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Title: The Lost Heir
Author: Henty, G. A. (George Alfred), 1832-1902
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Lost Heir" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            THE LOST HEIR

                            BY G. A. HENTY

AUTHOR OF "STURDY AND STRONG," "RUJUB, THE JUGGLER," "BY ENGLAND'S AID,"
ETC., ETC.


    THE MERSHON COMPANY
    RAHWAY, N. J.
    NEW YORK



CONTENTS.


       I. A BRAVE ACTION                      1

      II. IN THE SOUTH SEAS                  14

     III. A DEAF GIRL                        27

      IV. THE GYPSY                          40

       V. A GAMBLING DEN                     52

      VI. JOHN SIMCOE                        65

     VII. JOHN SIMCOE'S FRIEND               77

    VIII. GENERAL MATHIESON'S SEIZURE        90

      IX. A STRANGE ILLNESS                 102

       X. TWO HEAVY BLOWS                   112

      XI. A STARTLING WILL                  124

     XII. DR. LEEDS SPEAKS                  137

    XIII. NETTA VISITS STOWMARKET           150

     XIV. AN ADVERTISEMENT                  164

      XV. VERY BAD NEWS                     176

     XVI. A FRESH CLEW                      193

    XVII. NETTA ACTS INDEPENDENTLY          206

   XVIII. DOWN IN THE MARSHES               220

     XIX. A PARTIAL SUCCESS                 233

      XX. A DINNER PARTY                    247

     XXI. A BOX AT THE OPERA                262

    XXII. NEARING THE GOAL                  274

   XXIII. WALTER                            287

    XXIV. A NEW BARGE                       301

     XXV. A CRUSHING EXPOSURE               316

    XXVI. A LETTER FROM ABROAD              329



[Illustration: SIMCOE RAN IN WITH HIS KNIFE AND ATTACKED THE TIGER.
_--Page 4._]



THE LOST HEIR.



CHAPTER I.

A BRAVE ACTION.


A number of soldiers were standing in the road near the bungalow of
Brigadier-General Mathieson, the officer in command of the force in the
cantonments of Benares and the surrounding district.

"They are coming now, I think," one sergeant said to another. "It is a
bad business. They say the General is terribly hurt, and it was thought
better to bring him and the other fellow who was mixed up in it down in
doolies. I heard Captain Harvey say in the orderly-room that they have
arranged relays of bearers every five miles all the way down. He is a
good fellow is the General, and we should all miss him. He is not one of
the sort who has everything comfortable himself and don't care a rap how
the soldiers get on: he sees to the comfort of everyone and spends his
money freely, too. He don't seem to care what he lays out in making the
quarters of the married men comfortable, and in getting any amount of
ice for the hospital, and extra punkawallahs in the barrack rooms during
the hot season. He goes out and sees to everything himself. Why, on the
march I have known him, when all the doolies were full, give up his own
horse to a man who had fallen out. He has had bad luck too; lost his
wife years ago by cholera, and he has got no one to care for but his
girl. She was only a few months old when her mother died. Of course she
was sent off to England, and has been there ever since. He must be a
rich man, besides his pay and allowances; but it aint every rich man who
spends his money as he does. There won't be a dry eye in the cantonment
if he goes under."

"How was it the other man got hurt?"

"Well, I hear that the tiger sprang on to the General's elephant and
seized him by the leg. They both went off together, and the brute
shifted its hold to the shoulder, and carried him into the jungle; then
the other fellow slipped off his elephant and ran after the tiger. He
got badly mauled too; but he killed the brute and saved the General's
life."

"By Jove! that was a plucky thing. Who was he?"

"Why, he was the chap who was walking backwards and forwards with the
General when the band was playing yesterday evening. Several of the men
remarked how like he was to you, Sanderson. I noticed it, too. There
certainly was a strong likeness."

"Yes, some of the fellows were saying so," Sanderson replied. "He passed
close to me, and I saw that he was about my height and build, but of
course I did not notice the likeness; a man does not know his own face
much. Anyhow, he only sees his full face, and doesn't know how he looks
sideways. He is a civilian, isn't he?"

"Yes, I believe so; I know that the General is putting him up at his
quarters. He has been here about a week. I think he is some man from
England, traveling, I suppose, to see the world. I heard the Adjutant
speak of him as Mr. Simcoe when he was talking about the affair."

"Of course they will take him to the General's bungalow?"

"No; he is going to the next. Major Walker is away on leave, and the
doctor says that it is better that they should be in different
bungalows, because then if one gets delirious and noisy he won't disturb
the other. Dr. Hunter is going to take up his quarters there to look
after him, with his own servants and a couple of hospital orderlies."

By this time several officers were gathered at the entrance to the
General's bungalow, two mounted troopers having brought in the news a
few minutes before that the doolies were within a mile.

They came along now, each carried by four men, maintaining a swift but
smooth and steady pace, and abstaining from the monotonous chant usually
kept up. A doctor was riding by the side of the doolies, and two mounted
orderlies with baskets containing ice and surgical dressings rode fifty
paces in the rear. The curtains of the doolies had been removed to allow
of a free passage of air, and mosquito curtains hung round to prevent
insects annoying the sufferers.

There was a low murmur of sympathy from the soldiers as the doolies
passed them, and many a muttered "God bless you, sir, and bring you
through it all right." Then, as the injured men were carried into the
two bungalows, most of the soldiers strolled off, some, however,
remaining near in hopes of getting a favorable report from an orderly or
servant. A group of officers remained under the shade of a tree near
until the surgeon who had ridden in with the doolies came out.

"What is the report, McManus?" one of them asked, as he approached.

"There is no change since I sent off my report last night," he said.
"The General is very badly hurt; I certainly should not like to give an
opinion at present whether he will get over it or not. If he does it
will be a very narrow shave. He was insensible till we lifted him into
the doolie at eight o'clock yesterday evening, when the motion seemed to
rouse him a little, and he just opened his eyes; and each time we
changed bearers he has had a little ice between his lips, and a drink of
lime juice and water with a dash of brandy in it. He has known me each
time, and whispered a word or two, asking after the other."

"And how is he?"

"I have no doubt that he will do; that is, of course, if fever does not
set in badly. His wounds are not so severe as the General's, and he is a
much younger man, and, as I should say, with a good constitution. If
there is no complication he ought to be about again in a month's time.
He is perfectly sensible. Let him lie quiet for a day or two; after that
it would be as well if some of you who have met him at the General's
would drop in occasionally for a short chat with him; but of course we
must wait to see if there is going to be much fever."

"And did it happen as they say, doctor? The dispatch told us very little
beyond the fact that the General was thrown from his elephant, just as
the tiger sprang, and that it seized him and carried him into the
jungle; that Simcoe slipped off his pad and ran in and attacked the
tiger; that he saved the General's life and killed the animal, but is
sadly hurt himself."

"That is about it, except that he did not kill the tiger. Metcalf,
Colvin, and Smith all ran in, and firing together knocked it over stone
dead. It was an extraordinarily plucky action of Simcoe, for he had
emptied his rifle, and had nothing but it and a knife when he ran in."

"You don't say so! By Jove! that was an extraordinary act of pluck; one
would almost say of madness, if he hadn't succeeded in drawing the brute
off Mathieson, and so gaining time for the others to come up. It was a
miracle that he wasn't killed. Well, we shall not have quite so easy a
time of it for a bit. Of course Murdock, as senior officer, will take
command of the brigade, but he won't be half as considerate for our
comfort as Mathieson has been. He is rather a scoffer at what he calls
new-fangled ways, and he will be as likely to march the men out in the
heat of the day as at five in the morning."

The two sergeants who had been talking walked back together to their
quarters. Both of them were on the brigade staff. Sanderson was the
Paymaster's clerk, Nichol worked in the orderly-room. At the sergeants'
mess the conversation naturally turned on the tiger hunt and its
consequences.

"I have been in some tough fights," one of the older men said, "and I
don't know that I ever felt badly scared--one hasn't time to think of
that when one is at work--but to rush in against a wounded tiger with
nothing but an empty gun and a hunting-knife is not the sort of job
that I should like to tackle. It makes one's blood run cold to think of
it. I consider that everyone in the brigade ought to subscribe a day's
pay to get something to give that man, as a token of our admiration for
his pluck and of our gratitude for his having saved General Mathieson's
life."

There was a general expression of approval at the idea. Then Sanderson
said:

"I think it is a thing that ought to be done, but it is not for us to
begin it. If we hear of anything of that sort done by the officers, two
or three of us might go up and say that it was the general wish among
the non-coms. and men to take a share in it; but it would never do for
us to begin."

"That is right enough; the officers certainly would not like such a
thing to begin from below. We had better wait and see whether there is
any movement that way. I dare say that it will depend a great deal on
whether the General gets over it or not."

The opportunity did not come. At the end of five weeks Mr. Simcoe was
well enough to travel by easy stages down to the coast, acting upon the
advice that he should, for the present, give up all idea of making a
tour through India, and had better take a sea voyage to Australia or the
Cape, or, better still, take his passage home at once. Had the day and
hour of his leaving been known, there was not a white soldier in the
cantonments who would not have turned out to give him a hearty cheer,
but although going on well the doctor said that all excitement should be
avoided. It would be quite enough for him to have to say good-by to the
friends who had been in the habit of coming in to talk with him daily,
but anything like a public greeting by the men would be likely to upset
him. It was not, therefore, until Simcoe was some way down the river
that his departure became known to the troops.

Six weeks later there was a sensation in the cantonments. General
Mathieson had so far recovered that he was able to be carried up to the
hills, and the camp was still growling at the irritating orders and
regulations of his temporary successor in command, when the news spread
that Staff Pay-Sergeant Sanderson had deserted. He had obtained a
fortnight's furlough, saying that he wanted to pay a visit to some old
comrades at Allahabad; at the end of the fortnight he had not returned,
and the Staff Paymaster had gone strictly into his accounts and found
that there was a deficiency of over £300, which he himself would of
course be called upon to make good. He had, indeed, helped to bring
about the deficiency by placing entire confidence in the sergeant and by
neglecting to check his accounts regularly.

Letters were at once written to the heads of the police at Calcutta and
Bombay, and to all the principal places on the roads to those ports; but
it was felt that, with such a start as he had got, the chances were all
in his favor.

It was soon ascertained at Allahabad that he had not been there.
Inquiries at the various dak-bungalows satisfied the authorities that he
had not traveled by land. If he had gone down to Calcutta he had gone by
boat; but he might have started on the long land journey across to
Bombay, or have even made for Madras. No distinct clew, however, could
be obtained.

The Paymaster obtained leave and went down to Calcutta and inspected all
the lists of passengers and made inquiries as to them; but there were
then but few white men in the country, save those holding civil or
military positions and the merchants at the large ports, therefore there
was not much difficulty in ascertaining the identity of everyone who had
left Calcutta during the past month, unless, indeed, he had taken a
passage in some native craft to Rangoon or possibly Singapore.

On his arrival at Calcutta he heard of an event which caused deep and
general regret when known at Benares, and for a time threw even the
desertion of Sergeant Sanderson into the shade. The _Nepaul_, in which
John Simcoe had sailed, had been lost in a typhoon in the Bay of Bengal
when but six days out. There was no possible doubt as to his fate, for a
vessel half a mile distant had seen her founder, but could render no
assistance, being herself dismasted and unmanageable and the sea so
tremendous that no boat could have lived in it for a moment. As both
ships belonged to the East India Company, and were well known to each
other, the captain and officials of the _Ceylon_ had no doubt whatever
as to her identity, and, indeed, the remains of a boat bearing the
_Nepaul's_ name were picked up a few days later near the spot where she
had gone down.

"It's hard luck, that is what I call it," Sergeant Nichol said with
great emphasis when the matter was talked over in the sergeants' mess.
"Here is a man who faces a wounded tiger with nothing but a
hunting-knife, and recovers from his wounds; here is the General, whose
life he saved, going on first-rate, and yet he loses his life himself,
drowned at sea. I call that about as hard luck as anything I have heard
of."

"Hard luck indeed!" another said. "If he had died of his wounds it would
have been only what might have been expected; but to get over them and
then to get drowned almost as soon as he had started is, as you say,
Nichol, very hard luck. I am sure the General will be terribly cut up
about it. I heard Major Butler tell Captain Thompson that he had heard
from Dr. Hunter that when the General began to get round and heard that
Simcoe had gone, while he was lying there too ill to know anything about
it, he regularly broke down and cried like a child; and I am sure the
fact that he will never have the chance of thanking him now will hurt
him as bad as those tiger's claws."

"And so there is no news of Sanderson?"

"Not that I have heard. Maybe he has got clean away; but I should say
it's more likely that he is lying low in some sailors' haunt until the
matter blows over. Then, like enough, he will put on sea-togs and ship
under another name before the mast in some trader knocking about among
the islands, and by the time she comes back he could take a passage home
without questions being asked. He is a sharp fellow is Sanderson. I
never quite liked him myself, but I never thought he was a rogue. It
will teach Captain Smalley to be more careful in future. I heard that he
was going home on his long leave in the spring, but I suppose he will
not be able to do so now for a year or so; three hundred pounds is a big
sum to have to fork out."

The news of the loss of the _Nepaul_, with all hands, did indeed hit
General Mathieson very heavily, and for a time seriously delayed the
progress that he was making towards recovery.

"It's bad enough to think," he said, "that I shall never have an
opportunity of thanking that gallant fellow for my life; but it is even
worse to know that my rescue has brought about his death, for had it not
been for that he would have by this time been up at Delhi or in Oude
instead of lying at the bottom of the sea. I would give half my fortune
to grasp his hand again and tell him what I feel."

General Mathieson's ill luck stuck to him. He gained strength so slowly
that he was ordered home, and it was three years before he rejoined.
Four years later his daughter came out to him, and for a time his home
in Delhi, where he was now stationed, was a happy one. The girl showed
no desire to marry, and refused several very favorable offers; but after
she had been out four years she married a rising young civilian who was
also stationed at Delhi. The union was a happy one, except that the
first two children born to them died in infancy. They were girls. The
third was a boy, who at the age of eight months was sent home under the
charge of an officer's wife returning with her children to England. When
they arrived there he was placed in charge of Mrs. Covington, a niece of
the General's. But before he reached the shores of England he was an
orphan. An epidemic of cholera broke out at the station at which his
father, who was now a deputy collector, was living, and he and his wife
were among the first victims of the scourge.

General Mathieson was now a major-general, and in command of the troops
in the Calcutta district. This blow decided him to resign his command
and return to England. He was now sixty; the climate of India had suited
him, and he was still a hale, active man. Being generally popular he was
soon at home in London, where he took a house in Hyde Park Gardens and
became a regular frequenter of the Oriental and East Indian United
Service Clubs, of which he had been for years a member, went a good deal
into society, and when at home took a lively interest in his grandson,
often running down to his niece's place, near Warwick, to see how he was
getting on.

The ayah who had come with the child from India had been sent back a few
months after they arrived, for his mother had written to Mrs. Covington
requesting that he should have a white nurse. "The native servants," she
wrote, "spoil the children dreadfully, and let them have entirely their
own way, and the consequence is that they grow up domineering,
bad-tempered, and irritable. I have seen so many cases of it here that
Herbert and I have quite decided that our child shall not be spoilt in
this way, but shall be brought up in England as English children are, to
obey their nurses and to do as they are ordered."

As Mrs. Covington's was a large country house the child was no trouble;
an excellent nurse was obtained, and the boy throve under her care.

The General now much regretted having remained so many years in India,
and if an old comrade remarked, "I never could make out why you stuck to
it so long, Mathieson; it was ridiculous for a man with a large private
fortune, such as you have," he would reply, "I can only suppose it was
because I was an old fool. But, you see, I had no particular reason for
coming home. I lost my only sister three years after I went out, and had
never seen her only daughter, my niece Mary Covington. Of course I hoped
for another bout of active service, and when the chance came at last up
in the north, there was I stuck down in Calcutta. If it hadn't been for
Jane I should certainly have given it up in disgust when I found I was
practically shelved. But she always used to come down and stay with me
for a month or two in the cool season, and as she was the only person
in the world I cared for, I held on from year to year, grumbling of
course, as pretty well every Anglo-Indian does, but without having
sufficient resolution to throw it up. I ought to have stayed at home for
good after that mauling I got from the tiger; but, you see, I was never
really myself while I was at home. I did not feel up to going to clubs,
and could not enter into London life at all, but spent most of my time
at my own place, which was within a drive of Mary Covington's, who had
then just married.

"Well, you see, I got deucedly tired of life down there. I knew nothing
whatever of farming, and though I tried to get up an interest in it I
failed altogether. Of course there was a certain amount of society of a
sort, and everyone called, and one had to go out to dinner-parties. But
such dinner-parties! Why, a dinner in India was worth a score of them.
Most of them were very stiff and formal, and after the women had gone
upstairs, the men talked of nothing but hunting and shooting and crops
and cattle; so at last I could stand it no longer, but threw up six
months of my furlough and went out again. Yes, of course I had Jane, but
at that time she was but fourteen, and was a girl at school; and when I
talked of bringing her home and having a governess, everyone seemed to
think that it would be the worst thing possible for her, and no doubt
they were right, for the life would have been as dull for her as it was
for me.

"Of course now it is different. I feel as young and as well as I did
twenty years ago, and can thoroughly enjoy my life in London, though I
still fight very shy of the country. It is a satisfaction to me to know
that things are pretty quiet in India at present, so that I am losing
nothing that way, and if I were out there I should be only holding
inspections at Barrakpoor, Dumdum, or on the Maidan at Calcutta. Of
course it was pleasant enough in its way, for I never felt the heat; but
as a man gets on in life he doesn't have quite so much enjoyment out of
it as he used to do. The men around him are a good deal younger than
himself. He knows all the old messroom jokes, and one bit of scandal is
like scores of others he has heard in his time.

"I am heartily glad that I have come home. Many of you here are about my
own standing, and there is plenty to talk about of old friends and old
days. You were a young ensign when I was a captain, but Bulstrode and I
got our companies within a few days of each other. Of course he is only
a lieutenant-colonel, while I am a major-general, but that is because he
had the good sense to quit the service years ago. There are scores of
others in the club just about my own standing, and one gets one's rubber
of whist in the afternoon, and we dine together and run down the cooking
and wines, although every one of us knows at heart that they are both
infinitely better than we got in India, except at the clubs in the
Presidency towns.

"Then, of course, we all agree that the service is going to the dogs,
that the Sepoys are over-indulged and will some day give us a lot of
trouble. I keep my liver all right by taking a long ride every morning,
and altogether I think I can say that I thoroughly enjoy myself."

The General, on his first visit to England, had endeavored, but in vain,
to find out the family of John Simcoe. He had advertised largely, but
without effect.

"I want to find them out," he said to his niece; "I owe that man a debt
of gratitude I can never repay, but doubtless there are some of his
family who may be in circumstances where I could give them a helping
hand. There may be young brothers--of course I could get them cadetships
in the Indian army--maybe portionless sisters."

"But if he was traveling in India for pleasure he must have been a
well-to-do young fellow. Men cannot wander about in the East without
having a pretty full purse."

"Yes, no doubt; but I don't fancy it was so in his case, and he said
casually that he had come in for some money, and, as he had always had a
great desire to travel, he thought that he could do nothing better than
spend a year or two in the East, but that he hoped before it was gone
he should fall on his legs and obtain some sort of employment. He did
not care much what it was, so that it was not quill-driving. He thought
that he could turn his hands to most things. I laughed at the time, for
I was by no means sure that he was in earnest, but I have felt since
that he must have been. If it had not been so, my advertisements would
surely have caught the eye of someone who knew his family. A family
wealthy enough for one of the sons to start on two years' travel must be
in a fair position, whether in town or country. Had it been so I should
have heard of it, and therefore I think that what he said must have had
some foundation in fact. He was certainly a gentleman in manner, and my
idea now is that he belonged to a middle-class family, probably in some
provincial town, and that, having come into some money at the death of
his father or some other relative, he followed his natural bent and
started on a sort of roving expedition, thinking, as many people do
think, that India is a land where you have only to stretch out your
hands and shake the pagoda tree.

"He would have found out his mistake, poor fellow, if he had lived. The
days are long past when any dashing young adventurer can obtain a post
of honor in the pay of an Indian Rajah. Still, of course, after what he
did for me, had he remained in India, and I found that he really wanted
a berth, I might have done something for him. I know numbers of these
Indian princes, some of them intimately, and to some I have been of very
considerable service; and I fancy that I might have got him a berth of
some kind or other without much difficulty. Or had he made up his mind
to return to England I would have set him up in any business he had a
fancy for. He has gone now, and I wish I could pay someone he cared for
a little of the debt of gratitude I owe him. Well, I have done my best
and have failed, from no fault of my own; but remember that if ever you
hear of a family of the name of Simcoe, I want you to make inquiries
about them, and to give me full particulars concerning them."

But no news ever reached the General on this head, and it was a frequent
cause of lamentation to him, when he finally settled in town, that
although he had again advertised he had heard nothing whatever of the
family of which he was in search.



CHAPTER II.

IN THE SOUTH SEAS.


An island in the Pacific. The sun was shining down from a cloudless sky,
the sea was breaking on the white beach, there was just sufficient
breeze to move the leaves of the cocoanut trees that formed a dark band
behind the sands. A small brig of about a hundred tons' burden lay
anchored a short distance from the shore. The paint was off in many
places, and everywhere blistered by the sun. Her sails hung loosely in
the gaskets, and the slackness of her ropes and her general air of
untidiness alike showed the absence of any sort of discipline on board.

In front of a rough shanty, built just within the line of shade of the
cocoanuts, sat three men. Two drunken sailors lay asleep some fifty
yards away. On the stump of a tree in front of the bench on which the
three men were sitting were placed several black bottles and three tin
pannikins, while two gourds filled with water and covered with broad
banana leaves stood erect in holes dug in the sand.

"I tell you what it is, Atkins, your men are carrying it on too far.
Bill here, and I, were good friends with the natives; the chief gave us
wives, and we got on well enough with them. What with the cocoanuts,
which are free to us all, and the patches of ground to cultivate, we had
all we wanted, and with the store of beads and bright cotton we brought
here with us we paid the natives to fish for pearls for us, and have
collected enough copra to trade for rum and whatever else we want. You
have got all our copra on board, and a good stock of native trumperies,
and I should recommend you to be off, both for your own sake and ours.
Your men have been more or less drunk ever since they came here. I don't
mind a drinking bout myself now and again, but it does not do to keep
it up. However, it would be no odds to us whether your men were drunk
all the time or not if they would but get drunk on board, but they will
bring the liquor on shore, and then they get quarrelsome, use their
fists on the natives, and meddle with the women. Now, these fellows are
quiet and gentle enough if they are left alone and treated fairly, but I
don't blame them for getting riled up when they are ill-treated, and I
tell you they are riled up pretty badly now. My woman has spoken to me
more than once, and from what she says there is likely to be trouble,
not only for you but for us."

"Well, Sim," the man that he was addressing said, "there is reason
enough in what you say. I don't care myself a snap for these black
fellows; a couple of musket-shots would send them all flying. But, you
see, though I am skipper, the men all have shares and do pretty much as
they like. At present they like to stay here, and I suppose they will
stay here till they are tired of it."

"Well, Atkins, if I were in your place I should very soon make a change,
and if you like, Bill and I will help you. You have got six men; well,
if you shot three of them the other three would think better of it; and
if they didn't I would settle them too."

"It is all very well talking like that, Sim. How could I sail the brig
without hands? If I only kept three of them I should be very
short-handed, and if I ever did manage to get to port they would lay a
complaint against me for shooting the others. It is all very well for
you to talk; you have lived here long enough to know that one can only
get the very worst class of fellows to sail with one in craft like this
and for this sort of trade. It pays well if one gets back safely, but
what with the risk of being cast ashore or being killed by the natives,
who are savage enough in some of the islands, it stands to reason that a
man who can get a berth in any other sort of craft won't sail with us.
But it is just the sort of life to suit chaps like these; it means easy
work, plenty of loafing about, and if things turn out well a good lump
of money at the end of the voyage. However, they ought to have had
enough of it this job; the rum is nearly gone, and if you will come off
to-morrow I will let you have what remains, though if they are sober I
doubt if they will let you take it away."

"We will risk that," the third man said. "We are not nice about using
our pistols, if you are. I was saying to Simcoe here, things are going a
lot too far. Enough mischief has been done already, and I am by no means
sure that when you have gone they won't make it hot for us. We are very
comfortable here, and we are not doing badly, and I don't care about
being turned out of it."

"The pearl fishing is turning out well?" Atkins asked quietly.

"It might be worse and it might be better. Anyhow, we are content to
remain here for a bit.

"I don't like it, Jack," he said, as the skipper, having in vain tried
to rouse the two drunken men, rowed himself off to the brig. "My woman
told me this morning that there had been a big talk among the natives,
and that though they did not tell her anything, she thought that they
had made up their minds to wipe the whites out altogether. They said
that if we hadn't been here, the brig would not have come; which is like
enough, for Atkins only put in because he was an old chum of ours, and
thought that we should have got copra enough to make it worth his while
to come round. Well, if the niggers only wiped out the crew, and burned
the ship, I should say nothing against it, as long as they let Atkins
alone. He has stood by me in more than one rough-and-tumble business,
and I am bound to stand by him. But there aint no discrimination among
the niggers. Besides, I am not saying but that he has been pretty rough
with them himself.

"It makes all the difference whether you settle down and go in for
making a pile, or if you only stop to water and take in fruit; we agreed
as to that when we landed here. When we stopped here before and found
them friendly and pleasant, and we says to each other, 'If we can but
get on smooth with them and set them fishing for us we might make a good
thing out of it.' You see, we had bought some oysters one of them
brought up after a dive, and had found two or three pearls in them.

"Well, we have been here nine months, and I don't say I am not getting
tired of it; but it is worth stopping for. You know we reckoned last
week that the pearls we have got ought to be worth two or three thousand
pounds, and we agreed that we would stay here till we have two bags the
size of the one we have got; but unless Atkins gets those fellows off, I
doubt if we shan't have to go before that. There is no reasoning with
these niggers; if they had any sense they would see that we can't help
these things."

"Perhaps what the women tell us is untrue," the other suggested.

"Don't you think that," Simcoe said; "these black women are always true
to their white men when they are decently treated. Besides, none of the
natives have been near us to-day. That, of course, might be because they
are afraid of these chaps; but from this shanty we can see the canoes,
and not one has gone out to-day. Who is to blame them, when one of their
chiefs was shot yesterday without a shadow of excuse? I don't say that I
think so much of a nigger's life one way or another; and having been in
some stiff fights together, as you know, I have always taken my share.
But I am dead against shooting without some reason; it spoils trade, and
makes it unsafe even to land for water. I have half a mind, Bill, to go
on board and ask Atkins to take us away with him; we could mighty soon
settle matters with the crew, and if there was a fight and we had to
shoot them all, we could take the brig into port well enough."

"No, no," said Bill, "it has not come to that yet. Don't let us give up
a good thing until we are sure that the game is up."

"Well, just as you like; I am ready to run the risk if you are. It would
be hard, if the worst came to the worst, if we couldn't fight our way
down to our canoe, and once on board that we could laugh at them; for
as we have proved over and over again, they have not one that can touch
her."

"Well, I will be off to my hut; the sun is just setting and my supper
will be ready for me." He strolled off to his shanty, which lay back
some distance in the wood. Simcoe entered the hut, where a native woman
was cooking.

"Nothing fresh, I suppose?" he asked in her language.

She shook her head. "None of our people have been near us to-day."

"Well, Polly,"--for so her white master had christened her, her native
appellation being too long for ordinary conversation,--"it is a bad
business, and I am sorry for it; but when these fellows have sailed away
it will soon come all right again."

"Polly hopes so," she said. "Polly very much afraid."

"Well, you had better go to-morrow and see them, and tell them, as I
have told them already, we are very sorry for the goings on of these
people, but it is not our fault. You have no fear that they will hurt
you, have you? Because if so, don't you go."

"They no hurt Polly now," she said; "they know that if I do not come
back you be on guard."

"Well, I don't think there is any danger at present, but it is as well
to be ready. Do you take down to the canoe three or four dozen cocoanuts
and four or five big bunches of plantains, and you may as well take
three or four gourds of water. If we have to take to the boat, will you
go with me or stay here?"

"Polly will go with her master," the woman said; "if she stay here they
will kill her."

"I am glad enough for you to go with me, Polly," he said. "You have been
a good little woman, and I don't know how I should get on without you
now; though why they should kill you I don't know, seeing that your head
chief gave you to me himself."

"Kill everything belonging to white man," she said quietly; and the man
knew in his heart that it would probably be so. She put his supper on
the table and then made several journeys backwards and forwards to the
canoe, which lay afloat in a little cove a couple of hundred yards away.
When she had done she stood at the table and ate the remains of the
supper.

An hour later the man was sitting on the bench outside smoking his pipe,
when he heard the sound of heavy footsteps among the trees. He knew this
was no native tread.

"What is it, Bill?" he asked, as the man came up.

"Well, I came to tell you that there is a big row going on among the
natives. I can hear their tom-tom things beating furiously, and
occasionally they set up a tremendous yell. I tell you I don't like it,
Simcoe; I don't like it a bit. I sent my woman to see what it was all
about, but though she had been away three hours, she hadn't come back
when I started out to talk it over with you."

"There has been a biggish row going on on board the brig too," the other
said. "I have heard Atkins storming, and a good deal of shouting among
the men. I suppose you have got your pearls all right in your belt?
Things begin to have an awkward look, and we may have to bolt at short
notice."

"You trust me for that, Simcoe; I have had them on me ever since the
brig came in. I had no fear of the natives stealing them out of my hut,
but if one of those fellows were to drop in and see them he would think
nothing of knifing the woman and carrying them off."

"I see you have brought your gun with you."

"Yes, and my pistols too. I suppose you are loaded, and ready to catch
up at a moment's notice?"

"Yes; my girl has been carrying down cocoanuts and plantains to the
canoe, so, if we have to make a bolt, we can hold on comfortably enough
until we get to the next island, which is not above three days' sail,
and lies dead to leeward, as the wind is at present. Still, Bill, I hope
it is not coming to that. I think it is likely enough they may attack
the brig in their canoes, but they have always been so friendly with us
that I really don't think they can turn against us now; they must know
that we cannot help these people's doings."

"That is all very well," the other said, "but you and I know half a
dozen cases in which the niggers have attacked a ship, and in every case
beachcombers were killed too."

Simcoe made no answer; he knew that it was so, and could hardly hope
that there would be an exception in their case. After thinking for a
minute he said, "Well, Bill, in that case I think the safest plan will
be to take to the canoe at once. We can stay away a few weeks and then
come back here and see how matters stand."

"But how about Atkins?"

"Well, we will shout and get him ashore and tell him what we think of
it, and give him the choice of either stopping or going with us. Nothing
can be fairer than that. If he chooses to stop and harm comes of it we
cannot blame ourselves. If we come back in a few weeks of course we
should not land until we had overhauled one of their canoes and found
out what the feeling of the people was. They will have got over their
fit of rage, and like enough they will have said to each other, 'We were
better off when the two white men were here. They paid us for our
fishing and our copra, and never did us any harm. I wish they were back
again.'"

"That is reasonable enough," the other agreed. "What about the trade
things?"

"Well, we have only got some beads and small knick-knacks left. Polly
shall carry them down to the canoe; we shall want them for trading till
we come back here again."

He said a few words to the woman, who at once began to carry the things
down to the canoe. Then he went down to the beach and shouted, "Atkins!"

"Hullo!" came back from the brig.

"Come ashore; we want to talk to you about something particular." They
saw the dinghy pulled up to the ship's side, then Atkins rowed ashore.

"I have been having a row with the crew," he said. "I thought it was
coming to fighting. Two or three of them took up handspikes, but I drew
my pistols and things calmed down. What do you want me for?"

"Bill here has brought news that there is a row among the natives. They
are beating their drums and yelling like fiends, and we expect it means
mischief. At any rate it comes to this: we are so convinced that there
is going to be trouble that we mean to cut and run at once. We have got
enough grub put on board our canoe to take us to the next island, but we
did not want to leave you in the lurch, to be speared by the niggers, so
we have called you to offer you a seat in the canoe."

"That is friendly," Atkins said, "but I should lose the ship and cargo;
and pretty near all that I have got is in her. Why should not you two
bring your canoe off alongside and hoist her up? Then we could get up
anchor and be off. Three of the fellows are dead-drunk and the other
three half stupid. I would give you each a share in the profits of the
voyage."

"Well, what do you think of that, Simcoe?" Bill said.

"I tell you straight I don't care for it. You and I are both good
paddlers, and the canoe sails like a witch in a light wind. Once afloat
in her and we are safe, but you can't say as much for the brig. I have
sailed in her before now, and I know that she is slow, unless it is
blowing half a gale. It is like enough that the natives may be watching
her now, and if they saw us get under way they would be after her, and
would go six feet to her one. As to fighting, what could we three do?
The others would be of no use whatever. No, I like our plan best by
far."

"Well, I don't know what to say," Atkins said. "It is hard to make a
choice. Of course if I were sure that the natives really meant mischief
I would go with you, but we cannot be sure of that."

"I feel pretty sure of it anyhow," Bill said. "My girl would be safe to
follow me here when she got back and found the hut empty, but I am
mightily afraid that some harm has come to her, or she would have been
back long before this. It wasn't half a mile to go, and she might have
been there and back in half an hour, and she has been gone now over
three hours, and I feel nasty about it, I can tell you. I wish your crew
were all sober, Atkins, and that we had a score of men that I could put
my hand on among the islands. I should not be talking about taking to a
canoe then, but I would just go in and give it them so hot that they
would never try their pranks on again."

"Have you got all the things in, Polly?" Simcoe asked the woman, as she
crouched down by the door of the hut.

"Got all in," she said. "Why not go? Very bad wait here."

"Well, I think you are about right. At any rate, we will go and get on
board and wait a spear's-throw off the shore for an hour or so. If
Bill's Susan comes here and finds we have gone she is pretty safe to
guess that we shall be on board the canoe and waiting for her. What do
you say to that, Bill?"

"That suits me; nothing can be fairer. If she comes we can take her on
board, if she doesn't I shall know that they have killed her, and I will
jot it down against them and come back here some day before long and
take it out of them. And you, Atkins?"

"I will go straight on board. Like enough it is all a false alarm, and I
aint going to lose the brig and all that she has got on board till I am
downright certain that they----"

He stopped suddenly, and the others leaped to their feet as a burst of
savage yells broke out across the water.

"By Heavens, they are attacking the ship!" Simcoe cried; "they will be
here in a moment. Come on, Polly! come on, Atkins! we have no choice
now." Taking up his arms, he started to run. "Quick, quick!" he cried;
"I can hear them."

They had gone but some thirty yards when a number of natives burst from
the wood. Had they arrived a minute sooner at the hut none of its
occupants would have lived to tell the tale, but the impatience of those
in the canoes lying round the brig had caused the alarm to be given
before they had placed themselves in readiness for a simultaneous rush
on the hut. There was no further occasion for silence; a wild yell burst
out as they caught sight of the flying figures, and a dozen spears flew
through the air.

"Don't stop to fire!" Simcoe shouted; "we shall have to make a stand at
the boat and shall want every barrel."

They were three-quarters of the way to the boat and the natives were
still some twenty yards behind them. Suddenly Bill stumbled; then with a
savage oath he turned and emptied both barrels of his fowling-piece into
the natives, and the two leading men fell forward on their faces, and
some shouts and yells told that some of the shots had taken effect on
those behind.

"Are you wounded, Bill?" Simcoe asked.

"Yes, I am hit hard. Run on, man; I think I am done for."

"Nonsense!" Simcoe exclaimed. "Catch hold of my arm; I will help you
along."

One native was in advance of the rest. He raised his arm to hurl his
spear, but the native woman, who had all along been running behind
Simcoe, threw herself forward, and the spear pierced her through the
body. With an exclamation of fury Simcoe leveled his musket and shot the
native through the head.

"Throw your arms round my neck, Bill; the poor girl is done for, curse
them. Can you hold on?"

"Yes, I think so," he replied.

Simcoe was a very powerful man, and with his comrade on his back he ran
on almost as swiftly as before.

"Now, Atkins, give them every barrel that you have got, then lift Bill
into the boat, and I will keep them back. I am not going until I have
paid some of them out for poor Polly."

Atkins fired his pistols, and with so steady an aim that each shot
brought down a savage; then he lifted Bill from Simcoe's shoulders and
laid him in the canoe.

"Get up the sail!" Simcoe shouted. "They will riddle us with spears if
we paddle." He shot down four of the natives with his double-barreled
pistols, and then clubbing his gun threw himself with a hoarse shout
upon them. The loss of seven of their leaders had caused their followers
to hesitate, and the fury of Simcoe's attack and the tremendous blows he
dealt completed their discomfiture, and they turned and fled in dismay.

"Now is your time!" Atkins shouted; "I have cut the cord and got the
sail up." Turning, Simcoe was in a moment knee-deep in the water;
pushing the boat off, he threw himself into it.

"Lie down, man, lie down!" he shouted to Atkins. But the warning was too
late; the moment Simcoe turned the natives had turned also, and as they
reached the water's edge half a dozen spears were flung. Two of them
struck Atkins full in the body, and with a cry he threw up his arms and
fell over the side of the canoe. Then came several splashes in the
water. Simcoe drew the pistols from his companion's belt, and, raising
himself high enough to look over the stern, shot two of the savages who
were wading out waist deep, and were but a few paces behind.

The sail was now doing its work, and the boat was beginning to glide
through the water at a rate that even the best swimmers could not hope
to emulate. As soon as he was out of reach of the spears Simcoe threw
the boat up into the wind, reloaded his pistols and those of his
comrade, and opened fire upon the group of natives clustered at the
water's edge. Like most men of his class, he was a first-rate shot.
Three of the natives fell and the rest fled. Then with a stroke of the
paddle he put the boat before the wind again, and soon left the island
far behind.

"This has been a pretty night's work," he muttered. "Poor little Polly
killed! She gave her life to save me, and there is no doubt she did save
me too, for that fellow's spear must have gone right through me. I am
afraid that they have done for Bill too." He stooped over his comrade.
The shaft of the spear had broken off, but the jagged piece with the
head attached stuck out just over the hip. "I am afraid it is all up
with him; however, I must take it out and bandage him as well as I
can."

A groan burst from the wounded man as Simcoe with some effort drew the
jagged spear from the wound. Then he took off his own shirt and tore
some strips off it and tightly bandaged the wound.

"I can do nothing else until the morning," he said. "Well, Polly, I have
paid them out for you. I have shot seven or eight and smashed the skulls
of as many more. Of course they have done for those drunkards on board
the brig. I did not hear a single pistol fired, and I expect that they
knocked them on the head in their drunken sleep. The brutes! if they had
had their senses about them we might have made a fair fight; though I
expect that they would have been too many for us."

Just as daylight was breaking Bill opened his eyes.

"How do you feel, old man?"

"I am going, Simcoe. You stood by me like a man; I heard it all till
Atkins laid me in the boat. Where is he?"

"He is gone, Bill. Instead of throwing himself down in the boat, as I
shouted to him directly he got up the sail, he stood there watching, I
suppose, until I was in. He got two spears in his body and fell
overboard dead, I have no doubt."

"Look here, Sim!" The latter had to bend down his ear to listen. The
words came faintly and slowly. "If you ever go back home again, you look
up my brother. He is no more on the square than I was, but he is a
clever fellow. He lives respectable--Rose Cottage, Pentonville Hill.
Don't forget it. He goes by the name of Harrison. I wrote to him every
two or three years, and got an answer about the same. Tell him how his
brother Bill died, and how you carried him off when the blacks were
yelling round. We were fond of each other, Tom and I. You keep the
pearls, Sim; he don't want them. He is a top-sawyer in his way, he is,
and has offered again and again that if I would come home he would set
me up in any line I liked. I thought perhaps I should go home some day.
Tom and I were great friends. I remember----" His eyelids drooped, his
lips moved, and in another minute no sounds came from them. He gave one
deep sigh, and then all was over.

"A good partner and a good chum," Simcoe muttered as he looked down into
the man's face. "Well, well, I have lost a good many chums in the last
ten years, but not one I missed as I shall miss Bill. It is hard, he and
Polly going at the same time. There are not many fellows that I would
have lain down to sleep with, with fifteen hundred pounds' or so worth
of pearls in my belt, not out in these islands. But I never had any fear
with him. Well, well," he went on, as he took the bag of pearls from his
comrade's belt and placed it in his own, "There is a consolation
everywhere, though we might have doubled and trebled this lot if we had
stopped three months longer, which we should have done if Atkins had not
brought that brig of his in. I can't think why he did it. He might have
been sure that with that drunken lot of villains trouble would come of
it sooner or later. He wasn't a bad fellow either, but too fond of
liquor."



CHAPTER III.

A DEAF GIRL.


"Yes, Lady Moulton, I will undertake the gypsy tent business at your
fête; that is to say, I will see to the getting up of the tent, provide
a gypsy for you, and someone to stand at the door and let in one visitor
at a time and receive the money. Do you mean to make it a fixed charge,
or leave it to each to pay the gypsy?"

"Which do you think will be best, Hilda? Of course the great thing is to
get as much money for the decayed ladies as possible."

"I should say that it would be best to let them give what they like to
the gypsy, Lady Moulton."

"But she might keep some of it herself."

"I think I can guarantee that she won't do that; I will get a dependable
gypsy. You see, you could not charge above a shilling entrance, and very
likely she would get a good deal more than that given to her."

"Well, my dear, I leave it all to you. Spare no expense about the tent
and its fitting up. I have set my heart upon the affair being a success,
and I think everything else has been most satisfactorily arranged. It is
a very happy thought of yours about the gypsy; I hope that you will find
a clever one. But you must mind and impress upon her that we don't want
any evil predictions. Nothing could be in worse taste. It is all very
well when a girl is promised a rich husband and everything to match, but
if she were told that she would never get married, or would die young,
or something of that sort, it would be a most unpleasant business."

"I quite agree with you, and will see that everything shall be 'couleur
de rose' as to the future, and that she shall confine herself as much as
possible to the past and present."

"I leave it in your hands, and I am sure that it will be done nicely."

Lady Moulton was a leading member of society, a charming woman with a
rich and indulgent husband. Her home was a pleasant one, and her balls
were among the most popular of the season. She had, as her friends said,
but one failing, namely, her ardor for "The Society for Affording Aid to
Decayed Ladies." It was on behalf of this institution that she was now
organizing a fête in the grounds of her residence at Richmond. Hilda
Covington was an orphan and an heiress, and was the ward of her uncle,
an old Indian officer, who had been a great friend of Lady Moulton's
father. She had been ushered into society under her ladyship's auspices.
She had, however, rather forfeited that lady's favorable opinion by
refusing two or three unexceptionable offers.

"My dear," she remonstrated, "no girl can afford to throw away such
chances, even if she is, as you are, well endowed, pretty, and clever."

The girl laughed.

"I am not aware that I am clever at all, Lady Moulton. I speak German
and French perfectly, because I have been four or five years in Hanover;
but beyond that I am not aware of possessing any special
accomplishments."

"But you are clever, my dear," the other said decidedly. "The way you
seem to understand people's characters astonishes me. Sometimes it seems
to me that you are almost a witch."

"You are arguing against yourself," the girl laughed. "If I am such a
good judge of character I am not likely to make a mistake in such an
important matter as choosing a husband for myself."

Lady Moulton was silenced, but not convinced; however, she had good
sense enough to drop the subject. General Mathieson had already told her
that although he should not interfere in any way with any choice Hilda
might make, he should make it an absolute condition that she should not
marry until she came of age; and as she was at present but eighteen,
many things might occur in the three years' interval.

On her return home, after arranging to provide a gypsy for Lady
Moulton's fête, Hilda related what had occurred to a girl friend who was
staying with her.

"Of course, Netta, I mean to be the gypsy myself; but you must help me.
It would never do for me to be suspected of being the sorceress, and so
you must be my double, so that I can, from time to time, go out and mix
with the crowd. A few minutes at a time will do."

The other laughed. "But what should I say to them, Hilda?"

"Oh, it is as easy as A B C. All that you will have to do is to speak
ambiguously, hint at coming changes, foresee a few troubles in the way,
and prophesy a happy solution of the difficulties. I will take upon
myself the business of surprising them, and I fancy that I shall be able
to astonish a few of them so much that even if some do get only
commonplaces we shall make a general sensation. Of course, we must get
two disguises. I shall have a small tent behind the other where I can
change. It won't take a moment--a skirt, and a shawl to go over my head
and partly hide my face, can be slipped on and off in an instant. Of
course I shall have a black wig and some sort of yellow wash that can be
taken off with a damp towel. I shall place the tent so that I can leave
from behind without being noticed. As we shall have the tent a good deal
darkened there will be no fear of the differences between the two
gypsies being discovered, and, indeed, people are not likely to compare
notes very closely."

"Well, I suppose you will have your way as usual, Hilda."

"I like that!" the other said, with a laugh. "You were my guide and
counselor for five years, and now you pretend that I always have my own
way. Why, I cannot even get my own way in persuading you to come and
settle over here. I am quite sure that you would get lots of pupils,
when people understand the system and its advantages."

"That is all very well, Hilda, but, you see, in the first place I have
no friends here except yourself, and in the second it requires a good
deal of money to get up an establishment and to wait until one gets
pupils. My aunt would, I know, put in the money she saved when you were
with us if I were to ask her, but I wouldn't do so. To begin with, she
regards that as my fortune at her death. She has said over and over
again how happy the knowledge makes her that I shall not be left
absolutely penniless, except, of course, what I can get for the house
and furniture, and I would do anything rather than sell that. She admits
that I might keep myself by teaching deaf children, but, as she says, no
one can answer for their health. I might have a long illness that would
throw me out. I might suddenly lose a situation, say, from the death of
a pupil, and might be a long time before I could hear of another. She
said to me once, 'I do hope, Netta, you will never embark one penny of
the little money that will come to you in any sort of enterprise or
speculation, however promising it may look.' We had been talking of
exactly the plan that you are now speaking of. 'The mere furnishing of a
house in England large enough to take a dozen children would swallow up
a considerable sum. At first you might have to wait some time till you
could obtain more than two or three children, and there would be the
rent and expenses going on, and you might find yourself without money
and in debt before it began to pay its way; therefore I do hope that you
will keep the money untouched except to meet your expenses in times of
illness or of necessity of some kind. If you can save up money
sufficient to start an establishment, it will, I think, be a good thing,
especially if you could secure the promise of four or five pupils to
come to you at once. If in a few years you should see your way to insure
starting with enough pupils to pay your way, and I am alive at the time,
I would draw out enough to furnish the house and will look after it for
you.' That was a great concession on her part, but I certainly would
not let her do it, for she is so happy in her home now, and I know that
she would worry herself to death."

"Well, Netta, you know I am still ready to become the capitalist."

Both girls laughed merrily.

"Why not, Netta?" the speaker went on. "I know you said that you would
not accept money as a loan even from me, which, as I told you, was very
stupid and very disagreeable, but there is no reason why we should not
do it in a business way. Other women go into business, why shouldn't I?
As you know, I can't absolutely touch my money until I come of age, and
it is nearly three years before that; still, I feel sure that the
General would let me have some money, and we could start the Institute.
It would be great fun. Of course, in the first place, you would be
principal, or lady superintendent, or whatever you like to call
yourself, and you would draw, say, five hundred pounds a year. After
that we could divide the profits."

Again both girls laughed.

"And that is what you call a business transaction?" the other said. "I
know that your guardian is very kind, and indeed spoils you altogether,
but I don't think that you would get him to advance you money for such a
scheme."

"I am really in earnest, Netta."

"Oh, I don't say that you would not do it, if you could. However, I
think, anyhow, we had better wait until you come of age. There is plenty
of time. I am only twenty yet, and even in three years' time I doubt
whether I should quite look the character of professor or lady
superintendent."

"Well, directly I get of age I shall carry out my part of the plan,"
Hilda said positively, "and if you are disagreeable and won't do as I
want you, I shall write to the professor and ask him to recommend a
superintendent."

The other laughed again.

"You would have a difficulty, Hilda. You and I are, so far, the only
two English girls who have learned the system, and either your
superintendent would have to learn English or all her pupils would have
to learn German."

"We will not discuss it further at present, Miss Purcell," Hilda said
with dignity. "Oh, dear, those were happy days we had in that dear old
house, with its pretty garden, when you were thirteen and I was eleven.
I have got a great deal of fun from it since. One gets such curious
little scraps of conversation."

"Then the people do not know what you learned over with us?"

"No, indeed; as you know, it was not for a year after I came back that I
became altogether the General's ward, and my dear mother said to me just
before she died, 'It would be better for you, dear, not to say anything
about that curious accomplishment of yours. I know that you would never
use it to any harm, but if people knew it they would be rather afraid of
you.' Uncle said the same thing directly I got here. So of course I have
kept it to myself, and indeed if they had not said so I should never
have mentioned it, for it gives me a great deal of amusement."

When Hilda Covington was ten years old, she had, after a severe attack
of scarlet fever, lost her hearing, and though her parents consulted the
best specialists of the time, their remedies proved of no avail, and at
last they could only express a hope, rather than an opinion, that in
time, with added health and strength, nature might repair the damage. A
year after her illness Mr. Covington heard of an aurist in Germany who
had a European reputation, and he and Mrs. Covington took Hilda over to
him. After examining her he said, "The mischief is serious, but not, I
think, irreparable. It is a case requiring great care both as to
dieting, exercise, and clothing. If it could be managed I should like to
examine her ears once a fortnight, or once a month at the least. I have
a house here where my patients live when under treatment, but I should
not for a moment advise her being placed there. A child, to keep in
good health, requires cheerful companions. If you will call again
to-morrow I will think the matter over and let you know what I
recommend."

Mr. and Mrs. Covington retired much depressed. His opinion was, perhaps,
a little more favorable than any that they had received, but the thought
that their only child must either make this considerable journey once a
month or live there altogether was very painful to them. However, on
talking it over, they agreed that it was far better that she should
reside in Hanover for a time, with the hope of coming back cured, than
that she should grow up hopelessly deaf.

"It will only be as if she were at school here," Mr. Covington said.
"She will no doubt be taught to talk German and French, and even if she
is never able to converse in these languages, it will add to her
pleasures if she can read them."

The next day when they called upon the doctor he said, "If you can bring
yourself to part with the child, I have, I think, found the very thing
to suit her. In the first place you must know that there is in the town
an establishment, conducted by a Professor Menzel, for the instruction
of deaf mutes. It is quite a new system, and consists in teaching them
to read from the lips of persons speaking to them the words that they
are saying. The system is by no means difficult for those who have
still, like your daughter, the power of speech, and who have lost only
their hearing. But even those born deaf and dumb have learned to be able
to converse to a certain degree, though their voices are never quite
natural, for in nine cases out of ten deaf mutes are mutes only because
they have never learned to use their tongue. However, happily that is
beside the question in your daughter's case. I hope that she will regain
her hearing; but should this unfortunately not be the case, it will at
least be a great mitigation to her position to be able to read from the
lips of those who address her what is said, and therefore to converse
like an ordinary person. I can assure you that many of Herr Menzel's
pupils can converse so easily and rapidly that no one would have the
least idea of the misfortune from which they suffer, as in fact they
feel no inconvenience beyond the fact that they are not aware of being
addressed by anyone standing behind them, or whose face they do not
happen to be watching."

"That would indeed be a blessing!" Mrs. Covington exclaimed. "I never
heard of such a system."

"No, it is quite new, but as to its success there can be no question. I
called upon Professor Menzel last evening. He said that as your daughter
did not understand German the difficulties of her tuition would be very
great. He has, however, among his pupils a young English girl two years
older than your daughter. She lives with a maiden aunt, who has
established herself here in order that her niece might have the benefit
of learning the new system. Here is her name and address. The professor
has reason to believe that her income is a small one, and imagines that
she would gladly receive your daughter as a boarder. Her niece, who is a
bright girl, would be a pleasant companion, and, moreover, having in the
two years that she has been here made very great progress, she would be
able to commence your daughter's education by conversing with her in
English, and could act as her teacher in German also; and so soon as the
language was fairly mastered your daughter could then become a pupil of
the professor himself."

"That would be an excellent plan indeed," Mrs. Covington said, and her
husband fully agreed with her. The doctor handed her a slip of paper
with the name, "Miss Purcell, 2nd Etage, 5 Koenigstrasse."

Hilda had already been informed by the finger alphabet, which had been
her means of communication since her illness, of the result of the
conversation with the doctor on the previous day, and although she had
cried at the thought of being separated from her father and mother, she
had said that she would willingly bear anything if there was a hope of
her regaining her hearing. She had watched earnestly the conversation
between the doctor and her parents, and when the former had left and
they explained what was proposed, her face brightened up.

"That will be very nice," she exclaimed, "and if I could but learn to
understand in that way what people say, instead of watching their
fingers (and some of them don't know the alphabet, and some who do are
so slow that one loses all patience), it would be delightful."

Before going to see Miss Purcell, Mr. and Mrs. Covington talked the
matter over together, and they agreed that, if Miss Purcell were the
sort of person with whom Hilda could be happy, no plan could be better
than that proposed.

"It certainly would not be nice for her," Mrs. Covington said, "to be
living on a second floor in a street; she has always been accustomed to
be so much in the open air, and as the doctors all agree that much
depends upon her general health, I am sure it will be quite essential
that she should be so now. I think that we should arrange to take some
pretty little house with a good garden, just outside the town, and
furnish it, and that Miss Purcell and her niece should move in there. Of
course we should pay a liberal sum for board, and if she would agree, I
should say that it would be best that we should treat the house as ours
and should pay the expenses of keeping it up altogether. I don't suppose
she keeps a servant at present, and there are many little luxuries that
Hilda has been accustomed to. Then, of course, we would pay so much to
the niece for teaching Hilda German and beginning to teach her this
system. I don't suppose the whole thing would cost more than three
hundred pounds a year."

"The expense is nothing," Mr. Covington said. "We could afford it if it
were five times the amount. I think your idea is a very good one, and we
could arrange for her to have the use of a pony-carriage for two or
three hours a day whenever she was disposed. The great thing is for her
to be healthy and happy."

Ten minutes after they started with Hilda to see Miss Purcell, after
having explained to her the plan they proposed. At this she was greatly
pleased. The thought of a little house all to themselves and a girl
friend was a great relief to her, and she looked brighter and happier
than she had done since she had lost her hearing. When they knocked at
the door of the apartment on the second floor, it was opened by a
bright-faced girl of thirteen.

"This is Miss Purcell's, is it not?" Mrs. Covington asked.

"Yes, ma'am," the girl replied, with a slight expression of surprise
which showed that visitors were very rare.

"Will you give my card to her and say that we shall be glad if she will
allow us a few minutes' conversation with her?"

The girl went into the room and returned in a minute or two. "Will you
come in?" she said. "My aunt will be glad to see you."

Miss Purcell was a woman of some fifty years old, with a pleasant,
kindly face. The room was somewhat poorly furnished, but everything was
scrupulously neat and tidy, and there was an air of comfort pervading
it.

"We have called, Miss Purcell," Mrs. Covington began, "in consequence of
what we have learned from Dr. Hartwig, whom we have come over to
consult, and who has been good enough to see Professor Menzel. He has
learned from him that your niece here is acquiring the system of
learning to understand what is said by watching the lips of speakers.
The doctor is of opinion that our daughter may in time outgrow the
deafness that came on a year ago, after scarlet fever, but he wishes her
to remain under his eye, and he suggested that it would be well that she
should learn the new system, so that in case she does not recover her
hearing she would still be able to mingle with other people. Hilda is
delicate, and it is necessary that she should have a cheerful home;
besides which she could not begin to learn the system until she had
become familiar with German. The doctor suggested that if we could
persuade you to do us the great kindness of taking her under your charge
it would be the best possible arrangement."

"I should be glad to do so, madam, but I fear that I could not
accommodate her, for it is a mere closet that my niece sleeps in, and
the other apartments on this floor are all occupied. Were it not for
that I should certainly be glad to consider the matter. It would be
pleasant to Netta to have a companion, for it is but dull work for her
alone with me. We have few acquaintances. I do not mind saying frankly
that my means are straitened, and that I cannot indulge her with many
pleasures. She is a grandniece of mine; her father died some years ago,
her mother three years since, and naturally she came to me. Shortly
after, she lost her hearing through measles. Just at that time I
happened to hear from a German workman of the institution which had been
started in this town, of which he was a native. I had no ties in
England, and as I heard that living was cheap there, and that the fees
were not large, I decided to come over and have her taught this new
system, which would not only add greatly to her own happiness, but would
give her the means of earning her livelihood when she grew up; for
although I have a small pension, as my father was an Excise officer,
this, of course, will expire at my death."

"Happily, Miss Purcell, we are in a position to say that money is no
object to us. Hilda is our only child. We have talked it over, of
course, and will tell you exactly what we propose, and I hope that you
will fall in with the arrangement."

She then stated the plan that she and her husband had discussed.

"You see," she went on, "you would, in fact, be mistress of the house,
and would have the entire management of everything as if it was your
own. We are entirely ignorant of the cost of living here, or we might
have proposed a fixed monthly payment for the expenses of servants and
outgoings, and would still do that if you would prefer it, though we
thought that it would be better that you should, at the end of each
month, send us a line saying what the disbursements had been. We would
wish everything done on a liberal scale. Hilda has little appetite, and
it will, for a time, want tempting. However, that matter we could leave
to you. We propose to pay a hundred a year to you for your personal
services as mistress of the house, and fifty pounds to your niece as
Hilda's companion and instructor in German and in the system, until she
understands the language well enough to attend Professor Menzel's
classes. If the house we take has a stable we should keep a pony and a
light carriage, and a big lad or young man to look after it and drive,
and to keep the garden in order in his spare time. I do hope, Miss
Purcell, that you will oblige us by falling in with our plans. If you
like we can give you a day to consider them."

"I do not require a minute," she replied; "my only hesitation is because
the terms that you offer are altogether too liberal."

"That is our affair," Mrs. Covington said. "We want a comfortable, happy
home for our child, and shall always feel under a deep obligation to you
if you will consent."

"I do consent most willingly and gratefully. The arrangement will be a
delightful one for me, and I am sure for Netta."

Netta, who had been standing where she could watch the lips of both
speakers, clapped her hands joyously. "Oh, auntie, it will be splendid!
Fancy having a house, and a garden, and a pony-chaise!"

"You understand all we have been saying then, Netta?"

"I understand it all," the girl replied. "I did not catch every word,
but quite enough to know all that you were saying."

"That certainly is a proof of the goodness of the system," Mr. Covington
said, speaking for the first time. "How long have you been learning?"

"Eighteen months, sir. We have been here two years, but I was six months
learning German before I knew enough to begin, and for the next six
months I could not get on very fast, as there were so many words that I
did not know, so that really I have only been a year at it. The
professor says that in another year I shall be nearly perfect and fit to
begin to teach; and he has no doubt that he will be able to find me a
situation where I can teach in the daytime and still live with my aunt."

In a week the necessary arrangements were all made. A pretty, furnished
house, a quarter of a mile out of town, with a large garden and stables,
had been taken, and Netta and Hilda had already become friends, for as
the former had learned to talk with her fingers before she came out she
was able to keep up her share of the conversation by that means while
Hilda talked in reply.

"The fingers are useful as a help at first," Netta said, "but Professor
Menzel will not allow any of his pupils to use their fingers, because
they come to rely upon them instead of watching the lips."



CHAPTER IV.

THE GYPSY.


Mr. and Mrs. Covington remained for a week after Hilda was installed
with the Purcells in their new home. To her the house with its garden
and pretty pony-carriage and pony were nothing remarkable, but Netta's
enjoyment in all these things amused her, and the thought that she, too,
would some day be able to talk and enjoy life as her companion did,
greatly raised her spirits. Her father and mother were delighted at
hearing her merry laugh mingled with that of Netta as they walked
together in the garden, and they went home with lighter hearts and more
hopeful spirits than they had felt since the child's illness began.

Every three or four months--for a journey to Hanover was a longer and
more serious business in 1843 than it is at present--they went over to
spend a week there. There could be no doubt from the first that the
change was most beneficial to Hilda. Her cheeks regained their color and
her limbs their firmness. She lost the dull look and the apathy to
whatever was going on around her that had before distressed them. She
progressed very rapidly in her study of German, and at the end of six
months her conversations with Netta were entirely carried on in that
language. She had made some little progress in reading from her
companion's lips and had just entered at Herr Menzel's academy. She
could now take long walks with Netta, and every afternoon, or, as summer
came on, every evening, they drove together in the pony-chaise. With
renewed health and strength there had been some slight improvement in
her hearing. She could now faintly distinguish any loud sounds, such as
those of the band of a regiment marching past her or a sudden peal of
bells.

"I think that we shall make an eventual cure," Dr. Hartwig said. "It
will be slow, and possibly her hearing may never be absolutely good; but
at least we may hope that she may be able to eventually hear as well as
nine people out of ten."

In another year she could, indeed, though with difficulty, hear voices,
and when she had been at Hanover three years her cure was almost
complete, and she now went every morning to school to learn French and
music. She herself was quite content to remain there. She was very happy
in her life and surroundings, and could now read with the greatest
facility from the lips, and indeed preferred watching a speaker's mouth
to listening to the voice. It was a source of endless amusement to her
that she could, as she and Netta walked through the streets, read scraps
of conversation between persons on the other side of the street or
passing in carriages.

Another six months and both the doctor and Professor Menzel said that
they could do nothing more for her. She was still somewhat hard of
hearing; but not enough so to be noticeable; while she could with her
eyes follow the most rapid speaker, and the Professor expressed his
regret that so excellent an example of the benefit of his system should
not be in circumstances that would compel her to make a living by
becoming a teacher in it. Netta was now a paid assistant at the
institution.

The end of what had been a very happy time to Hilda came abruptly and
sadly, for three weeks before the date when her parents were to come
over to take her home, Miss Purcell, on opening a letter that came just
as they had finished breakfast, said, after sitting silent for a few
minutes, "You need not put on your things, Hilda; you cannot go to
school this morning; I have some bad news, dear--very bad news."

The tone of voice in which she spoke, even more than the words, sent a
chill into the girl's heart.

"What is it, aunt?" she said, for she had from the first used the same
term as Netta in addressing her.

"Your father has had a serious illness, my dear--a very, very serious
and sudden illness, and your mother wishes you to go home at once."

Hilda looked at her with frightened, questioning eyes, while every
vestige of color left her cheeks. "Is he--is he----" she asked.

"Here is an inclosure for you," Miss Purcell said, as she got up, and
taking Hilda's hand in one of hers drew her with the other arm close to
her; "your mother wrote to me that I might prepare you a little before
giving it to you. A terrible misfortune has happened. Your dear father
is dead. He died suddenly of an affection of the heart."

"Oh, no, no; it cannot be!" Hilda cried.

"It is true, my dear. God has taken him. You must be strong and brave,
dear, for your mother's sake."

"Oh, my poor mother, my poor mother!" Hilda cried, bursting into a
sudden flood of tears, "what will she do!"

It was not until some time afterwards that she was sufficiently composed
to read her mother's letter, which caused her tears to flow afresh.
After giving the details of her father's death, it went on:

"I have written to your uncle, General Mathieson, who is, I know,
appointed one of the trustees, and is joined with me as your guardian. I
have asked him to find and send over a courier to fetch you home, and no
doubt he will arrive a day or two after you receive this letter. So
please get everything ready to start at once, when he comes."

Two days later General Mathieson himself arrived, accompanied by a
courier. It was a great comfort to Hilda that her uncle had come for her
instead of a stranger.

"It is very kind of you to come yourself, uncle," she said as she threw
herself crying into his arms.

"Of course I should come, dear," he said. "Who should fetch you except
your uncle? I had to bring a courier with me, for I don't understand any
of their languages, and he will take all trouble off my hands. Now let
me look at your face." It was a pale, sad little face that was lifted
up, but two days of sorrow had not obliterated the signs of health and
well-being.

"Whiter than it ought to be," he said, "but clear and healthy, and very
different from what it was when I saw you before you came out. You have
grown wonderfully, child. Really, I should hardly have known you again."

And so he kept on for two or three minutes, to allow her to recover
herself.

"Now, dear, you must take me in and introduce me to your kind friends
here."

Hilda led the way into the sitting room.

"I have heard so much of you and your niece, Miss Purcell," he said as
he shook hands with her, "that I do do not feel that you are a stranger.
You certainly seem to have worked wonders between you for my niece, and
I must own that in the first place I thought it a mistake her being here
by herself, for I had no belief that either her hearing would be
restored or that she would ever be able to follow what people were
saying by only staring at their lips."

"Yes, indeed, Hanover has agreed with her, sir, and it is only a small
part of the credit that is due to us."

"I must differ from you entirely, madam. If she had not been perfectly
happy here with you, she would never have got on as she has done."

"Have you any luggage, sir? Of course you will stay with us to-night."

"No, thank you, Miss Purcell. We have already been to the Kaiserhof, and
long before this my courier will have taken rooms and made every
preparation for me. You see, I am accustomed to smoke at all times, and
could not think of scenting a house, solely inhabited by ladies, with
tobacco. Now, if you will excuse me, I will ask Hilda to put on her
bonnet and take a stroll with me."

"I shall be very glad for her to do so. It is just getting cool and
pleasant for walking, and half an hour in the fresh air will do her
good."

It was an hour before they returned. General Mathieson had gently told
her all there was to tell of her father's death, and turning from that
he spoke of her mother, and how nobly she was bearing her troubles, and
erelong her tears, which had burst out anew, flowed more quietly, and
she felt comforted. Presently she said suddenly:

"What is going to be done here, uncle? I have been thinking over that
ever since it was settled that I was to come home next month, and I am
sure that, although she has said nothing about it, Miss Purcell has felt
the change that is coming. She said the other day, 'I shall not go back
to the apartments where you found us, Hilda. You see, we are a great
deal better off than we were before. In the first place I have had
nothing whatever to spend, and during the four years the ridiculously
liberal sum paid to Netta and myself has been all laid aside and has
mounted up to six hundred pounds. My pension of eighty pounds a year has
also accumulated, with the exception of a small sum required for our
clothes, so that in fact I have nearly a thousand pounds laid by. Netta
is earning thirty pounds a year at the Institute; with that and my
pension and the interest on money saved we shall get on very
comfortably.' I should not like, uncle, to think of them in a little
stuffy place in the town. Having a nice garden and everything
comfortable has done a great deal for Miss Purcell. Netta told me that
she was very delicate before, and that she is quite a different woman
since she came out here from the town. You cannot tell how kind she has
always been. If I had been her own child, she could not have been more
loving. In fact, no one could have told by her manner that she was not
my mother and Netta my sister."

"Yes, dear, I ran down to your mother before starting to fetch you to
help in the arrangements, and she spoke about Miss Purcell. Under
ordinary circumstances, of course, at the end of the four years that you
have been here the house would be given up and she would, as you say, go
into a much smaller place; but your mother does not consider that these
are ordinary circumstances, and thinks that her care and kindness have
had quite as much to do with the improvement in your health as has the
doctor. Of course we had no time to come to any definite plan, but she
has settled that things are to go on here exactly as at present, except
that your friend Netta will not be paid for acting as companion to you.
I am to tell Miss Purcell that with that exception everything is to go
on as before, and that your mother will need a change, and will probably
come out here in a month or so for some time."

"Does she really mean that, uncle?"

"Certainly, and the idea is an excellent one. After such a shock as she
has had an entire change of scene will be most valuable; and as she
knows Miss Purcell well, and you like the place very much, I don't think
that any better plan could be hit upon. I dare say she will stay here
two or three months, and you can continue your studies. At the end of
that time I have no doubt some plan that will give satisfaction to all
parties will be hit upon."

Hilda returned to Hanover with her mother a month later. At the end of
three months Mrs. Covington bought the house and presented the deeds to
Miss Purcell, who had known nothing whatever of her intentions.

"I could not think of accepting it," she exclaimed.

"But you cannot help accepting it, dear Miss Purcell; here are the deeds
in your name. The house will be rather large for you at present, but in
a few years, indeed in two or three years, Netta could begin to take a
few pupils. As soon as she is ready to do so I shall, of course, mention
it among my friends, and be able to send a few children, whose parents
would be ready to pay well to have them taught this wonderful method of
brightening their lives, which is at present quite unknown in England."

So it was arranged; but a few months after her return to England Mrs.
Covington, who had never altogether recovered from the shock of her
husband's death, died after a short illness, and Hilda became an inmate
of her uncle's house. Since that time three years had elapsed, and Hilda
was now eighteen, and Netta was over for a two months' visit.

The scene in the grounds of Lady Moulton's charming villa at Richmond, a
fortnight after the conversation between that lady and Hilda, was a gay
one. Everyone in society had been invited and there were but few
refusals; the weather was lovely, and all agreed that even at Ascot the
costumes were not brighter or more varied.

Although the fête was especially on behalf of a charity, no admission
fees were charged to guests, but everyone understood that it would be
his duty to lay out money at the various picturesque tents scattered
about under the trees. In these were all the most popular entertainers
of the day. In one pavilion John Parry gave a short entertainment every
half-hour. In a larger one Mario, Grisi, Jenny Lind, and Alboni gave
short concerts, and high as were the prices of admission, there was
never a seat vacant. Conjurers had a tent, electro-biologists--then the
latest rage from the United States--held their séances, and at some
distance from the others Richardson's booth was in full swing. The
Grenadiers' band and a string band played alternately.

Not the least attraction to many was the gypsy tent erected at the edge
of a thick shrubbery, for it soon became rumored that the old gypsy
woman there was no ordinary impostor, but really possessed of
extraordinary powers of palmistry. Everything had been done to add to
the air of mystery pervading the place. Externally it was but a long,
narrow marquee. On entering, the inquirer was shown by an attendant to a
seat in an apartment carpeted in red, with black hangings and black
cloth lining the roof. From this hung a lamp, all other light being
excluded. As each visitor came out from the inner apartment the next in
order was shown in, and the heavy curtains shut off all sound of what
was passing. Here sat an apparently aged gypsy on an old stump of a
tree. A fire burned on the ground and a pot was suspended by a tripod
over it; a hood above this carried the smoke out of the tent. The
curtains here were red; the roof, as in the other compartment, black,
but sprinkled with gold and silver stars. A stool was placed for the
visitor close enough to the gypsy for the latter to examine her hand by
the light of two torches, which were fastened to a rough sapling stuck
in the ground.

Hilda possessed every advantage for making the most of the situation.
Owing to her intimacy with Lady Moulton, and her experience for a year
in the best London society, she knew all its gossip, while she had
gathered much more than others knew from the conversations both of the
dancers and the lookers-on.

The first to enter was a young man who had been laughingly challenged by
the lady he was walking with to go in and have his fortune told.

"Be seated, my son," the old woman said; "give me your hand and a piece
of money."

With a smile he handed her half a sovereign. She crossed his palm with
it and then proceeded attentively to examine the lines.

"A fair beginning," she said, "and then troubles and difficulties. Here
I see that, some three years back, there is the mark of blood; you won
distinction in war. Then there is a cross-mark which would show a
change. Some good fortune befell you. Then the lines darken. Things go
from bad to worse as they proceed. You took to a vice--cards or
horse-racing. Here are evil associates, but there is a white line that
runs through them. There is a girl somewhere, with fair hair and blue
eyes, who loves you, and whom you love, and whose happiness is imperiled
by this vice and these associates. Beyond, there is another cross-line
and signs of a conflict. What happens after will depend upon yourself.
Either the white line and the true love will prove too powerful for the
bad influences or these will end in ruin and--ah! sudden and violent
death. Your future, therefore, depends upon yourself, and it is for you
to say which influence must triumph. That is all."

Without a word he went out.

"You look pale, Mr. Desmond," the lady said when he rejoined her. "What
has she told you?"

"I would rather not tell you, Mrs. Markham," he said seriously. "I
thought it was going to be a joke, but it is very far from being one.
Either the woman is a witch or she knew all about me personally, which
is barely within the limits of possibility. At any rate she has given me
something to think of."

"I will try myself," the lady said; "it is very interesting."

"I should advise you not to," he said earnestly.

"Nonsense!" she laughed; "I have no superstitions. I will go in and hear
what she has to say." And leaving him, she entered the tent.

The gypsy examined her hand in silence. "I would rather not tell you
what I see," she said as she dropped the hand. "Oh, ridiculous!" the
lady exclaimed. "I have crossed your palm with gold, and I expect to get
my money's worth," and she held out her hand again.

The gypsy again examined it.

"You stand at the crossing of the ways. There are two men--one dark,
quiet, and earnest, who loves you. You love him, but not as he loves
you; but your line of life runs smoothly until the other line, that of a
brown man, becomes mixed up in it. He loves you too, with a hot,
passionate love that would soon fade. You had a letter from him a day or
two back. Last night, as he passed you in a dance, he whispered, 'I have
not had an answer,' and the next time he passed you, you replied, 'You
must give me another day or two.' Upon the answer you give the future of
your life will depend. Here is a broad, fair line, and here is a short,
jagged one, telling of terrible troubles and misery. It is for you to
decide which course is to be yours."

As she released her hold of the hand it dropped nerveless. The gypsy
poured out a glass of water from a jug by her side, but her visitor
waved it aside, and with a great effort rose to her feet, her face as
pale as death.

"My God!" she murmured to herself, "this woman is really a witch."

"They do not burn witches now," the gypsy said; "I only read what I see
on the palm. You cannot deny that what I have said is true. Stay a
moment and drink a glass of wine; you need it before you go out."

She took a bottle of wine from behind her seat, emptied the water on to
the earth, half filled a tumbler, and held it out. The frightened woman
felt that indeed she needed it before going out into the gay scene, and
tossed it off.

"Thank you!" she said. "Whoever you are, I thank you. You have read my
fate truly, and have helped me to decide it."

Desmond was waiting for her when she came out, but she passed him with a
gesture.

"You are right!" she said. "She is a witch indeed!"

Few other stories told were as tragic, but in nearly every case the
visitors retired puzzled at the knowledge the gypsy possessed of their
life and surroundings, and it soon became rumored that the old woman's
powers were something extraordinary, and the little ante-room was kept
filled with visitors waiting their turn for an audience. No one noticed
the long and frequent absences of Hilda Covington from the grounds. The
tent had been placed with its back hiding a small path through the
shrubbery. Through a peep-hole arranged in the curtain she was able to
see who was waiting, and each time before leaving said a few words as to
their lives which enabled Netta to support the character fairly. When
the last guest had departed and she joined Lady Moulton, she handed over
a bag containing nearly a hundred pounds.

"I have deducted five pounds for the gypsy," she said, "and eight pounds
for the hire of the tent and its fittings."

"That is at least five times as much as I expected, Hilda. I have heard
all sorts of marvelous stories of the power of your old woman. Several
people told me that she seemed to know all about them, and told them
things that they believed were only known to themselves. But how did she
get so much money?"

Hilda laughed. "I hear that they began with half-sovereigns, but as soon
as they heard of her real powers, they did not venture to present her
with anything less than a sovereign, and in a good many cases they gave
more--no doubt to propitiate her into giving them good fortunes. You
see, each visitor only had two or three minutes' interview, so that she
got through from twenty to thirty an hour; and as it lasted four hours
she did exceedingly well."

"But who is the gypsy, and where did you find her?"

"The gypsy has gone, and is doubtless by this time in some caravan or
gypsy tent. I do not think that you will ever find her again."

"I should have suspected that you played the gypsy yourself, Hilda, were
it not that I saw you half a dozen times."

"I have no skill in palmistry," the girl laughed, "and certainly have
not been in two places at once. I did my duty and heard Jenny Lind sing
and Parry play, though I own that I did not patronize Richardson's
booth."

"Well, it is extraordinary that this old woman should know the history
of such a number of people as went into her tent, few of whom she could
ever have heard of even by name, to say nothing of knowing them by
sight."

Several ladies called within the next few days, specially to inquire
from Lady Moulton about the gypsy.

"Everyone is talking about her," one said. "Certainly she told me
several things about the past that it was hardly possible that a woman
in her position could know. I have often heard that gypsies pick up
information from servants, or in the country from village gossip; but at
least a hundred people visited this woman's tent, and from what I hear
everyone was as astonished as I was myself at her knowledge of their
family matters. It is said that in some cases she went farther than
this, and told them things about the present known only to themselves
and two or three intimate friends. Some of them seemed to have been
quite seriously affected. I saw Mrs. Markham just after she had left the
tent, and she was as white as a sheet, and I know she drove away a few
minutes afterwards."

To all inquiries Lady Moulton simply replied:

"I know no more about the gypsy than you do. Miss Covington took the
entire management of the gypsy tent off my hands, saw to the tent being
erected, and engaged the gypsy. Where she picked her up I have no idea,
but I fancy that she must have got her from their encampment on Ham
Common. She turned the matter off when I asked her point-blank, and I
imagine that she must have given the old crone a promise not to let it
be known who she was. They are curious people, the gypsies, and for
aught I know may have an objection to any of the tribe going to a
gathering like ours to tell fortunes."

Some appeals were made to Hilda personally; but Lady Moulton had told
her the answer she had given, and taking her cue from it she was able to
so shape her replies that her questioners left her convinced that she
had really, while carrying out Lady Moulton's instructions, lighted on a
gypsy possessing some of the secrets of the almost forgotten science of
palmistry.



CHAPTER V.

A GAMBLING DEN.


In a corner of one of the winding courts that lie behind Fleet Street
stood a dingy-looking house, the lamp over the door bearing the words,
"Billiards and Pool." During the daytime no one would be seen to enter
save between the hours of twelve and two, when perhaps a dozen young
fellows, after eating a frugal lunch, would resort there to pass their
hour out of office in smoking and a game of billiards. Of an evening,
however, there were lights in every window, and the click of balls could
be heard from the ground floor and that above it. In each of these there
were two tables, and the play continued uninterruptedly from seven until
eleven or half-past.

The lights on the second floor, however, often burned until two or three
o'clock in the morning, and it was here that the proprietor reaped by
far the larger proportion of his profits. While the billiard-room
windows generally stood open, those of the large room on the second
floor were never raised, and when the lights below were extinguished,
heavy curtains were dropped across the windows to keep both the light
and the sounds within from being seen or heard in the court below. Here
was a large roulette table, while along the sides of the room were
smaller tables for those who preferred other games. Here almost every
evening some thirty or forty men assembled. Of these, perhaps a third
were clerks or shop assistants, the remainder foreigners of almost every
nationality. Betting lists were exposed at one end of the room.
Underneath these a bookmaker had a small table, and carried on his
trade.

In 1851 there were a score of such places in the neighborhood of the
Strand and Fleet Street, but few did a larger business than this. It was
generally understood that Wilkinson, the proprietor, had been a soldier;
but the belief originated rather from his upright carriage and a certain
soldierly walk than from anything he had himself said, and he was not
the sort of man whom even the most regular of the frequenters of his
establishment cared to question. He was a tall man, some five-and-forty
years of age, taciturn in speech, but firm in manner while business was
going on. He kept admirable order in the place. He was generally to be
found in the room on the second floor, but when a whistle blew, and one
of the markers whispered up a speaking-tube that there was a dispute
going on between the players or lookers-on, he was at once upon the
spot.

"Now, gentlemen," he would say, interposing between them, "you know the
rules of this establishment; the marker's decision on all points
connected with the game is final, and must be accepted by both parties.
I will have no quarrels or disputes here, and anyone making a row goes
straight out into the street, and never comes in here again."

In the vast majority of cases this settled the matter; but when the men
were flushed with liquor, and inclined to continue the dispute, they
were seized by the collar by Wilkinson's strong arm and were summarily
ejected from the house. In the inner room he preserved order as
strictly, but had much more difficulty in doing so among the foreign
element. Here quarrels were not uncommon, and knives occasionally drawn;
but Wilkinson was a powerful man and a good boxer, and a flush hit from
the shoulder always settled the business.

But though stern in the management of his establishment, Wilkinson was
popular among its frequenters. He was acquainted with most of their
callings and business. Indeed, none were admitted to the upper room
unless well introduced by _habitués_, or until he had made private
inquiries concerning them. Thus he knew among the foreigners whom he
could trust, and how far, when, after a run of ill luck, they came to
him and asked him for a loan, he could venture to go.

With the English portion of his customers he was still more liberal. He
knew that he should not be a loser from transactions with them; they
must repay him, for were it known to their employers that they were in
the habit of gambling, it would mean instant dismissal. There were among
them several lawyers' clerks, some of whom were, in comparison with
their means, deeply in debt to him. One or other of those he would often
invite up to his private room on the floor above, where a bottle of good
wine would be on the table, a box of excellent cigars beside it, and
here they would chat more or less comfortably until the roulette room
opened.

Mr. Wilkinson made no pretense that these meetings were simply for the
purpose of drinking his wine and smoking his cigars. "I am a
straightforward man," he would say, "and business is business. I oblige
you, and I expect you to oblige me. I have always had a fancy that there
is money to be made in connection with lawyers' businesses. There are
missing heirs to be hunted up; there are provisos in deeds, of whose
existence some one or other would give a good deal to know. Now, I am
sure that you are not in a position to pay me the amount I have lent
you, and for which I hold your I. O. U.'s. I have no idea of pressing
you for the money, and shall be content to let it run on so long as you
will let me know what is being done at your office. The arrangement is
that you will tell me anything that you think can be used to advantage,
and if money is made out of any information you may give me, I will
engage to pay you a third of what it brings in. Now, I call that a fair
bargain. What do you say?"

In some cases the offer was closed with at once; in others it was only
agreed to after threats that the debt must be at once paid or an
application would be made forthwith. So far the gambling-house keeper's
expectations had not met with the success he had looked for. He had
spent a good deal of time in endeavoring to find the descendants of
persons who stood in the direct line of succession to properties, but of
whom all clew had been lost. He had indeed obtained an insight into
various family differences that had enabled him to successfully extort
blackmail, but his gains in this way had not, so far, recouped him for
the sums he had, as he considered, invested in the speculation.

He was, however, a patient man, and felt, no doubt, that sooner or later
he should be able to make a coup that would set him up for life. Still
he was disappointed; his idea had been the one held by many ignorant
persons, that lawyers are as a class ready to resort to tricks of all
kinds, in the interests of their clients or themselves. He had found
that he had been altogether wrong, and that although there were a few
firms which, working in connection with money-lenders, financial agents,
and the lowest class of bill discounters, were mixed up in transactions
of a more or less shady character, these were the black sheep of the
profession, and that in the vast majority of cases the business
transacted was purely technical and connected with the property of their
clients. Nevertheless, he took copious notes of all he learned,
contending that there was no saying what might come in useful some day.

"Well, Dawkins," he said one day to a dark-haired young fellow with a
handsome face that already showed traces of the effect of late hours and
dissipation, "I suppose it is the usual thing; the lawsuit as to the
right of way at Brownsgrove is still going on, the settlements in Mr.
Cochrane's marriage to Lady Gertrude Ivory are being drawn up, and other
business of the same sort. You never give me a scrap of information that
is of the slightest use. I am afraid that your firm is altogether too
eminently respectable to have anything to do with doubtful
transactions."

"I told you so from the first, Wilkinson; that whatever your game might
be, there would be nothing in our office that could be of the least use
to you, even if you had copies of every deed drawn up in it. Ours is
what you might call a family business. Our clients have for the most
part dealt with the firm for the last hundred years; that is to say,
their families have. We have drawn their wills, their marriage
settlements, their leases, and done everything relating to their
property for years and years. My own work for the last two or three days
has been drafting and engrossing the will of a General Mathieson, whose
father and grandfather were our clients before him."

"Mathieson--he is an old Indian officer, isn't he, if it is the man I
mean? He was in command at Benares twenty years ago. He was a handsome
man, then, about my height and build."

"Yes, I have no doubt that is the man--John Le Marchand Mathieson."

"That is him. He was very popular with the troops. He used to spend a
good deal of money in improving their rations and making them
comfortable. Had a first-rate stable, and they used to say he was a rich
man. Anyhow, he spent a good deal more than his pay."

"Yes, he was a second son, but his elder brother died, and he came into
the property; but instead of coming home to enjoy it he stopped out in
India for years after he came into it."

"He had a daughter, quite a little girl, in those days; her mother died
out there. I suppose she inherits his property?"

"Well, no; she married some time back; she and her husband are both
dead, and their son, a boy, six or seven years old, lives with the old
man."

"How much does he leave?"

"Something over a hundred thousand pounds. At least I know that that is
about the value of the estates, for we have always acted as his agents,
collected the rents, and so on."

"I should like to see a copy of his will," Wilkinson said, after sitting
for some time silent. "I don't want all the legal jargon, but just the
list of the legacies."

"I can easily jot those down for you. The property goes to the grandson,
and if he dies before coming of age, to a niece, Hilda Covington, who is
his ward and lives with him. He leaves her beside only five hundred
pounds, because she is herself an heiress. There are a score of small
legacies, to old servants, soldiers, widows, and people of that sort."

"Well, you may as well give me the list entire."

Dawkins shrugged his shoulders.

"Just as you like," he said; "the will was signed yesterday, but I have
the note of instructions still by me, and will bring round the list
to-morrow evening; though, upon my word, I don't see what interest it
can possibly have for you."

"I don't know myself," the other said shortly, "but there is never any
saying."

After talking for a few minutes on other subjects he said, "The room is
open downstairs now, Dawkins, and as we have finished the bottle I will
not keep you any longer. In fact, the name of that old General has
called up some queer memories of old times, and I should like to think
them over."

When the clerk had left, Wilkinson sat for a long time in thought.

"It is a great idea," he murmured to himself at last; "it will want a
tremendous lot of planning to arrange it all, and of course it is
tremendously risky. Still, it can be done, and the stake is worth trying
for, even if it would be seven years' transportation if anything went
wrong. In the first place I have to get some proofs of my identity. I
own that I have neglected my family scandalously," and his face, which
had been stern and hard, softened into a smile. "Then, of course, I must
establish myself in chambers in the West End, and as I have three or
four thousand pounds in hand I can carry on for two or three years, if
necessary. At the worst the General is likely to add me to his list of
legatees, but of course that would scarcely be worth playing for alone.
The will is the thing. I don't see my way to that, but it is hard if it
can't be managed somehow. The child is, of course, an obstacle, but that
can certainly be got over, and as I don't suppose the old man is going
to die at present I have time to make my plans. When I see how matters
go I can put my hand on a man who could be relied on to help me carry
out anything I might put in his way. Well, I always thought that I
should hit on something good through these young scamps who come here,
but this is a bigger thing than I ever dreamed of. It will certainly be
a difficult game to play, but, knocking about all over the world as I
have been for fifteen years before I came back and set up this show, I
think that I have learned enough to pass muster anywhere."

Somewhat to the surprise of the _habitués_ of the room below it was
nearly eleven o'clock before the proprietor made his appearance there,
and even when he did so he took little interest in what was going on,
but moved restlessly from one room to another, smoking cigar after cigar
without intermission, and acknowledging but briefly the greetings of
those who were the most regular frequenters of his establishment.

Two days later the following advertisement appeared, not only in the
London papers, but in a large number of country journals:

     "JOHN SIMCOE: Any relatives of John Simcoe, who left England about
     the year 1830 or 1831, and is supposed to have been lost at sea in
     the Bay of Bengal, in the ship _Nepaul_, in December, 1832, are
     requested to communicate with J. W. Thompson & Co., Newspaper
     Agents, Fleet Street, when they will hear of something to their
     advantage."

Only one reply was received. It was dated "Myrtle Cottage, Stowmarket,"
and was as follows:

     "SIR: A friend has shown me the advertisement in the Ipswich paper,
     which must, I think, refer to my nephew, who left here twenty years
     ago. I received a letter from him dated December 2, 1832, from
     Calcutta, saying that he was about to sail for China in the
     _Nepaul_. I never heard from him again, but the Rector here kindly
     made some inquiries for me some months afterwards, and learned
     that the vessel had never been heard of after sailing, but was
     believed to have foundered with all hands in a great gale that took
     place a few days after she sailed. So far as I know I am his only
     relative. Awaiting a further communication from you,

     "I remain,
     "Your obedient servant,
     "MARTHA SIMCOE."

Great was the excitement caused by the advertisement at Myrtle Cottage.
Miss Simcoe, who with a tiny servant was the sole inmate of the cottage,
had called together all her female acquaintances, and consulted them as
to what the advertisement could mean, and as to the way in which she
should answer it.

"Do you think it would be safe to reply at all?" she inquired anxiously.
"You see, my nephew John was a very wild young fellow. I do not mean as
to his conduct here; no one could say anything against that. He was a
clerk in the bank, you know, and, I believe, was very well thought of;
but when his father died, and he came into two thousand pounds, it
seemed to turn his head. I know that he never liked the bank; he had
always wanted to be either a soldier or a sailor, and directly he got
the money he gave up his situation at the bank, and nothing would do but
that he must travel. Everyone told him that it was madness; his Aunt
Maria--poor soul, you all knew her--and I cried over it, but nothing
would move him. A fine-looking fellow he was, as some of you will
remember, standing six feet high, and, as everyone said, looking more
like a soldier officer than a clerk at a bank.

"We asked him what he would do when his money was gone, but he laughed
it off, and said that there were plenty of things for a man to do with a
pair of strong arms. He said that he might enter the service of some
Indian prince, or marry the daughter of a black king, or discover a
diamond mine, and all sorts of nonsense of that sort. He bought such an
outfit as you never did see--guns and pistols and all sorts of things;
and as for clothes, why, a prince could not have wanted more. Shirts by
the dozen, my dear; and I should say eight or ten suits of white
clothes, which I told him would make him look like a cricketer or a
baker. Why, it took three big trunks to hold all his things. But I will
say for him that he wrote regular, either to me or to my sister Maria.
Last time he wrote he said that he had been attacked by a tiger, but had
got well again and was going to China, though what he wanted to go there
for I am sure I don't know. He could not want to buy teacups and
saucers; they would only get broken sending home. Well, his death was a
great blow to us."

"I don't know whether I should answer the advertisement, Miss Simcoe,"
one of her friends said. "There is no saying what it might mean. Perhaps
he got into debt in India, and the people think that they might get paid
if they can find out his relations here."

The idea came like a douche of cold water upon the little gathering.

"But the advertisement says, 'will hear of something to their
advantage,' Mrs. Maberley," Miss Simcoe urged timidly.

"Oh, that is nothing, my dear. That may be only a lawyer's trick; they
are capable of anything, I have heard."

"But they could not make Miss Simcoe pay," another urged; "it seems to
me much more likely that her nephew may have left some of his money in
the hands of a banker at Calcutta, and now that it has been so many
years unclaimed they are making inquiries to see who is his heir. That
seems much more likely."

A murmur of assent ran round the circle, and after much discussion the
answer was drafted, and Miss Simcoe, in a fever of anxiety, awaited the
reply.

Two days later a tall, well-dressed man knocked at the door of Myrtle
Cottage. It was a loud, authoritative knock, such as none of Miss
Simcoe's usual visitors gave.

"It must be about the advertisement," she exclaimed.

The little servant had been enjoined to wear her Sunday clothes in case
a visitor should come, and after a hasty glance to see if she was tidy,
Miss Simcoe sat down in her little parlor, and tried to assume an
appearance of calmness. The front door opened, and a man's voice
inquired, "Is Miss Simcoe in?" Then the parlor door opened and the
visitor entered, pushing past the girl, who had been instructed how to
announce him in proper form, and exclaiming, "My dear Aunt Martha,"
fairly lifted the astonished old lady from her seat and kissed her.

"Dear me! Dear me!" she gasped, as he put her on her feet again, "can it
be that you are my nephew John?"

"Why, don't you know me, aunt? Twenty years of knocking about have
changed me sadly, I am afraid, but surely you must remember me."

"Ye--es," she said doubtfully, "yes, I think that I remember you. But,
you see, we all thought that you were dead; and I have only got that
likeness of you that was cut out in black paper by a man who came round
when you were only eighteen, and somehow I have always thought of you as
like that."

"Yes, I remember," he laughed. "Well, aunt, I have changed since then,
there is no doubt. So you see I was not drowned, after all. I was picked
up by a passing ship, clinging to a spar, but I lost all my money in the
wreck of the _Nepaul_. I shipped before the mast. We traded among the
islands for some months, then I had a row with the captain and ran away,
and threw in my lot with the natives, and I have been knocking about in
the East ever since, and have come back with enough to live on
comfortably, and to help you, if you need it."

"Poor Maria died four years ago," she said tearfully. "It would have
been a happiness to her indeed, poor creature, if you had come back
before."

"I am sorry indeed to hear that," he replied. "Then you are living here
all alone, aunt?"

"Yes, except for my little maid. You see, John, Maria and I laid out the
money our father left us in life annuities, and as long as we lived
together we did very comfortably. Since then, of course, I have had to
draw in a little, but I manage very nicely."

"Well, well, aunt, there will be no occasion for you to stint yourself
any more. As I said, I have come home with my purse warmly lined, and I
shall make you an allowance of fifty pounds a year. You were always very
kind to me as a boy, and I can very well afford it, and I dare say it
will make all the difference to you."

"My dear John, I could not think of taking such a sum from you."

"Pooh, pooh, aunt! What is the use of money if one cannot use it to make
one's friends comfortable? So that is settled, and I won't have anything
more said about it."

The old lady wiped her eyes. "It is good of you, John, and it will
indeed make all the difference to me. It will almost double my income,
and I shan't have to look at every halfpenny before I spend it."

"That is all right, aunt; now let us sit down comfortably to chat about
old times. You don't mind my smoking, I hope?"

Miss Simcoe, for almost the first time in her life, told a lie. "Not at
all, John; not at all. Now, how was it that you did not come down
yourself instead of putting in an advertisement, which I should never
have seen if my friend Mrs. Maberley had not happened to notice it in
the paper which she takes in regularly, and brought it in to show me?"

"Well, I could not bring myself to come down, aunt. Twenty years make
great changes, and it would have been horrible to have come down here
and found that you had all gone, and that I was friendless in the place
where I had been brought up as a boy. I thought that, by my putting it
into a local paper, someone who had known me would be sure to see it.
Now let me hear about all the people that I knew."

John Simcoe stayed for three days quietly at the cottage. The news of
his return spread rapidly, and soon many of the friends that had known
him came to welcome him. His aunt had told her own circle of her
nephew's wealth and liberality, and through them the news that John
Simcoe had returned home a wealthy man was imparted to all their
acquaintances. Some of his old friends declared that they should have
known him anywhere; others said frankly that now they knew who he was
they saw the likeness, but that if they had met him anywhere else they
did not think they should have recognized him.

John Simcoe's memory had been greatly refreshed by his aunt's incessant
talk about his early days and doings, and as his visitors were more
anxious to hear of his adventures abroad than to talk of the days long
past, he had no difficulty whatever in satisfying all as to his
identity, even had not the question been settled by his liberality to
his aunt, from whom no return whatever could possibly be expected. When
he left he handed her fifty pounds in gold.

"I may as well give you a year's money at once," he said; "I am a
careless man, and might forget to send it quarterly."

"Where can I write to you, John?" she asked.

"I cannot give you an address at present," he said; "I have only been
stopping at a hotel until I could find chambers to suit me. Directly I
do so I will drop you a line. I shall always be glad to hear of you, and
will run down occasionally to see you and have a chat again with some of
my old friends."

The return of John Simcoe served Stowmarket as a subject for
conversation for some time. He had spent his money generously while
there, and had given a dinner at the principal hotel to a score of those
with whom he had been most intimate when a boy. Champagne had flowed in
unstinted abundance, and it was generally voted that he was a capital
fellow, and well deserved the good fortune that had attended him. In the
quiet Suffolk town the tales of the adventures that he had gone through
created quite a sensation, and when repeated by their fathers set half
the boys of the place wild with a desire to imitate his example, and to
embark in a life which was at once delightful, and ended in acquiring
untold wealth. On leaving he pressed several of them, especially one who
had been a fellow-clerk with him at the bank, and was now its manager,
to pay him a visit whenever they came to town.

"I expect to be in diggings of my own in a week or two," he said, "and
shall make a point of having a spare bed, to put up a friend at any
time."

[Illustration: "YOU DON'T REMEMBER ME, GENERAL?"--_Page 65._]



CHAPTER VI.

JOHN SIMCOE.


General Mathieson was on the point of going out for a drive with his
niece, who was buttoning her glove, when a servant entered the drawing
room and said that a gentleman wished to speak to him.

"Who is he? Did he give you his name or say what was his business?"

"No, sir. I have not seen him before. He merely asked me to give you his
message."

"I suppose I had better see him, Hilda."

"Well, uncle, I will get out of the way and go downstairs when he has
come in. Don't let him keep you, for you know that when I have put you
down at your club I have an engagement to take Lina Crossley to do some
shopping first, and then for a drive in the park."

"I don't suppose that he will be five minutes, whoever he is."

Hilda slipped away just in time to avoid the visitor. As the manservant
opened the door the General looked with some interest at the stranger,
for such it seemed to him his visitor was. He was a tall man, well
dressed, and yet without the precision that would mark him as being a
member of a good club or an _habitué_ of the Row.

"You don't remember me, General?" he said, with a slight smile.

"I cannot say that I do," the General replied. "Your face does not seem
unfamiliar to me, though I cannot at the present moment place it."

"It is rather an uncommon name," the visitor said; "but I am not
surprised that you do not remember it or me, for it is some twenty years
since we met. My name is Simcoe."

"Twenty years!" the General repeated. "Then it must have been in India,
for twenty years ago I was in command of the Benares district. Simcoe!"
he broke off excitedly. "Of course I knew a gentleman of that name who
did me an inestimable service; in fact, he saved my life."

"I don't know that it was as much as that, but at least I saved you from
being mauled by a tiger."

"Bless me!" the General exclaimed, taking a step forward, "and you are
the man. I recognize you now, and had I not believed that you had been
lost at sea within a month after you had saved my life I should have
known you at once, though, of course, twenty years have changed you a
good deal. My dear sir, I am happy indeed to know that the report was a
false one, and to meet you again." And he shook hands with his visitor
with the greatest warmth.

"I am not surprised that you did not recognize me," the latter said; "I
was but twenty-five then, and have been knocking about the world ever
since, and have gone through some very rough times and done some very
hard work. Of course you saw my name among the list of the passengers on
board the _Nepaul_, which went down with, as was supposed, all hands in
that tremendous storm in the Bay of Bengal. Happily, I escaped. I was
washed overboard just as the wreck of the mainmast had been cut away. A
wave carried me close to it; I climbed upon it and lashed myself to
leeward of the top, which sheltered me a good deal. Five days later I
was picked up insensible and was carried to Singapore. I was in hospital
there for some weeks. When I quite recovered, being penniless, without
references or friends, I shipped on board a vessel that was going on a
trading voyage among the islands. I had come out to see the world, and
thought that I might as well see it that way as another. It would take a
long time to relate my after-adventures; suffice it that at last, after
numerous wanderings, I became chief adviser of a powerful chief in
Burmah, and finally have returned home, not exactly a rich man, but with
enough to live upon in more than comfort for the rest of my life."

"How long have you been in London?"

"I have been here but a fortnight; I ran down home to see if I had
relatives living, but found that an old lady was the sole survivor of my
family. I need scarcely say that my first business on reaching London
was to rig myself out in a presentable sort of way, and I may say that
at present I feel very uncomfortable in these garments after being
twenty years without putting on a black coat. I happened the other day
to see your name among those who attended the _levée_, and I said to
myself at once, 'I will call upon the General and see if he has any
remembrances of me.'"

At this moment a servant entered the room with a little note.

     "MY DEAR UNCLE: It is very naughty of you to be so long. I am
     taking the carriage, and have told them to put the other horse into
     the brougham and bring it round for you at once."

For more than an hour the two men sat talking together, and Simcoe, on
leaving, accepted a cordial invitation from the General to dinner on the
following day.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, uncle, who was it?" Hilda asked, when they met in the drawing
room a few minutes before the dinner hour. "You said you would not be
five minutes, and I waited for a quarter of an hour and then lost
patience. I asked when I came in how long he had stayed, and heard that
he did not leave until five o'clock."

"He was a man who had saved my life in India, child."

"Dear me! And have you never heard of him since, uncle?"

"No, dear. I did my best to find out his family, but had no idea of ever
seeing the man himself, for the simple reason that I believed that he
died twenty years ago. He had sailed in a vessel that was reported as
lost with all hands, so you may well imagine my surprise when he told me
who he was."

"Did you recognize him at once, uncle?"

"Not at first. Twenty years is a long time; and he was only about
five-and-twenty when I knew him, and of course he has changed greatly.
However, even before he told me who he was I was able to recall his
face. He was a tall, active young fellow then, and I could certainly
trace the likeness."

"I suppose he was in the army, uncle?"

"No; he was a young Englishman who was making a tour through India. I
was in command at Benares at the time, and he brought me letters of
introduction from a man who had come out in the same ship with him, and
also from a friend of mine in Calcutta. A few days after he arrived I
was on the point of going up with a party to do some tiger-shooting in
the Terai, and I invited him to come with us. He was a pleasant fellow
and soon made himself popular. He never said much about himself, but as
far as I understood him he was not a rich man, but he was spending his
money in seeing the world, with a sort of happy confidence that
something would turn up when his money was gone.

"We were out a week and had fair sport. As you have often heard me say,
I was passionately fond of big-game shooting, and I had had many narrow
escapes in the course of my life, but I never had so narrow a one as
happened to me on that occasion. We had wounded a tiger and had lost
him. We had spent a couple of hours in beating the jungle, but without
success, and had agreed that the brute could not have been hit as hard
as we had believed, but must have made off altogether. We were within
fifty yards of the edge of the jungle, when there was a sudden roar, and
before I could use my rifle the tiger sprang. I was not in a howdah, but
on a pad; and the tiger struck one of its forepaws on my knee. With the
other he clung for a moment to the pad, and then we went down together.
The brute seized me by the shoulder and sprang into the jungle again,
carried me a dozen yards or so, and then lay down, still holding me by
the shoulder.

"I was perfectly sensible, but felt somewhat dazed and stupid; I found
myself vaguely thinking that he must, after all, have been very badly
hit, and, instead of making off, had hid up within a short distance of
the spot where we saw him. I was unable to move hand or foot, for he was
lying on me, and his weight was pressing the life out of me. I know that
I vaguely hoped I should die before he took a bite at my shoulder. I
suppose that the whole thing did not last a minute, though to me it
seemed an interminable time. Suddenly there was a rustling in the bush.
With a deep growl the tiger loosed his hold of my shoulder, and, rising
to his feet, faced half round. What happened after that I only know from
hearsay.

"Simcoe, it seems, was riding in the howdah on an elephant behind mine.
As the tiger sprang at my elephant he fired and hit the beast on the
shoulder. It was that, no doubt, that caused its hold to relax, and
brought us to the ground together. As the tiger sprang with me into the
jungle Simcoe leaped down from the howdah and followed. He had only his
empty rifle and a large hunting-knife. It was no easy work pushing his
way through the jungle, but in a minute he came upon us. Clubbing his
gun, he brought it down on the left side of the tiger's head before the
brute, who was hampered by his broken shoulder, and weak from his
previous wound, could spring. Had it not been that it was the right
shoulder that was broken, the blow, heavy as it was, would have had
little effect upon the brute; as it was, having no support on that side,
it reeled half over and then, with a snarling growl, sprang upon its
assailant. Simcoe partly leaped aside, and striking again with the
barrel of his gun,--the butt had splintered with the first blow,--so far
turned it aside that instead of receiving the blow direct, which would
certainly have broken in his skull, it fell in a slanting direction on
his left shoulder.

"The force was sufficient to knock him down, but, as he fell, he drew
his knife. The tiger had leaped partly beyond him, so that he lay under
its stomach, and it could not for the moment use either its teeth or
claws. The pressure was terrible, but with his last remaining strength
he drove the knife to the full length of its blade twice into the
tiger's body. The animal rolled over for a moment, but there was still
life in it, and it again sprang to its feet, when a couple of balls
struck it in the head, and it fell dead. Three officers had slipped down
from their howdahs when they saw Simcoe rushing into the jungle, and
coming up just in time, they fired, and so finished the conflict.

"There was not much to choose between Simcoe and myself, though I had
certainly got the worst of it. The flesh of his arm had been pretty well
stripped off from the shoulder to the elbow; my shoulder had been
broken, and the flesh torn by the brute's teeth, but as it had not
shifted its hold from the time it first grasped me till it let go to
face Simcoe, it was not so bad as it might have been. But the wound on
the leg was more serious; its claws had struck just above the knee-cap
and had completely torn it off. We were both insensible when we were
lifted up and carried down to the camp. In a fortnight Simcoe was about;
but it was some months before I could walk again, and, as you know, my
right leg is still stiff. I had a very narrow escape of my life; fever
set in, and when Simcoe went down country, a month after the affair, I
was still lying between life and death, and never had an opportunity of
thanking him for the manner in which, practically unarmed, he went in to
face a wounded tiger in order to save my life. You may imagine, then, my
regret when a month later we got the news that the _Nepaul_, in which he
had sailed, had been lost with all hands."

"It was a gallant action indeed, uncle. You told me something about it
soon after I came here, when I happened to ask you how it was that you
walked so stiffly, but you did not tell it so fully. And what is he
going to do now?"

"He is going to settle in London. He has been, as he says, knocking
about in the East ever since, being engaged in all sorts of adventures;
he has been for some time in the service of a native chief some way up
near the borders of Burmah, Siam, and China, and somehow got possession
of a large number of rubies and other precious stones, which he has
turned into money, and now intends to take chambers and settle down to a
quiet life, join a club, and so on. Of course I promised to do all in my
power to further his object, and to introduce him into as much society
as he cared for."

"What is he like, uncle?"

"He is about my height, and I suppose about five-and-forty--though he
looks rather older. No wonder, after such a life as he has led. He
carries himself well, and he is altogether much more presentable than
you would expect under the circumstances. Indeed, had I not known that
he had never served, I should unhesitatingly have put him down as having
been in the army. There is something about the way he carries his
shoulders that you seldom see except among men who have been drilled. He
is coming here to dine to-morrow, so you will see him."

"That relieves me of anxiety, uncle; for you know you had a letter this
morning from Colonel Fitzhugh, saying that he had been unexpectedly
called out of town, and you said that you would ask somebody at the club
to fill his place, but you know you very often forget things that you
ought to remember."

"I certainly had forgotten that when I asked him to come, and as I came
home I blamed myself for not having asked someone else, so as to make up
an even number."

A month later Mr. Simcoe had become an intimate of General Mathieson's
house. It had always been a matter of deep regret to the General that he
had been unable to thank the man who at terrible risk to his life had
saved him from death, and that feeling was heightened when the news came
that his preserver had been drowned, and that the opportunity of doing
so was forever lost. He now spared no pains to further his wishes. He
constantly invited him to lunch or dinner at his club, introduced him to
all his friends in terms of the highest eulogium, and repeated over and
over again the story of his heroic action. As his own club was a
military one he could not propose him there, but he had no difficulty
in getting friends to propose and support him for two other clubs of
good standing.

Several of the officers to whom he introduced Simcoe had been at Benares
at the time he was hurt. These he recognized at once, and was able to
chat with them of their mutual acquaintances, and indeed surprised them
by his knowledge of matters at the station that they would hardly have
thought would be known to one who had made but a short stay there. One
of them said as much, but Simcoe said, laughing, "You forget that I was
laid up for a month. Everyone was very good to me, and I had generally
one or two men sitting with me, and the amount of gossip I picked up
about the station was wonderful. Of course there was nothing else to
talk about; and as I have a good memory, I think I could tell you
something about the private affairs of pretty nearly every civilian and
military man on the station."

Everyone agreed that Simcoe was a very pleasant and amusing companion.
He was full of anecdotes of the wild people that he had lived among and
of the adventures and escapes he had gone through. Although none of the
Benares friends of the General recognized Simcoe when they first met
him, they speedily recalled his features. His instant recognition of
them, his acquaintance with persons and scenes at and around Benares was
such that they never for a moment doubted his identity, and as their
remembrance of the General's visitor returned they even wondered that
their recognition of him had not been as instant as his of them. As to
his means, not even to the General had Simcoe explained his exact
position. He had taken good apartments in Jermyn Street, gave excellent
little dinners there, kept undeniably good wine and equally excellent
cigars, dressed well, and was regarded as being a thoroughly good
fellow.

The General was not a close observer. Had he been so, he would speedily
have noticed that his niece, although always polite and courteous to Mr.
Simcoe, did not receive him with the warmth and pleasure with which she
greeted those who were her favorites. On his part the visitor spared no
pains to make himself agreeable to her; he would at once volunteer to
execute any commission for her if she happened to mention in his
presence anything that she wanted. One evening when she was going to a
ball he sent her an expensive bouquet of flowers. The next day when she
saw him she said:

"I am very much obliged to you for those lovely flowers, and I carried
the bouquet last night, but please do not send any more. I don't think
that it is quite nice to accept presents from anyone except very near
relations. It was very kind of you to think of it, but I would really
rather that you did not do it again. Uncle gives me carte blanche in the
way of flowers, but I do not avail myself of it very largely, for the
scent is apt to make me feel faint, and beyond the smallest spray I
seldom carry any. I made an exception last night, for those you sent me
were most lovely. You don't mind my saying that, do you?"

"Not at all, Miss Covington; and I quite understand what you mean. It
seemed natural to me to send you some flowers. Out in the Pacific
Islands, especially at Samoa and Tahiti, and, indeed, more or less
everywhere, women wear a profusion of flowers in their hair, and no
present is so acceptable to them."

"I fancy flowers do not cost so much there as they do here, Mr. Simcoe?"

"No," the latter laughed; "for half a dollar one can get enough to
render a girl the envy of all others."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I think you were right to ask Mr. Simcoe not to repeat his present,
Hilda," the General said. "I particularly noticed the bouquet that you
carried last night."

"Yes, uncle, there was nothing equal to it in the room; it must have
cost three or four guineas."

"I don't think that you quite like him; do you, Hilda?"

"I like him, uncle, because he saved your life; but in other respects I
do not know that I do like him particularly. He is very pleasant and
very amusing, but I don't feel that I quite understand him."

"How do you mean that you don't understand him?"

"I cannot quite explain, uncle. To begin with, I don't seem to get any
nearer to him--I mean to what he really is. I know more of his
adventures and his life than I did, but I know no more of him himself
than I did three months ago when I first met him at dinner."

"At any rate you know that he is brave," the General said, somewhat
gravely.

"Yes, I know that, of course; but a man can be brave, exceptionally
brave, and yet not possess all other good qualities. He did behave like
a hero in your case, and I need not say that I feel deeply grateful to
him for the service that he rendered you; still, that is the only side
of his nature that I feel certain about."

"Pooh! pooh! Hilda," the General said, with some irritation. "What do
you know about nine-tenths of the men you meet? You cannot even tell
that they are brave."

"No, uncle; I know only the side they choose to present to me, which is
a pleasant side, and I do not care to know more. But it is different in
this case. Mr. Simcoe is here nearly every day; he has become one of our
inner circle; you are naturally deeply interested in him, and I am,
therefore, interested in him also, and want to know more of him than I
have got to know. He is brave and pleasant; is he also honest and
honorable? Is he a man of thoroughly good principles? We know what he
tells us of his life and his adventures, but he only tells us what he
chooses."

The General shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear child, you may say the same thing of pretty nearly every
unmarried man you meet. When a man marries and sets up a household one
does get to know something about him. There are his wife's relations,
who, as a rule, speak with much frankness concerning a man who has
married their daughter, sister, or cousin. But as to bachelors, as a
rule one has to take them at their own valuation. Of course, I know no
more than you do as to whether Simcoe is in all respects an honorable
gentleman. It is quite sufficient that he saved my life, almost at the
sacrifice of his own, and whatever the life he may have led since is no
business of mine. He is distinctly popular among those I have introduced
him to, and is not likely in any way to discredit that introduction."

That Hilda was not entirely satisfied was evident by the letter she
wrote when her uncle had, as usual, gone up one afternoon to his club.

     "MY DEAR NETTA: I have told you several times about the Mr. Simcoe
     who saved uncle's life out in India, and who is so intimate at the
     house. I can't say that either my acquaintance with or my liking
     for him increases. He does not stand the test of the system, and
     the more I watch his lips the less I understand him. He talks
     fluently and quickly, and yet somehow I feel that there is a
     hesitation in his speech, and that his lips are repeating what they
     have learned, and not speaking spontaneously. You know that we have
     noticed the same thing among those who have learned to speak by the
     system but are not yet perfect in it, so I need not explain further
     what I mean, as you will understand it. For example, I can always
     tell at a public meeting, or when listening to a preacher, whether
     he is speaking absolutely extemporarily or whether he has learned
     his speech by heart beforehand.

     "I really strongly misdoubt the man. Of course I know that he saved
     my uncle's life; beyond that I know nothing of him, and it is this
     very feeling that I do know nothing that disquiets me. I can no
     more see into him than I can into a stone wall. I can quite
     understand that it is of very great importance to him to stand well
     with the General. He came here a stranger with a queer history. He
     knew no one; he had money and wanted to get into society. Through
     my uncle he has done so; he has been elected to two clubs, has made
     a great number of acquaintances, goes to the Row, the Royal
     Academy, the theaters, and so on, and is, at any rate, on nodding
     terms with a very large number of people. All this he owes to my
     uncle, and I fail to see what else he can wish for. It would be
     natural with so many other engagements that he should not come to
     us so often as he used to do, but there is no falling off in that
     respect. He is the tame cat of the establishment. I dare say you
     think me silly to worry over such a thing, but I can't help
     worrying. I hate things I don't understand, and I don't understand
     this man.

     "Another thing is, Walter does not like him. He constantly brings
     the child toys, but Walter does not take to him, refuses absolutely
     to sit upon his knee, or to be petted by him in any way. I always
     think that it is a bad sign when a child won't take to a man.
     However, I will not bother you more about it now; I will keep him
     out of my letters as much as I can. I wish I could keep him out of
     my mind also. As I tell myself over and over again, he is nothing
     to me, and whether he possesses all the virtues or none of them is,
     or at any rate should be, a matter of indifference to me. I can't
     help wishing that you had come over here two months later, then I
     should have had the benefit of your advice and opinion, for you
     know, Netta, how accustomed I was for years to consider you almost,
     if not quite, infallible."



CHAPTER VII.

JOHN SIMCOE'S FRIEND.


There was a great sensation among the frequenters of the house in
Elephant Court when they were told that Wilkinson had sold the business,
and the new proprietor would come in at once. The feeling among those
who were in his debt was one of absolute dismay, for it seemed to them
certain the amounts would be at once called in. To their surprise and
relief Wilkinson went round among the foreigners, whose debts in no case
exceeded five pounds, and handed to them their notes of hand.

"I am going out of the business," he said, "and shall be leaving for
abroad in a day or so. I might, of course, have arranged with the new
man for him to take over these papers, but he might not be as easy as I
have been, and I should not like any of you to get into trouble. I have
never pressed anyone since I have been here, still less taken anyone
into court, and I should like to leave on friendly terms with all. So
here are your papers; tear them up, and don't be fools enough to borrow
again."

Towards his English clients, whose debts were generally from ten to
twenty pounds, he took the same course, adding a little good advice as
to dropping billiards and play altogether and making a fresh start.

"You have had a sharp lesson," he said, "and I know that you have been
on thorns for the last year. I wanted to show you what folly it was to
place yourself in the power of anyone to ruin you, and I fancy I have
succeeded very well. There is no harm in a game of billiards now and
then, but if you cannot play without betting you had better cut it
altogether. As for the tables, it is simply madness. You must lose in
the long run, and I am quite sure that I have got out of you several
times the amount of the I. O. U.'s that I hold."

Never were men more surprised and more relieved. They could hardly
believe that they were once more free men, and until a fresh set of
players had succeeded them the billiard rooms were frequently almost
deserted. To Dawkins Wilkinson was somewhat more explicit.

"You know," he said, "the interest I took in that will of General
Mathieson. It was not the will so much as the man that I was so
interested in. It showed me that he was most liberally disposed to those
who had done him a service. Now, it happens that years ago, when he was
at Benares, I saved his life from a tiger, and got mauled myself in
doing so. I had not thought of the matter for many years, but your
mention of his name recalled it to me. I had another name in those
days--men often change their names when they knock about in queer
places, as I have done. However, I called upon him, and he expressed
himself most grateful. I need not say that I did not mention the
billiard room to him. He naturally supposed that I had just arrived from
abroad, and he has offered to introduce me to many of his friends; and I
think that I have a good chance of being put down in his will for a
decent sum. I brought money home with me from abroad and have made a
goodish sum here, so I shall resume my proper name and go West, and drop
this affair altogether. I am not likely to come against any of the crew
here, and, as you see," and he removed a false beard and whiskers from
his face, "I have shaved, though I got this hair to wear until I had
finally cut the court. So you see you have unintentionally done me a
considerable service, and in return I shall say nothing about that fifty
pounds you owe me. Now, lad, try and keep yourself straight in future.
You may not get out of another scrape as you have out of this. All I ask
is that you will not mention what I have told you to anyone else. There
is no fear of my being recognized, with a clean-shaven face and
different toggery altogether, but at any rate it is as well that
everyone but yourself should believe that, as I have given out, I have
gone abroad again. I shall keep your I. O. U.'s, but I promise you that
you shall hear no more of them as long as you hold your tongue as to
what I have just told you. Possibly I may some day need your assistance,
and in that case shall know where to write to you."

It was not until after a great deal of thought that John Simcoe had
determined thus far to take Dawkins into his confidence, but he
concluded at last that it was the safest thing to do. He was, as he
knew, often sent by the firm with any communications that they might
have to make to their clients, and should he meet him at the General's
he might recognize him and give him some trouble. He had made no secret
that he had turned his hand to many callings, and that his doings in the
southern seas would not always bear close investigation, and the fact
that he had once kept a billiard room could do him no special harm. As
to the will, Dawkins certainly would not venture to own that he had
repeated outside what had been done in the office. The man might be
useful to him in the future. It was more than probable he would again
involve himself in debt, and was just the weak and empty-headed young
fellow who might be made a convenient tool should he require one.

So Elephant Court knew Mr. Wilkinson no more, and certainly none of the
_habitués_ could have recognized him in the smooth-shaven and
faultlessly dressed man whom they might meet coming out of a West End
club. Dawkins often turned the matter over in his mind, after his first
relief had passed at finding the debt that had weighed so heavily upon
him perfectly wiped out.

"There ought to be money in it," he said to himself, "but I don't see
where it comes in. In the first place I could not say he had kept a
gambling place without acknowledging that I had often been there, and I
could not say that it was a conversation of mine about the General's
will that put it into his head to call upon him, and lastly, he has me
on the hip with those I. O. U.'s. Possibly if the General does leave him
money, I may manage to get some out of him, though I am by no means
sure of that. He is not a safe man to meddle with, and he might
certainly do me more harm than I could do him."

       *       *       *       *       *

The matter had dropped somewhat from his mind when, three months later,
General Mathieson came into the office to have an interview with his
principals.

After he had left the managing clerk was called in. On returning, he
handed Dawkins a sheet of paper.

"You will prepare a fresh will for General Mathieson; it is to run
exactly as at present, but this legacy is to be inserted after that to
Miss Covington. It might just as well have been put in a codicil, but
the General preferred to have it in the body of the will."

Dawkins looked at the instruction. It contained the words: "To John
Simcoe, at present residing at 132 Jermyn Street, I bequeath the sum of
ten thousand pounds, as a token of my gratitude for his heroic conduct
in saving my life at the cost of great personal injury to himself from
the grip of a tiger, in the year 1831."

"By Jove, he has done well for himself!" Dawkins muttered, as he sat
down to his desk after the managing clerk had handed him the General's
will from the iron box containing papers and documents relating to his
affairs. "Ten thousand pounds! I wish I could light upon a general in a
fix of some sort, though I don't know that I should care about a tiger.
It is wonderful what luck some men have. I ought to get something out of
this, if I could but see my way to it. Fancy the keeper of a billiard
room and gaming house coming in for such a haul as this! It is
disgusting!"

He set about preparing a draft of the will, but he found it difficult to
keep his attention fixed upon his work, and when the chief clerk ran his
eye over it he looked up in indignant surprise.

"What on earth is the matter with you, Mr. Dawkins? The thing is full of
the most disgraceful blunders. In several cases it is not even sense.
During all the time that I have been in this office I have never had
such a disgraceful piece of work come into my hands before. Why, if the
office boy had been told to make a copy of the will, he would have done
it vastly better. What does it mean?"

"I am very sorry, sir," Dawkins said, "but I don't feel very well
to-day, and I have got such a headache that I can scarcely see what I am
writing."

"Well, well," his superior said, somewhat mollified, "that will account
for it. I thought at first that you must have been drinking. You had
better take your hat and be off. Go to the nearest chemist and take a
dose, and then go home and lie down. You are worse than of no use in the
state that you are. I hope that you will be all right in the morning,
for we are, as you know, very busy at present, and cannot spare a hand.
Tear up that draft and hand the will and instructions to Mr. Macleod.
The General will be down here at ten o'clock to-morrow to see it; he is
like most military men, sharp and prompt, and when he wants a thing done
he expects to have it done at once."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You are feeling better, I hope, this morning?" he said, when Dawkins
came into the office at the usual hour next day, "though I must say that
you look far from well. Do you think that you are capable of work?"

"I think so, sir; at any rate my head is better."

It was true that the clerk did not look well, for he had had no sleep
all night, but had tossed restlessly in bed, endeavoring, but in vain,
to hit on some manner of extracting a portion of the legacy from the
ex-proprietor of the gambling house. The more he thought, the more
hopeless seemed the prospect. John Simcoe was eminently a man whom it
would be unsafe to anger. The promptness and decision of his methods had
gained him at least the respect of all the frequenters of his
establishment, and just as he had sternly kept order there, so he would
deal with any individual who crossed his path. He held the best cards,
too; and while a disclosure of the past could hardly injure him
seriously, he had the means of causing the ruin and disgrace of Dawkins
himself, if he ventured to attack him.

The clerk was himself shrewd in his own way, but he had the sense to
feel that he was no match for John Simcoe, and the conclusion that he
finally came to was that he must wait and watch events, and that, so far
as he could see, his only chance of obtaining a penny of the legacy was
to follow implicitly the instructions Simcoe had given him, in which
case possibly he might receive a present when the money was paid.

       *       *       *       *       *

About a fortnight after he knew the will had been signed by General
Mathieson, Simcoe went down to a small house on Pentonville Hill, where
one of the ablest criminals in London resided, passing unsuspected under
the eyes of the police in the character of a man engaged in business in
the City. A peculiar knock brought him to the door.

"Ah, is it you, Simcoe?" he said; "why, I have not seen you for months.
I did not know you for the moment, for you have taken all the hair off
your face."

"I have made a change, Harrison. I have given up the billiard rooms, and
am now a swell with lodgings in Jermyn Street."

"That is a change! I thought you said the billiards and cards paid well;
but I suppose you have got something better in view?"

"They did pay well, but I have a very big thing in hand."

"That is the right line to take up," the other said. "You were sure to
get into trouble with the police about the card-playing before long, and
then the place would have been shut up, and you might have got three
months; and when you got out the peelers would have kept their eyes upon
you, and your chances would have been at an end. No, I have never had
anything to do with small affairs; I go in, as you know, for big things.
They take time to work out, it is true; and after all one's trouble,
something may go wrong at the last moment, and the thing has to be
given up. Some girl who has been got at makes a fool of herself, and
gets discharged a week before it comes off; or a lady takes it into her
head to send her jewels to a banker's, and go on to the Continent a week
earlier than she intended to do. Then there is a great loss in getting
rid of the stuff. Those sharps at Amsterdam don't give more than a fifth
of the value for diamonds. It is a heart-rending game, on the whole; but
there is such excitement about the life that when one has once taken it
up it is seldom indeed that one changes it, though one knows that,
sooner or later, one is sure to make a slip and get caught. Now, what
will you take? Champagne or brandy?"

"I know that your brandy is first-rate, Harrison, and I will sample it
again."

"I have often thought," went on the other, after the glasses had been
filled and cigars lighted, "what a rum thing it was that you should come
across my brother Bill out among the islands. He had not written to me
for a long time, and I had never expected to hear of him again. I
thought that he had gone down somehow, and had either been eaten by
sharks or killed by the natives, or shot in some row with his mates. He
was two years older than I was, and, as I have told you, we were sons of
a well-to-do auctioneer in the country; but he was a hard man, and we
could not stand it after a time, so we made a bolt for it. We were
decently dressed when we got to London. As we had been at a good school
at home, and were both pretty sharp, we thought that we should have no
difficulty in getting work of some sort.

"We had a hard time of it. No one would take us without a character, so
we got lower and lower, till we got to know some boys who took us to
what was called a thieves' kitchen--a place where boys were trained as
pick-pockets. The old fellow who kept it saw that we were fit for higher
game than was usual, and instead of being sent out to pick up what we
could get in the streets we were dressed as we had been before, and sent
to picture-galleries and museums and cricket matches, and we soon
became first-rate hands, and did well. In a short time we didn't see why
we should work for another man, and we left him without saying good-by.

"It was not long before he paid us out. He knew that we should go on at
the same work, and dressed up two or three of his boys and sent them to
these places, and one day when Bill was just pocketing a watch at Lord's
one of these boys shouted out, 'Thief! thief! That boy has stolen your
watch, sir,' and Bill got three months, though the boy could not appear
against him, for I followed him after they had nabbed Bill, and pretty
nearly killed him.

"Then I went on my travels, and was away two or three years from London.
Bill had been out and in again twice; he was too rash altogether. I took
him away with me, but I soon found that it would not do, and that it
would soon end in our both being shut up. So I put it fairly to him.

"'We are good friends, you know, Bill,' I said, 'but it is plain to me
that we can't work together with advantage. You are twenty and I am
eighteen, but, as you have often said yourself, I have got the best head
of the two. I am tired of this sort of work. When we get a gold ticker,
worth perhaps twenty pounds, we can't get above two for it, and it is
the same with everything else. It is not good enough. We have been away
from London so long that old Isaacs must have forgotten all about us. I
have not been copped yet, and as I have got about twenty pounds in my
pocket I can take lodgings as a young chap who has come up to walk the
hospitals, or something of that sort. If you like to live with me,
quiet, we will work together; if not, it is best that we should each go
our own way--always being friends, you know.'

"Bill said that was fair enough, but that he liked a little life and to
spend his money freely when he got it. So we separated. Bill got two
more convictions, and the last time it was a case of transportation. We
had agreed between ourselves that if either of us got into trouble the
other should call once a month at the house of a woman we knew to ask
for letters, and I did that regularly after he was sent out. I got a
few letters from him. The first was written after he had made his
escape. He told me that he intended to stay out there--it was a jolly
life, and a free one, I expect. Pens and paper were not common where he
was; anyhow he only wrote once a year or so, and it was two years since
I had heard from him when you wrote and said you had brought me a
message from Bill.

"Ever since we parted I have gone on the same line, only I have worked
carefully. I was not a bad-looking chap, and hadn't much difficulty in
getting over servant girls and finding out where things were to be had,
so I gradually got on. For years now I have only carried on big affairs,
working the thing up and always employing other hands to carry the job
out. None of them know me here. I meet them at quiet pubs and arrange
things there, and I need hardly say that I am so disguised that none of
the fellows who follow my orders would know me again if they met me in
the street. I could retire if I liked, and live in a villa and keep my
carriage. Why, I made five thousand pounds as my share of that bullion
robbery between London and Brussels. But I know that I should be
miserable without anything to do; as it is, I unite amusement with
business. I sometimes take a stall at the Opera, and occasionally I find
a diamond necklace in my pocket when I get home. I know well enough that
it is foolish, but when I see a thing that I need only put out my hand
to have, my old habit is too strong for me. Then I often walk into swell
entertainments. You have only to be well got up, and to go rather late,
so that the hostess has given up expecting arrivals and is occupied with
her guests, and the flunky takes your hat without question, and you go
upstairs and mix with the people. In that way you get to know as to the
women who have the finest jewels, and have no difficulty in finding out
their names. I have got hold of some very good things that way, but
though there would have been no difficulty in taking some of them at the
time, I never yielded to that temptation. In a crowded room one never
can say whose eyes may happen to be looking in your direction.

"I wonder that you never turned your thoughts that way. From what you
have told me of your doings abroad, I know that you are not squeamish in
your ideas, and with your appearance you ought to be able to go anywhere
without suspicion."

"I am certainly not squeamish," Simcoe said, "but I have not had the
training. One wants a little practice and to begin young, as you did, to
try that game on. However, just at present I have a matter in hand that
will set me up for life if it turns out well, but I shall want a little
assistance. In the first place I want to get hold of a man who could
make one up well, and who, if I gave him a portrait, could turn me out
so like the original that anyone who had only seen him casually would
take me for him."

"There is a man down in Whitechapel who is the best hand in London at
that sort of thing. He is a downright artist. Several times when I have
had particular jobs in hand, inquiries I could not trust anyone else to
make, I have been to him, and when he has done with me and I have looked
in the glass there was not the slightest resemblance to my own face in
it. I suppose the man you want to represent is somewhere about your own
height?"

"Yes, I should say that he is as nearly as may be the same. He is an
older man than I am."

"Oh, that is nothing! He could make you look eighty if you wanted it.
Here is the man's address; his usual fee is a guinea, but, as you want
to be got up to resemble someone else, he might charge you double."

"The fee is nothing," Simcoe said. "Then again, I may want to get hold
of a man who is a good hand at imitating handwriting."

"That is easy enough. Here is the address of a man who does little jobs
for me sometimes, and is, I think, the best hand at it in England. You
see, sometimes there is in a house where you intend to operate some
confoundedly active and officious fellow--a butler or a footman--who
might interrupt proceedings. His master is in London, and he receives a
note from him ordering him to come up to town with a dressing case,
portmanteau, guns, or something of that kind, as may be suitable to the
case. I got a countess out of the way once by a messenger arriving on
horseback with a line from her husband, saying that he had met with an
accident in the hunting-field, and begging her to come to him. Of course
I have always previously managed to get specimens of handwriting, and my
man imitates them so well that they have never once failed in their
action. I will give you a line to him, saying that you are a friend of
mine. He knows me under the name of Sinclair. As a stranger you would
hardly get him to act."

"Of course, he is thoroughly trustworthy?" Simcoe asked.

"I should not employ him if he were not," the other said. "He was a
writing-master at one time, but took to drink, and went altogether to
the bad. He is always more or less drunk now, and you had better go to
him before ten o'clock in the morning. I don't say that he will be quite
sober, but he will be less drunk than he will be later. As soon as he
begins to write he pulls himself together. He puts a watchmaker's glass
in his eye and closely examines the writing that he has to imitate,
writes a few lines to accustom himself to it, and then writes what he is
told to do as quickly and as easily as if it were his own handwriting.
He hands it over, takes his fee, which is two guineas, and then goes out
to a public-house, and I don't believe that the next day he has the
slightest remembrance of what he has written."

"Thank you very much, Harrison; I think that, with the assistance of
these two men, I shall be able to work the matter I have in hand without
fear of a hitch."

"Anything else I can do for you? You know that you can rely upon me,
Simcoe. You were with poor Bill for six years, and you stood by him to
the last, when the natives rose and massacred the whites, and you got
Bill off, and if he did die afterwards of his wounds, anyhow you did
your best to save him. So if I can help you I will do it, whatever it
is, short of murder, and there is my hand on it. You know in any case I
could not round on you."

"I will tell you the whole business, Harrison. I have thought the matter
pretty well out, but I shall be very glad to have your opinion on it,
and with your head you are like to see the thing in a clearer light than
I can, and may suggest a way out of some difficulties."

He then unfolded the details of his scheme.

"Very good!" the other said admiringly, when he had finished. "It does
credit to you, Simcoe. You risked your life, and, as you say, very
nearly lost it to save the General's, and have some sort of a right to
have his money when he has done with it. Your plan of impersonating the
General and getting another lawyer to draw out a fresh will is a capital
one; and as you have a list of the bequests he made in his old one, you
will not only be able to strengthen the last will, but will disarm the
opposition of those who would have benefited by the first, as no one
will suffer by the change. But how about the boy?"

"The boy must be got out of the way somehow."

"Not by foul play, I hope, Simcoe. I could not go with you there."

"Certainly not. That idea never entered my mind; but surely there can be
no difficulty in carrying off a child of that age. It only wants two to
do that: one to engage the nurse in talk, the other to entice the child
away, pop him into a cab waiting hard by, and drive off with him."

"I doubt whether the courts would hand over the property unless they had
some absolute proof that the child was dead."

"They would not do so for some time, no doubt, but evidence might be
manufactured. At any rate I could wait. They would probably carry out
all the other provisions of the will, and with the ten thousand pounds
and the three or four thousand I have saved I could hold on for a good
many years."

"How about the signature to the will?"

"I can manage that much," Simcoe said. "I had some work in that way
years ago, and I have been for the last three months practicing the
General's, and I think now that I can defy any expert to detect the
difference. Of course, it is a very different thing learning to imitate
a signature and writing a long letter."

The other agreed, and added, "I should be careful to employ a firm of
lawyers of long standing. If you were to go to shady people it would in
itself cause suspicion."

"Yes, I quite feel that, and I want, if possible, to get hold of people
who just know the General by sight, so as to have a fairly good idea of
his face without knowing him too well. I think I know of one. At the
club the other day Colonel Bulstrode, a friend of the General's, said to
him, 'I wish you would drive round with me to my lawyers'; their place
is in the Temple. I want someone to sign as a witness to a deed, and as
it is rather important, I would rather have it witnessed by a friend
than by one of the clerks. It won't take you a minute.'"

"I should think that would do very well; they would not be likely to
notice him very particularly, and probably the General would not have
spoken at all. He would just have seen his friend sign the deed, and
then have affixed his own signature as a witness. Well, everything seems
in your favor, and should you need any help you can rely upon me."



CHAPTER VIII.

GENERAL MATHIESON'S SEIZURE.


Three months later John Simcoe called for a letter directed to "Mr.
Jackson, care of William Scriven, Tobacconist, Fetter Lane." The address
was in his own handwriting. He carried it home before opening it. The
writing was rough and the spelling villainous.

     "SAMOA.

     "MY DEAR JACK: I was mitely glad when the old brig came in and
     Captain Jephson handed me a letter from you, and as you may guess
     still more pleased to find with it an order for fifty pounds. It
     was good and harty of you, but you allus was the right sort. I have
     dun as you asked me; I went to the wich man and for twelve bottles
     of rum he gave me the packet inclosed of the stuff he uses. There
     aint much of it, but it is mitely strong. About as much as will lie
     on the end of a knife will make a man foam at the mouth and fall
     into convulsions, three times as much as that will kill him
     outrite. He says there aint no taste in it. I hope this will suit
     your purpus. You will be sorry to hear that Long Peter has been
     wiped out; he was spered by a native, who thort Pete wanted to run
     away with his wife, wich I don't believe he did for she wernt no
     way a beuty. Vigors is in a bad way; he has had the shakes bad
     twice and I don't think that he can last much longer. Trade is bad
     here, but now I have got the rino I shall buy another cocoanut
     plantation and two or three more wives to work it, and shall be
     comfortible. I am a pore hand with the pen, so no more from your
     friend,

     "BEN STOKES."

A week later Hilda wrote to her friend:

     "MY DEAR NETTA: I am writing in great distress. Three days ago
     uncle had a terrible fit. He was seized with it at the club, and I
     hear that his struggles were dreadful. It was a sort of convulsion.
     He was sensible when he was brought home, but very weak; he does
     not remember anything about it. Fortunately, Dr. Pearson, who
     always attends us, was one of the party, and he sent off cabs for
     two others. Dr. Pearson came home with him. Of course I asked him
     what it was, and he said that it was a very unusual case, and that
     he and the other doctors had not yet come to any decision upon it,
     as none of them had ever seen one precisely like it. He said that
     some of the symptoms were those of an epileptic fit, but the
     convulsions were so violent that they rather resembled tetanus than
     an ordinary fit. Altogether he seemed greatly puzzled, and he would
     give no opinion as to whether it was likely to recur. Uncle is
     better to-day; he told me that he, Mr. Simcoe, and four others had
     been dining together. He had just drunk his coffee when the room
     seemed to swim round, and he remembered nothing more until he found
     himself in bed at home. Mr. Simcoe came home with him, and the
     doctor said, I must acknowledge, that no one could have been kinder
     than he was. He looked quite ill from the shock that he had had.
     But still I don't like him, Netta; in fact, I think I dislike him
     more and more every day. I often tell myself that I have not a
     shadow of reason for doing so, but I can't help it. You may call it
     prejudice: I call it instinct.

     "You can well imagine how all this has shocked me. Uncle seemed so
     strong and well that I have always thought he would live to a great
     age. He is sixty-eight, but I am sure he looks ten years
     younger--at least he did so; at present he might be ninety. But I
     can only hope that the change is temporary, and that he will soon
     be his dear self again. The three doctors are going to have a
     meeting here to-morrow. I shall be anxious, indeed, to hear the
     result. I hope that they will order him a change, and that we can
     go down together, either to his place or mine; then I can always be
     with him, whereas here he goes his way and I go mine, and except at
     meal-times we scarcely meet. If he does go I shall try and persuade
     him to engage a medical man to go with us. Of course, I do not know
     whether a doctor could be of any actual use in case of another
     attack, but it would be a great comfort to have one always at
     hand."

The letter stopped here, and was continued on the following evening.

     "The consultation is over; Dr. Pearson had a long talk with me
     afterwards. He said that it was without doubt an epileptic fit, but
     that it differed in many respects from the general type of that
     malady, and that all of them were to some extent puzzled. They had
     brought with them a fourth doctor, Sir Henry Havercourt, who is the
     greatest authority on such maladies. He had seen uncle, and asked
     him a few questions, and had a talk with Dr. Pearson, and had from
     him a minute account of the seizure. He pronounced it a most
     interesting and, as far as he knew, a unique case, and expressed a
     wish to come as a friend to see how the General was getting on. Of
     course he inquired about his habits, asked what he had had for
     dinner, and so on.

     "'The great point, Dr. Pearson,' I said, after the consultation was
     over, 'is, of course, whether there is likely to be any recurrence
     of the attack.' 'That is more than I can say,' he answered gravely;
     'at present he can hardly be said to have recovered altogether from
     the effects of this one, which is in itself an unusual feature in
     the case. As a rule, when a person recovers from an epileptic fit
     he recovers altogether--that is to say, he is able to walk and talk
     as before, and his face shows little or no sign of the struggle
     that he has undergone. In this case the recovery is not altogether
     complete. You may have noticed that his voice is not only weak, but
     there is a certain hesitation in it. His face has not altogether
     recovered its natural expression, and is slightly, very slightly,
     drawn on one side, which would seem to point to paralysis; while in
     other respects the attack was as unlike a paralytic stroke as it
     could well have been. Thus, you see, it is difficult in the extreme
     for us to give any positive opinion concerning a case which is so
     entirely an exceptional one. We can only hope for the best, and
     trust to the strength of his constitution. At any rate, we all
     agree that he needs absolute quiet and very simple and plain diet.
     You see, he has been a great diner-out; and though an abstemious
     man in the way of drinking, he thoroughly appreciates a good
     dinner. All this must be given up, at any rate for a time. I should
     say that as soon as he is a little stronger, you had better take
     him down into the country. Let him see as few visitors as possible,
     and only very intimate friends. I do not mean that he should be
     lonely or left to himself; on the contrary, quiet companionship and
     talk are desirable.'

     "I said that though the country might be best for him, there was no
     medical man within three miles of his place, and it would be
     terrible were we to have an attack, and not know what to do for it.
     He said that he doubted if anything could be done when he was in
     such a state as he was the other night, beyond sprinkling his face
     with water, and that he himself felt powerless in the case of an
     attack that was altogether beyond his experience. Of course he said
     it was out of the question that I should be down there alone with
     him, but that I must take down an experienced nurse. He strongly
     recommended that she should not wear hospital uniform, as this
     would be a constant reminder of his illness.

     "I said that I should very much like to have a medical man in the
     house. Money was no object, and it seemed to me from what he said
     that it would also be desirable that, besides being a skillful
     doctor, he should be also a pleasant and agreeable man, who would
     be a cheerful companion to him as well as a medical attendant.

     "He agreed that this would certainly be very desirable, and that he
     and the others were all anxious that the case should be watched
     very carefully. He said that he would think the matter over, and
     that if he could not find just the man that would suit, he would
     ask Sir Henry Havercourt to recommend us one.

     "He said there were many clever young men to whom such an
     engagement for a few months would be a godsend. He intended to run
     down himself once a fortnight, from Saturday until Monday, which he
     could do, as his practice was to a large extent a consulting one. I
     could see plainly enough that though he evidently put as good a
     face upon it as he could, he and the other doctors took by no means
     a hopeful view of the case.

     "It is all most dreadful, Netta, and I can hardly realize that only
     three days ago everything was bright and happy, while now it seems
     that everything is uncertain and dark. There was one thing the
     doctor said that pleased me, and that was, 'Don't let any of his
     town friends in to see him; and I think that it would be as well
     that none of them should go down to visit him in the country. Let
     him be kept altogether free from anything that would in the
     smallest degree excite him or set his brain working.' I told him
     that no one had seen him yet, and that I would take good care that
     no one should see him; and I need hardly tell you that Mr. Simcoe
     will be the first person to be informed of the doctor's orders."

A week later General Mathieson came downstairs for the first time. The
change in him was even greater than it had seemed to be when he was
lying on the sofa in his room; and Tom Roberts, who had been the
General's soldier-servant years before, and had been in his service
since he left the army, had difficulty in restraining his tears as he
entered, with his master leaning heavily on his arm.

"I am shaky, my dear Hilda, very shaky," the General said. "I feel just
as I did when I was laid up with a bad attack of jungle fever in India.
However, no doubt I shall pick up soon, just I did then. Pearson tells
me that he and the others agree that I must go down into the country,
and I suppose I must obey orders. Where is it we are to go?"

"To your own place, uncle."

"My own place?" he repeated doubtfully, and then after a pause, "Oh,
yes, of course! Oh, yes!"

There was a troubled look in his face, as if he was trying to recall
memories that had somehow escaped him, and Hilda, resolutely repressing
the impulse to burst into a flood of tears, said cheerfully:

"Yes, I shall be very glad to be back at Holmwood. We won't go down by
train, uncle. Dr. Pearson does not think that you are strong enough for
that yet. He is going to arrange for a comfortable carriage in which you
can lie down and rest. We shall make an early start. He will arrange for
horses to be sent down so that we can change every ten or twelve miles,
and arrive there early in the afternoon. It is only seventy miles, you
know."

"Yes, I have driven up from there by the coach many a time when I was a
boy, and sometimes since; have I not, Tom?"

"Yes, General. The railway was not made till six or seven years ago."

"No, the railway wasn't made, Hilda; at least, not all the way."

Hilda made signs to Tom not to leave the room, and he stood by his
master's shoulder, prompting him occasionally when his memory failed
him.

"You must get strong very fast, uncle, for Dr. Pearson said that you
cannot go until you are more fit to bear the fatigue."

"I shall soon get strong, my dear. What is to-day?"

"To-day is Friday, uncle."

"Somehow I have lost count of days," he said. "Well, I should think that
I shall be fit to go early next week; it is not as if we were going to
ride down. I was always fond of riding, and I hope I shall soon be after
the hounds again. Let me see, what month is this?"

"It is early in June, uncle; and the country will be looking its best."

"Yes, yes; I shall have plenty of time to get strong before cub-hunting
begins."

So the conversation dragged on for another half hour, the General's
words coming slower and slower, and at the end of that time he dropped
asleep. Hilda made a sign to Roberts to stay with him, and then ran up
to her own room, closed the door behind her, and burst into a passion of
tears. Presently there was a tap at the door, and her maid came in.

"Tom has just slipped out from the dining room, miss, and told me to
tell you that the General was sleeping as peacefully as a child, and he
thought it was like enough that he would not wake for hours. He said
that when he woke he and William would get him up to his own room."

"Thank you, Lucy." The door closed again. Hilda got up from the bed on
which she had lain down, and buried herself in the depths of a large
cushioned chair. There she sat thinking. For the first time she realized
how immense was the change in her uncle. She had seen him several times
each day, but he had spoken but a few words, and it only seemed to her
that he was drowsy and disinclined to talk. Now she saw how great was
the mental as well as the physical weakness.

"It is terrible!" she repeated over and over again to herself. "What a
wreck--oh, what a dreadful wreck! Will he ever get over it?"

She seemed absolutely unable to think. Sometimes she burst into sobs,
sometimes she sat with her eyes fixed before her, but seeing nothing,
and her fingers twining restlessly round each other. Presently the door
opened very gently, and a voice said, "May I come in?" She sprang to her
feet as if electrified, while a glad cry of "Netta!" broke from her
lips. A moment later the two girls were clasped in a close embrace.

"Oh, Netta, how good of you!" Hilda said, after she had sobbed for some
time on her friend's shoulder. "Oh, what a relief it is to me!"

"Of course I have come, you foolish girl. You did not suppose I was
going to remain away after your letter? Aunt is with me; she is
downstairs, tidying herself up. We shut up the house and left the
gardener in charge, and here we are, as long as you want us."

"But your pupils, Netta?"

"I handed them all over to another of the Professor's assistants, so we
need not bother about them. I told aunt that I should not be down for an
hour. Mrs. Brown is looking after her, and getting her a cup of tea, and
I asked her to bring two cups up here. I thought that you would prefer
for us to have a chat by ourselves. Now tell me all about it, dear; that
is, if there is anything fresh since you wrote."

Hilda told her the doctor's opinion and the plans that had been formed.

"Dr. Pearson brought a Dr. Leeds here with him this morning. He says he
is very clever. His term as house surgeon at Guy's or St. Bartholomew's,
I forget which, has just expired, and as he had not made any definite
plans he was glad to accept the doctor's offer to take charge of my
uncle. He seemed, from what little I saw of him, a pleasant man, and
spoke in a cheerful voice, which will be a great thing for uncle. I
should think that he is six or seven and twenty. Dr. Pearson said he was
likely to become a very distinguished man in his profession some day. He
is going to begin at once. He will not sleep here, but will spend most
of his time here, partly because he wants to study the case, and partly
because he wants uncle to get accustomed to him. He will travel down
with us, which will be a great comfort to me, for there is no saying how
uncle may stand the journey. I suggested that we should have another
carriage, as the invalid carriage has room for only one inside besides
the patient, but he laughed, and said that he would ride on the box with
Tom Roberts; there will be room for two there, as we are going to post
down. Of course, you and your aunt will go down by train, and be there
to meet us; it will make it so much brighter and more cheerful having
you to receive us than if we had to arrive all alone, with no one to say
welcome."

"And is your uncle so very weak?"

"Terribly weak--weak both mentally and physically," and she gave an
account of the interview that afternoon.

"That is bad indeed, Hilda; worse than I had expected. But with country
air, and you and me to amuse him, to say nothing of the doctor, we may
hope that he will soon be a very different man."

"Well, I will not stay talking here any longer, Netta; we have left your
aunt half an hour alone, and if she were not the kindest soul in the
world, she would feel hurt at being so neglected, after coming all this
way for my sake. You don't know what good your coming has effected.
Before you opened the door I was in the depth of despair; everything
seemed shaken, everything looked hopeless. There seemed to have been a
sort of moral earthquake that had turned everything in my life
topsy-turvy, but now I feel hopeful again. With you by my side I think
that I can bear even the worst."

They went down to the drawing room, where they found Mrs. Brown, the
housekeeper, having a long gossip over what had taken place with Miss
Purcell, whom, although a stranger, she was unaffectedly glad to see, as
it seemed to take some of her responsibilities off her shoulders, and
she knew that Netta's society would be invaluable to Hilda.

It was not until a week later that, after another consultation, the
doctors agreed that it was as well that the General should be moved down
to his country place. Dr. Pearson was opinion that there was some
improvement, but that it was very slight; the others could see no change
since they had seen him ten days before. However, they agreed with their
colleague that although there might be a certain amount of danger in
moving him to the country, it was best to risk that, as the change might
possibly benefit him materially.

"Have you formed any opinion of the case, Dr. Leeds?" Sir Henry asked.

"I can scarcely be said to have any distinct opinion, Sir Henry. The
symptoms do not tally with those one would expect to find after any
ordinary sort of seizure, although certainly they would point to
paralysis rather than epilepsy. I should, had the case come before me in
the ordinary way in the ward of a hospital, have come to the conclusion
that the seizure itself and the after-effects pointed rather to the
administration of some drug than to any other cause. I admit that I am
not acquainted with any drug whose administration would lead to any such
results; but then I know of no other manner in which they could be
brought about save by some lesion of a blood vessel in the brain of so
unusual a character that no such case has hitherto been reported in any
work with which I am acquainted. This, I say, would be my first theory
in the case of a patient of whose previous history I was entirely
unaware, and who came under my charge in a hospital ward; but I admit
that in the present case it cannot be entertained for a moment, and I
must, during my attendance upon General Mathieson, watch closely for
symptoms that would aid me in localizing brain lesion or other cause."

He spoke modestly and quietly in the presence, as he was, of some of the
leading men of his profession. The theory he had enunciated had not
occurred to any of them, but, as he spoke, they all recognized that the
symptoms might under other circumstances have led them to a similar
conclusion. They were silent for a minute when he ceased speaking, then
Sir Henry said gravely:

"I admit, Dr. Leeds, that some of the symptoms, indeed the fit itself,
might in the case of a patient of whose history we were ignorant seem to
point to some obscure form of poisoning, since they do not accord with
what one would expect in ordinary forms of brain seizures of this kind.
However, there is no doubt that we are all somewhat prone, when we meet
with a case possessing unusual or altogether exceptional features, to
fall back upon the theory of poisoning. In this case, fortunately, the
circumstances are such as to preclude the possibility of entertaining
the idea for a moment; and, as you say, you must endeavor to find,
watching him as you will do, some other cause of what I admit is a
mysterious and obscure case; and knowing you as I do, I am sure that you
will mention this theory, even as a theory, to no one.

"We are all aware that there are many cases which come before us where
we may entertain suspicions, and strong suspicions, that the patient has
been poisoned, and yet we dare not take any steps because, in the first
place, we have no clew as to how or by whom he or she has been poisoned,
and because, if after death an autopsy should prove that we were
mistaken, it would be nothing short of professional ruin. Here, as you
said, the theory is happily irreconcilable with the circumstances of the
case, and no drug known to European science would produce so strange a
seizure or the after-effects. Of course, as we all know, on the west
coast of Africa, and it is believed in India, the natives are acquainted
with poisons which are wholly unknown, and will probably remain unknown,
since medical men who have endeavored to investigate the matter have
almost always fallen victims themselves to poisons administered by the
people whose secrets they were endeavoring to discover.

"However, we can happily put that altogether aside. Dr. Pearson tells us
that he intends to go down once a fortnight, and has promised to furnish
us with the results of his own observations, and his own reports of this
very interesting case. If General Mathieson had, in the course of his
military career, ever been struck in the head by a bullet, I should say
unhesitatingly that some splinter, possibly very minute, had obtruded
into the brain matter; but this has, I learn, not been the case. The
only serious injury that he has ever received was when he was terribly
torn and nearly killed by a tiger some twenty years ago in India. It may
be useful to you, Dr. Leeds, to keep this in your mind. There can be no
doubt that scratches and bites, even of the domestic cat, occasionally
give rise to violent inflammations, and probably, indeed I believe it to
be the case, those of the great cats of India are still more poisonous.
As is the case with the bite of a mad dog, the poison may in some cases
remain latent for a considerable time, until some circumstance may
arouse it into activity. I would suggest that should any scars caused at
that time remain, you should examine them carefully, and ascertain
whether there is any sign of inflammatory action there. I grant the
improbability of any consequences arising so many years after the event,
but at the same time in a case of this kind, where we are perfectly at a
loss to explain what we see, it is as well to look for the cause in
every direction, however improbable it may appear."

"Thank you, Sir Henry; I will certainly do so. I was not aware before of
the General having suffered such an injury, and I will go this afternoon
and spend a few hours in looking through the medical works at the
library of the India Office to see if there are any records of serious
disturbance caused in the system by wounds inflicted by tigers a
considerable time after they have apparently healed."

The meeting then broke up, and two days later General Mathieson was
taken down to his seat in Warwickshire. Post horses were in readiness
all along the road, and the journey was accomplished quickly and without
fatigue to the patient, who slept the greater part of the distance. At
each change Dr. Leeds got down and had two or three minutes' talk with
Hilda, and when the General was awake gave him a spoonful of restorative
medicine. His presence close at hand was a great comfort to Hilda, upon
whom the strain of watching her uncle was very great, and she was
thankful indeed when they arrived at the end of the journey, and found
Netta and her aunt, who had gone down by that morning's train together
with the housekeeper and her own maid, waiting on the steps to receive
them.



CHAPTER IX.

A STRANGE ILLNESS.


For three months General Mathieson remained in the country. His
improvement was very gradual--so gradual, indeed, that from week to week
it was scarce noticeable, and it was only by looking back that it was
perceptible. At the end of that time he could walk unaided, there was
less hesitation in his speech, and his memory was distinctly clearer. He
passed much of his time on a sofa placed in the shade in the garden,
with Hilda and Netta sitting by him, working and talking.

Netta had always been a favorite of his from the time that he first met
her in Hanover; and he had, when she was staying with his niece the year
before, offered her a very handsome salary if she would remain with her
as her companion. The girl, however, was reluctant to give up her
occupation, of which she was very fond, still less would she leave her
aunt; and although the General would willingly have engaged the latter
also as an inmate of the house, to act as a sort of chaperon to Hilda
when she drove out alone shopping, Netta refused in both their names.

"You would not have left the army, General, whatever temptations might
have been held out to you. I am happy in thinking that I am doing good
and useful work, and I don't think that any offer, even one so kind and
liberal as yours, would induce me to relinquish it."

Her presence now was not only an inestimable comfort to Hilda, but of
great advantage to the General himself. Alone Hilda would have found it
next to impossible to keep the invalid interested and amused. He liked
to talk and be talked to, but it was like the work of entertaining a
child. Netta, however, had an inexhaustible fund of good spirits. After
her long intercourse with children who needed entertainment with
instruction, and whose attention it was absolutely necessary to keep
fixed, she had no difficulty in keeping the conversation going, and her
anecdotes, connected with her life in Germany and the children she had
taught, were just suited to the General's mental condition.

Little Walter was of great assistance to her. He had come down with his
nurse as soon as they were fairly settled at Holmwood, and his prattle
and play were a great amusement to his grandfather. Whenever the
conversation flagged Netta offered to tell him a story, which not only
kept him quiet, but was listened to with as much interest by the General
as by the child. Dr. Leeds was often a member of the party, and his
cheery talk always had its effect in soothing the General when, as was
sometimes the case, he was inclined to be petulant and irritable.

They had been a fortnight at Holmwood before the doctor discovered
Netta's infirmity. She happened to be standing at a window with her back
to him when he asked her a question. Receiving no reply, he repeated it
in a louder tone, but he was still unanswered. Somewhat surprised, he
went up to her and touched her; she faced round immediately.

"Were you speaking to me, Dr. Leeds?"

"Yes, I spoke to you twice, Miss Purcell, but you did not hear me."

"I have been perfectly deaf from childhood," she said; "I cannot hear
any sound whatever. I never talk about it; people ask questions and
wonder, and then, forgetting that I do not hear, they persist in
addressing me in loud tones."

"Is it possible that you are deaf?"

"It is a melancholy fact," she said with a smile, and then added more
seriously, "It came on after measles. When I was eight years old my good
aunt, who had taken me to some of the best aurists in London, happened
to hear that a Professor Menzel had opened an establishment in Hanover
for teaching deaf mutes to speak by a new system of watching people's
lips. She took me over there, and, as you see, the result was an
undoubted success, and I now earn my living by acting as one of the
professor's assistants, and by teaching two or three little girls who
board at my aunt's."

"The system must be an admirable one indeed," the doctor said. "I have,
of course, heard of it, but could not have believed that the results
were so excellent. It never entered my mind for a moment that you were
in any way deficient in hearing, still less that you were perfectly
deaf. I have noticed that, more than is common, you always kept your
eyes fixed on my face when I was speaking to you."

"You would have noticed it earlier had we been often alone together,"
she said, "for unless I had kept my eyes always upon you I should not
have known when you were speaking; but when, as here, there are always
several of us together, my eyes are at once directed to your face when
you speak, by seeing the others look at you."

"Is it necessary to be quite close to you when one speaks?"

"Oh, not at all! Of course I must be near enough to be able to see
distinctly the motion of the lips, say at twenty yards. It is a great
amusement to me as I walk about, for I can see what is being said by
people on the other side of the road, or passing by in a vehicle. Of
course one only gets scraps of conversations, but sometimes they are
very funny."

"You must be quite a dangerous person, Miss Purcell."

"I am," she laughed; "and you must be careful not to say things that you
don't want to be overheard when you are within reach of my eyes.
Yesterday, for instance, you said to Hilda that my aunt seemed a
wonderfully kind and intelligent old lady; and you were good enough to
add some complimentary remarks about myself."

Dr. Leeds flushed.

"Well, I should not have said them in your hearing, Miss Purcell; but,
as they were complimentary, no harm was done. I think I said that you
were invaluable here, which is certainly the case, for I really do not
know how we should be able to amuse our patient if it were not for your
assistance."

"Hilda and I had a laugh about it," Netta said; "and she said, too, that
it was not fair your being kept in the dark as to our accomplishment."

"'Our accomplishment!'" he repeated in surprise. "Do you mean to say
that Miss Covington is deaf also? But no, that is impossible; for I
called to her yesterday, when her back was turned, and the General
wanted her, and she answered immediately."

"My tongue has run too fast," the girl said, "but I don't suppose she
would mind your knowing what she never speaks of herself. She was, as
you know, living with us in Hanover for more than four years. She
temporarily lost her hearing after an attack of scarlet fever, and the
doctors who were consulted here feared that it might be permanent. Her
father and mother, hearing of Dr. Hartwig as having the reputation of
being the first aurist in Europe, took her out to him. He held out hopes
that she could be cured, and recommended that she should be placed in
Professor Menzel's institution as soon as she could understand German,
so that, in case a cure was not effected, she might be able to hear with
her eyes. By great good fortune he recommended that she should live with
my aunt, partly because she spoke English, and partly because, as I was
already able to talk, I could act as her companion and instructor both
in the system and in German.

"In three years she could get on as well as I could, but the need for it
happily passed away, as her hearing was gradually restored. Still, she
continued to live with us while her education went on at the best school
in the town, but of course she always talked with me as I talked with
her, and so she kept up the accomplishment and has done so ever since.
But her mother advised her very strongly to keep the knowledge of her
ability to read people's words from their lips a profound secret, as it
might tend to her disadvantage; for people might be afraid of a girl
possessed of the faculty of overhearing their conversation at a
distance."

"That explains what rather puzzled me the other day," the doctor said.
"When I came out into the garden you were sitting together and were
laughing and talking. You did not notice me, and it struck me as strange
that, while I heard the laughing, I did not hear the sound of your
voices until I was within a few paces of you. When Miss Covington
noticed me I at once heard your voices."

"Yes, you gave us both quite a start, and Hilda said we must either give
up talking silently or let you into our secret; so I don't think that
she will be vexed when I tell her that I have let it out."

"I am glad to have the matter explained," he said, "for really I asked
myself whether I must not have been temporarily deaf, and should have
thought it was so had I not heard the laughing as distinctly as usual. I
came to the conclusion that you must, for some reason or other, have
dropped your voices to a whisper, and that one or the other was telling
some important secret that you did not wish even the winds to hear."

"I think that this is the only secret that we have," Netta laughed.

"Seriously, this is most interesting to me as a doctor, and it is a
thousand pities that a system that acts so admirably should not be
introduced into this country. You should set up a similar institution
here, Miss Purcell."

"I have been thinking of doing so some day. Hilda is always urging me to
it, but I feel that I am too young yet to take the head of an
establishment, but in another four or five years' time I shall think
seriously about it."

"I can introduce you to all the aurists in London, Miss Purcell, and I
am sure that you will soon get as many inmates as you may choose to
take. In cases where their own skill fails altogether, they would be
delighted to comfort parents by telling them how their children may
learn to dispense altogether with the sense of hearing."

"Not quite altogether," she said. "It has happened very often, as it did
just now, that I have been addressed by someone at whom I did not
happen to be looking, and then I have to explain my apparent rudeness by
owning myself to be entirely deaf. Unfortunately, I have not always been
able to make people believe it, and I have several times been soundly
rated by strangers for endeavoring to excuse my rudeness by a palpable
falsehood."

"Really, I am hardly surprised," Dr. Leeds said, "for I should myself
have found it difficult to believe that one altogether deaf could have
been taught to join in conversation as you do. Well, I must be very
careful what I say in future while in the society of two young ladies
possessed of such dangerous and exceptional powers."

"You need not be afraid, doctor; I feel sure that there is no one here
to whom you would venture to give us a bad character."

"I think," he went on more seriously, "that Miss Covington's mother was
very wise in warning her against her letting anyone know that she could
read conversations at a distance. People would certainly be afraid of
her, for gossipmongers would be convinced that she was overhearing, if I
may use the word, what was said, if she happened to look at them only
casually."

       *       *       *       *       *

At the end of three months the General became restless, and was
constantly expressing a wish to be brought back to London.

"What do you think yourself, Dr. Leeds?" Dr. Pearson said, when he paid
one of his usual visits.

"He is, of course, a great deal better than he was when he first came
down," the former replied, "but there is still that curious hesitation
in his speech, as if he was suffering from partial paralysis. I am not
surprised at his wanting to get up to town again. As he improves in
health he naturally feels more and more the loss of his usual course of
life. I should certainly have advised his remaining here until he had
made a good deal further advancement, but as he has set his mind upon
it, I believe that more harm would be done by refusing than by his
going. In fact, I think that he has, if anything, gone back in the last
fortnight, and above all things it is necessary to avoid any course that
might cause irritation, and so set up fresh brain disturbances."

"I am quite of your opinion, Leeds. I have noticed myself that he
hesitates more than he did a short time since, and sometimes, instead of
joining in the conversation, he sits moody and silent; and he is
beginning to resent being looked after and checked."

"Yes; he said to me the other day quite angrily, 'I don't want to be
treated as a child or a helpless invalid, doctor. I took a mile walk
yesterday. I am beginning to feel quite myself again; it will do me a
world of good to be back in London, and to drive down to the club and to
have a chat with my old friends again.'"

"Well, I think it best that he should not be thwarted. You have looked
at the scars from time to time, I suppose?"

"Yes; there has been no change in them, they are very red, but he tells
me--and what is more to the point, his man tells me--that they have
always been so."

"What do you think, Leeds? Will he ever be himself again? Watching the
case from day to day as you have done, your opinion is worth a good deal
more than mine."

"I have not the slightest hope of it," the young doctor replied quietly.
"I have seen as complete wrecks as he is gradually pull themselves round
again, but they have been cases where they have been the victims of
drink or of some malady from which they had been restored by a
successful operation. In his case we have failed altogether to determine
the cause of his attack, or the nature of it. We have been feeling in
the dark, and hitherto have failed to discover a clew that we could
follow up. So far there has been no recurrence of his first seizure,
but, with returning strength and returning brain work, it is in my
opinion more than likely that we shall have another recurrence of it.
The shock has been a tremendous one to the system. Were he a younger man
he might have rallied from it, but I doubt whether at his age he will
ever get over it. Actually he is, I believe, under seventy; physically
and mentally, he is ninety."

"That is so, and between ourselves I cannot but think that a long
continuance of his life is not to be desired. I believe with you that he
will be a confirmed invalid, requiring nursing and humoring like a
child, and for the sake of Miss Covington and all around him one cannot
wish that his life should be prolonged."

"I trust that, when the end comes, Dr. Pearson, it will be gradual and
painless, and that there will be no recurrence of that dreadful
seizure."

"I hope so indeed. I have seen many men in bad fits, but I never saw
anything to equal that. I can assure you that several of the men who
were present--men who had gone through a dozen battles--were completely
prostrated by it. At least half a dozen of them, men whom I had never
attended before, knowing that I had been present, called upon me within
the next two or three days for advice, and were so evidently completely
unstrung that I ordered them an entire change of scene at once, and
recommended them to go to Homburg, take the waters, and play at the
tables; to do anything, in fact, that would distract their minds from
dwelling upon the painful scene that they had witnessed. Had it not been
for that, one would have had no hesitation in assigning his illness to
some obscure form of paralysis; as it is, it is unaccountable. Except,"
he added, with a smile, "by your theory of poison."

The younger doctor did not smile in return. "It is the only cause that I
can assign for it," he said gravely. "The more I study the case, the
more I investigate the writings of medical men in India and on the East
and West Coast of Africa, the more it seems to me that the attack was
the work of a drug altogether unknown to European science, but known to
Obi women, fetich men, and others of that class in Africa. In some of
the accounts of people accused of crime by fetich men, and given liquor
to drink, which they are told will not affect them if innocent, but will
kill them if guilty, I find reports of their being seized with instant
and violent convulsions similar to those that you witnessed. These
convulsions often end in death; sometimes, where, I suppose, the dose
was larger than usual, the man drops dead in his tracks while drinking
it. Sometimes he dies in convulsions; at other times he recovers
partially and lingers on, a mere wreck, for some months. In other cases,
where, I suppose, the dose was a light one, and the man's relatives were
ready to pay the fetich man handsomely, the recovery was speedy and
complete; that is to say, if, as is usually the case, the man was not
put to death at once upon the supposed proof of his guilt. By what
possible means such poison could have found its way to England, for
there is no instance of its nature being divulged to Europeans, I know
not, nor how it could have been administered; but I own that it is still
the only theory by which I can account for the General's state. I need
not say that I should never think of giving the slightest hint to anyone
but yourself as to my opinion in the matter, and trust most sincerely
that I am mistaken; but although I have tried my utmost I cannot
overcome the conviction that the theory is a correct one, and I think,
Dr. Pearson, that if you were to look into the accounts of the various
ways in which the poisons are sold by old negro women to those anxious
to get rid of enemies or persons whose existence is inconvenient to
them, and by the fetich men in these ordeals, you will admit at least
that had you been practicing on the West Coast, and any white man there
had such an attack as that through which the General has passed, you
would without hesitation have put it down to poison by some negro who
had a grudge against him."

"No doubt, no doubt," the other doctor admitted; "but, you see, we are
not on the West Coast. These poisons are, as you admit, absolutely
unobtainable by white men from the men and women who prepare them. If
obtainable, when would they have been brought here, and by whom? And
lastly, by whom administered, and from what motive? I admit all that you
say about the African poisons. I lately had a long talk about them with
a medical man who had been on the coast for four or five years, but
until these other questions can be answered I must refuse to believe
that this similarity is more than accidental, and in any possible way
due to the same cause."

"That is what I have told myself scores of times, and it would be a
relief to me indeed could I find some other explanation of the matter.
Then, you think that he had better come up to London?"

"I leave the matter in your hands, Dr. Leeds. I would give him a few
days longer and try the effect of a slight sedative; possibly his desire
to get up to town may die out. If so, he is without doubt better here.
If, however, you see that his irritation increases, and he becomes more
and more set upon it, by all means take him up. How would you do so? By
rail or road?"

"Certainly by rail. I have been trying to make him feel that he is a
free agent, and encouraged him in the belief that he is stronger and
better. If then I say to him, 'My dear General, you are, of course, free
to do as you like, and it may be that the change will be beneficial to
you; if the ladies can be ready to-morrow, let us start without further
delay,' I consider it quite possible that this ready and cheerful
acquiescence may result in his no longer desiring it. One knows that in
this respect sick people are very like fractious children. They set
their minds on some special article of food, as a child does on a toy,
and when it comes they will refuse to touch it, as the child will throw
the coveted toy down."

It turned out so in this case. The moment the General found that the
doctor was willing that he should go up to town, and the ladies quite
ready to accompany him at once, he himself began to raise objections.

"Perhaps it would be as well that we should wait another month," he
replied. A little pretended opposition strengthened this view, and the
return was postponed. At the end of the month he had made so much
progress that, when the longing for London was again expressed, Dr.
Leeds offered no opposition, and two days later the whole party went
up.



CHAPTER X.

TWO HEAVY BLOWS.


During the four months that General Mathieson had remained at Holmwood
no one had been more constant in his inquiries as to his health than Mr.
Simcoe. He had seen Hilda before she started, and had begged her to let
him have a line once a week, saying how her uncle was going on.

"I will get Dr. Leeds to write," she said. "My own opinion will be worth
nothing, but his will be valuable. I am afraid that he will find time
hang heavily on his hands, and he will not mind writing. I do not like
writing letters at the best of times, but in the trouble we are in now I
am sure that I shall not be equal to it."

Dr. Leeds willingly undertook the duty of sending a short weekly
bulletin, not only to Mr. Simcoe, but to a dozen other intimate friends.

"It is not half an hour's work," he said, when Netta offered to relieve
him by addressing the envelopes or copying out his report; "very few
words will be sufficient. 'The General has made some slight progress
this week,' or 'The General remains in very much the same state,' or 'I
am glad to be able to record some slight improvement.' That, with my
signature, will be quite sufficient, and when I said that half an hour
would be enough I exaggerated: I fancy that it will be all done in five
minutes."

Mr. Simcoe occasionally wrote a few lines of thanks, but scarcely a day
passed that he did not send some little present for the invalid--a bunch
of the finest grapes, a few choice peaches, and other fruit from abroad.
Of flowers they had plenty in their own conservatories at Holmwood,
while game was abundant, for both from neighbors and from club friends
they received so large a quantity that a considerable proportion was
sent back in hampers to the London hospitals.

Some of Mr. Simcoe's presents were of a different description. Among
them was a machine that would hold a book at any angle desired, while at
the same time there was a shelf upon which a cup or tumbler, a spare
book or newspaper, could be placed.

"At any rate, Hilda, this Mr. Simcoe of yours is very thoughtful and
kind towards your uncle," Netta said.

"Yes," Hilda admitted reluctantly, "he certainly is very thoughtful, but
I would much rather he did not send things. We can get anything we want
from Warwick or Leamington, or indeed from London, merely by sending a
line or a telegram. One hates being under obligations to a man one does
not like."

"It seems to me at present that you are unjust, Hilda; and I certainly
look forward to seeing him in London and drawing my own conclusions."

"Yes, no doubt you will see him, and often enough too," Hilda said
pettishly. "Of course, if uncle means to go to his club, it will be
impossible to say that he is unfit to see his friends at home."

Netta, however, did not see Mr. Simcoe on their return, for Dr. Leeds,
on the suggestion of Hilda, stated in his last report that the General
would be going up to town in a day or two, but that he strongly
deprecated any visits until he could see how the invalid stood the
journey.

There was no doubt that he stood it badly. Just at first the excitement
seemed to inspire him with strength, but this soon died away, and he had
to be helped from the railway carriage to the brougham, and lifted out
when he arrived at home. Dr. Leeds saw to his being carried upstairs,
undressed, and put to bed.

"He is weaker than I thought," he said in reply to Hilda's anxious look
when he joined the party downstairs. "I cannot say that it is want of
physical strength, for he has walked over a mile several times without
apparent fatigue. It seems to me that it is rather failure of will
power, or brain power, if you like. I noticed that he very frequently
sat looking out of the window, and it is possible that the succession of
objects passing rapidly before the eye has had the same effect of
inducing giddiness that waltzing has to one unaccustomed to it. I trust
that to-morrow the effect will have passed off. I had, as you know,
intended to sleep at a friend's chambers to-night; but I should not
think of doing so now, but will sit up with him. I will get Roberts to
take watch and watch with me. I can lie down on the sofa, and he can
wake me should there be any change. I sent him off in a cab, as soon as
we got your uncle into bed, to fetch Dr. Pearson; if he is at home, he
will be here in a few minutes."

It was, however, half an hour before Dr. Pearson came, as he was out
when the cab arrived. He had on the way learned from Tom Roberts the
state in which the General had arrived, and he hurried upstairs at once
to his room.

"So he has broken down badly, Leeds?"

"Very badly."

"I did not expect it. When I saw him last Sunday he seemed to have made
so much progress that I thought there could be no harm in his being
brought up to London, though, as I said to you, I thought it would be
better to dissuade him from going to his club. He might see a few of his
friends and have a quiet chat with them here. His pulse is still much
fuller than I should have expected from the account his man gave of him.
There is a good deal of irregularity, but that has been the case ever
since the attack."

"I think that it is mental rather than bodily collapse," the younger man
said. "A sudden failure of brain power. He was absolutely unable to make
any effort to walk, or indeed to move his limbs at all. It was a sort of
mental paralysis."

"And to some slight extent bodily also," Dr. Pearson said, leaning over
the bed and examining the patient closely. "Do you see there is a
slight, but distinct, contortion of the face, just as there was after
that fit?"

"I see there is. He has not spoken since we lifted him from the railway
carriage, and I am afraid that to-morrow we shall find that he has
lost, partially or entirely, the power of speech. I fear that this is
the beginning of the end."

Dr. Pearson nodded.

"There can be little doubt of it, nor could we wish it to be otherwise.
Still, he may linger for weeks or even months."

Hilda read the doctor's opinion in his face when he went downstairs.

"Oh, doctor, don't say he is going to die!" she cried.

"I do not say that he is going to die at once, my dear. He may live for
some time yet, but it is of no use concealing from you that neither Dr.
Leeds nor myself have the slightest hope of his ultimate recovery. There
can be no doubt that paralysis is creeping over him, and that it is most
unlikely that he will ever leave his bed again.

"Yes, I know it is hard, dear," he said soothingly, as she burst into
tears, "but much as you will regret his loss you cannot but feel that it
is best so. He could never have been himself again, never have enjoyed
his life. There would have been an ever-present anxiety and a dread of a
recurrence of that fit. You will see in time that it is better for him
and for you that it should be as it is, although, of course, you can
hardly see that just at present. And now I must leave you to your kind
friends here."

Miss Purcell knew well enough that just at present words of consolation
would be thrown away, and that it was a time only for silent sympathy,
and her gentle words and the warm pressure of Netta's hand did more to
restore Hilda's composure than any repetition of the doctor's well-meant
assurance that all was for the best could do.

"Would you like me to write a line in your name to Colonel Bulstrode?"
she asked.

"No, no!" Hilda cried; "it would look as if we had made up your minds
that uncle was going to die. If he were conscious it would be different;
for I know that Colonel Bulstrode is his greatest friend and is named
one of his trustees, and uncle might want to talk to him. Oh, how one
wishes at a time like this that one had a brother, or that he had a son
alive, or that there was someone who would naturally step in and take
everything into his hands!"

"There are his lawyers," Miss Purcell suggested.

"Yes, I did not think of them. Mr. Pettigrew is the other trustee, and
is, I know, joint guardian with me of Walter. I am sorry now that we did
not leave the dear little fellow down at Holmwood, it will be so sad and
dull for him here, and he would have been very happy in the country. But
perhaps it is best as it is; if my uncle recovers consciousness he is
sure to ask for him. He had come to be very fond of him, and Walter has
been so much with him lately."

"Yes, his eyes always used to follow the child about in his play," Miss
Purcell said. "I think it is best that he should be here, and as the
nursery is at the top of the house he will not be in anyone's way."

There was but little change in General Mathieson's condition next
morning, although a slight movement, when Hilda spoke to him, showed
that he was dimly conscious of her presence, and when she brought the
child down and he laid his hand on that of the General, and said
"Good-morning, grandfather," according to his custom, he opened his eyes
for a moment, and there was a slight movement of the lips, as if he were
trying to speak.

"Thank you, Miss Covington," Dr. Leeds said; "the experiment was worth
making, and it proves that his state of unconsciousness is not
complete."

Walter always took his dinner with the others when they lunched.

"Where is the child?" Hilda asked the footman; "have you sent him up to
tell nurse that lunch is ready?"

"I have not sent up, miss, because nurse has not come back with him from
his walk."

"No doubt she will be back in a few minutes," Hilda said. "She is very
punctual; I never knew her late before."

[Illustration: THE NURSE WAS SITTING ON A CHAIR, SOBBING BITTERLY.
_--Page 117._]

Lunch was half over when Tom Roberts came in with a scared expression on
his usually somewhat stolid face.

"If you please, miss, nurse wishes to speak to you."

"What is the matter, Roberts?" Hilda exclaimed, starting up. "Has Walter
met with an accident?"

"Well, no, miss, not as I know of, but nurse has come home, and she is
just like a wild thing; somehow or other Master Walter has got lost."

Hilda, followed by Netta and Miss Purcell, ran out into the hall. The
nurse, a woman of two or three and thirty, the daughter of one of the
General's tenants, and who had been in charge of the child since he
arrived a baby from India, was sitting on a chair, sobbing bitterly. Her
bonnet hung down at the back of her head, her hair was unloosed, and she
had evidently been running wildly to and fro. Her appearance at once
disarmed Hilda, who said soothingly:

"How has it happened, nurse? Stop crying and tell us. I am sure that it
could not have been your fault, for you are always so careful with him.
There is no occasion to be so terribly upset. Of course he will soon be
found. The first policeman who sees him will be sure to take him to the
station. Now how did it happen?"

"I was walking along Queen's Road, miss," the woman said between her
sobs, "and Master Walter was close beside me. I know that special,
because we had just passed a crossing, and I took hold of his hand as we
went over--when a man--he looked like a respectable working-man--came up
to me and said, 'I see you are a mother, ma'am.' 'Not at all,' said I;
'how dare you say such a thing? I am a nurse; I am in charge of this
young gentleman.' 'Well,' said he, 'I can see that you have a kind
heart, anyhow; that is what made me speak to you. I am a carpenter, I
am, and I have been out of work for months, and I have a child at home
just about this one's age. He is starving, and I haven't a bit to put in
his mouth. The parish buried my wife three weeks ago, and I am well-nigh
mad. Would you give me the money to buy him a loaf of bread?' The man
was in such distress, miss, that I took out my purse and gave him a
shilling, and thankful he was; he was all but crying, and could not say
enough to thank me. Then I turned to take hold of Walter's hand, and
found that the child had gone. I could not have been more than two or
three minutes talking; though it always does take me a long time to take
my purse out of my pocket, still I know that it could not have been
three minutes altogether.

"First of all, I went back to the crossing, and looked up and down the
street, but he wasn't there; then I thought that perhaps he had walked
on, and was hiding for fun in a shop doorway. When I could not see him
up or down I got regular frighted, and ran up and down like a mad thing.
Once I came back as far as the house, but there were no signs of him,
and I knew that he could not have got as far as this, even if he had run
all the way. Then I thought of the mews, and I ran back there. Master
Walter was very fond of horses, and he generally stopped when we got to
the entrance of the mews, and stood looking for a minute or two at the
grooms cleaning the horses, and I thought that he might have gone in
there. There were two or three men about, but none had seen the child.
Still I ran on, and looked into several stables, a-calling for him all
the time. When he wasn't there, I went well-nigh stark mad, and I ran up
and down the streets asking everyone I met had they seen a child. Then I
came back here to tell you."

"We shall soon hear of him, nurse. Roberts, do you and William start out
at once. Go first to the police station and give notice that the child
is missing--he cannot have wandered far--and then do you and James go
all round the neighborhood and tell every policeman that you meet what
has happened. You can ask in all the shops in Queen's Road and the
streets near; he may have wandered into one of them, and as he was
alone, they may have kept him until someone came to inquire after him.
Now, Netta, will you put on your bonnet and come out with me?"

"Shall I come with you too, Hilda?"

"No, thank you, Miss Purcell. In the first place we shall walk too fast
for you, and in the second it would be as well for you to be here to
comfort him if he is brought back while we are out. We will come every
half-hour to hear if there is news of him. You had better go upstairs
and make yourself tidy, nurse, and then you can come out and join in the
hunt. But you look so utterly worn out and exhausted that I think
perhaps you had better sit quiet for a time; you may be sure that it
will not be long before some of us bring him back.

"I could not sit still, Miss Covington," the woman said. "I will just
run upstairs and put myself straight, and then go out again."

"Try and calm yourself, nurse, or you will be taken for a madwoman; you
certainly looked like one when you came in."

Two minutes later Hilda and her friend started.

"Let us go first into Kensington Gardens, Netta; he often went there to
play, and if he came down into the main road, he would very likely
wander in. It is probable that nurse may have been longer speaking to
that man than she thinks, and that he had time to get a good way before
she missed him."

The gardens were thoroughly searched, and the park-keepers questioned,
but there were no signs of Walter. Then they called at the house to see
whether there was any news of him. Finding that there was not, they
again went out. They had no real hopes of finding him now, for Hilda was
convinced that he was not in any of the streets near. Had he been,
either the nurse or the men would have found him.

"He has, no doubt, been either taken by some kind-hearted person who has
found him lost," she said, "and who has either given notice to the
police, or he has been taken by them to the police station. Still, it
relieves one to walk about; it would be impossible to sit quiet, doing
nothing. The others will have searched all the streets near, and we had
better go up the Edgware Road, search in that direction, and give notice
to any policemen we find."

But the afternoon went on and no news was received of the missing child.
It was a relief to them when Dr. Leeds, who had gone off watch for a few
hours at twelve o'clock, returned. He looked grave for a moment when he
heard the news, but said cheerfully, "It is very annoying, Miss
Covington, but you need not alarm yourself; Walter is bound to turn up."

"But he ought to have been sent to the police station long before this,"
Hilda said tearfully.

"Of course he ought, if all people possessed common-sense;
unfortunately, they don't. I expect that at the present moment he is
eating bread and jam, or something of that sort in the house of some
kind-hearted old lady who has taken him in, and the idea of informing
the police has never occurred to her for a moment, and, unfortunately,
may not occur for some little time. However, if you will give me the
details of his dress, I will go at once with it to the printer's and get
two or three hundred notices struck off and sent round, to be placed in
tradesmen's windows and stuck up on walls, saying that whoever will
bring the child here will be handsomely rewarded. This is sure to fetch
him before long."

There was but little sleep that night at General Mathieson's. The master
of the house still lay unconscious, and from time to time Dr. Leeds came
down to say a few cheering words to the anxious girls. Tom Roberts
walked the streets all night with the faint idea of finding the child
asleep on a doorstep, and went three times to the police station to ask
if there was any news. The first thing in the morning Hilda went with
Dr. Leeds to Scotland Yard, and the description of the child was at once
sent to every station in London; then she drove by herself to the office
of Messrs. Farmer & Pettigrew, and waited there until the latter
gentleman arrived. Mr. Pettigrew, who was a very old friend of the
family, looked very grave over the news.

"I will not conceal from you, Miss Covington," he said, when she had
finished her story, "that the affair looks to me somewhat serious; and I
am afraid that you will have to make up your mind that you may not see
the little fellow as soon as you expect. Had he been merely lost, you
should certainly have heard of him in a few hours after the various and,
I may say, judicious steps that you have taken. A child who loses
himself in the streets of London is morally certain to come into the
hands of the police in a very few hours."

"Then what can have become of him, Mr. Pettigrew?"

"It may be that, as not unfrequently happens, the child has been stolen
for the sake of his clothes. In that case he will probably be heard of
before very long. Or it may be a case of blackmail. Someone, possibly an
acquaintance of one of the servants, may have known that the child, as
the grandson and heir of General Mathieson, would be a valuable prize,
and that, if he could be carried off, his friends might finally be
forced to pay a considerable sum to recover him. I must say that it
looks to me like a planned thing. One of the confederates engages the
silly woman, his nurse, in a long rambling talk; the other picks the
child quietly up or entices him away to the next corner, where he has a
cab in waiting, and drives off with him at once. However, in neither
case need you fear that the child will come to serious harm. If he has
been stolen for the sake of his clothes the woman will very speedily
turn him adrift, and he will be brought home to you by the police in
rags. If, on the other hand, he has been taken for the purpose of
blackmail, you may be sure that he will be well cared for, for he will,
in the eyes of those who have taken him, be a most valuable possession.
In that case you may not hear from the abductors for some little time.
They will know that, as the search continues and no news is obtained,
his friends will grow more and more anxious, and more ready to pay
handsomely for his return. Of course it is a most annoying and
unfortunate business, but I really do not think that you have any
occasion to feel anxious about his safety, and it is morally certain
that in time you will have him back, safe and sound. Now how is your
uncle? I hope that he shows signs of rallying?"

"I am sorry to say there was no sign whatever of his doing so up to
eight o'clock this morning, and, indeed, Dr. Pearson told me that he has
but little hope of his doing so. He thinks that there has been a slight
shock of paralysis. Dr. Leeds speaks a little more hopefully than Dr.
Pearson, but that is his way, and I think that he too considers that the
end is not far off."

"Your friends, Miss Purcell and her niece, are still with you, I hope?"

"Yes; they will not leave me as long as I am in trouble. I don't know
what I should do without them, especially now this new blow has fallen
upon me."

"Well, my dear, if you receive any communication respecting this boy
send it straight to me. I do not know whether you are aware that you and
I have been appointed his guardians?"

"Yes; uncle told me so months ago. But I never thought then that he
would not live till Walter came of age, and I thought that it was a mere
form."

"Doubtless it seemed so at the time," Mr. Pettigrew agreed; "your
uncle's was apparently an excellent life, and he was as likely as anyone
I know to have attained a great age."

"There is nothing you can advise me to do at present?"

"Nothing whatever, besides what you have done. The police all over
London will be on the lookout for a lost child; they will probably
assume at once that he has been stolen for his clothes, and will expect
to see the child they are in search of in rags. They will know, too, the
quarter in which he is most likely to be found. If it is for this
purpose that he has been stolen you can confidently expect to have him
back by to-morrow at latest; the woman would be anxious to get rid of
him without loss of time. If the other hypothesis is correct you may not
hear for a fortnight or three weeks; the fellows in that case will be
content to bide their time."

Hilda drove back with a heavy heart. Netta herself opened the door, and
her swollen eyes at once told the truth.

"Uncle is dead?" Hilda exclaimed.

"Yes, dear; he passed away half an hour ago, a few minutes after Dr.
Leeds returned. The doctor ran down himself for a moment, almost
directly he had gone up, and said that the General was sinking fast, and
that the end might come at any moment. Ten minutes later he came down
and told us that all was over."



CHAPTER XI.

A STARTLING WILL.


Mr. Pettigrew at once took the management of affairs at the house in
Hyde Park Gardens into his hands, as one of the trustees, as joint
guardian of the heir, and as family solicitor. Hilda was completely
prostrated by the two blows that had so suddenly fallen, and was glad
indeed that all necessity for attending to business was taken off her
hands.

"We need not talk about the future at present," Mr. Pettigrew said to
her; "that is a matter that can be considered afterwards. You are most
fortunate in having the lady with whom you so long lived here with you,
and I trust that some permanent arrangement may be made. In any case you
could not, of course, well remain here alone."

"I have not thought anything about it yet," she said wearily. "Oh, I
wish I were a man, Mr. Pettigrew; then I could do something myself
towards searching for Walter, instead of being obliged to sit here
uselessly."

"If you were a man, Miss Covington, you could do nothing more at present
than is being done. The police are keeping up a most vigilant search. I
have offered a reward of five hundred pounds for any news that may lead
to the child's discovery, and notices have even been sent to the
constabularies of all the home counties, requesting them to make
inquiries if any tramp or tramps, accompanied by a child of about the
age of our young ward, have been seen passing along the roads. But, as I
told you when you called upon me, I have little doubt but that it is a
case of blackmail, and that it will not be long before we hear of him.
It is probable that the General's death has somewhat disconcerted them,
and it is likely that they may wait to see how matters go and who is the
person with whom they had best open negotiations. I have no doubt that
they are in some way or other keeping themselves well informed of what
is taking place here."

       *       *       *       *       *

The funeral was over, the General being followed to the grave by a
number of his military friends and comrades, and the blinds at the house
in Hyde Park Gardens were drawn up again. On the following morning Mr.
Pettigrew came to the house early. He was a man who was methodical in
all his doings, and very rarely ruffled. As soon as he entered, however,
Hilda saw that something unusual had happened.

"Have you heard of Walter?" she exclaimed.

"No, my dear, but I have some strange and unpleasant news to give you.
Yesterday afternoon I received an intimation from Messrs. Halstead &
James, saying that they had in their possession the will of the late
General Mathieson bearing date the 16th of May of the present year. I
need not say that I was almost stupefied at the news. The firm is one of
high standing, and it is impossible to suppose that any mistake has
arisen; at the same time it seemed incredible that the General should
thus have gone behind our backs, especially as it was only three months
before that we had at his request drawn out a fresh will for him. Still,
I am bound to say that such cases are by no means rare. A man wants to
make a fresh disposition of his property, in a direction of which he
feels that his own solicitors, especially when they are old family
solicitors, will not approve, and, therefore, he gets it done by some
other firm, with the result that, at his death, it comes like a
bombshell to all concerned. I can hardly doubt that it is so in this
case, although what dispositions the General may have made of his
property, other than those contained in the last will we drew up, I am
unable to say. At any rate one of the firm will come round to our office
at twelve o'clock with this precious document, and I think that it is
right that you should be present when it is opened. You will be
punctual, will you not?"

"You can rely upon my being there a few minutes before twelve, Mr.
Pettigrew. It all seems very strange. I knew what was the general
purport of my uncle's last will, for he spoke of it to me. It was, he
said, the same as the one before it, with the exception that he had left
a handsome legacy to the man who had saved his life from a tiger. I was
not surprised at this at all. He had taken a very great fancy to this
Mr. Simcoe, who was constantly here, and it seemed to me only natural
that he should leave some of his money to a man who had done him so
great a service, and who, as he told me, had nearly lost his own life in
doing it."

"Quite so," the lawyer agreed; "it seemed natural to us all. His
property was large enough to permit of his doing so without making any
material difference to his grandchild, who will come into a fine estate
with large accumulations during his long minority. Now I must be off."

There was a little council held after the lawyer had left.

"They say troubles never comes singly," Hilda remarked, "and certainly
the adage is verified in my case."

"But we must hope that this will not be so, my dear," Miss Purcell said.

"It cannot be any personal trouble, aunt," for Hilda had fallen back
into her old habit of so addressing her, "because uncle told me that, as
I was so well off, he had only put me down for a small sum in his will,
just to show that he had not forgotten me. I feel sure that he will have
made no change in that respect, and that whatever alteration he may have
made cannot affect me in the least; except, of course, he may have come
to the conclusion that it would be better to appoint two men as
guardians to Walter, but I hardly think that he would have done that.
However, there must be something strange about it, or he would not have
gone to another firm of solicitors. No, I feel convinced that there is
some fresh trouble at hand."

The carriage drew up at the office in Lincoln's Inn at five minutes to
twelve. Mr. Pettigrew had not included Miss Purcell and Netta in the
invitation, but Hilda insisted upon their coming with her. They were
shown at once into his private room, where some extra chairs had been
placed. Colonel Bulstrode was already there, and Mr. Farmer joined his
partner as soon as they were seated.

"This is a most singular affair, Miss Covington," he said, "and I need
hardly say that it is a matter of great annoyance as well as surprise to
Pettigrew and myself. Of course General Mathieson was perfectly free to
go to any other firm of solicitors, but as we have made the wills for
his family and yours for the last hundred years, as well as conducted
all their legal business, it is an unpleasant shock to find that he has
gone elsewhere, and I must say that I am awaiting the reading of this
will with great curiosity, as its contents will doubtless furnish us
with the reason why he had it thus prepared."

Just at the stroke of twelve Mr. Halstead and Mr. James were announced.

"We thought it as well," the former said, "for us both to come, Mr.
Farmer, for we can understand your surprise at finding that a later will
than that which is doubtless in your possession is in existence, and we
are ready to explain the whole circumstances under which it was drawn
out by us. General Mathieson came one day to our office. He brought with
him the card of Colonel Bulstrode; but this was unnecessary, for some
months ago the General was at our office with the Colonel. He was only
there for the purpose of fixing his name as a witness to the colonel's
signature, as our client, like many others, preferred having a personal
friend to witness his signature instead of this being done by one of our
clerks."

"That was so," the Colonel interjected.

"General Mathieson," Mr. Halstead went on, "was only in our office a
minute or two on that occasion, but of course that was sufficient for us
to recognize him when he called again. He told us that he desired us to
draw out a will, and that as he had determined to appoint Mr. Pettigrew
one of his trustees and guardian to his heir, he thought it as well to
employ another firm to draw up the will.

"We pointed out that such a precaution was altogether needless when
dealing with a firm like yours, and he then said, 'I have another
reason. I am making a change in one of the provisions of the will, and I
fancy that Farmer & Pettigrew might raise an argument upon it. Here are
the instructions,' I said, 'You will permit me to read them through,
General, before giving you a decided answer.' Had the will contained any
provision that we considered unjust we should have declined to have had
anything to do with the matter; but as it in no way diverted the
property from the natural heir, and was, as far as we could see, a just
and reasonable one, we saw no cause for refusing to carry out his
instructions; for we have known, as doubtless you have known, many
similar instances, in which men, for some reason or other, have chosen
to go outside their family solicitors in matters which they desired
should remain entirely a secret until after their death. Had General
Mathieson come to us as an altogether unknown person we should have
point-blank refused to have had anything to do with the business; but as
an intimate friend of our client Colonel Bulstrode, and as being known
to us to some extent personally, we decided to follow the instructions
given us in writing. I will now, with your permission, read the will."

"First let me introduce Miss Covington to you," Mr. Farmer said. "She is
the General's nearest relative, with the exception of his grandson.
These ladies are here with her as her friends."

Mr. Halstead bowed, then broke the seals on a large envelope, drew out a
parchment, and proceeded to read it. Messrs. Farmer & Pettigrew listened
with increasing surprise as he went on. The legacies were absolutely
identical with those in the will that they had last prepared. The same
trustees and guardians for the child were appointed, and they were
unable to understand what had induced General Mathieson to have what
was almost a duplicate of his previous will prepared so secretly. The
last paragraph, however, enlightened them. Instead of Hilda Covington,
John Simcoe was named as heir to the bulk of the property in the event
of the decease of Walter Rivington, his grandson, before coming of age.

Hilda gave an involuntary start as the change was announced, and the two
lawyers looked at each other in dismay. Mr. Halstead, to whom the
General had explained his reasons for gratitude to John Simcoe, saw
nothing unusual in the provision, which indeed was heralded with the
words, "as my only near relative, Hilda Covington, is well endowed, I
hereby appoint my dear friend, John Simcoe, my sole heir in the event of
the decease of my grandson, Walter Rivington, before coming of age, in
token of my appreciation of his heroic rescue of myself from the jaws of
a tiger, in the course of which rescue he was most seriously wounded."

When he had finished he laid down the will and looked round.

"I hope," he said, "that this will be satisfactory to all parties."

"By gad, sir," Colonel Bulstrode said hotly, "I should call this last
part as unsatisfactory as possible."

"The will is identical," Mr. Farmer said, without heeding the Colonel's
interjection, "with the one that General Mathieson last executed. The
persons benefited and the amounts left to them are in every case the
same, but you will understand the dismay with which we have heard the
concluding paragraph when I tell you that General Mathieson's heir,
Walter Rivington, now a child of six or seven years old, disappeared--I
think I may say was kidnaped--on the day preceding General Mathieson's
death, and that all efforts to discover his whereabouts have so far been
unsuccessful."

Mr. Halstead and his partner looked at each other with dismay, even
greater than that exhibited by the other lawyers.

"God bless me!" Mr. Halstead exclaimed. "This is a bad business
indeed--and a very strange one. Do you think that this Mr. Simcoe can
have been aware of this provision in his favor?"

"It is likely enough that he was aware of it," Mr. Pettigrew said; "he
was constantly in the company of General Mathieson, and the latter, who
was one of the frankest of men, may very well have informed him; but
whether he actually did do so or not of course I cannot say. Would you
have any objection to my looking at the written instructions?"

"Certainly not. I brought them with me in order that they may be
referred to as to any question that might arise."

"It is certainly in the General's own handwriting," Mr. Pettigrew said,
after looking at the paper. "But, indeed, the identity of the legacies
given to some twenty or thirty persons, and of all the other provisions
of the will, including the appointment of trustees and guardians, with
those of the will in our possession, would seem in itself to set the
matter at rest. Were you present yourself when the General signed it?"

"Certainly. Both Mr. James and myself were present. I can now only
express my deep regret that we acceded to the General's request to draw
up the will."

"It is unfortunate, certainly," Mr. Farmer said. "I do not see that
under the circumstances of his introduction by an old client, and the
fact that you had seen him before, anyone could blame you for
undertaking the matter. Such cases are, as you said, by no means
unusual, and I am quite sure that you would not have undertaken it, had
you considered for a moment that any injustice was being done by its
provisions."

"May I ask to whom the property was to go to by the first will?"

"It was to go to Miss Covington. I am sure that I can say, in her name,
that under other circumstances she would not feel in any way aggrieved
at the loss of a property she can well dispense with, especially as the
chances of that provision coming into effect were but small, as the
child was a healthy little fellow, and in all respects likely to live to
come of age."

"I do not care in the least for myself," Hilda said impetuously. "On the
contrary, I would much rather that it had gone to someone else. I should
not have at all liked the thought that I might benefit by Walter's
death, but I would rather that it had been left to anyone but this man,
whom I have always disliked, and whom Walter also disliked. I cannot
give any reason why. I suppose it was an instinct, and now the instinct
is justified, for I feel sure that he is at the bottom of Walter's
disappearance."

"Hush! hush! my dear young lady," Mr. Farmer said, holding up his hand
in dismay, "you must not say such things; they are libelous in the
extreme. Whatever suspicions you may have--and I own that at present
things look awkward--you must not mention those suspicions until you
obtain some evidence in their support. The disappearance of the child at
this moment may be a mere coincidence--a singular one, if you like--and
we shall, of course, examine the matter to the utmost and sift it to the
bottom, but nothing must be said until we have something to go on."

Hilda sat silent, with her lips pressed tightly together and an
expression of determination upon her face. The other solicitors speedily
left, after more expressions of regret.

"What are we going to do next, Mr. Pettigrew?" Hilda asked abruptly, as
the door closed behind them.

"That is too difficult a matter to decide off-hand, but after going into
the whole matter with my co-trustee, Colonel Bulstrode, with the
assistance of my partner, we shall come to some agreement as to the best
course to take. Of course we could oppose the probate of this new will,
but it does not seem to me that we have a leg to stand upon in that
respect. I have no doubt that Halstead & James will retire altogether
from the matter, and refuse to act further. In that case it will be my
duty, of course, to acquaint Simcoe with the provisions of the will,
and to inform him that we, as trustees, shall not proceed to take any
further steps in the matter until the fate of Walter Rivington is
ascertained, but shall until then administer the estate in his behalf.
It will then be for him to take the next step, and he certainly will not
move for some months. After a time he will, of course, apply to the
court to have it declared that Walter Rivington, having disappeared for
a long time, there is reasonable presumption of his death. I shall then,
in your name and mine, as the child's guardians, be heard in opposition,
and I feel sure that the court will refuse to grant the petition,
especially under the serious and most suspicious circumstances of the
case. In time Simcoe will repeat the application, and we shall of course
oppose it. In fact, I think it likely that it will be a good many years
before the court will take the step asked, and all that time we shall be
quietly making inquiries about this man and his antecedents, and we
shall, of course, keep up a search for the child. It may be that his
disappearance is only a coincidence, and that he has, as we at first
supposed, been stolen for the purpose of making a heavy claim for his
return."

"You may be sure that I shall not rest until I find him, Mr. Pettigrew,"
Hilda said. "I shall devote my life to it. I love the child dearly; but
even were he a perfect stranger to me I would do everything in my power,
if only to prevent this man from obtaining the proceeds of his
villainy."

Mr. Farmer again interposed.

"My dear Miss Covington," he said, "you really must not speak like this.
Of course, with us it is perfectly safe. I admit that you have good
reason for your indignation, but you must really moderate your
expressions, which might cause infinite mischief were you to use them
before other people. In the eye of the law a man is innocent until he is
proved guilty, and we have not a shadow of proof that this man has
anything to do with the child's abduction. Moreover, it might do harm in
other ways. To begin with, it might render the discovery of the child
more difficult; for if his abductors were aware or even suspected that
you were searching in all directions for him, they would take all the
greater pains to conceal his hiding-place."

"I will be careful, Mr. Farmer, but I shall proceed to have a search
made at every workhouse and night refuge and place of that sort in
London, and within twenty miles round, and issue more placards of your
offer of a reward of five hundred pounds for information. There is no
harm in that."

"Certainly not. Those are the measures that one would naturally take in
any case. Indeed, I should already have pushed my inquiries in that
direction, but I have hitherto felt sure that had he been merely taken
for his clothes, the police would have traced him before now; but as
they have not been able to do so, that it was a case of blackmail, and
that we should hear very shortly from the people that had stolen him. I
sincerely trust that this may the case, and that it will turn out that
this man Simcoe has nothing whatever to do with it. I will come down and
let you know what steps we are taking from time to time, and learn the
directions in which you are pushing your inquiries."

Neither Miss Purcell nor Netta had spoken from the time they had entered
the room, but as soon as they took their places in the carriage waiting
for them, they burst out.

"What an extraordinary thing, Hilda! And yet," Miss Purcell added, "the
search for Walter may do good in one way; it will prevent you from
turning your thoughts constantly to the past and to the loss that you
have suffered."

"If it had not been for Walter being missing, aunt, I should have
thought nothing of uncle's appointing Mr. Simcoe as heir to his property
if anything should happen to him. This man had obtained an extraordinary
influence over him, and there can be no doubt from uncle's statement to
me that he owed his life solely to him, and that Simcoe indeed was
seriously injured in saving him. He knew that I had no occasion for the
money, and have already more than is good for a girl to have at her
absolute disposal; therefore I am in no way surprised that he should
have left him his estate in the event of Walter's death. All that is
quite right, and I have nothing to say against it, except that I have
always disliked the man. It is only the extraordinary disappearance of
Walter, just at this moment, that seems to me to render it certain that
Simcoe is at the bottom of it. No one else could have had any motive for
stealing Walter, more than any other rich man's child. His interest in
his disappearance is immense. I have no doubt uncle had told him what he
had done, and the man must have seen that his chance of getting the
estate was very small unless the child could be put out of the way."

"You don't think," Netta began, "that any harm can have happened to
him?"

"No, I don't think that. Whether this man would have shrunk from it if
there were no other way, I need not ask myself; but there could have
been no occasion for it. Walter is so young that he will very soon
forget the past; he might be handed over to a gypsy and grow up a little
vagrant, and as there is no mark on him by which he might be identified,
he would be lost to us forever. You see the man can afford to wait. He
has doubtless means of his own--how large I do not know, but I have
heard my uncle say that he had handsome chambers, and certainly he lived
in good style. Now he will have this legacy of ten thousand pounds, and
if the court keeps him waiting ten or fifteen years before pronouncing
Walter dead, he can afford to wait. Anyhow, I shall have plenty of time
in which to act, and it will require a lot of thinking over before I
decide what I had best do."

She lost no time, however, in beginning to work. Posters offering the
reward of five hundred pounds for information of the missing boy were at
once issued, and stuck up not only in London, but in every town and
village within thirty miles. Then she obtained from Mr. Pettigrew the
name of a firm of trustworthy private detectives and set them to make
inquiries, in the first place at all the institutions where a lost child
would be likely to be taken if found, or where it might have been left
by a tramp. Two days after the reading of the will she received the
following letter from John Simcoe:

     "DEAR MISS COVINGTON: I have learned from Messrs. Farmer &
     Pettigrew the liberal and I may say extraordinary generosity shown
     towards myself by the late General Mathieson, whose loss I most
     deeply deplore. My feelings of gratitude are at the present moment
     overwhelmed by the very painful position in which I find myself. I
     had, of course, heard, upon calling at your door to make inquiries,
     that little Walter was missing, and was deeply grieved at the news,
     though not at the time dreaming that it could affect me personally.
     Now, however, the circumstances of the case are completely changed,
     for, by the provisions of the will, I should benefit pecuniarily by
     the poor child's death. I will not for a moment permit myself to
     believe that he is not alive and well, and do not doubt that you
     will speedily recover him; but, until this occurs, I feel that some
     sort of suspicion must attach to me, who am the only person having
     an interest in his disappearance. The thought that this may be so
     is distressing to me in the extreme. Since I heard of his
     disappearance I have spent the greater part of my time in
     traversing the slums of London in hopes of lighting upon him. I
     shall now undertake wider researches, and shall to-day insert
     advertisements in all the daily papers, offering one thousand
     pounds for his recovery. I feel sure that you at least will not for
     a moment entertain unjust suspicions concerning me, but those who
     do not know me well may do so, and although at present none of the
     facts have been made public, I feel as if I were already under a
     cloud, and that men in the club look askance at me, and unless the
     child is found my position will speedily become intolerable. My
     only support in this trial is my consciousness of innocence. You
     will excuse me for intruding upon your sorrow at the present
     moment, but I felt compelled to write as I have done, and to assure
     you that I will use every effort in my power to discover the child,
     not only for his own sake and yours, but because I feel that until
     he is discovered I must continue to rest under the terrible, if
     unspoken, suspicion of being concerned in his disappearance.

     "Believe me, yours very truly,
     "JOHN SIMCOE."



CHAPTER XII.

DR. LEEDS SPEAKS.


After reading John Simcoe's letter, Hilda threw it down with an
exclamation of contempt.

"Read it!" she said to Netta, who was alone with her.

"The letter is good enough as it stands," Netta remarked, as she
finished it.

"Good enough, if coming from anyone else," Hilda said scornfully,
"perhaps better than most men would write, but I think that a rogue can
generally express himself better than an honest man."

"Now you are getting cynical--a new and unpleasant phase in your
character, Hilda. I have heard you say that you do not like this man,
but you have never given me any particular reason for it, beyond, in one
of your letters, saying that it was an instinct. Now do try to give me a
more palpable reason than that. At present it seems to be only a case of
Dr. Fell. You don't like him because you don't."

"I don't like him because from the first I distrusted him. Personally, I
had no reason to complain; on the contrary, he has been extremely civil,
and indeed willing to put himself out in any way to do me small
services. Then, as I told you, Walter disliked him, too, although he was
always bringing chocolates and toys for him; so that the child's dislike
must have been also a sort of instinct. He felt, as I did, that the man
was not true and honest. He always gave me the impression of acting a
part, and I have never been able to understand how a man of his class
could have performed so noble and heroic an act as rushing in almost
unarmed to save another, who was almost a stranger to him, from the
grip of a tiger. So absolutely did I feel this that I have at times
even doubted whether he could be the John Simcoe who had performed this
gallant action."

"My dear Hilda, you are getting fanciful! Do you think that your uncle
was likely to be deceived in such a matter, and that he would not have a
vivid remembrance of his preserver, even after twenty years?"

"That depends on how much he saw of him. My uncle told me that Mr.
Simcoe brought some good introductions from a friend of his at Calcutta
who came out in the same ship with him. No doubt he dined at my uncle's
two or three times--he may even have stayed a few days in the
house--possibly more; but as commanding the district my uncle must have
been fully occupied during the day, and can have seen little of him
until, I suppose, a week or so after his arrival, when he invited him to
join in the hunt for a tiger. Although much hurt on that occasion,
Simcoe was much less injured than my uncle, who lay between life and
death for some time, and Simcoe had left before he was well enough to
see him. If he had dined with my uncle a few times after this affair,
undoubtedly his features would have been so impressed on him that he
would have recognized him, even after twenty years; but, as it was, he
could have no particular interest in this gentleman, and can have
entertained but a hazy recollection of his features. In fact, the
General did not recognize him when he first called upon him, until he
had related certain details of the affair. It had always been a sore
point with my uncle that he had never had an opportunity of thanking his
preserver, who had, as he believed, lost his life at sea before he
himself was off his sick bed, and when he heard the man's story he was
naturally anxious to welcome him with open arms, and to do all in his
power for him. I admit that this man must either have been in Benares
then, or shortly afterwards, for he remembered various officers who were
there and little incidents of cantonment life that could, one would
think, be only known to one who had been there at the time."

"But you say he was only there a week, Hilda?"

"Only a week before this tiger business; but it was a month before he
was able to travel. No doubt all the officers there would make a good
deal of a man who had performed such a deed, and would go and sit with
him and chat to while away the hours; so that he would, in that time,
pick up a great deal of the gossip of the station."

"Well, then, what is your theory, Hilda? The real man, as you say, no
doubt made a great many acquaintances there; this man seems to have been
behind the scenes also."

"He unquestionably knew many of the officers, for uncle told me that he
recognized several men who had been out there when he met them at the
club, and went up and addressed them by name."

"Did they know him also?"

"No; at first none of them had any idea who he was. But that is not
surprising, for they had seen him principally when he was greatly pulled
down; and believing him to be drowned, it would have been strange indeed
if they had recalled his face until he had mentioned who he was."

"Well, it seems to me that you are arguing against yourself, Hilda.
Everything you say points to the fact that this man is the John Simcoe
he claims to be. If he is not Simcoe, who can he be?"

"Ah! There you ask a question that I cannot answer."

"In fact, Hilda, you have nothing beyond the fact that you do not like
the man, and believe that he is not the sort of man to perform an heroic
and self-sacrificing action, on behalf of this curious theory of yours."

"That is all at present, but I mean to set myself to work to find out
more about him. If I can find out that this man is an impostor we shall
recover Walter; if not, I doubt whether we shall ever hear of him
again."

Netta lifted her eyebrows.

"Well, at any rate, you have plenty of time before you, Hilda."

The next morning Dr. Leeds, who had not called for the last three or
four days, came in to say that he was arranging a partnership with a
doctor of considerable eminence, but who was beginning to find the
pressure of work too much for him, and wanted the aid of a younger and
more active man.

"It is a chance in a thousand," he said. "I owe it largely to the kind
manner in which both Sir Henry Havercourt and Dr. Pearson spoke to him
as to my ability. You will excuse me," he went on, after Hilda had
warmly congratulated him, "for talking of myself before I have asked any
questions, but I know that, had you obtained any news of Walter, you
would have let me know at once."

"Certainly I should; but I have some news, and really important news, to
give you." And she related the production of the new will and gave him
the details of its provisions.

He looked very serious.

"It is certainly an ugly outlook," he said. "I have never seen this
Simcoe, but I know from the tone in which you have spoken of him, at
least two or three times, that he is by no means a favorite of yours.
Can you tell me anything about him?"

"Not beyond the fact that he saved the General's life from a tiger a
great many years ago. Shortly after that he was supposed to be lost at
sea. Certainly the vessel in which he sailed went down in a hurricane
with, as was reported, all hands. He says that he was picked up clinging
to a spar. Of his life for the twenty years following he has never given
a very connected account, at least as far as I know; but some of the
stories that I have heard him tell show that he led a very wild sort of
life. Sometimes he was working in a small trader among the islands of
the Pacific, and I believe he had a share in some of these enterprises.
Then he claims to have been in the service of a native prince somewhere
up beyond Burmah, and according to his account took quite an active
part in many sanguinary wars and adventures of all sorts."

The doctor's face grew more and more serious as she proceeded.

"Do I gather, Miss Covington, that you do not believe that this man is
what he claims to be?"

"Frankly that is my opinion, doctor. I own that I have no ground
whatever for my disbelief, except that I have naturally studied the man
closely. I have watched his lips as he spoke. When he has been talking
about these adventures with savages he spoke without effort, and I have
no doubt whatever that he did take part in such adventures; but when he
was speaking of India, and especially when at some of the bachelor
dinners uncle gave there were officers who had known him out there, it
was clear to me that he did not speak with the same freedom. He weighed
his words, as if afraid of making a mistake. I believe that the man was
playing a part. His tone was genial and sometimes a little boisterous,
as it might well be on the part of a man who had been years away from
civilization; but I always thought from his manner that all this was
false. I am convinced that he is a double-faced man. When he spoke I
observed that he watched in a furtive sort of way the person to whom he
was speaking, to see the effect of his words; but, above all, I formed
my opinion upon the fact that I am absolutely convinced that this man
could never have performed the splendid action of facing a wounded tiger
unarmed for the sake of one who was, in fact, but a casual
acquaintance."

"You will excuse me if I make no comment on what you have told me, Miss
Covington. It is a matter far too serious for any man to form a hasty
opinion upon. I myself have never seen this man, but I am content to
take your estimate of his character. One trained, as you were for years,
in the habit of closely watching faces cannot but be a far better judge
of character than those who have not had such training. I will take two
or three days to think the matter over; and now will you tell me what
steps you are taking at present to discover Walter?"

She told him of what was being done.

"Can you suggest anything else, Dr. Leeds?"

"Nothing. It seems to me that the key to the mystery is in the hands of
this man, and that it is there it must be sought, though at present I
can see no way in which the matter can be set about. When one enters
into a struggle with a man like this, one must be armed at all points,
prepared to meet craft with craft, and above all to have a
well-marked-out plan of campaign. Now I will say good-morning. I suppose
Miss Purcell and her niece will stay on with you, at any rate for a
time?"

"For a long time, I hope," she said.

"May I ask if you have stated the view that you have given me to Miss
Netta Purcell?"

"Yes, I have told her. She is disposed to treat it as an absurd fancy on
my part, but if I can get anything to go upon which will convince her
that there is even a faint possibility of my being right, she will go
through fire and water to assist me."

"I can well believe that," the doctor said. "I am sure that she has a
strong character, although so lively and full of fun. Of course, having
been thrown with her for four months, I am able to form a very fair
opinion of her disposition."

After Dr. Leeds had left, Hilda began to build castles for her friend.

"It would be a splendid thing for her," she said. "He is certainly not a
man to speak in the way he did unless he thoroughly meant it. I should
think that they were just suited to each other; though it would be
really a pity that the scheme I had set my mind upon for getting her
over here as head of an institution for teaching deaf and dumb children
on Professor Menzel's plan should come to nothing. Perhaps, though, he
might be willing that she should act as the head of such an
establishment, getting trained assistants from those she knows in
Hanover and giving a few hours a day herself to the general supervision,
if only for the sake of the good that such an institution would do
among, perhaps the most unfortunate of all beings. I am quite sure that,
so far, she has no thought of such a thing. However, perhaps I am
running on too fast, and that he only means what he said, that he
admired her character. I suppose there is no reason that because a man
admires a girl's character he should fall in love with her, and yet
Netta is so bright and cheerful, and at the same time so kind and
thoughtful, I can hardly imagine that any man, thrown with her as he has
been, could help falling in love with her."

Netta was surprised when Hilda told her that Dr. Leeds had been inclined
to view her theory seriously.

"Really, Hilda? Certainly he is not the sort of man to be carried away
by your enthusiasm, so please consider all that I have said upon the
subject as unspoken, and I will stand neutral until I hear further what
he says."

"He did not say very much, I admit, Netta; but he said that he would
take the matter seriously into consideration and let me know what he
thinks in two or three days."

"I am afraid that he wants to let you down gently," Netta said. "Well,
well, don't looked vexed! I will say no more about it until this solemn
judgment is delivered."

Netta was in the room when Dr. Leeds called, two days later.

"Netta is in all my counsels, Dr. Leeds," Hilda said, "and she is, as a
rule, a capital hand at keeping a secret, though she did let mine slip
out to you."

There was no smile on the doctor's face, and both girls felt at once
that the interview was to be a serious one.

"I am well aware that I can speak before Miss Purcell," he said,
"although there are very few people before whom I would repeat what I am
going to say. I have two questions to ask you, Miss Covington. What is
the date of this last will of your uncle's?"

"It is dated the 16th of May."

"About a fortnight before the General's alarming seizure?"

Hilda bowed her head in assent. The next question took her quite by
surprise.

"Do you know whether this man Simcoe was one of the party when the
seizure took place?"

"He was, doctor. My uncle told me that he was going to dine with him,
and Dr. Pearson mentioned to me that he was next to the General and
caught him as he fell from his chair."

Dr. Leeds got up and walked up and down the room two or three minutes.

"I think that now things have come to the present pass you ought to know
what was the opinion that I originally formed of General Mathieson's
illness. Dr. Pearson and Sir Henry Havercourt both differed from me and
treated my theory as a fanciful one, and without foundation; and of
course I yielded to such superior authority, and henceforth kept my
ideas to myself. Nevertheless, during the time the General was under my
charge I failed altogether to find any theory or explanation for his
strange attack and subsequent state, except that which I had first
formed. It was a theory that a medical man is always most reluctant to
declare unless he is in a position to prove it, or at least to give some
very strong reason in its favor, for a mistake would not only cost him
his reputation, but might involve him in litigation and ruin his career
altogether. But I think that I ought to tell you what my opinion is,
Miss Covington. You must not take it for more than it is worth, namely
as a theory; but it may possibly set you on a new track and aid you in
your endeavor to discover the missing child."

The surprise of the two girls increased as he continued, after a pause:

"Ever since the day when I was first requested to act as the General's
resident medical man I have devoted a considerable time to the study of
books in which, here and there, could be found accounts of the action of
the herbs in use among the Obi women, fetich men, and so-called wizards
on the West Coast of Africa, also in India, and among the savage tribes
of the Malay Archipelago and the Pacific Islands. What drugs they use
has never been discovered, although many efforts have been made to
obtain a knowledge of them, both in India and on the West Coast; but
doctors have found it necessary to abandon the attempt, several of them
having fallen victims of the jealousy of these people because of the
researches they were making. But at the least the effects of the
administration of these drugs have been frequently described, and in
some respects these correspond so closely to those noticeable in the
General's case that I say now, as I said at first, I believe the
General's illness was caused by the administration of some drug
absolutely unknown to European science."

"You think that my uncle was poisoned?" Hilda exclaimed in a tone of
horror, while Netta started to her feet with clenched hands and flushed
face.

"I have not used the word 'poisoned,' Miss Covington, though in fact it
comes to that. It may not have been administered with the intention of
killing; it may have been intended only to bring on a fit, which, in due
time, might have been attended by others; but the dose may have been
stronger than its administrator intended."

"And you think, Dr. Leeds--you think that it was administered by----"

"No, Miss Covington; I accuse no one. I have no shadow of proof against
anyone; but taking this illness, with the abduction of the child, it
cannot be denied that one's suspicions must, in the first case, fall
upon the man who has profited by the crime, if crime it was. On May 16
this will was drawn up, bequeathing the property to a certain person.
The circumstances of the will were curious, but from what I learned from
you of the explanation given by the lawyers who drew it up, it seems
fair and above-board enough. The General was certainly greatly under the
influence of this man, who had rendered him the greatest service one man
can render another, and that at the risk of his own life. Therefore I do
not consider that this will, which was, so to speak, sprung upon you, is
in itself an important link in the chain. But when we find that twelve
or fourteen days afterwards the General was, when at table, seized with
a terrible fit of an extraordinary and mysterious nature, and that the
man who had an interest in his death was sitting next to him, the
coincidence is at least a strange one. When, however, the General's heir
is abducted, when the General is at the point of death, the matter for
the first time assumes a position of the most extreme gravity.

"At first, like you, I thought that Walter had either been stolen by
some woman for the sake of his clothes, or that he had been carried off
by someone aware that he was the General's heir, with a view to
obtaining a large sum of money as his ransom. Such things have been done
before, and will, no doubt, be done again. The first hypothesis appears
to have failed altogether; no woman who had robbed a child of his
clothes would desire to detain him for an hour longer than was
necessary. The inquiries of the police have failed altogether; the
people you have employed have ascertained that neither at the workhouses
of London nor in the adjacent counties has any child at all answering to
Walter's description been left by a tramp or brought in by the police or
by someone who had found him wandering about. It cannot be said that the
second hypothesis is also proved to be a mistaken one; the men who took
him away would be obliged to exercise the greatest caution when opening
negotiations for his release, and it might be a month or more before you
heard from them.

"Therefore, it would be unfair to this man Simcoe to assume that he is
the author of the plot until so long a period has passed that it is
morally certain that the boy was not stolen for the purpose of
blackmail. However, we have the following suspicious circumstances:
first, that, as I believe, the General was drugged by some poison of
whose nature we are ignorant beyond that we read of very similar cases
occurring among natives races in Africa and elsewhere. Then we have the
point that no one would have had any interest in the General's death,
with the exception of the man he had named as his heir in the event of
the child's death. We know by the man's statement that he was for many
years living among tribes where poisons of this kind are used by the
wizards and fetich men to support their authority and to remove persons
against whom they have a grudge. Lastly, we have the crowning fact of
the abduction of the child, who stood between this man and the estates.
All this is at best mere circumstantial evidence. We do not know for
certain what caused the General's fit, we have no proof that Simcoe had
any hand in the abduction, and whatever our opinion may be, it is
absolutely necessary that we do not breathe a hint to anyone."

Hilda did not speak; the shock and the horror of the matter were too
much for her. She sat with open lips and blanched face, looking at Dr.
Leeds. Netta, however, leaped to her feet again.

"It must be so, Dr. Leeds. It does not seem to me that there can be a
shadow of doubt in the matter, and anything that I can do to bring the
truth to light I will do, however long a time it takes me."

"Thank you, Netta," Hilda said, holding out her hand to her friend; "as
for me, I will devote my life to clearing up this mystery."

"I am afraid, Miss Covington, that my engagements henceforth will
prevent my joining actively in your search, but my advice will always be
at your service, and it may be that I shall be able to point out methods
that have not occurred to you."

"But, oh, Dr. Leeds!" Hilda exclaimed suddenly; "if this villain
poisoned my uncle, surely he will not hesitate to put Walter out of his
path."

"I have been thinking of that," Dr. Leeds exclaimed, "but I have come to
the conclusion that it is very unlikely that he will do so. In the first
place, he must have had accomplices. The man who spoke to the nurse and
the cabman who drove the child away must both have been employed by him,
and I have no doubt whatever that the child has been placed with some
persons who are probably altogether ignorant of his identity. Walter was
a lovable child, and as soon as he got over his first grief he would no
doubt become attached to the people he was with, and although these
might be willing to take a child who, they were told, had lost its
parents, and was homeless and friendless, without inquiring too closely
into the circumstances, it is unlikely in the extreme that they would
connive at any acts of violence. It is by no means easy to murder and
then to dispose of the body of a child of seven, and I should doubt
whether this man would attempt such a thing. He would be perfectly
content that the boy would be out of his way, that all traces of him
should be lost, and that it would be beyond the range of probability
that he could ever be identified, and, lastly, even the most hardened
villains do not like putting their necks in a noose. Moreover, if in the
last extremity his confederates, believing that he had made away with
the child, tried to blackmail him, or some unforeseen circumstance
brought home to him the guilt of this abduction, he would be in a
position to produce the child, and even to make good terms for himself
for doing so. You yourself, whatever your feelings might be as to the
man whom you believe to be the murderer of your uncle, would still be
willing to pay a considerable sum and allow him to leave the country, on
condition of his restoring Walter. Therefore I think that you may make
your mind easy on that score, and believe that whatever has happened to
him, or wherever he may be, there is no risk of actual harm befalling
him."

"Thank you very much, doctor. That is indeed a relief. And now have you
thought of any plan upon which we had best set to work?"

"Not at present, beyond the fact that I see that the power you both
possess of reading what men say, when, as they believe, out of earshot,
ought to be of material advantage to you. As Miss Purcell has promised
to associate herself with you in the search, I should say that she would
be of more use in this direction than you would. You have told me that
he must be perfectly aware of your dislike for him, and would certainly
be most careful, were you in his presence, although he might not dream
of this power that you possess. But he has never seen your friend, and
would not be on his guard with her. I have at present not thought over
any plan by which she could watch him--that must be for after
consideration--but it seems to me that this offers some chance of
obtaining a clew."

"I am ready to do anything, Dr. Leeds," Netta said firmly. "You only
have to find out a way, and I will follow out your instructions to the
letter. First we must find out whether Hilda's theory about this man,
which I scoffed at when she first spoke of it to me, is correct."

"You mean the theory that this man is not John Simcoe at all, but
someone who, knowing the facts of the rescue from the tiger, and being
also well acquainted with people and things in Benares, has personated
him? I will not discuss that now. I have an appointment to meet a
colleague for consultation in a difficult case, and have already run the
time very close. You shall see me again shortly, when I have had time to
think the whole matter over quietly."



CHAPTER XIII.

NETTA VISITS STOWMARKET.


"Well, Netta," Hilda said, after Dr. Leeds had left them, "I suppose you
will not in future laugh at my instincts. I only wish that they had been
stronger. I wish I had told my dear uncle that I disliked the man so
thoroughly that I was sure there was something wrong with him, and
implored him not to become very intimate with him. If I had told him how
strongly I felt on the subject, although, of course, he could have left
or given him any sum that he chose, I do think it would have had some
influence with him. No doubt he would have laughed at what he would have
called my suspicious nature, but I think he would not have become so
friendly with the man; but, of course, I never thought of this. Oh,
Netta! my heart seems broken at the thought that my dear uncle, the
kindest of men, should have been murdered by a man towards whom his
thoughts were so kindly that he appointed him his heir in the event of
Walter's death. If he had left him double the sum he did, and had
directed that in case of Walter's death the property should go to
hospitals, the child might now have been safe in the house. It is
heartbreaking to think of."

"Well, dear," Netta said, "we have our work before us. I say 'we'
because, although he was no relation to me, I loved him from the first,
when he came over with the news of your father's death. Had I been his
niece as well as you, he could not have treated me more kindly than he
did when I was staying with you last year, and during the last four
months that I have been with you. One could see, even in the state he
was in, how kind his nature was, and his very helplessness added to
one's affection for him. I quite meant what I said, for until this
matter is cleared up, and until this crime, if crime it really is, is
brought to light, I will stay here, and be your helper, however the long
the time may be. There are two of us, and I do not think that either of
us are fools, and we ought to be a match for one man. There is one thing
we have, that is a man on whom we can rely. I do not mean Dr. Leeds; I
regard him as our director. I mean Tom Roberts; he would have given his
life, I am sure, for his master, and I feel confident that he will carry
out any instructions we may give him to the letter."

"I am sure he will, Netta. Do you think we ought to tell him our
suspicions?"

"I should do so unhesitatingly, Hilda. I am sure he will be ready to go
through fire and water to avenge his master's death. As aunt is out I
think it will be as well to take him into our confidence at once."

Hilda said nothing, but got up and rang the bell. When the footman
entered she said, "Tell Roberts that I want to speak to him." When the
man came up she went on, "We are quite sure, Tom, that you were most
thoroughly devoted to your master, and that you would do anything in
your power to get to the bottom of the events that have brought about
his death and the carrying off of his grandson."

"That I would, miss; there is not anything that I would not do if you
would only set me about it."

"Well, Roberts, I am about to take you into our confidence, relying
implicitly upon your silence and on your aid."

"You can do that, miss, safely enough. There is nothing now that I can
do for my master; but as for Master Walter, I would walk to China if I
thought that there was a chance of finding him there."

"In the first place you must remember, Roberts, that we are acting only
upon suspicion; we have only that to go upon, and our object must be to
find some proofs to justify those suspicions."

"I understand, miss; you have got an idea, and you want to see if it is
right?"

"We ourselves have little doubt of it, Roberts. Now please sit down and
listen to me, and don't interrupt me till I have finished."

Then she related the grounds that she had for suspicion that the
General's death and Walter's abduction were both the work of John
Simcoe, and also her own theory that this man was not the person who had
saved the General's life. In spite of her warning not to interrupt, Tom
Roberts' exclamations of fury were frequent and strongly worded.

"Well, miss!" he exclaimed, when she had finished and his tongue was
untied, "I did not think that there was such a villain upon the face of
the earth. Why, if I had suspected this I would have killed him, if I
had been hung for it a week after. And to think that he regular took me
in! He had always a cheerful word for me, if I happened to open the door
for him. 'How are you, Tom?' he would say, 'hearty as usual?' and he
would slip a crown into my hand to drink his health. I always keep an
account of tips that I receive, and the first thing I do will be to add
them up and see how much I have had from him, and I will hand it over to
a charity. One don't like setting out to help to bring a man to the
gallus when you have got his money in your pocket. I must have been a
fool, miss, not to have kept a better watch, but I never thought ill of
the man. It seemed to me that he had been a soldier. Sometimes when he
was talking with me he would come out with barrack-room sayings, and
though he never said that he had served, nor the General neither, I
thought that he must have done so. He had a sort of way of carrying his
shoulders which you don't often see among men who have not learned the
goose-step. I will wait, miss, with your permission, until I have got
rid of that money, and then if you say to me, 'Go to that man's rooms
and take him by the throat and squeeze the truth out of him,' I am ready
to do it."

"We shall not require such prompt measures as that, Tom; we must go
about our work carefully and quietly, and I fear that it will be a very
long time before we are able to collect facts that we can act upon. We
have not decided yet how to begin. I may tell you that the only other
person who shares our suspicions is Dr. Leeds. We think it best that
even Miss Purcell should know nothing about them. It would only cause
her great anxiety, and the matter will, therefore, be kept a close
secret among our four selves. In a few days our plans will probably be
complete, and I think that your share in the business will be to watch
every movement of this man and to ascertain who are his associates; many
of them, no doubt, are club men, who, of course, will be above
suspicion, but it is certain that he must have had accomplices in the
abduction of the child. Whether he visits them or they visit him, is a
point to find out. There is little chance of their calling during
daylight, and it is in the evening that you will have to keep a close
eye on him and ascertain who his visitors are."

"All right, miss, I wish he did not know me by sight; but I expect that
I can get some sort of a disguise so that he won't recognize me."

"I don't think that there will be any difficulty about that. Of course
we are not going to rely only upon you; Miss Purcell and myself are both
going to devote ourselves to the search."

"We will run him down between us, miss, never fear. It cannot be meant
that such a fellow as this should not be found out in his villainy. I
wish that there was something more for me to do. I know several old
soldiers like myself, who would join me willingly enough, and we might
between us carry him off and keep him shut up somewhere, just as he is
doing Master Walter, until he makes a clean breast of it. It is
wonderful what the cells and bread and water will do to take a fellow's
spirit down. It is bad enough when one knows how long one has got to
bear it; but to know that there is no end to it until you choose to
speak would get the truth out of Old Nick, begging your pardon for
naming him."

"Well, we shall see, Roberts. That would certainly be a last resource,
and I fear that it would not be so effectual as you think. If he told us
that if he did not pay his usual visit to the boy it would be absolutely
certain we should never see him alive again, we should not dare retain
him."

"Well, miss, whatever you decide on I will do. I have lost as a good
master as ever a man had, and there is nothing that I would not do to
bring that fellow to justice."

The girls waited impatiently for the next visit of Dr. Leeds. It was
four days before he came.

"I hoped to have been here before," he said, "but I have been so busy
that it has not been possible for me to manage it. Of course this
business has always been in my mind, and it seems to me that the first
step to be taken is to endeavor to ascertain whether this fellow is
really, as you believe, Miss Covington, an impostor. Have you ever heard
him say in what part of the country he formerly resided?"

"Yes; he lived at Stowmarket. I know that some months ago he introduced
to uncle a gentleman who was manager at a bank there, and had known him
from boyhood. He was up for a few days staying with him."

"That is certainly rather against your surmise, Miss Covington; however,
it is as well to clear that matter up before we attempt anything else."

"I will go down and make inquiries, doctor," Netta said quietly. "I am
half a head shorter than Hilda, and altogether different in face;
therefore, if he learns that any inquiries have been made, he will be
sure that whoever made them was not Hilda."

"We might send down a detective, Miss Purcell."

"No; I want to be useful," she said, "and I flatter myself that I shall
be able to do quite as well as a detective. We could hardly take a
detective into our confidence in a matter of this kind, and not knowing
everything, he might miss points that would give us a clew to the truth.
I will start to-morrow. I shall tell my aunt that I am going away for a
day or two to follow up some clew we have obtained that may lead to
Walter's discovery. In a week you shall know whether this man is really
what he claims to be."

"Very well, Miss Purcell; then we will leave this matter in your hands."

"By the way, doctor," Hilda Covington said, "we have taken Roberts into
our confidence. We know that we can rely upon his discretion implicitly,
and it seemed to us that we must have somebody we can trust absolutely
to watch this man."

"I don't think that you could have done better," he said. "I was going
to suggest that it would be well to obtain his assistance. From what I
have heard, very few of these private detectives can be absolutely
relied upon. I do not mean that they are necessarily rogues, who would
take money from both sides, but that, if after trying for some time they
consider the matter hopeless, they will go on running up expenses and
making charges when they have in reality given up the search. What do
you propose that he shall do?"

"I should say that, in the first place, he should watch every evening
the house where Simcoe lives, and follow up everyone who comes out and
ascertain who they are. No doubt the great majority of them will be
clubmen, but it is likely that he will be occasionally visited by some
of his confederates."

"I think that is an excellent plan. He will, of course, also follow him
when he goes out, for it is much more likely that he will visit these
fellows than that they should come to him. In a case like this he would
assuredly use every precaution, and would scarcely let them know who he
is and where he resides."

"No doubt that is so, doctor, and it would make Roberts' work all the
easier, for even if they came to the man's lodgings he might be away,
following up the track of someone who had called before him."

Netta returned at the end of four days.

"I have not succeeded," she said, in answer to Hilda's inquiring look as
she came in. "The man is certainly well known at Stowmarket as John
Simcoe; but that does not prove that he is the man, and just as he
deceived your uncle he may have deceived the people down there. Now I
will go upstairs and take off my things, and then give you a full
account of my proceedings.

"My first step," she began on her return, "was, of course, to find out
what members of the Simcoe family lived there. After engaging a room at
the hotel, which I can assure you was the most unpleasant part of the
business, for they seemed to be altogether unaccustomed to the arrival
of young ladies unattended, I went into the town. It is not much of a
place, and after making some little purchases and inquiring at several
places, I heard of a maiden lady of that name. The woman who told me of
her was communicative. 'She has just had a great piece of luck,' she
said. 'About ten months back a nephew, whom everyone had supposed to
have been lost at sea, came home with a great fortune, and they say that
he has behaved most handsomely to her. She has always bought her Berlin
wool and such things here, and she has spent three or four times as much
since he came home as she did before, and I know from a neighbor, of
whom she is a customer, that the yards and yards of flannel that she
buys for making up into petticoats for poor children is wonderful. Do
you know her, miss?' I said that I did not know her personally, but that
some friends of mine, knowing that I was going to Stowmarket, had asked
me to inquire if Miss Simcoe was still alive. I said casually that I
might call and see her, and so got her address.

"I then went to call upon her. She lives in a little place called Myrtle
Cottage. I had been a good deal puzzled as to what story I should tell
her. I thought at first of giving myself out as the sister of the young
lady to whom her nephew was paying his addresses; and as we knew
nothing of him except that he was wealthy, and as he had mentioned that
he had an aunt at Stowmarket, and as I was coming down there, I had been
asked to make inquiries about him. But I thought this might render her
so indignant that I should get nothing from her. I thought, therefore, I
had better get all she knew voluntarily; so I went to the house,
knocked, and asked whether Miss Simcoe was in. I was shown by a little
maid into the parlor, a funny, little, old-fashioned room. Presently
Miss Simcoe herself came in. She was just the sort of woman I had
pictured--a kindly-looking, little old maid.

"'I do not know whether I have done wrong, Miss Simcoe,' I said, 'but I
am a stranger here, and having over-worked myself at a picture from
which I hope great things, I have been recommended country air; and a
friend told me that Stowmarket was a pretty, quiet, country town, just
the place for an over-worked Londoner to gain health in, so I came down
and made some inquiries for a single lady who would perhaps take me in
and give me a comfortable home for two or three months. Your name has
been mentioned to me as being just the lady I am seeking."

"'You have been misinformed,' she said, a little primly. 'I do not say
that a few months back I might not have been willing to have entertained
such an offer, but my circumstances have changed since then, and now I
should not think for a moment of doing so.'

"Rising from my seat with a tired air, I said that I was much obliged to
her, but I was very sorry she could not take me in, as I was sure that I
should be very comfortable; however, as she could not, of course there
was an end of it.

"'Sit down, my dear,' the old lady said. 'I see that you are tired and
worn out; my servant shall get you a cup of tea. You see,' she went on,
as I murmured my thanks and sat down, 'I cannot very well do what you
ask. As I said, a few months ago I should certainly have been very glad
to have had a young lady like yourself to stay with me for a time; I
think that when a lady gets to my age a little youthful companionship
does her good. Besides, I do not mind saying that my means were somewhat
straitened, and that a little additional money would have been a great
help to me; but everything was changed by the arrival of a nephew of
mine. Perhaps you may have heard his name; he is a rich man, and I
believe goes out a great deal, and belongs to clubs and so on.'

"I said that I had not heard of him, for I knew nothing about society,
nor the sort of men who frequented clubs.

"'No, of course not, my dear,' she said. 'Well, he had been away for
twenty years, and everyone thought he was dead. He sailed away in some
ship that was never heard of again, and you may guess my surprise when
he walked in here and called me aunt.'

"'You must have been indeed surprised, Miss Simcoe,' I said; 'it must
have been quite a shock to you. And did you know him at once?'

"'Oh, dear, no! He had been traveling about the world, you see, for a
very long time, and naturally in twenty years he was very much changed;
but of course I soon knew him when he began to talk.'

"'You recognized his voice, I suppose?' I suggested.

"'No, my dear, no. Of course his voice had changed, just as his
appearance had done. He had been what he called knocking about, among
all sorts of horrible savages, eating and drinking all kinds of queer
things; it made my blood run cold to listen to him. But I never asked
any questions about these things; I was afraid he might say that when he
was among the cannibals he used to eat human flesh, and I don't think
that I could like a man who had done that, even though he was my
nephew.'

"'Did he go out quite as a boy, Miss Simcoe?' I asked.

"'Oh, no! He was twenty-four, I think, when he went abroad. He had a
situation in the bank here. I know that the manager thought very highly
of him, and, indeed, he was everywhere well spoken of. My brother
Joshua--his father, you know--died, and he came in for two or three
thousand pounds. He had always had a great fancy for travel, and so,
instead of looking out for some nice girl and settling down, he threw up
his situation and started on his travels.'

"'Had his memory been affected by the hot suns and the hardships that he
had gone through?' I asked.

"'Oh, dear! not at all. He recognized everyone almost whom he had known.
Of course he was a good deal more changed than they were.'

"'They did not recognize him any more than you did?'

"'Not at first,' she said. 'When a man is believed to have been dead for
twenty years, his face does not occur to old friends when they meet an
apparent stranger.'

"'That is quite natural,' I agreed. 'What a pleasure it must have been
to him to talk over old times and old friends!'

"'Indeed it was, my dear. He enjoyed it so much that for three days he
would not move out of the house. Dear me! what pleasant talks we had.'

"'And you say, Miss Simcoe, that his coming has quite altered your
position?'

"'Yes, indeed. The very first thing he said after coming into the house
was that he had come home resolved to make me and my sister Maria
thoroughly comfortable. Poor Maria died some years ago, but of course he
did not know it. Then he said that he should allow me fifty pounds a
year for life.'

"'That was very kind and nice indeed, Miss Simcoe,' I said.

"By this time, seeing that my sympathy was with her, her heart opened
altogether to me, and she said that she felt sure that her nephew would
not like it were she to take in a lodger, and might indeed consider it a
hint that he might have been more liberal than he was. But she invited
me to stay three days with her while I was looking about for suitable
lodgings. I found that her house was a regular rendezvous for the
tabbies of the neighborhood. Every afternoon there were some four or
five of them there. Some brought work, others came in undisguisedly to
gossip. Many of these had known John Simcoe in his younger days, and by
careless questioning I elicited the fact that no one would have
recognized him had it not been for Miss Simcoe having told them of his
arrival.

"The manager of the bank I rather shrank from an encounter with, but I
managed to obtain from Miss Simcoe a letter her nephew had written to
her when he was away from home a short time before he left England, and
also one written by him since his return. So far as I could see, there
was not the slightest resemblance between them.

"I thought that I might possibly get at someone less likely to be on his
guard than the bank manager, and she happened to mention as an
interesting fact that one of the clerks who had entered the bank a lad
of seventeen, only a month or two before her nephew left, was now
married to the daughter of one of her gossips. I said that her story had
so deeply interested me that I should be glad to make his acquaintance.

"He came with his wife the evening before I left. He was very chatty and
pleasant, and while there was a general conversation going on among the
others, I said to him that I was a great student of handwriting, and I
flattered myself that I could tell a man's character from his
handwriting; but I owned that I had been quite disconcerted by two
letters which Miss Simcoe was kind enough to show me from her nephew,
one written before he left the bank, the other dated three or four
months ago.

"'I cannot see the slightest resemblance between the two,' I said, 'and
do not remember any instance which has come under my knowledge of the
handwriting of any man or woman changing so completely in the course of
twenty years. The one is a methodical, business sort of writing, showing
marks of steady purpose, regularity of habits, and a kindly disposition.
I won't give you my opinion of the other, but the impression that was
left upon my mind was far from favorable.'

"'Yes, there has been an extraordinary change,' he agreed. 'I can
recollect the former one perfectly, for I saw him sign scores of letters
and documents, and if he had had an account standing at the bank now I
should without question honor a check so signed. No doubt the great
difference is accounted for by the life that Mr. Simcoe has led. He told
me himself that for years, at one time, he had never taken a pen in
hand, and that he had almost forgotten how to write; and that his
fingers had grown so clumsy pulling at ropes, rowing an oar, digging for
gold, and opening oysters for pearls, that they had become all thumbs,
and he wrote no better than a schoolboy.'

"'But that is not the case, Mr. Askill,' I said; 'the writing is still
clerkly in character, and does not at all answer to his own
description.'

"'I noticed that myself, and so did our chief. He showed me a letter
that he had received from Simcoe, asking him to run up for a few days to
stay with him in London. He showed it to me with the remark that in all
his experience he had never seen so great and complete a change in the
handwriting of any man as in that of Mr. Simcoe since he left the bank.
He considered it striking proof how completely a man's handwriting
depends upon his surroundings. He turned up an old ledger containing
many entries in Simcoe's handwriting, and we both agreed that we could
not see a single point of resemblance.'

"'Thank you,' I said; 'I am glad to find that my failure to recognize
the two handwritings as being those of the same man has been shared by
two gentlemen who are, like myself in a humble way, experts at
handwriting.'

"The next morning I got your letter, written after I had sent you the
address, and told Miss Simcoe that I was unexpectedly called back to
town, but that it was quite probable that I should ere long be down
again, when I would arrange with one or other of the people of whom she
had kindly spoken to me. That is all I have been able to learn, Hilda."

"But it seems to me that you have learned an immense deal, Netta. You
have managed it most admirably."

"At any rate, I have got as much as I expected, if not more; I have
learned that no one recognized this man Simcoe on his first arrival in
his native town, and it was only when this old lady had spread the news
abroad, and had told the tale of his generosity to her, and so prepared
the way for him, that he was more or less recognized; she having no
shadow of doubt but that he was her long-lost nephew. In the three days
that he stopped with her he had no doubt learned from the dear old
gossip almost every fact connected with his boyhood, the men he was most
intimate with, the positions they held, and I doubt not some of the
escapades in which they might have taken part together; so that he was
thoroughly well primed before he met them. Besides, no doubt they were
more anxious to hear tales of adventure than to talk of the past, and
his course must have been a very easy one.

"Miss Simcoe said that he spent money like a prince, and gave a dinner
to all his old friends, at which every dainty appeared, and the
champagne flowed like water. We may take it as certain that none of his
guests ever entertained the slightest doubt that their host was the man
he pretended to be. There could seem to them no conceivable reason why a
stranger should come down, settle an income upon Miss Simcoe, and spend
his money liberally among all his former acquaintances, if he were any
other man than John Simcoe.

"Lastly, we have the handwriting. The man seems to have laid his plans
marvelously well, and to have provided against every unforeseen
contingency; yet undoubtedly he must have altogether overlooked the
question of handwriting, although his declaration that he had almost
forgotten how to use his pen was an ingenious one, and I might have
accepted it myself if he had written in the rough, scrambling character
you would expect under the circumstances. But his handwriting, although
in some places he had evidently tried to write roughly, on the whole is
certainly that of a man accustomed at one time of his life to clerkly
work, and yet differing as widely as the poles from the handwriting of
Simcoe, both in the bank ledger and in the letter to his aunt.

"I think, Hilda, that although the matter cannot be decided, it
certainly points to your theory that this man is not the John Simcoe who
left Stowmarket twenty years ago. He attempted, and I think very
cleverly, to establish his identity by a visit to Stowmarket, and no
doubt did so to everyone's perfect satisfaction; but when we come to go
into the thing step by step, we see that everything he did might have
been done by anyone who happened to have a close resemblance to John
Simcoe in figure and some slight resemblance in face, after listening
for three days to Miss Simcoe's gossip."



CHAPTER XIV.

AN ADVERTISEMENT.


"I cannot wait for Dr. Leeds to come round," Hilda said the next morning
at breakfast. "You and I will pay him a visit in Harley Street. I am
sure that he will not grudge a quarter of an hour to hear what you have
done."

"What mystery are you two girls engaged in?" Miss Purcell asked, as she
placidly poured out the tea.

"It is a little plot of our own, aunt," Netta said. "We are trying to
get on Walter's track in our own way, and to be for a time amateur
detectives. So far we have not found any decisive clew, but I think that
we are searching in the right direction. Please trust us entirely, and
we hope some day we shall have the triumph of bringing Walter back, safe
and sound."

"I pray God that it may be so, my dear. I know that you are both
sensible girls, and not likely to get yourselves into any silly scrape."

"I don't think we are, aunt; but I am afraid that neither of us would
consider any scrape a foolish one that brought us even a little bit
nearer to the object of our search. At any rate, aunt, it will reassure
you to know that we are acting in concert with Dr. Leeds, of whom I know
that you entertain the highest opinion."

"Certainly I do. Of course I am no judge whatever as to whether he is a
good doctor, but I should think, from what Dr. Pearson says, that he
must, in the opinion of other medical men, be considered an
exceptionally clever man for his age; and having seen him for four
months and lived in close contact with him, I would rather be attended
by him than by anyone else I have ever met. His kindness to the General
was unceasing. Had he been his son, he could not have been more patient
and more attentive. He showed wonderful skill in managing him, and was
at once sympathetic and cheerful. But, more than that, I admired his
tact in filling the somewhat difficult position in which he was placed.
Although he was completely one of the family, and any stranger would
have supposed that he was a brother, or at least a cousin, there was
always something in his manner that, even while laughing and chatting
with us all, placed a little barrier between us and himself; and one
felt that, although most essentially a friend, he was still there as the
General's medical attendant.

"It was a difficult position for a man of his age to be placed in. Had
he been like most of the doctors we knew in Germany, a man filled with
the idea that he must always be a professor of medicine, and impressing
people with his learning and gravity, it might have been easy enough.
But there is nothing of that sort about him at all; he is just as
high-spirited and is as bright and cheerful as other young men of about
the same age, and it was only when he was with the General that his
gentleness of manner recalled the fact that he was a doctor. As I say,
it was a difficult position, with only an old woman like myself and two
girls, who looked to him for comfort and hope, who treated him as if he
had been an old friend, and were constantly appealing to him for his
opinion on all sorts of subjects.

"I confess that, when he first came here with Dr. Pearson, I thought
that it was a very rash experiment to introduce a young and evidently
pleasant man to us under such circumstances, especially as you, Hilda,
are a rich heiress and your own mistress; and feeling as I did that I
was in the position of your chaperon, I must say that at first I felt
very anxious about you, and it was a great relief to me when after a
time I saw no signs, either on his part or yours, of any feeling
stronger than friendship springing up."

Hilda laughed merrily.

"The idea never entered into my mind, aunt; it is funny to me that so
many people should think that a young man and a young woman cannot be
thrown together without falling in love with each other. At present,
fortunately, I don't quite understand what falling in love means. I like
Dr. Leeds better, I think, than any young man I ever met, but I don't
think that it can be in the least like what people feel when they fall
in love. Certainly it was always as uncle's doctor, rather than as a
possible suitor for my hand--that is the proper expression, isn't
it?--that I thought of him."

"So I was glad to perceive, Hilda; and I was very thankful that it was
so. Against him personally I had nothing to say, quite the contrary; but
I saw that he was greatly attached to a profession in which he seems
likely to make himself a fine position, and nothing could be more
uncomfortable than that such a man should marry a girl with a fine
country estate. Either he would have to give up his profession or she
would have to settle down in London as the wife of a physician, and
practically forfeit all her advantages."

Hilda again laughed.

"It is wonderful that all these things should never have occurred to me,
aunt. I see now how fortunate it was that I did not fall in love with
him. And now, Netta, as we have finished breakfast, we will put on our
things at once and go and consult our physician in ordinary. We have a
fair chance of being the first to arrive if we start immediately. I told
Roberts to have the carriage at the door at half-past nine, and he does
not begin to see patients until ten."

"Bravo! Miss Purcell," Dr. Leeds exclaimed, when she had given him an
account of her mission. "Of course there is nothing absolutely proved,
but at least it shows that his identity is open to doubt, since none of
the people he had known recognized him at first sight, and of course all
his knowledge of them may have been picked up from the gossiping old
lady, his aunt. Something has been gained, but the evidence is rather
negative than positive. It is possible that he is not the man that he
pretends to be; though at present, putting aside the question of
handwriting, we must admit that the balance of probability is very much
the other way. To begin with, how could this man, supposing him to be an
impostor, know that John Simcoe was born in Stowmarket, and had
relatives living there?"

"I forgot to mention that, Dr. Leeds. An advertisement was inserted in
the county paper, saying that if any relatives of John Simcoe, who left
England about 1830, would communicate with someone or other in town they
would hear something to their advantage. I was told this by one of Miss
Simcoe's friends, who saw it in the paper and brought it in to her. She
was very proud of having made the discovery, and regarded herself quite
in the light of a benefactor to Miss Simcoe. I remarked, when she told
me, that it was curious he should have advertised instead of coming down
himself to inquire. Miss Simcoe said that she had expressed surprise to
him, and that he had said he did so because he should have shrunk from
coming down, had he not learned there was someone to welcome him."

"Curious," Dr. Leeds said thoughtfully. "We may quite put it out of our
minds that the reason he gave was the real one. A man of this kind would
not have suffered any very severe shock had he found that Stowmarket and
all it contained had been swallowed up by an earthquake. No, certainly
that could not have been the reason; we must think of some other. And
now, ladies, as this is the third card I have had brought in since you
arrived, I must leave the matter as it stands. I think that we are
getting on much better than we could have expected."

"That advertisement is very curious, Netta," Hilda said as they drove
back. "Why should he have put it in? It would have been so much more
natural that he should have gone straight down."

"I cannot think, Hilda. It did not strike me particularly when I heard
of it, and I did not give it a thought afterwards. You see, I did not
mention it, either to you or Dr. Leeds, until it flashed across my mind
when we were talking. Of course I did not see the advertisement itself,
but Miss Simcoe told me that there had been a good deal of discussion
before she answered it, as some of them had thought that it might be a
trick."

"When was it he went down?"

"It was in August last year; and it was in the first week in September
that he came here."

"He went down to get or manufacture proof of his identity," Hilda said.
"As it turned out, uncle accepted his statement at once, and never had
the smallest doubt as to his being John Simcoe. The precaution,
therefore, was unnecessary; but at the same time it certainly helps him
now that a doubt has arisen. It would have been very strange if a man
possessing sufficient means to travel in India should have had no
friends or connections in England. I was present when he told my uncle
that he had been down to see his aunt at Stowmarket, and in the spring
he brought a gentleman who, he said, was manager of the Stowmarket Bank,
in which he had himself been at one time a clerk. So you see he did
strengthen his position by going down there."

"It strengthens it in one way, Hilda, but in the other it weakens it. As
long as no close inquiries were made, it was doubtless an advantage to
him to have an aunt of the same name in Stowmarket, and to be able to
prove by means of a gentleman in the position of manager of the bank
that he, John Simcoe, had worked under him three or four and twenty
years ago. On the other hand, it was useful to us as a starting-point.
If we had been utterly in the dark as to Simcoe's birthplace or past
career, we should have had to start entirely in the dark. Now, at any
rate, we have located the birthplace of the real man, and learned
something of his position, his family, and how he became possessed of
money that enabled him to start on a tour round the world. I adhere as
firmly as before to the belief that this is not the real man, and the
next step is to discover how he learned that John Simcoe had lived at
Stowmarket. At any rate it would be as well that we should find the
advertisement. It might tell us nothing, but at the least we should
learn the place to which answers were to be sent. How should we set
about that?"

"I can get a reader's ticket for the British Museum, because the chief
librarian was a friend of uncle's and dined with him several times,"
Hilda replied. "If I write to him and say that I want to examine some
files of newspapers, to determine a question of importance, I am sure
that he will send me a ticket at once. I may as well ask for one for you
also. We may want to go there again to decide some other point."

Hilda at once wrote a note and sent Tom Roberts with it to the Museum,
and he returned two hours later with the tickets.

"There are three Suffolk papers," the chief assistant in the Newspaper
Department said courteously, on their sending up the usual slip of
paper. "Which do you want?"

"I do not know. I should like to see them all three, please; the numbers
for the first two weeks in August last."

In a few minutes three great volumes were placed on the table. These
contained a year's issue, and on turning to the first week in August
they found that the advertisement had appeared in all of the papers.
They carefully copied it out, and were about to leave the library when
Netta said:

"Let us talk this over for a minute or two before we go. It seems to me
that there is a curious omission in the advertisement."

"What is that?"

"Don't you see that he does not mention Stowmarket? He simply inquires
for relations of John Simcoe, who was supposed to have been lost at sea.
It would certainly seem to be more natural that he should put it only in
the paper that was likely to be read in Stowmarket, and surely he would
have said 'relatives of John Simcoe, who left Stowmarket in the year
1830.' It looks very much as if, while he knew that Simcoe was a
Suffolk man, he had no idea in what part of the county he had lived."

"It is very curious, certainly, Netta; and, as you say, it does seem
that if he had known that it had been Stowmarket he would have said so
in the advertisement. Possibly!" Hilda exclaimed so sharply that a
gentleman at an adjoining table murmured "Hush!" "he did did not know
that it was in Suffolk. Let us look in the London papers. Let us ask for
the files of the _Times_ and _Standard_."

The papers were brought and the advertisement was found in both of them.

"There, you see," Netta said triumphantly, "he still says nothing about
Suffolk."

She beckoned to the attendant.

"I am sorry to give you so much trouble, but will you please get us the
files of three or four country papers of the same date. I should like
them in different parts of the country--Yorkshire, for instance, and
Hereford, and Devonshire."

"It is no trouble, miss," he replied; "that is what we are here for."

In a few minutes the three papers were brought, and Netta's triumph was
great when she found the advertisement in each of them.

"That settles it conclusively," she said. "The man did not know what
part of the country John Simcoe came from, and he advertised in the
London papers, and in the provincial papers all over the country."

"That was a splendid idea of yours, Netta. I think that it settles the
question as to the fact that the theory you all laughed at was correct,
and that this man is not the real John Simcoe."

When they got back, Hilda wrote a line to Dr. Leeds:

     "DEAR DOCTOR: I do think that we have discovered beyond doubt that
     the man is an impostor, and that whoever he may be, he is not John
     Simcoe. When you can spare time, please come round. It is too long
     to explain."

At nine o'clock that evening Dr. Leeds arrived, and heard of the steps
that they had taken.

"Really, young ladies," he said, "I must retire at once from my post of
director of searches. It was an excellent thought to ascertain the exact
wording of the advertisement, and the fact that the word Stowmarket did
not appear in it, and that it was inserted in other county papers, was
very significant as to the advertiser's ignorance of John Simcoe's
birthplace. But the quickness with which you saw how this could be
proved up to the hilt shows that you are born detectives, and I shall be
happy to sit at your feet in future."

"Then you think that it is quite conclusive?"

"Perfectly so. The real John Simcoe would, of course, have put the
advertisement into the county paper published nearest to Stowmarket, and
he would naturally have used the word Stowmarket. That omission might,
however, have been accidental; but the appearance of the advertisement
in the London papers, and as you have seen, in provincial papers all
over England, appears to me ample evidence that he did not know from
what county Simcoe came, and was ready to spend a pretty heavy amount to
discover it. Now, I think that you should at once communicate with Mr.
Pettigrew, and inform him of your suspicion and the discovery that you
have made. It is for him to decide whether any steps should be taken in
the matter, and, if so, what steps. As one of the trustees he is
responsible for the proper division of the estates of General Mathieson,
and the matter is of considerable importance to him.

"I think now, too, that our other suspicions should also be laid before
him. Of course, these are greatly strengthened by his discovery. John
Simcoe, who saved your uncle's life at the risk of his own, was scarcely
the sort of man who would be guilty of murder and abduction; but an
unknown adventurer, who had passed himself off as being Simcoe, with
the object of obtaining a large legacy from the General, may fairly be
assumed capable of taking any steps that would enable him to obtain it.
If you'd like to write to Mr. Pettigrew and make an appointment to meet
him at his office at three o'clock to-morrow afternoon, I will be here
half an hour before and accompany you."

The lawyer was somewhat surprised when Dr. Leeds entered the office with
the two ladies, but that astonishment became stupefaction when they told
their story.

"In the whole of my professional career I have never heard a more
astonishing story. I own that the abduction of the child at that
critical moment did arouse suspicions in my mind that this Mr. Simcoe,
the only person that could be benefited by his disappearance, might be
at the bottom of it, and I was quite prepared to resist until the last
any demand that might be made on his part for Walter to be declared to
be dead, and the property handed over to him. But that the man could
have had any connection whatever with the illness of the General, or
that he was an impostor, never entered my mind. With regard to the
first, it is still a matter of suspicion only, and we have not a shadow
of proof to go upon. You say yourself, Dr. Leeds, that Dr. Pearson, the
General's own medical attendant, and the other eminent physicians called
in, refused absolutely to accept your suggestion, because, exceptional
as the seizure and its effects were, there was nothing that absolutely
pointed to poison. Unless we can obtain some distinct evidence on that
point, the matter must not be touched upon; for even you would hardly be
prepared to swear in court that the General was a victim to poison?"

"No. I could not take my oath to it, but I certainly could declare that
the symptoms, to my mind, could be attributed to poison only."

"In the case of the abduction of the boy," the lawyer went on, "the only
absolute ground for our suspicion is that this man and no one else would
have benefited by it; and this theory certainly appears to be, after
the discoveries you have made, a very tenable one. It all comes so
suddenly on me that I cannot think of giving any opinion as to the best
course to be adopted. I shall, in the first place, consult Mr. Farmer,
and in the next place shall feel it my duty to take my co-trustee,
Colonel Bulstrode, into my confidence, because any action that we may
take must, of course, be in our joint names. He called here the other
day and stated to me that he regarded the whole matter of Walter's
abduction to be suspicious in the extreme. He said he was convinced that
John Simcoe was at the bottom of it, his interest in getting the boy out
of the way being unquestionable, and that we must move heaven and earth
to find the child. He agreed that we can do nothing about carrying out
the will until we have found him. I told him of the steps that we have
been taking and their want of success. 'By gad, sir,' he said, 'he must
be found, if we examine every child in the country.' I ventured to
suggest that this would be a very difficult undertaking, to which he
only made some remark about the cold-bloodedness of lawyers, and said
that if there were no other way he would dress himself up as a
costermonger and go into every slum of London. Whether you would find
him a judicious assistant in your searches I should scarcely be inclined
to say, but you would certainly find him ready to give every assistance
in his power."

The next day, at three o'clock, Colonel Bulstrode was announced. He was
a short man, of full habit of body. At the present moment his face was
even redder than usual.

"My dear Miss Covington," he burst out, as he came into the room, "I
have just heard of all this rascality, and what you and your friend Miss
Purcell have discovered. By gad, young ladies, I feel ashamed of myself.
Here am I, Harry Bulstrode, a man of the world, and, as such, considered
that this affair of the man Simcoe being made heir in case of the
child's death and the simultaneous disappearance of the boy to have been
suspicious in the extreme, and yet I have seen no way of doing
anything, and have been so upset that my temper has, as that rascal
Andrew, my old servant, had the impudence to tell this morning, become
absolutely unbearable. And now I find that you two girls and a doctor
fellow have been quietly working the whole thing out, and that not
improbably my dear old friend was poisoned, and that the man who did it
is not the man he pretended to be, but an infernal impostor, who had of
course carried the child away, and may, for anything we know, have
murdered him. It has made me feel that I ought to go to school again,
for I must be getting into my second childhood. Still, young ladies, if,
as is evident, I have no sense to plan, I can at least do all in my
power to assist you in your search, and you have only to say to me,
'Colonel Bulstrode, we want an inquiry made in India,' and I am off by
the first P. and O."

"Thank you very much, Colonel," Hilda said, trying to repress a smile.
"I was quite sure that from your friendship for my dear uncle you would
be ready to give us your assistance, but so far there has been no way in
which you could have aided us in the inquiries that we have made.
Indeed, as Dr. Leeds has impressed upon us, the fewer there are engaged
in the matter the better; for if this man knew that we were making all
sorts of inquiries about him, he might think it necessary for his safety
either to put Walter out of the way altogether, or to send him to some
place so distant that there would be practically no hope whatever of our
ever discovering him. At present I think that we have fairly satisfied
ourselves that this man is an impostor, and that the real John Simcoe
was drowned, as supposed, in the ship in which he sailed from India. Who
this man is, and how he became acquainted with the fact that John Simcoe
saved my uncle's life in India, are mysteries that so far we have no
clew to; but these matters are at present of minor importance to us.
Before anything else we want to find where Walter is hidden, and to do
this we are going to have this man watched. He cannot have carried off
Walter by himself, and, no doubt, he meets occasionally the people who
helped him, and who are now hiding Walter. It is scarcely probable that
they come to his lodgings. He is not likely to put himself into anyone's
power, and no doubt goes by night in some disguise to meet them. As, of
course, he knows you perfectly well, it would be worse than useless for
you to try to follow him. That is going to be done by Tom Roberts."

"Well, my man Andrew might help him," the Colonel said. "Simcoe has
often dined with me at the club, but he never came to my chambers. One
man cannot be always on the watch, and Andrew can take turns with
Roberts. He is an impudent rascal, but he has got a fair share of sense;
so, when you are ready, if you will drop me a line, he shall come here
and take his instructions from you."

"Thank you very much, Colonel. That certainly would be of assistance. It
is only of an evening that he would be wanted, for we are quite agreed
that these meetings are sure to take place after dark."



CHAPTER XV.

VERY BAD NEWS.


A month passed. Tom Roberts and Andrew watched together in Jermyn
Street, the former with a cap pulled well down over his face and very
tattered clothes, the latter dressed as a groom, but making no attempt
to disguise his face. During that time everyone who called at the house
in Jermyn Street was followed, and their names and addresses
ascertained, one always remaining in Jermyn Street while the other was
away. The man they were watching had gone out every evening, but it was
either to one or the other of the clubs to which he belonged, or to the
theater or opera.

"You will trace him to the right place presently, Roberts," Hilda said
cheerfully, when she saw that he was beginning to be disheartened at the
non-success of his search. "You may be sure that he will not go to see
these men oftener than he can help. Does he generally wear evening
clothes?"

"Always, miss."

"I don't think there is any occasion to follow him in future when he
goes out in that dress; I think it certain that when he goes to meet
these men he will be in disguise. When you see him come out dressed
altogether differently to usual, follow him closely. Even if we only
find where he goes it will be a very important step."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the seventh week after the disappearance of Walter, Mr. Pettigrew
came in one morning at eleven o'clock. His air was very grave.

"Have you heard news, Mr. Pettigrew?" Hilda asked.

"I have very bad news. Mr. Comfrey, a lawyer of not the highest
standing, who is, I have learnt, acting for this fellow, called upon
me. He said, 'I am sorry to say that I have some painful news to give
you, Mr. Pettigrew. Yesterday the body of a child, a boy some six or
seven years old, was found in the canal at Paddington. It was taken to
the lockhouse. The features were entirely unrecognizable, and the police
surgeon who examined it said that it had been in the water over a month.
Most of its clothing was gone, partly torn off by barges passing over
the body; but there still remained a portion of its underclothing, and
this bore the letters W. R. The police recognized them as those of the
child who has been so largely advertised for, and, as my client, Mr.
Simcoe, had offered a thousand pounds reward, and as all information was
to be sent to me, a policeman came down, just as I was closing the
office, to inform me of the fact.

"'I at once communicated with my client, who was greatly distressed. He
went to Paddington the first thing this morning, and he tells me that he
has no doubt whatever that the remains are those of Walter Rivington,
although he could not swear to his identity, as the features are
altogether unrecognizable. As I understand, sir, that you and Miss
Covington were the guardians of this unfortunate child, I have driven
here at once in order that you may go up and satisfy yourselves on the
subject. I understand that an inquest will be held to-morrow.'"

Hilda had not spoken while Mr. Pettigrew was telling his story, but sat
speechless with horror.

"It cannot be; surely it cannot be!" she murmured. "Oh, Mr. Pettigrew!
say that you cannot believe it."

"I can hardly say that, my dear; the whole affair is such a terrible one
that I can place no bounds whatever to the villainy of which this man
may be capable. This may be the missing child, but, on the other hand,
it may be only a part of the whole plot."

"But who else can it be if it has Walter's clothes on?"

"As to that I can say nothing; but you must remember that this man is an
extraordinarily adroit plotter, and would hesitate at nothing to secure
this inheritance. There would be no very great difficulty in obtaining
from some rascally undertaker the body of a child of the right age,
dressing him up in some of our ward's clothes, and dropping the body
into the canal, which may have been done seven weeks ago, or may have
been done but a month. Of course I do not mean to say that this was so.
I only mean to say that it is possible. No. I expressed my opinion, when
we talked it over before, that no sensible man would put his neck in a
noose if he could carry out his object without doing so; and murder
could hardly be perpetrated without running a very great risk, for the
people with whom the child was placed would, upon missing it suddenly,
be very likely to suspect that it had been made away with, and would
either denounce the crime or extort money by holding a threat over his
head for years."

"Yes, that may be so!" Hilda exclaimed, rising to her feet. "Let us go
and see at once. I will take Netta with me; she knows him as well as I
do."

She ran upstairs and in a few words told Netta the news, and in five
minutes they came down, ready to start.

"I have told Walter's nurse to come with us," Hilda said. "If anyone can
recognize the child she ought to be able to do so. Fortunately, she is
still in the house."

"Now, young ladies," the lawyer said before they started, "let me
caution you, unless you feel a moderate certainty that this child is
Walter Rivington, make no admission whatever that you see any
resemblance. If the matter comes to a trial, your evidence and mine
cannot but weigh with the court as against that of this man who is
interested in proving its identity with Walter. Of course, if there is
any sign or mark on the body that you recognize, you will acknowledge it
as the body of our ward. We shall then have to fight the case on other
grounds. But unless you detect some unmistakable mark, and it is
extremely unlikely that you will do so in the state the body must be in,
confine yourself to simply stating that you fail to recognize it in any
way."

"There never was any mark on the poor child's body," Hilda said. "I have
regretted it so much, because, in the absence of any descriptive marks,
the chance of his ever being found was, of course, much lessened."

The lawyer had come in a four-wheeled cab, and in this the party all
took their places. Not a word was spoken on the way, except that Hilda
repeated what Mr. Pettigrew had said to the nurse. It was with very
white faces that they entered the lockhouse. The little body was lying
on a board supported by two trestles. It was covered by a piece of
sailcloth, and the tattered garments that it had had on were placed on a
chair beside it. Prepared as she was for something dreadful, the room
swam round, and had Hilda not been leaning on Mr. Pettigrew's arm she
would have fallen. There was scarce a semblance of humanity in the
little figure. The features of the face had been entirely obliterated,
possibly by the passage of barges, possibly by the work of simple decay.

"Courage, my dear!" Mr. Pettigrew said. "It is a painful duty, but it
must be performed."

The three women stood silent beside the little corpse. Netta was the
first to speak.

"I cannot identify the body as that of Walter Rivington," she said. "I
don't think that it would be possible for anyone to do so."

"Is the hair of the same color?" the policeman who was in charge of the
room asked.

"The hair is rather darker than his," Netta said; "but being so long in
the water, and in such dirty water, it might have darkened."

"That was never Master Walter's hair!" the nurse exclaimed. "The darling
had long, soft hair, and unless those who murdered him cut it short, it
would not be like this. Besides, this hair is stiffer. It is more like
the hair of a workhouse child than Master Walter's."

"That is so," Hilda said. "I declare that I not only do not recognize
the body as that of my ward, but that I am convinced it is not his."

"Judging only by the hair," Mr. Pettigrew said, "I am entirely of your
opinion, Miss Covington. I have stroked the child's head many times, and
his hair was like silk. I have nothing else to go by, and am convinced
that the body is not Walter Rivington's."

They then looked at the fragments of clothes. In two places they were
marked "W. R."

"That is my marking, miss," the nurse said, after closely examining the
initials. "I could not swear to the bits of clothes, but I can to the
letters. You see, miss, I always work a line above the letters and
another below them. I was taught to do it so when I was a girl in our
village school, and I have always done it since. But I never saw anyone
else mark them so. You see the letters are worked in red silk, and the
two lines in white. The old woman who taught us said that it made a
proper finish to the work. Yes, Miss Covington, I can swear to these
things being Master Walter's."

"You could not swear to their being those in which he went out the
morning he was lost, nurse?"

"I can, sir, because there is nothing missing except what he had on. I
have all his things properly counted, and everything is there."

At this moment there was a little stir outside, and Hilda glanced down
and whispered to Netta:

"Let down your fall; I do not want this man to recognize you."

Just as she did so John Simcoe entered. He bowed to Hilda.

"I am sorry, indeed, to meet you under such painful circumstances."

"I beg you not to address me, sir," she said haughtily. "I wish to have
no communication with or from you. Your coming here reminds me of the
thirty-seventh verse of the nineteenth chapter of St. John. You can look
it out, sir, if you happen to have a Bible at home. Fortunately it is
not wholly applicable, for we are all absolutely convinced that this
poor little body is not that of General Mathieson's grandson."

So saying she stepped out of the little house, followed by the others;
leaving John Simcoe white with passion.

"You should not have shown your hand so plainly, Miss Covington."

"I could not help it," the girl said. "He has called a dozen times at
the house and has always received the message, 'Not at home,' and he
must know that I suspect him of being Walter's abductor."

"What is the verse you referred him to, Hilda?" Netta said. "I confess
that I do not know any verse in St. John that seems to be at all
applicable to him."

"The quotation is, 'They shall look on Him whom they pierced.'"

Netta could not help smiling. Mr. Pettigrew shook his head.

"You are really too outspoken, Miss Covington, and you will get yourself
into trouble. As it is, you have clearly laid yourself open to an action
for libel for having practically called the man a murderer. We may think
what we like, but we are in no position to prove it."

"I am not afraid of that," she said. "I wish that he would do it; then
we should have all the facts brought out in court, and, even if we could
not, as you say, prove everything, we could at least let the world know
what we think. No, there is no chance of his doing that, Mr. Pettigrew."

"It is fortunate for us, Miss Covington, that our clients are for the
most part men. Your sex are so impetuous and so headstrong that we
should have a hard time of it indeed if we had to take our instructions
from them."

"Mr. Pettigrew, you will please remember that there are three of my sex
in this cab, and if you malign us in this way we will at once get out
and walk."

The old lawyer smiled indulgently.

"It is quite true, my dear. Women are always passionately certain that
they are right, and neither counsel nor entreaty can get them to
believe that there can be any other side to a case than that which they
take. Talk about men ruining themselves by litigation; the number that
do so is as nothing to that of the women who would do so, were they to
get as often involved in lawsuits! When Dickens drew the man who haunted
the courts he would have been much nearer the mark had he drawn the
woman who did so. You can persuade a man that when he has been beaten in
every court his case is a lost one; but a woman simply regards a hostile
decision as the effect either of great partiality or of incompetence on
the part of the judge, and even after being beaten in the House of Lords
will attend the courts and pester the judges with applications for the
hearing of some new points. It becomes a perfect mania with some of
them."

"Very well, Mr. Pettigrew. I would certainly carry my case up to the
highest court, and if I were beaten I would not admit that I was in the
wrong; still, I do not think that I should pester the poor old judges
after that. I suppose we shall all have to come up again to-morrow to
the inquest?"

"Certainly. Nurse has recognized the clothes, and I suppose you all
recognize the marks, Miss Covington?"

"Yes; I have no doubt whatever that the clothes are Walter's."

"Of course we shall be represented by counsel," Mr. Pettigrew went on.
"We must not let the jury find that this is Walter's body if we can
possibly prevent it."

"You think that they will do so?"

"I am afraid of it. They will know nothing of the real circumstances of
the case; they will only know that the child has been missing for nearly
two months, and that, in spite of large rewards, no news has been
obtained of him. They will see that this child is about the same age,
that the clothes in which it was found are those worn by the missing
boy. They will themselves have viewed the body and have seen that
identification is almost impossible. This man will give his evidence to
the effect that he believes it to be Walter Rivington's body. We shall
give it as our opinion that it is not; that opinion being founded upon
the fact that the few patches of hair left on the head are shorter and
coarser than this was. To us this may appear decisive, but the counsel
who will, no doubt, appear for Simcoe, will very legitimately say this
fact has no weight, and will point out that no real judgment can be
formed upon this. The child was missing--probably stolen for the sake of
its clothes. Seeing the description in the handbills and placards, the
first step would be to cut off its hair, which disposes of the question
of length, and, as he will point out, hair which, when very long, seems
soft and silky, will stand up and appear almost bristly when cropped
close to the head. I am afraid that, in the face of all that we can say,
the coroner's jury will find that the body is Walter's. As to the cause
of death they will probably give an open verdict, for even if the
surgeon has found any signs of violence upon the body, these may have
been inflicted by passing barges long after death."

"Will you have it brought forward that Simcoe has an interest in proving
the body to be Walter's?"

"I think not. There would be no use in beginning the fight in the
coroner's court. It will all have to be gone into when he applies to the
higher courts for an order on the trustees of the will to proceed to
carry out its provisions. Then our case will be fully gone into. We
shall plead that in the first place the will was made under undue
influence. We shall point to the singularity of the General's mysterious
attack, an attack which one of the doctors who attended him at once put
down to poison, and that at the moment of the attack Simcoe was sitting
next to him at dinner. We shall point to the extraordinary coincidence
that the child who stood between Simcoe and the inheritance disappeared
on the evening when the General was _in extremis_, and, lastly, we shall
fire our last shot by declaring that the man is not the John Simcoe
named in the will, but is an impostor who assumed his name and traded
upon his brave action on the General's behalf.

"But I do not want the fight to begin until we are in a better position
than at present to prove what we say. As yet, however satisfactory to
us, we have not got beyond the point of conjecture and probabilities,
and I trust that, before we have to fight the case, we shall obtain some
absolute facts in support of our theory. The man would be able at
present to put into court a number of highly respectable witnesses from
Stowmarket, and of officers he has met here, who would all testify to
his being John Simcoe, and as against their evidence our conjectures
would literally go for nothing. No doubt you will all receive notices to
attend this evening. The policeman took your names and addresses, and
will have told the officer in charge of the case the nature of the
evidence you will probably give. And please remember that, in giving
evidence, you must carefully abstain from saying anything that would
lead the jury to perceive that you have any personal feeling against
Simcoe, for they would be likely to put down your declaration of
inability to recognize the body as a result of a bias against him. Do
not let it be seen that there is any personal feeling in the matter at
all."

The summonses arrived that evening and the next morning they drove to
the coroner's court, Miss Purcell accompanying them. They found Mr.
Pettigrew awaiting them at the door.

"There is another case on before ours," he said, "and I should advise
you to take a drive for half an hour, and, when you come back, to sit in
the carriage until I come for you. The waiting room is a stuffy little
place, and is at present full of witnesses in the case now on, and as
that case is one of a man killed in a drunken row, they are not of a
class whom it is pleasant to mix with."

When they returned, he again came out. "I have just spoken to the
coroner and told him who you are, and he has kindly given permission for
you to go up to his own room. The case he has now before him may last
another half hour."

It was just about that time when Mr. Pettigrew came up and said that
their case was about to commence, and that they must go down and take
their places in court. This was now almost empty; a few minutes before
it had been crowded by those interested in the proceedings, which had
terminated in the finding of manslaughter against four of those
concerned in the fray. The discovery of a child's body in the canal was
far too common an event to afford any attraction, and with the exception
of the witnesses, two counsel seated in the front line facing the
coroner, and two or three officials, there was no one in court. As soon
as the little stir caused by the return of the jury from viewing the
body had ceased, the coroner addressed them.

"We shall now, gentlemen of the jury, proceed to the case of the body of
the child said to be that of Walter Rivington, which was found under
very strange and suspicious circumstances near this end of the canal.
You will hear that the child was missing from his home in Hyde Park
Gardens on the 23d of October, and for his discovery, as some of you are
doubtless aware, large sums have been offered. The day before yesterday
the drags were used for the purpose of discovering whether another
child, who was lost, and who had been seen going near the bank, had been
drowned. In the course of that search this body was brought up. You have
already viewed it, gentlemen. Dr. MacIlvaine will tell you that it has
certainly been a month in the water, perhaps two or three weeks longer.
Unfortunately the state of the body is such that it is impossible now to
ascertain the cause of death, or whether it was alive when it fell in,
or was placed in, the water. Fortunately some of its clothes still
remain on the body, and one of the witnesses, the nurse of the missing
boy, will tell you that the marks upon them were worked by herself, and
that she can swear to them. Whether any other matters will come before
you in reference to the case, which, from the fact that the child was
grandson of the late General Mathieson and heir to his property, has
attracted much attention, I cannot say. The first witness you will hear
is the lock-keeper, who was present at the finding of the body."

Before the witness was called, however, one of the counsel rose and
said:

"I am instructed, sir, to appear to watch the proceedings on behalf of
Mr. John Simcoe, who, by the death of Walter Rivington, inherits under
the will of the late General Mathieson."

The coroner bowed. The other counsel then rose.

"And I, sir, have been instructed by Mr. Pettigrew and Colonel
Bulstrode, the trustees under the will, the former gentleman being also
joint guardian with Miss Hilda Covington of the missing child, to watch
the case on their behalf."

There was again an exchange of bows, and the lock-keeper then entered
the box. His evidence was given in few words. He simply deposed to
assisting in dragging the canal, and to the finding of the body.

"Have you any questions to ask the witness?" the coroner said, turning
to the barristers.

The counsel employed by Mr. Pettigrew rose.

"Yes, sir; I have a few questions to ask. Now, Mr. Cousins, you say that
you took part in dragging the canal. You are in charge of the drags, are
you not?"

"Yes, sir; they are always kept in readiness at the lockhouse."

"How came you to use the drags? I suppose you don't take them down and
spend a day or two in dragging the canal unless you have reason for
supposing that a body is there."

"No, sir. The afternoon before a woman came up crying and said that her
child had fallen into the water. He had gone out in the morning to play,
and when dinner-time came and he didn't return she searched everywhere
for him, and two children had just told her that they were playing with
him on the bank of the canal, and that he had fallen in. They tried to
get him out, but he sank, and they were so frightened that they ran home
without saying anything. But they thought now that they had better tell.
I said that she had better go to the police station and repeat her
statement, and they would send a constable to help me. She did that, and
came back with the policeman. It was getting late then, but we took a
boat and dragged the canal for two or three hours. The next morning she
came again, and said that the boys had shown her just where her child
fell in, and we dragged there and found this body. We brought it ashore,
and after we had carried it to the lockhouse we set to work again, but
could not find any other body."

"What became of the woman?"

"She was with us till we fetched up this body. When she saw it she ran
away crying, and did not come back again."

"You have not seen her since, Mr. Cousins?"

"No, sir; I have not seen her since. I believe the constable made
inquiries about her."

"Thank you, I have nothing more to ask."

The policeman then entered the box and gave his evidence shortly, as to
assisting in the operation of dragging and to finding the body.

"About this woman who gave the alarm," the barrister asked. "Have you
seen her, constable?"

"No, sir; not since the body was found. Thinking it strange that she did
not come back, I reported it at the station. She had given the name of
Mary Smith and an address in Old Park. I was told to go round there, but
no such person was known, and no one had heard of a child being lost. On
my reporting this, inquiries were made all round the neighborhood; but
no one had heard of such a woman, nor of a missing child."

"This is a very strange circumstance, sir, and it looks as if the whole
story of the drowning child was a fabrication. The fact that the body of
the child whose death we are considering was found close to the spot
would certainly seem to point to the fact that some person or persons
who were cognizant of the fact that this body was there were for some
reasons anxious that it should be found, and so employed this woman to
get the drags used at that point in order that the body might be brought
to light."

"It is certainly a very strange business," the coroner said, "and I hope
that the police will spare no efforts to discover this woman. However,
as she is not before us, we must proceed with the case."

Then the officer of the court called out the name of Mary Summerford,
and the nurse went into the witness box.

"I understand, Mary Sommerford, that you were nurse to Walter
Rivington?"

"I was, sir."

"Will you tell the jury when you last saw him, and how it was that he
was lost?"

She told the story as she had told it to Hilda on the day that he was
missing.

"You have seen the clothes found on the body. Do you recognize them as
those that he was wearing when you last saw him?"

"Yes, sir."

"How do you recognize them?"

"Because his initials are worked in two places. I worked them myself,
and can swear to them."

"You cannot recognize the body, nurse?"

"I do not believe it is the body of my young master," she said; "his
hair was lovely--long and silky. What hair remains on the body is very
short, and what I should call stubbly."

"But the hair might have been cut short by the people who stole him,"
the coroner said. "It is the first precaution they would take to evade
the search that would at once be set on foot."

"Yes, sir, but I don't think that it would have grown up so stiff."

"My experience of workhouse children," the coroner remarked, "is that
whatever the hair they may have had when they entered the house, it is
stiff enough to stand upright when cut close to the head. There is
nothing else, is there, which leads you to doubt the identity of the
child?"

"No, sir, I cannot say that there is; but I don't believe that it is
Master Walter's body."

Hilda, Netta, and Mr. Pettigrew all gave their evidence. The two former
stated that they identified the clothes, but, upon the same ground as
the nurse, they failed to recognize the body as that of Walter
Rivington. All were asked if they could in any way account for the
finding of the child's body there. The question had been foreseen, and
they said that, although they had used every means of discovering the
child, they had obtained no clew whatever as to his whereabouts from the
time that he was stolen to the time they were summoned to identify the
body.

"You quite assume that he was stolen, and not that he wandered away, as
children will do when their nurses are gossiping?"

"We are convinced that he was stolen, sir, because the search was begun
so momentarily after he was missed that he could hardly have got out of
sight, had he merely wandered away on foot. Notice was given to the
police an hour after he disappeared, and every street in this part of
London was scoured immediately."

"Children of that age, Miss Covington, have often a fancy for hiding
themselves; and this child may have hidden somewhere close until he saw
his nurse pass by, and then made off in the opposite direction. The spot
where the child's body was found is little more than a quarter of a mile
from the corner where he was missed. He might have wandered up there,
found himself on the canal bank, and childlike, have begun to play, and
so slipped into the water."

John Simcoe was the last witness called. He gave his evidence to the
effect that he had seen the body, and that personally he saw no reason
to doubt that it was that of Walter Rivington.

His counsel then rose.

"You are, I believe, Mr. Simcoe, owing to the death of this poor child,
the principal legatee under the will of General Mathieson?"

"I am sorry to say that I am. The whole business has caused me immense
distress. I have felt that, being the only person that would benefit by
the child's death, those who did not know me would have a suspicion that
I might have had a hand in his mysterious disappearance."

"You have taken an active part in the search for him?"

"I offered a reward of one thousand pounds for any information that
would lead to his discovery, and I believe that I have traveled up and
down every obscure slum in London in hopes of lighting upon him."

"Even without the provision in the will which made you next heir you
benefited by it, did you not?"

"I did, most munificently. General Mathieson had himself informed me
that I should find, by his will, that he had not been ungrateful for a
service that I rendered him many years ago; but I was not aware of the
sum that he had left me. As to the distant contingency of inheriting in
case of the child's death, I was altogether ignorant of it; but had I
known it, it would in no way have affected me. The little fellow was a
fine healthy child, and, therefore, the thought that he might not live
to come of age would never have entered my mind."

As the other counsel had no question to ask, the evidence was now
concluded.

"Well, gentlemen, you have heard the evidence," the coroner said. "Dr.
MacIlvaine has told you, as indeed you might judge for yourselves on
viewing the body, that it is impossible, in its advanced state of
decomposition, to say whether the child was alive or dead at the time he
fell, or was placed in the canal. As to who were the guilty persons who
beguiled the child away, if he was beguiled, we have no shadow of
evidence, and it may well be that he was stolen for the sake of his
clothes. The cutting short of his hair certainly points to the truth of
this theory, as does also the fact that no vestige has been found of his
upper clothing. It is probable that some woman enticed him away, and
kept him for some time with her, and then, when she became alarmed by
the search made for him, carried him in his sleep from the house, and
perhaps laid him down by the canal, thinking that he would be found
there in the morning, and that the poor child awoke in the dark,
wandered about, and fell into the canal.

"However, this is only theory; but it is at least supported by the
mysterious incident of the unknown woman who, by means of a tale which
appears beyond doubt to have been wholly fictitious, caused the water at
that spot to be dragged. The fact that on the second day she pointed out
almost the exact point where the body was found would seem to show that
the child could scarcely have fallen in the water, as she suggested, for
in that case she could not have known the precise spot. It would seem,
then, more likely that either the child died a natural death, perhaps
from confinement or bad treatment, or possibly that, terribly alarmed at
the search that was being maintained, he was put out of the way and then
thrown into the canal at this spot. In that case we may admit that it is
certainly strange that she should risk discovery by the course she took,
and I can only account for it on the ground that she had been, ever
since his death, suffering from remorse, and possibly she may have
thought that she might in some sort of way atone for her conduct were
she to point out where the child was, and so secure for him Christian
burial. That, however, is not before us at present, and I see no
advantage in an adjournment for an indefinite time until this mystery is
solved. The police have taken the matter in hand, and will spare no
pains to discover the woman. If they do so, undoubtedly proceedings will
be taken in another court. The point that we have to consider is who
this child was, and how he came to his death. Unfortunately we are
absolutely without any evidence of what became of him from the time he
got lost up to the discovery of his body, and I think that you cannot do
otherwise than find an open verdict.

"As to the question of identity, there can, I think, be no shadow of
doubt. The clothes in which he was found prove him beyond question to
have been Walter Rivington, although the body itself is absolutely
beyond identification. I do not think that you need give any weight to
the nurse's failure to recognize him, or to her opinion about the hair.
She is naturally reluctant to acknowledge, even to herself, that the
child which was lost by her inadvertence is dead, and the ladies would
be equally reluctant to admit that all hope was over."

The jury put their heads together, and there was evidently no difference
of opinion, for in two or three minutes they sat down again and the
foreman stood up.

"You have decided on your verdict?" the coroner asked.

"We have, sir. We find that the body is that of Walter Rivington, and
that he was found dead in the canal, but how he came there and by what
means he came by his death, there is no evidence to show."

"Thank you, gentlemen; that is precisely the verdict that I should
myself have given."



CHAPTER XVI.

A FRESH CLEW.


"Just the verdict that I expected," Mr. Pettigrew said, as he and the
ladies issued from the courthouse.

"I suppose that it is for the best, Mr. Pettigrew, but it seems hard,
when we could have said so much, to be obliged to hold our tongues
altogether."

"No doubt you will have an opportunity later on, Miss Covington. Our
tongues are tied until we can obtain some sort of proof to go upon. We
cannot go into court with merely suspicions; we must get facts. All we
have done at present is to obtain some sort of foundation on which to
work; but facts we shall, I hope, get ere long from what we may discover
of this fellow's movements. He is likely to be less careful now that it
has been decided that Walter is dead. He is doubtless well aware of the
fact that trustees have a year given them before proceeding to carry out
the provisions of a will, and, therefore, for that time he will keep
quiet. At the end of the year his solicitor will write us a courteous
letter, asking when we shall be in a position to distribute the estate
in accordance with the provisions of the will. We shall reply that we
are not in a position to do so. Then, after a time, will come letters of
a more and more peremptory character, and at last a notice that they are
about to apply to the courts for an order for us to act upon the
provisions of the will. About two years after the General's death the
matter will probably come on. I may say that I have already sent checks
to all the small legatees."

"Thank you, I was aware of that, because Tom Roberts came to me
yesterday with his check for two hundred pounds," and said, "Look here,
Miss Covington; you said you meant to keep me on just the same as in the
General's time, so this won't be of any use to me, and I should like to
spend it in any way that you think best to find out what has become of
Master Walter.' Of course I told him that the money could not be spent
in that way, and that the work that he was doing was of far greater use
than ten times that sum would be."

"I will send you your check to-morrow, Miss Covington. The sum we have
paid to the people who have been searching, and all other expenses that
may be incurred, will, of course, come out of the estate. You have not
as yet settled, I suppose, as to your future plans?"

"No, except that I shall certainly keep on the house in Hyde Park
Gardens for the present. It is, of course, ridiculously large for me,
but I don't want the trouble of making a move until I make one
permanently, and shall therefore stay here until this matter is finally
cleared up. Miss Purcell has most kindly consented to remain as my
chaperon, and her plans and those of her niece will depend upon mine."

They had sent away their carriage when they entered the court, and they
walked quietly home, Mr. Pettigrew returning at once to his office. The
next morning Tom Roberts accosted Hilda as she entered the breakfast
room, with a face that showed he had news.

"We have traced him down to one of his places at last, miss. I said to
Andrew, 'We must keep a special sharp look out to-night, for like
enough, now that the inquest is over, he will be going to talk over the
matter with his pals.' Well, miss, last night, at half-past nine, out he
comes. He wasn't in evening dress, for although, as usual, he had a
topcoat on, he had light trousers and walking boots. He did not turn the
usual way, but went up into Piccadilly. We followed him. I kept close
behind him, and Andrew at a distance, so that he should not notice us
together. At the Circus he hailed a cab, and as he got in I heard him
say to the driver, 'King's Cross Station.' As soon as he had gone off
Andrew and I jumped into another cab, and told the man to drive to the
same place, and that we would give him a shilling extra if he drove
sharp.

"He did drive sharp, and I felt sure that we had got there before our
man. I stopped outside the entrance, Andrew went inside. In five minutes
he arrived, paid the driver his fare, and went in. I had agreed to wait
two or three minutes outside, while Andrew was to be at the ticket
office to see where he booked for. I was just going in when, to my
surprise, out the man came again and walked briskly away. I ran in and
fetched Andrew, and off we went after him. He hadn't more than a
minute's start, and we were nearly up to him by the time he had got down
to the main road. We kept behind him until we saw him go up Pentonville
Hill, then Andrew went on ahead of him and I followed. We agreed that if
he looked back, suspicious, I should drop behind. Andrew, when he once
got ahead, was to keep about the same distance in front of him, so as to
be able to drop behind and take it up instead of me, while I was to
cross over the road if I thought that he had discovered I was following
him.

"However, it did not seem to strike him that anyone was watching him,
and he walked on briskly until he came to a small house standing by
itself, and as he turned in we were in time to see that the door was
opened to him by a man. Andrew and I consulted. I went in at the gate,
took my shoes off, and went round the house. There was only a light in
one room, which looked as if there were no servants. The curtains were
pulled together inside, and I could see nothing of what was going on. He
stopped there for an hour and a half, then came out again, hailed a cab
halfway down the hill, and drove off. Andrew and I had compared watches,
and he had gone back to Jermyn Street, so that we should be able to know
by the time the chap arrived whether he had gone anywhere else on his
way back. When I joined him I found that the man must have driven
straight to the Circus and then got out, for he walked in just twenty
minutes after I had seen him start."

"That is good news indeed, Roberts. We will go and see Mr. Pettigrew
directly after breakfast. Please order the carriage to be round at a
quarter to ten."

Netta was as pleased as her friend when she heard that a step had been
made at last.

"I am sick of this inaction," she said, "and want to be doing something
towards getting to the bottom of the affair. I do hope that we shall
find some way in which I can be useful."

"I have no doubt at all that you will be very useful when we get fairly
on the track. I expect that this will lead to something."

After Tom Roberts had repeated his story to Mr. Pettigrew, Hilda said:

"I brought Roberts with me, Mr. Pettigrew, that he might tell the story
in his own way. It seems to me that the best thing now would be to
employ a private detective to find out who the man is who lives in Rose
Cottage. This would be out of the line of Tom Roberts and Colonel
Bulstrode's servant altogether. They would not know how to set about
making inquiries, whereas a detective would be at home at such work."

"I quite agree with you," the lawyer said. "To make inquiries without
exciting suspicion requires training and practice. An injudicious
question might lead to this man being warned that inquiries were being
made about him and might ruin the matter altogether. Of course your two
men will still keep up their watch. It may be that we shall find it is
of more use to follow the track of this man than the other. But you must
not be too sanguine; the man at Rose Cottage may be an old acquaintance
of Simcoe. Well, my dear," he went on, in answer to a decided shake of
the head on Hilda's part, "you must call the man by the only name that
he is known by, although it may not belong to him. I grant that the
manner in which he drove into King's Cross station and then walked out
on foot would seem to show that he was anxious to throw anyone who
might be watching him off the scent, and that the visit was, so to
speak, a clandestine one. But it may relate to an entirely different
matter; for this man may be, for aught we know, an adept in crime, and
may be in league with many other doubtful characters."

"It may be so, Mr. Pettigrew, but we will hope not."

"Very well, my dear," the lawyer said. "I will send for a trustworthy
man at once, and set him to work collecting information regarding the
occupant of the cottage. And now I have a point upon which I wish to ask
your opinion. I have this morning received a letter from this man's
solicitor, asking if we intend to undertake the funeral of the body
which the coroner's jury have found to be that of Walter Rivington; and
announcing that, if we do not, his client will himself have it carried
out."

"What do you think, Mr. Pettigrew?" Hilda said hesitatingly. "We may be
wrong, you know, and it may be Walter's body."

"I have been thinking it over," the lawyer replied, "and I must say it
is my opinion that, as we have all stated our conviction that it is not,
we should only stultify ourselves if we now undertook the funeral and
put a stone, with his name on, over the grave. If we should at any time
become convinced that we have been wrong, we can apply for a faculty to
remove the coffin to the family vault down in Warwickshire."

"If we could do that I should not mind," Hilda said; "but even the
possibility of Walter being buried by the man who we firmly believe was
the cause of his death is terrible."

"Yes, I can quite understand your feelings, but I think that it is
necessary that the family should make a protest against its being
supposed that they recognize the child, by declining to undertake the
funeral. No protest could well be stronger."

"If you think that, Mr. Pettigrew, we certainly had best stand aside
and let that poor child be buried by this man."

Two days later they were driving in the Row. It was Hilda's first
appearance there since the General's death, and, after talking it over
with Netta, she now appeared there in order to show that she was
perfectly convinced that the child which had been found in the canal was
not her little cousin. The details of the proceedings of the coroner's
court had, of course, been read by all her friends, and her appearance
in the park would be the best proof that she could give that the family
were absolutely convinced that the body was not that of Walter.

Miss Purcell and Netta were with her. The latter had on, as usual, a
thick veil. This she always wore when driving through any locality where
she might meet John Simcoe.

"That is the man," Hilda said to her in a sharp tone; "the farther of
those two leaning on the rail the other side of the road."

As Hilda fixed her eyes on the man she saw him give a sudden movement.
Then he said to the man next to him:

"Do you see that girl in deep mourning? It is that little vixen, Hilda
Covington. Confound her, she is at the bottom of all this trouble, and I
believe she would give ten thousand out of her own pocket to checkmate
me."

The carriage was opposite to them now. Hilda looked straight in front of
her, while Netta, who was sitting with her back to the horses, took up
the watch.

"She would have to be sharp indeed to do that," the other man said. "So
far everything has gone without a hitch, and I don't see a single weak
point in your case. The most troublesome part has been got over."

And now some carriages going the other way cut off the view, and Netta
could read no further. She drew a long breath as Hilda's eyes turned
towards her.

"What did you read?" the latter asked.

Netta repeated what she had caught, and then Hilda took up the
conversation.

"It is quite evident that this man, whoever he is, is an accomplice. He
is a gentlemanly-looking man, and I fancy that he sat in the stalls near
to us one evening this spring. However, it is quite clear that he is a
confederate of Simcoe. Just repeat his words over again. They were in
answer to his remark that I would give ten thousand pounds to be able to
checkmate him."

Netta repeated the answer of Simcoe's companion.

"You see, Netta, there is something to find out that would checkmate
him; that is quite evident. He thinks that I cannot find it out. It must
be, I should think, that Walter is kept in hiding somewhere. It could
not mean that he had killed my uncle, for he would hardly tell that to
anyone, and so put himself in their power."

"It may mean that you cannot find out that he is not John Simcoe," Netta
suggested.

"Possibly; but he cannot know we suspect that."

"It might be about the last will, Hilda."

The latter shook her head.

"We have never thought that there could be anything wrong about it. The
will was drawn up by Colonel Bulstrode's lawyers, and they knew my uncle
by sight; besides, all the legacies were exactly the same as in the
other will, the signature and the written instructions were in his
handwriting, and he signed it in the solicitor's office in the presence
of two of their clerks. No, I don't think he can possibly mean that. It
must be either Walter's abduction or that he is not John Simcoe, and I
should say that the former is much the more likely. You see, he had no
need of an accomplice in the matter of getting evidence as to identity,
whereas he did need an accomplice in the carrying off of Walter. I
should say that he is far too clever a man to let anyone into any of his
secrets, unless he needed his assistance. I wonder who the man with him
can be. He is dressed in good style, and I have certainly met him
somewhere. I believe, as I said, it was at the opera. I should have
thought that a man of that class is the last Simcoe would choose as a
confederate."

Miss Purcell looked from one to the other as they talked. She had by
this time been taken completely into their confidence, but had refused
absolutely to believe that a man could be guilty of such wickedness as
that which they suspected. On their return home they found a letter
awaiting them from Mr. Pettigrew:

     "MY DEAR MISS COVINGTON [it ran]: My detective has not yet finished
     his inquiries, but has at least discovered that the proprietor of
     Rose Cottage, for they say that the place belongs to him, is
     somewhat of a mystery to his neighbors. He lives there entirely
     alone. He goes out regularly in a morning, it is supposed to some
     occupation in the City. No tradesmen ever call at the door; it is
     supposed that he brings home something for his breakfast and cooks
     it for himself, and that he dines in the City and makes himself a
     cup of tea in the evening, or else that he goes out after dark.
     Sometimes, of summer evenings, he has been seen to go out just at
     twilight, dressed in full evening costume--that is to say, it is
     supposed so, for he wore a light overcoat--but certainly a white
     necktie, black trousers, and patent leather boots. Of course, in
     all this there is nothing in itself absolutely suspicious. A man
     engaged in the City would naturally enough take his meals there,
     and may prefer to do everything for himself to having the bother of
     servants. Also, if his means permit it, he may like to go to
     theaters or places of amusement, or may go out to visit business
     friends. I have, of course, directed the detective to follow him to
     town and find out what is his business, and where employed. I will
     let you know result to-morrow."

The next day brought the letter.

     "The man's name is William Barens. He has a small office on the
     third floor of a house of business in Great St. Helens, and on the
     doorway below his name is the word 'accountant,' The housekeeper
     knows nothing about him, except that he has occupied the room for
     the last twelve years, and that he is a gentleman who gives no
     trouble. He always puts his papers away at night in his safe, so
     that his table can be properly dusted. She knows that he has
     clients, as several times, when he has been away for his dinner
     hour, she has been asked when he would return. He is a well-spoken
     gentleman, though not as particular about his dress as some; but
     liberal with his money, and gives her as handsome a tip at
     Christmas as some people who have three or four rooms, and, no
     doubt, think themselves much finer people. This certainly does not
     amount to much. By the way, the old woman said that she knew he was
     employed by several tradesmen in the neighborhood to keep their
     books for them."

Two days later there was another communication:

     "MY DEAR MISS COVINGTON: My man has taken a step which I should
     certainly have forbidden, had he told me beforehand of his
     intention. He watched the man go out, and then, having previously
     provided himself with instruments for picking locks, he opened the
     door and went in. On the table were several heavy ledgers and
     account books, all bearing the names of tradesmen in the
     neighborhood, with several files of accounts, bills, and invoices.
     These fully bore out what the woman had told him. Besides the
     chairs, table, and safe, the only other articles of furniture in
     the room were an office washing stand and a large closet. In the
     latter were a dress suit and boots, and a suit of fashionable
     walking clothes, so that it is evident that he often changed there
     instead of going home. I am sorry to say that all this throws no
     further light upon the man's pursuits, and had it not been for
     Simcoe's visit to him, it would be safe to say that he is a
     hard-working accountant, in a somewhat humble, but perhaps
     well-paying line; that he is a trifle eccentric in his habits, and
     prefers living a cheap, solitary life at home, while spending his
     money freely in the character of a man about town in the evening. I
     cannot say that the prospect in this direction seems hopeful. I
     have told my man that for the present we shall not require his
     services further."

"It does not seem very satisfactory, certainly," Hilda said with a sigh;
"I am afraid that we shall have to keep on watching Simcoe. I wish I
could peep into his room as this detective did into that of the
Pentonville man."

"I don't suppose that you would find anything there, Hilda; he is not
the sort of man to keep a memorandum book, jotting down all his own
doings."

"No," Hilda said with a laugh; "still, one always thinks that one can
find something."

Had Hilda Covington had her wish and looked into John Simcoe's room that
morning, she would certainly have derived some satisfaction from the
sight. He had finished his breakfast before opening a letter that lay
beside him.

"What a plague the old woman is with her letters! I told her that I
hated correspondence, but she persists in writing every month or so,
though she never gets any reply except, 'My dear Aunt: Thanks for your
letter. I am glad to hear that you are well.--Your affectionate nephew.'
Well, I suppose I must read it through."

He glanced over the first page, but on turning to the second his eye
became arrested, and he read carefully, frowning deeply as he did so.
Then he turned back and read it again. The passage was as follows:

     "I had quite an interesting little episode a day or two after I
     last wrote. A young lady--she said her name was Barcum, and that
     she was an artist--came in and asked if I would take her in as a
     lodger. She was a total stranger to the place, and had come down
     for her health, and said that some tradesman had recommended her to
     come here, saying that, as a single lady, I might be glad to
     accommodate her. Of course I told her that I did not take lodgers.
     She got up to go, when she nearly fainted, and I could not do less
     than offer her a cup of tea. Then we got very chatty, and as I saw
     that she was really too weak to go about town looking for lodgings,
     I invited her to stay a day or two with me, she being quite a lady
     and a very pleasant-spoken one. She accepted, and a pleasanter
     companion I never had. Naturally I mentioned your name, and told
     her what adventures you had gone through, and how kind you were.
     She was greatly interested, and often asked questions about you,
     and I do think that she almost fell in love with you from my
     description. She left suddenly on receipt of a letter that called
     her up to town, saying that she would return; but I have not heard
     from her since, and I am greatly afraid that the poor child must be
     seriously ill. She was a pretty and intelligent-looking girl, with
     dark eyes and hair, and I should say that when in good health she
     must be very bright. Of course, she may have changed her mind about
     coming down. I am sure she would have written if she had been
     well."

"Confound the old gossip!" John Simcoe said angrily, as he threw the
letter down. "I wonder what this means, and who this girl can be? It is
clear enough that, whoever she is, she was sent down there to make
inquiries about me. It is that girl Covington's doing, I have no doubt,
though it was not the minx herself, for the description does not tally
at all. She has light brown hair and grayish sort of eyes. There is one
comfort, she would learn nothing to my disadvantage from the old woman,
nor, I believe, from anyone at Stowmarket. In fact, she would only get
more and more confirmation of my story. I have no fear upon that score,
but the thing shows how that girl is working on my track. As for the
lawyer, he is an old fool; and if it hadn't been for her I would bet a
hundred to one that he would never have entertained any suspicion that
all was not right. It is her doing all through, and this is a piece of
it. Of course she could have no suspicion that I was not John Simcoe,
but I suppose she wanted to learn if there was any dark spot in my
history--whether I had ever been suspected of robbing a bank, or had
been expelled from school for thieving, or something of that sort. I
begin to be downright afraid of her. She had a way of looking through
me, when I was telling my best stories to the General, that always put
me out. She disliked me from the first, though I am sure I tried in
every way to be pleasant to her. I felt from the day I first saw her
that she was an enemy, and that if any trouble ever did come it would be
through her. I have no doubt she is moving heaven and earth to find
Walter; but that she will never do, for Harrison is as true as steel,
and he is the only man who could put them on the right track. Moreover,
I have as much pull over him as he has over me. He has never had a doubt
about my being John Simcoe; he doesn't know about the other affair, but
only that Walter stood between me and the estate, and he was quite ready
to lend me a hand to manage to get him out of the way. So in that
business he is in it as deep as I am, while I know of a score of schemes
he has been engaged in, any one of which would send him abroad for life.
I expect those inquiries were made at Stowmarket to endeavor to find out
whether any child had been sent down there. If so, Miss Covington is not
so sharp as I took her to be. Stowmarket would be the very last place
where a man, having relations and friends there, would send a child whom
he wished to keep concealed. Still it is annoying, confoundedly
annoying; and it shows that these people, that is to say Hilda
Covington, are pushing their inquiries in every direction, likely or
unlikely.

"The only comfort is, the more closely they search the sooner they will
come to the conclusion that the boy is not to be found. I believe that,
though they declared they did not recognize the body, they had no real
doubt about it, and they only said so because if they had admitted it,
the trustees would have had no excuse for not carrying out the
provisions of the will. That text the girl had the impudence to quote
to me looked as if she believed the body was Walter's, and that I had
killed him, though it may be that she only said it to drive me to
bringing the whole business into court, by bringing an action against
her for libel; but I am not such a fool as to do that. Just at present
there is a lot of public feeling excited by the circumstances of the
child's loss and the finding of the body, and even if I got a verdict I
fancy that the jury would be all on the girl's side, and give me such
trifling damages that the verdict would do me more harm than good. No,
our game clearly is to let the matter rest until it has died out of the
public mind. Then we shall apply formally for the trustees to be called
upon to act. No doubt they will give us a great deal of trouble, but
Comfrey says that he thinks that the order must be granted at last,
though possibly it may be withheld, as far as the estate is concerned,
for some years. At any rate I ought to get the ten thousand at once, as
the question whether the boy is alive or dead cannot affect that in the
slightest."



CHAPTER XVII.

NETTA ACTS INDEPENDENTLY.


"It seems to me, Hilda, that somehow or other we are wasting our time,"
Netta said one morning suddenly, as they were sitting together.

"How do you mean, Netta?"

"Well, you see, we relied a great deal on being able to overhear
conversation from a distance; and, except those few words we gathered in
the Park, we have absolutely done nothing that way."

"But how can we do more than we are doing?"

"I don't know; that is what is troubling me. You know, dear, that I am
quite content to give up my own work to help you. At first, of course,
aunt and I would have stayed here, at any rate for a time, to keep you
company; but your uncle has been dead now for more than eight months,
and time is going on. If I were really helping you I would stop, if it
were five years; but in fact I am not helping you in the way we
intended."

"You are helping me, Netta!" Hilda exclaimed with tears in her eyes.
"How should I have got on through all this sad time if you had not been
here to comfort and cheer me?"

"Yes, but the necessity for that is over. You have your friends, and
though you don't go out yet, you often go to Lady Moulton's and some of
your other friends', and they come to see you."

"Yes, and you will never go with me, Netta, nor see them when they
come."

"No, dear; I have nothing in common with them. I do not know the people
of whom you talk, and should simply sit there uncomfortably, so I prefer
to be out of it altogether. Then I really miss my work. Ever since you
came to us some eight years ago I have been teaching eight or ten hours
a day. I like the work; it is immensely interesting, and I am happy in
seeing my pupils improve."

"And all this means," Hilda said sorrowfully, "you are going to say that
it is time for you to go back."

"No, it does not necessarily mean that--there is an alternative; I must
either be doing something or go back."

"But, as I said before, Netta, what can we do, more than we have done?"

"That is what I have been thinking, Hilda. Anyhow, I mean to try to do
something before I give it up and go to Germany again."

"I warn you, Netta, that I shall be furious if you do that. I am my own
mistress now, for Mr. Pettigrew will let me do as I like now I am
nineteen, and am quite determined that our old plan shall be carried
out, and that you shall start an institution like that of Professor
Menzel somewhere near London. You have been twelve months away, your
pupils have already taken to other teachers, and there cannot be the
least occasion for your assistance in an institution that is now well
stocked with teachers, while here you could do enormous good. Anyhow,
whether you stay or not, I shall, as soon as all this is settled, take a
large house standing in its own grounds, in some healthy place near
London, and obtain teachers."

"Well, we need not talk of that just yet," Netta said quietly; "it will
be time enough when I have failed in carrying out my plans."

"But what are your plans?"

"I have not quite settled myself; and when I do I mean to work entirely
in my own way, and shall say nothing about it until I come to you and
say I have succeeded, or I have failed."

Hilda opened her eyes in surprise.

"But why should I be kept in the dark?"

"Because, dear, you might not approve of my plans," Netta replied
coolly.

"You are not thinking of doing anything foolish, I hope?" Hilda
exclaimed.

"If it were foolish it would be excusable where the counsels of wisdom
have failed," Netta laughed; and then more seriously, "Nothing would be
foolish if it could possibly lead to the discovery of Walter's hiding
place."

That afternoon, when Hilda drove out with Miss Purcell to make some
calls, Netta rang the bell, and when Tom Roberts came in she said:

"I want to have a long talk with you, Roberts. But mind, what I say is
to be kept a perfect secret between ourselves."

"Yes, miss," he said in surprise.

"Now, sit down," she went on; "we can talk more comfortably so. Now,
Roberts, there is no doubt that we are not making much headway with our
search."

"That we are not, Miss Netta," he agreed. "I did think that we had
gained something when we traced him to that house on Pentonville Hill,
but it does not seem that anything has come of it, after all."

"Then it is quite time that we took some other steps," she said
decisively.

"I am ready, miss," he replied eagerly. "You tell me what to do, and I
am game to do it."

"Well, there are two or three things I have in my mind. First of all, I
want to be able to watch John Simcoe and this Pentonville man when they
are talking together."

"Yes, I understand," he said; "but how is it to be done?"

"That is what I want to find out. Now, in the first place, about this
house. Which way did the window look of the room where there was a
light?"

"That window was at the side of the house, miss; a little way round the
corner. We noticed the light there, but there was another window looking
out on the front. We did not see any light there, as the shutters were
closed."

"And you say that the curtains of the other window were pulled very
close?"

"Yes, they crossed each other most of the way down."

"Now, the question in my mind, Roberts, is which would be easier--to cut
a slit in the curtain, or to bore a hole in the shutter, or to take a
brick out carefully from the side wall and then to deepen the hole until
we got to the wall-paper, and then make a slight hole there?"

Roberts looked at her with astonishment. "Do you really mean it, miss?"

"Certainly I mean it; it seems to me that our only chance of ever
finding Walter is to overhear those men's talk."

"Then, miss, I should say that the simplest way would be to cut a window
pane out."

"Yes; but, you see, it is pretty certain that that curtain will not be
drawn until they come in, and they would notice it at once. If we took
out a pane in the front window the shutter would prevent our seeing or
hearing, and the man would be sure to notice the pane was missing as he
walked up from the gate to the house."

"I should say, miss, that the best plan would be for me to manage to get
into the house some time during the day and to hide in that room, under
the table or sofa or somewhere, and listen to them."

She shook her head.

"In the first place, Roberts, you would certainly be murdered if they
found you there."

"I would take my chance of that, miss; and you may be sure that I would
take a brace of the General's pistols with me, and they would not find
it such easy work to get rid of me."

"That may be so," Netta said, "but if in the struggle you shot them
both, our last chance of ever hearing of Walter would be gone. You
yourself might be tried for murder, and it would be assumed, of course,
that you were a burglar; for the explanation that you had broken into
the house only to hear a conversation would scarcely be believed.
Moreover, you must remember that we don't know how often these men
meet. Simcoe has not been there since you tracked him there six months
ago, and the only thing we have since found out is that the man I saw
him with in the park is the man who lives in that house. It would never
do for you to make an entrance into the house night after night and week
after week, to run the risk of being detected there, or seized as you
entered, or caught by the police as a burglar. No, as far as I can see,
the only safe plan is to get out a brick very carefully in the side wall
and to make a hole behind it through the paper. It might be necessary to
make an entry into the house before this was done, so as to decide which
was the best spot for an opening. A great deal would depend upon the
paper in the room. If it is a light paper, with only a small amount of
pattern upon it, any hole large enough to see through might be noticed.
If it is a dark paper, well covered, a hole might be made without any
fear of its catching the eye. You see, it must be a rather large hole,
for, supposing the wall is only nine inches thick, a person standing
outside could not see what was passing inside unless the hole were a
good size."

"But I doubt much if you would be able to hear them, Miss Netta."

"No, I don't think that I should; especially as people talking of things
of that sort, even if they had no great fear of being overheard, would
speak in a low voice. But that would not matter if I could see their
faces. I should know what they were saying."

Roberts did not think it right to offer any remark on what appeared to
him to be impossible, and he confined himself to saying in a respectful
voice, "Indeed, Miss Netta."

"I am stone-deaf," she said, "but have learned to read what people are
saying from the movement of their lips."

Although the "Indeed, miss," was as respectful as before, Netta saw that
he did not in the slightest degree believe her.

"Just go to the other end of the room, Roberts, and make some remark to
yourself. Move your lips in the same way as if you were talking, but do
not make any sound."

Roberts, with military obedience, marched to the other end of the room,
placed himself in a corner, and turned round, facing her. His lips
moved, and, confident that she could not know what he was saying, he
expressed his natural sentiments.

The girl at once repeated the words: "Well, I'm jiggered! This is a rum
start; Miss Netta has gone clean off her head."

Roberts' jaw dropped, and he flushed up to the hair.

"I am sure," he began; but he was stopped by the girl's merry laugh.

"Do not apologize, Roberts; it was natural enough that you should be
surprised. Well, you see I can do as I say. We will now go on with our
talk."

Greatly abashed, Tom Roberts returned to the chair, murmuring to himself
as he sat down, "Well, I'm blowed!" when he was roughly recalled to the
necessity of keeping his mouth shut by her quiet remark, "Never mind
about being blowed at present, Roberts; let us talk over another plan.
Who are the keepers of the house in Jermyn Street?"

"It is kept by a man and his wife, miss. He has been a butler, I
believe, and his wife was a cook. He waits upon the gentlemen who lodge
there, and she cooks. They have a girl who sweeps and does the bedrooms
and the scrubbing and that sort of thing."

"What sort of a girl is she, Roberts?"

"She seems a nice sort of young woman, miss. Andrew has spoken to her
more than I have, because, you see, my get-up aint likely to take much
with a young girl."

"I suppose she is not very much attached to her place?"

"Lor', no, miss; she told Andrew that she was only six months up from
the country, and they don't pay her but eight pounds a year, and pretty
hard work she has to do for it."

"Well, Roberts, I want to take her place."

"You want----" and Roberts' voice failed him in his astonishment.

"Yes, I want to take her place, Roberts. I should think that if you or
Andrew were to tell her that you have a friend up from the country who
wants just such a place, and is ready to pay five pounds to get one, she
might be ready to take the offer; especially as you might say that you
knew of a lady who is in want of an under-housemaid and you thought that
you could get her the place."

"As to that, miss, I have no doubt that she would leave to-morrow, if
she could get five pounds. She told Andrew that she hated London, and
should go down home and take a country place as soon as she had saved up
money to do so."

"All the better, Roberts; then all she would have to do would be to say
that she had heard of a place near home, and wanted to leave at once.
She did not wish to inconvenience them, but that she had a cousin who
was just coming up to London and wanted a place, and that she would jump
at it. She could say that her cousin had not been in service before, but
that she was a thorough good cleaner and hard worker."

"And do you mean that you would go as a servant, Miss Netta? Why, it
would not be right for you to do so."

"Anything would be right that led to the discovery of Walter's hiding
place, Roberts. I have been accustomed to teaching, and I have helped my
aunt to look after the house for years, and I do not in the slightest
degree mind playing the part of a servant for a short time, in order to
try and get at the bottom of this matter. You think that it can be
managed?"

"I am sure it can be managed right enough, miss; but what Miss Covington
would say, if she knew that I had a hand in bringing it about, I can't
say."

"Well, you won't be drawn into the matter. I shall say enough to my aunt
to satisfy her that I am acting for the best, and shall simply, when I
go, leave a note for your mistress, telling her that I have gone to work
out an idea that I have had in my mind, and that it would be no use for
her to inquire into the matter until she hears of me again."

"What am I to tell Andrew, miss?"

"Simply tell him that a young woman has been engaged to watch Simcoe in
his lodgings. Then tell him the story he has to tell the girl. I shall
want three or four days to get my things ready. I shall have to go to a
dressmaker's and tell her that I want three or four print gowns for a
young servant about my own figure, and as soon as they are ready I shall
be ready, too."

"Well, miss, I will do as you tell me, but I would say, quite
respectful, I hope that you will bear in mind, if things goes wrong,
that I was dead against it, and that it was only because you said that
it was our only chance of finding Master Walter that I agreed to lend a
hand."

"I will certainly bear that in mind," Netta said with a smile. "Talk it
over with Andrew to-night; but remember he is only to know that a young
woman has been engaged to keep a watch on Simcoe."

"He will be glad enough to hear, miss, that someone else is going to do
something. He says the Colonel is so irritable because he has found out
so little that there is no bearing with him."

"The Colonel is trying," Netta laughed. "As you know, he comes here two
or three times a week and puts himself into such rages that, as he
stamps up and down the room, I expect to hear a crash and to find that
the dining-room ceiling has fallen down. He is a thoroughly kind-hearted
man, but is a dreadful specimen of what an English gentleman may come to
after he has had the command of an Indian regiment for some years, and
been accustomed to have his will obeyed in everything. It is very bad
for a man."

"It is a good deal worse for his servant, miss," Tom Roberts said, in a
tone of deep sympathy for his comrade. "I doubt whether I could have
stood it myself; but though Andrew expresses his feelings strong
sometimes, I know that if you offered him a good place, even in
Buckingham Palace, he would not leave the Colonel."

Two days later Netta heard that the girl in Jermyn Street had joyfully
accepted the offer, and had that morning told her master that she had
heard that she was wanted badly at home, and that a cousin of hers would
be up in a day or two, and would, she was sure, be very glad to take her
place. The master agreed to give her a trial, if she looked a clean and
tidy girl.

"I shall be clean and tidy, Roberts; and I am sure I shall do no
injustice to her recommendation."

Roberts shook his head. The matter was, to his mind, far too serious to
be joked about, and he almost felt as if he were acting in a treasonable
sort of way in aiding to carry out such a project.

On the following Monday Hilda, on coming down to breakfast, found a note
on the table. She opened it in haste, seeing that it was in Netta's
handwriting, and her eyes opened in surprise and almost dismay as she
read:

     "MY DARLING HILDA: I told you that I had a plan. Well, I am off to
     carry it out. It is of no use your asking what it is, or where I am
     going. You will hear nothing of me until I return to tell you
     whether I have failed or succeeded. Aunt knows what I am going to
     do."

Hilda at once ran upstairs to Miss Purcell's room.

"Where has Netta gone?" she exclaimed. "Her letter has given me quite a
turn. She says that you know; but I feel sure that it is something very
foolish and rash."

"I thought that you had a better opinion of Netta's common sense," Miss
Purcell said placidly, smiling a little at Hilda's excitement. "It is
her arrangement, dear, and not mine, and I am certainly not at liberty
to give you any information about it. I do not say that I should not
have opposed it in the first instance, had I known of it, but I
certainly cannot say that there is anything foolish in it, and I admit
that it seems to me to offer a better chance of success than any plan
that has yet been tried. I don't think there is any occasion for anxiety
about her. Netta has thought over her plans very carefully, and has gone
to work in a methodical way; she may fail, but if so I don't think that
it will be her fault."

"But why could she not tell me as well as you?" Hilda asked rather
indignantly.

"Possibly because she did not wish to raise hopes that might not be
fulfilled; but principally, I own, because she thought you would raise
objections to it, and she was bent upon having her own way. She has
seconded you well, my dear, all through this business."

"Yes, I know, aunt; she has been most kind in every respect."

"Well, my dear, then don't grudge her having a little plan of her own."

"I don't grudge her a bit," Hilda said impetuously, "and, as you are
quite satisfied, I will try to be quite satisfied too. But, you see, it
took me by surprise; and I was so afraid that she might do something
rash and get into trouble somehow. You know really I am quite afraid of
this man, and would certainly far rather run a risk myself than let her
do so."

"Of that I have no doubt, Hilda; but I am quite sure that, if the case
had been reversed, you would have undertaken this little plan that she
has hit upon, to endeavor to relieve her of a terrible anxiety, just as
she is doing for you."

"Well, I will be patient, aunt. How long do you think that she will be
away?"

"That is more than I can tell you; but at any rate she has promised to
write me a line at least twice a week, and, should I think it right, I
can recall her."

"That is something, aunt. You cannot guess whether it is likely to be a
week or a month?"

Miss Purcell shook her head.

"It will all depend upon whether she succeeds in hitting upon a clew as
to where Walter is. If she finds that she has no chance of so doing she
will return; if, on the other hand, she thinks that there is a
probability that with patience she will succeed, she will continue to
watch and wait."

"Miss Netta is not ill, I hope, miss?" Roberts said, when he came in to
clear the breakfast things away.

"No she has gone away on a short visit," Hilda replied. Had she been
watching the old soldier's face, she might have caught a slight
contortion that would have enlightened her as to the fact that he knew
more than she did about the matter; but she had avoided looking at him,
lest he should read in her face that she was in ignorance as to Netta's
whereabouts. She would have liked to have asked when she went; whether
she took a box with her, and whether she had gone early that morning or
late the evening before; but she felt that any questions of the sort
would show that she was totally in the dark as to her friend's
movements. In fact Netta had walked out early that morning, having sent
off a box by the carrier on the previous Saturday when Hilda was out;
Roberts having himself carried it to the receiving house.

It was four or five days before Dr. Leeds called again.

"Is Miss Purcell out?" he asked carelessly, when some little time had
elapsed without her making her appearance.

"Is that asked innocently, Dr. Leeds?" Hilda said quickly.

The doctor looked at her in genuine surprise.

"Innocently, Miss Covington? I don't think that I quite understand you."

"I see, doctor, that I have been in error. I suspected you of being an
accomplice of Netta's in a little scheme in which she is engaged on her
own account." And she then told him about her disappearance, of the
letter that she had received, and of the conversation with her aunt.
Dr. Leeds was seriously disturbed.

"I need hardly say that this comes as a perfect surprise to me, Miss
Covington, and I say frankly a very unpleasant one. But the only
satisfactory feature is that the young lady's aunt does not absolutely
disapprove of the scheme, whatever it is, although it is evident that
her approval is by no means a warm one. This is a very serious matter. I
have the highest opinion of your friend's judgment and sense, but I own
that I feel extremely uneasy at the thought that she has, so to speak,
pitted herself against one of the most unscrupulous villains I have ever
met, whose past conduct shows that he would stop at nothing, and who is
playing for a very big stake. It would be as dangerous to interfere
between a tiger and his prey as to endeavor to discover the secret on
which so much depends."

"I feel that myself, doctor, and I own that I'm exceedingly anxious.
Aunt has had two short letters from her. Both are written in pencil, but
the envelope is in ink, and in her usual handwriting. I should think it
probable that she took with her several directed envelopes. The letters
are very short. The first was: 'I am getting on all right, aunt, and am
comfortable. Too early to say whether I am likely to discover anything.
Pray do not fidget about me, nor let Hilda do so. There is nothing to be
uneasy about.' The second was as nearly as possible in the same words,
except that she said, 'You and Hilda must be patient. Rome was not built
in a day, and after so many clever people have failed you cannot expect
that I can succeed all at once.'"

"That is good as far as it goes," the doctor said, "but you see it does
not go very far. It is not until success is nearly reached that the
danger will really begin. I do not mind saying to you that Miss Purcell
is very dear to me. I have not spoken to her on the subject, as I wished
to see how my present partnership was likely to turn out. I am wholly
dependent upon my profession, and until I felt my ground thoroughly I
determined to remain silent. You can imagine, therefore, how troubled I
am at your news. Were it not that I have such implicit confidence in her
judgment I should feel it still more; but even as it is, when I think
how unscrupulous and how desperate is the man against whom she has,
single-handed, entered the lists, I cannot but be alarmed."

"I am very glad at what you have told me, doctor. I had a little hope
that it might be so. It seemed to me impossible that you could be living
for four months with such a dear girl without being greatly attracted by
her. Of course I know nothing of her feelings. The subject is one that
has never been alluded to between us, but I am sure that no girl living
is more fitted than she is to be the wife of a medical man. I would give
much to have Netta back again, but Miss Purcell is obdurate. She says
that, knowing as she does what Netta is doing, she does not think that
she is running any risk--at any rate, none proportionate to the
importance of finding a clew to Walter's hiding place."

"Will you ask her if she will write to her niece and urge her to return,
saying how anxious you are about her? Or, if she will not do that,
whether she will release her from her promise of secrecy, so that she
may let us know what she is doing?"

"I will go and ask her now; I will bring her down so that you can add
your entreaties to mine, doctor."

But Miss Purcell refused to interfere.

"I consider Netta's scheme to be a possible one," she said, "though I am
certainly doubtful of its success. But she has set her heart upon it,
and I will do nothing to balk her. I do not say that I am free from
anxiety myself, but my confidence in Netta's cleverness, and I may say
prudence, is such that I believe that the risk she is running is very
slight. It would be cruel, and I think wrong at the present moment, when
above all things it is necessary that her brain should be clear, to
distress and trouble her by interfering with her actions."

"Perhaps you are right, Miss Purcell," the doctor said thoughtfully.
"Being totally in the dark in the matter, I am not justified in giving a
decisive opinion, but I will admit that it would not conduce either to
her comfort or to the success of her undertaking were we to harass her
by interfering in any way with her plan, which, I have no doubt, has
been thoroughly thought out before she undertook it. No one but a madman
would shout instructions or warnings to a person performing a dangerous
feat requiring coolness and presence of mind. Such, I take it, is the
scheme, whatever it is, in which she is engaged; and as you are the only
one who knows what that scheme is, I must, however reluctantly, abide by
your decision. When Miss Covington tells you the conversation that we
have had together you will recognize how deeply I am interested in the
matter."



CHAPTER XVIII.

DOWN IN THE MARSHES.


Comparatively few of those who nowadays run down to Southend for a
breath of fresh air give a thought to the fact that the wide stretch of
low country lying between the railroad and the Thames, from Pitsea to
Leigh, was at one time, and that not so many centuries back, a mud flat,
a continuation of the great line of sand that still, with but a short
break here and there, stretches down beyond Yarmouth; still less that,
were it not for the watchfulness of those who dwell upon it, it would in
a short time revert to its original condition, the country lying below
the level of higher water.

Along the whole face of the river run banks--the work, doubtless, of
engineers brought over by Dutch William--strong, massive, and
stone-faced, as they need be to withstand the rush and fret of the tide
and the action of the waves when, as is often the case, the east wind
knocks up ridges of short, angry water in Sea Reach. Similarly, the
winding creeks are all embanked, but here dams of earth are sufficient
to retain within its bounds the sluggish water as it rises and falls.
Standing on any of these, the farmhouses and little homesteads lie
below, their eaves for the most part level with the top of the bank,
though there are a few knolls which rise above the level of the tidal
water.

The most conspicuous objects are the brown sails of the barges, which
seem to stand up in the midst of the brownish-green fields, the hulls
being invisible. This cannot be called marsh land, for the ground is
intersected by ditches, having sluices through which they discharge
their water at low tide. Very fertile is the land in some spots,
notably in Canvey Island, where there are great stretches of wheat and
broad meadows deep with rich waving grass; but there are other places
where the grass is brown and coarse, showing that, though the surface
may be hard and dry, water lies not far below. Here a few cattle gather
a scanty living, and the little homesteads are few and far between. Most
of the houses are placed near the banks of the creeks. The barges serve
as their wagons, and carry their hay up to London and bring down manure
and other things required, or carry coal and lime to the wharves of
Pitsea.

A rare place was this in the old smuggling days, and indeed until quite
lately the trade was carried on, though upon a reduced scale. Vessels
drifting slowly up the river would show a light as they passed a barge
at anchor or a bawley hanging to its trawl, a light would be shown in
answer, and a moment later a boat would row off to the ship, and a score
of tubs or a dozen bales of tobacco be quickly transferred, and before
morning the contents would be stowed in underground cellars in some of
the little farmhouses on the creeks, or be hidden away in the Leigh
marshes.

"Will Bill be in to-night with the barge?" a child asked a woman, as he
came down from the bank to a not uncomfortable-looking homestead ten
yards from its foot.

"I told you that you are to call him uncle," the woman said sharply, but
not unkindly. "I have told you so over and over again, child."

"I generally do now, but one forgets sometimes."

"There is never any saying"--the woman went on in reply to his
question--"there is never any saying; it all depends on tide and wind.
Sometimes they have to anchor and lose a tide, or maybe two. Sometimes
they get a cargo directly they get into the Pool or at Rochester;
sometimes they wait two or three days. They have been away four days
now; they might have been here yesterday, but may not come till
to-morrow. One thing is certain, whenever he do come he will want
something to eat, and I hope that they will bring it with them, for
there is nothing here but bread and bacon."

"And do you think that I shall soon go home again, aunt?"

"There is no saying," the woman said evasively. "You are very
comfortable here, aint you?"

"Oh, yes! There are the dogs and the ducks and the chickens, and uncle
says that he will take me sometimes for a sail with him in the barge."

"Yes, I expect it won't be long first. You know, I used to go with him
regular till, as I have told you, my little Billy fell overboard one
night, and we knew nothing of it until he was gone, and I have never
liked the barge since. Besides, I have plenty to do here. But I am going
across to Rochester very soon. It's a good place for shopping, and I
want groceries and little things for myself and more things for you. I
will take you with me, but you will have to promise to be very good and
careful."

"I will be careful," the child said confidently, "and you know that
uncle said that when spring comes he will teach me to swim; and I shall
like that, and if I tumble overboard it won't matter. He says that when
I get a few years older I shall go with him regularly, and learn to
steer and to manage the sails. I shall like that; but I should like to
go back sometimes to see Hilda and Netta and my grandpapa."

"Well, well, my dear, we will see about it; they can't take you at
present. I think that they have gone away traveling, and may not be back
for a long time. And mind, you know you are not to talk about them. Just
when you are here with me I don't care; but you know uncle does not like
it, and if anyone asks, you must say just what he told you, that your
father and mother are dead, and that Uncle Bill has took you."

"I shan't forget," the boy said. "I never do talk about it before him;
it makes him angry. I don't know why, but it does."

"But he is always kind to you, Jack?"

"Oh, yes, he is very kind, and he often brings me things when he comes
back; he brought me my dear little kitten. Pussy, where have you hidden
yourself? Puss! puss!" And in answer a little ball of white fur bounded
out from behind a chair, and the child was soon engaged in a game of
romps with it.

"It is a shame!" the woman said, as she watched them; "I don't mind the
other things, but I never liked this. I wonder who the poor little chap
is. By the way he talked when he first came, about his home and his
nurse and horses and carriages, his friends must be rich people. Bill
has never understood why they wanted to get rid of him; but I suppose
that he was in somebody's way, and, as he never speaks of his father and
mother, but only of those two girls and his grandfather, who seems to
have been an invalid, I expect that he must have lost his father and
mother before he can remember. Well, he will be right enough here; I
should miss him dreadful if he were to go away; he seems to have taken
the place of my little Billy. And Bill takes to him, too, wonderfully.
He said the other day that when the boy grew up he would buy a barge, a
new one of the best kind, and that some day it should be the boy's own.
So he won't do so bad, after all."

A stranger would have wondered at the comfort in the interior of the
little farmhouse. The land round it was very poor. Three horses--which
seemed as if they had nothing to do but to nibble the coarse grass--and
a couple of cows wandered about on a few acres of land, inclosed by deep
water ditches; a score or two of ducks and geese paddled in the mud in
the bottom of the creek at low tide, or swam about in the water when it
was up; and a patch of garden ground, attended to chiefly by the woman,
surrounded the cottage. But all this would have afforded a scanty living
indeed, were it not that the master, Bill Nibson, was the owner of the
_Mary Ann_ barge, an old craft with a somewhat dilapidated sail, which
journeyed up and down the river with more or less regularity, laden, for
the most part, with manure, hay, lime, bricks, or coal. This he
navigated with the aid of a lad of fourteen, a waif, whose mother, a
tramp, had died by the roadside one bitter cold night four years before.
Bill had been summoned on the coroner's jury and had offered to take the
boy.

"I can do with him on board the barge," he said; "he is only a little
nipper now, but in a year or two he will be useful. The boy I have got
wants to go to sea, and I shan't be sorry to get rid of him; he is
getting too knowing for me altogether."

As no one else wanted the boy he was handed over to Bill, and was now a
sharp lad, who, never having been instructed in the niceties of right
and wrong, and being especially ignorant that there was any harm in
cheating Her Majesty's Customs, was in all things a useful assistant to
his master. He had, indeed, very soon imbibed the spirit, not uncommon
among the dwellers on the marshes, that if managed without detection,
the smuggling of tobacco and spirits was a meritorious action,
advantageous to the community at large, and hurting no one except that
mysterious and unknown entity, the queen's revenue. He was greatly
attached to Bill, and took an occasional thrashing as a matter of
course; regarding him as having saved him from the workhouse and having
put him in a fair way of making a man of himself.

The next day at twelve o'clock the child, playing on the bank, ran in
and reported that Joshua was coming along the bank, and in a few minutes
the boy appeared.

"Morning, missis," he said. "Master sent me on to say that the barge got
into the haven this morning, and that she will come on with the evening
tide. He sent me on with this lump of meat, and these rokers he got from
a bawley which came in just as we were getting up sail off Grain Spit.
He says he has got a barrel of beer on board, that he will land as he
passes. He will be along about nine o'clock. Well, Jack, how are you?"

"I am all right," the child said, "and so is Kitty. I am glad that you
are back. How long are you going to stay?"

"I suppose that it will take us a couple of days to unload. Master is
going as usual to hire a couple of men to get the line out, so I shall
be over here by breakfast. He says that I may as well do a job of
digging in the garden, as he wants to get some things in before we get
frosty nights. Have you any message for him, missis?"

"You can tell him he may as well get a dish of eels from one of the
Dutchmen there. I suppose there is one in the haven?"

"Two of them, missis; he will be able to get them, for one of them is
the _Marden_, and the skipper has always let master have some, though he
won't sell an eel to anyone else."

"Is there any business to be done?" the woman asked significantly.

The boy nodded.

"All right; tell him that I will get the horses in."

The child was put to bed upstairs at seven o'clock, although he in vain
petitioned to be allowed to stop up until the barge came along. He
already knew, however, by experience, that his request was not likely to
be granted, as when the barge came along after dark he was always put to
bed, the woman telling him that Bill didn't like him to be up when he
came in, as he wanted to have a talk with her in quiet, and to eat his
supper in peace.

An hour after dark the woman went out onto the bank and listened. In a
quarter of an hour she heard the rattle of a block in the distance. She
went down, stirred up the fire, and put on the kettle, and in twenty
minutes the barge came along. The boat, instead of towing behind as
usual, was alongside.

"You take her on, Joshua," its owner said, as he quietly got into the
boat; "run in where the water is deep alongside, a quarter of a mile
this side Pitsea. I will come along and get on board there as soon as I
have finished this job. Keep a sharp lookout on the banks; some of the
coastguardsmen may be about. If they hail you and ask if I am on board,
say I landed as we passed here, to have a cup of tea, and that I shall
not be five minutes."

Then he pushed the boat to shore. "Well, Betsy, how are you? I have got
twenty kegs here, and five or six hundredweight of tobacco. I will get
it up the bank, and you had better stow it away at once; I will lend you
a hand as soon as it is all up."

As fast as he could carry the kegs up the banks she slipped slings round
them, two at a time, hooked them to a milkmaid's yoke, and went off with
them to a shed which served as a stable and cowhouse in the winter.
Against this was a rick of hay. Putting the kegs down she returned for
more, and by the time that they were all in the stable her husband had
finished his share of the work and had carried the heavy bales of
tobacco to the shed. The three horses were already there.

"Are you going to take them out at once?"

"No, not until I come back. I must get on board the barge as soon as
possible. We will bundle them all in, in case any of those fellows
should come along."

Three planks were removed from the side of the shed next to the stack,
and an opening was seen. Some turf was taken up and a trapdoor exposed.
The kegs and tobacco were speedily carried down into a large cellar, the
trapdoor was closed, and the boards placed securely in position and
fastened by six long screws. Then they returned to the house. The teapot
and cups were on the table, the kettle was boiling, and in two or three
minutes they were taking tea. Scarcely had they begun their meal when
there was a knock at the door. Bill got up and opened it, and two
coastguards entered.

"We saw there was a light burning, and thought that you might be here,
Bill. The wind is bitter cold."

"Come in and have a cup of tea or a glass of rum, whichever you like
best. As you say, the wind is bitter cold, and I thought that I would
land and have a cup of tea. I shall catch the barge up before she gets
to Pitsea."

The coastguardsmen accepted the offer of a cup of tea, glancing
furtively round the room as they drank it.

"It is good tea."

"'Tis that," Bill said, "and it has never paid duty. I got it from an
Indiaman that was on the Nore three weeks ago. She transshipped part of
her cargo on my barge and floated next tide. It was one of the best jobs
I've had for some time, and stood me in fifty pounds and a pound or two
of tea."

"Perhaps a chest of it!" one of the men said with a laugh.

"Well, well, I am not sure that it was not a chest. I like my cup of
tea, and so does Betsy; and there is no getting tea like this at
Stanford."

They chatted for about ten minutes, when Bill remarked, "I must be
going," and they went out together, and taking his place in his boat he
rowed up the creek, while the coastguards continued their walk along the
bank.

"He is not a bad 'un, Tom," one of them said. "I guess he is like a good
many of the others, runs a keg occasionally. However, his place has been
searched half a dozen times, and nothing has been found. We have drunk
many a glass of ale with him at the 'Lobster Smack' at Hole Haven, and I
am sure I don't want to catch him unless there is some information to go
on. The barge passed us half an hour ago, and I knew that it was no use
looking in her, but of course when the boatswain said this afternoon,
'Just follow that barge when she gets under way, and see if she goes on
to Pitsea,' we had to do it; but the boat was late for us where the
creek branches off round the island, and before we were across he must
have got more than half an hour's start of us. And I am not sorry, Tom.
We have got to do our duty, but we don't want to be at war with every
good fellow on the marshes."

"Right you are, Dick; besides, they are as slippery as eels. Who can
tell what they have got under their lime or manure? Short of unloading
it to the bottom there would be no finding it, if they had anything;
and it is a job that I should not care for. Besides, there aint no place
to empty it on; and we could not go and chuck a cargo overboard unless
we were quite certain that we should find something underneath. As you
say, I dare say Bill runs a keg or two now and then, but I don't suppose
that he is worse than his neighbors; I have always suspected that it was
he who left a keg of whisky at our door last Christmas."

In the meantime Bill had overtaken his barge, and they soon had her
alongside of the little wharf at Pitsea.

"Tide is just turning. She will be aground in half an hour," he said.
"As soon as you have got these mooring ropes fastened, you had better
fry that steak and have your supper. I shall be over by seven o'clock in
the morning. If Harvey and Wilson come alongside before that, tell them
they can have the job at the usual price, and can set to work without
waiting for me. It will be pretty late before I am in bed to-night."

It was over a mile walk back to his cottage. As soon as he arrived he
sat down to a hearty supper which his wife had prepared for him. He then
got three pack-saddles out of the cellar, put them on the horses, and
fastened four kegs on each horse. Tying one behind the other, he
started, and in an hour the kegs were stowed in the cellars of four
farmers near Stanford. It was midnight before he returned home. At
half-past six he was down to breakfast.

"Well, uncle, how are you?" he asked the child, who was already up.

"I am not your uncle," the boy replied; "you are my uncle."

"Ah, well, it's a way of speaking down here. It does not mean that
anyone is one's uncle; it is just a way of speaking."

The child nodded. He was learning many things.

"Then it is a way of speaking when I call you uncle?"

"No, no! That is different. A child like you would not call anyone
uncle unless he was uncle; while a man my age calls anyone uncle."

"That is funny, isn't it?"

"Well, I suppose, when you think of it, it is; but, as I said, it is a
way we have in this part of the country. Well, mother, have you got that
fish nearly fried?"

"It will be ready in five minutes. This roker is a very thick one. I put
it on as soon as I heard you stirring, and it is not quite ready yet.
That was a pretty near escape last night, Bill."

"Yes; but, you see, they can hardly catch us unless they send men down
in the afternoon. They cannot get along from the station without passing
two or three creeks; and coming along with the tide, especially when
there is a breath of wind to help her, we can do it in half the time.
You see, I always get the things out from under the cargo and into the
boat as we come along, so that the barge shall not be stopped."

"But they might send down a boat from the Thames Haven station, Bill."

"Yes; but then they don't know when the barge is in, or when it is going
to start. So we get the best of them in that way. Besides, they have a
good bit to go along the river face, and they have to cross a dozen deep
cuts to get there. No, I have no fear of them, nor of the others either,
as far as that goes. I have more than once had a word dropped, meant to
put me on my guard, and instead of landing the things here have dropped
them in a deep hole in the creek, where I could pick them up the next
night I came in. Things have changed with us for the better, lass. Five
years ago we had pretty hard work, with the farm and the old boat, to
live at all comfortable; but since I have got into the swim things have
changed with us, and I can tell you that I am making money hand over
fist. I allow that there is a certain risk in it, but, after all, one
likes it all the better for that. If the worst came to the worst they
could but confiscate the old barge; if they gave me a heavy fine I could
pay it, and if they gave me six months I could work it out, and buy a
new barge and half a dozen farms like this on the day I came out."

"But the other would be more serious, Bill?"

"Well, yes; but I don't see any chance of that being found out. A gent
comes to me at a spot we have settled on, say on the road halfway
between Pitsea and Stanford; he hands me a box, sometimes two; I puts
them on one of the horses, and rides over here with them; then I stows
them away in that secret place off the store, where there aint a shadow
of a chance of the sharpest-eyed coastguardsman ever finding them. They
would be too delighted to light on the spirits and bacca to think of
digging up the floor underneath. There they lie, till I take them down
to the _Marden_. They put them into the eel tank, and next morning off
she sails."

"But you have had heavy cases brought once or twice?"

"Only once--heavy enough to be troublesome. Ten cases there was then,
each as heavy as a man could lift. It took me three journeys with three
horses, and I had to dig a big hole in the garden to bury them till the
_Marden_ had got rid of her eels, and was ready to sail again. Yes, that
was a heavy job, and I got a couple of hundred pounds for my share of
the business. I should not mind having such a job twice a week. A few
months of that, and I could buy the biggest farm on this side of
Essex--that is to say, if I could make up my mind to cut it and settle
down as a farmer."

"You will never do that, Bill; but you might settle down in Rochester,
and buy half a dozen barges, with a tip-top one you would sail yourself.
You might have a couple of men and a cabin forward, and a nice roomy
place for yourself and me aft; and you could just steer when you liked,
or sit down and smoke your pipe and watch her going through the fleet as
we worked through the swatchway. That would be more your sort, Bill, and
mine too. I know you have money enough laid by to get such a barge."

"That is so, Betsy. I allow that I could do that. I have been thinking
of it for some time, but somehow or other one never works one's self up
to the right point to give it all up of a sudden and cut the old place.
Well, I suppose one of these days I shall do it, if it is only to please
you."

"It would please me, you know, Bill. I don't see no harm in running the
kegs or the bacca--it's what the people about here have been doing for
hundreds of years--but I don't like this other business. You don't know
what is in the cases, and you don't ask, but there aint much difficulty
in guessing. And I don't much like this business of the child. I did not
like it at all at first; but when I found that he had no father nor
mother as he knew of, and so it was certain that no one was breaking
their heart about him, I did not mind it; and I have taken to him, and
he has pretty nearly forgotten about his home, and is as contented as if
he had been here all his life. I have nothing more to say about him,
though it is as certain as eggs is eggs that it has been a bad business.
The boy has been cheated out of his money, and if his friends ever find
him it is a nice row that we shall get into."

"You need not bother yourself about that," the man said; "he aint more
likely to be found here than if he was across the seas in Ameriky. We
have had him near nine months now, and in another three months, if you
were to put him down in front of his own house, he would not know it.
Everyone about here believes as he is my nevvy, the son of a brother of
yours who died down in the Midlands, and left him motherless. No one
asks any questions about him now, no more than they does about Joshua.
No, no; we are all right there, missis; and the hundred pounds that we
had down with him, and fifty pounds a year till he gets big enough to
earn his own grub on the barge, all helps. Anyhow, if something should
happen to me before I have made up my mind to quit this, you know where
the pot of money is hidden. You can settle in Rochester, and get him
some schooling, and then apprentice him to a barge-owner and start him
with a barge of his own as soon as he is out of his time. You bear it in
mind that is what I should like done."

"I will mind," she said quietly; "but I am as likely to be carried to
the churchyard as you are, and you remember what I should like, and try,
Bill, if you give up the water yourself, to see that he is with a man as
doesn't drink. Most of the things we hears of--of barges being run down,
and of men falling overboard on a dark night--are just drink, and
nothing else. You are not a man as drinks yourself; you take your glass
when the barge is in the creek, but I have never seen you the worse for
liquor since you courted me fifteen years ago, and I tell you there is
not a night when you are out on the barge as I don't thank God that it
is so. I says to myself, when the wind is blowing on a dark night, 'He
is anchored somewheres under a weather shore, and he is snug asleep in
his cabin. There is no fear of his driving along through it and carrying
on sail; there is no fear of his stumbling as he goes forward and
pitching over'; and no one but myself knows what a comfort it is to me.
You bring him up in the same way, Bill. You teach him as it is always a
good thing to keep from liquor, though a pint with an old mate aint
neither here nor there, but that he might almost as well take poison as
to drink down in the cabin."

"I will mind, missis; I like the child, and have got it in my mind to
bring him up straight, so let us have no more words about it."



CHAPTER XIX.

A PARTIAL SUCCESS.


Netta had been away three weeks when one morning, just as they were
sitting down to breakfast, she suddenly came into the room. With a cry
of joy Hilda ran into her arms.

"You wicked, wicked girl!" she exclaimed. "I know that I ought not to
speak to you. You don't deserve that I should even look at you, but I
cannot help it."

Miss Purcell embraced her niece more soberly, but Hilda saw by the
expression of her face that her niece's return relieved her of a burden
of anxiety which at times she had had difficulty in concealing.

"In the first place, Netta, before I even give you a cup of tea, tell me
if this is a final return, or whether you are going to disappear again."

"That we will decide after you have heard my story," Netta said quietly.

"And have you got any news of Walter?"

"I am not sure; I think so. So you have kept my secret, aunt?"

"I promised that I would, dear, and of course I have kept my word,
though it was very difficult to resist Hilda's pleading. Dr. Leeds, too,
has been terribly anxious about you, and not a day has passed that he
has not run in for a few minutes to learn if there was any news."

"I don't see why he should have known that I have been away."

"Why, my dear," Hilda said, "coming here as often as he does, he
naturally inquired where you were, and as I was uncertain how long you
would be away, and as he had always been in our counsels, I could hardly
keep him in the dark, even had I wished to do so. Now, my dear, let us
know all about it; there can be no possible reason for keeping silent
any longer."

"Well, Hilda, the whole affair has been very simple, and there was not
the least occasion for being anxious. I simply wanted to keep it quiet
because I felt that you would raise all sorts of objections to the plan.
We had, as you know, thought over a great many methods by which we might
overhear a conversation between John Simcoe and the man on Pentonville
Hill. But it seemed next to be impossible that it could be managed
there. Suddenly the idea came into my brain that, as a servant at
Simcoe's lodgings in Jermyn Street, I might have an excellent chance."

Hilda gave an exclamation of horror.

"My dear Netta, you never can really have thought of carrying this out?"

"I not only thought of it, but did it. With a little management the girl
there was got hold of, and as it fortunately happened that she did not
like London and wanted to take a country situation, there was very
little difficulty, and she agreed to introduce me as a friend who was
willing to take her place. Of course, it took a few days to make all the
arrangements and to get suitable clothes for the place, and these I sent
by parcel delivery, and on the morning of the day that the girl was to
leave presented myself at the house. The man and his wife were good
enough to approve of my appearance. They had, it seemed, three sets of
lodgers, one on each floor; the man himself waited upon them, and my
work was to do their rooms and keep the house tidy generally."

Again Hilda gave a gasp.

"There was nothing much in that," Netta went on, without heeding her. "I
used to do most of the house work when we were in Germany, and I think
that I gave every satisfaction. Of course the chief difficulty was about
my deafness. I was obliged to explain to them that I was very hard of
hearing unless I was directly spoken to. Mr. Johnstone always answered
the bells himself when he was at home. Of course, when he was out it
was my duty to do so. When I was downstairs it was simple enough, for I
only had to go to the door of the room of which I saw the bell in
motion. At first they seemed to think that the difficulty was
insuperable; but I believe that in other respects I suited them so well
that they decided to make the best of it, and when her husband was out
and I was upstairs Mrs. Johnstone took to answering the door bells, or
if a lodger rang, which was not very often, for her husband seldom went
out unless they were all three away, she would come upstairs and tell
me. Johnstone himself said to me one day that I was the best girl he had
ever had, and that instead of having to go most carefully over the
sitting rooms before the gentlemen came in for breakfast, he found that
everything was so perfectly dusted and tidied up that there was really
nothing for him to do.

"But oh, Hilda, I never had the slightest idea before how untidy men
are! The way they spill their tobacco ash all over the room, and put the
ends of their cigars upon mantelpieces, tables, and everywhere else, you
would hardly believe it. The ground floor and the second floor were the
worst, for they very often had men in of an evening, and the state of
the rooms in the morning was something awful. Our man was on the first
floor, and did not give anything like so much trouble, for he almost
always went out in the evening and never had more than one or two
friends in with him. One of these friends was the man we saw with him in
the Row, and who, we had no doubt, was an accomplice of his. He came
oftener than anyone else, very often coming in to fetch him. As he was
always in evening dress I suppose they went to some club or to the
theater together. I am bound to say that his appearance is distinctly
that of a gentleman.

"I had taken with me two or three things that I foresaw I should want.
Among them was an auger, and some corks of a size that would exactly fit
the hole that it would make. Simcoe's bedroom communicated with the
sitting room, and he always used this door in going from one room to the
other; and it was evident that it was only through that that I could get
a view of what was going on. I did not see how I could possibly make a
hole through the door itself. It was on one side, next to that where the
fireplace was, and there was a window directly opposite, and of course a
hole would have been noticed immediately. The only place that I could
see to make it was through the door frame. Its position was a matter of
much calculation, I can assure you. The auger was half an inch bore. I
dared not get it larger, and it would have been hopeless to try and see
anything with a smaller one, especially as the hole would have to be
four or five inches long. As I sometimes went into the room when they
were together, either with hot water or grilled bones, or something of
that sort, I was able to notice exactly where the chairs were generally
placed. Simcoe sat with his back to the bedroom door, and the other man
on the other side of the hearthrug, facing him. I, therefore, decided to
make the hole on the side nearest to the wall, so that I could see the
other man past Simcoe. Of course I wanted the hole to be as low as
possible, as it would not be so likely to be noticed as it would were it
higher up. I chose a point, therefore, that would come level with my eye
when I was kneeling down.

"At about four o'clock in the afternoon they always went out, and from
then till six Johnstone also took his airing, and I went upstairs to
turn down the beds and tidy up generally. It was very seldom that any of
them dined at home; I, therefore, had that two hours to myself. I got
the line the hole should go by leaving the door open, fastening a stick
to the back of a chair till it was, as nearly as I could judge, the
height of the man's face, tying a piece of string to it and bringing it
tight to the point where I settled the hole should start, and then
marking the line the string made across the frame. Then there was a good
deal more calculation as to the side-slant; but ten days ago I boldly
set to work and bored the hole. Everything was perfectly right; I could
see the head of the stick, and the circle was large enough for me to
get all the man's face in view. Of course I had put a duster on the
ground to prevent any chips falling onto the carpet.

"I was a little nervous when I set to work to drill that hole; it was
the only time that I felt nervous at all. I had beforehand drilled
several holes in the shelves of cupboards, so as to accustom myself to
use the auger, and it did not take me many minutes before it came
through on the other side. The corks were of two sizes; one fitted
tightly into the hole, the other could be drawn in or out with very
little difficulty. I had gone out one day and bought some tubes of paint
of the colors that I thought would match the graining of the door frame.
I also bought a corkscrew that was about an inch and a half shorter than
the depth of the hole. It was meant to be used by a cross-piece that
went through a hole at the top. I had got this cross-piece out with some
trouble, and tied a short loop of string through the hole it had gone
through. I put the corkscrew into one of the smaller corks and pushed it
through until it was level with the frame on the sitting-room side, and
found that by aid of the loop of string I could draw it out easily. Then
I put one of the larger corks in at the bedroom side of the hole and
pushed it in until it was level with that side. Then I painted the ends
of the corks to resemble the graining, and when it was done they could
hardly be noticed a couple of feet away.

"I had now nothing to do but to wait until the right moment came. It
came last night. The man arrived about seven o'clock. Johnstone was out,
and I showed him upstairs. Simcoe was already dressed, and was in the
sitting room. I lost no time, but went into the bedroom, where the gas
was burning, turned down the bed on the side nearest to the door, and
then went round, and with another corkscrew I had ready in my pocket
took out the inner cork, got hold of the loop, and pulled the other one
out also. Even had I had my hearing, I could have heard nothing of what
was said inside, for the doors were of mahogany, and very well fitted,
and Johnstone had said one day that even if a man shouted in one room he
would hardly be heard in the next, or on the landing. I pushed a wedge
under the door so as to prevent its being opened suddenly. That was the
thing that I was most afraid of. I thought that Simcoe could hardly move
without coming within my line of sight, and that I should have time to
jump up and be busy at the bed before he could open the door. But I was
not sure of this, so I used the wedge. If he tried the door and could
not open it, he would only suppose that the door had stuck and I could
snatch out the wedge and kick it under the bed by the time he made a
second effort.

"Kneeling down, I saw to my delight that my calculations had been
perfectly right. I could see the man's face well, for the light of the
candles fell full upon it. They talked for a time about the club and the
men they were going to dine with, and I began to be afraid that there
was going to be nothing more, when the man said, 'By the way, Simcoe, I
went down to Tilbury yesterday.' What Simcoe said, of course, I could
not hear; but the other answered, 'Oh, yes, he is all right, getting
quite at home, the man said; and has almost ceased to talk about his
friends.' Then I saw him rise, and at once jumped up and went on turning
down the bed, lest Simcoe should have forgotten something and come in
for it. However, he did not, and two or three minutes later I peeped in
again. The room was all dark, and I knew that they had gone. Then I put
my corks in again, saw that the paint was all right, and went
downstairs. I told Mrs. Johnstone that, if I could be spared, I should
like to go out for two or three hours this morning to see a friend in
service. It was the time that I could best be spared. I should have
finished the sitting rooms by eight o'clock, and as none of the men have
breakfast until about eleven, there was plenty of time for me to make
the beds after I got back."

Hilda was crying now. Her relief that hearing that Walter was alive and
well was unbounded. She had absolutely refused to recognize the body
found in the canal, but she could not but admit that the probabilities
were all against her. It was certain that the clothes were his, the
child's age was about the same, the body must have been in the water the
right length of time, the only shadow of evidence to support her was the
hair. She had taken the trouble to go to two or three workhouses, and
found that the coroner's assertion that soft hair when cut quite close
will, in a very short time, stand upright, was a correct one. She kept
on hoping against hope, but her faith had been yielding, especially
since Netta's absence had deprived her of the support that she obtained
from her when inclined to look at matters from a dark point of view.

"Oh, Netta," she cried, "how can I thank you enough! How happy the news
has made me! And to think that I have been blaming you, while you have
been doing all this. You cannot tell what a relief it is to me. I have
thought so much of that poor little body, and the dread that it was
Walter's after all has been growing upon me. I have scarcely slept for a
long time."

"I know, dear. It was because I saw that though you still kept up an
appearance of hope, you were really in despair, and could tell from your
heavy eyes when you came down of a morning that you had hardly slept,
that I made up my mind something must be done. There was no hardship
whatever in my acting as a servant for a month or two. I can assure you
that I regarded it rather as fun, and was quite proud of the credit that
my master gave me. Now, the question is, shall I go back again?"

"Certainly not, Netta. You might be months there without having such a
piece of luck again. At any moment you might be caught listening, or
they might notice the hole that you made so cleverly. Besides, we have
gained a clew now to Walter's hiding place. But even that is as nothing
to me in comparison with having learned that he is alive and well, and
that he has ceased to fret and is becoming contented in his new home. We
can afford to wait now. Sooner or later we are sure to find him.
Before, I pictured him, if still alive, as shut up in some horrible
cellar. Now I can be patient. I think that we are sure to find him
before long."

"Well, I think, dear," Miss Purcell said quietly, "that we had better
ring the bell and have some fresh tea made. Everything is perfectly
cold, for it is three-quarters of an hour since it came up."

Hilda rang the bell and gave the necessary orders.

"Let Janet bring the things up, Roberts, and come back yourself when you
have given the order. I want to send a line to Dr. Leeds. You will be
delighted to hear that Miss Purcell has learned, at least, that Walter
is alive and well; but mind," she went on, as the old soldier was about
to burst out into exclamations of delight, "you must keep this
altogether to yourself. It is quite possible that we have been watched
as closely as we have been watching this man, and that he may in some
way learn everything that passes here; therefore it must not be
whispered outside this room that we have obtained any news."

"I understand, miss. I won't say a word about it downstairs."

Hilda scribbled a line in pencil to the doctor, saying that Netta was
back and that she had obtained some news of a favorable description, and
that, as she knew that at this hour he could not get away, she would
come over with Netta at once to tell him what they had learned, and
would be in Harley Street within half an hour of his getting the
message.

As soon as they had finished breakfast they drove to the doctor's. They
were shown up into the drawing room, where Dr. Leeds joined them almost
immediately.

"We are not going to detain you more than two or three minutes," Hilda
said, while he shook hands warmly with Netta. "You must come over this
evening, and then you shall hear the whole story; but I thought that it
was only fair that Netta should have the satisfaction of telling you
herself what she had learned."

"It is very little, but so far as it goes it is quite satisfactory, Dr.
Leeds. I heard, or rather I saw, the man we suspected of being Simcoe's
accomplice say, 'By the way, I ran down to Tilbury yesterday.' Simcoe
then said something, but what I could not tell, as his face was hidden
from me, and the man in reply said, 'Oh, yes, he is all right, and has
almost ceased to talk about his friends.' Now you must be content with
that until this evening."

"I will be content with it," the doctor said, "if you will assure me
that you are not going away again. If you will not, I will stop here and
hear the whole story, even at the risk of a riot down in my waiting
room."

"No, she is not going away, doctor; she had not quite settled about it
when she got back this morning, but I settled it for her. I will take
care that she does not slip out of my sight till after you have seen her
and talked it all over."

"Then the matter is finally settled," Netta said, "for unless I go in
half an hour's time I cannot go at all."

"Then I will be patient until this evening."

"Will you come to dinner, doctor?" Hilda said. "I have sent notes off to
Mr. Pettigrew and Colonel Bulstrode to ask them to come, as I have news
of importance to give them."

"What will they do, Netta, when they find that you do not come back?"
Hilda asked as they drove away.

"That has puzzled me a good deal. I quite saw that if I disappeared
suddenly they might take it into their heads that something had happened
to me, and might go to the police office and say I was missing. But that
would not be the worst. Simcoe might guess, when he heard that I had
gone without notice and left my things behind me, that I had been put
there to watch him. He certainly would not suspect that he could have
been overheard, for he must know that it would be quite impossible for
any words to be heard through the doors; still, he would be uneasy, and
might even have the child moved to some other locality. So I have
written a note, which we can talk over when we get in. Of course they
may think that I have behaved very badly in throwing them over like
this, but it is better that they should do that than they should think
there was anything suspicious about it. My wages are due to-morrow; like
the girl I succeeded, I was to have eight pounds a year. I have left my
box open, so that the mistress can see for herself that there is none of
the lodgers' property in it. There are two or three print dresses--I put
on my Sunday gown when I came out--and the underclothes are all duly
marked Jane Clotworthy."

"What a name to take, Netta!"

"Yes, I do not know how I came to choose it. I was thinking what name I
would take when Clotworthy flashed across my mind. I don't think that I
ever heard the name before, and how I came to think of it I cannot
imagine; it seemed to me a sort of inspiration, so I settled on it at
once."

"Now, let me see the letter," Hilda asked, as soon as they returned
home.

"I hardly liked to write it," Netta said, "it is such a wicked story;
but I don't see how a person can act as detective without telling
stories, and, at any rate, it is perfectly harmless."

"Oh, yes; it is quite certain, Netta, that you could not write and tell
her that you have been in her house in disguise, and that, having found
out what you wanted, you have now left her. Of course you must make up a
story of some sort, or, as you say, Simcoe would at once suspect that
you had been sent there to watch him. He might feel perfectly sure that
no conversation could have been heard outside the room, but he could not
be sure that you might not have been hidden under the table or sofa, or
behind a curtain. When so much depends upon his thinking that he is
absolutely safe, one must use what weapons one can. If you have any
scruples about it, I will write the letter for you."

"No, I do not think the scruples will trouble me," Netta laughed. "Of
course, I have had to tell stories, and one more or less will not weigh
on my mind. Here is the letter. If you can think of any better reason
for running away so suddenly, by all means let me have it."

The letter was written in a sprawling hand, and with many of the words
misspelt. It began:

     "DEAR MRS. JOHNSTONE: I am afraid you will think very badly of me
     for leaving you so sudding, after you and Mr. Johnstone have been
     so kind to me, but who should I meet at my friend's but my young
     man. We were ingaged to be married, but we had a quarrel, and that
     is why I came up to town so sudding. We has made it up. He only
     come up yesterday, and is going down this morning, and nothing
     would do but that I must go down with him and that we should get
     married directly. He says that as the banns has been published
     there aint any occasion to wait, and we might be married at the end
     of the week, as he has got everything ready and is in good
     employment. So the long and the short of it is, mam, that I am
     going down with him home this afternoon. As to the wages that was
     due to-morrow, of course I forfeit them, and sorry I am to give you
     troubil, by leaving you without a girl. My box is not locked, plese
     look in it and you will see that there aint nothing there that
     isn't my own. In one corner you will find half a crown wrapped up
     in paper, plese take that to pay for the carriage of the box, the
     key is in the lock, and I send a labil to tie on."

"What do you think of that, Hilda?"

"I think it will do capitally. I don't think any better excuse could be
made. But where will you have the box sent?"

"That is what we must settle together. It would not do to send it down
to some little village, for if the address was unknown it might be sent
back again."

"Yes; and if John Simcoe had any suspicions that the story was a false
one he might go down there to make inquiries about Jane Clotworthy, and,
finding no such name known there, and the box still lying at the
station, his suspicion that he had been watched would become almost a
certainty."

"I should think that Reading would be a good place to send to it. 'Jane
Clotworthy, Luggage Office, Reading.' Then I could go down myself and
ask for it, and could bring it up by the next train."

"Tom Roberts could do that, Netta; there is no reason why you should
trouble about it."

"I think that I had better go myself. It is most unlikely that Simcoe
would send down anyone to watch who took the box away, but if he should
be very uneasy he might do so. He would be sure to describe me to anyone
that he sent, so that it would be better that I should go myself."

"I think that your story is so plausible, Netta, that there is no risk
whatever of his having any doubts about it, but still one cannot be too
careful."

"Then I will wind up the letter.

     "'Begging your pardon for having left you in the lurch so sudding.
     I remain, your obedient servant,

     "'Jane Clotworthy.

     "'P.S.--I am very sorry.

     "'P.S.--Plese give my respects to Mr. Johnstone, and excuse
     blots.'"

Hilda burst into a fit of laughter as she glanced at the postscript.

"That will do admirably, Netta," she said. "Now how had we better send
it?"

"I should think that your maid had better take it. You might tell her to
ring at the bell, hand it to the woman, and come away at once, without
talking, except saying 'I was told to give you this.' Then she would be
well away before Mrs. Johnstone had mastered the contents of the note.
It had better be sent off at once, for by this time they will be getting
in a way."

"I think that I had better send Roberts. No doubt Johnstone himself
will be in, and will answer the door; and he might ask Lucy where she
came from, and I don't want to tell her anything. Roberts could say that
a young woman of his acquaintance, down Chelsea way, asked him to get on
a 'bus and leave it for her. He can be trusted, if the man does detain
him and ask him questions, to give sensible answers."

The letter was sealed and Roberts called up.

"Take a cab and go down with this to Jermyn Street," Hilda said. "I want
it left at that house. If the man who opens the door asks you who you
have brought it from, say from a young woman, a friend of yours, in a
place down Chelsea way. I don't suppose that he will ask any other
questions, and you had best say 'Good-morning,' and saunter off
carelessly, as if, having done your errand, you had nothing else on
hand. Of course you won't drive up to the door. Leave the cab round the
corner, and come straight back here in it."

"All right, miss," he answered.

There was a little look of amusement in the man's face as he glanced at
Netta that did not this time pass unnoticed by his mistress. She waited
until the door had closed behind him, and then turned sharply on her
friend.

"I believe, Netta, you have had Roberts in your confidence all the time,
and while we have all been working ourselves into a fever as to where
you could be, he has known it all along."

"One cannot work without accomplices," Netta laughed. "It was necessary
that someone should make arrangements with the servant there for me to
take her place, and who could I trust better than Roberts? I think
Colonel Bulstrode's servant helped in the matter; at any rate, they
managed it capitally between them. Of course it was Roberts who carried
my box out that morning. You must not be angry with him, Hilda, for
keeping it from you. I made him promise most faithfully that nothing
should induce him to confess."

"I shan't be angry with him, Netta, but you may be sure that I shall
give him a little lecture and say that I will have no more meddling on
his part, except by my express orders. It is really annoying, you know,
to think that all this time we were fretting about you there was Roberts
going about laughing in his sleeve."

"Well, you know, Hilda, he has the discovery of Walter as much at heart
as we have, and he has certainly not spared himself in the search for
him."

"No, that he has not. He is a faithful fellow, and I promise you that I
won't be too hard on him."



CHAPTER XX.

A DINNER PARTY.


It was the first time that anyone had dined at the house in Hyde Park
Gardens since General Mathieson's death, and it seemed strange to Hilda
when Mr. Pettigrew, at her request, faced her at the table. The
gentlemen had all arrived within a minute or two of each other, and no
word had been said by Hilda as to the subject about which she had
specially asked them there. The table was well lighted and bright with
flowers, and the lawyer and Colonel Bulstrode were both somewhat
surprised at the cheerful tone in which Hilda began to talk as soon as
they sat down. It was, however, eight months since the house was first
shut up, and though all had sincerely regretted the General's death, it
was an old story now, and they were relieved to find that it was
evidently not Hilda's intention to recall the past.

During dinner the talk went on as usual, and it was not until the
servants had left the room that Hilda said:

"Now, Mr. Pettigrew, I have no doubt that both you and Colonel Bulstrode
are wondering what the matter of importance about which I asked you to
come here can be. It is rather a long story, so instead of going
upstairs we will stop here. My news is great news. We have
discovered--at least my friend Miss Purcell has discovered--that without
doubt Walter is alive and well."

An exclamation of surprise broke from Mr. Pettigrew and the Colonel.

"By gad, that is great news indeed!" the latter exclaimed; "and I
congratulate you most heartily. I had quite given up all hope myself,
and although I would have fought that fellow to the last, I never had
any real doubt in my mind that the child they fished out of the canal
was General's Mathieson's grandson."

"You astonish me indeed," Mr. Pettigrew said. "I own that, while I was
able to swear that I did not recognize him, yet as a reasonable man I
felt that the evidence was overpowering the other way. Though I would
not dash your hopes by saying so, it appeared to me certain that, sooner
or later, the courts would decide that the provisions of the will must
be carried out. And so you discovered this, Miss Netta? May we ask how
you did it?"

"Netta wanted her share in the matter to remain a secret, Mr. Pettigrew;
but I told her that was out of the question, and that it was quite
necessary that you and Colonel Bulstrode should know the precise facts,
for that, as a lawyer, you could not take any action or decide upon any
course to be pursued unless you knew the exact circumstances of the
case. However, she asked me, as she has given me the whole particulars,
to tell the story for her. When I have done she will answer any
questions you may like to ask."

Hilda then repeated, almost word for word, the story Netta had told her.
Mr. Pettigrew and the Colonel several times broke in with exclamations
of surprise as she went on. Dr. Leeds sat grave and thoughtful.

"Splendidly done!" Colonel Bulstrode exclaimed when she brought her
story to an end. "It was a magnificent idea, and it must have needed no
end of pluck to carry it out as you did. But how, by looking at a
fellow's mouth through a hole, you knew what he said beats me
altogether."

"That part was very simple, Colonel Bulstrode," Netta said quietly. "I
learned it by a new system that they have in Germany, and was myself a
teacher in the institution. You may not know, perhaps, that I am
stone-deaf."

"You are not joking, Miss Purcell; are you?" the Colonel said, looking
at her earnestly. "Why, I have talked to you a dozen times and it never
struck me that you were in the slightest degree deaf."

"I am absolutely so, as Miss Covington will tell you, and Mr. Pettigrew
knows it also. Fortunately I did not lose my hearing until I was six
years old, and I had not altogether lost the habit of speaking when I
went out to Germany, three years later. Had I been born deaf and dumb I
could have learned to understand what was said perfectly, but should
never have spoken in a natural voice."

"Well, it is wonderful altogether, and I should not have believed it if
a stranger had told me. However, the great thing at present is that you
have found out that the child is alive. We ought not to be long in
laying hands on him now, Pettigrew, eh?"

"I hope not, Colonel; but you must not be too sanguine about that; we
have evidently very crafty scoundrels to deal with. Still, now that we
feel sure that the child is alive and well, the matter is a
comparatively straightforward one, and we can afford to work and wait
patiently. Tilbury is only a bit of a village, but beyond that stretch
great marshes--in fact, all South Essex as far as the mouths of the
rivers Crouch, Blackwater, and Coln. He would say, 'I went down to
Tilbury,' because Tilbury is the terminus of the railway. Possibly he
may have crossed to Gravesend; possibly he may have gone inland to
Upminster or some other village lying in that district; or he may have
driven down as far as Foulness, which, so far as anybody knows anything
about it, might be the end of the world. Therefore, there is a wide area
to be searched."

"But he can be followed when he goes down again, Mr. Pettigrew?"

"Of course, my dear, that is what must be done, though there is no
reason why we should not set about inquiries at once. But, you see, it
is not so easy to follow a man about country roads as it is in the
streets of London. No doubt he must drive or ride, unless, indeed,
Walter is within two or three miles of the station, and you may be sure
that if he sees a trap coming after him he will not go near the place
where the child is. Possibly, again, he may not go near the place at
all, but may meet someone who takes the money for the child's keep. It
may be a bargeman who sails round to Harwich or somewhere along the
south coast. It may be the steward of a steamer that goes regularly
backwards and forwards to France.

"I don't want to dishearten you, my dear," he broke off, as he saw how
Hilda's face fell as he went on, "but, you see, we have not common
rogues to deal with; their whole proceedings have shown an exceptional
amount of coolness and determination. Although I own that I can see
nothing absolutely suspicious in the way that last will was drawn up and
signed, still I have never been able to divest my mind of an idea that
there is something radically wrong about it. But putting aside the
strange death of your uncle, we have the cunning way in which the boy
was stolen, the complete success with which our search was baffled, the
daring attempt to prove his death by what we now know must have been the
substitution of the body of some other child of the same age dressed in
his clothes. All this shows how carefully every detail must have been
thought out, and we must assume that equal care will be shown to prevent
our recovering the boy. Were they to suspect that they had been traced
to Tilbury, and were watched there, or that any inquiries were being
made in the neighborhood, you may be sure that Walter would be at once
removed some distance away, or possibly sent abroad, perhaps to
Australia or the States. There could be no difficulty about that. There
are hundreds of emigrants going out every week with their families, who
would jump at the offer of a hundred pounds for adopting a child, and
once away it would be next to impossible ever to come upon his traces.
So, you see, we shall need to exercise the most extreme caution in our
searches."

"I see, Mr. Pettigrew," Hilda said quietly, "that the difficulties are
far greater than I ever dreamt of. It seemed to me that when we had
found out that Walter was alive and well, and that Tilbury was, so to
speak, the starting place of our search, it would be an easy matter to
find him. Now I see that, except for the knowledge that he is alive, we
are nearly as far off as ever."

"I think Mr. Pettigrew is rather making the worst of things, Miss
Covington," Dr. Leeds said, speaking for the first time. "No doubt the
difficulties are considerable, but I think we have good heads on our
side too, as Miss Purcell has proved, and I feel confident that, now
that we have learned as much as we have done, we shall be successful in
the end."

"My opinion," Colonel Bulstrode said, "is that we ought to give these
two fellows in custody as rogues, vagabonds, and kidnapers. Then the
police will set to work to find out their antecedents, and at least
while they are shut up they can do no harm. Gad, sir, we should make
short work of them in India."

"I am afraid that that would hardly do, Colonel Bulstrode," Mr.
Pettigrew said mildly. "We have practically nothing to go upon; we have
no evidence that a magistrate would entertain for a moment. The men
would be discharged at once, and we should no doubt be served the next
morning with a writ for at least ten thousand pounds' damages, and, what
is more, they would get them; and you may be very sure that you would
never find the child."

"Then it is shameful that it should be so," the Colonel said warmly;
"why, I served three years as a police officer in India, and when I got
news that a dacoit, for instance, was hiding in a jungle near a village,
down I would go, with a couple of dozen of men, surround the place, and
make every man and woman a prisoner. Then the police would examine them,
and let me tell you that they have pretty rough ways of finding out a
secret. Of course I knew nothing about it, and asked no questions, but
you may be sure that it was not long before they made someone open his
mouth. Hanging up a man by his thumbs, for instance, freshens his memory
wonderfully. You may say that this thorough way of getting at things is
not according to modern ideas. I don't care a fig for modern ideas, and,
as far as that goes, neither do the natives of India. My object is to
find out the author of certain crimes; the villagers' object is to
shield him. If they are obstinate, they bring it on themselves; the
criminal is caught, and justice is satisfied. What is the use of police
if they are not to catch criminals? I have no patience with the maudlin
nonsense that prevails in this country, that a criminal should have
every chance of escape. He is warned not to say anything that would
incriminate himself, material evidence is not admitted, his wife mayn't
be questioned. Why, it is downright sickening, sir. The so-called spirit
of fairness is all on the side of the criminal, and it seems to me that
our whole procedure, instead of being directed to punish criminals, is
calculated to enable them to escape from punishment. The whole thing is
wrong, sir--radically wrong." And Colonel Bulstrode wiped his heated
forehead with a huge Indian silk handkerchief. Hilda laughed, Netta
smiled, and Mr. Pettigrew's eyes twinkled.

"There is a good deal in what you say, Colonel Bulstrode, though I
cannot go with you in the matter of hanging men up by their thumbs."

"Why, sir," broke in Colonel, "what is it? Their own native princes
would have stretched them over a charcoal fire until they got the truth
out of them."

"So, possibly, would our own forefathers, Colonel."

"Humph! They had a lot more common sense in those days than they have
now, Mr. Pettigrew. There was no sentimentality about them; they were
short and sharp in their measures. They were men, sir--men. They drank
like men, and they fought like men; there was sterling stuff in them;
they didn't weaken their bodies by drinking slops, or their minds by
reading newspapers."

"Well, Colonel Bulstrode," Hilda said, smiling, "if it is not contrary
to your convictions, we will go upstairs and have a cup of tea. No doubt
there is something to be said for the old days, but there is a good deal
to be said on the other side of the question, too."

When they went upstairs Dr. Leeds sat down by Netta.

"I am afraid that you blame me for what I did, Dr. Leeds," she said
timidly.

"No, I do not blame you at all for doing it, but I do think that you
ought to have consulted us all before undertaking it. Your intention was
a noble one, but the risk that you ran was so great that certainly I
should not have felt justified in allowing you to undertake it, had I
had any voice in the matter."

"But I cannot see that it was dangerous," the girl said. "He could not
have knocked me down and beaten me, even if he had caught me with my eye
at the peep-hole. He could only have called up Johnstone and denounced
me as an eavesdropper, and at the worst I should only have been turned
straight out of the house."

"I do not think that that would have been at all his course of action. I
believe, on the contrary, that although he would have spoken angrily to
you, he would have said nothing to the lodging-house keeper. He would
have at once guessed that you had not taken all this trouble merely to
gratify a silly curiosity, but would have been sure that you had been
employed as a spy. What he would have done I do not know, but he would
certainly have had you watched as you watched him, and he would, in his
conversation with his confederates, have dropped clews that would have
sent us all off on wild-goose chases. I don't think that he would have
ventured on getting you removed, for he would have known that he would
have been suspected of foul play at once by those who had employed you.
I hope you will give me a promise that you will never undertake any plan
without consulting Miss Covington and myself. You can hardly realize
what anxiety I have suffered while you have been away."

"I will promise willingly, Dr. Leeds. I did not think anything of the
danger, and do not believe even now there was any; but I do think that
Hilda would not have heard of my going as a servant, and that you would
not have approved of it. Still, as I saw no harm in it myself, I thought
that for once I would act upon my own ideas."

"There are circumstances under which no one need disapprove of a lady
acting as a servant," he said quietly. "If a family misfortune has
happened, and she has to earn her own living, I think that there are
many who would be far happier in the position of a servant in a good
family, than as an ill-paid and over-worked governess. The one is at
least her own mistress, to a large extent, as long as she does her work
properly; the other can never call her time her own. In your case,
certainly, the kind object with which you undertook the task was a full
justification of it, had you not been matching yourself against an
unscrupulous villain, who, had he detected your disguise, would have
practically hesitated at nothing to rid himself of you. It happened,
too, in this case you were one of the few persons who could have
succeeded; for, as you say, it would have been next to impossible for
anyone unpossessed of your peculiar faculty to have overheard a
conversation, doubtless conducted in a somewhat low voice, through such
a hole as you made."

"Then you don't think any worse of me for it?"

"You need not be afraid of that," he said quietly. "My opinion is
already so fixed on that subject that I doubt if anything you could do
would shake it."

Then he got up and walked across to where the others were chatting
together.

"Now, are we to have another council?" Hilda asked.

"I think not," Dr. Leeds said; "it seems to me that the matter requires
a great deal of thinking over before we decide, and fortunately, as the
man went down to Tilbury only two days ago, he is not likely to repeat
his visit for another month at least, possibly for another three months.
Men like that do not give away chances, and he would probably pay for
three months' board for the child at a time, so as to avoid having to
make the journey oftener, however confident he might be that he was not
watched."

"I agree with you, Dr. Leeds," Mr. Pettigrew said. "It would never do to
make a false step."

"Still," Hilda urged, "surely there cannot be any need to wait for his
going down again. A sharp detective might find out a good deal. He could
inquire whether there was anyone at Tilbury who let out traps. Probably
nothing beyond a gig or a pony-cart could be obtained there. He would,
of course, hire it for a drive to some place within three or four miles,
and while it was got ready would casually ask if it was often let; he
might possibly hear of someone who came down from town--a bagman,
perhaps, who hired it occasionally for calling upon his customers in the
villages round."

"I think that that is a capital suggestion," Mr. Pettigrew said. "I
don't see why, while we are thinking over the best way to proceed, we
should not get these inquiries made. They might be of some assistance to
us. I will send a man down to-morrow or next day. As you say, it may
give us something to go upon."

Netta went down two days later to Reading. She had the box labeled to
Oxford, and took a third-class ticket for herself. She had a suspicion
that a man who was lolling on a seat on the platform looked closely at
her, and she saw him afterwards saunter away towards the luggage office.
When the train came in her box was put into the van, and she got out at
the next station and returned by the first train to London, feeling
satisfied that she would never hear anything more of the box.

The next day a detective called who had been engaged earlier in the
search for Walter and had frequently seen Hilda.

"Mr. Pettigrew said, Miss Covington, that I had better come to you and
tell you exactly what I have done. I went down to Tilbury yesterday. I
took with me one or two cases made up like a traveler's samples, and I
presently found that the man at the public house by the water had a
pony-trap which he let. I went over to him and said that I wanted it for
the day.

"'How far are you going?' he asked.

"'I am going to Stanford,' I said; 'then by a crossroad by Laindon to
Hornchurch and back.'

"'It is rather a long round for one day,' he said.

"''Tis a long round,' I said. 'Well, maybe I might sleep at Hornchurch,
and go on to Upminster.'

"'You will have to pay a deposit of a couple of pounds,' he said,
'unless you like to take a boy.'

"I said I preferred driving myself, and that it was less weight for the
pony. 'I suppose you often let it out?' I remarked.

"'Pretty often,' he said; 'you see, there is no way of getting about
beyond this. It would pay me to keep a better trap if it wasn't that
commercials generally work this country in their own vehicles, and take
the road from Barking through Dagenham, or else from Brentwood or
Chelmsford or one of the other Great Eastern stations. There is one in
your line comes occasionally; he goes by the same route you are taking,
and always has the trap to himself. He travels for some spirit firm, I
think; he always brings down a couple of cases of bottles.'

"'That is my line too,' I said. 'He hasn't been here lately, I hope?'

"'Well, yes, he was here three or four days ago; he is a pretty liberal
chap with his samples, I should say, for he always comes back with his
cases empty.' Of course I hired the pony and trap. I drove through New
Tilbury, Low Street, and Stanford. I put up there for three or four
hours. At each place I went to all the public houses, and as I marked
the liquors cheap I got several orders. I asked at every place had
anyone in my line been round lately, and they all said no, and nobody
had noticed the pony cart; but of course that did not prove that he
might not have driven through there."

"You did not make any inquiries about a missing child?"

"No, Miss Covington. Mr. Pettigrew particularly told me that I was not
to make any inquiries whatever."

"Yes, that is what we agreed upon, Bassett; we don't want to run the
slightest risk of their suspecting that we are inquiring in that
direction. My own idea is that you could do no harm if you went round
several times, just as you did yesterday; and perhaps it would be better
for you not to start from the same place, but to hire a vehicle and
drive round the country, stopping at all the villages, and apparently
trying to get orders for spirits or tobacco. That idea of yours is an
excellent one, because your inquiry whether another man had been along
in the same trade would seem natural. You might say everywhere that you
had heard of his going round there, but that it did not look much like
business driving a rickety little trap with a pony not worth fifty
shillings. At any village public houses at which he stopped they could
hardly help noticing it, and if you heard that he had put up there for
an hour or two, it would certainly be something to go upon, and a search
round there might lead to a result. However, do not go until you hear
again from me. I will talk it over with Mr. Pettigrew, and see what he
thinks of it."

"It certainly seems to me that we might light upon a clew that way, Miss
Covington, and if he were to happen to hear that another man in the same
line had been there asking questions about him, it would seem natural
enough, because of course a commercial would like to know what line
another in the same branch was following, and how he was doing. Then I
will wait your further orders. There would be sure to be traps to be
hired at Barking or Rainham, and if there are not, I could get one at
Bromley. Indeed, as I should want it for a day or two, it would be just
as well to get it there as farther east, and I should be likely to get a
better-looking turnout. In little places a man with a good turnout is
more likely to do business than one who looks second-rate altogether. It
seems a sort of credit to the place; and they would give him orders
where they would not to a man who made no sort of show. I should say,
miss, that as I shall be going over the ground more than once, it would
be best to send on the goods I get orders for; they don't amount to very
much, and I should get about the same price that I gave for them. I know
a clerk in the firm whose liquors I took down. I told him that I was
going down in that part of Essex, and asked if they would give me a
commission on anything that I could sell. They said 'yes' willingly
enough, and the clerk said I was a respectable man who could be trusted;
and so it will cost nothing, and will open the way for my making another
call. Of course when I am known there I can ask questions more freely,
sit in the bar-parlor, smoke a cigar with the landlord, and so on."

"I think that is an excellent idea. Well, at any rate you shall hear in
the course of a day or two."

Miss Purcell had gone on quietly with her knitting and uttered no
remarks while the man was present. Immediately he had left, she said, "I
think, Netta, that we shall gradually get at it."

"Yes, I think so; that man seems really a sharp fellow. I had quite lost
all faith in detectives, but I see that when they have really got
something to go upon, they know how to follow it up."

Hilda wrote a long letter to Mr. Pettigrew, and received three words in
answer: "By all means." So Bassett was written to and told to continue
his career as a commercial traveler, but to abstain altogether, for the
present, from any questions about the boy.

Ten days later Mr. Pettigrew forwarded a letter that he had received
from Bassett, which was as follows:

     "SIR: I have to report that I have for the last fortnight been
     engaged in driving about the country in accordance with Miss
     Covington's instructions. The only place where I can ascertain that
     the pony and cart from Tilbury was noticed about that time was at
     Stanford. My inquiries there before had failed, but after dining at
     the inn, I went out into the yard behind, and asked the helper
     whether the same trap that I drove over in from Tilbury had been
     there since.

     "'Not since you were here last,' he said; 'at least if it was you
     as drove the pony over somewhere about three weeks ago. I did not
     see you then, I was doing a job over at the cowhouse. That pony
     aint been here since then, though he was here two days before. The
     man put him up for three or four hours, and hired a horse from the
     landlord to ride over to Billericay. He must have gone cross
     country, I should say, by the mud on its legs. However, he tipped
     me a bob, so I cleaned it up and said nothing to master; but the
     horse was all in a lather and must have been taken along at a
     hunting pace all the way.' Waiting further orders,

     "I remain,
     "Yours respectfully,
     "H. BASSETT."

Mr. Pettigrew came down himself in the evening.

"Well, Miss Covington, I think that the scent is getting warm. Now is
the time that you must be very cautious. I think we may take it that the
child is somewhere within ten or twelve miles of Stanford, north or east
of it. The man was away for over three hours, and he rode fast. It's not
likely that the horse was anything out of the way. However, allowing for
half an hour's stay somewhere, I think we may take twelve miles as the
limit. Still, a circle of twelve miles' radius covers a very large area.
I have been looking up the map since that man set about inquiring down
there. Twelve miles would include the whole of the marshes as far as
Leigh. It goes up to Brentwood, Billericay, Downham, and touches
Rayleigh; and in that semicircle would be some sixty or seventy
villages, large and small."

"I have been looking at the map too, Mr. Pettigrew, and it does not seem
to me at all likely that he would go near the places that you first
mentioned; they are quite close to the Great Eastern Railway, by which
he would have traveled, instead of going round such an enormous detour
by Tilbury and Stanford."

"One would think so, my dear, certainly; but, you see, a man having the
least idea that he was watched, which I admit we have no reason for
believing that this fellow has, would naturally choose a very circuitous
route. However, I think that we need hardly try so far to the north, to
begin with; I should say that the area of our search need go no farther
north than Downham, and that between a line running west from that place
and the river the child is most likely to be hidden."

"I should say, Mr. Pettigrew, that the detective might engage four or
five fellows who could act separately in villages on each of the roads
running from Stanford east or northeast. The villages should be at least
two miles away from Stanford, because he might start by one road and
then turn off by another. But in two miles he would probably settle down
on the road he was going to follow and we should, therefore, get the
general direction of Walter's hiding place. Then, as soon as he passed,
the watcher should follow him on foot till he met him coming back. If he
did meet him, he would know that at any rate he had been farther; if he
did not meet him, he would know that he had turned off somewhere between
him and the village that he had passed. Netta and I have been talking
the matter over, and it seems to us that this would be the best plan,
and that it would be as well, also, to have a man to watch at Tilbury
Station; because he may possibly choose some entirely different route
the next time he comes, and the men in the villages, not knowing that he
had come down at all, might be kept there for a month waiting for his
next visit."

"You and your friend have certainly put your heads together to good
purpose," the old lawyer said, "and I do not see any better plan than
you suggest. You had better have Bassett down here, and give him your
instructions yourself."

"Yes, Mr. Pettigrew; and I shall be glad if you will write a line to him
to-night, for in three days it will be a month since this man last went
down, or at any rate since we know that he went down. Of course, it may
be three months before he goes again, and if he does not come in four or
five days the men must be recalled; for although each of them could stop
in a village for a day or two under the pretense of finding work in the
neighborhood, they certainly could not stop for a month."

"Very well, I leave you a free hand in the matter, altogether, Miss
Covington; for frankly I acknowledge that you are vastly more likely to
ferret the thing out than I am."



CHAPTER XXI.

A BOX AT THE OPERA.


"I tell you what it is, Simcoe," Harrison said two months later, "this
affair of yours is getting to be a good deal more troublesome than I
bargained for. It all looked simple enough; one only had to pick up a
child, drive him in a cab across London, then down in a trap to Pitsea,
hand him over to a man I knew would take good care of him, and take the
payments for him when they became due, which would be no trouble, as I
had to see the man occasionally on my own business. Of course I expected
that there would be a big hue and cry for him, but I had no fear
whatever of his being found. Then I managed through another man to get
that body from the workhouse undertaker, and you managed the rest easily
enough; but I tell you that the matter is getting a good deal hotter
than I ever thought it would.

"I told you that I had been followed several times after leaving your
place, and one morning when I went out early I saw footmarks, showing
that someone had been walking round my house and trying to look in at
the windows. I have a strong suspicion that I have been followed to my
office, and I know that someone got in there one day at my dinner hour.
I know, because I always fasten a piece of thread, so that if the door
is opened it breaks it. There is nothing there that anyone could make
anything of, but it is just as well to know if anyone has been prying
about. The woman of the house was sure that she had not been in there,
nor had she let anyone in; so the lock must have been picked. Of course
anyone is liable to have his office robbed when he is out and it is
empty; but nothing was taken, and if a common thief had found nothing
else he would probably have made off with my dress suit, which would
have brought him a sov. in a second-hand clothes shop.

"You know I have an excessive objection to being watched. I have had
nothing on hand lately, at any rate nothing that has come off, but I
might have had, you know. Well, yesterday I was going down to see my man
in the marshes, and to tell him that likely enough I should bring
something down to him next week. I got out of the train at Tilbury, and,
as you know, there are not a dozen houses anywhere near the station.
Now, I have a habit of keeping my eyes open, and I saw a man sitting on
an old boat. What called my attention particularly to him was that he
was turned half round watching the entrance to the station as I came
out. You can always tell whether a man is watching for someone, or
whether he is merely looking generally in that direction, and this man
was certainly watching for someone. The instant his eye fell upon me he
turned round and stared at the river. The path to the public house lay
just behind him. Now, it would be natural that hearing a footstep a man
doing nothing would look round and perhaps say a word--ask the time, or
something of that sort. Well, he didn't turn round. Now, it is my habit,
and a very useful one, always to carry a glass of about the size of a
folded letter in my pocket. Instead of going on to the public house I
turned off from the path and walked away from the river. When I had got
some little distance I took out my glass, and still walking along, I
held it up so that I could see in it what was going on behind. The man
was standing up, watching me. I put the glass in my pocket and dropped
my handkerchief. I stooped down to pick it up, of course partly turning
as I did so, and saw that he had instantly dropped into a sitting
position again, with his back to me.

"That was good enough. I turned, cut across the fields, went straight
back to the station and took the next ferry-boat to Gravesend, and came
back that way. It is quite clear to me that not only is this girl on
the track still, but the chase is getting to be a very hot one, and
that not only are they watching you, but they are watching me, and have
in some way or other, though how, I cannot guess, found out that I go
down to Tilbury, and have accordingly sent a man down to follow me. Now,
I tell you frankly, I will have no more to do with the matter--that is
to say, as far as going down on your business. As I have told you, I
have always managed my own affairs so well that the police and I have no
acquaintance whatever; and I am not going to be spied upon and followed
and have the 'tecs upon my track about an affair in which I have no
interest at all, except that, you having stood by my brother, I was glad
to do you any service I could. But this is getting serious. I don't like
it. I have told you I have business with the man, and get things off
abroad through him that I should have great trouble in getting rid of in
any other way; but unless in quite exceptional cases, these things are
so small that they could be hidden away for months without much risk of
their being found, however sharp the hunt after them might be. As I am
in no way pressed for money I can afford to wait, though I own that I
like to get the things off my hands as soon as I can, and as I
considered that I ran practically no risk in going down with them into
Essex, I never kept them at my house. However, for a time I must do so.
I must tell you that when I am going down I always write beforehand and
make an appointment for him to have his barge at the wharf at Pitsea,
and I send my letter addressed to him: 'Mr. William Nibson, barge _Mary
Ann_, care of Mr. Scholey, Spotted Horse, Pitsea.' You had better write
to him in future. You need not put anything inside the envelope except
notes for twenty-five pounds, and the words, 'For the child's keep for
six months.' I need not say that you had better disguise your writing,
both on the envelope and on the inside, and it is best that you should
get your notes from some bookmaker on a race-course. You tell me you
often go to races now and do a little betting. They are not the sort of
men who take the numbers of the notes they pay out, and it would be
next to impossible for them to be traced to you."

"Thank you, Harrison; you have behaved like a true pal to me, and I am
ever so much obliged to you. I quite see what you mean, and indeed it is
as much for my interest as yours that you should not go down there any
more. Confound that girl Covington! I am sure she is the moving spirit
of it all. I always felt uneasy about her from the first, and was sure
that if there was any trouble it would come from her. I wonder how the
deuce she ever found out that you went down to Tilbury."

"That beats me too, Simcoe. As you may guess, I am always most cautious
about it, and always take a very roundabout way of going to the
station."

"I have been uneasy ever since that girl at our place left so suddenly.
A fortnight afterwards we found that there was a hole bored through the
doorpost. Of course it might have been bored before I went there; but in
that case it is curious that it was never noticed before. I cannot help
thinking that she did it."

"Yes, you told me; but you said that you tried the experiment, and found
that when your man and his wife were talking there in a loud voice, and
you had your ear at the hole, you could not catch a single word."

"Yes, that was certainly so. I could hear them talking, but I could not
make out a word of their conversation. Still it is evident that somebody
has been trying to hear. I cannot help thinking that it was that girl,
though both Johnstone and his wife spoke very highly of her. Certainly
the story she told them was true to a certain extent, for when they sent
the box down to Reading I sent a man down there to watch, and she called
to fetch it, and my man found out that she labeled it 'Oxford,' and took
it away with her on the down train. As he had no directions to follow
her farther he came back. After we found the hole I sent him down again;
but he never came upon her traces, though he inquired at every village
near Oxford."

"She may have been put there as a spy," the other said; "but as it is
evident that she couldn't hear through that hole, it is clear that she
could not have done them any good. That is, I suppose, why they called
her off; so the puzzle still remains how they got on my track at
Tilbury. I should like to have a good look at this Covington girl. I can
admire a clever wench, even when she is working against me."

"There is 'The Huguenots' at Her Majesty's to-night, the first time this
season. She very often goes in Lady Moulton's box, and it is likely
enough that she will go to-night. It's the third box from the stage, on
the first tier; I will go down to Bond Street and see if I can get hold
of a box opposite, on the second or third tier. The money will be well
laid out, for I should very much like you to study her face, and I won
enough at pool at the club this afternoon to pay for it."

"Very well, then I will come round to your place. I really am curious to
see the girl. I only caught a passing glimpse of her in the park that
day."

Simcoe was not wrong in his conjecture, for Hilda dined at Lady
Moulton's, and they took their places in the latter's box just as the
first bar of the overture sounded. She was in half mourning now, and in
black lace, with white camellias in her hair and breast, was, as Netta
had told her before starting, looking her best.

"That is the girl," Simcoe exclaimed, as she went forward to the front
of the box.

"Well, there is no denying that she is good-looking," the other said, as
he turned his glasses upon her; "there is not a better-looking woman in
the house. Plenty of self-possession too," he added, as Hilda took her
seat and at once, in apparent ignorance that any glasses were upon her,
took her own lorgnettes from their case and proceeded calmly to scan the
stalls and boxes, to see who among her numerous acquaintances were
there. As her eyes fell upon the two men sitting nearly opposite to her,
her glasses steadied, then after a minute she lowered them.

"Lady Moulton, I regard it as a providence that you brought me here
this evening. Do you see those two men there in the box nearly opposite,
in the second tier? Well, one of the men is Simcoe, to whom my uncle
left all his property if Walter should not live to come of age, and who
I am absolutely convinced carried the child away."

"I see them, my dear; they are staring at you. I suppose they are as
much interested in you as you in them."

Hilda again put her glasses to her eyes.

"She has just told Lady Moulton who I am," Simcoe said.

"She has a clever face, Simcoe--broad across the chin--any amount of
determination, I should say. Ah! there, she is getting up to make room
for somebody else."

"Stay where you are, my dear," Lady Moulton said, putting her hand on
Hilda's arm; "there is plenty of room for three."

"Plenty," she replied; "but I want to watch those two men, and I cannot
keep my glasses fixed on them while I am sitting in the front row."

"Hardly, my dear," Lady Moulton said with a smile. "Well, have your own
way."

A fourth lady came in almost immediately. She took the third chair in
the front, and Hilda, sitting half in the shade, was able to devote
herself to her purpose free from general observation. She had already
heard that Simcoe's companion had apparently suspected that he was
watched, and had returned to town at once without speaking to anyone at
Tilbury. She felt that he would probably henceforth choose some other
route, and the chances of following him would be greatly diminished. The
opportunity was a fortunate one indeed. For months she had been hoping
that some day or other she could watch these men talking, and now, as it
seemed by accident, just at the moment when her hopes had fallen, the
chance had come to her.

"She has changed her place in order to have a better look at us," John
Simcoe said, as she moved. "She has got her glasses on us."

"We came to stare at her. It seems to me that she is staring at us,"
Harrison said.

"Well, I should think that she knows my face pretty well by this time,"
Simcoe laughed. "I told you she has a way of looking through one that
has often made me uncomfortable."

"I can quite understand that. I noticed myself that when she looked at
us, without her glasses, there was a curious intentness in her
expression, as if she was taking stock of every point about us. She
cannot be the girl who has been to your lodging."

"Certainly not," the other said; "I know her a great deal too well for
her to try that on. Besides, beyond the fact that the other was a
good-looking girl too--and, by the way, that she had the same trick of
looking full in your face when you spoke--there was no resemblance
whatever between them."

The curtain now drew up, and silence fell upon the house, and the men
did not speak again until the end of the first act. They then continued
their conversation where they had left it off.

"She has moved, and has been attending to the opera," Simcoe said; "but
she has gone into the shade again, and is taking another look at us."

"I am not given to nervousness, but upon my word those glasses fixed
upon me make me quite fidgety."

"Pooh, man! she is not looking at you; she is looking at me. I don't
know whether she thinks that she can read my thoughts, and find out
where the child is hidden. By the way, I know nothing about this place
Pitsea. Where is it, and which is the best way to get there?"

"You can drive straight down by road through Upminster and Laindon. The
place lies about three miles this side of Benfleet. There are only about
half a dozen houses, at the end of a creek that comes up from Hole
Haven. But I should not think of going near the house. The latter,
directed as I told you, is sure to find the man."

"Oh, I am not thinking of going! but I shall get a man to watch the
fellows they sent down to watch you, and if I find that they seem to be
getting on the right track, I shall run down at all hazards and take him
away."

"Your best plan by far will be to go with him, on board Nibson's barge,
up to Rochester. No doubt he can find some bargeman there who will take
the boy in. Or, what would perhaps be better, hire a trap there, and
drive him down to Margate or Ramsgate. There are plenty of schools
there, and you might get up a yarn about his being a nephew of yours,
and leave him there for a term or two. That would give you time to
decide. By this time he will have but a very faint remembrance of his
life in town, and anything that he may say about it will certainly meet
with no attention."

"Would it be as well to do it at once, do you think?" Simcoe asked.

"No; we have no idea how many people they may have on the watch, and it
would be only running unnecessary risks. Stick to the plan that we have
already agreed on, of communicating only by writing. But I think your
idea of sending two or three sharp fellows down there to find out what
the party are doing is really a good one."

Hilda lowered her glasses as the curtain rose again. "Oh, Lady Moulton!"
she whispered, "I have found out all that I have been so long wanting to
know. I believe now that in three days I shall have the child home
again."

Lady Moulton turned half round.

"How on earth have you found that out, Hilda? Are you a wizard indeed,
who can read men's thoughts in their faces? I always thought that there
was something uncanny about you, ever since that day of my fête."

To Harrison's relief, Miss Covington did not turn her glass towards him
again during the evening. When the curtain fell on the next act a
gentleman, to whom Lady Moulton had nodded in the stalls, came in. After
shaking hands with her and her friends, he seated himself by the side
of Hilda.

"Miss Covington," he said, "I have never had an opportunity of speaking
to you since that fête at Lady Moulton's. I have understood that the
gypsy on that occasion was engaged by you, and that there was, if you
will excuse me saying so, some little mystery about it. I don't wish to
pry into that, but if you should ever see the woman again you will
oblige me very greatly by telling her that I consider I owe her a deep
debt of gratitude. She said something to me then that made a tremendous
impression upon me, and I do not mind telling you it brought me up with
a round turn. I had been going ahead a great deal too fast, and I see
now that, had I continued on the same course, I should have brought
absolute ruin upon myself, and blighted my life in every way. The shock
she gave me by warning me what would come if I did not give up cards and
racing showed me my utter folly, and on that day I swore never to touch
a card or lay a penny upon a horse for the rest of my life. When I tell
you that I have completely pulled myself round, and that, by the aid of
an old uncle, to whom I went and made a clean breast of all, I am now
straight in every way, and, as you may have heard, am going to be
married to Miss Fortescue in a fortnight, you may guess what deep reason
I have to be grateful to this gypsy woman of yours, and how I hope that,
should you come across her again, you will tell her so, and should there
be any possible way in which I can prove my gratitude, by money or
otherwise, I shall be delighted to do so."

"I will tell her, Captain Desmond," the girl said in a low voice. "I am
sure that it will make her happy to know that she did some good that
evening. I do not think that she is in need of money or assistance of
any kind, but should she be so I will let you know."

"And do you really mean that you have discovered where General
Mathieson's grandson is living?" Lady Moulton asked, as they rose to
leave their seats when the curtain fell.

"I think so; I am almost sure of it."

Lady Moulton had heard a good deal from Hilda as to the situation. Mr.
Pettigrew had strongly impressed upon both Hilda and Colonel Bulstrode
that it was very important that the contents of the will should not be
talked about. "We don't want our private affairs discussed in the press
and made the subject of general talk," he had said, and it was only to
Lady Moulton that Hilda had spoken freely of the matter, so far as the
discovery of the new will, the change that had been made, and the
singularity of Walter being missing. She had also mentioned her belief
that Simcoe was at the bottom of this, but had breathed no words of her
suspicion that the General had come to his death by foul play, or of her
own conviction that Simcoe was an impostor, although there had been some
talk in the clubs over the matter, for Colonel Bulstrode was by no means
so discreet as Hilda, and among his intimate friends spoke his mind with
great vehemence and strength of language as to General Mathieson having
made so singular a disposition of his property, and he made no secret of
his suspicion that Simcoe was at the bottom of Walter's disappearance.
Thus the matter had gradually gone the round of the clubs; but it was
not until Simcoe's own counsel had drawn from him the fact that Walter's
death would put him into possession of the estate that the public in
general learned the facts.

"It was a clever move," Mr. Pettigrew had said, talking it over with his
partner. "No doubt he was afraid that the question would be asked by our
counsel, and he thought that it was better that the fact should come
voluntarily from himself. His best plan by far was to brazen it out. No
doubt nine men out of ten will consider that the affair is a very
suspicious one, and some of them will give him the cold shoulder; but
whatever their opinions, they dare not express them without laying
themselves open to an action for libel, while, on the other hand, the
fact that a man is heir to a good estate will always cause a good many
to rally round him. Not the best of men, you know, but enough to
prevent his being a lonely figure in a club.

"Yes, I think he was certainly well advised to declare his heirship
voluntarily, instead of having it drawn from him. He must have known, of
course, that sooner or later the matter would be made public, and it is
better for him to get the talk and gossip over now instead of the matter
being known for the first time when he begins to take legal steps to
compel us to put him into possession of the estate."

"What on earth did you mean, Hilda," Lady Moulton said, as the door of
the carriage was closed and they drove off from Her Majesty's, "by
saying that you had discovered a clew by which you might in a few days
find your little cousin?"

"I cannot tell you exactly how I discovered it. At present it is a
secret that both my mother and uncle charged me to keep, but when these
troubles are over I will explain it all to you, though I should
certainly do so to no one else."

"Well, I suppose I must be content with that, Hilda. But it certainly
does seem extraordinary to me that by merely seeing two men in a box on
the other side of the house you should have obtained a clew to what you
have for a year now been trying to get at."

"It does seem extraordinary, Lady Moulton, but it really is not so, and
I hope to convince you that I am right by producing Walter in a week
from the present time."

"I hope you will, Hilda. I sincerely hope so, both for the child's sake,
yours, and my own. Of course, when he is found there will be no possible
reason for your keeping yourself shut up as you have done. I have missed
you very much, and shall be very glad to have you under my wing again."

"Thank you for saying so, Lady Moulton; but so far as I have formed my
plans, they are that Walter's trustees shall either let or sell the
house in Hyde Park Gardens, and that I shall go down for a time with him
into the country. I have had a great deal of anxiety this last year,
and I shall be very glad of complete rest for a time."

"That is reasonable enough, my dear, but I do hope that you are not
thinking of burying yourself in the country for good. There, I am at
home. Good-night, Hilda; thanks for the lift. It is not often my horses
or my coachmen have a night off during the season."



CHAPTER XXII.

NEARING THE GOAL.


"I suppose Miss Netta is in bed?" Hilda asked, as she entered the house.

"Yes, miss; she and Miss Purcell went to their rooms soon after ten
o'clock."

Hilda ran upstairs to Netta's room.

"Are you awake, Netta?" she asked, as she opened the door.

"Well, I think I was asleep, Hilda; I didn't intend to go off, for I
made sure that you would come in for a chat, as usual, when you got
back; but I think I must have dozed off."

"Well, if you had been so sound asleep that I had had to violently wake
you up, I should have done so. I have had my chance, Netta. Simcoe and
his friend were in a box opposite to ours, and I have learned where
Walter is."

"That is news indeed," Netta exclaimed, leaping up; "that is worth being
awakened a hundred times for. Please hand me my dressing-gown. Now let
us sit down and talk it over comfortably."

Hilda then repeated the whole conversation that she had overheard.

"Splendid!" Netta exclaimed, clapping her hands; "and that man was
right, dear, in feeling uncomfortable when your glasses were fixed on
his face, though he little guessed what reason he had for the feeling.
Well, it is worth all the four years you spent with us to have learned
to read people's words from their lips. I always said that you were my
best pupil, and you have proved it so now. What is to be done next?"

"We shall need a general council for that!" Hilda laughed. "We must do
nothing rash now that success seems so close; a false move might spoil
everything."

"Yes, we shall have to be very careful. This bargeman may not live near
there at all; though no doubt he goes there pretty often, as letters are
sent there for him. Besides, Simcoe may have someone stationed there to
find out whether any inquiries have been made for a missing child."

"Yes, I see that we shall have to be very careful, Netta, and we must
not spoil our chances by being over hasty."

They talked for upwards of an hour, and then went to their beds. The
next morning Roberts took a note to Dr. Leeds. It contained only a few
lines from Hilda:

     "MY DEAR DR. LEEDS: We have found a most important clew, and are
     going to have a consultation, at which, of course, we want you to
     be present. Could you manage to be at Mr. Pettigrew's office at
     three o'clock? If so, on hearing from you, I will send to him to
     make an appointment."

The answer came back:

     "I congratulate you heartily, and will meet you at three o'clock at
     Pettigrew's office."

A note was at once sent off to the lawyer's to make the appointment, and
the girls arrived with Miss Purcell two or three minutes before the
hour, and were at once shown into Mr. Pettigrew's room, where Mr. Farmer
immediately joined them.

"I will wait a minute or two before I begin," Hilda said. "I have asked
Dr. Leeds to join us here. He has been so very kind throughout the whole
matter that we thought it was only fair that he should be here."

"Certainly, I thoroughly agree with you. I never thought that terrible
suspicion of his well founded, but he certainly took immense pains in
collecting information of all sorts about these native poisons, and
since then has shown the greatest desire to assist in any way."

A minute later Dr. Leeds was shown in.

"Now, Miss Covington," Mr. Farmer said, "we are ready to hear your
communication."

Hilda then related what she had learned at the opera.

"Really, Miss Covington," Mr. Farmer continued, "it is a thousand pities
that you and your friend cannot utilize your singular accomplishment in
the detective line. You ought to make a fortune by it. I have, of
course, heard from my partner of the education that you had in Germany,
and of your having acquired some new system by which you can understand
what people are saying by watching their lips, but I certainly had no
conception that it could be carried to such an extent as you have just
proved it can. It is like gaining a new sense. Now I suppose you have
come to us for advice as to what had best be done next."

"That is it, Mr. Farmer. It is quite evident to us that we must be
extremely careful, for if these people suspect that we are so far on
their track, they might remove Walter at once, and we might never be
able to light upon a clew again."

"Yes, I see that. Of course, if we were absolutely in a position to
prove that this child has been kept down near Pitsea with their
cognizance we could arrest them at once; but, unfortunately, in the
words you heard there was no mention of the child, and at present we
have nothing but a series of small circumstantial facts to adduce. You
believe, Mr. Pettigrew tells me, that the man who calls himself John
Simcoe is an impostor who has no right to the name, and that General
Mathieson was under a complete delusion when he made that extraordinary
will. You believe that, or at any rate you have a suspicion that, having
got the General to make the will, he administered some unknown drug that
finally caused his death. You believe that, as this child alone stood
between him and the inheritance, he had him carried off with the
assistance of the other man. You believe that the body the coroner's
jury decided to be that of Walter Rivington was not his, and that the
child himself is being kept out of the way somewhere in Essex, and you
believe that the conversation that you most singularly overheard related
to him.

"But, unfortunately, all these beliefs are unsupported by a single legal
fact, and I doubt very much whether any magistrate would issue a warrant
for these men's arrest upon your story being laid before him. Even if
they were arrested, some confederate might hasten down to Pitsea and
carry the child off; and, indeed, Pitsea may only be the meeting-place
of these conspirators, and the child may be at Limehouse or at Chatham,
or at any other place frequented by barges. Therefore we must for the
present give up all idea of seizing these men. Any researches at Pitsea
itself are clearly attended by danger, and yet I see no other way of
proceeding."

"It seems," Dr. Leeds said, "that this other man, who appears to have
acted as Simcoe's agent throughout the affair, took the alarm the other
day, and instead of taking a trap as usual from Tilbury, returned to the
station, took the ferry across to Gravesend, and then, as we suppose,
came up to town again, told Simcoe that he found he was watched, and
that Simcoe must himself take the matter up. Evidently, by what Miss
Covington overheard, he had instructed him where and how to communicate
with this bargeman, or in case of necessity to find him. I should think
that the first step would be to withdraw the men now on watch, for it is
possible that they may also send down men to places in the locality of
Pitsea. In point of fact, your men have been instructed to make no such
inquiries, but only to endeavor to trace where Simcoe's agent drives to.
Still, I think it would be as well to withdraw them at once, as they can
do no further good."

Mr. Pettigrew nodded.

"I know nothing of Pitsea," the doctor went on, "but I do know Hole
Haven. When I was walking the hospital, three or four of us had a little
sailing-boat, and used to go out from Saturday until Monday morning.
Hole Haven was generally the limit of our excursions. It is a snug
little harbor for small boats, and there is a comfortable old-fashioned
little inn there, where we used to sleep. The coastguards were all
sociable fellows, ready to chat with strangers and not averse to a small
tip. Of course the same men will not be there now, nor would it be very
safe to ask questions of them; for no doubt they are on friendly terms
with the men on the barges which go up and down the creek. I might,
however, learn something from them of the ways of these men, and I
should think that, on giving my card to the petty officer in charge, I
could safely question him. I don't suppose that he would know where this
man Nibson has his headquarters. If he lives at Rochester, or Chatham,
or at Limehouse, or Shadwell, he certainly would not know him; but if he
lives at Pitsea he might know him. I fancy they keep a pretty sharp
lookout on the barges. I know that the coastguard told me that there was
still a good deal of smuggling carried on in the marshes between Leigh
and Thames Haven. I fancy, from what he said, that the Leigh fishermen
think it no harm to run a few pounds of tobacco or a keg of spirit from
a passing ship, and, indeed, as there are so many vessels that go ashore
on the sands below, and as they are generally engaged in unloading them
or helping them to get off, they have considerable facilities that way.
At any rate, as an old frequenter of the place and as knowing the
landlord--that is to say if there has been no change there--no suspicion
could fall upon me of going down there in reference to your affair.
To-day is Friday. On Sunday morning, early, I will run down to
Gravesend, hire a boat there, and will sail down to Hole Haven. It will
be an outing for me, and a pleasant one; and at least I can be doing no
harm."

"Thank you very much indeed, Dr. Leeds," Hilda said warmly; "that is a
splendid idea."

On Sunday evening Dr. Leeds called at Hyde Park Gardens to report his
day's work.

"I think that my news is eminently satisfactory. I saw the petty officer
in command of the coastguard station, and he willingly gave me all the
information in his power. He knew the bargee, Bill Nibson. He is up and
down the creek, he says, once and sometimes twice a week. He has got a
little bit of a farm and a house on the bank of the creek a mile and a
half on this side of Pitsea. They watch him pretty closely, as they do
all the men who use the creek; there is not one of them who does not
carry on a bit of smuggling if he gets the chance.

"'I thought that was almost given up,' I said. 'Oh, no; it is carried
on,' he replied, 'on a much smaller scale than it used to be, but there
is plenty of it, and I should say that there is more done that way on
the Thames than anywhere else. In the first place, Dutch, German, and
French craft coming up the channels after dark can have no difficulty
whatever in transferring tobacco and spirits into barges or
fishing-boats. I need hardly say it is not ships of any size that carry
on this sort of business, but small vessels, such as billy-boys and
craft of that sort. They carry their regular cargoes, and probably never
bring more than a few hundredweight of tobacco and a dozen or so kegs of
spirits. It is doubtful whether their owners know anything of what is
being done, and I should say that it is generally a sort of speculation
on the part of the skipper and men. On this side the trade is no doubt
in the hands of men who either work a single barge or fishing-boat of
their own, or who certainly work it without the least suspicion on the
part of the owners.

"'The thing is so easily arranged. A man before he starts from Ostend or
Hamburg, or the mouth of the Seine, sends a line to his friends here, at
Rochester or Limehouse or Leigh, "Shall sail to-night. Expect to come up
the south channel on Monday evening." The bargeman or fisherman runs
down at the time arranged, and five or six miles below the Nore brings
up and shows a light. He knows that the craft he expects will not be up
before that time, for if the wind was extremely favorable, and they made
the run quicker than they expected, they would bring up in Margate Roads
till the time appointed. If they didn't arrive that night, they would do
so the next, and the barge would lay there and wait for them, or the
fishermen would go into Sheerness or Leigh and come out again the next
night.

"'You might wonder how a barge could waste twenty-four or forty-eight
hours without being called to account by its owners, but there are
barges which will anchor up for two or three days under the pretense
that the weather is bad, but really from sheer laziness.

"'That is one way the stuff comes into the country, and, so far as I can
see, there is no way whatever of stopping it. The difficulty, of course,
is with the landing, and even that is not great. When the tide turns to
run out there are scores, I may say hundreds, of barges anchored between
Chatham and Gravesend. They generally anchor close in shore, and it
would require twenty times the number of coastguards there are between
Chatham and Gravesend on one side, and Foulness and Tilbury on the
other, to watch the whole of them and to see that boats do not come
ashore.

"'A few strokes and they are there. One man will wait in the boat while
the other goes up onto the bank to see that all is clear. If it is, the
things are carried up at once. Probably the barge has put up some flag
that is understood by friends ashore; they are there to meet it, and in
half an hour the kegs are either stowed away in lonely farmhouses or
sunk in some of the deep ditches, and there they will remain until they
can be fished up and sent off in a cart loaded with hay or something of
that sort. You may take it that among the marshes on the banks of the
Medway and Thames there is a pretty good deal done in the way of
smuggling still. We keep a very close eye upon all the barges that come
up here, but it is very seldom that we make any catch. One cannot seize
a barge like the _Mary Ann_, that is the boat belonging to Nibson, with
perhaps sixty tons of manure or cement or bricks, and unload it without
some specific information that would justify our doing so. Indeed, we
hardly could unload it unless we took it out into the Thames and threw
the contents overboard. We could not carry it up this steep, stone-faced
bank, and higher up there are very few places where a barge could lie
alongside the bank to be unloaded. We suspect Nibson of doing something
that way, but we have never been able to catch him at it. We have
searched his place suddenly three or four times, but never found
anything suspicious.'

"'May I ask what family the man has?' I said.

"He shook his head. 'There is his wife--I have seen her once or twice on
board the barge as it has come in and out--and there is a boy, who helps
him on the barge--I don't know whether he is his son or not. I have no
idea whether he has any family, but I have never seen a child on the
barge.'

"All this seemed to be fairly satisfactory. I told him that we suspected
that a stolen child was kept in Nibson's house, and asked him whether
one of his men off duty would, at any time, go with me in a boat and
point out the house. He said that there would be no difficulty about
that. My idea, Miss Covington, was that it would be by far the best plan
for us to go down with a pretty strong party--that is to say, two or
three men--and to go from Gravesend in a boat, arriving at Hole Haven at
eleven or twelve o'clock at night. I should write beforehand to the
coastguard officer, asking him to have a man in readiness to guide us,
and then row up to the house. In that way we should avoid all chance of
a warning being sent on ahead from Pitsea, or from any other place where
they might have men on watch.

"I mentioned this to the officer, and he said, 'Well, I don't see how
you could break into the man's house. If the child is not there you
might find yourself in a very awkward position, and if Nibson himself
happened to be at home he would be perfectly justified in using
firearms.' I said of course that was a point I must consider. It is
indeed a point on which we must take Mr. Pettigrew's opinion. But
probably we shall have to lay an information before the nearest
magistrate, though I think myself that if we were to take the officer
into our confidence--and he seemed to me a bluff, hearty fellow--he
would take a lot of interest in the matter, and might stretch a point,
and send three or four men down after dark to search the place again for
smuggled goods. You see, he has strong suspicions of the man, and has
searched his place more than once. Then, when they were about it, we
could enter and seize Walter. Should there be a mistake altogether, and
the child not be found there, we could give the officer a written
undertaking to hold him free in the very unlikely event of the fellow
making a fuss about his house being entered."

The next morning Hilda again drove up with Netta to see Mr. Pettigrew.

"We must be careful, my dear; we must be very careful," he said. "If we
obtain a search warrant, it can only be executed during the day, and
even if the coastguards were to make a raid upon the place, we, as
civilians, would not have any right to enter the house. I don't like the
idea of this night business--indeed, I do not see why it should not be
managed by day. Apparently, from what Dr. Leeds said, this Hole Haven is
a place where little sailing-boats often go in. I don't know much of
these matters, but probably in some cases gentlemen are accompanied by
ladies, and no doubt sometimes these boats go up the creeks. Now, there
must be good-sized boats that could be hired at Gravesend, with men
accustomed to sailing them, and I can see no reason why we should not go
down in a party. I should certainly wish to be there myself, and think
Colonel Bulstrode should be there. You might bring your two men, and get
an information laid before an Essex magistrate and obtain a warrant to
search this man's place for a child supposed to be hidden there. By the
way, I have a client who is an Essex magistrate; he lives near
Billericay. I will have an information drawn out, and will go myself
with it and see him; it is only about five miles to drive from Brentwood
Station. If I sent a clerk down, there might be some difficulty,
whereas, when I personally explain the circumstances to him, he will, I
am sure, grant it. At the same time I will arrange with him that two of
the county constabulary shall be at this place, Hole Haven, at the time
we arrive there, and shall accompany us to execute the warrant. Let me
see," and he turned to his engagement book, "there is no very special
matter on for to-morrow, and I am sure that Mr. Farmer will see to the
little matters that there are in my department. By the way, it was a
year yesterday since the General's death, and we have this morning been
served with a notice to show cause why we should not proceed at once to
distribute the various legacies under his will. I don't think that
refers to the bequest of the estates, though, of course, it may do so,
but to the ten thousand pounds to which Simcoe is clearly entitled. Of
course, we should appear by counsel in any case; but with Walter in our
hands we can bring him to his knees at once, and he will have to wait
some time before he touches the money. We cannot prevent his having
that. He may get five years for abducting the child, but that does not
affect his claim to the money."

"Unless, Mr. Pettigrew, we could prove that he is not John Simcoe."

"Certainly, my dear," the lawyer said, with an indulgent smile. "Your
other theories have turned out very successful, I am bound to admit; but
for this you have not a shadow of evidence, while he could produce a
dozen respectable witnesses in his favor. However, we need not trouble
ourselves about that now. As to the abduction of the child, while our
evidence is pretty clear against the other man, we have only the fact
against Simcoe that he was a constant associate of his, and had an
immense interest in the child being lost. The other man seems to have
acted as his intermediary all through, and so far as we actually know,
Simcoe has never seen the child since he was taken away. Of course, if
Walter can prove to the contrary, the case is clear against him; but
without this it is only circumstantial, though I fancy that the jury
would be pretty sure to convict. And now, how about the boat? Who will
undertake that? We are rather busy at present, and could scarcely spare
a clerk to go down."

"We will look after that, Mr. Pettigrew; it is only an hour's run to
Gravesend, and it will be an amusement for us. We will take Roberts down
with us. What day shall we fix it for?"

"Well, my dear, the sooner the better. I shall get the warrant
to-morrow, and there is no reason why the constable should not be at
Hole Haven the next day, at, say, two in the afternoon. So if you go
down to-morrow and arrange for a boat, the matter may as well be carried
out at once, especially as I know that you are burning with anxiety to
get the child back. Of course this rascal of a bargeman must be
arrested."

"I should think that would depend partly on how he has treated Walter,"
Hilda said. "I don't suppose he knows who he is, or anything of the
circumstances of the case; he is simply paid so much to take charge of
him. If he has behaved cruelly to him it is of course right that he
should be punished; but if he has been kind to him I don't see why he
should not be let off. Besides, we may want him as a witness against the
others."

"Well, there is something in that. Of course we might, if he were
arrested, allow him to turn Queen's evidence, but there is always a
certain feeling against this class of witness. However, we needn't
discuss that now. I suppose that we ought to allow an hour and a half or
two hours to get to this place from Gravesend, but you can find that out
when you hire the boat. Of course, it will depend a good deal on which
way the tide is. By the way, you had better look to that at once; for if
it is not somewhere near high tide when we get to Hole Haven there may
not be water enough to row up the creek."

He called in one of the clerks, and told him to go out to get him an
almanac with a tide-table.

"I want to know when it will be high water the day after to-morrow at
Gravesend," he said.

"I can tell you that at once, sir. When I came across Waterloo Bridge
this morning at a quarter to nine the tide was running in. I should say
that it was about half-flood, and would be high about twelve o'clock. So
that it will be high about half-past one o'clock on Wednesday. It is
about three-quarters of an hour earlier at Gravesend. I don't know
whether that is near enough for you, sir?"

"Yes, that is near enough, thank you. So, you see," he went on after the
clerk had left the room, "the tide will be just about high when you get
to Gravesend, and you will get there in about an hour, I should say. I
don't know exactly how far this place is, but I should say seven or
eight miles; and with a sail, or, if the wind is contrary, a couple of
oars, you will not be much above an hour, and I should think that there
will be still plenty of water in the creek. You had better see Colonel
Bulstrode. As joint trustee he should certainly be there."

They drove at once to the Colonel's and found him in. He had not heard
of the discovery Hilda had made, and was greatly excited at the prospect
of so soon recovering Walter, and bringing, as he said, "the rascals to
book."

The next morning they went down with Roberts to Gravesend, to engage a
large and roomy boat with two watermen for their trip. Just as they were
entering Hyde Park Gardens, on their return, a man passed them. Roberts
looked hard at him, and then said, "If you don't want me any more now,
miss, I should like to speak to that man; he is an old fellow-soldier."

"Certainly, Roberts. I shall not want you again for some time."

Roberts hurried after the man. "Sergeant Nichol," he said, as he came up
to him, "it is years since I saw you last."

"I remember your face, if I do not remember your name," the man said.

"I am Tom Roberts. I was in your company, you know, before you went onto
the staff."

"I remember you now, Roberts," and the two shook hands heartily. "What
are you doing now? If I remember right, you went as servant to General
Mathieson when you got your discharge."

"Yes; you see, I had been his orderly for two or three years before, and
when I got my discharge with my pension, I told him that I should like
to stop with him if he would take me. I was with him out there for five
years after; then I came home, and was with him until his death, and am
still in the service of his niece, Miss Covington, one of the young
ladies I was with just now. And what are you doing?"

"I am collector for a firm in the City. It is an easy berth, and with my
pension I am as comfortable as a man can wish to be."

So they chatted for half an hour, and when they parted Roberts received
a hearty invitation to look in at the other's place at Kilburn.

"Both my boys are in the army," he said, "and likely to get on well. My
eldest girl is married, my youngest is at home with her mother and
myself; they will be pleased to see you too. The missus enjoys a gossip
about India, and is always glad to welcome any old comrade of mine."



CHAPTER XXIII.

WALTER.


The wind was westerly, and the boat ran fast down the river from
Gravesend; Roberts and Andrew, both in civilian clothes, were sitting in
the bows, where there were stowed a large hamper and a small
traveling-bag with some clothes. One waterman sat by the mast, in case
it should be necessary to lower sail; the other was aft at the tiller.
The men must have thought that they had never had so silent and grave a
pleasure party before: two elderly gentlemen and two girls, none of whom
seemed inclined to make merry in any way. Colonel Bulstrode, indeed,
tried hard to keep up a conversation about the ships, barges, and other
craft that they met, or which lay at anchor in the stream, and recalling
reminiscences of trips on Indian rivers.

Netta was the only one of his hearers who apparently took any interest
in the talk. To her the scene was so new that she regarded everything
with attention and pleasure, and looked with wonder at the great ships
which were dragged along by tiny tugs, wondered at the rate at which the
clumsy-looking barges made their way through the water, and enjoyed the
rapid and easy motion with which their own boat glided along. Mr.
Pettigrew was revolving in his mind the problem of what should next be
done; while Hilda's thoughts were centered upon Walter, and the joy that
it would be to have him with her again.

"This is Hole Haven," the boatman in the stern said, as a wide sheet of
water opened on their left.

"Why don't you turn in, then?" Colonel Bulstrode asked.

"There is scarce water enough for us, sir; they are neap tides at
present, and in half an hour the sands will begin to show all over
there. We have to go in onto the farther side--that is, where the
channel is. You see those craft at anchor; there is the landing, just in
front of the low roof you see over the bank. That is the 'Lobster
Smack,' and a very comfortable house it is; and you can get as good a
glass of beer there as anywhere on the river."

As they turned into the creek they saw two constables on the top of the
bank, and at the head of the steps stood a gentleman talking with a
coastguard officer.

"That is my friend, Mr. Bostock," Mr. Pettigrew said. "He told me that,
if he could manage it, he would drive over himself with the two
constables. I am glad that he has been able to do so; his presence will
strengthen our hands."

A coast guard boat, with four sailors in it, was lying close to the
steps, and the officer came down with Mr. Bostock, followed by the two
constables. The magistrate greeted Mr. Pettigrew and took his place in
the boat beside him, after being introduced to the two ladies and the
Colonel. The officer with the two constables stepped into the coastguard
boat, which rowed on ahead of the other.

"I could not resist the temptation of coming over to see the end of this
singular affair, of which I heard from Mr. Pettigrew," Mr. Bostock said
to Hilda. "The officer of the coastguard is going on, partly to show us
the way to the house, and partly because it will be a good opportunity
for him to search the place thoroughly for smuggled goods. He tells me
that the barge is up the creek now; it went up yesterday evening. So we
may find the fellow at home."

"Now, my men," Colonel Bulstrode said to the boatmen, "we have got to
follow that boat. You will have plenty of time for beer when you get
there, and a good lunch besides. So pull your hardest; we have not got
very far to go. Can either of you men row?"

[Illustration: "I AM A MAGISTRATE OF THE COUNTY OF ESSEX."--_Page 289._]

"I can pull a bit," Roberts said, and, aided by the sail and the
three oars, the boat went along at a fair rate through the water, the
coastguard boat keeping a short distance ahead of them. After a quarter
of an hour's rowing the bargeman's house came in view. The revenue
officer pointed to it.

"Now, row your hardest, men," Colonel Bulstrode said; "we have but a
hundred yards further to go."

The two boats rowed up to the bank together; Mr. Bostock sprang out, as
did the constables and sailors, and ran up the bank, the others
following at once. As they appeared on the bank a boy working in the
garden gave a shrill whistle; a man immediately appeared at the door and
looked surprised at the appearance of the party. He stepped back a foot,
and then, as if changing his mind, came out and closed the door after
him.

"I am a magistrate of the County of Essex," Mr. Bostock said, "and I
have come to see a warrant executed for the search of your house for a
child named Walter Rivington, who is believed to be concealed here, and
who has been stolen from the care of his guardians."

"I know nothing of any child of that name," the man replied, "but I have
a child here that I am taking care of for a gentleman in London; I have
had him here for just a year, and no one has made any inquiries about
him. You are welcome to enter and see if he is the one you are in search
of. If he is, all that I can say is that I know nothing about his being
stolen, and shall be very sorry to lose him."

He stood aside, and the two constables entered, followed closely by
Hilda. The latter gave a cry of joy, for seated on the ground, playing
with a box of soldiers, was Walter. She would hardly have known him
anywhere else. His curls had been cut short, his face was brown and
tanned, and his clothes, although scrupulously clean, were such as would
be worn by any bargeman's boy at that age. The child looked up as they
entered. Hilda ran to him, and caught him up in her arms.

"Don't you know me, Walter? Don't you remember Cousin Hilda?"

"Yes, I remember you," the child said, now returning her embrace. "You
used to tell me stories and take me out in a carriage for drives. Where
have you been so long? And where is grandpapa? Oh, here is Netta!" and
as Hilda put him down he ran to her, for during the four months spent in
the country she had been his chief playmate.

"I have learned to swim, Netta. Uncle Bill has taught me himself; and he
is going to take me out in his barge some day."

The woman, who had come in with her arms covered with lather, from the
little washhouse adjoining the house, now came forward.

"I hope, miss, that there is nothing wrong," she said to Hilda. "We have
done our best for the little boy, and I have come to care for him just
as if he had been my own; and if you are going to take him away I shall
miss him dreadful, for he is a dear little fellow," and she burst into
tears.

Walter struggled from Netta's arms, and ran to the woman, and, pulling
her by the apron, said:

"Don't cry, Aunt Betsy; Jack is not going away from you. Jack will stay
here; he likes going in a barge better than riding in a carriage."

"Well, Miss Covington," Mr. Bostock said, "the recognition appears to be
complete on both sides; now what is the next step? Do you give this man
into custody for unlawfully concealing this child and aiding and
abetting in his abduction?"

"Will you wait a minute while I speak to Mr. Pettigrew?" she said; and
they went out of the house together.

"Well, what do you think, Mr. Pettigrew?"

"I have been thinking it over all the way as we came down," the lawyer
said. "Of course, we have no shadow of proof that this man was aware who
the child was, and, in fact, if he had seen the placards offering
altogether fifteen hundred pounds for his recovery, we must certainly
assume that he would have given him up; for however well he may have
been paid for taking charge of him, the offer would have been too
tempting for a man of that kind to have resisted. No doubt he had strong
suspicions, but you can hardly say that it amounted to guilty knowledge
that the child had been abducted. If Walter had been ill-treated I
should have said at once, 'Give him into custody'; but this does not
seem to have been the case."

"No; they have evidently been very kind to him. I am so grateful for
that that I should be sorry to do the man any harm."

"That is not the only point," the lawyer went on. "It is evident that
the other people very seldom come down here, and from what you heard, in
future Simcoe is going to write. If we arrest this man the others will
know at once that the game is up. Now, if you will take the child away
quietly, we can tell the man that he shall not be prosecuted, providing
that he takes no steps whatever to inform his employers that the child
is gone; even if one of them came down here to see the child, the wife
must say that he is away on the barge. Anyhow, we shall have ample time
to decide upon what steps to take against Simcoe, and can lay hands upon
him whenever we choose; whereas, if he got an inkling that we had
discovered the child, he and his associate would probably disappear at
once, and we might have lots of trouble to find them."

"Yes, I think that would be a very good plan, Mr. Pettigrew. I will ask
him and his wife to come out."

"That will be the best way, my dear. We could hardly discuss the matter
before Bostock."

Hilda went in. As soon as she spoke to the man and his wife Mr. Bostock
said, "If you want a conference, Miss Covington, I will go out and leave
you to talk matters over."

He and the two constables withdrew, and Mr. Pettigrew came in.

"Now, my man," he began, "you must see that you have placed yourself in
a very awkward position. You are found taking care of a child that has
been stolen, and for whose recovery large rewards have been offered all
over the country. It is like the case of a man found hiding stolen
goods. He would be called upon to account for their being in his
possession. Now, it is hardly possible that you can have been ignorant
that this child was stolen. You may not have been told so in words, but
you cannot have helped having suspicions. From what the child no doubt
said when he first came here, you must have been sure that he had been
brought up in luxury. No doubt he spoke of rides in a carriage, of
servants, his nurse, and so on. However, Miss Covington is one of the
child's guardians, and I am the other, and we are most reluctant to give
you in charge. It is evident, from the behavior of the child, and from
the affection that he shows to yourself and your wife, that you have
treated him very kindly since he has been here, and these toys I see
about show that you have done your best to make him happy."

"That we have, sir," the man said. "Betsy and I took to him from the
first. We have no children of our own, none living at least, and we have
made as much of him as if he had been one of our own--perhaps more. We
have often talked it over, and both thought that we were not doing the
fair thing by him, and were, perhaps, keeping him out of his own. I did
not like having anything to do with it at first, but I had had some
business with the man who gave him to me, and when he asked me to
undertake the job it did not seem to me so serious an affair as it has
done since. I am heartily sorry that we have had any hand in it; not
only because we have done the child harm, but because it seems that we
are going to lose him now that we have come to care for him as if he was
our own."

"Of course you played only a minor part in the business, Nibson. We
quite understand that, and it is the men who have carried out this
abduction that we want to catch. Do you know the name of the man who
brought the child to you?"

"I don't, sir. He knows where to find me, but I have no more idea than a
child unborn who he is or where he lives. When he writes to me, which he
generally does before he comes down, which may be two or three times a
month, or may be once in six months, he signs himself Smith. I don't
suppose that is his right name, but I say fairly that if I knew it, and
where he lived, I would not peach upon him. He has always been straight
with me in the business I have done with him, and I would rather take
six months for this affair than say anything against him."

"We are not asking you at present to say anything against him, and he is
not the principal man in this business. I believe he is only acting as
agent for another more dangerous rascal than himself. We are not
prepared at the present moment to arrest the chief scoundrel. Before we
do that we must obtain evidence that will render his conviction a
certainty. We have reason to believe that this man that you know will
not come down for some time, and that you will receive the money for the
child's keep by post; but if we abstain altogether from prosecuting you
in this matter, you must give us your word that you will not take any
steps whatever to let them know that the child is no longer with you. He
says that you promised to take him out in your barge. Well, if by any
chance this man--not your man, but the other--comes down here, and wants
to see the child, you or your wife will lead him to believe that he is
on board your barge. It will also be necessary that, if we do arrest
them, you should enter as a witness to prove that the man handed the
child over to you. You could let it be seen that you are an unwilling
witness, but the evidence of the handing over of the child will be an
absolute necessity."

"All right, sir, I will undertake that. There is no fear of my letting
him know that the child has gone, for I don't know where to write him;
and if he or the other should come down, if I am here I shall have no
difficulty in keeping it from him that the child has gone, for my man
has never set foot in this house. He just meets me on the road near
Pitsea, says what he has to say, and gives me what he has to give me,
and then drives off again. Of course, if I am summoned as a witness, I
know that the law can make me go. I remember now that when he gave me
the child he said he was doing it to oblige a friend of his, and he may
be able to prove that he had nothing to do with carrying it off."

"That is as it may be," the lawyer said dryly. "However, we are quite
content with your promise."

"And I thank you most heartily, you and your wife," Hilda Covington said
warmly, "for your kindness to the child. It would have made me very
happy all this time if I could have known that he was in such good
hands, but I pictured him shut up in some vile den in London, ill
treated, and half starved. He has grown very much since he has been with
you, and looks a great deal more boyish than he did."

"Yes, he plays a good deal with my barge boy, who has taken to him just
as we have."

"Well, your kindness will not be forgotten nor unrewarded, Mr. Nibson."

"I'm sure we don't want any reward, miss; we have been well paid. But
even if we hadn't been paid at all after the first month, we should have
gone on keeping him just the same."

"Now, Walter," Hilda said, "we want you to come home with us; we have
all been wanting you very badly. Nurse and Tom Roberts have been in a
terrible way, and so has Dr. Leeds. You remember him, don't you? He was
very kind to you all the time that you were down in the country."

The child nodded. "I should like to see Tom Roberts and nurse, but I
don't want to go away. I am going out in the barge soon."

"Well, dear, I dare say that we shall be able to arrange for you to come
down sometimes, and to go out in it, especially as you have learned to
swim. We are going away now in a boat."

"I often go out in the boat," Walter pouted. "I go with Joshua; he is a
nice boy, Joshua is, and I like him."

"Well, dear, we will see what we can do for Joshua."

"You are sure that I shall come back and go out in the barge?"

"Quite sure, dear; and perhaps I will go out with you, too."

"Yes, you must go, like a good boy," Mrs. Nibson said. "You know, dear,
that I shall always love you, and shall be very, very glad if the ladies
can spare you to come down to see me sometimes. You won't forget me,
will you?"

"No, Aunt Betsy, I shall never forget you; I promise you that," the
child said. "And I don't want to go away from you at all, only Cousin
Hilda says I must."

Mr. Pettigrew went out to tell Mr. Bostock that they should not give
Nibson into custody.

"The principal scoundrels would take the alarm instantly," he said,
"and, above all things, we want to keep them in the dark until we are
ready to arrest them. It will be much better that we should have this
man to call as a witness than that he should appear in the dock as an
accomplice."

"I think that you are right there," the magistrate agreed; "and really,
he and his wife seem to have been very kind to the child. I have been
talking to this young barge boy. It seems he is no relation of these
people. His mother was a tramp, who died one winter's night on the road
to Pitsea. He was about ten or eleven years old then, and they would
have sent him to the workhouse; but Nibson, who was on the coroner's
jury, volunteered to take him, and I dare say he finds him very useful
on board the barge. At any rate, he has been well treated, and says that
Nibson is the best master on the river. So the fellow must have some
good in him, though, from what the coastguard officer said, there are
very strong suspicions that he is mixed up in the smuggling business,
which, it seems, is still carried on in these marshes. Well, no doubt
you have decided wisely; and now, I suppose, we shall be off."

At this moment they were joined by the coastguard officer.

"He has done us again," he said. "We have been investigating these
outhouses thoroughly, and there is no question that he has had smuggled
goods here. We found a clever hiding-place in that cattle-shed. It
struck me that it was a curious thing that there should be a stack of
hay built up right against the side of it. So we took down a plank or
two, and I was not surprised to find that there was a hollow in the
stack. One of the men stamped his foot, and the sound showed that there
was another hollow underneath. We dug up the ground, and found, six
inches below it, a trapdoor, and on lifting it discovered a hole five or
six feet deep and six feet square. It was lined with bricks, roughly
cemented together. It is lucky for him that the place is empty, and I
should think that after this he will go out of the business for a time.
Of course we cannot arrest a man merely for having a hidden cellar; I
fancy that there are not many houses on the marshes that have not some
places of the sort. Indeed, I am rather glad that we did not catch him,
for in other respects Nibson is a decent, hard-working fellow. Sometimes
he has a glass or two at the 'Lobster Smack,' but never takes too much,
and is always very quiet and decent in his talk. I doubt whether the men
would have found that hiding-place if I had not been there; they all
know him well, and would not get him into a scrape if they could help
it, though there are some fellows on the marshes they would give a
month's pay to catch with kegs or tobacco."

The door of the house opened, and the three women and Nibson came out
with Walter, who was now dressed in the clothes that they had brought
down for him.

While the others were getting ready to enter the boat the officer took
Nibson aside.

"You have had a close squeak of it, Nibson; we found your hiding-place
under the stack, and it is lucky for you that it was empty. So we have
nothing to say to you. I should advise you to give it up, my man; sooner
or later you are bound to be caught."

The man's brow had darkened as the officer began, but it cleared up
again.

"All right," he said; "I have been thinking for the last half hour that
I shall drop the business altogether, but when a man once gets into it,
it is not so easy to get out. Now that you have found that cellar, it is
a good excuse to cut it. I can well say that I dare not risk it again,
for that, after so nearly catching me, you would be sure to keep an
extra sharp eye on me in the future."

"You give me your word for that, Nibson?"

"Yes, sir; I swear off it altogether from the present day."

"Good. I will take your word for it, and you can go in and come out as
you like without being watched, and you need not fear that we shall pay
you another visit."

Walter went off in fair spirits. The promise that he should come down
again and see his friends and have a sail in the barge lessened the pang
of leaving, and as Hilda's and Netta's faces came more strongly back to
him, as they talked to him and recalled pleasant things that had almost
faded from his memory, he went away contentedly, while Betsy Nibson went
back to the house and had what she called "a good cry." She too,
however, cheered up when her husband told her how narrow an escape he
had had, and how he had given his word that he would drop smuggling
altogether.

"That makes my mind easier than it has been for years, Bill. And will
you give up the other thing, too? There may not be much harm in running
kegs and bacca, but there is no doubt about its being wrong to have
anything to do with stolen goods and to mix yourself up with men who
steal them."

"Yes, I will give that up, too, Betsy; and, as soon as I have time to
look round, I will give an order for a new barge to be built for me. I
have been ashamed of the old thing for a long time past with her patched
sails. Of course, she suited my purpose, for when the other barges kept
on their course it gave me a good excuse for anchoring; but it aint
pleasant to have every barge passing you. There is old Joe Hargett; he
said the other day that, if I ever thought of getting a new barge, he
would give a hundred for her. He has got a set of decent sails, and he
is a pretty handy carpenter, and no doubt he will make her look decent
again. A hundred pounds aint much, but it will help. I can get a new one
complete, sails and all, for fourteen or fifteen hundred, and have a
hundred or two left in the bag afterwards. I tell you what, Betsy, I
will get an extra comfortable cabin made, and a place forward for
Joshua. It will be dull for you here now the child is gone, and it would
be a sight more comfortable for us both to be always together."

"That it will, Bill," she said joyfully. "I was always very happy on
board till we lost our Billy. I took a dislike to it then, and was glad
enough to come here; but I have got over it now, and this place is very
lonely during the long winter nights when you are away."

Then they talked over the barge, and how the cabin should be fitted up,
and, in spite of having lost Walter, the evening was a pleasant one to
them.

That was not the only conversation that took place that day with
reference to a new barge for Bill Nibson. As they rowed up against the
tide, Hilda said:

"We must do something for that bargeman, Colonel Bulstrode. I am sure we
cannot be too grateful to him and his wife for their treatment of
Walter. Think how different it might have been had he fallen into bad
hands. Now he looks the picture of health; the change in the life and
the open air has done wonders. You know, Dr. Leeds said that the officer
of the coastguard had told him that Nibson's barge was one of the oldest
and rottenest crafts on the river. Now, I propose that we buy him a new
one. What would it cost, Colonel Bulstrode?"

"I have not the slightest idea," the Colonel replied; "it might cost
five hundred pounds, or it might cost five thousand, for all I know."

"I will ask the waterman," Hilda said, and raising her voice she said,
"How much do barges cost when they are new?"

"From ten or eleven hundred up to fifteen," the man said.

"Does that include sails and all?"

"Yes, miss; down to the boat."

"Who is considered the best barge-builder?"

"Well, there are a good many of them, miss; but I should say that Gill,
of Rochester, is considered as good as any."

"What do you think, Mr. Pettigrew?" Hilda said. "Should we, as Walter's
guardians, be justified in spending this money? Mind, I don't care a bit
whether we are or not, because I would buy it myself if it would not be
right for us to use his money."

"I am afraid that it would not be right," Mr. Pettigrew said. "As a
trustee of the property, I should certainly not feel myself justified in
sanctioning such a sum being drawn, though I quite admit that this good
couple should be rewarded. I cannot regard a barge as a necessary;
anything in reason that the child could require we should be justified
in agreeing to. Of course, whatever may be his expenses at a public
school, we should pay them without hesitation; but for a child of that
age to give a present of fifteen hundred pounds would be altogether
beyond our power to sanction."

"Very well," Hilda said decidedly, "then I shall take the matter into my
own hands, and I shall go down to Rochester to-morrow and see if these
people have a barge ready built. I don't know whether they are the sort
of things people keep in stock."

"That I can't say, my dear. I should think it probable that in slack
times they may build a barge or two on speculation, for the purpose of
keeping their hands employed, but whether that is the case now or not I
don't know. If these people at Rochester have not got one you may hear
of one somewhere else. I want you all to come up to the office one day
next week to talk over this matter of the order Simcoe is applying
for--for us to carry out the provisions of the will--at any rate, as far
as his legacy is concerned."

"Very well, Mr. Pettigrew, I will come up any time that you write to me,
but you know that I have very strong opinions about it."

"I know your opinions are strong, as ladies' opinions generally are,"
Mr. Pettigrew said with a smile; "but, unfortunately, they are much more
influenced by their own view of matters than by the legal bearing of
them. However, we will talk that over when we meet again."

The arrival of Walter occasioned the most lively joy in Hyde Park
Gardens. Hilda had written to his nurse, who had gone home to live with
her mother when all hope of finding Walter had seemed to be at an end,
to tell her that he would probably be at home on Wednesday evening, and
that she was to be there to meet him. Her greeting of him was rapturous.
It had been a source of bitter grief to her that he had been lost
through a momentary act of carelessness on her part, and the relief that
Hilda's letter had caused was great indeed. The child was scarcely less
pleased to see her, for he retained a much more vivid recollection of
her than he did of the others. He had already been told of his
grandfather's death, but a year had so effaced his memory of him that he
was not greatly affected at the news. In the course of a few hours he
was almost as much at home in the house as if he had never left it.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A NEW BARGE.


The next morning Hilda went down to Rochester with Netta, Tom Roberts
accompanying them. They had no difficulty in discovering the
barge-builder's. It seemed to the girls a dirty-looking place, thickly
littered as it was with shavings; men were at work on two or three
barges which seemed, thus seen out of the water, an enormous size.

"Which is Mr. Gill?" Hilda asked a man passing.

"That is him, miss," and he pointed to a man who was in the act of
giving directions to some workmen. They waited until he had finished,
and then went up to him.

"I want to buy a barge, Mr. Gill," Hilda said.

"To buy a barge!" he repeated in surprise, for never before had he had a
young lady as a customer.

Hilda nodded. "I want to give it to a bargeman who has rendered me a
great service," as if it were an everyday occurrence for a young lady to
buy a barge as a present. "I want it at once, please; and it is to be a
first-class barge. How much would it cost?"

The builder rubbed his chin. "Well, miss, it is a little unusual to sell
a barge right off in this way; as a rule people want barges built for
them. Some want them for speed, some want them for their carrying
capacity."

"I want a first-class barge," Hilda replied. "I suppose it will be for
traffic on the Thames, and that he will like it to be fast."

"Well, miss," the builder said slowly, for he could not yet quite
persuade himself that this young lady was really prepared to pay such a
sum as a new barge would cost, "I have got such a barge. She was
launched last week, but I had a dispute with the man for whom I built
her, and I said that I would not hold him to his bargain, and that he
could get a barge elsewhere. He went off in a huff, but I expect he will
come back before long and ask me to let him have her, and I should not
be altogether sorry to say that she is gone. She is a first-class barge,
and I expect that she will be as fast as anything on the river. Of
course, I have got everything ready for her--masts, sails, and gear,
even down to her dingey--and in twenty-four hours she would be ready to
sail. The price is fifteen hundred pounds," and he looked sharply at
Hilda to see what effect that communication would have. To his great
surprise she replied quietly:

"That is about the sum I expected, Mr. Gill. Can we look at her?"

"Certainly, miss; she is lying alongside, and it is nearly high tide."

He led the way over piles of balks of timber, across sloppy pieces of
ground, over which at high tide water extended, to the edge of the
wharf, where the barge floated. She was indeed all ready for her mast;
her sides shone with fresh paint, her upper works were painted an
emerald green, a color greatly in favor among bargemen, and there was a
patch of the same on her bow, ready for the name, surrounded by gilt
scrollwork.

"There she is, miss; as handsome a barge as there is afloat."

"I want to see the cabin. What a little place!" she went on, as she and
Netta went down through a narrow hatchway, "and how low!"

"It is the usual height in barges, miss, and the same size, unless
especially ordered otherwise."

"I should like the cabin to be made very comfortable, for I think the
boatman will have his wife on board. Could it not be made a little
larger?"

"There would be no great difficulty about that. You see, this is a
water-tight compartment, but of course it could be carried six feet
farther forward and a permanent hatchway be fixed over it, and the
lining made good in the new part. As to height, one might put in a
good-sized skylight; it would not be usual, but of course it could be
done."

"And you could put the bed-place across there, could you not, and put a
curtain to draw across it?"

"Yes, that could be managed easy enough, miss; and it would make a very
tidy cabin."

"Then how much would that cost extra?"

"Forty or fifty pounds, at the outside."

"And when could you get it all finished, and everything painted a nice
color?"

"I could get it done in a week or ten days, if you made a point of it."

"I do make a point of it," Hilda said.

"What do you say to our leaving this bulkhead up as it is, miss, and
making a door through it, and putting a small skylight, say three feet
square, over the new part? You see, it will be fifteen feet wide by six
feet, so that it will make a tidy little place. It would not cost more
than the other way, not so much perhaps; for it would be a lot of
trouble to get this bulkhead down, and then, you see, the second hand
could have his bunk in here, on the lockers, and be quite separate."

"Isn't there a cabin at the other end?"

"Well, there is one, miss; you can come and look at it. That is where
the second hand always sleeps when the bargeman has got his wife on
board."

"I think that it would be better to have the second hand sleep there,"
Hilda said. "This is very rough," she went on, when she inspected the
little cabin forward; "there are all the beams sticking out. Surely it
can be made more comfortable than this."

"We could matchboard the timbers over if you like, but it is not usual."

"Never mind, please do it; and put some lockers up for his clothes, and
make it very comfortable. Has the barge got a name yet?"

"Well, miss, we have always called her the _Medway_; but there is no
reason that you should stick to that name. She has not been registered
yet, so we can call her any name you like."

"Then we will call her the _Walter_," Hilda said, for the girls had
already settled this point between them.

"And now, Mr. Gill, I suppose there is nothing to do but to give you a
check for fifteen hundred pounds, and I can pay for the alterations when
I come down next Monday week. Can you get me a couple of men who
understand the work--bargees, don't you call them? I want them to take
her as far as Hole Haven and a short way up the creek."

"I can do that easily enough," the builder said; "and I promise you that
everything shall be ready for sailing, though I don't guarantee that the
paint in the new part of the cabin will be dry. All the rest I can
promise. I will set a strong gang of men on at once."

A few days later Hilda wrote a line to William Nibson, saying that she
intended to come down with the child on the following Monday, and hoped
that he would be able to make it convenient to be at home on that day.

"She is not long in coming down again, Betsy," he said, when on the
Friday the barge went up to Pitsea again, and he received the letter,
which was carried home and read by his wife, he himself being, like most
of his class at the time, unable to read or write. "I suppose the child
pined in his new home, and she had to pacify him by saying that he
should come down and see us next week. That will suit me very well. I
have a load of manure waiting for me at Rotherhithe; it is for Farmer
Gilston, near Pitsea, so that I shall just manage it comfortably. Next
week I will go over to Rochester and see if I can hear of a good barge
for sale."

On the following Monday morning the girls again went down to Rochester,
this time taking Walter with them; having the previous week sent off
three or four great parcels by luggage train. Roberts went to look for a
cart to bring them to the barge-builder's, and the girls went on alone.

"There she lies, miss," Mr. Gill said, pointing to a barge with new
tanned sails lying out in the stream; "she is a boat any man might be
proud of."

"She looks very nice indeed," Hilda said, "though, of course, I am no
judge of such things."

"You may be sure that she is all right, Miss Covington."

"Is the paint dry, down below?"

"Yes. I saw that you were anxious about it, so put plenty of drier in.
So that, though she was only painted on Saturday morning, she is
perfectly dry now. But you are rather earlier than I had expected."

"Yes; we have sent a lot of things down by rail. Our man is getting a
cart, and I dare say they will be here in a quarter of an hour."

The things were brought on a large hand-cart, and as soon as these were
carried down to the boat they went off with Mr. Gill to the barge.

"There, miss," he said, as he led the way down into the cabin; "there is
not a barge afloat with such a comfortable cabin as this. I put up two
or three more cupboards, for as they will sleep in the next room there
is plenty of space for them."

Except in point of height, the cabin was as comfortable a little room as
could be desired. It was painted a light slate color, with the panels of
the closets of a lighter shade of the same. The inner cabin was of the
same color. A broad wooden bedstead extended across one end, and at the
other were two long cupboards extending from the ceiling to the floor.
The skylight afforded plenty of light to this room, while the large one
in the main cabin gave standing height six feet square in the middle.

"It could not have been better," Hilda said, greatly pleased.

"Well, miss, I took upon myself to do several things in the way of
cupboards, and so on, that you had not ordered, but seeing that you
wanted to have things comfortable I took upon myself to do them."

"You did quite right, Mr. Gill. This big skylight makes all the
difference in height. I see that you have painted the name, and that you
have got a flag flying from the masthead."

"Yes; bargemen generally like a bit of a flag, that is to say if they
take any pride in their boat. You cannot trade in the barge until you
have had it registered; shall I get that done for you?"

"Yes, I should be very much obliged if you would."

"And in whose name shall I register it? In yours?"

"No; in the name of William Nibson. If you want his address it is Creek
Farm, Pitsea."

"Well, miss, he is a lucky fellow. I will get it done, and he can call
here for the register the first time he comes up the Medway."

Roberts was sent ashore again for a number of hooks, screws, and a few
tools.

"Now, Mr. Gill, we are quite ready to start. We shall get things
straight on the voyage."

"You will have plenty of time, miss; she will anchor off Grain Spit till
the tide begins to run up hard. You won't be able to get up the creek
till an hour before high tide."

"That won't matter," Hilda said; "it will not be dark till nine."

"You can get up the anchor now," the builder said to two men who had
been sitting smoking in the bow.

The barge's boat was lying bottom upwards on the hatches and another
boat lay behind her.

"This boat does not belong to her, Mr. Gill; does she?" Hilda asked.

"No, miss; that is the men's boat. When they have got the barge to where
she is to be moored, they will row down to Hole Haven, and get a tow up
with the first barge that comes down after the tide has turned. How
will you be coming back, Miss Covington?"

"We have arranged for a gig to be at Hole Haven at eight o'clock to
drive us to Brentwood, where we shall take train to town. We shall not
be up before half-past eleven, but as we have our man with us that does
not matter; besides, the carriage is to be at the station to meet the
train."

The girls and Walter watched the operation of getting up the anchor and
of setting the foresail and jib. They remained on deck while the barge
beat down the long reach past the dockyards, and then with slackened
sheets rounded the wooded curve down into Gillingham Reach, then,
accompanied by Roberts, they went below. Here they were soon hard at
work. The great packages were opened, and mattresses and bedclothes
brought out.

"This reminds one of our work when you first came to us," Netta laughed,
as they made the bed.

"Yes, it is like old times, certainly. We used to like to work then,
because we were doing it together; we like it still more to-day, because
not only are we together, but we are looking forward to the delight that
we are going to give."

Carpets were laid down, curtains hung to the bed, and a wash-hand stand
fixed in its place. A hamper of crockery was unpacked and the contents
placed on the shelves that had been made for them, and cooking utensils
arranged on the stove, which had been obtained for them by the builder.
By this time Roberts had screwed up the hooks in the long cupboards, and
in every spot round both cabins where they could be made available. Then
numerous japanned tin boxes, filled with tea, sugar, and other
groceries, were stowed away, and a large one with a label, "Tobacco,"
placed on a shelf for Bill Nibson's special delectation. Curtains that
could be drawn were fixed to the skylights, looking-glasses fastened
against the walls, and by the time that the barge neared Sheerness their
labors were finished. Then the forward cabin was similarly made
comfortable. Walter had assisted to the best of his power in all the
arrangements, and when he became tired was allowed to go up on deck, on
his promise to remain quiet by the side of the helmsman.

"Now I think that everything is in its place," Hilda said at last, "and
really they make two very pretty little rooms. I can't say that the one
in the bow is pretty, but at any rate it is thoroughly comfortable, and
I have no doubt that Joshua will be as pleased with it as the Nibsons
are with theirs. Oh, dear, how dusty one gets! and we never thought of
getting water on board for the jugs."

On going up on deck, however, they observed two barrels lashed together.

"Are those water?" Hilda asked the man at the tiller.

"Yes, ma'am."

"How do you get it out? I don't see a tap."

"You put that little pump lying by the side into the bunghole. I will do
it for you, miss."

"Now we will go downstairs and tidy up, and then come and sit up here
and enjoy ourselves," said Hilda.

When they were below they heard a rattle of the chain, and, on going up,
found that the barge had come to anchor in the midst of some thirty or
forty others. The foresail had been run down and the jib lowered, but
the great mainsail, with its huge, brightly painted sprit, was still
standing. Roberts now opened a hamper that had been left on deck, and
produced luncheon. Cold meat and beer were handed to the two watermen,
who went up into the bow to eat it. An hour later the tide began to
slacken, and many of the barges got up sail.

"Shall we get up the anchor, ma'am?" one of the watermen asked.

"There's plenty of time, is there not?" Hilda asked.

"Yes, ma'am, but we thought that you would like to see how she goes with
the others."

"Yes, I should like that," Hilda said, and in a few minutes the barge
was under sail again.

"She is a clipper, and no mistake," the man at the tiller said, as one
by one they passed the barges that had started ahead of them, and Walter
clapped his hands in delight.

"We may as well go down to the lower end of the Hope, miss. We shall
have plenty of time to get back again before there is water enough for
us in the creek."

For three hours they sailed about, the girls enjoying it as much as
Walter.

"I do think, Netta, that I shall have to buy a barge on my own account.
It is splendid, and, after all, the cabins are large enough for
anything."

"You had better have a yacht," Netta laughed. "You would soon get tired
of always going up and down the river."

"One might do worse," Hilda said. "Of course, now we shall give up that
big house in Hyde Park Gardens, which is ridiculous for me and the boy.
We have each got a country house, and when we want a thorough change I
would infinitely rather have a yacht than a small house in town. I don't
suppose that it would cost very much more. Besides, you know, it is
arranged that I am always to have rooms at your house at the institute.
That is to be the next thing seen after; you know that is quite agreed
upon."

"I shall be glad to be at work again," Netta said. "Now that Walter is
found, there is certainly nothing to keep us any longer in town."

"I know that it must have been horribly dull for you, Netta, but you see
that you are partly to blame yourself for refusing to go out with me."

"That would have been duller still," Netta laughed. "I should have been
a long time before I got to know people, and there is no good in knowing
people when you are going right away from them in a short time, and may
never meet them again."

At last the men said that there would be water enough to get up the
creek.

"We shan't be able to sail up, miss; you see, the wind will be right in
our teeth. But that don't matter; we can pole her up. The tide will
take us along, and we shall only have to keep her straight and get her
round the corners."

"Are you sure that there will be water enough?"

"Yes, miss. You see, she is empty, and doesn't draw much more than a
foot of water."

As they entered the haven the head sails were dropped and the mainsail
brailed up. The tide was running in strong, and, as the men had said,
they had nothing to do but to keep the barge in the deepest part of the
channel.

       *       *       *       *       *

"How do you think they will be coming, Bill?" Betsy Nibson said, as she
joined her husband, who was standing on the bank dressed in his Sunday
clothes.

"I cannot say, Betsy; if I had known I should have gone to meet them.
They cannot drive here from Pitsea, but must walk; and, of course, I
would have been there if I had been sure of their coming that way. But I
should think most likely that they will drive to the haven and come up
by boat."

"There is a new barge coming up the creek," Joshua said. "You can see
that she is new by her spars and sails."

"That's so, boy," Bill agreed. "She has got a flag I haven't seen before
at her masthead. It is white, and I think there are some red letters on
it--her name, I suppose. 'Tis not often that a new barge comes up to
Pitsea. She is a fine-looking craft," he went on, as a turning in the
creek brought her wholly into view. "A first-class barge, I should say.
Yes, there is no doubt about her being new. I should say, from the look
of her spars, she cannot have made many trips up and down the river."

"She has got a party on board," Mrs. Nibson said presently. "There are
two women and a child. Perhaps it's them, Bill. They may have some
friend in the barge line, and he has offered to bring them down, seeing
that this is a difficult place to get at."

"I believe you are right, Betsy. They are too far off to see their
faces, but they are certainly not barge people."

"They are waving their handkerchiefs!" Betsy exclaimed; "it is them,
sure enough. Well, we have wondered how they would come down, but we
never thought of a barge."

The three hurried along the bank to meet the barge. Walter danced and
waved his hat and shouted loudly to them as they approached.

"You did not expect to see us arrive in a barge, Mrs. Nibson," Hilda
called out as they came abreast of them.

"No, indeed, miss; we talked it over together as to how you would come,
but we never thought of a barge."

"It belongs to a friend of ours, and we thought that it would be a
pleasant way of coming. She is a new boat. You must come on board and
have a look at her before we land."

In a few minutes the barge was alongside the bank, opposite the house. A
plank was run across and Walter scampered over it to his friends.

"Bless his little face!" Mrs. Nibson said, as she lifted him up to kiss
her. "What a darling he looks, Bill! And he has not forgotten us a bit."

"He could not well forget in a week," Bill said, rather gruffly, for he,
too, was moved by the warmth of the child's welcome. "Well, let us go on
board and pay our respects. She is a fine barge, surely; and she has got
the same name as the child."

"Why, it is not 'Jack,'" his wife said, looking up.

"Jack!" her husband repeated scornfully. "Didn't they call him Walter
the other day? Go on, wife; the lady is waiting at the end of the plank
for you."

Mrs. Nibson put the child down and followed him across the plank,
smoothing her apron as she went.

"My best respects, miss," she said, as Hilda shook hands with her
warmly.

"We are glad to see you again, Mrs. Nibson, and hope that you have not
missed Walter very much."

"I cannot say that I have not missed him a good deal, miss, but,
luckily, we have had other things to think about. We are giving up the
farm; it is lonesome here in the winter, and I am going to take to barge
life again."

"Well, what do you think of this barge, Mr. Nibson?" Hilda asked.

"I allow she is a handsome craft, and she ought to be fast."

"She is fast. We have been sailing about until there was enough water in
the creek, and we have passed every barge that we have come near. She is
comfortable, too. Come below and look at her cabin."

"Well, I never!" Mrs. Nibson said, pausing in astonishment at the foot
of the ladder. "I have been in many barge cabins, but never saw one like
this." Her surprise increased when the door of the bulkhead was opened
and she saw the sleeping cabin beyond. "Did you ever, Bill?"

"No, I never saw two cabins in a barge before," her husband said. "I
suppose, miss, the owner must have had the cabin specially done up for
his own use sometimes, and the crew lived forward."

"There is a place forward for the second hand," she replied, "and I
suppose the owner will sleep here."

"Of course it is a loss of space, but she will carry a big load, too.
Who is the owner, miss, if I may make so bold as to ask?"

"The registered owner is William Nibson," Hilda said quietly.

The bargeman and his wife gazed at each other in astonishment.

"But," he said hesitatingly, "I have never heard of any owner of that
name."

"Except yourself, Nibson."

"Yes, except myself; but I am not an owner, as I have sold the _Mary
Ann_."

"There is no other owner now," she said, "that I know of, of that name.
The barge is yours. It is bought as testimony of our gratitude for the
kindness that you have shown Walter, and you see it is named after
him."

"It is too much, miss," said Bill huskily, while his wife burst into
tears. "It is too much altogether. We only did our duty to the child,
and we were well paid for it."

"You did more than your duty," Hilda said. "The money might pay for food
and shelter and clothes, but money cannot buy love, and that is what you
gave, both of you; and it is for that that we now pay as well as we
can."

"Miss Covington should say 'I,'" Netta broke in, "for it is her present
entirely. Walter's trustees could not touch his money for the purpose,
and so she has done it herself."

"Hush, Netta! You should have said nothing about it," Hilda said; and
then, turning to Nibson, went on, "I am his nearest relative--his only
relative, in fact--besides being his guardian, and, therefore, naturally
I am the most interested in his happiness; and as, fortunately, I am
myself very well off, I can well afford the pleasure of helping those
who have been so good to him. Please do not say anything more about it.
Now we will go on deck for a few minutes, and leave you and your wife to
look round. We will show Joshua his cabin."

So saying, she and Netta went on deck. Joshua, led by Walter, was just
crossing the plank. He had not received a special invitation, and he
felt too shy to go on board with these ladies present. Walter, however,
had run across to him, and at last persuaded him to come.

"Well, Joshua," Hilda said, as she reached him, "what do you think of
the barge?"

"She is as good a one as ever I seed," the boy said.

"Well, Joshua, she belongs to Mr. Nibson."

"To Bill?" Joshua exclaimed. "You don't mean it, miss."

"I do mean it," she said; "this is his barge."

"Well, I shouldn't have thought that Bill was that artful!" Joshua
exclaimed almost indignantly. "Fancy his keeping it from the missis and
me that he had been and bought a new barge! But she is a fine one, there
aint no doubt about that."

"Come forward and look at your cabin, Joshua. I think you will say that
it is more comfortable than usual."

"Well, I am blowed!" the boy ejaculated, as he followed her down the
ladder and looked round. "Why, it is a palace, that is wot it is; it is
more comfortable than the master's cabin aft in most barges. And what a
bed! Why, it is soft enough for a hemperor."

"There are no sheets, Joshua. They told me that the men never use sheets
in barges."

"Lor' bless you! no, ma'am. We mostly stretch ourselves on the locker
and roll ourselves up in a blanket, if we are lucky enough to have one.
Why, I don't know as I shan't be afraid of getting into that bed, though
I does take a header in the water every morning. There are lockers on
both sides, too, and a basin. Who ever heard of such a thing as a basin?
Why, miss, we allus washes in the pail on deck."

"Well, I should think that it would be a good deal more comfortable to
wash down here in a basin on a cold morning."

"Well, I suppose it might, miss; it be sharp sometimes outside. Why,
there is oilcloth all over the floor, and a mat to wipe one's feet at
the bottom of the ladder, and a rug by the side of the bed! I never did
see such things. Bill must have gone clean off his chump. Well, I am
blessed!"

"It is Miss Covington who has given Bill the barge and seen to its being
fitted up," Netta said, "and she has done her best to make your cabin as
comfortable as possible, because you have been so kind to Walter."

"And I hope to do some more for you, Joshua, when I can see my way to do
it. You will find two or three suits of clothes for your work in those
lockers. I do not know that they will quite fit, but I dare say if they
don't Mrs. Nibson can alter them for you, and you will find shirts and
warm underclothing, and so on, in that cupboard."

Joshua sat down suddenly on a locker, completely overpowered with what
seemed to him the immensity of his possessions.

There the girls left him, and they went up on deck again.

Going aft, they sat down and talked for a few minutes, and were then
joined by Nibson and his wife. The latter still bore traces of tears on
her cheeks, and there was a suspicious redness about Bill's eyes.

"We won't try to say what we would like to say," the man began, "'cause
we could not say it, but we feels it just the same. Here we are with
everything man or woman could wish for, ready to hand."

"As I have said before, Nibson, please do not say anything more about
it. It has made me quite as happy to get this barge for you, and to make
it comfortable, as it can do you both to receive it. And now we will go
ashore."

In the house they found that tea was ready, save pouring the water into
the pot. A ham and a couple of cold chickens were on the table, and jam
and honey were specially provided for Walter. Joshua did not make one of
the party. After recovering from the contemplation of his own cabin he
had gone aft and remained in almost awe-struck admiration at the comfort
and conveniences there, until summoned by Bill to take his place and
help to get the new boat into the water, and to row the ladies down to
Hole Haven.



CHAPTER XXV.

A CRUSHING EXPOSURE.


The case of the application by John Simcoe for an order for the trustees
of the will of the late General Mathieson to carry its provisions into
effect was on the list of cases for the day. Tom Roberts was walking up
and down in Westminster Hall, waiting for it to come on, when he saw a
face he knew.

"Hullo, Sergeant Nichol, what brings you here?"

"Just curiosity, Roberts. I happened to see in the list of cases one of
Simcoe against the trustees of General Mathieson. 'What,' I said to
himself, 'Simcoe? That is the name of the chap who saved General
Mathieson's life.' I remember their being both brought into cantonment,
as well as if it were yesterday. I was with Paymaster-Sergeant
Sanderson, the fellow who bolted a short time afterwards with three
hundred pounds from the pay-chest and never was heard of afterwards. We
heard that Simcoe was drowned at sea; and sorry we all were, for a
braver fellow never stepped in shoe leather, and there was not a man
there who did not feel that he owed him a debt of gratitude for saving
the brigadier's life. So when I saw the paper I said to myself, 'Either
the man was not drowned at all, or he must be some relation of his. I
will go into court and have a look at him.'"

"It is the same man, but I am sorry to say that, though he may be as
brave as a lion, he is a rogue. But you can see him without going into
court. That is him, talking with the man in a wig and gown and that
little man in black, who is, I suppose, his lawyer. He knows me, so I
won't go near him; but you can walk as close as you like to him, and
take a good look at him."

Not content with looking once, Sergeant Nichol passed him backwards and
forwards three times. When he rejoined Roberts the latter saw that he
looked flushed and excited.

"What is it, sergeant?"

"I don't believe it is Simcoe at all," the sergeant said. "It is that
man Sanderson I was speaking about just now. Several of us noticed how
like he was to Simcoe, but the expression of their faces was different.
Simcoe was five or six years younger, and had a pleasant expression;
Sanderson had a hard face. None of us liked him, he was a man one could
never get friendly with; you might be in the same mess for years and not
know more about him at the end than you did at the beginning. Of course,
they would both be changed a good deal by this time, but I don't believe
that Simcoe would have grown so as to be like this man; and I am sure
that Sanderson would. He had a mark on him that I should know him by.
One day when he was a recruit his musket went off, and the ball went
through his left forearm. It was only a flesh wound, but it left a
blackened scar, and I will bet all that I am worth that if you turned up
that fellow's sleeve you would find it there."

"That is very important, sergeant. I will go and tell my young lady; she
is talking with her lawyers and Colonel Bulstrode at the other end of
the hall."

Hilda clapped her hands.

"What do you say now, Mr. Pettigrew? I was right, after all. Bring your
friend up, Roberts, and let us hear his story ourselves."

Sergeant Nichol was fetched, and repeated the story that he had told to
Roberts.

"Thank you very much, sergeant," the barrister said. "Please remain here
while we talk it over. What do you think of this, Mr. Pettigrew?"

"It would seem to explain the whole matter that has puzzled us so. I did
not tell you, because it was not in my opinion at all necessary to the
case, that Miss Covington has always maintained that the man was not
Simcoe, and so positive was she that her friend, Miss Purcell, went down
to Stowmarket to make inquiries. It was certainly believed by his
friends there that he was Simcoe, and this to my mind was quite
conclusive. But I am bound to say that it did not satisfy Miss
Covington."

"May I ask, Miss Covington, why you took up that opinion in the first
place?"

"Because I was convinced that he was not the sort of man who would have
risked his life for another. After Miss Purcell came back from
Stowmarket we found out that just before he called on my uncle he
advertised for relatives of the late John Simcoe, and that the
advertisement appeared not in the Suffolk papers only, but in the London
and provincial papers all over the country; and it was evident, if this
man was John Simcoe, he would not advertise all over England, instead of
going down to Stowmarket, where his family lived, and where he himself
had lived for years. He received a reply from an old lady, an aunt of
John Simcoe's, living there, went down and saluted her as his aunt, at
once offered to settle a pension of fifty pounds a year on her, and
after remaining for three days in her house, no doubt listening to her
gossip about all John Simcoe's friends, went and introduced himself to
them. There was probably some resemblance in height and figure, and an
absence of twenty years would have effected a change in his face, so
that, when it was found that his aunt unhesitatingly accepted him, the
people there had no doubt whatever that it was their old acquaintance.
Therefore, this in no way shook my belief that he was not the man.

"It turns out now, you see, that there was another man at Benares at the
time who was remarkably like him, and that this man was a scoundrel and
a thief. When he deserted no doubt he would take another name, and
having doubtless heard that John Simcoe was dead, and remembering the
remarks made as to his likeness to him, he was as likely to take that
name as any other, though probably not with any idea of making any
special use of it. When in England he may have heard General
Mathieson's name mentioned, and remembering that Simcoe had saved the
life of the General, may have thought that the name and the likeness
might enable him to personate the man. He first set about establishing
his identity by going down to Stowmarket, and after that it was easy. I
have thought it all over so many times that although it never struck me
that there might have been at Benares some man bearing a striking
resemblance to John Simcoe, all the rest is exactly as I had figured it
out to my mind. Now I will leave you, gentlemen, to decide what use you
will make of the discovery, while I go and tell my friends of it."

The seats allotted to the general public were empty, as a case of this
sort offered but slight attraction even to the loungers in the hall, but
a large number of barristers were present. It had been whispered about
that there were likely to be some unexpected developments in the case.
The counsel engaged on both sides were the leaders of the profession,
who could hardly have been expected to be retained in a mere case of a
formal application for an order for trustees to act upon a will.

"The facts of the case, my lord," the counsel who led for John Simcoe
commenced, "are simple, and we are at a loss to understand how the
trustees of the late General Mathieson can offer any opposition to our
obtaining the order asked for. Nothing can be more straightforward than
the facts. The late General Mathieson, early in March, 1852, made a
will, which was duly signed and witnessed, bequeathing, among other
legacies, the amount of ten thousand pounds to Mr. John Simcoe, as a
mark of his gratitude for his having saved him from a tiger some twenty
years before in India. The act was one of heroic bravery, and Mr. Simcoe
nearly lost his own life in saving that of the General."

He then related with dramatic power the incidents of the struggle.

"There is, then, no matter of surprise that this large legacy should
have been left to Mr. Simcoe by the General, who was a man of
considerable wealth. The bulk of the property was left to his grandson,
and in the event of his dying before coming of age it was to go to a
niece, a Miss Covington, to whom only a small legacy was left; she being
herself mistress of an estate and well provided for. Two months
afterwards the General, upon reflection, decided to enlarge his gift to
Mr. Simcoe, and he, therefore, in another will named him, in place of
Miss Covington, who was amply provided for, his heir in the event of his
grandson's death. I may say that the second will was not drawn up by the
solicitors who had framed the first will. Probably, as often happens,
the General preferred that the change he had effected should not be
known until after his death, even to his family solicitors. He,
therefore, went to a firm of equal respectability and standing, Messrs.
Halstead & James, who have made an affidavit that he interviewed them
personally on the matter, and gave them written instructions for drawing
up his will, and signed it in their presence.

"I may say that in all other respects, including the legacy of ten
thousand pounds, the wills were absolutely identical. The trustees,
after waiting until the last day permitted by law, have, to our client's
surprise, proved the first of these two wills, ignoring the second; on
what ground I am at a loss to understand. As my client is entitled to
ten thousand pounds under either will it might be thought that the
change would make little difference to him; but unhappily the
circumstances have entirely changed by the fact that the General's
grandson was lost or stolen on the day before his death, and in spite of
the most active efforts of the police, and the offer of large
rewards--my client, who was deeply affected by the loss of the child,
himself offering a thousand pounds for news of his whereabouts--nothing
was heard of him until two months after his disappearance, when his body
was found in the canal at Paddington, and after hearing evidence of
identification, and examining the clothes, which all parties agreed to
be those of the missing child, the jury returned a verdict that the body
was that of Walter Rivington, and that there was no proof of how he came
by his end.

"As the residence of General Mathieson was in Hyde Park Gardens, no
doubt the poor child strolled away from the care of a careless nurse,
came to the canal, and, walking near the bank, fell in and was drowned.
No one could have been more grieved than my client at this, and although
it practically put him into possession of a large property, he would, I
am sure, gladly forfeit a large portion of it rather than come into
possession of it in so melancholy a manner. I have not heard of the
slightest reason why the last will of General Mathieson should be put
aside. I believe that no question could arise as to his state of mind at
the time that it was made. It may be that a plea of undue influence may
be raised, but this, to those who knew the General, would appear absurd.
He was a man of active habits, and vigorous both in mind and body. Here
was no case of a man living in the house and influencing an old
gentleman approaching his dotage. They met only at clubs and at dinners;
and although the General was rightly and naturally attached to Simcoe,
he was certainly not a man to be influenced against his will. I beg,
therefore, to ask, my lord, that you will pronounce in favor of this
second will, and issue an order to the trustees to carry out its
provisions forthwith."

"But upon the face of your appeal to the court, Sir Henry, there is no
question as to the validity of the will you propound set up by the
trustees?"

"None, my lord. In fact, at the time the case was put down we were
ignorant that there would be any attempt on the part of the trustees to
dispute the second will, and that they should do so came upon us as a
surprise. However, at a consultation between my learned friend and
myself just before we came into court, it was agreed that, if your
lordship would permit it, we would take the two matters at once. One of
the trustees is a member of the firm who are and have been the family
lawyers of General Mathieson, and of his father before him, for a long
period of years. They are gentlemen of well-known honor, who are, I am
sure, as anxious as we are to obtain from your lordship a judicial
decision on which they can act."

"It is irregular," the judge said, "but as both parties seemed agreed
upon it, it will doubtless save much expense to the estate if the whole
matter can be settled at once. I will permit the whole matter to be
taken. Now, brother Herbert, we will hear you on the other side."

"I am sorry to say, my lord, that it will be impossible for me to
imitate my learned brother in the brevity with which he opened the case.
So far from the facts being extremely simple, they are, I may say, of a
very complicated nature. We own that we have no explanation to offer
with regard to the second will. It was strange, very strange, that
General Mathieson, a man of methodical habits, having just drawn up his
will, should go to another firm of solicitors and draw up a fresh one,
but the fact that the whole of the minor bequests are the same in the
two wills is certainly a very strong proof, as also is the fact that the
instructions for drafting the will were written by the General himself,
or, at any rate, by someone intimately acquainted with the contents of
that will, which we admit was difficult to believe could be the case, as
the will, from the time it was signed by the General, has not been out
of Messrs. Farmer & Pettigrew's hands until it was taken for probate the
other day.

"Now, my lord, I trust that you will allow me a certain amount of
license while I go into this somewhat singular story. Twenty-three years
ago, General Mathieson's life was saved in India by Mr. John Simcoe. Mr.
Simcoe himself was seriously wounded, and when he recovered somewhat he
was recommended by the surgeon who attended him to go down to Calcutta
at once and take a sea voyage. He did so, and embarked upon the ship
_Nepaul_, which was lost in a terrible gale in the Bay of Bengal a few
days later, with, as was supposed, all hands. Twenty years passed, and
then to the surprise, and I may say to the delight of the General, who
had much grieved over the loss of his preserver, Mr. Simcoe presented
himself. For a moment the General did not recognize him; but it was not
long before he became convinced of his identity, for he knew the
officers who had been at the station at the time, and was well up in the
gossip of the place, and the General at once hailed him as the man who
had saved his life, introduced him to many friends, got him put up at a
good club, and became, I may say, very fond of him. Mr. Simcoe brought
up a friend or two who had known him at Stowmarket, where he had an aunt
still living, and the result of all this was that the General requested
Messrs. Farmer & Pettigrew to draw up a new will bequeathing to John
Simcoe the sum of ten thousand pounds.

"Then came the singular episode of the second will. A fortnight later,
when at dinner at his club, the General was smitten with a strange kind
of fit, from which he recovered, but only lived for a few months, a
half-paralyzed invalid. He was attended during that time by Dr. Leeds--a
gentleman with a very high reputation, and now practicing in Harley
Street as a consulting physician. The General was brought up to town,
but broke down during the journey and died two days later.

"Now we come to the second strange fact in this strange case. A day
before his death his grandson, Walter Rivington, was missing. The
efforts of the police, aided by a number of private detectives, failed
to obtain any clew to the child until a body was found in the canal at
Paddington. That the body was dressed in some of the clothes worn by the
child when carried off was unquestionable; but the three persons who
knew Walter Rivington best, namely, Miss Covington, a friend of hers
named Miss Purcell, who had been all the summer assisting her to nurse
General Mathieson, and the child's own nurse, all declared that the body
was not that of the General's grandson. They were unable to adduce
anything in support of this belief beyond the fact that the hair of the
child found was short and to some extent bristly, whereas that of Walter
Rivington was long and silky. The jury, however, adopted the view of the
coroner that hair, however soft, when cut close to the skull will appear
more or less bristly, and gave a verdict to the effect that the body was
that of Walter Rivington. Miss Covington and her friends refused to
accept the verdict, and continued their search for the child.

"Without occupying your attention by going into details, my lord, I may
briefly say that a close watch was set on Mr. Simcoe, and it was found
that he was exceedingly intimate with a man of whom no one seemed to
know anything; and before I go further I will ask, my lord, that you
will give orders that Mr. Simcoe shall not leave the court until I have
finished."

"You are not asking without strong reason, I trust, brother Herbert?"

"Certainly not, my lord."

The order was, therefore, given. Simcoe grew very white in the face, but
otherwise maintained an air of stolid indifference.

"I will now go back for a moment, my lord. General Mathieson was
attended by three of the leading physicians in London at the time of his
seizure. The symptoms were so peculiar that in all their experience they
had not met a similar case. Dr. Leeds, however, differed from them, but
being their junior could not press his opinion; but he told them that
his opinion was that the fit was due to the administration of some drug
unknown to the British Pharmacopoeia, as the effects were precisely
similar to those in cases that he had read of in Africa and among other
savage people, where a poison of this kind was used by the native fetich
men or wizards. That opinion was confirmed rather than diminished by the
subsequent progress of the malady and the final death of his patient.
The one man who could benefit by the General's death was sitting next to
him at dinner at the time of his seizure, and that man, according to
his own statement, had been for many years knocking about among the
savages of the South Sea Islands and the islands of the Malay
Archipelago.

"I do not accuse John Simcoe of this crime, but I need hardly say that
the mere possibility of such a thing heightened the strong feeling
entertained by Miss Covington that Simcoe was the author of the
abduction of Walter Rivington. She and her devoted friend, Miss Purcell,
pursued their investigations with unflagging energy. They suspected that
the man who was very intimate with Simcoe had acted as his agent in the
matter, and a casual remark which was overheard in a singular manner,
which will be explained when the case goes into another court, that this
man was going to Tilbury, gave them a clew. Then, in a manner which many
persons might find it very hard to believe, Miss Covington learned from
a conversation between the two men, when together in a box at Her
Majesty's Theater, that the lad was in charge of a bargeman living near
the little village of Pitsea, in Essex. From that place, my lord, he was
brought last week, and Miss Covington will produce him in court, if your
lordship wishes to see him. Thus, then, it is immaterial to us whether
your lordship pronounces for the first or second will.

"But, my lord, I have not finished my story. Under neither of the wills
does that man take a farthing. The money was left to John Simcoe; and
John Simcoe was drowned over twenty years ago. The man standing over
there is one William Sanderson, a sergeant on the paymaster's staff at
Benares when the real John Simcoe was there. There happened to be a
resemblance between this man and him, so strong that it was generally
remarked upon by his comrades. This man Sanderson deserted soon after
Simcoe was drowned, taking with him three hundred pounds of the
paymaster's money. There was a sharp hue and cry after him, but he
managed to make his escape. All this is a certainty, but we may assume
without much difficulty that the man changed his name as soon as he got
to Calcutta, and nothing was more likely than that he should take the
name of John Simcoe, whom he had been told that he so strongly
resembled.

"For twenty years we hear nothing further of William Sanderson, nor do
we hear when he returned to London. Probably he, in some way or other,
came across the name of General Mathieson, and remembering what John
Simcoe had done for the General, he, on the strength of his personal
likeness, and the fact that he had, for twenty years, gone by that name,
determined to introduce himself to him, with the result you know. He was
clever enough to know that he must answer questions as to his history
before he left England, and it was desirable to obtain witnesses who
would, if necessary, certify to him. But he knew nothing of Simcoe's
birthplace or history; so he inserted advertisements in a great number
of London and provincial newspapers, saying that the relations of the
John Simcoe who was supposed to have been drowned in the Bay of Bengal
in the year 1832 would hear of something to their advantage at the
address given. A maiden aunt, living at Stowmarket, did reply. He went
down there at once, rushed into her arms and called her aunt, and told
her that it was his intention to make her comfortable for life by
allowing her fifty pounds per annum. He stayed with her for three days,
and during that time obtained from her gossip full details of his
boyhood and youth, his friends and their occupation, and he then went
out and called upon John Simcoe's old companions, all of whom took him
on his own word and his knowledge of the past and his recognition by his
aunt.

"So things might have remained. This man, after undergoing what
punishment might be awarded to him for his abduction of Walter
Rivington, could have claimed the ten thousand pounds left him by
General Mathieson, had it not been that, by what I cannot but consider a
dispensation of Providence, an old comrade of his, Staff-Sergeant
Nichol, was attracted to the hall this morning by seeing the name of
Simcoe and that of General Mathieson coupled in the cause list. This
man was in the hall talking to his professional advisers, and Nichol,
walking close to him, to see if he could recognize the man whom he had
last seen carried wounded into Benares, at once recognized in the
supposed John Simcoe the deserter and thief, Sergeant Sanderson. He
passed him two or three times, to assure himself that he was not
mistaken. Happily the deserter had a mark that was ineffaceable; he had,
as a recruit, let off his rifle, and the ball had passed through the
fleshy part of the forearm, leaving there, as Sergeant Nichol has
informed me, an ineffaceable scar, blackened by powder. If this man is
not Sergeant Sanderson, and is the long-lost John Simcoe, he has but to
pull up the sleeve of his left arm and show that it is without scar."

The man did not move; he was half stunned by the sudden and terrible
exposure of the whole of his plans. As he did not rise the counsel said:

"My lord, I must ask that you give an order for the arrest of this man,
William Sanderson, as a deserter and a thief; also upon the charge of
conspiring, with others, the abduction of Walter Rivington."

"Certainly, brother Herbert," the judge said, as he saw that the accused
made no motion to answer the challenge of the counsel. "Tipstaff, take
that man into custody on the charge of aiding in the abduction of Walter
Rivington. As to the other charge, I shall communicate with the
authorities of the India Office, and leave it to them to prosecute if
they choose to do so. After this lapse of years they may not think it
worth while to do so, especially as the man is in custody on a still
graver charge."

The tipstaff moved toward the man, who roused himself with a great
effort, snatched a small glass ball from a pocket inside his waistcoat,
thrust it between his teeth, and bit it into fragments, and, as the
officer laid his hand upon him, fell down in a fit. Dr. Leeds, who had
come in just as the trial began, rose to his feet.

"I am a doctor, my lord. My name is Leeds, and the opinion I held of
the cause of General Mathieson's death is now proved to be correct. The
symptoms of this fit are precisely similar to those of General
Mathieson's seizure, and this man has taken some of the very poison with
which he murdered the General."

For a minute Sanderson struggled in violent convulsions, then, as Dr.
Leeds bent over him, his head fell back suddenly. Dr. Leeds felt his
pulse and then rose to his feet.

"My lord," he said, "the case is finally closed. He has gone to a higher
judgment seat."



CHAPTER XXVI.

A LETTER FROM ABROAD.


Three days later, when Hilda returned from a drive, she found that Dr.
Leeds was in the drawing room with Miss Purcell and Netta, whose face at
once told what had happened.

"I have asked the question at last, Miss Covington," Dr. Leeds said,
coming forward to shake hands, "and Netta has consented to be my wife."

"I am heartily glad. That you would ask her I knew from what you told
me; and although I knew nothing of her thoughts in the matter, I felt
sure that she would hardly say no. Netta, darling, I am glad. Long ago I
thought and hoped that this would come about. It seemed to me that it
would be such a happy thing."

"Auntie said just the same thing," Netta said, smiling through her
tears, as Hilda embraced her. "As you both knew, you ought to have given
me some little hint; then I should not have been taken quite by
surprise. I might have pretended that I did not quite know my own mind,
and ask for time to think it over, instead of surrendering at once."

"But you did make a condition, Netta," Dr. Leeds laughed.

"Not a condition--a request, if you like, but certainly not a
condition."

"Netta said that her heart was greatly set on the work she had always
looked forward to, and she hoped that I should let her do something in
that way still. Of course I have heard you both talk over that institute
a score of times, and I was as much impressed as yourselves with the
enormous boon that it would be. I should be sorry indeed that the plan
should be given up. I need hardly say that in the half hour we have had
together we did not go deeply into it, but we will have a general
council about it, as soon as we can get down to plain matter of fact.
Netta can talk it over with you, and I can talk it over with her; and
then we can hold a meeting, with Miss Purcell as president of the
committee."

But matters were not finally settled until the ladies were established
at Holmwood with Walter, and Dr. Leeds came down for a short holiday of
two or three days. Then the arrangements were made to the satisfaction
of all parties. A large house, standing in grounds of considerable
extent, was to be taken in the suburbs of London, Netta was to be lady
superintendent, her aunt assisting in the domestic arrangements. Miss
Purcell insisted that her savings should be used for furnishing the
house. Hilda was to put in as a loan, for the others would receive it in
no other way, five thousand pounds for working capital. She determined
to take a house near the institute, so that she could run in and out and
assist Netta in teaching. Dr. Leeds was to drive up every morning to
Harley Street, where his work was over by two o'clock, except when he
had to attend consultations. No arrangements would be necessary about
the house, as this was the residence of his partner, and he only had his
own set of rooms there. He was steadily making his way, and to his
surprise already found that the report in the papers of his successful
diagnosis of the cause of General Mathieson's death had resulted in a
considerable addition to his practice, as a number of people consulted
him on obscure, and in many cases fanciful, maladies, in which they had
come to entertain the idea that they were suffering from the effects of
poison.

Now that she was going to assist at the institution and had no intention
of entering society again in London, Hilda had no longer any objection
to the power she had acquired being known, and, when questioned on the
subject of the trial, made no secret of the manner in which she had
made the discovery at the opera, and mentioned that she was going to
assist in an institution that was about to be established for teaching
the system by which she had benefited to deaf children.

The matter excited considerable interest in medical circles, and by the
time that the institution was ready the number of applicants was greater
than could be entertained. By this time Dr. Leeds and Netta were
married. The engagement was a short one, and the wedding took place
within two months of their going down into the country with Hilda. Being
anxious that as many as possible should participate in the benefits of
the system, the doors of the institute were at once opened to outdoor
pupils, who were boarded in the neighborhood. Six of Netta's pupils in
Hanover were brought over as teachers, and a few weeks from its being
opened the institution was in full swing. As Dr. Leeds wished that no
profit whatever be made by the undertaking, in which desire he was
cordially joined by his wife and Hilda, the charges were extremely low,
except in the case of children of wealthy parents, the surplus in their
case being devoted to taking in, free of payment, children of the poor.

Before Netta's marriage the interest in the Mathieson case was revived
by the appearance of a letter in the principal London papers. All search
for the man who had assisted Sanderson in the abduction of the child had
been fruitless. He had probably taken steps to receive information of
how matters were going on in court, and long before an officer arrived
at Rose Cottage with a warrant for his arrest he had left, and the
police had failed to find any trace of his subsequent movements. The
letter bore the simple heading, "United States," and ran as follows:

     "To the Editor.

     "SIR: I scarcely know why I write this letter, but I suppose even
     an habitual criminal does not care to remain under an unjust
     suspicion. I acknowledge that I come under that category, and that
     my life has been spent in crime, although never once has suspicion
     attached to me, until I became mixed up in the Simcoe-Mathieson
     affair. I wish to state solemnly that I was absolutely ignorant
     that the name John Simcoe was an assumed one. That was the name he
     gave me when I first knew him, and I believed that he was, as he
     represented, the man who had saved General Mathieson's life from a
     tiger. That he had subsequently lived a rough life in the South
     Seas I was aware, for he came to me with a message sent by a
     brother of mine when at the point of death. The man had been a chum
     of his out there and had gallantly carried him off when he had
     received the wound from which he subsequently died, in a fight with
     a large body of natives. I have absolute assurance that this was
     true, for my brother would never have sent anyone to me except
     under altogether extraordinary circumstances. The man called on me
     when he first returned to England, but I saw little of him for the
     first two years, and then he came to me and said that he had looked
     up General Mathieson, and that the General had taken to him, and
     put him down in his will for ten thousand pounds. He said that
     General Mathieson was worth a hundred thousand, and that he had
     planned to get the whole. Not being in any way squeamish, I agreed
     at once to help him in any way in my power.

     "His plan briefly was that he should obtain a fresh will,
     appointing him sole heir to the General's estate in the event of a
     boy of six or seven years old dying before he came of age. He had
     somehow obtained a copy of the General's will, and had notes in the
     General's handwriting. There were two things to be done, first that
     he should get instructions for the draft of the will drawn up in
     precise imitation of the General's handwriting, containing all the
     provisions of the former will, except that he was made heir in
     place of Miss Covington in the event of his grandson's death. There
     are a dozen men in London who can imitate handwriting so as to
     defy detection, and I introduced him to one of them, who drew up
     the instructions. Then I introduced him to a man who is the
     cleverest I know--and I know most of them--at getting up disguises.

     "He had already ascertained that the General had on one occasion
     been for a minute or two in the offices of Messrs. Halstead &
     James. They would, therefore, have a vague, and only a vague,
     remembrance of him. He had obtained a photograph of the General,
     who was about his own height and figure, and although there was no
     facial resemblance, the man, by the aid of this photograph,
     converted him into a likeness of the General that would pass with
     anyone who had seen him but once casually. So disguised, he went to
     the offices of these solicitors, told a plausible story, and gave
     them the written instructions. In the meantime he had been
     practicing the General's signature, and being a good penman had got
     to imitate it so accurately that I doubt if any expert would have
     suspected the forgery. The lawyers were completely deceived, and he
     had only to go there again three days later, in the same disguise,
     and sign the will.

     "So much for that. Then came the General's seizure. I most solemnly
     declare that I had no shadow of suspicion that it was not a natural
     fit, and that if I had had such a suspicion I should have chucked
     the whole thing over at once, for though, as I have said, an
     habitual criminal, that is to say, one who plans and directs what
     may be called sensational robberies, I have always insisted that
     the men who have worked under me should go unprovided with arms of
     any kind, and in no case in which I have been concerned has a drop
     of blood been shed. As to the carrying off of the boy, it was
     entirely managed by me. I had agents, men on whom I could rely, as
     a word of mine would have sent them to penal servitude for life. We
     knew that suspicion would fall upon Simcoe, and that it was
     important that he should be able to account for every hour of his
     time. Therefore, on the day the child was carried away he went down
     to Stowmarket, while I managed the affair and took the child down
     to the place where he was hidden in the Essex marshes. It was I
     also who made the arrangements by which the body of the child about
     the same age, who had died in the workhouse, was placed in the
     canal in some of the clothes the missing heir had worn when taken
     away. I owe it to myself to say that in all this there was no
     question of payment between this man and myself. I am well off, and
     I acted simply to oblige a man who had stood by the side of my
     brother to death. Whether his name was Simcoe or Sanderson mattered
     nothing to me; I should have aided him just the same. But I did
     believe that it was Simcoe, and that, having risked his life to
     save that of General Mathieson, he had as good a right as another
     to his inheritance. He never hinted to me that it would be a good
     thing if the child was got rid of altogether. He knew well enough
     that if he had done so I would not only have had nothing to do with
     it, but that I would have taken steps to have put a stop to his
     game altogether. Now I have only to add that, having fairly stated
     the part that I bore in this affair, I have nothing more to say,
     except that I have now retired from business altogether, and that
     this is the last that the world will hear of William Sanderson's
     accomplice."

For four or five years Hilda Covington devoted much of her time to
assisting Netta Leeds in her work, but at the end of that time she
married. Her husband was a widower, whose wife had died in her first
confinement. His name was Desmond. He sold out of the army, and Hilda
never had reason to regret that she had played the part of a gypsy woman
at Lady Moulton's fête.

Walter grew up strong and healthy, and is one of the most popular men of
his county. His early love for the water developed, and he served his
time as a midshipman in one of Her Majesty's ships, and passed as a
lieutenant. He then retired from the service and bought a fine yacht,
which he himself commanded. His friends were never able to understand
why he allowed his nominal skipper, William Nibson, to take his wife on
board, and gave up two cabins for their accommodation. The barge
_Walter_ passed into the hands of Joshua, who, for many years, sailed
her most successfully. He is now an elderly man, and his four sons are
skippers of as many fine barges, all his own property.


THE END.



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operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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