VI. The Conclusion of the Adventure with the Lady with the Silver Veil

Nor did he check his precipitous flight until suddenly, being led perhaps by some strange influence of which he was not at all the master, he discovered himself to be standing before the garden-gate where not more than an hour before he had first entered upon the series of monstrous adventures that had led to such tremendous conclusions.

People were still passing and repassing, and one of these groups--a party of young ladies and gentlemen--paused upon the opposite side of the street to observe, with no small curiosity and amusement, his dripping and bedraggled aspect. But only one thought and one intention possessed our hero--to relieve himself as quickly as possible of that trust which he had taken up so thoughtlessly, and with such monstrous results to himself and to his victims. He ran to the gate of the garden and began beating and kicking upon it with a vehemence that he could neither master nor control. He was aware that the entire neighborhood was becoming aroused, for he beheld lights moving and loud voices of inquiry; yet he gave not the least thought to the disturbance he was creating, but continued without intermission his uproarious pounding upon the gate.

At length, in answer to the sound of his vehement blows, the little wicket was opened and a pair of eyes appeared thereat. The next instant the gate was cast ajar very hastily, and the pock-pitted negress appeared. She caught him by the sleeve of his coat and drew him quickly into the garden. "Buckra, Buckra!" she cried. "What you doing? You wake de whole town!" Then, observing his dripping garments: "You been in de water. You catch de fever and shake till you die."

"Thy mistress!" cried Jonathan, almost sobbing in the excess of his emotion; "take me to her upon the instant, or I cannot answer for my not going entirely mad!"

When our hero was again introduced to the lady, he found her clad in a loose and an elegant negligee, infinitely becoming to her graceful figure, and still covered with the veil of silver gauze that had before enveloped her.

"Friend," he cried, vehemently, approaching her and holding out toward her the little ivory ball, "take again this which thou gavest me! It has brought death to three men, and I know not what terrible fate may befall me if I keep it longer in my possession.

"What is it you say?" cried she, in a piercing voice. "Did you say it hath caused the death of three men? Quick! Tell me what has happened, for I feel somehow a presage that you bring me news of safety and release from all my dangers."

"I know not what thou meanest!" cried Jonathan, still panting with agitation. "But this I do know: that when I went away from thee I departed an innocent man, and now I come back to thee burdened with the weight of three lives, which, though innocent I have been instrumental in taking."

"Explain!" exclaimed the lady, tapping the floor with her foot. "Explain! explain! explain!"

"That I will," cried Jonathan, "and as soon as I am able! When I left thee and went out into the street I was accosted by a little gentleman clad in black."

"Indeed!" cried the lady; "and had he but one eye, and did he carry a gold-headed cane?"

"Exactly," said Jonathan; "and he claimed acquaintance with friend Jeremiah Doolittle."

"He never knew him!" cried the lady, vehemently; "and I must tell you that he was a villain named Hunt, who at one time was the intimate consort of the pirate Keitt. He it was who plunged a deadly knife into his captain's bosom, and so murdered him in this very house. He himself or his agents, must have been watching my gate when you went forth."

"I know not how that may be," said Jonathan, "but he took me to his apartment, and there, obtaining a knowledge of the trust thou didst burden me with, he demanded it of me, and upon my refusing to deliver it to him he presently fell to attacking me with a dagger. In my efforts to protect my life I inadvertently caused him to plunge the knife into his own bosom and to kill himself."

"And what then?" cried the lady, who appeared well-nigh distracted with her emotions.

"Then," said Jonathan, "there came a strange man--a foreigner--who upon his part assaulted me with a pistol, with every intention of murdering me and thus obtaining possession of that same little trifle."

And did he," exclaimed the lady, "have long, black mustachios, and did he have silver ear-rings in his ears?"

"Yes," said Jonathan, "he did."

"That," cried the lady, could have been none other than Captain Keitt's Portuguese sailing-master, who must have been spying upon Hunt! Tell me what happened next!"

"He would have taken my life," said Jonathan, "but in the struggle that followed he shot himself accidentally with his own pistol, and died at my very feet. I do not know what would have happened to me if a sea-captain had not come and proffered his assistance."

"A sea-captain!" she exclaimed; "and had he a flat face and a broken nose?"

"Indeed he had," replied Jonathan.

"That," said the lady, "must have been Captain Keitt's pirate partner--Captain Willitts, of The Bloody Hand. He was doubtless spying upon the Portuguese."

"He induced me," said Jonathan, "to carry the two bodies down to the wharf. Having inveigled me there--where, I suppose, he thought no one could interfere--he assaulted me, and endeavored to take the ivory ball away from me. In my efforts to escape we both fell into the water, and he, striking his head upon the edge of the wharf, was first stunned and then drowned."

"Thank God!" cried the lady, with a transport of fervor, and clasping her jewelled hands together. "At last I am free of those who have heretofore persecuted me and threatened my very life itself! You have asked to behold my face; I will now show it to you! Heretofore I have been obliged to keep it concealed lest, recognizing me, my enemies should have slain me." As she spoke she drew aside her veil, and disclosed to the vision of our hero a countenance of the most extraordinary and striking beauty. Her luminous eyes were like those of a Jawa, and set beneath exquisitely arched and pencilled brows. Her forehead was like lustrous ivory and her lips like rose-leaves. Her hair, which was as soft as the finest silk, was fastened up in masses of ravishing abundance. "I am," said she, "the daughter of that unfortunate Captain Keitt, who, though weak and a pirate, was not so wicked, I would have you know, as he has been painted. He would, doubtless, have been an honest man had he not been led astray by the villain Hunt, who so nearly compassed your own destruction. He returned to this island before his death, and made me the sole heir of all that great fortune which he had gathered--perhaps not by the most honest means--in the waters of the Indian Ocean. But the greatest treasure of all that fortune bequeathed to me was a single jewel which you yourself have just now defended with a courage and a fidelity that I cannot sufficiently extol. It is that priceless gem known as the Ruby of Kishmoor. I will show it to you." Hereupon she took the little ivory ball in her hand, and, with a turn of her beautiful wrists, unscrewed a lid so nicely and cunningly adjusted that no eye could have detected where it was joined to the parent globe. Within was a fleece of raw silk containing an object which she presently displayed before the astonished gaze of our hero. It was a red stone of about the bigness of a plover's egg, and which glowed and flamed with such an exquisite and ruddy brilliancy as to dazzle even Jonathan's inexperienced eyes. Indeed, he did not need to be informed of the priceless value of the treasure, which he beheld in the rosy palm extended toward him. How long he gazed at this extraordinary jewel he knew not, but he was aroused from his contemplation by the sound of the lady's voice addressing him. "The three villains," said she, "who have this day met their deserts in a violent and bloody death, had by an accident obtained knowledge that this jewel was in my possession. Since then my life has hung upon a thread, and every step that I have taken has been watched by these enemies, the most cruel and relentless that it was ever the lot of any unfortunate to possess. From the mortal dangers of their machinations you have saved me, exhibiting a courage and a determination that cannot be sufficiently applauded. In this you have earned my deepest admiration and regard. I would rather," she cried, "intrust my life and my happiness to you than into the keeping of any man whom I have ever known! I cannot hope to reward you in such a way as to recompense you for the perils into which my necessities have thrust you; but yet"--and here she hesitated, as though seeking for words in which to express herself--"but yet if you are willing to accept of this jewel, and all of the fortune that belongs to me, together with the person of poor Evaline Keitt herself, not only the stone and the wealth, but the woman also, are yours to dispose of as you see fit!"

Our hero was so struck aback at this unexpected turn that he knew not upon the instant what reply to make. "Friend," said he, at last, "I thank thee extremely for thy offer, and, though I would not be ungracious, it is yet borne in upon me to testify to thee that as to the stone itself and the fortune--of which thou speakest, and of which I very well know the history--I have no inclination to receive either the one or the other, both the fruits of theft, rapine, and murder. The jewel I have myself beheld three times stained, as it were, with the blood of my fellow-man, so that it now has so little value in my sight that I would not give a peppercorn to possess it. Indeed, there is no inducement in the world that could persuade me to accept it, or even to take it again into my hand. As to the rest of thy generous offer, I have only to say that I am, four months hence, to be married to a very comely young woman of Kensington, in Pennsylvania, by name Martha Dobbs, and therefore I am not at all at liberty to consider my inclinations in any other direction."

Having so delivered himself, Jonathan bowed with such ease as his stiff and awkward joints might command, and thereupon withdrew from the presence of the charmer, who, with cheeks suffused with blushes and with eyes averted, made no endeavor to detain him.

So ended the only adventure of moment that ever happened to him in all his life. For thereafter he contented himself with such excitement as his mercantile profession and his extremely peaceful existence might afford.