"Stay!" resumed the prisoner, observing Carlton's intention, "I have that to say which nearly concerns yourself and companions. I have learned that it is the intention of your commander to carry the Fort of Laurieghur by assault; this cannot be done without great loss of life among you, for the place is much stronger and better provisioned and garrisoned than he has any idea of. Listen to my story, you will then see that I have it in my power to render your General a very great service if permitted to do so."
"Speak on," responded Arthur, getting somewhat interested, and seating himself on a bag of tent pegs, the the only apology for a seat the tent afforded.
The youth then proceeded with his story, from which it appeared that, about five weeks previous, a party of cavalry Sowas, regular and irregular, who had deserted their regiments, had arrived at the village in which the speaker and his father, who was a mounted police patell, resided. While there, the emissaries of the Begum of Runjetpoora, who had established herself at Laurieghur, and was organizing a force and getting together supplies of ammunition, provisions, etc., with the intention of making a raid on Runjetpoora and looting it, had made overtures to this party, and promised them high pay and a share of the plunder if they would join her. This they had accepted, and some of the men of the village, the father and son included, had cast in their lots with the mutineers and entered the fort; but, dissatisfied with being so long cooped up within its walk, and seeing no prospect of immediate plunder, had attempted to leave the place, but were prevented from so doing by the Begum's order. In sullen silence they received this injunction, but determined to escape when opportunity offered. That one day while he, (the prisoner) was passing through the ruins of a deserted palace, he had discovered the entrance to a subterraneous passage, leading under the walls and coming out about a quarter of a mile from the fort. This he had communicated to his comrades, and the following morning ere it was light, the party, led by himself, made good their retreat, and keeping within the jungle for some miles, came upon the high road, and chanced to meet the Collector's party; that he had taken no part in the slaughter of the children, and had intended leaving the band as soon as they came in sight of his own village, and in conclusion said, "If you will swear to obtain my pardon, and liberty to go where I please, I will lead you and any number of your men through this same passage, and in less than two hours from leaving this place, you shall be in possession of the fort and all it contains." This offer our hero did not consider himself at liberty to refuse or accept, but promised at once to bring the matter to the notice of the officer commanding the force, and let him (the prisoner) know the result as speedily as might be, and immediately left the guard room for that purpose.
The prisoner's proposition was at once accepted by the authorities, and very shortly a party of five hundred infantry, and one hundred dismounted dragoons, led by Carlton and accompanied by the prisoner as guide, left the camp and soon made their way without difficulty, or exciting the notice of the insurgents, through the subterraneous passage before alluded to into the fort, and the whole party were soon ensconced within the ruins of the old palace, without the garrison having the least idea of their presence in that quarter. On gaining this position, the signal agreed on, a blue light, was burned for one minute, then the whole force in camp turned out, and a demonstration was made from every available cannon and musket, as if the storming of the fort had commenced in earnest. The consternation of the mutineers at finding themselves so suddenly attacked was very great, and imagine their dismay on rushing to the walls, to find the ramparts lined with our men. Unable to account their appearance there, and believing treachery to be at work among themselves, and that the gates had been opened to admit the foe, threw down their arms and surrendered at discretion.
Search was immediately made for the Begum, and while looking for this mutiness Princess in one of her apartments, Carlton took up from a teapoy or dressing table, a small but curiously carved steel casket. Supposing it to contain cosmetics, or what was more probable, chinaum and beetle nut, hurriedly slipped it into his sabretache; but not succeeding in finding the Begum, who had evaded the pursuit, Arthur, with his Dragoons, returned to camp. The same evening the three villains already condemned were executed.
But the youth who had acted as guide was permitted to escape, which he lost no time in doing. The little force was then broken up, and the troop composing it sent back to their respective corps, while our hero and his Dragoons joined their regiment, and with it saw a great deal of hard fighting and rough service, and on more than one occasion his dashing conduct had been brought to the notice of the Indian Government.
The return of the troop from Persia, and the efficient manner in which the brigades under Sir Hugh Rose, Havelock, Mitchell, Whitlock and others were handled, proved too much for the mutineers, and after an obstinate contest which lasted over two years, during which time a heavy loss of life had been sustained on both sides, the rebellious native troops were beaten at all points, and law and order once more restored throughout the country.
Horace, on reaching London, had taken a house on Berkly Square. Old Mr. and Mrs. Barton having died some two years previous, as already stated, and the Willows in Devonshire had been let. He found his sister, Mrs. Ashburnham, still living on Cavendish Square, and Emily residing with her aunt in Harley street. Tom and his bride were still travelling on the Continent. Mr. and Mrs. Barton therefore determined to remain in town until the lease, for which the country seat had been let, should expire, which would take place about the month of August in the following year; and thus it was that the people of Vellenaux knew nothing of their return to England. Fond of gaiety and fashionable life, Mrs. Barton determined to make up for time lost during their sojourn in the Goozeratte, by being very gay, attending balls, parties and operas, and not unfrequently giving stylish entertainments at her house at Berkly Square, in all of which Edith participated, as her kind friend would go no where and do nothing without her, and thus she passed her first season in London. In the spring of the year she received the welcome intelligence that Arthur had been promoted to a troop, and that if he could manage to obtain leave of absence, he would be in England early in summer to claim his bride.
"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Barton, a few days subsequent to the receipt of the letter, "Horace, dear old fellow, has arranged everything nicely for you. He has still some interest with the authorities. He has been to the India office. Arthur is to have eighteen months leave of absence, and before the expiration of that time his regiment will be ordered home; so you see, my dear, we shall be able to see a great deal of each other. After you are married you will, of course, remain with us until it is time for Arthur to rejoin his regiment." Edith felt very grateful to her kind friends for all they had done to further her happiness, and looked forward to the time when she should meet her affianced husband with intense satisfaction and delight. She would not now be called upon to return to India, to which country she had a strong aversion; and well she might, for her residence there, with the exception of her episodes of pleasure derived from the society of Arthur, had indeed been very trying.
It was summer, bright, glorious, balmy summer. The birds sang and chirped among the green leaves, and wood pigeons cooed in the hollow trunks of the trees, beneath whose outspreading branches, little four-footed creatures gamboled and made merry among the soft feathery grasses that grew in the fine old beech woods of Devon. It was pleasant to listen to the cool, gurgling sound of the brawling brook, whose bright waters skipped, danced and glittered, as they forced their way over the pebbles and other impediments in their serpentine course along the shady dell that skirted the Home Park, wherein, under the venerable oaks, the red and fallow deer rested, dreamily sniffing the delicious fragrance that pervaded the air, borne upon the light summer wind from the rich parterre which stretched the entire length of the south wing at Vellenaux.
In a large octagon-shaped apartment that had been fitted up as a library, the most pleasing feature of which was its Southern aspect, were seated tete a tete two personages, who figured somewhat conspicuously in the early part of our story, these were Mrs. Fraudhurst and Sir Ralph Coleman. They had met here at the request of the Baronet, for Sir Ralph and the widow rarely met except by appointment or at the dinner table.
Time had dealt kindly with the lady, and what was deficient by nature was supplied by art, for she was one of those who always paid the most scrupulous attention to their toilette. If we were to describe her as fat, fair, and forty, we should certainly wrong her. Fair and forty she undoubtedly was, but fat she certainly was not. There was a slight tendency to embonpoint, but this was relieved by her tall and not ungraceful figure. She was what might be termed a decidedly handsome woman. The corpulent lawyer had subsided into the sleek, well-conditioned country gentleman. But there was at times a certain restlessness of the eye, and a nervous twitching at the corners of the mouth, which, to a keen observer, would indicate that he was not always the quiet, self-possessed person that he would have his neighbors to believe. The business on which they had met had been interrupted by the entrance of a servant with a note to Sir Ralph, but, on his leaving the room, the conversation was resumed by Mrs. Fraudhurst saying:
"I would much rather, Sir Ralph, that this subject be now discontinued, and never again reverted to. The papers to which you allude are perfectly safe in my hands, and I do not see that any good could accrue by my transferring them to you, certainly none to myself, and it might militate against me; for the great anxiety you evince to get possession of the documents leads me to believe that you have some particular object in view, something which does not appear or, the surface, and which you desire should not come to my knowledge."
"But, my dear madam, you surely do not imagine that I have any other motive in requesting you to hand over to my safe keeping the deed in question than a natural desire to be quite certain that our mutual interests should not be imperilled by any accidental circumstance that might disclose the existence of any such document."
The lady looked steadily at him for a few seconds, then in a clear distinct, and deliberate tone, said, "For the last seven years the will of the late Baronet has been in my possession, during which, time you, Sir Ralph, have made frequent attempts to obtain it from me, sometimes on one pretence, then on another. Were I to agree to your request, what security have I that you, who have acted so vile a part against Miss Effingham, would not act as treacherously towards me, were I once in your power? While I possess that document, I hold my position here, and can thus keep you at bay. And think you that I will thus surrender my advantage to please the idle fancy of a man who would not hesitate to stoop to perform any act however dastardly, so that he could effectually escape the penalty of a crime he was ready to profit by, but cowardly enough to shrink from the consequences it entailed? You say that our interest in this affair is mutual,—it is not so, and you know it. You gain nineteen thousand a year, I only one. Again, should the will by any mischance be found in my possession, who would believe my statement that you were a party concerned in the abstraction of the said deed, you would deny all knowledge of the transaction and my unsupported evidence could not commit you. Of course you would lose the estate; but what would my condition be then. No! I have everything at stake—you, comparatively nothing. I will not accede to so absurd a proposition." There was a short pause, the widow resumed her embroidery with an air of apparent indifference. The baronet sat abstractedly gazing out of the window, evidently turning over something in his mind. As she had stated he had tried to wheedle her out of the papers, but she had hitherto, by great tact, adroitly managed to shift the conversation to some other subject, in a quiet and playful manner. He was therefore not prepared for this vehement outburst; she had not only refused to comply with his demand, but taunted him with stinging words for his pusillanimous conduct. He knew her great ambition, and that the sole object of her life was to become mistress of Vellenaux, and to gain this she would risk everything. It was her weak point, the only vulnerable part he could attack with any hope of success. He had for months pondered over this; it had this advantage, it is true, he thought a marriage would secure him in the possession of both the will and her silence; but then he hated her with a cordial hate. He had been for years in her power. During her residence at Vellenaux she had every want supplied, and was safe in her position. With the only evidence of the fraud that had been practiced in her own keeping; she had outwitted him and had in reality obtained the best of the bargain. The knowledge of this cut him to the quick and he detested her in consequence.
Yet his only chance of obtaining that which he so coveted was by an offer of marriage, not that he intended to fulfil any such promise, quite the reverse, it would be a lie, a villainous deception, but had he not willingly defrauded Miss Effingham out of her property? and what was one lie, more or less, it would be but diamond cut diamond, and turning the tables on Mrs. Fraudhurst. All these thoughts flashed through his mind as he sat gazing out upon the sunny landscape below him, if it must be done, as well now as at any other time, perhaps better. He at length arose, and after taking two or three turns up and down the apartment in order to nerve himself for action, stopped beside the chair of the fair widow.
"Eleanor," said he, laying his hand on her arm. She looked up quickly, for he had never before so addressed her. "Eleanor, you are unjust to me and to yourself, ask yourself have I ever deceived or broken faith with you since our compact after Sir Jasper's death, and the answer must be in my favor. You may say that I have acted coldly and kept aloof from you: this I grant is true, but it has been forced upon me; I felt that the eyes of the world were upon us, watching our actions. Your constant residence here has been talked of and cavelled at by some of the neighboring families, who have not recovered from the surprise they felt on hearing that Sir Jasper had died intestate and left his orphan niece unprovided for. It was to prevent exposure that I have thus acted towards you, and I believe that I have effectually succeeded, and now I acknowledge that the charm of your society has become almost indispensable to me, and I will no longer be held back by the world's opinion. Listen to my proposal, accept it or reject it as you will, I make it with all sincerity. Place the will of the late baronet in my hands, and before this day month you shall be my wife and mistress of the the manor."
"And should I survive you," she said, "Vellenaux and its broad lands—"
"Reverts to Miss Effingham on condition that she allows you five thousand per annum and a suite of apartments in the west wing, during the remainder of your life, which you can have fitted up to suit your taste and convenience without delay, in case the contingency you mention should arise sooner than I anticipate."
"And this you swear to fulfil to the letter," she replied, advancing nearer and fixing her eyes upon him as if to read his inmost thoughts.
"On the day after our marriage I will cause a will to be drawn to that effect, this I swear to do by the honor of knighthood."
Her countenance lit up and there was a sparkling brilliancy in her large black eyes as she said, "I believe you—wait a few seconds and I will prove that I do." She then quitted the room, but did not keep him long in suspense; on re-entering she placed the parchment in his hands, saying as she did so, "Remember I now trust you, but beware how you betray that trust."
He opened the document and glanced over it, to satisfy himself of its authenticity; his legal experience enabled him to decide at once that it was genuine. "Eleanor." he then said, taking her hand, "our interests are now identical, we cannot now but act in concert," and raising her hand to his lips, he bowed courteously to her and left the room by one door, while she passed out at another.
"I have carried my point, thought Sir Ralph as he entered his study, and before this day month I shall have sank both name and title, and be an alien from my native land."
"I have carried my point at last," exclaimed Mrs. Fraudhurst, as the door of her dressing room closed behind her; "before this day month I shall be Lady Coleman and mistress of Vellenaux."
It was late that night ere Sir Ralph retired to rest; before he did so he had determined on his future career. For years he had striven to wrest this document from the widow and now with it in his possession, he lost no time in putting into execution the plans he had for so long a time been maturing. This was to proceed without delay to London, raise as large a sum as possible by mortgaging the Vellenaux property to its fullest extent, then retire to the continent and spend the remainder of his days in foreign travel, halting from time to time at the different cities he had visited during the first years of his married life. For in this mode of living he felt he would be more secure than he could ever hope to be in England during the life of Mrs. Fraudhurst. It is true that he could, by fulfiling his promise of marrying the widow, have sheltered himself from the consequences that might arise should his share of the concealment of the will ever appear, but he could escape this alternative by pursuing the course he had marked out for himself. He was aware that a desperate and revengeful woman like Mrs. Fraudhurst would leave no stone unturned to bring about the ruin of the man who had thus deceived and tricked her; but the old lawyer knew that she was almost powerless to act against him with any chance of success, as the only two persons interested in the matter were, to the best of his belief, in India, and likely to remain there for some years at least, and the only real proof that a will had been made by the late Sir Jasper Coleman, was now in his possession, viz: the will itself, and her unsupported testimony would not be taken as evidence in any court of law; besides, in the transaction she was in the eyes of the law the more culpable of the two, being the chief instigator of the plot, therefore it was in a more complacent frame of mind that Sir Ralph, early the following morning, ere the self-satisfied widow had awakened from those slumbers that had been during the night partially and pleasantly disturbed by means of her coming greatness as the wife of a Baronet and the Lady of Vellenaux, had driven over to Switchem and taken his seat in the up train for Southampton, in order to consult with the lawyer who had the management of his estate. After effecting this he started for London.
He was not naturally a bad man at heart, and had he not been legal heir to the baronetcy he would never have entered into the conspiracy to deprive the rightful owner of the property. He had always been of the opinion that the late Baronet would make a will leaving the principal portion of his property to his niece, but fancied that he would come in for a couple of thousand a year, to enable him to support the title; but finding that his name did not appear in the will, he felt both disappointed and annoyed beyond measure, and quite ready to acquiesce in the proposal made him by the intriguing ex-governess.
It was not his wish or intention from the first that the will should be destroyed, and he had certain scruples of conscience which now prevented his so doing. During his journey by train he argued the subject mentally. "They are both young," he thought, his mind reverting to Miss Effingham and Arthur Carlton, "and will, in all probability, survive me many years; let them buffet the waves of fortune in their youth, as I have done, they will then better appreciate their accession to fortune than they probably would have done, had they come into it at an earlier stage of their life; besides, who has a better right, during his lifetime, to enjoy the estate, than the heir to the title. The will must, of necessity, be found among my papers after my decease, so all will come right in the end," and with this consoling plea he settled himself snugly among the cushions of the first-class carriage of the train that was now leaving Southampton far behind, on its upward course to London, and soon fell into a doze.
In another carriage were seated two gentlemen conversing in a very lively and animated strain, and were apparently much interested with scenery, farm houses, and well trimmed hedges, as the train whirled past. They were not foreigners by any means, decidedly English in every look and action; about eight and twenty and thirty, respectively, and very good looking; the tallest was decidedly handsome; he was dressed in grey tweed of fine texture. They had entered the carriage at Southampton. A man of the world would have pat them down, from their general appearance and the well-bronzed hue of their features, as either belonging to, or having served in, the military or naval service of their country; and he would not have been wrong, for they were none other than Captain Carlton and Assistant-Surgeon Draycott, of H.M. Light Dragoons, just arrived from India on furlough.
"We are going along at racing speed," said Draycott to his companion, "but it will hardly keep pace with your impatience to reach London. Gad, I envy you the possession of so fair a bride. I remember the first time I met her at Calcutta. I thought her the most loveable girl I had ever seen; but what chance had a poor devil of an Assistant-Surgeon, only just arrived in the country, surrounded, as she was, by a set of fellows old enough to be her father, it is true, but with rupees enough to freight a Pattima? I suppose that ride through the Goozeratte did the business for you? She is just the girl to admire that sort of thing."
A suitable reply rose to Arthur's lips, but very different words escaped him.
"What the devil is that? A collision, by thunder!" exclaimed he, as he picked himself up from the opposite seat on which he had been thrown by the violence of the shock. The door, fortunately, had been forced open by the concussion. Our two travellers jumped out on to the track. Here a scene of confusion met their view. They had run into a freight train which was coming from an opposite direction. Women and children were shrieking for help, mingled with the cries of those injured, with the loud shouts and vociferations of the employees, and those engaged in clearing the wreck and getting things into trim again; although a number were hurt, some slightly, others more seriously, there were none reported actually killed; and a great number of the passengers were more frightened than hurt.
"This way," said an official to some four or five men, who were carrying a gentleman that appeared to be more seriously injured than any of the rest. "Lay him down softly on that grassy bank;" then raising his voice called out, "Is there any medhal man at hand?"
"Here, Draycott, although on leave you must come to the rescue. Horrid bore to be thus detained, is it not," said Arthur, as they hastened to the spot.
"Fall back there, men, fall back; give the gentleman more air, and let the doctor pass." At the decided and authoritative tone of Carlton's voice the crowd, who by this time had gathered around the sufferer, gave way. The surgeon went to work immediately and examined the unfortunate man thoroughly. "Bad case," he said in a whisper to Carlton. "Broken thigh bone, ribs crushed, and something worse internally, I am afraid." At this moment Carlton got a good look at the features of the injured man. "Can it be possible! Yes, it is Sir Ralph Coleman!" At the mention of his name the Baronet opened his eyes and, for a second or two, looked fully at the speaker, then said with a great effort, for pain had hitherto kept him silent:
"Yes, Arthur Carlton, it is I. How came you here? Do not leave me." And here Sir Ralph fainted from loss of blood.
"Is there a public house or farm near?" enquired Carlton.
"Yes," replied one of the bystanders, "there is farmer Wheatley's just down there in the hollow; they will do what they can for the poor gentleman."
"I will pay the men well that will carry him there," said Carlton, addressing a number of farmers' men, who had by this time come up. The rank of the injured man, and the offer of payment, had a wonderful effect. A dozen volunteered, at once. A gate was taken off its hinges, and some of the cushions of the injured carriage placed upon this litter and, under the direction of Doctor Draycott, Sir Ralph was conveyed to the farm house in the hollow.
"You seemed to be well acquainted with my patient," said Draycott.
"Oh, yes. He is Sir Ralph Coleman, of Vellenaux. He succeeded to the title and estate on the death of Sir Jasper, Miss Effingham's uncle, by which she was left almost penniless. You have heard her history, I suppose, in India. These things always leak out somehow or other in the service."
"In that case, my dear fellow, I must go no further than the door with you. To the best of my belief he will not live more than eight hours, and I must have other opinion and advice in his case. I think it would be as well to have the clergyman and a lawyer without loss of time. He may have something of importance to communicate to you or Miss Effingham ere he dies, for I have some indistinct notion that I have heard something very unfavorable spoken about the said Baronet, now I hear the name again. Let him be got to bed as soon as possible. What is the name of your nearest town, and the distance to it?" enquired Draycott of the farmer.
"Fallowfield is about two miles from here, sir. There is a good road and no one could miss it," was the reply.
"Let me have a horse and I will go myself and get what I require; Captain Carlton will remain until I return," and the young surgeon was soon on his way at a hand gallop. In the meantime the good people of the farm were doing all in their power to render the sufferings of their wounded guest as little painful as possible; and every attention was shown him. He spoke but little; but several times asked for Carlton, and on seeing him only repeated, "Do not leave me yet, Arthur, I may have something to say concerning you and Miss Effingham."
In less time than could have been expected, Draycott returned, accompanied by the best surgeon in Fallowfield, the rector, and a lawyer of good standing in that town. Again the patient was examined, after which a consultation was held in the farmer's parlour, which lasted about a quarter of an hour; the medical men then returned to the bed-chamber.
The Baronet scrutinized their features narrowly as they re-entered the room. "Oh!" said he, breathing with intense difficulty, "I see there is no hope for me; but tell me frankly, how long is it your opinion that I can live?"
"Doctor Draycott and myself," replied the surgeon from Fallowfield—who being much the senior took the lead—"deem it expedient that you should send for your man of business as soon as possible," thus evading the direct question.
Ralph passed his hand across his brow and remained silent a few moments. "You may do so, but it is too late I am afraid. Get the nearest lawyer you can, but be quick for my strength is failing fast, and send Captain Carlton to me at once."
"Arthur," he continued, as the young man advanced, "I have deeply wronged Edith and yourself: in the breast pocket of that coat yonder is a paper packet, bring it to me." Arthur obeyed and placed it on the counterpane. Ralph laid his hand upon it and said, "There is yet time to make restitution. This is the will of the late Sir Jasper Coleman, stolen from his desk on the morning of his death. Has the lawyer sent for yet arrived? If so, I will give my deposition on oath, ere it is too late: I am not a principal, but an accessory. After the fact—" Here Sir Ralph fell back on the pillow, and remained motionless several minutes, during which time the rector and lawyer had been summoned from the parlor below. The rector being a magistrate undertook to put a few questions to the dying man before he gave, his testimony. When sufficiently recovered to speak, the baronet, in a husky voice, related the whole of his interview with Mrs. Fraudhurst, her production of the will and the compact entered into between them. The document was sworn to, signed and duly witnessed by those present.
"Arthur give this will into the hands of Miss Effingham, or her legal adviser, and obtain her forgiveness for me." This the gallant soldier faithfully promised to do. The room was then cleared of all except the rector and the dying baronet. He lingered until sometime after midnight, and ere the light of another day dawned, his spirit had passed away, and the baronetcy became extinct.
During the following day Mr. Russell, the agent, arrived, and Arthur, in the name of Miss Effingham, authorized him to settle all claims, and have the body of the late Sir Ralph conveyed to Vellenaux for interment. Having thus arranged matters, Captain Carlton and his friend Draycott started by the next train for London.
It was by no means an uncommon occurrence for Sir Ralph to absent himself from home for a day or two without communicating to any one his intentions or the direction in which he was going, therefore his absence at the dinner table in the evening did not excite any misgivings in the mind of Mrs. Fraudhurst, but his non-appearance at the breakfast table the following morning caused considerable disquietude to that amiable person. Hurried on by her ambition she had aimed at too high a prize, and in so doing had let slip the reins of power. The possession of the will was the only hold she had ever had on the baronet and now when too late she perceived, to her dismay, the awkward position in which she stood. Ever suspicious of the motives of others; she now tormented herself with apprehensions concerning his absence, and the business that could have taken him away at that particular time. From the servants she could gain no information regarding his movements; but it occurred to her that old Bridoon, the gate-keeper, could throw some light on the subject, and therefore determined to lose no time in questioning him as to the direction taken by his master.
The person who had been despatched to Southampton to summon Mr. Russell, the agent, found the gentleman in question had gone to Vellenaux, and thinking from what he had overheard that it was a matter of considerable importance, made no longer delay in that good town than was actually necessary, but took the first train to Switchem, and from thence on foot to the lodge gates, and walked quickly up the avenue; when near the lawn he encountered Mrs. Fraudhurst, who, noticing him to be a stranger and in haste, accosted him and enquired his business.
"I am looking for Mr. Russell, my lady," was his reply.
"He resides in Southampton; but where have you come from, and who is it that wishes to see him?"
"Sir Ralph Coleman, my lady, has met with an accident about two miles from Fallowfield, and is not expected to live long. He has sent for his agent, and I have been to Southampton, but was told that I should find him here."
The widow started and turned deadly pale. "He has the will with him," she thought.
"I beg pardon, my lady, for being so abrupt,—perhaps you are Lady Coleman," for he noticed her start and change color.
"Pray go on, my good fellow, and tell me all about that accident, where the baronet is, and who is with him, and all you know concerning this sad affair."
The man related all he knew, and something that he had heard. "The gentleman that sent me for Mr. Russell they called Captain Carlton." At this name she again started, and, in spite of herself, trembled perceptibly, but the man went on—
"There was something said about a stolen will, which Sir Ralph wanted to enquire about, or something of that sort, and I am in great haste."
"Stay one moment. Did you say Sir Ralph was not expected to live?"
"The doctors said he could not last more than a few hours."
By this time she had recovered her presence of mind. "Mr. Russell," she said, "was here this morning, but has returned to Southampton; you must have passed him on your way here; return my good fellow as quickly as you can, and let him know all that you have told me." She gave him a sovereign and said, "I will be there almost as soon as yourself."
The man took the coin with a bow, and started for the railway station, and Mrs. Fraudhurst returned to the house, where she well knew Mr. Russell then was settling home matters with the steward. She went directly to her own apartment to form plans of immediate action. "Arthur is in England, Sir Ralph dying, the will found in his possession; he has made a confession of the whole, implicating me; he must have done so, or how could that messenger have heard of the stolen will. Idiot that I was, to trust it out of my own keeping. My only safety is in instant flight. I must place the wide waste of waters between me and the consequences that must inevitably await me should I remain here after the disclosure becomes known throughout the country." She then commenced to pack up her wardrobe and valuables. Her plan was soon arranged. She then descended to the drawing room and rang for old Reynolds, who answered the summons. "Has Mr. Russell left the house?" she enquired, and on receiving an answer in the negative, desired that he might be informed that she wished to speak to him, "and return yourself, Reynolds, for I have something of importance to communicate to both of you."
In a few minutes the agent entered, she requested him to be seated. "Reynolds, you too will remain;" then addressing Mr. Russell said, "I have just received the intelligence that Sir Ralph has met with an accident, by rail, resulting, I am told, in a broken limb, which may detain him for some days at the farm house where he now lies; he has requested me to attend him, and bring such things as I may deem necessary, and further directs that you will call over and see him sometime to-morrow." She then gave orders to the butler to pack up several changes of his master's linen, and underclothing in a large trunk and have it sent to her room, as she had bandages, flannel, and other things that it might be necessary to place therein. This was accordingly done, but as soon as alone she emptied the trunk of its contents, and filled it with her own apparel. The carriage was then ordered round, the trunks put in, and Mrs. Fraudhurst, who had found a home there for upwards of twenty years, left Vellenaux never again to return to it.
"She has baggage enough for the Seik men of a whole troop," remarked Bridoon as she passed through the Park gates.
On arriving at the station her first act was to dismiss the carriage, the next to take a ticket for Exeter, and in a snug hostlery in that city made an addition to her toilette, then ordered a cab and proceeded to the principal bank.
"I wish to see the manager," she said, with a condescending smile. The obsequious cashier led the way to the sanctum, and ushered her in, for he knew the visitor well, and also knew that opposite her name in the books of the establishment there was an array of figures, representing a goodly amount of the current coin of the realm.
In about ten minutes the lady, accompanied by the manager, returned, and presented a cheque for the full amount of her deposit, which was paid in gold and notes. This circumstance did not much surprise the banker, for she had done the same on three or four occasions during the last seven years, re-depositing the same amount a few hours after. She was then politely bowed into her cab and was driven off. Having settled her bill at the hotel, she drove down to the railway station and procured a ticket for Queenstown, Ireland, and by the time Mr. Russell arrived at the farm house to attend Sir Ralph, Mrs. Fraudhurst was airing herself at the Cove of Cork. Her object in misleading the man who had been sent to acquaint the agent with what had occurred to Sir Ralph, had thus been effected: that of gaining time to enable her to quit the country before steps could be taken to arrest her.
"There is not a finer craft swims the ocean than the beauty that lays out yonder," said a weather-beaten old seaman to a group of sailors, watermen, and others, who were lounging about the dockhead and commenting on the merits of a first-class, clipper-built, full rigged vessel that was lying in the Cove, her sails loosed and the blue Peter or signal for sailing, flying at the fore.
"You may well say that with your own purty mouth, for it's yourself that knows that same, Cornelius O'Donovan, for wasn't it yourself that made the first trip in her, and isn't Captain Costigan a blood relation of your own, and sure a smarter boy than him that has the handling of her isn't to be found between this and Bantry Bay."
"It is her fourth trip to the Cape of Good Hope," resumed the first speaker, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and preparing to refill it. Just then a lady, dressed in the height of the prevailing fashion, advanced, and of one of the party enquired the name of the ship, and the port to which she was bound.
"The 'Kaffir Chief,' outward bound for the Cape of Good Hope," was the reply of the waterman who had been addressed. "Shall I put you on board, my lady?"
"Not at this moment,—but when does she sail?"
"She will up anchor and top her boom at sunset," answered another of the bystanders.
"They are lowering a boat," said the old tar, who had first spoken, who was now taking a squint at her through a small pocket telescope; "it is the skipper coming ashore for his papers, mails, and perhaps to jack up some stray passengers."
"You would oblige me by telling the Captain that a lady wishes to speak to him as soon as he lands, and then see if you can manage to drink my health at yonder little public house," and Mrs. Fraudhurst here held out a crown piece to the old seaman, who gladly accepted the offered coin. "What did you say the Captain's name was?" It was immediately given. "Then be good enough to tell Captain Costigan that he will find me waiting for him beneath those trees yonder," she said, as she turned and walked in the direction indicated.
"Pretty spoken woman that; devilish good looting, too; what can she want with old Castigan?" remarked one of the party.
"Missed her passage in the last ship, perhaps, and wants to know if there be any room in the 'Kaffir Chief,'" replied another of the bystanders, "Go over at once to the 'Jolly Sailor'; I will be with you as soon as I deliver the lady's message, and then we will drink her health," said the old salt who had received the lady's bounty.
"Captain Costigan, of the 'Kaffir Chief,' I believe," said Mrs. Fraudhurst as she advanced from under the trees, from whence she had been watching his approach.
"The same at your service madam," was the reply of the polite seaman, as he lifted his glazed hat and bowed to the person who addressed him.
"I have, unfortunately, lost my passage in the 'Eastern Monarch,' which sailed some days since from London, and am anxious to return to the Cape with as little delay as possible. I noticed in the newspaper that your vessel was bound to that port,—am I too late, or have you room for another?" The Captain eyed her for a moment, and apparently satisfied with his scrutiny, replied:
"I have but few passengers, and there is a first-class berth vacant, with excellent accommodation. You will I trust take a sailor's word for that, as the time is short, and I sail at sunset."
"The truth and honesty of our sailors are proverbial," said the lady with one of her blandest smiles. He then accompanied her to the hotel; here matters were quickly arranged, the passage money paid down, and Captain Costigan promised to call for her, and convey her and her effects on board on his return call. This had been so quietly managed—no agent or go between employed—that no person, not even the landlord of the hotel, was aware of her intentions. He was under the impression that the lady, who occupied two of the best rooms in his house, would in all probability remain there for the rest of the summer. This he judged from what she had let fall during a conversation he had had with her an hour after her arrival, and the worthy man was quite taken aback when she paid her bill, and leaning on the arm of Captain Costigan, left his establishment, to take up her quarters on board the good ship, now lying with her anchor apeak in the offing.
From the quarter deck of the "Kaffir Chief," towards the close of that beautiful summer day, could be seen a magnificent panoramic view of one of the finest harbors in Europe, with the purple-tinted hills of Munster in the distance, and the iron-bound coast standing boldly out on either side, and beaten with the surges which impetuously dashed against the rugged steeps. In stormy weather the billows rolled in from the dark ocean in long arching waves, bursting with a deafening noise on the beething cliffs, and scattering the salt spray hundreds of feet in the air. Then again met the eye the fortifications on Spike Island, Convict Depot, Carlisle Fort, Light House, Camden Fort, Black Point, and the handsome City of Cork, with its bustling streets and its quays and docks, crowded with vessels of all nations, presenting a picture well worth travelling miles to behold. But what a bright change has come over the spirit of the age, since the days of Elizabeth and religious persecution, when Cork was made a howling wilderness, because its inhabitants refused to attend the Protestant places of worship as ordered by law. Verily, in every country, and in every age, mad fanaticism has played such pranks before high heaven as to make even the angels weep for poor humanity. But we live in happier times now, and enjoy that great blessing, liberty of conscience, to its fullest extent.
The wind was fair, and, with every sail set, the gallant bark, on the top of the white crested foam of the rippling waves, floated proudly out to sea, and was soon hull down in the distance, her tall tapering spars fading from view, for the bright orb of day had already sank beneath its ocean bed, and the golden tints of the horizon were fast deepening to the purple shades of night. There were but three other passengers, an old Major of Artillery, a merchant of Cape Town, and a juvenile Ensign of Infantry, going out to join his regiment. There were no other ladies on board; this was a source of infinite satisfaction to the flying widow, who, from prudential motives, had engaged her passage under the name of Mrs. Harcourt Grenville, and fears for her personal safety were completely set at rest on finding that the news of the accident by rail, which had cost Sir Ralph Coleman his life, had not reached the ear of any person on board, and she, herself, was not quite certain but that her accomplice in fraud might yet survive; if so, her condition was still very precarious, but she argued that he would scarcely recover, or he would not have committed himself by making known to the world his share in the transaction concerning the stolen will, and under the assumed name, and in a distant land, she would be secure from detection. She had no intention of remaining at the Cape; her object was to try her fortune in India, and had only come on board the "Kaffir Chief," as it afforded her the earliest opportunity for evading pursuit. She was well aware that she could easily proceed to India from the Cape in one of the Indiamen that so frequently touched at that port, and so, on the whole, she felt tolerably easy in her new position, and set to work, with her usual tact, to make herself agreeable to the Captain and her fellow travellers. Ensign Winterton she took under her especial protection, which very much flattered his boyish pride; made considerable headway with Major Dowlas, who, by the way, was a bachelor; and never failed to accept the proffered arm of the attentive Captain, when on deck; for although married and on the wrong side of fifty, being an Irishman and a Corkonian, he was not insensible to the charms of a handsome woman some years his junior.
Her account of herself was, that she was the wife of a surgeon at Graham's Town, had been some time in England, and had spent the spring and part of the summer in London, and intended to remain at Cape Town until her husband came for her. She had several thousand pounds, the savings of some twenty years, dressed with excellent taste, and had taken such good care of her constitution, that she looked at least ten years younger than she really was, and felt convinced from all she had heard and read, that she would experience but little difficulty in procuring a suitable husband and establishment in one of the Indian Presidencies, she cared not which, and having no acquaintances in the army, was not at all likely to be recognized as the ex-governess of Vellenaux.
There was another change that had taken place in the little village of Vellenaux which has not been brought to the notice of the reader, and may as well be introduced here as elsewhere, since it must be known sooner or later. The venerable rector who had performed the last sad rites over Sir Jasper, did not long survive his old and esteemed friend. He had been ailing for several months prior to his decease, and had been assisted in his clerical duties by a Curate, a gentleman of pre-possessing appearance; about twenty-eight years of age. He appeared to be eminently qualified for the profession he had chosen, and entered with spirit and energy upon the various duties that now devolved upon him; his quiet and unassuming manner gained him the respect of the whole neighborhood. He read with a clear, distinct tone, and his sermons were such as had not been heard in Vellenaux for many years. He was always welcome whenever he visited his parishioners or attended the sick. He took a very great interest in the Sunday school that had been inaugurated by Edith who had, on leaving the Willows, transferred that responsibility to Julia and Emily Barton, and on her sister's marriage Emily presided over the classes. This just suited one of her tastes and habits, who was ever ready to perform some errand of mercy to the poor and the invalid, and was untiring in her efforts to teach the young children. She had often been thanked by the clergyman for her valuable assistance, without which, he was wont to observe, he scarcely knew what he should do.
When the rector was removed from this sublunary sphere, the Rev. Charles Denham, through the interest of Lord Patronage, whose fag he had been while at Eton, obtained the vacant rectorship. This was considered by the good folks of the district to be a fortunate circumstance, and things went smoothly on as in the good old time. But on the death of her parents Emily Barton, as the reader already knows, left Vellenaux to reside in London. The Rev. gentleman did not know which way to turn; he was sorely puzzled; he had depended so much on Emily that he began to think seriously of the possibility of being able to induce Miss Barton to exchange that name for the one of Denham. This matter had been revolving in his mind for some time past, though he had given no utterance to his feelings, and now she was about to leave that part of the country, perhaps for a lengthened period. "If," thought he, "the Sunday school had Emily at its head, it would materially assist me," and he felt convinced that the rectory, without a wife to superintend it, would be, after all, a very lonely place to pass his days in, would she not consent to undertake the double duties. "I have never spoken to her," he said musingly, as he paced up and down his study, "but I shall, when grief for the loss of her parents will allow her to listen to such a proposal."
On parting with him on the morning of her departure, she was somewhat embarassed at his altered manner towards her. She could not but notice his warm pressure of her hand, and his earnestness of manner, when asking permission to visit her in London.
"My aunt and sister will, I am sure, be always happy to receive you when in London," she quietly replied, and after a moment's pause, continued: "I shall likewise still take an interest in the school, and shall be glad to learn how my little scholars are getting on."
The young rector found it necessary to visit London on several occasions during the next twelvemonth.
In one of the broad gravelled avenues of Kensington Gardens, slowly walking beneath the magnificent trees, the soft mossy grass, yellow and white daisy, bending beneath their footsteps, were two figures,—the one a gentleman dressed in black, with a white clerical neck-tie, the other a lady about the medium height, with pretty features, and decidedly elegant figure, which was set off to advantage by the cut and fit of the pale lavender silk dress she wore. They were progressing slowly towards the gate leading into Hyde Park; their conversation was somewhat interrupted by a knot of passing Guardsmen and other fashionable loungers, to be again resumed when they were beyond ear shot. They continued their walk along the bank of the Serpentine, and could the passer by have peered through the lady's veil, he would have found her face suffused with blushes at different turns in the conversation, but they were those of pleasure, for certainly the crimson flush of anger found no place there. They crossed the Park and passed out at Stanhope gate and turned in the direction of Berkly square.
"You have made me so happy, dear Emily, since you grant me permission to speak to your aunt and brother on the subject nearest my heart," and the Rev. Charles Denham pressed the little hand within his own, made his bow, and walked in the direction of Harley Street, while Emily Barton entered the house of her brother Horace.
There is an old saying, familiar to most of us as household words, which tends to show that the course of true love never does run smooth. Now with all due deference to the talented authority who promulgated this startling announcement, we beg to differ with him on the subject. It may be as he says, as a rule, but our belief is that there are exceptions to this rule, as well as to others; for we say without fear of contradiction, that the loves of the pretty Emily Barton and her very devoted lover, the Rev. Charles Denham, glided smoothly and sweetly along its unruffled course, until it eventuated in that fountain of human happiness or misery, marriage. On the lady's side there was no stern, selfish parent who would burden the young shoulders, and drive from her path those inmost pleasures so natural to the young and light-hearted, and cause her to lose her freshness and bloom, by attending solely to his whims and wishes, or crush her young heart with hope deferred. There was no ambitious match making mother, ready to sacrifice the hearts best affections, in order that she might become the unloved wife of some shallow pated young dandy, with more aristocratic blood than brains, and a coronet in perspective.
Nor was the reverend lover subjected to any trials of a similar nature; he was an orphan, with but one near relative, a bachelor Uncle, who was fond of his nephew, and proud of his talent and the position he had attained as Rector of Vellenaux. The old gentleman had intended to leave him his property, amounting to some five thousand pounds, in the five per cents., at his death; but the kind-hearted relative on learning that his brother's son had secured so estimable a lady for his wife; belonging to a family who for so many years had resided in the neighborhood of Vellenaux, the scene of the young Rector's labours; he altered his will, placing half of the original sum to Charles Denham's credit, at Drummond's Bank in London, subject to his cheque or order, so that the rectory could be furnished and fitted up with all the requisites befitting the position of the young couple.
It was a right joyous group that gathered around the wedding breakfast table at 54 Harley Street, on that bright summer morn, that saw Emily Barton made the happy bride of the equally happy Rector of Vellenaux. A friendly Bishop tied the connubial knot in one of the most aristocratic churches in London, and a few hours afterwards Emily and Charles departed, not by rail, to some uncomfortable foreign hotel, but by travelling, carriage and post horses to their home at Vellenaux. For the guests who had assembled to witness the wedding ceremony, there was another treat in store, they were invited to a ball given in honor of the occasion by the brother of the bride, at his mansion in Berkly Square, concerning which more anon.
The term for which the Willows had been rented, now expired, and Horace determined to no longer delay his departure for Devonshire. This had been ever in his mind while serving in India. He loved the old place and there were now fresh inducements for him to give up the house in London, and repair to the Willows. His brother Tom was married and settled at Vellenaux, and Emily had just become the wife of the rector, and lived within a stone's throw of her old home. Thus, with the visits of his aunt and the Ashburnham's, Pauline would not be without society; besides he would take her and Edith, whom he now looked upon as a sister, to London during the height of the gay season, and this he thought would not fail to please all parties.
Mrs. Barton was to give a farewell entertainment prior to her departure, which should exceed anything that she had hitherto attempted, and the evening of the day of Emily's marriage was fixed for the occasion.
It was somewhat late in the afternoon when Captain Carlton and Doctor Draycott reached London, where the two friends and travelling companions parted—Draycott for his father's house in Finsbury Pavement, and Carlton for his hotel in Bond Street. His first idea was to go direct to Berkly Square and inform Edith and the Bartons of the death of Sir Ralph, and the declaration he had made concerning the will of the late Sir Jasper; but while waiting in the coffee room of the hotel, looking over the morning paper, he chanced to hear the following conversation between two gentlemen standing at the bow window that looked out on the street.
"And so the Bartons give their farewell spread this evening? Are you going?"
"Well, I rather think so," was the other's reply. "It is a thousand pities, however, to bury that lovely woman, Miss Effingham, in the country. There is not her equal in town. If she only had a decent allowance of cash or other property, she would have been sought for by a Coronet, you may depend on that."
"But I heard," continued his friend, "that she was engaged to an Indian Officer, who is expected in England shortly," and with these words they passed out into the street.
On hearing this, Arthur determined to defer his visit a few hours longer. There was a great rush of vehicles that night on the South side of Berkly Square. The heavy family carriage, with its sleek horses, driven at a sober pace by old John, the dashing curricle and smart barouche, with the elegant private cab with its busy little Tiger in top boots, whose single arm stops the thorough bred animal when his master drops the reins.
"Is them 'ere hangels," enquired the butcher boy of his crony, Tom Drops, the pot boy at the Crown and Sceptre, just round the corner, as the two young ladies, who had acted in the character of bridesmaids in the morning, stepped from their carriage on to the Indian matting which had been stretched across the pavement to the hall steps, all tarletan and rose buds, and ascended the grand staircase leading to the ball room.
"Well, if they ain't they ought to be," was the response of Tom Drops. At this moment a very stout and elaborately turbaned Dowager passed slowly from her brougham along the matting and entered the hall.
"Is she a hangel too, do you think? Don't look much like one now," enquired the young butcher.
"In course not," said Tom, "they loses all the hangel when they marries, leastways so I have heard. But who it this swell? he is bang up to the mark; he's a horse sojer I knows, and a ossifer," as the embroidered sabretache of Captain Carlton met his view while ascending the hall steps. "Well, I am off," said one to the other and the two lads went their way.
"Show me into the library, and hand this card to Miss Effingham," said Arthur to a servant at the foot of the staircase. The footman first looked at him, then at the name on the card, then said, with a low bow, "Certainly, sir, certainly," and ushered the Captain to rather a snug little apartment which was used as a library. Edith was dancing when the footman entered. On the conclusion of the waltz he approached and quietly handed her the card. A flush of pleasure lit up her beautiful features, and joy sparkled in her brilliant eyes, as she read the name, and without a word to any one, followed the servant and passed straight to the room where her lover waited for her. We will pass over the transports of their first meeting,—it can be easily imagined, as the reader, is already aware of their engagement, and that he had returned to England for the sole purpose of their union. After the emotion of the first few moments had subsided Arthur related to her the accident by which Sir Ralph had been killed, and of the existence of her uncle's will, and the way it had been stolen by Mrs. Fraudhurst, and Sir Ralph's complicity in the plot.
A feeling of regret at the untimely end of the unhappy man, as he had been hurried into eternity without preparation, came over her for a few moments, this was chased away by indignation at the fraudulent and base part that had been played by her late governess and companion. "What has become of her?" she inquired.
"Decamped, and no doubt fled the country ere this; all that is known of her is that she left Vellenaux on the plea of rendering all the assistance in her power to Sir Ralph, but she did not make her appearance in that neighbourhood," was Arthur's answer. The reader knows more of her movements than any of her acquaintances at Vellenaux or London.
"And we shall have dear old Vellenaux to live in. Oh! Arthur dear, I am so happy, with all the friends I hold most dear on earth residing around us. You will of course leave the service now? How kind of my poor, dear uncle to think of us both in his will. But Mrs. Barton may notice my absence, and become uneasy, so let us return;" and in another moment or two, leaning on the arm of her handsome affianced husband, Edith re-entered the ball room, much to the relief and surprise of Pauline Barton. Arthur Carlton took an opportunity during the evening of relating to Mr. Barton the change that had taken place in Edith's circumstances by the death of, and disclosures made by, the late Baronet.
"Meet me at breakfast in the morning, and we will consult as to what immediate steps should be taken on this extraordinary occasion; but of course you will sleep here," said Horace. Arthur assented, and was soon again at Edith's side, who had told confidentially to Mrs. Barton all that he had told her: and that little lady could not restrain her delight, and before eleven o'clock that evening, every one in the room became aware that the beautiful Miss Effingham was worth twenty thousand pounds a year as heiress of Vellenaux.
Mr. and Mrs. Denham, previous to the ball, took their departure for Devonshire, and were comfortably settled in the Rectory before Horace returned to the Willows. He had postponed their journey in order that Arthur and Edith might have the benefit of his advice and assistance in such matters as might arise during the establishment of their claims, set forth in the will of the late Sir Jasper, now produced.
Mr. Septimus Jones was a lawyer of good repute, carrying on his practice now, and had been doing so for upwards of fifteen years in the main street of Hammersmith leading to the Suspension Bridge.
"Nicholas," said that gentleman one morning, as he laid on his desk a copy of the Times newspaper, which he had been carefully perusing for upwards of an hour, "Nicholas, do you remember a youth named Edward Crowquill, that I had in my office some ten years since?"
The old and confidential clerk ceased writing, and thrusting his pen behind his ear, rubbed his hands softly together, and said, "Most certainly I do. He was not fit for the business, and gave it up through ill health; studied medicine for a time, and is now a chemist and druggist, residing some hundred yards down the street."
"Exactly so," replied his employer, "you will be good enough to put on your hat and go and request him to do me the favor to step up here for a few moments." Nicholas did his master's bidding, and returned shortly, accompanied by Mr. Crowquill. Mr. Jones, after requesting him to be seated, and directing his clerk to pay attention, took up the newspaper, and read, in a clear voice the following advertisement: "To Lawyers and otters.—If the party who drew the will of the late Sir Jasper Coleman of Vellenaux, Devonshire, and those who witnessed the same document some ten years ago, will call at the office of Messrs. Deeds, Chancery, and Deeds, Solicitors, Gray's Inn Lane, they will be handsomely rewarded for their trouble." "Now, gentlemen," continued he, "I drew this will, and you both witnessed it. Do you both remember the circumstance." After a little reflection they both recollected the circumstance.
"Oh! since you have not forgotten the occurrence, I will show you a rough draft of the will which I made at the time, and by reading this it will refresh your memories, and you will be better able to swear to the real will if it should be produced."
"When do you purpose calling upon the Solicitors?" enquired Crowquill.
"To-morrow morning we will call for you on our road to town," replied Mr. Jones, politely bowing his visitor out of the office.
Of the early history of Sir Lexicon Chutny very little was known. He was of Dutch extraction that was obvious, had served for a time in the Madras Civil Service, but on acquiring a large property by the death of a distant relative, he retired from that service and settled on one of his plantations in Pallamcotta. How he obtained his title no one knew or enquired, his relative, now deceased, was so called, and in his will he directed that his heir should assume his name and rank. He was thoroughly Indian in his tastes and habits, sensual and self indulgent; saw very little European society, and report said that he had several native mistresses, and was reputed very wealthy. He had never married, for European ladies at that period were rarely to be met with in Pallamcotta. It must have been business of no ordinary importance to induce him to leave the land wherein he had been born, to visit Hamburg, where he made his stay as short as possible. He was not favorably impressed with the Frauleins and fair-haired daughters of Holland, and was now returning home in the "Great Mogul," a Dutch Indiaman bound to Madras.
"Wreck on the lee bow!" shouted a look out from the mast-head. This excited quite a commotion on deck, from whence the object was soon discernable through the telescope, and soon after by the naked eye. The ship's course was altered and she bore down upon the unfortunate craft to render such assistance as might be necessary. She proved to be the ship "Kaffir Chief," from Cork, bound to the Cape; she had been dismasted in one of those terrific storms which so frequently occur in these latitudes, and was now lying completely water-logged on the bosom of the treacherous ocean. The day previous to the wreck had been remarkably fine, but as night closed in the wind rose and continued to increase until it blew a perfect hurricane. In spite of the utmost exertions of the crew the sails were blown clear of the bolt ropes, yards and spars were carried away, when the foremast went by the board and the main topmast fell with a crash into the sea, seventeen of the crew were hurled into the wild waste of waters. A little before daylight a tremendous sea struck her stern, unshipping the rudder, carrying away the wheel, round-house and lockers, rendering her unmanageable, and she was tossed helplessly like a log upon the mighty billows. As the day broke the storm somewhat subsided, a scene of wild desolation was realized by those on board the unfortunate vessel, as the flashes of broad sheet lightning, with which the heavy clouds were surcharged, occasionally shot forth. The scene was startling and terrific, the wild waves were breaking over her and three more of the crew were swept overboard. As the light increased the sea began gradually to go down, and spars and pieces of wreck were seen floating all around, lifted upon the surging waves, to which some of the unfortunate seamen had clung with the grasp of despair, only to be again thrown into the dark trough of the sea to rise no more.
Although the hurricane had subsided, so much water had been shipped that the pumps had to be kept continually going to prevent the hull from going down: to this laborious task all had to exert themselves to the utmost, and only by this means could the ship be kept afloat. The self-styled Mrs. Grenville rendered good service in this hour of peril, she voluntarily took the place of the steward, now called to the pumps, and served out rations of biscuits and spirits to all hands, nor did she forget herself on the occasion. The danger of her position appeared in no way to appal her, and having to undergo no bodily fatigue beyond her strength, she was very little affected by the disasters and hardships of the past few days. Such of the officers and crew as had not been swallowed up by the boiling surf were in a very weak and exhausted condition, owing to their great labor at the pumps, when rescued from their perilous position by the boats of the "Great Mogul." These particulars were gathered from time to time from some of the crew, but from Mrs. Grenville a more detailed account of the wreck was obtained. That lady thought it necessary to keep to her cabin for the first week, during which time she had to sketch out a fresh plan of action for the future.
This she soon effected, having received all the required information from the little fat Dutch stewardess concerning the ship, its destination, and the names and positions of the passengers.
"My dear madam," said the polite Captain, addressing Mrs. Grenville, "you really must allow me to recommend you to try an airing on the quarter deck this beautiful morning; after the long seclusion of your cabin you will, I am sure, find it both agreeable and refreshing." In a graceful manner, and with a pleasing smile, she replied,
"I shall be happy to adopt your suggestion Captain Hanstein, and if it is not interfering with your professional duties, may I request the favour of your arm for a promenade, as I feel scarcely equal to the effort unattended."
The Captain bowed and assisted the lady to the quarterdeck.
The Indigo planter, who had sat opposite Mrs. Grenville at breakfast, felt somewhat annoyed that he had not solicited the pleasure of accompanying the lady in her walk on deck; he had been struck with her appearance at first sight, for the widow knowing the effect of first impressions, had been exceedingly careful with her toilette that morning, and certainly did look her best.
Sir Lexicon had never yet seen any one who came up to his idea of a handsome woman, until he encountered Mrs. Grenville that morning; her curling dark hair, superb neck and shoulders, stately figure and sparkling black eyes, and well modulated voice fascinated him, as no woman as yet ever had done. She was not young, it is true; but this he regarded as fortunate. She was still some years younger than Sir Lexicon; but as to who or what she was he was a stranger; but this he was determined to ascertain if possible, and betook himself on deck for the purpose. As the professional duties of the Captain called him for a time away, he took his place beside the lady and endeavoured to interest her in his conversation. He found her charmingly condescending, and apparently frank and friendly in her remarks, and after about an hour's chit chat allowed him to conduct her to her state room.
Poor Captain Costigan had been killed by a falling spar and knocked overboard. The remainder of the crew and passengers that had been rescued from their precarious situation on the wreck had been on board the "Great Mogul" about a couple of weeks, when she let go her anchor in Table Bay. These, with the exception of Mrs. Grenville, went on shore in the first boat that came off to the ship. She, that morning, had an interview with Captain Hanstein, and some hours after the others had left, the obliging Captain took her ashore in his own boat, in which also sat Sir Lexicon Chutny. He put up at the same hotel as Mrs. Grenville, and was seen escorting her about Cape Town.
The "Mogul" remained only two days at the Cape, then resumed her voyage, and Mrs. Grenville, the Captain, and Sir Lexicon Chutny, could be seen pacing her quarterdeck as she sailed out of the bay, unquestionably enjoying, with much pleasure, the clear, balmy, and exhilarating breeze of the early day, which, with the assistance of the sun's rays, was lifting from the table land on the summit of the great mountain, called occasionally Table Rock. A large, heavy, white cloud that frequently spread itself over the whole surface, resembling very much in appearance an enormous table cloth, hence the origin of the name. This remarkable mountain is steep, rugged and precipitous, and towers up hundreds of feet towards the clear, blue vault of heaven. Very little brushwood or vegetation is to be found thereon. At its base, snugly ensconced under its protecting shade, is situated Cape Town, looking quite pretty and picturesque as the day dawns and the rising sun appears. There are two other smaller elevations in close proximity to the Table Rock, not without interest, and called respectively the Lion's Head and Lion's Rump, possibly because they are connected together by a ridge of rock, which, to the imaginative mind, gives it the appearance of an enormous lion, sleeping. The other objects of interest and the shipping in the harbor were soon left far astern.
As they were sweeping out to sea, the Captain could, by the aid of his glass, clearly distinguish the signal that was flying from the flagstaff, situated on the lofty eminence mentioned before, as the Lion's Rump signalling station, announcing the approach of an English vessel from London. On hearing this the lady's face changed to an ashen hue, and she trembled slightly. It was for an instant only; her strong will conquered the emotion, and with her feelings now under perfect control, she was again conversing and smiling in the most charming manner until luncheon was announced, to which she was conducted by Sir Lexicon, and while thus engaged she felt that she had good cause to rejoice that a fine swelling breeze was carrying her rapidly away from the Cape of Good Hope; for, doubtless, the newspapers brought out by the new arrival, contained a full account of Sir Ralph's death, and her own flight from the country, and it was quite possible that some suspicion might have fallen upon her, had she remained a day longer at Cape Town.
The wealthy planter of Pallamcotta was not the only person on board who had become infatuated with the lively widow; for in fact Captain Hanstein, the honest-hearted seaman had been caught in her toils. He had believed every word that had been confidentially told him by Mrs. Grenville, her position in life, and her reason for visiting the Cape and Madras. Of course there was scarcely a grain of truth in the whole statement. She was not long in discovering the Captain's weak point, and rather encouraged him than otherwise, but had no notion of engaging herself to the fat honest Dutch skipper. Far from it, but she thought it necessary to her project to mislead him on that point. This unscrupulous and ambitious woman cared not how she wounded the feelings of others, if she thought by so doing it would further her own interest. She was determined to secure Sir Lexicon as a husband, and thus become Lady Chutny; and so skillfully did she angle, and played her cards with such great tact, that there was very little doubt of her succeeding.
The Dutch are naturally slow of action, and the planter's wooing was of a rather passive character, and his attention to the lady did not excite the suspicion of her other admirer, who did not think it would be necessary to pop the momentous question until she was about to leave the ship on reaching Madras. That Sir Lexicon was somewhat piqued at the marked attention paid to her by that good-natured sailor was quite evident, and was exactly what the widow had anticipated and desired. She played both lovers off, one against the other, and the result proved that her theory and practice were correct; for Sir Lexicon took advantage of an opportunity that was afforded him one afternoon while playing chess with Mrs. Grenville in the after cabin. They were quite alone, and during a pause in the game, he formally made her an offer of marriage, which, after a little skillful beating about the bush, she accepted, but on the condition that nothing should be said about the subject to any one on board. This was agreed to, and the game continued. There were other passengers on board, but, as they are in no way connected with our story, it would be needless to particularize them.
On the vessel reaching her destination, the gallant Captain mastered up courage, and boldly and in a straightforward manner, asked Mrs. Grenville to become his wife. The lady listened to him with polite attention, and said in reply:
"Captain Hanstein, I should be very sorry if any act of mine has led you to believe that I looked upon you in any other light than that of a friend, from whom I have received many acts of kindness. I regret to pain you by a refusal, but it must be so, for I now tell you in strict confidence that I am engaged to Sir Lexicon Chutny." Then with a smile and a graceful bend of the head, she left the bewildered Captain to his own reflections; and shortly after, attended by Sir Lexicon, quitted the ship.
After a sufficient time for procuring all the necessary paraphernalia considered indispensable on such occasions had elapsed, the marriage was celebrated in the Cathedral at Madras, and the ambitious views of the mercenary woman were at length realized. "She could" she thought "play the great lady in Pallamcotta, and somewhat astonish the good folks at the Capital by the brilliancy of her entertainments periodically, for Sir Lexicon, although self-indulgent, was by no means of a miserly turn, and would, for a time at least, feel a certain pleasure at the admiration that would be excited by the splendour of her ladyship's assemblies."
Their stay at the Capital, on this occasion, was but of short duration, as Sir Lexicon was anxious to return to Pallamcotta to finally arrange the business that had taken him to Hamburg. To this arrangement her ladyship made no objection, it suited her views exactly; her idea was, that her advent in India should become known to the gay and fashionable butterflies of the Presidency as quietly and gradually as might be. It was necessary that they should be aware there was such a person as Lady Chutny in existence; but for the present she would be heard of only and not seen, so that when she appeared among them and threw open her splendid rooms for balls and other entertainments it would be considered a matter of course, a thing to be expected from the wife of so wealthy a man as Sir Lexicon was reputed to be. Her ladyship's theory was the correct one, for by acting in this manner she would be relieved from the hubbub and cry of "Who is she?" and "Where does she come from?" that would consequently follow, should she at once rush into the vortex of fashionable life. She had no intention of burying herself at Pallamcotta, now that she had attained the position for which she had risked so much. She had played her cards boldly and unscrupulously, and, during the shuffle had twice nearly come to ruin; but she had now, she believed, won the odd trick that would secure her the game, and she resolutely determined to hold on to the stakes thus acquired. From the retrospect of her past life she turned herself steadfastly away, and looked only into the brilliant future, which she fancied was opening before her. What was there to fear? There was no one in India who could recognize her, or knew anything of her antecedents. Edith and Arthur had returned to England; restitution had been made and justice done them by the unlooked for death of Sir Ralph Coleman. He was the chief culprit; she merely an accessory, acting under his direction and guidance; and, now that she had placed oceans between her and the scene of their crime, nothing, she argued, could transpire to mar her triumph, and, laying this flattering unction to her soul, her ladyship prepared for her journey with a buoyancy of spirit that astonished even herself.
Lady Chutny found the establishment at Pallamcotta very different from what she had anticipated. So unlike the Bungalows of rich civilians at the Capital, where all was order and quiet, and the gardens well kept. Here everything was slovenly and in confusion, only a small quantity of the furniture that had lately arrived from Madras had been unpacked, and this was strewn about the drawing-room and sleeping apartments without the least attempt at arrangement. The Bungalow had been originally a very handsome one, but from indolence and carelessness had been allowed to fall into a partially dilapidated state. The only covering to the floors of the large, handsome apartments was the common matting of the country. The same was the case in the broad and spacious verandahs, up to which the rank vegetation of the compound—for garden there was none—spread their creeping fibres in wild luxuriance. But her ladyship offered no ungracious remark on the state of things, but simply requested her husband to summon the whole of the servants and, in her presence, inform them that she was their mistress, and to be obeyed in everything, without remark or hesitation. This was done, and in forty-eight hours she had completely revolutionized the whole establishment.
Fifty of the plantation hands were employed in clearing up the compound, forming a garden and a lawn, while the edges of the verandah were lined with pots of the most magnificent plants and fragrant flowers that could be obtained, and before she had been in her new home one week, everything was in complete order.
She had heard it reported previous to her leaving the capital that Sir Lexicon had several native mistresses at his different plantations, and by her ayah or lady's maid, a Madrasse who could speak English, these stories were confirmed, and she determined to govern herself accordingly, fully believing that her husband would have the good sense to remove any such persons as might be at the Bungalow in Pallamcotta before her arrival. Caring nothing personally for Sir Lexicon, it gave her little or no concern whether he chose to keep native ladies at the other plantations or not, but she certainly did not intend that any of them should reside under the same roof with herself, therefore she was much annoyed and disgusted to find that her husband had not thought it necessary to give any orders concerning their removal, and she had only been a few days at Pallamcotta, when she learned that there were three Circassian beauties sumptuously cared for and absolutely residing in apartments fitted up for them; though not actually in the Bungalow, they communicated with it by means of a short covered way leading from the back drawing-room.
Taking advantage of Sir Lexicon's absence shortly after, she sent for the head servant, who dared not disobey her orders, and desired him to have the ladies turned out of their quarters and expelled from the premises, and their rooms put to another use.
This was accordingly done and they were afforded shelter and protection at the house of the overseer of the plantation, but at some distance from the Bungalow.
The history of these Circassian girls was anything but an uncommon one in many parts of the country thirty or forty years ago.
Their father, a horse-dealer, had been lured by the glowing accounts of the fortunes that were to be made at the different Presidencies of India, by a traffic in horses, and he determined to test the truth of the reports, and, if possible, to enrich himself by means of his beautiful steeds, of which he had several; but this proved a ruinous speculation, for ere he reached Bombay he lost two of the most valuable, and being totally unacquainted with the tricks and chicanaries so frequently resorted to by Europeans and others in the racing stables and on the turf, he fell an easy prey to some of the sharpers that usually infest the race course, so that by the end of the season he had not only lost every horse that he brought with him, but likewise every rupee he possessed. There were few of his countrymen on the Island, and they either could not or would not assist him to return to Circassia. He had brought with him, to see the wonders of the chief cities of the three Presidencies, his wife and three daughters, the eldest only seventeen, the youngest about fourteen. In his extremity he turned to the old Eastern custom, still prevalent, that of selling his children; he had applied to several European and native gentlemen, with whom he had become acquainted on the turf, but without success. At length he fell in with Sir Lexicon Chutny, to whom he had lost large sums of money during that gentleman's visit to the Island. Here he found no difficulty, Sir Lexicon having seen the beauty of the girls, and being assured by them that, under the circumstances, they did not object to the transaction. He used this precaution, well knowing, although they did not, that he could not hold them to their bargain one moment after the purchase money was paid, should they claim the protection of the police authorities; besides, the poor girls had heard of similar cases to their own, in their far distant home, and thought it must be so elsewhere. So the arrangement was quickly completed, the horse dealer and his wife having accepted the twenty-four hundred rupees, the price agreed upon for their children, departed homeward. Nor did Sir Lexicon delay an hour longer than was actually necessary in the Presidency of Bombay, but hastened with all speed towards his estate at Pallamcotta, in Madras, taking his fair bargains with him.