Phantom Fortune, A Novel
M. E. Braddon
Part 9 out of 10
They both expected to see a room humble almost to poverty--an iron
bedstead, perhaps, and such furniture as the under servants in a
nobleman's household are privileged to enjoy. Both were alike surprised
at the luxury of the apartment they entered, and which was evidently
reserved exclusively for Steadman's uncle.
It was a sitting-room. The furniture was old-fashioned, but almost as
handsome as any in Lady Maulevrier's apartments. There was a large sofa
of most comfortable shape, covered with dark red velvet, and furnished
with pillows and foot rugs, which would have satisfied a Sybarite of the
first water. Beside the sofa stood a hookah, with all appliances in the
Oriental fashion; and half a dozen long cherry-wood pipes neatly
arranged above the mantelpiece showed that Mr. Steadman's uncle was a
smoker of a luxurious type.
In the centre of the room stood a large writing table, with a case of
pigeon-holes at the back, a table which would not have disgraced a Prime
Minister's study. A pair of wax candles, in tall silver candlesticks,
lighted this table, which was littered with papers, in a wild confusion
that too plainly indicated the condition of the owner's mind. The oak
floor was covered with Persian prayer rugs, old and faded, but of the
richest quality. The window curtains were dark red velvet; and through
an open doorway Mary and her husband saw a corresponding luxury in the
arrangements of the adjoining bedroom.
The whole thing seemed wild and strange as a fairy tale. The weird and
wizened old man, grinning and nodding his head at them. The handsome
room, rich with dark, subdued colour, in the dim light of four wax
candles, two on the table, two on the mantelpiece. The perfume of
stephanotis and tea-roses, blended faintly with the all-pervading odour
of latakia and Turkish attar. All was alike strange, bearing in mind
that this old man was a recipient of Lady Maulevrier's charity, a
hanger-on upon a confidential servant, who might be supposed to be
generously treated if he had the run of his teeth and the shelter of a
decent garret. Verily, there was something regal in such hospitality as
this, accorded to a pauper lunatic.
Where was Steadman, the alert, the watchful, all this time? Mary
wondered. They had met no one. The house was as mute as if it were under
the spell of a magician. It was like that awful chamber in the Arabian
story, where the young man found the magic horse, and started on his
fatal journey. Mary felt as if here, too, there, must be peril; here,
too, fate was working.
The old man went to the writing table, pushed aside the papers, and then
stooped down and turned a mysterious handle or winch under the
knee-hole, and the writing-desk moved slowly on one side, while the
pigeon-holes sank, and a deep well full of secret drawers was laid open.
From one of these secret drawers the old man took a bunch of keys,
nodding, chuckling, muttering to himself as he groped for them with
'Steadman is uncommonly clever--thinks he knows everything--but he
doesn't know the trick of this table. I could hide a regiment of Sepoys
in this table, my dear. Well, well, perhaps not Sepoys--too big, too
big--but I could hide all the State papers of the Presidency. There are
drawers enough for that.'
Hartfield watched him intently, with thoughtful brow. There was a
mystery here, a mystery of the deepest dye; and it was for him--it must
needs be his task, welcome or unwelcome, to unravel it.
This was the Maulevrier skeleton.
'Now, come with me,' said the old man, clutching Mary's wrist, and
drawing her towards the half-open door leading into the bedroom.
She had a feeling of shrinking, for there was something uncanny about
the old man, something that might be life or death, might belong to this
world or the next; but she had no fear. In the first place, she was
courageous by nature, and in the second her husband was with her, a
tower of strength, and she could know no fear while he was at her side.
The strange old man led the way across his bedroom to an inner chamber,
oak pannelled, with very little furniture, but holding much treasure in
the shape of trunks, portmanteaux--all very old and dusty--and two large
wooden cases, banded with iron.
Before one of these cases the man knelt down, and applied a key to the
padlock which fastened it. He gave the candle to Lord Hartfield to hold,
and then opened the box. It seemed to be full of books, which he began
to remove, heaping them on the floor beside him; and it was not till he
had cleared away a layer of dingy volumes that he came to a large metal
strong box, so heavy that he could not lift it out of the chest.
Slowly, tremulously, and with quickened breathing, he unlocked the box
where it was, and raised the lid.
'Look,' he said eagerly, 'this is her legacy--this is my little girl's
Lord Hartfield bent down and looked at the old man's treasure, by the
wavering light of the candle; Mary looking over his shoulder, breathless
The strong box was divided into compartments. One, and the largest, was
filled with rouleaux of coin, packed as closely as possible. The others
contained jewels, set and unset--diamonds, emeralds, rubies,
sapphires--which flashed back the flickering flame of the candle with
glintings of rainbow light.
'These are all for her--all--all,' exclaimed the old man. 'They are
worth a prince's ransom. Those rouleaux are all gold; those gems are
priceless. They were the dowry of a princess. But they are hers
now--yes, my dear, they are yours--because you spoke sweetly, and smiled
prettily, and were very good to a lonely old man--and because you have
my mother's face, dear, a smile that recalls the days of my youth. Lift
out the box and take it away with you, if you are strong enough,--you,
you,' he said, touching Lord Hartfield. 'Hide it somewhere--keep it from
_her_. Let no one know--no one except your wife and you must be in the
'My dear sir, it is out of the question--impossible that my wife or I
should accept one of those coins--or the smallest of those jewels.'
'Why not, in the devil's name?'
'First and foremost, we do not know how you came in possession of them;
secondly, we do not know who you are.'
'They came to me fairly enough--bequeathed to me by one who had the
right to leave them. Would you have had all that gold left for an
adventurer to wallow in?'
'You must keep your treasure, sir, however it may have come to you,'
answered Lord Hartfield firmly. 'My wife cannot take upon herself the
burden of a single gold coin--least of all from a stranger. Remember,
sir, to us your possession of this wealth--nay, your whole existence--is
'You want to know who I am?' said the old man drawing himself up, with a
sudden _hauteur_ which was not without dignity, despite his shrunken
form and grotesque appearence. 'Well, sir. I am----'
He checked himself abruptly, and looked round the room with a scared
'No, no, no,' he muttered; 'caution, caution! They have not done with me
yet; she warned me--they are lying in wait; I mustn't walk into their
trap.' And then turning to Lord Hartfield, he said, haughtily, 'I shall
not condescend to tell you who I am, sir. You must know that I am a
gentleman, and that is enough for you. There is my gift to your
wife'--pointing to the chest--'take it or leave it.'
'I shall leave it, sir, with all due respect.'
A frightful change came over the old man's face at this determined
refusal. His eyes glowered at Lord Hartfield under the heavy scowling
brows; his bloodless lips worked convulsively.
'Do you take me for a thief?' he exclaimed. 'Are you afraid to touch my
gold--that gold for which men and women sell their souls, blast their
lives with shame, and pain, and dishonour, all the world over? Do you
stand aloof from it--refuse to touch it, as if it were infected? And
you, too, girl! Have you no sense? Are you an idiot?'
'I can do nothing against my husband's wish,' Mary answered, quietly;
'and, indeed, there is no need for us to take your money. We are rich
without it. Please leave that chest to a hospital. It will be ever so
much better than giving it to us.'
'You told me you were going to marry a poor man?'
'I know. But he cheated me, and turned out to be a rich man. He was a
horrid impostor,' said Mary, drawing closer to her husband, and smiling
up at him.
The old man flung down the lid of his strong box, which shut with a
sonorous clang. He locked it, and put the key in his pocket.
'I have done with you.' he said. 'You can go your ways, both of you.
Fools, fools, fools! The world is peopled with rogues and fools; and, by
heaven, I would rather have to do with the rogues!'
He flung himself into an arm-chair, one of the few objects of furniture
in the room, and left them to find their way back alone.
'Good-night, sir,' said Lord Hartfield; but the old man made no reply.
He sat frowning sullenly.
'Good-night, sir,' said Mary, in her gentle voice, breathing infinite
'Good-night, child,' he growled. 'I am sorry you have married an ass.'
This was more than Mary could stand, and she was about to reply with
some acrimony, when her husband put his hand upon her lips and hurried
On the landing they met Mrs. Steadman, a stout, commonplace person, who
always had the same half-frightened look, as of one who lived in the
shadow of an abiding terror, obviously cowed and brow beaten by her
husband, according to the Fellside household.
At sight of Lord Hartfield and his wife she looked a little more
frightened than usual.
'Goodness gracious, Lady Mary! how ever did you come here?' she gasped,
not yet having quite realised the fact that Mary had been promoted.
'We came to please Steadman's uncle--he brought us in here,' Mary
'But where did you find him?'
'In the corridor--just by her ladyship's room.'
'Then he must have taken the key out of Steadman's pocket, or Steadman
must have left it about somewhere,' muttered Mrs. Steadman, as if
explaining the matter to herself, rather than to Mary. 'My poor husband
is not the man he was. And so you met him in the corridor, and he
brought you in here. Poor old gentleman! He gets madder and madder every
'There is method in his madness,' said Lord Hartfield. 'He talked very
much like sanity just now. Has your husband had the charge of him long?'
Mrs. Steadman answered somewhat confusedly.
'A goodish time, sir. I can't quite exactly say--time passes so quiet in
a place like this. One hardly keeps count of the years.'
'Forty years, perhaps?'
Mrs. Steadman blenched under Lord Hartfield's steadfast look--a look
which questioned more searchingly than his words.
'Forty years,' she repeated, with a faint laugh. 'Oh, dear no, sir, not
a quarter as long. It isn't so many years, after all, since Steadman's
poor old uncle went a little queer in his head; and Steadman, having
such a quiet home here, and plenty of spare room, made bold to ask her
ladyship if he might give the poor old man a home, where he would be in
'And the poor old man seems to have a very luxurious home,' answered
Lord Hartfield. 'Pray when and where did Mr. Steadman's uncle learn to
smoke a hookah?'
Simple as the question was, it proved too much for Mrs. Steadman. She
only shook her head, and faltered some unintelligible reply.
'Where is your husband?' asked Lord Hartfield: 'I should like to have a
little talk with him, if he is disengaged.'
'He is not very well, my lord,' answered Mrs. Steadman. 'He has been
ailing off and on for the last six months, but I couldn't get him to see
the doctor, or to tell her ladyship that he was in bad health. And about
a week ago he broke down altogether, and fell into a kind of drowsy
state. He keeps about, and he does his work pretty much the same as
usual, but I can see that it's too much for him. If you like to come
downstairs I can let you through the lower door into the hall; and if he
should have woke up since I have left him he'll be at your lordship's
service. But I'd rather not wake him out of his sleep.'
'There is no occasion. What I have to say will keep till to-morrow.'
Lord Hartfield and his wife followed Mrs. Steadman downstairs to the low
dark hall, where an old eight-day clock ticked with hoarse and solemn
heat, and a fine stag's head over each doorway gave evidence of some
former Haselden's sporting tastes. The door of a small panelled parlour
stood half-way open; and within the room Lord Hartfield saw James
Steadman asleep in an arm-chair by the fire, which burned as brightly as
if it had been Christmas time.
'He was so chilly and shivery this afternoon that I was obliged to light
a fire,' said Mrs. Steadman.
'He seems to be sleeping heavily,' said Hartfield. 'Don't awaken him.
I'll see him to-morrow morning before I go to London.'
'He sleeps half the day just as heavy as that, my lord,' said the wife,
with a troubled air. 'I don't think it can be right.'
'I don't think so either,' answered Lord Hartfield. 'You had better call
in the doctor.'
'I will, my lord, to-morrow morning. James will be angry with me, I
daresay; but I must take upon myself to do it without his leave.'
She led the way along a passage corresponding with the one above, and
unlocked a door opening into a lobby near the billiard-room.
'Come, Molly, see if you can beat me at a fifty game,' said Lord
Hartfield, with the air of a man who wants to shake off the impression
of some dominant idea.
'Of course you will annihilate me, but it will be a relief to play,'
answered Mary. 'That strange old man has given me a shock. Everything
about his surroundings is so different from what I expected. And how
could an uncle of Steadman's come by all that money--and those
jewels--if they were jewels, and not bits of glass which the poor old
thing has chopped up, in order to delude himself with an imaginary
'I do not think they are bits of glass, Molly.'
'They sparkled tremendously--almost as much as my--our--the family
diamonds,' said Mary, puzzled how to describe that property which she
held in right of her position as countess regnant; 'but if they are real
jewels, and all those rouleaux real money, how could Steadman's uncle
become possessed of such wealth?'
'How, indeed?' said Lord Hartfield, choosing his cue
ON BOARD THE 'CAYMAN.'
Goodwood had come and gone, a brief bright season of loss and gain, fine
gowns, flirtation, lobster en mayonaise, champagne, sunshine, dust,
glare, babble of many voices, successes, failures, triumphs,
humiliations. A very pretty picture to contemplate from the outside,
this little world in holiday clothes, framed in greenery! but just on
the Brocken, where the nicest girl among the dancers had the unpleasant
peculiarity of dropping a little red mouse out of her mouth--so too here
under different forms there were red mice dropping about among the
company. Here a hint of coming insolvency; there a whisper of a
threatened divorce suit, staved off for awhile, compromises, family
secrets, little difficulties everywhere; betrothed couples smilingly
accepting congratulations, who should never have been affianced were
truth and honour the rule of life; forsaken wives pretending to think
their husbands models of fidelity; jovial creatures with ruin staring in
their faces; households divided and shamming union; almost everybody
living above his or her means; and the knowledge that nobody is any
better or any happier than his neighbour society's only fountain of
Lady Lesbia's gowns and parasols had been admired, her engagement had
furnished an infinity of gossip, and the fact of Montesma's constant
attendance upon her had given zest to the situation, just that flavour
of peril and fatality which the soul of society loveth.
'Is she going to marry them both?' asked an ancient dowager of the
'No, dear Lady Sevenoaks, she can only marry one, don't you know; but
the other is nice to go about with; and I believe it is the other she
'It is always the other that a woman likes,' answered the dowager; 'I am
madly in love with this Peruvian--no, I think you said Cuban--myself. I
wish some good-natured creature would present him to me. If you know
anybody who knows him, tell them to bring him to my next
afternoon--Saturday. But why does--_chose_--_machin_--Smithson allow
such a handsome hanger-on? After marriage I could understand that he
might not be able to help himself; but before marriage a man generally
has some kind of authority.'
The world wondered a little, just as Lady Sevenoaks wondered, at
Smithson's complacency in allowing a man so attractive as Montesma to be
so much in the society of his future wife, yet even the censorious could
but admit that the Cuban's manner offered no ground for offence. He
came to Goodwood 'on his own hook,' as society put it: and every man who
wears a decent coat and is not a welsher has a right to enjoy the
prettiest race-course in England. He spent a considerable part of the
day in Lesbia's company; but since she was the centre of a little crowd
all the time, there could be no offence in this. He was a stranger,
knowing very few people, and having nothing to do but to amuse himself.
Smithson was an old and familiar friend, and was in a measure bound to
give him hospitality.
Mr. Smithson had recognised that obligation, but in a somewhat sparing
manner. There were a dozen unoccupied bedchambers in the Park Lane
Renaissance villa; but Smithson did not invite his Cuban acquaintance to
shift his quarters from the Bristol to Park Lane. He was civil to Don
Gomez: but anyone who had taken the trouble to watch and study the
conduct and social relations of these two men would have seen that his
civility was a forced civility, and that he endured the Spaniard's
society under constraint of some kind.
And now all the world was flocking to Cowes for the regatta, and Lesbia
and her chaperon were established on board Mr. Smithson's yacht, the
_Cayman_; and the captain of the _Cayman_ and all her crew were
delivered over to Lesbia to be her slaves and to obey her lightest
breath. The _Cayman_ was to lie at anchor off Cowes for the regatta
week; and then she was to sail for Hyde, and lie at anchor there for
another regatta week; and she was to be a floating-hotel for Lady Lesbia
so long as the young lady would condescend to occupy her.
The captain was an altogether exceptional captain, and the crew were a
picked crew, ruddy faced, sandy whiskered for the most part, Englishmen
all, honest, hardy fellows from between the Nore and the Wash, talking
in an honest provincial patois, dashed with sea slang. They were the
very pink and pattern of cleanliness, and the _Cayman_ herself from stem
to stern was dazzling and spotless to an almost painful degree.
Not content with the existing arrangements of the yacht, which were at
once elegant and luxurious, Mr. Smithson had sent down a Bond Street
upholsterer to refit the saloon and Lady Lesbia's cabin. The dark velvet
and morocco which suited a masculine occupant would not have harmonised
with girlhood and beauty; and Mr. Smithson's saloon, as originally
designed, had something of the air of a _tabagie_. The Bond Street man
stripped away all the velvet and morocco, plucked up the Turkey carpet,
draped the scuttle-ports with pale yellow cretonne garnished with orange
pompons, subdued the glare of the skylight by a blind of oriental silk,
covered the divans with Persian saddlebags, the floor with a delicate
Indian matting, and furnished the saloon with all that was most feminine
in the way of bamboo chairs and tea-tables, Japanese screens and fans
of gorgeous colouring. Here and there against the fluted yellow drapery
he fastened a large Rhodes plate; and the thing was done. Lady Lesbia's
cabin was all bamboo and embroidered India muslin. An oval glass, framed
in Dresden biscuit, adorned the side, a large white bearskin covered the
floor. The berth was pretty enough for the cradle of a duchess's first
baby. Even Lesbia, spoiled by much indulgence and unlimited credit, gave
a little cry of pleasure at sight of the nest that had been made ready
'Really, Mr. Smithson is immensely kind!' she exclaimed.
'Smithson is always kind,' answered Lady Kirkbank, 'and you don't half
enough appreciate him. He has given me his very own cabin--such a dear
little den! There are his cigar boxes and everything lovely on the
shelves, and his own particular dressing-case put open for me to
use--all the backs of all the brushes _repousse_ silver, and all the
scent-bottles filled expressly for me. If the yacht would only stand
quite still, I should think it more delicious than the best house I ever
stayed in: only I don't altogether enjoy that little way it has of
gurgling up and down perpetually.'
Mr. Smithson's chief butler, a German Swiss, and a treasure of
intelligence, had come down to take the domestic arrangements of the
yacht into his control. The Park Lane _chef_ was also on board, Mr.
Smithson's steward acting as his subordinate. This great man grumbled
sorely at the smallness of his surroundings; for the most luxurious
yacht was a poor substitute for the spacious kitchens and storerooms and
stillrooms of the London mansion. There was a cabin for Lady Kirkbank's
Rilboche and Lady Lesbia's Kibble, where the two might squabble at their
leisure; in a word, everything had been done that forethought could do
to make the yacht as perfect a place of sojourn as any floating
habitation, from Noah's Ark to the Orient steamers, had ever been made.
It was between four and five upon a delicious July afternoon that Lady
Kirkbank and her charge came on board. The maids and the luggage had
been sent a day in advance, so that everything might be in its place,
and the empty boxes all stowed away, before the ladies arrived. They had
nothing to do but walk on board and fling themselves into the low
luxurious chairs ready for them on the deck, a little wearied by the
heat and dust of a railway journey, and with that delicious sense of
languid indifference to all the cares of life which seems to be in the
very atmosphere of a perfect summer afternoon.
A striped awning covered the deck, and great baskets of roses--pink, and
red, and yellow--were placed about here and there. Tea was ready on a
low table, a swinging brass kettle hissing merrily, with an air of
Mr. Smithson had accompanied his _fiancee_ from town, and now sat
reading the _Globe_, and meekly waiting for his tea, while Lesbia took a
languid survey of the shore and the flotilla of boats, little and big,
and while Lady Kirkbank rhapsodised about the yacht, praising
everything, and calling everything by a wrong name. He was to be their
guest all day, and every day. They were to have enough of him, as Lesbia
had observed to her chaperon, with a spice of discontent, not quite so
delighted with the arrangement as her faithful swain. To him the idea
'You have contrived somehow to keep me very much at a distance
hitherto,' he told Lesbia, 'and I feel sometimes as if we were almost
strangers; but a yacht is the best place in the world to bring two
people together, and a week at Cowes will make us nearer to each other
and more to each other than three months in London;' and Lesbia had said
nothing, inwardly revolting at the idea of becoming any nearer and
dearer to this man whom she had pledged herself to marry. She was to be
his wife--yes, some day--and it was his desire the some day should be
soon: but in the interval her dearest privilege was the power to keep
him at a distance.
And yet she could not make up her mind to break with him, to say
honestly, 'I never liked you much, and now we are engaged I find myself
liking you less and less every day. Save me from the irrevocable
wickedness of a loveless marriage. Forgive me, and let me go.' No, this
she could not bring herself to say. She did not like Mr. Smithson, but
she valued the position he was able to give her. She wanted to be
mistress of that infinite wealth--she could not renounce that right to
which she fancied she had been born, her right to be one of the Queens
of Society: and the only man who had offered to crown her as queen, to
find her a palace and a court, was Horace Smithson. Without Mr. Smithson
her first season would have resulted in dire failure. She might perhaps
have endured that failure, and been content to abide the chances of a
second season, had it not been for Mary's triumph. But for Mary to be a
Countess, and for Lesbia to remain Lesbia Haselden, a nobody, dependent
upon the caprices of a grandmother whose means might after all be but
limited--no, such a concatenation as that was not to be endured. Lesbia
told herself that she could not go back to Fellside to remain there
indefinitely, a spinster and a dependent. She had learnt the true value
of money; she had found out what the world was like; and it seemed to
her that some such person as Mr. Smithson was essential to her
existence, just as a butler is a necessity in a house. One may not like
the man, but the post must be filled.
Again, if she were to throw over Mr. Smithson, and speculate upon her
chances of next year, what hope had she of doing better in her second
season than in her first? The horizon was blank. There was no great
_parti_ likely to offer himself for competition. She had seen all that
the market could produce. Wealthy bachelors, high-born lovers, could not
drop from the moon. Lesbia, schooled by Lady Kirkbank, knew her peerage
by heart; and she knew that, having missed Lord Hartfield, there was
really no one in the Blue Book worth waiting for. Thus, caring only for
those things which wealth can buy, she had made up her mind that she
could not do without Horace Smithson's money; and she must therefore
needs resign herself to the disagreeable necessity of taking Smithson
and his money together. The great auctioneer Fate would not divide the
She told herself that for her a loveless marriage was, after all, no
prodigious sacrifice. She had found out that heart made but a small
figure in the sum of her life. She could do without love. A year ago she
had fancied herself in love with John Hammond. In her seclusion at St.
Bees, in the long, dull August days, sauntering up and down by the edge
of the sea, in the melancholy sunset hour, she thought that her heart
was broken, that life was worthless without the man she loved. She had
thought and felt all this, but not strongly enough to urge her to any
great effort, not keenly enough to make her burst her chains. She had
preferred to suffer this loss than to sacrifice her chances of future
aggrandisement. And now she looked back and remembered those sunset
walks by the sea, and all her thoughts and feelings in those silent
summer hours; and she smiled at herself, half in scorn, half in pity,
for her own weakness. How easily she had learned to do without him who
at that hour seemed the better part of her existence. A good deal of
gaiety and praise, a little mild flirtation at Kirkbank Castle, and lo!
the image of her first lover began to grow dim and blurred, like a faded
photograph. A season at Cannes, and she was cured. A week in London, and
that first love was a thing of the past, a dream from which the dreamer
awaketh, forgetting the things that he has dreamt.
Remembering all this she told herself that she had no heart, that love
or no love was a question of very little moment, and that the personal
qualities of the man whom she chose for a husband mattered nothing to
her, provided that his lands and houses and social status came up to her
standard of merit. She had seen Mr. Smithson's houses and lands; and she
was distinctly assured that he would in due course be raised to the
peerage. She had, therefore, every reason to be satisfied.
Having thus reasoned out the circumstances of her new life, she accepted
her fate with a languid grace, which harmonised with her delicate and
patrician beauty. Nobody could have for a moment supposed from her
manner that she loved Horace Smithson; but nobody had the right to
think that she detested him. She accepted all his attentions as a thing
of course. The flowers which he strewed beneath her footsteps, the
pearls which he melted in her wine--metaphorically speaking--were just
'good enough' and no more. This afternoon, when Mr. Smithson asked her
how she liked the arrangements of the saloon and cabin, she said she
thought they would do very nicely. 'They would do.' Nothing more.
'It is dreadfully small, of course,' she said, 'when one is accustomed
to rooms: but it is rather amusing to be in a sort of doll's house, and
on deck it is really very nice.'
This was the most Mr. Smithson had for his pains, and he seemed to be
content therewith. If a man will marry the prettiest girl of the year he
must be satisfied with such scant civility as conscious perfection may
give him. We know that Aphrodite was not altogether the most comfortable
wife, and that Helen was a cause of trouble.
Mr. Smithson sat in a bamboo chair beside his mistress, and looked
ineffably happy when she handed him a cup of tea. Sky and sea were one
exquisite azure--the colours of the boats glancing in the sunshine as if
they had been jewels; here an emerald rudder, there a gunwale painted
with liquid rubies. White sails, white frocks, white ducks made vivid
patches of light against the blue. The landscape yonder shone and
sparkled as if it had been incandescent. All the world of land and sky
and sea was steeped in sunshine. A day on which to do nothing, read
nothing, think nothing, only to exist.
While they sat basking in the balmy atmosphere, looking lazily at that
bright, almost insupportable picture of blue sea under blue sky, there
came the dip of oars, making music, and a sound of coolness with every
plash of water.
'How good it is of somebody to row about, just to give us that nice
soothing sound,' murmured Lesbia.
Lady Kirkbank, with her dear old head thrown back upon the cushion of
her luxurious chair, and her dear little cornflower hat just a thought
on one side, was sleeping the sleep of the just, and unconsciously
revealing the little golden arrangements which gave variety to her front
The soothing sound came nearer and nearer, close under the _Cayman's_
quarter, and then a brown hand clasped the man-ropes, and a light slim
figure swung itself upon deck, while the boat bobbed and splashed below.
It was Montesma, who had not been expected till the racing, which was
not to begin for two days. A faint, faint rose bloom flushed Lady
Lesbia's cheek at sight of him; and Mr. Smithson gave a little look of
vexation, just one rapid contraction of the eyebrows, which resumed
their conventional placidity the next instant.
'So good of you,' he murmured. 'I really did not expect you till the
beginning of the week.'
'London is simply insupportable in this weather--most of all for a man
born in the Havanas. My soul thirsted for blue water. So I said to
myself, This good Smithson is at Cowes; he will give me the run of his
yacht and a room at his villa. Why not go to Cowes at once?'
'The room is at your service. I have only two or three of my people at
Formosa, but just enough to look after a bachelor friend.'
'I want very little service, my dear fellow,' answered Montesma,
pleasantly. 'A man who has crossed the Cordilleras and camped in the
primeval forest on the shores of the Amazon, learns to help himself. So
this is the _Cayman_? _Muy deleitoso, mi amigo_. A floating Paradise in
little. If the ark had been like this, I don't think any of the
passengers would have wanted the flood to dry up.'
He shook hands with Lady Lesbia as he spoke, and with Lady Kirkbank, who
looked at him as if he were part of her dream, and then he sank into the
chair on Lesbia's left hand, with the air of being established for the
rest of the day.
'I have left my portmanteaux at the end of the pier,' he said lazily. 'I
dare say one of your fellows will be good enough to take them to Formosa
Mr. Smithson gave the necessary order. All the beauty had gone out of the
sea and the sky for him, all the contentment from his mind; and yet he
was in no position to rebel against Fate--in no position to say directly
or indirectly, 'Don Gomez de Montesma, I don't want you here, and I must
request you to transfer yourself elsewhither.'
Lesbia's feelings were curiously different. The very sight of that
nervous brown hand upon the rope just now had sent a strange thrill
through her veins. She who believed herself heartless could scarce trust
herself to speak for the vehement throbbing of her heart. A sense of joy
too deep for words possessed her as she reclined in her low chair, with
drooping eyelids, yet feeling the fire of those dark southern eyes upon
her face, scorching her like an actual flame.
'Lady Lesbia, may I have a cup of tea?' he asked; not because he wanted
the tea, but only for the cruel delight of seeing if she were able to
give it to him calmly.
Her hands shook, fluttered, wandered helplessly, as she poured out that
cup of tea and handed it to Montesma, a feminine office which she had
performed placidly enough for Mr. Smithson. The Spaniard took the cup
from her with a quiet smile, a subtle look which seemed to explore the
inmost depth of her consciousness.
Yes, this man was verily her master. She knew it, and he know it, as
that look of his told her. Vain to play her part of languid
indifference--vain to struggle against her bondage. In heart and spirit
she was at his feet, an odalisque, recognising and bowing down to her
Happily for the general peace, Mr. Smithson had been looking away
seaward, with a somewhat troubled brow, while that little cap and saucer
episode was being enacted. And in the next minute Lesbia had recovered
her self-command, and resumed that graceful languor which was one of her
charms. She was weak, but she was not altogether foolish; and she had no
idea of succumbing to this new influence--of yielding herself up to this
conqueror, who seemed to take her life into his hand as if it were a bit
of thistledown. Her agitation of those first few minutes was due to the
suddenness of his appearance--the reaction from dulness to delight. She
had been told that he was not to be at Cowes till Monday, and lo! he was
here at her side, just as she was thinking how empty and dreary life was
He dropped into his place so naturally and easily, made himself so
thoroughly at home and so agreeable to every one, that it was almost
impossible for Horace Smithson to resent his audacity! Mr. Smithson's
vitals might be devoured by the gnawing of the green-eyed monster, but
however fierce that gnawing were, he did not want to seem jealous.
Montesma was there as the very incarnation of some experiences in Mr.
Smithson's past career, and he dared not object to the man's presence.
And so the summer day wore on. They had the yacht all to themselves that
evening, for the racing yachts were fulfilling engagements in other
waters, and the gay company of pleasure-seekers had not yet fully
assembled. They were dropping in one by one, all the evening, and Cowes
roads grew fuller of life with every hour of the summer night.
Mr. Smithson and his guests dined in the saloon, a snug little party of
four, and sat long over dessert, deep into the dusk; and they talked of
all things under heaven, things frivolous, things grave, but most of all
about that fair, strange world in far-off southern waters, the sunny
islands of the Caribbean Sea, and the dreamy, luxurious life of that
tropical clime, half Spanish, half Oriental, wholly independent of
European conventionalities. Lesbia listened, enchanted by the picture.
What were Park Lane palaces, and Berkshire manors, the petty splendours
of the architect and the upholsterer, weighed against a world in which
all nature is on a grander scale? Mr. Smithson might give her fine
houses and costly upholstery; but only the Tropic of Cancer could give
her larger and brighter stars, a world of richer colouring, a land of
perpetual summer, nights luminous with fire-flies, gardens in which the
fern and the cactus were as forest trees, and where humming-birds
flashed among the foliage like living flowers; nay, where the flowers
themselves took the forms of the animal world and seemed instinct with
life and motion.
'Yes,' said Mr. Smithson, with his gentlemanlike drawl, 'Spanish America
and the West Indies are delightful places to talk about. There are so
many things one leaves out of the picture--thieves, niggers, jiggers,
snakes, mosquitoes, yellow Jack, creeping, crawling creatures of all
kinds. I always feel very glad I have been to South America.'
'In order that I may never go there again,' replied Mr. Smithson.
'I was beginning to hope you would take me there some day,' said Lesbia.
'Never again, no, not even for your sake. No man should ever leave
Europe after he is five-and-thirty; indeed, I doubt if after that age he
should venture beyond the Mediterranean. That is the sea of
civilisation. Anything outside it means barbarism.'
'I hope we are going to travel by-and-by,' said Lesbia; 'I have been
mewed up in Grasmere half my life, and if you are going to confine me to
the shores of the Mediterranean, which is, after all, only a larger
lake, for the other half of my life, my existence will be a dull piece
of work after all. I agree with what Don Gomez said the other night:
"Not to travel is not to live."'
They went on deck presently and sat in the summer darkness, lighted only
by the stars, and by the lights of the yachts, and the faintly gleaming
windows of the lighted town, sat long and late, in a state of ineffable
repose. Lady Kirkbank. fortified by the produce of Mr. Smithson's
particular _clos_, and by a couple of glasses of green Chartreuse, slept
profoundly. She had not enjoyed herself so much for the last three
months. She had been stretched on Society's rack, and she had been
ground in Society's mill; and neither mind nor body had been her own to
do what she liked withal. She had toiled early and late, and had spared
herself in no wise. And now the trouble was over for a space. Here were
rest and respite. She had done her duty as a chaperon, had provided her
charge with the very best thing the matrimonial market offered. She had
paid her creditors something on account all round, and had left them
appeased and trustful, if not content. Sir George had gone oft alone to
drink the waters at Spa, and to fortify himself for Scotland and the
grouse season. She was her own mistress, and she could fold her hands
and take her rest, eat and drink and sleep and be merry, all at Mr.
The yachts came flocking in next day, like a flight of white-winged sea
birds, and Mr. Smithson had enough to do receiving visitors upon the
_Cayman_. He was fully occupied; but Montesma had nothing to do, except
to amuse Lady Lesbia and her chaperon, and in this onerous task he
succeeded admirably. Lesbia found that it was too warm to be on the deck
when there were perspiring people, whose breath must be ninety by the
thermometer, perpetually coming on board; so she and Lady Kirkbank sat
in the saloon, and had the more distinguished guests brought down to
them as to a Court; and the shrewder of the guests were quick to divine
that no company beyond that of Don Gomez de Montesma was really wanted
in that rose-scented saloon.
The Spaniard taught Lady Kirkbank _monte_, which delighted her, and
which she vowed she would introduce at her supper parties in the half
season of November, when she should be in London for a week or two, as a
bird of passage, flitting southwards. He began to teach Lesbia Spanish,
a language for which she had taken a sudden fancy; and it is curious
what tender accents, what hidden meanings even a grammar can take from
such a teacher. Spanish came easily enough to a learner who had been
thoroughly drilled in French and Italian, and who had been taught the
rudiments of Latin; so by the end of a lesson, which went on at
intervals all day, the pupil was able to lisp a passage of Don Quixote
in the sweetest Castilian, very sweet to the ear of Don Gomez--a kind of
baby language, precious as the first half-formed syllables of infancy to
Montesma had nothing to do but to amuse himself and his companions all
day in the saloon, amidst odours of roses and peaches, in a shadowy
coolness made by striped silken blinds; but Mr. Smithson was not so much
his own master. That innumerable company of friends which are the
portion of the rich man given to hospitality would not let the owner of
the _Cayman_ go scot-free.
At a place like Cowes, on the eve of the regatta week, the freelances of
society expect to find entertainment; and Mr. Smithson had to maintain
his character for princely hospitalities at the sacrifice of his
feelings as a lover. Every ripple of Lesbia's silvery laughter, every
deep tone of Montesma's voice, from the cabin below, sent a pang to his
jealous soul; and yet he had to smile, and to order more champagne cup,
and to be lavish of his best cigars, albeit insisting that his friends
should smoke their cigars in the bows well to leeward, so that no foul
breathings of tobacco should pollute his Cleopatra galley.
Cleopatra was very happy meanwhile, sublimely indifferent even to the
odours of tobacco. She had her Antony at her feet, looking up at her,
as she recited her lesson, with darkly luminous eyes, obviously
worshipping her, obviously intent on winning her without counting the
cost. When had a Montesma ever counted the cost to himself or
others--the cost in gold, in honour, in human life? The records of Cuba
in the palmy days of the slave trade would tell how lightly they held
the last; and for honour, well, the private hells of island and main
could tell their tale of specially printed playing cards, in which the
swords or stars on the back of each card had a secret language of their
own, and were as finger-posts for the initiated player.
Mr. Smithson had business on shore, and was fain to leave the yacht for
an hour or two before dinner. He invited Don Gomez to go with him, but
the offer was graciously declined.
'Amigo, I don't care even to look at land in such weather. It is so
detestably dry,' he pleaded. 'It is only the sound of the sea gurgling
against the hull that reconciles one to existence. Go, and be happy at
your club, and send off those occult telegrams of yours, dearest. I
shall not leave the _Cayman_ till bed-time.'
He looked as fresh and cool as if utterly unaffected by the heat, which
to a Cuban must have been a merely lukewarm condition of the atmosphere.
But he affected to be prostrate, and Smithson could not insist. He had
his cards to play in a game which required extremest caution, and there
were no friendly indicators on the backs of his kings and aces. He was
feeling his way in the dark, and did not know how much mischief Montesma
was prepared to do.
When the owner of the yacht was gone Don Gomez proposed an adjournment
to the deck for afternoon tea, and the trio sat under the awning,
tea-drinking and gossiping for the next hour. Lady Kirkbank told the
steward to say not at home to everybody, just as if she had a street
'There is a good deal of the _dolce far niente_ about this,' said
Montesma, presently; 'but don't you think we have been anchored in sight
of that shabby little town quite long enough, and that it would be
rather nice to spread our wings and sail round the island before the
'It would be exquisite,' said Lesbia. 'I am very tired of inaction,
though I dearly love learning Spanish,' she added, with a lovely smile,
and a look that was half submissive, half mutinous. 'But I have really
been beginning to wonder whether this boat can move.'
'You will see that she can, and at a smart pace, too, if I sail her.
Shall we circumnavigate the island? We can set sail after dinner.'
'Will Mr. Smithson consent, do you think?'
'Why does Smithson exist, except to obey you?'
'I don't know if Lady Kirkbank would quite like it,' said Lesbia,
looking at her chaperon, who was waving a big Japanese fan, slowly,
unsteadily, and with a somewhat drunken air, the while she slid into
'Quite like what?' she murmured, drowsily.
'A little sail.'
'I should dearly love it, if it didn't make me sea-sick.'
'Sea-sick on a glassy lake like this! Impossible,' said Montesma. 'I
consider the thing settled. We set sail after dinner.'
Mr. Smithson came back to the yacht just in time to dress for dinner.
Don Gomez excused himself from putting on his dress suit. He was going
to sail the yacht himself, and he was dressed for his work,
picturesquely, in white duck trousers, white silk shirt, and black
velvet shooting jacket. He dined with the permission of the ladies, in
this costume, in which he looked so much handsomer than in the livery of
polite life. He had a red scarf tied round his waist, and when at his
work by-and-by, he wore a little red silk cap, just stuck lightly on his
dark hair. The dinner to-day was all animation and even excitement, very
different from the languorous calm of yesterday. Lesbia seemed a new
creature. She talked and laughed and flashed and sparkled as she had
never yet done within Mr. Smithson's experience. He contemplated the
transformation with wonder not unmixed with suspicion. Never for him had
she been so brilliant--never in response to his glances had her violet
eyes thus kindled, had her smile been so entrancingly sweet. He watched
Montesma, but in him he could find no fault. Even jealousy could hardly
take objection to the Spaniard's manner to Lady Lesbia. There was not a
look, not a word that hinted at a private understanding between them, or
which seemed to convey deeper meanings than the common language of
society. No, there was no ground for fault-finding; and yet Smithson was
miserable. He knew this man of old, and knew his influence over women.
Mr. Smithson handed over the management of the yacht without a murmer,
albeit he pretended to be able to sail her himself, and was in the habit
of taking the command for a couple of hours on a sunny afternoon, much
to the amusement of skipper and crew. But Montesma was a sailor born and
bred--the salt keen breath of the sea had been the first breath in his
nostrils--he had managed his light felucca before he was twelve years
old, had sailed every inch of the Caribbean Sea, and northward to the
furthermost of the Bahamas before he was fifteen. He had lived more on
the water than on the land in that wild boyhood of his; a boyhood in
which books and professors had played but small part. Montesma's school
had been the world, and beautiful women his only professors. He had
learnt arithmetic from the transactions of bubble companies; modern
languages from the lips of the women who loved him. He was a crack shot,
a perfect swordsman, a reckless horseman, and a dancer in whom dancing
almost rose to genius. Beyond these limits he was as ignorant as dirt;
but he had a cleverness which served as a substitute for book learning,
and he seldom failed in impressing the people he met with the idea that
he, Gomez de Montesma, was no ordinary man.
Directly after dinner the preparations for an immediate start began;
very much to the disgust of skipper and crew, who were not in the habit
of working after dinner; but Montesma cared nothing for the short
answers of the captain, or the black look of the men.
Lesbia wanted to learn all about everything--the name of every sail, of
every rope. She stood near the helmsman, a slim graceful figure in a
white gown of some soft material, with never a jewel or a flower to
relieve that statuesque simplicity. She wore no hat, and the rich
chesnut hair was rolled in a loose knot at the back of the small
Greek-looking head. Montesma came to her every now and then to explain
what was being done; and by-and-by, when the canvas was all up, and the
yacht was skimming over the water, like a giant swan borne by the
current of some vast strong river, he came and stayed by her side, and
they two sat making little baby sentences in Spanish, he as teacher and
she as pupil, with no one near them but the sailors.
The owner of the _Cayman_ had disappeared mysteriously a quarter of an
hour after the sails were unfurled, and Lady Kirkbank had tottered down
to the saloon.
'I am not going--cabin,' she faltered, when Lesbia remonstrated with
her, 'only--going--saloon--sofa--lie down--little--Smithson take
care--you,' not perceiving that Smithson had vanished, 'shall be--quite
So Lesbia and Don Gomez were alone under the summer stars, murmuring
little bits of Spanish.
'It is the only true way of learning a language,' he said; 'grammars are
It was a very delightful and easy way of learning, at any rate. Lesbia
reclined in her bamboo chair, and fanned herself indolently, and watched
the shadowy shores of the island, cliff and hill, down and wooded crest,
flitting past her like dream-pictures, and her lips slowly shaped the
words of that soft lisping language--so simple, so musical--a language
made for lovers and for song, one would think. It was wonderful what
rapid progress Lesbia made.
She heard a church clock on the island striking, and asked Don Gomez the
'Ten,' he said.
'Ten! Surely it must be later. It was past eight before we began dinner,
and we have been sailing for ever so long. Captain, kindly tell me the
time,' she called to the skipper, who was lolling over the gunwale near
the foremast smoking a meditative pipe.
'Twelve o'clock, my lady.'
'Heavens, can I possibly have been sitting here so long. I should like
to stay on deck all night and watch the sailing; but I must really go
and take care of poor Lady Kirkbank. I am afraid she is not very well.'
'She had a somewhat distracted air when she went below, but I daresay
she will sleep off her troubles. If I were you I should leave her to
'Impossible! What can have become of Mr. Smithson?'
'I have a shrewd suspicion that it is with Smithson as with poor Lady
'Do you mean that he is ill?'
'What, on a calm summer night, sailing over a sea of glass. The owner of
'Rather ignominious for poor Smithson, isn't it? But men who own yachts
are only mortal, and are sometimes wretched sailors. Smithson is feeble
on that point, as I know of old.'
'Then wasn't it rather cruel of us to sail his yacht?'
'Yachts are meant for sailing, and again, sea-sickness is supposed to be
a wholesome exercise.'
'Good-night,' both good nights in Spanish, and with a touch of
tenderness which the words could hardly have expressed in English.
'Must you really go?' pleaded Montesma, holding her hand just a thought
longer than he had ever held it before.
'Ah, the little more, and how much it is,' says the poet.
'Really and truly.'
'I am so sorry. I wish you could have stayed on deck all night.'
'So do I, with all my heart. This calm sea under the starlit sky is like
a dream of heaven.'
'It is very nice, but if you stayed I think I could promise you
considerable variety. We shall have a tempest before morning.'
'Of all things in the world I should love to see a thunderstorm at sea.'
'Be on the alert then, and Captain Parkes and I will try to oblige you.'
'At any rate you have made it impossible for me to sleep. I shall stay
with Lady Kirkbank in the saloon. Good-night, again.'
IN STORM AND DARKNESS.
Lesbia found Lady Kirkbank prostrate on a low divan in the saloon,
sleepless, and very cross. The atmosphere reeked with red lavender,
sal-volatile, eau de Cologne, and brandy, which latter remedy poor
Georgie had taken freely in her agonies. Kibble, the faithful Grasmere
girl, sat by the divan, fanning the sufferer with a large Japanese fan.
Rilboche had naturally, as a Frenchwoman, succumbed utterly to her own
feelings, and was moaning in her berth, wailing out every now and then
that she would never have taken service with Miladi had she suspected
her to be capable of such cruelty as to take her to live for weeks upon
If this was the state of affairs now while the ocean was only gently
stirred, what would it be by-and-by if the tempest should really come?
'What can you be thinking of, staying on deck all night with those men?'
exclaimed Lady Kirkbank, peevishly. 'It is hardly respectable.'
She would have been still more inclined to object had she known that
Lesbia's companion had been 'that man' rather than 'those men.'
'What do you mean by all night?' Lesbia retorted, contemptuously; 'it is
only just twelve.'
'Only twelve. I thought we were close upon daylight. I have suffered an
eternity of agony.'
'I am very sorry you should be ill; but really the sea has been so
'I believe I should have suffered less if it had been diabolically
rough. Oh, that monotonous flip-flap of the water, that slow heaving of
the boat! Nothing could be worse.'
'I am glad to hear you say that, for Don Gomez says we are likely to
have a tempest.'
'A tempest!' shrieked Georgie. 'Then let him stop the boat this instant
and put me on shore. Tell him to land me anywhere--on the Needles even.
I could stop at the lighthouse till morning. A storm at sea will be
simply my death.'
'Dear Lady Kirkbank, I was only joking,' said Lesbia, who did not want
to be worried by her chaperon's nervous apprehensions: 'so far the night
'Give me a spoonful more brandy, my good creature,'--to Kibble. 'Lesbia,
you ought never to have brought me into this miserable state. I
consented to staying on board the yacht; but I never consented to
sailing on her.'
'You will soon be well, dear Lady Kirkbank; and you will have such an
appetite for breakfast to-morrow morning.'
'Where shall we be at breakfast time?'
'Off St. Catherine's Point, I believe--just half way round the island.'
'If we are not at the bottom of the sea,' groaned Georgie.
They were now in the open Channel, and the boat dipped and rose to
larger billows than had encountered her course before. Lady Kirkbank lay
in a state of collapse, in which life seemed only sustainable by
occasional teaspoonfuls of cognac gently tilted down her throat by the
Lesbia went to her cabin, but with no intention of remaining there. She
was firmly convinced that the storm would come, and she meant to be on
deck while it was raging. What harm could thunder or lightning, hail or
rain, do to her while he was by to protect her? He would be busy sailing
the boat, perhaps, but still he would have a moment now and then in
which to think of her and care for her.
Yes, the storm was coming. There was a livid look upon the waters, and
the atmosphere was heavy with heat; the sky to windward black as a
funeral pall. Lesbia was almost fearless, yet she felt a thrill of awe
as she looked into that dense blackness. To leeward the stars were still
visible; but that gigantic mass of cloud came creeping slowly, solemnly
over the sky, while the shadow flitted fast across the water, swallowing
up that ghastly electric glare.
Lesbia wrapped herself in a white cashmere _sortie de bal_ and stole up
the companion. Montesma was working at the ropes with his own hands,
calling directions to the sailors to shorten and take in the canvas,
urging them to increased efforts by working at the ropes with his own
hands, springing up the rigging and on deck, flashing backwards and
forwards amidst the rigging like a being of supernatural power. He had
taken off his jacket, and was clad from top to toe in white, save for
that streak of scarlet which tightly girdled his waist. His tall
flexible form, perfect in line as a Greek statue of Hermes, stood out
against the background of black night. His voice, with its tones of
brief imperious command, the proud carriage of his head, the easy grace
of his rapid movements, all proclaimed the man born to rule over his
fellow-men. And it is these master spirits, these born rulers, whom
women instinctively recognise as their sovereign lords, and for whom
women count no sacrifice too costly.
In the midst of his activity Montesma suddenly saw that white-robed
figure standing at the top of the companion, and flew to her side. The
boat was pitching heavily, dipping into the trough of the sea at an
angle of forty-five degrees, as it seemed to Lesbia.
'You ought not to be here,' said Montesma; 'it is much rougher than I
'I am not afraid,' she answered; 'but I will go back to my cabin if I am
in your way.'
'In my way' (with deepest tenderness): 'yes, you are in my way, for I
shall think of nothing else now you are here. But I believe we have done
all that need be done to the yacht, and I can take care of you till the
storm is over.'
He put his arm round her as the stem dipped, and led her towards the
stern, guiding her footsteps, supporting her as her light figure swayed
against him with the motion of the boat. A vivid flash of lightning
showed him her face as they stood for an instant leaning against each
other, his arm encircling her. Ah, what deep feeling in that
countenance, once so passionless; what a new light in those eyes. It was
like the awakening of a long dormant soul.
He took the helm from the captain and stood steering the vessel, and
calling out his orders, with Lesbia close beside him, holding her with
his disengaged arm, drawing her near him as the vessel pitched
violently, drawing her nearer still when they shipped a sea, and a great
fountain of spray enfolded them both in a dense cloud of salt water.
The thunder roared and rattled, as if it began and ended close beside
them. Forked lightnings zigzagged amidst the rigging. Sheet lightning
enwrapped those two in a luminous atmosphere, revealing faces that were
pale with passion, lips that trembled with emotion. There were but scant
opportunity for speech, and neither of these two felt the need of words.
To be together, bound nearer to each other than they had ever been yet,
than they might ever be again, in the midst of thunder and lightning and
dense clouds of spray. This was enough. Once when the _Cayman_ pitched
with exceptional fury, when the thunder crashed and roared loudest,
Lesbia found her head lying on Montesma's breast and his arms round her,
his lips upon her face. She did not wrench herself from that forbidden
embrace. She let those lips kiss hers as never mortal man had kissed her
before. But an instant later, when Montesma's attention was distracted
by his duties as steersman, and he let her go, she slipped away in the
darkness, and melted from his sight and touch like a modern Undine. He
dared not leave the helm and follow her then. He sent one of the sailors
below a little later, to make sure that she was safe in her cabin; but
he saw her no more that night.
The storm abated soon after daybreak, and the morning was lovely; but
Don Gomez and Lady Lesbia did not meet again till the church bells on
the island were ringing for morning service, and then the lady was safe
under the wing of her chaperon, with her affianced husband in
attendance upon her at the breakfast table in the saloon.
She received Montesma with the faintest inclination of the head, and she
carefully avoided all occasion of speech with him during the leisurely,
long spun-out meal. She was as white as her muslin gown, and her eyes
told of a sleepless night. She talked a little, very little to Lady
Kirkbank and Mr. Smithson; to the Spaniard not at all. And yet Montesma
was in no manner dashed by this appearance of deep offence. So might
Francesca have looked the morning after that little scene over the book;
yet she sacrificed her salvation for her lover all the same. It was a
familiar stage upon the journey which Montesma knew by heart. Here the
inclination of the road was so many degrees more or less; for this hill
you are commanded to put on an extra horse; at this stage it is
forbidden to go more than eight miles an hour, and so on, and so on.
Montesma knew every inch of the ground. He put on a melancholy look, and
talked very little. He had been on deck all night, and so there was an
excuse for his being quiet.
Lady Kirkbank related her impressions of the storm, and talked enough
for four. She had suffered the pangs of purgatory, but her natural
cheeriness asserted itself, and she made no moaning about past agonies
which had exercised a really delightful influence on her appetite. Mr.
Smithson also was cheerful. He had paid his annual tribute to Neptune,
and might hope to go scot-free for the rest of the season.
'If I had stayed on deck I must have had my finger in the pie; so I
thought it better to go below and get a good night's rest in the
steward's cabin,' he said, not caring to confess his sufferings as
frankly as Lady Kirkbank admitted hers.
After breakfast, which was prolonged till noon, Montesma asked Smithson
to smoke a cigarette on deck with him.
'I want to talk to you on a rather serious matter,' he said.
Lesbia heard the words, and looked up with a frightened glance. Could he
mean to attempt anything desperate? Was he going to confess the fatal
truth to Horace Smithson, to tell her affianced lover that she was
untrue to her bond, that she loved him, Montesma, as fondly as he loved
her, that their two souls had mingled like two flames fanned by the same
current, and thence had risen to a conflagration which must end in ruin,
if she were not set free to follow where her heart had gone, free to
belong to that man whom her spirit chose for lord and master. Her heart
leapt at the hope that Montesma was going to do this, that he was strong
enough to break her bonds for her, powerful and rich enough to secure
her a brilliant future. Yet this last consideration, which hitherto had
been paramount, seemed now of but little moment. To be with _him_, to
belong to _him_, would be enough for bliss. Albeit that in such a
choice she forfeited all that she had ever possessed or hoped for of
earthly prosperity. Adventurer, beggar, whatever he might be, she chose
him, and loved him with all the strength of a weak soul newly awakened
to passionate feeling.
Unhappily for Lesbia Haselden, Montesma was not at all the kind of man
to take so direct and open a course as that which she imagined possible.
His business with Mr. Smithson was of quite a different kind.
'Smithson, do you know that you have an utterly incompetent crew?' he
said, gravely, when they two were standing aft, lighting their
'Indeed I do not. The men are all experienced sailors, and the captain
ranks high among yachtsmen.'
'English yachtsmen are not particularly good judges of sailors. I tell
you your skipper is no sailor, and his men are fools. If it had not been
for me the _Cayman_ would have gone to pieces on the rocks last night,
and if you are to cross to St. Malo, as you talked of doing, for the
regatta there, you had better sack these men and let me get you a South
American crew. I know of a fellow who is in London just now--the captain
of a Rio steamer, who'll send you a crew of picked men, if you give me
authority to telegraph to him.'
'I don't like foreign sailors,' said Smithson, looking perplexed and
worried; 'and I have perfect confidence in Wilkinson.'
'Which is as much as to say that you consider me a liar! Go to the
bottom your own way, _mon ami: ce n'est pas mon affaire,_' said
Montesma, turning on his heel, and leaving his friend to his own
Had he pressed the point, Smithson would have suspected him of some evil
motive, and would have been resolute in his resistance; but as he said
no more about it, Smithson began to feel uncomfortable.
He was no sailor himself, knew absolutely nothing about the navigation
of his yacht, though he sometimes pretended to sail her; and he had no
power to judge of his skipper's capacity or his men's seamanship. He had
engaged the captain wholly on the strength of the man's reputation,
guaranteed by certain certificates which seemed to mean a great deal.
But after all such certificates might mean very little--such a
reputation might be no real guarantee. The sailors had been engaged by
the captain, and their ruddy faces and thoroughly British appearence,
the exquisite cleanliness which they maintained in every detail of the
yacht, had seemed to Mr. Smithson the perfection of seamanship.
But it was not the less true that the cleanest of yachts, with deck of
spotless whiteness, sails of unsullied purity, brasses shining and
sparkling like gold fresh from the goldsmith's, might be spiked upon a
rock, or might founder on a sand-bank, or heel over under too much
canvas. Mr. Smithson was inclined to suspect any proposition of
Montesma's; yet he was not the less disturbed in mind by the assertion.
The day wore on, and the yacht sailed merrily over a summer sea. Mr.
Smithson fidgeted about the deck uneasily, watching every movement of
the sailors. No boat could be sailing better, as it seemed to him; but
in such weather and over such waters any boat must needs go easily. It
was in the blackness of night, amidst the fury of the storm, that
Montesma's opinion had been formed. Smithson began to think that his
friend was right. The sailors had honest countenances, but they looked
horribly stupid. Could men with such vacuous grins, such an air of
imbecile good-nature, be capable of acting wisely in any terrible
crisis?--could they have nerve and readiness, quickness, decision, all
those grand qualites which are needed by the seaman who has to contend
with the fury of the elements?
Mr. Smithson and his guests had breakfasted too late for the possibility
of luncheon. They were in Cowes Roads by one o'clock. A fleet of yachts
had arrived during their absence, and the scene was full of life and
gaiety. Lady Lesbia held a _levee_ at the afternoon tea, and had a crowd
of her old admirers around her--adorers whose presence in no wise
disturbed Horace Smithson's peace. He would have been content that his
wife should go through life with a herd of such worshippers following in
her footsteps. He knew the aimless innocence, the almost infantine
simplicity of the typical Johnnie, Chappie, _Muscadin, Petit Creve,
Gommeux_--call him by what name you will. From these he feared no evil.
But in that one follower who gave no outward token of his worship he
dreaded peril. It was Montesma he watched, while dragoons with
close-cropped hair, and imbecile youths with heads rigid in four-inch
collars, were hanging about Lady Lesbia's low bamboo chair, and
administering obsequiously to the small necessities of the tea-table.
It was while this tea-table business was going on that Mr. Smithson took
the opportunity of setting his mind at rest, were it possible, as to the
merits of Captain Wilkinson. Among his visitors this afternoon there was
the owner of three or four racing yachts--a man renowned for his
victories, at home and abroad.
'I think you knew something of my captain, Wilkinson, before I engaged
him,' said Smithson, with assumed carelessness.
'I know every skipper on board every boat in the squadron,' answered his
friend. 'A good fellow, Wilkinson--thoroughly honest fellow.'
'Honest; oh yes, I know all about that. But how about his seamanship?
His certificates were wonderfully good, but they are not everything.
'Everything, my dear fellow,' cried the other; 'they are next to
nothing. But I believe Wilkinson is a tolerable sailor.'
This was not encouraging.
'He has never been unlucky, I believe.'
'My dear Smithson, you are a great authority in the City, but you are
not very well up in the records of the yachting world, or you would know
that your Captain Wilkinson was skipper on the _Orinoco_ when she ran
aground on the Chesil Bank, coming home from Cherbourg Regatta, fifteen
lives lost, and the yacht, in less than half an hour, ground to powder.
That was rather a bad case, I remember; for though it was a tempestuous
night, the accident would never have happened if Wilkinson had not
mistaken the lights. So you see his Trinity House papers didn't prevent
his going wrong.'
Good heavens! This was the strongest confirmation of Montesma's charge.
The man was a stupid man, an incapable man, a man to whose intelligence
and care human life should never be trusted. A fig for his honesty! What
would honesty be worth in a hurricane off the Chesil Beach? What would
honesty serve a ship spitted on the Jailors off Jersey? Montesma was
right. If the _Cayman_ was to make a trip to St. Malo she must be
navigated by competent men. Horace Smithson hated foreign sailors,
copper-faced ruffians, with flashing black eyes which seemed to threaten
murder, did you but say a rough word to them; sleek, raven-haired
scoundrels, with bowie-knives in their girdles, ready for mutiny. But,
after all, life is worth too much to be risked for a prejudice, a
Perhaps that St. Malo business might be avoided; and then there need be
no change in captain or crew. The yacht must be safe enough lying at
anchor in the roadstead. By-and-by, when the visitors had departed, and
Mr. Smithson was reposefully enjoying his tea by Lady Lesbia's side, he
approached the subject.
'Do you really care about crossing to St. Malo after this--really prefer
the idea to Ryde?'
'Infinitely,' exclaimed Lesbia, quickly. 'Ryde would only be Cowes ever
again--a lesser Cowes; and I thought when you first proposed it that the
plan was rather stupid, though I did not want to be uncivil and say so.
But I was delighted with Don Gomez de Montesma's amendment, substituting
St. Malo for Ryde. In the first place the trip across will be
delicious'--Lady Kirkbank gave a faint groan--'and in the second place I
am dying to see Brittany.'
'I doubt if you will highly appreciate St. Malo. It is a town of many
and various smells.'
'But I want to smell those foreign smells of which one hears much. At
least it is an experience. We need not be on shore any longer than we
like. And I want to see that fine rocky coast, and Chateaubriand's tomb
on the what's-its-name. So nice to be buried in that way.'
'Then you have set your heart on going to St. Malo, and would not like
any change in our plan?'
'Any change will be simply detestable,' answered Lesbia, all the more
decidedly since she suspected a desire for change on the part of Mr.
She was in no amiable humour this afternoon. All her nerves seemed
strained to their utmost tension. She was irritated, tremulous with
nervous excitement, inclined to hate everybody, Horace Smithson most of
all. In her cabin a little later on, when she was changing her gown for
dinner, and Kibble was somewhat slow and clumsy in the lacing of the
bodice, she wrenched herself from the girl's hands, flung herself into a
chair, and burst into a flood of passionate tears.
'O God! that I were on one of those islands in the Caribbean Sea--an
island where Europeans never come--where I might lie down among the
poisonous tropical flowers, and sleep the rest of my days away. I am
sick to death of my life here; of the yacht, the people--everything.'
'This air is too relaxing, Lady Lesbia,' the girl murmured, soothingly;
'and you didn't have your natural rest last night. Shall I get you a
nice strong cup of tea?'
'Tea! no. I have been living upon tea for the last twenty-four hours. I
have eaten nothing. My mouth is parched and burning. Oh, Kibble!'
flinging her head upon the girl's buxom arm, and letting it rest there,
'what a happy creature you are--not a care--not a care.'
'I'm sure you can't have any cares, Lady Lesbia,' said Kibble, with an
incredulous smile, trying to smooth the disordered hair, anxious to make
haste with the unfinished toilet, for it was within a few minutes of
'I am full of care. I am in debt--horribly in debt--getting deeper and
deeper every day--and I am going to sell myself to the only man who can
pay my debts and give me fine houses, and finery like this,' plucking at
the _crepe de chine_ gown, with its flossy fringe, its delicate lace, a
marvel of artistic expenditure; a garment which looked simplicity
itself, and yet was so cleverly contrived as to cost five-and-thirty
guineas. The greatest effects in it required to be studied with a
'But surely, dear Lady Lesbia, you won't marry Mr. Smithson, if you
don't love him?'
'Do you suppose love has anything to do with marriages in society?'
'Oh, Lady Lesbia, it would be so unkind to him, so cruel to yourself.'
'Cruel to myself. Yes, I am cruel to myself. I had the chance of
happiness a year ago, and I lost it. I have the chance of happiness
now--yes, of consummate bliss--and haven't the courage to snatch at it.
Take off this horrid gown, Kibble; my head is splitting: I shan't go to
'Oh, Lady Lesbia, you are treading on the pearl embroidery,'
remonstrated poor Kibble, as Lesbia kicked the new gown from under her
'What does it matter!' she exclaimed with a bitter little laugh. 'It has
not been paid for--perhaps it never will be.'
The dinner was silent and gloomy. It was as if a star had been suddenly
blotted out of the sky. Smithson, ordinarily so hospitable, had been too
much disturbed in mind to ask any of his friends to stay to dinner; so
there were only Lady Kirkbank, who was too tired to be lively, and
Montesma, who was inclined to be thoughtful. Lesbia's absence, and the
idea that she was ill, gave the feast almost a funereal air.
After dinner Smithson and Montesma sat on deck, smoking their cigars,
and lazily watching the lights on sea, and the lights on shore; these
brilliant in the foreground, those dim in the distance.
'You can telegraph to your Rio Janeiro friend to-morrow morning, if you
like,' said Smithson, presently, 'and tell him to send a first-rate
skipper and crew. Lady Lesbia has made up her mind to see St. Malo
Regatta, and with such a sacred charge I can't be too careful.'
'I'll wire before eight o'clock to-morrow,' answered Montesma, 'You have
decided wisely. Your respectable English Wilkinson is an excellent
man--but nothing would surprise me less than his reducing your _Cayman_
to matchwood in the next gale.'
A NOTE OF ALARM.
That strange scene in the old house at Fellside made a profound
impression upon Lord Hartfield. He tried to disguise his trouble, and
did all in his power to seem gay and at perfect ease in his wife's
company; but his mind was full of anxiety, and Mary loved him too well
to be for a moment in doubt as to his feelings.
'There is something wrong, Jack,' she said, while they were breakfasting
at a table in the verandah, with the lake and the bills in front of them
and the sweet morning air around them. 'You try to talk and to be
lively, but there is a little perpendicular wrinkle in your forehead
which I know as well as the letters of the alphabet, and that little
line means worry. I used to see it in the old days, when you were
breaking your heart for Lesbia. Why cannot you be frank and confide in
me. It is your duty, sir, as my husband.'
'Is it my duty to halve my burdens as well as my joys? How do I know if
those girlish shoulders are strong enough to bear the weight of them?'
'I can bear anything you can bear, and I won't be cheated out of my
share in your worries. If you were obliged to have a tooth out, I would
have one out too, for company.'
'I hope the dentist would be too conscientious to allow that.'
'Tell me your trouble, Hartfield,' she said, earnestly, leaning across
the table, bringing her grave intelligent face near to him.
They were quite alone, he and she. The servants had done their
ministering. Behind them there was the empty dining-room, in front of
them the sunlit panorama of lake and hill. There could not be a safer
place for telling secrets.
'Tell me what it is that worries you,' Mary pleaded again.
'I will, dear. After all perfect trust is the best; nay, it is your due,
for you are brave enough and true enough to be trusted with secrets that
mean life and death. In a word, then, Mary, the cause of my trouble is
that old man we saw the other night.'
'Do you really believe that he is Steadman's uncle?'
'My grandmother told me so,' answered Mary, reddening to the roots of
To this girl, who was the soul of truth, there was deepest shame in the
idea that her kinswoman, the woman whom of all the world she most owed
reverence and honour, could be deemed capable of falsehood.
'Do you think my grandmother would tell me an untruth?'
'I do not believe that man is a poor dependent, an old servant's
kinsman, sheltered and cared for in this house for charity's sake.
Forgive me, Mary, if I doubt the word of one you love; but there are
positions in life in which a man must judge for himself. Would Mr.
Steadman's kinsman be lodged as that old man is lodged; would he talk as
that old man talks; and last and greatest perplexity of all, would he
possess a treasure of gold and jewels which must be worth many
'But you cannot know for certain that those things are valuable; they
may be rubbish that this poor old man has scraped together and hoarded
for years, glass jewels bought at country fairs. Those rouleaux may
contain lead or coppers.'
'I do not think so, Mary. The stones had all the brilliancy of valuable
gems, and then there were others in the finest filagree
settings--goldsmith's work which bore the stamp of an Eastern world.
Take my word for it, that treasure came from India; and it must have
been brought to England by Lord Maulevrier. It may have existed all
these years without your grandmother's knowledge. That is quite
possible; but it seems to me impossible that such wealth should be
within the knowledge and the power of a pauper lunatic.'
'But if that unhappy old man is not a relation of Steadman's supported
here by my grandmother's benevolence, who can he be, and why is he
here?' asked Mary.
'Oh, Molly dear, these are two questions which I cannot answer, and
which yet ought to be answered somehow. Since that night I have felt as
if there were a dark cloud lowering over this house--a cloud almost as
terrible in its menace of danger as the forshadowing of fate in a Greek
legend. For your sake, for the honour of your race, for my own
self-respect as your husband, I feel that this mystery ought to be
solved, and all dark things made light before your grandmother's death.
When she is gone the master-key to the past will be lost.'
'But she will be spared for many years, I hope, spared to sympathise
with my happiness, and with Lesbia's.'
My dearest girl, we cannot hope that. The thread of her life is worn
very thin. It may snap at any moment. You cannot look seriously in your
grandmother's face, and yet delude yourself with the hope that she has
years of life before her.'
'It will be very hard to part, just as she has begun to care for me,'
said Mary, with her eyes full of tears.
'All such partings are hard, and your grandmother's life has been so
lonely and joyless that the memory of it must always have a touch of
pain. One cannot say of her as we can of the happy; she has lived her
life--all things have been given to her, and she falls asleep at the
close of a long and glorious day. For some reason which I cannot
understand, Lady Maulevrier's life has been a prolonged sacrifice.'
'She has always given us to understand that she was fond of Fellside,
and that this secluded life suited her,' said Mary, meditatively.
'I cannot help doubting her sincerity on that point. Lady Maulevrier is
too clever a woman, and forgive me, dear, if I add too worldly a woman,
to be content to live out of the world. The bird must have chafed its
breast against the bars of the cage many and many a time when you
thought that all was peace. Be sure, Mary, that your grandmother had a
powerful motive for spending all her days in this place, and I can but
think that the old man we saw the other night had some part in that
motive. Do you remember telling me of her ladyship's vehement anger when
she heard you had made the acquaintance of her pensioner?'
'Yes, she was very angry,' Mary answered, with a troubled look. 'I
never saw her so angry--she was almost beside herself--said the harshest
things to me--talked as if I had done some dreadful mischief.'
'Would she have been so moved, do you think, unless there was some fatal
secret involved in that man's presence here?'
'I hardly know what to think. Tell me everything. What is it that you
fear?--what is it that you suspect?'
'To tell you my fears and suspicions is to tell you a family secret that
has been kept from you out of kindness all the years of your life--and I
hardly think I could bring myself to that if I did not know what the
world is, and how many good-natured friends Lady Hartfield will meet in
society, by-and-by, ready to tell her, by hints and inuendoes, that her
grandfather, the Governor of Madras, came back to England under a cloud
'My poor grandfather! How dreadful!' exclaimed Mary, pale with pity and
shame. 'Did he deserve his disgrace, poor unhappy creature--or was he
the victim of false accusation?'
'I can hardly tell you that, Mary, any more than I can tell whether
Warren Hastings deserved the abuse that was wreaked upon him at one
time, or the acquittal that gave the lie to his slanderers in after
years. The events occurred forty years ago--the story was only half
known then, and like all such stories formed the basis for every kind of
exaggeration and perversion.'
'Does Maulevrier know?' faltered Mary.
'Maulevrier knows all that is known by the general public, and no more.'
'And you have married the granddaughter of a disgraced man,' said Mary,
with a piteous look. 'Did you know--when you married me?'
'As much as I know now, dear love. If you had been Jonathan Wild's
granddaughter you would have been just as dear to me. I married _you_,
dearest; I love _you_; I believe in _you_. All the grandfathers in
Christendom would not shake my faith by one tittle.'
She threw herself into his arms, and sobbed upon his breast. But sweet
as this assurance of his love was to her, she was not the less stricken
by shame at the thought of possible infamy in the past, a shameful
memory for ever brooding over her name in the present.
'Society never forgets a scandal,' she said: 'I have heard Maulevrier
'Society has a long memory for other people's sins, but it only avenges
its own wrongs. Give the wicked fairy Society a bad dinner, or leave her
out of your invitation list for a ball, and she will twit you with the
crimes or the misfortunes of a remote ancestor--she will go about
talking of your grandfather the leper, or your great aunt who ran away
with her footman. But so long as the wicked fairy gets all she wants out
of you, she cares not a straw for the misdeeds of past generations.'
He spoke lightly, laughingly almost, and then he ordered the dogcart to
be brought round immediately, and he drove Mary across the hills towards
Langdale, to bring the colour back to her blanched cheeks. He brought
her home in time to give her grandmother an hour for letter-writing
before luncheon, while he walked up and down the terrace below Lady
Maulevrier's windows, meditating the course he was to take.
He was to leave Westmoreland next day to take his place in the House of
Lords during the last important debate of the session. He made up his
mind that before he left he would seek an interview with Lady
Maulevrier, and boldly ask her to explain the mystery of that old man's
presence at Fellside. He was her kinsman by marriage, and he had sworn
to honour her and to care for her as a son; and as a son he would urge
her to confide in him, to unburden her conscience of any dark secret,
and to make the crooked things straight, before she was called away.
While he was forecasting this interview, meeting imaginary objections,
arguing points which might have to be argued, a servant came out to him
with an ochre envelope on a little silver tray--that unpleasant-looking
envelope which seems always a presage of trouble, great or small.
'Lord Maulevrier, Albany, to Lord Hartfield, Fellside, Grasmere.
'For God's sake come to me at once. I am in great trouble; not on my own
account, but about a relation.'
A relation--except his grandmother and his two sisters Maulevrier had no
relations for whom he cared a straw. This message must have relation to
Lesbia. Was she ill--dying, the victim of some fatal accident, runaway
horses, boat upset, train smashed? There was something; and Maulevrier
appealed to his nearest and best friend. There was no withstanding such
an appeal. It must be answered, and immediately.
Lord Hartfield went into the library and wrote his reply message, which
consisted of six words.
'Going to you by first train.'
The next train left Windermere at three. There was just time to get a
fresh horse put in the dogcart, and a Gladstone bag packed.
Lord Hartfield did not arrive at Euston Square until near eleven o'clock
at night. A hansom deposited him at the entrance to the Albany just as
the clock of St. James's Church chimed the hour. He found only
Maulevrier's valet. His lordship had waited indoors all the evening, and
had only gone out a quarter of an hour ago. He had gone to the
Cerberus, and begged that Lord Hartfield would be kind enough to follow
Lord Hartfield was not fond of the Cerberus, and indeed deemed that
lively place of rendezvous a very dangerous sphere for his friend
Maulevrier; but in the face of Maulevrier's telegram there was no time
to be lost, so he walked across Piccadilly and down St. James's Street
to the fashionable little club, where the men were dropping in after the
theatres and dinners, and where sheafs of bank notes were being
exchanged for those various coloured counters which represented divers
values, from the respectable 'pony' to the modest 'chip.'
Maulevrier was in the first room Hartfield looked into, standing behind
some men who were playing.
'That's something like friendship,' he exclaimed, when he saw Lord
Hartfield, and then he hooked his arm through his friend's, and led him
off to the dining room.
'Come and have some supper, old fellow,' he said, 'and I can tell you my
troubles while you are eating it. James, bring us a grill, and a
lobster, and a bottle of Mumms, number 27, you know.'
'Yes, my lord.'
'Sorry to find you in this den, Maulevrier,' said Lord Hartfield.
'Haven't touched a card. Haven't done half an hour's punting this
season. But it's a kind of habit with me to wander in here now and then.
I know so many of the members. One poor devil lost nine thousand one
night last week. Bather rough upon him, wasn't it? All ready money at
this shop, don't you know.'
'Thank God, I know nothing about it. And now, Maulevrier, what is wrong,
and with whom?'
'Everything is wrong, and with my sister Lesbia.'
'Good heavens! what do you mean?'
'Only this, that there is a fellow after her whose very name means ruin
to women--a Spanish-American adventurer--reckless, handsome, a gambler,
seducer, duellest, dare-devil. The man she is to marry seems to have
neither nous nor spunk to defend her. Everybody at Goodwood saw the game
that was being played, everybody at Cowes is watching the cards, betting
on the result. Yes, great God, the men at the Squadron Club are staking
their money upon my sister's character--even monkeys that she bolts with
Montesma--five to three against the marriage with Smithson ever coming
'Is this true.'
'It is as true as your marriage with Molly, as true as your loyalty to
me. I was told of it all this morning at the Haute Gomme by a man I can
rely upon, a really good fellow, who would not leave me in the dark
about my sister's danger when all the smoking-rooms in Pall Mall were
sniggering about it. My first impulse was to take the train for Cowes;
but then I knew if I went alone I should let my temper get the better of
me. I should knock somebody down--throw somebody out of the window--make
a devil of a scene. And this would be fatal for Lesbia. I wanted your
counsel, your cool head, your steady common-sense. "Not a step forward
without Jack," I said to myself, so I bolted off and sent that telegram.
It relieved my feeling a little, but I've had a wretched day.'
'Waiter, bring me a Bradshaw, or an A B C,' said Lord Hartfield.
He had eaten nothing but a biscuit since breakfast, but he was ready to
go off at once, supperless, if there were a train to carry him.
Unluckily there was no train. The mail had started. Nothing till seven
o'clock next morning.
'Eat your supper, old fellow,' said Maulevrier. 'After all, the danger
may not be so desperate as I fancied this morning. Slander is the
favourite amusement of the age we live in. We must allow a margin for
'A very liberal margin,' answered Hartfield. 'No doubt the man who
warned you meant honestly, but this scandal may have grown out of the
merest trifles. The feebleness of the Masher's brain is only exceeded by
the foulness of the Masher's tongue. I daresay this rumour about Lady
Lesbia has its beginning and end among the Masher species.'
'I hope so, but--I have seen those two together--I met them at Victoria
one evening after Goodwood. Old Kirkbank was shuffling on ahead,
carrying Smithson with her, absorbing his attention by fussification
about her carriage. Lesbia and that Cuban devil were in the rear. They
looked as if they had all the world to themselves. Faust and Marguerite
in the garden were not in it for the expression of intense absorbing
feeling compared with those two. I'm not an intellectual party, but I
know something of human nature, and I know when a man and woman are in
love with each other. It is one of the things that never has been, that
never can be hidden.'
'And you say this Montesma is a dangerous man?'
'Well, we must lose no time. When we are on the spot it will be easy to
find out the truth; and it will be your duty, if there be danger, to
warn Lesbia and her future husband.
'I would much rather shoot the Cuban,' said Maulevrier. 'I never knew
much good come of a warning in such a case: it generally precipitates
matters. If I could play _ecarte_ with him at the club, find him
sporting an extra king, throw my cards in his face, and accept his
challenge for an exchange of shots on the sands beyond Cherbourg--there
would be something like satisfaction'
'You say the man is a gambler?'
'Report says something worse of him. Report says he is a cheat.'
'We must not be dependent upon society gossip,' replied Lord Hartfield.
'I have an idea, Maulevrier. The more we know about this man--Montesma,
I think you called him----'
'Gomez de Montesma.'
'The more fully we are acquainted with Don Gomez de Montesma's
antecedents the better we shall be able to cope with him, if we come to
handy-grips. It's too late to start for Cowes, but it is not too late to
do something. Fitzpatrick, the political-economist, spent a quarter of a
century in South America. He is a very old friend--knew my father--and I
can venture to knock at his door after midnight--all the more as I know
he is a night-worker. He is very likely to enlighten us about your Cuban
'You shall finish your supper before I let you stir. After that you may
do what you like. I was always a child in your hands, Jack, whether it
was climbing a mountain or crossing the Horse-shoe Fall. I consider the
business in your hands now. I'll go with you wherever you like, and do
what you tell me. When you want me to kick anybody, or fight anybody,
you can give me the office and I'll do it. I know that Lesbia's
interests are safe in your hands. You once cared very much for her. You
are her brother-in-law now, and, next to me, you are her natural
protector, taking into account that her future husband is a cad and
'Meet me at Waterloo at ten minutes to seven to-morrow morning, and
we'll go down to Cowes together. I'm off to find Fitzpatrick. Good
So they parted. Lord Hartfield walked across the Park to Great George
Street, where Mr. Fitzpatrick had chambers of a semi-official character,
on the first floor of a solemn-looking old house, spacious, gloomy
without and within, walls sombre with the subdued colouring of
decorations half a century old.
The lighted windows of those first-floor rooms told Lord Hartfield that
he was not too late. He rang the bell, which was answered with the
briefest delay by a sleepy-looking clerk, who had been taking shorthand
notes for Mr. Fitzpatrick's great book upon 'Protection _versus_ Free
Trade.' The clerk looked sleepy, but his employer had as brisk an air as
if he were just beginning the day; although he had been working without
intermission since nine o'clock that evening, and had done a long day's
work before dinner. He was walking up and down the spacious unluxurious
room, half office, half library, smoking a cigar. Upon a large table in
the centre of the room stood two powerful reading lamps with green
shades, illuminating a chaotic mass of books and pamphlets, heaped and
scattered all over the table, save just on that spot between the two
lamps, which accommodated Mr. Fitzpatrick's blotting pad and inkpot, a
pewter inkpot which held about a pint.
'How d'ye do, Hartfield? Glad you've looked me up at last,' said the
Irishman, as if a midnight call were the most natural thing in the
world. 'Just come from the House?'
'No; I've just come from Westmoreland. I thought I should find you among
those everlasting books of yours, late as it is. Can I have a few words
alone with you?'
'Certainly. Morgan, you can go away for a bit.'
'Home--well--yes, I suppose it's late. You look sleepy. I should have
been glad to finish the chapter on Beetroot Sugar to-night--but it may
stand over for the morning. Be sure you're early.'
'Yes, sir,' the clerk responded with a faint sigh.
He was paid handsomely for late hours, liberally rewarded for his
shorthand services; and yet he wished the great Fitzpatrick had not been
quite so industrious.
'Now, my dear Hartfield, what can I do for you?' asked Fitzpatrick, when
the clerk had gone. 'I can see by your face that you've something
serious in hand. Can I help you?'
'You can, I believe, in a very material way. You were five-and-twenty
years in Spanish America?'
'Rather more than less.'
'Here, there, and everywhere?'
'Yes; there is _not_ a city in South America that I have not lived
in--for something between a day and a year.'
'You know something about most men of any mark in that part of the
world, I conclude?'
'It was my business to know men of all kinds. I had my mission from the
Spanish Government. I was engaged to examine the condition of commerce
throughout the colony, the working of protection as against free trade,
and so on. Strange, by-the-bye, that Cuba, the last place to foster the
slave trade, was of all spots of the earth the first to carry free-trade
principles into practical effect, long before they were recognised in
any European country.'
'Strange to me that you should speak of Cuba so soon after my coming
in,' answered Lord Hartfield. 'I am here to ask you to help me to find
out the antecedents of a man who hails from that island.'
'I ought to know something about him, whoever he is,' replied Mr.
Fitzpatrick, briskly. 'I spent six months in Cuba not very long before
my return to England. Cuba is one of my freshest memories; and I have a
pretty tight memory for facts, names and figures. Never could remember
two lines of poetry in my life.'
'Did you ever hear of, or meet with, a man called Montesma--Gomez de
'Couldn't have stopped a month in Havana without hearing something about
that gentleman,' answered Fitzpatrick, 'I hope he isn't a friend of
yours, and that you have not lent him money?'
'Neither; but I want to know all you can tell me about him.'
'You shall have it in black and white, out of my Cuban note-book,'
replied the other, unlocking a drawer in the official table; 'I always
take notes of anything worth recording, on the spot. A man is a fool who
trusts to memory, where personal character is at stake. Montesma is as
well known at Havana as the Morro Fort or the Tacon Theatre. I have
heard stories enough about him to fill a big volume; but all the facts
recorded there'--striking the morocco cover of the note-book--'have been
thoroughly sifted; I can vouch for them.'
He looked at the index, found the page, and handed the book to Lord
'Read for yourself,' he said, quietly.
Lord Hartfield read three or four pages of plain statement as to various
adventures by sea and land in which Gomez de Montesma had figured, and
the reputation which he bore in Cuba and on the Main.
'You can vouch for this?' he said at last, after a long silence.
'For every syllable.'
'The story of his marriage?'
'Gospel truth: I knew the lady.'
'And the rest?'
'A thousand thanks. I know now upon what ground I stand. I have to save
an innocent, high-bred girl from the clutches of a consummate
'Shoot him, and shoot her, too, if there's no better way of saving her.
It will be an act of mercy,' said Mr. Fitzpatrick, without hesitation.
'SHALL IT BE?'
While Lord Hartfield sat in his friend's office in Great George Street
reading the life story of Gomez de Montesma, told with the cruel
precision and the unvarnished language of a criminal indictment, the
hero of that history was gliding round the spacious ballroom of the
Cowes Club, with Lady Lesbia Haselden's dark-brown head almost reclining
on his shoulder, her violet eyes looking up at his every now and then,
shyly, entrancingly, as he bent his head to talk to her.
The Squadron Ball was in full swing between midnight and the first hour
of morning. The flowers had not lost their freshness, the odours of dust
and feverish human breath had not yet polluted the atmosphere. The
windows were open to the purple night, the purple sea. The stars seemed
to be close outside the verandah, shining on purpose for the dancers;
and these two--the man tall, pale, dark, with flashing eyes and short,
sleek raven hair, small head, noble bearing; the girl divinely lovely in
her marble purity of complexion, her classical grace of form--these two
were, as every one avowed and acknowledged, the handsomest couple in the
'We're none of us in it compared with them,' said a young naval
commander to his partner, whereupon the young lady looked somewhat
sourly, and replied that Lady Lesbia's features were undeniably regular
and her complexion good, but that she was wanting in soul.
'Is she?' asked the sailor, incredulously, 'Look at her now. What do you
call that, if it isn't soul?'
'I call it simply disgraceful,' answered his partner, sharply turning
away her head.
Lesbia was looking up at the Spaniard, her lips faintly parted, all her
face listening eagerly as she caught some whispered word, breathed among
the soft ripples of her hair, from lips that almost touched her brow.
People cannot go on waltzing for ten minutes in a dead silence, like
automatic dancers. There must be conversation. Only it is better that
the lips should do most of the talking. When the eyes have so much to
say society is apt to be censorious.
Mr. Smithson was smoking a cigarette on the lawn with a sporting peer. A
man to whom tobacco is a necessity cannot be always on guard; but it is
quite possible that in the present state of Lady Lesbia's feelings
Smithson would have had no restraining influence had he been ever so
watchful. To what act in the passion drama had her love come to-night as
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