As he stole about, with a dismal sense of the unfitness of his sneaking about his own house in this guilty fashion, he became gradually aware of the scent of a fine cigar, one of his own special Cabanas. He wondered who had the impudence to trespass on his cigar-chest; it could hardly be one of the children.
He traced the scent to a billiard room which he had built out at the side of the house, which was a corner one, and going down to the door opened it sharply and walked in.
Comfortably imbedded in the depths of a long well-padded lounging chair, with a spirit case and two or three bottles of soda water at his elbow, sat a man who was lazily glancing through the Field with his feet resting on the mantelpiece, one on each side of the blazing fire. He was a man of about the middle size, with a face rather bronzed and reddened by climate, a nose slightly aquiline and higher in colour, quick black eyes with an uneasy glance in them, bushy black whiskers, more like the antiquated "Dundreary" type than modern fashion permits, and a wide flexible mouth.
Paul knew him at once, though he had not seen him for some years; it was Paradine, his disreputable brother-in-law—the "Uncle Marmaduke" who, by importing the mysterious Garuda Stone, had brought all these woes upon him; he noticed at once that his appearance was unusually prosperous, and that the braided smoking coat he wore over his evening clothes was new and handsome. "No wonder," he thought bitterly, "the fellow has been living on me for a week!" He stood by the cue-rack looking at him for some time, and then he said with a cold ironic dignity that (if he had known it) came oddly from his boyish lips: "I hope you are making yourself quite comfortable?"
Marmaduke put down his cigar and stared: "Uncommonly attentive and polite of you to inquire," he said at last, with a dubious smile, which showed a row of very white teeth, "whoever you are. If it will relieve your mind at all to know, young man, I'm happy to say I am tolerably comfortable, thanks."
"I—I concluded as much," said Paul, nearly choked with rage.
"You've been very nicely brought up," said Uncle Marmaduke, "I can see that at a glance. So you've come in here, like me, eh? because the children bore you, and you want a quiet gossip over the world in general? Sit down then, take a cigar, if you don't think it will make you very unwell. I shouldn't recommend it myself, you know, before supper—but you're a man of the world and know what's good for you. Come along, enjoy yourself till you find yourself getting queer—then drop it."
Mr. Bultitude had always detested the man—there was an underbred swagger and familiarity in his manner that made him indescribably offensive; just now he seemed doubly detestable, and yet Paul by a strong effort succeeded in controlling his temper.
He could not afford to make enemies just then, and objectionable as the man was, his astuteness made him a valuable ally; he determined, without considering the risk of making such a confident, to tell him all and ask his advice and help.
"Don't you know me, Paradine?"
"I don't think I have the privilege—you're one of Miss Barbara's numerous young friends, I suppose? and yet, now I look at you, you don't seem to be exactly got up for an evening party; there's something in your voice, too, I ought to know."
"You ought," said Paul, with a gulp. "My name is Paul Bultitude!"
"To be sure!" cried Marmaduke. "By Jove, then, you're my young nephew, don't you know; I'm your long-lost uncle, my boy, I am indeed (I'll excuse you from coming to my arms, however; I never was good at family embraces). But, I say, you little rascal, you've never been asked to these festivities, you ought to be miles away, fast asleep in your bed at school. What in the name of wonder are you doing here?"
"I've—left school," said Paul.
"So I perceive. Sulky because they left you out of all this, eh? Thought you'd turn up in the middle of the banquet, like the spectre bridegroom—'the worms they crawled in, and the worms they crawled out,' eh? Well, I like your pluck, but, ahem—I'm afraid you'll find they've rather an unpleasant way of laying your kind of apparitions."
"Never mind about that," said Paul hurriedly; "I have something I must tell you—I've no time to lose. I'm a desperate man!"
"You are," Paradine assented with a loud laugh, "oh, you are indeed! 'a desperate man.' Capital! a stern chase, eh? the schoolmaster close behind with the birch! It's quite exciting, you know, but, seriously, I'm very much afraid you'll catch it!"
"If," began Mr. Bultitude in great embarrassment, "if I was to tell you that I was not myself at all—but somebody else, a—in fact, an entirely different person from what I seem to you to be—I suppose you would laugh?"
"I beg your pardon," said his brother-in-law politely, "I don't think I quite catch the idea."
"When I assure you now, solemnly, as I stand here before you, that I am not the miserable boy whose form I am condemned to—to wear, you'll say it is incredible?"
"Not at all—by no means, I quite believe you. Only (really it's a mere detail), but I should rather like to know, if you're not that particular boy, what other boy you may happen to be. You'll forgive my curiosity."
"I'm not a boy at all—I'm your own unhappy brother-in-law, Paul! You don't believe me, I see."
"Oh, pardon me, it's perfectly clear! you're not your own son, but your own father—it's a little confusing at first, but no doubt common enough. I'm glad you mentioned it, though."
"Go on," said Paul bitterly, "make light of it—you fancy you are being very clever, but you will find out the truth in time!"
"Not without external assistance, I'm afraid," said Paradine calmly. "A more awful little liar for your age I never saw!"
"I'm tired of this," said Paul. "Only listen to reason and common sense!"
"Only give me a chance."
"I tell you," protested Paul earnestly, "it's the sober awful truth—I'm not a boy, it's years since I was a boy—I'm a middle-aged man, thrust into this, this humiliating form."
"Don't say that," murmured the other; "it's an excellent fit—very becoming, I assure you."
"Do you want to drive me mad with your clumsy jeers?" cried Paul. "Look at me. Do I speak, do I behave, like an ordinary schoolboy?"
"I really hope not—for the sake of the rising generation," said Uncle Marmaduke, chuckling at his own powers of repartee.
"You are very jaunty to-day—you look as if you were well off," said Paul slowly. "I remember a time when a certain bill was presented to me, drawn by you, and appearing to be accepted (long before I ever saw it) by me. I consented to meet it for my poor Maria's sake, and because to disown my signature would have ruined you for life. Do you remember how you went down on your knees in my private room and swore you would reform and be a credit to your family yet? You weren't quite so well off, or so jaunty then, unless I am very much mistaken."
These words had an extraordinary effect upon Uncle Marmaduke; he turned ashy white, and his quick eyes shifted restlessly as he half rose from his chair and threw away his unfinished cigar.
"You young hound!" he said, breathing hard and speaking under his breath. "How did you get hold of that—that lying story? Your father must have let it out! Why do you bring up bygones like this? You—you're a confounded, disagreeable little prig! Who told you to play an ill-natured trick of this sort on an uncle, who may have been wild and reckless in his youth—was in fact—but who never, never misused his relation towards you as—as an uncle?"
"How did I get hold of the story?" said Paul, observing the impression he had made. "Do you think if I were really a boy of thirteen I should know as much about you as I do? Do you want to know more? Ask, if you dare! Shall I tell you how it was you left your army coach without going up for examination? Will you have the story of your career in my old friend Parkinson's counting-house, or the real reason of your trip to New York, or what it was that made your father add that codicil, cutting you off with a set of engravings of the 'Rake's Progress,' and a guinea to pay for framing them? I can tell you all about it, if you care to hear."
"No!" shrieked Paradine, "I won't listen. When you grow up, ask your father to buy you a cheap Society journal. You're cut out for an editor of one. It doesn't interest me."
"Do you believe my story or not?" asked Paul.
"I don't know. Who could believe it?" said the other sullenly. "How can you possibly account for it?"
"Do you remember giving Maria a little sandal-wood box with a small stone in it?" said Paul.
"I have some recollection of giving her something of that kind. A curiosity, wasn't it?"
"I wish I had never seen it. That infernal stone, Paradine, has done all this to me. Did no one tell you it was supposed to have any magic power?"
"Why, now I think of it, that old black rascal, Bindabun Doss, did try to humbug me with some such story; said it was believed to be a talisman, but the secret was lost. I thought it was just his stingy way of trying to make the rubbish out as something priceless, as it ought to have been, considering all I did for the old ruffian."
"You told Maria it was a talisman. Bindabun what's-his-name was right. It is a talisman of the deadliest sort. I'll soon convince you, if you will only hear me out."
And then, in white-hot wrath and indignation, Mr. Bultitude began to tell the story I have already attempted to sketch here, dwelling bitterly on Dick's heartless selfishness and cruelty, and piteously on his own incredible sufferings, while Uncle Marmaduke, lolling back in his armchair with an attempt (which was soon abandoned) to retain a smile of amused scepticism on his face, heard him out in complete silence and with all due gravity.
Indeed, Paul's manner left him no room for further unbelief. His tale, wild and improbable as it was, was too consistent and elaborate for any schoolboy to have invented, and, besides, the imposture would have been so entirely purposeless.
When his brother-in-law had come to the end of his sad history, Paradine was silent for some time. It was some relief to know that the darkest secrets of his life had not been ferreted out by a phenomenally sharp nephew; but the change in the situation was not without its drawbacks—it remained to be seen how it might affect himself. He already saw his reign in Westbourne Terrace threatened with a speedy determination unless he played his cards well.
"Well," he said at last, with a swift, keen glance at Paul, who sat anxiously waiting for his next words; "suppose I were to say that I think there may be something in this story of yours, what then? What is it you want me to do for you?"
"Why," said Paul, "with all you owe to me, now you know the horrible injustice I have had to bear, you surely don't mean to say that you won't help me to right myself?"
"And if I did help you, what then?"
"Why, I should be able to recover all I have lost, of course," said Mr. Bultitude. He thought his brother-in-law had grown very dull.
"Ah, but I mean, what's to become of me?"
"You?" repeated Paul (he had not thought of that). "Well, hum, from what I know and what you know that I know about your past life, you can't expect me to encourage you to remain here?"
"No," said Uncle Marmaduke. "Of course not; very right and proper."
"But," said Paul, willing to make all reasonable concessions, "anything I can do to advance your prospects—such as paying your passage out to New York, you know, and so on—I should be very ready to do."
"Thank you!" said the other.
"And even, if necessary, provide you with a small fund to start afresh upon—honestly," said Paul; "you will not find me difficult to deal with."
"It's a dazzling proposition," remarked Paradine drily. "You have such an alluring way of putting things. But the fact, is, you'll hardly believe it, but I'm remarkably well off here. I am indeed. Your son, you know, though not you (except as a mere matter of form), really makes, as they say of the marmalade in the advertisements, an admirable substitute. I doubt, I do assure you, whether you yourself would have received me with quite the same warmth and hospitality I have met with from him."
"So do I," said Paul; "very much."
"Just so; for, without your admirable business capacity and extraordinary firmness of character, you know, he has, if you'll excuse my saying so, a more open guileless nature, a more entire and touching faith in his fellow-man and brother-in-law, than were ever yours."
"To say that to me," said Paul hotly, "is nothing less than sheer impudence."
"My dear Paul (it does seem deuced odd to be talking to a little shrimp like you as a grown-up brother-in-law. I shall get used to it presently, I daresay). I flatter myself I am a man of the world. We're dealing with one another now, as the lawyers have it, at arm's length. Just put yourself in my place (you're so remarkably good at putting yourself in other people's places, you know). Look at the thing from my point of view. Accidentally dropping in at your offices to negotiate (if I could) a small temporary loan from anyone I chanced to meet on the premises, I find myself, to my surprise, welcomed with effusion into what I then imagined to be your arms. More than that, I was invited here for an indefinite time, all my little eccentricities unmentioned, overlooked. I was deeply touched (it struck me, I confess, at one time that you must be touched too), but I made the best use of my opportunities. I made hay while the sun shone."
"Do you mean to make me lose my temper?" interrupted Paul. "It will not take much more."
"I have no objection. I find men as a rule easier to deal with when they have once lost their temper, their heads so often go too. But to return: a man with nerve and his fair share of brains, like myself, only wants a capitalist (he need not be a millionaire) at his back to conquer the world. It's not by any means my first campaign, and I've had my reverses, but I see victory in my grasp, sir, in my grasp at last!"
"Now you—it's not your fault, I know, a mere defect of constitution; but you, as a speculator, were, if I may venture to put it so, not worth your salt; no boldness, no dash, all caution. But your promising son is a regular whale on speculation, and I may tell you that we stand in together in some little ventures that would very probably make your hair stand on end—you wouldn't have touched them. And yet there's money in every one of them."
"My money!" said Paul savagely; "and it won't come out again."
"You don't know much about these things, you see," said Marmaduke; "I tell you I have my eye on some fine openings for capital."
"Your pockets always were very fine openings for capital," retorted Paul.
"Ha, ha, deuced sharp that! But, to come to the point, you were always a sensible practical kind of a fellow, and you must see, that, for me to back you up and upset this young rascal who has stepped into your slippers, might be morally meritorious enough, but, treating it from a purely pecuniary point of view, it's not business."
"I see," said Mr. Bultitude heavily; "then you side against me?"
"Did I ever say I would side against you? Let us hear first what you propose to do."
Paul, upon this, explained that, as he believed the Stone still retained its power of granting one wish to any other person who happened to get hold of it, his idea was to get possession of it somehow from Dick, who probably would have it about him somewhere, and then pass it on to some one whom he could trust not to misuse it so basely.
"A good idea that, Paul, my boy," said Paradine, smiling; "but you don't imagine our young friend would be quite such an idiot as not to see your game! Why, he would pitch the Stone in the gutter or stamp it to powder, rather than let you get hold of it."
"He's quite capable of it," said Paul; "in fact, he threatened to do worse than that. I doubt if I shall ever be able to manage it myself; but what am I to do? I must try, and I've no time to lose about it either."
"I tell you this," said Marmaduke, "if you let him see you here, it's all up with you. What you want is some friend to manage this for you, some one he won't suspect. Now, suppose I were willing to risk it for you?"
"You!" cried Paul, with involuntary distrust.
"Why not?" said Marmaduke, with a touch of feeling. "Ah, I see, you can't trust me. You've got an idea into your head that I'm a thorough-paced rascal, without a trace of human feeling about me. I daresay I deserve it, I daresay I do; but it's not generous, my boy, for all that. I hope to show you your mistake yet, if you give me the chance. You allow yourself to be prejudiced by the past, that's where you make your mistake. I only put before you clearly and plainly what it was I was giving up in helping you. A fellow may have a hard cynical kind of way of putting things, and yet, take my word for it, Paul, have a heart as tender as a spring chicken underneath. I believe I'm something like that myself. I tell you I'm sorry for you. I don't like to see a family man of your position in such a regular deuce of a hole. I feel bound to give you a lift out of it, and let my prospects take their own chance. I leave the gratitude to you. When I've done, kick me down the doorsteps if you like. I shall go out into the world with the glow of self-approval (and rapid motion) warming my system. Take my advice, don't attempt to tackle Master Dick yourself. Leave him to me."
"If I could only make up my mind to trust you!" muttered Paul.
"The old distrust!" cried Marmaduke; "you can't forget. You won't believe a poor devil like me can have any gratitude, any disinterestedness left in him. Never mind, I'll go. I'll leave it to you. I'll send Dick in here, and we shall see whether he's such a fool as you think him."
"No," said Paul, "no; I feel you're right; that would never do."
"It would be for my advantage, I think," said the other, "but you had better take me while I am in a magnanimous mood, the opportunity may never occur again. Come, am I to help you or not? Yes or no?"
"I must accept," said Paul reluctantly; "I can't find Boaler now, and it might take hours to make him see what I wanted. I'll trust to your honour. What shall I do?"
"Do? Get away from this, he'll be coming in here very soon to see me. Run away and play with the children or hide in the china closet—anything but stay here."
"I—I must be here while you are managing him," objected Paul.
"Nonsense!" said Paradine angrily. "I tell you it will spoil all, unless you—who's that? it's his step—too late now—dash it all! Behind that screen, quick—don't move for your life till I tell you you may come out!"
Mr. Bultitude had no choice; there was just time to set up an old folding screen which stood in a corner of the room and slip behind it before the door opened.
It might not be the highest wisdom to trust everything to his new ally in this manner; but what else could he do, except stand by in forced inactivity while the momentous duel was being fought out? Just then, at all events, he saw no other course.
18. Run to Earth
"The is noon in this hous schuld bynde me this night." —The Coke's Tale of Gamelyn.
Dick burst open the door of the billiard-room rather suddenly, and then stood holding on to the handle and smiling down upon his relative in a happy and affectionate but rather weak manner.
"So here you are!" he said. "Been lookin' for you everywhere. What's good of shutting 'self in here? Come up and play gamesh. No? Come in and have shupper. I've had shupper."
"So I perceive," observed Uncle Marmaduke; and the fact was certainly obvious enough.
"Tell y'what I did," giggled the wretched Dick. "You know I never did get what I call regular good blow out—always some one to shay 'had quite 'nough' 'fore I'd begun. So I thought this time I would have a tuck-in till—till I felt tired, and I—he-he-he—I got down 'fore anybody elsh and helped myshelf. Had first go-in. No one to help to thingsh. No girlsh to bother. It was prime! When they've all gone up again you and me'll go in and have shome more, eh?"
"You're a model host," said his uncle.
"It's a good shupper," Dick went on. "I ought to know. I've had some of everything. It'sh almost too good for kids. But it'sh a good thing I went in first. After I'd been in a little time I saw a sponge-cake on the table, and when I tried it, what d'ye think I found? It was as full inside of brandy-an'-sherry as it could be. All it could do to shtand! I saw d'rectly it washn't in condition come to table, and I said, 'Take it away! take it away! It'sh drunk; it'sh a dishgraceful sight for children!' But they wouldn't take it away; sho I had to take it away. But you can't take away a whole tipshy-cake!"
"I am quite sure you did your best," murmured Paradine.
"Been having such gamesh upstairs!" said Dick, with another giggle. "That lil' Dolly Merridew's jolly girl. Not sho nice as Dulcie, though. Here, you, let'sh go up and let off fireworksh on balcony, eh? Letsh have jolly lark!"
"No, no," said his uncle. "You and I are too old for that sort of thing. You should leave the larks to the young fellows."
"How do you know I'm too old for sorterthing?" said Dick, with an offended air.
"Well, you're not a young man any longer, you know. You ought to behave like the steady old buffer you look."
"Why?" demanded Dick; "why should I behave like shteady ole buffer, when I don't feel shteady ole buffer? What do you want shpoil fun for? Tell you I shall do jus' zackly wharriplease. And, if you shay any more, I'll punch y' head!"
"No, no," said his uncle, slightly alarmed at this intimation. "Come, you're not going to quarrel with me, I'm sure!"
"All ri'," said Dick. "No; I won' quarrel. Don' wanter quarrel anybody."
"That's right," said Paradine. "I knew you were a noble fellow!"
"Sho I am," said Dick, shaking hands with effusion. "Sho are you. Nearly ash noble 'sh me. There, you're jolly good fellow. I say, I've goo' mind tell you something. Make you laugh. But I won't; not now."
"Oh, you can tell me," said Marmaduke. "No secrets between friends, you know."
"Shan't tell you now," said Dick. "Keep shecret little longer."
"Do you know, my friend, that there's something very odd about you I've noticed lately? Something that makes me almost fancy sometimes you're not what you pretend to be."
Dick sat down heavily on one of the leather benches placed against the wall.
"Eh, what d'you shay?" he gasped. "Shay tharragain."
"You look to me," said Marmaduke slowly, "like some one excellently made up for the part of heavy father, without a notion how to play it. Dick, you young dog, you see I know you! You can't take me in with all this. You'd better tell me all about it."
Dick seemed almost sobered by this shock.
"You've found me out," he repeated dully. "Then it's all up. If you've found me out, everybody elsh can find me out!"
"No, no; it's not so bad as that, my boy. I've better eyes than most people, and then I had the privilege of knowing your excellent father rather well once upon a time. You haven't studied his little peculiarities closely enough; but you'll improve. By the way, where is your excellent father all this time?"
"He's all right," said Dick, beginning to chuckle. "He-he. He's at school, he is!"
"At school. You mean to say you've put him to school at his time of life! He's rather old for that sort of thing, isn't he? They don't take him on the ordinary terms, do they?"
"Ah," said Dick, "that'sh where it is. He isn't old, you see, now, to look at."
"Not old to look at! Then how on earth—— I should like to know how you managed all that. What have you been doing to the poor gentleman?"
"That'sh my affair," said Dick. "An' if I don' tell you you won' find that out anyway!"
"There's only one way you could have done it," said Paradine, pretending to hesitate. "It must have been done by some meddling with magic. Now what—— Let me see—yes—— Surely the Stone I brought your poor mother from India was given to me as a talisman of some sort? You can't have been sharp enough to get hold of that!"
"How did you know?" cried Dick sharply. "Who told you?"
"I am right, then? Well, you are a clever fellow. I should like to know how you did it, now?"
"Did it with the Shtone," said Dick, evidently discomposed by such unexpected penetration, but unable to prevent a little natural complacency. "All my own idea. No one helped me. It—it washn't sho bad for me, wash it?"
"Bad! it was capital!" cried Marmaduke enthusiastically. "It was a stroke of genius! And so my Indian Stone has done all this for you. Sounds like an Arabian Night, by Jove! By-the-by, you don't happen to have it about you, do you? I should rather like to look at it again. It's a real curiosity after this."
Paul trembled with anxiety. Would Dick be induced to part with it? If so, he was saved! But Dick looked at his uncle's outstretched hand, and wagged his head with tipsy cunning.
"I dareshay you would," he said, "but I'm not sho green as all that. Don't let that Stone out of my hands for anyone."
"Why, I only wanted to look at it for a minute or two," said Marmaduke; "I wouldn't hurt it or lose it."
"You won' get chance," said Dick.
"Oh, very well," said Paradine carelessly, "just as you please, it doesn't matter; though when we come to talk things over a little, you may find it better to trust me more than that."
"Wha' do you mean?" said Dick uneasily.
"Well, I'll try to explain as well as I can, my boy (drink a little of this soda water first, it's an excellent thing after supper); there, you're better now, aren't you? Now, I've found you out, as you see; but only because I knew something of the powers of this Stone of yours, and guessed the rest. It doesn't at all follow that other people, who know nothing at all, will be as sharp; if you're more careful about your behaviour in future—unless, unless, young fellow——" and here he paused meaningly.
"Unless what?" asked Dick suspiciously.
"Unless I chose to tell them what I've found out."
"What would you tell them?" said Dick.
"What? Why, what I know of this talisman; tell them to use their eyes; they wouldn't be very long before they found out that something was wrong. And when one or two of your father's friends once get hold of the idea, your game will be very soon over—you know that as well as I do."
"But," stammered Dick, "you wouldn't go and do beastly mean thing like that? I've not been bad fellow to you."
"The meanness, my dear boy, depends entirely upon the view you take of it. Now, the question with me, as a man of honour (and I may tell you an over-nice sense of honour has been a drawback I've had to struggle against all my life), the question with me is this: Is it not my plain duty to step in and put a stop to this topsy-turvy state of things, to show you up as the barefaced young impostor you are, and restore my unhappy brother-in-law to his proper position?"
"Very well expressed," thought Paul, who had been getting uncomfortable; "he has a heart, as he said, after all!"
"How does that seem to strike you?" added Paradine.
"It shtrikes me as awful rot," said Dick, with refreshing candour.
"It's the language of conscience, but I don't expect you to see it in the same light. I don't mind confessing to you, either, that I'm a poor devil to whom money and a safe and respectable position (all of which I have here) are great considerations. But whenever I see the finger of duty and honour and family affection all beckoning me along a particular road, I make a point of obeying their monitions—occasionally. I don't mean to say that I never have bolted down a back way, instead, when it was made worth my while, or that I never will."
"I wonder what he's driving at now," thought Paul.
"I don't know about duty and honour, and all that," said Dick; "my head aches, it's the noise they're making upstairs. Are you goin' to tell?"
"The fact is, my dear boy, that when one has had a keen sense of honour in constant use for several years, it's like most other articles, apt to become a little the worse for wear. Mine is not what it used to be, Dicky (that's your name, isn't it?). Our powers fail as we grow old."
"I don' know what you're talking about!" said Dick helplessly. "Do tell me what you mean to do."
"Well then, your head's clear enough to understand this much, I hope," said Paradine a little impatiently, "that, if I did my duty and exposed you, you wouldn't be able to keep up the farce for a single hour, in spite of all your personal advantages—you know that, don't you?"
"I shpose I know that," said Dick feebly.
"You know too, that if I could be induced—mind, I don't say I can—to hold my tongue and stay on here and look after you and keep you from betraying yourself by any more of these schoolboy follies, there's not much fear that anyone else will ever find out the secret——"
"Which are you going to do, then?" said Dick.
"Suppose I say that I like you, that you have shown me more kindness in a single week than ever your respectable father has since I first made his acquaintance? Suppose I say that I am willing to let the sense of honour and duty, and all the rest of it, go overboard together; that we two together are a match for Papa, wherever he may be and whatever he chooses to say and do?"
There was a veiled defiance in his voice that seemed meant for more than Dick, and alarmed Mr. Bultitude; however, he tried to calm his uneasiness and persuade himself that it was part of the plot.
"Will you say that?" cried Dick excitedly.
"On one condition, which I'll tell you by-and-by. Yes, I'll stand by you, my boy, I'll coach you till I make you a man of business every bit as good as your father, and a much better man of the world. I'll show you how to realise a colossal fortune if you only take my advice. And we'll pack Papa off to some place abroad where he'll have no holidays and give no trouble!"
"No," said Dick firmly; "I won't have that. After all, he's my governor."
"Do what you like with him then, he can't do much harm. I tell you, I'll do all this, on one condition—it's a very simple one——"
"What is it?" asked Dick.
"This. You have, somewhere or other, the Stone that has done all this for you—you may have it about you at this very moment—ah!" (as Dick made a sudden movement towards his white waistcoat) "I thought so! Well, I want that Stone. You were afraid to leave it in my hands for a minute or two just now; you must trust me with it altogether."
Paul was relieved; of course this was merely an artifice to recover the Garuda Stone, and Marmaduke was not playing him false after all—he waited breathlessly for Dick's answer.
"No," said Dick, "I can't do that; I want it too."
"Why, man, what use is it to you? it only gives you one wish, you can't use it again."
Dick mumbled something about his being ill, and Barbara wishing him well again.
"I suppose I can do that as well as Barbara," said his uncle. "Come, don't be obstinate, give me the Stone; it's very important that it should be in safe hands."
"No," said Dick obstinately; he was fumbling all the time irresolutely in his pockets; "I mean to keep it myself."
"Very well then, I have done with you. To-morrow morning I shall step up to Mincing Lane, and then to your father's solicitor. I think his offices are in Bedford Row, but I can easily find out at your father's place. After that, young man, you'll have a very short time to amuse yourself in, so make the best of it."
"No, don't leave me, let me alone for a minute," pleaded Dick, still fumbling.
At this a sudden suspicion of his brother-in-law's motives for wishing to get the Stone into his own hands overcame all Paul's prudence. If he was so clever in deceiving Dick, might he not be cheating him, too, just as completely? He could wait no longer, but burst from behind the screen and rushed in between the pair.
"Go back!" screamed Paradine. "You infernal old idiot, you've ruined everything!"
"I won't go back," said Paul, "I don't believe in you. I'll hide no longer. Dick, I forbid you to trust that man."
Dick had risen in horror at the sudden apparition, and staggered back against the wall, where he stood staring stupidly at his unfortunate father with fixed and vacant eyes.
"Badly as you've treated me, I'd rather trust you than that shifty plausible fellow there. Just look at me, Dick, and then say if you can let this cruelty go on. If you knew all I've suffered since I have been among those infernal boys, you would pity me, you would indeed.... If you send me back there again, it will kill me.... You know as well as I do that it is worse for me than ever it could be for you.... You can't really justify yourself because of a thoughtless wish of mine, spoken without the least intention of being taken at my word. Dick, I may not have shown as much affection for you as I might have done, but I don't think I deserve all this. Be generous with me now, and I swear you will never regret it."
Dick's lips moved; there really was something like pity and repentance in his face, muddled and dazed as his general expression was by his recent over-indulgence, but he said nothing.
"Give papa the Stone by all means," sneered Paradine. "If you do, he will find some one to wish the pair of you back again, and then, back you go to school again, the laughing-stock of everybody, you silly young cub!"
"Don't listen to him, Dick," urged Paul. "Give it to me, for Heaven's sake; if you let him have it, he'll use it to ruin us all."
But Dick turned his white face to the rival claimants and said, getting the words out with difficulty: "Papa, I'm shorry. It is a shame. If I had the Shtone, I really would give it you, upon my word-an'-honour I would. But—but, now I can't ever give it up to you. It'sh gone. Losht!"
"Lost!" cried Marmaduke. "When, where? When do you last recollect seeing it? you must know!"
"In the morning," said Dick, twirling his chain, where part of the cheap gilt fastening still hung.
"No; afternoon. I don't know," he added helplessly.
Paul sank down on a chair with a heartbroken groan; a moment ago he had felt himself very near his goal, he had regained something of his old influence over Dick, he had actually managed to touch his heart—and now it was all in vain!
Paradine's jaw fell; he, too, had had his dreams of doing wonderful things with the talisman after he had cajoled Dick to part with it. Whether the restoration of his brother-in-law formed any part of his programme, it is better, perhaps, not to inquire. His dreams were scattered now; the Stone might be anywhere, buried in London mud, lying on railway ballast, or ground to powder by cartwheels. There was little chance, indeed, that even the most liberal rewards would lead to discovery. He swore long and comprehensively.
As for Mr. Bultitude, he sat motionless in his chair, staring in dull, speechless reproach at the conscience-stricken Dick, who stood in the corner blinking and whimpering with an abject penitence, odd and painful to see in one of his portly form. The children had now apparently finished supper, for there were sounds above as of dancing, and "Sir Roger de Coverley," with its rollicking, never-wearying repetition, was distinctly audible above the din and laughter. Once before, a week ago that very day, had that heartless piano mocked him with its untimely gaiety.
But things were not at their worst even yet, for, while they sat like this, there was a sharp, short peal at the house-bell, followed by loud and rather angry knocking, for carriages being no longer expected, the servants and waiters had now closed the front-door, and left the passage for the supper-room.
"The visitors' bell!" cried Paul, roused from his apathy; and he rushed to the window which commanded a side-view of the portico; it might be only a servant calling for one of the children, but he feared the worst, and could not rest till he knew it.
It was a rash thing to do, for as he drew the blind, he saw a large person in a heavy Inverness cloak standing on the steps, and (which was worse) the person both saw and recognised him!
With fascinated horror, Mr. Bultitude saw the Doctor's small grey eyes fixed angrily on him, and knew that he was hunted down at last.
He turned to the other two with a sort of ghastly composure: "It's all over now," he said. "I've just seen Dr. Grimstone standing on my doorstep; he has come after me."
Uncle Marmaduke gave a malicious little laugh: "I'm sorry for you, my friend," he said, "but I really can't help it."
"You can," said Paul; "you can tell him what you know. You can save me."
"Very poor economy that," said Marmaduke airily. "I prefer spending to saving, always did. I have my own interests to consider, my dear Paul."
"Dick," said poor Mr. Bultitude, disgusted at this exhibition of selfishness, "you said you were sorry just now. Will you tell him the truth?"
But Dick was quite unnerved, he cowered away, almost crying; "I daren't, I daren't," he stammered; "I—I can't go back to the fellows like this. I'm afraid to tell him. I—I want to hide somewhere."
And certainly he was in no condition to convince an angry schoolmaster of anything whatever, except that he was in a state very unbecoming to the head of a family.
It was all over; Paul saw that too well, he dashed frantically from the fatal billiard-room, and in the hall met Boaler preparing to admit the visitor.
"Don't open the door!" he screamed. "Keep him out, you mustn't let him in. It's Dr. Grimstone."
Boaler, surprised as he naturally was at his young master's unaccountable appearance and evident panic, nevertheless never moved a muscle of his face; he was one of those perfectly bred servants, who, if they chanced to open the door to a ghoul or a skeleton, would merely inquire, "What name, if you please?"
"I must go and ask your Par, then, Master Dick; there's time to 'ook it upstairs while I'm gone. I won't say nothing," he added compassionately.
Paul lost no time in following this suggestion, but rushed upstairs, two or three steps at the time, stumbling at every flight, with a hideous nightmare feeling that some invisible thing behind was trying to trip up his heels.
He rushed blindly past the conservatory, which was lit up by Chinese lanterns and crowded with little "Kate Greenaway" maidens crowned with fantastic headdresses out of the crackers, and comparing presents with boy-lovers; he upset perspiring waiters with glasses and trays, and scattered the children sitting on the stairs, as he bounded on in his reckless flight, leaving crashes of glass behind him.
He had no clear idea of what he meant to do; he thought of barricading himself in his bedroom and hiding in the wardrobe; he had desperate notions of getting on to the housetop by means of a step-ladder and the sky-light above the nursery landing; on one point he was resolved—he would not be retaken alive!
Never before in this commonplace London world of ours was an unfortunate householder hunted up his own staircase in this distressing manner; even his terror did not blind him to the extreme ignominy and injustice of his position.
And below he heard the bell ringing more and more impatiently, as the Doctor still remained on the wrong side of the door. In another minute he must be admitted—and then!
Who will not sympathise with Mr. Bultitude as he approaches the crisis of his misfortunes? I protest, for my own part, that as I am compelled to describe him springing from step to step in wild terror, like a highly respectable chamois before some Alpine marksman, my own heart bleeds for him, and I hasten to end my distressing tale, and make the rest of it as little painful as I may with honesty.
19. The Reckoning
MONTR. The father is victorious. BELF. Let us haste To gratulate his conquest. 1ST CAPT. We to mourn The fortune of the son. MASSINGER. The Unnatural Combat.
Poor Mr. Bultitude, springing wildly upstairs in a last desperate effort to avoid capture, had now almost reached his goal. Just above him was the nursery landing, with its little wooden gate, and near it, leaning against the wall, was a pair of kitchen steps, with which he had hopes of reaching the roof, or the cistern loft, or some other safe and inaccessible place. Better a night spent on the slates amongst the chimney-pots than a bed in that terrible No. 6 Dormitory!
But here, too, fate was against him. He was not more than half-a-dozen steps from the top, when, to his unspeakable horror, he saw a small form in a white frock and cardinal-red sash come running out of the nursery, and begin to descend slowly and cautiously, clinging to the banisters with one chubby little hand.
It was his youngest son, Roly, and as soon as he saw this, he lost hope once and for all; he could not escape being recognised, the child would probably refuse to leave him, and even if he did contrive to get away from him, it would be hopeless to make Roly understand that he was not to betray his hiding-place.
So he stopped on the stairs, aghast at this new misfortune, and feeling himself at the end of all his resources. Roly knew him at once, and began to dance delightedly up and down on the stair in his little bronze shoes. "Buzzer Dicky," he cried, "dear buzzer Dicky, tum 'ome to party!"
"It's not brother Dicky," said Paul miserably; "it's all a mistake."
"Oh, but it is though," said Roly; "and you don't know what Roly's found."
"No, no," said Paul, trying to pass (which, as Roly persisted in leaping joyously from side to side of the narrow stair, was difficult); "you shall show me another time. I'm in a hurry, my boy, I've got an appointment."
"Roly's got something better than that," observed the child.
Mr. Bultitude, in spite of his terror, was too much afraid of hurting him by brushing roughly past to attempt such a thing, so he tried diplomacy. "Well, what has Roly found—a cracker?"
"No, no, better than a cwacker—you guess."
"I can't guess," said Paul; "never mind, I don't want to know."
"Well then," said Roly, "there." And he slowly unclosed a fat little fist, and in it Paul saw, with a revulsion of feeling that turned him dizzy and faint, the priceless talisman itself, the identical Garuda Stone, with part of the frail gilt ring still attached to it.
The fastening had probably given way during Master Dick's uproarious revels in the drawing-room, and Roly must have picked it up on the carpet shortly afterwards.
"Isn't it a pitty sing?" said Roly, insisting that his treasure should be duly admired.
"A very pretty thing," said his father, hoarse and panting; "but it's mine, Roly, it's mine!"
And he tried to snatch it, but Roly closed his fist over it and pouted, "It isn't yours," he said, "it's Roly's. Roly found it."
Paul's fears rose again; would he be wrecked in port after all? His ear, unnaturally strained, caught the sound of the front door being opened, he heard the Doctor's deep voice booming faintly below, then the noise of persons ascending.
"Roly shall have it, then," he said perfidiously, "if he will say after me what I tell him. Say, 'I wish Papa and Brother Dick back as they were before,' Roly."
"Ith it a game?" asked Roly, his face clearing and evidently delighted with his eccentric brother Dick, who had run all the way home from school to play games with him on the staircase.
"No—yes!" cried Paul, "it's a very funny game; only do what I tell you. Now say, 'I wish Papa and Brother Dick back again as they were before.' I'll give you a sugar-plum if you say it nicely."
"What sort of sugar-plum?" demanded Roly, who inherited business instincts.
"Any sort you like best!" almost shrieked Paul; "oh, do get on!"
"Lots of sugar-plums, then. 'I with'—I forget what you told me—oh, 'I with Papa and——' there'th thomebody tummin' upsthairs!" he broke off suddenly; "it'h nurth tummin' to put me to bed. I don't want to go to bed yet."
"And you shan't go to bed!" cried Paul, for he too thought he heard some one. "Never mind nurse, finish the—the game."
—'Papa and Buzzy Dicky back again as—as they were before,' repeated Roly at last. "What a funny—ow, ow, it'h Papa! it'h Papa! and he told me it wath Dicky. I'm afwaid! Whereth Dicky gone to? I want Bab, take me to Bab!"
For the Stone had done its work once more, and this time with happier results; with a supreme relief and joy, which no one who has read this book can fail to understand, Mr. Bultitude felt that he actually was his old self again.
Just when all hope seemed cut off and relief was most unlikely, the magic spell that had caused him such intolerable misery for one hideous week was reversed by the hand of his innocent child.
He caught Roly up in his arms and kissed him as he had never been kissed in his whole life before, at least by his father, and comforting him as well as he could, for the poor child had naturally received rather a severe shock, he stepped airily down the staircase, which he had mounted with such different emotions five minutes before.
On his way he could not resist going into his dressing-room and assuring himself by a prolonged examination before the cheval-glass that the Stone had not played him some last piece of jugglery; but he found everything quite correct; he was the same formal, precise and portly person, wearing the same morning dress even as on that other Monday evening, and he went on with greater confidence.
He took care, however, to stop at the first window, when he managed, after some coaxing, to persuade Roly to give up the Garuda Stone. As soon as he had it in his hands again, he opened the window wide and flung the dangerous talisman far out into the darkness. Not till then did he feel perfectly secure.
He passed the groups of little guests gathered about the conservatory, and lower down he met Boaler, the nurse, and one or two servants and waiters, rushing up in a state of great anxiety and flurry; even Boaler's usual composure seemed shaken. "Please, sir," he asked, "the schoolmaster gentleman, Master Dick—he've run upstairs, haven't you seen him?"
Paul had almost forgotten Dick in his new happiness; there would be a heavy score to settle with him; he had the upper hand once more, and yet, somehow, he did not feel as much righteous wrath and desire for revenge as he expected to do.
"Don't be alarmed," he said, waving them back with more benignity than he thought he had in him. "Master Dick is safe enough. I know all about it. Where is Dr. Grimstone? In the library, eh? Very well, I will see him there."
And leaving Roly with the nurse, he went down to the library; not, if the truth must be told, without a slight degree of nervousness, unreasonable and unaccountable enough now, but quite beyond his power to control.
He entered the room, and there, surrounded by piles of ticketed hats and coats, under the pale light of one gas-burner, he saw the terrible man before whom he had trembled for the last seven horrible days.
A feeling of self-defence made Paul assume rather more than his old stiffness as he shook hands. "I am very glad to see you, Dr. Grimstone," he said, "but your coming at this time forces me to ask if there is any unusual reason for, for my having the—a—pleasure of seeing you here?"
"I am exceedingly distressed to have to say that there is," said the Doctor solemnly, "or I should not have troubled you at this hour. Try to compose yourself, my dear sir, to bear this blow."
"I will," said Paul, "I will try."
"The fact is then, and I know how sad a story it must be for a parent's ear, but the fact is, that your unhappy boy has had the inconceivable rashness to quit my roof." And the Doctor paused to watch the effect of his announcement.
"God bless my soul!" cried Paul. "You don't say, so!"
"I do indeed; he has, in short, run away. But don't be alarmed, my dear Mr. Bultitude, I think I can assure you he is quite safe at the present moment" ("Thank Heaven, he is!" thought Paul, thinking of his own marvellous escape). "I should certainly have recaptured him before he could have left the railway station, where he seems to have gone at once, only, acting on information (which I strongly suspect now was intentionally misleading), I drove on to the station on the up-line, thinking to find him there. He was not there, sir, I believe he never went there at all; but, guessing how matters were, I searched the train, carriage by carriage, compartment by compartment, when it came up."
"I am very sorry you should have had so much trouble," said Paul, with a vivid recollection of the exploring stick; "and so you found him?"
"No, sir," said the Doctor passionately, "I did not find him, but he was there; he must have been there! but the shameless connivance of two excessively ill-bred persons, who positively refused to allow me access to their compartment, caused him to slip through my fingers."
Mr. Bultitude observed, rather ungratefully, that, if this was so, it was a most improper thing for them to do.
"It was, indeed, but it is of no consequence fortunately. I was forced to wait for the next train, but that was not a very slow one, and so I was able to come on here before a very late hour and acquaint you with what had taken place."
"Thank you very much," said Paul.
"It's a painful thing to occur in a school," observed the Doctor after a pause.
"Most unfortunate," agreed Paul, coughing.
"So apt to lead persons who are not acquainted with the facts to imagine that the boy was unhappy under my care," continued the Doctor.
"In this case, I assure you, I have no doubts," protested Paul with politeness and (seldom a possible combination) perfect truth.
"Very kind of you to say so; really, it's a great mystery to me. I certainly, as I felt it my duty to inform you at the time, came very near inflicting corporal punishment upon him this morning—very near. But then he was pardoned on your intercession; and, besides, the boy would never have run away for fear of a flogging."
"Oh, no, perfectly absurd!" agreed Paul again.
"Such a merry, high-spirited lad, too," said the Doctor, sincerely enough; "popular with his schoolfellows; a favourite (in spite of his faults) with his teachers."
"No, was he though?" said Paul with more surprise, for he had not been fortunate enough to reap much vicarious benefit from his son's popularity, as he could not help remembering.
"All this, added to the comforts (or, may I say, the luxuries?) he enjoyed under my supervision, does make it seem very strange and ungrateful in the boy to take this sudden and ill-considered step."
"Very, indeed; but do you know, Dr. Grimstone, I can't help thinking—and pray do not misunderstand me if I speak plainly—that, perhaps, he had reasons for being unhappy you can have no idea of?"
"He would have found me ready to hear any complaints and prompt to redress them, sir," said the Doctor. "But, now I think of it, he certainly did appear to have something on his mind which he wished to tell me; but his manner was so strange and he so persistently refused to come to the point, that I was forced to discourage him at last."
"You did discourage him, indeed!" said Paul inwardly, thinking of those attempted confidences with a shudder. "Perhaps some of his schoolfellows may have—eh?" he said aloud.
"My dear sir," exclaimed the Doctor, "quite out of the question!"
"Do you think so?" said Paul, not being able to resist the suggestion. "And yet, do you know, some of them did not appear to me to look very—very good-natured, now."
"A more manly, pleasant, and gentlemanly set of youths never breathed!" said the Doctor, taking up the cudgels for his boys, and, to do him justice, probably with full measure of belief in his statement. "Curious now that they should have struck you so differently!"
"They certainly did strike me very differently," said Paul. "But I may be mistaken."
"You are, my dear sir. And, pardon me, but you had no opportunity of testing your opinion."
"Oh, pardon me," retorted Paul grimly, "I had indeed!"
"A cursory visit," said the Doctor, "a formal inspection—you cannot fairly judge boys by that. They will naturally be reserved and constrained in the presence of an elder. But you should observe them without their knowledge—you want to know them, my dear Mr. Bultitude, you want to go among them!"
It was the very last thing Paul did want—he knew them quite well enough, but it was of no use to say so, and he merely assented politely.
"And now," said the Doctor, "with regard to your misguided boy. I have to tell you that he is here, in this very house. I tracked him here, and, ten minutes ago, saw him with my own eyes at one of your windows.
"Here!" cried Paul, with a well-executed start; "you astonish me!"
"It has occurred to me within the last minute," said the Doctor, "that there may be a very simple explanation of his flight. I observe you are giving a—a juvenile entertainment on a large scale."
"I suppose I am," Paul admitted. "And so you think——?"
"I think that your son, who doubtless knew of your intention, was hurt at being excluded from the festivities and, in a fit of mad wilful folly, resolved to be present at them in spite of you."
"My dear Doctor," cried Paul, who saw the conveniences of this theory, "that must be it, of course—that explains it all!"
"So grave an act of insubordination," said the Doctor, "an act of double disobedience—to your authority and mine—deserves the fullest punishment. You agree with me, I trust?"
The memory of his wrongs overcame Mr. Bultitude for the moment: "Nothing can be too bad for the little scoundrel!" he said, between his teeth.
"He shall have it, sir, I swear to you; he shall be made to repent this as long as he lives. This insult to me (and of course to you also) shall be amply atoned for. If you will have the goodness to deliver him over to my hands, I will carry him back at once to Market Rodwell, and to-morrow, sir, to-morrow, I will endeavour to awaken his conscience in a way he will remember!"
The Doctor was more angry than an impartial lover of justice might perhaps approve of, but then it must be remembered that he had seen himself completely outwitted and his authority set at nought in a very humiliating fashion.
However, his excessive wrath cooled Paul's own resentment instead of inflaming it; it made him reflect that, after all, it was he who had the best right to be angry.
"Well," he said, rather coldly, "we must find him first, and then consider what shall be done to him. If you will allow me I will ring and——"
But before he could lay his hand upon the bell the library door opened, and Uncle Marmaduke made his appearance, dragging with him the unwilling Dick: the unfortunate boy was effectually sobered now, pale and trembling and besmirched with coal-dust—in fact, in very much the same plight as his ill-used father had been in only three hours ago.
There was a brazen smile of triumph on Mr. Paradine's face as he met Paul's eyes with a knowing wink, which the latter did not at all understand.
Such audacity astonished him, for he could hardly believe that Paradine, after his perfidious conduct in the billiard-room, could have the clumsy impudence to try to propitiate him now.
"Here he is, my boy," shouted Paradine; "here's the scamp who has given us all this trouble! He came into the billiard-room just now and told me who he was, but I would have nothing to do with him of course. Not my business, as I told him at the time. Then—(I think I have the pleasure of seeing Dr. Grimstone? just so) well, then you, sir, arrived—and he made himself scarce. But when I saw him in the act of making a bolt up the area, where he had been taking shelter apparently in the coal-cellar, I thought it was time to interfere, and so I collared him. I have much pleasure in handing him over now to the proper authorities."
And, letting Dick go, he advanced towards his brother-in-law, still with the same odd expression of having a secret understanding with him, which made Paul's blood boil.
"Stand where you are, sir," said Paul to his son. "No, Dr. Grimstone, allow me—leave him to me for the present, please."
"That's much better," whispered Paradine approvingly; "capital. Keep it up, my boy; keep it up! Papa's as quiet as a lamb now. Go on."
Then Paul understood; his worthy brother-in-law had not been present at the last transformation and was under a slight misapprehension: he evidently imagined that he had by this last stroke made himself and Dick masters of the situation—it was time to undeceive him.
"Have the goodness to leave my house at once, will you!" he said sternly.
"You young fool!" said Marmaduke, under his breath, "after all I have done for you, too! Is this your gratitude? You know you can't get on without me. Take care what you're about!"
"If you can't see that the tables are turned at last," said Paul slowly, "you're a duller knave than I take you to be."
Marmaduke started back with an oath: "It's a trick," he said savagely; "you want to get rid of me."
"I certainly intend to," said Paul. "Are you satisfied? Do you want proofs—shall I give them—I did just now in the billiard-room?"
Paradine went to Dick and shook him angrily: "You young idiot!" he said, in a furious aside, "why didn't you tell me? What did you let me make a fool of myself like this for, eh?"
"I did tell you," muttered Dick, "only you wouldn't listen. It just serves you right!"
Marmaduke soon collected himself after this unexpected shock; he tried to shake Paul's hands with an airy geniality. "Only my little joke," he said, laughing; "ha, ha, I thought I should take you in!... Why, I knew it directly.... I've been working for you all the time—but it wouldn't have done to let you see my line."
"No," said Paul; "it was not a very straight one, as usual."
"Well," said Marmaduke, "I shouldn't have stopped Master Dick there if I hadn't been on your side, should I now? I knew you'd come out of it all right, but I had a difficult game to play, don't you know? I don't wonder that you didn't follow me just at first."
"You've lost your game," said Paul; "it's no use to say any more. So now, perhaps, you'll go?"
"Go, eh?" said Paradine, without showing much surprise at the failure of so very forlorn a hope, "oh, very well, just as you please, of course. Let your poor wife's only brother go from your doors without a penny in the world!—but I warn you that a trifle or so laid out in stopping my mouth would not be thrown away. Some editors would be glad enough of a sensation from real life just now, and I could tell some very odd tales about this little affair!"
"Tell them, if a character for sanity is of no further use to you," said Paul. "Tell them to anyone you can get to believe you—tell the crossing-sweeper and the policemen, tell your grandmother, tell the horse-marines—it will amuse them. Only, you shall tell them on the other side of my front door. Shall I call anyone to show you out?"
Paradine saw his game was really played out, and swaggered insolently to the door: "Not on my account, I beg," he said. "Good-bye, Paul, my boy, no more dissolving views. Good-bye, my young friend Richard, it was good fun while it lasted, eh? like the Servian crown—always a pleasant reminiscence! Good evening to you, Doctor. By the way, for educational purposes let me recommend a 'Penang lawyer'—buy one as you go back for the boys—just to show them you haven't forgotten them!"
And, having little luggage to impede him, the front door closed upon him shortly afterwards—this time for ever.
When he had gone, Dick looked imploringly at his father and then at the Doctor, who, until Paradine's parting words had lashed him into fury again, had been examining the engravings on the walls with a studied delicacy during the recent painful scene, and was now leaning against the chimney-piece with his arms folded and a sepulchral gloom on his brow.
"Richard," said Mr. Bultitude, in answer to the look, "you have not done much to deserve consideration at my hands."
"Or at mine!" added the Doctor ominously.
"No," said Dick, "I know I haven't. I've been a brute. I deserve a jolly good licking."
"You do," said his father, but in spite of his indignation, the broken-down look of the boy, and the memory of his own sensations when waiting to be caned that morning, moved him to pity. And then Dick had shown some compunction in the billiard-room: he was not entirely lost to feeling.
"Well," he said at last, "you've acted very wrongly. Because I thought it best that you should not—ahem, leave your studies for this party, you chose to disobey me and alarm your master by defying my orders and coming home by stealth—that was your object, I presume?"
"Y—yes," said Dick, looking rather puzzled, but seeing that he was expected to agree; "that was it."
"You know as well as I do what good cause I have to be angry; but, if I consent to overlook your conduct this time, if I ask Dr. Grimstone to overlook it too" (the Doctor made an inarticulate protest, while Dick stared, incredulous), "will you undertake to behave better for the future—will you?"
Dick's voice broke at this, and his eyes swam—he was effectually conquered. "Oh, I will!" he cried, "I will, really. I never meant to go so far when I began."
"Then, Dr. Grimstone," said Paul, "you will do me a great favour if you will take no further notice of this. You see the boy is sorry, and I am sure he will apologise to you amply for the grave slight he has done you. And by the way—I should have mentioned it before—but he will have to leave your care at the end of the term for a public school—I intend to send him to Harrow, so he will require some additional preparation, perhaps: I may leave that in your hands?"
Dr. Grimstone looked deeply offended, but he only said, "I will see to that myself, my dear sir. I am sorry you did not tell me this earlier. But, may I suggest that a large public school has its pitfalls for a boy of your son's disposition? And I trust this leniency may not have evil consequences, but I doubt it—I greatly doubt it."
As for Dick, he ran to his father, and hung gratefully on to his arm with a remorseful hug, a thing he had never dared to do, or thought of attempting, in his life till then.
"Dad," he said in a choked voice, "you're a brick! I don't deserve any of it, but I'll never forget this as long as I live."
Mr. Bultitude too, felt something spring up in his heart which drew him towards the boy in an altogether novel manner, but no one will say that either was the worse for it.
"Well," he said mildly, "prove to me that I have made no mistake. Go back to Crichton House now, work and play well, and try to keep out of mischief for the rest of the term. I trust to you," he added, in a lower tone, "while you remain at Market Rodwell, to keep my—my connection with it a secret; you owe that at least to me. You may probably have—ahem, some inconveniences to put up with—inconveniences you are not prepared for. You must bear them as your punishment."
And soon afterwards a cab was called, and Dr. Grimstone prepared to return to Market Rodwell, with the deserter, by the last train.
As Paul shook hands through the cab window with his prodigal son, he repeated his warning. "Mind," he said, "you have been at school all this past week; you have run away to attend this party, you understand? Good-bye, my boy, and here's something to put in your pocket, and another for Jolland; but he need not know it comes from me." And when Dick opened his hand afterwards, he found two half-sovereigns in it.
So the cab rolled away, and Paul went up to the drawing-room, where, although he certainly allowed the fireworks on the balcony and in the garden to languish forgotten on their sticks, he led all the other revels up to an advanced hour with jovial abandon quite worthy of Dick, and none of his little guests ever suspected the change of host.
When it was all over, and the sleepy children had driven off, Paul sat down in an easy chair by the bright fire which sparkled frostily in his bedroom, to think gratefully over all the events of the day—events which were beginning already to take an unreal and fantastic shape.
Bitterly as he had suffered, and in spite of the just anger and thirst for revenge with which he had returned, I am glad to say he did not regret the spirit of mildness that had stayed his hand when his hour of triumph came.
His experiences, unpleasant as they had been, had had their advantages: they had drawn him and his family closer together.
In his daughter Barbara, as she wished him good-night (knowing nothing, of course, of the escape), he had suddenly become aware of a girlish freshness and grace he had never looked for or cared to see before. Roly after this, too, had a claim upon him he could never wish to forget, and even with the graceless Dick there was a warmer and more natural feeling on both sides—a strange result, no doubt, of such unfilial behaviour, but so it was.
Mr. Bultitude would never after this consider his family as a set of troublesome and thankless incumbrances; thanks to Dick's offices during the interregnum, they would henceforth throw off their reserve and constraint in their father's presence, and in so doing, open his eyes to qualities of which he had hitherto been in contented ignorance.
* * * * *
It would be pleasanter perhaps to take leave of Mr. Bultitude thus, as he sits by his bedroom fire in the first flush of supreme and unalloyed content.
But I feel almost bound to point out a fact which few will find any difficulty in accepting, namely, that, although the wrong had been retrieved without scandal or exposure, for which Paul could not be too thankful, there were many consequences which could not but survive it.
Neither father nor son found himself exactly in the same position as before their exchange of characters.
It took Mr. Bultitude considerable time and trouble to repair all the damage his son's boyish excesses had wrought both at Westbourne Terrace and in the City. He found the discipline of his clerks' room and counting-house sorely relaxed, and his office-boy in particular attempted a tone towards him of such atrocious familiarity that he was indignantly dismissed, much to his astonishment, the very first day. And probably Paul will never quite clear himself of the cloud that hangs over a man of business who, in the course of however well regulated a career, is known to have been at least once "a little odd."
And his home, too, was distinctly demoralised: his cook was an artist, unrivalled at soups and entrees; but he had to get rid of her notwithstanding.
It was only too evident that she looked upon herself as the prospective mistress of his household, and he did not feel called upon as a parent to fulfil any expectations which Dick's youthful cupboard love had unintentionally excited.
For some time, as fresh proof of Dick's extravagances came home to him, Paul found it cost him no little effort to restrain a tendency to his former bitterness and resentment, but he valued the new understanding between himself and his son too highly to risk losing it again by any open reproach, and so with each succeeding discovery the victory over his feelings became easier.
As for Dick, he found the inconveniences at which his father had hinted anything but imaginary, as will perhaps be easily understood.
It was an unpleasant shock to discover that in one short week his father had contrived somehow to procure him a lasting unpopularity. He was obviously looked upon by all, masters and boys, as a confirmed coward and sneak. And although some of his companions could not fairly reproach him on the latter score, the imputation was particularly galling to Dick, who had always treated such practices with sturdy contempt.
He was sorely tempted at times to right himself by declaring the real state of the case; but he remembered his promise and his father's unexpected clemency and his gratitude always kept him silent.
He never quite understood how it was that the whole school seemed to have an impression that they could kick and assault him generally with perfect impunity; but a few very unsuccessful experiments convinced them that this was a popular error on their part.
Although, however, in everything else he did gradually succeed in recovering all the ground his father had lost him, yet there was one respect in which, I am sorry to say, he found all his efforts to retrieve himself hopeless.
His little sweetheart, with the grey eyes and soft brown hair, cruelly refused to have anything more to do with him. For Dulcie's pride had been wounded by what she considered his shameless perfidy on that memorable Saturday by the parallel bars; the last lingering traces of affection had vanished before Paul's ingratitude on the following Monday, and she never forgave him.
She did not even give him an opportunity of explaining himself, never by word or sign up to the last day of the term showing that she was even aware of his return. What was worse, in her resentment she transferred her favour to Tipping, who became her humble slave for a too brief period; after which he was found wanting in polish, and was ignominiously thrown over for the shy new boy Kiffin, whose head Dick found a certain melancholy pleasure in punching in consequence.
This was Dick's punishment, and a very real and heavy one he found it. He is at Harrow now, where he is doing fairly well; but I think there are moments even yet when Dulcie's charming little face, her pretty confidences, and her chilling disdain, are remembered with something as nearly resembling a heartache as a healthy unsentimental boy can allow himself.
Perhaps, if some day he goes back once more to Crichton House "to see the fellows," this time with the mysterious glamour of a great public school about him, he may yet obtain forgiveness, for she is getting horribly tired of Kiffin, who, to tell the truth, is something of a milksop.
As for the Garuda Stone, I really cannot say what has become of it. Perhaps it was dashed to pieces on the cobble-stones of the stables behind the terrace, and a good thing too. Perhaps it was not, and is still in existence, with all its dangerous powers as ready for use as ever it was; and in that case the best I can wish my readers is, that they may be mercifully preserved from finding it anywhere, or if they are unfortunate enough to come upon it, that they may at least be more careful with it than Mr. Paul Bultitude, by whose melancholy example I trust they will take timely warning.
And with these very sincere wishes I beg to bid them a reluctant farewell.