"It was Uncle Loveday," remarked the innocent Thomas.
There was an awful pause; which I broke at length by asking to be allowed to go. Aunt Elizabeth saw her way to getting rid of the offender.
"Thomas, you might walk with Jasper over the downs to Lantrig. It will be nice exercise for you."
"It may be exercise, aunt, but—"
"Do not answer me, but go. Where do you expect little boys will go to, who are always idle?"
"Sleep?" hazarded Thomas.
"Thomas, you shall learn the whole of Dr. Watts's poem on the sluggard before you go to bed this night."
At this the boy slowly rose, took his cap, stood before her, and solemnly repeated the whole of that melancholy tale, finishing the last line at the door and gravely bowing himself out. I followed, awestruck, and we set out in silence.
At first, anxiety for my mother possessed all my thoughts, but presently I ventured to congratulate Tom on his performance.
"She has read it to me so often," replied he, "that I can't help knowing it. I hate Dr. Watts, and I love to go to sleep. I dream such jolly things. Sleep is ever so much nicer than being awake, isn't it?"
I wanted sleep, having had but little for two nights, and could therefore agree with him.
"You get such jolly adventures when you dream," said Tom, reflectively.
I had been rather surfeited with adventures lately, so held my peace.
"Now, real life is so dull. If one could only meet with adventures—"
I caught the sound of wheels behind us, and turned round. We had struck off the downs on to the high road. A light gig with one occupant was approaching us. As it drew near the driver hailed us.
"Hullo! lads, is this the road for Polkimbra?"
The speaker was a short, grizzled, seafaring man, with a kind face and good-humoured mouth. He drove execrably, and pulled his quiet mare right back upon her haunches.
I answered that it was.
"Are you bound for there? Yes? Jump up then. I'll give you a lift."
I looked at Tom; he, of course, was ready for anything that would save trouble, so we clambered up beside the stranger.
"There was a wreck there yesterday, I've heard," said he, after we had gone a few yards, "and an inquest, and, by the tale I heard, a lot of lies told."
I started. The man did not notice it, but continued—
"Maybe you've heard of it. Well, it's a rum world, and a fine lot of lies gets told every day, but you don't often get so accomplished a liar as that chap—what's his name? Blessed if I can tackle it; not but what it's another lie, I'll wager."
I was listening intently. He continued more to himself than to us—
"An amazing liar, though I wonder what his game was. It beats me; beats me altogether. The 'James and Elizabeth,' says he, as large as life. I take it the fellow couldn't 'a been fooling who brought the news to Falmouth. Didn't know me from Adam, and was fairly put about when he saw how I took it, and, says he, ''twas the James and Elizabeth the chap said, as sure as I stand here.' Boy, do you happen to know the name of the vessel that ran ashore here, night afore last?"
I had grown accustomed to being asked this dreadful question, and therefore answered as bravely as I could. "The James and Elizabeth, sir."
"Captain Antonius Merrydew."
"Ah, poor chap! He was lying sick below when she struck, wasn't he? And he had a wife aboard, and a child born at sea, hadn't he? Fell sick in the Bay o' Biscay, like any land-lubber, didn't he? Why, 'tis like play-actin'; damme! 'tis better than that."
With this the man burst into a shout of laughter and slapped his thigh until his face grew purple with merriment.
"What d'ye think of it, boy, for a rare farce? Was ever the likes of it heard? Captain Antonius Merrydew sick in the Bay o' Biscay! Ho, ho! Where's play-actin' beside it?"
"Wasn't it true, sir?"
"True? God bless the boy! Look me in the face: look me in the face, and then ask me if it's true."
"But why should it not be true, sir?"
"Because I am Captain Antonius Merrydew!"
For the rest of the journey I sat stunned. Thomas beside me was wide awake and staring, seeing his way to an adventure at last. It was I that dreamed—I heard without comprehension the rest of the captain's tale:—how he had come, after a quick passage from Ceylon, to Falmouth with the barque James and Elizabeth, just in time to hear of this monstrous lie; how he was unmarried, and never had a day's illness in his life; how, suspecting foul play, he had hired a horse and gig with a determination to drive over to Polkimbra and learn the truth; how a horse and gig were the most cursedly obstinate of created things; with much besides in the way of oaths and ejaculations. All this I must have heard, for memory brought them back later; but I did not listen. My life and circumstances had got the upper hand of me, and were dancing a devil's riot.
At last, after much tacking and porting of helm, we navigated Polkimbra Hill and cast anchor before the "Lugger." There we alighted, thanked the captain, and left him piping all hands to the horse's head. His cheery voice followed us down to the sands.
We had determined to cut across Polkimbra Beach and climb up to Lantrig by Ready-Money Cliffs, as in order to go along the path above the cliffs we should have to ascend Polkimbra Hill again. The beach was so full of horror to me that without a companion I could not have crossed it; but Tom's presence lent me courage. Tom was nearer to excitement than I had ever seen him; he grew voluble; praised the captain, admired his talk, and declared adventure to be abroad in the air—in fact, threw up his head as though he scented it.
Yes, adventure was in the air. It was not exactly to my taste, however, nor did the thought of my poor mother at home make me more sympathetic with Tom's ecstasy; so whilst he chattered I strode gloomily forward over the beach.
The day was drawing towards noon. October was revelling in an after-taste of summer, and smiled in broad glory over beach and sea. A light breeze bore eastward a few fleecy clouds, and the waves danced and murmured before its breath. Their salt scent was in our nostrils, and the glitter of the sand in our eyes. Black and sombre in the clear air, Dead Man's Rock rose in gloomy isolation from the sea, while the sea-birds swept in glistening circles round its summit. But what was that at its base?
Seemingly, a little knot of men stood at the water's edge. As we drew nearer I could distinguish their forms but not their occupation, for they stood in a circle, intent on some object in their midst concealed from our view. Presently, however, they fell into a rough line as though making for the archway to Ready-Money Cove. Something they carried among them, and continually stooped over; but what it was I could not see. Their pace was very slow, but they turned into the arch and were disappearing, when I caught sight of the uncouth little figure of Joe Roscorla among the last, and ran forward, hailing him by name.
At the sound of my voice Joe started, turned round and made a slow pause; then, with a few words to his neighbour, came quickly towards me. As he drew near, I saw that his face was white and his manner full of embarrassment; but he put on a smile, and spoke first—
"Why, Jasper, what be doin' along here?"
"I'm going home. Has Uncle Loveday seen mother? And is she better?"
"Aw iss, he've a seen her an' she be quieter: leastways, he be bound to do her a power o' good. But what be goin' back for? 'Tain't no use botherin' indoors wi' your mother in thicky wisht state. Run about an' get some play."
"What were you doing down by the Rock just now, Joe?"
Joe hesitated for a while; stammered, and then said, "Nuthin."
"But, Joe, you were doing something: what were you carrying over to Ready-Money?"
"Look-ee here, my lad, run an' play, an' doan't ax no questions. 'Tain't for little boys to ax questions. Now I comes to think of it, Doctor said as you was to stay over to Lizard Town, 'cos there ain't no need of a passel of boys in a sick house: so run along back."
Joe's voice had a curious break in it, and his whole bearing was so unaccountable that I did not wonder when Tom quietly said—
"Joe, you're telling lies."
Now Joe was, in an ordinary way, the soul of truth: so I looked for an explosion. To my surprise, however, he took no notice of the insult, but turned again to me—
"Jasper, lad, run along back: do'ee now."
His voice was so full of entreaty that a sudden suspicion took hold of me.
"Joe, is—has anything happened to mother?"
"Noa, to be sure: she'll be gettin' well fast enough, if so be as you let her be."
"Then I'll go and see Uncle Loveday, and find out if I am really to go back."
I made a motion to go, but he caught me quickly by the arm.
"Now, Jasper, doan't-'ee go: run back, I tell'ee—run back—I tell'ee you must go back."
His words were so earnest and full of command that I turned round and faced him. Something in his eyes filled me with sickening fear.
"Joe, what were you carrying?"
"Joe, what were you carrying?"
Still no answer; but an appealing motion of the hand.
"Joe, what was it?"
"Go back!" he said, hoarsely. "Go back!"
"I will not, until I have seen what you were carrying."
"Go back, boy: for God's sake go back!"
I wrenched myself from his grasp, and ran with all speed. Joe and Tom followed me, but fear gave me fleetness. Behind I could hear Joe's panting voice, crying, "Come back!" but the agony in his tone set me running faster. I flew through the archway, and saw the small procession half-way across the cove. At my shout they halted, paused, and one or two advanced as if to stop me. But I dashed through their hands into their midst, and saw—God in heaven! What? The drowned face of my father!
Tenderly as women they lifted me from the body. Gently and with tear-stained faces, they stood around and tried to comfort me. Reverently, while Joe Roscorla held me in his arms behind, they took up the corpse of him they had known and loved so well, and carried it up the cliffs to Lantrig. As they lifted the latch and bore the body across the threshold, a yell of maniac laughter echoed through the house to the very roof.
And this was my father's "Welcome Home!"
Nay, not all; for as Uncle Loveday started to his feet, the door behind him flew open, and my mother, all in white, with very madness in her eyes, rushed to the corpse, knelt, caught the dead hand, kissed and fondled the dead face, cooing and softly laughing the while with a tender rapture that would have moved hell itself to pity.
In this manner it was that these two fond lovers met.
TELLS HOW UNCLE LOVEDAY MADE A DISCOVERY; AND WHAT THE TIN BOX CONTAINED.
An hour afterwards I was sitting at the bedside of my dying mother. The shock of that terrible meeting had brought her understanding—and death: for as her mind returned her life ebbed away. White and placid she lay upon her last bed, and spoke no word; but in her eyes could be read her death-warrant, and by me that which was yet more full of anguish, a tender but unfading reproach. This world is full of misunderstandings, but seldom is met one so desperate. How could I tell her now? And how could she ever understand? It was all too late. "Too late! too late!" the words haunted me there as the bright sun struggled through the drawn blind and illumined her saintly face. They and the look in her sweet eyes have haunted me many a day since then, and would be with me yet, did I not believe she knows the truth at last. There are too many ghosts in my memories for Heaven to lightly add this one more.
She was dying—slowly and peacefully dying, and this was the end of her waiting. He had returned at last, this husband for whose coming she had watched so long. He had returned at last, after all his labour, and had been laid at her feet a dead man. She was free to go and join her love. To me, child as I was, this was sorely cruel. Death, as I know now, is very merciful even when he seems most merciless, but as I sat and watched the dear life slowly drift away from me, it was a hard matter to understand.
The pale sunlight came, and flickered, and went; but she lay to all seeming unchanged. Her pulse's beat was failing—failing; the broken heart feebly struggling to its rest; but her sad eyes were still the same, appealing, questioning, rebuking—all without hope of answer or explanation. So were they when the sobbing fishermen lifted her from the body, so would they be until closed for the last sleep. It was very cruel.
My father's body lay in the room below, with Uncle Loveday and Mrs. Busvargus for watchers. Now and again my uncle would steal softly upstairs, and as softly return with hopelessness upon his face. The clock downstairs gave the only sound I heard, as it marked the footsteps of the dark angel coming nearer and nearer. Twice my mother's lips parted as if to speak; but though I bent down to catch her words, I could hear no sound.
So, as I sat and watched her waxen face, all the sweet memories of her came back in a sad, reproachful train. Once more we sat together by the widowed hearth, reading: once more we stood upon the rocky edge of Pedn-glas and looked into the splendours of the summer sunset "for father's ship:" once more we knelt together in Polkimbra Church, and prayed for his safe return: once more I heard that sweet, low voice—once more? Ah, never, never more!
Uncle Loveday stole into the room on tip-toe, and looked at her; then turned and asked—
"Has she spoken yet?"
He was about to leave when the lips parted again, and this time she spoke—
"He is coming, coming. Hush! that is his step!"
The dark eyes were ablaze with expectation: the pale cheek aglow with hope. I bent down over the bed, for her voice was very low.
"He is coming, I know it. Listen! Oh, husband, come quicker, quicker!"
Alas! poor saint, the step you listen for has gone before, and is already at the gate of heaven.
"He is here! Oh, husband, husband, you have come for me!"
A moment she sat up with arms outstretched, and glory in her face; then fell back, and the arms that caught her were the arms of God.
After the first pang of bereavement had spent itself, Uncle Loveday got me to bed, and there at last I slept. The very bewilderment of so much sorrow enforced sleep, and sleep was needed: so that, worn out with watching and excitement, I had not so much as a dream to trouble me. It was ten o'clock in the morning when I awoke, and saw my uncle sitting beside the bed. Another sun was bright in the heavens outside: the whole world looked so calm and happy that my first impulse was to leap up and run, as was my custom, to mother's room. Then my eyes fell on Uncle Loveday, and the whole dreadful truth came surging into my awakened brain. I sank back with a low moan upon the pillow.
Uncle Loveday, who had been watching me, stepped to the bed and took my hand.
"Jasper, boy, are you better?"
After a short struggle with my grief, I plucked up heart to answer that I was.
"That's a brave boy. I asked, because I have yet to tell you something. I am a doctor, you know, Jasper, and so you may take my word when I say there is no good in what is called 'breaking news.' It is always best to have the pain over and done with; at least, that's my experience. Now, my dear boy, though God knows you have sorrow enough, there is still something to tell: and if you are the boy I take you for, it is best to let you know at once."
Dimly wondering what new blow fortune could deal me, I sat up in bed and looked at my uncle helplessly.
"Jasper, you think—do you not—that your father was drowned?"
"Of course, uncle."
"He was not drowned."
"No, Jasper, he was murdered."
The words came slowly and solemnly, and even with the first shock of surprise the whole truth dawned upon me. This, then, explained the effect my name had wrought upon those two strange men. This was the reason why, as we sat together upon Dead Man's Rock, the eyes of John Railton had refused to meet mine: this was the reason why his murderer had gripped me so viciously upon Ready-Money Beach. These few words of my uncle's began slowly to piece together the scattered puzzle of the last two days, so that I half guessed the answer as I asked—
"He was stabbed to death."
I knew it, for I remembered the empty sheath that hung at Rhodojani's waist, and heard again Railton's words, "Captain, it was your knife." As certainly as if I had fitted the weapon to its case, I knew that man had prompted father's murder. Even as I knew it my terror of him faded away, and a blind and helpless hate sprang up in its stead: helpless now, but some day to be masterful and worthy of heed. That the man who called himself Georgio Rhodojani was guilty of one death, I knew from the witness of my own eyes: that he had two more lives upon his black account—for the hand that struck my father had also slain my mother—I knew as surely.
"And the devil has got his due, my lads!"
No, not yet: there was still one priceless soul for him to wait for.
"He was stabbed," repeated Uncle Loveday, "stabbed to the heart, and from behind. I found this blade as I examined your poor father's body. It was broken off close to the hilt, and left in the wound, which can hardly have bled at all. Death must have been immediate. It's a strange business, Jasper, and a strange blade by the look of it."
I took the blade from his hand. It was about four inches in length, sharp, and curiously worked: one side was quite plain, but the other was covered with intricate tracery, and down the centre, bordered with delicate fruit and flowers, I spelt out the legend "Ricordati."
"What does that word mean?" I asked, as I handed back the steel. My voice was so calm and steady that Uncle Loveday glanced at me for a moment in amazement before he answered—
"It's not Latin, Jasper, but it's like Latin, and I should think must mean 'Remember,' or something of the sort."
"'Remember,'" I repeated. "I will, uncle. As surely as father was murdered, I will remember—when the time comes."
They were strange words from a boy. My uncle looked at me again, but doubtless thinking my brain turned with grief, said nothing.
"Have you told anybody?" I asked at length.
"I have seen nobody. There will be an inquest, of course, but in this case an inquest can do nothing. Murderer and murdered have both gone to their account. By the way, I suppose nothing has been seen of the man who gave evidence. It was an unlikely tale; and this makes it the more suspicious. Bless my soul!" said my uncle, suddenly, "to think it never struck me before! Your father was to sail in the Belle Fortune, and this man gave the name of the ship as the James and Elizabeth."
"It was the Belle Fortune, and the man told a falsehood."
"I suppose it must have been."
"I know it was."
"Know? How do you know?"
"Because the James and Elizabeth is lying at this moment in Falmouth Harbour, and her captain is down at the 'Lugger.'"
Thereupon I told how I had met with Captain Antonius Merrydew. Nay, more, for my heart ached for confidence, I recounted the whole story of my meeting with John Railton, and the struggle upon Dead Man's Rock. Every word I told, down to the dead man's legacy—the packet and letter which I hid in the cow-house. As the tale proceeded my uncle's eyes grew wider and wider with astonishment. But I held on calmly and resolutely to the end, nor after the first shock of wonderment did he doubt my sanity or truthfulness, but grew more and more gravely interested.
When I had finished my narrative there was a long silence. Finally Uncle Loveday spoke—
"It's a remarkable story—a very remarkable story," he said, slowly and thoughtfully. "In all my life I have never heard so strange a tale. But the man must be caught. He cannot have gone far, if, as you say, he was here at Lantrig only the night before last. I expect they are on the look-out for him down at Polkimbra since they have heard the captain's statement; but all the same I will send off Joe Roscorla, who is below, to make sure. I must have a pipe, Jasper, to think this over. As a general rule I am not a smoker: your aunt does not—ahem!—exactly like the smell. But it collects the thoughts, and this wants thinking over. Meanwhile, you might dress if you feel well enough. Run to the shed and get the packet; we will read it over together when I have finished my pipe. It is a remarkable story," he repeated, as he slowly opened the door, "a most marvellous story. I must have a pipe. A most—remarkable—tale."
With this he went downstairs and left me to dress.
I did so, and ran downstairs to the cow-shed. No one had been there. With eager fingers I tore away the bricks from the crumbling mortar, and drew out my prize. The buckle glittered in the light that stole through the gaping door. All was safe, and as I left it.
Clutching my treasure, I ran back to the house and found Mrs. Busvargus spreading the midday meal. Until that was over, I knew that Uncle Loveday would not attack the mystery. He was sitting outside in the front garden smoking solemnly, and the wreaths of his pipe, curling in through the open door, filled the house with fragrance.
I crept upstairs to my mother's door, and reverently entered the dim-lit room. They had laid the two dead lovers side by side upon the bed. Very peacefully they slept the sleep that was their meeting—peacefully as though no wickedness had marred their lives or wrought their death. I could look upon them calmly now. My father had left his heritage—a heritage far different from that which he went forth to win; but I accepted it nevertheless. Had they known, in heaven, the full extent of that inheritance, would they not, as I kissed their dead lips in token of my acceptance, have given some sign to stay me? Had I known, as I bent over them, to what the oath in my heart would bring me, would I even then have renounced it? I cannot say. The dead lips were silent, and only the dead know what will be.
Uncle Loveday was already at table when I descended. But small was our pretence of eating. Mrs. Busvargus, it is true, had lost no appetite through sorrow; but Mrs. Busvargus was accustomed to such scenes, and in her calling treated Death with no more to-do than she would a fresh customer at her husband's inn. Long attendance at death-beds seemed to have given that good woman a perennial youth, and certainly that day she seemed to have lost the years which I had gained. Uncle Loveday made some faint display of heartiness; but it was the most transparent feigning. He covered his defection by pressing huge helpings upon me, so that my plate was bidding fair to become a new Tower of Babel, when Mrs. Busvargus interposed and swept the meal away; after which she disappeared into the back kitchen to "wash up," and was no more seen; but we heard loud splashings at intervals as if she had found a fountain, and were renewing her youth in it.
Left to ourselves, we sat silent for a while, during which Uncle Loveday refilled and lit his pipe and plunged again into thought, with his eyes fixed on the rafters. Whether because his cogitations led to something, or the tobacco had soothed him sufficiently, he finally turned to me and asked—
"Have you got that packet?"
I produced it. He took his big red handkerchief from his pocket, spread it on the table, and began slowly to undo the strap. Then after arranging apart the buckle, the letter, and the tin box, he inquired—
"Was it like this when the man gave it to you?"
"No, the letter was separate. I slipped it under the strap to keep it safe."
"It seems to me," said my uncle, adjusting his spectacles and unfolding the paper, "illegible, or almost so. It has evidently been thoroughly soaked with salt water. Come here and see if your young eyes can help me to decipher it."
We bent together over the blurred handwriting. The letter was evidently in a feminine hand; but the characters were rudely and inartistically formed, while every here and there a heavy down-stroke or flourish marred the beauty of the page. Wherever such thick lines occurred the ink had run and formed an illegible smear. Such as it was, with great difficulty, and after frequent trials, we spelt out the letter as follows:—
"The Welc . . . Home, Barbican, Plymo." "My Deerest Jack,—This to hope it will find You quite well, as it leaves Me at present. Also to say that I hope this voyage . . . new Leaf with Simon as Companny, who is a Good Friend, though, as you well know, I did not think . . . came courting me. But it is for the best, and . . . liquor . . . which I pray to Heaven may begin happier Days. Trade is very poor, and I do not know . . . little Jenny, who is getting on Famously with her Schooling. She keaps the Books already, which is a great saving . . . looks in often and sits in the parlour. He says as you have Done Well to be . . . Wave, but misdoubts Simon, which I tell him must be wrong, for it was him that advised . . . the fuss and warned against liquor, which he never took Himself. Jenny is so Fond of her Books, and says she will teech you to write when you come home, which will be a great Comfort, you being away so long and never a word. And I am doing wonders under her teaching, which I dare say she will let you know of it all in the letter she is writing to go along with this . . . Simon to write for you, who is a . . . scholar, which is natural . . . in the office. So that I wonder he left it, having no taste for the sea that ever I heard . . . be the making of you both. I forgot to tell . . . very strange when he left, but what with the hurry and bussle it slipped my mind . . . wonderful to me to think of, my talking to you so natural . . . distance. And so no more at present from your loving wife," "LUCY RAILTON."
"Jenny says . . . will not alter, being more like as if it came from me. Munny is very scarce. I wish you could get . . ."
This was all, and small enough, as I thought, was the light it threw on the problem before us. Uncle Loveday read it over three or four times; then folded up the letter and looked at me over his spectacles.
"You say this cut-throat fellow—this Rhodojani, as he called himself—spoke English?"
"As well as we do. He and the other spoke English all the time."
"H'm! And he talked about a Jenny, did he?"
"He was saying something about 'Jenny not finding a husband' when John Railton struck him."
"Then it's clear as daylight that he's called Simon, and not Georgio. Also if I ever bet (though far be it from me) I would bet my buttons that his name is no more Rhodojani than mine is Methuselah."
He paused for a moment, absorbed in thought; then resumed—
"This Lucy Railton is John Railton's wife and keeps a public-house called the 'Welcome Home!' on the Barbican, Plymouth. Simon, that is to say Rhodojani, was in love with Lucy Railton, and his conduct, says she, was strange before leaving; but he pretended to be John Railton's friend, and, from what you say, must have had an astonishing influence over the unhappy man. Simon, we learn, is a scholar," pursued my uncle, after again consulting the letter, "and I see the word 'office' here, which makes it likely that he was a clerk of some kind, who took to the sea for some purpose of his own, and induced Railton to go with him, perhaps for the same purpose, perhaps for another. Anyhow, it seems it was high time for Railton to go somewhere, for besides the references to liquor, which tally with Simon's words upon Dead Man's Rock, we also meet with the ominous words 'the fuss,' wherein, Jasper, I find the definite article not without meaning."
Uncle Loveday was beaming with conscious pride in his own powers of penetration. He acknowledged my admiring attention with a modest wave of the hand, and then proceeded to clear his throat ostentatiously, as one about to play a trump card.
"As I say, Jasper, this fellow must have had some purpose to drag him off to sea from an office stool—some strong purpose, and, from what we know of the man, some ungodly purpose. Now, the question is, What was it? On the Rock, as you say, he charged John Railton with having a certain Will in his possession. Your father started from England with a Will in his possession. This is curious, to say the least—very curious; but I do not see how we are to connect this with the man Simon's sudden taste for the sea, for, you know, he could not possibly have heard of Amos Trenoweth's Will."
"You and aunt were the only people father told of it."
"Quite so; and your father (excuse me, Jasper) not being a born fool, naturally didn't cry his purpose about the streets of Plymouth when he took his passage. Still, it's curious. Your father sailed from Plymouth and this pair of rascals sailed from Plymouth—not that there's anything in that; hundreds sail out of the Sound every week, and we have nothing to show when Simon and John started—it may have been before your father. But look here, Jasper, what do you make of that?"
I bent over the letter, and where my uncle's finger pointed, read, "He says as you have Done Well to be . . . Wave."
"Well, my boy; what do you make of it?"
"I can make nothing of it."
"No? You see that solitary word 'Wave'?"
"What was the ship called in which your father sailed?"
"The Golden Wave."
"That's it, the Golden Wave. Now, what do you make of it?"
My uncle leaned back in his chair and looked at me over his spectacles, with the air of one who has played his trump card and watches for its effect. A certain consciousness of merit and expectancy of approbation animated his person; his reasoning staggered me, and he saw it, nor was wholly displeased. After waiting some time for my reply, he added—
"Of course I may be wrong, but it's curious. I do not think I am wrong, when I mark what it proves. It proves, first, that these two ruffians—for ruffians they both were, as we must conclude, in spite of John Railton's melancholy end—it proves, I say, that these two sailed along with your father. They come home with him, are wrecked, and your father's body is found—murdered. Evidence, slight evidence, but still worthy of attention, points to them. Now, if it could be proved that they knew, at starting or before, of your father's purpose, it would help us; and, to my mind, this letter goes far to prove that wickedness of some sort was the cause of their going. What do you think?"
Uncle Loveday cleared his throat and looked at me again with professional pride in his diagnosis. There was a pause, broken only by Mrs. Busvargus splashing in the back kitchen.
"Good heavens!" said my uncle, "is that woman taking headers? Come, Jasper, what do you think?"
"I think," I replied, "we had better look at the tin box."
"Bless my soul! There's something in the boy, after all. I had clean forgotten it."
The box was about six inches by four, and some four inches in depth. The tin was tarnished by the sea, but the cover had been tightly fastened down and secured with a hasp and pin. Uncle Loveday drew out the pin, and with some difficulty raised the lid. Inside lay a tightly-rolled bundle of papers, seemingly uninjured. These he drew out, smoothed, and carefully opened.
As his eyes met the writing, his hand dropped, and he sank back—a very picture of amazement—in his chair.
"What's the matter?"
"It's your father's handwriting!"
I looked at this last witness cast up by the sea and read, "The Journal of Ezekiel Trenoweth, of Lantrig."
CONTAINS THE FIRST PART OF MY FATHER'S JOURNAL; SETTING FORTH HIS MEETING WITH MR. ELIHU SANDERSON, OF BOMBAY; AND MY GRANDFATHER'S MANUSCRIPT.
It was indeed my father's Journal, thus miraculously preserved to us from the sea. As we sat and gazed at this inanimate witness, I doubt not the same awe of an all-seeing Providence possessed the hearts of both of us. Little more than twenty-four hours ago had my dead father crossed the threshold of his home, and now his voice had come from the silence of another world to declare the mystery of his death. It was some minutes before Uncle Loveday could so far control his speech as to read aloud this precious manuscript. And thus, in my father's simple language, embellished with no art, and tricked out in no niceties of expression, the surprising story ran:—
"May 23rd, 1848.—Having, in obedience to the instructions of my father's Will, waited upon Mr. Elihu Sanderson, of the East India Company's Service, in their chief office at Bombay, and having from him received a somewhat singular communication in my father's handwriting, I have thought fit briefly to put together some record of the same, as well as of the more important events of my voyage, not only to refresh my own memory hereafter, if I am spared to end my days in peace at Lantrig, but also being impelled thereto by certain strange hints conveyed in this same communication. These hints, though I myself can see no ground for them, would seem to point towards some grave bodily or spiritual peril; and therefore it is my plain duty, seeing that I leave a beloved wife and young son at home, to make such provision that, in case of misadventure or disaster, Divine Providence may at least have at my hands some means whereby to inform them of my fate. For this reason I regret the want of foresight which prevented my beginning some such record at the outset; but as far as I can reasonably judge, my voyage has hitherto been prosperous and without event. Nevertheless, I will shortly set down what I can remember as worthy of remark before I landed at this city of Bombay, and trust that nothing of importance has slipped my notice.
"On the 3rd of February last I left my home at Lantrig, travelling by coach to Plymouth, where I slept at the 'One and All' in Old Town Street, being attracted thither by the name, which is our Cornish motto. The following day I took passage for Bombay in the Golden Wave, East Indiaman, Captain Jack Carey, which, as I learnt, was due to sail in two days. It had been my intention, had no suitable vessel been found at Plymouth, to proceed to Bristol, where the trade is much greater; but on the Barbican—a most evil-smelling neighbourhood—it was my luck to fall in with a very entertaining stranger, who, on hearing my case, immediately declared it to be a most fortunate meeting, as he himself had been making inquiries to the same purpose, and had found a ship which would start almost immediately. He had been, it appeared, a lawyer's clerk, but on the death of his old employer (whose name escapes my memory), finding his successor a man of difficult temper, and having saved sufficient money to be idle for a year or two, had conceived the wish to travel, and chosen Bombay, partly from a desire to behold the wonders of the Indies, and partly to see his brother, who held a post there in the East India Company's service. Having at the time much leisure, he kindly offered to show me the vessel, protesting that should I find it to my taste he was anxious for the sake of the company to secure a passage for himself. So very agreeable was his conversation that I embraced the opportunity which fortune thus threw in my way. The ship, on inspection, proved much to our liking, and Captain Carey of so honest a countenance, that the bargain was struck without more ado. I was for returning to the 'One and All,' but first thought it right to acquaint myself with the name of this new friend. He was called Simon Colliver, and lived, as he told me, in Stoke, whither he had to go to make preparation for this somewhat hasty departure, but first advised me to move my luggage from the 'One and All' (the comfort of which fell indeed short of the promise of so fair a name) to the 'Welcome Home,' a small but orderly house of entertainment in the Barbican, where, he said, I should be within easy distance of the Golden Wave. The walk to Old Town Street was not far in itself, but a good step when traversed five or six times a day; and, moreover, I was led to make the change on hearing that the landlord of the 'Welcome Home' was also intending to sail as seaman in this same ship. My new acquaintance led me to the house, an ill-favoured-looking den, but clean inside, and after a short consultation with John Railton, the landlord, arranged for my entertainment until the Golden Wave should weigh anchor. This done, and a friendly glass taken to seal the engagement, he departed, congratulating himself warmly on his good fortune in finding a fellow-traveller so much, as he protested, to his taste.
"I must own I was not over-pleased with John Railton, who seemed a sulky sort of man, and too much given to liquor. But I saw little of him after he brought my box from the 'One and All.' His wife waited upon me—a singularly sweet woman, though sorely vexed, as I could perceive, with her husband's infirmity. She loved him nevertheless, as a woman will sometimes love a brute, and was sorry to lose him. Indeed, when I noticed that evening that her eyes were red with weeping, and said a word about her husband's departure, she stared at me for a moment in amazement, and could not guess how I came to hear of it, 'for,' said she, 'the resolution had been so suddenly taken that even she could scarce account for it.' She admitted, however, that it was for the best, and added that 'Jack was a good seaman, and she always expected that he would leave her some day.' Her chief anxiety was for her little daughter, aged seven, whom it was hard to have exposed to the rough language and manners of a public-house. I comforted her as best I could, and doubt not she has found her husband's absence a less misfortune than she anticipated.
"The Golden Wave weighed anchor on the 6th of February, and reached Bombay after a tedious voyage of 103 days, on the 21st of May, having been detained by contrary winds in doubling the Cape. I saw little of Simon Colliver before starting, though he came twice, as I heard, to the 'Welcome Home' to inquire for me, and each time found me absent. On board, however, being the only other passenger, I was naturally thrown much into his society, and confess that I found him a most diverting companion. Often of a clear moonlight night would we pace the deck together, or watch in a darker sky the innumerable stars, on which Colliver had an amazing amount of information. Sometimes, too, he would sing—quaint songs which I had never heard before, to airs which I suspect, without well knowing why, were of his own composition. His voice was of large compass—a silvery tenor of surpassing' purity and sweetness, inasmuch as I have seen the sailors stand spellbound, and even with tears in their eyes, at some sweet song of love and home. Often, again, the words would be weird and mysterious, but the voice was always delicious whether he spoke or sang. I asked him once why with such a gift he had not tried his fortune on the stage. At which he laughed, and replied that he could never be bound by rules of art, or forced to sing, whatever his humour, to an audience for which he cared nothing. I do not know why I dwell so long upon this extraordinary man. His path of life has chanced to run side by side with my own for a short space, and the two have now branched off, nor in all likelihood will ever meet again. My life has been a quiet one, and has not lain much in the way of extraordinary men, but I doubt if many such as Simon Colliver exist. He is a perfect enigma to me. That such a man, with such attainments (for besides his wonderful conversation and power of singing, he has an amazing knowledge of foreign tongues), that such a man, I say, should be a mere attorney's clerk is little short of marvellous. But as regards his past he told me nothing, though an apt and ready listener when I spoke of Lantrig and of Margery and Jasper at home. But he showed no curiosity as to the purpose of my voyage, and in fact seemed altogether careless as well of the fate as of the opinions of his fellow-men. He has passed out of my life; but when I shook hands with him at parting I left with regret the most fascinating companion it has been ever my lot to meet.
"Our voyage, as I have said, was without event, though full of wonders to me who had seldom before sailed far out of sight of Pedn-glas. But on these I need not here dwell. Only I cannot pass without mention the exceeding marvels of this city of Bombay. As I stood upon deck on the evening before last and watched the Bhor Ghauts (as they are called) rise gradually on the dim horizon, whilst the long ridge of the Malabar Hill with its clustered lights grew swiftly dyed in delicate pink and gold, and as swiftly sank back into night, I confess that my heart was strangely fluttered to think that the wonders of this strange country lay at my feet, and I slept but badly for the excitement. But when, yesterday morning, I disembarked upon the Apollo Bund, I knew not at first whither to turn for very dismay. It was like the play-acting we saw, my dear Margery, one Christmas at Plymouth. Every sight in the strange crowd was unfamiliar to my Cornish eyes, and I felt sorely tempted to laugh when I thought what a figure some of them would cut in Polkimbra, and not less when I reflected that after all I was just as much out of place in Bombay, though of course less noticed because of the great traffic. As I strolled through the Bazaar, Hindoos, Europeans, Jews, Arabs, Malays, and Negro men passed me by. Mr. Elihu Sanderson has kindly taught me to distinguish some of these nations, but at the time I did not know one from another, fancying them indeed all Indians, though at a loss to account for their diversity. Also the gaudy houses of red, blue, and yellow, the number of beautiful trees that grew in the very streets, and the swarms of birds that crowded every roof-top and ventured down quite fearlessly among the passers-by, all made me gasp with wonder. Nor was I less amazed to watch the habits of this marvellous folk, many of them to me shocking, and to see the cows that abound everywhere and do the work of horses. But of all this I will tell if Heaven be pleased to grant me a safe return to Lantrig. Let me now recount my business with Mr. Elihu Sanderson.
"I said farewell to the captain of the Golden Wave and my friend Colliver upon the quay, meaning to ask Mr. Sanderson to recommend a good lodging for the short time I intended to stay in Bombay. Captain Carey had already directed me to the East India Company's office, and hither I tried to make my way at once. Easy as it was, however, I missed it, being lost in admiration of the crowd. When at last I arrived at the doors I was surprised to see Colliver coming out, until I remembered that his brother was in the Company's employ. It seems, however, that he had been transferred to Trichinopoly some months before, and my friend's labour was in vain. I am bound to say that he took his disappointment with great good-humour, and made very merry over our meeting again so soon, protesting that for the future we had better hunt in couples among this outlandish folk; and so I lost him again.
"After some difficulty and delay I found myself at length in the presence of this Mr. Elihu Sanderson, on whom I had speculated so often. I was ushered by a clerk into his private office, and as he rose to meet me, judged him directly to be the son of the Elihu Sanderson mentioned in my father's Will—as indeed is the case. A spare, dry, shrivelled man, with a mouth full of determination and acuteness, and a habit of measuring his words as though they were for sale, he is in everything but height the essence of every Scotchman I remember to have seen.
"'Good day,' said he, 'Mr.—I fancy I did not catch your name.'
"'Trenoweth,' said I.
"'Indeed! Trenoweth!' he repeated, and I fancy I saw a glimmer of surprise in his eyes. 'Do I guess your business?'
"'Maybe you do,' I replied, 'for I take it to be somewhat unusual.'
"'Ah, yes; just so; somewhat unusual!'—and he chuckled drily— 'somewhat unusual! Very good indeed! I suppose—eh?—you have some credentials—some proof that you really are called Trenoweth?'—Here Mr. Sanderson looked at me sharply.
"In reply I produced my father's Will and the little Bible from my jersey's side. As I did so, I felt the Scotchman's eyes examining me narrowly. I handed him the packet. The Will he read with great attention, glanced at the Bible, pondered awhile, and then said—
"'I suppose you guess that this was a piece of private business between Amos Trenoweth, deceased, and my father, also deceased. I tell ye frankly, Mr. Trenoweth—by the way, what is your Christian name, eh? So you are the Ezekiel mentioned in the Will? Are you a bold man, eh? Well, you look it, at any rate. As I was saying, I tell ye frankly it is not the sort of business I would have undertaken myself. But my father had his crotchets—which is odd, as I'm supposed to resemble him—he had his crotchets, and among them was an affection for your father. It may have been based on profit, for your father, Mr. Trenoweth, as far as I have heard, was not exactly a lovable man, if ye'll excuse me. If it was, I've never seen those profits, and I've examined my father's papers pretty thoroughly. But this is a family matter, and had better not be discussed in office hours. Can you dine with me this evening?'
"I replied that I should be greatly obliged; but, in the first place, as a stranger, would count it a favour to be told of some decent lodging for such time as I should be detained in Bombay.
"Mr. Sanderson pondered again, tapped the floor with his foot, pulled his short crop of sandy whiskers, and said—
"'Our business may detain us, for aught I know, long into the night, Mr. Trenoweth. Ye would be doing me a favour if ye stayed with me for a day or two. I am a bachelor, and live as one. So much the better, eh? If you will get your boxes sent up to Craigie Cottage, Malabar Hill—any one will tell ye where Elihu Sanderson lives—I will try to make you comfortable. You are wondering at the name 'Craigie Cottage'—another crotchet of my father's. He was a Scotchman, I'd have ye know; and so am I, for that matter, though I never saw Scotch soil, being that prodigious phenomenon, a British child successfully reared in India. But I hope to set foot there some day, please God! Save us! how I am talking, and in office hours, too! Good-bye, Mr. Trenoweth, and'—once more his eyes twinkled as I thanked him and made for the door—'I would to Heaven ye were a Scotchman!'
"Although verily broiled with the heat, I spent the rest of the day in sauntering about the city and drinking in its marvels until the time when I was due to present myself at Craigie Cottage. Following the men who carried my box, I discovered it without difficulty, though very unlike any cottage that came within my recollection. Indeed, it is a large villa, most richly furnished, and crowded with such numbers of black servants, that it must go hard with them to find enough to do. That, however, is none of my business, and Mr. Sanderson does not seem the man to spend his money wastefully; so I suppose wages to be very low here.
"Mr. Sanderson received me hospitably, and entertained me to a most agreeable meal, though the dishes were somewhat hotly seasoned, and the number of servants again gave me some uneasiness. But when, after dinner, we sat and smoked out on the balcony and watched the still gardens, the glimmering houses and, above all, the noble bay sleeping beneath the gentle shadow of the night, I confess to a feeling that, after all, man is at home wherever Nature smiles so kindly. The hush of the hour was upon me, and made me disinclined to speak lest its spell should be broken—disinclined to do anything but watch the smoke-wreaths as they floated out upon the tranquil air."
"Mr. Sanderson broke the silence.
"'You have not been long in coming.'
"'Did you not expect me so soon?'
"'Why, you see, I had not read your father's Will.'
"I explained to him as briefly as I could the reasons which drove me to leave Lantrig. He listened in silence, and then said, after a pause—
"'You have not, then, undertaken this lightly?'
"'As Heaven is my witness, no, whether there be anything in this business or not.'
"'I think,' said he, slowly, 'there is something in it. My father had his crotchets, it is true; but he was no fool. He never opened his lips to me on the matter, but left me to hear the first of it in his last Will and Testament. Oddly enough, our fathers seem both to have found religion in their old age. Mine took his comfort in the Presbyterian shape. But it is all the same. There was some reason for your father to repent, if rumours were true; but why mine, a respectable servant of the East India Company, should want consolation, is not so clear. Maybe 'twas only another form of egotism. Religion, even, is spelt with an I, ye'll observe.
"'An odd couple,' he continued, musing, 'to be mixed up together! But we'll let them rest in peace. I'd better let you have what was entrusted to me, and then, mayhap, ye'll be better able to form an opinion.'
"With this he rose and stepped back into the lighted room, whilst I followed. Drawing a bunch of keys from his pocket, he opened a heavy chest of some dark wood, intricately carved, which stood in one corner, drew out one by one a whole pile of tin boxes, bundles of papers and heavy books, until, almost at the very bottom of the chest, he seemed to find the box he wanted; then, carefully replacing the rest, closed and fastened the chest, and, after some search among his keys, opened the tin box and handed me two envelopes, one much larger than the other, but both bulky.
"And here, my dear Margery, with my hand upon the secret which had cost us so much anxious thought and such a grievous parting, I could not help breathing to myself a prayer that Heaven had seen fit to grant me at last some means of comforting my wife and little one and restoring our fallen house; nor do I doubt, dear wife, you were at that moment praying on your knees for me. I did not speak aloud, but Mr. Sanderson must have divined my thoughts, for I fancied I heard him utter 'Amen' beneath his breath, and when I looked up he seemed prodigiously red and ashamed of himself.
"The small envelope was without address, and contained 50 pounds in Bank of England notes. These were enclosed without letter or hint as to their purpose, and sealed with a plain black seal.
"The larger envelope was addressed in my father's handwriting—"
'TO THE SON OF MY HOUSE WHO, HAVING COUNTED ALL THE PERILS, IS RESOLUTE.
'Mem.—To be burned in one hundred years from this date, May 4th, in the year of our Lord MDCCCV.'
"It likewise was sealed with a plain black seal, and contained the manuscript which I herewith pin to this leaf of my Journal."
[Here Uncle Loveday, who had hitherto read without comment, save an occasional interjection, turned the page and revealed, in faded ink on a large sheet of parchment, the veritable writing of my grandfather, Amos Trenoweth. We both unconsciously leaned further forward over the relic, and my uncle, still without comment, proceeded to read aloud as follows:—]
"From Amos Trenoweth, of Lantrig, in the Parish of Polkimbra and County of Cornwall; to such descendant of mine as may inherit my wealth.
"Be it known to you, my son, that though in this parchment mention is made of great and surpassing Wealth, seemingly but to be won for the asking, yet beyond doubt the dangers which beset him who would lay his hand upon this accursed store are in nature so deadly, that almost am I resolved to fling the Secret from me, and so go to my Grave a Beggar. For that I not only believe, but am well assured, that not with out much Spilling of Blood and Loss of Human Life shall they be enjoyed, I myself having looked in the Face of Death thrice before ever I might set Hand upon them, escaping each time by a Miracle and by forfeit of my Soul's Peace. Yet, considering that the Anger of Heaven is quick and not revengeful unduly, I have determined not to do so wholly, but in part, abandoning myself the Treasure unrighteously won, if perchance the Curse may so be appeased, but committing it to the enterprise of another, who may escape, and so raise a falling House.
"You then, my Son who may read this Message, I entreat to consider well the Perils of your Course, though to you unknown. But to me they are known well, who have lived a Sinful Life for the sake of this gain, and now find it but as the fruit of Gomorrah to my lips. For the rest, my Secret is with God, from whom I humbly hope to obtain Pardon, but not yet. And even as the Building of the Temple was withheld from David, as being a Shedder of Blood, but not from Solomon his son, so may you lay your Hand to much Treasure in Gold, Silver, and Precious Stones, but chiefly the GREAT RUBY OF CEYLON, whose beauty excels all the jewels of the Earth, I myself having looked upon it, and knowing it to be, as an Ancient Writer saith, 'a Spectacle Glorious and without Compare.'
"Of this Ruby the Traveller Marco Polo speaks, saying, 'The King of Seilan hath a Ruby the Greatest and most Beautiful that ever was or can be in the World. In length it is a palm, and in thickness the thickness of a man's arm. In Splendour it exceedeth the things of Earth, and gloweth like unto Fire. Money cannot purchase it.' Likewise Maundevile tells of it, and how the Great Khan would have it, but was refused; and so Odoric, the two giving various Sizes, and both placing it falsely in the Island of Nacumera or Nicoveran. But this I know, that in the Island of Ceylon it was found, being lost for many Centuries, and though less in size than these Writers would have it, yet far exceeding all imagination for Beauty and colour.
"Now this Ruby, together with much Treasure beside, you may gain with the Grace of Heaven and by following my plain words. You will go from this place unto the Island of Ceylon, and there proceed to Samanala or Adam's Peak, the same being the most notable mountain of the Island. From the Resting House at the foot of the Peak you will then ascend, following the track of the Pilgrims, until you have passed the First Set of Chains. Between these and the Second there lies a stretch of Forest, in which, still following the track, you will come to a Tree, the trunk of which branches into seven parts and again unites. This Tree is noticeable and cannot be missed. From its base you must proceed at a right angle to the left-hand edge of the track for thirty-two paces, and you will come to a Stone shaped like a Man's Head, of great size, but easily moved. Beneath this Stone lies the Secret of the Great Ruby; and yet not all, for the rest is graven on the Key, of which mention shall already have been made to you.
"These precautions I have taken that none may surprise this Secret but its right possessor; and also that none may without due reflection undertake this task, inasmuch as it is prophesied that 'Even as the Heart of the Ruby is Blood and its Eyes a Flaming Fire, so shall it be for them that would possess it: Fire shall be their portion and Blood their inheritance for ever.'
"This prophecy I had from an aged priest, whose bones lie beneath the Stone, and upon whose Sacred clasp is the Secret written. This and all else may God pardon. Amen.
"He visiteth the iniquity of the Fathers upon the Children unto the third and fourth generation."
[To this extraordinary document was appended a note in another handwriting.]
"There is little doubt that the Ruby now in the possession of Mr. Amos Trenoweth is the veritable Great Ruby of which the traveller Marco Polo speaks. But, however this may be, I know from the testimony of my own eyes that the stone is of inestimable worth, being of the rarest colour, and in size greatly beyond any Ruby that ever I saw. The stone is spoken of, in addition to such writers as Mr. Trenoweth quotes, by Friar Jordanus (in the fourteenth century), who mentions it as 'so large that it cannot be grasped in the closed hand'; and Ibn Batuta reckons it as great as the palm of a man's hand. Cosmos, as far back as 550, had heard tell of it from Sopater, and its fame extended to the sixteenth century, wherein Corsali wrote of 'two rubies so lustrous and shining that they seem a flame of fire.' Also Hayton, in the thirteenth century, mentions it, telling much the same story as Sir John Maundevile, to the effect that it was the especial symbol of sovereignty, and when held in the hand of the newly-chosen king, enforced the recognition of his majesty. But, whereas Hayton simply calls it the greatest and finest Ruby in existence, Maundevile puts it at afoot in length and five fingers in girth. Also—for I have made much inquiry concerning this stone—it was well known to the Chinese from the days of Hwen T'sang downward.
"Mr. Trenoweth has wisely forborne for safety from showing it to any of the jewellers here; but on the one occasion when I saw the gem I measured it, and found it to be, roughly, some three and a half inches square and two inches in depth; of its weight I cannot speak. But that it truly is the Great Ruby of Ceylon, the account of the Buddhist priest from, whom Mr. Trenoweth got the stone puts out of all doubt."
"As I finished my reading, I looked up and saw Mr. Sanderson watching me across the table. 'Well?' said he.
"I pushed the parchment across to him, and filled a pipe. He read the whole through very slowly, and without the movement of a muscle; then handed it back, but said never a word.
"'Well,' I asked, after a pause; 'what do you think of it?'
"'Why, in the first place, that my father was a marvellously honest man, and yours, Mr. Trenoweth, a very indiscreet one. And secondly, that ye're just as indiscreet as he, and it will be lucky for ye if I'm as honest as my father.'
"'Aye, ye may laugh; but mark my words, Mr. Trenoweth. Ye've a trustful way with ye that takes my liking; but it would surprise me very much, sir, did ye ever lay hands on that Ruby.'"
CONTAINS THE SECOND PART OF MY FATHER'S JOURNAL: SETTING FORTH HIS ADVENTURES IN THE ISLAND OF CEYLON.
"Sept. 29th, 1848.—It is a strange thing that on the very next day after reading my father's message I should have been struck down and reduced to my present condition. But so it is, and now, four months after my first entry in this Journal, I am barely able to use the pen to add to my account. As far as I remember—for my head wanders sadly at times—it happened thus: On the 23rd of May last, after spending the greater part of the day in writing my Journal, and also my first letter to my dear wife, I walked down in the cool of the evening to the city, intending to post the latter; which I did, and was returning to Mr. Sanderson's house, when I stopped to watch the sun setting in this glorious Bay of Bengal. I was leaning over a low wall, looking out on the open sea with its palm-fringed shores, when suddenly the sun shot out a jagged flame; the sky heaved and turned to blood—and I knew no more. I had been murderously struck from behind. That I was found, lying to all appearance dead, with a hideous zig-zag wound upon the scalp; that my pockets had been to all appearance rifled (whether by the assassin or the natives that found me is uncertain); that I was finally claimed and carried home by Mr. Sanderson, who, growing uneasy at my absence, had set out to look for me; that for more than a month, and then again for almost two months, my life hung in the balance; and that I owe my recovery to Mr. Sanderson's unceasing kindness—all this I have learnt but lately. I can write no more at present.
"Oct. 3rd.—I am slightly better. My mental powers are slowly coming back after the fever that followed the wound. I pass my days mostly in speculating on the reason of this murderous attack, but am still unable to account for it. It cannot have been for plunder, for I do not look like a rich man. Mr. Sanderson has his theory, but I cannot agree with him, for nobody but ourselves knew of my father's manuscript. At any rate, it is fortunate that I left it in my chest, together with this Journal, before I went down to Bombay. Margery must have had my letter by this time; Mr. Sanderson very wisely decided to wait the result of my illness before troubling her. As it is she need know nothing about it until we meet.
"Oct. 14th.—Mr. Sanderson is everything that is good; indeed, had I been a brother he could not have shown me more solicitude. But he is obstinate in connecting my attack with the Great Ruby of Ceylon; it is certainly a curious coincidence that this dark chapter of my life should immediately follow my father's warning, but that is all one can say. I shall give up trying to convince him.
"Oct. 31st.—I am now considerably better. My strength is slowly returning, and with it, I am glad to say, my memory. At first it seemed as though I could remember nothing of my past life, but now my recollection is good on every point up to the moment of my attack. Since then, for at least the space of three months, I can recall nothing. I am able to creep about a little, and Mr. Sanderson has taken me for one or two excursions. Curiously enough, I thought I saw John Railton yesterday upon the Apollo Bund. I was probably mistaken, but at the time it caused me no surprise that he should still be here, since I forgot the interval of three months in my memory. If it were really Railton, he has, I suppose, found employment of some kind in Bombay; but it seems a cruel shame for him to desert his poor wife at home. I, alas! am doing little better, but God knows I am anxious to be gone; however, Mr. Sanderson will not hear a word on the subject at present. He has promised to find a ship for me as soon as he thinks I am able to continue my travels.
"Nov. 4th.—I was not mistaken. It was John Railton that I saw on the Apollo Bund. I met him hovering about the same spot to-day, and spoke to him; but apparently he did not hear me. I intended to ask him some news of my friend Colliver, but I daresay he knows as little of his doings as I do. Mr. Sanderson says that in a week's time I shall be recovered sufficiently to start. I hope so, indeed, for this delay is chafing me sorely.
"Nov. 21st.—Mr. Sanderson has found a ship for me at last. I am to sail in five days for Colombo in the schooner Campaspe, whose captain is a friend—a business friend, that is—of my host. I shall be the only passenger, and Mr. Sanderson has given Captain Dodge full instructions to take care of me. But I am feeling strong enough now, and fit for anything.
"Nov. 23rd.—I have been down to look at the vessel, and find that a most comfortable little cabin has been set apart for me. But the strangest thing is that I met Colliver also inspecting the ship. He was most surprised at seeing me, and evidently imagined me home in England by this time. I told him of my meeting with John Railton, and he replied—
"'Oh, yes; I have taken him into my service. We are going together to Ceylon, as I have travelled about India enough for the present. I went to visit my brother at Trichinopoly, and have only just returned to Bombay. Unfortunately the captain of the Campaspe declares he is unable to take me, so I shall have to wait.'
"I explained the reasons of the captain's reluctance, and offered him a share of my cabin if Captain Dodge would consent to be burdened with Railton's company.
"'Oh, for that matter,' replied he, 'Railton can follow; but he's a handy fellow, and I daresay would make himself useful without payment.'
"We consulted Captain Dodge, who admitted himself ready to take another passenger, and even to accommodate Railton, if that were my wish. Only, he explained, Mr. Sanderson had especially told him that I should wish to be alone, being an invalid. So the bargain was struck.
"Mr. Sanderson did not seem altogether pleased when I informed him that I intended to take a companion. He asked many questions about Colliver, and was especially anxious to know if I had confided anything of my plans to him. So far was this from being the case that Colliver, as I informed my host, had never betrayed the least interest in my movements. At this Mr. Sanderson merely grunted, and asked me when I intended to learn prudence, adding that one crack in the head was enough for most men, but he supposed I wanted more. I admit that, pleasant companion as Colliver is, I should prefer to be entirely alone upon this adventure. But I could not deny the invitation without appearing unnecessarily rude, and I owe him much gratitude for having made the outward voyage so pleasant. Besides, we shall part at Colombo.
"Nov. 25th.—I make this entry (my last upon Indian soil) just before retiring to rest. To-morrow I sail for Colombo in the Campaspe. But I cannot leave Bombay without dwelling once more on Mr. Sanderson's great kindness. To-night, as we sat together for the last time upon the balcony of Craigie Cottage, I declare that my heart was too full for words. My host apparently was revolving other thoughts, for when he spoke it was to say—
"'Visited his brother in Trichinopoly, eh? Only just returned, too— h'm! What I want to know is, why the devil he returned at all? There are plenty of vessels at Madras.'
"'But Colliver is not the man who cares to follow the shortest distance between two points,' I answered. 'Why should he not return to Bombay?'
"'I'll beg ye to observe,' said Mr. Sanderson, 'that the question is not 'why shouldn't he?' but 'why should he?''
"'At any rate,' said I, 'I'll be on my guard.'
"This suspicion on my behalf has become quite a mania with my host. I thought it best to let him grumble his fill, and then endeavoured to thank him for his great kindness.
"'Don't say another word,' he interrupted. 'I owe ye some reparation for being mixed up in this at all. It's a serious matter, mark ye, for a respectable clerk like myself to be aiding and abetting in this mad chase; and, to tell the truth, Trenoweth, I took a fancy to ye when first I set eyes on your face, and—Don't say another word, I'll ask ye.'
"My friend's eyes were full of tears. I arose, shook him silently by the hand, and went to my room.
"Nov. 26th.—I am off. I write this in my cabin, alone—Colliver having had another assigned to him by Mr. Sanderson's express wish. He saw Colliver for the first time to-day on the quay, and drew me aside at the last moment to warn me against 'that fellow with the devilish eyes.' As I stood on deck and watched his stiff little figure waving me farewell until it melted into the crowd, and Bombay sank behind me as the city of a dream, I wondered with sadness on the little chance we had of ever meeting on this earth again. Colliver's voice at my elbow aroused me.
"'Odd man, that friend of yours—made up of emotion, and afraid of his life to show it. Has he done you a favour?'
"'He has,' I replied, 'as great a favour as one man can do for another.'
"'Ah,' said he, 'I thought as much. That's why he is so full of gratitude.'
"Dec. 6th.—Never shall I forget the dawn out of which Ceylon, the land of my promise, arose into view. I was early on deck to catch the first sight of land. Very slowly, as I stood gazing into the east, the pitch-black darkness turned to a pale grey, and discovered a long, narrow streak, shaped like the shields one sees in Bible prints, and rising to a point in the centre. Then, as it seemed to me, in a moment, the sun was up and as if by magic the shield had changed into a coast fringed with palms and swelling upwards in green and gradual slopes to a chain of mighty hills. Around these some light, fleecy clouds had gathered, but sea and coast were radiant with summer. So clear was the air that I could distinguish the red sand of the beaches and the white trunks of the palms that crowded to the shore; and then before us arose Colombo, its white houses gleaming out one by one.
"The sun was high by the time our pilot came on board, and as we entered the harbour the town lay deep in the stillness of the afternoon. We had cast anchor, and I was reflecting on my next course of action when I heard my name called from under the ship's side. Looking down, I spied a tall, grave gentleman seated in a boat. I replied as well as I could for the noise, and presently the stranger clambered up on deck and announced himself as Mr. Eversleigh, to whom Mr. Sanderson had recommended me. I had no notion until this moment—and I state it in proof of Mr. Sanderson's kindness—that any arrangement had been made for entertaining me at Colombo. It is true that Mr. Sanderson had told me, on the night when our acquaintance began, to send this gentleman's address to Margery, that her letter might safely reach me; but beyond this I knew nothing. Mr. Eversleigh shook me by the hand, and, to my unspeakable joy, handed me my dear wife's letter.
"I say to my unspeakable joy, for no words can tell, dear wife, with what feelings I read your letter as the little boat carried me up to the quay. How often during the idle days of my recovery have I lain wondering how you and Jasper were passing this weary time, and cried out on the weakness that kept me so long dallying. Patience, dear heart, it is but a little time now.
"I have forgotten to speak of Colliver. He has been as delightful and indifferent as ever throughout the voyage. Certainly I can find no reason for crediting Mr. Sanderson's suspicions. In the hurry of landing I missed him, not even having opportunity to ask about his plans. Doubtless I shall see him in a day or two.
"Dec. 10th.—What an entrancing country is this Ceylon! The monsoon is upon us, and hinders my journey: indeed, Mr. Eversleigh advises me not to start for some weeks. He promises to accompany me to the Peak if I can wait, but the suspense is hard to bear. Meantime I am drinking in the marvels of Colombo. The quaint names over the shops, the bright dresses of white and red, the priests with their robes of flaming yellow—all these are diverting enough, but words cannot tell of the beauty of the country here. The roads are all of some strange red soil, and run for miles beneath the most beautiful trees imaginable—bamboos, palms, and others unknown to me, but covered with crimson and yellow blossom. Then the long stretches of rice fields, and again more avenues of palms, with here and there a lovely pool by the wayside—all this I cannot here describe. But most wonderful of all is the monsoon which rages over the country, wrapping the earth sometimes in sheets of lightning which turn sea, sky and earth to one vivid world of flame. The wind is dry and parching, so that all windows are kept carefully closed at night; but, indeed, the mosquitoes are sufficient excuse for that. I have seen nothing of Colliver and Railton.
"Dec. 31st.—New Year's Eve, and, as I hope, the dawn of brighter days for us, dear wife. Mr. Eversleigh has to-night, been describing Adam's Peak to me. Truly this is a most marvellous mountain, and its effect upon me I find hard to put into words. To-day I watched it standing solitary and royal from the low hills that surround it. At its feet waved a very sea of green forest, around its summit were gathered black clouds charged with lightning. Mr. Eversleigh tells me of the worship here paid to it, and the thousands of pilgrims that wear its crags with their patient feet. Can I hope to succeed when so many with prayers so much more holy have failed? Even as I write, its unmoved face is mocking the fire of heaven. I dream of the mountain; night and day it has come to fill my life with dark terror. I am not by nature timid or despondent, but it is hard to have to wait here day after day and watch this goal of my hopes—so near, yet seemingly so forbidding of access.
"On looking back I find I have said nothing about the house where I am now staying. It lies in the Kolpetty suburb, in the midst of most lovely gardens, and is called Blue Bungalow, from the colour in which it is painted. I have made many excursions with Mr. Eversleigh on the lagoon; but for me the only object in this land of beauty is the great Peak. I cannot endure this idleness much longer. Colliver seems to have vanished: at least, I have not seen him.
"Jan. 25th, 1849.—I have been in no mood lately to make any fresh entry in my Journal. But to-morrow I start for Adam's Peak. At the last moment my host finds himself unable to go with me, much as he protests he desires it; but two of his servants will act as my guides. It is about sixty miles from Colombo to the foot of the Peak, so that in four days from this time I hope to lay my hand upon the secret. The two natives (their real names I do not know, but Mr. Eversleigh has christened them Peter and Paul, which I shall doubtless find more easy of mastery than their true outlandish titles) are, as I am assured, trusty, and have visited the mountain before. We take little baggage beyond the necessary food and one of my host's guns. I cannot tell how impatient I am feeling.
"Feb. 1st.—My journey to the Peak is over. Whether from fatigue or excitement I am feeling strangely light-headed to-day; but let me attempt to describe as briefly as I can my adventure. We set out from Colombo in the early morning of Jan. 26th. For about two-thirds of our journey the road lies along the coast, stretching through swampy rice-fields and interminable cocoanut avenues until Ratnapoora is reached. So far the scenery does not greatly differ from that of Colombo. But it was after we left Ratnapoora that I first realised the true wonders of this land. Our road rose almost continuously by narrow tracks, which in some places, owing to the late heavy rains, were almost impassable; but Peter and Paul worked hard, and so reduced the delay. We had not left Ratnapoora far behind when we plunged into a tangled forest, so dense as almost to blot out the light of day. On either hand deep ravines plunged precipitately down, or giant trees enclosed us in black shadow. Where the sun's rays penetrated, myriads of brilliant insects flashed like jewels; yellow butterflies, beetles with wings of ruby-red or gold, and dragonflies that picked out the undergrowth with fire. In the shadow overhead flew and chattered crowds of green paroquets and glossy crows, while here and there we could see a Bird of Paradise drooping its smart tail-feathers amid the foliage. A little further, and deep in the forest the ear caught the busy tap-tap of the woodpecker, the snap of the toucan's beak, or far away the deep trumpeting of the elephant. Once we startled a leopard that gazed a moment at us with flaming eyes, and then was gone with a wild bound into the thicket. From tree to tree trailed hosts of gorgeous creepers, blossoming in orange, white and crimson, or wreathing round some hapless monarch of the forest and strangling it with their rank growth. Still we climbed.
"The bridle-track now skirted a torrent, now wound dizzily round the edge of a stupendous cliff, and again plunged into obscurity. Here and there the ruins of some ancient and abandoned shrine confronted us, its graceful columns entwined and matted with vegetation; or, again, where the forest broke off and allowed our eyes to sweep over the far prospect, the guides would point to the place where stood, hardly to be descried, the relics of some dead city, desolate and shrined in desolation. Even I, who knew nothing of the past glories of Ceylon, could not help being possessed with melancholy thoughts as I passed now a mass of deserted masonry, now a broken column, the sole witnesses of generations gone for ever. Some were very richly carved, but Nature's tracery was rapidly blotting out the handiwork of man, the twining convolvulus usurping the glories of the patient chisel. Still up we climbed, where hosts of chattering monkeys swung from branch to branch, or poised screaming overhead, or a frightened serpent rose with hissing mouth, and then glided in a flash back through the undergrowth. One, that seemed to me of a pure silver-white, started almost from under my feet, and darted away before I could recover myself. We hardly spoke; the vastness of Nature hushed our tongues. It seemed presumption to raise my gun against any of the inhabitants of this spot where man seemed so mean, so strangely out of place. Once I paused to cut back with my knife the creepers that hid in inextricable tangle a solitary and exquisitely carved archway. But the archway led nowhere, its god and temple alike had perished, and already the plants have begun their tireless work again.
"Between the stretches of wilderness our road often led us across rushing streams, difficult to ford at this season, or up rocky ravines, that shut in with their towering walls all but a patch of blue overhead. Emerging from these we would find ourselves on naked ledges where the sun's rays beat until the air seemed that of an oven. At such spots the plain below spread itself out as a crumpled chart, whilst always above us, domed in the blue of a sapphire-stone, towered the goal of our hopes, serene and relentless. But such places were not many. More often a threatening cliff faced us, or an endless slope closed in the view, only to give way to another and yet another as we climbed their weary length.
"Yet our speed was not trifling. We had passed a train of white-clothed pilgrims in the morning soon after leaving Ratnapoora. Since then we had seen no man except one poor old priest at the ruined resting-house where we ate our mid-day meal. The shadow of the forest allowed us to travel through the heat of the day, and the thirst of discovery would have hurried me on even had the guides protested. But they were both sturdy, well-built men, and suffered from the heat far less than I did. So we hardly paused until, in the first swift gloom of sunset, we emerged on the grassy lawn of Diabetne, beneath the very face of the cone.
"We had to rest for the night in the ruined Ambulam, as it is called; and here, thoroughly tired but sleepless, I lay for some hours and watched the innumerable stars creep out and crown that sublime head which rose at first into a fathomless blue that was almost black, and then as the moon swept up, flashed into unutterable radiance. Nothing, I am told, can compare with the moonlight of Ceylon, and I can well believe it. That night I read clearly once again by the light of its rays my father's manuscript, that no point in it should escape my memory; then sank down upon my rugs and slept an uneasy sleep.
"In an hour or two, as it seemed, I was awakened by Peter, who shook me and proclaimed it time to be stirring if we meant to see the sunrise from the summit. The moon was still resplendent as we started across the three miles or 'league of heaven' that still lay between us and the actual cone. This league traversed, we plunged down a gully and crossed a stream whose waters danced in the silver moonlight until the eyes were dazzled, then swept in a pearly shower down numberless ledges of rock. After this the climb began in good earnest. After a stretch of black forest, we issued on a narrow track that grew steeper at every step. The moon presently ceased to help us here, so that my guides lit torches, which flared and cast long shadows on the rocky wall. By degrees the track became a mere watercourse, up which we could only scramble one by one. So narrow was it that two men could scarcely pass, yet so richly clothed in vegetation that our torches scorched the overhanging ferns. Peter led the way, and I followed close at his heels, for fear of loose stones; but every now and then a crash and a startled cry from Paul behind us told us that we had sent a boulder flying down into the depths. Beyond this and the noise of our footsteps there was no sound. We went but slowly, for the labour of the day before had nearly exhausted us, but at length we scrambled out into the moonlight again upon a rocky ledge half-way up the mountainside.
"Here a strong breeze was blowing, that made our heated bodies shiver until we were fain to go on. Casting one look into the gulf below, deepened without limit in the moonlight, we lit fresh torches and again took to the path. Before we had scrambled, now we climbed. We had left vegetation behind us, and were face to face with the naked rock that forms the actual Peak. At the foot of this Peter called a halt, and pointed out the first set of chains. Without these, in my weak state I could never have attempted the ascent. Even as it was, my eye was dazed and my head swam and reeled as I hung like a fly upon the dizzy side. But clutching with desperation the chains riveted in the living rock, I hauled myself up after Peter, and sank down thoroughly worn out upon the brink.
"It now wanted but little before daybreak would be upon us. As I gathered myself up for a last effort, I remembered that amid the growth into which we were now to plunge, stood the tree of seven trunks which was to be my mark. But my chance was small of noting it by the light of these flaring torches that distorted every object, and wreathed each tree into a thousand fantastic shapes. Plainly I must stake my hopes on the descent next day; at any rate, I would scale the summit before I began my search.
"We had plunged into the thicket of rhododendrons, whose crimson flowers showed oddly against the torches' gleam, and I was busy with these thoughts, when suddenly my ankle gave way, and I fell heavily forward. My two guides were beside me in an instant, and had me on my feet again.
"'All's good,' said Peter, 'but lucky it not happen otherwhere. Only take care for last chain. But what bad with him?'
"He might well ask; for there, full in front of my eyes that strained and doubted, glimmered a huge trunk cleft into seven—yes, seven— branches that met again and disappeared in a mass of black foliage. It was my father's tree.
"So far then the parchment had not lied. Here was the tree, 'noticeable and not to be missed,' and barely thirty-two paces from the spot where I was standing lay the key to the treasure which I had travelled this weary distance to seek. But the time for search had not yet come. By the clear light of day and alone I must explore the secret. It would keep for a few hours longer.
"Dismissing my pre-occupied manner which had caused no small astonishment to Peter and Paul, I fixed the position of the tree as firmly as I could in my mind, and gave the word to advance.
"We then continued in the same order as before, whilst, to make matters sure, I counted our steps. I had reached six hundred and twenty-though when I considered the darkness and the rough path I reflected that this was but little help—when we arrived at the second set of chains. My foot was already beginning to give me pain, but under any circumstances this would have been by far the worst of the ascent. All around us stretched darkness void and horrible, leading, for all that we could see, down through veils of curling mist into illimitable depths. In front the rock was almost perpendicular. The fascination of gazing down was wellnigh resistless, but Peter ahead continually cried 'Hurry!' and the voice of Paul behind repeated 'Hurry!' so that panting, gasping, and fit to faint, with fingers clinging to the chain until the skin was blistered, with every nerve throbbing and every muscle strained to its utmost tension, I clambered, clambered, until with one supreme effort I swung myself up to the brink, staggered rather than ran up the last few feet of rock, and as my guides bent and with outstretched palms raised the cry 'Saadoo! Saadoo!' I fell exhausted before the very steps of Buddha's shrine.
"When I recovered, I saw just above me the open shrine perched on a tiny terrace and surrounded by low walls of stone; a yard or two from me the tiny hut in which its guardians live; and all around the expanse of sky. Dawn was stealing on; already its pale light was creeping up the east, and a bar or two of vivid fire proclaimed the coming of the sun. The priests were astir to receive the early pilgrims, and as Paul led me to the edge of the parapet I could see far away below the torches of the new-comers dotted in thin lines of fire down the mountain-side. Some pilgrims had arrived before us, and stood shivering in their thin white garments about the summit.
"Presently the distant sound of measured chanting came floating up on the tranquil air, sank and died away, and rose again more loudly. Paler and paler grew the heavens, nearer and nearer swept the chanting; and now the first pilgrim swung himself up into our view, quenched his torch and bowed in homage. Others following did the same, all adoring, until the terrace was crowded with worshippers gazing eager and breathless into the far east, where brighter and brighter the crimson bars of morning were widening.
"Then with a leap flashed up the sun, the dazzling centre of a flood of golden light. Godlike and resplendent he rode up on wreaths of twirling-mist, and with one stroke sent the shadows quivering back to the very corners of heaven. As the blazing orb topped the horizon, every head bent in worship, every hand arose in welcome, every voice broke out in trembling adoration, 'Saadoo! Saadoo!' Even I, the only European there, could not forbear from bowing my head and lifting up my hands, so carried away was I with the aching fervour of this crowd. There they stood and bent until the whole fiery ball was clear, then turning, paced to the sound of chanting up the rough steps and laid their offerings on the shrine. Thrice at each new offering rang out a clattering gong, and the worshipper stepped reverently back to make way for another; while all the time the newly-risen sun blazed aslant on their robes of dazzling whiteness.
"As I stood watching this strange scene, Peter plucked me by the sleeve and pointed westward. I looked, and all the wonders I had yet viewed became as nothing. For there, disregarded by the crowd, but plain and manifest, rose another Peak, graven in shadow upon the western sky. Bold and confronting, it soared into heaven and, whilst I gazed in silent awe, came striding nearer through the void air, until it seemed to sweep down upon me—and was gone! For many a day had the shadow of this mighty cone lain upon my soul; here, on the very summit, that shadow took visible form and shape, then paled into the clear blue. Has its invisible horror left me now at last? I doubt it.
"But by this time the sun was high, and the last pilgrim with a lingering cry of 'Saadoo!' was leaving the summit. So, although my ankle was now beginning to give me exquisite pain, I gave the order to return. Before leaving, however, I looked for a moment at the sacred footprint, to my mind the least of the wonders of the Peak, and resembling no foot that ever I saw. We had gone but a few steps when I plainly guessed from the state of my ankle that our descent would be full of danger, but the guides assured me of their carefulness; so once more we attacked the chains.
"How we got down I shall never fully know; but at last and after infinite pain we stood at the foot of the cliff and entered the forest of rhododendrons. And here, to the wild astonishment of my guides who plainly thought me mad, I bade them leave me and proceed ahead, remaining within call. They were full of protestations and dismay, but I was firm. Trusty they might be, but it was well in this matter to distrust everything and everybody. Finally, therefore, they obeyed, and I sat watching until their white-clad forms disappeared in the thicket.
"As soon as I judged them to have gone a sufficient distance, I arose and followed, cautiously counting my footsteps. But this was needless; my father had described the tree as 'noticeable and not to be missed,' nor was he wrong. Barely had I counted five hundred paces when it rose into view, uncouth and monstrous. All around it spread the crimson blossoms of huge rhododendrons; but this strange tree was at once unlike any of its fellows and of a kind altogether unknown to me. Its roots were partly bare, and writhed in fantastic coils across the track. Above these rose and spread its seven trunks matted with creepers, and then united about four feet below the point where the branches began. Its foliage was of a dark, glossy green, particularly dense, and its height, as I should judge, some sixty feet.
"Taking out my compass, I started from the left-hand side of the narrow track, and at a right angle to it. The undergrowth gave me much trouble, and once I had to make a circuit round a huge rhododendron; but I fought my way through, and after going, as I reckoned, thirty-two paces, pulled up full in front of—another rhododendron.
"There must be some mistake. My father had spoken of a 'stone shaped like a man's head,' but said nothing of a rhododendron tree, and indeed this particular tree was in nowise different from its companions. I looked around; took a few steps to the right, then to the left; went round the tree; walked back a few paces; returned to the tree to see if it concealed anything; then sought the track to begin my measurement afresh.
"I was just starting again in a very discomposed mood, when a thought struck me. I had been behaving like a fool. The parchment said 'at a right angle to the left-hand edge of the track.' I had started from my left hand, but I was descending the mountain, whereas the directions of course supposed the explorer to be ascending. Almost ready to laugh at my stupidity, I tried again.
"Facing round, I got the needle at an angle of ninety degrees, and once more began counting. My heart was beginning to beat quickly by this time, and I felt myself trembling with excitement. The course was now more easily followed. True, the growth was as thick as ever, but no rhododendrons blocked my passage. Beating down the creepers that swung across my face, twined around my legs, and caught at my cap, I measured thirty-two paces as nearly as I could, and then stopped.
"Before me was a patch of velvet grass, some twelve feet square and bare of the undergrowth that crowded elsewhere; but not a trace of a stone. I looked right and left, crossed the tiny lawn, peered all about, but still saw nothing at all resembling what I sought.
"As it began to dawn on me that all my hopes had been duped, my journey vain, and my father's words an empty cheat, a sickening despair got hold of me. My knees shook together, and big drops of sweat gathered on my forehead. I roused myself and searched again; again I was baffled. Distractedly I beat the bushes round and round the tiny lawn, then flung myself down on the turf and gave way to my despair. To this, then, it had all come; this was the end for which I had abandoned my wife and child; this the treasure that had dangled so long before my eyes. Fool that I had been! I cursed my madness and the hour when I was born; never before had I heartily despised myself, never until now did I know how the lust for this treasure had eaten into my soul. The secret, if secret indeed there were, and all were not a lie, was in the keeping of the silent Peak.
"I almost wept with wrath. I tore the turf in my frenzy, and felt as one who would fain curse God and die. But after a while my passion spent itself. I sat up and reflected that after all my first direction might have been the right one; at any rate, I would try it again and explore it thoroughly. The instructions were precise, and had been confirmed in the matter of the tree. Evidently the person that wrote them had been upon the Peak, and what, if they were lies, was to be gained by the cheat?
"I pulled out the parchment again and read it through; then started to my feet with fresh energy. I was just leaving the little lawn and returning down my path, when it struck me that the bush on my left hand was of a curious shape. It seemed a mere tangled knot of creepers covered with large white blossom, and rose to about my own height. Carelessly I thrust my stick into the mass, when its point jarred upon—stone!