A Perilous Secret by Charles Reade
Chapter XIII. The Serpent Let Loose.
Walter Clifford was so distressed at this outburst, and the prospect of actual litigation between his father and his sweetheart's father, that Julia Clifford pitied him, and, after thinking a little, said she would stop it for the present. She then sat down, and in five minutes the docile pen of a female letter-writer produced an ingratiating composition impossible to resist. She apologized for her apparent insincerity, but would be candid, and confide the whole truth to Mr. Bell. Then she told him that Colonel Clifford "had only just been saved from death by a miracle, and a relapse was expected in case of any great excitement or irritation, such as a doubtful lawsuit with a gentleman he disliked would certainly cause. The proposed litigation was, for various reasons, most distressing to his son and successor, Walter Clifford, and would Mr. Bell be so very kind as to put the question off as long as possible by any means he thought proper?"
Walter was grateful, and said, "What a comfort to have a lady on one's side!"
"I would rather have a gentleman on mine," said Julia, laughing.
Mr. Bell wrote a discreet reply. He would wait till the Assizes--six weeks' delay--and then write to the Colonel, postponing his visit. This he did, and promised to look up cases meantime.
But these two allies not only baffled their irascible chief; they also humored him to the full. They never mentioned the name of Bartley, and they kept Percy Fitzroy out of sight in spite of his remonstrances, and, in a word, they made the Colonel's life so smooth that he thought he was going to have his own way in everything, and he improved in health and spirits; for you know it is an old saying, "Always get your own way, and you'll never die in a pet."
And then what was still a tottering situation was kept on its legs by the sweet character and gentle temper of Mary Bartley.
We have already mentioned that she was superior to most women in the habit of close attention to whatever she undertook. This was the real key to her facility in languages, history, music, drawing, and calisthenics, as her professor called female gymnastics. The flexible creature's limbs were in secret steel. She could go thirty feet up a slack rope hand over hand with wonderful ease and grace, and hang by one hand for ten minutes to kiss the other to her friends. So the very day she was surprised into consenting to marry Walter secretly she sat down to the Marriage Service and learned it all by heart directly, and understood most of it.
By this means she realized that now she had another man to obey as well as her father. So now, when Walter pressed her for secret meetings, she said, submissively, "Oh yes, if you insist." She even remarked that she concluded clandestine meetings were the natural consequence of a clandestine marriage.
She used to meet her husband in the day when she could, and often for five minutes under the moon. And she even promised to spend two or three days with him at the lakes if a safe opportunity should occur. But for that she stipulated that Mr. Hope must be absent.
Walter asked her why she was more afraid of Mr. Hope than of her father.
Her eyes seemed to look inward dimly, and at first she said she didn't know. But after pondering the matter a little she said, "Because he watches me more closely than papa, and that is because--You won't tell anybody?"
"Not a soul, upon your honor?"
"Not a soul, dearest, upon my honor."
"Well, then, because he loves me more."
"Oh, come!" said Walter, incredulously.
But Mary would neither resign her opinion nor pursue a subject which puzzled and grieved her.
We have now indicated the peaceful tenor of things in Derbyshire for a period of some months. We shall have to show by-and-by that elements of discord were accumulating under the surface; but at present we must leave Derbyshire, and deal very briefly with another tissue of events, beginning years ago, and running to a date three months, at least, ahead of Colonel Clifford's recovery. The reader will have no reason to regret this apparent interruption. Our tale hitherto has been rather sluggish; but it is in narrative as it is in nature, when two streams unite their forces the current becomes broader and stronger.
Leonard Monckton was sent to Pentonville, and after some years transferred to Portland. In both places he played the game of an old hand; always kept his temper and carnied everybody, especially the chaplain and the turnkeys. These last he treated as his only masters; and if they gave him short weight in bread or meat, catch him making matters worse by appealing to the governor! Toward the end of his time at Pentonville he had some thought of suicide, but his spirits revived at Portland, where he was cheered by the conversation of other villains. Their name was legion; but as he never met one of them again, except Ben Burnley, all those miscreants are happily irrelevant. And the reader need not fear an introduction to them, unless he should find himself garroted in some dark street or suburb, or his home rifled some dark and windy night. As for Ben Burnley, he was from the North country, imprisoned for conspiracy and manslaughter in an attack upon non-union miners. Toward the end of his time he made an attack upon a warder, and got five years more. Then Monckton showed him he was a fool, and explained to him his own plan of conduct, and bade him observe how popular he was with the warders, and reaped all the favor they dared to show him.
"He treated me like a dog," said the man, sullenly.
"I saw it," said Leonard. "And if I had been you I would have said nothing, but waited till my time was out, and then watched for him till he got his day out, and settled his hash. That is the way for your sort. As for me, killing is a poor revenge; it is too soon over. Do you think I don't mean to be revenged on that skunk Bartley, and, above all, on that scoundrel Hope, who planted the swag in my pockets, and let me into this hole for fourteen years?" Then, with all his self-command, he burst into a torrent of curses, and his pale face was ghastly with hate, and his eyes glared with demoniac fire, for hell raged in his heart.
Just then a warder approached, and to Burnley's surprise, who did not see him coming, Monckton said, gently, "And therefore, my poor fellow, do just consider that you have broken the law, and the warders are only doing their duty and earning their bread, and if you were a warder to-morrow, you'd have to do just what they do."
"Ay," said the warder, in passing, "you may lecture the bloke, but you will not make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
That was true, but nevertheless the smooth villain Monckton obtained a great ascendency over this rough, shock-headed ruffian Burnley, and he got into no more scrapes. He finished his two sentences, and left before Monckton. This precious pair revealed to each other certain passages in their beautiful lives. Monckton's were only half-confidences, but Burnley told Monckton he had been concerned with others in a burglary at Stockton, and also in the death of an overseer in a mine in Wales, and gave the particulars with a sort of quaking gusto, and washing his hands nervously in the tainted air all the time. To be sure the overseer had earned his fate; he had himself been guilty of a crime--he had been true to his employer.
The grateful Burnley left Portland at last, and promised faithfully to send word to a certain friend of Monckton's, in London, where he was, and what he was doing. Meantime he begged his way northward from Portland, for the southern provinces were a dead letter to him.
Monckton's wife wrote to him as often as the rules of the jail permitted, and her letters were full of affection, and of hope that their separation would be shortened. She went into all the details of her life, and it was now a creditable one. Young women are educated practically in Germany; and Lucy was not only a good scholar, and almost a linguist, but excellent at all needlework, and, better still, could cut dresses and other garments in the best possible style. After one or two inferior places, she got a situation with an English countess; and from that time she was passed as a treasure from one member of the aristocracy to another, and received high stipends, and presents of at least equal value. Being a German, she put by money, and let her husband know it. But in the seventh year of her enforced widowhood her letters began to undergo subtle changes, one after another.
First there were little exhibitions of impatience. Then there were signs of languor and a diminution of gush.
Then there were stronger protestations of affection than ever.
Then there were mixed with these protestations queries whether the truest affection was not that which provided for the interests of the beloved person.
Then in the eighth year of Monckton's imprisonment she added to remarks of the above kind certain confessions that she was worn out with anxieties, and felt her lonely condition; that youth and beauty did not last forever; that she had let slip opportunities of doing herself substantial service, and him too, if he could look at things as coolly now as he used to; and she began to think she had done wrong.
This line once adopted was never given up, though it was accompanied once or twice with passionate expressions of regret at the vanity of long-cherished hopes. Then came a letter, or two more in which the fair writer described herself as torn this way and that way, and not knowing what to do for the best, and inveighed against Fate.
Then came a long silence.
Then came a short letter imploring him, if he loved her as she loved him, to try and forget her, except as one who would always watch over his interests, and weep for him in secret.
"Crocodile!" said Monckton, with a cold sneer.
All this showed him it was his interest not to lose his hold on her. So he always wrote to her in a beautiful strain of faith, affection, and constancy.
But this part of the comedy was cut short by the lady discontinuing the correspondence and concealing her address for years.
"Ah!" said Monckton, "she wants to cure me. That cock won't fight, my beauty. A month before he was let loose upon society came a surprise--a letter from his wife, directing him to call at the office of a certain solicitor in Serjeant's Inn, Fleet Street, when he would receive L50 upon his personal receipt, and a similar sum from time to time, provided he made no attempt to discover her, or in any way disturb her life. 'Oh, Leonard,' said she, 'you ruined me once. Pray do not destroy me again. You may be sure I am not happy; but I am in peace and comfort, and I am old enough to know their value. Dear Leonard, I offer them both to you. Pray, pray do not despise them, and, whatever you do, do not offend against the law again. You see how strong it is.'"
Monckton read this with calm indifference. He did not expect a woman to give him a pension unconditionally, or without some little twaddle by way of drawback. He called on the lawyer, and sent in his name. He was received by the lawyer in person, and eyed very keenly. "I am directed to call here for L50, sir," said he.
"Yes, Mr. Monckton. I believe the payment is conditional."
"No, sir; not the first L50. It is the future payments that are to depend upon my conniving at my wife's infidelity;" and with that he handed him the letter.
The lawyer perused it, and said: "You are right, sir. The L50 shall be paid to you immediately; but we must request you to consider that our client is your friend, and acts by our advice, and that it will not be either graceful or delicate to interpret her conduct to her discredit."
"My good sir," said Monckton, with one of his cynical sneers, "every time your client pays me L50, put on the receipt that black is white in matters of conjugal morality, and I'll sign the whole acknowledgment."
Finding he had such a serpent to deal with, the lawyer cut the dialogue short, and paid the money. However, as Monckton was leaving, he said: "You can write to us when you want any more, and would it be discreet of me to ask where we can address you?"
"Why not?" said Monckton. "I have nothing to conceal. However, all I can tell you at present is that I am going to Hull to try and find a couple of rogues."
To Hull he went, breathing avarice and vengeance. This dangerous villain was quite master of Bartley's secret, and Hope's. To be sure, when Hope first discovered him in Bartley's office, he was puzzled at the sudden interference of that stranger. He had only seen Hope's back until this, and, moreover, Hope had been shabbily dressed in black cloth hard worn, whereas he was in a new suit of tweed when he exposed Monckton's villainy. But this was explained at the trial, and Monckton instructed his attorney to cross-examine Hope about his own great fraud; but counsel refused to do so, either because he disbelieved his client, or thought such a cross-examination would be stopped, or set the court still more against his client.
Monckton raged at this, and, of course, said he had been bought by the other side. But now he was delighted that his enemies' secret had never been inquired into, and that he could fall on them both like a thunder-bolt.
He was at Hull next day, and rambled about the old shop, and looked in at the windows. All new faces, and on the door-plate, "Atkinson & Co."
Then he went in, and asked for Mr. Bartley.
Name not known.
"Why, he used to be here. I was in his employ."
No; nobody knew Mr. Bartley.
Could he see Mr. Atkinson?
Certainly. Mr. Atkinson would be there at two o'clock.
Monckton, after some preamble, asked whether he had not succeeded in this business to Mr. Robert Bartley.
No. He had bought the business from Mrs. Duplex, a widow residing in this town, and he happened to know that her husband had taken it from Whitaker, a merchant at Boston.
"Is he alive, sir?"
"I believe so, and very well known."
Monckton went off to Whitaker, and learned from him that he had bought the business from Bartley, but it was many years ago, and he had never heard of the purchaser since that day.
Monckton returned to London baffled. What was he to do? Go to a secret-inquiry office? Advertise that if Mr. Robert Bartley, late of Hull, would write to a certain agent, he would hear of something to his advantage? He did not much fancy either of these plans. He wanted to pounce on Bartley, or Hope, or both.
Then he argued thus: "Bartley has got lots of money now, or he would not have given up business. Ten to one he lives in London, or visits it. I will try the Park."
Well, he did try the Park, both at the riding hour and the driving hour. He saw no Bartley at either time.
But one day in the Lady's Mile, as he listlessly watched the carriages defile slowly past him, with every now and then a jam, there crawled past him a smart victoria, and in it a beautiful woman with glorious dark eyes, and a lovely little boy, the very image of her. It was his wife and her son.
Monckton started, but the lady gave no sign of recognition. She bowed, but it was to a gentleman at Monckton's side, who had raised his hat to her with marked respect.
"What a beautiful crechaar!" said a little swell to the gentleman in question. "You know her?"
"Who is she? A duchess?"
"No; a stock-broker's wife, Mrs. Braham. Why, she is a known beauty."
That was enough for Monckton. He hung back a little, and followed the carriage. He calculated that if it left the Park at Hyde Park corner, or the Marble Arch, he could take a hansom and follow it.
When the victoria got clear of the crowd at the corner, Mrs. Braham leaned forward a moment and whispered a word to her coachman. Instantly the carriage dashed at the Chesterfield Gate and into Mayfair at such a swift trot that there was no time to get a cab and keep it in sight.
Monckton lighted a cigarette. "Clever girl!" said he, satirically. "She knew me, and never winked."
The next day he went to the lawyer and said, "I have a little favor to ask you, sir."
The lawyer was on his guard directly, but said nothing.
"An interview--in this office--with Mrs. Braham."
The lawyer winced, but went on his guard again directly.
"Client of ours?"
"Braham? Braham?" said the lawyer, affecting to search the caverns of professional memory.
"Where do they live?"
"What! don't you know? Place of business--Threadneedle Street. Place of bigamy--Portman Square."
"I have no authority to grant a personal interview with any such person."
"But you have no power to hinder one, and it is her interest the meeting should take place here, and the stock-broker be out of it."
The lawyer reflected.
"Will you promise me it shall be a friendly interview? You will never go to her husband?"
"Her stock-broker, you mean. Not I. If she comes to me here when I want her."
"Will that be often?"
"I think not. I have a better card to play than Mrs. Braham. I only want her to help me to find certain people. Shall we say twelve o'clock to-morrow?"
The lawyer called on Mrs. Braham, and after an agitated and tearful interview, persuaded her to keep the appointment.
"Consider," said he, "what you gain by making our office the place of meeting. Establish that at once. It's a point of defense."
The meeting took place in the lawyer's private room, and Mrs. Braham was so overcome that she nearly fainted. Then she was hysterical, and finally tears relieved her.
When she came to this point, Monckton, who had looked upon the whole exhibition as a mere preliminary form observed by females, said,
"Come, Lucy, don't be silly. I am not here to spoil your little game, but to play my own. The question is, will you help me to make my fortune?"
"Oh, that I will, if you will not break up my home."
"Not such a fool, my dear. Catch me killing a milk-cow! You give me a percentage on your profits, and I'm dumb."
"Then all you want is more money?"
"That is all; and I shall not want that in a month's time."
"I have brought L100, Leonard," she said, timidly.
"Sensible girl. Hand it over."
Two white hands trembled at the strings of a little bag, and took out ten crisp notes.
Leonard took them with satisfaction.
"There," said he. "This will last me till I have found Bartley and Hope, and made my fortune."
"Hope!" said Mrs. Braham. "Oh, pray keep clear of him! Pray don't attack him again. He is such an able man!"
"I will not attack him again to be defeated. Forewarned, forearmed. Indeed, if I am to bleed Bartley, I don't know how I can be revenged on Hope. That is the cruel thing. But don't you trouble about my business, Lucy, unless," said he, with a sneer, "you can tell me where to find them, and so save me a lot of money."
"Well, Leonard," said Lucy, "it can't be so very hard to find Hope. You know where that young man lives that you--that I--"
"Oh, Walter Clifford! Yes, of course I know where he lives. At Clifford Hall, in Derbyshire."
"Well, Leonard, Hope saved him from prison, and ruined you. That young man had a good heart. He would not forget such a kindness. He may not know where Mr. Bartley lives, but surely he will know where Hope is."
"Lucy," said Leonard, "you are not such a fool as you were. It is a chance, at all events. I'll go down to that neighborhood directly. I'll have a first-rate disguise, and spy about, and pick up all I can."
"And you will never say anything or do anything to--Oh, Leonard, I'm a bad wife. I never can be a good one now to anybody. But I'm a good mother; and I thought God had forgiven me, when he sent me my little angel. You will never ruin his poor mother, and make her darling blush for her!"
"Curse me if I do!" said Leonard, betrayed into a moment's warmth. But he was soon himself again. "There," said he, "I'll leave the little bloke my inheritance. Perhaps you don't know I'm heir to a large estate in Westmoreland; no end of land, and half a lake, and only eleven lives between the estate and me. I will leave my 'great expectations' to that young bloke. What's his Christian name?"
"And what's his father's name?"
Leonard then left all his property, real and personal, and all that should ever accrue to him, to Augustus Braham, son of Jonathan Braham, and left Lucy Braham sole executrix and trustee.
Then he hurried into the outer office, signed this document, and got it witnessed. The clerks proposed to engross it.
"What for?" said he. "This is the strongest form. All in the same handwriting as the signature; forgery made easy are your engrossed wills."
He took it in to Mrs. Braham, and read it to her, and gave it her. He meant it all as a joke; he read it with a sneer. But the mother's heart over-flowed. She put it in her bosom, and kissed his hand.
"Oh, Leonard," said she, "God bless you! Now I see you mean no ill to me and mine. You don't love me enough to be angry with me. But it all comes back to me. A woman can't forget her first. Now promise me one thing; don't give way to revenge or avarice. You are so wise when you are cool, but no man can give way to his passions and be wise. Why run any more risks? He is liberal to me, and I'm not extravagant. I can allow you more than I said, and wrong nobody."
Monckton interrupted her, thus: "There, old girl, you are a good sort; you always were. But not bleed that skunk Bartley, and not be revenged on that villain Hope? I'd rather die where I stand, for they have turned my blood to gall, and lighted hell in my heart this many a year of misery."
He held out his hand to her; it was cold. She grasped it in her warm, soft palm, and gave him one strange, searching look with her glorious eyes; and so they parted.
Next day, at dusk, there arrived at the Dun Cow an elderly man with a large carpet-bag and a strapped bundle of patterns--tweed, kersey, velveteen, and corduroys. He had a short gray mustache and beard, very neat; and appeared to be a commercial traveller.
In the evening he asked for brandy, old rum, lemons, powdered sugar, a kettle, and a punch-bowl. A huge one, relic of a past age, was produced. He mixed delicious punch, and begged the landlady to sit down and taste it. She complied, and pronounced it first-rate. He enticed her into conversation.
She was a rattling gossip, and told him first her own grievances. Here was the village enlarging, and yet no more custom coming to her because of the beer-house. The very mention of this obnoxious institution moved her bile directly. "A pretty gentleman," said she, "to brew his own beer and undersell a poor widow that have been here all her days and her father before her! But the Colonel won't let me be driven out altogether, no more will Mr. Walter: he do manage for the old gentleman now."
Monckton sipped and waited for the name of Hope, but it did not come. The good lady deluged him with the things that interested her. She was to have a bit of a farm added on to the Dun Cow. It was to be grass land, and not much labor wanted. She couldn't undertake that; was it likely? But for milking of cows and making butter or cheese, that she was as good at as here and there one; and if she could have the custom of the miners for her milk. "But, la, sir," said she, "I'll go bail as that there Bartley will take and set up a dairy against me, as he have a beer shop."
"Bartley?" said Monckton, inquiringly.
"Ay, sir; him as owns the mine, and the beer shop, and all, worse luck for me."
"Bartley? Who is he?"
"Oh, one of those chaps that rise from nothing nowadays. Came here to farm; but that was a blind, the Colonel says. Sunk a mine, he did, and built a pit village, and turns everything into brass [money]. But there, you are a stranger, sir; what is all this to you?"
"Why, it is very interesting," said Monckton. "Mistress, I always like to hear the whole history of every place I stop at, especially from a sensible woman like you, that sees to the bottom of things. Do have another glass. Why, I should be as dull as ditch-water, now, if I had not your company."
"La, sir, I'm sure you are welcome to my company in a civil way; and for the matter of that you are right; life is life, and there's plenty to be learned in a public--do but open your eyes and ears."
"Have another glass with me. I am praised for my punch."
"You deserve it, sir. Better was never brewed."
She sipped and sipped, and smacked her lips, till it was all gone.
This glass colored her cheeks, brightened her eyes, and even loosened her tongue, though that was pretty well oiled by nature.
"Well, sir," said she, "you are a bird of passage, here to-day and gone to-morrow, and it don't matter much what I tell you, so long as I don't tell no lies. There will be a row in this village."
Having delivered this formidable prophecy, the coy dame pushed her glass to her companion for more, and leaning back cozily in the old-fashioned high-backed chair, observed the effect of her thunder-bolt.
Monckton rubbed his hands. "I'm glad of it," said he, genially; "that is to say, provided my good hostess does not suffer by it."
"I'm much beholden to you, sir," said the lady. "You are the civilest-spoken gentleman I have entertained this many a day. Here's your health, and wishing you luck in your business, and many happy days well spent. My service to you, sir."
"The same to you, ma'am."
"Well, sir, in regard to a row between the gentlefolks--not that I call that there Bartley one--judge for yourself. You are a man of the world and a man of business, and an elderly man apparently."
"At all events, I am older than you, madam."
"That is as may be," said Mrs. Dawson, dryly. "We hain't got the parish register here, and all the better for me. So once more I say, judge for yourself."
"Well, madam," said Monckton, "I will try, if you will oblige me with the facts."
"That is reasonable," said Mrs. Dawson, loftily, but after some little consideration. "The facts I will declare, and not a lie among 'em."
"That will be a novelty," thought her cynical hearer, but he held his tongue, and looked respectfully attentive.
"Colonel Clifford," said Mrs. Dawson, "hates Bartley like poison, and Bartley him. The Colonel vows he will have him off the land and out of the bowels of the earth, and he have sent him a lawyer's letter; for everything leaks out in this village, along of the servants' chattering. Bartley he don't value a lawyer's letter no more than that. He defies the Colonel, and they'll go at it hammer and tongs at the 'Sizes, and spend a mint of money in law. That's one side of the question. But there's another. Master Walter is deep in love with Miss Mary."
"Who is she?"
"Who is she? Why, Bartley's daughter, to be sure; not as I'd believe it if I hadn't known her mother, for she is no more like him in her looks or her ways than a tulip is to a dandelion. She is the loveliest girl in the county, and better than she's bonny. You don't catch her drawing bridle at her papa's beer-house, and she never passes my picture. It's 'Oh, Mrs. Dawson, I am so thirsty, a glass of your good cider, please, and a little hay and water for Deersfoot.' That's her way, bless your silly heart! She ain't dry; and Deersfoot, he's full of beans, and his coat's like satin; but that's Miss Mary's way of letting me know that she's my customer, and nobody else's in the town. God bless her, and send her many happy days with the man of her heart, and that is Walter Clifford, for she is just as fond of him as he is of her. I seen it all from the first day. 'Twas love at first sight, and still a-growing to this day. Them old fogies may tear each other to pieces, but they won't part such lovers as those. There's not a girl in the village that doesn't run to look at them, and admire them, and wish them joy. Ay, and you mark my words, they are young, but they have got a spirit, both of them. Miss Mary, she looks you in the face like a lion and a dove all in one. They may lead her, but they won't drive her. And Walter, he's a Clifford from top to toe. Nothing but death will part them two. Them's the facts, sir, without a lie, which now I'm a-waiting for judgment."
"Mrs. Dawson," said Monckton, solemnly, "since you do me the honor to ask my opinion, I say that out of these facts a row will certainly arise, and a deadly one."
"It must, sir; and Will Hope will have to take a side. 'Tis no use his trying to be everybody's friend this time, though that's his natural character, poor chap."
Monckton's eyes flashed fire, but he suppressed all appearance of excitement, and asked who Mr. Hope was.
Mrs. Dawson brightened at the very name of her favorite, and said, "Who is Will Hope? Why, the cleverest man in Derbyshire, for one thing; but he is that Bartley's right-hand man, worse luck. He is inspector of the mine and factotum. He is the handiest man in England. He invents machines, and makes fiddles and plays 'em, and mends all their clocks and watches and wheel-barrows, and charges 'em naught. He makes hisself too common. I often tell him so. Says I, 'Why dost let 'em all put on thee so? Serve thee right if I was to send thee my pots and pans to mend.' 'And so do,' says he, directly. 'There's no art in it, if you can make the sawder, and I can do that, by the Dick and Harry!' And one day I said to him, 'Do take a look at this fine new cow of mine as cost me twenty-five good shillings and a quart of ale. What ever is the matter with her? She looks like the skin of a cow flattened against the board.' So says he, 'Nay, she's better drawn than nine in ten; but she wants light and shade. Send her to my workshop.' 'Ay, ay,' says I; 'thy workshop is like the church-yard; we be all bound to go there one day or t'other.' Well, sir, if you believe me, when they brought her home and hung her again she almost knocked my eye out. There was three or four more women looking on, and I mind all on us skreeked a bit, and our hands went up in the air as if one string had pulled the lot; and says Bet Morgan, the carter's wife, 'Lord sake, gie me a bucket somebody, and let me milk her!' 'Nay, but thou shalt milk me,' said I, and a pint of fourpenny I gave her, then and there, for complimenting of my cow. Will Hope, he's everybody's friend. He made the Colonel a crutch with his own hands, which the Colonel can use no other now. Walter swears by him. Miss Mary dotes on him: he saved her life in the river when she was a girl. The very miners give him a good word, though he is very strict with them; and as for Bartley, it's my belief he owes all his good luck to Will Hope. And to think he was born in this village, and left it a poor lad; ay, and he came back here one day as poor as Job, seems but t'other day, with his bundle on his back and his poor little girl in his hand. I dare say I fed them both with whatever was going, poor bodies."
"What was she like?"
"A poor little wizened thing. She had beautiful golden hair, though."
"Like Miss Bartley's?"
"Something, but lighter."
"Have you ever seen her since?"
"No; and I never shall."
"Nay, sir. I asked him after her one day when he came home for good. He never answered me, and he turned away as if I had stung him. She has followed her mother, no doubt. And so now she is gone he's well-to-do; and that is the way of it, sir. God sends mouths where there is no meat, and meat where there's no mouths. But He knows best, and sees both worlds at once. We can only see this one--that's full of trouble."
Monckton now began to yawn, for he wanted to be alone and think over the schemes that floated before him now.
"You are sleepy, sir," said Mrs. Dawson. "I'll go and see your bed is all right."
He thanked her and filled her glass. She tossed it off like a man this time, and left him to doze in his chair.
Doze, indeed! Never did a man's eyes move to and fro more restlessly. Every faculty was strung to the utmost.
At first as all the dramatis personae he was in search of came out one after another from that gossip's tongue, he was amazed and delighted to find that instead of having to search for one of them in one part of England, and another in another, he had got them all ready to his hand. But soon he began to see that they were too near each other, and some of them interwoven, and all the more dangerous to attack.
He saw one thing at a glance. That it would be quite a mistake to settle a plan of action. That is sometimes a great advantage in dealing with the unguarded. But it creates a stiffness. Here all must be supple and fitted with watchful tact to the situation as it rose. Everything would have to be shot flying.
Then as to the immediate situation, Reader, did ever you see a careful setter run suddenly into the middle of a covey who were not on their feet nor close together, but a little dispersed and reposing in high cover in the middle of the day? No human face is ever so intense or human form more rigid. He knows that one bird is three yards from his nose, another the same distance from either ear, and, in short, that they are all about him, and to frighten one is to frighten all.
His tail quivers, and then turns to steel, like his limbs. His eyes glare; his tongue fears to pant; it slips out at one side of his teeth and they close on it. Then slowly, slowly, he goes down, noiseless as a cat, and crouches on the long covert, whether turnips, rape, or clover.
Even so did this designing cur crouch in the Dun Cow.
The loyal quadruped is waiting for his master, and his anxiety is disinterested. The biped cur was waiting for the first streak of dawn to slip away to some more distant and safe hiding-place and sally-port than the Dun Cow, kept by a woman who was devoted to Hope, to Walter, and to Mary, and had all her wits about her--mother-wit included.