« ForrigeFortsæt »
AUTHOR OF DIGBY GRAND,' CERISE,' THE GLADIATORS, ETC.
HERE is no reason, because a
woman is coarse, hard-working, low-born, and badly-dressed, she should be without that inconvenient feminine appendage a heart. Dorothea trembled and turned pale when the door of the Holborn gin-shop swung open and the man she most wished to see in all the world stood at her side.
He would have been a goodlooking fellow enough in any rank of life, but to Dorothea, and others of her class, his clear, well-cut features and jetty ringlets rendered him an absolute Adonis, despite the air of half-drunken bravado and assumed recklessness which marred a naturally resolute expression of countenance. He wore a fur cap, a velveteen jacket, and a bright-red neckcloth, secured by an enormous ring; nor was this remarkable costume out of character with the perfume he exhaled, denoting he had consumed at least his share of that VOL. XV.NO. LXXXVI.
other half-quartern which postponed his departure.
Dorothea slipped her arm in his, and clung to him with the fond tenacity of a woman who loves heart and soul, poor thing, to her cost.
His manner was an admirable combination of low-class gallantry with pitying condescension.
'Why, Doll,' said he, what's up now? You don't look hearty, my lass. Step in and take a dram; it'll do you good.'
She glanced admiringly in the comely, dissipated face.
"Ah! they may well call you Gentleman Jim,' she answered; 'you're fit to be a lord of the land, you are; and so you would, if I was queen. But I doesn't want you to treat me, Jim, leastways not this turn; I wants you to come for a walk, dear. I've a bit of news for you. It's business, Jim,' she added, somewhat ruefully, 'or I wouldn't go for to ask,'
His face, which had fallen a little, assuming that wearied expression a woman ought most to dread on the face she cares for, brightened considerably.
'Come on, lass,' he exclaimed, 'business first and pleasure arter. Speak up, and let's hear all about it.'
They had turned from the main thoroughfare into a dark and quiet bye-street. She crossed her workworn hand on his arm and proceeded nervously
'You say I never put you on a job, Jim. Well, I've a job to put you on now. I don't half like it, dear. It's for your sake I don't half like it. Promise me as you'll be careful, very careful, this turn.'
'Bother!' answered Jim. 'Stow that, lass, and let's have it out.'
Thus elegantly adjured, Doll, as he called her, obeyed without delay, though her voice faltered and her colour faded more than once while she went on.
'You told me as you wouldn't love me without I kep' my ears open, and my eyes too. Well, Jim, I've watched and watched old master and young, like a cat watches a mouse-hole, till I've been that sick and tired I could have set down and cried. Now, to-day I wanted to see you so bad, at any rate, and, thinks I, here's a bit of news as my Jim will like to learn. Look, now: young master, he's a-goin' to a place they call Bragford by the five o'clock train. Oh! I mind the name well enough. You know, Jim, you always bid me take notice of names. Well, it's Bragford. Bragford, says he, quite plain, an' as loud as I'm a-speakin' now.'
'Forty-five miles from London,' answered Jim, ' and not ten minutes walk from the branch line. Well?"
'He's a takin' summut down for a young lady,' continued Doll. 'It is but a small package, what you might put in your coat-pocket, or your hat. Oh! Jim, Jim, if you
should chance on a stroke of luck this turn, won't you give the trade up for good and all? If you and me had but a roof to cover us, I wouldn't ask better than only liberty to work for you till I dropped.'
Tears stood in her eyes, and for a moment the face that looked up into the ruffian's was almost beautiful in its expression of entire devotion and trust.
He had taken a doubtful cigar from his coat - pocket, and was smoking thoughtfully.
'Small,' said he, then it ought, by rights, to be valuable. Did ye get a feel of it, Doll, or was it only a smell?'
'He took it hisself out of the jeweller's hands,' answered Doll; but I hadn't no call to be curious, for he told me what it was free enough. There ain't no smell about diamonds, Jim.'
'Nor you can't swear to them neither,' replied Jim, exultingly. Diamonds, Doll! you're sure he said diamonds? Come, you have done it, my lass. Give us a kiss, Doll, and let's turn in here at the Sunflower, and drink good luck to the job.'
The woman acceded to both proposals readily enough, but followed her companion into the ill-favoured little tavern with a weary step and a heavy heart. Some unerring instinct told her, no doubt, that she was giving all and taking nothing; offering gold for silver, truth for falsehood, love and devotion for a mere liking, rapidly waning to indifference and contempt.
Tom Ryfe, all anxiety to find himself once more in the same county with Miss Bruce, was in good time, we may be sure, for the train that should carry him down to Ecclesfield. Bustling through the station to take his ticket, he was closely followed by a well-dressed person in a pair of blue spectacles, travelling, apparently, without luggage or impedimenta of any description. This individual seemed also bound for Bragford, and showed some little eagerness to travel in the same carriage with Tom, who attributed the compliment to his latelyconstructed coat and general appearance as a swell of the first water. 'He don't often get such a chance,' thought Mr. Ryfe, accepting with extreme graciousness the other's civilities as to open windows and change of seats. He even went
so far as to take a proffered cigar from the case of his fellow-traveller, which he would have smoked forthwith, but for the peremptory objections of a crusty old gentleman who arrived at the last moment, encumbered with such a paraphernalia of railway-rugs, travelling-bags, books, newspapers and magazines, as denoted the through passenger, not to be got rid of at any intermediate station. The old gentleman glared defiance, but made himself comfortable nevertheless; and the presence of this common enemy was a bond of union to render the two chance acquaintances more than ordinarily cordial and communicative.
Smoking being prohibited, they had not proceeded many miles into the country ere the gentleman in spectacles produced a box of lozenges from his pocket, and, selecting one for his own consumption, offered another, with much suavity, to Tom Ryfe, surveying, meanwhile, with inquisitive glances the bulge in that gentleman's breastpocket where he carried his valuable package; but here again both were startled, not to say irritated, by the dictatorial interference of the last arrival.
'Excuse me, gentlemen,' said this irrepressible old man, I cannot permit it! Damn me, sir,' turning full round upon Tom Ryfe, 'I won't permit it! I can detect the smell of chloroform in those lozenges. Smell, sir, I've the smell of a bloodhound. I could hunt a scamp all over England by nose-by nose, I tell you, sir, and worry him to death when I ran into him; and I would, too. Now, sir, if you choose to be chloroformed, I don't. I'm not anxious to be taken out of this compartment as stupid as an owl and as cold as a cabbage, with a pain in my eyes, a singing in my ears, and a Scoundrel's hands in my waistcoat pockets. Excuse me, sir, I'm warm -I wouldn't give much for a chap that wasn't- and I speak my mind!'
It seemed a bad speculation to quarrel with him, this big, burly, resolute, and disagreeable old man. Tom Ryfe, for once, was at a nonplus. He murmured a few vague
sentences of dissent, while the passenger in spectacles, consigning his lozenges to an inner pocket, buried himself in the broad sheet of the 'Times.'
But it was his turn now, and not even thus could he escape. Staring grimly at him, over the top of the paper, his tormentor fired a pointblank question, from which there was no refuge.
'Pray, sir,' said he, are you a chemist?'
The gentleman in spectacles signified, by a shake of the head, that was not his profession.
"Then, sir,' continued the other, 'do you know anything about chemistry-volatile essences, noxious drugs, subtle poisons? I do.' (Here Tom Ryfe observed his ally turn pale.) 'Permit me to remark, sir, that if you don't you are like a schoolboy carrying a pocketful of squibs and crackers on the fifth of November, unconscious that a single spark may blow him into the Christmas holidays before he can say "knife!" Let me see those lozenges, sir-let me have them in my hand; I'll tell you in five seconds what they're made of, and how, and where, and why!'
Here the man in spectacles, with considerable presence of mind, threw the whole of his lozenges out of window, under cover of the Times.'
'You frighten me, sir,' said he; 'I wouldn't keep such dangerous articles about me on any consideration.'
The old gentleman executed an elaborate wink, denoting extreme satisfaction, at Tom Ryfe. If you were going through,' said he, 'I could tell you some funny stories. Queer tricks upon travellers I've seen in my time. Why I was the first person to find out the sinking floor dodge in West Street. evidence transported three people for life, and a fourth for fifteen years. I once saw a man pulled down by the heels through a grating in one of the busiest streets in the City, and if I hadn't seen him he would never have come up alive. Why the police apply to me for advice many a time when people are missing. Don't distress your
selves, says I, they'll turn up, never fear. And they do turn up, sir, in nineteen cases out of twenty. In the twentieth, when there's foul play, we generally know something about it within eight-and-forty hours. Bragford? Is it? You get out here, do you? Good-morning, gentlemen; I hope you've enjoyed your jaunt.'
Then as Tom, collecting greatcoats, newspapers, &c., followed his new acquaintance out of the carriage, this strange old gentleman detained him for an instant by the
'Mad!' observed the latter, with an uneasy attempt at a laugh and a readjustment of his glasses.
'Mad, no doubt,' answered Tom, but followed the lunatic's counsel, nevertheless, so far as to refrain from offering the other a lift in the well-appointed brougham, with its burly coachman, waiting to convey him to Ecclesfield Manor, though his late fellow-traveller was proceeding in that direction on foot.
Tom had determined to sleep at the Railway Hotel, Bragford, ere he returned to London next day. This arrangement he considered more respectful than an intrusion on the hospitality of Ecclesfield, should it be offered him. Perhaps so scrupulous a regard for the proprieties mollified Miss Bruce in his favour, and called forth an invitation to tea in the drawing-room when he had concluded the solitary dinner prepared for him after his journey.
Tom Ryfe was always a careful dresser. Up to forty most men are. It is only when we have nobody to please that we become negligent of pleasing, I believe, though, that
never in his life did he tie his neckcloth or brush his whiskers with more care than on the present occasion in a large and dreary chamber known to the household as one of the best bed-rooms' of Ecclesfield Manor.
Tom looked about him, with a proud consciousness that at last his foot was on the ladder he had wanted all his life to climb. Here he stood, actually dressing for dinner, a welcome guest in the house of an old-established county family, on terms of confidence, if not intimacy, with its proud and beautiful female representative, in whose cause he was about to do battle with all the force of his intellect and (Tom began to think she could make him fool enough for anything) all the resources of his purse. The old family picturessad daubs, or they would never have been consigned to the bedrooms-simpered down on him with encouraging benignity. Prim women, wearing enormously long waists, and their heads a good deal on one side, pointed their fans at him, while he washed his hands, with a coquetry irresistible, had their colours only stood, combining entreaty and command; while a jolly old boy in flowing wig, steel breastplate, and the most convivial of noses, smiled in his face, as who should say,' Audaces Fortuna juvat! -Go in, my hearty, and win if you can!'
What was there in these surroundings, in the orderly decorum of the well-regulated mansion, in the chiming of the stable clock, nay, in the reflection of his own person shown by that full-length glass, to take the starch, as it were, out of Tom's self-confidence, turning his moral courage limp and helpless for the nonce, bringing insensibly to his mind the familiar refrain of 'Not for Joseph? What was there that bade him man himself against this discouragement, as true bravery mans itself against the sensation of fear? and why should he be less worthy of approbation than other spirits who venture on enterprises of great pith and moment' with beating hearts indeed, but with un.
flinching courage and a dogged determination to succeed?
Had Tom been a young knight arming for a tournament, in which the good fortune of his lance was to win him a king's daughter for his bride, he might have claimed to be an admirable and interesting hero. Was he, indeed, a less respectable adventurer, that for steel he had to substitute French polish, for surcoat and corselet, broadcloth and cambric-that the battle he was to wage must be fought out by tenacity of purpose and ingenuity of brain rather than strength of arm and downright hardness of skull?
He shook a little too much scent on his handkerchief as he finished dressing, and walked down-stairs in a state of greater agitation than he would have liked to admit.
Dinner was soon done. Eaten in solitude with grave servants watching every mouthful, he was glad to get it over. In a glass of brown sherry he drank Miss Bruce's health, and thus primed, followed the butler to the drawing-room, where that lady sat working by the light of a single lamp.
The obscurity was in his favour. Tom made his bow and accepted the chair offered him, less awkwardly than was to be expected from the situation.
Maud looked very beautiful with the light falling on her sculptured chin, her fair neck, and white hands, set off by the deep shadows of the mourning dress she wore.
I believe he was going to begin by saying 'it had been a fine day,' but she stopped him in her clear cold voice, with its patrician accent, so difficult to define, yet so impossible to mistake.
'I have to thank you, Mr. Ryfe, for taking such care of my jewels. I hope the man left them at your office as he promised, and that you had no further trouble about them.'
He wanted to say that 'no errand of hers could be a trouble to him,' but the words stuck in his throat, or she would hardly have proceeded so graciously.
'We must go into a few matters of business this evening, if you have got the papers you mentioned. I
leave here to-morrow, and there is little time to spare.'
He produced a neatly - folded packet, docketed and carefully tied with tape. The sight of it roused his energies as the shaking of a guidon rouses an old trooper. Despite of the enchantress and all her glamour, Tom was himself again.
'Business is my trade, Miss Bruce,' said he, briskly. 'I must ask your earnest attention for a quarter of an hour, while I explain our position as regards the estate. At present it appears beset with difficulties. That's my look out. Before we begin,' added Tom, with a diffident faltering of voice, partly natural, partly assumed, forgive my asking your future address. It is indispensable that we should frequently communicate, and-and-I cannot help hoping and expressing my hope for your happiness in the home you have chosen.'
Maud's smile was very taking. She smiled with her eyes, those dark pleasing eyes that would have made a fool of a wiser man than Tom.
'I am going to Aunt Agatha's,' she said. 'I am to live with her for good. I have no home of my own now.'
The words were simple enough— spoken, too, without sadness or bitterness as a mere abstract matterof-fact, but they aroused all the penand-ink chivalry in Tom's nature, and he vowed in his heart to lay goose-quill in rest on her behalf, with the devotion of a Montmorency or a Bayard.
Miss Bruce,' said he, resolutely, 'the battle is not yet lost. In our last, of the 15th, we advised you that the other side had already taken steps to oppose our claims. My uncle has great experience, and I will not conceal from you that my uncle is less sanguine than myself; but I begin to see my way, and if there is a possibility of winning, by hook or by crook, depend upon it, Miss Bruce, win we will, for our own sakes. and—and—for yours!'
The last two words were spoken in a whisper, being indeed a spontaneous ebullition, but she heard them nevertheless. In her deep