previous
next



  ― 248 ―

Chapter XV Heans Searched

WE know how troubled Sir William was about the pad for the few hours till Shaxton could relieve him of it, by the story of what he did with it for that time. During the afternoon's ride, dear reader, where would you think the embroidered, sparkling thing reposed? Not on the mantelpiece among the ornaments, or in Heans' little bedroom, nor even, by strange good fortune or prescience, upon Heans' own vigilant person; but in the saddle-pocket of his silent, stooping, blue-goggled companion, Abelia Oughtryn. What led him to take this strange precaution? Many things. A serious clash with Spafield had driven him a little wider from his balance. Again Daunt's many hints at his restlessness seem to have puzzled him. Was Daunt feeling in the dark, relying solely on his experience of captive-men, and his own self, as he had a skilful way? Was he running on his anger in the stable? His carelessness to opinion? Surely. Where could even he have got a hint of the truth? O'Crone had, alone, been too skilful to attract the most astute upon his staggering retreat. He thought of the fellow, Islip, of the Cascades tavern: a man with a covert, if pleasing manner, whom he had sometimes supposed in police-pay. Had Islip reported some of his injudicious railings, his meeting with Carnt, or Carnt's with O'Crone, or even overheard that Monday's conversation. Well, God comfort them!

There was all too much fear and risk with such a man! He might be more, not less, subtle than they feared. Finally, in case a hint might have been passed in to Daunt by Islip, and he were stopped, questioned, and as had been done a half a dozen times ordered to produce the contents of his wallet, he had given it, as they rode up the lane, to Abelia, to put in her saddle-pocket. Coincidence, we repeat, is a strange thing! When the very thing he feared happened, and Heans was stopped not only at the South Boundary, but also at Barrack Square, and ordered to dismount and produce in the watch-house what he had upon him, Fate's riposte was almost too much for him, and he was given a chair by one of the constables.

He soon found he was out upon a wild day, though for other reason than he had feared. When he demanded why the indignity was put upon them, he was told, with a sort of rollicking sympathy,


  ― 249 ―
that the order was “owing to the absconding of Jewell, and a general wave of grumbling.” There were other assignees under search, and to hide his relief that there was so good a reason he enquired if Jewell had been taken, and was informed “no, but the dogs had tracked him to the ‘station’ at Brown's River.” “Ah, Jewell,” he thought, secretly ironic, as he readjusted his coat, “Jewell, poor fellow, has taken the wrong turning”; for Brown's River was south, and West Head north.

But when he got out of the town, after the ordeal of the two searches, he became entirely unnerved, and with his eyes searching the geraniums of Pitt's Villa, perched upon its walls under the wood, he wondered if he could not carry up this ghastly treasure, and relieve his trembling hands, and those of the incompetent, shrinking, uncomplaining girl.

But we must first relate what had happened to Heans in the stable. He had inquired from the woman, and learned that Miss Abelia would be ready to ride at a quarter after three. When he had taken his meal, he took the old hat out of the beaufet, and again examined the writing. He desired, it seems, to certify himself on certain facts in the narrative, to again ask himself what sort of man was that with whom he had to deal. It was disquieting to know that he had been mixed up in the blacker game. What would he be at now with his little tricks and his grimaces? Apparently he, Heans, must be somehow in his light—though there was no proof of that, for he had known this type of cunning, gabbling fellow to show his fangs at sight of men of his like. We all know the strange shock of being brought face to face with hate with no motive. And this was a black, aged man.

Not very satisfied with his cogitations, he donned cap and jacket, and taking the chapeau thrust it carefully between the wall and lower and hollow part of the Roman figure. He heard Spafield's flute in the kitchen as he threaded the passage—stopped, and detected beside it the minor of Abelia's voice and that of the woman. As he crossed the windy yard—the breeze was yet brisk—he buttoned on a pair of Abelia's cotton gloves. His thoughts were on Surridge's death as he entered the stable. When over in the early morning, he had gone to the top of the cave, and peeped up the large opening in the last stall; but beyond the entrance, it was quite dark, and he could only feel with his hand that it was remarkably smooth, and narrowed immediately. As we are aware, Spafield had been filling that stall with straw, and as Heans entered again, he noted that the stack was now piled double the partition-height against the east wall, hiding the entrance to the crack. It now struck him, looking along the crack as it ran upwards, that the feat of the wounded man was more credible, the slope being less abrupt than he had supposed. He had been standing within the door but twenty seconds when he heard a noise just behind him, and turning, found that Spafield had followed after him, and was leaning, looking quietly at him, against


  ― 250 ―
the jagged stones of the door. He himself had been there such a few seconds, his ears yet tingling with the flurry of the yard, that the man must have fairly run from the kitchen as he crossed the windows. After the first instant of surprise, Heans might have ignored the man's action, and the bold, dark, intent manner of looking upon him, as a piece of shabby intrusion, but for the body yonder in the crack, and what had happened across the yard in the chamber. As it was, in his nervousness and dislike of the high Tartar face and cushion chin, the cold old look, the long cheek with its tallow yellow and wine red, the puffy strength of limb creasing the loose trousers and straining the arms of the tunic, he gripped his cane to his chest, and flashing round, asked the man, point-blank, eye to eye, “whether he had orders to dog him about?”

Spafield did not move, but with bitter white eyes on Heans' cane, asked the gentleman if, looking at it sly, he would take him for military man or constable? “Mind what you say,” added he, with an impudent imitation of police-jargon.

“If you haven't,” said Sir William Heans; “if you have no reason to dog the stable at all hours, or me, you can leave it to me for these few minutes while I am at my work.”

“Bless you, sir, for that,” said the man, with a cold sort of laugh, yet leaning leisurely, and eyeing Heans' person and limbs— never his face, “my body, I've orders, have I—well, not from you!” Here he settled his shoulders against the wall, as with a sort of dark pretence of preparation for a long and confidential talk.

Heans, forcedly recollecting his great chance, and the history of that port-hole in the wall near his eyes, turned away, endeavouring to thrust the fellow from his mind as one half-insane with bad health, bereavement, or remorse, who was diseasedly bent, while he had his accursed privilege, on persecuting his antipathy—the most gentlemanlike man about. “I give you my word,” he says, in relating the incident, “it was my policy, as it was my wish, to cut and run; for this was not the week to let myself be pushed into a disturbance!”

Sir William, like many another, was not successful in his policy of discretion. He had gone off not very steady to the harness-cave, had returned with his brushes past the soldier, and had begun to groom Abelia's horse: a work which it was his habit to complete with some care. He was well at work at the grey, and had even broke in to a very thin whistling, when the soldier walked into the stall. His arms were folded, and his bold eyes were at once leisurely and vicious, lazy and angry. It is not said of men of Sir William's age that they are cruelly frightened, yet as he brushed the quiet horse, Heans trembled for his precious hope, pressed so covert by this man. Was he seeking a collision? He seemed to know by intuition that he had been avoided. As he leant his back against the stones of the partition, he spat, and


  ― 251 ―
Heans, for a flash, stopped working, and looked up in his face from beside the belly of the horse. Threatening as he looked, he hid a trembling, for, as we have said before, he saw by his eyes and mouth this was a black, aged man.

“So,” he said, “you are still interested to remain in the stable?”

“My faith, yes!” he answered. “You can't help yourself. I'm a quarter, I am. I'm making a home of it. 'Ang you, this nag's for pretty kit—our blind kit!”

Sir William made no answer, except a growing pallor.

“I believe you don't understand what I means,” said the man. “I'm jealous for the girl. Come, now, you let me do the horse for her.”

Heans rose beside the grey horse.

At this instant an ordinary natural sound came to his aid. He had never noticed it before, but on the sudden he heard the wind groan in the crack above their heads, with a curious human wuther, as it does in many a seaside chimney.

“A strange place to make a home of, I think—my man?” said poor Heans.

“Ah, my noble, and a curious place for two!” said he. “I am” (with an indescribable and veteran threat)—“I am turning your face away from our blind shy.”

Sir William took no notice of this remark.

“And you are sleeping in the harness-room, there, I see? I noticed your bed by the wall?”

“No.”

“Ah, my man! What is this? I understood them to say you are camping—sleeping—in the stable?”

“If you want to know—no. I've changed my mind. I prefers the 'ouse for sleeping, as it turns out.”

“What is there amiss with the stable, sir?”

“What! has he been telling you about the dooknote last night?”

“I heard you last night from this cave, my man. So you prefer the house, dark women and all? Why have you changed your mind?”

Here Spafield moved his shoulders a little against the stale wall. Sir William bent beside the grey.

“By my body, I can't think what you want!” said the fellow, looking down upon him with those cold, sharp eyes. Sir William noticed that the tops of his high cheek-bones and the bridge of his angular nose were grey as earth. “You're asking me why I changes my mind? Perhaps to oblige you, my lord. Perhaps, to oblige myself. Why do you want to know…why I changes my mind about sleeping in that little cave?”

“It struck me as strange,” murmured Sir William Heans. And he began to brush the stomach of the horse.

“Psha!” jabbered Spafield, after a silent look at him, “I'm


  ― 252 ―
not partial to a rough bed! I'm the janleman for the ladies' chamber. I don't like these here ghostly images—his Majesty King George's ghostly image—no, nor them horses pulling at night at their chains, a-putting a man in mind of them old bailiffs. There you have it, steel and 'andle. You won't find me a changeable man. You won't guess me out. No man's ever choused me off his footsteps. I've a preference for sleeping grand, and I've another reason. Now, why do you ask me why I changes my mind?”

The man lowered his face, tugging with his teeth at the tag of the dirty bandage on his wrist. While doing so, as though by some irresistible attraction, he curiously cast up his wide, bold eyes over the wall.

Heans was stooping with his eyeglass directed up beside the body of the horse.

“It has struck me as strange,” he said, with a marked and ceremonious distinctness, “that you should alter your mind— a determined man like you!”

The man's eyes glazed wickedly as he stood against the partition, turning dry and dark. He shook his head, tugging savagely at his wrist and muttering contemptuously like the veteran he was. “Ah,” he agreed, in a short, hoarse voice, “strange! Struck you as strange! You're one to ask a private question—you are!” (Here he tugged the tag out of his teeth, releasing his threatening face as with a spring.) “And I'm to inform you private why I moves here and dogs there. Break your heart, no lip-service! Open talk! Life's a game, isn't it? Well, it's to be an open game this once atween us. No funny finger work. Nobody watching you.”

“Nor you,” said Heans as grimly as himself.

“Ah” (the man nodded palely), “you ask me private, and I'l tell you why another time—I will. The whole dying-gasp truth!” With that he settled his shako on his head, spat, turned leisurely as if to move out, stopped, said “No offence, I hope,” and moved very slowly out of the stall. You may—if you are Colonial born—have seen a snake move in this way round the one door of a room. Sir William could hardly believe that he had gone. For a while he paused before the black planks of the middle door—very close—as if examining the make. Then he moved down to the open entrance, and Sir William heard him singing under the wind:—

Morruda, yerrabá.

At last he moved out, and Heans, going to the door behind him, saw him sway across the yard, and go round the corner of the house.

So when Sir William got out in the wind of the road, the


  ― 253 ―
thought of Shaxton's warning, and his unpleasant experience in the stable, so added to his uneasiness, that he became reluctant to return with the pad through the town. Though he hardly fancied they would meddle with Miss Oughtryn or her horse, still—on a pretence of not knowing her—she could be asked to produce what she carried, and he was the more troubled at the possibility, since she had shown—or he fancied so—some reluctance to take the pad from his hand. It seems that both Oughtryn and his daughter were markedly cautious in their relations with him where these touched upon his connection with the System (as indeed with them was he), the laws, risks, and bounds of master and pass-holder being strictly taken for granted and never outraged. Indeed, had they shown weakness in this matter, Sir William's ceremonious exactitude would alone have put a check upon them. But Oughtryn and Oughtryn's household had always been shy and wary—even ungenerous—with any situation threatening collision with authority, or Heans' status. So even when Heans held the embroidered pocket, without cover, towards her saddle (they were just turning into Davey Street), telling her that it had reached his ears the very happiness of a lady, who had once shown him kindness, depended on whether he was able to keep the little article till he could pass it into her husband's hands, and speaking of the fear he had of its being lost or taken out of his possession, and how he kept it on his person, anxious lest they should have him in again at Boundary and he should lose it like his private letters—even when he spoke of his anxiety, and asked her to take it, she only goggled at it puzzledly, and then at himself, fumbling her reins “as if they were knitting” (as Heans often told her), and presently must jig away, in a serene muddle, with flapping hat and kindly horse. When, however, she drew again beside him, this time running clumsily into him (a species of accident he thoroughly objected to), she begged him, in a tremulous and troubled voice, “if he thought it would be safe there, if he would please to place it in the pocket of her saddle, as she could not spare the fingers?” Whereat Heans, thanking her, yet seeing she seemed dismayed, bade her turn away her head, and she would not know if he had hid it there or no.

When they were stopped outside the Barracks, and she sat in the road near the black-bloused constable who held Heans' horse—with her calm eyes blinking through her goggles and her clumsy habit fluttering in not-pretty folds, she made a curious, uncompromising figure. Perhaps she was not yet sure what she held. Her very discomfortable yet serene appearance seemed to isolate her from her companion's difficulty, and speak for him as some one improperly disturbed. When Heans came out, staring about him after the old fine manner, but ah so flushed and baleful! she answered his hoarse enquiry whether “she had been much disturbed,” with the tremulous answer that “she was not so much discomposed because of the other occasions.” At which


  ― 254 ―
the young constable had hitched up her ever-dangling curb, and patted the grey. But when (having left the message down near the water and continued on out of the town) they were pulled up with a summary jocularity at Boundary, and because of the press of pass-men, Abelia was left by the roadside blinking blindly about, with Heans' rein in her unreliable hand—if she retained it, despite the sentry's private prognostication that she would “drop it for a paper dollar,” she lost her delicate colour, and grew marble under her goggles and tight shiny hair, very dismayed in her eternal quietude, so much so that a stout gentleman, passing in a gig, who knew of old whose riding companion she was, took her face for a sign that Heans had been “caught again with compromising stuff”—to which his lady in the yellow overbonnet replied that she did seem very dejected. It may be she was not very clever for a woman, or the double cause of her dejection was too heavy to be concealed. When Sir William trembled finely out, with his glass stuck in his port-wine face, and “supposed that after this, by Heaven, she would prefer to return to her home,” she whispered distinctly, “not if he wished to take a ride beyond.” Their relief when they got out upon the sea road may be imagined.

Heans, however, did not continue battling with the wind, but turned inland, and rode a mile or so under the town, till he neared and joined the road which he had known so well, and saw closer than he had seen for many a month, the mounds and rises which stepped upwards to Pitt's Villa. And there it was, standing on its brown walls in its woods; those above it rocketing beyond sight into the mountain mist, that into which their road turned concealing, secret as of old, the precipitious approach—scene of that broken rendezvous with Stifft. I believe Sir William muttered and grew greyer as he went beside Miss Abelia Oughtryn. Did he blush also as he thought there was no longer repute nor peace in it? Did he remember the shy disapproval, the psychological doubts, of poor dilatory Stifft, who in four more days was to take him to freedom? The moment was fraught with excitement and pain. Nay—did he think of Daunt, and how they quarrelled in better days in the room above? Heans did not draw rein till they turned into the bottom of the wood, where, looking up, they could see the wall, and the geraniums trembling in the gusts.

He stiffly and slowly dismounted. Abelia dully watched him through her goggles. She must have known that the house above was that one he had once frequented. She must have known too—if she knew no more—that he had received no communication from those who dwelt there since his escape. She may even have heard that the lady chatelaine was his cousin, and if so, may have had her conjecture how such a cause could have severed so abruptly an acquaintance so intimate. Did she know how beautiful and kind was the lady—the lady who had


  ― 255 ―
fainted in the passage—how much more puzzling it must have been! Indeed, what might she not have gathered, from the happenings at the Cottage two nights ago—and of to-day—she, who, according to Mr. Daunt, had her own precocious mood of playfulness and … knew all the world already!

Heans' experience at the dwelling of O'Crone, the day before, had so hurt his pride (as having in it a hint of intentional punishment towards himself, as well as an end joyful to all), indeed had so seared his mind, that he approached with a chill nervousness, not usual even in the days of his assignment, not only the house in the terrace, but Pitt's Villa also. At the first-named, he had waited some distance beyond the gate, somewhat conspicuous with that faded, flowing saddle-cloth, old spencer, decent hat, and baleful glass; here, after Shaxton's letter, and a reason as good, he was of course more unwilling to be found. He knew who was beyond the trees. Knew longing—yes. He saw her face, how she looked, how spoke, how shook her fair, good head. He saw her sink upon the floor—so pale—in Oughtryn's cottage. Had she heard then what had been said of her by Mr. Daunt? For whom—or by whom—was she stricken down? He turned away his sad mind. He was going from this place. Yes. Out of it—of this. No more avoiding. No more tutoring. No more escorting. Yet he wished, in her danger, in his shamed affright, to get the pad into those hands, and know them folded close against that heart.

He strode musing along the narrow track. At any moment a fly might go up or come down, and they become food for the curious. Torn between longing and disquiet, he approached Abelia, who sat patient upon her grey horse, her goggles also on the road. He had thought it proper to call her attention more than once to the incongruity of those calm airs upon a horse. “As if she were playing her ‘farewell to the piano,’ ” he would say, “and the horse too.” But now she looked fatigued under her straw hat. Advancing, he asked if he might remove the article he had placed in her saddle, and starting, she answered, “Yes, sir, if he considered it quite discreet.” He continued with hoarse gratitude for her understanding. “He gave her his word, it was because he was not easy in the thought of returning with it through the town—even in the saddle! He thought he would get it now into Mrs. Shaxton's hands. It would be over then. And a bad weight done with.… The lady lived at the top of the road, where she could see the red blossoms. A good woman—a kind woman. 'Pon his soul! he considered it would be best to be done with it.”

He took the folded pad out of the pocket, and unfolded it. Bright little criminal of many adventures—tragedies—pretences! It had thrown its refreshment into more than handkerchiefs. Conniver at two breaks for freedom. Small minister of rescue—


  ― 256 ―
nay, perchance, and ruin! There it lay in its red, gold, and black—pretty thing—unharmed but for Shaxton's stab!

“Do you think they would search my saddle?” asked serene Abelia.

“No,” said Heane, “they would not touch you, unless they mistook your identity.”

“Why does the Superintendent speak of you as so unsettled, Sir William?”

“They have got ‘prison unrest’ on the brain, I think,” said he.

“But you are not restless, are you, sir?”

“Tut—tut, no. Perhaps it is because Mr. Daunt has said I am so, and having said so, would provoke me if he could, into some indiscretion. Now, miss, what other reason could there be for suspecting your quiet old tutor?”

“Why, I don't know that there is really any other reason,” she said, sitting low and speaking said. “I hope you keep good company, Sir William—I hope you do, Sir William.”

“What do you mean, miss?” asked he, rather sharply. “I see my few friends; sad fellows like myself, Are you afraid they will grab me through Mr. Corbet or Mr. Carnt? Besides” (he looked up dark and grave), “you keep queer company these days yourself, my dear.”

She reddened, looking dully scared. Ignoring the reference to her dallying with the soldier, she asked (nay rather beseeched): “You would think Mr. Daunt was too sprightly a kind of gentleman to be a very dangerous gentleman?”

Sir William looked from her face to the article in his hand. “Do you mean that you are aware it is he who has spoke against this lady—Mrs. Shaxton?”

“No, I don't know that,” she said; “I don't want to know that.” (And the drooping figure threw up its grotesque, never-used whip.) “It is for you, sir—poor man,” she said.

“Me, indeed?” cried Sir William, rather weary. “I am well enough, my dear. Very handsome of you, ma'am, I must say. But what bothers you? See—are you really beginning to be afraid of your Mr. Daunt?”

“Mr. Daunt socially ruined in Hobart,” he was thinking.

“I am very disturbed about him,” she said, strangely.

“Disturbed? Why, my dear,” says he, huskily pooh-poohing it, “you will persuade an old fogey you care what becomes of him——!”

“La, how do you mean, please sir!” she almost cried out, “ ‘what becomes of you?’ Isn't that a tragical way of speaking?”

“Oh,” says he, put aback, “just my careless way of putting it, Abelia.”

And he gave her a sour little stare as she sat discomfortable upon her horse. “They're always watching me, and be hanged


  ― 257 ―
to them! Learn to ride, young lady, and you will please me. And give a thought, child, give a thought to whom you talk with. I don't like the soldier-fellow, my dear. I have private information about him. I know him to have been a bad fellow—stay!—I think him still a vile, bad fellow. My dear young friend, keep away from that man. He spoke of you almost familiar this morning … but, come, I know you do—I know you do! Who so sensible as you when you like! Don't mind my talk!”

Her straw hat had fallen till it concealed her goggles.

“You do not say anything to reassure me?” he said, a little sharp, but kind yet.

“Yes, I do,” she said, dropping to the vague and tremulous. “But I am very discreet. Oh yes, Sir William. We are so very careful—so very careful of making trouble with people— people put over us.”

“Ah,” said Heans, “and if I have private evidence the man was once as bad—bad as him you heard over the wall? What then?”

“But those who sent him there—they can't be thinking him so very wicked—please, Sir William Heans. He seems sick and bitter-like. Perhaps he's a reformed gentleman.”

“Why! my child, he is a bad man!”

“Oh please, sir, please—it would not be wise or kind to act with him unfriendly!”

Heans stared at her calm face.

“I declare before Heaven,” said he, very pallid, “you mistake me!” (And he put the pad in his coat-tails, and turned to his horse.) “Don't you be too sure, ma'am, there's a necessity, when a man is a villainous fellow!”

He now mounted and somewhat deliberately tautened his mustard coloured gloves. The wind missed them in the grey-black road, splashing over the bushy pinnacles of the wood, and huddling and rattling in the opening. “Now,” Sir William said, “with your leave, I will take no further risk. I am nervous of Mr. Daunt, and so are you, my dear. He is more interested in the fate of the little article in my pocket than in all the rest of his affairs. What might a man like that not do! I tell you, I thought he would have taken it from me this morning in my room—so painful was my anxiety. This little pad put in her hands will make him a perfidious fellow—a betrayer of friendship—a calumniator before Hobarton — about this lady, and about poor Heans, your faithful old servant. Won't you, for my friend's sake, and for your old servant, come up now, and put it in her hands?”

“Me, sir?” said Abelia, rather pitifully; “you want me to do it?”

“Yes, my dear.” (And he looked down, struggling his glass in, as hardly knowing what he did) “I will never ask you to do so much for me again. I will dismount you at the gate, my


  ― 258 ―
dear—I have a private reluctance to handing her something which if it brings her relief, must remind her of much suffering come to her through me. Go in and ask for Mrs. Hyde-Shaxton. You will give it into her hands only, and say it is ‘a farewell gift from a sincere friend.’ Do I make myself heard over the wind? ‘A sincere friend.’ ”

(Yes, Abelia heard him. She was watching him closely with dismayed, soft, striving goggles, as if she would have warned him that he was again speaking strangely tragical and final. Farewell! The word caught in her own slender throat. And why, if all would be right now, did he bid the lady “farewell” as if he would never see her again in the wide world? And why was she—she who lived beside—never to do more than this action for him? A sad way to speak! A strange, vexatious way! Yes, she heard him over the wind, and crushedly nodded her calm, pale face.)

“Quick, let us get it done!” he said; and while he spoke he glanced behind him, as with a recollection of another meeting on that road. “Not my name,” he said, “if you can withhold it, my dear. And return quick, and I will be waiting a little down the hill. It is but a few yards from the gate. I remember the place. Ah, it will save us much pain—save us much pain!” Indeed, he was not entirely himself, and seemed to try and shut his lips as he shook his reins and moved upwards.

Abelia followed on her grey horse. In his tragic eagerness he left her somewhat behind; and by the wall at the top he waited for her, his hand on his hat, and coat-tails fluttering. His bleared face was kind, and smiled as he put that flapping yellow thing into her slow hand. When he had lifted her to the ground and she had groped her way into the garden, holding her habit loosely, her hat low upon her white, quiet face he turned back, and struggled down beside the wall into the shelter of white stems and silver bushes. As he passed, he picked a double blossom from the shivering crane's-bills, saw it but absently, and moved on crushing it to atoms in his fingers. His track was starred with little drops of red. The uneasy beasts delayed him, pulling at the tussocks, or urging forward against his shoulders. Now he stopped. Behind him was the retaining wall, below him the fall of the steep road.

When Abelia reached the door and rang, Matilda came out and spoke to her very kindly. She examined the pad, saw the monogram upon it, and seemed at once to gather what it was that was being handed to her by the distrait being in the untidy habit and goggles. She asked the girl if she had ridden up alone, but the girl trembled out, “no, there was some one with the horses.”

Matilda then said strangely: “Won't you take off your glasses,


  ― 259 ―
and allow me to see what you are like? You have been a companion to Sir William Heans upon his rides for so long a while.”

Abelia struggled off her glasses, and showed her restless eyes. Matilda stared and wept some tears. She presently expressed surprise that the article should have come into her hands direct from Sir William Heans, since Captain Shaxton had sent up in the morning to say he had warned Sir William he would call that night. Whereupon Abelia, with some silence and looking down, told her no one had seen Sir William but Mr. Daunt, and what had just taken place at the Barracks and Boundary, and how Sir William Heans had formerly lost private letters in that way. And Matilda abruptly asked, “But why should he carry it with him?” And the girl shook her quiet head, and then explained that he took it from his pocket just as they came up to Davey Street, and put it in the saddle. After which Matilda took her limp hand, whip and all, and for a long while could not stop a kind of silent crying.

Abelia stood quiet until she had recovered herself. Once she fluttered up upon her face with blind, placid eyes, and fluttered away. Matilda begged her to thank Sir William Heans. She had suffered much to-day, and for the last three days, for the sake— for the sake of this dreadful matter, and she could never thank him enough for the precaution he had taken—for taking it into safety, and so bringing, she was told, yet really would not believe it, another danger on himself. “Oh, it was not believable of any one.” (We see this was the kind of friend Mr. Daunt had made himself—as many another: a being to whom he could be faithless in a weak moment, to whom he could be mean and wicked with provocation, and yet who would not readily leave him.) But she would run and write a few words, she added, if Miss Oughtryn would wait one moment; and Miss Oughtryn assenting tremulous-voiced, yet as precise as she could be under the strange circumstances, she ran away like a fair, uneasy wraith. And Abelia, as she stood blinking at the blowing flowers, once echoed to herself, “Not believable of any one!”

Matilda wrote to Sir William Heans much what she said to Abelia, adding: “Sir, I cannot believe there is any danger for you, or one in your position, if only you will be jealous for your private welfare, and the regulations. There are those who are too ready to say you are among those harbouring resentment against them; who watch for your falling, full of pessimism, and disbelief in your discretion. I have heard more than one speak of you in that way. Surely this is all you have to fear. If there is more, only God can watch. Oh, sir, the quiet path, and rigid care, just now, for your very life's sake! Miss Oughtryn tells me you wish me ‘farewell.’ Thank you, sir, and I wish it to you too.”

Even when Matilda came out with the letter, she seemed not


  ― 260 ―
very well able to speak. Yet in her ardent seriousness, she forced her unwilling lips to say, “in Captain Shaxton and herself Sir William Heans had no fair-weather friends, as he would find if ever he—ever he needed them.” It was the old, skilled Matilda Shaxton who spoke those words. And Abelia took the letter, and bobbed a serene strange curtsey. At that Mrs. Shaxton came forward very touchingly, and put her hand for a moment on her arm as if she would stay her yet. But she did not seem able to think of what she would say.

Poor Abelia blinked very fast, and her calm head trembled. And suddenly Mrs. Shaxton said quite quietly: “Do not distress yourself, Miss Oughtryn. It will all come right—it must,” and asked if Sir William was much changed? And presently the girl trembled out in a cautious way: the gentleman was a little wilder in his ways—“Oh, I don't know, ma'am!” but she knew he would be grateful for the despatch. Then out of her placid distress, she broke away, and tremblingly asked, “if she might pick Sir William Heans a few of those thin, white flowers as a keepsake?” And I suppose, as Matilda bent her head over the valerian, she must have remembered that wild morning she picked them for Death's sake.

So Abelia fumbled on her goggles, and bobbing another curtsey, wrestled out of the pretty blown garden, holding her hat and the flowers in a forlorn-hope clutch. Oh, at the gate, what a torn, grey sea! She shut the gate, and struggled wisp-like along the wall till she found her companion. There he stood, with his hat in hand, smoothing his neat forehead with a faded check handkerchief. His chin was somewhat sunk in his cravat, and his eyeglass swung upon his old spencer. How distinguished and handsome he looked, how elegantly the old plaid breeches gripped the well-painted boots. How well his drooping, French moustaches became his aged and saddened face.

He looked about, blanched, and stared as he saw the flowers Abelia carried. The girl's face behind the goggles seemed unvexed, but as white as her Vandyke collar. As she groped nearer, he seemed frightened at the stoneyness of it. “Ah,” he said, “you seem overtired, miss,” and he regretted that he had brought her through so much. She did not seem inclined to speak, possibly because she would not trouble him with an answer; but she gave him the letter, and stood fluttering over the flowers, till, taking them from her, he fixed them in the pocket of her saddle. It was only when descending the hill that he asked for the flowers, took them, and threw them into the wood; then opened the letter, read it, and cast away the fragments. He experienced a curious notion at the bottom of the hill, where for a moment he pulled in alone. At the top, where the trees met the wall—he was certain of it—some one was standing in a maroon shawl.

previous
next