Cord and creese, p.1
Cord and Creese, p.1James De Mille
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CORD AND CREESE
By James De Mille
The Author Of "The Dodge Club"
CORD AND CREESE
THE LETTER FROM BEYOND THE SEA.
On the morning of July 21, 1840, the _Daily News_ announced thearrival of the ship _Rival_ at Sydney, New South Wales. As ocean steamnavigation had not yet extended so far, the advent of this ship withthe English mail created the usual excitement. An eager crowd beset thepost-office, waiting for the delivery of the mail; and little knots atthe street corners were busily discussing the latest hints at newswhich had been gathered from papers brought ashore by the officers orpassengers.
At the lower end of King Street was a large warehouse, with an office atthe upper extremity, over which was a new sign, which showed with newlygilded letters the words:
COMPTON & BRANDON.
The general appearance of the warehouse showed that Messrs. Compton andBrandon were probably commission merchants, general agents, or somethingof that sort.
On the morning mentioned two men were in the inner office of thiswarehouse. One was an elderly gentleman, with a kind, benevolent aspect,the senior partner of the firm. The other was the junior partner, and inevery respect presented a marked contrast to his companion.
He had a face of rather unusual appearance, and an air which in Englandis usually considered foreign. His features were regular--a straightnose, wide brow, thin lips, and square, massive chin. His complexion wasolive, and his eyes were of a dark hazel color, with a peculiarity aboutthem which is not usually seen in the eye of the Teutonic or Celticrace, but is sometimes found among the people of the south of Europe, orin the East. It is difficult to find a name for this peculiarity. It maybe seen sometimes in the gipsy; sometimes in the more successfulamong those who call themselves "spiritual mediums," or among the morepowerful mesmerizers. Such an eye belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, whoseglance at times could make the boldest and greatest among his marshalsquail. What is it? Magnetism? Or the revelation of the soul? Or what?
In this man there were other things which gave him the look of the greatNapoleon. The contour of feature was the same: and on his brow, broadand massive, there might be seen those grand shadows with which Frenchartists love to glorify the Emperor. Yet in addition to this he had thatsame serene immobility of countenance which characterized the other,which could serve as an impenetrable mask to hide even the intensestperson.
There was also about this man a certain aristocratic air and grace ofattitude, or of manner, which seemed to show lofty birth and gentlebreeding, the mysterious index to good blood or high training. How sucha man could have happened to fill the position of junior partner in acommission business was certainly a problem not easily solved. There hewas, however, a man in appearance out of place, yet in reality ableto fill that place with success; a man, in fact, whose resolute willenabled him to enforce success in any calling of life to which eitheroutside circumstances or his own personal desires might invite him.
"The mail ought to be open by this time," said Brandon, indifferently,looking at his watch. "I am somewhat curious to see how things arelooking. I noticed quotations of wool rather higher than by last mail.If the papers are correct which I saw then we ought to do very well bythat last cargo."
Mr. Compton smiled.
"Well, Brandon," said he, "if it is so it will show that you are right.You anticipated a rise about this time, you know. You certainly have aremarkable forecast about the chances of business."
"I don't think there is much forecast," said Brandon, with a smile. "Itwas only the most ordinary calculation made from the well-known factthat the exportation this year had been slight. But there comes Hedleynow," he continued, moving his head a little to one side so as to lookup the street. "The letters will soon show us all."
Mr. Compton looked out in the direction which Brandon indicated and sawthe clerk approaching. He then settled himself back in his chair,put his hands in his pockets, threw one leg over the other, and beganwhistling a tune with the air of a man who was so entirely prosperousand contented that no news whether good or evil could greatly affect hisfortunes.
In a short time the clerk entered the inner office and, laying theletters down upon the table nearest Mr. Compton, he withdrew.
Mr. Compton took up the letters one by one and read the addresses, whileBrandon looked carelessly on. There were ten or twelve of them, allof which, except one, were addressed to the firm. This one Mr. Comptonselected from among the others, and reaching it out in his hand said:
"This is for you, Mr. Brandon."
"For me?" repeated Brandon, with marked surprise; and taking the letterhe looked at the address with eager curiosity.
The address was simply as follows:
Louis Brandon, Sydney, New South Wales.
The letters were irregular and loosely formed, as though written bya tremulous hand--such letters as old men form when the muscles havebecome relaxed.
Mr. Compton went on opening the letters of the firm without taking anyfurther notice of his partner. The latter sat for some time looking atthe letter without venturing to open it. He held it in both hands, andlooked fixedly at that address as though from the address itself he wastrying to extort some meaning.
He held it thus in both hands looking fixedly at it, with his headbent forward. Had Mr. Compton thought of taking a look at his usuallyimpassive companion, he would have been surprised at the change whichhad taken place in him at the mere sight of that tremulous handwriting.For in that he had read grief, misfortune, perhaps death; and as he satthere, pausing before he dared to break the seal, the contents of theletter had already been conjectured.
Gloom therefore unutterable gathered upon his face; his features fixedthemselves into such rigidity of grief that they became more expressivethan if they had been distorted by passionate emotions; and over hisbrow collected cloud upon cloud, which deepened and darkened everyinstant till they overshadowed all; and his face in its statuesquefixedness resembled nothing so much as that which the artist gives toNapoleon at the crisis hour of Waterloo, when the Guard has recoiledfrom its last charge, and from that Imperial face in its fixed agony thesoul itself seems to cry, "Lost!" "Lost!"
Yet it was only for a few minutes. Hastily subduing his feeling Brandonrose, and clutching the letter in his hand as though it were tooprecious to be trusted to his pocket, he quietly left the office and thewarehouse and walked up the street.
He walked on rapidly until he reached a large building which bore thesign "Australian Hotel." Here he entered, and walked up stairs to aroom, and locked himself in. Then when alone in his own apartments heventured to open the letter.
The paper was poor and mean; the handwriting, like that of the address,was tremulous, and in many places quite illegible; the ink was pale;and the whole appearance of the letter seemed to indicate poverty andweakness on the part of the writer. By a very natural impulse Brandonhesitated before beginning to read, and took in all these things with aquick glance.
At last he nerved himself to the task and began to read.
This was the letter.
"Brandon, March 10, 1846.
"My dear Boy,--These are the last words which you will ever hear fromyour father. I am dying, my dear boy, and dying of a broken heart; but_where_ I am dying I am afraid to tell you. That bitterness I leavefor you to find out some day for yourself. In poverty unspeakable, inanguish that I pray you may never know, I turn to you after a silence ofyears, and my first word is to implore your forgiveness. I know my nobleboy that you grant it, and it is enough for me to ask it. After askingthis I can die content on that score.
"I have not much strength, dear boy; I have to write at intervals, andby stealth, so as not to be discovered, for I am closely watched. _He_must never know that I have sent this to you. Frank and your mother areboth sick, and my only help is your sister, my sweet Edith, she watchesme, and enables me to write this in safety.
"I must tell you all without reserve before strength leaves me forever.
"That man Potts, whom you so justly hated, was and is the cause of allmy suffering and of yours. You used to wonder how such a man as that, alow, vulgar knave, could gain such an influence over me and sway me ashe did. I will try to explain.
"Perhaps you remember something about the lamentable death of my oldfriend Colonel Despard. The first that I ever heard of this man Pottswas in his connection with Despard, for whom he acted partly as valet,and partly as business agent. Just before Despard left to go onhis fatal voyage he wrote to me about his affairs, and stated, inconclusion, that this man Potts was going to England, that he was sorryto lose him, but recommended him very earnestly to me.
"You recollect that Colonel Despard was murdered on this voyage undervery mysterious circumstances on shipboard. His Malay servant Uracaowas convicted and executed. Potts distinguished himself by his zeal inavenging his master's death.
"About a year after this Potts himself came to England and visited me.He was, as you know, a rough, vulgar man; but his connection with mymurdered friend, and the warm recommendations of that friend, made mereceive him with the greatest kindness. Besides, he had many thingsto tell me about my poor friend, and brought the newspapers both fromManilla and Calcutta which contained accounts of the trial.
"It was this man's desire to settle himself somewhere, and I gave himletters to different people. He then went off, and I did not see him fortwo years. At the end of that time he returned with glowing accounts ofa tin mine which he was working in Cornwall. He had bought it at a lowprice, and the returns from working it had exceeded his most sanguineexpectations. He had just organized a company, and was selling thestock. He came first to me to let me take what I wished. I carelesslytook five thousand pounds' worth.
"EDITH SHE WATCHES ME, AND ENABLES ME TO WRITE THIS INSAFETY."]
"On the following year the dividend was enormous, being nearly sixty percent. Potts explained to me the cause, declaring that it was the richestmine in the kingdom, and assuring me that my L5000 was worth ten timesthat sum. His glowing accounts of the mine interested me greatly.Another year the dividend was higher, and he assured me that he expectedto pay cent. per cent.
"It was then that the demon of avarice took full possession of me.Visions of millions came to me, and I determined to become the richestman in the kingdom. After this I turned every thing I had into money toinvest in the mine. I raised enormous sums on my landed estate, andput all that I was worth, and more too, into the speculation. I wasfascinated, not by this man, but by the wealth that he seemed torepresent. I believed in him to the utmost. In vain my friends warnedme. I turned from them, and quarreled with most of them. In my madnessI refused to listen to the entreaties of my poor wife, and turned evenagainst you. I can not bear to allude to those mournful days when youdenounced that villain to his face before me; when I ordered you tobeg his pardon or leave my roof forever; when you chose the latteralternative and became an outcast. My noble boy--my true-hearted son,that last look of yours, with all its reproach, is haunting my dyinghours. If you were only near me now how peacefully I could die!
"My strength is failing. I can not describe the details of my ruin.Enough that the mine broke down utterly, and I as chief stockholderwas responsible for all. I had to sell out every thing. The stock wasworthless. The Hall and the estates all went. I had no friend to helpme, for by my madness I had alienated them all. All this came upon meduring the last year.
"But mark this, my son. This man Potts was _not_ ruined. He seemed tohave grown possessed of a colossal fortune. When I reproached him withbeing the author of my calamity, and insisted that he ought to share itwith me, the scoundrel laughed in my face.
"The Hall and the estates were sold, for, unfortunately, though theyhave been in our family for ages, they were not entailed. A feeling ofhonor was the cause of this neglect. They were sold, and the purchaserwas this man Potts. He must have bought them with the money that he hadplundered from me.
"Now, since my eyes have been opened, I have had many thoughts; andamong all that occurs to me none is more prominent than the mysteriousmurder of my friend. This man Potts was with him at the time. He waschief witness against the Malay. The counsel for the defense bore downhard on him, but he managed to escape, and Uracao was executed. Yetthis much is evident, that Potts was largely benefited by the deathof Despard. He could not have made all his money by his own savings.I believe that the man who wronged me so foully was fully capableof murder. So strong is this conviction now that I sometimes have asuperstitious feeling that because I neglected all inquiry into thedeath of my friend, therefore he has visited me from that other life,and punished me, by making the same man the ruin of us both.
"The mine, I now believe, was a colossal sham; and all the money thatI invested in stocks went directly to Potts. Good God! what madness wasmine!
"O my boy! Your mother and your brother are lying here sick; your sisterattends on us all, though little more than a child. Soon I must leavethem; and for those who are destined to live there is a future which Ishudder to contemplate. Come home at once. Come home, whatever you aredoing. Leave all business, and all prospects, and come and save them.That much you can do. Come, if it is only to take them back with you tothat new land where you live, where they may forget their anguish.
"Come home, my son, and take vengeance. This, perhaps, you can not do,but you at least can try. By the time that you read these words theywill be my voice from the grave; and thus I invoke you, and call you totake vengeance.
"But at least come and save your mother, your brother, and your sister.The danger is imminent. Not a friend is left. They all hold aloof,indignant at me. This miscreant has his own plans with regard to them, Idoubt not; and he will disperse them or send them off to starve in someforeign land. Come and save them.
"But I warn you to be careful about yourself for their sakes. For thisvillain is powerful now, and hates you worse than any body. His arm mayreach even to the antipodes to strike you there. Be on your guard. Watchevery one. For once, from words which fell from him hastily I gatheredthat he had some dark plan against you. Trust no one. Rely on yourself,and may God help you!
"Poor boy! I have no estate to leave you now, and what I do send to youmay seem to you like a mockery. Yet do not despise it. Who knows whatmay be possible in these days of science? Why may it not be possible toforce the sea to give up its prey?
"I send it, at any rate, for I have nothing else to send. You know thatit has been in our family for centuries, and have heard how stout oldPeter Leggit, with nine sailors, escaped by night through the Spanishfleet, and what suffering they endured before they reached England. Hebrought this, and it has been preserved ever since. A legend has grownup, as a matter of course, that the treasure will be recovered one daywhen the family is at its last extremity. It may not be impossible. Thewriter intended that something should come of it.
"If in that other world to which I am going the disembodied spirit canassist man, then be sure, O my son, I will assist you, and in the crisisof your fate I will be near, if it is only to communicate to your spiritwhat you ought to do.
"God bless you, dear boy, and farewell.
"Your affectionate father.
This letter was evidently written by fragmentary portions, as though ithad been done at intervals. Some parts were written leisurely--othersapparently in haste. The first half had been written evidently withthe greatest ease. The writing of the last half showed weakness andtremulousness of hand; many words would have been quite illegible to onenot familiar with the handwriting of the old man. Sometimes the word waswritten two or three times, and there were numerous blots and unmeaninglines. It grew more and more illegible toward the close. Evidentlyit was the work of one who was but ill able to exert even sufficientstrength to hold a pen in his trembling hand.
In this letter there was folded a large piece of coarse paper, evidentlya blank leaf torn from a book, brown with age, which was worn at thefolds, and protected there by pieces of cotton which had been pastedupon it. The paper was covered with writing, in ink that was much faded,though still quite legible.
Opening this Brandon read the following:
Facsimile of handwritten page reading:
"One league due northe of a smalle islet northe of the Islet of SantaCruz northe of San Salvador----I Ralphe Brandon in my shippe Phoenix ambecalmed and surrounded by a Spanish fleete----My shippe is filled withspoyle the Plunder of III galleons----wealth which myghte purchase akyngdom-tresure equalle to an Empyr's revenue----Gold and jeweles incountless store----and God forbydde that itt shall falle into the handsof the Enemye----I therefore Ralphe Brandon out of mine owne good wyland intente and that of all my men sink this shippe rather than be takenalyve----I send this by my trusty seaman Peter Leggit who with IX otherstolde off by lot will trye to escape in the Boate by nighte----If thiscometh haply into the hands of my sonne Philip let him herebye knowethat in this place is all this tresure----which haply may yet be gatherdfrom the sea----the Islet is knowne by III rockes that be pushed up likeIII needles from the sande.
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