The slave of the lamp, p.12
The Slave of the Lamp,
Henry Seton Merriman
ON THE SCENT
It appeared to Stanley, on the way home that morning, that theconversation flagged somewhat. He therefore set to himself the task ofreviving it.
"Christian," he began conversationally, "is there any smuggling donenow? Real smuggling, I mean."
"No, I think not," replied Christian. He evidently did not look uponsmuggling as a fruitful topic at that moment.
"Why do you ask?" interposed Hilda goodnaturedly.
"Well, I was just wondering," replied the boy. "It struck me yesterdaythat our boat had been moved."
"But," suggested Christian, "it should be very easy to see whether ithas been dragged over the sand or not."
"Three strong men could carry it bodily into the water and make no markswhatever on the sand," argued little Stanley, determined not to becheated out of his smugglers.
"Perhaps some one has been out for a row for his own pleasure andenjoyment," suggested Christian, without thinking much of what he wassaying.
"Then how did he get the padlock open?"
"Smugglers, I suppose," said Hilda, smiling down at her small brother,"would be provided with skeleton keys."
"Of course," replied Stanley in an awestruck tone.
"I will tell you what we will do, Stanley," said Christian. "To-morrowmorning we will go and have a bathe; at the same time I will look at theboat and tell you whether it has been moved."
"Unless," added Hilda, "a telegram comes today."
"Unless," he said gravely, "the world comes to an end this evening."
It happened during the precise moments occupied by this conversation,that Mr. Bodery, seated at his table in the little editor's room, openedthe flimsy brown envelope of a telegram. He spread out the pink paper,and Mr. Morgan, seated opposite, raised his head from theclosely-written sheets upon which his hand was resting.
"It is from Vellacott," said the editor, and after a moment's thought heread aloud as follows:--
"Letter and papers received; believe I have dropped into the clue of thewhole affair. Will write particulars."
Mr. Morgan caressed his heavy moustache with the end of his penholder.
"That young man," he said, "goes about the world with his eyesremarkably wide open, ha-ha!"
Mr. Bodery rolled the telegram out flat with his pencil silently.
* * * * *
Stanley Carew was so anxious that the inspection of the boat should notbe delayed, that an expedition to the Cove was arranged for the sameafternoon. Accordingly the five young people walked across the bleaktableland together. Huge white clouds were rolling up from thesouth-west, obscuring every now and then the burning sun. A gentlebreeze blew gaily across the bleak upland--a very different breath fromthat which twisted and gnarled the strong Scotch firs in winter-time.
"You would not care about climbing _down_ there, I should think,"observed Sidney, when they had reached the Cove. "It is a very differentmatter getting up."
He was standing, gazing lazily up at the brown cliffs with his straw hattilted backwards, his hands in his pockets, and his whole personpresenting as fair a picture as one could desire of lazy, quiescentstrength--a striking contrast to the nervous, wiry townsman at his side.
"Hardly," replied Christian, gazing upwards at the dizzy height. "It israther nasty stuff--slippery in parts and soft."
He turned and strolled off by Hilda's side. With a climber's love of arocky height he looked upwards as they walked, and she noted thedirection of his gaze.
Presently they sat on the edge of the boat over which Stanley's sense ofproprietorship had been so grievously outraged.
"What do you know, Christian, or what do you suspect about SignorBruno?" asked Hilda suddenly.
Stanley was running across the sands towards them, and Christian, seeinghis approach, avoided the question by a generality.
"Wait a little longer," he said. "Let me have Trevetz's answer toconfirm my suspicions, and then I will tell you. Suspicions aredangerous things to meddle with. In imparting them to other people it isso difficult to remember that they _are_ suspicions and nothing more."
At this moment Stanley arrived and threw himself down breathlessly onthe warm sand.
"Chris!" he exclaimed, "come down here and look at these seams in theboat--the damp is there still."
The boat was clinker-built, and where the planks overlapped a slightappearance of dampness was certainly discernible. Christian lay lazilyleaning upon his elbow, sometimes glancing at the boat in obedience toStanley's accusatory finger, sometimes looking towards Hilda, whose eyeswere turned seawards.
Suddenly he caught sight of some words pencilled on the stern-post ofthe boat, and by the merest chance refrained from calling Stanley'sattention to them. Drawing nearer, he could read them easily enough.
"It certainly looks," he said rising, "as if the boat had been in thewater, but it may be that the dampness is merely owing to heavy dew. Theboat wants painting, I think."
He knew well enough that little Stanley's suspicions were correct. Therewas no doubt that the boat had been afloat quite recently; but Christianknew his duty towards the _Beacon_ and sacrificed his strict sense oftruth to it.
On the way home he was somewhat pre-occupied--as much, that is to say,as he was in the habit of allowing. The pencil scrawl supplied foodenough for conjectural thought. The writing was undoubtedly fresh, andthis was the 26th of the month. Some appointment was made for midnightby the words pencilled on the boat, and the journalist determined thathe would be there to see. The question was, should he go alone? Hewatched Sidney Carew walking somewhat heavily along in front of him, anddecided that he would not seek aid from that quarter. There was no timeto communicate with Mr. Bodery, so the only course open to him was to goby himself.
In a vague manner he had connected the Jesuit party with thedisturbances in Paris and the importation of the English rifleswherewith the crowd had been armed. The gay capital was at that time inthe hands of the most "Provisional" and uncertain Government imaginable,and the home politics of France were completely disorganised. It wasjust the moment for the Church party to attempt a retrieval of theirlost power. The fire-arms had been recognised by the English authoritiesas some of a pattern lately discarded. They had been stored at Plymouth,awaiting shipment to the colonies, where they were to be served out tothe auxiliary forces, when they had been cleverly removed. The robberywas not discovered until the rifles were found in the hands of a Parismob, still fresh and brutal from the horrors of a long course ofmilitary law. Some of the more fiery of the French journals boldlyhinted that the English Government had secretly sold the firearms with aview to their ultimate gain by the disorganisation of France.
Christian knew as much about affairs in Paris as most men. He was fullyaware that in the politics of a disturbed country a deed is either acrime or a heroism according to circumstances, and he was wise enough toawait the course of events before thrusting his opinion down the publicthroat. But now he felt that the crisis had supervened, and unwillinglyhe recognised that it was not for him to be idle amidst those rapidevents.
These thoughts occupied his mind as he walked inland from the Cove, andrendered his answers to Stanley's ceaseless flow of questions upon allconceivable subjects somewhat vague and unreliable. Hilda was walkingwith them, and divided with Christian the task of supplying her smallbrother with varied information.
As they were approaching the Hall, Christian discerned two figures uponthe smooth lawn, evidently coming towards them. At the same momentStanley perceived them.
"I see Fred Farrar and Mr. Signor Bruno," he exclaimed.
Christian could not resist glancing over the little fellow's headtowards Hilda, though he knew that it was hardly a fair action. Hildafelt the glance but betrayed no sign. She was looking straight in frontof her with no change of colour, no glad smile of welcome for herstalwart lover.
Presently he said, in an airy, conversational way: "I did not knowFarrar was coming back so--so soon."
He knew that by this early return Farrar was missing an important day ofthe race-meeting he had been attending, but did not think it necessaryto remark upon the fact.
"Yes," replied Hilda. "He does not like to leave his mother for manydays together." The acutest ears could have detected no lowering of thevoice, no tenderness of thought. She was simply stating a fact; but shemight have been speaking of Signor Bruno, so cool and unembarrassed washer tone.
"I am glad he is back," said Christian thoughtlessly. It was a merestop-gap. The silence was awkward, but he possessed tact enough to havebroken it by some better means. Instantly he recognised his mistake, andfor a moment he felt as if he were stumbling blindfold through anunknown country. He experienced a sudden sense of vacuity as if his mindwere a blank and all words futile. It was now Stanley's turn to breakthe silence, and unconsciously he did it very well.
"I wonder," he said speculatively, "whether he has brought any chocolatecreams?"
Hilda laughed, and the smile was still hovering in her eyes when shegreeted the two men. Stanley ran on into the house to open a parcelwhich Farrar told him was awaiting inspection. It was only natural thatHilda should walk on with the young squire, leaving Bruno and Christiantogether. The old man lingered obviously, and his companion took thehint readily enough, anticipating some enjoyment.
"To you, Mr. Vellacott," said the Italian, with senile geniality, "toyou whose life is spent in London this must be very charming, verypeaceful, and--very disorganising, I may perhaps add."
Christian looked at his companion with grave attention.
"It is very enjoyable," he replied simply.
Signor Bruno mentally trimmed his sails, and started off on anothertack.
"Our young friends," he said, indicating with a wave of his expressivehand Hilda and Farrar, "are admirably suited to each other. Both young,both handsome, and both essentially English."
"Yes," answered Christian, with a polite display of interest: "and,nevertheless, the Carews were all brought up and educated in France."
"Ah!" observed the old man, stopping to raise the head of a "Souvenir deMalmaison," of which he inhaled the odour with evident pleasure. Thelittle ejaculation, and its accompanying action, were admirablycalculated to leave the hearer in doubt as to whether mere surprise wasexpressed or polite acquiescence in the statement of a known fact.
"Yes," added Christian, deliberately. He also stooped and raised a whiterose to his face, thus meeting Signor Bruno upon his own ground. TheItalian looked up, and the two men smiled at each other across the rosebush; then they turned and walked on.
"You also know France?" hazarded Signor Bruno.
"Yes; if I were not an Englishman I should choose to be a Frenchman."
"Now with me," said Signor Bruno frankly, "it is different. If I werenot an Italian (which God forbid!) I think--I think, yes, I am sure, Iwould by choice have been born an Englishman."
"Ah!" observed Christian gravely, and Signor Bruno turned sharply toglance at his face. The young Englishman was gazing straight in front ofhim earnestly, with no suspicion upon his lips of the incredulous smilewhich seemed somehow to have lurked there when he last spoke. TheItalian turned away dissatisfied, and they walked on a few paces insilence, until he spoke again, reflectively:--
"Yes," he said, "there is a quality in the English character which to meis very praiseworthy. It is a certain directness of purpose. You knowwhat you wish to do, and you proceed calmly to do it, without stoppingto consider what your neighbours may think of it. Now with the Gallicraces--for I take this virtue of straightforwardness as Teutonic--and inmy own country especially, men seek to gain their ends by less openmeans."
They were now walking up a gentle incline to the house, which was builtupon the buried ruins of its ancient predecessor, and Signor Bruno wascompelled to pause in order to gain breath.
"But," interposed Christian softly, "you are now talking not so much ofthe people as of the Church."
Again the Italian looked sharply up, and this time he met hiscompanion's eyes fixed quietly on his face. He shrugged his shouldersdeprecatingly and spread out his delicate hands.
"Perhaps you are right," he said, with engaging frankness. "I am afraidyou are. But you must excuse a little ill-feeling in a man such as I,with a past such as mine has been, and loving his country as I do."
"I am afraid," continued Christian, "that foreigners find our bluntnessvery disagreeable and difficult to meet; but I know that they frequentlymisjudge us on the same account. It is to our benefit, so we cannotcomplain."
"In what way do we misjudge you?" asked Signor Bruno genially. They werealmost on the threshold of the drawing-room window, which stoodinvitingly open, and from which came the sounds of cups and saucersbeing mated.
"You give us credit for less intelligence than we in reality possess,"said Christian with a smile, as he stood aside to let his companion passin first.
Whatever influences may have been at work among those congregated at theHall during the half-hour or so occupied by afternoon tea, no signappeared upon the surface. Molly as usual led the chorus of laughter.Hilda smiled her sweet "kittenish" smile. Signor Bruno surpassed himselfin the relation of innocent little tales, told with a true southern"verve" and spirit, while Fred Farrar's genial laugh filled in theinterstices reliably. Grave and unobtrusive, Christian moved about amongthem. He saw when Molly wanted the hot water, and was invariably thefirst to detect an empty cup. He laughed softly at Signor Bruno'sstories, and occasionally capped them with a better, related in aconciser and equally humorous manner. It was to him that Farrar turnedfor an encouraging acquiescence when one of his latest Newmarketanecdotes threatened to fall flat, and with it all he found time for anoccasional spar with Signor Bruno, just by way of keeping that inquiringgentleman upon his guard.
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