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Title: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Author: Hornung, E. W. (Ernest William)
Language: English
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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 "Dead Men Tell No Tales" ***

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DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

By E. W. Hornung



CONTENTS

     Chapter I      Love on the Ocean

     Chapter II     The Mysterious Cargo

     Chapter III    To the Water’s Edge

     Chapter IV     The Silent Sea

     Chapter V      My Reward

     Chapter VI     The Sole Survivor

     Chapter V      I Find a Friend

     Chapter VI     A Small Precaution

     Chapter VII    My Convalescent Home

     Chapter VIII   Wine and Weakness

     Chapter IX     I Live Again

     Chapter X      My Lady’s Bidding

     Chapter XI     The Longest Day of My Life

     Chapter XII    In the Garden

     Chapter XIII   First Blood

     Chapter XIV    A Deadlock

     Chapter XV     When Thieves Fall Out

     Chapter XVI    A Man of Many Murders

     Chapter XVII   My Great Hour

     Chapter XVIII  The Statement of Francis Rattray



CHAPTER I. LOVE ON THE OCEAN


Nothing is so easy as falling in love on a long sea voyage, except
falling out of love. Especially was this the case in the days when the
wooden clippers did finely to land you in Sydney or in Melbourne under
the four full months. We all saw far too much of each other, unless,
indeed, we were to see still more. Our superficial attractions mutually
exhausted, we lost heart and patience in the disappointing strata
which lie between the surface and the bed-rock of most natures. My own
experience was confined to the round voyage of the Lady Jermyn, in the
year 1853. It was no common experience, as was only too well known
at the time. And I may add that I for my part had not the faintest
intention of falling in love on board; nay, after all these years,
let me confess that I had good cause to hold myself proof against such
weakness. Yet we carried a young lady, coming home, who, God knows,
might have made short work of many a better man!

Eva Denison was her name, and she cannot have been more than nineteen
years of age. I remember her telling me that she had not yet come out,
the very first time I assisted her to promenade the poop. My own name
was still unknown to her, and yet I recollect being quite fascinated by
her frankness and self-possession. She was exquisitely young, and yet
ludicrously old for her years; had been admirably educated, chiefly
abroad, and, as we were soon to discover, possessed accomplishments
which would have made the plainest old maid a popular personage on board
ship. Miss Denison, however, was as beautiful as she was young, with the
bloom of ideal health upon her perfect skin. She had a wealth of lovely
hair, with strange elusive strands of gold among the brown, that drowned
her ears (I thought we were to have that mode again?) in sunny ripples;
and a soul greater than the mind, and a heart greater than either, lay
sleeping somewhere in the depths of her grave, gray eyes.

We were at sea together so many weeks. I cannot think what I was made of
then!

It was in the brave old days of Ballarat and Bendigo, when ship after
ship went out black with passengers and deep with stores, to bounce home
with a bale or two of wool, and hardly hands enough to reef topsails
in a gale. Nor was this the worst; for not the crew only, but, in many
cases, captain and officers as well, would join in the stampede to the
diggings; and we found Hobson’s Bay the congested asylum of all manner
of masterless and deserted vessels. I have a lively recollection of our
skipper’s indignation when the pilot informed him of this disgraceful
fact. Within a fortnight, however, I met the good man face to face upon
the diggings. It is but fair to add that the Lady Jermyn lost every
officer and man in the same way, and that the captain did obey tradition
to the extent of being the last to quit his ship. Nevertheless, of
all who sailed by her in January, I alone was ready to return at the
beginning of the following July.

I had been to Ballarat. I had given the thing a trial. For the most
odious weeks I had been a licensed digger on Black Hill Flats; and I had
actually failed to make running expenses. That, however, will surprise
you the less when I pause to declare that I have paid as much as four
shillings and sixpence for half a loaf of execrable bread; that my mate
and I, between us, seldom took more than a few pennyweights of gold-dust
in any one day; and never once struck pick into nugget, big or little,
though we had the mortification of inspecting the “mammoth masses” of
which we found the papers full on landing, and which had brought the
gold-fever to its height during our very voyage. With me, however, as
with many a young fellow who had turned his back on better things, the
malady was short-lived. We expected to make our fortunes out of hand,
and we had reckoned without the vermin and the villainy which rendered
us more than ever impatient of delay. In my fly-blown blankets I dreamt
of London until I hankered after my chambers and my club more than after
much fine gold. Never shall I forget my first hot bath on getting back
to Melbourne; it cost five shillings, but it was worth five pounds, and
is altogether my pleasantest reminiscence of Australia.

There was, however, one slice of luck in store for me. I found the dear
old Lady Jermyn on the very eve of sailing, with a new captain, a new
crew, a handful of passengers (chiefly steerage), and nominally no cargo
at all. I felt none the less at home when I stepped over her familiar
side.

In the cuddy we were only five, but a more uneven quintette I defy you
to convene. There was a young fellow named Ready, packed out for
his health, and hurrying home to die among friends. There was an
outrageously lucky digger, another invalid, for he would drink nothing
but champagne with every meal and at any minute of the day, and I have
seen him pitch raw gold at the sea-birds by the hour together. Miss
Denison was our only lady, and her step-father, with whom she was
travelling, was the one man of distinction on board. He was a Portuguese
of sixty or thereabouts, Senhor Joaquin Santos by name; at first it was
incredible to me that he had no title, so noble was his bearing; but
very soon I realized that he was one of those to whom adventitious
honors can add no lustre. He treated Miss Denison as no parent ever
treated a child, with a gallantry and a courtliness quite beautiful to
watch, and not a little touching in the light of the circumstances under
which they were travelling together. The girl had gone straight from
school to her step-father’s estate on the Zambesi, where, a few months
later, her mother had died of the malaria. Unable to endure the place
after his wife’s death, Senhor Santos had taken ship to Victoria, there
to seek fresh fortune with results as indifferent as my own. He was
now taking Miss Denison back to England, to make her home with other
relatives, before he himself returned to Africa (as he once told me) to
lay his bones beside those of his wife. I hardly know which of the pair
I see more plainly as I write--the young girl with her soft eyes and her
sunny hair, or the old gentleman with the erect though wasted figure,
the noble forehead, the steady eye, the parchment skin, the white
imperial, and the eternal cigarette between his shrivelled lips.

No need to say that I came more in contact with the young girl. She was
not less charming in my eyes because she provoked me greatly as I came
to know her intimately. She had many irritating faults. Like most young
persons of intellect and inexperience, she was hasty and intolerant in
nearly all her judgments, and rather given to being critical in a crude
way. She was very musical, playing the guitar and singing in a style
that made our shipboard concerts vastly superior to the average of their
order; but I have seen her shudder at the efforts of less gifted folks
who were also doing their best; and it was the same in other directions
where her superiority was less specific. The faults which are most
exasperating in another are, of course, one’s own faults; and I confess
that I was very critical of Eva Denison’s criticisms. Then she had
a little weakness for exaggeration, for unconscious egotism in
conversation, and I itched to tell her so. I felt so certain that the
girl had a fine character underneath, which would rise to noble heights
in stress or storm: all the more would I long now to take her in hand
and mould her in little things, and anon to take her in my arms just as
she was. The latter feeling was resolutely crushed. To be plain, I had
endured what is euphemistically called “disappointment” already; and,
not being a complete coxcomb, I had no intention of courting a second.

Yet, when I write of Eva Denison, I am like to let my pen outrun my
tale. I lay the pen down, and a hundred of her sayings ring in my
ears, with my own contradictious comments, that I was doomed so soon
to repent; a hundred visions of her start to my eyes; and there is the
trade-wind singing in the rigging, and loosening a tress of my darling’s
hair, till it flies like a tiny golden streamer in the tropic sun.
There, it is out! I have called her what she was to be in my heart ever
after. Yet at the time I must argue with her--with her! When all my
courage should have gone to love-making, I was plucking it up to sail as
near as I might to plain remonstrance! I little dreamt how the ghost of
every petty word was presently to return and torture me.

So it is that I can see her and hear her now on a hundred separate
occasions beneath the awning beneath the stars on deck below at noon
or night but plainest of all in the evening of the day we signalled
the Island of Ascension, at the close of that last concert on the
quarter-deck. The watch are taking down the extra awning; they are
removing the bunting and the foot-lights. The lanterns are trailed
forward before they are put out; from the break of the poop we watch the
vivid shifting patch of deck that each lights up on its way. The stars
are very sharp in the vast violet dome above our masts; they shimmer on
the sea; and our trucks describe minute orbits among the stars, for the
trades have yet to fail us, and every inch of canvas has its fill of the
gentle steady wind. It is a heavenly night. The peace of God broods upon
His waters. No jarring note offends the ear. In the forecastle a voice
is humming a song of Eva Denison’s that has caught the fancy of the men;
the young girl who sang it so sweetly not twenty minutes since who
sang it again and again to please the crew she alone is at war with our
little world she alone would head a mutiny if she could.

“I hate the captain!” she says again.

“My dear Miss Denison!” I begin; for she has always been severe upon our
bluff old man, and it is not the spirit of contrariety alone which makes
me invariably take his part. Coarse he may be, and not one whom the
owners would have chosen to command the Lady Jermyn; a good seaman none
the less, who brought us round the Horn in foul weather without losing
stitch or stick. I think of the ruddy ruffian in his dripping oilskins,
on deck day and night for our sakes, and once more I must needs take his
part; but Miss Denison stops me before I can get out another word.

“I am not dear, and I’m not yours,” she cries. “I’m only a
school-girl--you have all but told me so before to-day! If I were a
man--if I were you--I should tell Captain Harris what I thought of him!”

“Why? What has he done now?”

“Now? You know how rude he was to poor Mr. Ready this very afternoon!”

It was true. He had been very rude indeed. But Ready also had been at
fault. It may be that I was always inclined to take an opposite view,
but I felt bound to point this out, and at any cost.

“You mean when Ready asked him if we were out of our course? I must
say I thought it was a silly question to put. It was the same the other
evening about the cargo. If the skipper says we’re in ballast why not
believe him? Why repeat steerage gossip, about mysterious cargoes, at
the cuddy table? Captains are always touchy about that sort of thing. I
wasn’t surprised at his letting out.”

My poor love stares at me in the starlight. Her great eyes flash their
scorn. Then she gives a little smile--and then a little nod--more
scornful than all the rest.

“You never are surprised, are you, Mr. Cole?” says she. “You were not
surprised when the wretch used horrible language in front of me! You
were not surprised when it was a--dying man--whom he abused!”

I try to soothe her. I agree heartily with her disgust at the epithets
employed in her hearing, and towards an invalid, by the irate skipper.
But I ask her to make allowances for a rough, uneducated man, rather
clumsily touched upon his tender spot. I shall conciliate her presently;
the divine pout (so childish it was!) is fading from her lips; the
starlight is on the tulle and lace and roses of her pretty evening
dress, with its festooned skirts and obsolete flounces; and I am
watching her, ay, and worshipping her, though I do not know it yet. And
as we stand there comes another snatch from the forecastle:--

       “What will you do, love, when I am going.
            With white sail flowing,
            The seas beyond?
        What will you do, love--”

“They may make the most of that song,” says Miss Denison grimly; “it’s
the last they’ll have from me. Get up as many more concerts as you like.
I won’t sing at another unless it’s in the fo’c’sle. I’ll sing to the
men, but not to Captain Harris. He didn’t put in an appearance tonight.
He shall not have another chance of insulting me.”

Was it her vanity that was wounded after all? “You forget,” said I,
“that you would not answer when he addressed you at dinner.”

“I should think I wouldn’t, after the way he spoke to Mr. Ready; and he
too agitated to come to table, poor fellow!”

“Still, the captain felt the open slight.”

“Then he shouldn’t have used such language in front of me.”

“Your father felt it, too, Miss Denison.”

I hear nothing plainer than her low but quick reply:

“Mr. Cole, my father has been dead many; many years; he died before I
can remember. That man only married my poor mother. He sympathizes
with Captain Harris--against me; no father would do that. Look at them
together now! And you take his side, too; oh! I have no patience with
any of you--except poor Mr. Ready in his berth.”

“But you are not going.”

“Indeed I am. I am tired of you all.”

And she was gone with angry tears for which I blamed myself as I fell to
pacing the weather side of the poop--and so often afterwards! So often,
and with such unavailing bitterness!

Senhor Santos and the captain were in conversation by the weather rail.
I fancied poor old Harris eyed me with suspicion, and I wished he had
better cause. The Portuguese, however, saluted me with his customary
courtesy, and I thought there was a grave twinkle in his steady eye.

“Are you in deesgrace also, friend Cole?” he inquired in his all but
perfect English.

“More or less,” said I ruefully.

He gave the shrug of his country--that delicate gesture which is done
almost entirely with the back--a subtlety beyond the power of British
shoulders.

“The senhora is both weelful and pivish,” said he, mixing the two vowels
which (with the aspirate) were his only trouble with our tongue. “It is
great grif to me to see her growing so unlike her sainted mother!”

He sighed, and I saw his delicate fingers forsake the cigarette they
were rolling to make the sacred sign upon his breast. He was always
smoking one cigarette and making another; as he lit the new one the glow
fell upon a strange pin that he wore, a pin with a tiny crucifix inlaid
in mosaic. So the religious cast of Senhor Santos was brought twice home
to me in the same moment, though, to be sure, I had often been struck
by it before. And it depressed me to think that so sweet a child as Eva
Denison should have spoken harshly of so good a man as her step-father,
simply because he had breadth enough to sympathize with a coarse old
salt like Captain Harris.

I turned in, however, and I cannot say the matter kept me awake in the
separate state-room which was one luxury of our empty saloon. Alas? I
was a heavy sleeper then.



CHAPTER II. THE MYSTERIOUS CARGO


“Wake up, Cole! The ship’s on fire!”

It was young Ready’s hollow voice, as cool, however, as though he were
telling me I was late for breakfast. I started up and sought him wildly
in the darkness.

“You’re joking,” was my first thought and utterance; for now he was
lighting my candle, and blowing out the match with a care that seemed in
itself a contradiction.

“I wish I were,” he answered. “Listen to that!”

He pointed to my cabin ceiling; it quivered and creaked; and all at once
I was as a deaf man healed.

One gets inured to noise at sea, but to this day it passes me how even I
could have slept an instant in the abnormal din which I now heard raging
above my head. Sea-boots stamped; bare feet pattered; men bawled; women
shrieked; shouts of terror drowned the roar of command.

“Have we long to last?” I asked, as I leaped for my clothes.

“Long enough for you to dress comfortably. Steady, old man! It’s only
just been discovered; they may get it under. The panic’s the worst part
at present, and we’re out of that.”

But was Eva Denison? Breathlessly I put the question; his answer was
reassuring. Miss Denison was with her step-father on the poop. “And both
of ‘em as cool as cucumbers,” added Ready.

They could not have been cooler than this young man, with death at the
bottom of his bright and sunken eyes. He was of the type which is all
muscle and no constitution; athletes one year, dead men the next; but
until this moment the athlete had been to me a mere and incredible
tradition. In the afternoon I had seen his lean knees totter under the
captain’s fire. Now, at midnight--the exact time by my watch--it was as
if his shrunken limbs had expanded in his clothes; he seemed hardly to
know his own flushed face, as he caught sight of it in my mirror.

“By Jove!” said he, “this has put me in a fine old fever; but I don’t
know when I felt in better fettle. If only they get it under! I’ve not
looked like this all the voyage.”

And he admired himself while I dressed in hot haste: a fine young
fellow; not at all the natural egotist, but cast for death by the
doctors, and keenly incredulous in his bag of skin. It revived one’s
confidence to hear him talk. But he forgot himself in an instant, and
gave me a lead through the saloon with a boyish eagerness that made me
actually suspicious as I ran. We were nearing the Line. I recalled the
excesses of my last crossing, and I prepared for some vast hoax at the
last moment. It was only when we plunged upon the crowded quarter-deck,
and my own eyes read lust of life and dread of death in the starting
eyes of others, that such lust and such dread consumed me in my turn, so
that my veins seemed filled with fire and ice.

To be fair to those others, I think that the first wild panic was
subsiding even then; at least there was a lull, and even a reaction in
the right direction on the part of the males in the second class and
steerage. A huge Irishman at their head, they were passing buckets
towards the after-hold; the press of people hid the hatchway from
us until we gained the poop; but we heard the buckets spitting and a
hose-pipe hissing into the flames below; and we saw the column of white
vapor rising steadily from their midst.

At the break of the poop stood Captain Harris, his legs planted wide
apart, very vigorous, very decisive, very profane. And I must confess
that the shocking oaths which had brought us round the Horn inspired a
kind of confidence in me now. Besides, even from the poop I could see
no flames. But the night was as beautiful as it had been an hour or two
back; the stars as brilliant, the breeze even more balmy, the sea even
more calm; and we were hove-to already, against the worst.

In this hour of peril the poop was very properly invaded by all classes
of passengers, in all manner of incongruous apparel, in all stages of
fear, rage, grief and hysteria; as we made our way among this motley
nightmare throng, I took Ready by the arm.

“The skipper’s a brute,” said I, “but he’s the right brute in the right
place to-night, Ready!”

“I hope he may be,” was the reply. “But we were off our course this
afternoon; and we were off it again during the concert, as sure as we’re
not on it now.”

His tone made me draw him to the rail.

“But how do you know? You didn’t have another look, did you?”

“Lots of looks-at the stars. He couldn’t keep me from consulting them;
and I’m just as certain of it as I’m certain that we’ve a cargo aboard
which we’re none of us supposed to know anything about.”

The latter piece of gossip was, indeed, all over the ship; but this
allusion to it struck me as foolishly irrelevant and frivolous. As to
the other matter, I suggested that the officers would have had more to
say about it than Ready, if there had been anything in it.

“Officers be damned!” cried our consumptive, with a sound man’s vigor.
“They’re ordinary seamen dressed up; I don’t believe they’ve a second
mate’s certificate between them, and they’re frightened out of their
souls.”

“Well, anyhow, the skipper isn’t that.”

“No; he’s drunk; he can shout straight, but you should hear him try to
speak.”

I made my way aft without rejoinder. “Invalid’s pessimism,” was my
private comment. And yet the sick man was whole for the time being; the
virile spirit was once more master of the recreant members; and it
was with illogical relief that I found those I sought standing almost
unconcernedly beside the binnacle.

My little friend was, indeed, pale enough, and her eyes great with
dismay; but she stood splendidly calm, in her travelling cloak and
bonnet, and with all my soul I hailed the hardihood with which I had
rightly credited my love. Yes! I loved her then. It had come home to me
at last, and I no longer denied it in my heart. In my innocence and my
joy I rather blessed the fire for showing me her true self and my own;
and there I stood, loving her openly with my eyes (not to lose another
instant), and bursting to tell her so with my lips.

But there also stood Senhor Santos, almost precisely as I had seen him
last, cigarette, tie-pin, and all. He wore an overcoat, however, and
leaned upon a massive ebony cane, while he carried his daughter’s guitar
in its case, exactly as though they were waiting for a train. Moreover,
I thought that for the first time he was regarding me with no very
favoring glance.

“You don’t think it serious?” I asked him abruptly, my heart still
bounding with the most incongruous joy.

He gave me his ambiguous shrug; and then, “A fire at sea is surely
sirrious,” said he.

“Where did it break out?”

“No one knows; it may have come of your concert.”

“But they are getting the better of it?”

“They are working wonders so far, senhor.”

“You see, Miss Denison,” I continued ecstatically, “our rough old
diamond of a skipper is the right man in the right place after all. A
tight man in a tight place, eh?” and I laughed like an idiot in their
calm grave faces.

“Senhor Cole is right,” said Santos, “although his ‘ilarity sims a
leetle out of place. But you must never spik against Captain ‘Arrees
again, menma.”

“I never will,” the poor child said; yet I saw her wince whenever the
captain raised that hoarse voice of his in more and more blasphemous
exhortation; and I began to fear with Ready that the man was drunk.

My eyes were still upon my darling, devouring her, revelling in her,
when suddenly I saw her hand twitch within her step-father’s arm. It was
an answering start to one on his part. The cigarette was snatched from
his lips. There was a commotion forward, and a cry came aft, from mouth
to mouth:

“The flames! The flames!”

I turned, and caught their reflection on the white column of smoke and
steam. I ran forward, and saw them curling and leaping in the hell-mouth
of the hold.

The quarter-deck now staged a lurid scene: that blazing trap-door in
its midst; and each man there a naked demon madly working to save his
roasting skin. Abaft the mainmast the deck-pump was being ceaselessly
worked by relays of the passengers; dry blankets were passed forward,
soaking blankets were passed aft, and flung flat into the furnace one
after another. These did more good than the pure water: the pillar of
smoke became blacker, denser: we were at a crisis; a sudden hush denoted
it; even our hoarse skipper stood dumb.

I had rushed down into the waist of the ship--blushing for my delay--and
already I was tossing blankets with the rest. Looking up in an enforced
pause, I saw Santos whispering in the skipper’s ear, with the expression
of a sphinx but no lack of foreign gesticulation--behind them a fringe
of terror-stricken faces, parted at that instant by two more figures,
as wild and strange as any in that wild, strange scene. One was our
luckless lucky digger, the other a gigantic Zambesi nigger, who for
days had been told off to watch him; this was the servant (or rather the
slave) of Senhor Santos.

The digger planted himself before the captain. His face was reddened by
a fire as consuming as that within the bowels of our gallant ship. He
had a huge, unwieldy bundle under either arm.

“Plain question--plain answer,” we heard him stutter. “Is there any ----
chance of saving this ---- ship?”

His adjectives were too foul for print; they were given with such a
special effort at distinctness, however, that I was smiling one instant,
and giving thanks the next that Eva Denison had not come forward with
her guardian. Meanwhile the skipper had exchanged a glance with Senhor
Santos, and I think we all felt that he was going to tell us the truth.

He told it in two words--“Very little.”

Then the first individual tragedy was enacted before every eye. With
a yell the drunken maniac rushed to the rail. The nigger was at his
heels--he was too late. Uttering another and more piercing shriek, the
madman was overboard at a bound; one of his bundles preceded him; the
other dropped like a cannon-ball on the deck.

The nigger caught it up and carried it forward to the captain.

Harris held up his hand. We were still before we had fairly found our
tongues. His words did run together a little, but he was not drunk.

“Men and women,” said he, “what I told that poor devil is Gospel truth;
but I didn’t tell him we’d no chance of saving our lives, did I? Not
me, because we have! Keep your heads and listen to me. There’s two
good boats on the davits amidships; the chief will take one, the second
officer the other; and there ain’t no reason why every blessed one of
you shouldn’t sleep in Ascension to-morrow night. As for me, let me see
every soul off of my ship and perhaps I may follow; but by the God that
made you, look alive! Mr. Arnott--Mr. McClellan--man them boats and
lower away. You can’t get quit o’ the ship too soon, an’ I don’t mind
tellin’ you why. I’ll tell you the worst, an’ then you’ll know. There’s
been a lot o’ gossip goin’, gossip about my cargo. I give out as I’d
none but ship’s stores and ballast, an’ I give out a lie. I don’t mind
tellin’ you now. I give out a cussed lie, but I give it out for the
good o’ the ship! What was the use o’ frightenin’ folks? But where’s the
sense in keepin’ it back now? We have a bit of a cargo,” shouted Harris;
“and it’s gunpowder--every damned ton of it!”

The effect of this announcement may be imagined; my hand has not the
cunning to reproduce it on paper; and if it had, it would shrink from
the task. Mild men became brutes, brutal men, devils, women--God help
them!--shrieking beldams for the most part. Never shall I forget them
with their streaming hair, their screaming open mouths, and the cruel
ascending fire glinting on their starting eyeballs!

Pell-mell they tumbled down the poop-ladders; pell-mell they raced
amidships past that yawning open furnace; the pitch was boiling through
the seams of the crackling deck; they slipped and fell upon it, one over
another, and the wonder is that none plunged headlong into the flames.
A handful remained on the poop, cowering and undone with terror. Upon
these turned Captain Harris, as Ready and I, stemming the torrent of
maddened humanity, regained the poop ourselves.

“For’ard with ye!” yelled the skipper. “The powder’s underneath you in
the lazarette!”

They were gone like hunted sheep. And now abaft the flaming hatchway
there were only we four surviving saloon passengers, the captain, his
steward, the Zambesi negro, and the quarter-master at the wheel. The
steward and the black I observed putting stores aboard the captain’s gig
as it overhung the water from the stern davits.

“Now, gentlemen,” said Harris to the two of us, “I must trouble you to
step forward with the rest. Senhor Santos insists on taking his chance
along with the young lady in my gig. I’ve told him the risk, but he
insists, and the gig’ll hold no more.”

“But she must have a crew, and I can row. For God’s sake take me,
captain!” cried I; for Eva Denison sat weeping in her deck chair, and my
heart bled faint at the thought of leaving her, I who loved her so, and
might die without ever telling her my love! Harris, however, stood firm.

“There’s that quartermaster and my steward, and Jose the nigger,” said
he. “That’s quite enough, Mr. Cole, for I ain’t above an oar myself;
but, by God, I’m skipper o’ this here ship, and I’ll skip her as long as
I remain aboard!”

I saw his hand go to his belt; I saw the pistols stuck there for
mutineers. I looked at Santos. He answered me with his neutral shrug,
and, by my soul, he struck a match and lit a cigarette in that hour of
life and death! Then last I looked at Ready; and he leant invertebrate
over the rail, gasping pitiably from his exertions in regaining the
poop, a dying man once more. I pointed out his piteous state.

“At least,” I whispered, “you won’t refuse to take him?”

“Will there be anything to take?” said the captain brutally.

Santos advanced leisurely, and puffed his cigarette over the poor wasted
and exhausted frame.

“It is for you to decide, captain,” said he cynically; “but this one
will make no deeference. Yes, I would take him. It will not be far,” he
added, in a tone that was not the less detestable for being lowered.

“Take them both!” moaned little Eva, putting in her first and last sweet
word.

“Then we all drown, Evasinha,” said her stepfather. “It is impossible.”

“We’re too many for her as it is,” said the captain. “So for’ard with
ye, Mr. Cole, before it’s too late.”

But my darling’s brave word for me had fired my blood, and I turned
with equal resolution on Harris and on the Portuguese. “I will go like
a lamb,” said I, “if you will first give me five minutes’ conversation
with Miss Denison. Otherwise I do not go; and as for the gig, you may
take me or leave me, as you choose.”

“What have you to say to her?” asked Santos, coming up to me, and again
lowering his voice.

I lowered mine still more. “That I love her!” I answered in a soft
ecstasy. “That she may remember how I loved her, if I die!”

His shoulders shrugged a cynical acquiescence.

“By all mins, senhor; there is no harm in that.”

I was at her side before another word could pass his withered lips.

“Miss Denison, will you grant me five minutes’, conversation? It may be
the last that we shall ever have together!”

Uncovering her face, she looked at me with a strange terror in her great
eyes; then with a questioning light that was yet more strange, for in it
there was a wistfulness I could not comprehend. She suffered me to take
her hand, however, and to lead her unresisting to the weather rail.

“What is it you have to say?” she asked me in her turn. “What is it that
you--think?”

Her voice fell as though she must have the truth.

“That we have all a very good chance,” said I heartily.

“Is that all?” cried Eva, and my heart sank at her eager manner.

She seemed at once disappointed and relieved. Could it be possible she
dreaded a declaration which she had foreseen all along? My evil first
experience rose up to warn me. No, I would not speak now; it was no
time. If she loved me, it might make her love me less; better to trust
to God to spare us both.

“Yes, it is all,” I said doggedly.

She drew a little nearer, hesitating. It was as though her
disappointment had gained on her relief.

“Do you know what I thought you were going to say?”

“No, indeed.”

“Dare I tell you?”

“You can trust me.”

Her pale lips parted. Her great eyes shone. Another instant, and she had
told me that which I would have given all but life itself to know. But
in that tick of time a quick step came behind me, and the light went out
of the sweet face upturned to mine.

“I cannot! I must not! Here is--that man!”

Senhor Santos was all smiles and rings of pale-blue smoke.

“You will be cut off, friend Cole,” said he. “The fire is spreading.”

“Let it spread!” I cried, gazing my very soul into the young girl’s
eyes. “We have not finished our conversation.

“We have!” said she, with sudden decision. “Go--go--for my sake--for
your own sake--go at once!”

She gave me her hand. I merely clasped it. And so I left her at the
rail-ah, heaven! how often we had argued on that very spot! So I left
her, with the greatest effort of all my life (but one); and yet in
passing, full as my heart was of love and self, I could not but lay a
hand on poor Ready’s shoulders.

“God bless you, old boy!” I said to him.

He turned a white face that gave me half an instant’s pause.

“It’s all over with me this time,” he said. “But, I say, I was right
about the cargo?”

And I heard a chuckle as I reached the ladder; but Ready was no longer
in my mind; even Eva was driven out of it, as I stood aghast on the
top-most rung.



CHAPTER III. TO THE WATER’S EDGE


It was not the new panic amidships that froze my marrow; it was not that
the pinnace hung perpendicularly by the fore-tackle, and had shot out
those who had swarmed aboard her before she was lowered, as a cart
shoots a load of bricks. It was bad enough to see the whole boat-load
struggling, floundering, sinking in the sea; for selfish eyes (and which
of us is all unselfish at such a time?) there was a worse sight yet; for
I saw all this across an impassable gulf of fire.

The quarter-deck had caught: it was in flames to port and starboard of
the flaming hatch; only fore and aft of it was the deck sound to the
lips of that hideous mouth, with the hundred tongues shooting out and
up.

Could I jump it there? I sprang down and looked. It was only a few feet
across; but to leap through that living fire was to leap into eternity.
I drew back instantly, less because my heart failed me, I may truly say,
than because my common sense did not.

Some were watching me, it seemed, across this hell. “The bulwarks!” they
screamed. “Walk along the bulwarks!” I held up my hand in token that
I heard and understood and meant to act. And as I did their bidding I
noticed what indeed had long been apparent to idler eyes: the wind was
not; we had lost our southeast trades; the doomed ship was rolling in a
dead calm.

Rolling, rolling, rolling so that it seemed minutes before I dared to
move an inch. Then I tried it on my hands and knees, but the scorched
bulwarks burned me to the bone. And then I leapt up, desperate with the
pain; and, with my tortured hands spread wide to balance me, I walked
those few yards, between rising sea and falling fire, and falling sea
and rising fire, as an acrobat walks a rope, and by God’s grace without
mishap.

There was no time to think twice about my feat, or, indeed, about
anything else that befell upon a night when each moment was more
pregnant than the last. And yet I did think that those who had
encouraged me to attempt so perilous a trick might have welcomed me
alive among them; they were looking at something else already; and this
was what it was.

One of the cabin stewards had presented himself on the poop; he had a
bottle in one hand, a glass in the other; in the red glare we saw
him dancing in front of the captain like an unruly marionette. Harris
appeared to threaten him. What he said we could not hear for the
deep-drawn blast and the high staccato crackle of the blazing hold. But
we saw the staggering steward offering him a drink; saw the glass flung
next instant in the captain’s face, the blood running, a pistol drawn,
fired without effect, and snatched away by the drunken mutineer. Next
instant a smooth black cane was raining blow after blow on the man’s
head. He dropped; the blows fell thick and heavy as before. He lay
wriggling; the Portuguese struck and struck until he lay quite still;
then we saw Joaquin Santos kneel, and rub his stick carefully on the
still thing’s clothes, as a man might wipe his boots.

Curses burst from our throats; yet the fellow deserved to die. Nor, as I
say, had we time to waste two thoughts upon any one incident. This
last had begun and ended in the same minute; in another we were at the
starboard gangway, tumbling helter-skelter aboard the lowered long-boat.

She lay safely on the water: how we thanked our gods for that! Lower and
lower sank her gunwale as we dropped aboard her, with no more care than
the Gadarene swine whose fate we courted. Discipline, order, method,
common care, we brought none of these things with us from our floating
furnace; but we fought to be first over the bulwarks, and in the bottom
of the long-boat we fought again.

And yet she held us all! All, that is, but a terror-stricken few, who
lay along the jibboom like flies upon a stick: all but two or three more
whom we left fatally hesitating in the forechains: all but the selfish
savages who had been the first to perish in the pinnace, and one
distracted couple who had thrown their children into the kindly ocean,
and jumped in after them out of their torment, locked for ever in each
other’s arms.

Yes! I saw more things on that starry night, by that blood-red glare,
than I have told you in their order, and more things than I shall tell
you now. Blind would I gladly be for my few remaining years, if that
night’s horrors could be washed from these eyes for ever. I have said so
much, however, that in common candor I must say one thing more. I have
spoken of selfish savages. God help me and forgive me! For by this time
I was one myself.

In the long-boat we cannot have been less than thirty; the exact number
no man will ever know. But we shoved off without mischance; the chief
mate had the tiller; the third mate the boat-hook; and six or eight
oars were at work, in a fashion, as we plunged among the great smooth
sickening mounds and valleys of fathomless ink.

Scarcely were we clear when the foremast dropped down on the fastenings,
dashing the jib-boom into the water with its load of demented human
beings. The mainmast followed by the board before we had doubled our
distance from the wreck. Both trailed to port, where we could not see
them; and now the mizzen stood alone in sad and solitary grandeur, her
flapping idle sails lighted up by the spreading conflagration, so that
they were stamped very sharply upon the black add starry sky. But the
whole scene from the long-boat was one of startling brilliancy and
horror. The fire now filled the entire waist of the vessel, and the
noise of it was as the rumble and roar of a volcano. As for the light,
I declare that it put many a star clean out, and dimmed the radiance
of all the rest, as it flooded the sea for miles around, and a sea of
molten glass reflected it. My gorge rose at the long, low billows-sleek
as black satin--lifting and dipping in this ghastly glare. I preferred
to keep my eyes upon the little ship burning like a tar barrel as the
picture grew. But presently I thanked God aloud: there was the gig
swimming like a beetle over the bloodshot rollers in our wake.

In our unspeakable gladness at being quit of the ship, some minutes
passed before we discovered that the long-boat was slowly filling. The
water was at our ankles before a man of us cried out, so fast were our
eyes to the poor lost Lady Jermyn. Then all at once the ghastly fact
dawned upon us; and I think it was the mate himself who burst out crying
like a child. I never ascertained, however, for I had kicked off my
shoes and was busy baling with them. Others were hunting for the leak.
But the mischief was as subtle as it was mortal--as though a plank
had started from end to end. Within and without the waters rose
equally--then lay an instant level with our gunwales--then swamped us,
oh! so slowly, that I thought we were never going to sink. It was
like getting inch by inch into your tub; I can feel it now, creeping,
crawling up my back. “It’s coming! O Christ!” muttered one as it came;
to me it was a downright relief to be carried under at last.

But then, thank God, I have always been a strong swimmer. The water was
warm and buoyant, and I came up like a cork, as I knew I should. I shook
the drops from my face, and there were the sweet stars once more; for
many an eye they had gone Out for ever; and there the burning wreck.

A man floundered near me, in a splutter of phosphorescence. I tried to
help him, and in an instant he had me wildly round the neck. In the end
I shook him off, poor devil, to his death. And he was the last I tried
to aid: have I not said already what I was become?

In a little an oar floated my way: I threw my arms across it and gripped
it with my chin as I swam. It relieved me greatly. Up and down I rode
among the oily black hillocks; I was down when there was a sudden flare
as though the sun had risen, and I saw still a few heads bobbing and a
few arms waving frantically around me. At the same instant a terrific
detonation split the ears; and when I rose on the next bald billow,
where the ship lay burning a few seconds before, there remained but a
red-hot spine that hissed and dwindled for another minute, and then left
a blackness through which every star shone with redoubled brilliance.

And now right and left splashed falling missiles; a new source of danger
or of temporary respite; to me, by a merciful Providence, it proved the
latter.

Some heavy thing fell with a mighty splash right in front of me. A few
more yards, and my brains had floated with the spume. As it was, the
oar was dashed from under my armpits; in another moment they had found a
more solid resting-place.

It was a hen-coop, and it floated bars upwards like a boat. In this
calm it might float for days. I climbed upon the bars-and the whole cage
rolled over on top of me.

Coming to the surface, I found to my joy that the hen-coop had righted
itself; so now I climbed up again, but this time very slowly and
gingerly; the balance was undisturbed, and I stretched myself cautiously
along the bars on my stomach. A good idea immediately occurred to me. I
had jumped as a matter of course into the flannels which one naturally
wears in the tropics. To their lightness I already owed my life, but the
common cricket-belt which was part of the costume was the thing to which
I owe it most of all. Loosening this belt a little, as I tucked my toes
tenaciously under the endmost bar, I undid and passed the two ends under
one of the middle bars, fastening the clasp upon the other side. If I
capsized now, well, we might go to the bottom together; otherwise the
hen-coop and I should not part company in a hurry; and I thought, I
felt, that she would float.

Worn out as I was, and comparatively secure for the moment, I will not
say that I slept; but my eyes closed, and every fibre rested, as I rose
and slid with the smooth, long swell. Whether I did indeed hear voices,
curses, cries, I cannot say positively to this day. I only know that I
raised my head and looked sharply all ways but the way I durst not look
for fear of an upset. And, again, I thought I saw first a tiny flame,
and then a tinier glow; and as my head drooped, and my eyes closed
again, I say I thought I smelt tobacco; but this, of course, was my
imagination supplying all the links from one.



CHAPTER IV. THE SILENT SEA


Remember (if indeed there be any need to remind you) that it is a
flagrant landsman who is telling you this tale. Nothing know I of
seamanship, save what one could not avoid picking up on the round voyage
of the Lady Jermyn, never to be completed on this globe. I may be told
that I have burned that devoted vessel as nothing ever burned on land or
sea. I answer that I write of what I saw, and that is not altered by a
miscalled spar or a misunderstood manouvre. But now I am aboard a craft
I handle for myself, and must make shift to handle a second time with
this frail pen.

The hen-coop was some six feet long, by eighteen or twenty inches in
breadth and depth. It was simply a long box with bars in lieu of a lid;
but it was very strongly built.

I recognized it as one of two which had stood lashed against either rail
of the Lady Jermyn’s poop; there the bars had risen at right angles to
the deck; now they lay horizontal, a gridiron six feet long-and my bed.
And as each particular bar left its own stripe across my wearied body,
and yet its own comfort in my quivering heart, another day broke over
the face of the waters, and over me.

Discipline, what there was of it originally, had been the very first
thing to perish aboard our ill-starred ship; the officers, I am afraid,
were not much better than poor Ready made them out (thanks to Bendigo
and Ballarat), and little had been done in true ship-shape style all
night. All hands had taken their spell at everything as the fancy seized
them; not a bell had been struck from first to last; and I can only
conjecture that the fire raged four or five hours, from the fact that
it was midnight by my watch when I left it on my cabin drawers, and that
the final extinction of the smouldering keel was so soon followed by the
first deep hint of dawn. The rest took place with the trite rapidity of
the equatorial latitudes. It had been my foolish way to pooh-pooh the
old saying that there is no twilight in the tropics. I saw more truth in
it as I lay lonely on this heaving waste.

The stars were out; the sea was silver; the sun was up.

And oh! the awful glory of that sunrise! It was terrific; it was
sickening; my senses swam. Sunlit billows smooth and sinister, without a
crest, without a sound; miles and miles of them as I rose; an oily grave
among them as I fell. Hill after hill of horror, valley after valley of
despair! The face of the waters in petty but eternal unrest; and now
the sun must shine to set it smiling, to show me its cruel ceaseless
mouthings, to reveal all but the ghastlier horrors underneath.

How deep was it? I fell to wondering! Not that it makes any difference
whether you drown in one fathom or in ten thousand, whether you fall
from a balloon or from the attic window. But the greater depth or
distance is the worse to contemplate; and I was as a man hanging by his
hands so high above the world, that his dangling feet cover countries,
continents; a man who must fall very soon, and wonders how long he will
be falling, falling; and how far his soul will bear his body company.

In time I became more accustomed to the sun upon this heaving void; less
frightened, as a child is frightened, by the mere picture. And I have
still the impression that, as hour followed hour since the falling of
the wind, the nauseous swell in part subsided. I seemed less often on
an eminence or in a pit; my glassy azure dales had gentler slopes, or a
distemper was melting from my eyes.

At least I know that I had now less work to keep my frail ship trim,
though this also may have come by use and practice. In the beginning one
or other of my legs had been for ever trailing in the sea, to keep the
hen-coop from rolling over the other way; in fact, as I understand they
steer the toboggan in Canada, so I my little bark. Now the necessity for
this was gradually decreasing; whatever the cause, it was the greatest
mercy the day had brought me yet. With less strain on the attention,
however, there was more upon the mind. No longer forced to exert some
muscle twice or thrice a minute, I had time to feel very faint, and yet
time to think. My soul flew homing to its proper prison. I was no longer
any unit at unequal strife with the elements; instincts common to my
kind were no longer my only stimulus. I was my poor self again; it was
my own little life, and no other, that I wanted to go on living; and
yet I felt vaguely there was some special thing I wished to live for,
something that had not been very long in my ken; something that had
perhaps nerved and strengthened me all these hours. What, then, could it
be? I could not think.

For moments or for minutes I wondered stupidly, dazed as I was. Then
I remembered--and the tears gushed to my eyes. How could I ever have
forgotten? I deserved it all, all, all! To think that many a time we
must have sat together on this very coop! I kissed its blistering edge
at the thought, and my tears ran afresh, as though they never would
stop.

Ah! how I thought of her as that cruel day’s most cruel sun climbed
higher and higher in the flawless flaming vault. A pocket-handkerchief
of all things had remained in my trousers pocket through fire and water;
I knotted it on the old childish plan, and kept it ever drenched upon
the head that had its own fever to endure as well. Eva Denison! Eva
Denison! I was talking to her in the past, I was talking to her in the
future, and oh! how different were the words, the tone! Yes, I hated
myself for having forgotten her; but I hated God for having given her
back to my tortured brain; it made life so many thousandfold more sweet,
and death so many thousandfold more bitter.

She was saved in the gig. Sweet Jesus, thanks for that! But I--I was
dying a lingering death in mid-ocean; she would never know how I loved
her, I, who could only lecture her when I had her at my side.

Dying? No--no--not yet! I must live--live--live--to tell my darling how
I had loved her all the time. So I forced myself from my lethargy of
despair and grief; and this thought, the sweetest thought of all my
life, may or may not have been my unrealized stimulus ere now; it was in
very deed my most conscious and perpetual spur henceforth until the end.

From this onward, while my sense stood by me, I was practical,
resourceful, alert. It was now high-noon, and I had eaten nothing since
dinner the night before. How clearly I saw the long saloon table, only
laid, however, abaft the mast; the glittering glass, the cool white
napery, the poor old dried dessert in the green dishes! Earlier, this
had occupied my mind an hour; now I dismissed it in a moment; there was
Eva, I must live for her; there must be ways of living at least a day or
two without sustenance, and I must think of them.

So I undid that belt of mine which fastened me to my gridiron, and I
straddled my craft with a sudden keen eye for sharks, of which I never
once had thought until now. Then I tightened the belt about my hollow
body, and just sat there with the problem. The past hour I had been
wholly unobservant; the inner eye had had its turn; but that was over
now, and I sat as upright as possible, seeking greedily for a sail. Of
course I saw none. Had we indeed been off our course before the fire
broke out? Had we burned to cinders aside and apart from the regular
track of ships? Then, though my present valiant mood might ignore
the adverse chances, they were as one hundred to a single chance of
deliverance. Our burning had brought no ship to our succor; and how
should I, a mere speck amid the waves, bring one to mine?

Moreover, I was all but motionless; I was barely drifting at all. This
I saw from a few objects which were floating around me now at noon; they
had been with me when the high sun rose. One was, I think, the very
oar which had been my first support; another was a sailor’s cap; but
another, which floated nearer, was new to me, as though it had come to
the surface while my eyes were turned inwards. And this was clearly the
case; for the thing was a drowned and bloated corpse.

It fascinated me, though not with extraordinary horror; it came too late
to do that. I thought I recognized the man’s back. I fancied it was
the mate who had taken charge of the long-boat. Was I then the single
survivor of those thirty souls? I was still watching my poor lost
comrade, when that happened to him against which even I was not proof.
Through the deep translucent blue beneath me a slim shape glided; three
smaller fish led the way; they dallied an instant a fathom under my
feet, which were snatched up, with what haste you may imagine; then on
they went to surer prey.

He turned over; his dreadful face stared upwards; it was the chief
officer, sure enough. Then he clove the water with a rush, his dead hand
waved, the last of him to disappear; and I had a new horror to think
over for my sins. His poor fingers were all broken and beaten to a pulp.

The voices of the night came back to me--the curses and the cries. Yes,
I must have heard them. In memory now I recognized the voice of the
chief mate, but there again came in the assisted imagination. Yet I
was not so sure of this as before. I thought of Santos and his horrible
heavy cane. Good God! she was in the power of that! I must live for Eva
indeed; must save myself to save and protect my innocent and helpless
girl.

Again I was a man; stronger than ever was the stimulus now, louder than
ever the call on every drop of true man’s blood in my perishing frame.
It should not perish! It should not!

Yet my throat was parched; my lips were caked; my frame was hollow. Very
weak I was already; without sustenance I should surely die. But as yet
I was far enough from death, or I had done disdaining the means of life
that all this time lay ready to my hand. A number of dead fowls imparted
ballast to my little craft.

Yet I could not look at them in all these hours; or I could look, but
that was all. So I must sit up one hour more, and keep a sharper eye
than ever for the tiniest glimmer of a sail. To what end, I often asked
myself? I might see them; they would never see me.

Then my eyes would fail, and “you squeamish fool!” I said at intervals,
until my tongue failed to articulate; it had swollen so in my mouth.
Flying fish skimmed the water like thick spray; petrels were so few that
I could count them; another shark swam round me for an hour. In sudden
panic I dashed my knuckles on the wooden bars, to get at a duck to give
the monster for a sop. My knuckles bled. I held them to my mouth. My
cleaving tongue wanted more. The duck went to the shark; a few minutes
more and I had made my own vile meal as well.



CHAPTER V. MY REWARD


The sun declined; my shadow broadened on die waters; and now I felt that
if my cockle-shell could live a little longer, why, so could I.

I had got at the fowls without further hurt. Some of the bars took out,
I discovered how. And now very carefully I got my legs in, and knelt;
but the change of posture was not worth the risk one ran for it; there
was too much danger of capsizing, and failing to free oneself before she
filled and sank.

With much caution I began breaking the bars, one by one; it was hard
enough, weak as I was; my thighs were of more service than my hands.

But at last I could sit, the grating only covering me from the knees
downwards. And the relief of that outweighed all the danger, which, as I
discovered to my untold joy, was now much less than it had been before.
I was better ballast than the fowls.

These I had attached to the lashings which had been blown asunder by the
explosion; at one end of the coop the ring-bolt had been torn clean out,
but at the other it was the cordage that had parted. To the frayed
ends I tied my fowls by the legs, with the most foolish pride in my own
cunning. Do you not see? It would keep them fresh for my use, and it was
a trick I had read of in no book; it was all my own.

So evening fell and found me hopeful and even puffed up; but yet, no
sail.

Now, however, I could lie back, and use had given me a strange sense of
safety; besides, I think I knew, I hope I felt, that the hen-coop was in
other Hands than mine.

All is reaction in the heart of man; light follows darkness nowhere more
surely than in that hidden self, and now at sunset it was my heart’s
high-noon. Deep peace pervaded me as I lay outstretched in my narrow
rocking bed, as it might be in my coffin; a trust in my Maker’s will
to save me if that were for the best, a trust in His final wisdom and
loving-kindness, even though this night should be my last on earth. For
myself I was resigned, and for others I must trust Him no less. Who was
I to constitute myself the protector of the helpless, when He was in
His Heaven? Such was my sunset mood; it lasted a few minutes, and then,
without radically changing, it became more objective.

The west was a broadening blaze of yellow and purple and red. I cannot
describe it to you. If you have seen the sun set in the tropics, you
would despise my description; and, if not, I for one could never make
you see it. Suffice it that a petrel wheeled somewhere between deepening
carmine and paling blue, and it took my thoughts off at an earthy
tangent. I thanked God there were no big sea-birds in these latitudes;
no molly-hawks, no albatrosses, no Cape-hens. I thought of an albatross
that I had caught going out. Its beak and talons were at the bottom
with the charred remains of the Lady Jermyn. But I could see them
still, could feel them shrewdly in my mind’s flesh; and so to the old
superstition, strangely justified by my case; and so to the poem which
I, with my special experience, not unnaturally consider the greatest
poem ever penned.

But I did not know it then as I do now--and how the lines eluded me! I
seemed to see them in the book, yet I could not read the words!

             “Water, water, everywhere,
              Nor any drop to drink.”

That, of course, came first (incorrectly); and it reminded me of my
thirst, which the blood of the fowls had so very partially appeased. I
see now that it is lucky I could recall but little more. Experience is
less terrible than realization, and that poem makes me realize what I
went through as memory cannot. It has verses which would have driven me
mad. On the other hand, the exhaustive mental search for them distracted
my thoughts until the stars were back in the sky; and now I had a new
occupation, saying to myself all the poetry I could remember, especially
that of the sea; for I was a bookish fellow even then. But I never
was anything of a scholar. It is odd therefore, that the one apposite
passage which recurred to me in its entirety was in hexameters and
pentameters:

   Me miserum, quanti montes volvuntur aquarum!
   Jam jam tacturos sidera summa putes.
   Quantae diducto subsidunt aequore valles!
   Jam jam tacturas Tartara nigra putes.
   Quocunque adspicio, nihil est nisi pontus et aether;
   Fluctibus hic tumidis, nubibus ille minax....

More there was of it in my head; but this much was an accurate statement
of my case; and yet less so now (I was thankful to reflect) than in
the morning, when every wave was indeed a mountain, and its trough a
Tartarus. I had learnt the lines at school; nay, they had formed my very
earliest piece of Latin repetition. And how sharply I saw the room I
said them in, the man I said them to, ever since my friend! I figured
him even now hearing Ovid rep., the same passage in the same room. And I
lay saying it on a hen-coop in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!

At last I fell into a deep sleep, a long unconscious holiday of the
soul, undefiled by any dream.

They say that our dreaming is done as we slowly wake; then was I out of
the way of it that night, for a sudden violent rocking awoke me in
one horrid instant. I made it worse by the way I started to a sitting
posture. I had shipped some water. I was shipping more. Yet all around
the sea was glassy; whence then the commotion? As my ship came trim
again, and I saw that my hour was not yet, the cause occurred to me; and
my heart turned so sick that it was minutes before I had the courage to
test my theory.

It was the true one.

A shark had been at my trailing fowls; had taken the bunch of them
together, dragging the legs from my loose fastenings. Lucky they had
been no stronger! Else had I been dragged down to perdition too.

Lucky, did I say? The refinement of cruelty rather; for now I had
neither meat nor drink; my throat was a kiln; my tongue a flame; and
another day at hand.

The stars were out; the sea was silver; the sun was up!

         .        .         .         .         .

Hours passed.

I was waiting now for my delirium.

It came in bits.

I was a child. I was playing on the lawn at home. I was back on the
blazing sea.

I was a schoolboy saying my Ovid; then back once more.

The hen-coop was the Lady Jermyn. I was at Eva Denison’s side. They were
marrying us on board. The ship’s bell was ringing for us; a guitar in
the background burlesqued the Wedding March under skinny fingers; the
air was poisoned by a million cigarettes, they raised a pall of smoke
above the mastheads, they set fire to the ship; smoke and flame covered
the sea from rim to rim, smoke and flame filled the universe; the sea
dried up, and I was left lying in its bed, lying in my coffin, with
red-hot teeth, because the sun blazed right above them, and my withered
lips were drawn back from them for ever.

So once more I came back to my living death; too weak now to carry a
finger to the salt water and back to my mouth; too weak to think of Eva;
too weak to pray any longer for the end, to trouble or to care any more.

Only so tired.

         .         .         .         .         .

Death has no more terrors for me. I have supped the last horror of the
worst death a man can die. You shall hear now for what I was delivered;
you shall read of my reward.

My floating coffin was many things in turn; a railway carriage, a
pleasure boat on the Thames, a hammock under the trees; last of all it
was the upper berth in a not very sweet-smelling cabin, with a clatter
of knives and forks near at hand, and a very strong odor of onions in
the Irish stew.

My hand crawled to my head; both felt a wondrous weight; and my head
was covered with bristles no longer than those on my chin, only less
stubborn.

“Where am I?” I feebly asked.

The knives and forks clattered on, and presently I burst out crying
because they had not heard me, and I knew that I could never make them
hear. Well, they heard my sobs, and a huge fellow came with his mouth
full, and smelling like a pickle bottle.

“Where am I?”

“Aboard the brig Eliza, Liverpool, homeward bound; glad to see them eyes
open.”

“Have I been here long?”

“Matter o’ ten days.”

“Where did you find me?”

“Floating in a hen-coop; thought you was a dead ‘un.”

“Do you know what ship?”

“Do we know? No, that’s what you’ve got to tell us!”

“I can’t,” I sighed, too weak to wag my head upon the pillow.

The man went to my cabin door.

“Here’s a go,” said he; “forgotten the name of his blessed ship, he has.
Where’s that there paper, Mr. Bowles? There’s just a chance it may be
the same.”

“I’ve got it, sir.”

“Well, fetch it along, and come you in, Mr. Bowles; likely you may think
o’ somethin’.”

A reddish, hook-nosed man, with a jaunty, wicked look, came and smiled
upon me in the friendliest fashion; the smell of onions became more than
I knew how to endure.

“Ever hear of the ship Lady Jermyn?” asked the first corner, winking at
the other.

I thought very hard, the name did sound familiar; but no, I could not
honestly say that I had beard it before.

The captain looked at his mate.

“It was a thousand to one,” said he; “still we may as well try him with
the other names. Ever heard of Cap’n Harris, mister?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Of Saunderson-stooard?”

“No.”

“Or Crookes-quartermaster.”

“Never.”

“Nor yet of Ready--a passenger?”

“No.”

“It’s no use goin’ on,” said the captain folding up the paper.

“None whatever, sir,” said the mate

“Ready! Ready!” I repeated. “I do seem to have heard that name before.
Won’t you give me another chance?”

The paper was unfolded with a shrug.

“There was another passenger of the name of San-Santos. Dutchman,
seemin’ly. Ever heard o’ him?”

My disappointment was keen. I could not say that I had. Yet I would not
swear that I had not.

“Oh, won’t you? Well, there’s only one more chance. Ever heard of Miss
Eva Denison--”

“By God, yes! Have you?”

I was sitting bolt upright in my bunk. The skipper’s beard dropped upon
his chest.

“Bless my soul! The last name o’ the lot, too!”

“Have you heard of her?” I reiterated.

“Wait a bit, my lad! Not so fast. Lie down again and tell me who she
was.”

“Who she was?” I screamed. “I want to know where she is!”

“I can’t hardly say,” said the captain awkwardly. “We found the gig o’
the Lady Jermyn the week arter we found you, bein’ becalmed like; there
wasn’t no lady aboard her, though.”

“Was there anybody?”

“Two dead ‘uns--an’ this here paper.”

“Let me see it!”

The skipper hesitated.

“Hadn’t you better wait a bit?”

“No, no; for Christ’s sake let me see the worst; do you think I can’t
read it in your face?”

I could--I did. I made that plain to them, and at last I had the
paper smoothed out upon my knees. It was a short statement of the last
sufferings of those who had escaped in the gig, and there was nothing
in it that I did not now expect. They had buried Ready first--then my
darling--then her step-father. The rest expected to follow fast enough.
It was all written plainly, on a sheet of the log-book, in different
trembling hands. Captain Harris had gone next; and two had been
discovered dead.

How long I studied that bit of crumpled paper, with the salt spray
still sparkling on it faintly, God alone knows. All at once a peal of
nightmare laughter rattled through the cabin. My deliverers started
back. The laugh was mine.



CHAPTER VI. THE SOLE SURVIVOR


A few weeks later I landed in England, I, who no longer desired to set
foot on any land again.

At nine-and-twenty I was gaunt and gray; my nerves were shattered, my
heart was broken; and my face showed it without let or hindrance from
the spirit that was broken too. Pride, will, courage, and endurance, all
these had expired in my long and lonely battle with the sea. They had
kept me alive-for this. And now they left me naked to mine enemies.

For every hand seemed raised against me, though in reality it was the
hand of fellowship that the world stretched out, and the other was the
reading of a jaundiced eye. I could not help it: there was a poison in
my veins that made me all ingratitude and perversity. The world welcomed
me back, and I returned the compliment by sulking like the recaptured
runaway I was at heart. The world showed a sudden interest in me; so I
took no further interest in the world, but, on the contrary, resented
its attentions with unreasonable warmth and obduracy; and my would-be
friends I regarded as my very worst enemies. The majority, I feel sure,
meant but well and kindly by the poor survivor. But the survivor could
not forget that his name was still in the newspapers, nor blink the fact
that he was an unworthy hero of the passing hour. And he suffered
enough from brazenly meddlesome and self-seeking folk, from impudent and
inquisitive intruders, to justify some suspicion of old acquaintances
suddenly styling themselves old friends, and of distant connections
newly and unduly eager to claim relationship. Many I misjudged, and have
long known it. On the whole, however, I wonder at that attitude of mine
as little as I approve of it.

If I had distinguished myself in any other way, it would have been a
different thing. It was the fussy, sentimental, inconsiderate
interest in one thrown into purely accidental and necessarily painful
prominence--the vulgarization of an unspeakable tragedy--that my soul
abhorred. I confess that I regarded it from my own unique and selfish
point of view. What was a thrilling matter to the world was a torturing
memory to me. The quintessence of the torture was, moreover, my own
secret. It was not the loss of the Lady Jermyn that I could not bear to
speak about; it was my own loss; but the one involved the other. My
loss apart, however, it was plain enough to dwell upon experiences so
terrible and yet so recent as those which I had lived to tell. I did
what I considered my duty to the public, but I certainly did no more. My
reticence was rebuked in the papers that made the most of me, but would
fain have made more. And yet I do not think that I was anything but
docile with those who had a manifest right to question me; to the
owners, and to other interested persons, with whom I was confronted on
one pretext or another, I told my tale as fully and as freely as I have
told it here, though each telling hurt more than the last. That was
necessary and unavoidable; it was the private intrusions which I
resented with all the spleen the sea had left me in exchange for the
qualities it had taken away.

Relatives I had as few as misanthropist could desire; but from
self-congratulation on the fact, on first landing, I soon came to keen
regret. They at least would have sheltered me from spies and busybodies;
they at least would have secured the peace and privacy of one who was
no hero in fact or spirit, whose noblest deed was a piece of self
preservation which he wished undone with all his heart.

Self-consciousness no doubt multiplied my flattering assailants. I
have said that my nerves were shattered. I may have imagined much and
exaggerated the rest. Yet what truth there was in my suspicions you
shall duly see. I felt sure that I was followed in the street, and my
every movement dogged by those to whom I would not condescend to turn
and look. Meanwhile, I had not the courage to go near my club, and
the Temple was a place where I was accosted in every court, effusively
congratulated on the marvellous preservation of my stale spoilt life,
and invited right and left to spin my yarn over a quiet pipe! Well,
perhaps such invitations were not so common as they have grown in my
memory; nor must you confuse my then feelings on all these matters with
those which I entertain as I write. I have grown older, and, I hope,
something kindlier and wiser since then. Yet to this day I cannot blame
myself for abandoning my chambers and avoiding my club.

For a temporary asylum I pitched upon a small, quiet, empty, private
hotel which I knew of in Charterhouse Square. Instantly the room next
mine became occupied.

All the first night I imagined I heard voices talking about me in that
room next door. It was becoming a disease with me. Either I was being
dogged, watched, followed, day and night, indoors and out, or I was the
victim of a very ominous hallucination. That night I never closed an eye
nor lowered my light. In the morning I took a four-wheel cab and
drove straight to Harley Street; and, upon my soul, as I stood on the
specialist’s door-step, I could have sworn I saw the occupant of the
room next mine dash by me in a hansom!

“Ah!” said the specialist; “so you cannot sleep; you hear voices;
you fancy you are being followed in the street. You don’t think these
fancies spring entirely from the imagination? Not entirely--just so. And
you keep looking behind you, as though somebody were at your elbow; and
you prefer to sit with your back close to the wall. Just so--just so.
Distressing symptoms, to be sure, but--but hardly to be wondered at in a
man who has come through your nervous strain.” A keen professional light
glittered in his eyes. “And almost commonplace,” he added, smiling,
“compared with the hallucinations you must have suffered from on that
hen-coop! Ah, my dear sir, the psychological interest of your case is
very great!”

“It may be,” said I, brusquely. “But I come to you to get that hen-coop
out of my head, not to be reminded of it. Everybody asks me about the
damned thing, and you follow everybody else. I wish it and I were at the
bottom of the sea together!”

This speech had the effect of really interesting the doctor in my
present condition, which was indeed one of chronic irritation and
extreme excitability, alternating with fits of the very blackest
despair. Instead of offending my gentleman I had put him on his mettle,
and for half an hour he honored me with the most exhaustive inquisition
ever elicited from a medical man. His panacea was somewhat in the nature
of an anti-climax, but at least it had the merits of simplicity and
of common sense. A change of air--perfect quiet--say a cottage in the
country--not too near the sea. And he shook my hand kindly when I left.

“Keep up your heart, my dear sir,” said he. “Keep up your courage and
your heart.”

“My heart!” I cried. “It’s at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.”

He was the first to whom I had said as much. He was a stranger. What did
it matter? And, oh, it was so true--so true.

Every day and all day I was thinking of my love; every hour and all
hours she was before me with her sunny hair and young, young face. Her
wistful eyes were gazing into mine continually. Their wistfulness I
had never realized at the time; but now I did; and I saw it for what it
seemed always to have been, the soft, sad, yearning look of one fated
to die young. So young--so young! And I might live to be an old man,
mourning her.

That I should never love again I knew full well. This time there was no
mistake. I have implied, I believe, that it was for another woman I fled
originally to the diggings. Well, that one was still unmarried, and when
the papers were full of me she wrote me a letter which I now believe to
have been merely kind. At the time I was all uncharitableness; but words
of mine would fail to tell you how cold this letter left me; it was as a
candle lighted in the full blaze of the sun.

With all my bitterness, however, you must not suppose that I had quite
lost the feelings which had inspired me at sunset on the lonely ocean,
while my mind still held good. I had been too near my Maker ever to lose
those feelings altogether. They were with me in the better moments of
these my worst days. I trusted His wisdom still. There was a reason for
everything; there were reasons for all this. I alone had been saved out
of all those souls who sailed from Melbourne in the Lady Jermyn. Why
should I have been the favored one; I with my broken heart and now
lonely life? Some great inscrutable reason there must be; at my worst
I did not deny that. But neither did I puzzle my sick brain with the
reason. I just waited for it to be revealed to me, if it were God’s will
ever to reveal it. And that I conceive to be the one spirit in which a
man may contemplate, with equal sanity and reverence, the mysteries and
the miseries of his life.



CHAPTER VII. I FIND A FRIEND



The night after I consulted the specialist I was quite determined to
sleep. I had laid in a bundle of the daily papers. No country cottage
was advertised to let but I knew of it by evening, and about all the
likely ones I had already written. The scheme occupied my thoughts.
Trout-fishing was a desideratum. I would take my rod and plenty of
books, would live simply and frugally, and it should make a new man of
me by Christmas. It was now October. I went to sleep thinking of autumn
tints against an autumn sunset. It must have been very early, certainly
not later than ten o’clock; the previous night I had not slept at all.

Now, this private hotel of mine was a very old fashioned house, dark and
dingy all day long, with heavy old chandeliers and black old oak, and
dead flowers in broken flower-pots surrounding a grimy grass-plot in the
rear. On this latter my bedroom window looked; and never am I likely to
forget the vile music of the cats throughout my first long wakeful night
there. The second night they actually woke me; doubtless they had been
busy long enough, but it was all of a sudden that I heard them, and lay
listening for more, wide awake in an instant. My window had been very
softly opened, and the draught fanned my forehead as I held my breath.

A faint light glimmered through a ground-glass pane over the door; and
was dimly reflected by the toilet mirror, in its usual place against the
window. This mirror I saw moved, and next moment I had bounded from bed.

The mirror fell with a horrid clatter: the toilet-table followed it with
a worse: the thief had gone as he had come ere my toes halted aching
amid the debris.

A useless little balcony--stone slab and iron railing--jutted out from
my window. I thought I saw a hand on the railing, another on the slab,
then both together on the lower level for one instant before they
disappeared. There was a dull yet springy thud on the grass below. Then
no more noise but the distant thunder of the traffic, and the one that
woke me, until the window next mine was thrown up.

“What the devil’s up?”

The voice was rich, cheery, light-hearted, agreeable; all that my own
was not as I answered “Nothing!” for this was not the first time my
next-door neighbor had tried to scrape acquaintance with me.

“But surely, sir, I heard the very dickens of a row?”

“You may have done.”

“I was afraid some one had broken into your room!”

“As a matter of fact,” said I, put to shame by the undiminished
good-humor of my neighbor, “some one did; but he’s gone now, so let him
be.”

“Gone? Not he! He’s getting over that wall. After him--after him!” And
the head disappeared from the window next mine.

I rushed into the corridor, and was just in time to intercept a
singularly handsome young fellow, at whom I had hardly taken the trouble
to look until now. He was in full evening dress, and his face was
radiant with the spirit of mischief and adventure.

“For God’s sake, sir,” I whispered, “let this matter rest. I shall have
to come forward if you persist, and Heaven knows I have been before the
public quite enough!”

His dark eyes questioned me an instant, then fell as though he would not
disguise that he recollected and understood. I liked him for his good
taste. I liked him for his tacit sympathy, and better still for the
amusing disappointment in his gallant, young face.

“I am sorry to have robbed you of a pleasant chase,” said I. “At one
time I should have been the first to join you. But, to tell you the
truth, I’ve had enough excitement lately to last me for my life.”

“I can believe that,” he answered, with his fine eyes full upon me.
How strangely I had misjudged him! I saw no vulgar curiosity in his
flattering gaze, but rather that very sympathy of which I stood in need.
I offered him my hand.

“It is very good of you to give in,” I said. “No one else has heard a
thing, you see. I shall look for another opportunity of thanking you
to-morrow.”

“No, no!” cried he, “thanks be hanged, but--but, I say, if I promise
you not to bore you about things--won’t you drink a glass of
brandy-and-water in my room before you turn in again?”

Brandy-and-water being the very thing I needed, and this young man
pleasing me more and more, I said that I would join him with all my
heart, and returned to my room for my dressing-gown and slippers. To
find them, however, I had to light my candles, when the first thing
I saw was the havoc my marauder had left behind him. The mirror was
cracked across; the dressing-table had lost a leg; and both lay flat,
with my brushes and shaving-table, and the foolish toilet crockery which
no one uses (but I should have to replace) strewn upon the carpet. But
one thing I found that had not been there before: under the window lay
a formidable sheath-knife without its sheath. I picked it up with
something of a thrill, which did not lessen when I felt its edge. The
thing was diabolically sharp. I took it with me to show my neighbor,
whom I found giving his order to the boots; it seemed that it was barely
midnight, and that he had only just come in when the clatter took place
in my room.

“Hillo!” he cried, when the man was gone, and I produced my trophy.
“Why, what the mischief have you got there?”

“My caller’s card,” said I. “He left it behind him. Feel the edge.”

I have seldom seen a more indignant face than the one which my new
acquaintance bent over the weapon, as he held it to the light, and ran
his finger along the blade. He could have not frowned more heavily if he
had recognized the knife.

“The villains!” he muttered. “The damned villains!”

“Villains?” I queried. “Did you see more than one of them, then?”

“Didn’t you?” he asked quickly. “Yes, yes, to be sure! There was at
least one other beggar skulking down below.” He stood looking at me, the
knife in his hand, though mine was held out for it. “Don’t you think,
Mr. Cole, that it’s our duty to hand this over to the police? I--I’ve
heard of other cases about these Inns of Court. There’s evidently a gang
of them, and this knife might convict the lot; there’s no saying; anyway
I think the police should have it. If you like I’ll take it to Scotland
Yard myself, and hand it over without mentioning your name.”

“Oh, if you keep my name out of it,” said I, “and say nothing about
it here in the hotel, you may do what you like, and welcome! It’s the
proper course, no doubt; only I’ve had publicity enough, and would
sooner have felt that blade in my body than set my name going again in
the newspapers.”

“I understand,” he said, with his well-bred sympathy, which never went
a shade too far; and he dropped the weapon into a drawer, as the boots
entered with the tray. In a minute he had brewed two steaming jorums of
spirits-and-water; as he handed me one, I feared he was going to drink
my health, or toast my luck; but no, he was the one man I had met who
seemed, as he said, to “understand.” Nevertheless, he had his toast.

“Here’s confusion to the criminal classes in general,” he cried; “but
death and damnation to the owners of that knife!”

And we clinked tumblers across the little oval table in the middle of
the room. It was more of a sitting-room than mine; a bright fire was
burning in the grate, and my companion insisted on my sitting over it
in the arm-chair, while for himself he fetched the one from his bedside,
and drew up the table so that our glasses should be handy. He then
produced a handsome cigar-case admirably stocked, and we smoked and
sipped in the cosiest fashion, though without exchanging many words.

You may imagine my pleasure in the society of a youth, equally charming
in looks, manners and address, who had not one word to say to me about
the Lady Jermyn or my hen-coop. It was unique. Yet such, I suppose,
was my native contrariety, that I felt I could have spoken of the
catastrophe to this very boy with less reluctance than to any other
creature whom I had encountered since my deliverance. He seemed so full
of silent sympathy: his consideration for my feelings was so marked and
yet so unobtrusive. I have called him a boy. I am apt to write as the
old man I have grown, though I do believe I felt older then than now.
In any case my young friend was some years my junior. I afterwards found
out that he was six-and-twenty.

I have also called him handsome. He was the handsomest man that I have
ever met, had the frankest face, the finest eyes, the brightest smile.
Yet his bronzed forehead was low, and his mouth rather impudent and bold
than truly strong. And there was a touch of foppery about him, in the
enormous white tie and the much-cherished whiskers of the fifties, which
was only redeemed by that other touch of devilry that he had shown me
in the corridor. By the rich brown of his complexion, as well as by a
certain sort of swagger in his walk, I should have said that he was a
naval officer ashore, had he not told me who he was of his own accord.

“By the way,” he said, “I ought to give you my name. It’s Rattray,
of one of the many Kirby Halls in this country. My one’s down in
Lancashire.”

“I suppose there’s no need to tell my name?” said I, less sadly, I
daresay, than I had ever yet alluded to the tragedy which I alone
survived. It was an unnecessary allusion, too, as a reference to the
foregoing conversation will show.

“Well, no!” said he, in his frank fashion; “I can’t honestly say there
is.”

We took a few puffs, he watching the fire, and I his firelit face.

“It must seem strange to you to be sitting with the only man who lived
to tell the tale!”

The egotism of this speech was not wholly gratuitous. I thought it did
seem strange to him: that a needless constraint was put upon him by
excessive consideration for my feelings. I desired to set him at his
ease as he had set me at mine. On the contrary, he seemed quite startled
by my remark.

“It is strange,” he said, with a shudder, followed by the biggest sip
of brandy-and-water he had taken yet. “It must have been
horrible--horrible!” he added to himself, his dark eyes staring into the
fire.

“Ah!” said I, “it was even more horrible than you suppose or can ever
imagine.”

I was not thinking of myself, nor of my love, nor of any particular
incident of the fire that still went on burning in my brain. My tone was
doubtless confidential, but I was meditating no special confidence when
my companion drew one with his next words. These, however, came after a
pause, in which my eyes had fallen from his face, but in which I heard
him emptying his glass.

“What do you mean?” he whispered. “That there were other
circumstances--things which haven’t got into the papers?”

“God knows there were,” I answered, my face in my hands; and, my
grief brought home to me, there I sat with it in the presence of that
stranger, without compunction and without shame.

He sprang up and paced the room. His tact made me realize my weakness,
and I was struggling to overcome it when he surprised me by suddenly
stopping and laying a rather tremulous hand upon my shoulder.

“You--It wouldn’t do you any good to speak of those circumstances, I
suppose?” he faltered.

“No: not now: no good at all.”

“Forgive me,” he said, resuming his walk. “I had no business--I felt so
sorry--I cannot tell you how I sympathize! And yet--I wonder if you will
always feel so?”

“No saying how I shall feel when I am a man again,” said I. “You see
what I am at present.” And, pulling myself together, I rose to find my
new friend quite agitated in his turn.

“I wish we had some more brandy,” he sighed. “I’m afraid it’s too late
to get any now.”

“And I’m glad of it,” said I. “A man in my state ought not to look at
spirits, or he may never look past them again. Thank goodness, there are
other medicines. Only this morning I consulted the best man on nerves in
London. I wish I’d gone to him long ago.”

“Harley Street, was it?”

“Yes.”

“Saw you on his doorstep, by Jove!” cried Rattray at once. “I was
driving over to Hampstead, and I thought it was you. Well, what’s the
prescription?”

In my satisfaction at finding that he had not been dogging me
intentionally (though I had forgotten the incident till he reminded me
of it), I answered his question with unusual fulness.

“I should go abroad,” said Rattray. “But then, I always am abroad; it’s
only the other day I got back from South America, and I shall up anchor
again before this filthy English winter sets in.”

Was he a sailor after all, or only a well-to-do wanderer on the face of
the earth? He now mentioned that he was only in England for a few weeks,
to have a look at his estate, and so forth; after which he plunged into
more or less enthusiastic advocacy of this or that foreign resort, as
opposed to the English cottage upon which I told him I had set my heart.

He was now, however, less spontaneous, I thought, than earlier in the
night. His voice had lost its hearty ring, and he seemed preoccupied, as
if talking of one matter while he thought upon another. Yet he would
not let me go; and presently he confirmed my suspicion, no less than my
first impression of his delightful frankness and cordiality, by candidly
telling me what was on his mind.

“If you really want a cottage in the country,” said he, “and the most
absolute peace and quiet to be got in this world, I know of the very
thing on my land in Lancashire. It would drive me mad in a week; but if
you really care for that sort of thing--”

“An occupied cottage?” I interrupted.

“Yes; a couple rent it from me, very decent people of the name of
Braithwaite. The man is out all day, and won’t bother you when he’s in;
he’s not like other people, poor chap. But the woman ‘s all there, and
would do her best for you in a humble, simple, wholesome sort of way.”

“You think they would take me in?”

“They have taken other men--artists as a rule.”

“Then it’s a picturesque country?”

“Oh, it’s that if it’s nothing else; but not a town for miles, mind you,
and hardly a village worthy the name.”

“Any fishing?”

“Yes--trout--small but plenty of ‘em--in a beck running close behind the
cottage.”

“Come,” cried I, “this sounds delightful! Shall you be up there?”

“Only for a day or two,” was the reply. “I shan’t trouble you, Mr.
Cole.”

“My dear sir, that wasn’t my meaning at all. I’m only sorry I shall not
see something of you on your own heath. I can’t thank you enough for
your kind suggestion. When do you suppose the Braithwaites could do with
me?”

His charming smile rebuked my impatience.

“We must first see whether they can do with you at all,” said he. “I
sincerely hope they can; but this is their time of year for tourists,
though perhaps a little late. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. As a matter
of fact, I’m going down there to-morrow, and I’ve got to telegraph to my
place in any case to tell them when to meet me. I’ll send the telegram
first thing, and I’ll make them send one back to say whether there’s
room in the cottage or not.”

I thanked him warmly, but asked if the cottage was close to Kirby Hall,
and whether this would not be giving a deal of trouble at the other end;
whereupon he mischievously misunderstood me a second time, saying the
cottage and the hall were not even in sight of each other, and I really
had no intrusion to fear, as he was a lonely bachelor like myself,
and would only be up there four or five days at the most. So I made my
appreciation of his society plainer than ever to him; for indeed I
had found a more refreshing pleasure in it already than I had hoped to
derive from mortal man again; and we parted, at three o’clock in the
morning, like old fast friends.

“Only don’t expect too much, my dear Mr. Cole,” were his last words to
me. “My own place is as ancient and as tumble-down as most ruins that
you pay to see over. And I’m never there myself because--I tell you
frankly--I hate it like poison!”



CHAPTER VIII. A SMALL PRECAUTION


My delight in the society of this young Squire Rattray (as I soon was to
hear him styled) had been such as to make me almost forget the sinister
incident which had brought us together. When I returned to my room,
however, there were the open window and the litter on the floor to
remind me of what had happened earlier in the night. Yet I was less
disconcerted than you might suppose. A common housebreaker can have
few terrors for one who has braved those of mid-ocean single-handed; my
would-be visitor had no longer any for me; for it had not yet occurred
to me to connect him with the voices and the footsteps to which, indeed,
I had been unable to swear before the doctor. On the other hand, these
morbid imaginings (as I was far from unwilling to consider them) had
one and all deserted me in the sane, clean company of the capital young
fellow in the next room.

I have confessed my condition up to the time of this queer meeting.
I have tried to bring young Rattray before you with some hint of his
freshness and his boyish charm; and though the sense of failure is heavy
upon me there, I who knew the man knew also that I must fail to do him
justice. Enough may have been said, however, to impart some faint idea
of what this youth was to me in the bitter and embittering anti-climax
of my life. Conventional figures spring to my pen, but every one of them
is true; he was flowers in spring, he was sunshine after rain, he was
rain following long months of drought. I slept admirably after all;
and I awoke to see the overturned toilet-table, and to thrill as I
remembered there was one fellow-creature with whom I could fraternize
without fear of a rude reopening of my every wound.

I hurried my dressing in the hope of our breakfasting together. I
knocked at the next door, and, receiving no answer, even ventured
to enter, with the same idea. He was not there. He was not in the
coffee-room. He was not in the hotel.

I broke my fast in disappointed solitude, and I hung about disconsolate
all the morning, looking wistfully for my new-made friend. Towards
mid-day he drove up in a cab which he kept waiting at the curb.

“It’s all right!” he cried out in his hearty way. “I sent my telegram
first thing, and I’ve had the answer at my club. The rooms are vacant,
and I’ll see that Jane Braithwaite has all ready for you by to-morrow
night.”

I thanked him from my heart. “You seem in a hurry!” I added, as I
followed him up the stairs.

“I am,” said he. “It’s a near thing for the train. I’ve just time to
stick in my things.”

“Then I’ll stick in mine,” said I impulsively, “and I’ll come with you,
and doss down in any corner for the night.”

He stopped and turned on the stairs.

“You mustn’t do that,” said he; “they won’t have anything ready. I’m
going to make it my privilege to see that everything is as cosey as
possible when you arrive. I simply can’t allow you to come to-day, Mr.
Cole!” He smiled, but I saw that he was in earnest, and of course I gave
in.

“All right,” said I; “then I must content myself with seeing you off at
the station.”

To my surprise his smile faded, and a flush of undisguised annoyance
made him, if anything, better-looking than ever. It brought out a
certain strength of mouth and jaw which I had not observed there
hitherto. It gave him an ugliness of expression which only emphasized
his perfection of feature.

“You mustn’t do that either,” said he, shortly. “I have an appointment
at the station. I shall be talking business all the time.”

He was gone to his room, and I went to mine feeling duly snubbed; yet I
deserved it; for I had exhibited a characteristic (though not chronic)
want of taste, of which I am sometimes guilty to this day. Not to show
ill-feeling on the head of it, I nevertheless followed him down again
in four or five minutes. And I was rewarded by his brightest smile as he
grasped my hand.

“Come to-morrow by the same train,” said he, naming station, line, and
hour; “unless I telegraph, all will be ready and you shall be met. You
may rely on reasonable charges. As to the fishing, go up-stream--to the
right when you strike the beck--and you’ll find a good pool or two. I
may have to go to Lancaster the day after to-morrow, but I shall give
you a call when I get back.”

With that we parted, as good friends as ever. I observed that my regret
at losing him was shared by the boots, who stood beside me on the steps
as his hansom rattled off.

“I suppose Mr. Rattray stays here always when he comes to town?” said I.

“No, sir,” said the man, “we’ve never had him before, not in my time;
but I shouldn’t mind if he came again.” And he looked twice at the coin
in his hand before pocketing it with evident satisfaction.

Lonely as I was, and wished to be, I think that I never felt my
loneliness as I did during the twenty-four hours which intervened
between Rattray’s departure and my own. They dragged like wet days by
the sea, and the effect was as depressing. I have seldom been at such
a loss for something to do; and in my idleness I behaved like a child,
wishing my new friend back again, or myself on the railway with my new
friend, until I blushed for the beanstalk growth of my regard for him,
an utter stranger, and a younger man. I am less ashamed of it now: he
had come into my dark life like a lamp, and his going left a darkness
deeper than before.

In my dejection I took a new view of the night’s outrage. It was no
common burglar’s work, for what had I worth stealing? It was the work of
my unseen enemies, who dogged me in the street; they alone knew why; the
doctor had called these hallucinations, and I had forced myself to agree
with the doctor; but I could not deceive myself in my present mood.
I remembered the steps, the steps--the stopping when I stopped--the
drawing away in the crowded streets---the closing up in quieter places.
Why had I never looked round? Why? Because till to-day I had thought it
mere vulgar curiosity; because a few had bored me, I had imagined the
many at my heels; but now I knew--I knew! It was the few again: a few
who hated me even unto death.

The idea took such a hold upon me that I did not trouble my head with
reasons and motives. Certain persons had designs upon my life; that was
enough for me. On the whole, the thought was stimulating; it set a new
value on existence, and it roused a certain amount of spirit even in me.
I would give the fellows another chance before I left town. They should
follow me once more, and this time to some purpose. Last night they had
left a knife on me; to-night I would have a keepsake ready for them.

Hitherto I had gone unarmed since my landing, which, perhaps, was no
more than my duty as a civilized citizen. On Black Hill Flats, however,
I had formed another habit, of which I should never have broken myself
so easily, but for the fact that all the firearms I ever had were
reddening and rotting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. I now went
out and bought me such a one as I had never possessed before.

The revolver was then in its infancy; but it did exist; and by dusk
I was owner of as fine a specimen as could be procured in the city of
London. It had but five chambers, but the barrel was ten inches long;
one had to cap it, and to put in the powder and the wadded bullet
separately; but the last-named would have killed an elephant. The oak
case that I bought with it cumbers my desk as I write, and, shut,
you would think that it had never contained anything more lethal than
fruit-knives. I open it, and there are the green-baize compartments, one
with a box of percussion caps, still apparently full, another that could
not contain many more wadded-bullets, and a third with a powder-horn
which can never have been much lighter. Within the lid is a label
bearing the makers’ names; the gentlemen themselves are unknown to me,
even if they are still alive; nevertheless, after five-and-forty years,
let me dip my pen to Messrs. Deane, Adams and Deane!

That night I left this case in my room, locked, and the key in my
waistcoat pocket; in the right-hand side-pocket of my overcoat I carried
my Deane and Adams, loaded in every chamber; also my right hand, as
innocently as you could wish. And just that night I was not followed! I
walked across Regent’s Park, and I dawdled on Primrose Hill, without
the least result. Down I turned into the Avenue Road, and presently was
strolling between green fields towards Finchley. The moon was up, but
nicely shaded by a thin coating of clouds which extended across the sky:
it was an ideal night for it. It was also my last night in town, and I
did want to give the beggars their last chance. But they did not even
attempt to avail themselves of it: never once did they follow me: my
ears were in too good training to make any mistake. And the reason only
dawned on me as I drove back disappointed: they had followed me already
to the gunsmith’s!

Convinced of this, I entertained but little hope of another midnight
visitor. Nevertheless, I put my light out early, and sat a long time
peeping through my blind; but only an inevitable Tom, with back hunched
up and tail erect, broke the moonlit profile of the back-garden wall;
and once more that disreputable music (which none the less had saved my
life) was the only near sound all night.

I felt very reluctant to pack Deane and Adams away in his case next
morning, and the case in my portmanteau, where I could not get at it in
case my unknown friends took it into their heads to accompany me out of
town. In the hope that they would, I kept him loaded, and in the same
overcoat pocket, until late in the afternoon, when, being very near my
northern destination, and having the compartment to myself, I locked the
toy away with considerable remorse for the price I had paid for it. All
down the line I had kept an eye for suspicious characters with an eye
upon me; but even my self-consciousness failed to discover one; and I
reached my haven of peace, and of fresh fell air, feeling, I suppose,
much like any other fool who has spent his money upon a white elephant.



CHAPTER IX. MY CONVALESCENT HOME


The man Braithwaite met me at the station with a spring cart. The very
porters seemed to expect me, and my luggage was in the cart before I
had given up my ticket. Nor had we started when I first noticed that
Braithwaite did not speak when I spoke to him. On the way, however, a
more flagrant instance recalled young Rattray’s remark, that the man was
“not like other people.” I had imagined it to refer to a mental, not
a physical, defect; whereas it was clear to me now that my prospective
landlord was stone-deaf, and I presently discovered him to be dumb as
well. Thereafter I studied him with some attention during our drive of
four or five miles. I called to mind the theory that an innate physical
deficiency is seldom without its moral counterpart, and I wondered how
far this would apply to the deaf-mute at my side, who was ill-grown,
wizened, and puny into the bargain. The brow-beaten face of him was
certainly forbidding, and he thrashed his horse up the hills in a
dogged, vindictive, thorough-going way which at length made me jump
out and climb one of them on foot. It was the only form of protest that
occurred to me.

The evening was damp and thick. It melted into night as we drove.
I could form no impression of the country, but this seemed desolate
enough. I believe we met no living soul on the high road which we
followed for the first three miles or more. At length we turned into a
narrow lane, with a stiff stone wall on either hand, and this eventually
led us past the lights of what appeared to be a large farm; it was
really a small hamlet; and now we were nearing our destination. Gates
had to be opened, and my poor driver breathed hard from the continual
getting down and up. In the end a long and heavy cart-track brought us
to the loneliest light that I have ever seen. It shone on the side of a
hill--in the heart of an open wilderness--as solitary as a beacon-light
at sea. It was the light of the cottage which was to be my temporary
home.

A very tall, gaunt woman stood in the doorway against the inner glow.
She advanced with a loose, long stride, and invited me to enter in a
voice harsh (I took it) from disuse. I was warming myself before the
kitchen fire when she came in carrying my heaviest box as though it had
nothing in it. I ran to take it from her, for the box was full of books,
but she shook her head, and was on the stairs with it before I could
intercept her.

I conceive that very few men are attracted by abnormal strength in a
woman; we cannot help it; and yet it was not her strength which first
repelled me in Mrs. Braithwaite. It was a combination of attributes. She
had a poll of very dirty and untidy red hair; her eyes were set close
together; she had the jowl of the traditional prize-fighter. But far
more disagreeable than any single feature was the woman’s expression,
or rather the expression which I caught her assuming naturally, and
banishing with an effort for my benefit. To me she was strenuously
civil in her uncouth way. But I saw her give her husband one look, as
he staggered in with my comparatively light portmanteau, which she
instantly snatched out of his feeble arms. I saw this look again before
the evening was out, and it was such a one as Braithwaite himself had
fixed upon his horse as he flogged it up the hills.

I began to wonder how the young squire had found it in his conscience to
recommend such a pair. I wondered less when the woman finally ushered
me upstairs to my rooms. These were small and rugged, but eminently snug
and clean. In each a good fire blazed cheerfully; my portmanteau was
already unstrapped, the table in the sitting-room already laid; and I
could not help looking twice at the silver and the glass, so bright was
their condition, so good their quality. Mrs. Braithwaite watched me from
the door.

“I doubt you’ll be thinking them’s our own,” said she. “I wish they
were; t’squire sent ‘em in this afternoon.”

“For my use?”

“Ay; I doubt he thought what we had ourselves wasn’t good enough. An’
it’s him ‘at sent t’ armchair, t’bed-linen, t’bath, an’ that there
lookin’-glass an’ all.”

She had followed me into the bedroom, where I looked with redoubled
interest at each object as she mentioned it, and it was in the glass--a
masqueline shaving-glass--that I caught my second glimpse of my
landlady’s evil expression--levelled this time at myself.

I instantly turned round and told her that I thought it very kind of Mr.
Rattray, but that, for my part, I was not a luxurious man, and that I
felt rather sorry the matter had not been left entirely in her hands.
She retired seemingly mollified, and she took my sympathy with her,
though I was none the less pleased and cheered by my new friend’s zeal
for my comfort; there were even flowers on my table, without a doubt
from Kirby Hall.

And in another matter the squire had not misled me: the woman was an
excellent plain cook. I expected ham and eggs. Sure enough, this was my
dish, but done to a turn. The eggs were new and all unbroken, the ham
so lean and yet so tender, that I would not have exchanged my humble,
hearty meal for the best dinner served that night in London. It made a
new man of me, after my long journey and my cold, damp drive. I was for
chatting with Mrs. Braithwaite when she came up to clear away. I
thought she might be glad to talk after the life she must lead with her
afflicted husband, but it seemed to have had the opposite effect on her.
All I elicited was an ambiguous statement as to the distance between the
cottage and the hall; it was “not so far.” And so she left me to my pipe
and to my best night yet, in the stillest spot I have ever slept in
on dry land; one heard nothing but the bubble of a beck; and it seemed
very, very far away.

A fine, bright morning showed me my new surroundings in their true
colors; even in the sunshine these were not very gay. But gayety was the
last thing I wanted. Peace and quiet were my whole desire, and both were
here, set in scenery at once lovely to the eye and bracing to the soul.

From the cottage doorstep one looked upon a perfect panorama of
healthy, open English country. Purple hills hemmed in a broad, green,
undulating plateau, scored across and across by the stone walls of the
north, and all dappled with the shadows of rolling leaden clouds with
silver fringes. Miles away a church spire stuck like a spike out of the
hollow, and the smoke of a village dimmed the trees behind. No nearer
habitation could I see. I have mentioned a hamlet which we passed in the
spring-cart. It lay hidden behind some hillocks to the left. My landlady
told me it was better than half a mile away, and “nothing when you get
there; no shop; no post-office; not even a public--house.”

I inquired in which direction lay the hall. She pointed to the nearest
trees, a small forest of stunted oaks, which shut in the view to the
right, after quarter of a mile of a bare and rugged valley. Through this
valley twisted the beck which I had heard faintly in the night. It ran
through the oak plantation and so to the sea, some two or three miles
further on, said my landlady; but nobody would have thought it was so
near.

“T’squire was to be away to-day,” observed the woman, with the broad
vowel sound which I shall not attempt to reproduce in print. “He was
going to Lancaster, I believe.”

“So I understood,” said I. “I didn’t think of troubling him, if that’s
what you mean. I’m going to take his advice and fish the beck.”

And I proceeded to do so after a hearty early dinner: the keen, chill
air was doing me good already: the “perfect quiet” was finding its
way into my soul. I blessed my specialist, I blessed Squire Rattray, I
blessed the very villains who had brought us within each other’s ken;
and nowhere was my thanksgiving more fervent than in the deep cleft
threaded by the beck; for here the shrewd yet gentle wind passed
completely overhead, and the silence was purged of oppression by the
ceaseless symphony of clear water running over clean stones.

But it was no day for fishing, and no place for the fly, though I went
through the form of throwing one for several hours. Here the stream
merely rinsed its bed, there it stood so still, in pools of liquid
amber, that, when the sun shone, the very pebbles showed their shadows
in the deepest places. Of course I caught nothing; but, towards the
close of the gold-brown afternoon, I made yet another new acquaintance,
in the person of a little old clergyman who attacked me pleasantly from
the rear.

“Bad day for fishing, sir,” croaked the cheery voice which first
informed me of his presence. “Ah, I knew it must be a stranger,” he
cried as I turned and he hopped down to my side with the activity of a
much younger man.

“Yes,” I said, “I only came down from London yesterday. I find the spot
so delightful that I haven’t bothered much about the sport. Still, I’ve
had about enough of it now.” And I prepared to take my rod to pieces.

“Spot and sport!” laughed the old gentleman. “Didn’t mean it for a
pun, I hope? Never could endure puns! So you came down yesterday, young
gentleman, did you? And where may you be staying?”

I described the position of my cottage without the slightest hesitation;
for this parson did not scare me; except in appearance he had so
little in common with his type as I knew it. He had, however, about the
shrewdest pair of eyes that I have ever seen, and my answer only served
to intensify their open scrutiny.

“How on earth did you come to hear of a God-forsaken place like this?”
 said he, making use, I thought, of a somewhat stronger expression than
quite became his cloth.

“Squire Rattray told me of it,” said I.

“Ha! So you’re a friend of his, are you?” And his eyes went through and
through me like knitting-needles through a ball of wool.

“I could hardly call myself that,” said I. “But Mr. Rattray has been
very kind to me.”

“Meet him in town?”

I said I had, but I said it with some coolness, for his tone had dropped
into the confidential, and I disliked it as much as this string of
questions from a stranger.

“Long ago, sir?” he pursued.

“No, sir; not long ago,” I retorted.

“May I ask your name?” said he.

“You may ask what you like,” I cried, with a final reversal of all my
first impressions of this impertinent old fellow; “but I’m hanged if
I tell it you! I am here for rest and quiet, sir. I don’t ask you your
name. I can’t for the life of me see what right you have to ask me mine,
or to question me at all, for that matter.”

He favored me with a brief glance of extraordinary suspicion. It faded
away in mere surprise, and, next instant, my elderly and reverend friend
was causing me some compunction by coloring like a boy.

“You may think my curiosity mere impertinence, sir,” said he; “you would
think otherwise if you knew as much as I do of Squire Rattray’s friends,
and how little you resemble the generality of them. You might even feel
some sympathy for one of the neighboring clergy, to whom this godless
young man has been for years as a thorn in their side.”

He spoke so gravely, and what he said was so easy to believe, that I
could not but apologize for my hasty words.

“Don’t name it, sir,” said the clergyman; “you had a perfect right to
resent my questions, and I enjoy meeting young men of spirit; but not
when it’s an evil spirit, such as, I fear, possesses your friend! I do
assure you, sir, that the best thing I have heard of him for years is
the very little that you have told me. As a rule, to hear of him at all
in this part of the world, is to wish that we had not heard. I see him
coming, however, and shall detain you no longer, for I don’t deny that
there is no love lost between us.”

I looked round, and there was Rattray on the top of the bank, a long
way to the left, coming towards me with a waving hat. An extraordinary
ejaculation brought me to the right-about next instant.

The old clergyman had slipped on a stone in mid-stream, and, as he
dragged a dripping leg up the opposite bank, he had sworn an oath worthy
of the “godless young man” who had put him to flight, and on whose
demerits he had descanted with so much eloquence and indignation.



CHAPTER X. WINE AND WEAKNESS


“Sporting old parson who knows how to swear?” laughed Rattray. “Never saw
him in my life before; wondered who the deuce he was.”

“Really?” said I. “He professed to know something of you.”

“Against me, you mean? My dear Cole, don’t trouble to perjure yourself.
I don’t mind, believe me. They’re easily shocked, these country clergy,
and no doubt I’m a bugbear to ‘em. Yet, I could have sworn I’d never
seen this one before. Let’s have another look.”

We were walking away together. We turned on the top of the bank. And
there the old clergyman was planted on the moorside, and watching us
intently from under his hollowed hands.

“Well, I’m hanged!” exclaimed Rattray, as the hands fell and their
owner beat a hasty retreat. My companion said no more; indeed, for some
minutes we pursued our way in silence. And I thought that it was with an
effort that he broke into sudden inquiries concerning my journey and my
comfort at the cottage.

This gave me an opportunity of thanking him for his little attentions.
“It was awfully good of you,” said I, taking his arm as though I had
known him all my life; nor do I think there was another living man with
whom I would have linked arms at that time.

“Good?” cried he. “Nonsense, my dear sir! I’m only afraid you find
it devilish rough. But, at all events, you’re coming to dine with me
to-night.”

“Am I?” I asked, smiling.

“Rather!” said he. “My time here is short enough. I don’t lose sight of
you again between this and midnight.”

“It’s most awfully good of you,” said I again.

“Wait till you see! You’ll find it rough enough at my place; all my
retainers are out for the day at a local show.”

“Then I certainly shall not give you the trouble.”

He interrupted me with his jovial laugh.

“My good fellow,” he cried, “that’s the fun of it! How do you suppose
I’ve been spending the day? Told you I was going to Lancaster, did I?
Well, I’ve been cooking our dinner instead--laying the table--getting
up the wines--never had such a joke! Give you my word, I almost forgot I
was in the wilderness!”

“So you’re quite alone, are you?”

“Yes; as much so as that other beggar who was monarch of all he
surveyed, his right there was none to dispute, from the what-is-it down
to the glade--”

“I’ll come,” said I, as we reached the cottage. “Only first you must let
me make myself decent.”

“You’re decent enough!”

“My boots are wet; my hands--”

“All serene! I’ll give you five minutes.”

And I left him outside, flourishing a handsome watch, while, on my way
upstairs, I paused to tell Mrs. Braithwaite that I was dining at the
hall. She was busy cooking, and I felt prepared for her unpleasant
expression; but she showed no annoyance at my news. I formed the
impression that it was no news to her. And next minute I heard a
whispering below; it was unmistakable in that silent cottage, where not
a word had reached me yet, save in conversation to which I was myself a
party.

I looked out of window. Rattray I could no longer see. And I confess
that I felt both puzzled and annoyed until we walked away together, when
it was his arm which was immediately thrust through mine.

“A good soul, Jane,” said he; “though she made an idiotic marriage, and
leads a life which might spoil the temper of an archangel. She was my
nurse when I was a youngster, Cole, and we never meet without a yarn.”
 Which seemed natural enough; still I failed to perceive why they need
yarn in whispers.

Kirby Hall proved startlingly near at hand. We descended the bare
valley to the right, we crossed the beck upon a plank, were in the
oak-plantation about a minute, and there was the hall upon the farther
side.

And a queer old place it seemed, half farm, half feudal castle: fowls
strutting at large about the back premises (which we were compelled to
skirt), and then a front door of ponderous oak, deep-set between walls
fully six feet thick, and studded all over with wooden pegs. The facade,
indeed, was wholly grim, with a castellated tower at one end, and a
number of narrow, sunken windows looking askance on the wreck and
ruin of a once prim, old-fashioned, high-walled garden. I thought that
Rattray might have shown more respect for the house of his ancestors.
It put me in mind of a neglected grave. And yet I could forgive a bright
young fellow for never coming near so desolate a domain.

We dined delightfully in a large and lofty hall, formerly used (said
Rattray) as a court-room. The old judgment seat stood back against the
wall, and our table was the one at which the justices had been wont to
sit. Then the chamber had been low-ceiled; now it ran to the roof, and
we ate our dinner beneath a square of fading autumn sky, with I wondered
how many ghosts looking down on us from the oaken gallery! I was
interested, impressed, awed not a little, and yet all in a way which
afforded my mind the most welcome distraction from itself and from the
past. To Rattray, on the other hand, it was rather sadly plain that the
place was both a burden and a bore; in fact he vowed it was the dampest
and the dullest old ruin under the sun, and that he would sell it
to-morrow if he could find a lunatic to buy. His want of sentiment
struck me as his one deplorable trait. Yet even this displayed his
characteristic merit of frankness. Nor was it at all unpleasant to hear
his merry, boyish laughter ringing round hall and gallery, ere it died
away against a dozen closed doors.

And there were other elements of good cheer: a log fire blazing heartily
in the old dog-grate, casting a glow over the stone flags, a reassuring
flicker into the darkest corner: cold viands of the very best: and the
finest old Madeira that has ever passed my lips.

Now, all my life I have been a “moderate drinker” in the most literal
sense of that slightly elastic term. But at the sad time of which I
am trying to write, I was almost an abstainer, from the fear, the
temptation--of seeking oblivion in strong waters. To give way then was
to go on giving way. I realized the danger, and I took stern measures.
Not stern enough, however; for what I did not realize was my weak and
nervous state, in which a glass would have the same effect on me as
three or four upon a healthy man.

Heaven knows how much or how little I took that evening! I can swear
it was the smaller half of either bottle--and the second we never
finished--but the amount matters nothing. Even me it did not make
grossly tipsy. But it warmed my blood, it cheered my heart, it excited
my brain, and--it loosened my tongue. It set me talking with a freedom
of which I should have been incapable in my normal moments, on a subject
whereof I had never before spoken of my own free will. And yet the will
to--speak--to my present companion--was no novelty. I had felt it at our
first meeting in the private hotel. His tact, his sympathy, his handsome
face, his personal charm, his frank friendliness, had one and all
tempted me to bore this complete stranger with unsolicited confidences
for which an inquisitive relative might have angled in vain. And the
temptation was the stronger because I knew in my heart that I should
not bore the young squire at all; that he was anxious enough to hear my
story from my own lips, but too good a gentleman intentionally to
betray such anxiety. Vanity was also in the impulse. A vulgar newspaper
prominence had been my final (and very genuine) tribulation; but to
please and to interest one so pleasing and so interesting to me, was
another and a subtler thing. And then there was his sympathy--shall I
add his admiration?--for my reward.

I do not pretend that I argued thus deliberately in my heated and
excited brain. I merely hold that all these small reasons and motives
were there, fused and exaggerated by the liquor which was there as well.
Nor can I say positively that Rattray put no leading questions; only
that I remember none which had that sound; and that, once started, I am
afraid I needed only too little encouragement to run on and on.

Well, I was set going before we got up from the table. I continued in
an armchair that my host dragged from a little book-lined room adjoining
the hall. I finished on my legs, my back to the fire, my hands beating
wildly together. I had told my dear Rattray of my own accord more than
living man had extracted from me yet. He interrupted me very little;
never once until I came to the murderous attack by Santos on the drunken
steward.

“The brute!” cried Rattray. “The cowardly, cruel, foreign devil! And you
never let out one word of that!”

“What was the good?” said I. “They are all gone now--all gone to their
account. Every man of us was a brute at the last. There was nothing to
be gained by telling the public that.”

He let me go on until I came to another point which I had hitherto kept
to myself: the condition of the dead mate’s fingers: the cries that the
sight of them had recalled.

“That Portuguese villain again!” cried my companion, fairly leaping from
the chair which I had left and he had taken. “It was the work of the
same cane that killed the steward. Don’t tell me an Englishman would
have done it; and yet you said nothing about that either!”

It was my first glimpse of this side of my young host’s character. Nor
did I admire him the less, in his spirited indignation, because much of
this was clearly against myself. His eyes flashed. His face was white. I
suddenly found myself the cooler man of the two.

“My dear fellow, do consider!” said I. “What possible end could have
been served by my stating what I couldn’t prove against a man who
could never be brought to book in this world? Santos was punished as he
deserved; his punishment was death, and there’s an end on’t.”

“You might be right,” said Rattray, “but it makes my blood boil to hear
such a story. Forgive me if I have spoken strongly;” and he paced his
hall for a little in an agitation which made me like him better and
better. “The cold-blooded villain!” he kept muttering; “the infernal,
foreign, blood-thirsty rascal! Perhaps you were right; it couldn’t have
done any good, I know; but--I only wish he’d lived for us to hang him,
Cole! Why, a beast like that is capable of anything: I wonder if
you’ve told me the worst even now?” And he stood before me, with candid
suspicion in his fine, frank eyes.

“What makes you say that?” said I, rather nettled.

“I shan’t tell you if it’s going to rile you, old fellow,” was his reply.
And with it reappeared the charming youth whom I found it impossible
to resist. “Heaven knows you have had enough to worry you!” he added, in
his kindly, sympathetic voice.

“So much,” said I, “that you cannot add to it, my dear Rattray. Now,
then! Why do you think there was something worse?”

“You hinted as much in town: rightly or wrongly I gathered there was
something you would never speak about to living man.”

I turned from him with a groan.

“Ah! but that had nothing to do with Santos.”

“Are you sure?” he cried.

“No,” I murmured; “it had something to do with him, in a sense; but
don’t ask me any more.” And I leaned my forehead on the high oak
mantel-piece, and groaned again.

His hand was upon my shoulder.

“Do tell me,” he urged. I was silent. He pressed me further. In my
fancy, both hand and voice shook with his sympathy.

“He had a step-daughter,” said I at last.

“Yes? Yes?”

“I loved her. That was all.”

His hand dropped from my shoulder. I remained standing, stooping,
thinking only of her whom I had lost for ever. The silence was intense.
I could hear the wind sighing in the oaks without, the logs burning
softly away at my feet And so we stood until the voice of Rattray
recalled me from the deck of the Lady Jermyn and my lost love’s side.

“So that was all!”

I turned and met a face I could not read.

“Was it not enough?” cried I. “What more would you have?”

“I expected some more-foul play!”

“Ah!” I exclaimed bitterly. “So that was all that interested you! No,
there was no more foul play that I know of; and if there was, I don’t
care. Nothing matters to me but one thing. Now that you know what that
is, I hope you’re satisfied.”

It was no way to speak to one’s host. Yet I felt that he had pressed me
unduly. I hated myself for my final confidence, and his want of sympathy
made me hate him too. In my weakness, however, I was the natural prey
of violent extremes. His hand flew out to me. He was about to speak.
A moment more and I had doubtless forgiven him. But another sound
came instead and made the pair of us start and stare. It was the soft
shutting of some upstairs door.

“I thought we had the house to ourselves?” cried I, my miserable nerves
on edge in an instant.

“So did I,” he answered, very pale. “My servants must have come back. By
the Lord Harry, they shall hear of this!”

He sprang to a door, I heard his feet clattering up some stone stairs,
and in a trice he was running along the gallery overhead; in another
I heard him railing behind some upper door that he had flung open and
banged behind him; then his voice dropped, and finally died away. I was
left some minutes in the oppressively silent hall, shaken, startled,
ashamed of my garrulity, aching to get away. When he returned it was by
another of the many closed doors, and he found me awaiting him, hat in
hand. He was wearing his happiest look until he saw my hat.

“Not going?” he cried. “My dear Cole, I can’t apologize sufficiently for
my abrupt desertion of you, much less for the cause. It was my man,
just come in from the show, and gone up the back way. I accused him of
listening to our conversation. Of course he denies it; but it really
doesn’t matter, as I’m sorry to say he’s much too ‘fresh’ (as they call
it down here) to remember anything to-morrow morning. I let him have it,
I can tell you. Varlet! Caitiff! But if you bolt off on the head of it,
I shall go back and sack him into the bargain!”

I assured him I had my own reasons for wishing to retire early. He could
have no conception of my weakness, my low and nervous condition of
body and mind; much as I had enjoyed myself, he must really let me go.
Another glass of wine, then? Just one more? No, I had drunk too much
already. I was in no state to stand it. And I held out my hand with
decision.

Instead of taking it he looked at me very hard.

“The place doesn’t suit you,” said he. “I see it doesn’t, and I’m
devilish sorry! Take my advice and try something milder; now do,
to-morrow; for I should never forgive myself if it made you worse
instead of better; and the air is too strong for lots of people.”

I was neither too ill nor too vexed to laugh outright in his face.

“It’s not the air,” said I; “it’s that splendid old Madeira of yours,
that was too strong for me, if you like! No, no, Rattray, you don’t get
rid of me so cheaply-much as you seem to want to!”

“I was only thinking of you,” he rejoined, with a touch of pique that
convinced me of his sincerity. “Of course I want you to stop, though
I shan’t be here many days; but I feel responsible for you, Cole,
and that’s the fact. Think you can find your way?” he continued,
accompanying me to the gate, a postern in the high garden wall. “Hadn’t
you better have a lantern?”

No; it was unnecessary. I could see splendidly, had the bump of locality
and as many more lies as would come to my tongue. I was indeed burning
to be gone.

A moment later I feared that I had shown this too plainly. For his final
handshake was hearty enough to send me away something ashamed of
my precipitancy, and with a further sense of having shown him
small gratitude for his kindly anxiety on my behalf. I would behave
differently to-morrow. Meanwhile I had new regrets.

At first it was comparatively easy to see, for the lights of the house
shone faintly among the nearer oaks. But the moon was hidden behind
heavy clouds, and I soon found myself at a loss in a terribly dark zone
of timber. Already I had left the path. I felt in my pocket for matches.
I had none.

My head was now clear enough, only deservedly heavy. I was still
quarrelling with myself for my indiscretions and my incivilities, one
and all the result of his wine and my weakness, and this new predicament
(another and yet more vulgar result) was the final mortification. I
swore aloud. I simply could not see a foot in front of my face. Once I
proved it by running my head hard against a branch. I was hopelessly and
ridiculously lost within a hundred yards of the hall!

Some minutes I floundered, ashamed to go back, unable to proceed for
the trees and the darkness. I heard the beck running over its stones. I
could still see an occasional glimmer from the windows I had left. But
the light was now on this side, now on that; the running water chuckled
in one ear after the other; there was nothing for it but to return in
all humility for the lantern which I had been so foolish as to refuse.

And as I resigned myself to this imperative though inglorious course, my
heart warmed once more to the jovial young squire. He would laugh, but
not unkindly, at my grotesque dilemma; at the thought of his laughter I
began to smile myself. If he gave me another chance I would smoke that
cigar with him before starting home afresh, and remove, from my own
mind no less than from his, all ill impressions. After all it was not
his fault that I had taken too much of his wine; but a far worse offence
was to be sulky in one’s cups. I would show him that I was myself again
in all respects. I have admitted that I was temporarily, at all events,
a creature of extreme moods. It was in this one that I retraced my steps
towards the lights, and at length let myself into the garden by the
postern at which I had shaken Rattray’s hand not ten minutes before.

Taking heart of grace, I stepped up jauntily to the porch. The weeds
muffled my steps. I myself had never thought of doing so, when all at
once I halted in a vague terror. Through the deep lattice windows I
had seen into the lighted hall. And Rattray was once more seated at his
table, a little company of men around him.

I crept nearer, and my heart stopped. Was I delirious, or raving mad
with wine? Or had the sea given up its dead?



CHAPTER XI. I LIVE AGAIN


Squire Rattray, as I say, was seated at the head of his table, where
the broken meats still lay as he and I had left them; his fingers, I
remember, were playing with a crust, and his eyes fixed upon a distant
door, as he leant back in his chair. Behind him hovered the nigger of
the Lady Jermyn, whom I had been the slower to recognize, had not her
skipper sat facing me on the squire’s right. Yes, there was Captain
Harris in the flesh, eating heartily between great gulps of wine,
instead of feeding the fishes as all the world supposed. And nearer
still, nearer me than any, with his back to my window but his chair
slued round a little, so that he also could see that door, and I his
profile, sat Joaquin Santos with his cigarette!

None spoke; all seemed waiting; and all were silent but the captain,
whose vulgar champing reached me through the crazy lattice, as I stood
spellbound and petrified without.

They say that a drowning man lives his life again before the last; but
my own fight with the sea provided me with no such moments of vivid and
rapid retrospect as those during which I stood breathless outside the
lighted windows of Kirby Hall. I landed again. I was dogged day and
night. I set it down to nerves and notoriety; but took refuge in a
private hotel. One followed me, engaged the next room, set a watch on
all my movements; another came in by the window to murder me in my
bed; no party to that, the first one nevertheless turned the outrage to
account, wormed himself into my friendship on the strength of it, and
lured me hither, an easy prey. And here was the gang of them, to meet
me! No wonder Rattray had not let me see him off at the station; no
wonder I had not been followed that night. Every link I saw in its
right light instantly. Only the motive remained obscure. Suspicious
circumstances swarmed upon my slow perception: how innocent I had been!
Less innocent, however, than wilfully and wholly reckless: what had it
mattered with whom I made friends? What had anything mattered to me?
What did anything matter--

I thought my heart had snapped!

Why were they watching that door, Joaquin Santos and the young squire?
Whom did they await? I knew! Oh, I knew! My heart leaped, my blood
danced, my eyes lay in wait with theirs. Everything began to matter
once more. It was as though the machinery of my soul, long stopped, had
suddenly been set in motion; it was as though I was born again.

How long we seemed to wait I need not say. It cannot have been many
moments in reality, for Santos was blowing his rings of smoke in the
direction of the door, and the first that I noticed were but dissolving
when it opened--and the best was true! One instant I saw her very
clearly, in the light of a candle which she carried in its silver stick;
then a mist blinded me, and I fell on my knees in the rank bed into
which I had stepped, to give such thanks to the Almighty as this heart
has never felt before or since. And I remained kneeling; for now my face
was on a level with the sill; and when my eyes could see again, there
stood my darling before them in the room.

Like a queen she stood, in the very travelling cloak in which I had seen
her last; it was tattered now, but she held it close about her as though
a shrewd wind bit her to the core. Her sweet face was all peeked and
pale in the candle-light: she who had been a child was come to womanhood
in a few weeks. But a new spirit flashed in her dear eyes, a new
strength hardened her young lips. She stood as an angel brought to book
by devils; and so noble was her calm defiance, so serene her scorn,
that, as I watched and listened; all present fear for her passed out of
my heart.

The first sound was the hasty rising of young Rattray; he was at Eva’s
side next instant, essaying to lead her to his chair, with a flush which
deepened as she repulsed him coldly.

“You have sent for me, and I have come,” said she. “But I prefer not to
sit down in your presence; and what you have to say, you will be good
enough to say as quickly as possible, that I may go again before I
am--stifled!”

It was her one hot word; aimed at them all, it seemed to me to fall like
a lash on Rattray’s cheek, bringing the blood to it like lightning. But
it was Santos who snatched the cigarette from his mouth, and opened upon
the defenceless girl in a torrent of Portuguese, yellow with rage, and a
very windmill of lean arms and brown hands in the terrifying rapidity of
his gesticulations. They did not terrify Eva Denison. When Rattray took
a step towards the speaker, with flashing eyes, it was some word from
Eva that checked him; when Santos was done, it was to Rattray that she
turned with her answer.

“He calls me a liar for telling you that Mr. Cole knew all,” said she,
thrilling me with my own name. “Don’t you say anything,” she added, as
the young man turned on Santos with a scowl; “you are one as wicked as
the other, but there was a time when I thought differently of you: his
character I have always known. Of the two evils, I prefer to speak to
you.”

Rattray bowed, humbly enough, I thought; but my darling’s nostrils only
curled the more.

“He calls me a liar,” she continued; “so may you all. Since you have
found it out, I admit it freely and without shame; one must be false in
the hands of false fiends like all of you. Weakness is nothing to you;
helplessness is nothing; you must be met with your own weapons, and so I
lied in my sore extremity to gain the one miserable advantage within my
reach. He says you found me out by making friends with Mr. Cole. He
says that Mr. Cole has been dining with you in this very room, this
very night. You still tell the truth sometimes; has that man--that
demon--told it for once?”

“It is perfectly true,” said Rattray in a low voice.

“And poor Mr. Cole told you that he knew nothing of your villany?”

“I found out that he knew absolutely nothing--after first thinking
otherwise.”

“Suppose he had known? What would you have done?”

Rattray said nothing. Santos shrugged as he lit a fresh cigarette. The
captain went on with his supper.

“Ashamed to say!” cried Eva Denison. “So you have some shame left still!
Well, I will tell you. You would have murdered him, as you murdered all
the rest; you would have killed him in cold blood, as I wish and pray
that you would kill me!”

The young fellow faced her, white to the lips. “You have no right to
say that, Miss Denison!” he cried. “I may be bad, but, as I am ready to
answer for my sins, the crime of murder is not among them.”

Well, it is still some satisfaction to remember that my love never
punished me with such a look as was the young squire’s reward for this
protestation. The curl of the pink nostrils, the parting of the proud
lips, the gleam of the sound white teeth, before a word was spoken,
were more than I, for one, could have borne. For I did not see the grief
underlying the scorn, but actually found it in my heart to pity this
poor devil of a Rattray: so humbly fell those fine eyes of his, so like
a dog did he stand, waiting to be whipped.

“Yes; you are very innocent!” she began at last, so softly that I could
scarcely hear. “You have not committed murder, so you say; let it stand
to your credit by all means. You have no blood upon your hands; you say
so; that is enough. No! you are comparatively innocent, I admit. All
you have done is to make murder easy for others; to get others to do the
dirty work, and then shelter them and share the gain; all you need have
on your conscience is every life that was lost with the Lady Jermyn, and
every soul that lost itself in losing them. You call that innocence?
Then give me honest guilt! Give me the man who set fire to the ship, and
who sits there eating his supper; he is more of a man than you. Give me
the wretch who has beaten men to death before my eyes; there’s something
great about a monster like that, there’s something to loathe. His
assistant is only little--mean--despicable!” Loud and hurried in its
wrath, low and deliberate in its contempt, all this was uttered with a
furious and abnormal eloquence, which would have struck me, loving her,
to the ground. On Rattray it had a different effect. His head lifted as
she heaped abuse upon it, until he met her flashing eye with that of a
man very thankful to take his deserts and something more; and to mine he
was least despicable when that last word left her lips. When he saw that
it was her last, he took her candle (she had put it down on the ancient
settle against the door), and presented it to her with another bow. And
so without a word he led her to the door, opened it, and bowed yet lower
as she swept out, but still without a tinge of mockery in the obeisance.

He was closing the door after her when Joaquin Santos reached it.

“Diablo!” cried he. “Why let her go? We have not done with her.”

“That doesn’t matter; she is done with us,” was the stern reply.

“It does matter,” retorted Santos; “what is more, she is my
step-daughter, and back she shall come!”

“She is also my visitor, and I’m damned if you’re going to make her!”

An instant Santos stood, his back to me, his fingers working, his neck
brown with blood; then his coat went into creases across the shoulders,
and he was shrugging still as he turned away.

“Your veesitor!” said he. “Your veesitor! Your veesitor!”

Harris laughed outright as he raised his glass; the hot young squire
had him by the collar, and the wine was spilling on the cloth, as I rose
very cautiously and crept back to the path.

“When rogues fall out!” I was thinking to myself. “I shall save her
yet--I shall save my darling!”

Already I was accustomed to the thought that she still lived, and to the
big heart she had set beating in my feeble frame; already the continued
existence of these villains, with the first dim inkling of their
villainy, was ceasing to be a novelty in a brain now quickened and
prehensile beyond belief. And yet--but a few minutes had I knelt at the
window--but a few more was it since Rattray and I had shaken hands!

Not his visitor; his prisoner, without a doubt; but alive! alive! and,
neither guest nor prisoner for many hours more. O my love! O my heart’s
delight! Now I knew why I was spared; to save her; to snatch her from
these rascals; to cherish and protect her evermore!

All the past shone clear behind me; the dark was lightness and the
crooked straight. All the future lay clear ahead it presented no
difficulties yet; a mad, ecstatic confidence was mine for the wildest,
happiest moments of my life.

I stood upright in the darkness. I saw her light!

It was ascending the tower at the building’s end; now in this window it
glimmered, now in the one above. At last it was steady, high up near the
stars, and I stole below.

“Eva! Eva!”

There was no answer. Low as it was, my voice was alarming; it cooled
and cautioned me. I sought little stones. I crept back to throw them.
Ah God! her form eclipsed that lighted slit in the gray stone tower. I
heard her weeping high above me at her window.

“Eva! Eva!”

There was a pause, and then a little cry of gladness.

“Is it Mr. Cole?” came in an eager whisper through her tears.

“Yes! yes! I was outside the window. I heard everything.”

“They will hear you!” she cried softly, in a steadier voice.

“No-listen!” They were quarrelling. Rattray’s voice was loud and angry.
“They cannot hear,” I continued, in more cautious tones; “they think
I’m in bed and asleep half-a-mile away. Oh, thank God! I’ll get you away
from them; trust me, my love, my darling!”

In my madness I knew not what I said; it was my wild heart speaking.
Some moments passed before she replied.

“Will you promise to do nothing I ask you not to do?”

“Of course.”

“My life might answer for it--”

“I promise--I promise.”

“Then wait--hide--watch my light. When you see it back in the window,
watch with all your eyes! I am going to write and then throw it out. Not
another syllable!”

She was gone; there was a long yellow slit in the masonry once more; her
light burnt faint and far within.

I retreated among some bushes and kept watch.

The moon was skimming beneath the surface of a sea of clouds: now the
black billows had silver crests: now an incandescent buoy bobbed among
them. O for enough light, and no more!

In the hall the high voices were more subdued. I heard the captain’s
tipsy laugh. My eyes fastened themselves upon that faint and lofty
light, and on my heels I crouched among the bushes.

The flame moved, flickered, and shone small but brilliant on the very
sill. I ran forward on tip-toe. A white flake fluttered to my feet. I
secured it and waited for one word; none came; but the window was softly
shut.

I stood in doubt, the treacherous moonlight all over me now, and once
more the window opened.

“Go quickly!”

And again it was shut; next moment I was stealing close by the spot
where I had knelt. I saw within once more.

Harris nodded in his chair. The nigger had disappeared. Rattray was
lighting a candle, and the Portuguese holding out his hand for the
match.

“Did you lock the gate, senhor?” asked Santos.

“No; but I will now.”

As I opened it I heard a door open within. I could hardly let the latch
down again for the sudden trembling of my fingers. The key turned behind
me ere I had twenty yards’ start.

Thank God there was light enough now! I followed the beck. I found
my way. I stood in the open valley, between the oak-plantation and my
desolate cottage, and I kissed my tiny, twisted note again and again in
a paroxysm of passion and of insensate joy. Then I unfolded it and held
it to my eyes in the keen October moonshine.



CHAPTER XII. MY LADY’S BIDDING


Scribbled in sore haste, by a very tremulous little hand, with a pencil,
on the flyleaf of some book, my darling’s message is still difficult to
read; it was doubly so in the moonlight, five-and-forty autumns ago. My
eyesight, however, was then perhaps the soundest thing about me, and in
a little I had deciphered enough to guess correctly (as it proved) at
the whole:--


“You say you heard everything just now, and there is no time for further
explanations. I am in the hands of villains, but not ill-treated, though
they are one as bad as the other. You will not find it easy to rescue
me. I don’t see how it is to be done. You have promised not to do
anything I ask you not to do, and I implore you not to tell a soul until
you have seen me again and heard more. You might just as well kill me as
come back now with help.

“You see you know nothing, though I told them you knew all. And so you
shall as soon as I can see you for five minutes face to face. In the
meantime do nothing--know nothing when you see Mr. Rattray--unless you
wish to be my death.

“It would have been possible last night, and it may be again to-morrow
night. They all go out every night when they can, except Jose, who is
left in charge. They are out from nine or ten till two or three; if they
are out to-morrow night my candle will be close to the window as I shall
put it when I have finished this. You can see my window from over the
wall. If the light is in front you must climb the wall, for they will
leave the gate locked. I shall see you and will bribe Jose to let me
out for a turn. He has done it before for a bottle of wine. I can manage
him. Can I trust to you? If you break your promise--but you will not?
One of them would as soon kill me as smoke a cigarette, and the rest are
under his thumb. I dare not write more. But my life is in your hands.

“EVA DENISON.”


“Oh! beware of the woman Braithwaite; she is about the worst of the
gang.”

I could have burst out crying in my bitter discomfiture, mortification,
and alarm: to think that her life was in my hands, and that it depended,
not on that prompt action which was the one course I had contemplated,
but on twenty-four hours of resolute inactivity! I would not think it.
I refused the condition. It took away my one prop, my one stay, that
prospect of immediate measures which alone preserved in me such coolness
as I had retained until now. I was cool no longer; where I had relied
on practical direction I was baffled and hindered and driven mad; on my
honor believe I was little less for some moments, groaning, cursing,
and beating the air with impotent fists--in one of them my poor love’s
letter crushed already to a ball.

Danger and difficulty I had been prepared to face; but the task that I
was set was a hundred-fold harder than any that had whirled through my
teeming brain. To sit still; to do nothing; to pretend I knew nothing;
an hour of it would destroy my reason--and I was invited to wait
twenty-four!

No; my word was passed; keep it I must. She knew the men, she must know
best; and her life depended on my obedience: she made that so plain.
Obey I must and would; to make a start, I tottered over the plank that
spanned the beck, and soon I saw the cottage against the moonlit sky.
I came up to it. I drew back in sudden fear. It was alight upstairs and
down, and the gaunt strong figure of the woman Braithwaite stood out
as I had seen it first, in the doorway, with the light showing warmly
through her rank red hair.

“Is that you, Mr. Cole?” she cried in a tone that she reserved for me;
yet through the forced amiability there rang a note of genuine surprise.
She had been prepared for me never to return at all!

My knees gave under me as I forced myself to advance; but my wits took
new life from the crisis, and in a flash I saw how to turn my weakness
into account. I made a false step on my way to the door; when I reached
it I leant heavily against the jam, and I said with a slur that I felt
unwell. I had certainly been flushed with wine when I left Rattray; it
would be no bad thing for him to hear that I had arrived quite tipsy at
the cottage; should he discover I had been near an hour on the way, here
was my explanation cut and dried.

So I shammed a degree of intoxication with apparent success, and Jane
Braithwaite gave me her arm up the stairs. My God, how strong it was,
and how weak was mine!

Left to myself, I reeled about my bedroom, pretending to undress; then
out with my candles, and into bed in all my clothes, until the cottage
should be quiet. Yes, I must lie still and feign sleep, with every nerve
and fibre leaping within me, lest the she-devil below should suspect
me of suspicions! It was with her I had to cope for the next
four-and-twenty hours; and she filled me with a greater present terror
than all those villains at the hall; for had not their poor little
helpless captive described her as “about the worst of the gang?”

To think that my love lay helpless there in the hands of those wretches;
and to think that her lover lay helpless here in the supervision of this
vile virago!

It must have been one or two in the morning when I stole to my
sitting-room window, opened it, and sat down to think steadily, with the
counterpane about my shoulders.

The moon sailed high and almost full above the clouds; these were
dispersing as the night wore on, and such as remained were of a
beautiful soft tint between white and gray. The sky was too light for
stars, and beneath it the open country stretched so clear and far that
it was as though one looked out at noonday through slate-colored glass.
Down the dewy slope below my window a few calves fed with toothless
mouthings; the beck was very audible, the oak-trees less so; but for
these peaceful sounds the stillness and the solitude were equally
intense.

I may have sat there like a mouse for half an hour. The reason was that
I had become mercifully engrossed in one of the subsidiary problems:
whether it would be better to drop from the window or to trust to the
creaking stairs. Would the creaking be much worse than the thud, and
the difference worth the risk of a sprained ankle? Well worth it, I at
length decided; the risk was nothing; my window was scarce a dozen feet
from the ground. How easily it could be done, how quickly, how safely in
this deep, stillness and bright moonlight! I would fall so lightly on
my stocking soles; a single soft, dull thud; then away under the moon
without fear or risk of a false step; away over the stone walls to the
main road, and so to the nearest police-station with my tale; and before
sunrise the villains would be taken in their beds, and my darling would
be safe!

I sprang up softly. Why not do it now? Was I bound to keep my rash,
blind promise? Was it possible these murderers would murder her?
I struck a match on my trousers, I lit a candle, I read her letter
carefully again, and again it maddened and distracted me. I struck my
hands together. I paced the room wildly. Caution deserted me, and I made
noise enough to wake the very mute; lost to every consideration but that
of the terrifying day before me, the day of silence and of inactivity,
that I must live through with an unsuspecting face, a cool head, a civil
tongue! The prospect appalled me as nothing else could or did; nay, the
sudden noise upon the stairs, the knock at my door, and the sense that
I had betrayed myself already even now all was over--these came as a
relief after the haunting terror which they interrupted.

I flung the door open, and there stood Mrs. Braithwaite, as fully
dressed as myself.

“You’ll not be very well sir?”

“No, I’m not.”

“What’s t’ matter wi’ you?”

This second question was rude and fierce with suspicion: the real woman
rang out in it, yet its effect on me was astonishing: once again was I
inspired to turn my slip into a move.

“Matter?” I cried. “Can’t you see what’s the matter; couldn’t you see
when I came in? Drink’s the matter! I came in drunk, and now I’m mad. I
can’t stand it; I’m not in a fit state. Do you know nothng of me? Have
they told you nothing? I’m the only man that was saved from the Lady
Jermyn, the ship that was burned to the water’s edge with every soul but
me. My nerves are in little ends. I came down here for peace and quiet
and sleep. Do you know that I have hardly slept for two months? And now
I shall never sleep again! O my God I shall die for want of it! The wine
has done it. I never should have touched a drop. I can’t stand it; I
can’t sleep after it; I shall kill myself if I get no sleep. Do you
hear, you woman? I shall kill myself in your house if I don’t get to
sleep!”

I saw her shrink, virago as she was. I waved my arms, I shrieked in
her face. It was not all acting. Heaven knows how true it was about the
sleep. I was slowly dying of insomnia. I was a nervous wreck. She must
have heard it. Now she saw it for herself.

No; it was by no means all acting. Intending only to lie, I found
myself telling little but the strictest truth, and longing for sleep as
passionately as though I had nothing to keep me awake. And yet, while my
heart cried aloud in spite of me, and my nerves relieved themselves in
this unpremeditated ebullition, I was all the time watching its effect
as closely as though no word of it had been sincere.

Mrs. Braithwaite seemed frightened; not at all pitiful; and as I calmed
down she recovered her courage and became insolent. I had spoilt her
night. She had not been told she was to take in a raving lunatic. She
would speak to Squire Rattray in the morning.

“Morning?” I yelled after her as she went. “Send your husband to the
nearest chemist as soon as it’s dawn; send him for chloral, chloroform,
morphia, anything they’ve got and as much of it as they’ll let him have.
I’ll give you five pounds if you get me what’ll send me to sleep all
to-morrow--and to-morrow night!”

Never, I feel sure, were truth and falsehood more craftily interwoven;
yet I had thought of none of it until the woman was at my door, while of
much I had not thought at all. It had rushed from my heart and from my
lips. And no sooner was I alone than I burst into hysterical tears, only
to stop and compliment myself because they sounded genuine--as though
they were not! Towards morning I took to my bed in a burning fever, and
lay there, now congratulating myself upon it, because when night came
they would all think me so secure; and now weeping because the night
might find me dying or dead. So I tossed, with her note clasped in my
hand underneath the sheets; and beneath my very body that stout weapon
that I had bought in town. I might not have to use it, but I was
fatalist enough to fancy that I should. In the meantime it helped me to
lie still, my thoughts fixed on the night, and the day made easy for me
after all.

If only I could sleep!

About nine o’clock Jane Braithwaite paid me a surly visit; in half an
hour she was back with tea and toast and an altered mien. She not only
lit my fire, but treated me the while to her original tone of almost
fervent civility and respect and determination. Her vagaries soon ceased
to puzzle me: the psychology of Jane Braithwaite was not recondite. In
the night it had dawned upon her that Rattray had found me harmless and
was done with me, therefore there was no need for her to put herself out
any further on my account. In the morning, finding me really ill, she
had gone to the hall in alarm; her subsequent attentions were an act of
obedience; and in their midst came Rattray himself to my bedside.



CHAPTER XIII. THE LONGEST DAY OF MY LIFE


The boy looked so blithe and buoyant, so gallant and still so frank,
that even now I could not think as meanly of him as poor Eva did. A
rogue he must be, but surely not the petty rogue that she had made him
out. Yet it was dirty work that he had done by me; and there I had to
lie and take his kind, false, felon’s hand in mine.

“My poor dear fellow,” he cried, “I’m most sorry to find you like this.
But I was afraid of it last night. It’s all this infernally strong air!”

How I longed to tell him what it was, and to see his face! The thought
of Eva alone restrained me, and I retorted as before, in a tone I strove
to make as friendly, that it was his admirable wine and nothing else.

“But you took hardly any.”

“I shouldn’t have touched a drop. I can’t stand it. Instead of soothing
me it excites me to the verge of madness. I’m almost over the verge--for
want of sleep--my trouble ever since the trouble.”

Again I was speaking the literal truth, and again congratulating myself
as though it were a lie: the fellow looked so distressed at my state;
indeed I believe that his distress was as genuine as mine, and his
sentiments as involved. He took my hand again, and his brow wrinkled at
its heat. He asked for the other hand to feel my pulse. I had to drop my
letter to comply.

“I wish to goodness there was something I could do for you,” he said.
“Would you--would you care to see a doctor?”

I shook my head, and could have smiled at his visible relief.

“Then I’m going to prescribe for you,” he said with decision. “It’s the
place that doesn’t agree with you, and it was I who brought you to the
place; therefore it’s for me to get you out of it as quick as possible.
Up you get, and I’ll drive you to the station myself!”

I had another work to keep from smiling: he was so ingenuously
disingenuous. There was less to smile at in his really nervous anxiety
to get me away. I lay there reading him like a book: it was not my
health that concerned him, of course: was it my safety? I told him he
little knew how ill I was--an inglorious speech that came hard, though
not by any means untrue. “Move me with this fever on me?” said I; “it
would be as much as my miserable life is worth.”

“I’m afraid,” said he, “that it may be as much as your life’s worth to
stay on here!” And there was such real fear, in his voice and eyes,
that it reconciled me there and then to the discomfort of a big revolver
between the mattress and the small of my back. “We must get you out
of it,” he continued, “the moment you feel fit to stir. Shall we say
to-morrow?”

“If you like,” I said, advisedly; “and if I can get some sleep to-day.”

“Then to-morrow it is! You see I know it’s the climate,” he added,
jumping from tone to tone; “it couldn’t have been those two or three
glasses of sound wine.”

“Shall I tell you what it is?” I said, looking him full in the face,
with eyes that I dare say were wild enough with fever and insomnia.
“It’s the burning of the Lady Jermyn!” I cried. “It’s the faces and the
shrieks of the women; it’s the cursing and the fighting of the men; it’s
boat-loads struggling in an oily sea; it’s husbands and wives jumping
overboard together; it’s men turned into devils, it’s hell-fire
afloat--”

“Stop! stop!” he whispered, hoarse as a crow. I was sitting up with my
hot eyes upon him. He was white as the quilt, and the bed shook with his
trembling. I had gone as far as was prudent, and I lay back with a glow
of secret satisfaction.

“Yes, I will stop,” said I, “and I wouldn’t have begun if you hadn’t
found it so difficult to understand my trouble. Now you know what it
is. It’s the old trouble. I came up here to forget it; instead of that
I drink too much and tell you all about it; and the two things together
have bowled me over. But I’ll go to-morrow; only give me something to
put me asleep till then.”

“I will!” he vowed. “I’ll go myself to the nearest chemist, and he shall
give me the very strongest stuff he’s got. Good-by, and don’t you stir
till I come back--for your own sake. I’ll go this minute, and I’ll ride
like hell!” And if ever two men were glad to be rid of each other, they
were this young villain and myself.

But what was his villany? It was little enough that I had overheard
at the window, and still less that poor Eva had told me in her hurried
lines. All I saw clearly was that the Lady Jermyn and some hundred souls
had perished by the foulest of foul play; that, besides Eva and myself,
only the incendiaries had escaped; that somehow these wretches had made
a second escape from the gig, leaving dead men and word of their own
death behind them in the boat. And here the motive was as much a mystery
to me as the means; but, in my present state, both were also matters
of supreme indifference. My one desire was to rescue my love from her
loathsome captors; of little else did I pause to think. Yet Rattray’s
visit left its own mark on my mind; and long after he was gone I lay
puzzling over the connection between a young Lancastrian, of good
name, of ancient property, of great personal charm, and a crime of
unparalleled atrocity committed in cold blood on the high seas. That
his complicity was flagrant I had no room to doubt, after Eva’s own
indictment of him, uttered to his face and in my hearing. Was it then
the usual fraud on the underwriters, and was Rattray the inevitable
accomplice on dry land? I could think of none but the conventional
motive for destroying a vessel. Yet I knew there must be another and a
subtler one, to account not only for the magnitude of the crime, but for
the pains which the actual perpetrators had taken to conceal the fact
of their survival, and for the union of so diverse a trinity as Senhor
Santos, Captain Harris, and the young squire.

It must have been about mid-day when Rattray reappeared, ruddy, spurred,
and splashed with mud; a comfort to sick eyes, I declare, in spite
of all. He brought me two little vials, put one on the chimney-piece,
poured the other into my tumbler, and added a little water.

“There, old fellow,” said he; “swallow that, and if you don’t get some
sleep the chemist who made it up is the greatest liar unhung.”

“What is it?’ I asked, the glass in my hand, and my eyes on those of my
companion.

“I don’t know,” said he. “I just told them to make up the strongest
sleeping-draught that was safe, and I mentioned something about your
case. Toss it off, man; it’s sure to be all right.”

Yes, I could trust him; he was not that sort of villain, for all that
Eva Denison had said. I liked his face as well as ever. I liked his eye,
and could have sworn to its honesty as I drained the glass. Even had it
been otherwise, I must have taken my chance or shown him all; as it was,
when he had pulled down my blind, and shaken my pillow, and he gave
me his hand once more, I took it with involuntary cordiality. I only
grieved that so fine a young fellow should have involved himself in so
villainous a business; yet for Eva’s sake I was glad that he had; for
my mind failed (rather than refused) to believe him so black as she had
painted him.

The long, long afternoon that followed I never shall forget. The opiate
racked my head; it did not do its work; and I longed to sleep till
evening with a longing I have never known before or since. Everything
seemed to depend upon it; I should be a man again, if only I could
first be a log for a few hours. But no; my troubles never left me for an
instant; and there I must lie, pretending that they had! For the other
draught was for the night; and if they but thought the first one had
taken due effect, so much the less would they trouble their heads about
me when they believed that I had swallowed the second.

Oh, but it was cruel! I lay and wept with weakness and want of sleep;
ere night fell I knew that it would find me useless, if indeed my reason
lingered on. To lie there helpless when Eva was expecting me, that would
be the finishing touch. I should rise a maniac if ever I rose at
all. More probably I would put one of my five big bullets into my own
splitting head; it was no small temptation, lying there in a double
agony, with the loaded weapon by my side.

Then sometimes I thought it was coming; and perhaps for an instant would
be tossing in my hen-coop; then back once more. And I swear that
my physical and mental torments, here in my bed, would have been
incomparably greater than anything I had endured on the sea, but for the
saving grace of one sweet thought. She lived! She lived! And the God who
had taken care o me, a castaway, would surely deliver her also from
the hands of murderers and thieves. But not through me--I lay weak and
helpless--and my tears ran again and yet again as I felt myself growing
hourly weaker.

I remember what a bright fine day it was, with the grand open country
all smiles beneath a clear, almost frosty sky, once when I got up on
tip-toe and peeped out. A keen wind whistled about the cottage; I felt
it on my feet as I stood; but never have I known a more perfect and
invigorating autumn day. And there I must lie, with the manhood ebbing
Out of me, the manhood that I needed so for the night! I crept back into
bed. I swore that I would sleep. Yet there I lay, listening sometimes to
that vile woman’s tread below; sometimes to mysterious whispers, between
whom I neither knew nor cared; anon to my watch ticking by my side, to
the heart beating in my body, hour after hour--hour after hour. I prayed
as I have seldom prayed. I wept as I have never wept. I railed and
blasphemed--not with my lips, because the woman must think I was
asleep--but so much the more viciously in my heart.

Suddenly it turned dark. There were no gradations--not even a tropical
twilight. One minute I aw the sun upon the blind; the next--thank God!
Oh, thank God! No light broke any longer through the blind; just a faint
and narrow glimmer stole between it and the casement; and the light that
had been bright golden was palest silver now.

It was the moon. I had been in dreamless sleep for hours.

The joy of that discovery! The transport of waking to it, and waking
refreshed! The swift and sudden miracle that it seemed! I shall never,
never forget it, still less the sickening thrill of fear which was
cruelly quick to follow upon my joy. The cottage was still as the tomb.
What if I had slept too long!

With trembling hand I found my watch.

Luckily I had wound it in the early morning. I now carried it to the
window, drew back the blind, and held it in the moonlight. It was not
quite ten o’clock. And yet the cottage was so still--so still.

I stole to the door, opened it by cautious degrees, and saw the
reflection of a light below. Still not a sound could I hear, save the
rapid drawing of my own breath, and the startled beating of my own
heart.

I now felt certain that the Braithwaites were out, and dressed hastily,
making as little noise as possible, and still hearing absolutely none
from below. Then, feeling faint with hunger, though a new being after my
sleep, I remembered a packet of sandwiches which I had not opened on my
journey north. These I transferred from my travelling-bag (where they
had lain forgotten to my jacket pocket), before drawing down the blind,
leaving the room on tip-toe, and very gently fastening the door behind
me. On the stairs, too, I trod with the utmost caution, feeling the wall
with my left hand (my right was full), lest by any chance I might
be mistaken in supposing I had the cottage to myself. In spite of my
caution there came a creak at every step. And to my sudden horror I
heard a chair move in the kitchen below.

My heart and I stood still together. But my right hand tightened on
stout wood, my right forefinger trembled against thin steel. The sound
was not repeated. And at length I continued on my way down, my teeth
set, an excuse on my lips, but determination in every fibre of my frame.

A shadow lay across the kitchen floor; it was that of the deaf mute, as
he stood on a chair before the fire, supporting himself on the chimney
piece with one puny arm, while he reached overhead with the other. I
stood by for an instant, glorying in the thought that he could not hear
me; the next, I saw what it was he was reaching up for--a bell-mouthed
blunderbuss--and I knew the little devil for the impostor that he was.

“You touch it,” said I, “and you’ll drop dead on that hearth.”

He pretended not to hear me, but he heard the click of the splendid
spring which Messrs. Deane and Adams had put into that early revolver of
theirs, and he could not have come down much quicker with my bullet in
his spine.

“Now, then,” I said, “what the devil do you mean by shamming deaf and
dumb?”

“I niver said I was owt o’ t’ sort,” he whimpered, cowering behind the
chair in a sullen ague.

“But you acted it, and I’ve a jolly good mind to shoot you dead!”
 (Remember, I was so weak myself that I thought my arm would break from
presenting my five chambers and my ten-inch barrel; otherwise I should
be sorry to relate how I bullied that mouse of a man.) “I may let you
off,” I continued, “if you answer questions. Where’s your wife?”

“Eh, she’ll be back directly!” said Braithwaite, with some tact; but his
look was too cunning to give the warning weight. “I’ve a bullet to spare
for her,” said I, cheerfully; “now, then, where is she?”

“Gone wi’ the oothers, for owt I knaw.”

“And where are the others gone?”

“Where they allus go, ower to t’ say.”

“Over to the sea, eh? We’re getting on! What takes them there?”

“That’s more than I can tell you, sir,” said Braithwaite, with so much
emphasis and so little reluctance as to convince me that for once at
least he had spoken the truth. There was even a spice of malice in his
tone. I began to see possibilities in the little beast.

“Well,” I said, “you’re a nice lot! I don’t know what your game is, and
don’t want to. I’ve had enough of you without that. I’m off to-night.”

“Before they get back?” asked Braithwaite, plainly in doubt about his
duty, and yet as plainly relieved to learn the extent of my intention.

“Certainly,” said I; “why not? I’m not particularly anxious to see your
wife again, and you may ask Mr. Rattray from me why the devil he led
me to suppose you were deaf and dumb? Or, if you like, you needn’t say
anything at all about it,” I added, seeing his thin jaw fall; “tell him
I never found you out, but just felt well enough to go, and went. When
do you expect them back?”

“It won’t be yet a bit,” said he.

“Good! Now look here. What would you say to these?” And I showed him a
couple of sovereigns: I longed to offer him twenty, but feared to excite
his suspicions. “These are yours if you have a conveyance at the end of
the lane--the lane we came up the night before last--in an hour’s time.”

His dull eyes glistened; but a tremor took him from top to toe, and he
shook his head.

“I’m ill, man!” I cried. “If I stay here I’ll die! Mr. Rattray knows
that, and he wanted me to go this morning; he’ll be only too thankful to
find me gone.”

This argument appealed to him; indeed, I was proud of it.

“But I was to stop an’ look after you,” he mumbled; “it’ll get me into
trooble, it will that!”

I took out three more sovereigns; not a penny higher durst I go.

“Will five pounds repay you? No need to tell your wife it was five, you
know! I should keep four of them all to myself.”

The cupidity of the little wretch was at last overcoming his abject
cowardice. I could see him making up his miserable mind. And I still
flatter myself that I took only safe (and really cunning) steps to
precipitate the process. To offer him more money would have been
madness; instead, I poured it all back into my pocket.

“All right!” I cried; “you’re a greedy, cowardly, old idiot, and I’ll
just save my money.” And out I marched into the moonlight, very briskly,
towards the lane; he was so quick to follow me that I had no fears of
the blunderbuss, but quickened my step, and soon had him running at my
heels.

“Stop, stop, sir! You’re that hasty wi’ a poor owd man.” So he whimpered
as he followed me like the little cur he was.

“I’m hanged if I stop,” I answered without looking back; and had him
almost in tears before I swung round on him so suddenly that he yelped
with fear. “What are you bothering me for?” I blustered. “Do you want me
to wring your neck?”

“Oh, I’ll go, sir! I’ll go, I’ll go,” he moaned.

“I’ve a good mind not to let you. I wouldn’t if I was fit to walk five
miles.”

“But I’ll roon ‘em, sir! I will that! I’ll go as fast as iver I can!”

“And have a conveyance at the road-end of the lane as near an hour hence
as you possibly can?”

“Why, there, sir!” he cried, crassly inspired; “I could drive you in our
own trap in half the time.”

“Oh, no, you couldn’t! I--I’m not fit to be out at all; it must be a
closed conveyance; but I’ll come to the end of the lane to save time,
so let him wait there. You needn’t wait yourself; here’s a sovereign
of your money, and I’ll leave the rest in the jug in my bedroom. There!
It’s worth your while to trust me, I think. As for my luggage, I’ll
write to Mr. Rattray about that. But I’ll be shot if I spend another
night on his property.”

I was rid of him at last; and there I stood, listening to his headlong
steps, until they stumbled out of earshot down the lane; then back to
the cottage, at a run myself, and up to my room to be no worse than my
word. The sovereigns plopped into the water and rang together at
the bottom of the jug. In another minute I was hastening through the
plantation, in my hand the revolver that had served me well already, and
was still loaded and capped in all five chambers.



CHAPTER XIV. IN THE GARDEN


It so happened that I met nobody at all; but I must confess that my
luck was better than my management. As I came upon the beck, a new sound
reached me with the swirl. It was the jingle of bit and bridle; the beat
of hoofs came after; and I had barely time to fling myself flat, when
two horsemen emerged from the plantation, riding straight towards me in
the moonlight. If they continued on that course they could not fail
to see me as they passed along the opposite bank. However, to my
unspeakable relief, they were scarce clear of the trees when they turned
their horses’ heads, rode them through the water a good seventy yards
from where I lay, and so away at a canter across country towards the
road. On my hands and knees I had a good look at them as they bobbed up
and down under the moon; and my fears subsided in astonished curiosity.
For I have already boasted of my eyesight, and I could have sworn that
neither Rattray nor any one of his guests was of the horsemen; yet the
back and shoulders of one of these seemed somehow familiar to me. Not
that I wasted many moments over the coincidence, for I had other things
to think about as I ran on to the hall.

I found the rear of the building in darkness unrelieved from within; on
the other hand, the climbing moon beat so full upon the garden wall, it
was as though a lantern pinned me as I crept beneath it. In passing I
thought I might as well try the gate; but Eva was right; it was locked;
and that made me half inclined to distrust my eyes in the matter of the
two horsemen, for whence could they have come, if not from the hall?
In any case I was well rid of them. I now followed the wall some little
distance, and then, to see over it, walked backwards until I was all but
in the beck; and there, sure enough, shone my darling’s candle, close as
close against the diamond panes of her narrow, lofty window! It brought
those ready tears back to my foolish, fevered eyes. But for sentiment
there was no time, and every other emotion was either futile or
premature. So I mastered my full heart, I steeled, my wretched nerves,
and braced my limp muscles for the task that lay before them.

I had a garden wall to scale, nearly twice my own height, and without
notch or cranny in the ancient, solid masonry. I stood against it on my
toes, and I touched it with my finger-tips as high up as possible. Some
four feet severed them from the coping that left only half a sky above
my upturned eyes.

I do not know whether I have made it plain that the house was not
surrounded by four walls, but merely filled a breach in one of the
four, which nipped it (as it were) at either end. The back entrance was
approachable enough, but barred or watched, I might be very sure. It is
ever the vulnerable points which are most securely guarded, and it was
my one comfort that the difficult way must also be the safe way, if only
the difficulty could be overcome. How to overcome it was the problem.
I followed the wall right round to the point at which it abutted on the
tower that immured my love; the height never varied; nor could my hands
or eyes discover a single foot-hole, ledge, or other means of mounting
to the top.

Yet my hot head was full of ideas; and I wasted some minutes in trying
to lift from its hinges a solid, six-barred, outlying gate, that my
weak arms could hardly stir. More time went in pulling branches from the
oak-trees about the beck, where the latter ran nearest to the moonlit
wall. I had an insane dream of throwing a long forked branch over
the coping, and so swarming up hand-over-hand. But even to me the
impracticability of this plan came home at last. And there I stood in a
breathless lather, much time and strength thrown away together; and the
candle burning down for nothing in that little lofty window; and the
running water swirling noisily over its stones at my back.

This was the only sound; the wind had died away; the moonlit valley
lay as still as the dread old house in its midst but for the splash and
gurgle of the beck. I fancied this grew louder as I paused and listened
in my helplessness. All at once--was it the tongue of Nature telling me
the way, or common gumption returning at the eleventh hour? I ran down
to the water’s edge, and could have shouted for joy. Great stones lay in
equal profusion on bed and banks. I lifted one of the heaviest in both
hands. I staggered with it to the wall. I came back for another; for
some twenty minutes I was so employed; my ultimate reward a fine heap of
boulders against the wall.

Then I began to build; then mounted my pile, clawing the wall to keep
my balance. My fingers were still many inches from the coping. I jumped
down and gave another ten minutes to the back-breaking work of carrying
more boulders from the water to the wall. Then I widened my cairn below,
so that I could stand firmly before springing upon the pinnacle with
which I completed it. I knew well that this would collapse under me if
I allowed my weight to rest more than an instant upon it. And so at last
it did; but my fingers had clutched the coping in time; had grabbed it
even as the insecure pyramid crumbled and left me dangling.

Instantly exerting what muscle I had left, and the occasion gave me,
I succeeded in pulling myself up until my chin was on a level with my
hands, when I flung an arm over and caught the inner coping. The other
arm followed; then a leg; and at last I sat astride the wall, panting
and palpitating, and hardly able to credit my own achievement. One great
difficulty had been my huge revolver. I had been terribly frightened it
might go off, and had finally used my cravat to sling it at the back
of my neck. It had shifted a little, and I was working it round again,
preparatory to my drop, when I saw the light suddenly taken from the
window in the tower, and a kerchief waving for one instant in its place.
So she had been waiting and watching for me all these hours! I dropped
into the garden in a very ecstasy of grief and rapture, to think that I
had been so long in coming to my love, but that I had come at last. And
I picked myself up in a very frenzy of fear lest, after all, I should
fail to spirit her from this horrible place.

Doubly desolate it looked in the rays of that bright October moon.
Skulking in the shadow of the wall which had so long baffled me, I
looked across a sharp border of shade upon a chaos, the more striking
for its lingering trim design. The long, straight paths were barnacled
with weeds; the dense, fine hedges, once prim and angular, had fattened
out of all shape or form; and on the velvet sward of other days you
might have waded waist high in rotten hay. Towards the garden end this
rank jungle merged into a worse wilderness of rhododendrons, the tallest
I have ever seen. On all this the white moon smiled, and the grim house
glowered, to the eternal swirl and rattle of the beck beyond its walls.

Long enough I stood where I had dropped, listening with all my being
for some other sound; but at last that great studded door creaked
and shivered on its ancient hinges, and I heard voices arguing in the
Portuguese tongue. It was poor Eva wheedling that black rascal Jose.
I saw her in the lighted porch; the nigger I saw also, shrugging and
gesticulating for all the world like his hateful master; yet giving in,
I felt certain, though I could not understand a word that reached me.

And indeed my little mistress very soon sailed calmly out, followed by
final warnings and expostulations hurled from the step: for the black
stood watching her as she came steadily my way, now raising her head to
sniff the air, now stooping to pluck up a weed, the very picture of a
prisoner seeking the open air for its own sake solely. I had a keen eye
apiece for them as I cowered closer to the wall, revolver in hand. But
ere my love was very near me (for she would stand long moments gazing
ever so innocently at the moon), her jailer had held a bottle to the
light, and had beaten a retreat so sudden and so hasty that I expected
him back every moment, and so durst not stir. Eva saw me, however,
and contrived to tell me so without interrupting the air that she was
humming as she walked.

“Follow me,” she sang, “only keep as you are, keep as you are, close to
the wall, close to the wall.”

And on she strolled to her own tune, and came abreast of me without
turning her head; so I crept in the shadow (my ugly weapon tucked out of
sight), and she sauntered in the shine, until we came to the end of
the garden, where the path turned at right angles, running behind the
rhododendrons; once in their shelter, she halted and beckoned me, and
next instant I had her hands in mine.

“At last!” was all that I could say for many a moment, as I stood there
gazing into her dear eyes, no hero in my heroic hour, but the bigger
love-sick fool than ever. “But quick--quick--quick!” I added, as she
brought me to my senses by withdrawing her hands. “We’ve no time to
lose.” And I looked wildly from wall to wall, only to find them as
barren and inaccessible on this side as on the other.

“We have more time than you think,” were Eva’s first words. “We can do
nothing for half-an-hour.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute. How did you manage to get over?”

“Brought boulders from the beck, and piled ‘em up till I could reach the
top.”

I thought her eyes glistened.

“What patience!” she cried softly. “We must find a simpler way of
getting out--and I think I have. They’ve all gone, you know, but Jose.”

“All three?”

“The captain has been gone all day.”

Then the other two must have been my horse-men, very probably in some
disguise; and my head swam with the thought of the risk that I had run
at the very moment when I thought myself safest. Well, I would have
finished them both! But I did not say so to Eva. I did not mention
the incident, I was so fearful of destroying her confidence in me.
Apologizing, therefore, for my interruption, without explaining it, I
begged her to let me hear her plan.

It was simple enough. There was no fear of the others returning before
midnight; the chances were that they would be very much later; and
now it was barely eleven, and Eva had promised not to stay out above
half-an-hour. When it was up Jose would come and call her.

“It is horrid to have to be so cunning!” cried little Eva, with an angry
shudder; “but it’s no use thinking of that,” she was quick enough to
add, “when you have such dreadful men to deal with, such fiends! And I
have had all day to prepare, and have suffered till I am so desperate I
would rather die to-night than spend another in that house. No; let me
finish! Jose will come round here to look for me. But you and I will
be hiding on the other side of these rhododendrons. And when we hear him
here we’ll make a dash for it across the long grass. Once let us get the
door shut and locked in his face, and he’ll be in a trap. It will take
him some time to break in; time enough to give us a start; what’s more,
when he finds us gone, he’ll do what they all used to do in any doubt.”

“What’s that?”

“Say nothing till it’s found out; then lie for their lives; and it was
their lives, poor creatures on the Zambesi!” She was silent a moment,
her determined little face hard--set upon some unforgotten horror.
“Once we get away, I shall be surprised if it’s found out till morning,”
 concluded Eva, without a word as to what I was to do with her; neither,
indeed, had I myself given that question a moment’s consideration.

“Then let’s make a dash for it now!” was all I said or thought.

“No; they can’t come yet, and Jose is strong and brutal, and I
have heard how ill you are. That you should have come to me
notwithstanding--” and she broke off with her little hands lying
so gratefully on my shoulders, that I know not how I refrained from
catching her then and there to my heart. Instead, I laughed and said
that my illness was a pure and deliberate sharp, and my presence there
its direct result. And such was the virtue in my beloved’s voice, the
magic of her eyes, the healing of her touch, that I was scarce conscious
of deceit, but felt a whole man once more as we two stood together in
the moonlight.

In a trance I stood there gazing into her brave young eyes. In a
trance I suffered her to lead me by the hand through the rank, dense
rhododendrons. And still entranced I crouched by her side near the
further side, with only unkempt grass-plot and a weedy path between us
and that ponderous door, wide open still, and replaced by a section of
the lighted hail within. On this we fixed our attention with mingled
dread and impatience, those contending elements of suspense; but the
black was slow to reappear; and my eyes stole home to my sweet girl’s
face, with its glory of moonlit curls, and the eager, resolute,
embittered look that put the world back two whole months, and Eva
Denison upon the Lady Jermyn’s poop, in the ship’s last hours. But it
was not her look alone; she had on her cloak, as the night before,
but with me (God bless her!) she found no need to clasp herself in its
folds; and underneath she wore the very dress in which she had sung at
our last concert, and been rescued in the gig. It looked as though she
had worn it ever since. The roses were crushed and soiled, the tulle all
torn, and tarnished some strings of beads that had been gold: a tatter
of Chantilly lace hung by a thread: it is another of the relics that I
have unearthed in the writing of this narrative.

“I thought men never noticed dresses?” my love said suddenly, a pleased
light in her eyes (I thought) in spite of all. “Do you really remember
it?”

“I remember every one of them,” I said indignantly; and so I did.

“You will wonder why I wear it,” said Eva, quickly. “It was the first
that came that terrible night. They have given me many since. But I
won’t wear one of them--not one!”

How her eyes flashed! I forgot all about Jose.

“I suppose you know why they hadn’t room for you in the gig?” she went
on.

“No, I don’t know, and I don’t care. They had room for you,” said I;
“that’s all I care about.” And to think she could not see I loved her!

“But do you mean to say you don’t know that these--murderers--set fire
to the ship?”

“No--yes! I heard you say so last night.”

“And you don’t want to know what for?”

Out of politeness I protested that I did; but, as I live, all I wanted
to know just then was whether my love loved me--whether she ever
could--whether such happiness was possible under heaven!

“You remember all that mystery about the cargo?” she continued eagerly,
her pretty lips so divinely parted!

“It turned out to be gunpowder,” said I, still thinking only of her.

“No--gold!”

“But it was gunpowder,” I insisted; for it was my incorrigible passion
for accuracy which had led up to half our arguments on the voyage; but
this time Eva let me off.

“It was also gold: twelve thousand ounces from the diggings. That was
the real mystery. Do you mean to say you never guessed?”

“No, by Jove I didn’t!” said I. She had diverted my interest at last. I
asked her if she had known on board.

“Not until the last moment. I found out during the fire. Do you remember
when we said good-by? I was nearly telling you then.”

Did I remember! The very letter of that last interview was cut deep in
my heart; not a sleepless night had I passed without rehearsing it word
for word and look for look; and sometimes, when sorrow had spent itself,
and the heart could bleed no more, vain grief had given place to vainer
speculation, and I had cudgelled my wakeful brains for the meaning of
the new and subtle horror which I had read in my darling’s eyes at the
last. Now I understood; and the one explanation brought such a tribe
in its train, that even the perilous ecstasy of the present moment was
temporarily forgotten in the horrible past.

“Now I know why they wouldn’t have me in the gig!” I cried softly.

“She carried four heavy men’s weight in gold.”

“When on earth did they get it aboard?”

“In provision boxes at the last; but they had been filling the boxes for
weeks.”

“Why, I saw them doing it!” I cried. “But what about the gig? Who picked
you up?”

She was watching that open door once more, and she answered with notable
indifference, “Mr. Rattray.”

“So that’s the connection!” said I; and I think its very simplicity was
what surprised me most.

“Yes; he was waiting for us at Ascension.”

“Then it was all arranged?”

“Every detail.”

“And this young blackguard is as bad as any of them!”

“Worse,” said she, with bitter brevity. Nor had I ever seen her look so
hard but once, and that was the night before in the old justice hall,
when she told Rattray her opinion of him to his face. She had now the
same angry flush, the same set mouth and scornful voice; and I took
it finally into my head that she was unjust to the poor devil, villain
though he was. With all his villainy I declined to believe him as bad
as the others. I told her so in as many words. And in a moment we were
arguing as though we were back on the Lady Jermyn with nothing else to
do.

“You may admire wholesale murderers and thieves,” said Eva. “I do not.”

“Nor I. My point is simply that this one is not as bad as the rest. I
believe he was really glad for my sake when he discovered that I knew
nothing of the villainy. Come now, has he ever offered you any personal
violence?”

“Me? Mr. Rattray? I should hope not, indeed!”

“Has he never saved you from any?”

“I--I don’t know.”

“Then I do. When you left them last night there was some talk of
bringing you back by force. You can guess who suggested that--and who
set his face against it and got his way. You would think the better of
Rattray had you heard what passed.”

“Should I?” she asked half eagerly, as she looked quickly round at me;
and suddenly I saw her eyes fill. “Oh, why will you speak about him?”
 she burst out. “Why must you defend him, unless it’s to go against me,
as you always did and always will! I never knew anybody like you--never!
I want you to take me away from these wretches, and all you do is to
defend them!”

“Not all,” said I, clasping her hand warmly in mine. “Not all--not all!
I will take you away from them, never fear; in another hour God grant
you may be out of their reach for ever!”

“But where are we to go?” she whispered wildly. “What are you to do with
me? All my friends think me dead, and if they knew I was not it would
all come out.”

“So it shall,” said I; “the sooner the better; if I’d had my way it
would all be out already.”

I see her yet, my passionate darling, as she turned upon me, whiter than
the full white moon.

“Mr. Cole,” said she, “you must give me your sacred promise that so far
as you are concerned, it shall never come out at all!”

“This monstrous conspiracy? This cold blooded massacre?”

And I crouched aghast.

“Yes; it could do no good; and, at any rate, unless you promise I remain
where I am.”

“In their hands?”

“Decidedly--to warn them in time. Leave them I would, but betray
them--never!”

What could I say? What choice had I in the face of an alternative so
headstrong and so unreasonable? To rescue Eva from these miscreants I
would have let every malefactor in the country go unscathed: yet the
condition was a hard one; and, as I hesitated, my love went on her knees
to me, there in the moonlight among the rhododendrons.

“Promise--promise--or you will kill me!” she gasped. “They may deserve
it richly, but I would rather be torn in little pieces than--than have
them--hanged!”

“It is too good for most of them.”

“Promise!”

“To hold my tongue about them all?”

“Yes--promise!”

“Promise!”

“When a hundred lives were sacrificed--”

“Promise!”

“I can’t,” I said. “It’s wrong.”

“Then good-by!” she cried, starting to her feet.

“No--no--” and I caught her hand.

“Well, then?”

“I--promise.”



CHAPTER XV. FIRST BLOOD


So I bound myself to a guilty secrecy for Eva’s sake, to save her from
these wretches, or if you will, to win her for myself. Nor did it
strike me as very strange, after a moment’s reflection, that she should
intercede thus earnestly for a band headed by her own mother’s widower,
prime scoundrel of them all though she knew him to be. The only
surprise was that she had not interceded in his name; that I should have
forgotten, and she should have allowed me to forget, the very existence
of so indisputable a claim upon her loyalty. This, however, made it a
little difficult to understand the hysterical gratitude with which my
unwilling promise was received. Poor darling! she was beside herself
with sheer relief. She wept as I had never seen her weep before. She
seized and even kissed my hands, as one who neither knew nor cared what
she did, surprising me so much by her emotion that this expression of it
passed unheeded. I was the best friend she had ever had. I was her one
good friend in all the world; she would trust herself to me; and if I
would but take her to the convent where she had been brought up, she
would pray for me there until her death, but that would not be very
long.

All of which confused me utterly; it seemed an inexplicable breakdown
in one who had shown such nerve and courage hitherto, and so hearty a
loathing for that damnable Santos. So completely had her presence of
mind forsaken her that she looked no longer where she had been gazing
hitherto. And thus it was that neither of us saw Jose until we heard
him calling, “Senhora Evah! Senhora Evah!” with some rapid sentences in
Portuguese.

“Now is our time,” I whispered, crouching lower and clasping a small
hand gone suddenly cold. “Think of nothing now but getting out of this.
I’ll keep my word once we are out; and here’s the toy that’s going to
get us out.” And I produced my Deane and Adams with no small relish.

A little trustful pressure was my answer and my reward; meanwhile the
black was singing out lustily in evident suspicion and alarm.

“He says they are coming back,” whispered Eva; “but that’s impossible.”

“Why?”

“Because if they were he couldn’t see them, and if he heard them he
would be frightened of their hearing him. But here he comes!”

A shuffling quick step on the path; a running grumble of unmistakable
threats; a shambling moonlit figure seen in glimpses through the leaves,
very near us for an instant, then hidden by the shrubbery as he passed
within a few yards of our hiding-place. A diminuendo of the
shuffling steps; then a cursing, frightened savage at one end of the
rhododendrons, and we two stealing out at the other, hand in hand, and
bent quite double, into the long neglected grass.

“Can you run for it?” I whispered.

“Yes, but not too fast, for fear we trip.’

“Come on, then!”

The lighted open doorway grew greater at every stride.

“He hasn’t seen us yet--”

“No, I hear him threatening me still.”

“Now he has, though!”

A wild whoop proclaimed the fact, and upright we tore at top speed
through the last ten yards of grass, while the black rushed down one of
the side paths, gaining audibly on us over the better ground. But our
start had saved us, and we flew up the steps as his feet ceased to
clatter on the path; he had plunged into the grass to cut off the
corner.

“Thank God!” cried Eva. “Now shut it quick.”

The great door swung home with a mighty clatter, and Eva seized the key
in both hands.

“I can’t turn it!”

To lose a second was to take a life, and unconsciously I was sticking
at that, perhaps from no higher instinct than distrust of my aim. Our
pursuer, however, was on the steps when I clapped my free hand on top of
those little white straining ones, and by a timely effort bent both them
and the key round together; the ward shot home as Jose hurled himself
against the door. Eva bolted it. But the thud was not repeated, and I
gathered myself together between the door and the nearest window, for by
now I saw there was but one thing for us. The nigger must be disabled,
if I could manage such a nicety; if not, the devil take his own.

Well, I was not one tick too soon for him. My pistol was not cocked
before the crash came that I was counting on, and with it a shower of
small glass driving across the six-foot sill and tinkling on the flags.
Next came a black and bloody face, at which I could not fire. I had
to wait till I saw his legs, when I promptly shattered one of them at
disgracefully short range. The report was as deafening as one upon the
stage; the hall filled with white smoke, and remained hideous with the
bellowing of my victim. I searched him without a qualm, but threats
of annihilation instead, and found him unarmed but for that very knife
which Rattray had induced me to hand over to him in town. I had a grim
satisfaction in depriving him of this, and but small compunction in
turning my back upon his pain.

“Come,” I said to poor Eva, “don’t pity him, though I daresay he’s the
most pitiable of the lot; show me the way through, and I’ll follow with
this lamp.”

One was burning on the old oak table. I carried it along a narrow
passage, through a great low kitchen where I bumped my head against the
black oak beams; and I held it on high at a door almost as massive as
the one which we had succeeded in shutting in the nigger’s face.

“I was afraid of it!” cried Eva, with a sudden sob.

“What is it?”

“They’ve taken away the key!”

Yes, the keen air came through an empty keyhole; and my lamp, held
close, not only showed that the door was locked, but that the lock was
one with which an unskilled hand might tamper for hours without result.
I dealt it a hearty kick by way of a test. The heavy timber did not
budge; there was no play at all at either lock or hinges; nor did I see
how I could spend one of my four remaining bullets upon the former, with
any chance of a return.

“Is this the only other door?”

“Then it must be a window.”

“All the back ones are barred.”

“Securely?”

“Yes.”

“Then we’ve no choice in the matter.”

And I led the way back to the hall, where the poor black devil lay
blubbering in his blood. In the kitchen I found the bottle of wine
(Rattray’s best port, that they were trying to make her take for her
health) with which Eva had bribed him, and I gave it to him before
laying hands on a couple of chairs.

“What are you going to do?”’

“Go out the way we came.”

“But the wall?”

“Pile up these chairs, and as many more as we may need, if we can’t open
the gate.”

But Eva was not paying attention any longer, either to me or to Jose;
his white teeth were showing in a grin for all his pain; her eyes were
fixed in horror on the floor.

“They’ve come back,” she gasped. “The underground passage! Hark--hark!”

There was a muffled rush of feet beneath our own, then a dull but very
distinguishable clatter on some invisible stair.

“Underground passage!” I exclaimed, and in my sheer disgust I forgot
what was due to my darling. “Why on earth didn’t you tell me of it
before?”

“There was so much to tell you! It leads to the sea. Oh, what shall we
do? You must hide--upstairs--anywhere!” cried Eva, wildly. “Leave them
to me--leave them to me.”

“I like that,” said I; and I did; but I detested myself for the tears my
words had drawn, and I prepared to die for them.

“They’ll kill you, Mr. Cole!”

“It would serve me right; but we’ll see about it.”

And I stood with my revolver very ready in my right hand, while with
the other I caught poor Eva to my side, even as a door flew open,
and Rattray himself burst upon us, a lantern in his hand, and the
perspiration shining on his handsome face in its light.

I can see him now as he stood dumfounded on the threshold of the hall;
and yet, at the time, my eyes sped past him into the room beyond.

It was the one I have described as being lined with books; there was
a long rent in this lining, where the books had opened with a door,
through which Captain Harris, Joaquin Santos, and Jane Braithwaite
followed Rattray in quick succession, the men all with lanterns, the
woman scarlet and dishevelled even for her. It was over the squire’s
shoulders I saw their faces; he kept them from passing him in the
doorway by a free use of his elbows; and when I looked at him again, his
black eyes were blazing from a face white with passion, and they were
fixed upon me.

“What the devil brings you here?” he thundered at last.

“Don’t ask idle questions,” was my reply to that.

“So you were shamming to-day!”

“I was taking a leaf out of your book.”

“You’ll gain nothing by being clever!” sneered the squire, taking
a threatening step forward. For at the last moment I had tucked my
revolver behind my back, not only for the pleasure, but for the obvious
advantage of getting them all in front of me and off their guard. I
had no idea that such eyes as Rattray’s could be so fierce: they were
dancing from me to my companion, whom their glitter frightened into an
attempt to disengage herself from me; but my arm only tightened about
her drooping figure.

“I shall gain no more than I expect,” said I, carelessly. “And I know
what to expect from brave gentlemen like you! It will be better than
your own fate, at all events; anything’s better than being taken hence
to the place of execution, and hanged by the neck until you’re dead, all
three of you in a row, and your bodies buried within the precincts of
the prison!”

“The very thing for him,” murmured Santos. “The--very--theeng!”

“But I’m so soft-hearted,” I went insanely on, “that I should be sorry
to see that happen to such fine fellows as you are. Come out of that,
you little fraud behind there!” It was my betrayer skulking in the
room. “Come out and line up with the rest! No, I’m not going to see you
fellows dance on nothing; I’ve another kind of ball apiece for you, and
one between ‘em for the Braithwaites!”

Well, I suppose I always had a nasty tongue in me, and rather enjoyed
making play with it on provocation; but, if so, I met with my deserts
that night. For the nigger of the Lady Jermyn lay all but hid behind Eva
and me; if they saw him at all, they may have thought him drunk; but, as
for myself, I had fairly forgotten his existence until the very moment
came for showing my revolver, when it was twisted out of my grasp
instead, and a ball sang under my arm as the brute fell back exhausted
and the weapon clattered beside him. Before I could stoop for it there
was a dead weight on my left arm, and Squire Rattray was over the table
at a bound, with his arms jostling mine beneath Eva Denison’s senseless
form.

“Leave her to me,” he cried fiercely. “You fool,” he added in a lower
key, “do you think I’d let any harm come to her?”

I looked him in the bright and honest eyes that had made me trust him
in the beginning. And I did not utterly distrust him yet. Rather was the
guile on my side as I drew back and watched Rattray lift the young girl
tenderly, and slowly carry her to the door by which she had entered and
left the hall just twenty-four hours before. I could not take my eyes
off them till they were gone. And when I looked for my revolver, it also
had disappeared.

Jose had not got it--he lay insensible. Santos was whispering to Harris.
Neither of them seemed armed. I made sure that Rattray had picked it up
and carried it off with Eva. I looked wildly for some other weapon. Two
unarmed men and a woman were all I had to deal with, for Braithwaite
had long since vanished. Could I but knock the worthless life out of the
men, I should have but the squire and his servants to deal with; and in
that quarter I still had my hopes of a bloodless battle and a treaty of
war.

A log fire was smouldering in the open grate. I darted to it, and had a
heavy, half-burned brand whirling round my head next instant. Harris was
the first within my reach. He came gamely at me with his fists. I sprang
upon him, and struck him to the ground with one blow, the sparks flying
far and wide as my smoking brand met the seaman’s skull. Santos was upon
me next instant, and him, by sheer luck, I managed to serve the same;
but I doubt whether either man was stunned; and I was standing ready for
them to rise, when I felt myself seized round the neck from behind, and
a mass of fluffy hair tickling my cheek, while a shrill voice set up a
lusty scream for the squire.

I have said that the woman Braithwaite was of a sinister strength; but I
had little dreamt how strong she really was. First it was her arms
that wound themselves about my neck, long, sinuous, and supple as the
tentacles of some vile monster; then, as I struggled, her thumbs were on
my windpipe like pads of steel. Tighter she pressed, and tighter yet. My
eyeballs started; my tongue lolled; I heard my brand drop, and through
a mist I saw it picked up instantly. It crashed upon my skull as I still
struggled vainly; again and again it came down mercilessly in the same
place; until I felt as though a sponge of warm water had been squeezed
over my head, and saw a hundred withered masks grinning sudden
exultation into mine; but still the lean arm whirled, and the splinters
flew, till I was blind with my blood and the seven senses were beaten
out of me.



CHAPTER XVI. A DEADLOCK


It must have been midnight when I opened my eyes; a clock was striking
as though it never would stop. My mouth seemed fire; a pungent flavor
filled my nostrils; the wineglass felt cold against my teeth. “That’s
more like it!” muttered a voice close to my ear. An arm was withdrawn
from under my shoulders. I was allowed to sink back upon some pillows.
And now I saw where I was. The room was large and poorly lighted. I lay
in my clothes on an old four-poster bed. And my enemies were standing
over me in a group.

“I hope you are satisfied!” sneered Joaquin Santos, with a flourish of
his eternal cigarette.

“I am. You don’t do murder in my house, wherever else you may do it.”

“And now better lid ‘im to the nirrest polissstation; or weel you go
and tell the poliss yourself?” asked the Portuguese, in the same tone of
mordant irony.

“Ay, ay,” growled Harris; “that’s the next thing!”

“No,” said Rattray; “the next thing’s for you two to leave him to me.”

“We’ll see you damned!” cried the captain.

“No, no, my friend,” said Santos, with a shrug; “let him have his way.
He is as fond of his skeen as you are of yours; he’ll come round to our
way in the end. I know this Senhor Cole. It is necessary for ‘im to die.
But it is not necessary this moment; let us live them together for a
leetle beet.”

“That’s all I ask,” said Rattray.

“You won’t ask it twice,” rejoined Santos, shrugging. “I know this
Senhor Cole. There is only one way of dilling with a man like that.
Besides, he ‘as ‘alf-keeled my good Jose; it is necessary for ‘im to
die.”

“I agree with the senhor,” said Harris, whose forehead was starred
with sticking-plaster. “It’s him or us, an’ we’re all agen you, squire.
You’ll have to give in, first or last.”

And the pair were gone; their steps grew faint in the corridor; when we
could no longer hear them, Rattray closed the door and quietly locked
it. Then he turned to me, stern enough, and pointed to the door with a
hand that shook.

“You see how it is?”

“Perfectly.”

“They want to kill you!”

“Of course they do.”

“It’s your own fault; you’ve run yourself into this. I did my best to
keep you out of it. But in you come, and spill first blood.”

“I don’t regret it,” said I.

“Oh, you’re damned mule enough not to regret anything!” cried Rattray.
“I see the sort you are; yet but for me, I tell you plainly, you’d be a
dead man now.”

“I can’t think why you interfered.”

“You’ve heard the reason. I won’t have murder done here if I can prevent
it; so far I have; it rests with you whether I can go on preventing it
or not.”

“With me, does it?”

He sat down on the side of the bed. He threw an arm to the far side of
my body, and he leaned over me with savage eyes now staring into mine,
now resting with a momentary gleam of pride upon my battered head. I put
up my hand; it lit upon a very turban of bandages, and at that I tried
to take his hand in mine. He shook it off, and his eyes met mine more
fiercely than before.

“See here, Cole,” said he; “I don t know how the devil you got wind of
anything to start with, and I don’t care. What I do know is that you’ve
made bad enough a long chalk worse for all concerned, and you’ll have to
get yourself out of the mess you’ve got yourself into, and there’s only
one way. I suppose Miss Denison has really told you everything this
time? What’s that? Oh, yes, she’s all right again; no thanks to you. Now
let’s hear what she did tell you. It’ll save time.”

I repeated the hurried disclosures made by Eva in the rhododendrons. He
nodded grimly in confirmation of their truth.

“Yes, those are the rough facts. The game was started in Melbourne. My
part was to wait at Ascension till the Lady Jermyn signalled herself,
follow her in a schooner we had bought and pick up the gig with the gold
aboard. Well, I did so; never mind the details now, and never mind the
bloody massacre the others had made of it before I came up. God knows I
was never a consenting party to that, though I know I’m responsible.
I’m in this thing as deep as any of them. I’ve shared the risks and I’m
going to share the plunder, and I’ll swing with the others if it ever
comes to that. I deserve it hard enough. And so here we are, we three
and the nigger, all four fit to swing in a row, as you were fool enough
to tell us; and you step in and find out everything. What’s to be done?
You know what the others want to do. I say it rests with you whether
they do it or not. There’s only one other way of meeting the case.”

“What’s that?”

“Be in it yourself, man! Come in with me and split my share!”

I could have burst out laughing in his handsome, eager face; the good
faith of this absurd proposal was so incongruously apparent; and so
obviously genuine was the young villain’s anxiety for my consent. Become
accessory after the fact in such a crime! Sell my silence for a price! I
concealed my feelings with equal difficulty and resolution. I had plans
of my own already, but I must gain time to think them over. Nor could I
afford to quarrel with Rattray meanwhile.

“What was the haul?” I asked him, with the air of one not unprepared to
consider the matter.

“Twelve thousand ounces!”

“Forty-eight thousand pounds, about?”

“Yes-yes.”

“And your share?”

“Fourteen thousand pounds. Santos takes twenty, and Harris and I
fourteen thousand each.”

“And you offer me seven?”

“I do! I do!”

He was becoming more and more eager and excited. His eyes were brighter
than I had ever seen them, but slightly bloodshot, and a coppery flush
tinged his clear, sunburnt skin. I fancied he had been making somewhat
free with the brandy. But loss of blood had cooled my brain; and,
perhaps, natural perversity had also a share in the composure which grew
upon me as it deserted my companion.

“Why make such a sacrifice?” said I, smiling. “Why not let them do as
they like?”

“I’ve told you why! I’m not so bad as all that. I draw the line at
bloody murder! Not a life should have been lost if I’d had my way.
Besides, I’ve done all the dirty work by you, Cole; there’s been no
help for it. We didn’t know whether you knew or not; it made all the
difference to us; and somebody had to dog you and find out how much you
did know. I was the only one who could possibly do it. God knows how I
detested the job! I’m more ashamed of it than of worse things. I had to
worm myself into your friendship; and, by Jove, you made me think you
did know, but hadn’t let it out, and might any day. So then I got you up
here, where you would be in our power if it was so; surely you can see
every move? But this much I’ll swear--I had nothing to do with Jose
breaking into your room at the hotel; they went behind me there, curse
them! And when at last I found out for certain, down here, that you knew
nothing after all, I was never more sincerely thankful in my life. I
give you my word it took a load off my heart.”

“I know that,” I said. “I also know who broke into my room, and I’m glad
I’m even with one of you.”

“It’s done you no good,” said Rattray. “Their first thought was to put
you out of the way, and it’s more than ever their last. You see the sort
of men you’ve got to deal with; and they’re three to one, counting the
nigger; but if you go in with me they’ll only be three to two.”

He was manifestly anxious to save me in this fashion. And I suppose that
most sensible men, in my dilemma, would at least have nursed or played
upon good-will so lucky and so enduring. But there was always a twist in
me that made me love (in my youth) to take the unexpected course; and it
amused me the more to lead my young friend on.

“And where have you got this gold?” I asked him, in a low voice so
promising that he instantly lowered his, and his eyes twinkled naughtily
into mine.

“In the old tunnel that runs from this place nearly to the sea,” said
he. “We Rattrays have always been a pretty warm lot, Cole, and in the
old days we were the most festive smugglers on the coast; this tunnel’s
a relic of ‘em, although it was only a tradition till I came into the
property. I swore I’d find it, and when I’d done so I made the new
connection which you shall see. I’m rather proud of it. And I won’t say
I haven’t used the old drain once or twice after the fashion of my rude
forefathers; but never was it such a godsend as it’s been this time. By
Jove, it would be a sin if you didn’t come in with us, Cole; but for the
lives these blackguards lost the thing’s gone splendidly; it would be a
sin if you went and lost yours, whereas, if you come in, the two of us
would be able to shake off those devils: we should be too strong for
‘em.”

“Seven thousand pounds!” I murmured. “Forty-eight thousand between us!”

“Yes, and nearly all of it down below, at this end of the tunnel, and
the rest where we dropped it when we heard you were trying to bolt. We’d
got it all at the other end, ready to pop aboard the schooner that’s
lying there still, if you turned out to know anything and to have told
what you knew to the police. There was always the possibility of that,
you see; we simply daren’t show our noses at the bank until we knew how
much you knew, and what you’d done or were thinking of doing. As it is,
we can take ‘em the whole twelve thousand ounces, or rather I can, as
soon as I like, in broad daylight. I’m a lucky digger. It’s all right.
Everybody knows I’ve been out there. They’ll have to pay me over the
counter; and if you wait in the cab, by the Lord Harry, I’ll pay you
your seven thousand first! You don’t deserve it, Cole, but you shall
have it, and between us we’ll see the others to blazes!”

He jumped up all excitement, and was at the door next instant.

“Stop!” I cried. “Where are you going?”

“Downstairs to tell them.”

“Tell them what?”

“That you’re going in with me, and it’s all right.”

“And do you really think I am?”

He had unlocked the door; after a pause I heard him lock it again. But
I did not see his face until he returned to the bedside. And then it
frightened me. It was distorted and discolored with rage and chagrin.

“You’ve been making a fool of me!” he cried fiercely.

“No, I have been considering the matter, Rattray.”

“And you won’t accept my offer?”

“Of course I won’t. I didn’t say I’d been considering that.”

He stood over me with clenched fists and starting eyes.

“Don’t you see that I want to save your life?” he cried. “Don’t you see
that this is the only way? Do you suppose a murder more or less makes
any difference to that lot downstairs? Are you really such a fool as to
die rather than hold your tongue?”

“I won’t hold it for money, at all events,” said I. “But that’s what I
was coming to.”

“Very well!” he interrupted. “You shall only pretend to touch it. All I
want is to convince the others that it’s against your interest to split.
Self-interest is the one motive they understand. Your bare word would be
good enough for me.”

“Suppose I won’t give my bare word?” said I, in a gentle manner which I
did not mean to be as irritating as it doubtless was. Yet his proposals
and his assumptions were between them making me irritable in my turn.

“For Heaven’s sake don’t be such an idiot, Cole!” he burst out in a
passion. “You know I’m against the others, and you know what they want,
yet you do your best to put me on their side! You know what they are,
and yet you hesitate! For the love of God be sensible; at least give me
your word that you’ll hold your tongue for ever about all you know.”

“All right,” I said. “I’ll give you my word--my sacred promise,
Rattray--on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“That you let me take Miss Denison away from you, for good and all!”

His face was transformed with fury: honest passion faded from it and
left it bloodless, deadly, sinister.

“Away from me?” said Rattray, through his teeth.

“From the lot of you.”

“I remember! You told me that night. Ha, ha, ha! You were in love with
her--you--you!”

“That has nothing to do with it,” said I, shaking the bed with my anger
and my agitation.

“I should hope not! You, indeed, to look at her!”

“Well,” I cried, “she may never love me; but at least she doesn’t loathe
me as she loathes you--yes, and the sight of you, and your very name!”

So I drew blood for blood; and for an instant I thought he was going to
make an end of it by incontinently killing me himself. His fists flew
out. Had I been a whole man on my legs, he took care to tell me what he
would have done, and to drive it home with a mouthful of the oaths which
were conspicuously absent from his ordinary talk.

“You take advantage of your weakness, like any cur,” he wound up.

“And you of your strength--like the young bully you are!” I retorted.

“You do your best to make me one,” he answered bitterly. “I try to stand
by you at all costs. I want to make amends to you, I want to prevent
a crime. Yet there you lie and set your face against a compromise; and
there you lie and taunt me with the thing that’s gall and wormwood to me
already. I know I gave you provocation. And I know I’m rightly served.
Why do you suppose I went into this accursed thing at all? Not for the
gold, my boy, but for the girl! So she won’t look at me. And it serves
me right. But--I say--do you really think she loathes me, Cole?”

“I don’t see how she can think much better of you than of the crime
in which you’ve had a hand,” was my reply, made, however, with as much
kindness as I could summon. “The word I used was spoken in anger,” said
I; for his had disappeared; and he looked such a miserable, handsome dog
as he stood there hanging his guilty head--in the room, I fancied, where
he once had lain as a pretty, innocent child.

“Cole,” said he, “I’d give twice my share of the damned stuff never to
have put my hand to the plough; but go back I can’t; so there’s an end
of it.”

“I don’t see it,” said I. “You say you didn’t go in for the gold? Then
give up your share; the others’ll jump at it; and Eva won’t think the
worse of you, at any rate.”

“But what’s to become of her if I drop out?

“You and I will take her to her friends, or wherever she wants to go.”

“No, no!” he cried. “I never yet deserted my pals, and I’m not going to
begin.”

“I don’t believe you ever before had such pals to desert,” was my reply
to that. “Quite apart from my own share in the matter, it makes me
positively sick to see a fellow like you mixed up with such a crew in
such a game. Get out of it, man, get out of it while you can! Now’s your
time. Get out of it, for God’s sake!”

I sat up in my eagerness. I saw him waver. And for one instant a great
hope fluttered in my heart. But his teeth met. His face darkened. He
shook his head.

“That’s the kind of rot that isn’t worth talking, and you ought to know
it,” said he. “When I begin a thing I go through with it, though it
lands me in hell, as this one will. I can’t help that. It’s too late to
go back. I’m going on and you’re going with me, Cole, like a sensible
chap!”

I shook my head.

“Only on the one condition.”

“You--stick--to--that?” he said, so rapidly that the words ran into one,
so fiercely that his decision was as plain to me as my own.

“I do,” said I, and could only sigh when he made yet one more effort to
persuade me, in a distress not less apparent than his resolution, and
not less becoming in him.

“Consider, Cole, consider!”

“I have already done so, Rattray.”

“Murder is simply nothing to them!”

“It is nothing to me either.”

“Human life is nothing!”

“No; it must end one day.”

“You won’t give your word unconditionally?”

“No; you know my condition.”

He ignored it with a blazing eye, his hand upon the door.

“You prefer to die, then?” “Infinitely.”

“Then die you may, and be damned to you!”



CHAPTER XVII. THIEVES FALL OUT


The door slammed. It was invisibly locked and the key taken out. I
listened for the last of an angry stride. It never even began. But after
a pause the door was unlocked again, and Rattray re-entered.

Without looking at me, he snatched the candle from the table on which it
stood by the bedside, and carried it to a bureau at the opposite side
of the room. There he stood a minute with his back turned, the candle,
I fancy, on the floor. I saw him putting something in either jacket
pocket. Then I heard a dull little snap, as though he had shut some
small morocco case; whatever it was, he tossed it carelessly back into
the bureau; and next minute he was really gone, leaving the candle
burning on the floor.

I lay and heard his steps out of earshot, and they were angry enough
now, nor had he given me a single glance. I listened until there was
no more to be heard, and then in an instant I was off the bed and on
my feet. I reeled a little, and my head gave me great pain, but greater
still was my excitement. I caught up the candle, opened the unlocked
bureau, and then the empty case which I found in the very front.

My heart leapt; there was no mistaking the depressions in the case. It
was a brace of tiny pistols that Rattray had slipped into his jacket
pockets.

Mere toys they must have been in comparison with my dear Deane and
Adams; that mattered nothing. I went no longer in dire terror of my
life; indeed, there was that in Rattray which had left me feeling fairly
safe, in spite of his last words to me, albeit I felt his fears on my
behalf to be genuine enough. His taking these little pistols (of
course, there were but three chambers left loaded in mine) confirmed my
confidence in him.

He would stick at nothing to defend me from the violence of his
bloodthirsty accomplices. But it should not come to that. My legs were
growing firmer under me. I was not going to lie there meekly without
making at least an effort at self-deliverance. If it succeeded--the
idea came to me in a flash--I would send Rattray an ultimatum from the
nearest town; and either Eva should be set instantly and unconditionally
free, or the whole matter be put unreservedly in the hands of the local
police.

There were two lattice windows, both in the same immensely thick wall;
to my joy, I discovered that they overlooked the open premises at the
back of the hall, with the oak-plantation beyond; nor was the distance
to the ground very great. It was the work of a moment to tear the sheets
from the bed, to tie the two ends together and a third round the mullion
by which the larger window was bisected. I had done this, and had let
down my sheets, when a movement below turned my heart to ice. The night
had clouded over. I could see nobody; so much the greater was my alarm.

I withdrew from the window, leaving the sheets hanging, in the hope that
they also might be invisible in the darkness. I put out the candle,
and returned to the window in great perplexity. Next moment I stood
aghast--between the devil and the deep sea. I still heard a something
down below, but a worse sound came to drown it. An unseen hand was very
quietly trying the door which Rattray had locked behind him.

“Diablo!” came to my horrified ears, in a soft, vindictive voice.

“I told ye so,” muttered another; “the young swab’s got the key.”

There was a pause, in which it would seem that Joaquin Santos had his
ear at the empty keyhole.

“I think he must be slipping,” at last I heard him sigh. “It was not
necessary to awaken him in this world. It is a peety.”

“One kick over the lock would do it,” said Harris; “only the young
swab’ll hear.”

“Not perhaps while he is dancing attendance on the senhora. Was it not
good to send him to her? If he does hear, well, his own turn will come
the queecker, that is all. But it would be better to take them one at a
time; so keeck away, my friend, and I will give him no time to squil.”

While my would-be murderers were holding this whispered colloquy, I had
stood half-petrified by the open window; unwilling to slide down the
sheets into the arms of an unseen enemy, though I had no idea which
of them it could be; more hopeful of slipping past my butchers in the
darkness, and so to Rattray and poor Eva; but not the less eagerly
looking for some hiding-place in the room. The best that offered was a
recess in the thick wall between the two windows, filled with hanging
clothes: a narrow closet without a door, which would shelter me well
enough if not too curiously inspected. Here I hid myself in the end,
after a moment of indecision which nearly cost me my life. The coats and
trousers still shook in front of me when the door flew open at the first
kick, and Santos stood a moment in the moonlight, looking for the bed.
With a stride he reached it, and I saw the gleam of a knife from where I
stood among the squire’s clothes; it flashed over my bed, and was still.

“He is not ‘ere!”

“He heard us, and he’s a-hiding.”

“Make light, my friend, and we shall very soon see.”

Harris did so.

“Here’s a candle,” said Santos; “light it, and watch the door. Perro mal
dicto! What have we here?”

I felt certain he had seen me, but the candle passed within a yard of my
feet, and was held on high at the open window.

“We are too late!” said Santos. “He’s gone!”

“Are you sure

“Look at this sheet.”

“Then the other swab knew of it, and we’ll settle with him.”

“Yes, yes. But not yet, my good friend--not yet. We want his asseestance
in getting the gold back to the sea; he will be glad enough to give it,
now that his pet bird has flown; after that--by all mins. You shall cut
his troth, and I will put one of ‘is dear friend’s bullets in ‘im for my
own satisfaction.”

There was a quick step on the stairs-in the corridor.

“I’d like to do it now,” whispered Harris; “no time like the present.”

“Not yet, I tell you!”

And Rattray was in the room, a silver-mounted pistol in each hand; the
sight of these was a surprise to his treacherous confederates, as even I
could see.

“What the devil are you two doing here?” he thundered.

“We thought he was too quite,” said Santos. “You percive the rizzon.”

And he waved from empty bed to open window, then held the candle close
to the tied sheet, and shrugged expressively.

“You thought he was too quiet!” echoed Rattray with fierce scorn. “You
thought I was too blind--that’s what you mean. To tell me that Miss
Denison wished to see me, and Miss Denison that I wished to speak to
her! As if we shouldn’t find you out in about a minute! But a minute was
better than nothing, eh? And you’ve made good use of your minute, have
you. You’ve murdered him, and you pretend he’s got out? By God, if you
have, I’ll murder you! I’ve been ready for this all night!”

And he stood with his back to the window, his pistols raised, and his
head carried proudly--happily--like a man whose self-respect was coming
back to him after many days. Harris shrank before his fierce eyes
and pointed barrels. The Portuguese, however, had merely given a
characteristic shrug, and was now rolling the inevitable cigarette.

“Your common sense is almost as remarkable as your sense of justice, my
friend,” said he. “You see us one, two, tree meenutes ago, and you see
us now. You see the empty bed, the empty room, and you imagine that in
one, two, tree meenutes we have killed a man and disposed of his body.
Truly, you are very wise and just, and very loyal also to your friends.
You treat a dangerous enemy as though he were your tween-brother. You
let him escape--let him, I repit--and then you threaten to shoot those
who, as it is, may pay for your carelessness with their lives. We have
been always very loyal to you, Senhor Rattray. We have leestened to your
advice, and often taken it against our better judgment. We are here, not
because we think it wise, but because you weeshed it. Yet at the first
temptation you turn upon us, you point your peestols at your friends.”

“I don’t believe in your loyalty,” rejoined Rattray. “I believe you
would shoot me sooner than I would you. The only difference would be
than I should be shot in the back!”

“It is untrue,” said Santos, with immense emotion. “I call the saints to
witness that never by thought or word have I been disloyal to you”--and
the blasphemous wretch actually crossed himself with a trembling, skinny
hand. “I have leestened to you, though you are the younger man. I have
geeven way to you in everything from the moment we were so fullish as to
set foot on this accursed coast; that also was your doeeng; and it will
be your fault if ivil comes of it. Yet I have not complained. Here
in your own ‘ouse you have been the master, I the guest. So far from
plotting against you, show me the man who has heard me brith one
treacherous word behind your back; you will find it deeficult, friend
Rattray; what do you say, captain?”

“Me?” cried Harris, in a voice bursting with abuse. And what the captain
said may or may not be imagined. It cannot be set down.

But the man who ought to have spoken--the man who had such a chance as
few men have off the stage--who could have confounded these villains
in a breath, and saved the wretched Rattray at once from them and
from himself--that unheroic hero remained ignobly silent in his homely
hiding-place. And, what is more, he would do the same again!

The rogues had fallen out; now was the time for honest men. They all
thought I had escaped; therefore they would give me a better chance than
ever of still escaping; and I have already explained to what purpose
I meant to use my first hours of liberty. That purpose I hold to have
justified any ingratitude that I may seem now to have displayed towards
the man who had undoubtedly stood between death and me. Was not Eva
Denison of more value than many Rattrays? And it was precisely in
relation with this pure young girl that I most mistrusted the squire:
obviously then my first duty was to save Eva from Rattray, not Rattray
from these traitors.

Not that I pretend for a moment to have been the thing I never was: you
are not so very grateful to the man who pulls you out of the mud when he
has first of all pushed you in; nor is it chivalry alone which spurs
one to the rescue of a lovely lady for whom, after all, one would rather
live than die. Thus I, in my corner, was thinking (I will say) of Eva
first; but next I was thinking of myself; and Rattray’s blood be on his
own hot head! I hold, moreover, that I was perfectly right in all this;
but if any think me very wrong, a sufficient satisfaction is in store
for them, for I was very swiftly punished.

The captain’s language was no worse in character than in effect: the bed
was bloody from my wounded head, all tumbled from the haste with which
I had quitted it, and only too suggestive of still fouler play. Rattray
stopped the captain with a sudden flourish of one of his pistols, the
silver mountings making lightning in the room; then he called upon the
pair of them to show him what they had done with me; and to my horror,
Santos invited him to search the room. The invitation was accepted. Yet
there I stood. It would have been better to step forward even then. Yet
I cowered among his clothes until his own hand fell upon my collar, and
forth I was dragged to the plain amazement of all three.

Santos was the first to find his voice.

“Another time you will perhaps think twice before you spik, friend
squire.”

Rattray simply asked me what I had been doing in there, in a white flame
of passion, and with such an oath that I embellished the truth for him
in my turn.

“Trying to give you blackguards the slip,” said I.

“Then it was you who let down the sheet?”

“Of course it was.”

“All right! I’m done with you,” said he; “that settles it. I make you an
offer. You won’t accept it. I do my best; you do your worst; but I’ll be
shot if you get another chance from me!”

Brandy and the wine-glass stood where Rattray must have set them, on an
oak stool beside the bed; as he spoke he crossed the room, filled
the glass till the spirit dripped, and drained it at a gulp. He was
twitching and wincing still when he turned, walked up to Joaquin Santos,
and pointed to where I stood with a fist that shook.

“You wanted to deal with him,” said Rattray; “you’re at liberty to do
so. I’m only sorry I stood in your way.”

But no answer, and for once no rings of smoke came from those shrivelled
lips: the man had rolled and lighted a cigarette since Rattray entered,
but it was burning unheeded between his skinny fingers. I had his
attention, all to myself. He knew the tale that I was going to tell.
He was waiting for it; he was ready for me. The attentive droop of his
head; the crafty glitter in his intelligent eyes; the depth and
breadth of the creased forehead; the knowledge of his resource, the
consciousness of my error, all distracted and confounded me so that my
speech halted and my voice ran thin. I told Rattray every syllable that
these traitors had been saying behind his back, but I told it all very
ill; what was worse, and made me worse, I was only too well aware of my
own failure to carry conviction with my words.

“And why couldn’t you come out and say so,” asked Rattray, as even I knew
that he must. “Why wait till now?”

“Ah, why!” echoed Santos, with a smile and a shake of the head; a
suspicious tolerance, an ostentatious truce, upon his parchment face.
And already he was sufficiently relieved to suck his cigarette alight
again.

“You know why,” I said, trusting to bluff honesty with the one of them
who was not rotten to the core: “because I still meant escaping.”

“And then what?” asked Rattray fiercely.

“You had given me my chance,” I said; “I hould have given you yours.”

“You would, would you? Very kind of you, Mr. Cole!”

“No, no,” said Santos; “not kind, but clever! Clever, spicious, and
queeck-weeted beyond belif! Senhor Rattray, we have all been in the
dark; we thought we had fool to die with, but what admirable knave the
young man would make! Such readiness, such resource, with his tongue
or with his peestol; how useful would it be to us! I am glad you have
decided to live him to me, friend Rattray, for I am quite come round to
your way of thinking. It is no longer necessary for him to die!”

“You mean that?” cried Rattray keenly.

“Of course I min it. You were quite right. He must join us. But he will
when I talk to him.”

I could not speak. I was fascinated by this wretch: it was reptile and
rabbit with us. Treachery I knew he meant; my death, for one; my death
was certain; and yet I could not speak.

“Then talk to him, for God’s sake,” cried Rattray, “and I shall be only
too glad if you can talk some sense into him. I’ve tried, and failed.”

“I shall not fail,” said Santos softly. “But it is better that he has a
leetle time to think over it calmly; better steel for ‘im to slip upon
it, as you say. Let us live ‘im for the night, what there is of it; time
enough in the morning.”

I could hardly believe my ears; still I knew that it was treachery, all
treachery; and the morning I should never see.

“But we can’t leave him up here,” said Rattray; “it would mean one of us
watching him all night.”

“Quite so,” said Santos. “I will tell you where we could live him,
however, if you will allow me to wheesper one leetle moment.”

They drew aside; and, as I live, I thought that little moment was to
be Rattray’s last on earth. I watched, but nothing happened; on the
contrary, both men seemed agreed, the Portuguese gesticulating, the
Englishman nodding, as they stood conversing at the window. Their faces
were strangely reassuring. I began to reason with myself, to rid my mind
of mere presentiment and superstition. If these two really were at one
about me (I argued) there might be no treachery after all. When I came
to think of it, Rattray had been closeted long enough with me to awake
the worst suspicions in the breasts of his companions; now that these
were allayed, there might be no more bloodshed after all (if, for
example, I pretended to give in), even though Santos had not cared whose
blood was shed a few minutes since. That was evidently the character of
the wretch: to compass his ends or to defend his person he would take
life with no more compunction than the ordinary criminal takes money;
but (and hence) murder for murder’s sake was no amusement to him.

My confidence was further restored by Captain Harris; ever a gross
ruffian, with no refinements to his rascality, he had been at the brandy
bottle after Rattray’s example; and now was dozing on the latter’s bed,
taking his watch below when he could get it, like the good seaman he
had been. I was quite sorry for him when the conversation at the window
ceased suddenly, and Rattray roused the captain up.

“Watches aft!” said he. “We want that mattress; you can bring it along,
while I lead the way with the pillows and things. Come on, Cole!”

“Where to?” I asked, standing firm.

“Where there’s no window for you to jump out of, old boy, and no clothes
of mine for you to hide behind. You needn’t look so scared; it’s as dry
as a bone, as cellars go. And it’s past three o’clock. And you’ve just
got to come.”



CHAPTER XVIII. A MAN OF MANY MURDERS


It was a good-sized wine-cellar, with very little wine in it; only one
full bin could I discover. The bins themselves lined but two of the
walls, and most of them were covered in with cobwebs, close-drawn like
mosquito-curtains. The ceiling was all too low: torpid spiders hung
in disreputable parlors, dead to the eye, but loathsomely alive at an
involuntary touch. Rats scuttled when we entered, and I had not been
long alone when they returned to bear me company. I am not a natural
historian, and had rather face a lion with the right rifle than a rat
with a stick. My jailers, however, had been kind enough to leave me a
lantern, which, set upon the ground (like my mattress), would afford a
warning, if not a protection, against the worst; unless I slept; and as
yet I had not lain down. The rascals had been considerate enough, more
especially Santos, who had a new manner for me with his revised opinion
of my character; it was a manner almost as courtly as that which had
embellished his relations with Eva Denison, and won him my early regard
at sea. Moreover, it was at the suggestion of Santos that they had
detained me in the hall, for much-needed meat and drink, on the way
down. Thereafter they had conducted me through the book-lined door of my
undoing, down stone stairs leading to three cellar doors, one of which
they had double-locked upon me.

As soon as I durst I was busy with this door; but to no purpose; it was
a slab of solid oak, hung on hinges as massive as its lock. It galled
me to think that but two doors stood between me and the secret tunnel to
the sea: for one of the other two must lead to it. The first, however,
was all beyond me, and I very soon gave it up. There was also a
very small grating which let in a very little fresh air: the massive
foundations had been tunnelled in one place; a rude alcove was the
result, with this grating at the end and top of it, some seven feet
above the earth floor. Even had I been able to wrench away the bars, it
would have availed me nothing, since the aperture formed the segment of
a circle whose chord was but a very few inches long. I had nevertheless
a fancy for seeing the stars once more and feeling the breath of heaven
upon my bandaged temples, which impelled me to search for that which
should add a cubit to my stature. And at a glance I descried two
packing-cases, rather small and squat, but the pair of them together
the very thing for me. To my amazement, however, I could at first move
neither one nor the other of these small boxes. Was it that I was weak
as water, or that they were heavier than lead? At last I managed to get
one of them in my arms--only to drop it with a thud. A side started;
a thin sprinkling of yellow dust glittered on the earth. I fetched the
lantern: it was gold-dust from Bendigo or from Ballarat.

To me there was horror unspeakable, yet withal a morbid fascination,
in the spectacle of the actual booty for which so many lives had been
sacrificed before my eyes. Minute followed minute in which I looked at
nothing, and could think of nothing, but the stolen bullion at my feet;
then I gathered what of the dust I could, pocketed it in pinches to hide
my meddlesomeness, and blew the rest away. The box had dropped very much
where I had found it; it had exhausted my strength none the less, and
I was glad at last to lie down on the mattress, and to wind my body in
Rattray’s blankets.

I shuddered at the thought of sleep: the rats became so lively the
moment I lay still. One ventured so near as to sit up close to the
lantern; the light showed its fat white belly, and the thing itself was
like a dog begging, as big to my disgusted eyes. And yet, in the midst
of these horrors (to me as bad as any that had preceded them), nature
overcame me, and for a space my torments ceased.

“He is aslip,” a soft voice said.

“Don’t wake the poor devil,” said another.

“But I weesh to spik with ‘im. Senhor Cole! Senhor Cole!”

I opened my eyes. Santos looked of uncanny stature in the low yellow
light, from my pillow close to the earth. Harris turned away at my
glance; he carried a spade, and began digging near the boxes without
more ado, by the light of a second lantern set on one of them: his back
was to me from this time on. Santos shrugged a shoulder towards the
captain as he opened a campstool, drew up his trousers, and seated
himself with much deliberation at the foot of my mattress.

“When you ‘ave treasure,” said he, “the better thing is to bury it,
Senhor Cole. Our young friend upstairs begs to deefer; but he is
slipping; it is peety he takes such quantity of brandy! It is leetle
wikness of you Engleesh; we in Portugal never touch it, save as a
liqueur; therefore we require less slip. Friend squire upstairs is at
this moment no better than a porker. Have I made mistake? I thought it
was the same word in both languages; but I am glad to see you smile,
Senhor Cole; that is good sign. I was going to say, he is so fast aslip
up there, that he would not hear us if we were to shoot each other
dead!”

And he gave me his paternal smile, benevolent, humorous, reassuring; but
I was no longer reassured; nor did I greatly care any more what happened
to me. There is a point of last, as well as one of least resistance, and
I had reached both points at once.

“Have you shot him dead?” I inquired, thinking that if he had, this
would precipitate my turn. But he was far from angry; the parchment
face crumpled into tolerant smiles; the venerable head shook a playful
reproval, as he threw away the cigarette that I am tired of mentioning,
and put the last touch to a fresh one with his tongue.

“What question?” said he; “reely, Senhor Cole! But you are quite right:
I would have shot him, or cut his troth” (and he shrugged indifference
on the point), “if it had not been for you; and yet it would have been
your fault! I nid not explain; the poseetion must have explained itself
already; besides, it is past. With you two against us--but it is past.
You see, I have no longer the excellent Jose. You broke his leg, bad
man. I fear it will be necessary to destroy ‘im.” Santos made a pause;
then inquired if he shocked me.

“Not a bit,” said I, neither truly nor untruly; “you interest me.” And
that he did.

“You see,” he continued, “I have not the respect of you Engleesh for
‘uman life. We will not argue it. I have at least some respect for
prejudice. In my youth I had myself such prejudices; but one loses them
on the Zambesi. You cannot expect one to set any value upon the life of
a black nigger; and when you have keeled a great many Kaffirs, by the
lash, with the crocodiles, or what-not, then a white man or two makes
less deeference. I acknowledge there were too many on board that sheep;
but what was one to do? You have your Engleesh proverb about the dead
men and the stories; it was necessary to make clin swip. You see the
result.”

He shrugged again towards the boxes; but this time, being reminded
of them (I supposed), he rose and went over to see how Harris was
progressing. The captain had never looked round; neither did he look at
Santos. “A leetle dipper,” I heard the latter say, “and, perhaps, a few
eenches--” but I lost the last epithet. It followed a glance over the
shoulder in my direction, and immediately preceded the return of Santos
to his camp-stool.

“Yes, it is always better to bury treasure,” said he once more; but his
tone was altered; it was more contemplative; and many smoke-rings came
from the shrunk lips before another word; but through them all, his dark
eyes, dull with age, were fixed upon me.

“You are a treasure!” he exclaimed at last, softly enough, but quickly
and emphatically for him, and with a sudden and most diabolical smile.

“So you are going to bury me?”

I had suspected it when first I saw the spade; then not; but since the
visit to the hole I had made up my mind to it.

“Bury you? No, not alive,” said Santos, in his playfully reproving
tone. “It would be necessary to deeg so dip!” he added through his few
remaining teeth.

“Well,” I said, “you’ll swing for it. That’s something.”

Santos smiled again, benignantly enough this time: in contemplation
also: as an artist smiles upon his work. I was his!

“You live town,” said he; “no one knows where you go. You come down
here; no one knows who you are. Your dear friend squire locks you up
for the night, but dreenks too much and goes to slip with the key in his
pocket; it is there when he wakes; but the preesoner, where is he? He is
gone, vanished, escaped in the night, and, like the base fabreec of your
own poet’s veesion, he lives no trace--is it trace?--be’ind! A leetle
earth is so easily bitten down; a leetle more is so easily carried up
into the garden; and a beet of nice strong wire might so easily be
found in a cellar, and afterwards in the lock! No, Senhor Cole, I do not
expect to ‘ang. My schims have seldom one seengle flaw. There was just
one in the Lady Jermyn; there was--Senhor Cole! If there is one this
time, and you will be so kind as to point it out, I will--I will run the
reesk of shooting you instead of--”

A pinch of his baggy throat, between the fingers and thumbs of both
hands, foreshadowed a cleaner end; and yet I could look at him; nay, it
was more than I could do not to look upon that bloodless face, with the
two dry blots upon the parchment, that were never withdrawn from mine.

“No you won’t, messmate! If it’s him or us for it, let a bullet do it,
and let it do it quick, you bloody Spaniard! You can’t do the other
without me, and my part’s done.”

Harris was my only hope. I had seen this from the first, but my appeal
I had been keeping to the very end. And now he was leaving me before a
word would come! Santos had gone over to my grave, and there was Harris
at the door!

“It is not dip enough,” said the Portuguese.

“It’s as deep as I mean to make it, with you sittin’ there talkin’ about
it.”

And the door stood open.

“Captain!” I screamed. “For Christ’s sake, captain!”

He stood there, trembling, yet even now not looking my way.

“Did you ever see a man hanged?” asked Santos, with a vile eye for each
of us. “I once hanged fifteen in a row; abominable thifs. And I once
poisoned nearly a hundred at one banquet; an untrustworthy tribe; but
the hanging was the worse sight and the worse death. Heugh! There was
one man--he was no stouter than you are captain--”

But the door slammed; we heard the captain on the stairs; there was a
rustle from the leaves outside, and then a silence that I shall not
attempt to describe.

And, indeed, I am done with this description: as I live to tell the tale
(or spoil it, if I choose) I will make shorter work of this particular
business than I found it at the time. Perverse I may be in old age as
in my youth; but on that my agony--my humiliating agony--I decline
to dwell. I suffer it afresh as I write. There are the cobwebs on the
ceiling, a bloated spider crawling in one: a worse monster is gloating
over me: those dull eyes of his, and my own pistol-barrel, cover me in
the lamp-light. The crucifix pin is awry in his cravat; that is because
he has offered it me to kiss. As a refinement (I feel sure) my revolver
is not cocked; and the hammer goes up--up--

He missed me because a lantern was flashed into his eyes through the
grating. He wasted the next ball in firing wildly at the light. And
the last chamber’s load became suddenly too precious for my person; for
there were many voices overhead; there were many feet upon the stairs.

Harris came first--head-first--saw me still living as he reeled--hurled
himself upon the boxes and one of these into the hole--all far quicker
than my pen can write it. The manoeuvre, being the captain’s, explained
itself: on his heels trod Rattray, with one who brought me to my feet
like the call of silver trumpets.

“The house is surrounded,” says the squire, very quick and quiet; “is
this your doing, Cole?”

“I wish it was,” said I; “but I can’t complain; it’s saved my life.”
 And I looked at Santos, standing dignified and alert, my still smoking
pistol in his hand.

“Two things to do,” says Rattray--“I don’t care which.” He strode across
the cellar and pulled at the one full bin; something slid out, it was a
binful of empty bottles, and this time they were allowed to crash upon
the floor; the squire stood pointing to a manhole at the back of the
bin. “That’s one alternative,” said he; “but it will mean leaving this
much stuff at least,” pointing to the boxes, “and probably all the rest
at the other end. The other thing’s to stop and fight!”

“I fight,” said Santos, stalking to the door. “Have you no more
ammunition for me, friend Cole? Then I must live you alive; adios,
senhor!”

Harris cast a wistful look towards the manhole, not in cowardice, I
fancy, but in sudden longing for the sea, the longing of a poor devil
of a sailor-man doomed to die ashore. I am still sorry to remember that
Rattray judged him differently. “Come on, skipper,” said he; “it’s all
or none aboard the lugger, and I think it will be none. Up you go; wait
a second in the room above, and I’ll find you an old cutlass. I shan’t
be longer.” He turned to me with a wry smile. “We’re not half-armed,” he
said; “they’ve caught us fairly on the hop; it should be fun! Good-by,
Cole; I wish you’d had another round for that revolver. Good-by, Eva!”

And he held out his hand to our love, who had been watching him all this
time with eyes of stone; but now she turned her back upon him without
a word. His face changed; the stormlight of passion and remorse played
upon it for an instant; he made a step towards her, wheeled abruptly,
and took me by the shoulder instead.

“Take care of her, Cole,” said he. “Whatever happens--take care of her.”

I caught him at the foot of the stairs. I do not defend what I did. But
I had more ammunition; a few wadded bullets, caps, and powder-charges,
loose in a jacket pocket; and I thrust them into one of his, upon a
sudden impulse, not (as I think) altogether unaccountable, albeit (as I
have said) so indefensible.

My back was hardly turned an instant. I had left a statue of unforgiving
coldness. I started round to catch in my arms a half-fainting,
grief-stricken form, shaken with sobs that it broke my heart to hear. I
placed her on the camp-stool. I knelt down and comforted her as well as
I could, stroking her hands, my arm about her heaving shoulders, with
the gold-brown hair streaming over them. Such hair as it was! So much
longer than I had dreamt. So soft--so fine--my soul swam with the sight
and touch of it. Well for me that there broke upon us from above such
a sudden din as turned my hot blood cold! A wild shout of surprise; an
ensuing roar of defiance; shrieks and curses; yells of rage and pain;
and pistol-shot after pistol-shot as loud as cannon in the confined
space.

I know now that the battle in the hall was a very brief affair; while
it lasted I had no sense of time; minutes or moments, they were (God
forgive me!) some of the very happiest in all my life. My joy was as
profound as it was also selfish and incongruous. The villains were being
routed; of that there could be no doubt or question. I hoped Rattray
might escape, but for the others no pity stirred in my heart, and even
my sneaking sympathy with the squire could take nothing from the joy
that was in my heart. Eva Denison was free. I was free. Our oppressors
would trouble us no more. We were both lonely; we were both young; we
had suffered together and for each other. And here she lay in my arms,
her head upon my shoulder, her soft bosom heaving on my own! My blood
ran hot and cold by turns. I forgot everything but our freedom and my
love. I forgot my sufferings, as I would have you all forget them. I
am not to be pitied. I have been in heaven on earth. I was there that
night, in my great bodily weakness, and in the midst of blood-shed,
death, and crime.

“They have stopped!” cried Eva suddenly. “It is over! Oh, if he is
dead!”

And she sat upright, with bright eyes starting from a deathly face. I do
not think she knew that she had been in my arms at all: any more than I
knew that the firing had ceased before she told me. Excited voices were
still raised overhead; but some sounded distant, yet more distinct,
coming through the grating from the garden; and none were voices that we
knew. One poor wretch, on the other hand, we heard plainly groaning to
his death; and we looked in each other’s eyes with the same thought.

“That’s Harris,” said I, with, I fear, but little compassion in my tone
or in my heart just then.

“Where are the others?” cried Eva piteously.

“God knows,” said I; “they may be done for, too.”

“If they are!”

“It’s better than the death they would have lived to die.”

“But only one of them was a wilful murderer! Oh, Mr. Cole--Mr. Cole--go
and see what has happened; come back and tell me! I dare not come. I
will stay here and pray for strength to bear whatever news you may bring
me. Go quickly. I will--wait--and pray!”

So I left the poor child on her knees in that vile cellar, white face
and straining hands uplifted to the foul ceiling, sweet lips quivering
with prayer, eyelids reverently lowered, and the swift tears flowing
from beneath them, all in the yellow light of the lantern that stood
burning by her side. How different a picture from that which awaited me
overhead!



CHAPTER XIX. MY GREAT HOUR


The library doors were shut, and I closed the secret one behind me
before opening the other and peering out through a wrack of bluish
smoke; and there lay Captain Harris, sure enough, breathing his last in
the arms of one constable, while another was seated on the table with a
very wry face, twisting a tourniquet round his arm, from which the blood
was dripping like raindrops from the eaves. A third officer stood in the
porch, issuing directions to his men without.

“He’s over the wall, I tell you! I saw him run up our ladder. After him
every man of you--and spread!”

I looked in vain for Rattray and the rest; yet it seemed as if only
one of them had escaped. I was still looking when the man in the porch
wheeled back into the hall, and instantly caught sight of me at my door.

“Hillo! here’s another of them,” cried he. “Out you come, young fellow!
Your mates are all dead men.”

“They’re not my mates.”

“Never mind; come you out and let’s have a look at you.”

I did so, and was confronted by a short, thickset man, who recognized me
with a smile, but whom I failed to recognize.

“I might have guessed it was Mr. Cole,” said he. “I knew you were here
somewhere, but I couldn’t make head or tail of you through the smoke.”

“I’m surprised that you can make head or tail of me at all,” said I.

“Then you’ve quite forgotten the inquisitive parson you met out fishing?
You see I found out your name for myself!”

“So it was a detective!”

“It was and is,” said the little man, nodding. “Detective or Inspector
Royds, if you’re any the wiser.

“What has happened? Who has escaped?” “Your friend Rattray; but he won’t
get far.”

“What of the Portuguese and the nigger?”

I forgot that I had crippled Jose, but remembered with my words, and
wondered the more where he was.

“I’ll show you,” said Royds. “It was the nigger let us in. We heard him
groaning round at the back--who smashed his leg? One of our men was at
that cellar grating; there was some of them down there; we wanted to
find our way down and corner them, but the fat got in the fire too soon.
Can you stand something strong? Then come this way.”

He led me out into the garden, and to a tangled heap lying in the
moonlight, on the edge of the long grass. The slave had fallen on top
of his master; one leg lay swathed and twisted; one black hand had but
partially relaxed upon the haft of a knife (the knife) that stood up
hilt-deep in a blacker heart. And in the hand of Santos was still the
revolver (my Deane and Adams) which had sent its last ball through the
nigger’s body.

“They slipped out behind us, all but the one inside,” said Royds,
ruefully; “I’m hanged if I know yet how it happened--but we were on them
next second. Before that the nigger had made us hide him in the grass,
but the old devil ran straight into him, and the one fired as the other
struck. It’s the worst bit of luck in the whole business, and I’m rather
disappointed on the whole. I’ve been nursing the job all this week; had
my last look round this very evening, with one of these officers, and
only rode back for more to make sure of taking our gentlemen alive. And
we’ve lost three out of four of ‘em, and have still to lay hands on
the gold! I suppose you didn’t know there was any aboard?” he asked
abruptly.

“Not before to-night.”

“Nor did we till the Devoren came in with letters last week, a hundred
and thirty days out. She should have been in a month before you, but she
got amongst the ice around the Horn. There was a letter of advice about
the gold, saying it would probably go in the Lady Jermyn; and another
about Rattray and his schooner, which had just sailed; the young
gentleman was known to the police out there.”

“Do you know where the schooner is?”

“Bless you, no, we’ve had no time to think about her; the man had been
seen about town, and we’ve done well to lay hands on him in the time.”

“You will do better still when you do lay hands on him,” said I,
wresting my eyes from the yellow dead face of the foreign scoundrel.
The moon shone full upon his high forehead, his shrivelled lips, dank in
their death agony, and on the bauble with the sacred device that he wore
always in his tie. I recovered my property from the shrunken fingers,
and so turned away with a harder heart than I ever had before or since
for any creature of Almighty God.

Harris had expired in our absence.

“Never spoke, sir,” said the constable in whose arms we had left him.

“More’s the pity. Well, cut out at the back and help land the young
gent, or we’ll have him giving us the slip too. He may double back,
but I’m watching out for that. Which way should you say he’d head, Mr.
Cole?”

“Inland,” said I, lying on the spur of the moment, I knew not why. “Try
at the cottage where I’ve been staying.”

“We have a man posted there already. That woman is one of the gang,
and we’ve got her safe. But I’ll take your advice, and have that side
scoured whilst I hang about the place.”

And he walked through the house, and out the back way, at the officer’s
heels; meanwhile the man with the wounded arm was swaying where he sat
from loss of blood, and I had to help him into the open air before at
last I was free to return to poor Eva in her place of loathsome safety.

I had been so long, however, that her patience was exhausted, and as I
returned to the library by one door, she entered by the other.

“I could bear it no longer. Tell me--the worst!”

“Three of them are dead.”

“Which three?”

She had crossed to the other door, and would not have me shut it. So
I stood between her and the hearth, on which lay the captain’s corpse,
with the hearthrug turned up on either side to cover it.

“Harris for one,” said I. “Outside lie Jose and--”

“Quick! Quick!”

“Senhor Santos.”

Her face was as though the name meant nothing to her.

“And Mr. Rattray?” she cried. “And Mr. Rattray--”

“Has escaped for the present. He seems to have cut his way through the
police and got over the wall by a ladder they left behind them. They are
scouring the country--Miss Denison! Eva! My poor love!”

She had broken down utterly in a second fit of violent weeping; and a
second time I took her in my arms, and stood trying in my clumsy way to
comfort her, as though she were a little child. A lamp was burning in
the library, and I recognized the arm-chair which Rattray had drawn
thence for me on the night of our dinner--the very night before! I led
Eva back into the room, and I closed both doors. I supported my poor
girl to the chair, and once more I knelt before her and took her hands
in mine. My great hour was come at last: surely a happy omen that it was
also the hour before the dawn.

“Cry your fill, my darling,” I whispered, with the tears in my own
voice. “You shall never have anything more to cry for in this world! God
has been very good to us. He brought you to me, and me to you. He has
rescued us for each other. All our troubles are over; cry your fill; you
will never have another chance so long as I live, if only you will let
me live for you. Will you, Eva? Will you? Will you?”

She drew her hands from mine, and sat upright in the chair, looking at
me with round eyes; but mine were dim; astonishment was all that I
could read in her look, and on I went headlong, with growing impetus and
passion.

“I know I am not much, my darling; but you know I was not always what my
luck, good and bad, has left me now, and you will make a new man of
me so soon! Besides, God must mean it, or He would not have thrown us
together amid such horrors, and brought us through them together still.
And you have no one else to take care of you in the world! Won’t you let
me try, Eva? Say that you will!”

“Then--you--owe me?” she said slowly, in a low, awe-struck voice that
might have told me my fate at once; but I was shaking all over in the
intensity of my passion, and for the moment it was joy enough to be able
at last to tell her all.

“Love you?” I echoed. “With every fibre of my being! With every atom of
my heart and soul and body! I love you well enough to live to a hundred
for you, or to die for you to-night!”

“Well enough to--give me up?” she whispered.

I felt as though a cold hand had checked my heart at its hottest, but
I mastered myself sufficiently to face her question and to answer it as
honestly as I might.

“Yes!” I cried; “well enough even to do that, if it was for your
happiness; but I might be rather difficult to convince about that.”

“You are very strong and true,” she murmured. “Yes, I can trust you as
I have never trusted anybody else! But--how long have you been so
foolish?” And she tried very hard to smile.

“Since I first saw you; but I only knew it on the night of the fire.
Till that night I resisted it like an idiot. Do you remember how we used
to argue? I rebelled so against my love! I imagined that I had loved
once already and once for all. But on the night of the fire I knew that
my love for you was different from all that had gone before or would
ever come again. I gave in to it at last, and oh! the joy of giving in!
I had fought against the greatest blessing of my life, and I never knew
it till I had given up fighting. What did I care about the fire? I
was never happier--until now! You sang through my heart like the wind
through the rigging; my one fear was that I might go to the bottom
without telling you my love. When I asked to say a few last words to you
on the poop, it was to tell you my love before we parted, that you might
know I loved you whatever came. I didn’t do so, because you seemed
so frightened, poor darling! I hadn’t it in my heart to add to your
distress. So I left you without a word. But I fought the sea for days
together simply to tell you what I couldn’t die without telling you.
When they picked me up, it was your name that brought back my senses
after days of delirium. When I heard that you were dead, I longed to
die myself. And when I found you lived after all, the horror of your
surroundings was nothing to be compared with the mere fact that you
lived; that you were unhappy and in danger was my only grief, but it was
nothing to the thought of your death; and that I had to wait twenty-four
hours without coming to you drove me nearer to madness than ever I was
on the hen-coop. That’s how I love you, Eva,” I concluded; “that’s how I
love and will love you, for ever and ever, no matter what happens.”

Those sweet gray eyes of hers had been fixed very steadily upon me all
through this outburst; as I finished they filled with tears, and my poor
love sat wringing her slender fingers, and upbraiding herself as though
she were the most heartless coquette in the country.

“How wicked I am!” she moaned. “How ungrateful I must be! You offer me
the unselfish love of a strong, brave man. I cannot take it. I have no
love to give you in return.”

“But some day you may,” I urged, quite happily in my ignorance. “It
will come. Oh, surely it will come, after all that we have gone through
together!”

She looked at me very steadily and kindly through her tears.

“It has come, in a way,” said she; “but it is not your way, Mr. Cole. I
do love you for your bravery and your--love--but that will not quite do
for either of us.”

“Why not?” I cried in an ecstasy. “My darling, it will do for me! It
is more than I dared to hope for; thank God, thank God, that you should
care for me at all!”

She shook her head.

“You do not understand,” she whispered.

“I do. I do. You do not love me as you want to love.”

“As I could love--”

“And as you will! It will come. It will come. I’ll bother you no more
about it now. God knows I can afford to leave well alone! I am only too
happy--too thankful--as it is!”

And indeed I rose to my feet every whit as joyful as though she had
accepted me on the spot. At least she had not rejected me; nay, she
confessed to loving me in a way. What more could a lover want? Yet there
was a dejection in her drooping attitude which disconcerted me in the
hour of my reward. And her eyes followed me with a kind of stony remorse
which struck a chill to my bleeding heart.

I went to the door; the hall was still empty, and I shut it again with a
shudder at what I saw before the hearth, at all that I had forgotten
in the little library. As I turned, another door opened--the door made
invisible by the multitude of books around and upon it--and young Squire
Rattray stood between my love and me.

His clear, smooth skin was almost as pale as Eva’s own, but pale brown,
the tint of rich ivory. His eyes were preternaturally bright. And they
never glanced my way, but flew straight to Eva, and rested on her very
humbly and sadly, as her two hands gripped the arms of the chair, and
she leant forward in horror and alarm.

“How could you come back?” she cried. “I was told you had escaped!”

“Yes, I got away on one of their horses.”

“I pictured you safe on board!”

“I very nearly was.”

“Then why are you here?”

“To get your forgiveness before I go.”

He took a step forward; her eyes and mine were riveted upon him; and I
still wonder which of us admired him the more, as he stood there in his
pride and his humility, gallant and young, and yet shamefaced and sad.

“You risk your life--for my forgiveness?” whispered Eva at last. “Risk
it? I’ll give myself up if you’ll take back some of the things you said
to me--last night--and before.”

There was a short pause.

“Well, you are not a coward, at all events!”

“Nor a murderer, Eva!”

“God forbid.”

“Then forgive me for everything else that I have been--to you!”

And he was on his knees where I had knelt scarce a minute before; nor
could I bear to watch them any longer. I believed that he loved her in
his own way as sincerely as I did in mine. I believed that she detested
him for the detestable crime in which he had been concerned. I believed
that the opinion of him which she had expressed to his face, in my
hearing, was her true opinion, and I longed to hear her mitigate it ever
so little before he went. He won my sympathy as a gallant who valued
a kind word from his mistress more than life itself. I hoped earnestly
that that kind word would be spoken. But I had no desire to wait to hear
it. I felt an intruder. I would leave them alone together for the last
time. So I walked to the door, but, seeing a key in it, I changed
my mind, and locked it on the inside. In the hall I might become the
unintentional instrument of the squire’s capture, though, so far as my
ears served me, it was still empty as we had left it. I preferred to run
no risks, and would have a look at the subterranean passage instead.

“I advise you to speak low,” I said, “and not to be long. The place is
alive with the police. If they hear you all will be up.”

Whether he heard me I do not know. I left him on his knees still, and
Eva with her face hidden in her hands.

The cellar was a strange scene to revisit within an hour of my
deliverance from that very torture-chamber. It had been something more
before I left it, but in it I could think only of the first occupant of
the camp-stool. The lantern still burned upon the floor. There was the
mattress, still depressed where I had lain face to face with insolent
death. The bullet was in the plaster; it could not have missed by the
breadth of many hairs. In the corner was the shallow grave, dug by
Harris for my elements. And Harris was dead. And Santos was dead. But
life and love were mine.

I would have gone through it all again!

And all at once I was on fire to be back in the library; so much so,
that half a minute at the manhole, lantern in hand, was enough for me;
and a mere funnel of moist brown earth--a terribly low arch propped with
beams--as much as I myself ever saw of the subterranean conduit between
Kirby House and the sea. But I understood that the curious may traverse
it for themselves to this day on payment of a very modest fee.

As for me, I returned as I had come after (say) five minutes’ absence;
my head full once more of Eva, and of impatient anxiety for the wild
young squire’s final flight; and my heart still singing with the joy of
which my beloved’s kindness seemed a sufficient warranty. Poor egotist!
Am I to tell you what I found when I came up those steep stairs to the
chamber where I had left him on his knees to her? Or can you guess?

He was on his knees no more, but he held her in his arms, and as I
entered he was kissing the tears from her wet, flushed cheek. Her
eyelids drooped; she was pale as the dead without, so pale that her
eyebrows looked abnormally and dreadfully dark. She did not cling to
him. Neither did she resist his caresses, but lay passive in his arms as
though her proper paradise was there. And neither heard me enter; it was
as though they had forgotten all the world but one another.

“So this is it,” said I very calmly. I can hear my voice as I write.

They fell apart on the instant. Rattray glared at me, yet I saw that his
eyes were dim. Eva clasped her hands before her, and looked me steadily
in the face. But never a word.

“You love him?” I said sternly.

The silence of consent remained unbroken.

“Villain as he is?” I burst out.

And at last Eva spoke.

“I loved him before he was one,” said she. “We were engaged.”

She looked at him standing by, his head bowed, his arms folded; next
moment she was very close to me, and fresh tears were in her eyes. But I
stepped backward, for I had had enough.

“Can you not forgive me?”

“Oh, dear, yes.”

“Can’t you understand?”

“Perfectly,” said I.

“You know you said--”

“I have said so many things!”

“But this was that you--you loved me well enough to--give me up.”

And the silly ego in me--the endless and incorrigible I--imagined her
pouting for a withdrawal of those brave words.

“I not only said it,” I declared, “but I meant every word of it.”

None the less had I to turn from her to hide my anguish. I leaned my
elbows on the narrow stone chimney-piece, which, with the grate below
and a small mirror above, formed an almost solitary oasis in the four
walls of books. In the mirror I saw my face; it was wizened, drawn, old
before its time, and merely ugly in its sore distress, merely repulsive
in its bloody bandages. And in the mirror also I saw Rattray, handsome,
romantic, audacious, all that I was not, nor ever would be, and I
“understood” more than ever, and loathed my rival in my heart.

I wheeled round on Eva. I was not going to give her up--to him. I would
tell her so before him--tell him so to his face. But she had turned
away; she was listening to some one else. Her white forehead glistened.
There were voices in the hall.

“Mr. Cole! Mr. Cole! Where are you, Mr. Cole?”

I moved over to the locked door. My hand found the key. I turned round
with evil triumph in my heart, and God knows what upon my face. Rattray
did not move. With lifted hands the girl was merely begging him to go by
the door that was open, down the stair. He shook his head grimly. With
an oath I was upon them.

“Go, both of you!” I whispered hoarsely. “Now--while you can--and I can
let you. Now! Now!”

Still Rattray hung back.

I saw him glancing wistfully at my great revolver lying on the table
under the lamp. I thrust it upon him, and pushed him towards the door.

“You go first. She shall follow. You will not grudge me one last word?
Yes, I will take your hand. If you escape--be good to her!”

He was gone. Without, there was a voice still calling me; but now it
sounded overhead.

“Good-by, Eva,” I said. “You have not a moment to lose.”

Yet those divine eyes lingered on my ugliness.

“You are in a very great hurry,” said she, in the sharp little voice of
her bitter moments.

“You love him; that is enough.”

“And you, too!” she cried. “And you, too!”

And her pure, warm arms were round my neck; another instant, and she
would have kissed me, she! I know it. I knew it then. But it was more
than I would bear. As a brother! I had heard that tale before. Back I
stepped again, all the man in me rebelling.

“That’s impossible,” said I rudely.

“It isn’t. It’s true. I do love you--for this!”

God knows how I looked!

“And I mayn’t say good-by to you,” she whispered. “And--and I love
you--for that!”

“Then you had better choose between us,” said I.



CHAPTER XX. THE STATEMENT OF FRANCIS RATTRAY


In the year 1858 I received a bulky packet bearing the stamp of the
Argentine Republic, a realm in which, to the best of my belief, I had
not a solitary acquaintance. The superscription told me nothing. In
my relations with Rattray his handwriting had never come under my
observation. Judge then of my feelings when the first thing I read was
his signature at the foot of the last page.

For five years I had been uncertain whether he was alive or dead. I had
heard nothing of him from the night we parted in Kirby Hall. All I knew
was that he had escaped from England and the English police; his letter
gave no details of the incident. It was an astonishing letter; my breath
was taken on the first close page; at the foot of it the tears were in
my eyes. And all that part I must pass over without a word. I have never
shown it to man or woman. It is sacred between man and man.

But the letter possessed other points of interest--of almost universal
interest--to which no such scruples need apply; for it cleared up
certain features of the foregoing narrative which had long been
mysteries to all the world; and it gave me what I had tried in vain
to fathom all these years, some explanation, or rather history, of
the young Lancastrian’s complicity with Joaquin Santos in the foul
enterprise of the Lady Jermyn. And these passages I shall reproduce word
for word; partly because of their intrinsic interest; partly for such
new light as they day throw on this or that phase of the foregoing
narrative; and, lastly, out of fairness to (I hope) the most gallant and
most generous youth who ever slipped upon the lower slopes of Avemus.

Wrote Rattray:

“You wondered how I could have thrown in my lot with such a man. You may
wonder still, for I never yet told living soul. I pretended I had joined
him of my own free will. That was not quite the case. The facts were as
follows:

“In my teens (as I think you know) I was at sea. I took my second mate’s
certificate at twenty, and from that to twenty-four my voyages were far
between and on my own account. I had given way to our hereditary passion
for smuggling. I kept a ‘yacht’ in Morecambe Bay, and more French brandy
than I knew what to do with in my cellars. It was exciting for a time,
but the excitement did not last. In 1851 the gold fever broke out in
Australia. I shipped to Melbourne as third mate on a barque, and
I deserted for the diggings in the usual course. But I was never a
successful digger. I had little luck and less patience, and I have no
doubt that many a good haul has been taken out of claims previously
abandoned by me; for of one or two I had the mortification of hearing
while still in the Colony. I suppose I had not the temperament for the
work. Dust would not do for me--I must have nuggets. So from Bendigo I
drifted to the Ovens, and from the Ovens to Ballarat. But I did no more
good on one field than on another, and eventually, early in 1853, I cast
up in Melbourne again with the intention of shipping home in the first
vessel. But there were no crews for the homeward-bounders, and while
waiting for a ship my little stock of gold dust gave out. I became
destitute first--then desperate. Unluckily for me, the beginning of ‘53
was the hey-day of Captain Melville, the notorious bushranger. He was
a young fellow of my own age. I determined to imitate his exploits. I
could make nothing out there from an honest life; rather than starve
I would lead a dishonest one. I had been born with lawless tendencies;
from smuggling to bushranging was an easy transition, and about the
latter there seemed to be a gallantry and romantic swagger which put it
on the higher plane of the two. But I was not born to be a bushranger
either. I failed at the very first attempt. I was outwitted by my first
victim, a thin old gentleman riding a cob at night on the Geelong road.

“‘Why rob me?’ said he. ‘I have only ten pounds in my pocket, and the
punishment will be the same as though it were ten thousand.’

“‘I want your cob,’ said I (for I was on foot); ‘I’m a starving Jack,
and as I can’t get a ship I’m going to take to the bush.’

“He shrugged his shoulders.

“‘To starve there?’ said he. ‘My friend, it is a poor sport, this
bushranging. I have looked into the matter on my own account. You not
only die like a dog, but you live like one too. It is not worth while.
No crime is worth while under five figures, my friend. A starving Jack,
eh? Instead of robbing me of ten pounds, why not join me and take ten
thousand as your share of our first robbery? A sailor is the very man I
want!’

“I told him that what I wanted was his cob, and that it was no use his
trying to hoodwink me by pretending he was one of my sort, because I
knew very well that he was not; at which he shrugged again, and slowly
dismounted, after offering me his money, of which I took half. He shook
his head, telling me I was very foolish, and I was coolly mounting (for
he had never offered me the least resistance), with my pistols in my
belt, when suddenly I heard one cocked behind me.

“‘Stop!’ said he. ‘It’s my turn! Stop, or I shoot you dead!’ The tables
were turned, and he had me at his mercy as completely as he had been at
mine. I made up my mind to being marched to the nearest police-station.
But nothing of the kind. I had misjudged my man as utterly as you
misjudged him a few months later aboard the Lady Jermyn. He took me
to his house on the outskirts of Melbourne, a weather-board bungalow,
scantily furnished, but comfortable enough. And there he seriously
repeated the proposal he had made me off-hand in the road. Only he put
it a little differently. Would I go to the hulks for attempting to rob
him of five pounds, or would I stay and help him commit a robbery, of
which my share alone would be ten or fifteen thousand? You know which
I chose. You know who this man was. I said I would join him. He made me
swear it. And then he told me what his enterprise was: there is no need
for me to tell you; nor indeed had it taken definite shape at this time.
Suffice it that Santos had wind that big consignments of Austrailian
gold were shortly to be shipped home to England; that he, like myself,
had done nothing on the diggings, where he had looked to make his
fortune, and out of which he meant to make it still.

“It was an extraordinary life that we led in the bungalow, I the guest,
he the host, and Eva the unsuspecting hostess and innocent daughter
of the house. Santos had failed on the fields, but he had succeeded in
making valuable friends in Melbourne. Men of position and of influence
spent their evenings on our veranda, among others the Melbourne agent
for the Lady Jermyn, the likeliest vessel then lying in the harbor, and
the one to which the first consignment of gold-dust would be entrusted
if only a skipper could be found to replace the deserter who took
you out. Santos made up his mind to find one. It took him weeks, but
eventually he found Captain Harris on Bendigo, and Captain Harris was
his man. More than that he was the man for the agent; and the Lady
Jermyn was once more made ready for sea.

“Now began the complications. Quite openly, Santos had bought the
schooner Spindrift, freighted her with wool, given me the command, and
vowed that he would go home in her rather than wait any longer for the
Lady Jermyn. At the last moment he appeared to change his mind, and I
sailed alone as many days as possible in advance of the ship, as had
been intended from the first; but it went sorely against the grain when
the time came. I would have given anything to have backed out of the
enterprise. Honest I might be no longer; I was honestly in love with Eva
Denison. Yet to have backed out would have been one way of losing her
for ever. Besides, it was not the first time I had run counter to the
law, I who came of a lawless stock; but it would be the first time I had
deserted a comrade or broken faith with one. I would do neither. In for
a penny, in for a pound.

“But before my God I never meant it to turn out as it did; though I
admit and have always admitted that my moral responsibility is but
little if any the less on that account. Yet I was never a consenting
party to wholesale murder, whatever else I was. The night before I
sailed, Santos and the captain were aboard with me till the small hours.
They promised me that every soul should have every chance; that nothing
but unforeseen accident could prevent the boats from making Ascension
again in a matter of hours; that as long as the gig was supposed to be
lost with all hands, nothing else mattered. So they promised, and that
Harris meant to keep his promise I fully believe. That was not a wanton
ruffian; but the other would spill blood like water, as I told you at
the hall, and as no man now knows better than yourself. He was notorious
even in Portuguese Africa on account of his atrocious treatment of the
blacks. It was a favorite boast of his that he once poisoned a whole
village; and that he himself tampered with the Lady Jermyn’s boats you
can take my word, for I have heard him describe how he left it to the
last night, and struck the blows during the applause at the concert on
the quarter-deck. He said it might have come out about the gold in the
gig, during the fire. It was safer to run no risks.

“The same thing came into play aboard the schooner. Never shall I forget
the horror of that voyage after Santos came aboard! I had a crew of
eight hands all told, and two he brought with him in the gig. Of course
they began talking about the gold; they would have their share or split
when they got ashore; and there was mutiny in the air, with the steward
and the quarter-master of the Lady Jermyn for ring-leaders. Santos
nipped it in the bud with a vengeance! He and Harris shot every man
of them dead, and two who were shot through the heart they washed and
dressed and set adrift to rot in the gig with false papers! God knows
how we made Madeira; we painted the old name out and a new name in, on
the way; and we shipped a Portuguese crew, not a man of whom could speak
English. We shipped them aboard the Duque de Mondejo’s yacht Braganza;
the schooner Spindrift had disappeared from the face of the waters for
ever. And with the men we took in plenty of sour claret and cigarettes;
and we paid them well; and the Portuguese sailor is not inquisitive
under such conditions.

“And now, honestly, I wished I had put a bullet through my head before
joining in this murderous conspiracy; but retreat was impossible, even
if I had been the man to draw back after going so far; and I had a still
stronger reason for standing by the others to the bitter end. I could
not leave our lady to these ruffians. On the other hand, neither could I
take her from them, for (as you know) she justly regarded me as the most
flagrant ruffian of them all. It was in me and through me that she was
deceived, insulted, humbled, and contaminated; that she should ever have
forgiven me for a moment is more than I can credit or fathom to this
hour... So there we were. She would not look at me. And I would not
leave her until death removed me. Santos had been kind enough to her
hitherto; he had been kind enough (I understand) to her mother before
her. It was only in the execution of his plans that he showed his
Napoleonic disregard for human life; and it was precisely herein that
I began to fear for the girl I still dared to love. She took up an
attitude as dangerous to her safety as to our own. She demanded to be
set free when we came to land. Her demand was refused. God forgive me,
it had no bitterer opponent than myself! And all we did was to harden
her resolution; that mere child threatened us to our faces, never shall
I forget the scene! You know her spirit: if we would not set her free,
she would tell all when we landed. And you remember how Santos used to
shrug? That was all he did then. It was enough for me who knew him. For
days I never left them alone together. Night after night I watched her
cabin door. And she hated me the more for never leaving her alone! I had
to resign myself to that.

“The night we anchored in Falmouth Bay, thinking then of taking our gold
straight to the Bank of England, as eccentric lucky diggers--that night
I thought would be the last for one or other of us. He locked her in
her cabin. He posted himself outside on the settee. I sat watching him
across the table. Each had a hand in his pocket, each had a pistol in
that hand, and there we sat, with our four eyes locked, while Harris
went ashore for papers. He came back in great excitement. What with
stopping at Madeira, and calms, and the very few knots we could knock
out of the schooner at the best of times, we had made a seven or eight
weeks’ voyage of it from Ascension--where, by the way, I had arrived
only a couple of days before the Lady Jermyn, though I had nearly a
month’s start of her. Well, Harris came back in the highest state of
excitement: and well he might: the papers were full of you, and of the
burning of the Lady Jermyn!

“Now mark what happened. You know, of course, as well as I do; but I
wonder if you can even yet realize what it was to us! Our prisoner
hears that you are alive, and she turns upon Santos and tells him he is
welcome to silence her, but it will do us ne good now, as you know that
the ship was wilfully burned, and with what object. It is the single
blow she can strike in self-defence; but a shrewder one could scarcely
be imagined. She had talked to you, at the very last; and by that time
she did know the truth. What more natural than that she should confide
it to you? She had had time to tell you enough to hang the lot of us;
and you may imagine our consternation on hearing that she had told you
all she knew! From the first we were never quite sure whether to believe
it or not. That the papers breathed no suspicion of foul play was
neither here nor there. Scotland Yard might have seen to that. Then
we read of the morbid reserve which was said to characterize all your
utterances concerning the Lady Jermyn. What were we to do? What we no
longer dared to do was to take our gold-dust straight to the Bank. What
we did, you know.

“We ran round to Morecambe Bay, and landed the gold as we Rattrays had
landed lace and brandy from time immemorial. We left Eva in charge of
Jane Braithwaite, God only knows how much against my will, but we were
in a corner, it was life or death with us, and to find out how much you
knew was a first plain necessity. And the means we took were the only
means in our power; nor shall I say more to you on that subject than I
said five years ago in my poor old house. That is still the one part of
the whole conspiracy of which I myself am most ashamed.

“And now it only remains for me to tell you why I have written all this
to you, at such great length, so long after the event. My wife wished
it. The fact is that she wants you to think better of me than I deserve;
and I--yes--I confess that I should like you not to think quite as ill
of me as you must have done all these years. I was villain enough, but
do not think I am unpunished.

“I am an outlaw from my country. I am morally a transported felon. Only
in this no-man’s land am I a free man; let me but step across the border
and I am worth a little fortune to the man who takes me. And we have had
a hard time here, though not so hard as I deserved; and the hardest part
of all...”

But you must guess the hardest part: for the letter ended as it began,
with sudden talk of his inner life, and tentative inquiry after mine. In
its entirety, as I say, I have never shown it to a soul; there was just
a little more that I read to my wife (who could not hear enough about
his); then I folded up the letter, and even she has never seen the
passages to which I allude.

And yet I am not one of those who hold that the previous romances
of married people should be taboo between them in after life. On the
contrary, much mutual amusement, of an innocent character, may be
derived from a fair and free interchange upon the subject; and this is
why we, in our old age (or rather in mine), find a still unfailing topic
in the story of which Eva Denison was wayward heroine and Frank Rattray
the nearest approach to a hero. Sometimes these reminiscences lead to
an argument; for it has been the fate of my life to become attached to
argumentative persons. I suppose because I myself hate arguing. On
the day that I received Rattray’s letter we had one of our warmest
discussions. I could repeat every word of it after forty years.

“A good man does not necessarily make a good husband,” I innocently
remarked.

“Why do you say that?” asked my wife, who never would let a
generalization pass unchallenged.

“I was thinking of Rattray,” said I. “The most tolerant of judges could
scarcely have described him as a good man five years ago. Yet I can see
that he has made an admirable husband. On the whole, and if you can’t be
both, it is better to be the good husband!”

It was this point that we debated with so much ardor. My wife would take
the opposite side; that is her one grave fault. And I must introduce
personalities; that, of course, is among the least of mine. I compared
myself with Rattray, as a husband, and (with some sincerity) to my own
disparagement. I pointed out that he was an infinitely more fascinating
creature, which was no hard saying, for that epithet at least I have
never earned. And yet it was the word to sting my wife.

“Fascinating, perhaps!” said she. “Yes, that is the very word;
but--fascination is not love!”

And then I went to her, and stroked her hair (for she had hung her head
in deep distress), and kissed the tears from her eyes. And I swore that
her eyes were as lovely as Eva Denison’s, that there seemed even more
gold in her glossy brown hair, that she was even younger to look at. And
at the last and craftiest compliment my own love looked at me through
her tears, as though some day or other she might forgive me.

“Then why did you want to give me up to him?” said she.





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