The Queen's Scarlet, by George Manville Fenn.
The 17-year old Sir Richard Frayne, Baronet, and his cousin Mark, are both at a coach for the Army exam, after which, if successful, they would join the Army as officers. But Mark is seen to be a cad and liar, and there is a fight between them, Mark being apparently dead. Dick, who is a good musician, goes off with his flute in its case, intending to make his way to a city where there is an Army barracks and a Naval port, presumably Chatham, since we are in Kent. He had intended to cross a river by a certain bridge, but the river was in flood, and the bridge had been washed away. As he is looking at this, a drowning shepherd boy is washed by, and Dick dives in to try and rescue him, unsuccessfully. But Dick's servant had followed him, and seen him dive in, assuming that Dick had committed suicide. Furthermore the shepherd's body is later recovered, and presumed to be Dick's, so that it is buried at Dick's home church-yard. Mark recovers, his sickly father inherits Dick's estate and baronetcy, but dies, and Mark in turn inherits.
Meanwhile Dick had joined up as a bandsman. Another regiment marches into the garrison town, and Dick's former servant turns up, and to his astonishment recognises Dick. Mark is also an officer of this second regiment. After various events in which Dick and Mark are both involved, though Mark pretends not to recognise Dick, there is a confrontation, in which Mark shoots his cousin in a hop-field, leaving him for dead. But some workers who are spraying the hops for aphid, come across the body, and realise it is not quite dead. Eventually Dick is nursed back to health in the barracks hospital, and Mark leaves, never to be seen again. Dick easily recovers his estates and the title, finding that Mark had greatly lost the value of the estate, but with care he manages to recoup most of the loss. He also passes the Army exam, and joins a regiment as an officer, having a distinguished career in the Army, as his father had done before him.
It's a fairly short book, less than nine hours to read aloud, but an interesting one, and you will enjoy it.
THE QUEEN'S SCARLET, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
Two rooks flew over the Cathedral Close, and as they neared the old square Norman tower they cawed in a sneering way.
That was enough. Out like magic came the jackdaws from hole and corner—snapping, snarling, and barking birdily—to join in a hue and cry as they formed a pack to drive away the bucolic intruders who dared to invade the precincts sacred to daws from the beginning of architectural time; and this task over, they returned to sit on corbel, leaden spout, crevice, and ledge, to erect the feathers of their powdered heads and make remarks to one another, till the chimes rang out and the big bell boomed the hour.
"Bother Mark!" said Richard Frayne, Baronet. "If he had ten thousand a year, he'd spend twenty. I can't do it, and I won't."
Richard Frayne puckered up his brow and began reading away at Lord Wolseley's Red Book—after being interrupted by the jackdaws—trying to master the puzzling military details, but finding it impossible while his brain was full of his cousin's money troubles; and at last, in despair, he pitched the little leather-covered book aside, walked to the side-table, took his handsome flute from its case, set up a piece of music on a stand, and began to run through a few preliminary flourishes that were peculiarly bird-like in their trilling, when there was a tap at the door and Jerry Brigley thrust in his head.
"Wants to see you, sir."
"Who does?" said Richard, hurriedly putting aside his flute.
Jerry held out a card.
"'Isaac Simpson, clerical and military tailor,'" read the young man. "What does he want with me?" Then, quickly: "Oh! of course! I know. Show him in."
A little, stoutish, smooth man, in shiny broadcloth and a profuse perspiration, entered directly after, carrying a brown leather handbag and his hat, which he took from his left finger and thumb and used to make a most deferential bow. There he stood, smiling and sleek, dabbing his face with a red silk handkerchief.
"Very hot morning, sir, and your room's a bit 'igh."
"You wanted to see me?" said Richard rather distantly.
"Well, yes, sir—begging your pardon, sir. By Mr Mark Frayne's introduction, sir. Said business was business, and I might venture to call, sir. Been Mr Mark Frayne's tailor, sir, three years come next quarter, sir; and I've ventured to bring my new patterns with me, sir."
"My cousin should have spoken to me first, Mr Simpson," said Richard, "and I could have saved you this trouble."
"Trouble, sir? Oh! dear me, no, sir! It's a pleasure to me to have the honour. You see, I almost knew you personally though before, sir: Mr Mark Frayne was always talking about you and your country place. Now, I have here, sir," said the visitor, rattling open his patterns like a card-trick, "some fashions that only come down by post this morning, sir; and I said to myself, 'Here's your opportunity. You can't expect a gentleman as has his garments from Servile Row to care about goods as every counter-jumper in Primchilsea has seen. Go and let him have the first selection.'"
"Thank you, Mr Simpson," said Richard, coldly, as he thought of his cousin and the money; "I have no reason for exchanging my tailor. Greatly obliged to you for calling."
"No trouble, sir; no trouble—a pleasure, as one may say. I thought I'd bring all the patterns as I was coming. Then shall we settle that other little bit of business, sir, at once? Some other time, p'raps, you may be able to give me a line."
"What other business?" said Richard, flushing a little.
"That little affair of the money, sir."
"I have nothing to do with Mr Mark Frayne's affairs," said Richard, warmly.
"Oh, sir, don't say that to a poor tradesman, sir!" said the tailor, shaking his head reproachfully, as he reopened the little handbag and drew a flat bill-case of large size from among the cards of patterns. "Mr Mark said if I would make it a bit easy, and drew at three, six, and nine, you would put your name to the paper, and there would be no more trouble."
"My cousin had no right to say such a thing to you!" cried Richard.
"Oh, sir, don't say that; it's such a little amount to a gentleman! I have drawn it in three bills, a heighty and two fifties—hundred and heighty! Why, it ain't worth thinking about twice for a gentleman like you! Ha, ha, ha! it's like making three bites of a cherry!"
"How much?" said Richard.
"Total, hundred and eighty-three—five—six, with the stamps, sir," said the tailor, producing three slips of blue paper.
"My cousin said he owed you only about eighty pounds!" cried Richard.
"For clothes, sir," said the tailor, with a deprecating smile. "The hundred was the cash advanced to oblige you, sir, as a gentleman."
"The hundred I advanced for you two, Sir Richard."
"For us two? My good fellow, I had none of the money."
"Oh, sir, don't say that!" cried the tailor, reproachfully. "Of course, I know that gents wants a little money extry sometimes, and that it's a tradesman's dooty to help and oblige a customer if he can; and I did."
"Don't, sir; please don't—you hurt me! I respect Mr Mark Frayne very much; but you can't know him without seeing as he's a bit too free with his money, and I should never have dreamed of letting him have it if it hadn't been for you, sir."
"It was not for me!" cried Richard, who was regularly roused and indignant now. "I have nothing whatever to do with my cousin's debts."
"Oh, sir, please don't! I have not come for the money now, though it would be very convenient, for wholesale houses objects to waiting. There you are, you see! You have only to sign the three bits of paper, and there'll be no more trouble for you at all."
"But, look here," cried Richard, angrily, "you are insinuating that I received part of this money!"
"Wouldn't it be better, Sir Richard, to say no more about it?" said the tailor. "Money is money, sir; gold's gold; and, as for silver, why it's quicksilver, ain't it, now? Of course, I know what young gents is, as I said before; and I don't want to make any trouble about it."
"But listen," said Richard, trying to be quite calm and cool. "Do I understand you aright?"
"Oh, yes, sir; I'm right about money."
"That I shared the borrowed money?"
"Why, sir," said the man with a smile, "you don't suppose I should have lent it to Mr Mark Frayne, whose father's only a poor parson? Not me!"
"Then you lent it to him because you believed I was to have part?"
"I lent it to you, sir, because I knew you was a barrynet, and would come in for your money in three or four years' time, and, of course, to oblige you—being short."
"For I says to myself, 'There's the money a-doing nothing in the bank, and it's obliging a gent who won't be above orderin' a few garments to make up for you obliging him, and—'"
"Confound you! will you let me speak?" cried Richard angrily.
"Of course, sir. Glad to hear you speak, and sorry I come at an inconvenient time, when you were busy with your music; and—let me see— didn't Mr Mark say something about your wanting the cash to buy a new pianner? Or was it an old fiddle? I quite forget, sir; that I do."
"Will you be silent a minute? Did my cousin say that money was for me?"
"Oh, yes, sir; or I shouldn't have—"
"Then it was a lie—an abominable lie!" cried Richard, in a rage. "Sign those papers and acknowledge that I had the money? No! So you can be off, and tell him so."
Mr Isaac Simpson screwed up his face, bent over the table, and carefully spread the three oblongs of blue paper out, one above the other, holding the ends down, and smoothing them out slowly.
"Well," cried Richard, hotly, "do you hear what I say?"
"Oh, yes, Sir Richard Frayne, Baronet, I hear what you say," replied the tailor: "but I was a-thinking, sir."
"Then go and think somewhere else."
"No, sir; I can't do that, because, you see, I'm thinking about you. Here's 'undred and eighty-odd pound of a poor man's hard-earned money, most part of which you owe me."
"It is false! I don't owe you a penny."
The tailor shook his head.
"I can't afford to lose it, Sir Richard; and you can't say but what I want to make it easy for you with them bills."
"I do not want anything made easy for me," cried the young man; "I can pay my just debts."
"And, don't you see, sir, it wouldn't be pleasant for you if I was to write to your parents and guardians—leastwise, as you have no parents, your guardians—and ask them?"
"Write to them, and so will I."
"But I don't want to do such a shabby thing about a gent as I've tried to oblige."
"I tell you I never authorised anyone to borrow money for me, sir."
"Well, Sir Richard Frayne, Baronet, there's the transaction down in a neat handwriting in my book, and I give a cheque for it, and there's the cheque as come back from the bank with your name on the back, as well as Mr Mark Frayne's on the receipt."
"As afore said, sir; and people—I mean your lawyers and guardians—'ll believe it. They won't be so shabby as to say you were under age when they have lots of your money in trust."
Richard stared at the man, half-stunned.
"There, Sir Richard, don't let's make a fuss and a lot of unpleasantry about a trumpery little amount like that, when it is all so easy for you."
"I say I've never had the money. Go to Mr Mark Frayne."
"But don't you see as that's as good as saying he's been a-swindlin' of me? And if I goes to my lawyer and lays it all before him, he'll be for putting it in court, or p'raps worse; and it would go very hard on Mr Mark. I'm afraid they wouldn't treat it as if it were a debt; they might say—"
"That's what I says, sir. His father a parson, too; and it wouldn't do Mr Draycott no good. Hadn't you better sign?"
"Without seeing my cousin first and making him explain? No. Take away your papers at once."
"To my lawyers, sir?"
"No," he said at last. "I'll see my cousin, and bring him on to you."
"Ah! Now that's talking sensible, sir. We can settle it, of course. Why, it would be such a mad thing to go to lawyers and make expenses, and have a reg'lar trouble, when your name on three bits of paper would save both of you from unpleasantry."
"Both of us?" cried Richard.
"Well, yes, sir, perhaps; for there's no knowing what people might say. They can be tidy hard on anyone as won't pay when he can."
"That will do!" cried Richard angrily. "I have told you that I will see my cousin."
"Ve—ry good, Sir Richard," said the tailor, carefully doubling up his slips of paper. "But hadn't you better sign now, and see him after?"
"Well, sir, you know best; but if it was my case, and I hadn't had the cash, I should sign, and then go and give my cousin the howdaciousest hiding he ever had. That's better than sending him to prison and before a judge. I wish you good-morning, sir—I suppose I ought to have said Sir Richard Frayne. I shall be at home all day to-morrow, sir, a-waiting on you."
IN HOT BLOOD.
"Yes, and you'll have to wait," cried Richard Frayne, as the door closed on the man, and he listened to the departing steps as he involuntarily crossed to the stand, picked up his flute, and rearranged the music, but only to throw it down angrily and replace his instrument.
"The scoundrel!" he cried. "Here, I must have this out at once."
He was no longer the quiet, dreamy-looking musician, but full of angry energy; and in this spirit he went straight to his cousin's room, knocked, and went in; but the place was empty.
"Seen my cousin?" he cried, as he encountered Jerry, the house servant, valet, and factotum.
"See him smoking in the garden 'arf a hour ago, S'Richard."
Richard hurried down into the extensive grounds, and came plump upon Mr Draycott, the well-known military tutor and coach, tramping laboriously up and down one of the gravel paths, with his hands behind, giving a loud puff at every second step, for he was an enormously fat man, to whom walking was a severe trial, but a trial he persevered in from a wholesome dread that, if he neglected proper exercise, he would grow worse.
"Hullo, Frayne!" he cried, "I want to see you—" puff.
"Look here, I'm very much put out about you, Frayne—I am, indeed!"—puff.
"What about, sir?"
"Oh, you know"—puff. "Of course, I never object to my pupils having their own hobbies; but you have been carrying your musical"—puff—"whims to excess"—puff.
"I do not see why a soldier"—puff—"should not be a good musician, though the trumpet"—puff—"seems more in the way than the piano"—puff. "But you ought not to have gone in debt over such a matter"—puff.
"In debt, sir?"
"Yes. Don't repeat my words!"—puff. "Now, I have warned you against it!"—puff.
"You did, sir; but I don't understand your allusions," said Richard, though he suspected that he did.
"Then you ought to, sir!"—puff. "Hasn't that money-lending tailor"—puff—"just come from dunning you?"
"Yes, sir; but—"
"There, I know all about it. Pay him off, and never get into such a hobble again"—puff. "Coming, my dear!"—puff.
Mrs Draycott, an exceedingly thin lady, was calling from the French window of the drawing-room, and the "Heavy Coach," as his pupils nicknamed him, went puffing off up to the house.
"Oh, I can't stand this!" said Richard to himself. "I must have a thorough explanation. Mark shall speak out. Why, Draycott believes it, too! That scoundrelly little tailor must have told him. Hi! Dillon, seen my cousin?"
This was to a fellow-pupil, who was coming down the garden.
"Five minutes—ten minutes—ago, going across the Close. Gone to see the river; it's getting flooded. What's the row?"
"But you look as if you were going to knock his head off."
"I am," cried Richard, over his shoulder, as he hurried off.
"That's right. Hit hard! Save me a lock of his hair!" shouted the youth; and then to himself: "Serve the beast right! What's he been doing now?"
Richard Frayne met a couple more of the "Heavy Coach's" pupils as he crossed the Cathedral Close, where the calm silence of the old place ought to have quelled the angry throbbing in his veins; but it had an opposite effect, and the cries of the jackdaws which clung about the mouldering tower sounded like impish derisive laughter.
"Anything the matter?" said one of the pair.
"Yes; seen my cousin?"
"Yes; he's down in the ruins, seated, like Patience on a broken monument, smoking and smiling at the river. Don't pitch him in. I say: is there a row on?"
Richard Frayne did not answer, but walked away, crossed the creek bridge, beneath which the water ran thundering as it hurried toward the river, giving indications that there must have been a heavy rainstorm in the hills twenty miles away, though all was sunshine there.
He hurried on along the lane, turned out of it, crossed a couple of fields, and made his way toward a pile of ivy-clad ruins, whose base was washed by the river, now brimful, and here and there making patches and pools in the lower meadows further on.
These ruins were the remains of one of the great ecclesiastical buildings dismantled in the days of Bluff King Hal, and still showed the importance of the edifice, with its lancet windows and high walls surrounding a green patch that was at one time an inner garden surrounded by cloisters, of which only a few columns were left, and was now as secluded and lonely a spot as could be found for miles.
A visitor would have paused directly to admire the beauty of the old place, which raised up thoughts of the past, but Richard did not stay, for to him it only raised up secular thoughts of the present, with tailors' bills, borrowed money, forgery, and lies.
But there was no sign of Mark Frayne; and, growing moment by moment more excited and angry, Richard hurried here and there, looking sharply round, coming to the conclusion that either he had been misinformed or his cousin had gone, when he caught sight of a yellow and black fragment of flannel projecting from behind a pile of stones at the corner farthest away from the swollen river.
"The cur!" he muttered, as he hurried forward, leaping over fallen blocks and fragments which showed still the groinings of the old cloisters.
"That's like you!" he cried, as he came suddenly upon Mark leaning back in a niche, and who looked first white, then scarlet. "What do you mean? Hiding, like the sneaking coward you are."
"You're an idiot! I came here to see the flood rising."
"At this end?" cried Richard, contemptuously. "No, you didn't. You hid here because you saw me coming."
"What! Hide from you!" cried Mark, defiantly. "I like that! Why should I hide from you, fiddler?"
"Because you felt what was coming out, and that I knew the miserable cheating act of which you have been guilty."
"Here! what do you mean?" cried Mark, in a bullying tone, as he edged up, scowling, towards him, and looked down upon the meek musician, whom he felt he could at any moment pretty well crush.
"I mean that if poor sick Uncle James knew what I have just heard it would break his heart."
"I don't want to hear any cant about my father," cried Mark, changing colour a little. "Tell me what you mean, or—"
He made a menacing gesture; but, to his surprise, Richard did not shrink.
"I mean that that wretched man has been to me about your debts."
"About my debts? Oh, you mean Simpson about his bill. Well, I don't want your help now. I can pay him. He must wait."
"But he will not wait. He threatens to expose you if the matter is not settled at once."
"Pooh! what is there to expose? Every fellow gets in debt more or less. Tailors have to wait. Every fellow gets behind for his togs."
"Yes; but he does not forge his cousin's name when he wants money."
"What?" roared Mark, shaken for the moment. "Here," he cried, seizing Richard by the arm, after a glance round to see if they were alone, "what does this mean?"
"It means this," cried Richard passionately, "that your creditor has been to me this morning, and has just left me, after showing me how you have disgraced the good old name of Frayne."
"How?" cried Richard, whose voice was husky from emotion; "by writing my name to the cheque for the money you borrowed, telling the man it was for me."
"Well, so it was!" cried Mark, seizing him by the other shoulder and shaking him. "No backing out now!"
"You had it nearly all. And, if it has come to this, we'll have it all out now. What do you mean about the cheque?"
"I mean that you forged my name. I knew nothing of it till just now."
"I—I—did what?" cried Mark, as if astounded.
"I have told you. Take your dirty hands off me! It is disgrace enough, without—"
"I—I put your name to a cheque!" roared Mark. "Why, you infamous, lying cad: unsay every word! You know the money was borrowed for you, and that you spent it on your miserable music! Confess it before I break every bone in your skin!"
Staggered, mentally and bodily, by his cousin's retort, Richard Frayne gave way, and was borne back against the ruined wall of the old sanctuary; for Mark had, by a quick action, seized him hard by the throat and held him fast.
"Why, you must be mad! You dare to say I did that, you infamous— lying—"
He had gone too far, and there was a moment's pause; for, before he could utter the next word, Richard Frayne had given himself a violent wrench sidewise, freed himself and struck out at his assailant.
But it was a feeble blow, consequent upon his crippled position, and, with a savage laugh, Mark turned at him again.
"I'll teach you to talk like that! Down on your knees and swear that it was all a hatched-up lie, or—"
Mark Frayne's words were checked again, for he had never really seen of what his cousin was capable till now. He knew that he took part in athletic exercises, and he had had the gloves on with him often enough before, and knocked him about to his heart's content. But he had now to learn that Richard Frayne, the white-handed lover of music, fought better without gloves than with, while the soft-palmed hands had knuckles as bony as his own.
"Liar!" muttered Richard between his teeth as he struck out with his left full at Mark's mouth, sending him staggering back, but only to recover directly and come on furiously again.
There was only another round, and it was very short.
Richard Frayne, with every nerve twitching with rage and indignation, followed up his second blow with others, planted so truly, and with such effect, that within a minute he was driving his adversary back step by step, till, blind now with fury, he put all his strength and weight into a blow which sent Mark down like a piece of wood, to lie, inert, with his head resting against the broken, lichen-covered fragment of an arch.
"Steady! Hold hard!" shouted a couple of voices, and the two young fellow-pupils, who had followed, leaped down through a broken window, from whence, hidden by the ivy, they had watched the fray.
"You second Dick Frayne," cried the first, "and I'll see to Mark."
Richard hardly heard what was said, for there was a sound as of surging waters in his ears, followed by a roar of words that seemed to thunder.
For, as the last speaker went down on one knee to raise up the fallen lad, he uttered a cry of horror, and then let the young man's head hurriedly down, to shrink away with his hands fouled by blood.
"What is it?" cried the other, running forward; while Richard's hands clutched at the air. "What is it?—cut?"
"Cut!" sobbed out the other. "A doctor!—quick! Dick Frayne, what have you done? He's dead!"
TWO PACES TO THE REAR.
After plunging as we did head first into the great trouble of Sir Richard Frayne's life, I must ask my readers to let me go back, in military parlance, "two paces to the rear," so as to enter into a few explanations as to the position of the cousins, promising that the interpolation shall be neither tedious nor long.
Only a short time before Richard Frayne struck that unlucky blow, general-valet Jerry entered the room with—
"Here you are, Sir Richard, two pairs; and your shoes is getting thin in the sole."
"Then I must have a new pair, Jerry."
"Why don't you have 'arf dozen pairs in on account, sir, like Mr Mark do?"
"Look here, Jerry, if you worry me now, I shall throw something at you."
Jeremiah Brigley, who had just put down two pairs of newly-polished shoes, rubbed his nose meditatively with the cuff of his striped morning jacket, and then tapped an itching place on his head with the clothes-brush he held in his hand, as he stared down at the owner of the shoes—a good-looking, fair, intent lad of nearly eighteen, busy over a contrivance which rested upon a pile of mathematical and military books on the table of the well-furnished room overlooking the Cathedral Close of Primchilsea busy city.
The place was fitted up as a study, and a curtain shut off a smaller room suggestive of a bed within; while over the chimney-piece were foils opposite single-sticks; boxing-gloves hung in pairs, bruised and swollen, as if suffering from their last knocking about; a cavalry sabre and a dragoon officer's helmet were on the wall opposite the window. Books, pictures, and a statuette or two made the place attractive, and here and there were objects which told of the occupant of that room's particular aim.
For beneath the helmet and sabre stood a piano open, and with a piece of music on the stand—a movement by Chopin; a violoncello leaned in its case in one corner, a cornet-a-piston showed itself, like an arrangement in brass macaroni packed in red velvet upon a side-table; and in front of it lay open a small, flat flute-case, wherein were the two halves of a silver-keyed instrument side by side, in company with what seemed to be its young one—so exact in resemblance was the silver-mounted piccolo made to fit into the case.
There were other signs about of the occupant's love of the sweet science; for there were a tuning-fork, a pitch-pipe, and a metronome on the chimney-piece, a large musical-box on the front of the book-case, some nondescript pipes, reeds, and objects of percussion; and, to show that other tastes were cultivated to some extent, there were, besides, several golf-clubs, fishing-rods, a cricket-bat, and a gun-case.
But the owner of all sat intent upon the contrivance before him upon the table, and Jerry scratched his nose now with the edge of the clothes-brush.
"Beg pardon, S'Richard—"
"What the dickens do you want now?" cried the young man, impatiently.
"On'y wanted to 'mind you of what I said lars week, S'Richard."
"Didn't I tell you to talk to me when I wasn't busy?"
"Yes, S'Richard; but, you see, you never ain't not busy. When you ain't at your books, getting ready for the gov'nor, you're out with Mr Mark Frayne, sir, or some of the other gents; and when you are at home here, sir, you're always tunin' up, an' windin' up, or 'venting something."
"Well, there, I am, Jerry," said the young man smoothing his perplexed-looking brow. "Now, then, what is it?"
"Only this, S'Richard," said the man, eagerly, and he now had laced up the shoes he had brought in and thrust them beneath the curtain. "You see, my father he used to say as it was a chap's dooty to try and rise in the world."
"Yes, of course," said Richard Frayne, thoughtfully taking up a piece of the contrivance upon which he had been at work.
"And he said, S'Richard, as you ought to be on the look-out."
"Well, S'Richard, that's it; I'm on the look-out."
"What for, Jerry?"
"To better myself, S'Richard. You see, it's all very well being here valetin' for the young gents and you, S'Richard; and I s'pose, as far as character goes, there ain't a better coach nowhere than master, as they says passes more young gents than anyone."
"No; Mr Draycott is a very clever scholar, Jerry," said the young man, looking as if he wished the servant would go. "Well?"
"Well, sir, that's all very well for a character for a noo place, but a chap don't want to be cleanin' boots all his life when they ain't shoes."
"No, Jerry; that would be rather a monotonous career. But what do you want me to do?"
"Well, S'Richard, it's making very bold like; but I can't help liking you, sir, and 'fore long you'll be passing and getting appointed to your regiment; and as I've got a great taste for soljering myself, I thought I'd ask you to take me with you."
"You—you want to be a soldier, Jerry?"
"Yes, sir. Why not?" said the man, drawing himself up, and brushing the tuft of hair over the top of his forehead, so that it stood up fiercely, and gave his whole head some resemblance to the conventional naming shell of military ornamentation. "Of course, I couldn't think of a military eddication and going to a coach, S'Richard, and passing; but lots of chaps have risen from the ranks."
"Yes, I suppose so," said the young man, who looked more bored and fidgety; "but I don't think I ought to promise to take you, Jerry. I don't know that I shall pass and get my commission."
"Oh, yes, you will, sir."
"Of course, I should like to have you with me, Jerry, because you understand me so well."
"I do, S'Richard; and I allus feel proud o' doin' for you. I often watches you when you goes out, and I says to myself, 'Look at him! I cut him, and brushed him, and shaved him'—not as there's much to shave yet, sir."
"No, Jerry," said the young man, passing his hand over his upper lip and chin; "it's rather a work of supererogation at present."
"A what, sir?"
"Work of supererogation, Jerry."
"Exactly, S'Richard; that's just what it is. But don't you get out of heart, sir. I was smooth as you once, and now if I goes two days you might grate ginger with me!"
"Well, we will see," said the young man; "but if you want to—to—"
"Better myself, S'Richard; that's it!"
"Don't let another opportunity go."
"Oh, yes, I shall, S'Richard! You said you'd like to have me, and that's enough for me! I'd wait for you, sir, if I had to stop till you was a hundred! But, beg pardon, S'Richard, is that there to make a patent mouse-trap?"
"Which?" said the young man angrily.
"That there thing as you're making, S'Richard."
"Pooh! what nonsense! Jerry, you are not musical."
"Well, sir, I ain't a moosician, as you may say, but I was a dab at the Jew's-harp once, and I've got a very tidy flootina 'cordion now; only I ain't no time to practise."
"No, Jerry," said the young man, thoughtfully, as he laid out his little pieces of mechanism on the table; "this is an attempt to invent a means of producing musical sounds by percussion."
"With p'cussion-caps, sir?"
"No, no! by blows."
"Oh, I see, S'Richard."
"I have often thought that more might be done, Jerry, in the way of obtaining musical notes."
"Of course, S'Richard."
"You see," said the young man, dreamily, "we produce them by vibration."
"Yes, S'Richard, and whistling, and fiddling, and blowing trombones."
"Exactly; that is all connected with vibration."
"Oh, is it, sir? I s'pose you're right; but then there's pyanners, sir, and orgins, sir, street and otherwise!"
"Exactly, Jerry," said the young student drily. "There, I'm busy now; I'll remember what you said, and, if I can have you with me, I will."
"Thank you kindly, S'Richard. Don't you be afraid as I won't do my dooty by you!"
"I won't, Jerry. Then that's all, isn't it?"
"Well, S'Richard, not quite all; there's your cousin, sir—Mr Mark, sir."
"Well, what about him?"
"Only this, S'Richard: if you'd speak to him, and tell him as servants ain't doormats, I should be greatly obliged."
"What do you mean?"
"Only this, S'Richard, as it's getting beyond bearing! I don't want to go complaining to Mr Draycott, sir, but there is bounds to everything! Havin' all kinds of hard words chucked at you—'fools' and 'idgits' and 'jackasses'—and when it comes to boots and hair-brushes, I says as it's rough enough; but when it's a soda-water bottle and a plate, I can't stand it, and I won't!"
"What had you been doing to annoy my cousin?"
"Nothin', S'Richard. I just work for him same as I do for my other gentlemen, or for you, sir; and you never threw a bad word at me in your life—let alone boots!"
"Did the things hit you, Jerry?"
"No, S'Richard, I can't say as they hit me; but they hurt me, all the same. Servants has feelings same as gents has."
"I'm very sorry, Jerry. Mr Frayne is a little irritable sometimes."
"If you made it often, S'Richard, you wouldn't be very far out."
"Well, often then. His studies worry him, I suppose."
Jerry made a peculiar grimace.
"And he has had a little trouble once or twice with Mr Draycott."
"Yes, S'Richard, he ayve."
"There, I'll speak to him, Jerry. He doesn't mean anything by it, for he's a good fellow at heart; and when he feels that he has hurt your feelings I daresay it will mean an apology, and—perhaps something else."
"Thankye, S'Richard, thankye," said the man. "I know'd you'd say something o' that sort, but don't you speak to him. It wouldn't do no good. He wouldn't 'pologise to such as me; and as to a tip—not him! There, S'Richard, it's all right now. It did me good to say all that out to a real gentleman, and—pst!—Any more orders, S'Richard?"
"Eh?" said Richard, wondering at the man's manner. "No, thank you; that's all. What's the matter?"
"Pst! S'Richard," whispered the man hurriedly. "Talk of the No-we-never-mentions-him, and you see his—"
The door opened with a crash, and made the pictures swing upon the wall, while Jerry drew on one side to let the fresh-comer enter the room.
MARK IN A HOLE.
"Hullo, thick-head! loafing again."
It was a dark, olive-complexioned young fellow, of Sir Richard's age, who swung into the opening noisily, cigarette in mouth.
"Not loafing, Mr Frayne, sir," said the man in an injured tone, as he fixed his eyes on the rather handsome student who had entered the room, and took in at a glance his white flannels and yellow-striped blazer, from the breast-pocket of which a thick gold chain was hanging. "Beg pardon, sir; you'll be losing your watch-chain's out o' buttonhole."
"Well, what business is it of yours, idiot? If I lose it, you might find it. Perquisites—eh, Jerry?"
"There, S'Richard," said the man, flushing. "Now, ain't that as good as sayin' I'd steal a watch? I'd take my oath I never—"
"That will do, Jerry," said Sir Richard, sternly. "You needn't wait.— Why can't you leave the fellow alone, Mark?"
"Why can't you act like a gentleman, and not be always making friends with the servants?" retorted the young fellow addressed. "So that's it, is it? The confounded sneak comes tattling to you, does he?"
"No!" cried Sir Richard, rather gruffly; "but he did complain of your forgetting yourself and throwing things at him."
"Oh, did he?" cried Mark Frayne, catching up the nearest thing, which was the model his cousin had been making, and hurling it at the offender, but without effect, for Jeremiah Brigley already had the door open and darted out; the panel receiving the model instead of his head.
Sir Richard Frayne sprang to his feet to save his model, but too late; it fell, shivered, to the carpet, and the new-comer burst into a roar of laughter.
"I don't see anything to grin at," said his cousin, indignantly.
"Not you!" said the other, letting himself down on to the keyboard of the piano with a loud musical crash, and laughing heartily all the time. "Why don't you get on with your work? Anyone would think you were in training for a cat-gut scraper at a low theatre instead of for an officer and a gentleman."
"Mark, old chap," said Sir Richard, good-humouredly, as, with rather a rueful look, he picked up his broken model, "every man to his taste. I like music; you like dogs."
"Yes; and they make a precious sight better music than ever you do. Soldier! Pooh! You haven't the heart of a cockroach in you. Thank goodness, you'll soon have to do your exam. That'll open your eyes, and I shall be glad of it. If I were you, I'd try for an engagement in a band somewhere, for you'll never get a commission."
"Perhaps not," said Sir Richard, quietly. "But what's the matter with you, old chap? Been having a row with Draycott?"
"Draycott's a bumptious, pedantic old fool. Fancies he knows everything. A brute!"
"Take a couple of pills, Mark; your liver's out of order."
"Put an angel's liver out of order to be here! I won't put up with much more of it, and so I'll tell him. I shall dress as I like, and do as I like, even if I haven't got a handle to my name. Sir Richard, indeed!— a pattern for me to follow! Next time the fat old idiot say's that to me, I'll throw the books at his head."
"Oh, that's it, is it?"
"Yes; that's it, is it!" cried Mark Frayne in an angry tone. "I tell you I'm sick of it!"
"Nonsense! What had you been doing?" said Richard, fighting down a feeling of resentment, and looking smilingly at his cousin.
"What's that to you?" growled Mark.
"Not much; but I wanted to help the lame dog over the stile."
"Look here," cried Mark, fiercely; "none of that. If you want to insult me, say so right out, and then I shall know what you mean. None of your covert allusions."
Richard Frayne laughed outright, and his cousin took a step forward menacingly.
"Why, what has come to you?" cried the former. "Don't be so peppery. I want to help you, if I can."
"Do you?" cried Mark, eagerly. "There, I'm sorry I spoke so sharply. That brute Simpson has been writing to Draycott."
"Simpson, the tailor? What has he got to write about?"
Mark Frayne scowled, and gave a kick out with his leg, but did not answer.
"Have you been running a bill with him?"
"Then why don't you pay it?"
"Why don't I pay it?" snarled Mark. "Am I a baronet with plenty of money?"
"No; but you have as good an allowance as I. You ought to be able to pay your tailor's bill."
"'Tisn't a bill for clothes," said Mark, sulkily, and he picked up a book, opened it, and threw it impatiently across the room, making his cousin wince a little.
"What then? Surely you haven't been such a fool as to borrow money of him?"
"Yes, I have been such a fool as to borrow money of him," cried Mark, savagely. "I couldn't help being short; he offered it to me, and, of course, I took it. So would you."
"No, I shouldn't," said Richard, quietly. "He did write to offer me money once—when I first came, and I refused it, and haven't been in his shop since."
"But then we're not all such good young men as you are, Dick," sneered Mark. "I did take it, and the brute has been running up interest and renewing, as he calls it, and gammoning me into ordering fresh clothes. He made this beastly jacket, and all sorts of things that don't fit; and now, because I'm not ready to pay his swindling bill and the wretched paper, he has been threatening, and ended by writing to old Draycott."
"Pay him then, and have done with him."
"Will you help me?"
"Of course, if I can."
"If you can! Why, you can, if you like."
"I don't know about that," said the other, good-humouredly; "I've been spending a good deal of money in music things lately."
"Bosh! you can get me out of the hole, if you like."
"How much do you owe him?"
Mark threw the end of his cigarette with all his force into the fireplace, and ground his teeth for a few moments before muttering between them—
"Eighty-four pounds, or so!"
"Eighty-four pounds," snarled Mark. "Do you want me to shout it for everyone to know?"
"But how could you get into his debt to that extent?"
"Didn't I tell you, stupid? Half of it was lent, and I gave him an I.O.U., and he has been piling it up somehow. I don't know what he has done. He was civil and smooth as butter till he had me tight, and now he's showing his teeth."
"But he would not have written to Draycott unless you had been disagreeable to him."
"Oh! wouldn't he? He threatened to a year ago, when it wasn't so much. It was when he found out I'd been getting some togs from London. I expect he pumped it out of that idiot Jerry Brigley. But I'm not going to sit here exposing my affairs. Will you help me to get out of the hole?"
Richard Frayne was silent for a time, and then he said quietly—
"I can't, Mark."
"What? Why, you said you would."
"Yes, but I thought it meant lending you four or five pounds. I have no more till my quarter comes round."
"Till your quarter comes round," sneered Mark; "anyone would think he had his wages then. Here, no nonsense, Dick; you said you would help me."
"I did, but I can't."
Mark made an angry gesture, but he mastered himself and turned to his cousin.
"Look here, it doesn't mean money. Simpson knows that you'll have Quailmere some day, and he said he wouldn't mind waiting if he had good security. It only means putting your name to a bit of paper."
"Did Simpson suggest that?" said Richard.
"Of course he did, and it means making an end to the trouble. I shall only have to go on paying the interest."
"Till Mr Simpson chooses to come down upon me and make me pay," said Richard, with a laugh full of annoyance.
"No, he won't; he said he wouldn't. It's such a little sum, too— nothing to you! Here, come on with me at once, and let's settle it."
Richard Frayne sat back in his chair, looking straight before him, unconscious of the fact that his cousin was watching him narrowly, and who now went on with forced gaiety—
"Wish I hadn't been such a fool as to keep it to myself. Here it has been worrying my very life out for months, and made me as irritable as a wasp. You are a good fellow, Dick! But, honour bright, I didn't like to ask you."
Richard remained silent.
"There, don't think about it any more. Come on."
"But it wants thinking about, Mark."
"What nonsense! You don't know how easy these things are."
"I've often heard," said Richard, drily.
"Yes, of course you have," said Mark, with a feeble laugh. "There, put me out of my misery, old chap. Sudden death, you know. Come on."
"No," said Richard, quietly. "I promised my poor father that I would never put my name to paper in that way, and I never will."
"You heard, Mark."
"Do you mean to tell me that, after what you have said, you will not help me out of this bit of trouble?"
"No, I do not mean to tell you that. I want to help you."
"Then, come on."
"Yes, come on to Mr Draycott, and let's ask him what is to be done."
Mark Frayne leaped up from where he had rested in a sitting position upon the keyboard of the piano, giving his hands a bang down on either side, and producing fresh jangling discords, which seemed to fit with the harsh, mocking laugh he uttered.
"Good boy!" he cried. "What an excellent son! That old cock-o'-wax, the Admirable Crichton, was nowhere. You'd have beaten him into fits, Dick. Go on, say something else; it does me good; only be gentle. I couldn't bear to be made such a saint as you are all at once."
"Of course, I know it will be very painful for you," continued Richard, gravely; "but it is the only thing you can do, and Draycott has over and over again said to me, 'If ever you find yourself in any trouble, Frayne, forget that we are tutor and pupil, and come to me as a friend.'"
"You miserable sneak!" growled Mark, in a hard, husky voice.
"No, I'm not; I'm your cousin, and I want to help you, Mark," said Richard. "I spend so much time at the music that I know very little about these money matters; but I do know that this fellow Simpson has been working to get you under his thumb, and running up an account twice as much as you justly owe him."
"Go on," said Mark, "preach away! I won't quarrel with you; because, prig as you are, Dick, I don't believe you will refuse to help me. Look here, it's only signing your name. Will you do it?"
"I'll give you all I've got, and undertake to let you have three-quarters of my next allowance from the lawyers. I can't do any more than that."
"Once more," said Mark, huskily, "will you help me?"
"I have told you," was the reply, "I'll lend you all I can scrape together, or go with you straight to Mr Draycott."
"Once more," said Mark, with an ugly, vicious look in his eyes, "will you come in to old Simpson's and sign?"
Richard Frayne sat looking firmly at his cousin, but made no reply.
"All right," said Mark, with a laugh; "then the game's up! I shall make a bolt of it, and go to sea. No: every cad does that. I'll take my dearly beloved, sanctified cousin for a model, and be very good and saving. I won't waste all old Draycott's military teaching; it would be a pity!"
"What do you mean?" cried Richard.
"To go over to Ratcham and take the shilling. Perhaps I shall rise from the ranks."
"Go and think about what I've said, and come back when you get cool. I won't go out all day, and—"
Bang, rattle, and a crash!
Mark Frayne had gone out and closed the door with so much violence that the dragoon officer's helmet was shaken from the peg upon which it hung, and fell, bringing with it the cavalry sabre.
Richard sprang from his chair to pick them up, a frown gathering upon his face as he saw that an ugly dint had been made in the helmet which resisted all his efforts to force it out.
Then he stood gazing down at it and the sabre, which he had raised and carefully laid upon the table beneath where it had hung.
It was a fancy, he knew. He told himself that it was a silly piece of superstition; but, all the same, a strange feeling troubled him; and it seemed as if the fall of these old mementoes of the gallant officer, his dead father, was a kind of portent of trouble to come—trouble and disaster that would be brought about by his cousin.
The dreamy sensation of unreality passed away for the moment, and Richard Frayne flung himself upon his knees beside his cousin, to raise his head, after hurriedly taking out and folding a handkerchief to form a bandage; while, after eagerly watching him for a few moments, one of the two pupils turned and dashed off as hard as he could run in the direction of the town.
But the bandage was too short; and, after looking wildly up at his companion, Richard tore off his necktie, made a pad of the handkerchief, and bound it firmly to the back of his cousin's head, conscious, as he did so, of the fact that the bone was dented in by its contact with the stone.
"Go for help!" cried Richard, huskily.
"No, no; I can't leave you now," said the other, who stood there, white and trembling. "Andrews has gone for a doctor. Somebody else is sure to come. Oh, Frayne! what have you done?"
The lad looked up at him wildly, but he could not speak. The strange sensation of everything being unreal came over him again, and, in a dreamy way, he saw the coming of his aunt and uncle to ask him the same question; while Mark was lying, pale and cold, lifeless in his room. There was the rushing, murmuring sound of the river from close at hand, and the deep tones of the great Cathedral bell striking the hour; but to Richard's excited imagination it was tolling for his cousin's death, and thought succeeded thought now in horrible sequence.
He had in his passion killed Mark Frayne. It was in fair fight; but would people believe all this? They had quarrelled, and about that money trouble. Would people believe his version, or take the side of the dead?
Then a black cloud of misery and despair seemed to close him in, and he knelt there as it stunned—unable to think, unable to move. He could only gaze down at the pale, rigid features before him, drawing back involuntarily at last as he awoke to the fact that his companion had been down to the river to fill his hat with water, with which he began to bathe Mark Frayne's face.
Then came a buzz of voices as boys and men approached. Two or three people began at once to ask questions, which Richard Frayne could not answer, while his companion's replies were confused and wild.
"Yes, he's dead enough," said someone, coarsely, and the words seemed to echo through Richard's brain.
Then there was hurried talk about carrying him back to the town, calls for a gate or a shutter, and the little crowd constantly on the increase, till the pressure grew suffocating.
At last someone shouted—
"Here he is!" and Richard was conscious of a tall figure in black forcing its way through the crowd, scolding and ordering the people to keep back.
"How did this happen?" someone said, sharply; and Richard gazed up at the speaker, but made no reply, only stared with dilated eyes as a rapid examination was made and the rough bandage replaced.
Then, in a dreamy way, Richard Frayne saw that his cousin was lifted on to a gate, and a ragged kind of procession was formed, as the men who had raised the bars on to their shoulders stepped off together under the doctor's direction; while he seemed to be, as the nearest relative, playing the part of chief mourner.
That march back appeared endless. People joined in, others stood in front of house and shop; and the buzzing of voices increased till, panting and flurried, the great heavy figure of Mr Draycott was seen approaching without his hat.
"Can't say yet, for certain," rang ominously in Richard's ears. "Fear the worst! I want Mr Shrubsole to be fetched!"
"I'll go, sir; I'll go!" came from a couple of boys; and then Richard felt Mr Draycott's heavy hand upon his shoulder as they still went on.
"A terrible business, Frayne; a terrible business!" he said; and for the rest of the distance to the gate of the carriage drive these words kept on repeating themselves to the beat of feet and the buzz and angry excitement, as one of the policemen who had hurried up refused to let the crowd follow to the hall-door.
Then, still in the dreamy, confused way as of one half-stunned, Richard Frayne paced up and down the dining-room, hearing from time to time what was going on, for he had been sent out of his cousin's room by the doctor. Here he was conscious of the fact that his fellow-pupils all kept aloof, grouping together and talking in low tones. They were discussing the affray, he knew, and a word here and there told him that the causes of the encounter were well to the fore.
Twice over he heard something which made him draw near, but his approach was followed by a dead silence, and the blood flushed to his temples; but that was no time for angry remonstrance, and he shrank away.
"They don't know!" he muttered, as he resumed his weary walk up and down till Andrews, who acted the part of scout, entered the room to communicate what he had gathered on the stairs.
Richard went to him, but the lad avoided his eyes and turned to his companions, to whom he whispered a few words, and then went out again to get more news.
This went on over and over again, with the feeling growing on Richard that he was to be "sent to Coventry," the two who had witnessed the encounter having evidently heard a great deal that passed between the cousins and communicated the words that had fallen at the time.
All this was maddening, but it was overborne by the one dread thought— Suppose Mark really were dead, what should he do?
The leaden minutes went slowly on, and somehow he gathered that the two doctors had been performing a crucial operation and one of them had gone; and, unable to bear the suspense longer, Richard turned to go and ask for himself, when the door was opened and Jerry appeared, to raise his hand and beckon to him to come out.
Richard obeyed the sign, and hurried into the hall in the midst of a profound silence.
"How is he?" whispered the lad, excitedly; and the man shook his head.
"Don't ask me, sir," he cried. "Master wants to see you in the study."
Richard uttered a low, piteous sigh, and everything seemed to swing round him, while an intense desire came to rash wildly out of the house and hurry away anywhere—to woods, or out on some vast plain, where he would be alone to think, if it were possible, and get rid of the violent throbbing in his brain.
"Oh, I shall go mad!" he muttered.
At that moment Jerry threw open the study door, and, trying to nerve himself for the encounter, Richard entered, to find the great tutor standing, with his hands behind him, before the fireless grate.
"How is he, Mr Draycott? Pray, pray speak!" cried Richard.
"I sent for you to tell you, Frayne," said the tutor, in a low, deep voice. "Sinking fast!"
"Dying?" cried Richard, wildly. "No, no, sir; don't say that!"
"The doctors have done all they can, Frayne. He is perfectly insensible, and they say he will pass away before many hours are gone."
Richard groaned, and clapped his hands to his head, pressing them there as if to clear his brain.
"More help!" he said suddenly.
"I have telegraphed for our greatest specialist."
"And to the poor fellow's father at Cannes. A terrible business, Frayne—a terrible business!"
"Yes; but he must not die—he must not die!"
Mr Draycott was silent for a few minutes. There was much he wanted to say, but the words seemed loth to come.
"We must be prepared for the worst, Frayne," he said at last. "This is a dreadful shock."
"Yes—yes!" groaned Richard.
"And I have something very hard to say to you."
"You cannot say anything, sir, that will make me feel worse than I do."
Mr Draycott shook his head.
"It must come, Frayne," he said at last; "so we may as well get the matter over. Things look very black against you."
"Yes. Sinjohn and Andrews both saw how strange you looked when you passed them, and they followed, being agreed that something was wrong. It was observed too, by others."
"I was angry, sir—in a rage."
"Yes," said the tutor sternly. "They saw you encounter your cousin, and they heard nearly every word he said."
"And what I said, sir?"
"No. They tell me you spoke to him in a low voice, as if you were begging him not to do something, and they gathered that it was about keeping a trouble quiet."
"No, no, sir!" cried Richard wildly.
"That is how it impressed them, and they say that, when your cousin refused what you wanted, you attacked him."
"No, sir! We fought; but I acted in self-defence."
"Indeed!" said his tutor, coldly. "They heard words, too, about debt—a heavy sum—and forging—matters that should not be even known amongst the gentlemen studying here. I find, too, Frayne, that you have been mixed up with money matters."
"It is not true, sir."
"Your cousin declared you were. He was heard to say so, and if the worst comes to the worst, Frayne, his words will be believed."
"Do you mean if he dies, sir?" gasped Richard.
"I do, Frayne. I have had a letter from that Mr Simpson, and I find that he came to you this morning to be paid, and that sharp words passed between you in your room. This is all very bad, Frayne, and, confused though it is, it goes against you. The police—"
"What?" cried Richard.
"Were for arresting you at once."
"Arresting me? What for?" cried the young man, indignantly.
"For a murderous assault upon your cousin; but I would not hear of it now. I said that you would be here if it was found necessary to proceed against you."
"Oh, but this is madness, sir!" cried Richard, excitedly. "They could not do that!"
The tutor shook his head.
"We must look troubles in the face, Frayne," he said. "If matters come to the worst, there must be an inquest, and, whatever you may say, your fellow-pupils' words will have weight."
Richard literally staggered, and gazed wildly at the heavy face of his tutor, who went on slowly—
"It is a terrible business, Frayne, and a fearful blow for me. I cannot blame myself. I always treat those who study with me as gentlemen, and if the poor fellow upstairs does sink, the consequences must be crushing for you."
"Never mind me, sir; let's think of my cousin. He must get better! There, I can think more clearly now. It is as if my head does not feel so shut up and strange. I won't try to defend myself, sir; but Andrews and Sinjohn are wrong. I am innocent."
"But you struck your cousin down."
"Yes, sir; I was nearly mad with passion."
"Ah!" sighed the tutor.
"But it was in fair fighting, sir!"
"I am afraid, Frayne, it is manslaughter; and now let us bring this painful interview to a close. You will have the goodness to go up to your room, and to stay there until I ask you to come down. Stop! I think it would be better for you to have legal advice. This is all so new to me!"
"I'm going to my room—to stay there, sir—but don't do anything about me till we hear what the great doctor says; it may not be so bad. Can I see my cousin now?"
"No. The doctor's orders are that no one but the nurse is to enter his room. There, let us end this painful interview."
"I am innocent, sir, indeed!" it was upon Richard's lips to say; but the stern, doubting look on the tutor's face checked him, and he went slowly up to his room, utterly crushed as he sank into a chair, conscious the next moment that the curtain which separated it from his bedchamber was pushed aside, and Jerry appeared.
"Been a-waiting, sir. They're a-saying, sir, that you tried to kill Mr Mark Frayne because he was going to tell on you about some money troubles. It ain't true, is it, sir?"
"True!" cried Richard, flushing indignantly.
"I knowed it wasn't!" said Jerry, triumphantly. "You couldn't ha' done such a thing, S'Richard; but I wouldn't ha' believed as you could hit so hard."
"Go now, please."
"Yes, sir, just a-going; but don't you take on, sir. P'raps he'll get better; but, if he don't—well, sir, he's your cousin, but—"
"That will do; now go."
Jerry gave his mouth a slap, and hurried from the room.
DOWN IN THE DEPTHS.
Half-mad with despair and misery, one thought constantly returned with terrible persistence to Richard Frayne as he tramped up and down his prison—for so it now seemed, though neither locks nor bars stayed his way to freedom. The pleasant, handsomely-furnished room was the same as it had been only a few hours before, with musical instruments and treasured hobbies that he had collected together; and yet not the same, for it was the cell in which he was confined by the order of the man whose word had always been to him as a law, and in which he felt as firmly shut in as if he had given his parole of honour not to leave it until told to descend.
The thirst for news was again rising. Mark, they had informed him, was lying insensible, slowly sinking into eternity, and he could not go to his side, fall upon his knees, and tell him that he would sooner have suffered death than this should have happened. And there, crushing him down, as his eyes were constantly turned upon that helmet, while he tramped the room or sank upon one of the chairs, was the thought, with its maddening persistency, that it was better that his parents had not lived to see their son's position—the shame and despair which were now his lot—always that thought; for he recalled the days of sorrow, a couple of years back, when the gallant officer, whose name had been a power in India, was snatched away, and the loving wife and mother followed him within a month.
Light-hearted, of an affectionate nature, and always on the warmest terms of intimacy with his fellow-pupils, his position now seemed to him doubly hard in his loneliness, for not one had come near him to take him by the hand. The words raved out in the quarrel had run through them and hardened all against him. They could have sympathised with him in the terrible result of the encounter; but the dishonourable, criminal act which his cousin's charge had fixed upon him soured all, and they readily obeyed the principal's wish that he should be left to himself.
There were times when it seemed impossible to him that the charge he had made should so have recoiled and fixed itself upon him; but, by a strange perverseness, thus it was, and, saving by the servant, hardly a friendly word had been spoken.
"Am I going mad?" he muttered, as he tramped up and down, holding his throbbing head. "It seems more than I can bear!"
It was evening now, a glorious summer evening; with the mellow sunshine lighting up the lake-like meadows, for the river was far out of bounds and spreading still; but Richard Frayne saw nothing through the black cloud which seemed to shut him in. Then all at once, sending an electric thrill through him, there was a sharp tap at the door, and he turned to meet the visitor.
Only Jerry, who came in bearing a napkin-covered tray, holding it resting upon the edge as he cleared a space upon the table.
"Well?" cried Richard, hoarsely.
"Your dinner, sir, that I was to bring up."
"How is he? How is he?" panted Richard.
The man looked at him sadly, shook his head, and went on clearing a place for the tray.
"Why don't you speak?" cried Richard, fiercely. "Not—not—?"
He could not finish.
"No, sir; and the big doctor hasn't got here yet. There you are, sir. Now do sit down and eat a bit; you must want something!"
"Take it away!"
"No, no, sir; do, please, try!"
"Take it away, I tell you!"
Jerry stood looking at him piteously, rubbing his hands one over the other as if he were washing them.
"I know it goes agin' you, sir, of course; but you ought, sir; indeed, you ought!"
"Tell me," cried Richard, "who is with him?"
"The doctor, sir, and the nurse; and master's always going up and down. I met him only just now that upset and white it gave me quite a turn. He shook his head at me. 'A terrible business, Brigley, very!' he says; 'a terrible business! I wouldn't have had it happen for a thousand pounds!'"
"There, go away now, Jerry! Pray, pray, don't stop! Take all that down!"
"No, sir; I can't do that!" said the man. "It was master's orders, and you must really try to eat."
Richard sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands, but only sprang up the next minute upon feeling his shoulder touched, and saw the man leaning over him.
"Can't I do nothing for you, S'Richard?" whispered Jerry. "I'd do anything for you, sir; indeed, I would."
"Go to my cousin's room and wait till you can get some news. Jerry, if it comes to the worst, I shall go mad."
The man looked at him compassionately, and then went out on tiptoe, to return after an interval to thrust in his head, which he gave a mournful shake, and then withdrew.
The evening passed and the night was gliding on, with Richard still pacing the room from time to time, when Jerry once more came to the door, glided in, closed it, and hurriedly whispered—
"The doctor's down from London, sir, and he's still in Mr Mark's room."
"What does he say?" cried Richard, wildly.
"Can't tell yet, sir; but as soon as ever I hear I'll come back."
Jerry crept away, and the prisoner sat down once more to think. He felt that he would soon know now—that he would shortly have to face the awful truth—and a chilling feeling of despair came upon him with redoubled violence; while, as he sat there, he gave up all hope. There was the future to face, and now a great change seemed to come over him, as if it were the energy begotten of despair.
There was the worst to face, with the inquest, the examination, and the possibility of the wrong construction still being placed upon his acts. Everything had gone against him, everything would continue to go against him, and he told himself that it was impossible to face it. His word seemed to go for nothing; and, yielding to the horror of his position, he sat there in the darkest part of his room, wishing earnestly that he could exchange places with the unhappy lad lying yonder between life and death.
Suddenly he started, for, sounding solemn and strange in the midnight air, the bell of the Cathedral boomed out the hour, the long-drawn strokes of the hammer seeming as if they would never come to an end; while, when the last stroke fell, it was succeeded in the silence of the night by a dull, quivering vibration that slowly died away.
And there, with overstrained nerves, Richard Frayne sat, waiting still for the coming of the news. He must have that, he told himself, before he could act; but still it did not come.
Twice over he went to the door, with the intention of opening it to listen, but he shrank away.
No. He felt that he was a prisoner, and he could not lay a hand upon the lock. He would wait until the man came.
But it was half-past one before the door was opened and Jerry stole in on tiptoe.
"Think I wasn't a-coming, sir?" he said, sadly.
"The news!—the news!" gasped Richard.
Jerry was silent, as he stood gazing wistfully at the inquirer.
"Can't you see that I am dying to hear?" cried the lad imploringly.
"Yes, sir," came in a broken voice; "but I've got that to tell you that'll break your 'art as well, sir."
"Then it is the worst?" groaned Richard.
"Yes, sir: master told me. He rang for me to tell me as soon as the doctor had gone to the hotel. I let him out, sir. Yes, sir, master rung for me to tell me; and, of course, he meant it so that I might come up and tell you. 'Brigley,' he says, 'the doctor gives us no hope at all. There was a piece of bone pressing on the brain, he says, and this the doctors removed; but the shock was too much for the poor fellow, and he won't last the night.'"
Richard sat back in his chair, rigid, as if cut in stone, and Jerry went on—
"Don't look like that, sir; don't, please! You wanted me to tell you. It was my dooty, sir; and now, sir, you know the worst, do take a bit of advice, sir. Even if you don't undress, go and lie down, and have a good sleep till morning. There, sir, I must, too. I'll bring you a cup of tea about six, sir. Good-night, sir."
"Good-night," said Richard, quietly.
"Ah, that's better," said Jerry to himself. "Now he knows the worst, he's easier like. What's o'clock?"
He drew a big-faced watch from his pocket by its steel chain.
"Harpus one; not much time for my snooze. I'll just go and make up cook's fire, put the kettle over, and have a nap there. It's no use to go to bed now."
Jerry did as he had promised to himself, and finally sank back in a kind of Windsor chair, dropping off to sleep the next instant, and, by force of habit, waking just at the time he had arranged in his mind.
"Ten minutes to six," he muttered, smiling. "I've got a head like a 'larum. Just upon the boil, too," he added, addressing the kettle, as he changed it from the trivet on to the glowing coals.
The clocks were striking six as he went softly upstairs with a little tray, and, turning the handle, entered Richard Frayne's room, where one of the windows was open; and all looked bright and cheery in the early morning sunshine as he set the tray down upon the table beside the larger one, which showed that some bread had been broken off, but the rest of the contents were untouched.
"It's a shame to wake him," thought Jerry; "cup o' tea's a fine thing when you're tired out, but a good long sleep's a deal better. Poor chap, I won't disturb him, but I'll take the tea in and put it on a chair by his bedside. He shall see as I didn't forget him in trouble. On'y to think him a real gent with a handle to his name and lots of money to come in for when he's one-and-twenty. Right as a trivet yes'day morning and now in such a hobble as this, just like any common chap as goes and kills his mate. They can't hang him, but I s'pose they'll give it to him pretty hot, poor chap! Juries is such beasts, they'd take 'n give it to him hard because he's a real gent, and make as though keeping up the glorious constitootion and freedom and liberty of the subject to everybody alike. Well, I s'pose it's right, but I'd let him off in a minute if I was the judge.—Come on!"
This was to the tea, whose fragrance he sniffed as he neared the waiter, and went softly to the archway where the curtain shut off the bedroom.
"Poor boy!—for he is nothing but a boy—I am sorry for him, and no mistake. Well, ups and downs in life we see, and you can't escape troubles, even if you're a Prince o' Wales."
Jerry softly drew the curtain aside and peered through without a sound; and as he let the heavy drapery fall, he uttered an ejaculation, put the tray on the washstand, and swung the heavy curtains right along the brass pole, making the rings give quite a clash, as the morning sun shone through, showing that the bed had not been disturbed.
In an instant the man's eyes were searching about the room, and he saw that a suit of clothes lay where they had been tossed upon a chair, while a wardrobe door was open.
He darted to that, made a hasty examination, and muttered—
"Brown velveteens! No, it ain't. Here they are. It's his dark tweeds, and—no—yes: dark stockings."
He continued his examination in the bedroom, but could make out nothing else.
"Only gone for a walk before anyone's up, poor chap! Hadn't the heart to go to bed. More hadn't I at the time. He ain't taken nothing. He can't have—he wouldn't have—I don't know though—I—oh, he couldn't have—Let's see—"
He hurried downstairs and went to the front door, then to the dining-room, drawing-room, and study, as well as the room set apart for the pupils; but the windows were closed, and he went slowly upstairs again to pause by the staircase window.
"A man might step out here on to the balcony and shut it down again, and easily drop. But no: he can't have done that."
With his mind bent upon getting some clue as to the young man's actions, Jerry turned back to his room and once more looked round.
"No," he said thoughtfully, "he couldn't do that; it would be cowardly, and he's got too much pluck. He'd have taken some things, too and he hasn't done that."
As Jerry spoke his eyes were turning everywhere in search of a clue; but he saw nothing till they fell upon the tray, toward which he sprang with a cry, for he had now caught sight of a piece of paper folded like a note and bearing his name.
He tore it open, and read only these words:—
"Good-bye, Jerry. You were the only one to stand by me to the last. Take my gold fox-head pin for yourself. I cannot face it all. I feel half-mad."
JERRY SEES THE WORST.
"Off his nut!" gasped Jerry, excitedly. "Who wants his fox-pin? I wants him. Couldn't stand it!—half-dotty!"
He looked wildly round, and then his eyes lit upon the glittering waters of the swollen river spreading far and near, and he once more uttered a cry.
"The river!" he exclaimed. "It's that!" and, rushing out of the room, he leaped headlong down the stairs, making for the pantry, where he caught up his hat.
The next minute he was running along the main road, instinctively feeling that this was the way anyone would take who wished to reach the river.
He did not meet a soul for the first few hundred yards, and then came suddenly, at a turn, upon a farmer's man, in long smock-frock, driving a flock of sheep, and looking as if he had come far along the dusty road, perhaps travelling since daylight.
"Meet a young gent in dark-grey soot and brown billycock hat?" panted Jerry.
"Ay! Two mile along the road."
"Which way was he going?"
"Simmed to be making for lower lane; but it's all under water, and he'll have to go round."
"All under water!" muttered Jerry, as he ran on rapidly. "Two miles— and me sitting sleeping there like a pig. That's it—that's what he meant! What did he say?—'Couldn't face it?' If I could only get there in time! He must have been cracked! He must have been mad! He's gone to drown hisself and get out of his misery, just like the high-sperretted gent he is. I know: gents don't think like we do. It's the Latin and Greek makes 'em classic and honourable, and they'd sooner die than get a bad name. It's all right, I suppose; but it seems stoopid to me, when you know you ain't done nothing wrong."
"Now, let me see," thought Jerry. "I say he's come this road, because he wouldn't go and chuck hisself in the river up by the ruins, because he'd have had enough o' them; so he's come down here this way, and he's found it ain't so easy as he thought; for you can't get to the water for far enough, if you want a good deep place. Chap can't go and drown hisself in fields where it's only six inches deep, without he goes and lies down in a ditch. Gent couldn't do that. Be like dying dog-fashion! I know what he's gone to do: he's made for Brailey Bridge, where he could go over into a deep hole at once. Only wish I was alongside of him; I'd say something as would bring him to his senses."
And as Jerry trotted on, he passed turning after turning leading to fords or down by the river, for the simple reason that, during the night, the waters had come swirling down at such a rate that the whole of the river meadows were widely flooded; but it meant his getting more rapidly to Brailey Bridge, a couple of miles from the town, for he was forced into avoiding the winding low road, which followed the curves and doublings back of the river, and making short cuts, which brought him at last, breathless and panting, in sight of something which made him stare and, for the moment, forget his mission.
For, as he trotted on, he obtained a glimpse of the rushing, foaming river tearing away, pretty well now beneath its banks, which were high at the spot where the bridge, an antique wooden structure, had spanned it with its clumsy piles. The great double wedge-shaped pier of oak timbers, rotten and blackened with age, and which had supported the roadway as it divided the river in two, was gone, and the remains of the bridge were gradually being torn away.
Jerry drew his breath hard, and his throat felt dry, as he ran nearer, descending the slope towards where the road ended suddenly, and thinking of how the spot he approached was exactly such an one as would tempt a half-maddened person to run right on, make one desperate plunge into the muddy flood, and then and there be swept away.
He paused at last, standing in a dangerous place, at the very edge of the broken bridge, gazing down into the hurrying waters, which hissed and gurgled beneath him, lapping at the slimy piles which remained; and, hot and dripping with perspiration as he was, he shivered, and felt as if icy hands were touching him as he wiped his brow.
"It's too horrid! too horrid!" he groaned, in the full belief that he was standing right on the place from which Richard Frayne had taken a desperate plunge. "Why, a score of his chums had better have died than him! I didn't ought never to ha' left him last night, seeing what a state he was in. You might ha' saved his life, Jerry, and done more good than you'll ever do blacking boots and brushing clothes, if yer lives to a hundred and ten."
He looked wildly to the right, and saw that the pollard willows were rising just out of the water, like heads with the hair standing on end. There were great patches of fresh hay floating swiftly down, and, closer at hand, something white rolling over and over, and he shuddered; but it was only the carcase of a drowned sheep, one of several more which had probably been surrounded in some meadow and swept away. Directly after, lowing dismally, and swimming hard to save itself, a bullock came down rapidly, with its muzzle and a narrow line of backbone alone showing above the surface.
But Jerry knew well enough that no boat could live in the rushing water which swirled along; and, unless the poor beast could swim into some eddy and manage to get ashore, its fate was sealed.
The man's eyes followed the animal as it passed by the broken bridge and was swept on more rapidly downward as soon as it was below.
"I came too late—I came too late!" groaned Jerry, as he still watched the bullock, his eyes at the same time noting how the river had passed over the bank on the other side and spread along meadows, and how it was threatening to lap over the road which ran upon his side away down to the mill, where the weir crossed the river and the eel-bucks stood in a row between the piles.
"Yes, I've come too late, and I shall see that poor brute sink directly. Shall I go on down by the mill?"
He shook his head. The bullock was going faster than he could have walked, and, if anyone had plunged into the river from where he stood, he must have been swept miles away in his journey onward to the sea.
"And we shall never find him!" he muttered. "Gone! gone!"
He was going to say "Gone!" again—for the third time—but a hoarse utterance escaped his lips instead, and he made a sudden movement to climb over the rail and let himself down into the narrow cross-road which ran to the mill.
But, as he grasped the open fence, all power of action left him, and he stood, as if paralysed, staring at that which had caught his eye.
There, far away toward the mill, dwarfed by distance, but clearly seen in the bright morning air, a figure had started up, run for a few yards along the bank, and suddenly plunged in the flooded river. Jerry saw the splashed water glitter in the sunshine and then, indistinctly, a head reappear and remain in sight for some few minutes as its owner floated or swam. Then a curve of the river hid it from his sight, and he recovered his power of action again. Climbing the rail, he scrambled down the side of the raised roadway, reached the bank, and started running.
It was a mile to the mill, and in how many minutes Jerry covered the distance he never knew, but he pulled up short in the mill-yard, to find that he could go no farther; for the waters were well out beyond, and went swinging round a curve at a terrific rate, the river being narrowed here by the piers, buttresses, and piles upon which the mill-buildings had been reared. The tops of the pier-piles showed in two places, but that was all, and, though he climbed up the ladder leading to a whitened door in the side of the building, he could see nothing but the waste of hurrying water gleaming in the sunshine, and felt that the building was quivering from the pressure of the flood.
Jerry clung to the handle of the door at the top of the steps, and the flour came off white upon his Oxford mixture coat as he turned dizzy and sick in his hurry and despair, for he knew that the figure he had seen must be that of Richard Frayne, and he had come too late!
"He must have seen me," groaned Jerry; "and just as he was a-hesitating he thought I'd come to drag him back, and he went in. Nothing couldn't save him, and I seem to have drove him to his end."
In his own mind he wanted no endorsement of the correctness of his idea. He had been sure that Richard had taken this route when he started from the house; he had seen him; and it was all over.
But the endorsement came, for just then, heard above the rushing of the river along the back-water and beneath the mill, where the huge revolving wheel worked, came a loud "Ahoy!"
Turning quickly, Jerry saw, from his coign of vantage, the white figure of the miller coming quickly down the road, waving his arms as if he had once owned a wind-mill instead of a water-mill, and was imitating the action of the sails.
"Hoi! come down from there," bawled the big, bluff fellow, as he came within hearing. "'Tain't safe! I made all my people clear out last night, and 'spected to see it gone by mornin'. Oh, it's you, Mister Brigley. Looking for your young gent?"
"Yes! Seen him?" cried Jerry wildly.
"Ay, bit ago, when I were down before. He'd come down to see if the mill was safe, I s'pose."
"But—it was—our young gent?"
"I say, don't look so scared," cried the miller, good-humouredly. "I didn't mean to frighten you; but I shouldn't be a bit surprised if the old place comes toppling down; and it will, if the water rises much more. You're safe enough here."
"But, tell me," panted Jerry, who did not want telling, "it was our young gent?"
"Ay, him as come fishing with the others, and sat out on the weir yonder, tootling on that little pipe of his? Here! what's the matter with you, man?"
"A boat! a boat!" gasped Jerry.
"A boat! what for? Mine's got a plank out of it, and, if it hadn't, you couldn't use it now."
"But he's gone down! I see him jump in!"
"What!" yelled the miller, seizing Jerry excitedly by the collar. "Nonsense! He's gone back by now."
"I—I was on the bridge."
"There ain't no bridge!" growled the miller: "swep' away."
"But I was over yonder—saw him jump in."
"Yes, and came here fast as I could."
The miller turned to look down the rushing river, and took off his white felt hat, drew out a red cotton handkerchief, and began to mop his wet brow.
"Then Heaven have mercy on him, poor lad! for he'll never get to shore alive."
"But he could swim," said Jerry, feebly.
"Swim? Who's to swim in water like that? Never! I saw a whole drove of sheep go down this morning, and a half a dozen bullocks. The river's too much for them as can swim."
"But—but, man. Ah! what was he doing to jump in?"
"Haven't you heard?" groaned Jerry, speaking to the miller, and staring wildly down stream the while. "He got into dreadful trouble yesterday. Killed his cousin!"
"Come down here to end hisself, I s'pose!"
"Then he's done it, poor lad!" said the miller, solemnly.
"But couldn't we do nothing? Couldn't we try and help him?" whined Jerry, piteously.
"No, my lad, not with the water rooshing down like this; it's beyond human work, and—Hi! run—run!"
He caught at Jerry again, and the two men started to run for a few yards, then turned to look back, as, after several warning cracks, the whole of the great white timber-built mill literally crumbled down over its undermined foundations and disappeared in the surging waters.
"I knowed it!" panted the miller. "Poor old place! I've spent many a happy year there. Well, I come in time to save your life, squire."
"And I come to try and save his, but not in time," groaned Jerry. "Oh, my poor dear lad!" he continued, as he leaned his arm against a tree and bent his head upon it to weep aloud, "you were the master, and I'm only a servant, but I'd ha' most give my life to ha' saved yours, that I would. Yes!" he cried, fiercely, now in a wild, hysterical voice; "it would ha' been better if you, too, hadn't come in time!"
ANOTHER TURN OF THE WHEEL.
As if heartily ashamed of his weakness, Jerry suddenly straightened himself up, and turned angrily upon the miller.
"Don't you never go and say you saw me making such a fool of myself!" he cried.
The man shook his head.
"Think it's any good to go up to the town for a boat?"
"If you want to drown yourself," was the reply. "I wouldn't trust myself in no boat till the water goes down. I shouldn't mind the rowing down; but you'd never know where you'd got to, and be capsized on a willow stump, or against some hedge, before you had gone a mile."