said George.

"Oh, don't talk to me about it," cried Nellie.

"Shall I talk to you when I come back?"

"That will depend upon what you have to say."

"It can't possibly be good news," said George cheerfully. "I knew Sidney
was a bad egg the first time I saw him. He never took his eyes off my
boots, and that's a sure sign of a nasty character."

So George walked to Brimmleton, where he was a foreigner, and despatched
the telegram to Crampy, accepting his offer for the vases and pressing
for a reply immediately, as he was very much afraid Jenkins might leak a
little upon his return to London. Then he turned aside to the lonely
farm, where half-savage children no longer rolled in the mud, noting
with approval the effect of hard labour in the shape of reclaimed land
and well drained fields. The Brocks, if vicious, were at least not idle;
and George was always well pleased at discovering signs of human
industry which convinced him that the race was by no means decadent.

Nearing the house he walked warily; and here a shocking spectacle was
presented. He saw a young girl--the same infamous young person--most
daintily attired, seated upon a boulder near the door, wearing over her
pretty frock a deplorable type of beribboned and belaced apron, perusing
a volume with a lurid binding which assuredly was teaching her terrible
things. And he saw the old man--the grandfather--approach with a mattock
on his shoulder; and he pulled her hair; while she shouted at him--some
nameless jest, doubtless, but happily George could not hear the words.

Presently Sidney appeared--for it was nearly dinner time--and the worst
happened. The abandoned young creature jumped up and ran towards him,
with an expression, described mentally by George as one of ready-made
affection, upon her pretty face; and, as they walked into the house, the
wicked young man passed his arm around the waist of the shameless
damsel.

The watcher groaned in spirit, although he could not altogether escape
from the idea that the ungodly were not necessarily to be pitied in this
world. Then he walked to the house and knocked at the door. The
scuffling sound of young women in flight caused him to shake his head
again.

"So 'tis you, Mr. Drake! You'm quite a stranger," exclaimed Sidney
readily enough, though in George's opinion his face wore a hunted look.

"I'd like to have a few words with you," he replied.

"Right," said Sidney, looking back into the house to call, "Tell Dolly
not to hurry wi' the dinner, grandfather."

"Dolly!" groaned George, somewhat enviously. He had clung to the hope
that the girl's name might turn out to be Jane.

"You know, Sidney, I don't bear you any ill-feeling," he began, when
they stood a few paces from the house, although his eyes were stricken
with horror at discovering the young woman had been reading a book
printed in French. "But there's some very loud talk up in Highfield
about you and your goings on with the ladies."

"We have nought to do wi' Highfield volk, and we don't care that much
vor their talk," replied Sidney, snapping his fingers.

"They are threatening to mob you," George whispered.

"Not they," laughed Sidney. "They ain't got it in 'em, and if a crowd
did come down along me and grandfather would settle the lot."

"It's pretty bad to have young women here--from France too--one after
the other. You can't blame the people for being a bit upset."

"If that's all you've got to say, Mr. Drake, I'll thank ye kindly, and
tell ye I don't want to hear no more of it. Dolly is staying vor a week
or two, and when she goes I'll get another," said the young outcast
fiercely.

"I thought I'd just look in and warn you as I was passing," said George.
"You know, Sidney, I don't blame you, and I think you're quite right not
to give way to them. If I can help you in any way I shall be only too
glad. These ignorant people don't understand men of the world like you
and me."

"I reckon," said Sidney, with the deplorable grin of a completely
dissipated soul.

"I mustn't keep you from your dinner, Sidney--and from the ladies. Give
my best wishes to your grandfather, and my respects to Miss Dolly. I do
hope she is enjoying her visit," said the double-faced George. Then he
ambled off, trying to smile and frown with the same face, entirely
satisfied that Sidney would never again be permitted to approach within
speaking distance of Miss Blisland.

He was unable to report the result of this visit, beyond mentioning he
had discovered things too terrible for words; and, although Nellie did
appear for one moment inclined to listen, George could do nothing except
place a hand across his eyes and declare he could not face her after the
scenes of sheer depravity he had been compelled to witness at Black
Anchor. Nellie was well aware George would exaggerate if he could; but
this did really appear to be a case where exaggeration was impossible.

"You do get a lot of these nasty things, Mr. George," remarked Kezia, as
she approached with a telegram which suggested to her nothing except
murder and sudden death.

"In this case I shall attend the funeral," said George cheerfully, when
he discovered the deluded Crampy would meet him at the station upon the
following day.

"Who's gone now?" asked Kezia.

"Next week I am going into business," explained George with suitable
emotion. "This telegram is from a friend who wants to go into
partnership with me."

"I hope he ain't coming here then," said Kezia, who was beginning to
resent the visits of strange gentlemen, because they walked upon her
carpets and sat upon her chairs. "What be you going to sell, Mr.
George?" she asked with much interest.

"China," he replied.

"I do hope and pray as how you may succeed," gasped Kezia; and off she
went to inform Bessie that Mr. George was about to start a cloam shop.
Bessie quite believed it, as Mr. George had always been so fond of
handling cups and saucers.

Miss Yard also was fond of tea drinking, but she had no tenderness for
china, and would generally release her cup in a vacuum, instead of
placing it fairly upon the table; and express a vast amount of amusement
at the ridiculous laws of nature when the cup exploded upon the carpet.
She was particularly robust that afternoon and insisted upon pouring out
tea herself. When the fragments, which filled two small baskets, had
been removed, the steaming carpet mopped, and dryness restored, George
seated himself beside the old lady, produced a sheet of foolscap covered
with writing, and said in his most silvery voice:

"Circumstances, my dear aunt, will compel me to leave you during the
course of the next few days: but I cannot go until I have the
satisfaction of knowing you have made a will in our dear Nellie's
favour."

"Good heavens--in my presence, too!" gasped the young lady.

"I need not remind you of the goodness, the modesty, the unselfishness
of our Nellie," he continued. "She would serve you for nothing, but
nevertheless it is your duty to leave her all you can."

"I can't stay and listen to this," cried the distressed beneficiary.

"Don't interfere. She has always meant to do it, but never will unless
we jog her memory," George whispered.

"I'll have nothing to do with it," exclaimed Nellie; and out she went
with a fine colour.

"Is this something to do with that nasty robbery they call income tax?"
asked Miss Yard.

"This is your last will and testament," replied George solemnly. "I know
you mean to leave everything to Nellie, but you can't do that unless you
sign a will. You must die soon, you know; and, if it was to happen
suddenly, Nellie would get nothing."

"I did write out a paper, but somebody has hidden it away somewhere,"
said the old lady.

"Pieces of paper are very little good," said George. "This is a properly
drawn up will. When you have signed it I can go away quite happy, and I
shall know dear Nellie will be provided for."

"Will she have the house, and the furniture, and all my money?" asked
Miss Yard eagerly.

"Percy gets your money, but Nellie will have all that you may leave in
the bank, any investments you may make, and the proportion of income up
to the time of your death," said George learnedly.

"Must I write my name somewhere?"

"Yes, and two witnesses are required; but Nellie can't be one," said
George, going to the window and gazing along the street for some honest
person who could also write.

Presently the Wallower in Wealth appeared, prospecting the gutter for
any signs of gold dust.

"I know he can write, for he signed a petition to uncle in favour of
more frequent offertories in aid of the poor and needy," George
muttered. Then he caught up the will, lest Miss Yard should scribble her
name all over it during his absence, ran out into the street, and
invited the scribe to step inside and witness Miss Yard's signature.

"I'll do it on one condition," said the Wallower in Wealth.

"What's that?" said George.

"You sell me the musical box. I'll give ye ten shillings vor it."

"That musical box is worth fifty pounds," said George. "But I can't sell
it."

"Ain't it yours?"

"It has been out of order since my uncle died."

"You get it put right, and let me have it vor fifteen shillings, and
I'll sign."

"Miss Yard wants you to witness her signature. You won't be doing
anything for me."

"You'm asking me."

"Miss Yard isn't feeling very well today, and she's in a hurry to get
her affairs settled."

"I b'ain't preventing her," said the Wallower in Wealth.

"She can't do it without witnesses."

"I might spare a pound vor the musical box."

"You couldn't get it repaired. That musical box is a lost art."

"If I take it wi' all its faults, and Miss Yard gives me five shillings
vor my time and labour, will ye sell me the box vor one pound two and
sixpence?"

"I can't stay here talking. If you won't come I must get somebody else,"
said George impatiently.

"Other folk would want to be paid the same as me," said the Wallower in
Wealth.

"Then I shall go and ask the vicar."

This was a fatal blow, and the bargainer climbed down at once.

"I'll stand witness vor half a crown and first refusal of the musical
box," he promised.

Miss Yard was unusually silent after signing her will, and paying a fee
to both her witnesses. She lay back in her chair with dreamy old eyes
which looked as if they were recalling many scenes. While George carried
the precious document upstairs to Nellie.

"Put it away and keep it safe until she dies," he said.

"I want to say the right thing," she murmured. "You ought not to have
made her sign, although she often says it is her intention to leave me
something."

"You won't forget that I might have acted in a most scandalous fashion,"
George hinted.

"Yes, I know!" she said hurriedly. "You could have put your name in
place of mine, and she would have signed just as willingly. But it's a
horrible business."

"All business is horrible. That is why we hire people to do it for us. I
was thinking of myself as well," said George heartily. "We are getting
along very nicely, Nellie--no just cause or impediment, you know! This
should mean one of those nice little sums of good money known as
capital," he whispered, rubbing his hands.

"I must go to Miss Sophy," said Nellie; and she moved towards the stairs
like one in trouble.

The next day George carried his vases tenderly to the station where, at
the appointed time, Crampy arrived, and at once inquired:

"Has Jenkins been down?"

"He came," replied George, prepared for some such question, "but we
couldn't do business."

"All cackle, I suppose? That's his way. He'll come into my place to
bargain for a piece of Sèvres; swear he must have it, talk me dizzy;
then say he must cross the Atlantic and think about it."

"He seemed very anxious to buy the vases, but he couldn't quite make up
his mind. I didn't exactly trust the fellow," said George. Then he went
on to describe the millionaire's adventures with aeroplane and motor car
between London and Highfield.

"That was just his ornamental way of telling you he's a hustler. He
travelled by railway, and third class all the way. Jenkins is an awful
liar; but he's honest. I want to catch the up train, due in about twenty
minutes, so we had better get to business. If you are ready to hand over
the pieces, I am prepared to give you my cheque for a thousand marked
accepted by the bank."

"Jenkins said they were really worth more than that."

"Though he wouldn't give it," laughed Crampy. "I'll just take another
look at 'em to make sure."

"It doesn't matter," George protested.

However, Crampy insisted in a courteous fashion: so they walked to the
far end of the platform, where George unpacked one of the vases, and the
dealer, having put on his glasses, examined it shrewdly until the owner
began to suffer from the silence.

"Do you know, Mr. Drake, I'm not sure--upon my soul I can't say for
certain whether the things are genuine or not."

"Don't tell me they are forgeries," said George weakly.

"They are marvellously well done. Still, I've got a horrible idea in my
head there is something wrong with them."

"Jenkins told you?" cried George involuntarily.

"So he said they were fakes!"

"He didn't go as far as that, but he thought there might be some doubt
about them," George admitted.

"It looks bad--Jenkins is an uncommon smart amateur. Still, Mr. Drake,
I'm a man of my word, and I'm going to make you an extremely liberal
offer. I'll buy the vases for the price agreed upon. If they should turn
out to be genuine, I can make a fair profit. If they must be condemned
as forgeries, I may discover somebody with plenty of money but not
enough brains to put unpleasant questions. Or, if you prefer it, I will
sell the vases for you on commission. But, in that case, you stand to
lose. It's a gamble so far as I'm concerned."

"That's a luxury I can't afford," George muttered.

"Exactly! Here's my cheque! I'm not a philanthropist; I'm willing to do
any man a good turn, but I'm far more anxious to do a bit of good for
myself. I may lose, but it's just as likely I shall clear a profit.
These vases can be passed off, though you couldn't do it--but, mind you,
I don't say even now they are not genuine."

With a vast sense of relief George accepted the cheque, and gave up
possession of the Chinese vases.



CHAPTER XIII

WASPS AND OTHER WORRIES


"Have you any idea what we are doing here?" Miss Yard inquired one
morning, while Nellie was assisting her to dress.

"We came to live with your sister," replied the girl.

"I suppose there's some truth in that. But what's the good of staying
now Maria has gone to the seaside? I want to go home, and see my friends
again," declared Miss Yard, declining the next garment until she should
receive a satisfactory answer.

"This is your home," said Nellie.

"Then why don't we have tea parties, and why don't we meet every week to
knit chest protectors for the people who eat one another?"

"Because we no longer live in a town full of old ladies with nothing to
do."

"There was an old clergyman who used to make me shiver with his dreadful
stories," added Miss Yard eagerly.

"Not exactly. While the rest of you knitted, one of the ladies used to
read aloud from a book, written by a missionary who had spent thirty
years upon an island in the Pacific; and he did mention that, when he
first went there, the people were not vegetarians."

"And we sent him a lot of mufflers and mittens," cried Miss Yard.

"Yes, and he wrote back to say wool was much too warm for people who
wore nothing at all."

"That's what made me shiver," said Miss Yard triumphantly. "It wasn't so
much what they ate, as their walking about without clothes. They used to
go to church with nothing on. It must have been dreadful for the poor
clergyman. No wonder his health broke down. We must go back," said Miss
Yard decidedly. "I can't think what made me so silly as to come here. Do
you remember the lady who lived in a dandelion?"

"Now you really have puzzled me," laughed Nellie.

"A little yellow dandelion on a hill. There were no stairs to go up, but
I didn't like it much in summer."

"I've got it! You mean the bungalow that belonged to Miss Winter. You
didn't like her."

"She used to kiss the clergy," said Miss Yard sadly.

"My dear Miss Sophy you must not libel people. She told you once the
only men she ever had kissed were clergymen; one was her father, and
the other her uncle. What makes you remember all this?"

"Percy has written to me, and says he's going to be a missionary."

"Let me see the letter."

"It's on my table. I'm sure Percy will make a good missionary, for when
he wants money, he's not ashamed to ask for it."

"This is an appeal from the Society for Supplying Paper-patterns of the
Latest Fashions to the Ladies of the Solomon Islands."

"That's where Percy is going. I do hope they will dress themselves
properly for his sake."

"Oh, here it is!" cried Nellie, discovering a letter on the carpet. "So
Mr. Taverner is coming here next week."

"And he's going to bring me some tomatoes."

"He's going to bring his fiancée," said Nellie.

"Now I've quite forgotten what that is."

"The young lady he's going to marry."

"That's what I mean. I get so confused between tomatoes and mortgages."

"He has just come into some money most unexpectedly," Nellie read. "He
arrived at the conclusion long ago that the climate of England is quite
unsuitable for the cultivation of tomatoes; and as he is anxious to
exploit the capabilities of his new variety, he is going to settle,
after his marriage, in Tasmania, which he believes is an island with a
future. He is coming to Highfield to bid his dear good aunt a long
farewell. Whatever gave you the idea he was going to be a missionary?"

"Doesn't he say so?" asked Miss Yard.

"No, he is going to Tasmania to grow tomatoes."

"I suppose I used to know something about Tasmania; but then I used to
be very good at acrostics, and I can't do them now."

"It's an island near Australia. But not every one who goes to an island
in the Pacific intends to be a missionary," said Nellie, adding to
herself, "This will be delightful news for George."

That gentleman was depressed, for he had just received an anonymous
communication threatening him with a fearful end upon the day that the
first boulder of the new railway was blasted. Also Crampy had sent him a
perplexing note, mentioning that some experts believed the vases were
genuine, while others declared them to be forgeries; but, in any case,
he had succeeded already in disposing of them.

When George had read Percy's letter, which Miss Yard passed across the
breakfast table, with the remark that she herself would like to live "in
the Pacific," if he could find her an island where the police insisted
upon the wearing of apparel during divine service, he became highly
suspicious, and suggested to Nellie in an undertone that Percy had
selected the Antipodes with a view to removing himself as far as
possible from the Central Criminal Court.

"He's going to grow Tasmanias in Tomato," announced Miss Yard.

"He means to grow giant tomanias--I mean tomatoes, in--oh, bother!"
laughed Nellie. "Miss Sophy has muddled me. Why shouldn't Mr. Taverner
grow tomatoes in Tasmania?"

"What about this money? Would anybody leave money to Percy unless they
had to?" cried George.

"It may have been left to his young lady," suggested Nellie.

"He has robbed someone," said George bitterly, "and now he's running off
the earth to hide the swag."

"If I wanted to say something nasty about Mr. Taverner," said Nellie, "I
might suggest he had become engaged to Miss Lee because this money had
been left to her."

"I should be certain of it, if he wasn't clearing out of the country,"
replied George.

"Isn't this honey?" complained Miss Yard. "What makes it taste so
bitter?"

"Heavens, don't swallow them! Have they stung you?" cried Nellie,
perceiving suddenly that the good lady was spreading her buttered toast
with a mixture of crushed wasps and honey.

"They are not at all nice. Did the doctor order me to have them?"

"They are wasps, Aunt," said George bluntly.

"Are they the things that turn into butterflies?" gasped Miss Yard,
rising from her chair and showing signs of distress.

"Don't worry, dear. They are quite harmless. Come and lie down, and I'll
bring you something to wash out your mouth," said Nellie; and she
carried off the old lady. While George, always ready to play
emergency-man, rushed into the kitchen, acquainted Kezia with what had
happened owing to her gross carelessness in putting away the honey pot
with the lid off, and ordered her to despatch a telegram to the doctor.
Then he went into the parlour and observed consolingly:

"People can live a long time with bullets inside them. Wasps can't be
worse, especially as they must be digestible."

"I am afraid of the stinging parts," said Nellie.

"Perhaps they are worn off," he replied.

Miss Yard lay upon the sofa breathing peacefully, thankful she had made
her will, but looking wonderfully healthy. She complained, however, of
drowsiness, whereupon Bessie, who had rushed across the road at the
first alarm, and was then standing in the parlour armed with the brandy
bottle and blue bag, exclaimed incautiously, "That shows they'm
stinging her. Robert ses his father wur bit by a viper, and he drank a
bottle of brandy and lay unconscious vor twenty-four hours."

"Was it really a viper?" groaned the sufferer.

"I don't think they will do her any harm," said George. "In some
countries the people live on frogs and slugs."

"And St. John the Baptist always had grasshoppers with his honey," added
Bessie reverently.

"And Germans eat worms, and thrive on 'em," George concluded.

Kezia was crying in the hall, declaring that the jury would bring it in
manslaughter. Being called upon by Bessie to make some valedictory
remark to the poor lady, she approached, and blubbered out:

"Mrs. Cann ses, miss, you ain't to worry. She can't hardly open her
mouth in the post office without swallowing something; and one evening,
miss, taking her supper in the dark, she ate a beetle; and there's more
good food about than us knows of, she ses; and it 'twas all cooked,
miss, and if it warn't vor the look of such things, we might live a lot
more cheaply than we do; vor she ses, miss, 'tis horrible to think what
ducks eat, but there's nothing tastier than a duckling, 'cept it be a
nice bit of young pork; and she ses, miss, she saw a pig of hers eat a
viper--"

"There's nothing here about internal wasp stings," broke in Nellie, who
had been consulting a book of household remedies.

"I can't think how it got into the house," Miss Yard was moaning, with
her eyes fixed upon vacancy. "It seems wonderful that it should have run
down my throat when I wasn't looking."

"Are you in any pain, dear?" asked Nellie.

"No," replied Miss Yard in a disappointed voice.

"They'm always like that," wept Kezia. "My poor missus was wonderful
well the morning she wur took."

"I'm going away too," said the invalid. "Will you find me a train,
George?"

"Where to?" asked the obliging nephew.

"The place where Nellie and I came from. I don't know what they used to
call it."

"We'll go directly you are well," Nellie promised.

George brought a railway timetable, a pair of compasses, and a map of
the British Isles; and delivered a lecture which delighted the old lady
so much that she forgot her pangs, and was greatly astonished when the
doctor bustled into the room thankful to know he was not too late.

"I suppose you want a subscription," said Miss Yard.

"I had a telegram saying you were seriously ill, but I have never seen
you looking better," replied the doctor.

"Yes, I am wonderfully well, thank you. I hope you're the same," said
the merry patient.

"Oh, doctor!" cried Nellie, entering the apartment. "Miss Yard was
eating her breakfast--"

"And I swallowed a snake! Do you know I had forgotten all about it!"
cried the old lady.

Nellie revised this version, and the doctor was professionally compelled
to act the pessimist. He advised a little walk in the garden, to
complete digestion of the wasps, recommended a stimulant, prescribed a
tonic, and promised to call every day until the patient should be in a
fair way to recovery.

Then he departed, and Miss Yard immediately suffered a relapse brought
on entirely by the visit. She was stricken with some mortal disease, and
they were hiding the truth from her. She consented to walk round the
garden, as it would be for the last time; then, having insisted upon
being put to bed, she implored Nellie to tell her the worst; and, when
the girl declared it was nothing but a little indigestion, the old lady
lost her temper, and said it was very unjust she should have to die of a
disease that was not serious.

"There's nothing whatever the matter," said Nellie.

"Then what's all this fuss about?" asked Miss Yard.

"You are making the fuss."

"I didn't send for the doctor. And he's coming again tomorrow. It's not
measles, and it's not whooping cough, but I believe it's poison. Bessie
put poison into the teapot."

"Why Bessie?"

"I knew she would do something dreadful if she didn't stop growing. And
Robert is so short. It must all mean something. He held the teapot while
Bessie put in the poison. Nasty bitter stuff it was too! I suppose I
must forgive them, though I don't like doing it. Where is George?"

"He is packing. He's going away tomorrow."

"But he must stay for the funeral!"

"There's not going to be a funeral. You know Mr. George must leave us;
he has told you so lots of times."

"Tell him to come here. I must give him a present. Look in the cupboard
and find me something to give George. And pack up all my clothes, for I
shan't want them again. Send them to that Bishop who wrote and said he
hadn't got any."

"I don't think, really, your clothes are suitable for the ladies of the
Lonesome Islands," said Nellie.

"You must keep the best things. I want you to have my black silk dress
and the coat trimmed with jet ornaments. They will come in nicely for
your wedding. Perhaps George would like a brooch. Tell Bessie and Robert
to come here at five o'clock to be forgiven--but I won't promise. You
must write to Percy, and tell him I was so sorry not to be able to say
good-bye, but the end came suddenly, though I was quite prepared for it.
Why aren't you packing my clothes--or did you say George was doing it?"

"I'll call him. And if you worry me much more I shall swear," said
Nellie.

George came and mourned over his aunt because the time of separation was
at hand. Miss Yard agreed, but almost forgot her own impending departure
when George explained he was referring to himself.

"Oh, but you are not going to die yet. I'm sure that isn't necessary.
Besides, you are looking so well," she said earnestly.

"He is not looking a bit better than you are," cried Nellie.

"I am about to start on a long journey, Aunt," said George piteously.

"Oh, yes! I remember now about the island in the Pacific where the
tomatoes grow."

"I have been working rather too much lately, and need a rest," he
explained; "but directly you want me back you have only to send an
invitation."

"I shall be left all alone--oh, but I forgot," said Miss Yard,
interrupting herself in a shocked voice. "You must stay, George, to do
me a great favour. I want you to bury me in Westminster Abbey in the
next grave to Queen Elizabeth."

"My dear Miss Sophy!" exclaimed Nellie.

"Don't listen to that child. She is in a nasty cross mood--and somebody
has been teaching her to swear. I took a fancy to Westminster Abbey when
I was quite young, and, even if it is rather expensive, I should like to
treat myself to a grave there."

"I'll see to it," George promised.

"You shouldn't say such a wicked thing," cried Nellie.

"Are you suffering at all, Aunt?" he inquired, anxious to change the
subject.

"I don't think so," said Miss Yard. "It's all going to be wonderfully
peaceful. I'm so thankful!"

"Shall I ask the vicar to call?" George whispered.

"Of course not," said Nellie fretfully. "She would think he had come to
prepare her. I am very sorry you sent for the doctor. Here's another
beastly wasp! Do kill it."

"Is she packing my clothes?" whispered Miss Yard, peering over the
bedspread.

"No, and I'm not going to," replied the young rebel.

George struck out manfully at the living wasp, knocked it down
somewhere, and began to search for the body which was still buzzing.

"Oh dear!" cried Miss Yard. "There's such a dreadful pain in my hand."

"I knocked it on the bed. She really is stung this time!" George
shouted, seizing the insect in his handkerchief and destroying it; while
Nellie fled for the restoratives which were necessary at last.

It was the best thing that could have happened, for immediately her hand
was bandaged, Miss Yard's interest became centred in that, and she
forgot there was anything else to worry about. When the doctor called
next day, he was advised to say nothing about affairs internally, but to
concentrate all his ability, and his bedside manner, upon the outward
and manifest sting; with the result that Miss Yard was pronounced out of
danger within forty-eight hours; by which time George had vacated the
premises and made room for Percy.

Hardly had he driven away when there came a knock upon the back door,
and when Kezia went to answer it, she found the Wallower in Wealth
standing there, with twenty-five shillings in his hand and a bargaining
expression on his face. Having inquired after the well-being of every
one in the house, and made a few remarks upon the climate, he stated
that he had lately enjoyed a conversation with the blacksmith, who had
declared there never was a machine he couldn't mend and, if the musical
box were brought to his forge, he would speedily compel it to play all
kinds of music.

"What's it all about?" asked Kezia; and, as she put the question, Bessie
crossed the road. Upon those rare occasions when she happened to be at
home, there was nothing going on in the house opposite which Bessie did
not contemplate from her upstairs window.

"Mr. Drake promised me the musical box," explained the visitor, who had
watched the departure of George before setting out on his expedition.

"It ain't his, and he knows it. And you knows it too," said Kezia
warmly, "else you wouldn't ha' waited till he'd gone away."

"Gone away, has he!" exclaimed the Wallower in Wealth. "You give me his
address and I'll send the money on to him."

"That musical box belongs to me," said Kezia.

This was a critical moment in Bessie's career; to have yielded then
would have meant the complete abandonment of all her rights in
furnishings. She did not hesitate in declaring war upon her ancient ally
with two steely words:

"'Tis mine!"

"I'm surprised to hear you say such a thing, Bessie Mudge; and Miss
Sophy lying ill in bed too," replied Kezia.

"Mrs. Drake left me the musical box, and I ha' got writing to prove it,
and me and Robert are only waiting vor Miss Sophy's funeral to take it."

"Mrs. Drake said I wur to have all the furniture in the house."

"I wouldn't like to have to call you anything," said Bessie.

"And I'd be cruel sorry to fancy you craved to hear the like," retorted
Kezia.

Then they paused to think out new ideas, and to place their arms in more
aggressive attitudes.

"When furniture be left to more than one person simultaneous, 'tis usual
to divide it," explained the Wallower of Wealth.

"Half a musical box b'ain't of no use to me."

"Nor me."

"You sell me the box, and I'll give you twelve shillings, and twelve
shillings to Mrs. Mudge, and I'll get it put right at my own expense,"
said the Wallower in Wealth, seeking to introduce the peaceful principle
of compromise.

"I wouldn't take twelve pounds. The Captain told me there warn't another
box like that in this world," said Kezia.

"He told me there wur another, but 'twas lost," replied Bessie, adding
with the same spirit of determination, "I wouldn't take twelve pounds
neither. Robert ses not a thing in the house can be sold without his
consent."

"Who's Robert Mudge?" cried Kezia, in the voice of passion.

"He's my husband," replied Bessie.

"And who be you?"

"I'm his wife."

"Sure enough! They'm husband and wife. I saw 'em married," said the
Wallower in Wealth, with a distinct impression that Bessie was winning
on points.

"I don't know what's going to happen to us, I'm sure," said Kezia. Then,
in accordance with military strategy, she conquered the enemy by
abandoning her position and slamming the door after her.

That evening Bessie advanced as usual for coffee, which included a hot
meal, and during this campaign Robert did not accompany her, being
detained, according to the best of his wife's belief, in the bakery,
working overtime at buns. Kezia distrusted this communication, as no
festival of buns was impending, and arrived at the conclusion that the
assistant baker had absented himself from coffee drinking owing to a
bashfulness not uncommon in the time of war and tumults. Having, as she
supposed, abated the pride of Robert, Kezia sought to assuage the malice
of Bessie by small talk concerning Miss Yard's convalescence, the
departure of George, which was positively final like the last appearance
of an actor, and the Turkish state of things at Black Anchor. But the
musical box remained an obsession, playing a seductive jig for Bessie,
and a triumphal march for Kezia; and at last the former said:

"Me and Robert ha' been talking, and he ses nothing should be took away
avore Miss Sophy dies."

"That's what my dear missus said. Not me, nor you, nor Mr. George, wur
to touch anything till Miss Sophy had been put away," agreed Kezia.

"Didn't Mr. George sell part o' the cloam?" asked Bessie.

"Well, Bess, I did give 'en a pair of old vases. I know I ought not to
ha' done it, but we've got plenty o' cloam, and I wanted the poor fellow
to have something, him being a relation."

"What us wants to think about is this," Bessie continued, "me and you
ain't agoing to quarrel. Mrs. Drake made a lot of mistakes in her
lifetime, poor thing, and 'tis vor us to make the best of 'em."

"I'm sure I put in a good word vor you many a time," declared Kezia.

"I know you did," said Bessie warmly.

"I used to say to missus, 'Never mind about me, but do ye leave Mr.
George and Bessie something. I don't care about myself,' I said."

"When us come back from Miss Sophy's funeral, us will divide up the
things. First I'll take something."

"First me!" said Kezia sharply.

"You'm the eldest. You can take first," said the generous Bessie. Then
she inclined her head towards the door and whispered, "Ain't that
someone in the hall?"

"'Tis only Miss Nellie," said Kezia. "There's a drop o' cocoa left in
the saucepan, Bess."

"I'm sorry us had words today, Kezia," said Bessie, as she took the
drop.

"Don't ye say anything more about it. I'm sure the dear missus would
walk if she fancied we weren't friendly. But I do wish she hadn't got so
forgetful like."

"That ain't Nellie!" cried Bessie, listening again.

"Sounds as if Miss Sophy had got out of bed and fallen down."

"'Twas a bump vor certain. I'm agoing to see," said Bessie, opening the
kitchen door.

She advanced along the passage, but was back in a moment.

"The hall door's wide open--and I saw a light from the parlour."

"There's a man in the house!" screamed Kezia. "Don't ye go out, Bess!"

"Who's there?" called the valorous Bessie, advancing again to the
passage. Then she shrunk back, crying:

"Here's a young man--and here's an old 'un. They're carrying something.
Don't ye go out, Kezia."

"Oh, my dear, I ain't agoing to," faltered Kezia, retiring into the far
corner of the scullery.

"They'm running!" Bessie muttered. "One wur youngish, and t'other wur
oldish. They ha' gone now. I heard 'em shut the gate."

"'Tis they Brocks," whispered Kezia in terror of her life.

"'Tis somebody who knew Miss Sophy wur lying ill in bed."

Bessie took the lamp and went forth boldly, calling a challenge at every
step. Presently Kezia plucked up courage to follow, and they went
together into the parlour.

The musical box had disappeared: so had the pair of silver candlesticks,
the Russian Ikon, and various other rich and rare antiquities.

"Oh, Kezia; ain't it awful in a Christian country!" exclaimed Bessie.

"Go vor policeman! No, don't ye--they may come back again."

Then Kezia's eyes fell upon the mummy, and she cried hysterically,
"Thank heaven they ha' spared the King of Egypt!"



CHAPTER XIV

THE GRABBERS


The constable, an exceedingly able man who was expecting to become a
sergeant, gave it as his opinion that a thief had been at work. In
support of this theory he pointed out certain prints of hob-nailed
boots, which upon examination he discovered to be his own. Thereupon he
increased his reputation by a shake of the head, and the statement that,
even in a small community, mysteries were bound to happen.

Kezia began to mutter about Sidney Brock, who had eaten and drunk in her
kitchen, and had endeavoured to entice Nellie into his harem; while
Bessie had the effrontery to suggest she had seen two dark shadows,
unquestionably substantial, disappearing along the lane in the direction
of Black Anchor.

"You can get to London by that road," replied the policeman. "Were they
walking or running?" he inquired.

"When I last saw 'em they was running fit to break their necks," said
Bessie.

The constable twirled his moustache and smiled in a superior fashion;
for he was about to make a point.

"Running with a musical box pretty near the size of a piano, not to
mention other articles of furniture," he said.

"The box wur big, but not very heavy," explained Kezia. "It stood upon
legs, four of 'em, but a man could lift it off and carry it."

"And the legs would follow after?" suggested the policeman, who believed
in making people laugh; but he failed on this occasion.

"They would have to walk back for the legs," Kezia explained.

"How many men did you say there were?"

"Two, but I wouldn't swear to nothing," replied the tactful Bessie.

"If policeman wur to go along the lane he might catch up wi' them,"
suggested Kezia.

The officer declined, pointing out that it would be a physical
impossibility for two men to carry such bulky articles all the way to
Black Anchor, and a moral impossibility to do so and escape detection.
Then he sought for information concerning the ownership of the purloined
property.

"'Tis mine," came the simultaneous answer.

"That wants a lawyer," said the policeman, beginning to show the acumen
which was winning him promotion; and when the position had been
explained he continued, "Maybe Mrs. Drake left a like paper for Miss
Yard?"

"Two of 'em," said Kezia.

"Leaving her everything?"

"Just the house and a pair of silver candlesticks."

"What ha' been stolen," added Bessie.

"And a paper for Miss Blisland?" went on the policeman, longing for a
superior officer to hear him.

"Her left she the round table in the parlour, but that be rightfully
mine," replied Kezia.

"Mine too," said Bessie.

"Likely enough she left a bit of writing for Mr. Drake?"

"He got a bit, but he wouldn't show it to no one," said Kezia.

"Maybe the person who took the things has got about as much right to
them as certain other folks," said the constable darkly. "That's all I
can say at present, but I'll make inquiries in the morning," he added,
as Robert came up to find out what had happened.

Highfield was an honest place, where a farmer did not wait for a dark
night to divert his neighbour's water supply, or postpone the cutting
down of a hedge, which did not belong to him, to a misty day. The
inhabitants therefore were convulsed with horror when informed by Robert
that an act of real dishonesty had happened: to wit, a pair of
desperate ruffians had broken into Windward House and departed with
much furniture. It became at once obvious to everybody, except the
policeman, that the district had been systematically plundered.
Squinting Jack declared, now he came to think of it, eggs had been
missing from his hen roost for weeks past; the Wallower in Wealth swore
that a sum not exceeding twenty-five shillings had been extracted from
his mattress; while the Dumpy Philosopher discovered a number of
vacancies among the red cabbages in his back garden.

This being a matter of morality, the vicar was made the victim of a
deputation, headed by the Dismal Gibcat, an inevitable but unfortunate
selection, as this gentleman had not said his prayers in public for some
years, because, according to his own statement, a violent fit of nasal
catarrh seized upon him immediately he entered the church. The Dismal
Gibcat, encouraged by the silent but moral support of several
Nonconformists, who were generally credited with loving their neighbours
rather more earnestly than themselves, framed an indictment against the
Brocks: they were aliens who had sprung up at Black Anchor with the
suddenness of toadstools; no respectable female presides in their
kitchen; they were visited frequently by women of a certain class; they
had already corrupted the young people of the neighbourhood; and were
now breaking into houses and removing every article of value.
Assassination of prominent personages would follow in due course.

"You are entirely mistaken," replied the vicar, somewhat stiffly. "It
must be well known to the parish that I often visit the Brocks."

"They do say you'm friendly wi' every one," observed the Dismal Gibcat
bitterly, as he was obviously an exception.

"I hope so. At all events I like the Brocks--indeed, I respect them."

"How about they women and gals?" cried the Dismal Gibcat.

"Probably their presence can be explained. As for this robbery, it is
ridiculous to suspect the Brocks. I may as well mention that I knew
something about them before they came here," said the vicar.

"They ses you turned Sidney out of the choir because he teased the
maidens."

"That is quite untrue. He resigned and explained his reason for doing
so."

"Well, if they'm friends of yours, 'tis no use us talking; but I believe
they took them things as much as if I'd seen 'em doing it. Ain't that
the general opinion?" demanded the Dismal Gibcat of his limp supporters.

"I takes volks as I finds 'em," replied the Dumpy Philosopher.

"I wouldn't like to say parson goes shares wi' the Brocks in
everything--in every single thing," observed the Dismal Gibcat, as the
deputation retired, "but I shouldn't be surprised if a lot o' volk
didn't think so."

During this excitement Percy and his young lady arrived, two days before
they were expected, and flustered Kezia so that she could think of the
robbery only at intervals. Bessie made no mention of it: neither did
Robert, though he went to the village shop, purchased a pound of
candles, and tried unsuccessfully to buy a bottle of lubricating oil. As
it was impossible in Highfield to enter into secret negotiations for the
purchase of even a penny tin of mustard, the policeman, in the course of
his inquiries, heard about it and, having worked out the problem without
the aid of pencil and notebook, he proceeded to the bakery and told
Robert he ought to be ashamed of himself.

"For why?" asked the assistant baker, with the assurance of a man who
had nine points of the law in his favour.

"What did you buy this morning at Mrs. Trivell's shop?"

"Bottle o' blacking," replied Robert.

"Sure it wasn't whitewash? What else did you buy?"

"Penn'orth o' blacklead," said Robert cheerfully.

"Making the case pretty black, ain't you? You didn't buy a pound of
candles, of course--best wax candles. But, if you did buy candles, what
were you going to do with them?"

"I don't know what you can do wi' candles except light them," said
Robert.

"And you didn't buy a bottle of lubricating oil, because Mrs. Trivell
hasn't got any. If you did buy a bottle of salad oil, what would you be
going to do with it?" continued the policeman, in his best and brainish
manner.

"You can do pretty near anything wi' salad oil," declared Robert.

"Among the things stolen from Windward House last night were a pair of
silver candlesticks and a musical box, out of order, but perhaps it
might play a tune if you oiled the works," said the policeman sternly.

Robert stroked his nose and mentioned that an officer who could put one
thing to another like that, was not at all required in Highfield parish.

"What were you doing when this robbery was taking place?" came the
question.

"I fancy I might have been giving a hand," Robert admitted cautiously.

"Who helped you?"

"I don't know as anybody helped. But it wasn't a robbery, vor Mrs. Drake
left all the things to Bessie," said Robert cheerfully.

"And to other folks as well."

"I b'ain't responsible vor that. First come, first served; and other
volks take at their peril, I ses."

"It's my duty to tell Miss Blisland you took the things. Where have you
hidden 'em?"

"Inside the peatstack. If you'm going to tell Kezia, I shall shift the
things into town and sell 'em."

"That's your affair," replied the constable. "Seems you haven't exactly
committed a robbery, as you have a sort o' right to the things; and you
haven't committed a trespass, as you can go into the house when you want
to. So I can't charge you with anything. But I reckon it won't be long
before you have the lawyers after you; and then the Lord ha' mercy on
your pocket, Robert Mudge."

Before the constable could reach Windward House to report how easily he
solved a problem, his wife ran to meet him with cheering information
concerning a great fire upon the outskirts of the parish; and, as
conflagrations are things no policeman can resist, he mounted his
bicycle and scorched towards an isolated farmhouse which was doomed to
destruction; as its bankrupt owner had taken the precaution to store
plenty of dry faggots, well sprinkled with petroleum, within the
well-insured premises. The farmer was sitting upon an upturned pail,
which smelt of anything but water, bemoaning his fate, and informing the
neighbours that spontaneous combustion would happen sometimes no matter
what you did to prevent it, when the constable arrived, sniffing
greedily at the clue-laden atmosphere. The farmer replied that the oil
barrel had leaked terribly, and there was no preventing that either. The
policeman investigated, went on his way to report, and returned with
papers in his pocket; and, while teaching the farmer a few cheerless
facts concerning the legal meaning of arson, such a trifling affair as
the Highfield grabbing passed naturally and conveniently from his mind.

Percy introduced himself to his Aunt, kissed her upon both checks
according to a family tradition; the bride elect followed his example;
and they all talked of Tasmania, tomatoes, tickets, and travelling, with
a few remarks upon marriage licences, until Miss Yard rolled off the
sofa for sheer joy of motion.

"Nellie!" she called. "Pack my things at once! Percy and Emmie have got
a licence to go to Tasmania, and tickets to get married, and I won't
stay here any longer."

"But this is your home, Aunt," mentioned Percy.

"And there are not many places like that, you know," Miss Lee added.

"I used to have a much better home than this. We had tea parties, and
mothers' meetings, and all sorts of nice things. I'm going to forget the
past and begin all over again."

"Miss Sophy is quite serious," Nellie explained, when Percy approached
her on the subject. "It's very seldom she keeps an idea in her head,
but, when she does, it governs her completely. Ever since she was stung
by the wasp she has been worrying to get away."

"How about taking her back to Drivelford?" suggested Percy.

"That would do nicely. But you must see to it, else Mr. Drake will; and
there will be more trouble between him and Hunter."

"George has gone for good," said Percy sternly.

"He told me all he had to do was to go away; there was nothing said in
the agreement about the time he was to be away. Miss Sophy has written
already inviting him back."

"If he insists upon returning here to live--" began Percy.

"You will be at the other end of the world, and Hunter won't know
anything about it," she concluded.

"George is a great scoundrel," said Percy. "I have only another two
weeks in England; but I suppose I must go to Drivelford and find a
house."

Miss Yard was delighted when Nellie informed her that the golden age of
tea and talk was about to be restored; and she blessed Percy with such
tenderness that her nephew felt compelled to make her a most liberal
offer.

"You know, Aunt, the furniture in this house belongs to me. It was left
to George, and I bought it from him for two hundred pounds. Don't you
think the best plan would be for you to buy it from me for--shall we
say--one hundred and fifty pounds? I lose and you gain, but that's as it
should be."

"What an excellent idea!" cried Miss Yard. "Nellie, bring my
cheque-book."

"You cannot afford to spend so much money, especially as we have a move
before us," said Nellie quietly.

"Oh, I'll take a hundred pounds," said Percy.

"Miss Sophy cannot afford that either."

"That's what she always says, but I tell her I can afford it," said Miss
Yard crossly.

Percy began to feel uncomfortable, as this was the first time his golden
goose had been prohibited from egg laying. He made up his mind that
Nellie was developing into an offensive young person; honest no doubt,
and admirably suited to control Miss Yard; but with mistaken notions as
to the dignity of a nephew and trustee. He sought, therefore, a secret
interview with the young lady, in order that he might caution her
against any further opposition, and remind her that in all financial
matters his word must be the last; and this interview was granted very
willingly.

"Sit down, please," he began, when they had entered the dining room.

"If you stand, I shall too," replied Nellie, who was holding a small
article wrapped in paper.

"Just as you like," said Percy. "Is that Miss Yard's passbook?"

"No," she replied. "But if you want to see the passbook I will fetch it.
Miss Sophy has a little over two hundred pounds at present."

"Another dividend is due next month. My aunt is quite able to pay a
hundred pounds for the furniture."

"The question is," said Nellie, "to whom does the furniture belong?"

"To me, of course."

"Have you what the lawyers call a good title?"

"I hope you are not going to be impertinent, Miss Blisland," said Percy
sharply.

"I know Mrs. Drake left the furniture to Mr. George," she continued,
thankful of her promise not to mention those numerous scraps of paper.

"And I bought the stuff from him."

"With Miss Sophy's money."

"What has that to do with you? I can borrow from my aunt, and of course
she does not expect me to repay the money."

"But I expect it. I manage her affairs, and I tell you plainly this
borrowing must cease. I shall not allow Miss Sophy to pay you a single
penny for the furniture, because it is hers already," said Nellie, with
all the coldness of a magistrate sentencing a poacher.

"The little devil! You had better keep your mouth shut, or I may be
tempted to say something rude. I don't want to forget I am talking to a
young woman. You have just got to do what I tell you," blustered Percy.

"But I decline," said Nellie sweetly.

"Then you can look out for another job. I shall tell Hunter I have
dismissed you for gross impertinence. That's all I have to say. You may
go now."

"Thank you," she said. "But I haven't finished yet. I want to know what
is going to be done about the furniture."

"I have nothing more to say to you."

"You must tell Miss Sophy, and she will consult me. So I may as well
hear your decision at once."

"I shall have a sale," replied Percy. "My aunt can buy new furniture
when she gets to Drivelford. After all, it's not so very much more
expensive than moving it."

"You will do nothing of the kind," said Nellie.

Again Percy was tempted to say something rude; and again he yielded.
Then an explanation flashed across his mind and he began to laugh.

"I see what it is! My aunt has promised to leave you as much as she
can--"

"Then why should I object to her buying the furniture?"

"All I know is you won't get it. I shall visit the nearest auctioneer
tomorrow--"

"It's time we changed the subject. I believe this is your property,"
interrupted Nellie, holding out the packet wrapped in paper. "Do you
think it fair to ask Miss Sophy to pay for the furniture twice over,
when you have just come into two thousand pounds?" she added.

"Who told you that?" cried Percy, snatching the packet and tearing off
the covering. "My pocketbook! You stole it from my room. You have been
through my letters. You are the most unscrupulous young woman!"

"We had better not talk about stealing. Perhaps you remember sitting in
the garden with Miss Lee yesterday evening. You did not come in until
dark, and you were so much engaged in discussing your plans that you
forgot to bring in the chairs. You also forgot your pocketbook. Kezia
found it and gave it to me. Now I return it."

"After turning it inside out," he muttered, dropping the lion's hide and
assuming the calfskin.

"I have not even opened it," she replied.

"Then how do you know I have come into two thousand pounds?"

"A gentleman called Crampy told me."

"Crampy! He couldn't tell you--he wouldn't!"

"It must have been one of the parrots then," said Nellie gleefully. "Let
me tell you a story! Once upon a time there was an idle gentleman who
had made up his mind never to work for his living, because he owned a
pair of Chinese vases which were supposed to be priceless. This
gentleman had a cousin, who knew the vases were exceedingly valuable,
and, as he was a bad man, in fact a terribly unscrupulous man," said
Nellie, opening her eyes widely.

"Here, I say! You stop that!" bellowed Percy.

"I'm having my revenge for being called a little devil," she said gaily.
"As this cousin was a thorough scoundrel, he determined to grab the
vases, so he went to another unscrupulous man called Crampy and told
him, if he could get the vases cheaply from the idle gentleman, he
should have half the profit. Crampy agreed, visited the gentleman, saw
that the vases were genuine, and offered him a thousand pounds. The
offer was refused and Crampy went away, beaten on the first round. His
next step was to send the idle gentleman a list of collectors who could
be trusted; and this was followed by a visit from an American
millionaire, Josiah P. Jenkins, who in his own domestic circle was
generally known as Bill Sawdye."

Percy forgot himself and swore.

"The story is not very clear at this point, but it appears Bill Sawdye
was a sort of handyman employed by Crampy for dirty little jobs like
this. He offered the idle gentleman two thousand pounds for the vases.
This was accepted, Bill paid the money, and took the things away."

"I don't want to hear any more," muttered Percy, gulping like a fish.

"But I must have the satisfaction of showing you how well up I am in the
latest criminal news," said Nellie. "Next day Bill sent back the vases,
swearing they were forgeries, and assuring him Crampy was the last hope.
The idle gentleman communicated at once with Crampy, agreeing to accept
his offer. Crampy paid the thousand pounds and went off with the vases.
He sold them for five thousand, and that left four thousand to be
divided between the wicked cousin and himself. It was understood that
Crampy should pay Bill and all expenses. These two scoundrels expect to
live happily ever after, but I'm sure they won't," concluded Nellie.

"I was a fool to have kept Crampy's letter. But what right had you to
take it out of my pocketbook and read it?" growled Percy.

"I told you I never looked inside your pocketbook, but you left it
unfastened, and there was a good deal of wind in the night. This
morning, when I went out to pick sweet-peas, I saw a letter blown
against the sticks. I glanced at it out of ordinary curiosity, I read on
out of interest, and I finished it out of duty."

"Now you can hand it over," said Percy sulkily.

"I intend to keep it for the present. I may even have to send it on to
Mr. George."

"He can't do anything. It was a trick, but a perfectly straightforward
business trick. Crampy made an offer, and he accepted it."

"Mr. George is a stronger man than you, though he does pretend to have a
weak back. If he knew about this, and could get at you, I believe he
would break your head. He would write to Hunter anyhow, tell Miss Lee
and all her family--"

"Do you know his address?"

"Yes, and I can bring him here tomorrow; and I will too, if you refuse
to make over the furniture to Miss Sophy. That is only fair, as she has
paid for it."

"If I consent to make my aunt a present of the furniture?" suggested
Percy.

"Then I promise not to mention the matter to Mr. George."

"All right. I'll tell Hunter to draw up a deed of gift. Of course you
understand it would be useless telling George, as he cannot recover the
vases or make any claim against me?"

"Then why are you clearing out of the country?"

"The soil of Tasmania is said to be ideal for--"

"Fugitives from justice," finished Nellie.

"Emmie, my darling," said Percy, a few minutes after this interview, "I
feel quite certain there is something wrong with the drains. I shall
tell aunt we are leaving in the morning."

"Percy is so wonderfully unselfish," said Miss Yard to Nellie that
evening. "He has made me a present of all the furniture; and tomorrow he
is going to find me a new home."



CHAPTER XV

A NEW HOUSE AND THE SAME OLD FURNITURE


Miss Yard became uncontrollable, almost dangerous, when Percy wrote
informing her he had discovered a house situated upon high ground, quite
fifty feet above the meadows through which the Drivel percolated. The
garden soil was a singularly fertile gravel; the view, which was
monotonous, consisting chiefly of mole heaps, was fortunately blotted
out by lichened apple trees; while the principal reception room had been
designed, in his opinion, with a view to knitting parties; and a retired
Archdeacon had quite recently passed away in the best bedroom.

The old lady craved for Drivelford delights every hour of the day. She
escaped constantly from the garden to begin the first of the hundred
miles which separated her from such a respectable abode. When imprisoned
in the parlour, she wrote a quantity of letters to old friends, most of
whom had travelled far outside the radius of the postal union, inviting
them to her first tea party at the Lodge, Drivelford. The name of the
house was really Wistaria Lodge; but Percy had recommended the shorter
form as less of a committal.

"Percy must live with us; he will enjoy the river. Don't you remember
the gentlemen, in long coats and round hats, who used to sit all day
smoking and tasting something out of jars? Percy would like that," she
said merrily.

"Mr. Taverner is now a married man, and by this time he is a thousand
miles away. I suppose you are referring to Mr. George," said Nellie.

"Of course I mean George. Why don't you listen, child? He can sit by the
river with the rest of the gentlemen. He can hand round the cakes, and
talk to the ladies. Give nice things, and say nice things. I wonder if
somebody told me that, or whether I invented it. I used to be clever
once; twenty years ago I could have told you what Wistaria meant."

"It's a creeper," explained Nellie. "But Mr. Taverner as good as says
there isn't one."

"I'm glad of that. I do not like creeping things. Now I'm going to write
to George. My memory is wonderfully good today, and yet I cannot
remember the name of the lady he married."

"My memory is better than yours, but I cannot remember it either,"
laughed Nellie. "When Mr. George marries, I shall expect to hear your
banns read out."

"I could have married once," declared Miss Yard. "He was a curate with
such a funny face, and his nose was just like a cork."

"Why didn't you?" asked Nellie.

"I think there was some impediment. I rather fancy he took to comic
songs, or perhaps he forgot to mention the matter. Why did George go
away, if he never means to get married?"

"That's a long story, which I cannot tell you now, as I must get on with
the packing. Don't you write to Mr. George. Leave that to me."

"He is coming with us," cried Miss Yard.

"He is not," said Nellie.

She went out, locking the door lest Miss Yard should commence one of her
perambulations towards Drivelford, murmuring to herself:

"Kezia goes with us, so there will be no trouble with her; but Bessie,
of course, stays with her husband. Whatever will she and Robert say--and
do--when we begin to move the furniture? George must come back. He's
pretty artful, and perhaps he'll suggest a plan."

The artfulness of George was a thing to be reckoned with, so, when
Nellie wrote, she did not mention that the furniture was now the legal
property of Miss Yard; but merely informed him they were leaving
Highfield, and requested him to return as soon as possible.

She had hardly finished this letter when Kezia entered the room, seated
herself in the most comfortable chair, as prospective mistress of all
she surveyed, and announced her intention of getting to the bottom of
everything.

"I don't know what's going on, but there's something being kept back
what I have a right to know. Who stole my things, Miss Nellie? Who come
into this house, when me and Bess wur sitting in the kitchen, and took
my musical box, and my silver candlesticks, what dear Mrs. Drake left
me--snatched 'em out of my hand, as you might say? Mr. George had gone
away, so it couldn't be him. It warn't nobody here. It warn't the
Brocks, they ses. That musical box wur so heavy the dear Captain
couldn't lift it without saying something Mrs. Drake wur sorry vor. And
it went off avore my face as if 'twur smoke."

"I'm just as much puzzled as you," said Nellie. "Perhaps the policeman
will tell us all about it when he comes home."

"I've got a fancy he took the things himself. He's got a way of hanging
about after dark what I don't like," said Kezia. "I ha' never trusted
policeman, since one kissed me when I was a young gal. 'Twas ten o'clock
at night, and I wur standing by the gate--and then he begged my pardon,
said he'd mistook the house, and 'twas the gal next door he meant to
kiss. You can't trust them, miss. They ses he's gone to run in a farmer
whose place got burnt down, but it's my belief he's gone to sell my
candlesticks."

"You mustn't say such things," cried Nellie.

"And what's all this about going away? Mr. Percy come here, and I heard
'en tell about finding a house, and Miss Sophy does nought 'cept worry
about packing and getting off, and her talks all day about a place
called Drivelford. Nobody tells me nothing about it."

"Miss Sophy has told you a great deal."

"I don't pay no attention to what she ses. Mrs. Drake said Miss Sophy
wur to die here, and be put away in Highfield churchyard, and nothing
was to be touched in her lifetime."

"But surely Miss Sophy can please herself!"

"Mrs. Drake said I wur to look after Miss Sophy," muttered Kezia.

"And so you shall. We are going away, as Miss Sophy really ought to live
in a place where she can see a few people. We have taken a house in
Drivelford, which is where she used to live, and we shall go there some
time this month. Kezia, I want you not to mention this to anyone, not
even to Bessie," said Nellie impressively.

"Well, I never!" gasped Kezia. "I fancied we should never be going away
from here, and I don't think it's right. I'm sure Mrs. Drake wouldn't
like it. What sort of a place is this Drivelford?"

"Oh, it's quite a bright little town, and a lot of old people go there
to live because the death rate is only seven and a half in a thousand."

"What do that mean?" asked Kezia.

"Statistics are beyond me, but I suppose if means that out of a thousand
people only seven and a half die."

"What happens to the old folk what don't die? How long do the person
what half dies bide like that? Do he get better or worse? How be us to
know whether me, and you, and Miss Sophy, won't be among the seven? I
can't sense the meaning of it."

"It does seem rather hard to explain, especially as Drivelford has the
biggest cemetery I ever saw in my life. You will like the place, Kezia.
There are plenty of houses and rows of shops--one very big one, called
Field, Stanley, and Robinson, where you can buy anything."

"I'd like to be among a few shops," said Kezia more cheerfully. "Ain't
Stanley the name of that dreadful woman what came to Black Anchor?"

"I believe that was the name, but it is quite a common one. There are no
Stanleys in Drivelford anyhow; but there are three churches and two
chapels."

"That'll keep us busy on Sundays," said Kezia delightedly.

"And there's an electric theatre."

"What's that?" asked Kezia suspiciously.

"A place where they show pictures."

"I won't go there. I've heard a lot of loud talk about them places. I
heard of a young woman who went into one, and was never seen again. That
Stanley woman came from an electric theatre, where there was singing and
dancing and showing their legs, you may depend. Ah, they'll be weeping
and wailing and gnashing their teeth some day. Is there a dentist in
Drivelford?"

"Yes, and several undertakers, and a huge lunatic asylum," cried Nellie.

"Well, perhaps it won't be so bad. There's nothing to cheer a body in
Highfield. I'll try to put up with it, vor the sake of dear Mrs. Drake.
She said I wur never to leave Miss Sophy. Poor Bessie'll fret herself
into a decline when she hears I'm agoing away vor ever."

"Mind you don't tell her. I know you two are great friends, but directly
Bessie hears we are going to move the furniture, she and Robert will be
over here claiming all sorts of things."

"So they will," said Kezia uneasily. "I don't mind about Bessie--she's
welcome to anything I don't want--but Robert's been talking a bit too
sharp lately. I can't lay a hand on anything in the kitchen without him
saying it belongs to Bessie, and telling me to be careful how I touches
it."

"If it comes to the worst, we might let them have the mummy. Miss Sophy
doesn't really care for it," suggested Nellie.

"They ain't agoing to have he. I wouldn't part wi' the dear old stuffed
gentleman, not vor fifty pounds," cried Kezia.

"Oh dear!" sighed Nellie. "I can see very well we are in for a
battle--feather beds torn in pieces--carpets rent asunder--you and
Bessie tugging at opposite ends of Mrs. Drake's sofa. But suppose Robert
brings a crowd!"

"I won't say a word," promised Kezia, breathing heavily with excitement.
"They shan't know we'm going vor ever till the vans come. I suppose us
couldn't move the things on a dark night, same as they does in towns?"

"Right under Bessie's window!" exclaimed Nellie. "Why, it will take them
a whole day merely to pack the things."

"Robert won't let a thing be took. He ha' said so many a time. 'Not a
stick, Kezia, is to go out of the house,' he says, 'unless I takes it.'
Whatever shall us do, Miss Nellie?"

"We had better wait until Mr. George comes. Then, if he cannot suggest
anything, I shall have to write and ask Mr. Hunter to come down and
look after Miss Sophy's interests."

"But the furniture don't belong to she," objected Kezia.

"At all events she has a life interest in it," Nellie reminded her.

"Sure enough. Mrs. Drake said it wur to belong to Miss Sophy while she
lived, but no longer. I suppose I'll have to see about letting the house
now," Kezia remarked, gazing yearningly at the oleographs. "I did think
once of living here, when Miss Sophy wur took, but it's too big vor me,
and I'd feel lonely here. Besides, I wouldn't want to bring back the
furniture. I ought to get thirty pounds vor it, and that's a nice bit
coming in every year. Perhaps I might sell it, but I fancy Mrs. Drake
wouldn't like me to do that. What would you do, if the place wur yours,
Miss Nellie--would you let or sell it?"

The girl seized her letter and fled, being far too kindly a little
coward to inform Kezia that the house belonged to George. She looked
into the parlour, where Miss Yard was singing away happily and, after
bidding her to go on with her warbles for another ten minutes, she ran
out of the house; but hardly had turned towards the post office when a
voice called from the opposite direction. Nellie turned, shading her
eyes, seeing nothing at first because she was staring into the glow of
the sunset; and then two figures advanced towards her--the policeman and
George Drake.

"I was just going to post a letter to you. Whatever has made you turn up
again?" she cried.

"The bad shilling has saved you a good penny stamp," replied George. "I
seemed to have been away quite long enough and, as my lodgings were
jolly dull, I decided to accept Aunt Sophy's invitation to live in my
own house again. I ought never to have gone, for as soon as I was out of
the house--what do you think the policeman has been telling me?"

"About the robbery."

"How that miserable Robert stole my things, while Bessie kept Kezia in
the kitchen."

"That's right, miss. I guessed how it was at once, but couldn't say
anything till I'd made sure. I was just coming to tell you when I met
Mr. Drake," said the new sergeant, stroking his moustache complacently.

"It doesn't pay to be a rascal here," said George. "This policeman has
caught a farmer burning down his house, and Robert making off with my
property, within the last few days. I hope it won't be long before he
gets a murder. I don't mind telling him to his face that he deserves a
double murder and suicide."

The constable expressed his gratitude for this unsolicited testimonial,
and added, "Mr. Drake thinks, miss, I'd better not go any further in the
matter, as there seems to be a sort of doubt as to who owns the
furniture."

"There is no doubt whatever. I own the things, and I'll see about
getting them back without troubling you," said George.

"Right, sir!" Then the policeman bade them good evening and went his
way.

Immediately they were alone, George burst out excitedly, "Nellie,
there's another girl!"

"In your case? Well, nobody's jealous," she replied.

"A prettier one than ever, but very young, in short skirts, with her
hair down, and her name's Teenie," he continued, without even hearing
her comment.

"I think you've come back perfectly crazy," observed Nellie.

"If you don't believe me, you can just go to Black Anchor and find out
for yourself."

"Oh, you mean another girl there!" she exclaimed, flushing angrily, and
adding, "I don't want to hear any more--but how do you know?"

"She travelled in the same carriage with me, and I thought what a
dear--I mean passable little thing she was. Directly the train stopped I
saw Sidney, and he called out, 'Here I am, Teenie darling!' And the
little girl fairly shouted, 'Oh, Sidney dear, how brown you are!' Then
she jumped out, and they kissed and hugged. I never saw anything more
disgraceful in my life. I sat back in the carriage so that Sidney
shouldn't see me. I suppose they have driven through the village by this
time, unless they have the decency to wait until it's dark."

"Where's your luggage?" asked Nellie rather sharply, but determined to
change the subject.

"First the painted lady, then Dolly, now Teenie! Thirty, then twenty,
and now fourteen! The next will be twelve, and after that they'll be
coming in perambulators. My word, young Sidney is a patriarch!"

"Hold your tongue," cried Nellie, more sharply than she had ever spoken
in her life.

"I'm sorry, but my feelings ran away with me--she was such a pretty
youngster--but of course it's fearfully sad. I had to walk from the
station, as I couldn't get a conveyance: the carrier can fetch my box.
What's the news? Has Percy been?"

"He came, saw me, and fled," replied the girl more amiably.

"I knew he was a coward, but I didn't suppose you could frighten any
one."

"He wanted Miss Sophy to buy the furniture. I told him it was hers
already. He blustered and threatened; I stood like a tor. He was so
rude that I lost my temper; and when I am angry I can frighten anyone.
He yielded and ran. The news," continued Nellie, "is that we are going
to run too."

"For a change of air. I'll come with you."

"A permanent change. We are going back to Drivelford. The house is
taken, and the problem before me is how to move the furniture."

"So you wrote asking me to come back and do the dirty work?"

"If you like to put it that way."

"Aunt Sophy has no right to leave without giving notice. She is my
tenant for life. If she breaks her contract I shall claim the
furniture--it is mine really, as Percy didn't give me a fair price, and
now he's gone to Tasmania he can't interfere. I have always regarded the
furniture as belonging to me in spite of Percy's interference. Of
course, when I say to me, I mean to us."

"Don't worry," she said. "Mr. Taverner has signed a deed of gift making
over everything in the house to Miss Sophy; and, as she has signed a
will in my favour, the furniture should come to me eventually--if Kezia
and the Mudges don't grab it all."

"So you made Percy give my furniture to Aunt Sophy. Percy, who has never
given away anything in his life except a bad cigar!"

"Marriage has improved him."

"He wasn't married when he came here."

"He was on the brink. I persuaded him that, as Miss Sophy had paid for
the things, she ought to have them."

"That argument would simply slide off his back. You said he threatened
you, and, from what I know of him, it's fairly certain that he swore at
you. Is it likely he would threaten one moment, and give way the next?
His young woman may have changed his vile nature--I hope she has--but
you can't reform the stripes off a zebra. You found out something about
him--you made him confess how he got hold of that money he wrote telling
us about, and why he was clearing out of the country. He has defrauded
the Yard estate, and Hunter helped him. The next thing we shall hear is
that Hunter has gone to study the business habits and professional
morals of the Esquimaux. Out with it, Nellie, or I shall suffer from a
horrible suspicion that Percy has squared you."

"I have spoken nothing but the truth, and you won't squeeze anything
more out of me," she said.

"When a fellow stays in lodgings," said George, "he must either read
novels or go mad. I have been reading a quantity of novels, and they
convinced me that women are deceitful beings."

"They have to protect themselves against the perfidy of men," cried
Nellie.

"Remember poor innocent Adam! He was all right as long as he was engaged
to Eve; but what happened when he married her?"

"It's a shame that story was ever invented."

"He wouldn't have eaten the apples; peaches and bananas were good enough
for him," George continued.

"But the serpent started it, and the serpent was the devil in disguise,
and the devil is a fallen angel, and all angels, as you told me once,
are gentlemen. So the male sex is the most deceitful after all."

"Why can't you stick to the subject?" said George sourly.

"Certainly," laughed Nellie. "This business about the furniture must be
settled finally one way or the other. Are the Mudges to have anything,
and, if not, how are they to be prevented from taking just what they
want?"

"Robert and Bessie are not to take a stick from the house, or a stone
from the garden; and they must give back the things they have stolen,"
replied George.

"Are those scraps of paper worth anything at all?" she demanded.

"They are as useless as agreements between nations."

"Then why don't you tell Kezia?"

"Because the law is so slippery."

"That means you are not certain."

"I am quite positive; but how can I be responsible for judicial errors?
Kezia may put her case into the hands of some shady lawyer--worse even
than Hunter--and some stupid court may make a mistake in her favour.
Kezia is going with you, so there will be no trouble with her while Aunt
Sophy lives."

"But it's not fair to keep her in ignorance."

"It's supposed to be a state of bliss."

"Oh, I can't argue with you. Will you answer one question properly?"

"I'll try," said George.

"How are we to rescue the furniture from the Mudges?"

"If they don't know you are going to move, and have no suspicions,"
began George.

"They have none," said Nellie.

"And are not told."

"They won't be."

"Then you can leave it to me," said George.



CHAPTER XVI

GEORGE TAKES CONTROL


Miss Yard shuffled contentedly downstairs, nicely dressed for her
evening meal, which usually consisted of thin soup, a milk pudding, and
boiling water; peeped into the parlour, drew a deep breath and peeped
again, uttered a few exclamations, then shuffled back to the stairs,
called Nellie, and announced:

"There's a great big man in the house!"

"It's only old George," whispered the irreverent girl.

"I don't know anybody of that name; but there used to be several King
Georges, and they were followed by William, and then came our dear good
Victoria, who was taken in the prime of life just when she seemed to
have settled down, and after that I don't remember anything," said Miss
Yard.

"George is the name of our present King--and of about ninety per cent,
of his loyal subjects," said Nellie.

"What's he doing here? This isn't Windsor Castle," stammered Miss Yard.
"Has he called for a subscription? Gentlemen who come here always want
subscriptions. Does he want to hide? I do hope there's not a revolution.
Go and show him into a cupboard, Nellie, and tell him how loyal we are."

"My dear lady," laughed Nellie, "you are clean muddled, confoozled, and
astern of the times. This gentleman is your much respected relative,
George Drake."

"Why couldn't you say so at once, without talking a lot of wicked
rubbish about a revolution and the Royal Family hiding on Dartmoor?"
demanded Miss Yard snappishly.

"Of all the injustice!" sighed Nellie; but the old lady had left her.
Toddling at full speed into the parlour, she embraced George, and said
how well she remembered him, though twenty years had passed since they
had met. "I knew you at once, directly I looked into the room I
recognised your stooping shoulders and your bald head," she added,
looking at a portrait on the wall and describing that accurately.

"Nellie couldn't make you out at all," she continued, "but then she was
a baby when you went away. Nellie, dear, where are you? Come and be
kissed by your uncle. I told you he would come back some day."

"The soup is on the table," cried Nellie as she fled.

The mind of Miss Yard roamed in a free and happy state about the
nineteenth century, enabling her, during the progress of a meal, to pass
through a number of different periods. While taking her soup and sipping
her boiling water, she informed the others that the first railway had
recently been constructed, and it ran between Highfield and Drivelford,
and for her part she was very glad of it, as she thought it was quite
time the coaches were done away with, and she fully intended travelling
by the railway if Mr. Stephenson would let her.

"Whoever is Stephenson?" inquired George, who ought to have known
better.

"It's wonderful what things she does remember," replied Nellie. "She
would forget me if I left her tomorrow; yet she can remember the man who
invented railways."

"I think you had better go tomorrow," said George, taking the cue.

"Yes, I should like to be one of the first," Miss Yard admitted.

"Why have you put that idea into her head? It may stick, and then she'll
drive me crazy," scolded Nellie; it being perfectly safe to speak openly
before the old lady.

"Send her off with Kezia at once," urged George.

"I must go with her."

"Then take Kezia too. If she stays she will split to Bessie. Even if she
tries her hardest not to, she won't be able to help herself. You can't
keep anything a secret for long in a place like this. You clear off, and
I'll go into lodgings--and read more novels."

"Won't that look queer?"

"It would if Kezia stayed: it won't if she goes. I can't put up here
with nobody to look after me."

"And you will undertake to move the furniture?"

"I will," he promised.

"Very well," she murmured after a pause. "We can't possibly get away
tomorrow, as it will take me a day to pack; but we will go the day
after."

"Oh, well, it's no good bothering now," said Miss Yard in a voice of
bitter resignation, pushing back her plate and kicking at her footstool.
"They've started without us."

George occupied his old bedroom, positively for the last time, and in
the morning went out to wrestle with his difficulties. His reception by
the villagers was colder than ever because, during his absence, the
Dismal Gibcat had made a speech directed mainly against the man who had
dared to interfere with local progress. The Dismal Gibcat preferred to
be in a minority of one, but such was his gift of eloquence that a
single speech sometimes swung the majority over to his side; which was
an embarrassing position only to be escaped from by repudiating his
former opinions. This speech had done its work, as George was presently
to discover when the Dumpy Philosopher and the Wallower in Wealth
approached him with questions concerning the Dartmoor Railway Company.

"That scheme is done for. It was one of my uncle's bubbles, but I have
pricked it," he replied, groping his way back to popularity.

"Us wur told a lot of American gentlemen wanted to build the railway wi'
something they called a syndicate," said the Wallower in Wealth.

"I told 'em the country is hardly flat enough," said George.

"It wur flat enough vor Captain Drake, and it wur flat enough vor you
when you fetched that millionaire down along to look at it," said the
Dumpy Philosopher.

"That's all a mistake. Mr. Jenkins came here to buy a pair of vases,"
said George, speaking the truth with disastrous results; for the two
elders were not quite such fools as to believe a gentleman would travel
from London to Highfield for the sake of purchasing a shilling's worth
of crockery.

"They'm out o' cloam in London, I fancy," remarked the Wallower in
Wealth.

"And in America," added the Dumpy Philosopher.

"Mr. Jenkins is a collector of vases," explained George.

"He never come to look at mine. There's a proper lot o' cloam in
Highfield, and he didn't crave to see it. Us ha' heard he come to build
the railway, and you stopped him from adoing it."

"Well, perhaps I did," replied George, trying to score a point by lying.
"I know you are all against the scheme."

"Us wur agin it very strong, because it had never been properly
explained," said the Wallower in Wealth. "Us hadn't been told they meant
to put a terminus in Highfield. I ha' been to terminuses. 'Tis places
where trains start from."

"And where 'em pulls up," added the Dumpy Philosopher.

"Where they starts from and where they pulls up again. It don't make no
difference. I ha' started from terminuses, and I ha' stopped in 'em, so
I knows what I'm telling about. A terminus brings a lot of money into a
place. When they makes a terminus a town is soon built all round it.
There's one or two in Highfield who ha' seen Waterloo, and that's a
terminus. And they ses 'tis wonderful what a big town ha' been built all
round it. A hundred years ago it wur just a ploughed field, where that
tremenjus big battle was fought what made us all free volk vor ever; and
now 'tis all terminus as far as you can see. That American gentleman
come here wi' his syndicate...."

"'Tis something vor levelling the ground, I fancy," said the Dumpy
Philosopher, when his colleague paused.

"He would ha' levelled the ground as flat as your hand, and made the
terminus; and we would ha' sold our land vor what us like to ask. Now
you've ruined us, sir. You ha' stopped the terminus--and you stole my
musical box," said the Wallower in Wealth, combining his grievances in
one brief indictment.

"You're talking like a child. How can I steal my own property?" cried
George angrily.

"Mrs. Drake left all your furniture to Kezia," shouted the Wallower in
Wealth.

"And the rest of it to Bessie," added the Dumpy Philosopher.

"They ha' got paper to prove it, Robert ses."

"Why did you offer me money for the musical box, then?" asked George.

"To try your honesty," replied the Wallower in Wealth. "And you warn't
honest. You wouldn't take my money because it warn't big enough. Then
you go and steal the musical box, wi' a lot of other things, from
Kezia."

"And from Bessie Mudge," added the Dumpy Philosopher.

"And if you don't get sent to prison--"

"It won't be for the same reason that you aren't put away in a lunatic
asylum," George finished; wondering, as he went on to engage a lodging,
how it was his uncle had succeeded in ruling this community of
wranglers.

A devout widow let religious rooms opposite the churchyard: they were
religious because tables were piled with theological tomes, and walls
were covered by black and white memorial cards, comforting texts, and
discomposing pictures of Biblical tragedies in yellow and scarlet which
helped to warm the house in chilly weather. Towards this dwelling George
made his way, knowing the importance of being respectable, although he
could not help feeling he had done nothing to deserve those pictures.
But presently he swung round, and went off in the opposite direction. An
idea had come to him: he remembered the Art Dyers.

That name described a married couple; not a business of giving a new
colour to old garments; but the vocation of bread baking, cake making,
and specialising in doughnuts. Arthur Dyer was the stingiest man in
Highfield; he gave away no crumbs of any kind; had any one asked a stone
of him, he would have refused it, but would assuredly have put that
stone into his oven and baked it, hoping to see some gold run out. He
went to church once a week, no entrance fee being demanded, and always
put two fingers into the offertory bag, but whether he put anything else
was doubtful. He was also Robert's employer. Mrs. Dyer had learnt in
the school of her husband until she was able to give him lectures in
economy; and in times past she had implored George, out of his charity,
to drive the wolf from their door by finding her a lodger.

"She will ask a stiff price, and I shall get nothing to eat except bread
puddings," he muttered, "but the game will be worth starvation."

George might also have remarked with poetic melancholy he had lived to
receive his warmest welcome in a lodging house, when Mrs. Dyer had taken
him in, showed him a bed, certain to be well aired as it stood above the
oven, and promised to be much more than an ordinary mother in her
attentions. The rooms appeared somewhat barren, but the air was
excellent, being impregnated with an odour of hot fat which was a dinner
in itself, and might very possibly be charged as one.

A slight difficulty arose regarding terms, owing to a sudden increase in
the price of commodities and a shortage of domestic labour. Everything
had got so dear Mrs. Dyer could not understand how people lived: it
seemed almost wicked of them to make the attempt, but then a funeral had
got to be such a luxury it was perhaps cheaper to struggle on. That was
what she and her husband were doing from day to day, with everything
going up except their income. Luckily they were still able to sell a
few doughnuts: people insisted upon them for their tea. The local
doctor spoke highly of them, and most of the babies in the parish were
brought up on their doughnuts, with a little beer occasionally--the
doctor said it helped. After sleeping in that atmosphere Mr. Drake would
find one good meal a day--a chop followed by bread-and-butter
pudding--would be almost more than he could manage. She did not want to
make a profit, but if he could pay five shillings a day, she thought
with careful management she might not lose much.

This matter arranged, George returned to Windward House, where the
packers were as busy as a hen with one chicken. Miss Yard, feeling she
must be doing something, was pinning sheets of newspaper round the
mummy. Bessie was hindering Kezia from filling all manner of cases with
various ornaments and photographs, which it was the custom to take away
for the annual outing, although they were never removed from the boxes.
Bessie felt uncomfortable, as it appeared to her Kezia was dismantling
the place.

"You don't want to take all them pictures," she said at last.

"I'd feel lonely without 'em," explained Kezia.

"You never took 'em last time you went to the seaside. You'm not going
to be away more than two weeks."

"Miss Sophy might fancy to be away a bit longer. I do like to have my
little bits o' things round me, wherever I be."

"What's the name of the place you'm going to?"

"Miss Nellie will tell ye. 'Tis worry enough vor me to get ready without
bothering where we'm going," replied the harassed Kezia.

"Miss Sophy ses 'tis Drivelford."

"'Tis something like that, I fancy," admitted Kezia, beginning to break
down under cross-examination.

"That's where Miss Sophy come from. It ain't seaside."

"A river ain't far off," Kezia muttered.

George had arrived and, hearing these voices, he tramped upstairs to
save the situation.

"They are going to Drivelmouth," he said.

"I fancied Miss Nellie said Drivelford," remarked the futile Kezia.

"I know she did, and that's where Miss Sophy come from. Why does she
want to go back there again?" Bessie inquired warmly.

"You ought to know by this time it's no use attending to what Miss Yard
says. Drivelford is quite a different place from Drivelmouth, which
happens to be on the sea just where that beautiful river, the Drivel,
runs into it. There's a splendid sandy beach--and it's quite a new
place they've just discovered," explained George.

"Seems funny, if 'twas there, they never found it avore," said the
suspicious Bessie.

"It has just become popular. It was a little fishing village, and now
they are making roads and building houses because doctors have
discovered there's something in the air," George continued.

"That's what Miss Nellie told me. There's an amazing big cemetery, and
'tis a wonderful healthy place," said Kezia.

"You see, doctors recommend the place so highly that old people go there
and die. That accounts for the cemetery, which is not really a local
affair, for Drivelmouth is the healthiest place in England," said
George.

"Miss Nellie ses there be a thousand volks, and seven be took, and one
gets paralytics," commented Kezia.

"Drivelmouth is a great place for general paralysis. The paralytics are
wheeled up and down the front all day. People go there just to see
them," said George recklessly.

"Wish I wur going," Bessie murmured.

"Surely you are not going to take all those things!" George exclaimed,
indicating a teaset, dinner service, and a quantity of art pottery.

"That's what I tells her. She don't want all them things away with her,"
cried Bessie.

"I don't like leaving them behind--wi' thieves breaking into the house
to steal. I ha' lost enough already," said Kezia plaintively.

This was a fortunate remark, as it disconcerted Bessie and put a stop to
questions, while at the same time it removed her suspicions. It was not
surprising that Kezia should wish to take away as much treasure as
possible. She would have done the same herself. Still, she did not like
to see that dinner service go out of the house. Robert had been about to
move that.

"How long be 'em going away for, Mr. George?" she asked presently, when
Kezia had gone to gather up more of her possessions.

"That depends on the weather," came the diplomatic answer.

Packing continued steadily: boxes, crates, and hampers were piled up in
the hall awaiting transport; Kezia had been prevented from leaking; Miss
Yard continually inquired whether the railway was quite finished.

The calm of exhaustion prevailed, when there came a defiant knock upon
the front door, and the bell rang like a fire alarm.

"It must be a telegram," said George gravely.

"I hope nothing has happened to Mr. and Mrs. Taverner," said Nellie.

"Why shouldn't something happen to them?" George muttered.

"What do they say? Is there any hope?" cried Miss Yard.

"We don't know anything yet," replied Nellie.

"The railway has gone wrong. I was afraid it would--they were so
venturesome. You were reading about letters coming without wires."

"Telegrams," corrected Nellie, listening to the voices outside.

"Yes, the postmen are very wonderful. You said they were using the stuff
we eat in puddings, tapioca--or was it macaroni?"

"You mean Marconi wireless messages, Aunt," said George.

"I always mean what I say," replied the lady curtly.

In the meantime Kezia and Bessie had advanced together, preparing
themselves to face the police inspector, but hoping it would be nothing
worse than the tax collector. Bessie opened the door, while Kezia sidled
behind her. The next moment they both groaned with horror.

"Is Miss Blisland in?" asked a pert young voice.

"She might be," replied Bessie hoarsely.

"Ask her please if she'll come out and speak to me."

"Oh, my dear, shut the door and bolt it!" Kezia whispered.

This was done, and they presented themselves in the parlour with woeful
faces.

"It's her!" Bessie announced. "She wants to see you. She's standing on
our doorstep!"

"Who?" cried Nellie.

"The last of 'em--the one that come yesterday. She didn't tell us her
name."

"She's ashamed of it," said Kezia.

"Perhaps Mr. George'll go and send her off," suggested Bessie.

"Who are you talking about?" asked Nellie impatiently.

"The wench from Black Anchor. She ain't no more than a child, but the
way her stared on us wur awful."

"Sent a shiver through me--so bold and daring!" Kezia added.

"Miss Teenie, is it?" George muttered. "Sit down, Nellie; I'll go and
talk to her."

"I can do my own business, thanks," said Nellie, going towards the door.

"I'll come with you anyhow," he said.

"You will do nothing of the kind," replied the young lady coldly.

Out she went, while Miss Yard stood trembling on the hearthrug, and
Bessie listened at the keyhole, and Kezia sniffed beside the window.
George was trying to persuade himself that no young woman would venture
to trifle with his noble nature.

"Is it very bad?" asked Miss Yard.

"Yes, miss," replied Bessie. "She's brought her in--she's taken her into
the dining room--she's shut the door. Oh, Miss, they're laughing!"

"I never did think Miss Nellie would go like this," Kezia lamented.

"She was here just now," said Miss Yard simply.

"Yes, miss, but she's gone now--gone to the bad."

"What's it all about?" asked the old lady, appealing to George who
seemed to be the only comforter.

"I am sorry to say Nellie has got into bad company--into the very worst
company--and we shall have to be very stern with her."

"Yes, indeed we must, or she will lose all her money. I know what these
companies are. I get a lot of circulars, and I always tell Nellie she is
to burn them," said Miss Yard in sore distress.

"Just listen to 'em talking!" cried Bessie.

"I can't abear much more," Kezia wailed.

The next minute Miss Yard was struggling towards the door, rejecting
the advice of George, pushing aside the arms of Bessie; declaring that
nobody should prevent her from dragging Nellie out of the pit of
financial ruin. She stumbled across the hall, banged at the door of the
dining room until it was opened to her; and then came silence, but
presently the old lady's queer voice could be heard distinctly, and
after that her bursts of merry laughter. Miss Yard had fallen into this
very worst company herself. Kezia and Bessie crept silently toward the
kitchen. The whole house was polluted. George searched for flies to
kill.

"Oh, I say, what tons of luggage!" cried a childish voice.

"Yes, we are off first thing in the morning," said Nellie; and then
followed some whispering, with a few words breaking out here and there:

"Miss Yard wants to be among her old friends again ... a great secret,
you know" ... "of course I shan't tell anyone, but Sidney will be" ...
"I'm so sorry, but it can't be helped" ... "there's such a thing as the
post" ... "good-bye! I'm so glad you came."

The door shut, George jumped out of the window in time to see the young
girl racing down the lane; then he returned to the house and asked
sternly, "What's the meaning of this?"

"Really and truly I don't know," replied Nellie. "But I am at least
satisfied that Highfield needs a missionary."

"Now you are shuffling. You invited that miserable little creature into
my house, you encouraged her to cross my doorstep, I heard you laughing
and talking as if you were enjoying yourself. You actually gave away the
secret about Drivelford. Come outside!" said George, as if he meant to
fight.

"I mean you can't believe a word that Highfield says," she explained,
following obediently. "That little girl's as good as gold."

"To begin with, who is she?" George demanded, scowling like the Dismal
Gibcat.

"That is more than I can tell you. She told me her name was
Christina--sometimes Chrissie--but those who love her generally call her
Teenie."

"What did she want?"

"She invited me to tea at Black Anchor Farm on Sunday. She also promised
to chaperon me."

"The infamous urchin!" groaned George.

"I should have gone," she said steadily.

"Then you must be altogether--absolutely wrong somewhere. Go there to
tea! Sit opposite that wicked old man, beside that abandoned youth, and
positively touching that shameless child who hasn't got a surname! After
all that has passed between us, after all your promises to me, after
all that I have done for you--all my kindness and self-sacrifice--you
would drink tea out of their teapot, and let yourself be talked about as
one of the young women of Black Anchor!"

"My suspicions are not quite gone. But directly I saw little Miss
Christina I knew the horrible things we have heard are all lies. She's a
young lady. She goes to school at Cheltenham."

"That makes it worse. You know old Brock--he's an ordinary labourer.
While Sidney is a common young fellow who can't even speak English. They
are not fit to lick the polish off your shoes."

"But then I don't want the polish licked off my shoes; it's enough
trouble putting it on. I do not understand the Brocks, and I can't
imagine why Miss Teenie wouldn't tell me her whole name. If I could have
gone to Black Anchor on Sunday, I might have found out something."

"These Dollies and Teenies, and painted females, are no relations of
such common chaps. And I won't have you speaking to any of them."

"Really!" she murmured with great deliberation.

"No, I won't; and they are not to write either--I heard something about
the post. Just suppose you had thrown yourself away utterly, suppose you
had lowered yourself so fearfully as to have got engaged to this Sidney
instead of to a Christian gentleman--how awful it would have been!"

Nellie changed colour and gazed significantly at her left hand, which
was unadorned by any lover's circlet.

"You would not only have lost me, which would have been bad enough, but
I should have lost the furniture, all my dear uncle's precious
antiquities and priceless curios--"

"Which would have been far worse," she added.

"It would have been dreadful. Now I have secured all the furniture to
you--"

"I did that for myself; I got it from Mr. Taverner," she interrupted.

"But I advised Aunt Sophy to make her will. Of course I was thinking of
myself--we must do that sometimes--but I was quite unselfish in the
matter. I knew if the furniture was left to you, it would be the same
as--as--"

"Be careful, or you'll spoil the unselfishness," she broke in gently.

"Things have come to a head now," George continued. "You are going away
tomorrow, and, of course, you will never see these horrible people
again. We must do something, Nellie--we must be reckless, as we are both
getting on in life. This is the third of September, and I do think
before the month is out we ought to--I mean something should be done.
Shall we settle on the last day of the month? I have quite made up my
mind to live with Aunt Sophy; it will be good for her, and cheap for
us."

"This is what the Americans call a proposition," she murmured.

"Then when she dies, there will be the furniture all round us. And Kezia
can go on living with us, imagining that the furniture is hers, until
she too departs in peace. We can teach Aunt Sophy how to save money, and
show her how to invest it for our benefit. It looks to me as if we'd got
the future ready-made."

"Is there anything very serious in all this?" she asked.

"Well, it's not like a bad illness, or any great disaster. It's comfort,
happiness, all that sort of thing. When we are in for a jolly good time,
we don't regard that as serious."

"But what is to happen on the last day of the month?"

"It has just occurred to me we might do the right thing--obviously the
right thing. Don't you think so, Nellie? What's the good of waiting, and
wearing ourselves out with ceaseless labour? On the thirty-first of this
month, the last of summer, let us make the plunge."

"Do you mean it?" she asked, with a queer little laugh, which was
perhaps a trifle spiteful; but then the lover was so very callous.

"I have thought over it a great many times, and I've always arrived at
the same conclusion."

"But what do you want me to do on the thirty-first?"

"To go to church."

"I go every Sunday."

"For a special purpose."

"I always have one."

"To hear the service read."

"Will that make any difference to me?"

"Why, of course it will."

"It will change my present B. into a lifelong D.?"

"That's a very artistic way of putting it," said George, rubbing his
hands.

"On the thirty-first?"

"It will suit me nicely."

"For the sake of peace and quietness I agree. But I want you to promise
one thing--don't waste money over an engagement-ring; as, if you do, I
won't wear it."

"That's a splendid idea! But all the same, Nellie, I should never have
thought of going to any expense."

"You are so economical. It's the one thing I like about you."

"And the one thing I like about you," said George, not to be outdone in
compliments, "is your willingness to listen to good advice."

They parted, with quite a friendly handshake. George went to his bed,
and was baked so soundly above the oven that, before he reached Windward
House the following morning, Miss Yard and her attendants had departed.



CHAPTER XVII

PLOUGHING THE GROUND


Kezia had locked up the house and given to Bessie possession of the
keys; because she had always been left in charge when the family
departed to the seaside, having received her commission as holder of the
keys from Captain Drake himself in the days when she was growing. Now
there was a husband in command, and one who held decided views regarding
property. Robert expressed his willingness to undertake the duties of
custodian; but, in order that the work might be performed efficiently,
he proposed to Bessie that they should close their own cottage and
retire into luxurious residence across the road.

So when George called at his own house, which was occupied by caretakers
he had not appointed, the doors were locked against him. He was not
refused admittance, as that might have looked like an unfriendly act;
his presence was simply ignored. Robert, smoking in the parlour, with
his feet upon the sofa, heard the knocking; but he struck another match
and smiled. Bessie, who was preparing the best bedroom, heard the
ringing; but she peeped behind the curtain and muttered, "Can't have him
in here taking things."

George retired to his lodgings and stared at the framed advertisements,
until he heard Dyer singing as he scoured the oven. The baker had been
heard to declare that, if he had not known how to sing, he would have
lost his senses long ago owing to the fightings and despondings which
beset him. As a matter of fact he did not know how to sing, and those
who listened were far more likely to lose their senses. George
descended, assured Dyer it was a sin to bake bread with a voice like
that, and went on to inquire affectionately after the business.

"Going from bad to worse, sir," came the answer. Dyer was more than a
pessimist; he was not content merely to look on the dark side of things,
but associated himself with every bit of shadow he could find.

"I don't see how that can be. People may give up meat, they may reduce
their clothing; but they must have bread," replied George.

"But they don't want nearly so much as they used to," said Dyer
bitterly, "and they looks at anything nowadays avore they takes it. When
I started business a healthy working man would finish off two loaves a
day; and one's as much as he can manage now. The human race ain't
improving, sir; 'tis dying out, I fancy. They used to be thankful vor
anything I sold 'em, but now if they finds a button, or a beetle, or a
dead mouse in the bread--and the dough will fall over on the floor
sometimes--they sends the loaf back and asks vor another gratis. And the
population is dwindling away to nought."

"According to the census--" began George.

"Don't you believe in censuses," cried the horrified Dyer. "That's dirty
work, sir. Government has a hand in that. If me and you wur the only two
left in Highfield parish, they'd put us down, sir, as four hundred
souls."

"You have a big sale for your cakes and doughnuts," George suggested.

"I loses on 'em," said the dreary Dyer.

"Then why do you make them?"

"I suppose, sir, 'tis a habit I've got into."

"My uncle used to say he had never tasted better cakes than yours."

"Captain Drake was a gentleman, sir. His appetite belonged to the old
school what be passed away vor ever. When he wur alive I could almost
make both ends meet. But he gave me a nasty fright once, when he got
telling about a tree what grows abroad--bread tree he called it. Told me
volks planted it in their gardens, and picked the loaves off as they
wanted 'em. 'Twas a great relief to my mind when he said the tree
wouldn't be a commercial success in this country because the sun ain't
hot enough to bake the bread. Talking about gentlemen, sir, what do you
think of the Brocks?"

"A bad lot," said George, wagging his head.

"Sure enough! They make their own bread," whispered the baker.

"I didn't know they went so far as that," replied the properly horrified
George.

"Some volks stick at nothing. But is it fair, sir? How be struggling
tradesmen to escape ruin when volks break the law--"

"It's not illegal."

"There's Government again! I tell ye how 'tis, sir, Government means to
get rid of me, though I never done anything worse than stop my ears when
parson prays vor Parliament. I hates Government, sir, and I do wish it
wur possible to vote against both parties. If I wur to make my own
tobacco, or vizzy wine such as rich volk drink at funerals, they'd put
me away in prison. Why ain't it illegal vor volks to make their own
bread? I'll tell ye why, sir: 'tis because Government means to do away
wi' bakers. They ha' been telling a lot lately about encouraging home
industries, and that's how they stir up volks to ruin we tradesmen by
making all they want at home."

"You are not ruined yet. Robert declares you are the richest man in
Highfield--not that I believe much he says," George remarked, settling
down to business.

"Quite right, sir. I ha' learned Robert to bake, but I can't prevent him
from talking childish. He'd like to see me out of the business, so that
he could slip into the ruins of it. When he sees I'm the richest man in
the village he means the poorest. 'Tis just a contrairy way of talking.
Captain Drake often looked in to tell wi' me--out of gratitude vor my
doughnuts what helped him to sleep, he said--'twur avore he died so
sharp like."

"I guessed as much," said George.

"And he used to tell me, if you wanted to make a man real angry you had
only to say the opposite of what you meant in the most polite language
you could find. He told Robert the like, I fancy."

"My uncle generally found the soft answer a success," said George. "He
told me once how another captain once called him 'a bullying old
scoundrel with a face like a lobster-salad,' and he replied, 'You're a
ewe-lamb.' The other man got madder than ever though, as my uncle said,
you can't find anything much softer than a ewe-lamb. But Robert isn't
always calling you a rich man. He's in our kitchen every evening, and he
talks pretty freely when he has a drop of cocoa in him."

"He ain't got nothing against me. Me and the missus ha' been a father
to him," said the baker, with suspicious alacrity.

"He thinks he has a grievance."

"Then I suppose he's still worrying over his honeymoon. A man what's
been married years and years ought to be thinking of his future state
and his old-age pension. He might as well be asking vor his childhood
back again."

"He says you cheated him out of his honeymoon," said George, who knew
the story: how Dyer's wedding present to his assistant had been leave of
absence, without pay, from Saturday to Monday; coupled with a promise of
a week's holiday, with half pay, at some future date when business might
be slack; which promise belonged to that fragile order of assurances
declaimed so loudly at election time.

"'Tis a lot too late now," said the baker.

"I suppose a deferred honeymoon is better than none at all," George
remarked. "Anyhow, Robert and his wife are grumbling a good bit and, as
I'm staying here, they asked me to remind you of your promise, business
being very slack at present."

"I ha' never known it to be anything else, but 'tis funny it should be
picking up a little just now. I got a big order vor cakes this morning,
as there's a school treat next week. Me and Robert will be kept very
busy all this month--but it's a losing business. There's no profit in
cakes, nor yet in bread. There used to be a profit in doughnuts, but
that's gone now."

The cautious George said no more, being content with the knowledge that
he had given Dyer something to worry about. The baker would certainly
not mention the matter so long as Robert kept silent; and Robert had
probably forgotten all about the promise, although many months back
George had overheard him assuring Bessie it would be time to think of a
new dress when master's wedding present came along.

"One thing is certain: nobody can get the better of me," George chuckled
as he left the bakehouse. "I beat Hunter at his own game, I diddled
Crampy in his, I scared Percy out of the country--at least that's my
belief--and now I'm going to make old Dyer set a trap to catch the
furniture snatchers."

The Mudges, unsuspecting treachery, were glittering like two stars of
fashion; Robert lolling at ease in the parlour until Bessie summoned him
to supper in the dining room. If it was their duty to look after the
house, it was also their pleasure to take care of themselves. They did
not regard George as either friend or enemy; they despised and pitied a
poor fellow who possessed no visible means of support, while attributing
his presence in Highfield to a cat-like habit of returning to a house
which might have been his had he behaved with propriety.

The only person they feared was Kezia, who certainly did appear to have
almost as much right to the Captain's furniture as themselves. This
suspicion was in Robert's mind when, the shutters having been closed and
the lamps lighted, he stood beside the round table upon which were
spread various scraps of paper beginning to show signs of wear and tear.

"If we takes all that Mrs. Drake sees we'm to have, what do Kezia get?"
he asked.

"Not much," replied Bessie.

"If Kezia takes all the things Mrs. Drake said she could have, what do
we get?" continued Robert.

"Nought," said Bessie.

"When property be left this way, volks sometimes share and share alike;
or they sells the stuff, and each takes half the money," continued
Robert.

"Kezia won't neither sell nor share. She'll bide quiet till Miss Sophy
dies, and then she'll see a lawyer," declared Bessie.

"Our bits o' paper are as gude as hers."

"Kezia would sooner lose everything than see us take any little old bit
of stuff. She'm a spiteful toad."

"The nicest thing we can do, Bess, is to go on shifting, one bit now and
agin. Kezia won't notice nothing, if us takes 'em gradual."

"Where can us hide them?" asked Bessie. "We can't put 'em over in the
cottage. Kezia ain't such a vule as you think. If I wur to take a
kitchen spine she'd miss it."

"She never found out about the last lot," Robert reminded her.

"Policeman went away sudden and forgot to tell her. We'll have to shift
those things, vor rainy weather'll be starting soon, and that musical
box will spoil inside the peatstack."

"I'll get 'em out avore they comes back home; I b'ain't ashamed of
claiming what be rightly ours. I told policeman we'd took what belonged
to us, and he said 'twas all right this time, but us mustn't do it too
often. I'm going to shift a few more pieces across the way in a day or
two."

"Best wait till Miss Sophy dies," said Bessie nervously.

"We'll let the big furniture bide till then. Where's Miss Sophy going to
be buried?"

"Somewhere in London, she ses. Said she wouldn't be buried here if they
paid her vor it."

"That's got it!" cried Robert. "When Kezia goes to the funeral, I'll
shift the furniture."

"Don't that seem like trying to get the better of her?"

"Ain't she trying to deprive us of our rightful property? Don't she want
to see me and you cut off wi' a fry pan? See what's wrote on this
paper--'I want Bessie to have all the furniture in the spare bedroom.'
And on this one--'all the furniture in the dining room.' And on this
here--'all the stuff in the kitchen.' Ain't that clear?"

"Sure enough," said Bessie.

"Then there's the house and garden; worth a thousand pounds, I reckon."

"It seems as how Mrs. Drake never left the place to no one, unless it
wur to Miss Sophy. But, I tell ye, Kezia means to have it."

"Parson had best keep his eyes open, or she'll slip off wi' the church,"
said Robert grimly.

"If Miss Sophy ha' got it, 'tis only vor her life. She can't keep it
afterwards," explained Bessie. "So Nellie can't get it, and Mr. George
ain't to have nothing, and I'll watch Kezia don't have it, though I
wouldn't mind letting her the attic where they keeps the boxes."

"What about Mr. Percy!"

"Well, there! I never thought of him. But the house belonged to Captain
Drake, and he didn't like Mr. Percy, so it don't seem right the place
should go to him."

"Mr. George would know."

"'Tis him, I fancy, who's been knocking such a lot," said Bessie.

"Go and let 'en in," directed Robert. "He can't do us any harm, and he
may do us a bit of gude."

Bessie obeyed, and George entered, beaming in the most sunny fashion,
assuring the Mudges he too had frequently been deluded into the belief
that a loose branch had been tapping against the door, when in reality
somebody was knocking and ringing. It was a mistake, he thought, to
plant umbrageous perennials so close to the front doorstep, which had
been nicely purified since Miss Teenie stood upon it. Their plan of
acting the part of caretakers with the thoroughness of ownership he
commended highly; as, with autumn approaching, it was necessary to keep
the house warm and the furniture dry; and the only satisfactory way of
doing so was for Robert to smoke his pipe in the parlour while Bessie
reclined upon the easy chairs which, he went on to suggest, would be her
own some day.

"Us might as well take t'em now as wait vor 'em, Robert ses," replied
Bessie, delighted at the geniality of her visitor. "Won't you sit down,
Mr. George, and make yourself comfortable? I was surprised to hear you
had gone to Mrs. Dyer's. I'd have asked ye to come here, if I'd known
you wur going to stay."

"Thank you very much," said George simply. "I should have been far more
comfortable here; but I am not making a long stay, and I felt sure you
would be wanting to turn out these rooms."

"Kezia said you weren't coming back again," observed Robert, hoping to
obtain raw material for gossip.

"What do she know?" snapped Bessie.

"Nothing," replied George. "I had to come back on business in connection
with the railway. You see, I'm civil engineer to the company, and I have
to prepare a report."

"They did say you had given up the railway," remarked Bessie, beginning
to understand the politeness of George's manner, although she did not
know why engineers had to be more civil than other people.

"That railway has been in the air a long time, but I shall never rest
until I've made it," said George with energy. "Everything is arranged
now except a few preliminary details, such as issuing the prospectus,
collecting the money, and obtaining of Parliamentary powers. I have an
idea of turning this garden into the terminus, and making the house the
station. This will make a good waiting room, while the dining room can
be converted into the booking office. The station-master and his family
can live upstairs. I shall be station-master, as well as general
manager."

Bessie gulped and Robert whistled.

"Your cottage will do for a goods' station. I shall build a platform
round it, put up a crane--"

"What about the street?" cried Robert.

"I shall divert that, if necessary. If I find the church is in my way,
it must come down."

"But you won't start till Miss Sophy dies. Mrs. Drake said nothing wur
to happen till Miss Sophy died," said Bessie.

"We can't possibly wait for her. We have got to make progress," replied
George firmly.

"What about Mr. Percy?" asked the crafty Robert.

"What has he got to do with our affairs?"

"Ain't he to have the house and garden?"

"The whole of this property belongs to me, and Miss Sophy is my tenant,"
replied the far more crafty George; for this was the question he had
been leading up to.

"Kezia won't have it anyhow," Robert muttered with satisfaction,
removing his boots from the sofa. He wanted to go out into the village
and talk.

"You never did tell us much about that paper what Mrs. Drake left vor
you," said Bessie reproachfully.

"It was just an ordinary will, leaving me some money and the house. She
couldn't deprive me of that, as the property belonged to my uncle, and
he made her promise I should have it. If you don't believe me, you can
ask Miss Blisland," George added lightly.

"Of course we believes you. I always thought it funny Mrs. Drake
shouldn't have left you nothing," said Bessie.

"What do you think she meant to do about the furniture, sir?" asked
Robert boldly.

"Ah, that's a troublesome question," said George cautiously.

"I fancy she meant to leave half to Kezia and half to me; but she wur
such a kind-hearted lady that she left all of it to both of us,"
observed Bessie.

"Not all--tell the truth, Bess. We ain't going to claim what don't
belong to us. She never left you the carpet on the stairs, nor yet the
old bed in the attic," said Robert severely.

"You can't be too honest in business, and that means, if you are too
honest, some one else will get the better of you," said George. "If Mrs.
Drake had left the furniture to Mr. Taverner and myself, as she has left
it to Kezia and you--"

"What would you ha' done, sir?" asked Robert eagerly.

"I should have looked after my own interests," George answered, as he
reached for his hat.

The Mudges escorted him to the door of his own house, and hoped he would
look in any time he was passing.

"It's right about the house," said Robert, as he too reached for his
hat. "And it's right about the railway. I know Captain Drake meant to
build it; he talked a lot about it, and he brought gentlemen down to
look round the place; they pretended to be fishing, but we knew what
they wur up to. Mr. George ain't clever like his uncle. He made a vule
of hisself when he said the American gentleman come here to buy a pair
of vases--all the way from America to buy a bit o' cloam! Everybody knew
he'd come about the railway. Mr. George ain't clever--that's a sure
thing. He can't talk so as to deceive a child. 'Twas the American
gentleman what put him up to the idea o' turning this house into the
terminus. He would never ha' thought of it."



CHAPTER XVIII

SOWING THE SEED


Next morning George invited the dreary Dyer to step into the parlour
with a view to continuing the diplomatic conversation commenced the
previous day. The baker responded with a certain amount of trepidation,
as he thought it possible Mr. Drake might desire to buy a share in the
business, and he did not at all relish the idea of confessing that the
profits were considerable. His relief, therefore, was only equalled by
his amazement when George inquired:

"Did you ever buy a penny weekly journal, Mr. Dyer?"

"Never in my life, sir," replied the baker.

"Then you know nothing about picture puzzles?"

"Never heard of 'em avore, sir."

"A penny weekly journal exists upon its picture puzzles," George
continued. "The last time I went away I bought one of these papers. The
competition interested me, as the pictures represented the names of
certain railway stations, and that's a subject I know as much about as
any man in England."

"I don't know as I quite get your meaning," said the baker.

"I'll explain. Suppose the picture is intended to represent Marylebone.
You may be shown a drawing of a little girl eating a mutton chop. Of
course, you are expected to have some brains."

"I wouldn't use mine vor such a purpose," said the baker somewhat
sharply.

"It's quite simple when you've got the trick. You have to assume the
little girl's name is Mary, and _le_ is French for the, and there's more
bone than anything else in a mutton chop. Well, I went in for this
competition, and I've won second prize. I don't know why I didn't get
the first, but perhaps that was suppressed for economic reasons."

"I suppose it would be the same sort of thing as a flower show,"
suggested Dyer. "I got second prize for carrots once. It should ha' been
half a crown, but they ran short o' money, so I got only eighteen pence,
and I never showed again."

"My prize was worth winning," said George, who had really received a
solatium of ten shillings. "It was fifty pounds."

Dyer repeated the amount, firstly as a shout of admiration, secondly as
a whisper of covetousness; then he released all kinds of exclamations
for some moments; and presently observed with emotion:

"Education does it, sir! If I could ha' gone to a big school, and to
the University, I might ha' gone in vor them pictures too. Little gal
eating a mutton chop--well done, sir! They'm nought but bone as you ses.
You found out her name wur Mary, and you talked French, and you learned
all about the railways. Ah, that's wonderful! But I fancy, sir, you must
ha' used a map."

"I did it by skill entirely, but of course I had an advantage over my
competitors owing to my connection with the railways. Now you are
wondering why I'm telling you this?"

"We all knows you does business in railways," said Dyer absently.

"I find myself with a large sum of money, and I mean to make a good use
of it. I propose spending the whole amount in giving happiness to
others; but I want to do it unobtrusively. I intend to give a meat tea
to the old folk of this parish, but I shall hand the money to the vicar
and request him to keep my name out of it."

"Perhaps, sir, you'm a-paying vor the cakes ordered yesterday," cried
Dyer.

"Don't mention the matter," said George.

"You can trust me, sir."

"Another thing I am anxious to do is to give the Mudges a real good
holiday. That's what I wanted to see you about, Mr. Dyer. I know you
wish to keep your promise--about the wedding present, you know--but, of
course, you can't afford it. My idea is to send them away for a week to
the seaside. Bessie served my uncle and aunt faithfully for a number of
years, while Robert was always ready to make himself useful in the
house; but I've done nothing for either of them. We could give them the
best week of their lives for five pounds."

"Did you say anything about me, sir?" asked the baker.

"Yes, because I felt sure you would insist upon contributing something,
though I should like them to think the whole amount comes from you.
Suppose I give three pounds. You can make up the other two."

"Can't be done, sir. Can't possibly be done. Besides, sir, business is
looking up, owing to your generosity, and I can't spare Robert."

"It will give you a splendid reputation for liberality. Everybody in the
parish will know you have given the Mudges five pounds and a week's
leave of absence."

"I works vor my reputation, sir. Two pounds would ruin me. I can't tell
ye how bad things be; I'd be ashamed to speak the truth, sir; I don't
hardly like to think on it. Often, when missus fancies I'm asleep, she
has a gude cry. She knows we can't pay five shillings in the pound if
miller wur to call vor what us owes 'en."

"I'll subscribe four pounds, if you will give the other," said George.

"Where would I get a pound from?" asked Dyer, more drearily than ever.
"I'd have to borrow, or sell the bed I tries to sleep on, but can't vor
all the trouble. A sovereign, sir, is more to me than to any one else in
this parish."

"I've heard that before, and I believe it."

"And it's the truth. Twenty shillings might make the difference between
pulling down the blinds today, or keeping 'em up till next week."

"Will you give ten shillings?" George inquired desperately.

The baker shook his head like one in pain, muttering something about
last straws and poor relief.

"Will you give anything?"

"Well, sir, to show my heart's in the right place I'll sacrifice a
shilling. I'll grab it from the till when missus ain't looking."

"Here is the money," said George, counting out five sovereigns. "You had
better see Robert at once: tell him to get away tomorrow. This is
September, and fine weather may break any day."

Such a rush of philanthropy numbed the baker's faculties; but even in
that semi-paralysed condition he remained a man of business. His fingers
closed upon the coins, his feet carried him to the door; then he turned
back to face this benefactor, who was shedding sovereigns in the
reckless fashion of a tree casting its autumnal leaves. The old folk
were to be provided with a meat tea; the Mudges were to be given a week
at the seaside; the donor was to remain anonymous. Dyer in all his
dreariness could not understand why Mr. Drake should desire to benefit
his fellow creatures at all; but, more than that, he was actually
proposing to do good stealthily. Where then was the advertisement?

"It's a lot of money, sir. You could buy a bit of land vor this," he
said at last.

"I do not require any land," George answered.

"You don't get any profit so far as I can see," the baker proceeded.

"I am helping you to give Robert and Bessie the first real holiday they
have ever known; I am enabling you to keep your promise; and I am
enjoying the satisfaction of performing an unselfish action."

"'Tis there I'm beat. Why don't ye give the money to Robert, and tell
'en 'tis a present from me and you?"

"I will, if you like, and tell him your share is one shilling."

Dyer again moved towards the door; but still he hesitated.

"They could do it on less than five pounds, sir."

"Give them four, then, and keep the other sovereign for yourself,"
George replied, breaking out into bribery.

"What about the shilling?" asked Dyer eagerly.

"I'll let you off that."

The baker became a reformed character at once. He did not profess to
understand Mr. Drake's extraordinary conduct, but he was quite willing
to benefit by the eccentricities of any man. His meanness had become a
by-word in the parish. Now Mr. Drake was offering to purchase him a
reputation for generosity, which was almost as good as an annuity, and
was giving him a sovereign for himself. Dyer was not the man to shrink
from duty that was profitable.

"You're the son of your uncle, sir," he said with feeling.

"I have always set his example before me," replied George.

"I'll spare Robert a week from tomorrow. Don't ye think, sir, four
pounds are a bit too much?"

"I couldn't let them do it on less," said George firmly.

"And you don't want me to tell 'em part of the money comes from you?"

"I want them to think you are keeping your promise."

The baker retired, muttering, "He wants to get 'em out of Highfield
House vor certain. But that don't matter to me so long as I get my
profit."

George went for a long walk to refresh himself, not bothering about his
popularity any longer, as he was contemplating an act which would make
future residence in Highfield impossible; but he met the Wallower in
Wealth, who demanded his musical box; and the Dumpy Philosopher, who put
searching questions concerning the railway and the amount of
compensation for wounded feelings he was likely to receive; and the
Yellow Leaf, who had just lost his wife and was going courting.
Returning, during the late afternoon, he stopped at his own house,
knocked, but received no answer from that side of the street. Bessie
looked out from the cottage window opposite and invited him to step in
that direction.

"Have ye heard the news, Mr. George?" she whispered excitedly. "Master
ha' given Robert three pounds and a week."

"Three pounds!" cried George fiercely.

"Us can't make any one believe it. Three solid sovereigns, sir! Robert
ha' got teethache through biting 'em."

"I am not surprised," said George. "Dyer has been left a lot of
money--he told me yesterday. An uncle, who went to New Zealand years
ago, has just died and left him thousands. He can buy up the whole
village if he wants to."

"Master never told Robert he'd been left money. He gave 'en the
sovereigns and said 'twas a reward vor the way Robert had worked.
Couldn't spare 'em, he said, but his conscience worried him. They do say
the Dyers ha' never given away anything avore 'cept the water what they
boiled their cabbage in."

"When are you off?"

"First thing tomorrow. We'm going to my home, so it won't cost nothing
'cept the railway. I'm getting our things together now."

"Where's Robert?"

"Going round wi' the bread--that's him a-whistling. He'm fair mazed, Mr.
George."

"Who is to take care of the house?"

"I'll lock it up and take the keys away wi' me. Why shouldn't us go? No
one won't go near the house, wi' you and policeman about."

"I think you ought to wait until Miss Yard comes back," said George, who
knew enough about women to be aware how the spirit of opposition acts
upon them.

"And lose our holiday! The only real holiday we've had, and the chance
to see my folks again. Not likely, Mr. George! If we don't go tomorrow,
master will ask vor them three sovereigns back again. How did you
manage to find out he'd been left all this money?"

"I was talking with him yesterday and--it just slipped out. You will
hear more when you come back."

"I'll make Robert ask 'en vor a rise. How long be you staying, Mr.
George?"

"I might be here when you return or, on the other hand, I might go
tomorrow. Do you want me to take charge of the keys?"

"Somebody ought to go in and open the windows."

"I don't mind doing you a favour. If I'm called away I will leave the
keys with Mrs. Dyer."

"Not wi' she. Leave 'em wi' Mrs. Cann to the post office. You come this
evening, and I'll give ye the keys."

"All right," said George. "But you know I don't approve of your going
after having been left in charge."

"If I don't go, Robert will, and he ain't going home without me," said
Bessie. "I wouldn't like leaving if Kezia wur here, vor I'd dread her
selling some of my things; but Robert ha' told the volks the house
belongs to you, so there's no fear of any one breaking in, unless it be
the Brocks. Policeman ha' promised to keep his eye on them."

George went on to punish the baker, who had succeeded with grievous
pangs in handing over three sovereigns, but had failed in his endeavour
to part with the fourth. Dyer affirmed Robert had lied, by no means for
the first time; but, when George threatened to call the Mudges that they
might give evidence upon oath, Dyer admitted it was just possible the
missing coin might have slipped through a hole in his pocket; so he
called his wife to light a candle and to sweep the floor. The elusive
piece of gold, however, had passed entirely out of vision, although
neither of the Dyers could feel surprised at that; the lady declaring it
was wonderful how easily things lost themselves; while her husband said
he had done nothing except drop money all his life.

"Very well, Mrs. Dyer," said George. "When you make up my bill for
lodgings and bread puddings, just remember that you owe me a pound."

"You wouldn't think of such a thing. You'm too much of a gentleman,"
cried Mrs. Dyer.

"The missus fancies you meant it, sir. She ain't very humorous,"
explained the baker.

George had a trick of nodding after supper, and that evening he did not
wake until it was nearly time to sleep more seriously. Remembering that
Bessie would be sitting up to surrender the keys, he hurried out; but
when he entered Windward House modestly by the back door--hoping to
overhear some scraps of conversation--the house appeared deserted,
until he pushed open the kitchen door, to discover the Wallower in
Wealth sipping a cup of something hot beside the fire.

"Where are the Mudges?" cried George.

"Where's my musical box?" retorted the man in possession.

George had made a rule never to use bad language; by an exception then
he proved the rule's existence. Some men are frightened when sworn at
because they never know what may come next; and the Wallower in Wealth
belonged to that class. He sat silent and sulky, while George repeated
his question with one more exception.

"Gone vor their holiday," came the answer. "I looked in to wish 'em
gude-luck, and Mrs. Mudge asked me to bide till you come. Keys be in the
doors, I was to tell ye."

"Their train doesn't go till seven o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Postman told 'em there's an excursion up to London at eleven, so they
reckoned they'd go part of the way in that, and get there quicker."

"The fools!" cried George. "That train will take them in the very
opposite direction."

"They was a bit mazed. Robert had begun to enjoy his holiday, and Bessie
wur trying to catch up wi' 'en. Now they'll ha' to wait all night
outside the station."

"What are you drinking?" asked George, sniffing at the fumes.

"Mrs. Mudge said 'twur coffee, but it tastes more like hot whisky and
water. I'll give ye thirty shillings vor the musical box."

"I'm not going to talk business at this time of night. It's my bedtime
and yours too," said George, making a motion towards the door.

"There's a drop o' this wonderful nice coffee in the jug."

"Take it with you."

"I won't take it in the jug, lest I forget to bring it back. Your very
good health, Mr. Drake--and I'll give anyone thirty-five shillings for
that musical box."

George hurried into the town next morning, and ascertained from a porter
who had relations in Highfield, that the muddled Mudges had started upon
their journey in the right direction shortly after midnight, by
obtaining an introduction to the guard of a goods train and
travelling--contrary to all regulations--in his van. The porter
mentioned that the guard had possibly been influenced by the fact that
Bessie was carrying a basket of delicacies, while the neck of a bottle
protruded from the pocket of Robert's overcoat.

Satisfied on this point, George visited a certain place of business, and
interviewed the manager who promised to send up to Highfield, very
early on the following morning, two furniture vans, with sufficient men
to do the packing in one day. The simplicity of working out a plot
caused George to laugh aloud; also to treat himself to a luncheon from
which bread and margarine pudding was rigorously excluded.

On the way home he sighted, in the dip of the road, a pair of strolling
youngsters, boy and girl, who looked back often as if expecting
somebody; the back of the one, and the beauty of the other, seemed
familiar. Suddenly the girl took to her heels and raced round the bend,
while the boy allowed George to draw up to him.

"Why does the little girl run so fast?" asked George in a paternal
fashion.

"She's full of beans," replied Sidney.

"Taking a holiday?" George continued.

"I fancied a friend might be coming by the three o'clock train; but I've
had the walk vor nothing."

"Another young lady, I suppose?"

"That's right," said the laughing profligate.

"Well, I'm confounded! It seems to me you are collecting girls," George
muttered.

"There's plenty. I'll leave ye a few to choose from," said Sidney.

"I've done my choosing and I'm going to settle down after this month. I
suppose you know we are all clearing out of Highfield? Miss Blisland
has gone already, and you'll never see her again. You tried to catch
Nellie," said George, who frequently lost by his silly conversation all
he had gained by his cunning. "But she saw through your nasty little
ways, my lad. She didn't fancy your harem. Nellie is one of the most
sensible girls I have ever met, and she's got the makings of a good
woman in her."

"I reckon," said Sidney, like an oaf.

"It's a bit of a change to me to marry any one, but I don't mind
sacrificing myself," George rambled on. "There's no secret about it.
We've taken a house at a place called Drivelford, and we're going to let
Miss Yard live with us. You won't get the chance to congratulate Nellie,
and I shouldn't permit it in any case, as I don't think you are the sort
of young fellow she ought to speak to; but I do hope you are feeling a
bit sorry for yourself. I'm not perfect, but I do think a man ought to
be honest and truthful, and be satisfied with one wife, so long as she
does what he tells her."

"That's right enough," said Sidney.

"You see what a callous young fellow you are already. You pretended to
be in love with the future Mrs. Drake; but, now that you have lost her,
you don't care a hang."

"Not that much," said Sidney, snapping his fingers.

"That's your character," said George bitterly. "Why should you care?
There are plenty of Dollies, and Teenies, and painted ladies, cheap for
cash as the advertisements say."

"Here, you mind what you're saying. You're going a bit too far!" cried
Sidney, rounding angrily upon his oppressor.

"I'm not insulting you," George explained. "But I do want to give you a
little good advice before we part. I can quite understand that you don't
want to hear the truth about your young women, and they wouldn't like to
hear it either. That little girl ran away just now because she couldn't
face a decent gentleman."

"She ran because she wouldn't be introduced to you."

"That shows she can't be altogether bad," said George approvingly. "Now
I must leave you, as I'm going to take the short cut across the fields.
I do hope you will remember what I've said. When this new young woman
arrives, try to show yourself a lad of courage. Send her home again or,
if you don't like to do that, send her to me."

For some inscrutable reason Sidney could not restrain his laughter.

"Ah, you think I should want to make love to her," said George angrily.
"I know your nasty mind. You and your grandfather had better be
careful. You haven't got a friend in the parish."

"Except the vicar," Sidney reminded him.

"And, if he goes on visiting you, he won't have a friend in the parish
either. Do you know what they call you in the village?"

"Do you know what they call you?" Sidney retorted joyously.

"They call you the Mormon."

"And they call you Ananias!"

"Well, that beats everything," gasped George, as he dropped clumsily
over the stile. "I never tell lies except in the way of business. I
always speak the truth in private life."

Days were shortening, so that by the time George had finished his tea,
which included a propitiatory offering of doughnuts, the boom of beetles
sounded in the street. As life was dull in the bakery, he decided to
spend a tranquil evening in his own house, surrounded by the furniture
he had been brought up with. He went and settled himself in an easy
chair with one of the copies, still unburnt, of his uncle's monumental
work, "A History of Highfield Parish." But reading grew tedious, and the
doughnuts he had consumed so recklessly began to trouble, and the
buzzing of flies and wasps became tempestuous.

Yet these sounds recalled pleasant memories of the past; he had not done
much with his life, still he had managed to win distinction as an
insect killer. He had eased his uncle's labours by crushing the wasp,
and averted his aunt's displeasure by obliterating the blowfly. He rose
and went into the kitchen to search for a cork.

The lighted candle cast weird shadows as he blundered through the pantry
to the larder; discovering at last a cork which smelt of alcohol. That
at least would give the wasps a pleasant death. But, while hurrying back
to the insect-haunted parlour, he heard a new disturbance: no sleepy
buzzing, but the fall of active footsteps. Then a handbag was flung
recklessly through the open window; banging upon a chair, rolling to the
floor. The footsteps died away, and the gate of the garden slammed.

With horrible dread of a possible explosion, George crept towards the
missile, and touched it gingerly. It was a neat brown bag, ridiculously
small to hold a wardrobe, and it bore the initials N.B.

"That's what they put in books, when they want to draw your attention to
something," he muttered.



CHAPTER XIX

REAPING THE HARVEST


It would have been extraordinary, after Teenie's visit, had Nellie not
received a letter from Sidney, begging her to give him an opportunity of
clearing up the mystery which had so long surrounded Black Anchor Farm.
The style and spelling of this epistle moved her to the discovery that
it would be necessary to leave Miss Yard in the hands of Kezia, and
return to Highfield, for one night only, in order that she might
superintend the packing of the furniture; in place of George, who might
quite possibly prove untrustworthy.

She replied, not altogether to that effect, without one thought for the
ridiculous nature of her expeditionary programme; she could not arrive
at Highfield until late in the afternoon, she would be compelled to
leave early the following morning, while the packers could not
reasonably be invited to work from dusk to sunrise. Sidney could meet
her at the station if he liked: in fact she thought that might be the
best plan, "As poor old George does not possess a sense of humour."
Sidney thought so too; but Nellie in her hurry missed the train. She
was able to agree with Miss Yard, who could not travel without the
observation, "They ought to do away with railway junctions."

There was no good reason for losing all sense of method upon her arrival
at Windward House. As a methodist, she would have walked calmly indoors,
announced to Bessie--who was presumably in charge--that she had returned
to spend one more night in her old bedroom entirely out of sentiment;
and then have gone for a walk, in the opposite direction to Black
Anchor, among the moths and beetles, hoping to catch a glimpse of the
new moon. But the sight of that open window, the garish lamplight, the
cold apparition of George with a murderous cork in his hand, made her
hopelessly unmethodical. Her mind became so entirely disorganised that
everything escaped it, except that stupid necessity of going for a walk
immediately. She flung her bag through the window and fled.

On the way to Black Anchor Nellie succeeded in persuading herself that
she was, if not exactly discreet, at least as sensible as any other
young woman in revolt from the severity of everyday life towards a more
picturesque and imaginative style of existence. She actually made a
plan. As it was night, and sufficiently dark for spying, she would
approach the farm among the bogs, flit around it like a
will-o'-the-wisp, play watchful fairy at the window, act recording
angel at the keyhole, until part at least of the mystery might be
revealed. She had no particular wish to discover the secret of Sidney's
fascination, which attracted to him young ladies of superior birth and
education, but she desired very much to learn something about these
prepossessing damsels; who they were and why they came; and above all it
was her business to ascertain why Sidney spoke like a farmer's boy, but
looked like a farmer's landlord, and wrote like the descendant of a poet
laureate.

"How dark it is down here!" she murmured. "Lucky I know the geography. I
wish I knew my history half as well."

Then it seemed to her that all kinds of light-footed people were leaping
over the bogs and jumping the furze bushes; while the moor on each side
twinkled with teasing eyes of local inhabitants sent out to watch the
movements of the spy.

Nellie saw the farm, and knew by the stream of light that all the doors
and windows stood wide open. The trackway beyond was dangerous because
one window threw a searchlight right across it; but she walked on,
having never been taught the art of scouting, and came presently to a
colossal figure, carved apparently out of granite, or beaten into human
shape by wind and weather, rising from an unhewn boulder halfway to the
sky. This was a wonder of the moor never previously discovered, thought
Nellie; but a moment later she felt certain ghosts were abroad, and this
colossus was being worshipped by the local inhabitants, dancing
invisibly all over the peat and tussocks: she could detect the smell of
incense, see the smoke rising; any moment she might be compelled to
witness a human sacrifice. There was a glow of fire undoubtedly. Again
she fled, while the colossus shook from side to side although there was
no wind.

"How silly of me!" gasped Nellie. "It was old Mr. Brock, sitting on a
rock--bother the rhyme!--smoking a cigar."

Obsessed by the idea of finding out something concerning this enchanted
region, she went on towards the farmhouse, forced to walk along the
lighted trackway because it skirted the edges of a bog, where in full
swing was the season of grand opera and, from a cool green dais, the
bullfrog conductor constrained an enormous amount of energy out of his
orchestra--it sounded like Tanhäuser but was more melodious--although
the night-jars and owls did their best to mar the performance out of
professional rivalry, while the beetles with their trombones were
hopelessly discordant. But soon there were other sounds, far pleasanter;
a scuffling in the furze-clad regions beyond; an approach, a
trepidation, a capture, and a scream:

"You beast, Sidney! I did think I had hidden myself that time."

"I saw the white ribbon in your hair. You looked out just at the wrong
moment."

"It's my turn to seek now."

"I'm going up to Highfield."

"I don't believe she's coming."

"I'll go and find out anyhow."

"Shall I come?"

"No, you stop at home."

"I won't spoil sport. If you see her, I'll cut off full lick."

"Listen! that was grandfather whistling."

Nellie stood upon the trackway shivering. Behind her old Mr. Brock
closed the pass; in front Sidney was approaching; on the right side
spread the bogs; on the left a jagged wilderness of boulders. From a
strategical point of view she was done for. And she had come there to
spy! She could only halt in vexation squeezed against a rock until
captured, or advance with what little dignity remained to make an
unconditional surrender.

"Boots muddy, hair all anyhow, crushed clothes--and caught in this
abominable fashion," she murmured. "In fact I'm so untidy there's just a
chance he may not recognise me."

She had not the slightest cause for worry. A girl may know when she
looks attractive to other girls; but she seldom realises she is most
fascinating to a man when her boots are muddy and her hair is all
anyhow.

There came a rabbit-like scamper up the trackway, and the stampeding
Teenie screamed again:

"Oh, I say--you did make me jump! Sidney! Sidney, you ass! Here she is!
Here's Miss Blisland! Oh, what a lark!" shouted the child with shameless
and barbaric jubilation.

"Don't talk such beastly nonsense," cried the other voice.

"It is her!" screamed the child.

"Yes, it's me," said Nellie faintly; and all three stood together, in an
atmosphere of amazement and bad grammar.

"I thought, as it was such a lovely night--I mean evening--I would
stroll in this direction to tell you I'm off again first thing in the
morning," explained Nellie.

"This is splendid! I was just going to start for Highfield, but this is
far better, as there's no old Drake to waddle about and quack. I was
hanging about the road all the afternoon. This is Teenie Stanley--my
cheeky young sister."

"Your sister! And your name isn't Brock at all!" cried Nellie.

"Run away, kid, and talk to grandfather," Sidney ordered; and the
little whirlwind whisked round Nellie and departed.

"I did have the idea, but thought somehow it wasn't possible," Nellie
was saying. "You have humbugged everybody, but you never really deceived
me; if you had, I shouldn't be here now. I saw through your Dartmoor
dialect, and all the rest of it. And I suppose Dorothy is your elder
sister?"

"Of course she is."

"And the much-abused Mrs. Stanley--"

"Is my mother who, in spite of local rumour, does not put on local
colour."

"Why ever didn't you tell me before? What was the sense of making such a
mystery of it?"

"The people in Highfield made the mystery. We didn't want them to know
we were here."

"Couldn't they see you, stupid?" said Nellie, more cheerfully.

"I mean grandfather didn't want them to know who we are; but I should
have let out everything that evening--when you were spiteful--if we
hadn't quarrelled. You know, Nellie, you were rather too cross about
mother, and--and I lost my temper because you wouldn't trust me, and I
made up my mind you should."

"You are nearly as bad as George Drake," she declared.

"Nearly isn't quite."

"And who are you, please?"

"Oh, we are not of vast importance. My full name is Arthur Sidney
Stanley. It was a shame to give me such names, as I can't possibly put
my initials on anything. That little beast, Teenie, always calls me ass.
We're not exactly paupers, as we own a big share in a number of stores
all over the south. There's one at Drivelford."

"I've been in it hundreds of times, and distinctly remember seeing you
behind the counter."

"Don't be horrid. I've never been to Drivelford in my life, but I'm
going there tomorrow if you are."

"Who is Mr. Brock?" she asked in a great hurry.

"Really my grandfather, and the owner of Black Anchor Farm, also the
patron of the living. Now you know why the vicar condescends to visit
us. Brock is such a common name in this part of Devonshire that nobody
could dream he is _the_ Mr. Brock."

"And why did you come here? Why have you lived, like a couple of common
people, in this ramshackle place, without housekeeper or servant? You
simply made the people talk about you. How could they understand a
couple of gentlemen pigging it! Your mother and sisters coming here
naturally made a scandal. Even I couldn't believe they were your
relations, though I was positive you were much better than you pretended
to be. I shall never forgive you for talking to me in Devonshire
dialect, though I'm quite willing to forget you had supper one Sunday
evening in our kitchen."

"Wasn't it fun too!" Sidney chuckled. "I wanted grandfather to come, but
he drew the line at that. When you know grandfather well--and that's
going to be jolly soon--you will guess how enormously he has enjoyed his
time here. It was his idea entirely. He loves roughing it, he has spent
most of his life knocking about the world, and he's only really happy in
a cottage. He declares luxury and high feeding kill more people than any
disease. It's only the rustic who lives to be a hundred, he says; and,
as he means to score a century himself, he takes a spell of living like
a rustic occasionally. He could never get a satisfactory tenant for this
place, so he told father one day he'd made up his mind to show the
commoners what hard work could accomplish on a Dartmoor farm."

"Where do you come in?"

"Just here. I hadn't been very strong since leaving school--crocked
myself rowing--and the doctor said I ought to work in the open air for a
time before taking up anything serious. You can't persuade doctors that
farming is work; they look upon it as a recreation. So grandfather
suggested I should come along with him. Father was willing, but mother
was horrified. I jumped at the idea of course. Grandfather is the
grandest old fellow alive, and I would rather be under him than all the
doctors in the world. He wouldn't have a housekeeper, as he likes doing
everything for himself when he's roughing: besides, a woman would have
seen his papers and letters, and found out who he was; and naturally he
doesn't want the people to know that the patron of the living, and
biggest landowner in the parish, is grubbing in the bogs down here."

"Didn't the scandal make him angry?"

"He has never heard a word of it."

"So that's the mystery!" cried Nellie, feeling rather ashamed of
herself.

"It's jolly simple after all. We are going away before winter, when
there's a flood four days a week, and a gale the other three.
Grandfather owns the place has beaten him. He says a man who tries to
farm on Dartmoor ought to receive a premium instead of paying a rent. If
it isn't bog, it's rock, and, if it isn't rock, it's 'vuzzy trade.' And
if you do put in a crop, the moles turn it out; and, if the moles don't
turn it out, rabbits, sheep, mice and grubs in millions and slugs in
trillions gobble it up completely. Now come and be introduced to
grandfather, and then I'll take you home. He is sure to growl at you,
but you must stand up to him, and then he'll love you. He likes anyone
to stand up to him. The vicar got the living by contradicting him. I
say, Nellie, don't hurry back to Drivelford."

"Are you aware you have not called me Miss Blisland once?" she demanded,
showing no inclination to approach the terrible black grandfather.

"Quite! And are you aware you have never once called me Sidney?"

"I must go back in the morning. Miss Yard will be crazy all night
without me. She will think I've been kidnapped," Nellie hurried on.

"She won't be wrong."

"I should like to start at once, though I hate the idea of facing
George. I'm a dreadful coward really, and I'm afraid he will think I
have treated him badly. He knows of my arrival, but I'm quite certain he
is not bothering to look for me."

"A kick in the face will do him good," replied Sidney disdainfully.

"He can't take a joke, though he did try to take me, and I'm much the
biggest joke he has ever run against. The truth of the matter is he has
made up his mind to get back the Captain's furniture, which belongs to
Miss Yard now, and he knows the only way he can get it is by marrying
me."

"There's grandfather growling! He's telling Teenie to go to bed, and
she's telling him to go himself. That kid never is tired. Now he's
chuckling! Grandfather likes to be cheeked."

"I ought to have gone long ago. It must be getting on for midnight."

"And we've got to be up early. I'm coming with you, and you shall
introduce me to Miss Yard, and then I'll take you to my people, and then
we'll get married--"

"Well, of all the precociousness!" she gasped. "Do you know I'm older
than you?"

"You can't blame me for that."

"And I expect to be treated with respect. And my father was never
anything more than a very poor curate."

"Well, a curate is a bishop on a small scale, and we are only
shopkeepers on a large scale. It's funny that poor curates should always
have the nicest daughters."

"And I can't forgive you for talking to me like a farmer's boy."

"Then I won't forgive you for saying horrid things, and thinking worse
about my mother and sisters."

"Of course we might forget. But then that wouldn't be enough. So I can
never marry you, Sidney--at least, not until Miss Sophy dies."

"She'll have to be jolly quick about it," said the young man fiercely.

"She is very kind and considerate," Nellie murmured doubtfully; trying
to work out the algebraical problem. If a Giant Tortoise is hale and
hearty at five hundred, and a Yellow Leaf is trying to inveigle a Mere
Bud towards the matrimonial altar at ninety-something, what is the
reasonable expectation of life of an old Lady who has nothing to die
for?

"All this time," said Sidney, "grandfather is peering at us, while
Teenie is simply goggling. We have got to pass them, and then--thank
heaven!--we shall be alone."

"If I let you come with me--" she began.

"As if you could prevent it!"

"Will you stand up to George for me? Will you play the Dragon, and _not_
get beaten?"

"Rather! I owe the saint one for his sermons."

But Sidney was not given the opportunity, for, when they reached
Windward House, after wasting an extraordinary amount of time in
climbing the hill, they found the place deserted; but the key was in the
door, and a note lay on the table. They read it with explosions of sheer
rapture.

Why Nellie had returned to Highfield George, for his part, could not
imagine; but he considered her conduct on the whole disgraceful, and
begged to remind her that nothing but a satisfactory explanation could
avert a rupture. She, in her selfishness, had supposed, no doubt, he
would either light a lantern and seek to track her footsteps; or sit up
and wait until she should be pleased to return. He had no intention of
doing either of these things. A game of hide-and-seek about the
Highfield lanes at dead of night, after a long and fatiguing day, was
not much to his taste; while the rôle of henpecked lover, awaiting the
return of a profligate fiancée to the family hearth, was a part he was
still less suited for. It was his habit to retire at half past ten. He
had retired, utterly worn out and exhausted. In the morning he would
give Nellie an opportunity for explaining her conduct; and, if the
explanation should prove unsatisfactory, he should seriously contemplate
asking her to return all the presents he had given her.

"What has he given you, darling?" asked Sidney.

"Nothing whatever, dearest."

They had learnt a number of words like that while toiling up the hill.

"But surely, sweetheart, he must have given you something."

"I expect he's thinking of the furniture; but I got that for myself,
though he doesn't know how."

Then they made their plans, but George had also made his. His usual
habit was to permit the sun to warm the world before he walked upon it;
but on this occasion he had requested Mrs. Dyer to call him early.
Nellie, on the other hand, overslept, having nobody to call her, and
being naturally tired after so much travelling, romance, excitement and
happiness: excellent things but all fatiguing.

She woke with a dream of a battlefield where shells of monstrous size
were exploding upon every side, each one missing her by inches; nor was
this surprising for, upon opening her eyes, she soon became aware that
stones were being hurled into the room.

"It can't be Sidney," she murmured sleepily. "He wouldn't wake me so
roughly, even though I am late. Goodness--that's a rock!"

It was not Sidney. It was George, as she discovered by one swift glance.
He frowned like an artillery man while adding to his stock of
ammunition.

"Stop it! You've broken the water jug, and my room is flooded," she
cried.

"So I've got you up at last! You threw your bag into my window last
night, so I throw stones into your window this morning. It's what they
call the _lextalionis_."

"Please go away! I'm not dressed yet," she called.

"I'm waiting to hear your explanation, and I'm going to stand here, in
this very same place where I was first beguiled by your deceitful face
at the window, when you sat and worked a sewing machine, like that lady
in the Bible who got pushed out and trodden underfoot," said George
wrathfully; for during the night a suspicion of the truth had reached
him.

"I'd better get it over at once," Nellie murmured. Then she wrapped
herself in the quilt and approached the window.

"Here I am!" she said brightly.

"What a nasty, hostile, ungrateful expression. And you ought to be in a
white sheet instead of that scarlet quilt," said George bitterly.

"Well, you shouldn't be so rude as to throw stones at me. They were not
pebbles either."

"It's my house and my window. Why have you come back?"

"Because I wanted to."

"That's a woman's answer. Did you give your address to that wicked
little girl who answers to the name of Teenie?"

"I might have."

"That's another woman's answer. Did that young man who wallows in vice
write to you?"

"A young gentleman known here as Sidney Brock did write to me."

"That's the sort of confession a woman does make. And you actually
replied? You had no shame whatever?"

"I sent an answer."

"Then came!"

"And saw and conquered," she murmured happily.

"What are you muttering about?"

"I suppose you would call them my sins. But, if you speak to me again
like that, I shall shut the window," Nellie replied with spirit.

"I'm blest if she isn't going to argue," George mumbled. "I don't want
to be hard upon you, young woman, but I can't have this sort of thing,"
he went on sternly. "You desert my dear old aunt, and come back here,
and rush into bad company, and you don't even ask my permission. I'm a
liberal and broad-minded chap, but I can't stand that."

"How are you going to prevent it?"

"By asserting myself, by putting my foot down. Here am I working and
toiling for you. I have sent Robert and Bessie away for a well-earned
holiday, and presently vans will be coming for the furniture. It's all
for you. I don't think of myself at all. I'm saving the furniture, and
handing it over to you at great expense, while you are breaking my heart
by making appointments with young Mormons in the dark, and going to such
a place as Black Anchor at dead of night, and staying there till
morning. That sort of conduct makes men commit murder and suicide, and
other things they are sorry for afterwards. But I'm not a criminal, and
I'm not passionate. I'm practical, and cool, and--and amiable. I have
taken quite a fancy to you, Nellie. Other people don't think much of
you, but I can see you have good qualities, only you won't show them.
Now I want you to tell me why you wrote to young Sidney, and why you
met him last night. Be very careful how you answer, as the whole of your
future happiness may depend on it."

"I wanted to clear up the mystery," she said.

"There is no mystery about shameful wickedness. Being about to marry a
respectable gentleman, who bears a highly honoured name, upon the last
day of this month--"

"Oh, stop! Do please!" cried Nellie appealingly. "We are only playing.
We have been fooling all along, and you must have known it. I was always
laughing and teasing--have you ever seen me serious, as I am now?"

"You don't mean to tell me you are trying to get out of it--you are not
going to keep your promise?"

"What was my promise?"

"That you would marry me on the last day of this month."

"It wasn't put like that. I promised, in fun, to marry you on the
thirty-first of September, and, of course, I thought you would have seen
through that joke long ago."

"I suppose the point of the joke is that you mean to become a Mormon?"

"There is no thirty-first of September. And I am going to become a
Mormon, if you like to put it that way, for I am engaged to Sidney
Brock."

"And I'll tell you what I am going to do," George shouted. "I'm going to
jilt you."

"Thanks so much," laughed Nellie.

George stalked out of the garden, and was not seen again until Sidney
and Nellie had departed, and big vans had drawn up beside Windward House
to the wonder and dismay of all the village. Then he revisited the
scenes of his former triumphs and issued certain orders to the packers.
After that he hurried off to the town and visited an auctioneer.

Returning to Highfield, he passed behind Robert's cottage, demolished
the peatstack, and brought to light the musical box, the silver
candlesticks, and all the rest of the purloined articles. These were
deposited in the vans.

A hostile crowd had collected, but George took no heed of anyone; not
even the Wallower in Wealth who sought ineffectually to obtain
possession of the musical box by force and without payment. The unhappy
Dyer had his eyes opened to the exceeding perfidy of his lodger, but he
dared not open his mouth as well.

The following day bills were posted about the neighbourhood, announcing
a sale to be held at short notice, in the market hall of the town, of
the valuable furniture and remarkable antiquities formerly in the
possession of Captain Francis Drake, by order of the Executor of the
will of Mrs. Drake deceased.

"I'm sorry for Aunt Sophy, but she ought to have kept out of bad
company," was George's only comment.



CHAPTER XX

THE GLEANERS


When Bessie and Robert returned to Highfield; when the people discovered
how the light railway, which originally had been a matter of
electricity, and then had degenerated into an affair of steam, was in
fact a proposal of gas entirely; when Windward House remained empty and
unswept, with the giant tortoise lord of the manor; and when the
niggardly Dyer was attacked on all sides as the confederate of the
public enemy--there unfortunately existed no genius of the lamp
competent to continue the parochial record from the point where Captain
Drake had closed it. Genii of the lantern undoubtedly did exist, and
these made another story, a kind of fairy tale, which was not told
outside the village. All the water was spilt near the pump. Nobody took
part in the revolution which followed, causing an alteration in the
landscape; at least nobody in particular; but there was not a man,
woman, or child of destructive age who did not give a hand towards the
general rubbing of the lamp. When the furniture failed to arrive at the
banks of the Drivel, and inquiry elicited the fact that all had passed
into the hands of dealers, Kezia fell into a state of melancholy which
not even her favourite Sunday walk around the cemetery was able to
relieve; and when the cruel truth of George's unassailable title to
Windward House was broken gently room by room, despondency increased
upon her to such an extent that she actually paid a visit to the
electric theatre.

Miss Yard laughed merrily at the humorous idea of buying new furniture,
and told everybody about her provincial escape from the fire which had
destroyed everything she possessed, and how a young gentleman called
Sidney had rescued her from the flames at great personal risk. She was
so grateful that she suggested he might become engaged to Nellie, and he
had done so at once; which showed how absurd it was to say that young
men of the present day were rude and disobedient. Of course it was
understood that the engagement was only to continue during her lifetime.
As for Nellie, she breathed a great sigh of relief. The loss of the
furniture might be a serious matter, so far as Kezia's future and Miss
Yard's banking account were concerned; but it meant the total eclipse of
George. He could not show his face either in Highfield or Drivelford; he
had done for himself completely. She refused to listen to Sidney's
proposal of instructing Hunter to institute proceedings.

"By doing nothing we get rid of him for ever," she said.

"Anyhow, we can take action against the people who bought the things,"
he urged.

"We shall do nothing of the kind. It would worry the old lady into her
grave; and I believe that's your object."

"I want to punish the brute for bullying you and preaching at me."

"You can't make a thick-skinned creature like George feel anything," she
answered. "If he were put in prison, he would congratulate himself upon
living free of expense. And if he refunded the money, he would insist
upon coming here and living with Miss Sophy. It would be no use turning
him out. He would come back like a cat and make us all miserable. Leave
him alone, and we shall hear no more of him."

She prophesied truly. Those who had been honoured by the society, and
somewhat doubtful friendship, of George Drake were not privileged to
look upon him--or on his like--again. After gathering in his harvest, he
retired into the privacy of lodgings, having a sum of sixteen hundred
pounds to his credit, and spent a couple of years drinking tea, smoking
cigars, and trying to make up his mind whether his landlady's daughter
"would do."

This young lady was of a more orthodox type than Nellie. She possessed a
head of golden hair, upon which much time and dye had been expended; her
eyes were dull; her countenance was flaming. George secretly admired
that style of beauty. The young woman could make tea, arrange cushions,
fetch and carry slippers, stand in a deferential attitude; she showed
unmistakable signs of honesty, and obeyed the call of her mother
instantly; she had no conversation, the possession of which was a gift
that marred so many women; she giggled respectfully when addressed; nor
did she shrink from admitting that gentlemen of Mr. Drake's magnificence
unhappily grew scarcer every year.

George became highly delighted with Matilda which, he remarked, was a
sweet, old-fashioned name, suggesting to him somehow the odour of lilac
and honeysuckle. He congratulated himself frequently upon having thrown
over that designing young woman, Nellie, just in time; and, at the
expiration of eighteen months of indolence, he informed her--for in such
a matter he disdained all questions--of the social position that awaited
her. She was capable of improvement, he admitted, and no doubt she would
improve. Grace she would acquire by watching him. The heavy tramping
about the house might be exchanged for a gentle footfall by the use of
more appropriate footwear. He begged her to bear these things in mind,
and above all never to forget that out of all the women in the world he
had selected her.

Matilda appeared quite satisfied. So did her mother, who was deep in
debt, and had no scruples against adding to the burden, when informed by
her future son-in-law that his resources were practically unlimited.

"It has just occurred to me I have a property on Dartmoor worth a couple
of thousand," he said in the grand manner, well suited to his wealth and
indolence. "I have not been near it for the last two years. It's a fine
house--a beautiful Elizabethan mansion--but it has a somewhat peculiar
history," he added.

"Is there a ghost?" asked Matilda's mother, who was greatly impressed by
everything George said.

"There are several ghosts," he replied.

"Don't ye ask me to live there then," said Matilda, with her giggle
which ought to have been illegal.

"Nothing would induce me to go near the place," said George with perfect
truth. "I ought to have sold it long ago, but these little things escape
one's memory. I will dispose of it at once, and buy a cottage, with a
bit of land. I shall keep bees and prune the rose trees; while you look
after the poultry and the cow, do the cooking, mind the house, and
attend to me."

Matilda was a poor mathematician, but even to her this did not appear a
fair division of labour. Already she was running up a little account
against her future husband. His courtship was not of that vigorous order
she had a right to expect; his indolence seemed to her a type curable
only by the constant application of a broomstick; his craving for tea
and tobacco, unless checked, might easily become morbid. Matilda
possessed some wits; not many, but ingenious ones; and, until George was
safely tied to her by matrimony, she was going to pretend she had no
conversation.

When George observed that the Dartmoor property had just occurred to his
memory, he intended perhaps to say he had thought of little else during
the last two years. He had almost succeeded in believing that his
disposal of the furniture had come perilously near actual dishonesty; by
which he meant to imply his action had been unbusinesslike and foolish;
though he had the satisfaction of knowing that Nellie had been justly
punished for her offences. He had planned to sell, or to let, Windward
House immediately; but had reckoned without his cowardly nature, which
conjured up visions of all manner of people seeking vengeance against
him. Bessie and Robert would be clamouring for his arrest; Kezia might
have taken her scraps of paper to some solicitor; Nellie might have
placed the matter in the hands of Hunter; the dreary Dyer might be
forced to bring an action for conspiracy to clear his own mean
character. George had been so terrified by these fancies that, for
several months, he hardly dared to stir from his lodgings, and could not
look a policeman in the face.

But now that two years had passed, and nobody had tapped him on the
shoulder, he decided it would be perfectly safe to emerge from his
obscurity to the extent of communicating with a land agent in Exeter,
which city was a satisfactory distance from Highfield, and instructing
him to offer the property for sale by public auction or, should an
opportunity arise, to dispose of it at once by private treaty. For sake
of convenience George requested that letters should be addressed to him
at a certain post office, as he still thought it advisable to protect
the sanctity of his private residence.

The land agent replied that a sale by auction was generally the most
lucrative manner of disposing of a property, and suggested the despatch
of a clerk skilled in valuation to inspect the premises. He mentioned
also that applications for houses in the Highfield district reached his
office continually, and he would be pleased to issue orders to view the
property which by the description appeared a valuable one.

George agreed to everything, but was inclined to lay stress upon the
private sale if possible, as he did not wish the local inhabitants to
know that the ownership of the house was about to change hands. Included
in the sale, he mentioned, would be a giant tortoise--or the animal
might be offered separately--more than half a thousand years old. This
reptile, which would appeal alike to animal lovers and to antiquarians,
was a fixture with the garden, above which it browsed one half of the
year, and below which it slept for the other half.

Some days passed, during which George became a prey to various emotions.
Then came a letter which puzzled him exceedingly. The land agent would
be much obliged if Mr. Drake could make it convenient to call at his
office in order that certain misunderstandings might be removed. He did
not care to say anything more definite at the moment, as it was quite
possible he had read Mr. Drake's instructions wrongly. If this was not
the case, something very mysterious had happened.

George thought of all manner of things, but above all he suspected
treachery. If he entered the office, he might find himself trapped; with
Bessie in one corner, Kezia in another, Dyer in the third, and Nellie in
the fourth; with that notorious oppressor of widows and orphans, Hunter
himself, standing vindictively in the centre; not to mention a horde of
howling Highfielders outside the office. So he decided to take Matilda
with him. It would be a nice outing for the girl. He could send her into
the office to spy out the land; and, if necessary, he could sacrifice
her to the violence of the mob.

However, no precaution was required for, upon reaching the office and
peering anxiously through the glass portion of the door, George
discovered one clerk sprawling over a desk asleep, and another reading a
newspaper. Reassured by these peaceful signs of business as usual, he
told Matilda to go and look at the shops, and to cultivate a gift of
imagination by selecting those articles of dress and adornment which she
most desired; then entered, and asked the clerk, who seemed more capable
of action, whether his master was disengaged. The reply being
favourable, George gave his name, though with less noise than usual, and
was immediately invited to step upstairs and to open the first door that
occurred. He did so, reproaching himself bitterly for the shameful
timidity which had kept him in hiding for two years, and entirely
convinced that the purloining of the furniture was a very ordinary and
straightforward piece of business.

But this fine humour was knocked out of shape when the land agent, after
a few preliminary remarks concerning hurricanes and
anticyclones--appropriate under the circumstances--remarked courteously:

"In what part of Highfield parish is the property situated?"

"Near the end of the village street, just above the post office,"
answered the astounded George.

"So I judged from your description. It sounds a very remarkable thing to
say, Mr. Drake, but--we can't find it."

"What the deuce do you mean?" George stuttered. "Not find it! Not find
Highfield House! Why, it's the only gentleman's residence in the
village. It stands out by itself. It hits you in the eye. It's as
obvious as Exeter Cathedral."

"Then you have no explanation to offer?"

"Explain! What do you want me to explain?"

"Why my clerk, also a possible purchaser, both acting on the same day
though independently, were unable to locate the property. And why the
local residents have no knowledge of its existence."

"Of course, they went to the wrong village."

"There is only one Highfield in Devonshire. I will tell you precisely
what happened. Upon receiving your instructions, I directed my valuation
clerk to go to Highfield and inspect the property. I also displayed a
notice in the window. Houses on Dartmoor are selling well just now, as
very few are available, and the district has become highly popular as
it is said to be the healthiest part of England. Hardly was the notice
in the window, when a gentleman called and asked for an order to view
the property; and he travelled in the same train as my clerk, though
neither was aware of the other's existence; nor did they meet in
Highfield, as my clerk had left the village--supposing that a mistake
had been made--before the gentleman arrived. Since then several people
have inquired after the property, but I had to put them off until I had
seen you. Now, Mr. Drake, surely you can explain the mystery."

"Mystery--there can't be one. There's the house simply blotting out the
landscape! If they couldn't find it they must have been blind and
paralysed," George shouted.

"My clerk could see no signs of a gentleman's residence in the village,
and when he asked one or two of the inhabitants they knew nothing about
Windward House. He did not press his inquiry, as he naturally supposed
you had somehow sent the wrong instructions."

"I should like to know what part of the world he did go to," George
muttered.

"The gentleman who went to view the property, returned here in a pretty
bad temper, as he thought I had made a fool of him," continued the
agent.

"He too inquired of the local inhabitants where Windward House might be
situated, and received the same answer. They either did not know, or
would not tell him."

"Are you making this up? Have you received instructions from people
answering to the names of Hunter, Mudge, Dyer, Blisland, Kezia, Brock,
to humbug me?" cried George.

"Certainly not, sir," said the agent sharply.

"Then I'm confounded! I don't believe in magic, ghosts, witches, evil
eye, Aladdin's lamp, or pixies. Have you ever heard of such a thing in
your life? Have you ever known a fine, big, well built, modern residence
to vanish off the face of the earth, together with the ground it stood
on, and the garden around it? Do you believe such a thing is possible?
Because, if you do believe it, I am ruined."

And having thus spoken George wiped away the most genuine moisture that
had ever dimmed his vision.

"I cannot offer any explanation, Mr. Drake, but it's certain your house
has disappeared. Don't you think the best thing you can do is to go
there yourself and find out what really has happened?"

"I won't go near the place," cried George. "I wouldn't be seen in it.
I--I might disappear too."

"Then will you put the matter into the hands of the police?"

"I'll have nothing to do with them either," declared George.

"Shall I go myself and make inquiries of the vicar or some other
reliable person?"

"All right," said George heavily. "It means more expense, but that's
nothing to me now. If my house has gone, I may as well go to my last
home at once. It's no use trying to kick against the powers of
darkness," he muttered.

So the agent travelled to Highfield and collected a few details from
certain inhabitants, who did not altogether approve of the local
revolution, but were not going to make themselves unpopular by refusing
to take a rub at the lamp themselves. Having learnt so much, it was easy
to add to his information by assuming hostility to George and expressing
approval of the punishment which had been meted out to him.

"Mr. Drake said one thing and meant another all the time he wur here,"
explained the Dumpy Philosopher. "Us didn't mind that, but when he
started to treat us as human volks wur never meant to be treated, us had
to learn 'em a serious lesson. His uncle promised to build us a railway,
and they do say he left money vor it; but Mr. Drake did all he could to
stop it from a-running. American gentlemen come here--a lot of 'em--to
make the railway; but he said us didn't want it, and he drove 'em away,
and he wouldn't let 'em spend a shilling. Said they'd come here to buy
cloam. Said he'd rather see us all starve. Said he'd build the railway
himself out of his own pocket, and he'd put a big waterwheel atop o'
Highfield hill to draw the trains up; though us knew he couldn't, vor
there ain't enough water coming over in summer to draw up a wheelbarrow.
Said he'd make Highfield House a station and put a terminus in the back
garden. I don't know what else he warn't going to do, but he wur talking
childish day by day. And when he'd deceived us more than us could bear,
he run away."

"What he done to poor and honest volk don't hardly seem possible," said
the Gentle Shepherd. "Mrs. Drake left 'en Highfield House, and all the
furniture she left to Bessie Mudge what married Robert Mudge who works
vor Arthur Dyer. They ses she left part of the furniture to Kezia, but
Bessie ses that part o' the will be so mixed up it can't be hardly
legal. Mr. Drake kept on going away, and coming back again; and one day
he come back, and drove Miss Yard and Kezia out of the place; and he
goes to Dyer and bribes 'en to send Robert and Bessie away vor a
holiday; and when they'm gone he brings up vans and clears out all the
furniture; and he breaks into Robert's house and steals a lot of his
furniture, what he bought and paid vor wi' his own money; and he sells
the lot by auction avore us could recover from the shock; and he ain't
never been seen nor heard of since. And I fancy 'tis the most
disgraceful deed what can ha' happened since the creation of the world."

"But he couldn't take the house, nor yet look after it, vor us wasn't
going to have him back again after the way he'd used us, and us wasn't
going to have 'en letting or selling the place neither, and making money
out of our misfortunes," said the Wallower in Wealth. "He tried to ruin
us all, he ha' brought the Mudges to awful poverty, and he ha' pretty
near drove the Dyers into the asylum, and he stole a musical box what
ha' been in my family vor generations out o' mind. It wur a fine house,
sure enough, but 'tis all gone now. There's nought left but foundations,
and there's not much o' them, and you can't see 'em, vor they'm covered
wi' grass. The trees be all cut down, and the shrubs ha' got moved, and
the garden wall ain't there no longer. The house warn't there one day,
and gone the next, as some volk say. It seemed to go so gradual that no
one noticed it really was a leaving us. Us all knew why it wur going,
and how it wur going; but us didn't talk about it much, vor what be
everybody's business ain't nobody's business."

"The youngsters started it," said Squinting Jack. "They smashed the
windows and got inside. They sort o' took possession of the place and
played there every day. They played at soldiers mostly. One lot o'
children climbed up into the roof, and defended themselves wi' tiles and
laths, while another lot attacked 'em wi' doors and window frames. And
when they'd finished play, they took home all the broken stuff vor
firewood. That wur the beginning, but in an amazing short time the house
began to alter; it wur never the same place after the children got
playing in it. When an old woman wanted wood vor the fire, she just went
vor it; and when any one wanted a new door or window, they knew where
one wur handy. Then one or two started building a cottage, and as the
cottages went up Windward House come down. Some mornings us missed a bit
o' wall what seemed to ha' fallen in the night, but nobody asked
questions, vor us all had a hand in it, but there's no evidence to prove
it. You won't find anything worth taking away now, not if you was to
search wi' a miscroscope. The house didn't vanish away suddenly, not by
no manner of means."

"It seemed to me," said the Gentle Shepherd, "as if it melted."

"It vanished in small pieces," added the Dumpy Philosopher.

The Wallower in Wealth had nothing more to say. The giant tortoise had
transferred itself to his garden, having apparently engaged a
wheelbarrow for that purpose. Either it was anxious to adopt the
Wallower in Wealth, or he desired to study its habits in order that he
too might attain eternal life. Or possibly he was determined to obtain
some compensation for the lost musical box, through the possession of a
genuine antique, which might with some propriety be styled the sole
remaining item of the Captain's furniture.

The Dismal Gibcat said nothing whatever, although at one time he had
been exceedingly loquacious. His was the only voice raised in protest
against those who pillaged windows and door posts, or flitted at
moonlight with joists and floorings. He publicly rebuked a poor old dame
whom he caught staggering homeward with her apron full of laths. He
explained the law as to wilful damage and petty larceny, and he dealt
with the moral aspect of the matter till all were weary. Finally he
announced his intention of protecting the property of the absentee owner
by taking care of it for him: and he removed at least one half of the
material and, by judicious guardianship of the same, succeeded in
doubling the accommodation of his house.

George had no difficulty in speaking like a whale, but when he tried to
talk like a sprat he made a mess of things. Therefore he could not bring
Matilda and her mother to understand how a rascally trustee, whose name
was Hunter, had sold his property and made off with the cash. They were
sorry but firm; Matilda asserting it cost very little to keep a woman;
while her mother pointed out with considerable fluency that matrimony
was always less expensive than breach of promise actions. George gave
way--having a horror of the fierce light of publicity which beats upon
law courts--and became very melancholy. Nor was he much restored to
gaiety by the joys of married life; for Matilda rapidly developed a flow
of small talk which astounded him; when George ordered her to bring him
a cup of tea she prescribed herself a glass of beer; and when he called
for his slippers she threw the dirty boots at his head and told him to
clean them. Matrimony was not all bee-keeping and rose-pruning for
George.

Still more tragic were affairs at Drivelford, where Nellie and Sidney
had come to realise that, for them at least, the married state was
unattainable. Old ladies can be very selfish sometimes, and in that
stimulating atmosphere, which shared with many others the distinction of
being the healthiest in the land, Miss Yard grew no weaker daily. She
suffered from a slight cold last winter, but was all the better for it
in the spring. Indeed in merry May-time she made the shocking suggestion
that Sidney should teach her to ride the bicycle.

With such dispiriting examples as the Yellow Leaf, whose longevity was
becoming a public scandal, and whose conduct was disgraceful, as he
would not be refused his right to wed the youngest grandchild of one of
his middle-aged connections; and the giant tortoise, who found fresh
lettuces more luscious than the weeds of his fifteenth century diet; and
the eternal obstacle, Miss Yard, who was continually giving children's
parties because she felt so young herself; with such monuments of senile
selfishness before them, Nellie and Sidney did indeed appear condemned
to single blessedness.

But happily, according to the latest report from Drivelford, Miss Yard
was not feeling very well. She was suffering from broken chilblains.

THE END





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