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Title: Under Lock and Key, Volume II (of 3) - A Story
Author: Speight, T. W.
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.

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     1. Page scan source: The Internet Archive
        https://archive.org/details/underlockkeystor02spei
        (Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)



UNDER LOCK AND KEY.
---------
VOL. II.



UNDER LOCK AND KEY.



A Story.



BY
T. W. SPEIGHT,
AUTHOR OF "BROUGHT TO LIGHT," "FOOLISH MARGARET,"
ETC.



IN THREE VOLUMES,
VOL. II.



LONDON:
TINSLEY BROTHERS, 18, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND,
1869.
[_All rights of Translation and Reproduction are reserved_.]



LONDON:
SAVILL, EDWARDS AND CO., PRINTERS, CHANDOS STREET,
COVENT GARDEN.



CONTENTS
OF
THE SECOND VOLUME.

CHAP.
        I. JANET IN A NEW CHARACTER.
       II. THE DAWN OF LOVE.
      III. THE NARRATIVE OF SERGEANT NICHOLAS.
       IV. COUNSEL TAKEN WITH MR. MADGIN.
        V. MR. MADGIN AT THE HELM.
       VI. MR. MADGIN's SECRET JOURNEY.
      VII. ENTER MADGIN, JUNIOR.
     VIII. MADGIN JUNIOR'S FIRST REPORT.
       IX. LOST AS SOON AS FOUND.
        X. THE CONFESSION.
       XI. THE CONFESSION CONTINUED.
      XII. MADGIN JUNIOR'S SECOND REPORT.
     XIII. ROOM NUMBER FOUR IN THE CORRIDOR.
      XIV. AT THE CURTAINED DOOR.
       XV. THE LITTLE PACKET FROM LONDON.
      XVI. MADGIN JUNIOR'S THIRD REPORT.



UNDER LOCK AND KEY.



CHAPTER I.
JANET IN A NEW CHARACTER.


On entering Lady Pollexfen's room for the second time, Janet found
that the mistress of Dupley Walls had completed her toilette in the
interim, and was now sitting robed in stiff rustling silk, with an
Indian fan in one hand and a curiously-chased vinaigrette in the
other. She motioned with her fan to Janet. "Be seated," she said, in
the iciest of tones, and Janet sat down on a chair a yard or two
removed from her ladyship.

"Since you were here last, Miss Holme," she began, "I have seen Sister
Agnes, who informs me that she has already given you an outline of the
duties I shall require you to perform should you agree to accept the
situation which ill health obliges her to vacate. At the same time, I
wish you clearly to understand that I do not consider you in any way
bound by what I may have done for you in time gone by, neither would I
have you in this matter run counter to your inclinations in the
slightest degree. If you would prefer that a situation as governess
should be obtained for you, say so without hesitation, and any small
influence I may have shall be used ungrudgingly in your behalf. Should
you agree to remain at Dupley Walls your salary will be thirty guineas
a year. If you wish it, you can take a day for consideration, and let
me have your decision in the morning."

Lady Pollexfen's mention of a fixed salary stung Janet to the quick;
it was so entirely unexpected. It stung her, but only for a moment;
the next she saw and gratefully recognised the fact that she should no
longer be a pensioner on the bounty of Lady Pollexfen. A dependent she
might be--a servant even, if you like; but at least she would be
earning her living by the labour of her own hands, and even about the
very thought of such a thing there was a sweet sense of independence
that flushed her warmly through and through.

Her hesitation lasted but a moment, then she spoke. "Your ladyship is
very kind, but I require no time for consideration," she said. "I have
already made up my mind to take the position which you have so
generously offered me, and if my ability to please you only prove
equal to my inclination, your ladyship will not have much cause to
complain."

A faint smile of something like satisfaction flitted across Lady
Pollexfen's face. "Very good, Miss Holme," she said, in a more
gracious tone than she had yet used. "I am pleased to find that you
have taken so sensible a view of the matter, and that you understand
so thoroughly your position under my roof. How soon shall you be
prepared to begin your new duties?"

"I am ready at this moment."

"Come to me an hour hence and I will then instruct you."

In this second interview, brief though it was, Janet could not avoid
being struck by Lady Pollexfen's stately dignity of manner. Her tone
and style were those of a high-bred gentlewoman. It seemed scarcely
possible that she and the querulous shrivelled-up old woman in the
cashmere dressing-robe could be one individual.

Unhappily, as Janet to her cost was not long in finding out, her
ladyship's querulous moods were much more frequent than her moods of
quiet dignity. At such times she was very difficult to please;
sometimes, indeed, it was utterly impossible to please her not even an
angel could have done it. Then, indeed, Janet felt her duty weigh very
hardly upon her. By nature her temper was quick and passionate--her
impulses high and generous; but when Lady Pollexfen was in her worse
moods she had to curb the former as with an iron chain, while the
latter were outraged continually by Lady Pollexfen's mean and miserly
mode of life, and by a certain low and sordid tone of thought which at
such times pervaded all she said and did. And yet, strange to say, she
had rare fits of generosity and goodwill--times when her soul seemed
to sit in sackcloth and ashes, as if in repentance for those other
occasions when the "dark fit" was on her and the things of this world
claimed her too entirely as their own.

After her second interview with Lady Pollexfen, Janet at once hurried
off to Sister Agnes to tell her the news. "On one point only, so far
as I see at present, shall I require any special information," she
said. "I shall require to know exactly the mode of procedure necessary
to be observed when I pay my midnight visits to Sir John Pollexfen."

"It is not my intention that you should visit Sir John," said Sister
Agnes. "That portion of my old duties will continue to be performed by
me."

"Not till you are stronger--not till your health is better than it is
now," said Janet earnestly. "I am young and strong; it is merely a
part of what I have undertaken to do, and you must please let me do
it. I have outgrown my childish fears and could visit the Black Room
now without the quiver of a nerve."

"You think so, by daylight, but wait till the house is dark and
silent, and then say the same conscientiously--if you can."

But Janet was determined not to yield the point, nor could Sister
Agnes move her from her decision. Ultimately a compromise was entered
into by which it was agreed that for one evening at least they should
visit the Black Room together, and that the settlement of the question
should be left till the following day.

Precisely as midnight struck they set out together up the wide
old-fashioned staircase, past the door of Janet's old room, up the
narrower staircase beyond, till the streak of light came into view and
the grim nail-studded door itself was reached. Janet was secretly glad
that she was not there alone, so much she acknowledged to herself as
they halted for a moment while Sister Agnes unlocked the door. But
when the latter asked her if she were not afraid, if she would not
much rather be snug in bed, Janet only said: "Give me the key, tell me
what I have to do inside the room, and then leave me."

But Sister Agnes would not consent to that, and they entered the room
together. Instead of seven years, it seemed to Janet only seven hours
since she had been there last, so vividly was the recollection of her
first visit still impressed upon her mind. Everything was unchanged in
that chamber of the dead, except, perhaps, the sprawling cupids on the
ceiling, which looked a shade dingier than of old, and more in need of
soap and water than ever. But the black draperies on the walls, the
huge candles in the silver tripods, the pall-covered coffin in the
middle of the room, were all as Janet had seen them last. There, too,
was the oaken _prie-dieu_ a yard or two away from the head of the
coffin. Sister Agnes knelt on it for a few moments, and bent her head
in silent prayer.

"My visit to this room every midnight," said Sister Agnes, "is made
for the simple purpose of renewing the candles, and of seeing that
everything is as it should be. That the visit should be made at
midnight, and at no other time, is one of Lady Pollexfen's whims--a
whim that by process of time has crystallized into a law. The room is
never entered by day."

"Was it whim or madness that caused Sir John Pollexfen to leave orders
that his body should be kept above ground for twenty years?"

"Who shall tell by what motive he was influenced when he had that
particular clause inserted in his will? Dupley Walls itself hangs on
the proper fulfilment of the clause. If Lady Pollexfen were to cause
her husband's remains to be interred in the family vault before the
expiry of the twenty years, the very day she did so the estate would
pass from her to the present baronet, a distant cousin, between whom
and her ladyship there has been a bitter feud of many years' standing.
Although Dupley Walls has been in the family for a hundred and fifty
years, it has never been entailed. The entailed estate is in
Yorkshire, and there Sir Mark, the present baronet, resides. Lady
Pollexfen has the power of bequeathing Dupley Walls to whomsoever she
may please, providing she carry out strictly the instructions
contained in her husband's will, it is possible that in a court of law
the will might have been set aside on the ground of insanity, or the
whole matter might have been thrown into Chancery. But Lady Pollexfen
did not choose to submit to such an ordeal. All the courts of law
in the kingdom could have given her no more than she possessed
already--they could merely have given her permission to bury her
husband's body, and it did not seem to her that such a permission
could compensate for the turning into public gossip of a private
chapter of family history. So here Sir John Pollexfen has remained
since his death, and here he will stay till the last of the twenty
years has become a thing of the past. Two or three times every year
Mr. Winter, Sir Mark's lawyer, comes over to Dupley Walls to satisfy
himself by ocular proof that Sir John's instructions are being duly
carried out. This he has a legal right to do in the interests of his
client. Sometimes he is conducted to this room by Lady Pollexfen,
sometimes by me; but even in his case her ladyship will not relax her
rule of not having the room visited by day."

Sister Agnes then showed Janet that behind the black draperies there
was a cupboard in the wall, which on being opened proved to contain a
quantity of large candles. One by one Sister Agnes took out of the
silver tripod what remained of the candles of the previous day, and
filled up their places with fresh ones. Janet looked on attentively.
Then, for the second time, Sister Agnes knelt on the _prie-dieu_ for a
few moments, and then she and Janet left the room.

Next day Sister Agnes was so ill, and Janet pressed so earnestly to be
allowed to attend to the Black Room in place of her, and alone, that
she was obliged to give a reluctant consent.

It was not without an inward tremor that Janet heard the clock strike
twelve. Sister Agnes had insisted on accompanying her part of the way
upstairs, and would, in fact, have gone the whole distance with her,
had not Janet insisted on going forward alone. In a single breath, as
it seemed to her, she ran up the remaining stairs, unlocked the door,
and entered the room. Her nerves were not sufficiently composed to
allow of her making use of the _prie-dieu_. All she cared for just
then was to get through her duty as quickly as possible, and get back
in safety to the world of living beings downstairs. She set her teeth,
and by a supreme effort of will went through the small duty that was
required of her steadily but swiftly. Her face was never turned away
from the coffin the whole time; and when she had finished her task she
walked backwards to the door, opened it, walked backwards out, and in
another breath was downstairs, and safe in the protecting arms of
Sister Agnes.

Next night she insisted upon going entirely alone, and made so light
of the matter that Sister Agnes no longer opposed her wish to make the
midnight visit to the Black Room a part of her ordinary duty. But
inwardly Janet could never quite overcome her secret awe of the room
and its silent occupant. She always dreaded the coming of the hour
that took her there, and when her task was over, she never closed the
door without a feeling of relief. In this case, custom with her never
bred familiarity. To the last occasion of her going there she went
the prey of hidden fears--fears of she knew not what, which she
derided to herself even while they made her their victim. There was a
morbid thread running through the tissue of her nerves, which by
intense force of will might be kept from growing and spreading, but
which no effort of hers could quite pluck out or eradicate.



CHAPTER II.
THE DAWN OF LOVE.


Major Strickland did not forget his promise to Janet. On the eighth
morning after his return from London he walked over from Tydsbury to
Dupley Walls, saw Lady Pollexfen, and obtained leave of absence for
Miss Holme for the day. Then he paid a flying visit to Sister Agnes,
for whom he had a great reverence and admiration, and ended by
carrying off Janet in triumph.

The park of Dupley Walls extends almost to the suburbs of Tydsbury, a
town of eight thousand inhabitants, but of such small commercial
importance that the nearest railway station is three miles away across
country, and nearly five miles from Dupley Walls.

Major Strickland no longer resided at Rose Cottage, but at a pretty
little villa just outside Tydsbury. Some small accession of fortune
had come to him by the death of a relative; and an addition to his
family in the person of Aunt Felicité, a lady old and nearly blind,
the widow of a kinsman of the major. Besides its tiny lawn and
flower-beds in front, the Lindens had a long stretch of garden ground
behind, otherwise the major would scarcely have been happy in his new
home. He was secretary to the Tydsbury Horticultural Society, and his
fame as a grower of prize roses and prize geraniums was in these
latter days far sweeter to him than any fame that had ever accrued to
him as a soldier.

Janet found Aunt Felicité a most quaint and charming old lady, as
cheerful and full of vivacity as many a girl of seventeen. She kissed
Janet on both cheeks when the major introduced her; asked whether she
was _fiancée_; complimented her on her French; declaimed a passage
from Racine; put her poodle through a variety of amusing tricks; and
pressed Janet to assist at her luncheon of cream cheese, French roll,
strawberries, and white wine.

A slight sense of disappointment swept across Janet's mind, like the
shadow of a cloud across a sunny field. She had been two hours at the
Lindens without having seen Captain George. In vain she told herself
that she had come to spend the day with Major Strickland, and to be
introduced to Aunt Felicité, and that nothing more was wanting to her
complete contentment. That something more was needed she knew quite
well, but she would not acknowledge it even to herself. He knew of her
coming, he had been with Aunt Felicité only half an hour before--so
much she learned within five minutes of her arrival; yet now, at the
end of two hours, he had not condescended even to come and speak to
her. She roused herself from the sense of despondency that was
creeping over her, and put on a gaiety that she was far from feeling.
A very bitter sense of self-contempt was just then at work in her
heart: she felt that never before had she despised herself so utterly.
She took her hat in her hand, and put her arm within the major's, and
walked with him round his little demesne. It was a walk that took up
an hour or more, for there was much to see and learn, and Janet was
bent this morning on having a long lesson in botany, and the old
soldier was only too happy to have secured a listener so enthusiastic
and appreciative to whom he could dilate on his favourite hobby.

But all this time Janet's eyes and ears were on the alert in a double
sense of which the major knew nothing. He was busy with a description
of the last spring flower-show, and how the Duke of Cheltenham's
auriculas were by no means equal to those of Major Strickland, when
Janet gave a little start as though a gnat had stung her, and bent to
smell a sweet blush-rose, whose tints were rivalled by the sudden
delicate glow that flushed her cheek.

"Yes, yes!" she said, hurriedly, as the major paused for a moment;
"and so the duke's gardener was jealous because you carried away the
prize?"

"I never saw a man more put out in my life," said the major. "He shook
his fist at my flowers, and said before everybody, 'Let the old major
only wait till autumn, and then see if my dahlias don't----.' But
yonder comes Geordie. Bless my heart! what has he been doing at
Tydsbury all this time?"

Janet's instinct had not deceived her: she had heard and recognised
his footstep a full minute before the major knew that he was near. She
gave one quick, shy glance round as he opened the gate, and then she
wandered a yard or two further down the path.

"Good morning, uncle," said Captain George, as he came up. "You set
out for Dupley Walls so early this morning that I did not see you
before you started. I am glad to find that you did not come back
alone."

Janet had turned as he began to speak, but did not come back to the
major's side. Captain George advanced a few steps and lifted his hat.
"Good morning, Miss Holme," he said, with outstretched hand. "I need
hardly say how pleased I am to see you at the Lindens. My uncle has
succeeded so well on his first embassy that we must send him again and
often on the same errand."

Janet murmured a few words in reply--what, she could not afterward
have told; but as her eyes met his for a moment, she read in them
something that made her forgive him on the spot, even while she
declared to herself that she had nothing to forgive, and that brought
to her cheek a second blush more vivid than the first.

"All very well, young gentleman," said the major, "but  you have not
yet explained your four hours' absence. We shall order you under
arrest unless you have some reasonable excuse to submit."

"The best of all excuses--that of urgent business," said the captain.

"You! business!" said the laughing major; "why, it was only last night
that you were bewailing your lot as being one of those unhappy mortals
who have no work to do."

"To those they love, the gods lend patient hearing. I forget the
Latin, but that does not matter just now. What I wish to convey is
this--that I need no longer be idle unless I choose. I have got some
work to do. Lend me your ears, both of you. About an hour after you,
sir, had started for Dupley Walls I received a note from the editor of
the _Tydsbury Courier_, in which he requested me to give him an early
call. My curiosity prompted me to look in upon him as soon as
breakfast was over. I found that he was brother to the editor of one
of the London magazines, a gentleman whom I met one evening at a party
in town. The London editor remembered me, and had written to the
Tydsbury editor to make arrangements with me for writing a series of
magazine articles on India, and my experiences there during the late
mutiny. I need not bore you with details; it is sufficient to say that
my objections were talked down one by one, and I left the office
committed to a sixteen-page article by the sixth of next month."

"You an author!" exclaimed the major. "I should as soon have thought
of your enlisting in the marines."

"It will only be for a few months, uncle,--only till my limited stock
of experiences shall be exhausted. After that I shall be relegated to
my natural obscurity, doubtless never to emerge again."

"Hem," said the major, nervously. "Geordie, my boy, I have by me one
or two little poems which I wrote when I was about nineteen--trifles
flung off on the inspiration of the moment. Perhaps, when you come to
know your friend the editor better than you do now, you might induce
him to bring them out--to find an odd corner for them in his magazine.
I wouldn't want paying for them, you know. You might just mention that
fact; and I assure you that I have seen many worse things than they
are in print."

"What, uncle, you an author! Oh, fie! I should as soon have thought of
your wishing to dance on the tight-rope as to appear in print. But we
must look over these little effusions, eh, Miss Holme? We must unearth
this genius, and be the first to give his lucubrations to the world."

"If you, were younger, sir, or I not quite so old, I would box your
ears," said the major, who seemed hardly to know whether to laugh or
be angry. Finally he laughed, George and Janet chimed in, and all
three went back indoors.

After an early dinner the major took rod and line and set off to
capture a few trout for supper. Aunt Felicité took her post-prandial
nap discreetly, in an easy-chair, and Captain George and Miss Holme
were left to their own devices. In Love's sweet Castle of Indolence
the hours that make up a summer afternoon pass like so many minutes.
They two had blown the magic horn and had gone in. The gates of brass
had closed behind them, shutting them up from the common outer world.
Over all things was a glamour as of witchcraft. Soft music filled the
air; soft breezes came to them as from fields of amaranth and
asphodel. They walked ever in a magic circle, that widened before them
as they went. Eros in passing had touched them with his golden dart.
Each of them hid the sweet sting from the other, yet neither of them
would have been whole again for anything the world could have offered.
What need to tell the old old story over again--the story of the dawn
of love in two young hearts that had never loved before?

Janet went home that night in a flutter of happiness--a happiness so
sweet and strange and yet so vague that she could not have analysed it
even had she been casuist enough to try to do so. But she was content
to accept the fact as a fact; beyond that she cared nothing. No
syllable of love had been spoken between her and George: they had
passed what to an outsider would have seemed a very commonplace
afternoon. They had talked together--not sentiment, but every-day
topics of the world around them; they had read together--poetry,
but nothing more passionate than "Aurora Leigh;" they had walked
together--rather a silent and stupid walk, our friendly outsider would
have urged; but if they were content, no one else had any right to
complain. And so the day had worn itself away,--a red-letter day for
ever in the calendar of their young lives.



CHAPTER III.
THE NARRATIVE OF SERGEANT NICHOLAS.


One morning when Janet had been about three weeks at Dupley Walls, she
was summoned to the door by one of the servants, and found there a
tall, thin, middle-aged man, dressed in plain clothes, and having all
the appearance of a discharged soldier.

"I have come a long way, miss," he said to Janet, carrying a finger to
his forehead, "in order to see Lady Pollexfen and have a little
private talk with her."

"I am afraid that her ladyship will scarcely see you, unless you can
give her some idea of the business that you have called upon."

"My name, miss, is Sergeant John Nicholas. I served formerly in India,
where I was body-servant to her ladyship's son, Captain Charles
Pollexfen, who died there of cholera nearly twenty years ago, and I
have something of importance to communicate."

Janet made the old soldier come in and sit down in the hall while she
took his message to Lady Pollexfen. Her ladyship was not yet up, but
was taking her chocolate in bed, with a faded Indian shawl thrown
round her shoulders. She began to tremble violently the moment Janet
delivered the old soldier's message, and could scarcely set down her
cup and saucer. Then she began to cry, and to kiss the hem of the
Indian shawl. Janet went softly out of the room and waited. She had
never even heard of this Captain Charles Pollexfen, and yet no mere
empty name could have thus affected the stern mistress of Dupley
Walls. Those few tears opened up quite a new view of Lady Pollexfen's
character. Janet began to see that there might be elements of tragedy
in the old woman's life of which she knew nothing: that many of the
moods which seemed to her so strange and inexplicable might be so
merely for want of the key by which alone they could be rightly read.

Presently her ladyship's gong sounded. Janet went back into the room,
and found her still sitting up in bed, sipping her chocolate with a
steady hand. All traces of tears had vanished: she looked even more
stern and repressed than usual.

"Request the person of whom you spoke to me a while ago to wait," she
said. "I will see him at eleven in my private sitting-room."

So Sergeant Nicholas was sent to get his breakfast in the servants'
room, and wait till Lady Pollexfen was ready to receive him.

At eleven precisely he was summoned to her ladyship's presence. She
received him with stately graciousness, and waved him to a chair a
yard or two away. She was dressed for the day in one of her stiff
brocaded silks, and sat as upright as a dart, manipulating a small
fan. Miss Holme stood close at the back of her chair.

"So, my good man, I understand that you were acquainted with my son,
the late Captain Pollexfen, who died in India twenty years ago?"

"I was his body-servant for two years previous to his death."

"Were you with him when he died?"

"I was, your ladyship. These fingers closed his eyes."

The hand that held the fan began to tremble again. She remained silent
for a few moments, and by a strong effort overmastered her agitation.

"You have some communication which you wish to make to me respecting
my dead son?"

"I have, your ladyship. A communication of a very singular kind."

"Why has it not been made before now?"

"That your ladyship will learn in the course of what I have to say.
But perhaps you will kindly allow me to tell my story my own way."

"By all means. Pray begin: I am all attention."

The sergeant touched his forelock, gave a preliminary cough, fixed his
clear grey eye on Lady Pollexfen, and began his narrative as under:--

"Your ladyship and miss; I, John Nicholas, a Staffordshire man born
and bred, went out to India twenty-three years ago as lance-corporal
in the hundred and first regiment of foot. After I had been in India a
few months, I got drunk and misbehaved myself, and was reduced to the
ranks. Well, ma'am, Captain Pollexfen took a fancy to me, thought I
was not such a bad dog after all, and got me appointed as his servant.
And a better master no man need ever wish to have--kind, generous, and
a perfect gentleman from top to toe. I loved him, and would have gone
through fire and water to serve him."

Her ladyship's fan was trembling again. "Oblige me with my salts, Miss
Holme," she said. She pressed them to her nose, and motioned to the
sergeant to proceed.

"When I had been with the captain a few months," resumed the old
soldier, "he got leave of absence for several weeks, and everybody
knew that it was his intention to spend his holiday in a shooting
excursion among the hills. I was to go with him, of course, and the
usual troop of native servants; but besides himself there was only one
European gentleman in the party, and he was not an Englishman. He was
a Russian, and his name was Platzoff. He was a gentleman of fortune,
and was travelling in India at the time, and had come to my master
with letters of introduction. Well, Captain Pollexfen just took
wonderfully to him, and the two were almost inseparable. Perhaps it
hardly becomes one like me to offer an opinion on such a point; but,
knowing what afterwards happened, I must say that I never either liked
or trusted that Russian from the day I first set eyes on him. He
seemed to me too double-faced and cunning for an honest English
gentleman to have much to do with. But he had travelled a great deal,
and was very good company, which was perhaps the reason why Captain
Pollexfen took so kindly to him. Be that as it may, however, it was
decided that they should go on the hunting excursion together--not
that the Russian was much of a shot, or cared a great deal about
hunting, but because, as I heard him say, he liked to see all kinds of
life, and tiger-stalking was something quite fresh to him.

"He was a curious-looking gentleman, too, that Russian--just the sort
of face that you would never forget after once seeing it, with skin
that was dried and yellow like parchment; black hair that was trained
into a heavy curl on the top of his forehead, and a big hooked nose.

"Well, your ladyship and miss, away we went with our elephants and
train of servants, and very pleasantly we spent our two months' leave
of absence. The captain he shot tigers, and the Russian he did his
best at pig-sticking. Our last week had come, and in three more days
we were to set off on our return, when that terrible misfortune
happened which deprived me of the best of masters, and your ladyship
of the best of sons.

"Early one morning I was roused by Rung Budruck, the captive's
favourite sycee or groom. 'Get up at once,' he said, shaking me by the
shoulder. The sahib captain is very ill. The black devil has seized
him. He must have opium or he will die.' I ran at once to the
captain's tent, and as soon as I set eyes on him I saw that he had
been seized with cholera. I went off at once and fetched M. Platzoff.
We had nothing in the way of medicine with us except brandy and opium.
Under the Russian's directions these were given to my poor master in
large quantities, but he grew gradually worse. Rung and I in
everything obeyed M. Platzoff, who seemed to know quite well what
ought to be done in such cases; and to tell the truth, your ladyship,
he seemed as much put about as if the captain had been his own
brother. Well, the captain grew weaker as the day went on, and towards
evening it grew quite clear that he could not last much longer. The
pain had left him by this time, but he was so frightfully reduced that
we could not bring him round. He was lying in every respect like one
already dead, except for his faint breathing, when the Russian left
the tent for a moment, and I took his place at the head of the bed.
Rung was standing with folded arms a yard or two away. None of the
other native servants could be persuaded to enter the tent, so
frightened were they of catching the complaint. Suddenly my poor
master opened his eyes, and his lips moved. I put my ear to his mouth.
'The diamond,' he whispered. 'Take it--mother--give my love.' Not a
word more on earth, your ladyship. His limbs stiffened; his head fell
back; he gave a great sigh and died. I gently closed the eyes that
could see no more, and left the tent crying.

"Your ladyship, we buried Captain Pollexfen by torchlight four hours
later. We dug his grave deep in a corner of the jungle, and there we
left him to his last sleep. Over his grave we piled a heap of stones,
as I have read that they used to do in the old times over the grave of
a chief. It was all we could do.

"About an hour later M. Platzoff came to me. 'I shall start before
daybreak for Chinapore,' he said, 'with one elephant and a couple of
men. I will take with me the news of my poor friend's untimely fate,
and you can come on with the luggage and other effects in the ordinary
way. You will find me at Chinapore when you reach there.' Next morning
I found that he was gone.

"What my dear master had said with his last breath about a diamond
puzzled me. I could only conclude that amongst his effects there must
be some valuable stone of which he wished special care to be taken,
and which he desired to be sent home to you, madam, in England. I knew
nothing of any such stone, and I considered it beyond my position to
search for it among his luggage. I decided that when I got to
Chinapore I would give his message to the Colonel, and leave that
gentleman to take such steps in the matter as he might think best.

"I had hardly settled all this in my mind when Rung Budruck came to
me. 'The Russian sahib has gone: I have something to tell you,' he
said, only he spoke in broken English. 'Yesterday, just after the
sahib captain was dead, the Russian came back. You had left the tent,
and I was sitting on the ground behind the captain's big trunk, the
lid of which was open. I was sitting with my chin in my hand, very sad
at heart, when the Russian came in. He looked carefully round the
tent. Me he could not see, but I could see him through the opening
between the hinges of the box. What did he do? He unfastened the bosom
of the sahib captain's shirt, and then he drew over the captain's head
the steel chain with the little gold box hanging to it that he always
wore. He opened the box, and saw there was that in it which he
expected to find there. Then he hid away both chain and box in one of
his pockets, rebuttoned the dead man's shirt, and left the tent!' 'But
you have not told me what there was in the box,' I said. He put the
tips of his fingers together and smiled: 'In that box was the Great
Mogul Diamond!'

"Your ladyship, I was so startled when Rung said this that the wind of
a bullet would have knocked me down. A new light was all at once
thrown on the captain's dying words. 'But how do you know, Rung, that
the box contained a diamond?' I asked when I had partly got over my
surprise. He smiled again, with that strange slow smile which those
fellows have. 'It matters not how, but Rung knew that the diamond was
there. He had seen the captain open the box, and take it out and look
at it many a time when the captain thought no one could see him. He
could have stolen it from him almost any night when he was asleep, but
that was left for his friend to do.' 'Was the diamond you speak of a
very valuable one?' I asked. 'It was a green diamond of immense
value,' answered Rung; 'it was called _The Great Mogul_ because it was
first worn by the terrible Aureng-Zebe himself, who had it set in the
haft of his scimetar.' 'But by what means did Captain Pollexfen become
possessed of so valuable a stone?' Said he, 'Two years ago, at the
risk of his own life, he rescued the eldest son of the Rajah of
Gondulpootra from a tiger who had carried away the child into the
jungle. The rajah is one of the richest men in India, and he showed
his gratitude by secretly presenting the _Great Mogul Diamond_ to the
man who had saved the life of his child.' 'But why should Captain
Pollexfen carry so valuable a stone about his person?' I asked. 'Would
it not have been wiser to deposit it in the bank at Bombay till such
time as the captain could take it with him to England?' Said Rung,
'The stone is a charmed stone, and it was the rajah's particular wish
that the Sahib Pollexfen should always wear it about his person. So
long as he did so he could not come to his death by fire, by water, or
by sword thrust.' Said I, 'But how did the Russian know that Captain
Pollexfen carried the diamond about his person?' Said Rung, 'One night
when the captain had had too much wine he showed the diamond to his
friend.' Said I, 'But how does it happen, Rung, that you know this?'
Said Rung, smiling and putting his finger tips together, 'How does it
happen that I know so much about you?' And then he told me a lot of
things about myself that I thought no soul in India knew. It was just
wonderful how he did it. 'So it is: let that be sufficient,' he
finished by saying. Said I, 'Why did you not tell me till after the
Russian had gone away that you saw him steal the diamond? If you had
told me at the time I could have charged him with it.' Said Rung, 'You
are ignorant; you are little more than a child. The Russian sahib had
the evil eye. Had I crossed his purposes before his face he would have
cursed me while he looked at me, and I should have withered away and
died. He has got the diamond, and only by magic can it ever be
recovered from him.'

"Your ladyship and miss,--I hope I am not tedious nor wandering from
the point. It will be sufficient to say that when I got down to
Chinapore I found that M. Platzoff had indeed been there, but only
just long enough to see the colonel and give him an account of Captain
Pollexfen's death, after which he had at once engaged a palanquin and
bearers and set out with all speed for Bombay. It was now my turn to
see the colonel, and after I had given over into his hands all my dead
master's property that I had brought with me from the Hills, I told
him the story of the diamond as Rung had told it to me. He was much
struck by it, and ordered me to take Rung to him the next morning. But
that very night Rung disappeared, and was never seen in the camp
again. Whether he was frightened at what he called the Russian's evil
eye--frightened that Platzoff could blight him even from a distance, I
have no means of knowing. In any case, gone he was; and from that day
to this I have never set eyes on him. Well, the colonel said he would
take a note of what I had told him about the diamond, and that I must
leave the matter entirely in his hands.

"Your ladyship, a fortnight after that the colonel shot himself.

"To make short a long story--we got a fresh colonel, and were removed
to another part of the country; and there, a few weeks later, I was
knocked down by fever, and was a long time before I thoroughly
recovered my strength. A year or two later our regiment was ordered
back to England, but a day or two before we should have sailed I had a
letter telling me that my old sweetheart was dead. This news seemed to
take all care for life out of me, and on the spur of the moment I
volunteered into a regiment bound for China, in which country war was
just breaking out. There, and at other places abroad, I stopped till
just four months ago, when I was finally discharged, with my pension,
and a bullet in my pocket that had been taken out of my skull. I only
landed in England nine days ago, and as soon as it was possible for me
to do so, I came to see your ladyship. And I think that is all." The
sergeant's forefinger went to his forehead again as he brought his
narrative to an end.

Lady Pollexfen kept on fanning herself in silence for a little while
after the old soldier had done speaking. Her features wore the proud,
impassive look that they generally put on when before strangers: in
the present case they were no index to the feelings at work
underneath. At length she spoke.

"After the suicide of your colonel did you mention the supposed
robbery of the diamond to any one else?"

"To no one else, your ladyship. For several reasons. I was unaware
what steps he might have taken between the time of my telling him and
the time of his death to prove or disprove the truth of the story. In
the second place, Rung had disappeared. I could only tell the story at
secondhand. It had been told me by an eyewitness, but that witness
was a native, and the word of a native does not go for much in those
parts. In the third place, the Russian had also disappeared, and had
left no trace behind. What could I? Had I told the story to my new
colonel, I should mayhap only have been scouted as a liar or a madman.
Besides, we were every day expecting to be ordered home, and I had
made up my mind that I would at once come and see your ladyship. At
that time I had no intention of going to China, and when once I got
there it was too late to speak out. But through all the years I have
been away my poor dear master's last words have lived in my memory.
Many a thousand times have I thought of them both day and night, and
prayed that I might live to get back to Old England, if it was only to
give your ladyship the message with which I had been charged."

"But why could you not write to me?" asked Lady Pollexfen.

"Your ladyship, I am no scholar," answered the old soldier, with a
vivid blush. "What I have told you to-day in half an hour would have
taken me years to set down--in fact, I could never have done it."

"So be it," said Lady Pollexfen. "My obligation to you is all the
greater for bearing in mind for so many years my poor boy's last
message, and for being at so much trouble to deliver it." She sighed
deeply and rose from her chair. The sergeant rose too, thinking that
his interview was at an end, but at her ladyship's request he reseated
himself.

Rejecting Janet's proffered arm, which she was in the habit of leaning
on in her perambulations about the house and grounds, Lady Pollexfen
walked slowly and painfully out of the room. Presently she returned,
carrying an open letter in her hand. Both the ink and the paper on
which it was written were faded and yellow with age.

"This is the last letter I ever received from my son," said her
ladyship. "I have preserved it religiously, and it bears out very
singularly what you, sergeant, have just told me respecting the
message which my darling sent me with his dying breath. In a few lines
at the end he makes mention of a something of great value which he is
going to bring home with him; but he writes about it in such guarded
terms that I never could satisfy myself as to the precise meaning of
what he intended to convey. You Miss Holme, will perhaps be good
enough to read the lines in question aloud. They are contained in a
postscript."

Janet took the letter with reverent tenderness. Lady Pollexfen's
trembling finger pointed out the lines she was to read. Janet read as
under:--


"P.S.--I have reserved my most important bit of news till the last, as
lady correspondents are said to do. Observe, I write 'are said to do,'
because in this matter I have very little personal experience of my
own to go upon. You, dear mum, are my solitary lady correspondent, and
postscripts are a luxury in which you rarely indulge. But to proceed,
as the novelists say. Some two years ago it was my good fortune to
rescue a little yellow-skinned prince-kin from the clutches of a very
fine young tiger (my feet are on his hide at this present writing),
who was carrying him off as a tit-bit for his supper. He was terribly
mauled, you may be sure, but his people followed my advice in their
mode of doctoring him, and he gradually got round again. The lad's
father is a rajah, immensely rich, and a direct descendent of that
ancient Mogul dynasty which once ruled this country with a rod of
iron. The rajah has daughters innumerable, but only this one son. His
gratitude for what I had done was unbounded. A few weeks ago he gave
me a most astounding proof of it. By a secret and trusty messenger he
sent me----. But no, dear mum, I will not tell you what the rajah sent
me. This letter might chance to fall into other hands than yours
(Indian letters do _sometimes_ miscarry), and the secret is one which
had better be kept in the family--at least for the present. So, mother
mine, your curiosity must rest unsatisfied for a little while to come.
I hope to be with you before many months are over, and then you shall
know everything.

"The value of the rajah's present is something immense. I shall sell
it when I get to England, and out of the proceeds I shall--well, I
don't exactly know what I shall do. Purchase my next step for one
thing, but that will cost a mere trifle. Then, perhaps, buy a
comfortable estate in the country, or a house in Park-lane. Your six
weeks every season in London lodgings was always inexplicable to me.

"Or shall I not sell the rajah's present, but offer myself in marriage
to some fair princess, with my heart in one hand and the G.M.D. in the
other? Madder things than that are recorded in history. In any case,
don't forget to pray for the safe arrival of your son, and (if such a
petition is allowable) that he may not fail to bring with him the
G.M.D.

     "C.P."


"I never could understand before to-day what the letters G.M.D. were
meant for," said Lady Pollexfen, as Janet gave her back the letter.
"It is now quite evident that they were intended for _Great Mogul
Diamond_; all of which, as I said before, is confirmatory of the story
you have just told me. Of course, after the lapse of so many years,
there is not the remotest possibility of recovering the diamond; but
my obligation to you, Sergeant Nicholas, is in no wise lessened by
that fact. What are your engagements? Are you obliged to leave here
immediately, or can you remain a short time in the neighbourhood?"

"I can give your ladyship a week, or even a fortnight, if you wish
it."

"I am greatly obliged to you. I do wish it--I wish to talk to you
respecting my son, and you are the only one now living who can tell me
about him. You shall find that I am not ungrateful for what you have
done for me. In the meantime, you will stop at the King's Arms, in
Tydsbury. Miss Holme will give you a note to the landlord. Come up
here tomorrow at eleven. And now I must say good morning. I am not
very strong, and your news has shaken me a little. Will you do me the
honour of shaking hands with me? It was your hands that closed my poor
boy's eyes--that touched him last on earth; let those hands now be
touched by his mother."

Lady Pollexfen stood up and extended both her withered hands. The old
soldier came forward with a blush and took them respectfully,
tenderly. He bent his head and touched each of them in turn with his
lips. Tears stood in his eyes.

"God bless you, Sergeant Nicholas! You are a good man, and a true
gentleman," said Lady Pollexfen. Then she turned and slowly left the
room.



CHAPTER IV.
COUNSEL TAKEN WITH MR. MADGIN.


After her interview with Sergeant Nicholas, Lady Pollexfen dismissed
Janet for the day, and retired to her own rooms, nor was she seen out
of them till the following morning. No one was admitted to see her
save Dance. Janet, after sitting with Sister Agnes all the afternoon,
went down at dusk to the housekeeper's room.

"Whatever did you do to her ladyship this morning?" asked Dance as
soon as she entered. "She has tasted neither bit nor sup since
breakfast, but ever since that old shabby-looking fellow went away she
has lain on the sofa, staring at the wall as if there was some writing
on it she was trying to read but didn't know how. I thought she was
ill, and asked her if I should send for the doctor. She laughed at me
without taking her eyes off the wall, and bade me begone for an old
fool. If there's not a change by morning, I shall just send for the
doctor without asking her leave. Surely you and that old fellow have
bewitched her ladyship between you."

Janet in reply told Dance all that had passed at the morning's
interview, feeling quite sure that in doing so she was violating no
confidence, and that Lady Pollexfen herself would be the first to tell
everything to her faithful old servant as soon as she should be
sufficiently composed to do so. As a matter of course Dance was full
of wonder.

"Did you know Captain Pollexfen?" asked Janet, as soon as the old
dame's surprise had in some measure toned itself down.

"Did I know curly-pated, black-eyed Master Charley?" asked the old
woman. "Ay--who better? These arms, withered and yellow now, then
plump and strong, held him before he had been an hour in the world.
The day he left England I went with her ladyship to see him aboard
ship. As he shook me by the hand for the last time he said, 'You will
never leave my mother, will you, Dance?' And I said, 'Never, while I
live, dear Master Charles,' and I've kept my word."

"Her ladyship has never been like the same woman since she heard the
news of his death," resumed Dance after a pause. "It seemed to sour
her and harden her, and make her altogether different. There had been
a great deal of unhappiness at home for some years before he went
away. He and his father, Sir John--he that now lies so quiet
upstairs--had a terrible quarrel just after Master Charles went into
the army, and it was a quarrel that was never made up in this world.
He was an awful man--Sir John--a wicked man: pray that such a one may
never cross your path. The only happiness he seemed to have on earth
was in making those over whom he had any power, miserable. It was
impossible for my lady to love him, but she tried to do her duty by
him till he and Master Charles fell out. What the quarrel was about I
never rightly understood, but my lady would have it that Master
Charles was in the right and her husband in the wrong. One result was
that Sir John stopped the income that he had always allowed his son,
and took a frightful oath that if Master Charles were dying of
starvation before his eyes, he would not give him as much as a penny
to buy bread with. But her ladyship, who had money in her own right,
said that Master Charles's income should go on as usual. Then she and
Sir John quarrelled; and she left him and came to live at Dupley
Walls, leaving him at Dene Folly; and here she stayed till Sir John
was taken with his last illness and sent for her. He sent for her, not
to make up the quarrel, but to jibe and sneer at her, and to make her
wait on him day and night, as if she were a paid nurse from a
hospital. While this was going on, and after Sir John had been quite
given up by the doctors, news came from India of Master Charles's
death. Well, her ladyship went nigh distracted; but as for the
baronet, it was said, though I won't vouch for the truth of it, that
he only laughed when the news was told him, and said that if he was
plagued as much with corns in the next world as he had been in this,
he should find Master Charles's arm very useful to lean upon. Two
days later he died, and the title, and Dene Folly with it, went to a
far-away cousin, whom neither Sir John nor his wife had ever seen.
Then it was found how the baronet had contrived that his spite should
outlive him--for only out of spite and mean cruelty could he have made
such a will as he did make: that Dupley Walls should not become her
ladyship's absolute property till the end of twenty years, during the
whole of which time his body was to remain unburied, and to be kept
under the same roof with his widow, wherever she might live. The mean,
paltry scoundrel! Perhaps her ladyship might have had the will set
aside, but the would not go to law about it. Thank Heaven! the twenty
years are nearly at an end. Dupley Walls has been a haunted house ever
since that midnight when Sir John was borne in on the shoulders of six
strong men. And now tell me whether her ladyship is not a woman to be
pitied."


At a quarter before eleven next morning Mr. Solomon Madgin, Lady
Pollexfen's agent and general man-of-business, arrived by appointment
at Dupley Walls. Mr. Madgin was indispensable to her ladyship, who had
a considerable quantity of house property in and around Tydsbury,
consisting chiefly of small tenements, the rents of which had to be
collected weekly. Then Mr. Madgin was bailiff for the Dupley Walls
estate, in connexion with which were several small farms or "holdings"
which required to be well looked after in many ways. Besides all this,
her ladyship, having a few spare thousands, had taken of late years to
dabbling in scrip and shares in a small way, and under the skilful
pilotage of Mr. Madgin had hitherto contrived to steer clear of those
rocks and shoals of speculation on which so many gallant argosies are
wrecked. In short, everything except the law-business of the estate
filtered through Mr. Madgin's hands, and as he did his work cheaply
and well, and put up with her ladyship's ill temper without a murmur,
the mistress of Dupley Walls could hardly have found any one who would
have suited her better.

Mr. Solomon Madgin was a little dried-up man, about sixty years old.
His tail-coat and vest of rusty black were of the fashion of twenty
years ago. He wore drab trowsers, and shoes tied with bows of black
ribbon. His head, bald on the crown, had an ample fringe of white hair
at the back and sides, and was covered, when he went abroad, with a
beaver hat, very fluffy and much too tall for him, and which, once
upon a time, had probably been nearly as white as his hair, but was
now time-worn and weather-stained to one uniform and consistent drab.
Round his neck he always wore a voluminous cravat of unstarched muslin
fastened in front with an old-fashioned pearl brooch, above which
protruded the two spiked points of a very stiff and pugnacious-looking
collar. A strong alpaca umbrella, unfashionably corpulent, was his
constant companion. Mr. Madgin's whiskers were shaved off in an exact
line with the end of his nose. His eyebrows were very white and bushy,
and could serve on occasion as a screen to the greenish crafty-looking
eyes below them, which never liked to be peered into too closely. The
ordinary expression of his thin dried-up face was one of hard worldly
shrewdness; but there was a lurking _bonhommie_ in his smile which
seemed to imply that, away from business, he might possibly mellow
into a boon companion.

Mr. Madgin had to wait a few minutes this morning before Lady
Pollexfen could receive him. When he was ushered into her sitting-room
he was surprised to find that she and Miss Holme were not alone; that
a plainly-dressed man, who looked almost as old as Mr. Madgin himself,
was seated at the table. After one suspicious glance at the stranger,
Mr. Madgin made his bow to the ladies and walked up to the table with
his bag of papers.

"You can put all those things away for the day, Mr. Madgin," said her
ladyship. "A far more important matter claims our attention just now.
In the first place, I must introduce to you Sergeant Nicholas, many
years ago servant to my son, Captain Pollexfen, who died in India.
(Sergeant, this is Mr. Madgin, my man of business.) The sergeant, who
has only just returned to England, told me yesterday a very curious
story which I am desirous that he should repeat in your presence
to-day. The story relates to a diamond of great value, said to have
been stolen from the body of my son immediately after death, and I
shall require you to give me your opinion as to the feasibility of its
recovery. You will take such notes of the narrative as you may think
necessary, and the sergeant will afterwards answer, to the best of his
ability, any questions you may choose to put to him." Then turning to
the old soldier, she added: "You will be good enough, sergeant, to
repeat to Mr. Madgin such parts of your narrative of yesterday as have
any reference to the diamond. Begin with my son's dying message.
Repeat word for word, as closely as you can remember, all that was
told you by the sycee Rung. Describe as minutely as possible the
personal appearance of M. Platzoff; and detail any other points that
bear on the loss of the diamond."

So the sergeant began, but the repetition of a long narrative not
learnt by heart is by no means an easy matter, especially when they to
whom it was first told hear it for the second time, but rather as
critics than as ordinary listeners. Besides, the taking of notes was a
process that smacked of a court-martial and tended to flurry the
narrator, making him feel as if he were upon his oath and liable to be
browbeat by the counsel for the other side. He was heartily glad when
he got to the end of what he had to tell. The postscript to Captain
Pollexfen's letter was then read by Miss Holme.

Mr. Madgin took copious notes as the sergeant went on, and afterwards
put a few questions to him on different points which he thought not
sufficiently clear. Then he laid down his pen, rubbed his hands, and
ran his fingers through his scanty hair. Lady Pollexfen rang for her
butler, and gave the sergeant into his keeping, knowing that he could
not be in better hands. Then she said:--"I will leave you, Mr. Madgin,
for half an hour. Go carefully through your notes, and let me have
your opinion when I come back as to whether, after so long a time, you
think it worth while to institute any proceedings for the recovery of
the diamond."

So Mr. Madgin was left alone with what he called his "considering
cap." As soon as the door was closed behind her ladyship, he
tilted back his chair, stuck his feet on the table, buried his
hands deep in his pockets, and shut his eyes, and so remained for full
five-and-twenty minutes. He was busy consulting his notes when Lady
Pollexfen re-entered the room. Mr. Madgin began at once.

"I must confess," he said, "that the case which your ladyship has
submitted to me seems, from what I can see of it at present, to be
surrounded with difficulties. Still, I am far from counselling your
ladyship to despair entirely. The few points which, at the first
glance, present themselves as requiring for solution are these:--Who
was the M. Platzoff who is said to have stolen the diamond? and what
position in life did he really occupy? Is he alive or dead? If alive,
where is he now living? If he did really steal the diamond, are not
the chances as a hundred to one that he disposed of it long ago? But
even granting that we were in a position to answer all these
questions; suppose even that this M. Platzoff were living in Tydsbury
at the present moment, and that fact were known to us, how much nearer
should we be to the recovery of the diamond than we are now? Your
ladyship must please to bear in mind that as the case is now we have
not an inch of legal ground to stand upon. We have no evidence that
would be worth a rush in a court of law that M. Platzoff really
purloined the diamond. We have no trustworthy evidence that the
diamond itself ever had an existence."

"Surely, Mr. Madgin, my son's letter is sufficient to prove that
fact."

"Sufficient, perhaps, in conjunction with the other evidence, to prove
it in a moral sense, but certainly not in a legal one," said Mr.
Madgin, quietly, but decisively. "Your ladyship must please to bear in
mind that Captain Pollexfen in his letter makes no absolute mention of
the diamond by name; he merely writes of it vaguely under certain
initials, and, if called upon, how could you prove that he intended
those initials to stand for the words _Great Mogul Diamond_, and not
for something altogether different? If M. Platzoff were your
ladyship's next-door neighbour, and you knew for certain that he had
the diamond still in his possession, you could only get it from him as
he himself got it from your son--by subterfuge and artifice. Your
ladyship will please to observe that I have put forward no opinion in
the case. I have merely offered a statement of plain facts as they
show themselves on the surface. With those facts before you it rests
with your ladyship to decide what further steps you wish taken in the
matter."

"My good Madgin, do you know what it is to hate?" demanded Lady
Pollexfen. "To hate with a hatred that dwarfs all other passions of
the soul, and makes them pigmies by comparison? If you know this, you
know the feeling with which I regard M. Platzoff. If you want the key
to the feeling, you have it in the fact that his accursed hands robbed
my dead son: even then you must have a mother's heart to feel all that
I feel." She paused for a moment as if to recover breath; then she
resumed. "See you, Mr. Solomon Madgin, I have a conviction, an
intuition, call it what you will, that this Russian scoundrel is still
alive. That is the first fact you have got to find out. The next is,
where he is now residing. Then you will have to ascertain whether he
has the diamond still in his possession, and if so, by what means it
can be recovered. Only recover it for me--I ask not how or by what
means--only put into my hands the diamond that was stolen off my son's
breast as he lay dead; and the day you do that, my good Madgin, I will
present you with a cheque for five thousand pounds!"

Mr. Madgin sat like one astounded; the power of reply seemed taken
from him. "Go now," said Lady Pollexfen, after a few moments.
"Ordinary business is out of the question today. Go home and carefully
digest what I have just said to you. That you are a man of resources,
I know well; had you not been so, I would not have employed you in
this matter. Come to me to-morrow, next day, next week--when you like;
only don't come barren of ideas; don't come without a plan, likely or
unlikely, of some sort of a campaign."

Mr. Madgin rose and swept his papers mechanically into his bag. "Your
ladyship said five thousand pounds, if I mistake not?" he stammered
out.

"A cheque for five thousand pounds shall be yours on the day you bring
me the diamond. Is not my word sufficient, or do you wish to have it
under bond and seal?" she asked with some hauteur.

"Your ladyship's word is an all-sufficient bond," answered Mr. Madgin,
with sweet humility. He paused with the handle of the door in his
hand. "Supposing I were to see my way to carry out your ladyship's
wishes in this respect," he said deferentially, "or even to carry
out a portion of them only, still it could not be done without
expense--not without considerable expense, maybe."

"I give you carte-blanche as regards expenses," said her ladyship with
decision.

Then Mr. Madgin gave a farewell duck of the head, and went. He took
his way homeward through the park, like a man walking in his sleep.
With wide-open eyes, and hat well set on the back of his head, with
his blue bag in one hand, and his umbrella under his arm, he trudged
onward, even after he got into the busy streets of the little town,
without seeing anything or anybody. What he saw, he saw
introspectively. On the one hand glittered the tempting bait held out
by Lady Pollexfen; on the other loomed the dark problem that had to be
solved before he could call the golden apple his.

"The most arrant wild-goose chase that ever I heard of in all my
life," he muttered to himself, as he halted at his own door. "Not a
single ray of light anywhere--not one."

"Popsey," he called out to his daughter, when he got inside, "bring
the decanter of gin, some cold water, an ounce of bird's-eye, and a
clean churchwarden, into the office; and don't let me be disturbed by
any one for four hours."



CHAPTER V.
MR. MADGIN AT THE HELM.


Mr. Madgin's house stood somewhat back from the main street of
Tydsbury. It was an old-fashioned house, of modest exterior, and had
an air of being elbowed into the background by the smarter and more
modern domiciles on each side of it. Its steep overhanging roof, and
porched doorway, gave it a sleepy, reposeful look, as though it were
watching the on-goings of the little town through half-closed lids,
and taking small cognizance thereof.

Entering from the street through a little wooden gateway of a bright
green colour, a narrow pathway, paved with round pebbles that were
very trying to people with tender feet, conducted you to the front
door, on which shone a brass plate of surpassing brightness, whereon
was inscribed:--


                          Mr. Solomon Madgin,
                           _General Agent_,
                             _Valuer, &c_.


The house was a double-fronted one. On one side of the passage as you
went in was the office, on the other side was the family sitting-room.
Not that Mr. Madgin's family was a large one. It consisted merely of
himself, his daughter Mirpah, and one strong servant girl with an
unlimited capacity for hard work. Mirpah Madgin deserves some notice
at our hands.

She was a tall, superb-looking young woman of two-and-twenty, and bore
not the slightest resemblance in person, whatever she might do in mind
or disposition, to that sly old fox her father. Mirpah's mother had
been of Jewish extraction, and in Mirpah's face you read the
unmistakable signs of that grand style of beauty which is everywhere
associated with the downtrodden race. She moved about the little house
in her inexpensive prints and muslins like a dis-crowned queen. That
she had reached the age of two-and-twenty without having been in love
was no source of surprise to those who knew her, for Mirpah Madgin
hardly looked like a girl who would marry a poor clerk or a petty
tradesman, or who could ever sink into the common-place drudge of a
hand-to-mouth household. She looked like a girl who would some day be
claimed by a veritable hero of romance--by some Ivanhoe of modern
life, well endowed with this world's goods--who would wed her, and
ride away with her to the fairy realms of Tyburnia and Rotten Row.

And yet, truth to tell, the thread of romance inwoven with the
composition of Mirpah Madgin was a very slender one. In so far she
belied her own beauty. For a young woman she was strangely practical,
and that in a curiously unfeminine way. She was her father's managing
clerk and _alter ego_. The housewifely acts of sewing and cooking she
held in utter distaste. For domestic management in any of its forms
she had no faculty, unless it were for that portion of it which
necessitated a watchful eye upon the purse-strings. Such an eye she
had been trained to use since she was quite a girl, and Mirpah the
superb could on occasion haggle over a penny as keenly as the most
ancient fishwife in Tydsbury market.

At five minutes past nine precisely, six mornings out of every seven,
Mirpah Madgin sat down in her father's office and proceeded to open
the letters. Mr. Madgin's business was a multifarious one. Not only
was he Lady Pollexfen's general agent and man of business, although
that was his most onerous and lucrative appointment, and the one that
engaged most of his time and thoughts, but he was also agent for
several lesser concerns, always contriving to have a number of small
irons in the fire at one time. Much of Mr. Madgin's time was spent in
the collection of rents and in out-door work generally, so that nearly
the whole of the office duties devolved upon Mirpah, and by no clerk
could they have been more efficiently performed. She made up and
balanced the numerous accounts with which Mr. Madgin had to deal in
one shape or another. Three-fourths of the letters that emanated from
Mr. Madgin's office were written by her. From long practice she had
learned to write so like her father that only an expert could have
detected the difference between the two hands; and she invariably
signed herself "Yours truly, Solomon Madgin." Indeed, so accustomed
was she to writing her father's name that in her correspondence with
her brother, who was an actor in London, she more frequently than not
signed it in place of her own; so that Madgin junior had to look
whether the letter was addressed to him as a son or as a brother
before he could tell by whom it had been written.

As her father's assistant Mirpah was happy after a quiet, staid sort
of fashion. The energies of her nature found their vent in the busy
life in which she took so much delight. She was not at all
sentimental: she was not the least bit romantic. She was thoroughly
practical, and was as keen in money-making as her father himself. Yet
with all this Mirpah Madgin could be charitable on occasion, and was
by no means deficient of high and generous impulses--only she never
allowed her impulses to interfere with "business."

Mr. Madgin never took any important step without first consulting his
daughter. Herein he acted wisely, for Mirpah's clear good sense, and
feminine quickness at penetrating motives where he himself was
sometimes at fault, had often proved invaluable to him in difficult
transactions. In a matter of so much moment as that of the Great Mogul
Diamond it was not likely that he would be long contented without
taking her into his confidence. He had scarcely finished his first
pipe when he heard her opening the door with her latch-key, and his
face brightened at the sound. She had been on one of those holy
pilgrimages in which all who are thus privileged take so much delight:
she had been to the bank to increase the little store which lay there
already in her father's name. She came into the room tired but
smiling. A white straw bonnet, a black silk mantle, and a muslin dress
small in pattern, formed the chief items of her quiet attire. She was
carefully gloved and booted; but to whatever she wore Mirpah imparted
an air of distinction that put it at once beyond a suggestion of
improvement.

"Smoking at this time of day, papa!" exclaimed Mirpah. "And the
gin-bottle out, too! Are we about to retire on our fortunes, or what
does it all mean?"

"It means, girl, that I have got one of the hardest nuts to crack that
was ever put before me. If I crack it, I get five thousand pounds for
the kernel. If I don't crack it--but that's a possibility I can't bear
to think about."

"Five thousand pounds! That would indeed be a kernel worth having. My
teeth are younger than yours, and perhaps I may be able to help you."

Mr. Madgin smoked in silence for a little while, while Mirpah toyed
patiently with her bonnet strings. "The nut is simply this," said the
old man at last: "In India, twenty years ago, a diamond was stolen
from a dying man. I am now told to find the thief, to obtain from him
the diamond either by fair means or foul--supposing always that he is
still alive and has the diamond still in his possession--and on the
day I give the stone to its rightful owner the aforementioned five
thousand pounds become mine."

"A grand prize, and one worth striving for!"

"Even so; but how can I strive, when I have nothing to strive against?
I am like a man put into a dark room to fight a duel. I cannot find my
antagonist. I grope about, not knowing whether he is on the right hand
of me or the left, before me or behind me. In fact, I am utterly at
sea; and the more I think about the matter the more hopelessly
bewildered I seem to become."

"Two heads are better than one, papa. Let me try to help you. Tell me
the case from beginning to end, with all the details as they are known
to you."

Mr. Madgin willingly complied, and related _in extenso_ all that he
had heard that morning at Dupley Walls. The little man had a high
opinion of his daughter's sagacity. That such an opinion was in nowise
lessened by the result of the present case will be best seen by the
following excerpts from Mr. Madgin's diary, which, as having a
particular bearing on the case of the Great Mogul Diamond, we proceed
at once to lay before the reader:--


           "EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARY OF MR. SOLOMON MADGIN."


"July 9th, Evening.--After the wonderful revelation made to me by Lady
Pollexfen this morning, I came home, and got behind a churchwarden,
and set my wits to work to think the matter out. I shut my eyes and
puffed away for an hour and a half, but at the end of that time I was
as much in a fog as when I first sat down. Nowhere could I discern a
single ray of light. Then in came Mirpah, and when she begged of me to
tell her the story, I was glad to do so, remembering how often she had
helped me through a puzzle in days gone by--but none of them of such
magnitude as this one. So I told her everything as far as it was known
to myself. After that we discussed the whole case carefully step by
step. The immediate result of this discussion was, that as soon as tea
was over, I went as far as the White Hart tavern in search of Sergeant
Nicholas. I found him on the bowling-green watching the players. I
called for a quart of old ale and some tobacco, and before long we
were as cosy as two old cronies who have known each other for twenty
years. The morning had shown me that the Sergeant was a man of some
intelligence and of much worldly experience; and when I had lowered
myself imperceptibly to the level of his intellect, so as to put him
more completely at his ease, I had no difficulty in inducing him to
talk freely and fully on that one subject which, for the last few
hours, has had for me an interest paramount to that of any other. My
primary object was to induce him to retail to me every scrap Of
information that he could call to mind respecting the Russian,
Platzoff, who is said to have stolen the diamond. It was Mirpah's
opinion and mine, that he must be in possession of many bits of
special knowledge, such as might seem of no consequence to him, but
which might be invaluable to us in our search, and such as he would
naturally leave out of the narrative he told Lady Pollexfen. The
result proved that our opinion was well founded. I did not leave the
sergeant till I had pumped him thoroughly dry. (Mem.: an excellent tap
of old ale at the White Hart. Must try some of it at home.)

"I found Mirpah watering her geraniums in the back garden. She was all
impatience to learn the result of my interview. I am thankful that
increasing years have not impaired my memory. I repeated to Mirpah
every word bearing on the case in point that the sergeant had confided
to me. Then I waited in silence for her opinion. I was anxious to know
whether it coincided in any way with my own. I am happy to think that
it did coincide. Father and daughter were agreed.

"'I think that you have done a very good afternoon's work, papa,' said
Mirpah, after a few moments given to silent thought. 'After a lapse of
twenty years, it is not likely that Sergeant Nicholas should have a
very clear recollection of any conversation that he may have overheard
between Captain Pollexfen and M. Platzoff. Indeed, had he pretended to
repeat any such conversation, I should have felt strongly inclined to
doubt the truth of his entire narrative. Happily he disclaims any such
abnormal powers of memory. He can remember nothing but a chance phrase
or two which some secondary circumstance fixed indelibly on his mind.
But he can remember a great number of little facts bearing on the
relations between his master and the Russian. These facts, considered
singly, may seem of little or no importance, but taken in the
aggregate, and regarded as so many bits of mosaic work forming part of
a complicated whole, they assume an aspect of far greater importance.
In any case, they put us on a trail, which may turn out to be the
right one or the wrong one, but which at present certainly seems to me
worth following up. Finally, they all tend to deepen our first
suspicion that M. Platzoff was neither more nor less than a political
refugee. The next point is to ascertain whether he is still alive.'

"Here again the clear logical intellect of Mirpah (so like my own)
came to my assistance. Before parting for the night we were agreed as
to what our mode of procedure ought to be on the morrow. This most
extraordinary case engages all my thoughts. I am afraid that I shall
not be able to sleep much to-night.

"July 10th.--I owe it to Mirpah to say that it was entirely in
consequence of a hint from her that I went at an early hour this
morning to the office of the _Tydsbury Courier_ there to consult a
file of that newspaper. Six months ago the daughter of Sir John
Pennythorne was married to a rich London gentleman. Mirpah had read
the account of the festivities consequent on that event, and seemed to
remember that among other friends of the bridegroom invited down to
Finch Hall was some foreign gentleman who was stated in the newspaper
to belong to the Russian Legation in London. Acting on Mirpah's hint,
I went back through the files of the _Courier_ till I lighted on the
account of the wedding. True enough, among other guests on that
occasion, I found catalogued the name of a certain Monsieur H---- of
the Russian Embassy. I had got all I wanted from the _Tydsbury
Courier_.

"My next proceeding was to hasten up to Dupley Walls, to obtain an
interview with Lady Pollexfen, and to induce her ladyship to write to
Sir John Pennythorne asking him to write to the aforesaid M. H----,
and inquire whether, among the archives (I think that is the correct
word) of the Embassy, they had any record of a political refugee by
name Paul Platzoff, who, twenty years ago, was in India, &c. I had
considerable difficulty in persuading her ladyship to write, but at
last the letter was sent. I await the result anxiously. The chances
seem to me something like a thousand to one against our inquiry being
productive of any tangible result. What I dread more than all is that
M. Platzoff is no longer among the living.

"July 20th.--Nine days without a word from Sir John Pennythorne,
except to say that he had written his friend Monsieur H----  as
requested by Lady Pollexfen. I began to despair. Each morning I
inquired of her ladyship whether she had received any reply from Sir
John, and each morning her ladyship said: 'I have had no reply, Mr.
Madgin, beyond the one you have already seen.'

"Certain matters connected with a lease took me up to Dupley Walls
this afternoon for the second time to-day. The afternoon post came in
while I was there. Among other letters was one from Sir John
Pennythorne, which, when she had read it, her ladyship tossed over to
me. It enclosed one from M. H---- to Sir John. It was on the latter
that I pounced. It was written in French, but even at the first hasty
reading I could make it out sufficiently to know that it was of far
greater importance than even in my wildest dreams I had dared to
imagine.

"I never saw Lady Pollexfen so excited as she was during the few
moments which I took up in reading the letter. During the nine days
that had elapsed since the writing of her letter to Sir John she had
treated me somewhat slightingly; there was, or so I fancied, a spice
of contempt in her manner towards me. The step I had induced her to
take in writing to Sir John had met with no approbation at her hands;
it had seemed to her an utterly futile and ridiculous thing to do;
therefore was I now proportionately well pleased to find that my wild
idea had been productive of such excellent fruit.

"'I must certainly compliment you, Mr. Madgin, on the success of your
first step,' said her ladyship. 'It was like one of the fine intuitions
of genius to imagine that you saw a way to reach M. Platzoff through
the Russian Embassy. You have been fully justified by the result.
Madgin, the man yet lives!--the man whose sacrilegious hands robbed my
dead son of that which he had left as a sacred gift to his mother. May
the curse of a widowed mother attend him through life! Let me hear the
letter again, Madgin; or stay, I will read it myself: your French is
execrable. Ha, ha! Monsieur Paul Platzoff, we shall have our revenge
out of you yet.'

"She read the letter through for the second time with a sort of
deliberate eagerness which showed me how deeply interested her heart
was in the affair. She dropped her eye-glass and gave a great sigh
when she came to the end of it. 'And what do you propose to do next,
Mr. Madgin?' she asked. 'Your conduct so far satisfies me that I
cannot do better than leave the case entirely in your hands.'

"'With all due deference to your ladyship,' I replied, 'I think that
my next step ought to be to reconnoitre the enemy's camp.'

"'Exactly my own thought,' said her ladyship. 'When can you start for
Windermere?'

"'To-morrow morning, at nine.'

"After a little more conversation I left her ladyship. She seemed in
better spirits than I had seen her for a long time.

"I need not attempt to describe dear Mirpah's delight when I read over
to her the contents of Monsieur H.'s note. She put her arms round me
and kissed me. 'The five thousand pounds shall yet be yours, papa,'
she said. Stranger things than that have come to pass before now. But
I am working only for her and James. Should I ever be so fortunate as
to touch the five thousand pounds, one-half of it will go to form a
dowry for my Mirpah. Below is a free translation of the business part
of M. H.'s letter, which was simply an extract from some secret ledger
kept at the Embassy:--

"Platzoff, Paul. A Russian by birth and a conspirator by choice. Born
in Moscow in 1802, his father being a rich leather-merchant of that
city. Implicated at the age of nineteen in sundry insurrectionary
movements; tried, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment in a
military fortress. After his release, left Russia without permission,
having first secretly transferred his property into foreign
securities. Went to Paris. Issued a scurrilous pamphlet directed
against his Majesty the Emperor. Spent several years in travel,--now
in Europe, now in the East, striving wherever he went to promulgate
his revolutionary ideas. More than suspected of being a member of
several secret political societies. Has resided for the last few years
at Bon Repos, on the banks of Windermere, from which place he
communicates constantly with other characters as desperate as himself.
Russia has no more bitter and determined enemy than Paul Platzoff. He
is at once clever and unscrupulous. While he lives he will not cease
to conspire.'

"After this followed a description of Platzoff's personal appearance,
which it is needless to transcribe here.

"I start for Windermere by the first train tomorrow."



CHAPTER VI.
MR. MADGIN'S SECRET JOURNEY.


Mr. Madgin left home by an early train on the morning of the day
following that on which Lady Pollexfen had received a reply from Sir
John Pennythorne. His first intention had been to make the best of his
way to Windermere, and there ascertain the exact locality of Bon
Repos. But a fresh view of the case presented itself to his mind as he
lay thinking in bed. Instead of taking the train for the north, he
took one for the south, and found himself at Euston as the London
clocks were striking twelve. After an early dinner, and a careful
consultation of the Post Office Directory, Mr. Madgin ordered a
hansom, and was driven to Hatton-garden, in and about which unfragrant
locality the diamond merchants most do congregate. After due inquiries
made and answered, Mr. Madgin was driven eastward for another mile or
more. Here a similar set of inquiries elicited a similar set of
answers. Mr. Madgin went back to his hotel well pleased with his day's
work.

His inquiries had satisfied him that no green diamond of the size and
value attributed to the Great Mogul had either been seen or heard of
in the London market during the last twenty years. It still remained
to test the foreign markets in the same way. Mr. Madgin's idea was
that this work could be done better by some trustworthy agent well
acquainted with the trade than by himself. He accordingly left
instructions with an eminent diamond merchant to have all needful
inquiries made at Paris, Amsterdam, and St. Petersburgh, as to whether
such a stone as the Great Mogul had come under the cognizance of the
trade any time during the last twenty years. The result of the inquiry
was to be communicated to Mr. Madgin by letter.

Nest day Mr. Madgin journeyed down to Windermere. Arrived at Bowness,
he found no difficulty in ascertaining the exact locality of Bon
Repos, the house and its owner being known by sight or repute to
almost every inhabitant of the little town. Mr. Madgin stopped all
night at Bowness. Next morning he hired a small boat, and was pulled
across the lake to a point about half a mile below Bon Repos, and
there he landed.

Mr. Madgin was travelling _incog_. The name upon his portmanteau was
"Jared Deedes, Esq." He was dressed in a suit of glossy black, with a
white neckcloth, and gold-rimmed spectacles. He had quite an episcopal
air. He did not call himself a clergyman, but people were at liberty
to accept him as one if they chose.

Assisted by the most unimpeachable of malaccas, Mr. Madgin took the
high-road that wound round the grounds of Bon Repos. But so completely
was the house hidden in its nest of greenery that the chimney-pots
were all of it that was visible from the road. But under a spur of the
hill by which the house was shut in at the back Mr. Madgin found a
tiny hamlet of a dozen houses, by far the most imposing of which was
the village inn--hotel, it called itself, and showed to the world the
sign of The Jolly Fishers. Into this humble hostelry Mr. Madgin
marched without hesitation, and called for some refreshment. So
impressed was the landlord with the clerical appearance of his guest,
that he whipped off his apron, ushered him into the state parlour, and
made haste to wait upon him himself. He, the guest, had actually
called for a bottle of the best dry sherry, and when the landlord took
it in he invited him to fetch another glass, and come and join him
over it. Mr. Jared Deedes was a tourist--well-to-do, without doubt;
the landlord could see as much as that--and having never visited
Lakeland before, he was naturally delighted with the freshness and
novelty of everything that he saw. The change from London life was so
thorough, so complete in every respect, that he could hardly believe
he had left the great Babel no longer ago than yesterday. It seemed
years since he had been there. He had thought Bowness a charming spot,
but this little nook surpassed Bowness, inasmuch as it was still
farther removed and shut out from the frivolities and follies of the
great world. Here one was almost alone with Nature and her wondrous
works. Then Mr. Deedes filled up his own glass and that of the
landlord.

"Perhaps, sir, you would like to stay here for a night or two,"
suggested the host timidly; "we have a couple of spare beds."

"Nothing would please me better," answered Mr. Deedes, with solemn
alacrity. "I feel that the healthful air of these hills is doing me an
immensity of good. Kindly send to the Crown at Bowness for my
portmanteau, and ascertain what you have in the house for dinner."

After a while came dinner, and a little later on, Mr. Deedes having
expressed a desire to see something of the lake, the landlord sent to
borrow a boat, and then took his guest for an hour's row on
Windermere. From the water they had a capital view of the low white
front of Bon Repos. There were two gentlemen smoking on the terrace.
The lesser of the two, said the landlord, was M. Platzoff. The taller
man was Captain Ducie, at present a guest at Bon Repos. Then the
landlord wandered off into a long rambling account of Bon Repos and
its owner. Mr. Deedes was much interested in hearing about the
eccentric habits and strange mode of life of M. Platzoff, with the
details of which the landlord was as thoroughly acquainted as though
he had formed one of the household. Their row on the lake was
prolonged for a couple of hours, and Mr. Deedes went back to the hotel
much edified.

In the dusk of evening he encountered Cleon, M. Platzoff's valet, as
he was lounging slowly down the village street on his way to the Jolly
Fishers. Mr. Deedes scrutinized the dark-skinned servant narrowly in
passing. "The face of a cunning unscrupulous rascal, if ever I saw
one," he muttered to himself. "Nevertheless, I must make his
acquaintance."

And he did make his acquaintance. As Cleon and the landlord sat
hob-nobbing together in the little snuggery behind the bar, Mr. Deedes
put in his head to ask a question of the latter. Thereupon the
landlord begged permission to introduce his friend Mr. Cleon to the
notice of his guest, Mr. Deedes. The two men bowed, Mr. Cleon rather
sulkily; but Mr. Deedes was all affability and smiling _bonhommie_. He
had several questions to ask, and he sat down on the only vacant chair
in the little room. He wanted to know the distance to Keswick; how
much higher Helvellyn was than Fairfield; whether it was possible to
get any potted char for breakfast; and so on; on all which questions
both Cleon and the landlord had something to say. But talking being
dry work, as Mr. Deedes smilingly observed, brought naturally to mind.
the fact that the landlord had some excellent dry sherry, and that one
could not do better this warm evening than have another bottle fetched
up out of the cool depths of the cellar. Mr. Cleon, being pressed, was
nothing loth to join Mr. Deedes over this bottle. Mr. Deedes, without
condescending into familiarity, made himself very agreeable, but did
not sit long. After imbibing a couple of glasses, he bade the landlord
and the valet an affable good-night, and went off decorously to bed.

Mr. Deedes was up betimes next morning, and took a three miles' trudge
over the hills before breakfast. He spent a quiet day mooning about
the neighbourhood, and really enjoying himself after his own fashion,
although his mind was busily engaged all the time in trying to solve
the mystery of the Great Diamond. In the evening he took care to have
a few pleasant words with Cleon, and then early to bed. Two more days
passed away after a similar quiet fashion, and then Mr. Deedes began
to chafe inwardly at the small progress he was making.

Although he had been so successful in tracing out M. Platzoff, and in
working the case up to its present point in a remarkably short space
of time, he acknowledged to himself that he was completely baffled
when he came to consider what his next step ought to be. He could not,
indeed, see his way to a single step beyond his present stand-point.
Much as he seemed to have gained at a single leap, was he in reality
one hair's-breadth nearer the secret object of his quest than on that
day when the name of the Great Mogul Diamond first made music in his
ears? He doubted it greatly.

When he first decided on coming down to Bon Repos he trusted that the
chapter of accidents and the good fortune which had so far attended
him would somehow put it in his power to scrape an acquaintance with
M. Platzoff himself, and such an acquaintance once made, it would be
his own fault if, in one way or another, he did not make it
subservient to the ambitious end he had in view. But in M. Platzoff he
found a recluse: a man who made no fresh acquaintanceships; who held
the whole tourist tribe in horror, and who even kept himself aloof
from such of the neighbouring families as might be considered his
equals in social position. It was quite evident to Mr. Deedes that he
might reside close to Bon Repos for twenty years, and at the end of
that time not have succeeded in addressing half a dozen words to its
owner.

Then again he had succeeded little better with regard to Cleon than
with regard to Cleon's master. All his advances, made with a mixture
of affability and _bonhommie_ which Mr. Deedes flattered himself was
irresistible with most people, were productive of little or no effect
upon the mulatto. He received them, not with suspicion, for he had
nothing of which to suspect harmless Mr. Deedes, but with a sort of
sulky indifference, as though he considered them rather a nuisance
than otherwise, and would have preferred their being offered to anyone
else. Did Mr. Deedes, in conversation with him and the landlord,
venture to bring the talk round to Bon Repos and M. Platzoff; did he
hazard the remark that since his arrival in Lakeland several people
had spoken to him of the strange character and eccentric mode of life
of Mr. Cleon's employer--he was met with a stony silence, which told
him as plainly as any words could have done that M. Platzoff and his
affairs were matters that in no wise concerned him. It was quite
evident that neither the Russian nor his dark-skinned valet was of any
avail for the furtherance of that scheme which had brought Mr. Deedes
all the way to the wilds of Westmoreland.

He began to despair, and was on the point of writing to Mirpah,
thinking that her shrewd woman's wit might be able to suggest some
stratagem or mode of attack other than that made use of by him, when
suddenly a prospect opened before him such as in his wildest dreams of
success he dared not have bodied forth. He was not slow to avail
himself of it.



CHAPTER VII.
ENTER MADGIN, JUNIOR.


"Beg your pardon, sir," said the landlord of the Jolly Fishers one
morning to his guest, Mr. Deedes, "but I think I have more than once
heard you say that you came from London?"

"I do come from London," answered Mr. Deedes; "I am a Cockney born and
bred. I came direct from London to Windermere. But why do you ask?"

"Simply, sir, because they are in want of a footman at Bon Repos, to
fill up the place of one who has gone away to get married. Mossoo
Platzoff don't like advertising for servants, and Mr. Cleon is at a
loss where to find a fellow that can wait at table and has some
manners about him. You see, sir, the country louts about here are
neither useful nor ornamental in a gentleman's house. Now, sir, it
struck me that among your friends you might perhaps know some
gentleman who would be glad to recommend a respectable man for such a
place. Must have a good character from his last situation, and be able
to wait at table; and I hope, sir, you will pardon the liberty I've
taken in mentioning it to you."

Mr. Deedes was holding up a glass of wine to the light as the landlord
brought his little speech to a close. He sipped the wine slowly, with
his eyes bent on the floor; then he put down the glass and rubbed his
hands softly one within the other. Then he spoke.

"It happens, singularly enough," he said, "that a particular friend of
mine--Mr. Madgin, a gentleman, I daresay, whose name you have never
heard--spoke to me only three weeks ago about one of his people for
whom he was desirous of obtaining another situation, he himself being
about to break up his establishment and go to reside on the Continent,
I will write Mr. Madgin to-night, and if the young man has not engaged
himself I will ask my friend to send him down here. He will have a
first-class testimonial, and I have no doubt he would suit M. Platzoff
admirably. I am obliged to you, landlord, for mentioning this matter
to me."

Mr. Deedes went off at once to his room, and wrote and despatched the
following letter:--


"My dear Boy,--I saw by an advertisement in last week's _Era_ that you
are still out of an engagement. I have an opening for you down here in
a drama of real life. It will be greatly to your advantage to accept
it, so do not hesitate for a moment. Come without delay. Book yourself
from Euston-square to Windermere. Take steamer from the latter place
to Newby-bridge. There, at the hotel, await my arrival. Bear in mind
that down here my name is _Mr. Jared Deedes_, and that yours is _James
Jasmin_, a footman, at present out of a situation. To a person of your
intelligence I need not say more.

"Your affectionate father,

"S. M."


"N.B.--This communication is secret and confidential. All expenses
paid. Do not on any account fail to come. I will be at the
Newby-bridge Hotel on Thursday morning at eleven."


This letter he addressed, "Mr. James Madgin, Royal Tabard Theatre,
Southwark, London." Having posted it with his own hands, he went for a
long solitary ramble among the hills. He wanted to think out and
elaborate the great scheme that had unfolded itself before his dazzled
eyes while the landlord was talking to him. He had seen the whole
compass of it at a glance; he wanted now to consider it in detail.
There was an elation in his eye and an elasticity in his tread that
made him seem ten years younger than on the previous day.

He had requested the landlord to tell Mr. Cleon what steps he was
about to take with the view of supplying M. Platzoff with a new
footman. In these proceedings the mulatto acquiesced ungraciously.
Truth to tell, he was bored by Mr. Deedes and his friendly
officiousness, and although secretly glad that the trouble of hunting
out a new servant had been taken off his hands, he was not a man
willingly to acknowledge his obligations to another.

Mr. Deedes set out immediately after breakfast on Thursday morning,
and having walked to the Ferry Hotel, he took the steamer from that
place to Newby-bridge. Mr. James Jasmin was at the landing-stage
awaiting his arrival. After shaking hands heartily, and inquiring as
to each other's health, the two wandered off arm in arm down one of
the quiet country roads. Then Mr. Deedes explained to Mr. Jasmin his
reasons for sending for him from London, and with what view he was
desirous of introducing him into Bon Repos. The younger man listened
attentively. When the elder one had done, he said:--

"Father, this is a very pretty scheme of yours, but it seems to me
that I am to be nothing more than a catspaw in the affair. You have
only given me half your confidence. You must give me the whole of it
before I can agree to act as you wish. I want to hear the whole
history of the case, and how you came to be mixed up in it. Further--I
want to know how much Lady Pollexfen intends to give you in case you
succeed in getting back the Diamond, and what my share of the
recompense is to be?"

"Dear! dear! what a headstrong boy you are!" moaned Mr. Deedes. "Why
can't you be content with what I tell you, and leave the rest to me?"

The younger man made no reply in words, but turned abruptly on his
heel and began to walk back.

"James! James!" cried the old man, catching his son by the coat tails,
"do not go off in that way. It shall be as you wish. I will tell you
everything. You headstrong boy! Do you want to break your poor
father's heart?"

"Break your fiddlestick!" said Mr. Jasmin, irreverently. "Let us sit
down on this green bank, and you shall tell me all about the Diamond
while I try the quality of these cigars. I am all attention."

Thus adjured, Mr. Deedes sighed deeply, wiped his forehead with his
handkerchief, looked meditatively into his hat for a few seconds, and
then began.

Beginning with the narrative of Sergeant Nicholas, Mr. Deedes went on
from that point to detail by what means he had discovered that M.
Platzoff was still alive and where he was now living. Then he told of
his coming down to Bon Repos and all that had happened to him since
that time. He had already told his son with what view he had sent for
him from London--that not being able to make any further headway in
the case himself, he was desirous of introducing his dear James, in
the guise of a servant, into Bon Repos, as an agent on whose integrity
and cleverness he could alike depend.

"But you have not yet told your dear James the amount of the
honorarium you will be entitled to receive in case you recover the
stolen Diamond."

"What do you say to five thousand pounds?" asked Mr. Deedes, in a
solemn whisper.

The younger man opened his eyes. "Hum! A very pretty little amount,"
he said, "but I have yet to learn what proportion of that sum will
percolate into the pockets of this child. In other words, what is to
be my share of the plunder?"

"Plunder, my dear boy, is a strange word to make use of. Pray be more
particular in your choice of terms. The mercenary view you take of the
case is very distressing to my feelings. A proper recompense for your
time and trouble it was my intention to make you; but as regards the
five thousand pounds, I hoped to be able to fund it _in toto_, to add
it to my little capital, and to leave it intact for those who will
come after me. And you know very well, James, that there will only be
you and Mirpah to divide whatever the old man may die possessed of."

"But, my dear dad, you are not going to die for these five-and-twenty
years. My present necessities are imperative: like the daughters of
the horse-leech, they are continually asking for more."

"James! James! how changed you are from the dear unselfish boy of ten
years ago!"

"And very proper too. But do let us be business-like, if you please.
The _rôle_ of the 'heavy father' doesn't suit you at all. Keep
sentiment out of the case, and then we shall do very well. Listen to
my ultimatum. The day I place the Great Mogul Diamond in your hands
you must give me a cheque for fifteen hundred pounds."

"Fifteen hundred pounds!" gasped the old man. "James! James! do you
wish to see me die in a workhouse?"

"Fifteen hundred pounds. Not one penny less," reiterated Madgin,
junior. "What do you mean by a workhouse? You will then have three
thousand five hundred pounds to the good, and will have got the job
done very cheaply. But there is another side to the question. Both you
and I have been counting our chickens before they are hatched. Suppose
I don't succeed in laying hold of the Diamond--what then? And, mind
you, I don't think I shall succeed. To begin with--I don't half
believe in the existence of your big Diamond. It looks to me very much
like a hoax from beginning to end. But granting the existence of the
stone, and that it was stolen by your Russian friend, are not the
chances a thousand to one either that he has disposed of it long ago,
or else that he has hidden it away in some place so safe that the
cleverest burglar in London would be puzzled to get at it. Suppose,
for instance, that it is deposited by him at his banker's: in that
case, what are your expectations worth? Not a brass farthing. No, my
dear dad, the risk of failure is too great, outweighing, as it does,
the chances of success a thousandfold, for me to have the remotest
hope of ever fingering the fifteen hundred pounds. I have, therefore,
to appraise my time and services as the hero of a losing cause. I say
the hero; for I certainly consider that I am about to play the leading
part in the forthcoming drama--that I am the bright particular 'star'
round which the lesser lights will all revolve. Such being the case, I
do not consider that I am rating my services too highly when I name
two hundred guineas as the lowest sum for which I am willing to play
the part of James Jasmin, footman, spy, and amateur detective."

Again Mr. Deedes gasped for breath. He opened his mouth, but words
refused to come. He shook his head with a fine tragic air, and wiped
his eyes.

"Take an hour or two to consider of it," said the son, indulgently.
"If you agree to my proposition, I shall want it put down in black and
white, and properly signed. If you do not agree to it, I start back
for town by this night's mail."

"James, James, you are one too many for me!" said the old man,
pathetically. "Let us go and dine."

The first thing Madgin junior did after they got back to the hotel was
to place before his father a sheet of note paper, an inkstand, and a
pen. "Write," he said; and the old man wrote to his dictation:--


"I, Solomon Madgin, on the part of Lady Pollexfen, of Dupley Walls, do
hereby promise and bind myself to pay over into the hands of my son,
James Madgin, the sum of fifteen hundred pounds (1500_l_.) on the day
that the aforesaid James Madgin places safely in my hands the stone
known as the Great Mogul Diamond.

"Should the aforesaid James Madgin, from causes beyond his own
control, find himself unable to obtain possession of the said Diamond,
I, Solomon Madgin, bind myself to reimburse him in the sum of two
hundred guineas (210_l_.) as payment in full for the time and labour
expended by him in his search for the Great Mogul Diamond."

(Signed) "Solomon Madgin.

"July 21st, 18--."


Mr. Madgin threw down the pen when he had signed his name, and
chuckled quietly to himself. "You don't think, dear boy, that a
foolish paper like that would be worth anything in a court of law?" he
said, interrogatively.

"As a legal document it would probably be laughed at," said Madgin
junior. "But in another point of view I have no doubt that it would
carry with it a certain moral weight. For instance, suppose the claim
embodied in this paper were disputed, and I were compelled to resort
to ulterior measures, the written promise given by you might not be
found legally binding, but, on the other hand, neither Lady Pollexfen
nor you would like to see that document copied _in extenso_ into all
the London papers, nor the whole of your remarkable scheme for the
recovery of the Great Mogul Diamond detailed by the plaintiff in open
court, to be talked over next morning through the length and breadth
of England. 'Extraordinary Case between a Lady of Rank and an Actor.'
How would that read, eh?"

"My dear James, let me shake hands with you," exclaimed the old man
with emotion. "You are a most extraordinary young man. I am proud of
you, my dear boy, I am indeed. What a pity that you adopted the stage
as your profession! You ought to have entered the law. In the law you
would have risen,--nothing could have kept you down."

"That is as it may be," returned James. "If I am satisfied with my
profession you have no cause to grumble. But here comes dinner."

Mr. James Madgin was first low comedian at one of the transpontine
theatres. The height of his ambition was to have the offer of an
engagement from one of the West-end managers. Only give him the
opportunity, and he felt sure that he could work his way with a
cultivated audience. When a lad of sixteen he had run away from home
with a company of strolling players, and from that time he had been a
devoted follower of Thespis. He had roughed it patiently in the
provinces for years, his only consolation during a long season of
poverty and neglect arising from the conviction that he was slowly but
surely improving himself in the difficult art he had chosen as his
mode of earning his daily bread. When the manager of the Royal Tabard,
then on a provincial tour, picked him out from all his brother actors,
and offered him a metropolitan engagement, James Madgin thought
himself on the high road to fame and fortune. Time had served to show
him the fallacy of his expectations. He had been four years at the
Royal Tabard, during the whole of which time he had been in receipt of
a tolerable salary for his position--that of first low comedian; but
fame and fortune seemed still as far from his grasp as ever. With
opportunity given him, he had hoped one day to electrify the town. But
that hope was now buried very deep down in his heart, and if ever
brought out, like an "old property," to be looked at and turned about,
its only greeting was a quiet sneer, after which it was relegated to
the limbo whence it had been disinterred. James Madgin had given up
the expectation of ever shining in the theatrical system as a "great
star;" he was trying to content himself with the thought of living and
dying a respectable mediocrity,--useful, ornamental even, in his
proper sphere, but certainly never destined to set the Thames on fire.
The manager of the Tabard had recently died, and at present James
Madgin was in want of an engagement.

As father and son sat together at table, you might, knowing their
relationship to each other, have readily detected a certain likeness
between them; but it was a likeness of expression rather than of
features, and would scarcely have been noticed by any casual observer.
Madgin junior was a fresh-complexioned, sprightly young fellow of six
or seven-and-twenty, with dark, frank-looking eyes, a prominent nose,
and thin mobile lips. He had dark-brown hair, closely cropped; and, as
became one of his profession, he was guiltless of either beard or
moustache. Like Mirpah, he inherited his eyes and nose from his
mother, but in no other feature could he be said to resemble his
beautiful sister.

Father and son were very merry over dinner, and did not spare the wine
afterwards. The old man could not sufficiently admire the shrewd
business-like aptitude shown by his son in their recent conference.
The latter's extraction of a written promise from his own father was
an action that the elder man could fully appreciate; it was a stroke
of business that touched him to the heart, and made him feel proud of
his "dear James."

"But how will you manage about waiting at table?" asked Solomon of his
son as they strolled out together to smoke their cigars on the little
bridge by the hotel. "I am afraid that you will betray your ignorance,
and break down when you come to be put to the test."

"Never fear; I shall pull through somehow," answered James. "I am not
so ignorant on such matters as you may suppose. Geary used to say that
I did the flunkey business better than any man he ever had at the
Tabard: I have always been celebrated for my footmen. Of course I am
quite aware that the real article is very different from its stage
counterfeit, but I have actually been at some pains to study the genus
in its different varieties, and to arrive at some knowledge of the
special duties it has to perform. One of our supers had been footman
in the family of a well-known marquis, and from him I picked up a good
deal of useful information. Then, whenever I have been out to a swell
dinner of any kind, I have always kept my eye on the fellows who
waited at table. So, what with one thing and what with another, I
don't think I shall make any very terrible blunders."

"I hope not, or else Mr. Cleon will give you your _congé_, and that
will spoil everything. Further, as regards the mulatto, I have a word
or two to say to you. It is quite evident to me that he is the
presiding genius at Bon Repos. If you wish to retain your situation
you must pay court to him far more than to M. Platzoff, with whom,
indeed, it is doubtful whether you will ever come into personal
contact. You must therefore, my dear boy, swallow your pride for the
time being, and take care to let the mulatto see that you regard him
as a patron to whose kindness you hold yourself deeply indebted."

"All that I can do, and more, to serve my own ends," answered the son.
"Your words are words of wisdom, and shall live in my memory."

Mr. Madgin stopped with his son till summoned by the whistle of the
last steamer. The two bade each other an affectionate farewell. When
next they met it would be as strangers.

Mr. Cleon and the landlord were enjoying the cool of the evening and
their cigars outside the house as Mr. Deedes walked up to the Jolly
Fishers. He stopped for a moment to speak to them.

"I had a note this morning from my friend Mr. Madgin of Dupley Walls,"
he said, "in which that gentleman informs me that the young man, James
Jasmin, will be with you in the course of the day after to-morrow at
the latest. He hopes that Jasmin will suit you, and he is evidently
much pleased that a position has been offered him in an establishment
in every way so unexceptionable as that of Bon Repos."

The mulatto's white teeth glistened in the twilight. Evidently he was
pleased. He muttered a few words in reply. Mr. Deedes bowed
courteously, wished him and the landlord a very good night, and
withdrew.

Late in the afternoon of the day but one following that of his visit
to Newby-bridge, as Mr. Deedes was busy with a London newspaper three
or four days old, the landlord ushered a young man into his room, who,
with a bow and a carrying of the forefinger to his forehead, announced
himself as James Jasmin from Dupley Walls.

"Don't you go, landlord," said Mr. Deedes; "I may want you." Then he
deliberately put on his gold-rimmed glasses, and proceeded to take a
leisurely survey of the new comer, who was dressed in a neat (but not
new) suit of black, and was standing in a respectful attitude, and
slowly brushing his hat with one sleeve of his coat.

"So you are James Jasmin from Dupley Walls, are you?" asked Mr.
Deedes, looking him slowly down from head to feet.

"Yes, sir,--I am the party, sir," answered James.

"Weil, Jasmin, and how did you leave my friend Mr. Madgin? and what is
the latest news from Dupley Walls?"

"Master and family all pretty well, sir, thank you. Master has got a
tenant for the old house, and the family will all start for the
continent next week."

"Well, Jasmin, I hope you will contrive to suit your new employer as
well as you appear to have suited my friend. Landlord, let him have
some dinner, and he had better perhaps wait here till Mr. Cleon comes
down this evening."

When Mr. Cleon arrived a couple of hours later Jasmin was duly
presented to him. The mulatto scrutinized him keenly and seemed
pleased with his appearance, which was decidedly superior to that of
the ordinary run of Jeameses. He finished by asking him for his
testimonials.

"I have none with me, sir," answered Jasmin, discreetly emphasizing the
_sir_. "I can only refer you to my late master, Mr. Madgin of Dupley
Walls, who will gladly speak as to my qualifications and integrity."

"That being the case I will take you for the present on the
recommendation of Mr. Deedes, and will write Mr. Madgin in the course
of a post or two. You can go up to Bon Repos at once, and I will
induct you into your new duties to-morrow."

Jasmin thanked Mr. Cleon respectfully and withdrew. Ten minutes later,
with his modest valise in his hand, he set out for his new home. He
and Mr. Deedes did not see each other again. Next day Mr. Deedes
announced that he was summoned home by important letters. He bade the
landlord and Cleon a friendly farewell, and left early on the
following morning in time to catch the first train from Windermere
going south.



CHAPTER VIII.
MADGIN JUNIOR'S FIRST REPORT.


Mr. Madgin, senior, lost no time after his arrival at home before
hastening up to Dupley Walls to see Lady Pollexfen. He had a brief
conference with Mirpah while discussing his modest chop and glass of
bitter ale; and he found time to read a letter which had arrived for
him some days previously from the London diamond merchant whom he had
employed to make inquiries as to whether any such gem as the Great
Mogul had been offered for sale at any of the great European marts
during the past twenty years. The letter was an assurance that no such
stone had been in the market, nor was any such known to be in the
hands of any private individual.

Mr. Madgin took the letter with him to Dupley Walls. In her grim way
Lady Pollexfen seemed greatly pleased to see him. She was all
impatience to hear what news he had to tell her. But Mr. Madgin had
his reservations; he did not deem it advisable to detail to her
ladyship, step by step, all that he had done. Her sense of honour
might revolt at certain things he had found it necessary to do in
furtherance of the great object he had in view. He told her of his
inquiries among the London diamond merchants, and read to her the
letter he had received from one of them. Then he went on to describe
Bon Repos and its owner from the glimpses he had had of both. For all
such details her ladyship betrayed a curiosity that seemed as if it
would never be satisfied. He next went on to inform her that he had
succeeded in placing his son as footman at Bon Repos, and that
everything now depended on the discoveries James might succeed in
making. But nothing was said as to the false pretences and the changed
name under which Madgin junior had entered M. Platzoff's household.
Those were details which Mr. Madgin kept judiciously to himself. Her
ladyship was perfectly satisfied with his report; she was more than
satisfied--she was pleased. She was very sanguine as to the existence
of the diamond, and also as to its retention by M. Platzoff; far more
so, in fact, than Mr. Madgin himself was. But the latter was too
shrewd a man of business to parade his doubts of success before a
client who paid so liberally, so long as her hobby was ridden after
her own fashion. Mr. Madgin's chief aim in life was to ride other
people's hobbies, and be well paid for his jockeyship.

"I am highly gratified, Mr. Madgin," said her ladyship, "by the style,
_pleine de finesse_, in which you have so far conducted this delicate
investigation. I will not ask you what your next step is to be. You
know far better than I can tell you what ought to be done. I leave the
matter with confidence in your hands."

"Your ladyship is very kind," observed Mr. Madgin, deferentially. "I
will do my best to deserve a continuance of your good opinion."

"As week after week goes by, Mr. Madgin," resumed Lady Pollexfen, "the
conviction seems to take deeper root within me that that man--that
villain--M. Platzoff, has my son's diamond still in his possession. I
have a sort of spiritual consciousness that such is the ease. My
waking intuitions, my dreams by night, all point to the same end. You,
with your cold worldly sense, may laugh at such things; we women, with
our finer organization, know how often the truth comes to us on mystic
wings. The diamond will yet be mine!"

"What nonsense women sometimes talk," said Mr. Madgin contemptuously
to himself, as he walked back through the park. "Who would believe
that my lady, so sensible on most things, could talk such utter
rubbish. But women have a way of leaping to results, and ignoring
processes, that is simply astounding to men of common sense. The
diamond hers, indeed! Although I have been so successful so far, there
is as much difference between what I have done and what has yet to be
done as there is between the simple alphabet and a mathematical
theorem. To-morrow's post ought to bring me a letter from Bon Repos."

The morrow's post did bring Mr. Madgin a letter from Bon Repos. The
writer of it was not his son, but Cleon. It was addressed, as a matter
of course, to Dupley Walls, of which place the mulatto had been led to
believe Mr. Madgin was the proprietor. The note, which was couched in
tolerable English, was simply a request to be furnished with a
testimonial as to the character and abilities of James Jasmin, late
footman at Dupley Walls. Mr. Madgin replied by return of post as
under:--


"Dupley Walls,

"July 27th.

"Sir,--In reply to your favour of the 25th inst., inquiring as to the
character and respectability of James Jasmin, late a footman in my
employ, I beg to say that I can strongly recommend him, and have much
pleasure in so doing, for any similar employment under you. Jasmin was
with me for several years; during the whole time I found him to be
trustworthy, sober, and intelligent in an eminent degree. Had I not
been reducing my establishment previous to a lengthened residence in
the south of Europe, I should certainly have retained Jasmin in the
position which he has occupied for so long a time with credit to
himself and with satisfaction to me.

           "I have the honour, Sir, to remain,

                      "Your obedient servant,

                           "Solomon Madgin.

"--Cleon, Esq.,
     Bon Repos,
       Windermere."


After writing and despatching the above epistle, over the composition
of which he chuckled to himself several times, Mr. Madgin was obliged
to wait, with what contentment was possible to him, the receipt of a
communication from his son. But one day passed after another without
bringing any news from Bon Repos, till Mr. Madgin grew fearful that
some disaster had befallen both James and his scheme. At length he
made up his mind to wait two days longer, and should no letter come
within that time, to start at once for Windermere. Fortunately his
anxiety was relieved and the journey rendered unnecessary by the
receipt, next day, of a long letter from his son. It was Mirpah who
took it from the postman's hand, and Mirpah took it to her father in
high glee. She knew the writing and deciphered the post-mark. For once
in his life Mr. Madgin was too agitated to read. He put his hand to
his side, and motioned Mirpah to open the letter.

"Read it," he said in a husky voice, as she was about to hand it to
him. So Mirpah sat down near her father and read what follows:--


     "Bon Repos,
July, some date, but I'll be
     hanged if I know what.

"My dear Dad,--In some rustic nook reclining, Silken tresses softly
twining, Far-off bells so faintly ringing, While we list the blackbird
singing, Merrily his roundelay. There! I composed those lines this
morning during the process of shaving. I don't think they are very
bad. I put them at the beginning of my letter so as to make sure that
you will read them, a process of which I might reasonably be doubtful
had I left them for the fag end of my communication. Learn, sir, that
you have a son who is a born poet!!!

"But now to business.

"Don't hurry over my letter, dear dad; don't run away with the idea
that I have any grand discovery to lay before you. My epistle will be
merely a record of trifles and commonplaces, and that simply from the
fact that I have nothing better to write about. To me, at least, they
seem nothing but trifles. For you they may possess an occult
significance of which I know nothing.

"In the first place. On the day following that of your departure from
Windermere, I was duly inducted by Cleon into my new duties. They are
few in number, and by no means difficult. So far I have contrived to
get through them without any desperate blunder. Another thing I have
done of which you will be pleased to hear: I have contrived to
ingratiate myself with the mulatto, and am in high favour with him.
You were right in your remarks; he is worth cultivation, in so far
that he is all-powerful in our little establishment. M. Platzoff never
interferes in the management of Bon Repos. Everything is left to
Cleon; and whatever the mulatto may be in other respects, so far as I
can judge he is quite worthy of the trust reposed in him. I believe
him to be thoroughly attached to his master.

"Of M. Platzoff I have very little to tell you. Even in his own house
and among his own people he is a recluse. He has his own special
rooms, and three-fourths of his time is spent in them. Above all
things he dislikes to see strange faces about him, and I have been
instructed by Cleon to keep out of his way as much as possible. Even
the old servants, people who have been under his roof for years, let
themselves be seen by him as seldom as need be. In person he is a
little withered-up yellow-skinned man, as dry as a last year's pippin,
but very keen, bright, and vivacious. He speaks such excellent English
that he must have lived in this country for many years. One thing I
have discovered about him, that he is a great smoker. He has a room
set specially apart for the practice of the sacred rite to which he
retires every day as soon as dinner is over, and from which he seldom
emerges again till it is time to retire for the night. Cleon alone is
privileged to enter this room. I have never yet been inside it.
Equally forbidden ground is M. Platzoff's bedroom, and a small study
beyond, all _en suite_.

"Those who keep servants keep spies under their roof. It has been part
of my purpose to make myself agreeable to the older domestics at Bon
Repos, and from them I have picked up several little facts which all
Mr. Cleon's shrewdness has not been able entirely to conceal. In this
way I have learned that M. Platzoff is a confirmed opium-smoker. That
once, or sometimes twice, a week he shuts himself up in his room and
smokes himself into a sort of trance, in which he remains unconscious
for hours. That at such times Cleon has to look after him as though he
were a child; and that it depends entirely on the mulatto as to
whether he ever emerges from his state of coma, or stops in it till he
dies. The accuracy of this latter statement, however, I must beg leave
to doubt.

"Further gossip has informed me, whether truly or falsely I am not in
a position to judge, that M. Platzoff is a refugee from his own
country. That were he to set foot on the soil of Russia, a life-long
banishment to Siberia would be the mildest fate that he could expect;
and that neither in France nor in Austria would he be safe from
arrest. The people who come as guests to Bon Repos are, so I am
informed, in nearly every instance foreigners, and, as a natural
consequence, they are all set down by the servants' gossip as red-hot
republicans, thirsting for the blood of kings and aristocrats, and
willing to put a firebrand under every throne in Europe. In fact,
there cannot be a popular outbreak against bad government in any part
of Europe without M. Platzoff and his friends being credited with
having at least a finger in the pie.

"All these statements and suppositions you will of course accept _cum
grano salis_. They may have their value as serving to give you a rude
and exaggerated idea as to what manner of man is the owner of Bon
Repos; and it is quite possible that some elements of truth may be
hidden in them. To me, M. Platzoff seems nothing more than a mild old
gentleman; a little eccentric, it may be, as differing from our
English notions in many things. Not a smiling fiend in patent boots
and white cravat, whose secret soul is bent on murder and rapine; but
a shy valetudinarian, whose only firebrand is a harmless fusee
wherewith to light a pipe of fragrant Cavendish.

"One permanent guest we have at Bon Repos--a guest who was here before
my arrival, and of whose departure no signs are yet visible. That is
why I call him permanent. His name is Ducie, and he is an ex-captain
in the English army. He is a tall, handsome man of four or
five-and-forty, and is a thorough gentleman both in manners and
appearance. I like him much, and he has taken quite a fancy to me. One
thing I can see quite plainly: that he and Cleon are quietly at
daggers drawn. Why they should be so I cannot tell, unless it is that
Cleon is jealous of Captain Ducie's influence over Platzoff, although
the difference in social position of the two men ought to preclude any
feeling of that kind. Captain Ducie might be M. Platzoff's very good
friend without infringing in the slightest degree on the privileges of
Cleon as his master's favourite servant. On one point I am certain:
that the mulatto suspects Ducie of some purpose or covert scheme in
making so long a stay at Bon Repos. He has asked me to act as a sort
of spy on the captain's movements; to watch his comings and goings,
his hours of getting up and going to bed, and to report to him, Cleon,
anything that I may see in the slightest degree out of the common way.

"It was not without a certain inward qualm that I accepted the
position thrust upon me by Cleon. In accepting it I flatter myself
that I took a common-sense view of the case. In the _petite_ drama of
real life in which I am now acting an uneventful part, I look upon
myself as a 'general utility' man, bound to enact any and every
character which my manager may think proper to entrust into my hands.
Now, you are my manager, and if it seem to me conducive to your
interests (you being absent) that, in addition to my present
character, I should be 'cast' for that of spy or amateur detective, I
see no good reason why I should refuse it. So far, however, all my
Fouché-like devices have resulted in nothing. The captain's comings
and goings--in fact, all his movements--are of a most commonplace and
uninteresting kind. But I have this advantage, that the character I
have undertaken enables me to assume, with Cleon's consent, certain
privileges such as, under other circumstances, would never have been
granted me. Further, should I succeed in discovering anything of
importance, it by no means follows that I should consider myself bound
to reveal the same to Cleon. It might be greatly more to my interest
to retain any such facts for my own use. Meanwhile, I wait and watch.

"Thus you will perceive, my dear dad, that an element of interest--a
dramatic element--is being slowly evolved out of the commonplace
duties of my present position. This nucleus of interest may grow and
develope into something startling; or it may die slowly out and expire
for lack of material to feed itself upon. In any case, dear dad, you
may expect a frequent feuilleton from

"Your affectionate son,

"J. M., otherwise

"James Jasmin."


"P.S.--I should not like to be a real flunkey all my life. Such a
position is not without its advantages to men of a lazy turn, but it
is terribly soul-subduing. Not a sign yet of the G. M. D."


"There is nothing much in all this to tell her ladyship," said Mr.
Madgin, as he took off his spectacles and refolded the letter. "Still,
I do not think it by any means a discouraging report. If James's
patience only equal his shrewdness and audacity, and if there be
really anything to worm out, he will be sure to make himself master of
it in the course of time. Ah! if he had only my patience, now--the
patience of an old man who has won half his battles by playing a
waiting game."

"Is it not possible that Lady Pollexfen may want you to read the
letter?"

"It is quite possible. But James's irreverent style is hardly suited
in parts for her ladyship's ears. You, dear child, must make an
improved copy of the letter. Your own good taste will tell you which
sentences require to be altered or expunged. Here and there you may
work in a neat compliment to your father; as coming direct from James
her ladyship will not deem it out of place--it will not sound fulsome
in her ears, and will serve to remind her of what she too often
forgets--that in Solomon Madgin she has a faithful steward, who ought
to be better rewarded than he is. Write out the copy at once, my
child, and I will take it up to Dupley Walls the first thing to-morrow
morning."



CHAPTER IX.
LOST AS SOON AS FOUND.


Janet's life at this time was a very quiet one; but the long years she
had spent in France had been so tame and colourless, so wanting in
home pleasures and endearments, that, by contrast, her days at Dupley
Walls were full of variety and of that sweet charm which springs from
a knowledge that you are at once appreciated and loved.

Janet's love for Captain George was as yet a timid callow fledgling
that could do nothing but flutter in the nest where it was born. Very
pretty to look at, but not to be looked at too often, for fear lest
its hiding-place should be found out and some rude hand should take it
unawares. Her love for Sister Agnes was of a different texture, and
made up the real quiet happiness of her life. She felt like a plant
that has been lifted out of the cold corner in which it has found the
elements of a stunted growth and set to bask in a flood of gracious
sunshine. In such cases the result is not difficult to foretell. The
plant grows more and more beautiful under the sweet influence that has
been brought to bear upon it, and repays the sunshine with its most
fragrant blossoms. In such like was Janet's young life nourished and
enriched by the love that existed between her and Sister Agnes. Her
inner life developed itself unconsciously; her heart grew in wisdom,
and all the finer qualities of her nature began to unfold themselves
one by one as delicate leaves unfold themselves in the sun.

Janet was kept very closely to her duties by Lady Pollexfen. Still,
each day brought its little interregnums--odd hours, or even
half-hours, when she was not wanted by her task-mistress--when her
ladyship was sleeping, or lunching, or discussing private matters with
Mr. Madgin, or what not. By far the greater part of these stolen
moments were spent with Sister Agnes. More would have been so spent
had not the invalid given strict injunctions that a certain portion of
each day should be set apart by Janet for out-door exercise. Sister
Agnes was far too weak to accompany her. As the summer days went on
she gathered not strength but weakness, and more and more clearly she
began to discern the end that was coming so surely upon her. But as
yet this was a solemn secret known only to herself and to her doctor.
By no one else within Dupley Walls was it even suspected. Outwardly
there was no change in her from day to day, or one so slight that
those who were in the habit of seeing her every few hours never
perceived it.

Her window had a pleasant outlook across the park. Her couch was
wheeled close up to it, and there she lay from early in the forenoon
till late in the afternoon, a pale spiritual-eyed lady, slowly dying,
although neither by word nor look was there any betrayal of that fact
to those about her. Janet, we may be sure, had no suspicion of it.
Never a morning came but her first inquiry was as to whether Sister
Agnes felt any better.

"A little better this morning, I think, dear," Sister Agnes would
smilingly say. "Or if not stronger, at least no weaker than I was
yesterday." And for the time being she would feel that her statement
was true. Later on in the day some small portion of vitality would
seem to fade out of her which the freshness and strength of the
following morning could not wholly replace. But Janet hoped with the
hopefulness of youth that when the hot languorous days of summer
should give place to the chastened heats of autumn health and strength
would come back to Sister Agnes; hoped it devoutly, although she knew
that should such be the case she herself would no longer be needed by
Lady Pollexfen, but that she should have to go out into the world and
fight for her daily bread with such small skill as there might be in
her. Meanwhile she waited on Sister Agnes, and ministered to her
simple needs as much as lay in her power to do so. To gather a fresh
bouquet every morning for the room of her she loved so dearly was one
of Janet's pleasantest occupations. Then there was always some new and
interesting book to read aloud, with frequent interludes of music and
conversation. Now and then an odd hour or two would be devoted to the
science of the needle. Happy days!--days such as Janet, if she were to
live to be a hundred years old, could never forget.

Now that she had become more accustomed to Lady Pollexfen and her
peculiar ways, the duties of her position ceased to press so heavily
upon Janet. She found, to her surprise, that Lady Pollexfen's often
positively cruel speeches no longer wounded her feelings so deeply as
they did at first. The dislike and fear with which she had formerly
regarded the strange old woman began to give place to a gentler
feeling--to one of profound pity, and in this very pity she found an
armour of proof against all the slights and contumely with which she
was treated. One thing must be said in favour of Lady Pollexfen.
However capricious she might be in her own treatment of Janet, the
servants were given to understand that in all things Miss Holme was to
be regarded as a young gentlewoman, and not as one of themselves.
Sometimes her ladyship would be overcome by a fit of graciousness,
which, however, never lasted more than a day or two at a time; but
while it did last Janet felt that her life was a very pleasant one.
Such occasions were exceptional. Lady Pollexfen's normal mood was one
of mingled harshness and suspicion, just rubbed over with a sort of
cynical _laissez faire_-ism that to a girl of Janet's disposition was
peculiarly distasteful. Janet never answered her taunts and bitter
speeches, but now and then a flash of scorn from her beautiful eyes,
or a sudden rush of colour to her cheek, showed that the barbed words
had struck home. Janet's icy meekness had often the effect of
irritating her ladyship far more than any angry retort would have
done. At the latter she would merely have laughed, but Janet's
demeanour seemed suggestive of a fine though hidden contempt, and
betrayed an indifference to her taunts that robbed her of half her
pleasure in the utterance of them. As a consequence, there being no
real faults to lay hold of, she sometimes accused Janet of those
faults from which she was most free.

"Who and what are you, Miss Holme," she one day asked, in her scornful
way, "that you should give yourself the airs of a _grande dame_ when
in my presence? Judging from your demeanour, you and not I might be
the mistress of Dupley Walls. Pride ill becomes a dependent like
you--a mere nobody--a person who has eaten the bread of charity from
the day of her birth. If you had even the excuse of good looks! But
that is quite out of the question. If you are in any way remarkable,
it is for an incurable _gaucherie_, and for a stolidity of intellect
that would not discredit a ploughboy."

It was only the teaching and example of Sister Agnes that kept Janet
on such occasions from breaking into open rebellion, and bidding
farewell for ever to Dupley Walls. But the gentle counsels of the sick
woman prevailed, and by degrees these bitter speeches lost much of
their sting.

Sometimes, when her mood was more than ordinarily spiteful, her
ladyship would touch Janet's feelings in a different way. It was part
of Janet's duties to assist Lady Pollexfen with the use of her arm as
the latter walked from room to room, or on the terrace outside. As the
two were walking staidly along, the old lady would sometimes pinch
Janet's arm viciously between her thumb and finger. The first time
this happened, Janet started and gave utterance to a little shriek.

"What is the matter, child?" said her ladyship, stopping suddenly in
her walk. "Have you seen a mouse, or what has frightened you? Pray try
to keep your nerves under better control."

After that first time, Janet bore the infliction in stoical silence,
but her arm was seldom without two or three blue and black finger
marks as evidences of the petty torture she had undergone. To Sister
Agnes she made no mention of this fresh mode of annoyance. The
knowledge of it would only have jarred the sick woman's feelings still
more, and would not have spared Janet the infliction.

Once every forenoon, between the hours of ten and twelve, Lady
Pollexfen marched in her slow and stately fashion, and leaning on
Janet's arm, from her own rooms on one side of the house to those of
Sister Agnes on the opposite side, there to make formal inquiry as to
the state of the latter's health. She never stayed longer than three
or four minutes at each visit, and she never sat down. She seemed to
regard these daily visits as a matter of duty, and as such she
conscientiously included them in each day's programme of things to be
done but she spent no more time over them than was absolutely
necessary. Sometimes Janet, on returning alone to the sick woman's
room, soon after one of these visits, would find Sister Agnes in
tears. Those were the only occasions on which her habitual serenity
seemed to be seriously disturbed. But at sight of Janet's loving face
her tears soon ceased to flow.

About this time Father Spiridion began to be seen more frequently at
Dupley Walls. His visits were to Sister Agnes. Janet had contracted
quite a liking for the kindly old man. He was a strange mixture of
shrewdness and benignity, of prejudice and out-of-the-way knowledge.
He never met Janet without a smile and a few words of pleasant
greeting. She was too old now to have sweetmeats given her, so he gave
her his blessing instead. Now, as of old, one of her greatest treats
was to hear him play the grand old organ in the gallery.

Slowly and almost imperceptibly Sister Agnes faded from day to day,
and those most about her suspected nothing. But at daybreak one
morning there was a ringing of bells, and Dr. Graile was sent for in
hot haste, and by-and-by it was reported through the house that Sister
Agnes had become suddenly worse, and that her life was in danger.
Janet was like one distracted. She was forbidden the room, and three
whole days and nights passed away before she saw again the face of her
she so dearly loved. She besieged the doctor and the nurse with
questions, but from neither of those functionaries could anything
beyond a grave shake of the head be elicited. How she got through her
routine of duties with Lady Pollexfen she could never afterwards
remember. Happily during those few days her ladyship was less exacting
than common--more silent and subdued, and given to long fits of
absorbing self-communion.

On the fourth morning a message came to Janet that she was wanted in
Sister Agnes's room. She went tremblingly. As she put her hand on the
door it was opened from the inside, and Lady Pollexfen came out. Janet
had never seen such an expression on her face before. It was set and
colourless, and full of a deep frowning trouble. The trouble sprang
from her heart: the frown was a visible sign of her intense will--of
her unsparing determination to trample that trouble under foot and put
it away from her for ever. Her eyes were fixed straight before her,
but seemed to see nothing. Her tall thin figure looked as upright and
rigid as if east in bronze. She swept slowly past Janet without
appearing to have seen her.

Janet passed forward into the little sitting-room. She saw with an
aching heart that this morning the sofa was without its occupant.
After a word of warning from the nurse, she was allowed to enter the
bedroom: then the door was closed behind her, and she and Sister Agnes
were left alone.

Janet could not repress the low cry that sprang to her lips at the
first glimpse of the changed face before her. On it there now rested
the unmistakable seal of death. Janet flung herself on her knees by
the side of the bed in an agony of grief, and pressed to her lips the
worn white hand that was extended to greet her.

"My poor darling--my poor Janet!" was all that Sister Agnes could
murmur. There were no tears in her eyes, but on her lips a smile of
heavenly contentment.

Mindful of the caution that had been given her, Janet, after a few
minutes, contrived to subdue in some measure the outward signs of the
grief that was rending her heart.

"Come nearer," whispered Sister Agnes; "let me clasp you in my arms;
let me feel for a little while that you are all my own. I have
something to tell you, and not much time to tell it in. Kiss me,
darling, and then listen to what I have to say without interrupting
me."

When Janet had nestled to the side of the sick woman, and they had
kissed each other fondly, Sister Agnes spoke again. Her words were low
but clear; every syllable fell distinctly on her listener's ears.
Occasionally she had to pause for breath, but Janet never spoke a word
till she had done.

"It is a strange confession, dear Janet, that I am about to make," she
began. "What I have now to tell you I bound myself by a solemn oath
many years ago never to reveal till my dying day. That day has come at
last. A few short hours will now end all. I have taken counsel with
Father Spiridion, from whom I have no secrets. He has given me leave
to speak. To-day is my last day on earth, and my oath is no longer
binding. I could not have died happy had I carried my secret with me
to the grave. But before I go any further, you must give me your
sacred word never to reveal to Lady Pollexfen, nor indeed to any one
else, what I am about to tell you, without having first obtained the
sanction of Father Spiridion and Major Strickland to your taking such
a step. Later on you will understand fully my reasons for asking for
such a promise."

Sister Agnes paused, as if waiting for a reply. But Janet could not
speak. A long, lingering pressure of the arms was her only answer. But
it was an answer that satisfied the dying woman. She pressed her lips
fondly to the tear-stained, face that was nestling on her shoulder,
and then went on with her narration.

"Dearest, the time has now come for me to lift from off your life the
weight of that mystery which has lain upon it ever since you were
little more than a lisping child,--since you first began to feel,
think, and understand, and to wonder why you were unlike other
children in having no mother nor home of your own. The secret of your
birth shall be to you a secret no longer. All these years, darling,
you have not been without a mother's love, though you yourself might
know it not. Janet, my darling! my daughter! it is your mother whose
arms are round you now. Hush, sweet one! do not speak. My little
strength will hardly serve to carry me to the end. Yes, dear one, I am
your mother, and Lady Pollexfen is your grandmother; I am her
ladyship's youngest and only living child. Why all these things have
been kept from you for so long a time, why you have lived
unacknowledged under the roof that should have held you as its
greatest treasure, will be duly revealed to you after my death.
Attached to this silver chain is a tiny key that will open a box which
will be given to you by Father Spiridion. Inside that box you will
find a paper written by me, which will tell you everything relating to
your birth and history that it is needful for you to know. The good
father and Major Strickland will be your counsellors; put yourself and
your cause implicitly into their hands, and leave the rest to a Higher
Power. Sweet one, I have now told you all that it is needful for you
to know while I am still with you--all that my strength will allow me
to say. We can be together but a brief while longer; let us during
that time forget everything save that we are mother and child."

"Oh, mamma, mamma!" sobbed Janet, "are we brought together after all
these years only to part again in so short a time?"

"Even so, dearest. And why should we grieve that such is the case? Our
parting is only for a time. No conviction was ever more deeply
impressed upon me than that is. As I stand now, earthly troubles and
sorrows have no power to touch me. Even the knowledge that I am about
to separate from my Janet cannot quench the solemn joy that fills my
soul. I am so close to eternity that a few years seem to me but as one
day. And when that brief, troubled day shall be at an end, I pray that
my daughter and I may meet again in that heavenly rest into which all
those shall enter who have guided their footsteps aright."

But Janet could not be consoled.

Later on in the day Sister Agnes sent for her again, and mother and
daughter spent more than an hour together in sacred communion. In the
dusk of evening Lady Pollexfen went again to her sick daughter's room.
What passed at that last interview was known to themselves alone. Lady
Pollexfen never again saw her daughter alive. Then Father Spiridion
administered the last offices of his church to the dying woman. About
nine o'clock the doctor drove up in his gig. But the time when he
could be of service was gone by. At last mother and daughter were left
alone together, and alone they remained all through the dark hours. At
daybreak Father Spiridion glided into the room. The fast-sinking woman
opened her eyes and smiled.

"Play the _Jubilate_ for me," she whispered, "and open wide the
casement."

The deep voice of the organ, exultant, yearning, solemn, thrilled
through the room; and on its wings, through the faint grey of the
autumn morning, the soul of Sister Agnes was borne away.

"Forget not that we shall meet again," were her last words.



CHAPTER X.
THE CONFESSION.


Miss Holme, Father Spiridion, and Major Strickland were seated
together in the little parlour of the latter on a certain morning a
few weeks after the death of Sister Agnes. The major had been over to
Dupley Walls to beg a holiday for Janet, and had brought her back with
him. This was the day appointed for the opening of the box that had
been left in the father's charge.

Janet in her black dress looked pale and worn, but very lovely. She
had been obliged in some measure to conceal the outward tokens of her
grief for fear of exciting the suspicions of Lady Pollexfen, and the
effort had lent a touch of sternness to her face such as it had never
worn before. The wound in her heart was as deep as ever it had been,
but she had learned already to control her emotions, and her demeanour
this morning was marked by a gravity and self-restraint that made her
seem older than her years.

When they were all seated at table Father Spiridion produced the box,
a very small affair, made of cedar and hooped with silver. Janet
handed him the key and he proceeded to open it.

"Before making an examination of the contents," he said, turning to
Janet, "it is requisite that I should enlighten you on one or two
points. At the request of Sister Agnes I have informed our friend,
Major Strickland, of the relationship that existed between you and
her; I have told him also that you are the granddaughter of Lady
Pollexfen--two facts with which he was previously unacquainted and
which are a source of great surprise to him. I have further informed
him as to the particular request of Sister Agnes that he should act
with me in this case as trustee or executor for the furtherance of
your interests in whatsoever direction those interests may seem to
lie. Of the contents of this box I have only a general knowledge. I
believe the chief article in it will be found to be a statement,
written out by Sister Agnes, in which will be given such details of
her early life as she has deemed needful for the complete elucidation
of the facts that she was desirous of submitting for our
consideration. Of those details I myself have no knowledge, but with
her relations towards you and Lady Pollexfen I was made acquainted
several years ago under the seal of confession. With your permission
we will now proceed to an examination of the contents of the box."

Father Spiridion opened the box slowly and reverently as though he
could not forget that it had been last closed by the fingers of the
dead. Of the contending emotions by which Janet was agitated it would
be vain to attempt any analysis. She sat with one hand clasped rigidly
in the other, her large luminous eyes fixed steadfastly on Father
Spiridion, her bosom rising and falling rather faster than common, but
looking in other respects as cold and statuesque as though she had
been cut out of some beautiful stone.

The first article produced by Father Spiridion from the box was a
miniature painted on ivory of an exceedingly handsome young man, with
initials in filigree silver at the back. The next article was a large
old-fashioned gold locket containing hair of two different colours
worked into the form of a true-lover's knot. Then came a worn
wedding-ring. Then a marriage-certificate the writing of which was
faded and yellow with age. Next two or three love-letters signed with
the same initials, E.F., as were on the back of the miniature. Last of
all came several sheets of paper stitched together, and folded across,
and endorsed:


   "A Confession.

   "To be read by my daughter, Janet Holme;
    by my old and faithful friend, Major Strickland;
    and by my father-confessor, Father Spiridion;
    by them and by no one else."


Each article as it was produced from the box was, after a cursory
examination, handed over to Janet. She gazed at the portrait and the
locket with no other sign of outward emotion than a closer knitting of
her brows. The wedding-ring she kissed passionately. The certificate
she read carefully twice over, and her face flushed as she read. Then
she refolded it and put it calmly down in its place on the table. The
love-letters were merely glanced at, and were then left for future
consideration. The Confession itself Janet took into her hands for a
moment. She recognised the writing at once. With a deep sigh she gave
it back to the priest.

"Read it aloud, dear Father Spiridion, if you please," she said.

The old man rubbed his spectacles slowly and solemnly, as befitted the
occasion, placed them carefully astride his nose, and after a
preliminary cough, took up the paper and read what follows,--


"My darling Janet,--It is not intended that these lines shall meet
your eye till the hand that writes them is mingled with the dust from
which it came. I have been driven to write what is here set down by
some inward influence--by some occult power working through me, and
giving me no rest till I promised myself that it should be done. For
myself, I have done with the world and its active duties long ago. I
have no longer any interest in it except in so far as I may be
permitted to watch over your fortunes, to love you with the secret
love of a mother who dare not acknowledge her child, and to perform
such small works of charity among the sick and poor as my humble means
may allow of. But as regards you, the case is altogether different.
You are on the verge of womanhood, and life, with all its struggles
and temptations, is still before you. To lift up and clear away the
mystery that has enveloped your childhood and youth, to inform you
what your real position is in that great world into which you are
about to enter, is therefore an act of the simplest justice, and one
which ought no longer to be delayed. Unfortunately the revelation is
one which I am forbidden to make while I am alive, but I am advised
that in the form of a written confession it may be received by you
after my death. These remarks will be better understood by you
when you shall have read the whole of what I am now about to set down.

"I was born at Dupley Walls, the youngest of three children. My
brother Charles, who died in India at the age of twenty, was two years
older, and my sister Eudoxia, who died when she was fourteen, was six
years older than me. When I was three years old I was sent for by my
father's half-sister, a rich maiden lady who lived at Beckley in
Cumberland. It was understood that I was to be regarded as her adopted
child, and that some day the great bulk of her fortune would come to
me. Of my father I remember next to nothing. I never saw him again
after going to live at Beckley. I have been told, and I have reason to
believe it true, that he disliked me, and was glad to be rid of me for
ever. In this respect my sister fared worse than I did. My father
disliked her almost as much as he disliked me, but poor Eudoxia had no
rich aunt to release her from a tyranny that was driving her slowly
into the grave.

"My father, Sir John Pollexfen, was a man of strong passions; cruel
and unbending to a degree where he could be so with impunity. He and
my mother were ill-matched. Knowing as you do, what Lady Pollexfen is
now, how proud, stern, and unyielding, with yet occasional capricious
fits of kindness and generous feeling, you will readily understand how
her married life was one of perpetual discord and soul-fretting
unhappiness. At length she and my father separated in consequence of a
disagreement respecting my brother, and they never saw each other
again till my father lay dying. He carried his dislike of my mother
beyond the grave, in ordering that his body should be kept unburied
for twenty years; that it should remain under whatever roof my mother
might choose to make her permanent residence during that time; and
that my mother should visit it in person at least once a week during
the whole period of twenty years, should her life be spared for so
long a time.

"In the seclusion of Beckley the items of news that reached us from
Dupley Walls were few and far between. I had never been encouraged to
write to either of my parents, and neither of them ever thought of
writing to me. A coldly-worded letter once every six months from my
aunt to her brother, and an equally cold reply a month or two
afterwards, were the sole links that bound me to those I would fain
have loved but could not. At the age of seventeen I knew or remembered
little more of my parents than I should have done had they died on the
day I left Dupley Walls. Had they really been dead I should have
cherished their memory, and thought tenderly of them; but since they
were alive, their cold neglect chilled me to the heart, and withered
every flower of love that ought to have flourished there.

"But I was not unhappy. Although my life at Beckley was one of almost
conventual seclusion, and although my aunt was a woman of
unsympathetic nature and ascetic disposition, the springs of youth
were fresh within me, and who could tell what happiness the future
might not have in store? The situation of the house was a very lonely
one, and there being so little that was attractive to me within doors,
it cannot be wondered at that nearly the whole of my spare time was
spent among the glorious moors and fells by which we were shut in on
every side. My aunt never made any objection to my long solitary
rambles: solitude was congenial to herself, she loved best to be
alone, and to her it seemed only natural and proper that my
disposition in such things should bear some resemblance to her own.

"It was on the occasion of one of these lonely rambles that I first
encountered Mr. Fairfax. He had been out fishing, and was crossing the
moor a little way behind me on his road to the nearest village, when a
sudden thunderstorm came on. In three minutes I should have been
drenched to the skin. Mr. Fairfax saw the emergency, hurried up,
apologized, introduced himself, and insisted on my acceptance of his
waterproof till the rain should have ceased. I loved him from that
first time of seeing him. We met again and again. If a man's oaths may
ever be trusted, he loved me in return. I listened and believed. He
asked me to elope with him, and I told him that if he would make me
his wife I would follow him to the end of the world. He said: 'It will
be my dearest happiness to make you my wife, only you must give me
your solemn promise never to reveal your marriage without having first
obtained my permission to do so. Family reasons compel me to ask this
sacrifice.' To make such a promise implied no sacrifice on my part; it
was not his family but him that I was about to marry, and to my mind
there was something very delicious in the thought of being a
participant in so important a secret.

"But why go into details?--although I could linger over this part of
my story for years. It is sufficient to say that we eloped, and that
we were married the same day at Whitehaven, a few miles away. A friend
of Mr. Fairfax, named Captain Lant, gave me away. The only other
witness to our marriage was the old pew-opener. Immediately after the
marriage we bade farewell to Captain Lant, and went northward into
Scotland. After a happy month spent in the Highlands we came south. I
would fain have stopped to see the wonders of London, of which I had
heard so much at different times, but Mr. Fairfax would only agree to
pass one night there, after which we at once set out for the
Continent. Avoiding Paris and all the large towns, but lingering here
and there in some sweet country nook, we came at length to the borders
of the Lake of Lucerne. Half a mile inland, but overlooking the lake,
and out of the ordinary track of tourists, we found a tiny villa that
was in want of a tenant. Mr. Fairfax took it for a term of six months,
and there we settled down.

"Before leaving Scotland my husband had allowed me to write to my
father and also to my aunt, informing them of my marriage, but
mentioning neither my husband's name nor the place where we were then
living. If any answers were sent, they were to be addressed to me
under my maiden name at one of the London district post-offices. When
we reached town my husband sent to the office in question. There was
only one letter for me. It was from my father, and contained, as
enclosures, my letters to himself and to my aunt. His reply was a
cruel one. In it he told me that he had disowned me for ever. That to
him and to my mother I was as though I had never lived; or rather, as
though I had died on my wedding morn. That they had put on mourning
for me, and looked upon me in all respects as one dead. Finally, he
forbade me ever to communicate with him again either by letter or in
any other way.

"This letter cut me to the quick. In what way it affected my husband I
was unable to judge. He read it through in silence, and then tossed it
contemptuously on one side; nor did he ever allude to it in any way
again.

"I had been so accustomed from childhood upward to exist on such a
very small modicum of love that the sting implanted by my father's
letter would have made no enduring wound had the great compensation of
a husband's enduring love been granted me in place of that which I had
lost. It is true that I was married, and that I had a husband who
loved me; but his love was not of that kind on which my heart could
rest as on a rock against which all the storms of life would beat in
vain. Mr. Fairfax, when he married me, meant that his love should be
of the strong and enduring kind; but by what magic at our command
shall we change freestone into granite, or chalk into marble? How
could I blame Mr. Fairfax for the non-possession of a quality which
Nature had utterly denied him? Constancy was a virtue that he might
dimly comprehend, but which he altogether failed to reduce into the
practice of his daily life.

"The pretty castle I had built on my wedding-day proved to be of the
veriest mushroom growth. The enchanted prince who was to have dwelt
happily in it his whole life long, refused to be confined within such
narrow limits, and razed its golden walls to the ground with a sneer.

"However much I might repine in secret for the loss of that which
could never be mine again, I made no complaint in words. I bore all in
proud silence: my husband never heard a single murmur from my lips.
The decay of his love was not a matter of a day or a week. It was
slow, gradual, sure. I sometimes found myself morbidly trying to
calculate how long a time would elapse before its last grains would
vanish as the million that had gone before had vanished, leaving
nothing but cold indifference behind. There was some slight touch of
comfort in after days in knowing that those few last grains were still
mine on that morning when I saw him for the last time.

"We had lived nearly twelve months on the banks of Lucerne. During
that time my husband had made two journeys to London, on both
occasions going alone, and on both occasions being away from me
exactly fourteen days. He never said a word to me as to the nature of
the business which called him away, and I was too proud to ask him.
Although his wife, I knew absolutely nothing respecting his
antecedents, his actual position in society, or what relatives he had
and who they were. I had married him without asking to be enlightened
on such matters, and he took care afterwards that my ignorance should
remain undisturbed. I knew that there was some mystery in the case. He
had told me as much as that when asking me to swear not to reveal the
fact of our marriage to any one without his express sanction. More
than that I did not seek to know. What did it matter to me who or what
this man's relations were, when the love with which he had bound me to
himself was slowly breaking link by link? But what I did secretly
resent was the fact that all letters addressed to him were fetched by
himself personally from the nearest post-office; and that all letters
written by him were written furtively, as it were, so that not a line
of their contents should be seen by me, and were likewise posted by
himself so that no second pair of eyes should see how they were
addressed.

"At length there came a day when Mr. Fairfax received a letter which
seemed to trouble him more than any he had ever received before during
the brief time I had been his wife. I had no means of judging by whom
it was written. He read it over at least twenty times, and each time
its perusal seemed to leave him more puzzled than he had been before.
Then he put it away, and I did not see it again. But during the two
days that followed before he answered it there was something in his
manner which told me how deeply that letter was centred in his
thoughts. Two or three days still later he announced to me that he was
going on a sketching expedition, and that he might be away for a
couple of weeks. It was not the first time he had made a similar
excuse for leaving me, but he had never before been away for so long a
time. Whenever Mr. Fairfax was absent, a certain Signora Trachini, the
widow of a poor Italian gentleman, came and kept me company at the
villa till his return. This time also she came with her needles, and
her immense balls of cotton, and her well-thumbed breviary. Then my
husband, having packed up all things requisite for his expedition,
bade me a more than ordinarily affectionate farewell, and left me. I
watched him down the winding road that leads to the lake, a peasant
trudging behind with his luggage. At the corner where the large orange
tree grows, he turned and waved his hand. And that was the last that I
ever saw of Edmund Fairfax."



CHAPTER XI.
THE CONFESSION CONTINUED.


"My husband had been about three days gone when bad weather set in.
For several hours the lake was lashed by a wild storm of wind and
rain. Then the rain ceased, and fitful gleams of sunshine lighted up
the landscape, but the wind still blew in fierce troubled gusts, and
so continued for several days. On the sixth day after my husband's
departure I was surprised by a visit from Captain Lant, whom I had not
seen since my wedding-day. He was very grave, but there was nothing in
his looks from which I could augur that he was the bearer of ill news.
He was not a man whom I could ever have liked, but I bade him welcome
for my husband's sake. His first words told me that I had lost that
husband for ever. Mr. Fairfax had been drowned during the storm three
days before, while out sketching in a small boat on the Lake of
Zurich. His body had been recovered; had been recognised by Captain
Lant, in whose company my husband was making the excursion, but who
had not been on the lake; and had been buried the following morning in
the churchyard nearest the scene of the accident. In corroboration of
his story, Captain Lant brought me my husband's vest, his purse, his
ring, his watch, his pencil-case, and a small pocket-book, the whole
of which articles had the appearance of having been in the water for
several hours. I could not doubt the truth of his tale.

"Captain Lant stayed with me, and did all that could be done to
facilitate my arrangements for leaving the villa and returning to
England. Among the luggage which my husband had not taken with him,
was found a pocket-book containing bank-notes to the value of two
hundred pounds. The notes were sealed up in an envelope that was
endorsed with my name, and had these words written below: 'In case of
any accident happening to myself.' This proof of my husband's
affectionate forethought touched me to the quick. He might have had a
presentiment of the terrible ending that was so soon to befall him.

"Before Captain Lant and I parted we had a long conversation together.
I told him that I knew nothing whatever of my late husband's social
position, nor whether he had a single relative in the world. On these
two points I was desirous that Captain Lant should afford me some
information, but he professed to be as ignorant in the matter as I
was. Although Mr. Fairfax and he had been very good friends, their
friendship was only a thing of three years' growth, and of my
husband's antecedents he could say nothing with certainty. He himself
believed him to have been the son of a small farmer in the south of
England, and that his money had come to him from a rich uncle. Further
than that he professed to know nothing, and with this scanty
information I was obliged to rest satisfied. Captain Lant and I parted
at the diligence office. He was going forward to Rome, while all my
desire was to get back to England.

"On feeling for my notes a few minutes after landing from the steamer,
I found that they had been stolen. I had omitted to take the numbers
of them, and the police could do nothing to assist me. Four sovereigns
and some loose silver was all the money I had in the world. After a
couple of days spent at a quiet boarding-house in London, I set out
for Dupley Walls. It was late in autumn, and the weather was
excessively cold. There was no railway in those days, and the coach by
which I had to travel was full inside. I travelled outside, and had to
be lifted down at Tydsbury, so benumbed was I with the intense cold.
No news from home had reached me during the time of my sojourn on the
continent, and now, at the Tydsbury hotel, I heard for the first time
that my father was dead. I heard it to all outward seeming as a
stranger might have heard it; none there knew who I was.

"I parted with my last half-crown at the hotel, and then I set out
to walk the three miles to Dupley Walls. You must bear in mind
that I had not been at the hall since I was four years old, and that,
consequently, the way was entirely strange to me. I did not leave the
little town till dusk, and the snow was falling fast by the time I got
fairly out into the country lanes. I inquired at one or two cottages
by the way, but I must have wandered far out of the direct road, for
when I at length reached Dupley Walls, wet through and half dead with
cold and fatigue, the turret clock was just striking twelve. The house
loomed vast and dark before me, with nowhere a single ray of light to
bid me welcome. My heart grew faint within me. I lay down under the
portico and prayed that I might die. How long I had lain thus I cannot
tell, when I was roused to partial consciousness by hearing a sound as
if some metallic substance had fallen on to the flagged floor of the
hall inside. Then I heard faint sounds as if some one were moving
about in the darkness, and presently a dim thread of light shone from
under the door. As I afterwards learned, my mother had been to pay her
customary visit to the Black Room upstairs, and in returning across
the hall had dropped her lamp to the ground. On seeing the thread of
light I staggered to my feet, and beat with both my hands against the
door. Then a voice cried out, 'Who are you? and what do you want?'

"'My name is Helen Fairfax,' I replied, 'and I want to see Lady
Pollexfen.'

"There was a dead silence for full two minutes, then I heard the
rustle of a silk dress, and presently the great bolts were drawn one
by one, and then the door of my lost home was flung wide open, but not
for me to enter. On the threshold stood a tall figure, dark and
threatening, dark except for the white hands, gemmed with rings, one
of which held on high a small antique lamp, and the white face full of
wrath and menace.

"'I am Lady Pollexfen,' said this phantom, in a cold, passionless
voice. 'Once more I ask, Who are you?'

"'Your daughter, madam. Helena, your unhappy child.'

"'My daughter Helena died and was buried long ago. You may be her
ghost for aught I know or care. In any case, this is no place for you:
within this door you can never enter: under this roof you can never
come. Go! I have no daughter. I am childless and a widow.'

"'But, madam--mother, hear me! I am your daughter--I----'

"'I tell you that I have no daughter,' she interrupted, in her cold,
imperative way. 'My daughter fell into shame, and then to me she
became as utterly dead as if the ocean were rolling over her bones:
dead in heart and dead in memory. You are an impostor. Go!'

"'Oh! mother, listen to me. I am not an impostor. I am your own
daughter Helena. No shame clings to my name. My husband is dead, and
this is the only place in the wide world where I can ask for shelter
or a crust of bread.'

"'Not so much as a crust of bread shall you ever have from me. You
know my will. Go at once and never darken this door again. When you
die, may you die uncared for and unknown! May your eyes be closed by
the hands of strangers, and may the hands of strangers lay you in your
grave! Go!'

"Speaking thus, Lady Pollexfen faded back into the darkness. Slowly
and resistlessly the door was closed: slowly and deliberately the
great bolts were pushed into their sockets: the silk dress rustled;
the ribbon of light shone for a moment under the door; then all was
darkness and silence, and I was alone.

"I crept away from the cruel door into the less cruel night. The night
and the snow seemed like friends that would wrap me round, and tend
me, and hush me into a sleep that should know no waking in this bitter
world. I was like one on whose soul sits some awful nightmare which
makes him seem, even in his own eyes, something other than himself. I
knew that the woman who had smitten me with those cruel words was my
mother, but I was past wondering at that, or at anything else. All
that had befallen me was only in the common course of events, and it
was quite right and proper that I should be walking there alone at
that hour, with my back turned to the roof that should have sheltered
me, and with no spot in all the wide world on which I could claim to
lay my head. In my heart there was no bitterness; only a dull, vague
longing for peace and rest and a deep winding-sheet of snow. There was
something within me that would allow me neither pause nor rest till I
had left the park of Dupley Walls behind. I had shunned the ordinary
lodge-entrance, and had gained access to the grounds through a stile
in a bye-lane, connected with which is a right of footpath across one
corner of the estate. I went back by the same road, and at length
recognised in a bewildered sort of way that I was out of the park and
had all the world before me where to choose. A light snow was still
falling, but the wind had died down, and with it had gone that
intensity of cold from which I had suffered before. I dragged myself
slowly onward, but more by a sort of instinct than by any exertion of
will. But beyond this point I have no clear recollection of anything.
I only know that when I woke up I found myself in the Home of the
Sisterhood of Good Works, to which place I had been conveyed by a
charitable carrier who had found me lying insensible in the snow.

"There I lay very ill for a long time. During one part of my illness
my mind wandered, and from certain words I let drop at that time,
the Sisterhood were induced to write to Lady Pollexfen. She--my
mother--came. She saw me when I was unconscious of her presence, and
she saw me afterwards when I was slowly coming hack to life and
health. Then was the unwritten compact entered into by which it was
agreed that when sufficiently recovered I should go and live at Dupley
Walls, not as the daughter of its mistress, but, under the assumed
name of Sister Agnes, as Lady Pollexfen's paid companion and very
humble friend.

"In the meantime you, my darling Janet, had been born. I nursed you
myself till you were six months old. Then Lady Pollexfen insisted on
your being put out, and on my going to live at Dupley Walls. But
previously to doing this her ladyship extorted from me a double
promise. First, never by word, look, or deed to reveal to any one the
fact of the relationship between herself and me. Secondly, never till
my dying day to reveal either to you or to any one else the fact that
you and I were mother and daughter. This double promise was not made
by me without first consulting those whose opinions I was bound to
revere. At that time I looked upon the promise as a penalty in part
for the errors of my life. Since that time I have often felt inclined
to doubt the wisdom of having made it. The penalty has been a far
heavier one than I thought it would be. To see you, my daughter, the
one sweet flower that has blossomed out of my withered life, to see
you and know you as my own, and yet not to dare to claim you as such,
surely that was too great a penance for one weak mortal to bear!

"My narrative is nearly at a close. By the time you have read thus far
you will understand why you were brought up at Miss Chinfeather's
academy, and why you were sent from that place to Dupley Walls. Lady
Pollexfen's strange treatment will also in part be understood by you.
You were a disturbing element in that fossilized life to which she had
become accustomed. Still, if I have read her character aright, you,
her granddaughter, are far more precious in her sight than I, her
daughter, ever was. I am very very happy to think that such is the
case; and I have sometimes ventured to hope that after I shall be
gone, you and she may be drawn still more closely together. That the
withered ashes of her affections may yet derive some vital heat from
the generous impulses of your heart. That her pride may give way
sufficiently to induce her to place you in your proper position in the
world, and to allow your hands, as being those of the one nearest and
dearest to her, to tend her lovingly on that downward path which she
and I are alike treading; and of which the end can be no great
distance away.

"I have necessarily left one of the most important points of my
narrative till the last.

"When Captain Lant told me that he knew nothing positive as to the
antecedents of your father, but that he believed him to have been the
son of a small farmer in the south of England, and that his money had
been left him by a rich uncle, I believed him implicitly. But during
the long solitary years by which my life has been marked since that
time I have gone back in thought a thousand times to those few brief
wedded months, and have brooded over all the circumstances by which
they were surrounded. One result of this perpetual brooding has been
that I have learned in my own mind to distrust the statement made by
Captain Lant. I cannot believe that Mr. Fairfax was the son of a small
farmer. He was a gentleman, and had about him all the signs of one who
had been brought up among gentlefolks. From hints and odd words
dropped by him at different times and afterwards recalled by me in
memory, I gathered that he had travelled extensively, that he had been
at college, that he was a member of one or two West-end clubs, that he
had at one time kept his own hunters, and that he was personally known
to several people of rank. In all this there was nothing that betrayed
the farmer's son.

"From this conviction--not arrived at in a day or a month--of
Captain Lant's untruthfulness, a suspicion has gradually forced itself
upon me--and at the present moment it is nothing more than a
suspicion--that the entire story of Mr. Fairfax's sudden death was
neither more nor less than a clever fabrication to get rid of a woman
for whom he no longer cared. It may seem cruel to you, my dear Janet,
even to hint at such a thing in connexion with a man whose memory you
ought to revere, especially as I have not the slightest atom of
positive proof on which to base such a suspicion. But now, if ever,
the whole truth must be told you. About all Captain Lant's statements
there was an air of unreality which did not strike me so forcibly at
the time as it did afterwards, when I went back in recollection over
the events of that terrible time. Sometimes the suspicion that I was
nothing more than the victim of a clever lie would deepen in my mind
till it almost assumed the proportions of a certainty. At other times
it would wither and lose all its vivid colouring, and seem nothing
more than the dream of a distempered brain. It might have been nothing
more than such a dream for any action I have taken in it to prove
either its truth or its falsity. My love for Mr. Fairfax died out long
ago, and nothing could revivify the cold ashes. If he were not really
dead, but merely wished to cast me off, he had attained his end, and
so enough. Had it been possible to lure him back to my side, the wish
to do so had long passed away. I coveted neither riches nor position:
my life had aims that were directed otherwhere.

"But with you, my daughter, the case is entirely different. You hold
your position at Dupley Walls by a precarious tenure. Lady Pollexfen
is a woman of capricious temper and inflexible will. She might choose
to turn you adrift to-morrow: to cast you on the world, helpless and
alone. On the other hand, she may have made adequate provision for you
in the case of anything happening to herself. But this is a matter
respecting which I am entirely ignorant, and were I to speak to her
ladyship respecting it I should only be scouted for my pains. It is
true that you are nearer to her in blood than any one now living (I am
writing of myself as though I were already dead), but a woman of Lady
Pollexfen's peculiar disposition is just as likely as not to repudiate
any claim which might have its origin in that fact; and it must be
borne in mind that the absolute disposal of Dupley Walls, and any
other property she may be possessed of, is vested entirely in her own
hands.

"Under these perplexing circumstances, and with a future on which your
foothold is so insecure, it has sometimes seemed to me that the wisest
plan with regard to your interests would be to endeavour to unravel
the mystery by which the antecedents and social position of your
father are surrounded. Behind the cloud with which Mr. Fairfax chose
to enshroud his life previously to our marriage, friends, relatives,
fortune, happiness, may all await you, his child. So at least my
dreams have run at times; and dreams at times come true.

"The terms of my oath to Lady Pollexfen forbade me from making any
such inquiry on my own account, but in this matter you are entirely
unfettered. If, therefore, your friends and counsellors, Major
Strickland and Father Spiridion, think it desirable that such an
investigation should be made in your interests, place the matter
unreservedly into their hands, and leave them to deal with it in
whatever way they may think best. That its issue may prove to be for
your welfare and happiness is your dying mother's fervent prayer.

"Further, should my vague suspicion that Mr. Fairfax did not meet his
death at the time and under the circumstances as told me by Captain
Lant, prove to have some foundation in fact, and should the story turn
out to have been merely an invention to get rid of a wife who had
become burdensome to him, in such a case your father is probably still
among the living. Should such prove to be the fact it is by no means
unlikely that the daughter of his discarded wife might be cherished
and welcomed by him as even the child of a happier marriage might not
be. Should the future give you a father--one who will welcome you with
open hand and open heart--go to him and be to him as a daughter.
Forget your mother's wrongs: on this point I solemnly charge you: let
the dead past bury its dead. Be dutiful and loving as a daughter ought
to be, and leave it for a Higher Power to set straight that which is
crooked, and to weigh the human heart aright.

"You have been known all these years as Janet Holme, but your real
name, the one by which you were baptized, is Janet Fairfax. When you
were sent away to Miss Chinfeather's seminary it was necessary that
your name should be enrolled in the books of that establishment. My
mother would not allow you to go either by the name of Miss Fairfax or
Miss Pollexfen. My own name being Helena Holme Pollexfen, my mother
chose that you should be designated and known as Janet Holme, and in
this, as in every other matter, her wishes were acceded to.

"I need hardly tell you that the miniature contained in the box in
which I shall deposit this paper is that of your father, nor that the
wedding-ring which you will find near it is the one he placed on my
finger the day he took me for his wife. The relics brought me by
Captain Lant as proofs of your father's death I was unfortunate enough
to lose during my journey back to England.

"And now, dear Janet, my story is told."


[The few remaining pages of Sister Agnes's confession are omitted as
having no bearing on the history of the Great Mogul Diamond. They
consisted of tender confidences and loving advice, and as such are
sacred to the eyes of her for whom they were written.]



CHAPTER XII.
MADGIN JUNIOR'S SECOND REPORT.


"My dear Dad,--Your letter in reply to my first report reached my
hands a week ago. It had been lying three days at the post-office
before I had an opportunity of fetching it. I am glad to find that you
approve of my proceedings, and think, all things considered, that I
have not made bad use of my time. That you are sanguine as to the
ultimate result of my mission here shows a buoyancy of disposition on
your part that would not discredit any dashing young blade of twenty.
I hope that your opinion will be still further confirmed when you
shall have read that which I have now to put down.

"I may just remind you that I have now been at Bon Repos a month all
but two days, and but for a fortunate accident the object for which I
was sent here would still be as far from its accomplishment as on the
day of my arrival. Even now it will rest with you to decide whether
what I have to communicate is of any real value, or advances even by a
single step the great end we have in view. Privately, I may tell you
that I think the same great end all fudge. My faith is very lukewarm
indeed as to the existence of the diamond. But even granting its
existence, the present possessor, whoever he may be, were he aware of
our petty machinations, would laugh them utterly to scorn.

"Your reply to this would probably be that since the unknown possessor
of the diamond is not cognizant of our machinations, we have an
incalculable advantage on our side. To which I venture to observe that
we are tilting at shadows--that both the diamond and its owner are
myths, and have no foundation in fact. And now that I have made my
protest, and so eased my mind, I will proceed with my narration of
what has happened at Bon Repos since the date of my last report.

"The fortunate accident of which I made mention a few lines above is
neither more nor less than the serious illness of Cleon. As a
consequence of this event I have been brought into closer relations
with M. Platzoff. Before entering into particulars, I may just add
that the stranger, Captain Ducie, is still here; but his visit, so
Cleon informs me, is now drawing to a close. As I informed you before,
Cleon, for some reason best known to himself, has contracted an
intense dislike for the captain, and before I had been a week at Bon
Repos he had set me to act as a spy on his actions. I have watched him
as far as it has been possible to do so with safety. What little I
have discovered is not worth setting down here; in fact, I may say
that I have discovered nothing more singular in the captain's mode of
life than would appear upon the surface of any ordinary life that was
closely watched by some one who lacked the key to the motives with
which its purposes were animated. I have, then, made no actual
discovery of facts as regards Captain Ducie. But for all that, a dim
suspicion has grown up in my mind, having birth I cannot tell how or
when, that the captain is not without certain private designs of his
own on M. Platzoff, although of what those designs may consist I have
not the remotest idea. Gentlemanly man as the captain is, there is
about him a certain faint _soupçon_ of the adventurer, and my first
suspicion of some design on Platzoff may have had its rise in that
fact. At all events, I have no better based facts to go upon,--nothing
that I can set down in black and white. For my own sake more than for
Cleon's, I have determined to still retain my watch on the captain.
Time only can tell whether or no my doing so will in any way advance
our interests.

"Cleon had been ailing for some days, but kept going about his duties
as usual. One morning, however, he sent for me, and told me that he
was too ill to rise, and that such portion of his duties for the day
as could not be postponed must be gone through by me in his stead.
Such duties would chiefly be those arising from personal attendance on
M. Platzoff. I could see that he was terribly put about.

"'My master is such a particular man,' he said. 'I have never missed
waiting on him a single day these twenty years. How he will like a
stranger to go through the little indispensable offices of the toilet
for him is more than I dare think of. However, in the present case
there is no help for it, and you may take it as a proof of the
confidence I have in you that I have selected you, a comparative
stranger, to act as my deputy for the time being.'

"He then gave me a silver pass-key, which he told me would open the
whole _suite_ of private rooms occupied by M. Platzoff. He then
impressed certain instructions on my mind, a minute observance of
which, he said, would go some way towards reconciling M. Platzoff to
the temporary loss of his, Cleon's, services. 'The private
apartments,' he finished up by saying, 'consist of four rooms _en
suite_. The first of them is the smoking-room; the second the dressing
and bath room; the third the bedroom; lastly comes a small private
library or sanctum, the walls lined with books, which there will be no
need for you to enter. Take the pass-key and open the doors of the
smoking and dressing-rooms. When you reach the bedroom give three
separate taps at the door with the handle of the key. M. Platzoff will
then bid you enter. But before going in you must speak to him, and
tell him that I am ill, and that I have deputed you, with his
permission, to act in my stead. Even then do not go in till he bids
you enter. Were you to enter unannounced you might come to grief. M.
Platzoff always keeps a loaded revolver close by his pillow. In the
sudden excitement of seeing a strange face near him, he might
unfortunately make use of it. If he bid you not to enter, come back to
me, and I will consider what further must be done. On second thoughts,
I will write a line of explanation for you to take with you. It may
serve to allay any doubts M. Platzoff might feel as to the acceptance
of your services.'

"I gave him pen and ink. Not without difficulty he wrote the following
words, which he read to me after they were written:--"


"'I am too ill this morning to rise from my bed. Unless this were
really the case, you may be sure that my customary services would not
be foregone. I am obliged to send you a stranger--that is, a person
who is a stranger to you. You may place implicit confidence in him. I
hope to be with you again to-morrow.'

"'Cleon.'"


"The style seemed to me a strangely familiar one in which to address
his employer. But Cleon was not a man to do anything without a motive.
In the present case he doubtless knew thoroughly what he was about.

"I took the pass-key, opened and went through the first and second
rooms, and knocked at the door of the third. 'Enter,' said the voice
of M. Platzoff from within. Then in the most respectful tone I could
summon for the occasion I repeated the formula composed for me by
Cleon. There was complete silence for full two minutes. Then M.
Platzoff spoke. 'Come in,' he said, 'and let me see who you are.' I
unlocked and opened the door, and then stood for a few moments on the
threshold. The room was nearly in total darkness. The venetians were
down and thick curtains drawn in front of them. A faint sickly odour
came through the doorway like that of some strongly aromatic drug.
'Come forward and open the blinds,' said a peremptory voice from the
bed. I obeyed, and let in the cheerful daylight. 'I have a line from
Mr. Cleon for you, sir,' I said, 'if you will kindly read it.' 'Give
it me here,' he said. 'Cleon ill! The world must be coming to an end.
I thought that fellow was made of cast-iron and could never get out of
order.'

"I gave him the note. He opened it and read it with the assistance of
his eyeglass. I seized the opportunity for a quiet glance round. If I
were an upholsterer, my dear dad, which, thank goodness, I am not, I
would draw you up a brief inventory of the contents of M. Platzoff's
bedroom. As circumstances are, I can only say that it was by far the
most elegantly-fitted sleeping room which it had ever been my fortune
to enter. In parenthesis I may remark, that in passing through the
smoke-room I had been much struck with the richness and elegance of
its decorations. It is fitted up in a semi-Oriental fashion, and
except that everything in it is real and of the best quality, it looks
more like a theatrical apartment fitted up for stage purposes than a
real room in a country gentleman's house. Since that time I have
become familiarized with the entire _suite_, and have picked up one or
two ideas for interiors which may prove of service to my friend Davis
of the Tabard.

"With an impatient 'Pish!' M. Platzoff tossed the note from him as
soon as he had mastered its contents. He cut quite a comical figure as
he lay there, his yellow skin looking yellower than ordinary in
contrast with the white bed-furniture. His wizened face puckered into
a scowl of perplexity. His blue-black chin-tuft rough and out of
shape, and his cheeks and upper lip grimy for want of a razor. A
conical nightcap like an extinguisher on his head, and his
_robe-de-nuit_ fal-lal'd with lace, as though he were some dainty
bride of twenty. I could have laughed outright, but I took care to do
nothing of the kind.

"'What is your name, sir? and how long have you been at Bon Repos?'
he demanded, with a sort of contemptuous anger in his voice.

"'My name is James Jasmin, sir, at your service; and I have been here
just one month.'

"'One month! one month!' he shrieked. 'Then what, in the fiend's name,
does Cleon mean by writing that he has implicit confidence in you? Who
are you? and where do you come from? How can one have implicit
confidence in a man whom one has only known for four weeks? Cleon must
take me for a fool.'

"'My name I have already told you, sir. Before coming here, I was in
service with Mr. Madgin, of Dupley Walls.'

"M. Platzoff's face turned from yellow to green as I uttered these
words. 'From Dupley Walls, did you say?' he gasped; 'from Dupley Walls
in Midlandshire?'

"'That is the place, sir.' He evidently knew something about Dupley
Walls, but how much or how little, was the question. I felt myself on
the brink of an abyss. Was I about to be kicked out of Bon Repos as an
impostor?

"'But--but I have always understood that a certain Lady Pollexfen was
the owner of Dupley Walls?'

"'Lady Pollexfen is the owner, sir, but she does not live at the hall,
but at a cottage in the park; the house has been let for several years
back to Mr. Madgin.'

"'And how long have you been in the employ of this Mr. Madgin?'

"'Since I was quite a boy, sir.'

"'Then why have you left him?'

"'Because he is about to reside on the Continent, and is about to
break up his English establishment.'

"'Then you are acquainted with Lady Pollexfen?'

"'Only from seeing her frequently, sir. I have never spoken to her.
She is very old now, and lives a very secluded life.'

"'Has she any of her children living with her?'

"'I am not aware that her ladyship has any children. I have heard speak
of one son who died in India many years ago.'

"'Ah!' Then after a pause, 'Well, Mr. James Jasmin, I will accept your
services for the present, but I hope to goodness that Cleon is not
going to be laid up for any length of time. Ring the bell for my
shaving-water, and reach me that dressing-gown.'

"Congratulate me, my dear dad, on the dexterity with which I
extricated myself from a difficulty that in more awkward hands might
readily have proved fatal.

"It is not requisite that I should enter into any details of the minor
duties I had to perform for M. Platzoff. They were the ordinary duties
of a body servant, and it is sufficient to say that I got through them
without making any very egregious blunder. That I am still engaged in
the same capacity is a tolerable proof that M. Platzoff is not
dissatisfied with my services, for Cleon has not yet recovered, and
although somewhat better, is still confined to his bed. Platzoff is
not a difficult man to serve under. He does not treat his people like
dogs, as I have heard of many so-called gentlemen doing. Only attend
well to his minor comforts, and do not keep him waiting for anything,
and you will never hear a wrong word from him.

"Midnight is, with certain exceptions, M. Platzoff's fixed hour for
going to bed. My instructions are to go every night at twelve
precisely; to give a low treble knock on the door of the smoke-room,
and then with the aid of the pass-key to go in. I then relieve M.
Platzoff of his pipe, generally a large Turkish hookah; accompany him
to his dressing-room, and take his instructions for the morning. After
that I put out the lights, and then my duties for the day are over.

"But once, sometimes twice a week, M. Platzoff is in the habit of
smoking opium, or some drug so much like it that I cannot tell the
difference. Whatever it may be, he smokes it till he falls into a sort
of trance in which he is unconscious of everything going on around
him. My instructions are that when, on entering the smoke-room at
midnight, I find him in such a trance, not to disturb him, but to
watch by him till I see certain signs that the trance is abating. As
soon as these signs show themselves, I lift M. Platzoff bodily up and
carry him to bed, and so leave him till morning. One of Cleon's most
important duties was the charging of M. Platzoff's pipe when the
latter was going to have one of his opium séances; but that is too
nice an operation to be entrusted to my unskilled hands, and in the
absence of Cleon is, I presume, gone through by the Russian himself.

"My bedroom adjoins that of Cleon, and on two or three occasions it
has happened that I have been summoned by him in the middle of the
night to answer M. Platzoff's private bell which rings in his room. On
answering this bell as Cleon's deputy, I have found that M. Platzoff,
not being able to sleep, has summoned me to read to him, or to assist
him on with his dressing-gown, and to light his pipe for him.

"'But,' you will perhaps observe, 'what has all this rigmarole to do
with the question of the Great Mogul Diamond?'

"I reply that, in all probability, it has nothing whatever to do with
it. But I think it requisite that you should know the details of my
life at Bon Repos. Secondly, you must let me say what I have to say
after my own fashion. And thirdly, the curious incident I have now to
record would hardly be comprehensible to you without the preliminary
details here given.

"Last night, or rather about two o'clock this morning, came one of
those untimely summonses of which I have made mention above. I was
aroused by Cleon's tapping on the wall that divides our bedrooms. I
shuffled into a few clothes, anathematizing M. Platzoff and the whole
business as I did so, and then hurried into Cleon's room. As I
expected, M. Platzoff's bell had just rung, and it was requisite that
I should go and ascertain what was wanted. I took my pass-key and
went. I passed first through the smoking-room, next through the
dressing-room, and so into the bedroom, which, to my intense
astonishment, I found lighted up with a pair of wax candles, although
I had left it in utter darkness barely a couple of hours before. What
added to my surprise was the fact that the door between the bedroom
and the library was open, and that the latter apartment was also
lighted up. Having noted these things with a first intuitive glance
round, my second glance went to the bed in search of M. Platzoff. He
was not on it. On passing round the foot of the bed, I found him lying
with his face on the floor. I lifted him up and saw at once that he
was in some sort of a fit. I was frightened, but did not lose my
presence of mind. I had several times carried him out of the
smoking-room when he was in one of his opium trances, and I had no
difficulty now in lifting him up, and laying him on the bed. As I
turned round with the body in my arms I saw something reflected in a
large mirror opposite that nearly caused me to drop M. Platzoff to the
ground. What I saw was the reflection from the lighted-up library of
an oblong opening like a doorway in the bookshelves with which its
walls were lined--an opening which, had it been there, I should hardly
have missed noticing before, although I had not been above three or
four times in the room. As soon as I had laid the unconscious Russian
on his bed, I stole on tip-toe into the library. I had not been
mistaken. There _was_ an opening in the wall formed by the sinking
into a deep recess of a portion of the bookcase. In the recess thus
formed was an iron door, now shut. As I looked, this question, without
any consciousness on my own part, was put to me: _Can this be the
entrance to some secret room in which the Diamond is hidden?_

"I had no time to consider the probability or otherwise of this
question. Certain sounds from the other room drew me back at once to
the side of M. Platzoff. Signs of returning consciousness were
visible. I propped him up with the pillows, and sprinkled water
on his face, and chafed his hands. Slowly he came back to life.
'Better--better--all right now,' were his first words; then
turning his lack-lustre eyes on me, 'Who are you?' he said. 'Ah, I
remember--Jasmin,' he continued before I could reply. Then all of a
sudden a frightened look came into his face, and he began to fumble
nervously in the pocket of his velvet dressing-gown. 'What have you
lost, sir? Is it anything I can find for you?' I asked. 'No, no,' he
replied excitedly; 'only my key--only my key. Ah! here it is,' he
cried a moment later, as he brought into view from one of his pockets
a curiously-shaped key, the like of which I had never seen before.
With a great sigh of relief he sank back on his pillows.

"'Go and wake up Wrigley, and tell him to give you some cognac,' he
said next minute. 'A little brandy is all I need at present.'

"I left the room to carry out his request, and was not away more than
five minutes. As I handed him the cognac I glanced stealthily at the
mirror. The opening in the library wall was no longer visible. The
mirror reflected an unbroken array of shelves closely packed with
books. M. Platzoff had evidently felt himself strong enough to get out
of bed and fasten the secret door during my absence.

"He drank a little of the brandy and then told me that I might go back
to bed. I proffered to sit up in the next room during the remainder of
the night. But he would not hear of it: only, he said, he would have
the lights kept burning. I had got my hand on the door when he called
me back. 'Look here, Jasmin,' he said. 'It is my particular wish that
not to any one shall you say a single word respecting what has
happened to-night. Not even to Cleon must you mention it. Obey me in
this, and you will find that I shall not forget you. Disobey me, and I
shall be sure to hear of it. What say you?'

"Of course I promised all he asked, and he seemed tolerably easy in
his mind when I left him. I satisfied Cleon's curiosity with a
passable excuse, and then went back to bed.

"M. Platzoff is lying later than usual this morning. Consequently I
have an hour or two to myself, which I now employ in finishing this
report. Write to me as soon as possible after receipt of it, and let
me have your opinion as to what my next step ought to be. Cleon will
be able to resume his duties in two or three days, and when that event
takes place I shall be relegated to my old position, and shall have
little or no personal communication with M. Platzoff.

"Your affectionate Son,

     "J.M."



CHAPTER XIII.
ROOM NUMBER FOUR IN THE CORRIDOR.


It has now become requisite to return to Captain Ducie, whose
proceedings have been neglected for some time past.

When we left him last he had just found on the floor of his host's
private library one of the tiny paper pellets which he had dropped
purposely from his pocket when blindfolded the previous night. The
finding of this pellet he looked on as proof-positive that the
entrance to the hiding-place of the Diamond must be in that room. His
discovery was an important one. It was his first step towards that
goal whither all his hopes and wishes now tended. It placed him at
once on a certain vantage ground. Still he was puzzled by the
consideration of what his second step ought to be. For some time he
could not see his way at all.

On the pretence of wanting some particular volume from its shelves he
contrived once and again to visit the private library while Platzoff
was engaged elsewhere. But he could not visit it without first asking
permission, owing to the simple fact of its door being always kept
locked. The required permission was grudgingly granted by Platzoff--he
could see that, also that it would not be wise to court the privilege
too often. Indeed, it was a privilege that proved of little or no
service, either Cleon  or Jasmin being sent with him to unlock and
relock the door, and evidently having secret instructions not to leave
the library so long as he was in it. While looking for the required
volume he could merely take a few careless glances around, and such
glances merely served to show him that the line of book-shelves was
unbroken except by the two doorways and the fireplace. He had not,
indeed, been sanguine enough to expect that such a casual examination
would reveal to him the secret entrance that led to the cavern. But he
had half hoped that by some faint sign, by some insignificant token,
which to those not in the secret would seem utterly meaningless, he
might be able to seize on the first hint of the wished-for clue. But
in so far he was doomed to disappointment. No sign nor token of the
faintest kind was visible to his quick-searching eyes.

So day after day came and went till but two days remained before the
time fixed for his departure, and it seemed to him that he might just
as well have never heard of the existence of the Great Mogul Diamond,
much less have been favoured with the sight of it, for any use that he
could make of his knowledge. Turn the subject in his mind which way he
would, in this light and in that, there seemed no egress from the
difficulty in which he now found himself. But however much Captain
Ducie might be inwardly chagrined he betrayed no traces of it on the
surface. On the contrary, he had never striven more assiduously to
make himself agreeable to his host than he did during this period of
his deepest mortification. In every way that he could possibly think
of he tried to make himself indispensable to Platzoff--or, if not
indispensable, such a pleasant element, such a piquant seasoning to
the course of everyday life at Bon Repos, that the Russian should part
from him with regret, and nothing be wanting to secure another
invitation to the same roof in time to come. These exertions were not
without their reward--a more immediate reward than he had ventured to
hope for. On the morning of the day but one before that of his
departure, as he and Platzoff were sitting together in a summerhouse
that overlooked the lake, said the captain, after a pause in the
conversation:--"Three days hence, instead of having this pleasant
scene to gaze upon at will, I shall have nothing but London's dusty
streets with which to solace my eyes. But, in any case, I shall have a
store of pleasant recollections to take back with me."

"Is the time of your leaving me so near?" said the Russian. "In the
pleasure of your society I had almost forgotten that such a time must
necessarily come. But why go, _cher ami?_ Why not extend your visit
till--till you are tired of us and our quiet life, if, indeed, you are
not that already?"

Captain Ducie shook his head. "My sojourn at Bon Repos has been a very
pleasant one," he said, "and I am by no means tired of it. But other
engagements claim my attention, and I am afraid that I dare not make
any longer stay here."

"See, then. You can do this to oblige an old man," said Platzoff. "Of
late I have not been well--in fact, I have never quite got over that
accident on the railway. My doctor down here does not seem to
understand what ails me, and I have had some thought of going up to
London for the sake of better advice. I cannot, however, go for three
weeks: there are certain matters that must be attended to before I can
leave Bon Repos even for a few days. See, now. You shall put off your
journey for three weeks, and then we will go up to town together. _Que
dites vous?_"

Of course Captain Ducie could do nothing but accede as gracefully as
possible to his host's request. He was, in truth, very well pleased to
accede to it, even although the three weeks in question might do
nothing towards the accomplishment of his secret hopes. Bon Repos was
decidedly preferable to two stuffy rooms in a London back street,
especially at a season of the year when the hegira of the fashionable
world was just setting in. He would stay where he was as long as it
was possible to do so.

There had been no conversation between Ducie and Platzoff respecting
the Diamond since the night they two had visited the cavern together.
Ducie had tried to broach the subject once or twice, but Platzoff had
fought so shy of it that the captain had not ventured to proceed, but
had turned the conversation into other channels. It seemed to Ducie as
if Platzoff half repented having taken him so fully into his
confidence. It was evidently not his intention to enlighten him any
further in the matter.

The first week of the three had come to an end. According to custom,
Ducie and Platzoff were sitting together on a certain evening in the
smoke-room. It was one of the Russian's drashkil nights. He had been
smoking hard and fast, and was already in a state of coma, lost to all
outward influences. Ducie looked at his watch, debating within himself
whether it would not be wiser on his part to go off to bed than to
sit there any longer with his unconscious host. And yet it was only
half-past ten--rather early for bed. He sat staring at his host, and
toying absently with his watch-guard, when, clear and vivid as a shaft
of lightning, there flashed across his brain a thought that struck him
breathless for one moment, and the next startled him into the most
intense life. He rose noiselessly to his feet, and stood for a full
minute with his fingers pressed to his eyes, thinking, so it seemed to
him, as he had never thought before.

That one minute sufficed to elaborate the scheme that had come to him
as suddenly and as startlingly as a veritable inspiration of genius.
Had his thoughts clothed themselves in words, they would have
expressed themselves somewhat after this fashion:--

"It is only half-past ten o'clock, and Platzoff has smoked himself
into a state of unconsciousness. On no account is he ever disturbed by
his valet till the clock strikes twelve: ergo, I have an hour and a
half before me safe from interruption. Platzoff always carries about
with him a silver pass-key that will open every door in the house,
unless it be those of the bedrooms of his guests and his servants.
Suppose I possess myself of that pass-key for the time being, and
penetrate by its assistance into the library. Once in the library with
a clear hour and a half to call my own, it will be strange if I cannot
succeed in making some discovery that will prove of service to me."

The first thing to be done was to satisfy himself that Platzoff was
really and truly unconscious. Taking him by the arm, he shook him,
gently at first, and then with greater violence. But the Russian only
uttered a low, inarticulate moan of protest. Then Ducie ventured to
lift up one of his eyelids. The glazed, fishy look of the eye below it
was sufficient to convince him that from Platzoff himself he had
nothing to fear. Then with a light-fingered dexterity that would not
have discredited a professional pickpocket he began to search for the
silver key. He was not long in finding it. There it was, in a small
inner pocket of Platzoff's vest. He drew it out with a heart that beat
a little faster than common. So far all was well. He stood for a few
moments with the key in his fingers, listening intently. Not a sound
of any kind inside the house or out. As he stood thus, he bethought
himself of a little brass bolt on the inside of the door that, opened
into the corridor. By means of this bolt Platzoff could at will secure
himself even against the intrusion of Cleon. This bolt Ducie now shot
noiselessly into its socket. If Cleon--or rather Jasmin, now that
Cleon was ill--were inadvertently to come before his proper hour, he
would have to wait till the door was opened for him from within.
Having thus secured himself against any possible interruption, Ducie,
after taking a last glance at his host, walked boldly across the room,
and applying the key, opened the inner door and passed forward into
the dressing-room. From the dressing-room he gained access to the
bedroom, and from thence into the library. The latter room being in
entire darkness, he had to go back into the bedroom for a candle, two
of which were always lighted there at dusk and kept burning till M.
Platzoff went to bed.

As already stated, the library had two doors opening into it, one that
gave from the bedroom, and another that faced you as you went in. A
brown curtain fixed by means of rings on a brass rod hung before this
second door. Ducie never remembered having seen this curtain more than
three parts drawn, leaving visible a small portion of the door. In
fact, it appeared to him, considering the matter, as though the
curtain were never touched, its exact position seemed so unaltered
from time to time. His first idea on his first visit to the library
after his sight of the Diamond, had been that through this second door
lay the secret entrance to the cavern. But it was an idea that found
no resting place in his mind. The Russian was not the sort of man to
adopt such a palpable expedient as an ordinary door to mark the
entrance to the secret staircase. Ducie had felt convinced at the time
that behind those ponderous bookshelves lay the hidden entrance, and
he was equally convinced of it to-night. Therefore, instead of taking
any notice of the second door, he at once proceeded, candle in hand,
to make an examination of the shelves.

They were made of mahogany, substantial and old-fashioned, with
elaborate flutings between each compartment, and were crowned with
carved bosses of fruit and flowers intermixed. Every shelf was
completely filled with books, none of which were dummies, as Captain
Ducie took care to verify. Beginning at the right-hand corner, he went
completely round the room. The fireplace, too, came in for an amount
of critical examination such as had probably never been bestowed on it
before. The window that gave light to the library was in the outer
wall of the house, and looked on to the lawn. Like all the windows in
M. Platzoff's private suite it was crossed and recrossed by some
half-dozen iron bars artfully let into the woodwork so as not to be
visible from without. The outside walls of Bon Repos were of an
antique thickness, as though they had been built to last a thousand
years. They were, in fact, quite thick enough to allow of a narrow
staircase being hollowed out of their substance. It seemed, therefore,
to Ducie just as necessary to examine carefully that side of the room
as it did to examine the inner side.

He examined both the sides and the ends, carefully, thoroughly; but
the result of his examination was that he was exactly as wise when he
left off as when he began. Not a crevice, not a cranny, not a
discoloration of the wood, not the faintest trace of a secret spring
was anywhere to be found. He tapped each panel and compartment
separately with his knuckles, but he was unable to trace any
difference in the dull dead sound given out by each and all. Then
he went down on his knees to examine the carpet. It was a sombre
velvet pile, and was nailed down at the edges with a number of small
tin-tacks driven through it into the floor. The corners of the carpet
had not been carefully swept, and the tiny indentations in it where it
was pressed down by the heads of the tacks were full of dust. "Now,"
argued Captain Ducie with himself, "if the entrance to the cavern
where the Diamond is hidden is through an opening in the floor of this
room, then, in order to reach that opening this carpet or a portion of
it must be taken up. Is it likely that M. Platzoff, who by his own
account visits his Diamond at least once a week, would take up and
nail down his carpet every time he wishes to look on his wonderful
gem? Further: if the carpet had been lately taken up, the indentations
caused by the heads of the nails would not be full of dust as they are
now. The nails now in have not been touched for a month at the least."

Captain Ducie rose from his unwonted position, and put down his candle
on the table with a muttered oath. He was baffled at every turn. He
felt ready to knock his head against the wall, so eaten up was he with
inward rage and mortification. But it was the cunning of the serpent
and not the rage of the lion that was needed in his case. He flung
himself into a chair, and in a few minutes had cooled down
sufficiently to consider what his next step ought to be. Was any other
step possible to him? he asked himself.

And then he answered himself with a lugubrious shake of the head. Only
one thing remained to be tried, and that was the second door. It might
be just as well to ascertain, if it were possible to do so, on what
part of the house it opened. He had no recollection of having seen
such a door in his perambulations about the interior of Bon Repos.

The brown curtain that hung before the second door was only half
drawn. Captain Ducie drew it impatiently on one side and inserted his
pass-key into the lock. It turned without difficulty, but on trying to
push open the door, he found that it stuck and did not readily give
way. This fact, slight as it seemed, proved to the captain that the
road to the hiding-place of the Diamond did not lie through that door.
The door when opened revealed a narrow and gloomy corridor thickly
carpeted with dust. One side of this corridor was formed by a bare
unbroken wall. On the opposite side, at intervals of a few feet, were
four doors, all now locked. There was yet another door at the end of
the corridor opposite to that by which Ducie had entered. This last
door was not merely locked but was further secured by some half-dozen
large screws drawn through the inner side and wormed deep into the
massive posts.

When he had so far completed his examination, Captain Ducie turned to
the four side doors. In the case of these also he found his pass-key
available. Still carrying the light in his hand, he opened the first
door and found himself in a gloomy and shuttered bedroom which had
evidently not been occupied for a very long time. From this an inside
door opened into a dressing-room, also shuttered and thick with dust.
The second door in the corridor led also into this dressing-room. The
third door in the corridor opened into another bedroom, and the fourth
into its adjoining dressing-room. These two latter rooms, like the
first two, had apparently not been entered for years.

To Captain Ducie it seemed plain enough why these rooms were kept
untenanted, and the door at the extreme end of the corridor nailed up.
M. Platzoff evidently did not choose that any one should come into too
close proximity to the room within which lay the secret of the hidden
door. For that the hidden door was in the library everything he had
discovered that night went indisputably to prove. He relocked the four
rooms, and went back to the library musing upon all he had seen. He
was just about to shut and fasten the curtained door when a sudden
thought struck him and caused him to pause. He stood musing for a few
moments, his face gradually brightening the while, and then taking up
his candle, he retraced his way to the fourth room in the corridor. He
went in, put down his light, and succeeded after some difficulty in
unfastening the shutters, which were strongly barred with iron. This
done, he shut up his candle for a while in an empty wardrobe, and then
proceeded to fold back the shutters. The night was a fine one, and the
stars afforded him sufficient light for what he wanted to do next.
Between the shutters and the window was a faded green blind, at
present drawn up about three parts of the way to the top. From this
blind depended a green cord that ended in a tassel. In this cord
Captain Ducie tied a simple slip knot. When this was done, he unhasped
the window, and tried whether the lower sash would work up and down
readily and without too much noise. Finding that the window worked
satisfactorily, he left it unfastened, and then proceeded to put back
the shutters, which also he left unbolted. Then he took his candle out
of its hiding-place and went back to the library, closing behind him
both the door that led into the corridor and the curtained door, but
leaving them both unlocked.

Midnight was now close at hand, and it was necessary that he should
get back to the smoke-room. But even with more time at his command,
he could have done nothing more to-night. When he got back to the
smoke-room, he found Platzoff to all appearance precisely as he had
left him. He put back the pass-key into the pocket from which he had
taken it, and unbolted the outer door. Ten minutes later Jasmin, the
new valet, acting temporarily in place of Cleon, coming into the room,
found Captain Ducie quietly smoking beside the comatose body of his
master.



CHAPTER XIV.
AT THE CURTAINED DOOR.


At an early hour next morning, in fact long before M. Platzoff was out
of bed, Captain Ducie, cigar in hand, took a ramble round the exterior
of Bon Repos. While exploring the four rooms on the preceding evening
he was struck with the recollection of having on one occasion seen
their shuttered windows from the outside. A day or two after his
arrival at Bon Repos he had gone on an exploring expedition about the
grounds, and it was on that occasion that he had seen them. He had
taken them as ordinary unused chambers, and had had no further
curiosity respecting them. He remembered now that they looked--or
would have looked if their shutters had been open--into a very thick
bit of shrubbery, so dense, in fact, as to be all but impenetrable,
and looking as if it had not been pruned for years. And yet this
very bit of shrubbery was within a few feet of the delicious little
flower-studded lawn on to which the windows of Platzoff's private
rooms opened; indeed, the four shut-up rooms were merely a
continuation of the same wing in which the private rooms were situate.
It was evident that since the four rooms had been disused the
shrubbery outside them had been allowed to grow as thick and wild as
it chose, as though it were Platzoff's wish to screen them as much as
possible from observation.

Captain Ducie having pierced this shrubbery, found himself within
sight of the four windows, and saw that he had not been mistaken as to
their position. Through the dusty panes of the last window of the four
he could just make out the knotted cord as he had left it over night.
He took a few quiet observations, unseen by any one, and then went
back indoors.

That night, as usual, Captain Ducie accompanied his host to the
smoke-room. Drashkil was not introduced, and the two friends passed a
pleasant evening, smoking and conversing. As midnight struck, Jasmin
entered. Ducie rose, shook hands with Platzoff, bade him good night,
and retired. Having reached his own room, he locked the door. Then he
proceeded to dress himself in a suit of dark gray tweed. On his feet
he put a pair of Indian moccasins. His next proceeding was to produce
a coil of strong rope from one of his trunks, one end of which he tied
firmly to the top bar of the fire-grate. This done, he blew out the
candle, drew up the blind, and opened the window. The night was fine,
but overcast, and rather cold for the time of year. Having waited till
he heard the clock strike one, he lowered the other end of the rope
out of the open window. After listening intently for full two minutes
he let himself quietly down, sailor fashion, and landed safely on the
turf below. Then he paused again to listen. That part of the grounds
in which he now found himself was very quiet and secluded even by day,
but neither there nor in any other part of the little demesne was
there any likelihood that his proceedings would be observed at that
uncanny hour. The rule at Bon Repos was that all the servants, except
Cleon, should go to bed, and the house be finally closed, at half-past
eleven, and the time was now ten minutes past one. Still, Captain
Ducie was not a man to neglect any precaution that presented itself to
his mind. Keeping well under the deeper shadow of the trees, and
walking lightly on the soft turf, he was not long before he found
himself close under the window with the knotted cord. He had scanned
Platzoff's windows anxiously in passing, but they were so closely
shuttered and curtained that it was impossible to tell whether or no
the Russian had yet retired to rest.

As previously stated, the whole of Platzoff's private rooms were on
the ground floor: equally as a matter of course, the four rooms that
opened out of the corridor were on the same level. A slight spring
sufficed to place Captain Ducie on the window-sill of the room he
wished to enter. Despite all his care, he could not prevent the
creaking of the window as he pushed up the sash; but he trusted to the
remoteness of Platzoff's bedroom not to be overheard. Then he pushed
open the shutters and stepped lightly down into the dark room. He had
noted the position of the furniture when there the previous night, and
he knew that there was a clear course to the door. Another pause, to
listen; then noiselessly across the floor; out by way of the door left
unlocked last night, and so into the corridor; then forward, silent as
a shadow, to the curtained door that opened into Platzoff's room.

Captain Ducie was far from being a nervous man, yet it is quite
certain that his pulses beat by no means so equably as on ordinary
occasions as he stood in the dark corridor, all his senses on the
alert, his fingers on the handle of the door; dreading to take the
next step, which must yet be taken or all that he had hitherto done be
rendered nugatory; and stubbornly determined in his inmost heart that
it should be taken, happen what might. An indrawing of the breath, a
moment's pause, a turn of the handle, and almost before he knew that
he was there he found himself standing behind the curtain and on the
threshold of M. Platzoff's private rooms.

Not the faintest sound of any kind. Ducie stretched forth a hand, and
little by little drew back the curtain sufficiently to enable him to
peer into the room. It was dark and empty; but he could see that a
faint light was burning in the bedroom beyond. Now that the curtain
was partly drawn aside he could hear the low, regular breathing of M.
Platzoff as that gentleman lay asleep in bed. Ducie knew what a light
sleeper Platzoff was when not under the influence of his favourite
drug, and he durst not venture a step beyond the spot where he was now
standing. Indeed, there was no reason why he should so venture. There
was nothing whatever to be gained by such a rash proceeding. It was
Platzoff's habit (so the Russian himself had given Ducie to
understand) to visit the Diamond once, sometimes twice a week. These
visits generally took place during the small hours of the morning when
Platzoff awoke, restless and uneasy, from his first sleep. All,
therefore, that Ducie had now to do was to wait quietly for one of
these occasions, and take advantage of it when it should come, in such
a way as might seem advisable to him at the time.

This was the reason why Captain Ducie did not stir from his
hiding-place behind the curtain. This was the reason why he stood
there for two full hours to-night as patiently as if he had been
cast in bronze. But on this occasion his waiting was in vain. When he
had been there about an hour and a half, M. Platzoff woke up, took a
pinch of snuff, sneezed, spoke a few words aloud in some language
which Ducie did not understand, and then addressed himself to sleep
again. Ducie waited a full half-hour longer without stirring. Then
he went quietly back by the way he had come, shutting behind him the
two doors, the shutters, and the window, but leaving them all
unfastened--indeed, he had no means of fastening them, even had he
been so minded. He got back unseen to his own room.

The same hour next night saw Captain Ducie behind the curtained door.
He knew that several nights might elapse before Platzoff should visit
the Diamond, and he was quite prepared to wait there night after night
till his perseverance should be crowned with success. It was just as
well, perhaps, that he had made up his mind to play a waiting game,
seeing that five nights passed one after another, on no one of which
did he fail in his watch at the curtained door, before Platzoff,
taking counsel with himself, made up his mind to again visit the
cavern.

It was on a certain night--or rather morning, being about three
a.m.--after one of his drashkil debauches, that the Russian so made up
his mind. Ducie was in patient waiting. From his hiding-place behind
the curtain he heard Platzoff get out of bed. When he saw him put on
his dressing-gown and light a small lamp--the same that the Russian
had made use of on the night that Ducie accompanied him--then the
latter knew that his patience was about to be rewarded.

As Platzoff advanced into the library, Ducie shrank back, and
noiselessly closed the door that led into the corridor. He thought it
just possible that Platzoff might lift the curtain to make sure that
there was no one in hiding. Standing with his hand on the door, and
listening intently, Ducie could hear Platzoff moving about the
library. Then he heard the click of a spring or bolt, and a sound like
the rolling back of a door or panel. Then all was still.

After waiting for a couple of minutes, during which the silence
remained unbroken, Ducie slowly opened the door, and moved forward
till his face nearly touched the curtain. He could hear nothing save
the beating of his own heart. Drawing the curtain an inch or two on
one side, he peeped. The library was empty, and the secret door was
open.

For a few seconds he felt like a man in a dream; he could hardly
believe in the reality of what he saw before him. But the thought that
in ten or twelve minutes at the farthest M. Platzoff would be back
again, and that now or never was his opportunity, quickened him into
action. His object tonight was to take such accurate note of the
position of the secret door, and the means by which it was opened and
shut, as would enable him in time to come to find it again without
much difficulty. Platzoff was in the cavern below, and till the sound
of his returning footsteps could be heard Ducie knew that he was safe.

Moving noiselessly forward into the room, he went down on one knee,
and proceeded to make a careful examination of the secret door. Then
he took a measuring-tape out of his pocket, and proceeded to measure
the exact distance of the opening from the upper end of the room. Then
he took his penknife and cut away a couple of threads out of the
carpet close to the book-case, at those points precisely where the
secret door fitted into it when shut. Not less carefully did he
examine the spring, and the mode by which it was acted on when the
door was closed. There was nothing very complicated about it now that
its mechanism was laid bare. A very slight examination sufficed to
show Ducie its method of working, and where and how it was opened from
without.

A faint noise from below warned him that his time was up. He glided
back as noiselessly as he had come, and disappeared behind the curtain
just as M. Platzoff began to ascend the steps that led from the
cavern.

Captain Ducie stood with his hand on the door of the corridor for a
full hour before he ventured to take another step in retreat. Then
judging that Platzoff, who had gone to bed again, could not fail to be
asleep, he went quietly back by the way he had come.



CHAPTER XV.
THE LITTLE PACKET FROM LONDON.


Next morning, immediately after breakfast, Captain Ducie shut himself
up in his own room on the plea of having several important letters to
write. The letters resolved themselves into one note, of no great
length, addressed to a friend in London--to the same friend, in fact,
to whom he had applied for a translation of the stolen cryptogram.
Although the note did not contain more than a dozen lines, Captain
Ducie was unusually particular as to its composition. He corrected and
re-wrote it several times before he was satisfied. Then he sealed and
directed it, and went down into the village and posted it himself.
Then he set himself to wait patiently for a reply.

A reply came on the fifth day by post, in the shape of a tiny square
packet. Captain Ducie received the packet from Jasmin with apparent
indifference, but he did not open it till he was alone. The contents
consisted of a brief note from his friend, inside which was a small
square box made of very thin wood, which proved to be filled with some
dark, fatty-looking substance, from which exhaled a faint, sickly
odour that was far from pleasant. The following is a copy of the
note:--


"My dear Ducie,--I send you a small quantity of the drug you ask for.
I daresay there will be enough to serve your purpose. It is an
exceedingly powerful narcotic, and very little of it must be used at
one time. I greatly question the advisability of using it at all in
the case of neuralgic pains such as you describe, but I presume you
are acting under advice.

"Glad to hear that you are enjoying yourself so thoroughly. Town is
anything but pleasant at this time of the year, and to be strolling on
the banks of Windermere would suit much better the idiosyncrasy of

     "Your perspiring but devoted friend,

                           "Geo. Bexell."


Captain Ducie, after taking one whiff at the contents of the box, put
it carefully away under lock and key. Nothing further could be done
till the next evening that his host might devote to drashkil-smoking.
For that occasion he had not long to wait.

Ducie was now so far familiar with the process of drashkil-smoking and
its results, that from the first evening of Cleon's absence he had
taken upon himself the office of preparing M. Platzoff's pipe. This he
did in that easy good-natured way which sat so gracefully on him, and
made his simplest acts seem better than greater things done by
another. On the first "big smoke night" after his receipt of the tiny
packet from London, Ducie did not fail to proffer his services as
usual, and Platzoff was glad to accept them. This evening as he
charged the pipe out of the little silver box in which the preparation
was always kept, he turned his back on the Russian, who was lazily
reclining on the low cushioned seat that ran round the room, and
seemed longer than usual in filling it to his mind. Platzoff was not
heeding him at all, but was gazing with half-shut eyes on the lamp, of
Oriental workmanship, by which the room was lighted.

"What strange patterns or weavings of life we often get," he said,
speaking more to himself than to Ducie, "when we are asleep, or in a
fever, or in any other state in which the vagaries of the brain are no
longer controlled by the force of reason, or no longer restrained by
what you would call the trammels of common sense. It is like looking
at life through a kaleidoscope--a strange jumble of many-coloured
differently shaped fragments, which yet shake themselves into curious
and unlooked for patterns that have oftentimes a beauty and coherence
of their own such as we seldom see in real life. Singular, too, that
behind many of these brain-weavings which at first sight seem so
purposeless and absurd there lurks an idea, sometimes a very subtle
one, and wholly dissociated from any waking thought that we can
remember. It is as if such an idea had found its way by chance into
one's brain, and was determined to make its presence known by
scratching a few quaint characters on the walls of its new domicile."

"You fly too high for me to follow you," said Ducie, with a laugh. "It
is time you were ballasted with a pipe of your favourite drug. You
have a lot of cobweb fancies in your brain that want clearing away.
To-morrow you will be as practical and business-like as any Englishman
of us all."

"I hope not. That is a level to which I do not aspire," answered
Platzoff. "There is not sufficient _far niente_ in the character of
you English. You lack repose, and the grace of inaction. You are the
world's plough-horses. It is your place to do the hard work of the
universe. Beyond that you are good for little. _Mais donnez-moi ma
pipe, monsieur, s'il vous plait. Voilà ma consolation pour tons les
defauts du monde_."

He took the amber mouthpiece between his lips, and Ducie applied an
allumette to the bowl. Spirals of thick white smoke, emitted from the
Russian's mouth, began to ascend slowly in languid viperous wreaths
towards the roof. Soon a dull drowsy film began to thicken in his eyes
and to quench their light. Soon the muscles of his face began to
relax, and all expression save one of vacuous self-enjoyment, to fade
out of his features as daylight dies slowly out of a landscape at set
of sun. Ducie had filled for himself a pipe of cavendish, and now sat
down a yard or two removed from his host.

"Ducie, _mon petit_," said Platzoff, speaking already in tones that
were strangely unlike his own, "there is a peculiar flavour about my
pipe to-night, such as I never remember to have experienced before. I
cannot understand it."

"Is it a flavour that you like, or one that you dislike?"

"I don't altogether dislike it," answered Platzoff. "But why is it
there at all?"

"Can't say, I am sure," replied Ducie in his quiet way. "I filled your
pipe this evening out of a fresh lot of drashkil that Cleon mixed for
you this morning. Perhaps your taste is out of order."

"Perhaps so. Anyway, the pipe is delicious, but terribly strong. I can
talk no more. _Bon soir, ami_, and pleasant dreams."

"In another ten minutes he will be as firm as a rock," murmured Ducie
to himself. He looked at his watch. It was just eleven o'clock.

Ducie sat smoking his cavendish and watching his host stealthily from
under his thick eyebrows. He had put a very small portion of the
contents of the little packet from London into Platzoff's pipe, and he
was curious to see how it would act. His intention was simply to send
Platzoff into a sounder sleep than usual, and so make sure that he
would not be disturbed by the unexpected waking of the Russian later
in the night. For he had made up his mind that this night of all
others he would steal the Great Mogul Diamond. In his own thoughts he
did not use such an ugly word as _steal_ in connexion with the affair.
He merely remarked as it were casually to himself, that to-night he
must appropriate the Diamond. He would retire at twelve o'clock as
usual. Later on, when the last sitter-up could hardly fail to be
asleep, he would come back as he had come so many times of late,
letting himself down by means of the rope from his own window; and so,
by way of No. 4 room and the corridor, reach M. Platzoff's private
rooms. Once there, he could easily deprive the unconscious Russian of
his pass-key, and now that he knew the secret of the hidden door, he
would have no difficulty in making his way direct into the cavern;
after which, to appropriate the Diamond would be the most natural
thing in the world. Returning by the way he had come, he would
carefully re-lock the cavern doors and shut the secret door. He would
replace the pass-key in Platzoff's pocket, and retire unseen to his
own room. Not improbably days would elapse before Platzoff again went
to look at his Diamond, and when he should find that it was gone--what
then? Why should he, Ducie, be suspected of stealing it any more than
any one else who might happen to be in the house? And even granting
the worst--that Platzoff suspected him of stealing the Diamond, even
charged him with stealing it? For the suspicion he did not care one
groat, and the charge was one that could not be proved. The only
result would be a quarrel between himself and M. Platzoff, and a
premature departure from Bon Repos. All this would not be difficult to
bear. The fact of the Diamond being his at last would act as a salve
for all the minor ills of life.

So ran Captain Ducie's thoughts as he sat smoking and watching M.
Platzoff's faculties fade gradually out, like those of a very old man
who has outlived his proper age. To-night the process was swifter than
usual, thanks to the narcotic which he had put unseen into the
Russian's pipe. He looked on with a complacent smile, caressing his
moustache now and again.

Platzoff passed quickly from stage to stage of the process, till, in
no long time, complete coma supervened, and he lived no longer save in
the opium-smoker's fantastic world. The light in his pipe died out,
the amber mouthpiece slipped from between his lips, his fingers
relaxed their hold on the stem, his head drooped, his jaw fell
slightly, a thin dark line marked the space between his imperfectly
closed eyelids. He sighed gently twice, and was gone.

To all these signs Captain Ducie was now well accustomed, and he
regarded them entirely as a matter of course. He refilled his pipe,
and lay back, with his hands clasped under his head, gazing up at the
gaudy ceiling, and building pleasant castles in the air. As the clock
struck twelve, Cleon or Jasmin would enter, and he himself would go to
roost for a couple of hours. Then would come the time for his great
enterprise.

He had been thus quietly engaged with his second pipe, for a space of
five or six minutes, when, finding that it did not draw to his mind,
he sat up with the view of ascertaining what was the matter with it.
In the act of opening his knife, he turned his eyes unthinkingly on M.
Platzoff. In the face of the silent man sitting opposite to him there
was something that caused his own face to blanch in a moment, as
though he had seen some unmentionable horror. He rose to his feet as
though moved by some invisible agency. Great beads of sweat burst out
on his brow; his lips turned blue; in his eyes was a terror
unspeakable. He staggered forward with a groan, and lifted the cold
hand that would never grasp his again.

"My God! I have killed him!"

He sank on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. He knew as
well as if twenty doctors had told him so, that M. Paul Platzoff, of
Bon Repos, was dead. On his forehead was stamped the Great Angel's
ineffaceable seal. Death had whispered in his ears, and he was deaf
for ever.

That one minute which Ducie spent on his knees was, perhaps, the
bitterest of his life. What his feelings were he himself could not
have told. "As heaven is my witness, I did not intend to do this
thing!" he exclaimed aloud, as he rose to his feet.

Then, in spite of the certainty which possessed him that Platzoff was
beyond all earthly aid, he bared one of the Russian's arms, and
pricked a vein with his penknife. But no blood followed, and with
another groan Ducie let go the fingers that were already growing cold
and stiff.

His next impulse was to ring for assistance. But in the very act of
pulling the bell-rope he paused. For a minute or two the very
existence of such a bauble as the Great Mogul Diamond had passed
entirely out of his thoughts. But as his fingers touched the rope,
there came a whisper in his ear, "Now or never the Diamond must become
yours!" He paused, and sat down for a moment to think.

Platzoff was gone past recovery. Of all men living he, Ducie, was
probably the only one to whom the existence of the Diamond was known;
or, at least, the place where it was hidden. Dead men tell no tales.
If he were to make the Diamond his,--and had he not a right to do so,
having paid such a tremendous price for it--who in all the wide world
would be one bit the wiser? If, on the contrary, he were to leave it
untouched, it might remain undiscovered in its dark home for
centuries, perhaps even till the end of time. Or if Platzoff's friend,
Signor Lampini, were sufficiently instructed where to find it, of
what use would it be to him except as a means for the propagation of
red-hot revolutionary ideas, among which, for aught he knew to the
contrary, assassination might be looked upon as a cardinal virtue? He
would be worse than a fool not to seize the last chance that would
ever be offered him of making the precious gem his own for ever.

Once more he looked at his watch. It wanted exactly a quarter to
twelve. He had fifteen clear minutes that he could call his own, and
not one minute more. No suspicion would attach to him with regard to
the death of Platzoff; he felt no uneasiness on that score. But after
that event should be discovered, the pass-key would be claimed by
Cleon, and all access to the rooms denied him. Now or never was his
time.

He hesitated no longer. With a shudder he put his hand into the dead
man's pocket, and drew forth the silver key. It was the work of a
moment to light the little hand-lamp, and pass forward into the
library. Then he went down on his knees to look for the marks he had
made on the carpet which were to point out to him the exact position
of the secret door. Having found them, together with an almost
invisible scratch which he had made on a particular part of the
polished panelling of the bookcase, he was guided at once to the
spring by which the secret door was acted upon, and in another moment
the narrow stone staircase opened darkly at his feet. Down the stairs
he went without pause or hesitation, carrying the lighted lamp in one
hand and the pass-key in the other. The door at the bottom of the
staircase opened without difficulty, and he found himself in the low
vaulted chamber at the further end of which was the door that opened
into the rock. The second door was passed as readily as the first,
and before him appeared the narrow passage that led to the cavern.
To-night the cold moist atmosphere of the place struck upon him with a
chill that made him shudder. He had trodden that passage but once
before, and then it was in company with the man who now lay cold and
dead in the room above. He gave a backward glance over his shoulder
half expecting to see the shade of Platzoff following silently in his
footsteps. But there was nothing save his own distorted shadow dogging
him like some monster at once ugly and grotesque. With a sneer at his
own timidity he entered the passage in the rock. In three minutes more
the great prize would be his.

Slowly and cautiously he threaded the tortuous pathway that led to the
heart of the hill. He reached the end of it in safety, and the cavern
loomed dim and vast before him. He paused for a moment, and held the
lamp high above his head. There, fixed in the middle of the sandy
floor he could just make out the vague outlines of the Indian idol.
The great gem that flashed in its forehead caught a ray from the
feeble lamp held by Ducie, and flung it back intensified a
thousandfold. Dude saw the flash; and his breath came thick and fast.

He advanced one step--a second. Then, before he knew what had
happened, he found himself stretched on the floor of the cave and in
utter darkness. He had stumbled over some inequality in the floor, and
had dropped his lamp in falling. Bruised and bleeding, and with a
curse on his lips, he rose to his feet.

The predicament in which he now found himself was anything but a
pleasant one. That he could find the idol even in the dark, and make
himself master of the Diamond, he did not doubt. But the question was,
whether if he wandered so far away from the narrow passage by which
access was had to the cavern, he could find it again, and so get back
to the library before the clock struck twelve. If that could be done
all might yet be well. If it could not be done--but he would not stop
to argue the point. He would make a bold dash for the Diamond. He
would risk everything in one final throw, and trust that the good
fortune which had so far befriended his enterprise would not desert
him in this great crisis of his fate.

A few seconds sufficed for him to weave these thoughts in his brain,
and almost before he had decided on what he would do he was advancing
deeper into the cavern; advancing slowly, step by step, with
outstretched arms, in the direction of the idol. By the light of his
lamp he had noted its position, and now that he was in the dark he
went to it nearly in a straight line. Suddenly it seemed as though the
idol had risen noiselessly from the ground. The palm of his left hand
smote its flat cold forehead. He lost not an instant in feeling for
the Diamond. The moment his fingers touched it he thrilled from head
to foot.

The Diamond was held in its place in the forehead of the idol by a
small gold clasp which worked in the hollow of the skull. It occupied
Ducie some three or four minutes, first to find the clasp, and
afterwards to unfasten it. At length he succeeded in opening it, and
the Diamond dropped into his palm. His own at last!

With a great sigh of relief and thankfulness he drew back his arm, and
having first kissed the gem, he put it carefully away into a safe
pocket, and then turned to retrace his steps. Taking the nose of the
idol as his starting-point, he calculated that a straight line from it
to the wall of the cavern would not land him very wide of the
entrance. But the difficulty was to keep a straight line in the dark,
and the darkness of the cavern was something that might almost be
felt. But there was no time for hesitation. If midnight had not struck
already it must be close on the point of doing so. The delay of a
single minute might be the cause of his discovery either by Cleon or
Jasmin. What the result would be in such a case he did not pause to
ask himself. Instead, he set himself with his back to the face of the
idol and stepped out slow and steady for the side of the cave.

He had got about half way across the intervening space when a sound
fell on his ear that brought him on the instant to a dead stand. It
was the noise made by some one descending the stone stairs that led
into the vaulted room. All had been discovered, then! The death of
Platzoff, the secret door standing wide open, and his, Ducie's,
disappearance. The intruder must be either Cleon or Jasmin. Was either
of them aware of the existence of the Diamond, and that it had been
hidden in the cave? If not, then his presence there could be easily
excused on the score of simple curiosity to see so strange a place. If
they knew of the existence of the Diamond, they would suspect at once
that he had taken it, and would doubtless try to dispossess him of it
by force. Well: they should not take it from him without taking his
life also: on that point he was fully determined. Presently a thin ray
of light which cut the darkness like a sword, shone through the narrow
entrance to the cave. It broadened and brightened quickly. As it drew
nearer, Captain Ducie advanced to meet it. His face was pale, but
very set and determined. His eyes shone from under his heavy brows
with a light that boded no good to the intruder whoever he might be.
He was not left long in doubt. Another half-minute brought into view
the gaunt figure of Cleon, newly-risen from his sick bed. With haggard
face and bloodshot eyes, and with a snarl of the lips that showed his
long narrow teeth, the mulatto advanced slowly and warily. In one hand
he carried a lamp, held high above his head; in the other a gleaming
dagger. Ducie advanced towards him haughtily, with folded arms. As
Cleon emerged from the into the cave his eyes fell on the captain's
tall figure. He smiled a ghastly smile, and slowly nodded his head
twice.

"Thief and villain! I have found you at last," he said. "Your heart's
blood shall dye the floor of this cave."

He set down his lamp on a projection of the rock, and deliberately
turned back the cuffs of his coat. Captain Ducie said never a word in
reply, but kept his eyes fixed unswervingly on Cleon, as he would have
done on a tiger or other beast of prey. He was without a defensive
weapon of any kind, and was obliged to trust to the quickness of his
eye and the strength of his muscles for safety in the coming attack.

Cleon's onslaught was exactly like that of a wild beast. It was a yell
and a spring, and it would in all probability have been fatal to Ducie
had not the latter been fully prepared for something of the kind. But
the very instant Cleon sprang at his throat, out went Ducie's right
arm, straight and true, like a sledge hammer, full in the mulatto's
face. Cleon dropped before it as though he had been shot through the
brain. But next instant he was on his feet again, his face streaked
with blood, and now looking more ghastly than before. He said
something Ducie could not understand, but if murder ever lurked in a
man's eyes, it peeped out of the mulatto's at that moment. He was not
at all daunted by his mishap: only rendered more wary. He made several
feints and false moves before he ventured on a second dash at the
captain. At last he thought he saw his chance, and in the twinkling of
an eye he had struck his dagger into the captain's shoulder. He had
aimed at the heart, but his enemy had proved too quick for him. His
dagger pricked into Ducie's shoulder, and Ducie's arms went round him
like a vice. The mulatto was active and sinewy, but in a close
struggle he was no match for the great strength of his opponent. His
arms were pinned to his sides, but his head was at liberty, and with
his long sharp teeth he fastened on Ducie's cheek and bit it through.
This roused Ducie's blood as half a dozen pricks with the dagger could
not have done. Lifting Cleon bodily up, he swung him once round, and
then dashed him with all his might against the side of the cave. The
mulatto rebounded from the rock, and came to the floor with a dull
heavy thud. He groaned twice, and then all was still except the heavy
beating of Ducie's heart.

Ducie bent over the body for a moment. "His fate be on his own head!"
he muttered. Then, having made sure that the Diamond was still safe in
his possession, he took up the lamp and passed out of the cave. He
shut and locked the two doors behind him, and when he got back to the
library he also closed the secret door through the bookcase. As he
passed through the smoke-room he gave one hasty shuddering glance at
the dead body of Platzoff. The half-open eyes seemed to fix him with a
look of terrible reproach. He fancied that he saw the pallid lips
move. "Ingrate!" they seemed to say, "was it for this I took thee to
my bosom and called thee friend?"

Ducie put his hand to his eyes and strode on. He found the door that
led into the corridor half open as it had probably been left by Cleon
in the horror of the sudden discovery he had made on entering the
smoke-room. Ducie closed it carefully behind him. That door locked up
a double secret, and it behoved him to get clear away from Bon Repos
before it could be brought to light. He carried his treasure with him,
and that would compensate for everything.

The moment he turned into the corridor to go towards his own rooms he
began to feel faint from loss of blood. The first great excitement was
over, and now his wounds began to make themselves felt. Great heavens!
if he were to lose his senses at such a critical moment and be found
by the servants! They would perceive that he was wounded, and would
probably strip him, and then how would it fare with the Diamond? Just
as this thought was in his mind Jasmin came suddenly round a corner
and started back in alarm at sight of his pale face all streaked with
blood.

"Sir--Captain Ducie--what is the matter? Are you wounded?" he cried.

"A slight accident--a mere scratch," gasped the captain. "Lend me your
arm as far as my room, and--and don't leave me yet awhile."


The first message sent by the telegraph clerk at Oxenholme station
when he went on duty next morning, was as under: "From J. M.,
Windermere, to Solomon Madgin, Tydsbury, Midlandshire.

"Address no more letters to B.R. till you hear from me again. A grand
fracas. The Captain and I are on our way to town. Unless I am greatly
mistaken, we carry the G.M.D. with us."



CHAPTER XVI.
MADGIN JUNIOR'S THIRD REPORT.


     "Button's Hotel.
        "St. Helier, Jersey.


"My dear Dad,--My telegram from Oxenholme, followed by my brief note
from London, will have prepared you in part for the strange events
that have happened since the date of my last report. I now purpose
giving you, as succinctly as possible, a narrative of those events
from the point where my last report broke off. You will then
understand how it happens that my present communication is dated from
this pleasant little isle.

"After the conclusion of Report No. 2 nothing of consequence happened
for a few days--nothing that would allow me to imagine that the
discovery of the secret door in the library would further our views in
any way. M. Platzoff was confined to his bed for a couple of days
after the fit in which I found him. After that time he got up as
usual, and everything at Bon Repos went on as before. Captain Ducie
was still with us. I understood from Cleon that he had been invited by
M. Platzoff to extend his visit. The health of Cleon kept improving
from day to day, and about a week after M. Platzoff's sudden attack he
announced to me that from that date he would resume those personal
duties about his master which during his illness had been delegated to
me. Then farewell to my last chance of ever seeing the Great Diamond,
I said to myself when he told me.

"And truly, at that moment I despaired utterly of ever advancing one
step nearer the object that had brought me to Bon Repos. I was on the
point of giving notice there and then of my intention to leave, and of
writing you by the next post to inform you of what I had done.
Besides, I was getting tired of my occupation--tired of Bon Repos and
all in it. I began to hanker after my old way of life, in which a
fictitious character is never assumed for more than four hours at a
stretch. I had been acting the part of valet for more weeks than I
cared to count, and I was heartily tired of the assumption. However,
on second thoughts, I determined to delay giving notice for another
week. I would wait seven more days, and if nothing turned up during
that time to further our views, I decided that I would throw up the
situation without further delay and go back to town. Never had the
hunt after the Great Mogul Diamond seemed to me a more wildgoose
affair than it did at that moment.

"It was in the afternoon that Cleon spoke to me. The evening was to be
devoted by M. Platzoff to drashkil-smoking--Cleon had been preparing a
fresh supply of the drug that very morning--and Cleon's resumption of
his duties was to commence at midnight, at which hour M. Platzoff
would doubtless require carrying to bed, and the mulatto decided that
that duty should be performed by himself.

"Cleon had not yet felt himself well enough to resume his custom,
interrupted by illness, of going out every evening to smoke a pipe
with the landlord of the village inn. (Both the house and the landlord
will be well remembered by you.) This evening he had invited me into
his little sitting-room to smoke a cigar and join him over a glass of
grog--a most unusual condescension on his part. We were still sitting
over our tumblers when the timepiece chimed twelve. Cleon rose at
once. 'Had you not better let me go to-night?' I said. 'You are far
from strong yet, and M. Platzoff will most probably want carrying to
bed.'

"'No no,' he said, 'I will go myself. I feel quite equal to the task.
Await my return here, and we will have one more weed before parting
for the night.'

"He went, and I lighted a fresh cigar. I think he must have been gone
about ten minutes when he came back all in a hurry. His face was
livid, but whether from fear or some other emotion I could not tell. I
started to my feet and was about to question him, but he motioned me
back. 'Ask no questions,' he said, 'and do not stir from this place
till I come back--unless,' he added as a second thought, 'unless you
hear M. Platzoff's bell. In that case come without a moment's delay.'

"I saw he was in no mood to be questioned, so I sat down quietly and
resumed my cigar. From a number of weapons that hung on the wall over
his mantelpiece he selected a long and ugly-looking Malay creese. He
felt its point with a grim smile, whispering something to himself as
he did so, and then he hurriedly left the room.

"Now, it was all very well for Master Cleon to tell me to sit still
and await his return. I had no intention of doing anything of the
kind. I had a deeper interest in all that happened under that roof
than he suspected.

"When he had been gone about a minute and a half, I laid down my cigar
and quietly followed him down the long corridor leading to M.
Platzoff's rooms. I had on the thin slippers which I usually wore in
the house. M. Platzoff liked all the arrangements at Bon Repos to be
as noiseless as possible.

"The corridor ends in a landing: on this landing are several doors
that open into different rooms, one of them being the door that gives
access to M. Platzoff's private suite. The corridor and the landing
were both in darkness.

"Much to my astonishment, on approaching M. Platzoff's door I saw by
the stream of light that poured from it that it was only partially
closed. I drew near on tiptoe and listened, ready at the slightest
sound of an approaching footstep to vanish into one of the empty rooms
on the opposite side of the landing. But no sound of any kind broke
the death-like silence. I listened till I was tired of listening, and
then I ventured to push open the door a few inches further, and look
in. The room was lighted as usual, and was filled with the faint,
sickly odour of drashkil, to which by this time I had become
accustomed. But Cleon was not there. There, however, was M. Platzoff,
not half sitting, half reclining, on the divan as was his custom when
in one of his opium sleeps, but stretched out at full length on the
cushions.

"He lay with his eyes half open, and at the first glance it seemed to
me that he was watching me in that quiet, cynical way that I knew so
well, and I started like one suddenly detected in the commission of
some great offence. A second glance showed me that in those half-open
eyes there was no light nor knowledge of earthly things. I thought
that he had been taken with another fit, and without further
hesitation I pushed open the door and went in.

"I took the inanimate body up in my arms, and was about to carry it to
bed, when something in the fall of the limbs and the expression of the
face struck a sudden chill to my heart, and I laid it gently down
again. I sought for the pulse, but could not find it; I laid my hand
on the heart, but it was still.

"M. Platzoff was stone-dead!

"How or by what means his fate had come thus suddenly upon him I had no
means of judging. Poor Platzoff! At that moment I could not help
feeling sorry for him. But presently came the thought--where is Cleon?
and for what purpose did he fetch that dagger from his room? There
were no tokens of murder about the dead man: he seemed to have died as
calmly as an infant might have done.

"I pressed forward into the bedroom, which, as usual, was lighted up by
a pair of wax candles. I took one of these and went onward into the
library. I could scarcely believe my eyes  when I saw the secret door
in the book-case standing wide open. It opened on to a steep and
narrow staircase, at the bottom of which was another door, also open.
Further than that the faint light of my candle would not penetrate.

"'Does this staircase lead to the hiding-place of the Diamond?' was the
question that flashed across my mind. Now or never was the time to
answer it. But to venture down that dismal staircase into the unknown
depths beyond was a task I did not care for. Suppose that, while I
were down there, someone were to come and lock me up. I might scream
and call for help till I died, yet never be heard by living man.
Besides, after all, the Diamond might not be hidden there. The game
was not worth the candle.

"I turned to go back, but at that moment the silence was shivered by a
yell so utterly fiendish and unlike anything I had ever heard before,
that my blood chilled at the sound, and all the stories that I had
ever heard or read of Indian cunning and ferocity came rushing into my
mind.

"I stood motionless, with the candle still in my hand, listening for a
repetition of the terrible cry. But none came. Instead, in a little
while I heard the noise of approaching footsteps. Then indeed I fled.
Anxious as I was to know the meaning of what I had seen and heard, I
had no desire to risk my life for the sake of gratifying my curiosity.

"Leaving my candle where I had found it, I passed quickly through the
suite of rooms, and did not halt till I reached the dark corridor
outside. Here I waited and listened till I heard the footsteps coming
through the rooms. Then I turned up the corridor, waited behind the
first angle, and watched to see who should come out of the smoke-room.
I expected to see none other than Cleon. Instead, I saw Ducie come
staggering out, carrying a small lighted lamp in his hand, and having
his face all smeared with blood. Some weird tragedy had just been
enacted, and I should not have been my father's son if I had not
wanted to get to the bottom of it.

"I retired a few paces, and then, calculating my time, I stepped
briskly forward as Ducie came up the corridor. We met face to face at
the corner, and we both started back in mutual surprise. There was a
wildness in the captain's eyes, and he looked as if he were about to
faint.

"'Sir! Captain Ducie!' I exclaimed, 'what is the matter? Are you
wounded?'

"'A slight accident, that's all: a mere scratch,' he gasped out. 'Lend
me your arm as far as my room.'

"I assisted him to his dressing-room, and once there, he sank down on
the sofa with a deep sigh.

"'Get me some brandy,' he whispered. 'Before you go, let me tell you,'
he added, 'that should I faint you must on no account summon any
further assistance, neither must you remove any of my clothes. Bear
those two points in mind, and also that you are not to leave me, nor
let anyone else approach me till I come round. Now go, and get back as
quickly as possible.'

"I had only to go as far as Cleon's room for what I wanted. I found the
room just as I had left it. Cleon had not yet returned. 'Would he ever
return?' was the question I now asked myself. Had there not been some
terrible encounter between him and Ducie, and had not the mulatto had
the worst of it? Yet why should there be any encounter between the
two, if it were not to determine which of them should obtain
possession of the Diamond?

"That the death of M. Platzoff was known to both of them could not be
doubted. Supposing, then, that the existence of the Diamond, and the
place where it was hidden, were equally well known, what more likely
than that there should be a struggle between the two, ending fatally
for one of them, for possession of the Diamond? Supposing Captain
Ducie to have been the victor in such an encounter, was it at all
unlikely that the Diamond was now about his person? Such a supposition
would account reasonably enough for the curious injunctions he laid
upon me just before I quitted his room.

"Full of this great thought, I hurried back with the brandy. True
enough, the captain had fainted. He lay at full length on the sofa,
with not an atom of sense left in him. But the singularity of the
thing lay in the fact that Captain Ducie's right hand was deeply
buried inside his vest, and there grasped some small substance--I
could not tell what--with a tenacity that could not have been
surpassed had his hand not been opened for twenty years. So much I
discovered before I proceeded to apply any of the remedies usual on
such occasions. After a few minutes he came to his senses sufficiently
to know where he was and what I was about. But before his mind had
become quite clear on all points, he withdrew his clenched hand from
his waistcoat, stared at it wonderingly for a second or two, but
without opening it; then like a flash it seemed to come across his
mind what was hidden there, and with a deep 'Ha!' he thrust back his
hand, only to withdraw it, open and empty, half a minute later. 'He
has hidden away the Diamond in some inner pocket,' I said to myself.
From that moment I never doubted that the wondrous gem was in his
possession, and I could not help admiring the cool patience and the
indomitable pluck he must have displayed before he could call it his
own. All the same, I determined to try all I knew to cause it to
change hands once more.

"The brandy revived Captain Ducie, and in a few minutes he was able to
sit up and tell me what he wanted. He told me that he had been wounded
accidentally in the shoulder, and bade me assist him off with his coat
and vest. The coat he flung carelessly aside. The vest he doubled up,
laid it on the sofa and sat down on it. Then I cut open his shirt and
laid bare the wound on his shoulder. It was not very deep, but there
had been a good deal of hemorrhage. With the coolness and knowledge of
an old campaigner the captain instructed me how to bathe the wound and
dress it with some salve which he produced from his dressing-case.
Then he put on some clean linen, washed the smears from his face, hid
the ugly gash in his cheek with a strip of court-plaster, and dressed.
All this was done with a silence and celerity that astonished me.

"'So far, so good,' said Captain Ducie. 'I want you next to pack my
small portmanteau. Put into it my dressing-case and all my papers, and
as many of my clothes as it will hold. Then go and pack up a few
things of your own. I want you to go with me, and in ten minutes I
shall expect you to be ready to start.'

"I made some faint objections on the score of leaving M. Platzoff in
such an unceremonious way.

"'I will take the entire responsibility on my own shoulders,' he said.
'Your excuses to M. Platzoff shall be made by me. You have nothing to
fear on that score. As my shoulder is now, it is quite impossible for
me to go up to town alone. You need only be away forty-eight hours,
and I shall not forget to remunerate you for your trouble.'

"In ten minutes I was ready to start. 'If Captain Ducie has got the
Diamond about him, as I fully believe he has,' I said to myself, 'then
is my occupation at Bon Repos gone, and I care not if I never see the
place again. My duty is evidently to accompany the gallant captain.'

"When I had packed my own little valise, I stole quietly into Cleon's
room. It was still empty: the mulatto had not returned. Then I went
softly down the corridor, pushed open the door of the smoke-room and
looked in. No hand had touched the body of M. Platzoff since I left it
last. I whispered 'Farewell,' covered up the white face, and left the
room. I had one thing more to do. Taking a lighted candle in my hand I
went into the little gallery that opens out of the drawing-room. In
this gallery were several cases containing old coins, old china, rare
fossils, and various other curiosities natural and artificial. It was
one of these curiosities that I was in quest of. I knew where the key
was kept that opened the cases. I got it and opened the case in which
lay the object I was in search of. This object, to all appearance, was
nothing more than a bit of green glass, except that its shape was
rather uncommon. There was a small label near it, and this label I had
one day been at the trouble of deciphering. The writing was so minute
as almost to require a magnifying glass to read it by. After much
difficulty I had succeeded in making out these words:

"'Model in paste of the G.M.D. by Bertolini of Paris.'

"M. Platzoff was dead; Cleon, for aught I knew to the contrary, was
dead too. I was about to leave Bon Repos for ever--to leave it with
the man who had stolen the genuine Diamond from the man who had stolen
it from its rightful owner. Why should not I take possession of the
paste Diamond? As a simple curiosity it might be a gratification to
Lady P. to possess it. More than that: it seemed to me not impossible
that certain eventualities might arise in which the possession of an
exact model of the Diamond might be of service to us. Anyhow, I
dropped it quietly into my pocket."



END OF VOL. II.





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