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CHAPTER II.

FIRST APPEARANCE IN A NEW CHARACTER—THE DISGUISE DISCOVERED—THE STRUGGLE—THREE TO ONE TOO MUCH—AN APARTMENT FOR A SINGLE GENTLEMAN.

IT was about nine o'clock, and the night was very cold. Some light fleecy flakes had begun to fall, just sufficient to spread a thin white carpet over the ground, and from the dense clouds which hid Mount Wellington from the sight, I anticipated a heavy fall of snow.

As I stood with my hands in my pockets, and the abominable quid in my mouth, assuming as well as I could the air of a sailor, and balancing myself as I have observed sailors do on land, as if they missed the motion, with my legs stretched out apart and my toes turned in, I could not help admiring at the odd variety of adventures in which I had been engaged, very unlike the dull plodding life of an old Surrey farmer; and now I


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found myself embarked in an affair about a little girl whom I had never seen, which seemed likely, to judge from the beginning, to turn out an awkward business to interfere in.

All these thoughts passed through my mind while I was waiting for the door to be opened; and I wondered then, as I have often wondered since, on the number of by-gone scenes which can be conjured up by the imagination in a very short time, the events of a lifetime being reacted as it were in a moment. But this contemplation is too deep for a plain man like me, who have not had the advantage of book-learning in my early years, though I sometimes think that the experience of actual life is worth more than all the book-learning in the world,—so I leave this inquiry to the philosophers to explain if they can.

One thought, however, came suddenly on me like a puzzle, and it gave me a shock like striking one's plough against an old stump of tree that you didn't expect, and that was, that I had neglected to ascertain the name of the occupier of the red-house, and that I should look very foolish if I should be asked who I wanted to see. But it was too late to deliberate, for I heard the lock


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shot back, and the door opening, a woman, who from the glimpse I caught of her face by a light in the passage, seemed very old and very ugly, put to me the very inconvenient question that I apprehended.

“Who are you wanting to see, pray?”

I shall be in a mess here, thought I, if I don't mind; so taking a hint from the advice that I heard a lawyer give one day, that “when you can't reply to a question, answer it by asking another,”I said whisperingly, "Is he at home?"

“Is who at home?” said the perverse old woman.

“Who?” said I; “Why, him; don't you know?” Here I tried to recollect some seafaring phrase, but for the life of me I could think of nothing but “shiver my timbers;” and that observation, somehow, didn't seem appropriate to the occasion. So I contented myself by replying, “I've got a letter for him.”

“A letter! Eh! give it to me.”

“Beg pardon,” said I: “avast there! that's what I can't do by no manner of means (I flattered myself that this style was the real thing);


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I was told to give it into the gentleman's own hands, that is, if he's got any; so I clapped my helm hard a-starboard (what this meant I didn't exactly know, but I was obliged to chance it), and here I am come into port.”

I saw that the old lady was considerably struck by my display of nautical phraseology; so to follow up the favourable impression, and to keep up my character, I gave the quid—which during this brief colloquy I had stuck scientifically into my cheek, producing thereby I trusted a forecastle cast of countenance—a determined squeeze with my teeth, which almost made me vomit; and committing an Americanism with a knowing sort of air, I gave a professional hitch to my trousers, and waited for a reply.

“You nasty beast,” said the old woman, in a shrill tone, and retreating down the passage; “how dare you foul people's houses with your filthy tobacco juice; do you think I've nothing to do but to clean after filthy sea-sailor men! you dirty seaweed!”

“What's the matter?” said a voice from the parlour-door, which was now opened; “what's all this noise about at this time of night?”


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“Noise! here's a nasty sailor spitting into people's houses, and he says he's got a letter for you.”

“Yes, Sir,” said I, “I've got a letter for you—that is, if you're the gentleman it's meant for; and if you are, of course you know it's right for me to be cautious who I give it to.”

“Shut the door,” said he, quickly, to the old woman; “lock it; draw the bolts. There, now (to me), come in, come in.”

I found myself in a small decently-furnished room, with nothing particular in its appearance. There was another door opposite to that by which I had entered, but it did not strike me as being unusual or suspicious.

“Now," said my host, in a rough way, "where's the letter?”

I glanced at him to see what sort of a looking person he was, and I must say that his appearance was not at all in his fayour. He was about forty years of age, dressed in a rusty black coat and waistcoat, with a red handkerchief round his neck; I noted that he had on drab-coloured trousers, with black gaiters; altogether his dress struck me as if it was a disguise, for there was


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something incongruous between a certain air that he had and the clothes that he wore; they seemed to sit on him as if he was not used to them. I fancied also that the roughness of his manner was assumed, and I remarked that the hand which he held forward to receive the letter he expected from me was white and delicate. His countenance was not the countenance of an ordinary man, and it reminded me obscurely of some face that I had seen before, but I could not bring to my recollection where or when; I should have thought it rather handsome than otherwise, if it had not been for a peculiar expression which I can describe no better than by saying it gave one the idea that he was always plotting something, and was fearful of detection.He repeated his demand, sharply:

“Give me the letter.”

“Excuse me, Sir,” said I, “if I appear disrespectful, but I should like to be sure that you are the gentleman for whom the letter is intended. Perhaps you would tell me your name (he looked at me searchingly), to see,” I added boldly, “if it corresponds with the name on the letter.”

He turned his eye to the door on the other side


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of the room, and seemed to be considering for a second or two, whether he should do something that he had a mind to; but he altered his intention, and turning to me: —

“Well,” said he, “my name—to be sure, why shouldn't I tell you my name? You know my name, of course?”

“You may guess,” said I, “that I shouldn't have been trusted with this letter if I wasn't in the secret. But the risk is too great,” I added, “as you know,” looking hard at him, “for any one of us to trifle with the consequences. Before I give up the letter,” said I, in a determined way, “I must be sure that you are the right person .”

“And pray,” said he, “what is yours?”

Here was a puzzler! I was all of a sudden, as the sailors say, "taken aback," and I almost lost my presence of mind; at the moment I did not know what name to take, but as I was obliged to give some one without delay, for I felt that any hesitation on that point would excite suspicion, I gave my right one.

“William Thornley.”

“Is that a purser's name, or the true one?”


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“The true one,” said I; “and I give it you at once, to show that as we are all bound up together, the best way is to trust one another.”

“Indeed!” said he; “and so it's come to this; but we—yes, we are all alike now, I suppose. We—we must all trust one another! Come, we can't be all night about this matter. I am known by the name of John Wolsey; Will that do for you?”

Thought I to myself, “it must, for I can't make anything more of it.” I gave him the letter.

He looked at the place where he expected to find the address, but there was none.

“How is this,” said he, coming a step forward, “there is no name on the letter, and you have made me give you mine?”

“Look at the seal,” said I, at a loss to escape from the difficulty.

He held it to the candle.

“That is right,” said he, “but there is something about you, my friend, that I do not understand. Sit down while I read the letter.”

He opened and read it; and its contents seemed to give him satisfaction, which was presently succeeded by an expression of doubt and anxiety.


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“You know the contents of this letter ?” said he.

“Of course,” said I.

“And the letter says that you are acquainted with the interior of the country.”

“Pretty well for that,” said I; not knowing what was meant by the question.

“Do you think you could guide me this night to the spot where they have taken her?”

“Easily,” said I, at a venture, and my flesh quivered on my bones to learn what would come next, for I guessed I had got hold of the clue to the Gypsey's daughter.

“At the ruined hut, near Seven-mile Beach,” said he, musingly.—“Can you ride on horse-back?”

“I have done nothing else all my life,” said I, thrown off my guard by the suddenness of the question. The moment after I was conscious of my error, but it was too late.

“All your life on horseback!” exclaimed my host. “How is this? Let me look at your hands. Hah—you are no sailor! You have deceived me—there is treachery here. Who and what are you, man?Speak! I have the means


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of forcing from you the truth. What is your object? Why do you come here?—and from whom did you receive this letter?”

He opened the door behind him as he spoke, and called out. I felt that the decisive moment was come, and that all that remained for me to do was to get possession of the letter, which was lying open on the table. I made a clutch at it, and seized it before this Mr. Wolsey could prevent me, but at the same moment two men appeared in answer to his call. I rushed to the door leading to the passage, and opening it, I gained the street door; but it was dark, and I could not readily find the way of undoing the bolts by which it was fastened. In the meantime the two men grappled with me. I caught hold of the door-chain and struggled hard, kicking at the door, and shouting with all my might for assistance.

“Knock him on the head,” said a voice, which I recognized as that of the host of the red-house. In this extremity I drew out one of the pistols with which I was provided, but before I could use it, I felt a violent blow on my head, given, I fancy, by some elastic instrument, like one of those powerful and destructive weapons


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called a “life-preserver.” I immediately fell down stunned.

When I recovered, I found myself in the dark, I did not know where. I felt an aching pain in my head, and I was very cold and sick. I endeavoured to raise myself up, but, in attempting to rise, I struck my head against the brickwork above, which nearly stunned me again. When I recovered myself, I reached about as I lay, and conjectured that I was in a sort of vault or cellar, for I felt nothing but bricks, which were cold and damp, and arched over my head.

I confess I was in great terror, fearing the worst, as I could not doubt that those who had me in their power would not hesitate to take away my life without scruple, if they thought it necessary for their own safety. This dismal thought made me repent having so rashly encountered such an adventure in the night-time, and under circumstances so suspicious.

The buoyancy of my spirits, however, sustained me even in this perilous position, and as soon as I could gather my senses together, I began to cast about me how to escape from my confinement. I thought of my friend who had helped me to my


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sailor's dress, and who had been so facetious in disguising me, and wondered whether curiosity or any other feeling would prompt him to seek after me, if I did not return in reasonable time. But that seemed an unlikely thing to happen, and at any rate he would not learn till the morning, when he might make inquiries after me at my inn, perhaps; and what was to become of me the meanwhile? for I calculated that my swoon could not have lasted more than half an hour at most; so that it wanted five or six hours to morning, and when the morning came, it would bring no day-light to me in my cavern.

This thought disturbed me sadly, but I did not lose heart. There was a great bump on my head, which pained me a good deal, but there was no blood, and my hands were free. Thought I to myself, “while there is life there is hope.” I felt about, and found that I was confined, as I at first conjectured, in a sort of vault or cellar, about four feet high, and as well as I could measure as I crawled about, ten or twelve feet long, and five or six broad. I examined with my hands the bottom, and sides, and top of my prison all over, but I could discover no place of outlet, which


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surprised me exceedingly. I examined it again with great minuteness, but it seemed to me nothing but rough brickwork, as well as I could make out. I was puzzled at this, for I could not make out how I had got in.

My examination of the vault tired me very much, and I felt myself getting more sick and faint, which I attributed to the closeness of the vault. I was at a loss what to do. I feared that if I called out I might be murdered at once; but I feared also that if I remained long in that horrible den I should be suffocated. In this state, minutes seemed hours, and I felt myself falling into a sort of phrenzy of excitement.

Strengthened at last by my very despair, I determined to search again, and in passing my hands over the damp brickwork, some of the mortar at a particular place at the top felt softer than elsewhere. The horrible conviction now came over me, that my murderers had bricked up my prison-hole, and that I was buried alive!

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