|Chapter I.||The Consultation|
|Chapter II.||The Travelling Tinker|
|Chapter III.||Satan in the Flesh|
|Chapter IV.||Christmas Eve|
|Chapter V.||Madeley Hall|
|Chapter VI.||Perkins' Opinion|
|Chapter VII.||The Ethiopian Princess|
|Chapter VIII||The Arab Doctor|
|Chapter IX.||Jem Ritson Again|
|Chapter X.||The "Gentlemen Companions."|
|Go to Volume III for the following chapters.|
|Chapter I.||"Treasure Trove"|
|Chapter III.||Kitty's Mother|
|Chapter IV.||Mrs. Ferrier|
|Chapter V.||Paul's Patients|
|Chapter VI.||"The Battle of Prague"|
|Chapter VII.||The Rescue|
|Chapter VIII.||With the Lions|
|Chapter IX.||At Rest|
In Verdi's Aida a stage device of the same kind has been adopted, which comes somewhat closer to the scene we are about to describe, inasmuch as the partition is horizontal, and whilst Aida prays to the Egyptian deities in the upper storey, the victims are perishing of hunger in the gloomy caverns beneath the heathen temple.
We have no such tragedies to depict, but there is deep anguish in the hearts of Mrs Weston and Ruth, who are seated in the kitchen of Madeley Court, directly beneath the room to which Paul Ferrier has been carried and now lies extended on the deal table, the shortening of whose legs had so excited the grief and wrath of Betsy, as indicating to her mind the certainty of a similar operation, later on, upon one of the legs of the young man, whose interest in her friend Jocko had made him so interesting to her.
To decide on the question, so important to Paul, four grave and experienced surgeons are now assembled round the table, near which their assistants have made every requisite preparation for the operation, in order to take advantage of the limited period of daylight.
On a smaller table, close by, are set out the appliances of modern surgery ready to the hand of the operator. Paul knows their uses well; he can almost smell the chloroform which is to send him into dreamless sleep whilst he is being painlessly bereft -- as he himself says with a faint smile -- of "half his understanding."Mercutio would have his joke in a still worse case, then why not poor Paul, who was wont to be so cheerful.
Mr Clement alone smiles at the sad allusion; he has often laughed at Paul's lively sallies. He is much attached to the young fellow, and takes far more than a professional interest in the case.
The senior hospital surgeon present has not smiled at all; he is rather short-sighted, and is closely examining the wounded limb, with head bent down, whilst with long taper-fingers, like talons, he ascertains by pressure the condition of the tissues. As he slowly slides his hand upward the patient's knee he shakes his head, and then stooping lower, peers into the exposed wound with a magnifying glass, and glances for a moment at the hideous-looking thing which has caused the mischief, lying with its serrated steel jaws open on an adjacent bench. The surgeon's lips are now tightly compressed in silence. Paul has watched him closely, and knows well that one of the four votes on which his fate hangs will certainly be given against him.
The other three surgeons have also watched the experienced senior, and two of them are evidently impressed from the outset with the idea that it will be impossible to save the limb which appears so swollen and livid, still they carefully perform their functions of close examination and manipulation; then Paul is warmly covered up, and they all retire to the next room to consult.
The table had been placed on a part of the floor of the sitting-room which had.been recently repaired, and already the new boards have shrunk, so that spaces appear between them, and consequently the women assembled in the kitchen beneath can distinctly hear every sound and movement overhead. Mrs Weston and Ruth are there, partly with a view to seeing that anything required by the surgeons should be speedily supplied and partly because of the intense cold, which makes the kitchen fire acceptable. Ruth leans her head on her mother's shoulder, and is listening intently, with her eyes closed. The cook and Betsy are deeply interested, and whisper to one another in short indignant sentences. The two strange nurses alone are passive and silent, speculating on how long it will be before they are called on to take charge of the patient. They can all hear the assistant moving about in the room overhead in the absence of the surgeons. Just then he is testing the strength of the chloroform by smelling a small portion in the palm of his hand. Presently he ventures to lift the lid of a case of instruments and to peer within, but lets it fall again as the surgeons return to the room.
Mr Clement speaks first. "Dr Ferrier,"he says, there is a decided difference of opinion between us to the necessity for amputation. We are now equally divided for and against it. I have pressed on my colleagues here my opinion that the discoloration and other unpleasant appearances are mainly due to your long exposure to intense cold after the accident. At the same time I must not conceal the fact that, if it should so fortunately be the case that I am wrong in my view, the consequences will probably be very serious, and in truth I cannot answer for your life.
"I regret to say, Dr Ferrier,"said the senior hospital surgeon, "that I must advise you to submit to the operation. I am sorry I cannot in this case agree with Mr Clement."
"And I,"said the second hospital surgeon, have been convinced by Mr Clement that there is a reasonable chance of your recovery without the operation. I admit, however, that at first such was not my opinion of your case."
"Dr Ferrier,"said Mr Taylor, "the decision now rests with you. You are, I believe, a qualified medical man yourself, and so can decide with the benefit of some professional knowledge although you have not practised. I reluctantly advise you to decide on the safe side. Life at your age is a very valuable thing, whereas the loss of your leg can only be said to be a great misfortune. Modern science has enabled us to supply artificial limbs that are not easily recognised as such."
"I know,"said Paul; "things you can drag along, and that go 'click' when you sit down or get up again. The chief advantage of them appears to me to be that the leg of one's trousers won't require to be shortened."
Panl raised himself on his elbow as he spoke, and indicated that he wished the covering to be removed from his body, so that he could look at his wounded limb.
Mr Taylor hastens to support him, and whispers in his ear: "There is not much time to be lost, my dear sir, the light is waning already. Be courageous, and decide quickly."
"It does decidedly look bad,"said Paul as he gazed at his leg, "but it feels all right, Clement, there is no numbness as yet. It is a doubtful case, I admit, and the risk is serious. I am inclined to toss up a coin and take my chance. The doctrine of chances is as good as any other doctrine, or better, for you can absolutely prove the truth by experiment. The life insurance companies swear by it, and frame their tables on average results. You will think me absurd, I know, but I am going to transfer this decision to a young lady who has kindly promised to consider the question. I shall merely ask her to say 'Yes' or 'No' for me to a proposition which has been laid before me, without telling her what it is. Here, young fellow,"he said to the assistant, leave that chloroform alone, and take a message from me to Miss Weston. Say that I claim her promise, and ask her to oblige me by coming here with her mother. Please to cover me up again. Gentlemen, I thank you for the careful consideration you have given to my case, and I submit myself to the decision of the fair umpire. She will probably refer the question to an unseen spirit. She is, I believe, what is called a ' medium' of communication with something of that kind. You may smile, gentlemen, but please to understand that you are to act on the decision she will pronounce in the monosyllables I have mentioned. If she says 'Yes,' please to operate at once; if 'No,' then send me back to bed, and kindly leave instructions to the nurses as to my treatment. In any case I take all the responsibility, and thank you for your patience. Here comes the young priestess of the faith that is in her."
As he spoke Mrs Weston entered the room, with her daughter holding her arm, both pale and anxious looking. Ruth readily guessed why she had been sent for, but her mother had as yet no idea. They came close to the table, and Paul held out his hand, which Ruth took without hesitation, as she gazed steadily in his eyes with a questioning look.
"I have sent for you, Miss Weston, to decide a grave matter for me, about which these skilful gentleman cannot agree. I may not tell you what it is exactly; you are merely to say 'Yes' or ' No,' and in either case, believe me, I shall be satisfied and thankful, and whatever may be the result I trust you will never think your answer has in any way caused a misfortune to happen; that inert steel machine over there has been the primal cause, and must bear all the blame -- that and chance. A few inches of difference in its position on the path in the copse and I should not be here. Forgive me for asking you to do so much for me."
Ruth knelt down without speaking and hid her face in the coverlet. She remained fully three minutes motionless and silent, but still holding Paul's hand. The surgeons were growing impatient and looking anxiously at the window; one of them took out his watch, and its loud ticking could be distinctly heard in the room.
Suddenly Ruth raised her head, looked again for a moment at Paul, and said distinctly, "No! no! no!"then she stood up, and taking her mother's arm, walked slowly to the door and disappeared.
"Kismet!"said Paul, with a sigh as of long-suspended breathing, "I believe I shall pull through, gentleman, as a 'two-legged animal without feathers.' Now kindly help me back to bed; it is cold out here, and some of you will want to catch the train. My domestics downstairs had orders to fetch some food and wine for you from my father's house, with an apology to Mrs Weston and her excellent cook, so make yourself as comfortable as you can in this queer old place and in such weather. I hope we shall all meet again soon and discuss the question of the evidences of a spiritual world. Mr Taylor, on this occasion I am, like you, on the side of the angels."
"I hope the angel has decided aright, my young friend, but I guess and fear,"said Mr Taylor, after a little consultation in a corner with his colleagues, to whom he deemed it necessary to make some apology for what he termed Paul's eccentricity of manner. "It is from living so much abroad amongst those sceptical foreigners,"he said, "that he has acquired that way of talking with levity of matters of life and death, but he is highly respected in this neighbourhood, I assure you, except perhaps by our parson, to whom his ideas are naturally antagonistic. I hope it will be all right in the end."
"He might just as well have tossed up the coin,"said the senior surgeon; "it would at all events have given him a chance, but now -- "He shook his head dolefully as he spoke, then turned to examine a time table, and soon after took his departure with his colleague, leaving the two nurses in charge of the case.
Mr Clement kindly decided to remain at Madeley Court all night, lest any unforeseen change should compel him to reverse his recently expressed opinion, but for which, and his very decided expression of it, Paul would ere now have been deprived of his leg. The table and the requisite appliances were retained in a state of readiness in the next room, and Mr Taylor promised to return at a moment's notice to assist in what he believed to be only a deferred operation.
The only persons who were really confident that no operation would be necessary were the patient and Ruth, who relied on the singular belief she had adopted in the guidance of the unseen spirit of her father, whose promise she held sacred. Paul had imbibed some of her strong faith during the short period when he lay so still on the operating table holding her hand. It seemed to him that he could easily read her thoughts as she knelt beside him and gradually envolved in her mind the answer she had so emphatically given to his question. He was now confident that he would recover without losing his limb, and sank to sleep mentally blessing the young girl who had given him this confidence -- he knew not how -- he did not care to know just then -- he was satisfied with the result of the experiment, and deferred the investigation into the why and the wherefore to another time.
Betsy came often to the adjacent sitting-room during the night to look at the table whose legs had been amputated, and to satisfy herself that it was not going to be put to the intended use. She evidently distrusted the nurses and Mr Clement, and had an uneasy suspicion in her mind that because so many strange things were arranged round about -- such as an oaken case, which she guessed contained instruments, many sponges, rolls of linen bandage and ligatures, etc. -- the surgeon who remained meant to begin it all over again when the house was quiet and Miss Ruth had retired to rest. Betsy knew that Ruth had interfered in some way to prevent the operation. She had heard the emphatic "No! no! no!"downstairs in the kitchen, and was prepared to fly to her young mistress at any moment to warn her and beg her to interfere a second time. Betsy would probably be as ready to attack the elderly gentleman, now sleeping the sleep of the just in an arm-chair at Paul's bedside, as she had been to attack the butcher's boy of old. Surgeons and butchers were to her much alike; they both used sharp knives, and cut into flesh with them, only the former hacked away at living men and women, and not at dead beeves and muttons. Betsy had no idea of the necessities of the case, but she had a vague theory that when a lot of surgeons came together they desired to do something to show how skilful they were, whether it was absolutely necessary or not.
Next morning Paul was again placed on the table in the bay window to be examined by Mr Clement and Mr Taylor, who both agreed that the limb appeared to be no worse if no better. Mr Clement was obliged to leave for his home, but promised to return at once if summoned. It was evident he was not very sanguine as to the result, but was determined to give Paul all the chance he could of saving his leg.
"You must have struggled very hard, Dr Ferrier, to rid yourself of the accursed thing,"he said. "You seem to have strained every muscle in your body."
"Yes,"said Paul. "I fought for life, and when no one came to help me I thought I would try to amputate the limb myself with my penknife, but was too weak from loss of blood, and could not have succeeded in any case. You know that foxes hve done so with their teeth, but that desperate course is impracticable for a two-legged animal. To make or use such steel traps for dumb creatures is a crime, and should be punishable by law. I have seen far more cruel instruments of torture, which were freely used by the familiars of the Inquisition on unhappy people who ventured to differ from Holy Mother Church in opinions. If you want to study such things you should visit Nuremberg, there you will see how religious zeal can sharpen the wit of man to invent hideous engines for causing human agony, from which death must have been a welcome release. I thought of them but there in the copse the other evening, and it comforted me a little to recollect that innocent men had patiently suffered far worse things at the hands of ignorant fanatics.
"I believe, from what Mr Taylor has told me,"said Mr Clement, "that it was at the hands of such a fanatic that you have suffered this cruel injury. The traps were not baited for foxes or any other four-footed beast."
"Ah! then Mr Taylor is a leaky vessel; he should have kept silence, as I desired, about all that."
"He has told me, also, that the miscreant is to go unpunished, but why I do not know."
"Because I have eaten his salt and have received kindness at the hands of his kindred."
"How it should come to pass that those ladies are connected with such a man I can't imagine,"said Mr Clement, who had been making inquiries from the two domestics who had carried Paul,
"Yes, that's a singular thing, isn't it? I daresay we shall hear later on, meantime I am glad to know them. Those two hospital nurses are very good, but they are apparently silent creatures without much sympathy. They belong to some religious sisterhood, I fancy, from their sad looks, and will probably begin to preach at me later on from a sense of duty, if I don't slip through their fingers in the meantime. They say women can talk for ever about things they don't understand, when they think it's a duty."
"And what does Miss Weston talk about?"inquired Mr Clement, with a smile.
"Oh! she is a clever girl, and her father was a scientific man, who, it seems, taught her a good deal himself, and did not allow the parsons to fill her head with nonsense -- but you can see she is a kind and gentle young lady. I expect that comes by nature from long 'heredity.' To me it would be an interesting thing to find out what sort of people her ancestors were on both sides. I know something already of the kind of man her father was. People are particular about the pedigree of their horses and dogs, and know the value of a good strain of blood in ordinary animals, but they seldom or ever apply the principle to men and women. I know some of the descendants of a French family of dancing-masters who have followed that vocation for six generations and are perfect at it. If you tried to make a parson of one of them, he'd be certain to dance out of his pulpit the instant the organ began to play. He'd waltz through the thirty-nine Articles like a teetotum."
"Some of them do that already, who haven't had the advantage of having dancing-masters for ancestors,"said Mr Clement, who found himself, as usual, beguiled into conversation by Paul.
"I have heard of one who danced himself into a bishopric, but did all his dancing before he was ordained, and then always denounced the pastime,"said Paul. "You will say, no doubt, he was a 'hybrid.' Many of them are so called at Oxford just now, because of their flirtations with a certain scarlet lady."
"I hope you will be well enough some day, Paul, to dance and flirt, if so minded, with the young lady here who has prevented us from cutting your leg off,"said Mr Clement. "But, so far as I can judge, she is not much given to those amusements. She looks just now as sad as one of the nurses, who are, I believe, like yourself, under some sort of vow to remain single for life, lest matrimony should prove a hindrance to their vocation. But speaking seriously, my young friend, if you get well, with or without the use of these instruments, which I shall leave here in case of any emergency, when you will, of course, summon me by telegraph -- speaking seriously, I say -- you must not flirt at all with that young girl, who interests me deeply. I can see that she is suffering very much in mind at present, and, with your ideas of single-blessedness, you must not cause her any additional suffering. I speak now as an old friend, and from some experience of cases like yours. I am afraid, from what I have seen of you, nothing can make you serious, not even the prospect of death. Now, do not be over sanguine. A change for the worse may set in at any moment. We are running a certain risk, mainly because of the decision of the 'Angel.' I shall be here again early on the day after to-morrow, or sooner if sent for. I will tell Mrs Weston and her daughter to come and talk to you, but remember that vow of yours which you told me of some months ago, or decide at once to fling it to the winds, if you get the chance. Farewell."
Paul remained for a while silently thinking of what Mr Clement had just said. He remembered that he had told his friend of his serious intention to remain a bachelor for life, partly because of his devotion to certain scientific pursuits, which necessitated much travelling in savage countries, and partly because of opinions adverse to the sex, which had been, instilled into him by his father, who often described females as "fickle, frivolous, and vexatious, incapable, as a rule, of reasoning on any subject, given to contradiction, extravagant, and always liable to be priest-ridden as they grew older."The old gentleman habitually said many worse things of women unfit for repetition in these pages, which it is to be hoped will be read by women without prejudice, remembering that the opinions quoted are not those of the author but of a cynical old gentleman who had practised extensively in a profession which often brought him into contact with unpleasant specimens of womankind, and who, as it will appear hereafter, had an unfortunate experience of his own.
Paul had a very indistinct recollection of his mother. He had no reason to believe she was dead, but his father had intimated to him that it was better for him to make no inquiries regarding her, and seemed to be annoyed when any allusion was made to the subject, Paul had no near relatives from whom to make inquiries, and none of any sort who ever volunteered to inform him as to the reason of his father's mysterious silence.
There were no very old servants to drop hints about their recollection of his mother, and no female servants at all at the manor house to gossip on the tabooed subject. His father had so strongly expressed his dislike to the presence of female domestics in the house that even the village washerwoman never ventured inside the gates, but received the linen in a basket from one of the male servants, who called for it again and paid the bill almost in silence. All Mr Ferrier's domestics had seemingly been chosen especially for their reticence, and only under the indignant excitement caused by the accident had two of them enlarged on the subject of Paul's good qualities when they came to make inquiries at Madeley Court, and spoke with Mrs Weston in the hearing of the cook and Betsy, who stood somewhat in awe of the sedate looking men in quiet, dark clothes which could scarcely be termed "livery."
Paul's reflections were cut short by the entrance of Mrs Weston and Ruth. The nurse, who had sat up all night, had retired to sleep; her silent companion betook herself at once to the window with a book of devotion, much decorated and filled with crosses in red colour, and never raised her eyes from its pages until the two ladies of the house again retired.
Somehow the nurses had ascertained, perhaps by some freemasonry of the religious society to which they belonged, that the present occupants of their seats by Paul's bedside were not in sympathy with, or perhaps were sinfully unaware of the existence of the ascetic body, therefore as far as they could they had avoided all intercourse with ladies who could not pronounce their Shibboleths and were ignorant of the proper saints' days and festivals. Ruth had ventured to ask in the next room, on observing that they wore long rosaries of beads, to which were suspended large ebony crosses, "if tbey were of any Protestant communion,"simply with the idea of opening a conversation, and received a look of scorn as if she had accused them of being Pagans, with the words, "No, certainly not; we are Anglicans,"which left the young girl with the idea that these sour-looking females were vestal votaries of some revived form of faith which had existed at the time of the Saxon Heptarchy.
It was not to be wondered at that Paul found the hours pass slowly in the presence of these mystic nurses, although he admitted that they knew their business, which they performed with the exactitude of automatic machines.
He consulted a solicitor, who was largely engaged in criminal cases, as to the legal nature of the offence and was horrified to learn that, on conviction, he might be sentenced to a year's imprisonment, with hard labour; but as the lawyer knew old' Mr Ferrier by reputation, he expressed the opinion that it was more likely that the irascible gentleman would take " civil proceedings," by an action for damages, and in case his son lost his leg, or was permanently lamed, the lawyer had no doubt the damages would be heavy.
"What the devil made you do such a stupid thing!"he inquired of Tobias.
"I believe, sir, the Devil must have tempted me unawares, when I was alone in an old house where he had me at a disadvantage," said Tobias, wringing his hands. " I used to see emissaries of Satan at night time, and hear 'em wailing round the house like lost spirits."
"Were there any other spirits about, such as those that are kept in bottles?" the lawyer cynically inquired. "People often see strange things on such occasions."
"I understand you, sir," said Tobias meekly, "I did partake of a little more than I am accustomed to, being worried and lonely and depressed at the time; that, no doubt, made it easier for the Evil One to overcome me. Perhaps it would weigh with the judge if I am haled before him on this unfortunate business?"
"No; it would make it all the worse for you. The judge would probably deliver you to the officer, and the officer to prison; and if the young man dies, you may be sent to penal servitude for manslaughter -- it used to be a hanging matter."
"Wot ever am I to do, sir"?" inquired Tobias, from whose forehead damp drops began to fall.
"You have been quoting Scripture just now, Mr Miles. I think there is a text advising you to 'agree with thine adversary quickly whiles thou art in the way with him;' that's all you can do at present -- that, and to pay my clerk in the office outside for this conference. If the matter goes any further, as I expect it will, you had better come here again. Go home and 'pull a mug' as if you were in grief about the accident, and be ready to eat humble pie when old Ferrier tackles you. I expect he will give you plenty of pepper with it. He used to keep a large stock of that condiment on hand when I knew him."
"I fear I am delivered into the hands of a cruel Philistine," groaned Tobias. "He will have the law o' me to the uttermost farthing, like the heathen reprobate he is. Oh! that I had never taken the advice of brother Ramsbottom." With this Tobias went forth into the outer office and sorrowfully paid a guinea to the clerk, and then betook himself for consolation to the tabernacle of the Rev. Hosea Howler in the Tottenham Court Road, who on that evening was to hold forth, from a text in Revelation, on the subject of the "number of the Beast" and the spiritual meaning of his ten horns, as interpreted by Dr Cumming.
For the space of two hours, during which the exciting service lasted, Tobias forgot his mental trouble, and was filled with strange delight as he listened to the denunciations of the violent preacher, levelled against "all people that on earth do dwell" who were not believers in the new Gospel of wrath, propounded by Mr Howler, which he averred had been recently revealed to him.
It is strange that the beliefs which take most hold on the minds of uneducated people are those which include the certainty of awful punishments falling on people who reject them. The blessings which believers expect to receive seem wonderfully enhanced by the assurance that a vast number of persons will not only obtain no share in such blessings but will suffer eternal punishment because of their unbelief.
Mr Howler vehemently warned his hearers that "the learning of this world was foolishness," and strictly practised what he taught in that respect -- glorying in his own ignorance. He delighted to enlarge on the torments which would be inflicted on educated people, who relied on reason as a guide in examining into the truth of dogmas which they had been taught when unable to comprehend them; but when he went on to include all "those who had riches" in his denunciations, Tobias could no longer agree with him, because he had begun to fancy himself a rich man, since he had acquired, as he believed, the absolute right to win the coal under the land about Madeley Court, from which abode be felt he was just then wrongfully shut out by the accident to and the presence of Paul Ferrier.
Tobias was unaware that Paul's father was abroad, but he knew that the old gentleman was a magistrate, and he feared that if he openly returned to the neighbourhood of the accident he would be arrested, and would have to stand his trial for the offence he had committed. Mrs Weston had briefly written informing him of Paul's dangerous condition, and of the surgeons' consultation, and then her letters ceased. Recently she had sent a telegram with the words "Please keep away at present," from which he had begun to think that the young man's condition must have grown worse; indeed Tobias was in great fear that the next message would announce his death, and if so, he was prepared to fly to America, where -- if he could do nothing else -- at least he could speak the language.
Tobias blamed Mrs Weston for having delayed her journey by a day and so missed his telegram as to the removal of the gins. He blamed Paul for having put his leg in one of them, but he never pitied him or thought of his sufferings. Above all, he blamed his friend Ramsbottom for suggesting the use of the deadly engines, and attributed to him the petty motive of wishing to sell the gins, which he had previously bought as old iron, at a good profit; in fact Tobias blamed everyone excepting himself, and imputed motive to everyone else, and felt that he had a grievance against all concerned, which could not be mitigated by the preaching of any number of Howlers, especially when one of them took to denouncing that class of people to which Tobias was now so proud to belong, instead of confining his threatenings to the philosophers and men of science who were wicked enough to say that the world was not made in seven days out of nothing, with the coal laid in for the future benefit of believers, and that the story of the Noachian deluge was an Eastern legend.
Tobias had once seen a few cattle transported across a river in a ferry-boat, and it had entered to his head to calculate how large the vessel would be which could carry a few thousands of such animals, with sufficient food for them for a year, The dimensions had come out on an alarming scale, and he had appealed to brother Ramsbottom as to the difficulty, who explained that no doubt all the large beasts were reduced by special miracle to the size of mice when they entered the Ark, and so were easily accommodated without inconvenience to Mr Noah. This theory was abundantly satisfactory at the time to Tobias, and it appears to have satisfied learned theologians for some centuries, who probably inherited the faculty of belief from those wise men who imagined that the light of the stars was caused by gimlet holes pierced in the firmament. To inform such people that this poor planet, for whose enlightenment they believe they were specially created, is only an insignificant atom amongst the millions of great globes visible to us by means of telescopes, would be a waste of words, and would probably result in our being classed with the sceptical philosophers denounced by Hosea Howler and his associates. Black beetles have always seemed to us incapable of any idea of scale, or else they would not run about so freely in the presence of the cook, whose ponderous foot so often terminates their apparently useless existence. The world seems to be overrun with people of similarly limited capacity. There are scholars who can spend years of their lives in examining the "jots and tittles" of some ancient Codex and yet who have never learned to differentiate between the dimensions of the prophet Jonah and those of the great fish which we are told swallowed him. To the microscopic or distorted mental faculties of such persons it would appear equally possible that the prophet should have swallowed the fish, provided it was so stated in the Codex. Nay more, they would be prepared to write a thesis to prove that the miracle must be true, and would die under the delusion that they had proved it, and so were entitled to inherit a special mansion in another world, from which those who held the contrary opinion would be shut out.
Tobias was determined that, although he was shut out from his own particular mansion at the moment, he would try to do something to realise the object he had in view when he purchased the place; be therefore returned privately to Birmingham, and entered into negotiations with people who contracted for sinking coal pits, who informed him that, if he was quite certain of the existence of coal at the depth he indicated, it would be an immense saving in the cost of sinking to erect the steam engine over the pits, which would ultimately be required to raise the coal when won.
Upon this Tobias hied him to the makers of such engines, and finally agreed with tbe firm to whom he had apprenticed his son Oreb, whom he found diligently at work in the engine factory. Oreb had heard from Ruth of the accident to Paul, and informed his father that the young man was not yet out of danger, and that he had been at one time almost despaired of, also that if he recovered it was feared he would be permanently lamed.
Tobias cautioned his son to say nothing of his visit when writing home, and requested him to apply to Ruth for further information as to Paul's present condition, and also to learn, if possible, whether there was any prospect of proceedings being taken against him by the young man's father. He endeavoured to explain to his son that the disaster had resulted from pure accident, but Oreb had already heard the real facts from Ruth, and said with some feeling: "I wish, father, you would cut Ramsbottom and all such people in future, and send him back his accursed gins; they may get you into fresh trouble some day."
"Yes, I will get rid of 'em," said Tobias, upon whom it suddenly dawned that in case he was prosecuted the articles in question would be produced as evidence against him.
Tobias hurried in a state of great anxiety to a remote part of the town and entered a barber's shop, where he had his thick dark hair and whiskers cropped as closely as possible. From thence he went to a wigmaker's in another quarter and ordered a grey wig, alleging that his hair had recently been cut off during an illness. Then he purchased an old-fashioned pair of spectacles and some quaint second-hand garments, and finally a leather wallet such as used by travelling tinkers, with the requisite tools and materials for mending saucepans. It took him two days to collect all he wanted, and at length he set out by train for Madeley Court, and one evening, in the dusk, passed through the low stone archway leading into the courtyard of his house. The kitchen had a doorway opening into this court, and outside this door Tobias observed a wooden bench, on which he seated himself and commenced to cough.
Presently the door opened and Betsy appeared on the scene with her stout arms akimbo. Tobias could now see into the kitchen, from which the light streamed forth, and he perceived the cook engaged at her fireplace, with her back towards him, whilst a little way off sat Jem Ritson, engaged in fashioning clothes pegs with a clasp-knife.
"Wall, ode chap, wot brings yer 'ere?" asked Betsy, surveying Tobias with a suspicious glance.
"Any saucepans to mend, lass? any tin kettles out o' order? any ode iron or brass to sell?" whined Tobias, with the best imitation he could make of the cry of a travelling tinker.
"No, none on 'em; wot for d'ye come prowlin' 'ere at this hour o' night? Tinkers can't mend saucepans in the dark. Be off wi' yer."
"I'm a poor ode man fro' Dudley, and I'm clemm'd wi' cold," whined Tobias, who could speak the Dudley dialect to perfection. "I've seed yer in Dudley, I think, lass, when yer wasn't so uppish, as 'avin' an ode father as is a nailer wi' grey 'airs like my own."
"Were did yer see me in Dudley?" inquired Betsy, somewhat softened by the allusion to her father's grey hairs.
"I often seed yer, my good lass, luggin' sacks o' nails to Toby Miles' store in Derrick Street, as was an ode screw. I see'd yer the day, as ever was, when Tummas Jones putt peases in the key'ole, and folks sed yer giv'd it 'ot to Tummas."
"It warn't along o' puttin' peases in Toby Mileses key'ole I guv'd it 'im," said Betsy. "Tummas Jones might 'ave putt em in Toby's eye for wot I'd care. I wudn't care if he was dead and buried wi' tons o' rock atop of 'im to try to keep 'im from ode 'Arry, as 'ull be safe to git 'im from under a mounting -- the wicked cuss, as has nearly killed Squire Ferrier's son along o' setting steel traps wi' teeth like saws."
Tobias listened attentively to this strong accusation of Betsy's with his face averted. Strange to say, his first feeling was one of indignation at the fact that Betsy had not attacked Tom Jones at Dudley because the latter had put peas in the keyhole, which had made him take an interest in her at the outset, but because of some private reason of her own. He half determined that Betsy should be dismissed at the first opportunity, when he called to mind the names she had applied to him, and the railing accusations she had brought against him at Dudley, and now again within the precincts of his own house. For the moment he forgot the object of his visit, and the disguised character in which he appeared.
"'There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword,'" he muttered. "'Adder's poison is under their lips.'"
"Wot be yer saying?" asked Betsy, pricking up her ears at the sudden change of voice in the tinker. "'Pears to me," she added, drawing-closer, "you be talkin' texes like Toby hisself; p'r'aps you be another ode 'umbug like o' he."
"I'm sufferin' wi' the toothache," whined Tobias, covering his lanky jaws with his hands lest he should be detected by the keen eyes of Betsy. "I'm awful bad wi' toothache, lass, and dunno wot I sez. It's werry cold, and I've 'ad nivvur a morsel to eat all day. Trade is nowt."
"I'll give yer summat," said Betsy, disarmed by this reference to a state of things of which she had often had personal experience.
"Ef you calls to-morrow mornin', in daylight, I'll ask missus to let you put a new bottom in our small tin kettle, but you must 'ook it when yer's 'ad yer supper. We don't take in no tramps."
Betsy turned to ask permission from the cook to give the tinker some broken victuals, to which proposal Jem Ritson lent an attentive ear, with an inward foreboding that probably his own gratuitous supper would thereby be imperilled.
As Ritson looked through the open door he was surprised to see the tinker making signals to him. Jem placed his finger to the side of his nose and nodded, as if to say he would come directly, whilst Betsy, having collected some scraps of food and filled a mug with small beer, approached the door again and handed them to the apparently grateful tinker, who was inwardly wrathful at this secret waste of his substance, of which he now had personal evidence.
Betsy was anxious about the safety of the mug and plate, and remained at the door watching the tinker until he had finished with both; so Tobias, who had already dined at a public-house in Madeley, was compelled to munch some scraps of cold bacon and to drink his own small beer without a grimace, lest the lynx-eyed Betsy should penetrate his disguise.
"Now, be off," she said when he handed her back the mug and plate. "Here, Jem Ritson, see this tinker safe out o' gate, and bolt it arter 'im; it's a'most time yer was on yer road too. You can keep 'im company 'till yer gets to public-'ouse. P'r'aps he'll find sixpence in his pocket to stand treat wi', as he's 'ad his supper for nothin'. You've bin collarin' odds and ends all day wusser than a tom-cat, and you'll get nothin' more 'eve. The tinker has 'ad all we can spare, and didn't seem to like it as he oughter, if he's told truth 'bout his 'aving 'ad no dinner. So you jest stump off along wi' 'im. It seems to me yer's both birds of a feather, and might roost on same perch 'ithout breedin' much jealousy 'mongst t'ode hens, as 'ud be likely to hide their eggs at sight of ye."
Jem stumped off without reply, and led the tinker within the shadow of the archway.
"Wot's hup?"he said with surliness. "I've lost my supper along o' yer, 'sides drawin' down the tongue o' that lass, as 'ud turn the beer sour in a man's inside, though I guess yer 'ull say it's sour enough a'ready, being laid in by that ode screw Toby Miles as owns' this place. I'd give sixpence to see 'im drinkin' a mug of it hisself."
Tobias thought that he had more than earned the sixpence by drinking the mug of beer he had just swallowed, but his wrath was kindled at the idea that Jem Ritson should obtain even this wretched stuff at his expense, and a second time that evening he forgot the object of his visit.
"D'ye drink much on't'?" he inquired in a husky voice.
"As much as I can git, and that's little enough. The cook nor Betsy don't care for't, they prefers water, so they mostly gives me their share for doin' odd jobs for 'em."
Tobias felt somewhat relieved on hearing this statement, and decided he would have no beer supplied in future to the kitchen, as it was not relished or wanted; meantime he returned to the object of his visit.
"Is there any ode iron about for sale" he asked in a whisper. "I deals in ode iron, and don't ask no questions as to 'ow it's come by."
Jem Ritson peered closely, as well as the fading-light would permit, into the tinker's face, but could not learn much from his inspection. "You deals in ode iron, and in ode brass," he said with contempt, "and I s'pose silver spoons 'ud not come amiss to yer; but yer's come to the wrong shop -- the spoons is all plated."
"I don't meddle wi' silver," said Tobias, rubbing his chin; "ode iron or steel is my line."
Jem cogitated for a while in silence, and said at length, very slowly: ''There was two steel traps, as belonged to Toby Miles and caused mischief. I was told by the lady of the 'ouse 'ere to tak' 'em away and bury 'em, so as they'd cause no more on't; but I kin lay my 'ands on 'em agin if you'd mak it worth my while. Wot 'ud yer give for em? They are 'eavy, and spring steel is always good to work up for the backs o' knives, such as this." Here Jem suddenly opened his large clasp-knife, and Tobias started back from its neighbourhood.
"Putt it up -- putt it away!" he exclaimed in his natural voice. "I can't abear them dratted things so near me in the dark."
"Suppose, then, we 'ave a light," said Jem, taking from one of his pockets a piece of candle end which he had just stolen in the kitchen. Jem turned on his timber leg as he spoke and closed the wooden gate behind him, shooting the iron bolts as he did so.
"Now I can strike a light properly, out of the draught," he said as he produced a match box and proceeded to light the short piece of candle, which he brought near to the tinker's face. The instant he did so Tobias raised his hand to his mouth and chin, as was his custom when perplexed. The peculiar action, which Jem Kitson had often previously seen Tobias use, betrayed him at once, but the cunning poacher kept his knowledge to himself for the moment.
"Wot 'ull yer give for them two steel traps?" he asked. "The candle isn't very long, so we 'aven't much time to haggle over 'em afore it goes out, and I fancies you don't like being in the dark."
"Say thirty shillings," said Tobias; " they're not worth it, but I am curious to see 'em."
At this liberal offer Jem gave vent to a prolonged whistle. "I've no doubt you are," he said, "werry curyus -- and you'll see 'em when you've paid for 'em -- but thirty pounds won't do it."
"Nonsense, man," said Tobias angrily; "if they was solid silver they wouldn't be worth 'arf the money."
"They are worth their weight in gold to a man I knows of," said Jem with a chuckle. "I'll tell yer who he is, and you can sell 'em to 'im at a profit when you've got 'em. I want fifty pounds, for 'em."
Tobias remained silent with indignation, still rubbing his chin. "Who is the man you think 'ud give that monstrous price for 'em?" he said in a quavering voice. "He must be an idiot."
"P'r'aps he is. He calls hisself Tobias Miles, Esquire, of Madeley Court. Maybe he sent you to buy 'em for 'im, 'cos he wants 'em partickler to putt in a curiosity shop, as is their proper place; but you'd better be quick about it -- the candle is burnin' my fingers."
"Will you 'and em over to-night if I pays for 'em?" inquired Tobias in a whisper. "But I 'aven't got so much money 'ere by ten pounds," he added quickly; "say forty and it's a bargain."
"I'll tak yer watch as s'curity for the odd tenner."
"You are a bad, hard man. 'The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel,'" said Tobias.
"That's wot they says o' Toby Miles; he's 'ard as nails and cruel as wan o' them steel traps your buyin' for 'im, 'cos I s'pose he wants to snap a leg off someone else, like he did to young Mr Ferrier.
"His leg isn't took off, I 'opes?" said Tobias in unfeigned alarm, all his tricks of voice and manner now cast aside.
"Yes; it was took off yesterday by the same darn'd doctor as cut off mine. It's buried out there in the yard -- but, see here, the candle is a'most gone. Are you goin' to hand over or not? I'll not trust yer to count notes c'rectly in the dark, you are all in such a tremble, and I'd like to see the figures on 'em."
"Shall I have the gins in exchange for the money -- here, this minute?"
"Yes, I'll show 'em to yer, and yer can tak 'em or leave 'em where they are till convenient to move 'em in daylight; but mind me, ode chap, ef you don't hand over, when you sees 'em and 'andles 'em, you see this." Jem here held the knife open before Tobias' eyes in a menacing manner.
"Please the Lord, you shall 'ave the money you are extorting from me," groaned Tobias.
"Then come along wi' yer; follow me, aud let's 'ave no more jaw."
Tobias meekly followed Jem Ritson, sadly muttering to himself quotations from the "Lamentations of Jeremiah."
"You seem very much at 'ome here, my friend," said Tobias. "I'd like to know where you got that key."
"I has keys for most o' the doors," said Jem. "You see I was here before ever Toby Miles kem along, and I used to amuse myself fitting ode keys to the locks, in case of the accident of wanting wan of 'em. There was a bunch o' rusty keys 'anging on a nail when I came here, and most of 'em only wanted oiling. Come in here and I'll show you summat curyus."
Tobias ground his teeth in suppressed rage as he followed Jem Ritson, vowing at the same time he would be even with the poacher at the first opportunity. Inside the door a circular stone stairs led up to the old chapel. Tobias knew it well; he had often used it, and also another short flight of narrow steps beneath it which led to the crypt under the chapel. He was wondering just then whether Jem knew of the means of access to these steps whilst they both stood in the dark, inside the outer door from the courtyard, which Jem had closed. The poacher took from his capacious pocket a second short piece of candle, and lit it as before; then he pushed Tobias aside and produced a smaller key, and seemed to search along the wall for a keyhole.
"You didn't find that key in the bunch on the nail," said Tobias; "it's a new wan."
"That's werry curyus, now, the way you notices little things," said Jem, grinning. "It's a new key, sure enough. Toby Miles bought a new lock and put it on this queer ode door hisself; if he 'adn't bin so partickler I'd never 'ave known there was a door here, 'cos it was coloured over to look like stone, and in putting it on he rubbed off some of the colour. Whenever the other door is open to let in the light then this little door is hidden away behind it. I've found the key'ole at last, but this key doesn't fit so well as usual; it wants humouring a bit. I'll trubbel you to hold the candle."
Tobias took the candle with a groan. He knew now that the cunning poacher had in some way discovered the secret entrance to the crypt and was using a skeleton key to open the lock. Tobias had the proper key for the lock in his pocket, but dared not say so, as he fondly imagined that Jem Ritson had not yet penetrated his disguise, whilst the old rascal was all the time using every means he could think of to torment and terrify Tobias, without in any way admitting that he knew the victim in whose torments he gloated.
Tobias had always taken every opportunity to insult and harass Jem Ritson when he lived alone with him at Madeley Court, and now he was reaping the crop of insults and annoyances he had sown. He had determined long ago, as soon as he had got the place to rights, to discharge the man, and engage some more trustworthy person in his place, but the wages he offered were so small, and his reputation for hardness was so great, that as yet he had not found it possible to obtain a substitute; and so Jem, who was obliged to accept low wages on account of the loss of his leg many years before in a poaching affray, remained under renewed notices to quit, and was now revenging himself on his employer for the unsettled discomfort he had experienced.
The candle which Tobias held was short, and he had already begun to calculate on the period which was likely to elapse before the flame would reach his ringers, and as to what would happen in case he was left in darkness with the wooden-legged ruffian in such narrow quarters. Tobias was a strong man, and could easily overturn Jem Ritson in a struggle, but he saw that Jem still retained the long knife, with the blade exposed, in his left hand, whilst he manipulated the key in the lock with his right; therefore he decided to flee up to the chapel by the circular stone stairs whenever he was obliged to drop the candle, He knew Jem could not overtake him in his flight, and that when at the top he could lock the upper door and hold the enemy at bay. He imagined, now that he knew tolerably well where the gins were concealed, he could readily find them on a future occasion, and so cheat Jem out of the extortionate price he had demanded for restoring his own property.
Tobias was anxious that the gins should be speedily destroyed, and had reflected on the effect the horrible engines would have, when produced in court, in enhancing his punishment or the damages.
Now that Jem had declared that young Ferrier's leg had been cut off, Tobias was certain that before long old Ferrier would be on his track with the weapons of the law. Meantime there seemed no prospect of Jem Ritson succeeding in opening the lock. Tobias remembered that it was a very good lock, and not likely to be easily opened with a skeleton key. Jem glanced now and then at the candle, and at length turned and took it again from between Tobias' fingers, and stuck it upright on the point of the blade of his knife.
"Drat the darned lock," he said; "my fingers are 'arf froze, and I can't turn the key in't. Here, p'r'aps you can manage it? Tinkers is always 'andy 'bout locks."
Jem pushed Tobias towards the small door and stumped round between him and the ascending stairs, as if he had divined his thoughts. Tobias felt in his pocket for the proper key and then withdrew the skeleton key from the lock, and contrived to substitute the other without being seen by Jem. His retreat to the chapel was now cut off, and he deemed it best to proceed on the course originally proposed, so he opened the small door and turned to Jem for fresh orders.
"You go first, Mr Tinker," said Jem; "it's a tight place, but yon can't miss the steps, there's on'y six: on 'em. You'd better take that wallet off your shoulders and carry it in front of you."
Tobias complied, and slowly descended the six steps, wondering whether he would reascend them alive. He had decided that he would adopt some means to circumvent Jem, if he possibly could, before parting with so large a sum of money as fifty pounds. If he could only contrive to open the wallet unseen, he knew he could readily lay his hand on some weapon therein with which he could dash the knife out of Jem Ritson's hand; then he would have the "one-legged idiot" at his mercy, and if he resisted, he could knock him on the head.
Tobias began fingering the straps and buckles as he carried the old wallet in front of him down the steps, but his hands trembled with excitement, and before he could get a single buckle undone he was aware that Jem was peering over his shoulder, and so he had to desist.
"Straight on, tinker," said Jem peremptorily, "there bain't no saucepans to mend down 'ere; you may hump your kit again, it will be more comfortabler."
Again Tobias had to obey the brutal poacher. He cautiously proceeded in front towards the apsidal end of the vaulted crypt, passing on his left hand what appeared to be a huge pillar of masonry supporting the stone roof, but which was in reality a hollow cylinder, concealing and protecting the mouth of the well or shaft. Tobias knew that the small opening leading to the stone steps, by which he could descend into the well, was at the other side, and it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps Ritson had not discovered this, and that he might escape down the shaft, where Jem could not follow him; but first he wished to see the gins. How to get possession of them without paying the money was a puzzle. Tobias rapidly planned, as he cautiously moved along by the light of the solitary candle, which Jem held aloft, that when he had seen the articles he was in quest of then he would extinguish the candle and take to his heels, so as to reach the short stone staircase first and lock the door before the wooden-legged man could overtake him. Then he could dictate terms to the poacher from the other side, or leave him in the vault to starve until he submitted.
Suddenly Jem cried out: "Halt! Lay down your kit, and go straight on to the end wall. You'll see a big tombstone there as is like a stone box; the top of it ain't so 'eavy as it looks. Open it up agin the wall, and I'll come and show yer wot you want inside. You mus'n't 'oller out it's arf full o' bones, and the skulls of dead men grinning up at you ain't pleasant to look on; but they won't bite, like them gins do as is lying on top of 'em."
Tobias remembered the large stone object Jem indicated, which he saw dimly in the distance, but which he had always imagined to be a stone altar. He now crept up to it in awe, and put forth all his strength to lift off the thin slab of stone forming the cover, which was loose and not very heavy. When he had succeeded in doing this, Jem approached from behind and let the light from the candle fall into the tomb. Tobias saw a quantity of dry human bones, with half-a-dozen skulls amongst them, and lying on the bones he beheld the two gins he was in search of.
"All c'rect, Mr Tinker, just as I said? Now, shut down the stone cover agin, and lay out the notes on't, side by side, so as I can count 'em, and be quick about it; there bain't more'n inch o' candle left, and I've got no more, along o' that sharp lass Betsy, as never leaves a scrap she can 'elp out of her sight."
"We had better go elsewhere to count the notes," said Tobias. "I'm half frozen in this 'orrid place, and all in a tremble at the sight o' them grinning skulls. Why ever did you choose such a place to 'ide the gins in?"
"'Cos I liked, Toby Miles, so that I might keep 'em safe to sell to Squire Ferrier when he comes 'ome. Shell out what we agreed on 'ithout more ado or by the living Jingo you'll never leave this alive."
Jem rapidly transferred the candle end from the knife to his fingers as he spoke, and as rapidly brought the point of the knife to Tobias Miles' throat, pinning him against the side of the tomb and barring his escape with his body.
"Hand over yer pocket-book, there's no time for countin' now,"he snarled out -- "yer said yer 'ad on'y forty pounds in't -- and then out wi' the watch."
Now Tobias had really over two hundred pounds in his pocket-book, which he had provided himself with in case it was needful to make that projected trip to the States, and deep anguish filled his soul at the idea of losing such a sum; but the point of the knife was steadily pressing on his windpipe, and the eyes of the poacher seemed to glare on him like those of a demon.
Tobias saw the candle end flare up, as it was compressed between the finger and thumb of the poacher, and he thought that with its last glimmer his fate would be sealed -- the knife would be in his throat, and Ritson would leave his body to the rats in the vault.
A sudden fiendish expedient occurred to the poacher to bring the deadly contest to a close. He passed the flaring remnant of candle close under Tobias' nose, and at the same time sharply pricked his throat with the knife, drawing a few drops of blood. The tortured man straightway plunged his hand into his breast pocket and surrendered his pocket-book, which Jem Ritson thrust inside his jacket, and then with lightning quickness snatched the watch from Tobias' vest, and slowly backed away, step by step, in the direction of the stone stairs, holding aloft the expiring light, which now actually burned his fingers.
"You stay w'ere you are, Toby Miles," he growled savagely, "till I give yer leave to stir, or I'll come back and cut yer throat in the dark, and drop yer carcase into that stone coffin atop o' them bones. I've 'arf a mind to lock yer in forever. Down 'ere no one 'ud hear yer 'ollering ef you was to bust yer lungs. But as Squire Ferrier 'ull want to see you in the dock -- along o' yer trying to murder his son -- you'll be let out p'r'aps to-morrow night at this hour by someone as I'll give the key to."
Jem could endure the burning of his horny fingers no longer. As he spoke he turned suddenly to make sure of the distance and direction of the steps, from which he was now not far off; then he flung the end of candle towards them, and in an instant the crypt was in total darkness.
Tobias had carefully observed Jem's distance from the outlet, and with a sudden flash of intelligence he remembered that he had in his pocket the key of the small door at the top of the steps. He thought that by a rush he could overtake and pass the poacher, or thrust him aside as he dashed past him in the darkness, then he could turn the tables on him by locking the small door, and deliver him into the hands of the police, in broad daylight, when he had got rid of his disguise.
Tobias darted forward in a straight line, in the solid darkness of the vault, with his hands outspread so as to catch Jem Ritson a sudden blow on either hand as he sped past, and but for a mere trifle he might have succeeded, and rejoiced evermore. But, alas! in his headlong rush his feet caught in the old wallet he had flung on the floor in obedience to Jem's order.
Tobias was precipitated violently on his head on the stone pavement, and lay there for -- how long he never knew -- stunned and bleeding. When he recovered consciousness he slowly picked himself up and groped about for the obstacle which had overturned him. He hazily remembered that he had a box of matches, and finding them in his pocket, struck a light and saw the tinker's wallet, on which he sat down to think in the darkness. Never was man in so forlorn a plight. He sadly rubbed his stubbly chin, and slowly collected his ideas. He remembered that the accursed poacher had said he might be released on the next night, but how long he had been already imprisoned he did not know, or how long he would be kept prisoner in that miserably cold dungeon he could not safely say -- perhaps for days, to die slowly of starvation. Already he felt weak and hungry and dizzy from the loss of blood, and so cold that his teeth chattered and ached.
Tobias would be thankful now for a few of those scraps of cold bacon and a mug of that small beer he had despised at the hands of Betsy. He thought that, perhaps, if he were to creep to the top of the steps and to howl through the keyhole in the outer door, his voice might be heard across the courtyard by Betsy in her kitchen, and if she came to set him free, how thankful to her he would be. He would forgive all her iniquities and rough language, and, perhaps, he would raise her wages, provided she did not scoff and jeer at him and call him names. Tobias lit another match, and saw by its feeble light that there was much blood on his shirt and vest. He still felt the sharp pain of that puncture of the poacher's knife in his throat, and wondered would he ever have the pleasure of bearing witness in court against him for the deadly assault. But then he remembered that he himself had caused a deadlier wound to be inflicted on Mr Ferrier's son, and for that he might have to appear in a criminal court on his own account, Tobias fully believed he had been sufficiently punished for his offence already, and foully robbed of his money and watch, all indirectly because of those unlucky gins, and so he fancied he ought not to be made to suffer any further penalties in person or purse; but he was fully satisfied that Jem Ritson deserved to be speedily hung, and then he believed that the poacher would drop straight into the lake of fire and brimstone, and remain there for ever.
Tobias thought it would be decidedly wicked to allow such a reprobate as Ritson any time to repent. Burning brimstone was, in his opinion, far too mild for him -- phosphorus, he knew, was said to cause more horrible burns than anything else, and should be laid, on thick on the wretch who had dared to apply a lighted candle to his nose in his own house. Tobias lit another wooden match, which smelled of brimstone and phosphorus combined, and the abominable odour comforted him a little, although the end of his nose smarted all the more. He now saw that there were only half-a-dozen matches left, and then he stood up, with stiff, aching limbs, and slowly crept towards the little stairs. Tobias expected to find the small door at the top of the stone steps open; he knew he had the two keys, but to his horror he found it tight shut. He threw his weight against it and it yielded slightly at the top, then he became aware that the accursed Ritson had inserted wooden wedges at the bottom of the door, after the manner of burglars, when escaping. He thought the poacher must surely have the cunning of Satan, or perhaps was Satan himself, which would account for all his misfortunes, and the presence of those blue-devils he had seen about the house. If Tobias could only open the small internal door, he hoped he could obtain a glimpse of daylight through the keyhole in the larger outer door, if there was any to be seen; he might also ascend the circular stairs leading to the chapel overhead, and call for assistance from thence. There was another entrance to the chapel from a corridor in the house, but it was always kept locked and bolted, and no one was likely to make use of it in his absence. Still, if he could get into the chapel he could soon call the attention of someone to his plight through a window. But, alas! Jem Ritson, alias "Satan in the flesh," or one of his dark angels, knew all this better than Tobias, and had taken the precaution to secure the door.
Tobias concluded, at length, that if he were to go back to the wallet on the floor and select some tools therefrom he could force out the wedges under the door from the inside. So he descended the steps again and sought for his matches, but not finding them in his pocket, he slowly remembered that he had placed them by his side near the wallet, as he sat thereon in darkness. Tobias straightway set out to find them, cautiously taking his bearings from the face of the steps and steadily walking straight on, as he fondly imagined. It is a singular thing that no one can cross a large room in a straight line in total darkness, and, as a rule, in a few minutes the adventurer will become utterly incapable of knowing his exact position.
In a short time, which seemed over an hour to Tobias, he found his outstretched hands in contact with the circular wall which surrounded the well, but he did not then discover that it was circular, or what wall it was, and so he crept round it until he came to the opening leading to the steps by which he could descend to the bottom. Fortunately he touched the iron handrail, and then started back in horror, knowing that two steps further within the opening would have plunged him into space.
Tobias fled away from the aperture and resumed his weary wanderings to and fro, now touching the outer walls, now the wall of the well enclosure, and at one time in groping round he actually reached the old tomb at the end of the crypt -- the scene of his sufferings at the hands of Satan -- and shrank away from it lest he should encounter the Evil One again, with his mind totally unhinged. A few minutes later on he stumbled over the old wallet a second time, and then at length clutched his matchbox on the floor beside it. He was now a little warmer from the exercise he had undergone, and straightway commenced to unbuckle the straps which held the wallet closed. When he thrust in his hand it encountered something clammy, which he pulled out and inspected with the aid of another match. Eureka! it was a tinker's grease-lamp, used for soldering with a blowpipe. The coarse cotton wick was in its place, and soon a strong steady flame appeared and made surrounding objects visible. Tobias saw the grey wig and his battered hat on the floor a little way off, and gladly resumed, possession of them to protect his shorn head from the cold. He warmed his.hands over the lamp, and began to look in the wallet for the tools best suited for his purpose.
At this moment it occurred to Tobias that Ritson might return again some night and resume possession of the steel gins for which he had paid so dearly, and he decided, now that he had sufficient light, he would take them out of their present hiding-place and cast them down the shaft. Ritson, he knew, could not go down those narrow winding steps with his wooden leg, and if he did he would be likely to fall over and break his neck, a consummation Tobias devoutly wished for as a preliminary to the fire and brimstone.
Tobias again raised the lid of the old tomb, lifted out the gins, and carried them to the opening to the shaft to throw them in, but as he approached it he was surprised to see the flame of the lamp blown back by a strong current of air ascending from the shaft. He paused to think and to sniff the air, which felt fresh and cold. Surely that could not come all the way from the distant river, to which he had fancied the adit at the bottom led? It must have a nearer outlet, and if so he might escape by creeping over the obstruction he had encountered on a previous occasion. Tobias decided he would descend and try, and bethought him that he might as well carry the gins down the shaft and not throw them from such a height to be shattered at the bottom. Some day he might be able to return them to brother Ramsbottom, and claim back the money paid for them. One of them was still wound up ready to catch its prey, and required to be cautiously handled. Tobias took off a leather belt he habitually wore, and slung the gins over his shoulder, then grasped the rusty iron handrail with one hand, and holding the flaring grease-lamp in the other, slowly descended to the bottom of the shaft and laid down his burden. He looked with renewed pleasure for a moment at the thin coal seam, and then at the mouth of the adit, and beheld to his surprise some kind of small furry beast blinking at him and showing its teeth. Tobias flung a piece of coal at the little animal, which scuttled away down the adit. He could not say exactly what it was; but fancied it was a stoat, and guessed now that the adit led into the open air at no great distance; but, as he objected to the presence of such vermin beneath his house, before he entered the adit he placed the wound-up gin therein, so that it might close on any live creature coming there from. He had no bait, but trusted that the natural curiosity of such animals would tempt the one he had seen into the jaws of the trap, and then be proceeded on his way feeling the air fresher and colder as he went on, until he met what he had previously imagined was a "fall" from the roof. Now that he had a better light than that he had carried on his former visit, he saw that the rock roof was sound, and that the obstruction was caused by rubbish, over which he crawled on all fours, keeping his lamp alight with difficulty.
Suddenly Tobias felt a furze bush in front of him, and pushing this aside he emerged into the open air, and saw stars shining above him in the frosty night. The faint sound of distant church bells broke on his ear. He listened intently, and recognised the Christmas chimes rung from Madeley Church; then he looked around and decided that he was near the bottom of the Dingle, on his own land, about two hundred yards from his house. There was a mound there, on which he now stood, which previously had puzzled him to account for in daylight, but which he guessed was formed of the waste material excavated from the adit. He slowly walked up the Dingle to the house, and saw lights burning in two of the rooms, which, he suspected was on account of the injured man within. He could not ask for admittance in his present disguise, nor did he think it safe to appear at all under the circumstances, lest he should be arrested; so he turned away and plodded slowly in the snow by the road to the railway station, outside which he remained pacing until daylight, when the first train for Dudley came in.
Tobias had a few shillings in his pocket, with which he purchased a third-class ticket and immediately entered the carriage, which was cold and empty. Just as the train was starting, the door of the next compartment was opened suddenly by a late passenger, and he heard the thud of a wooden leg on the bare floor of the carriage. He peered cautiously over the partition and beheld his enemy Jem Ritson, standing with his back to him, arranging some parcels on the opposite seat.
"Please the Lord,"muttered Tobias to himself, "I'll give that old scoundrel into custody at Dudley, if his master Satan does not interfere again to save his emissary. Peradventure he may have the pocket-book upon him with my notes in't. 'Verily the years of the wicked shall be shortened, but my horn shall be exalted like that of a young unicorn.' ' Let the wicked man fall into his own net whilst I withal escape.' 'Let death seize upon him, and let him go down into hell, even to his own place. Selah!'"
Tobias seemed to have stored his memory with many texts like the foregoing, which he now repeated with intense satisfaction, whilst 'the wicked man' at the other side of the partition lit his pipe and smoked some strong tobacco, which made Tobias to sneeze.
Paul was just then comfortably seated in a large arm-chair near a blazing fire, with his wounded leg, still enveloped in bandages, raised on a rest.
Jem Ritson had lied to Tobias Miles, with a view to adding to his terrors, when he declared that the limb had been recently cut off and buried in the courtyard.
Paul has evidently suffered much since we saw him last. His cheeks are sunken and pale, but his eyes are bright, and he laughs pleasantly at Oreb's imitation of brother Ramsbottom's drawling cant when holding forth to the few "elect," whom he is wont to call "Gawd's people."
Oreb and Zeeb have come, to spend Christmas at Madeley Court, and are already on friendly terms with Paul, who has been telling them interesting tales of his foreign travels and adventures. Ruth sits by, equally interested, and no longer looks sad and anxious. The patient, who has borne his sufferings so patiently, is at last out of danger, and will probably soon take his departure to his own home not far off, from whence he has promised to come to see them often, provided they will also visit him in his solitude.
Mrs Weston has promised that she would call with Ruth, now and then, at the manor house, until such time as Paul had quite recovered, when she is afraid their visits must cease, before Mr Ferrier's return from Italy. She has heard of the old gentleman's strange dislike to the presence of petticoats in or near his abode, and for this and other reasons she thinks the visiting must soon be all on Paul's side. He will always be a welcome visitor to her and her daughter, but as to how Tobias Miles will take such visits she is doubtful, because no two men could be wider apart in their ideas and character. Paul she recognises as a highly intellectual, well-educated young fellow, with large views and sympathies, and the polished manners which travel and intercourse with educated foreigners confer. His gospel has been that of "culture," and he has evidently been a diligent student of the cult. The extent of his knowledge of men, animals and things appears to her to be marvellous for a man of his years, and yet no one could be more modest regarding his acquirements, more ready to share his stores of information with others, or more industrious in seeking to add to his knowledge by drawing out new facts from the experience of his hearers.
It is in this way that Paul has become so friendly with Oreb and Zeeb. He has questioned them with acute interest as to the acquirements of their teachers at school and their manner of teaching, and made suggestions as to the things taught and their future expansion by study, offering to lend them books and to assist them whenever he could.
The namesakes of the slaughtered princes of Midian think Paul is a prince-amongst men -- like Gideon -- and a giant in intellect, fully a head and shoulders above any scholar they have yet met, but also a scholar who can talk of scientific things in simple language, with easy illustrations fitted for young thinkers and encouraging them to think. Paul has explained to them the latest theories regarding the formation of coal, and shown them, under a microscope, the appearance of the club-mosses and ferns still visible in the fuel which now warmed them, after millions of years compression iu the earth. Tobias Miles, if he had been present.would have been tempted to shatter the microscope -- which was Ruth's property -- as an invention of Satan especially designed to discredit the book of Genesis. Ruth had often used it for similar investigations, but she felt that she never understood the subject so well as now.
Paul was certainly a great talker, as he admitted, and he made his hearers talk or answer questions, but what he said was worth remembering, and had not the somnolent effect of pulpit eloquence. He did not "hold forth"like Tobias Miles or brother Rarnsbottom; he merely indulged in animated converse, and listened attentively when other people spoke, especially when Ruth explained to him the nature of some of her father's inventions. Zeeb promised to take Paul down a coal mine, and told him what a clever man his master, Mr Perkins, was, although rough in manner; whilst Oreb undertook to show him over the engine factory and to introduce him to the German manager, who smoked all day over his drawings, and was believed to sleep with a pipe in his mouth.
There were two inhabitants of Madeley Court that evening whose useful functions were now drawing to a close, and who not only took no part in the conversation, but deemed it proper to enter a silent protest against the discussion of mundane subjects on a night which was to them the most sacred in the year. The two lady nurses had retired from association with the family at an early hour. They had ascertained that there was an old chapel attached to the house, to which access could be had through a door at the end of the corridor outside the room where the little party sat, and thither they betook themselves alone, with several tall candles, which they had sent for to the village and insisted on paying for themselves.
Mrs Weston had remonstrated with the nurses in vain, telling them the chapel was fearfully cold, and had no fireplaces, also that the windows had no sash frames or other protection from the outer air. The devout women bent their heads in meek protest, and begged all the more for the key of the door to the chapel, which was reluctantly given to them, whereupon they retired within, and locked the door behind them. Betsy had curiosity enough to look through the keyhole, and saw that the good ladies had lit their long candles and placed them on the stone altar at the end of the chapel, and were kneeling with bowed heads on the bare stone pavement.
At that moment Tobias Miles, disguised as a tinker, was engaged in deadly strife with Jem Ritson in front of the old tomb, which probably had been used at one time as a second altar, in the crypt beneath. Later on, Tobias was hurling maledictions after his retreating assailant, but no sound could penetrate those massive arches which separated the devout women from the wretched man. All three suffered intensely from cold, and were unconscious of each other's vicinity. The women accepted their misery with the feeling of martyrs, and seemed to live through the long hours without collapse simply by reason of the fervour of devotion in their hearts, whilst telling their beads with half-frozen fingers. Tobias Miles survived that dreadful night by reason of the strong animal instinct which made him cling to his selfish life, and in the hope of recovering his money and wreaking vengeance on the man who had betrayed, despoiled, and insulted him, but he never repented nor deemed himself in anywise a wrong-doer, whereas those poor women overhead, magnified the trifling errors of judgment into which they had fallen, or the slight faults of temper they may have indulged in during the past year, into heinous crimes, and smote their breasts and bowed their chilled foreheads on the icy pavement, calling themselves miserable sinners, and praying for pardon for the sake of the great MARTYR, the anniversary of whose birth they were celebrating in this sorrowful fashion, courting death from exposure to the biting cold.
These nurses are educated women who kneel there, in self-torturing anguish of soul, where priests and monks, whose bones are now tossed with the old gins into that receptacle beneath, knelt before them and counted beads and muttered prayers. Have they been taught aright? and who is responsible for the teaching? Have the souls of the mediæval priests, who knew little that is now worth knowing, and who spake of mysteries to their hearers in dog-Latin, entered into the bodies of the modern priests who have taught those two melancholy nurses, and sought to revive their ancient superstitions? Cui bono! "All is vanity, saith the preacher." Or is there afar off, beyond the pale stars, whose shimmering light pierces through the mullioned windows of the chapel, and falls in soft radiance around those two kneeling figures, a Heaven of wondrous bliss to which such feeble prayers can penetrate and will the form the safest passport? and if so, where will be the abiding place of the two men beneath their feet, whose teaching has been of another kind, of one of whom has learned to pray in a louder and coarser fashion, and both of whom have grown hardened from rough contact with the world?
Such curious problems are beyond us. We fancy, rightly or wrongly, they are beyond everyone, and may for ever be insoluble. The priest of ON, who gave his daughter in marriage to the patriarch Joseph, and probably taught him much of the wisdom of the Egyptians, knew just as little about them as the old abbot who built Madeley Court, or his successors, who wear doctors' hoods at Oxford. We have as yet no optical instrument that can find for us, in the starry heavens, that special Heaven those forlorn, shivering women are thinking of, although astronomers can detect objects in space that are "billions of miles"off. Few people have any clear idea of what a "billion" really means; but if those poor women were endowed with wings, and could fly from this earth at the speed of light, and were each to live to the age of Methuselah, they would probably not have lived long enough to reach one of the "fixed stars" whose rays fall on them at this moment.
Amongst those far distant stars, or suns, we can see through our telescopes great purses of light called "Nebulas," of whose vast size we can form no idea. Perhaps the Heaven of our devoted nurses lies there -- we hope so -- as they certainly deserve all the reward in happiness we can wish them for the conscientious care they have bestowed on Paul Ferrier, and on others similarly afflicted. But, alas! it is but a nebulous theory. The "insoluble" is not to be resolved into the "soluble," as the diamond can be into carbon, by any alchemy we know of.
A great thinker discovered the wonderful law which controls those heavenly bodies and "rolls the stars along," consequently we can tell where most of them are to be found in the heavens, although they may be unseen at the moment, by reason of the law, which is never at fault; but we cannot tell whether the beliefs of this age will last for another half-century, or fade away like the beliefs once taught by the priest of ON. The mere name of the priest and that of the sun-god he worshipped is all that remains to us of his creed, and already there are signs of a similar eclipse of faith. The laws of Nature alone remain constant; they rule the stars in their courses; we cannot see, with the author of Revelation, a new Heaven and a new earth; but we can learn to make the best of our time on the small planet upon which our fleeting life must be passed.
Hark! there is the sound of bells from a distant church tower, telling of the dawn of one of the faiths that has lasted, with some variations, in a part of this little world through nearly nineteen centuries. We can imagine a smile flitting over the battered face of the granite Sphinx near the pyramids as she thinks of the dawn and setting of many religions she has looked down upon. She saw the priest of ON invoking the aid of the Deity of his epoch; perhaps she has seen a remnant of the priests of a previous faith who made sacrifice to gods whose names were an abomination to the priest of ON. Dynasties and religions which lasted many centuries have risen and fallen under her stony gaze. She may have witnessed the marriage rites of the great Hebrew statesman with the daughter of the priest, and seen the exodus of Joseph's kindred, bearing away his bones as precious relics, perhaps to be worshipped when Moses' back was turned, just as devout people worship the bones of St Borromeo in the crypt at Milan at this day, and as the Hebrews worshipped the golden calf whilst Moses stole away to engrave on tablets of stone the laws which were to govern the ignorant, stiff-necked people whom he led forth into the wilderness, laws which existed in Egypt long before Moses was born, and contained the wisdom of ages, concentrated by the evolution of centuries of experience. There are records of civilised nations in Egypt during centuries before Noah is said to have entered into the Ark, and civilised nations are invariably governed by civilising laws. It needed no special Revelation for Newton to discover the law which governs the motions of the stellar universe: previous great thinkers had paved the way to the discovery, evolved at length in its fulness from a brain untrammelled by a belief in miracles, so perhaps, in the remote future, some man gifted with a gigantic intellect like Newton's may stand upon the seashore and discover the dim boundaries of the great ocean of Truth.
Hark! again the bells peal forth on the night air. The two chilled praying nurses have painfully struggled to their feet, and taking their candles, still alight, creep forth from the chapel with aching limbs, in which acute rheumatism will dwell for many a day, They are met in the corridor by the watchful Betsy, who has foreseen their sad condition, and fearful of fire on the premises, comes to put out the lights. But, NO -- those sacred candles must be allowed to burn out in their sleeping chamber. Betsy begs them to join the merry party by the hot.fire in the room close by, to whom Paul is speaking of the recent discovery of the planet Neptune by means of calculations based on Newton's law. He tells them there is a large telescope at the manor house, and that some fine night he will try to show them the rings of Saturn, and the belts and satellites of Jupiter, if those huge planets come along in time. The nurses send a frigid message by Betsy, as a minder that it is high time Paul went to bed and had his leg arranged. He makes a grimace, but dutifully prepares to obey, and in wishing Ruth "Goodnight" he holds her hand in his for an unreasonably long time, then stoops and kisses it, before them all, and wishes her many happy Christmases, "such as this," he says, forgetful that he can only hop on one leg, leaning on the shoulders of the young Midianites. None of those present will soon forget that evening -- Ruth and Paul least of all -- but there are the solemn nurses waiting impatiently, with pallid cheeks, and there are also two shadowy figures in the background who are visible only to the mental vision of the young man and maiden. Ruth is thinking of her fanatical uncle, and Paul of his stern, cynical father, and both of what those difficult persons are likely to say to this pleasant friendship. The former will no doubt denounce the son of the heathen lawyer, the latter the niece of the fanatical master nailer, or blacksmith, or whatever he is, and will call the gentle, pure-minded Ruth a "designing hussy"; but the more names they invent the stronger will grow the friendship, and of one thing we are assured, that no two people on this earth can think more highly of each other than Ruth and Paul do on this Christmas eve.
Ruth, as she knelt that night beside her mother's bed, for Paul occupies her own, asks her guardian angel to tell her if he deemed it right that she should think so much of this stranger, and by her joyous look and lustrous eyes and parted lips we know well that the answer has been pleasant to her. Ruth seems to hear the rustling of wings within the chamber; she folds her hands across her breast, and buries her face in the coverlet, as she did before the surgeons. She has no secrets to keep from her mother, who is looking pensively at her, excepting this little one, still she feels that she must keep that sacred between her and the angel, who knows all that is in her heart.
And what of Paul? He is restless and perturbed and feels that there are things in Heaven and earth he has not dreamt of in his philosophy. The attentive nurse thinks it is because he has sat up so late and talked so much. Perhaps it is. He has done so that he may study Ruth with keen, experienced eyes, as she sat near him and listened; and he has often talked to make her answer in her low, sweet voice, in order that he may learn the nature of her mind, and find out its depths and shallows. Her mind seems to him so deep and clear, so calm and spiritual, that no sounding line of his can fathom it. Ruth thinks before she speaks, and, if a thing be hard or difficult, she pauses for the prompting of the angel in whom she trusts, and then answers with a smile. She is not emotional, although Paul can see that with her mother and cousins she is affectionate. They love her dearly, but there is one poor girl in the dwelling who worships her, and who desires that all others should worship her afar off.
"There is no one in all the world so good as our Miss Ruth" was the first article in Betsy's creed, oft repeated to all comers, "and there never was, or ever will be, anyone so good" is the second.
Paul has often talked with Betsy as to the merits of her young mistress when the outspoken girl has come with some carefully prepared delicacy to tempt his feeble appetite, which Betsy declares Miss Ruth has seen to and planned with cook, for Ruth carries her laboratory practice into the kitchen, and is skilful at compounding dainty dishes. Paul has learned from Betsy, in those quaint conversations which seem to amuse him greatly, all that Ruth has done for her, and how patient she has been with the poor ignorant girl to whom she has taught so much in so short a time, with skilful appreciation of the difficulties in the way of teaching a retarded mind, and ready invention to overcome the difficulties, and, above all, with a zealous purpose to fit the pupil for the battle of life, and to train her in self-reliance and self-respect.
Another year in the streets of Dudley, at a critical period in her career, and probably poor Betsy would have been lost, as thousands of such waifs and strays are lost, to be found again in the river or the hospital. Now she looks forward to a life of usefulness with hope, watching and aiding her good friend the cook with keen interest in all she does, and bearing the results of their joint labour in triumph to the invalid, who was always so thankful and so ready to listen to her simple talk. In Betsy's mind there were no fine hair-splitting definitions about right and wrong. She held that people who worked hard, like her father, and tried to keep their families in tolerable decency, were "honest folk," and would surely go to Heaven, wherever that was, when they died, even if they never went to church because they had no Sunday clothes, and that the "loafers" who hung about public-houses, leaving their wives and children hungry, and the hard task-masters, like Tobias Miles, would as certainly be found in permanent residence with the being she called " ode 'Arry," who would know how to reward them for their sins of omission and commission. There the articles of Betsy's belief ended; but she fully accepted whatever else Ruth told her was true, and willingly obeyed her slightest wish, and as Ruth had told her to be attentive and obedient to the cook, she attached herself to that sagacious woman, like a faithful dog, and held but little converse with the other two domestics, who spent most of their time on the upper floor and were inclined to look down on Betsy.
At length came the day, early in the new year, when Paul was permitted by Mr Taylor to remove to his father's house in a closed carriage, for the snow still lay on the ground in that long, severe winter. The nurses had gone the day before, leaving with him, as a gift, a copy of St Thomas a-Kempis' little book, which Paul had promised to read, and did read because he had promised. This was the only approach they made to his conversion. They could not understand him. He had never complained or been fretful, even in the worst period of his sufferings; he was very grateful for their skilled attention, and wrote to the secretary of the hospital, enclosing a cheque for the nursing institute, with his testimony to the excellence of the two members of the community of whom he had personal experience. The two ladies had never before nursed so good a patient, but they knew well he was an unbeliever. Mr Taylor had told them so at the outset, and so they sadly remembered Paul in their prayers as one of the lost souls doomed to drift away like a wandering comet into outer darkness, or perhaps to spend ages in the cleansing fires of some penitential limbo, for they believed in purgatory, and in fact accepted every doctrine of the Romish Church excepting the headship of the Pope. Their practical knowledge extended only to the modern science of nursing, which they knew thoroughly. They had inquired diligently of Paul as to certain methods of treatment adopted in foreign hospitals, and he had carefully explained them; with that inquiry their intercourse with him ended. It was evident he and they moved in different planes of thought and had no other point of contact. They spoke but little to Mrs Weston during their stay, and scarcely at all to Ruth. The fact that mother and daughter were "Unitarians" raised a harrier which these good women could not overlook; but they often looked sadly at Ruth, thinking what an excellent nurse she would make if only she could be taught the error of her ways.
Ruth looked sad enough when she resumed possession of her room. She had never had a doubt as to the certainty of Paul's recovery -- with the use and possession of both his limbs -- once she had been so assured by the unseen spirit, but she wished he had remained a little longer.
On the day after Paul's departure Tobias Miles returned to the house. He had seen his son Zeeb at Dudley, who assured him that Paul was still in possession of both his legs, and likely to retain them, and Mrs Weston had written to him to say that the young man desired her to inform him that there were to be no legal proceedings of any kind, also that Paul's father was abroad and as yet knew nothing of the accident.
Tobias had been occupied lately in endeavours to effect the capture of Jem Ritson. It appears that when the train arrived at Dudley, on the morning when we last saw the worthy pair, Jem was not to be found in the compartment in which Tobias fondly thought he had him safe, and from information given by the guard it was ascertained that a man with a wooden leg, carrying some parcels, had hurriedly got out at.a small station before the train reached Dudley, and had given up a ticket for Birmingham, pleading illness as a reason for breaking his journey.
Tobias could learn no tidings of Jem Ritson after the latter had left the. station, but he had put the police of the whole district on his track ineffectually. It was probable that Jem had looked over the partition in the railway carriage and discovered his enemy, whilst Tobias sat moodily brooding over his wrongs and thinking of the means he would adopt at Dudley, where he was well known to the railway authorities, to secure his assailant. Now Tobias became fully convinced that Ritson was in league with the Evil One, or was Satan himself, who had adopted the disguise of a wooden leg to conceal one of his hoofs. The fact that Jem had hitherto appeared without horns did not seem to weigh with Tobias. He recollected that nothing was said in Scripture as to horns when the Devil made that journey up the "exceeding high mountain" to exhibit all the kingdoms of the earth from a single point on the surface of our globe. Physical difficulties of that kind never weigh with believers in demons. Tobias was satisfied that no one but a demon would have thought of putting a lighted candle to his nose, which on his return to Madeley Court was still inflamed, so that Mrs Weston had a sad suspicion that of late he had been over-indulging in strong waters, which really was not the case.
Tobias was glad to hear that Dr Ferrier had gone home at last, leaving kindly messages, and even regretting all the trouble he had caused by his illness. He said that Mr Perkins was coming over for a day or two about the coal, and desired that he might have the room Paul had so long occupied; but although Ruth had rejoiced to surrender her bedroom to Paul, which was the best furnished room in the house, and contained all her little accumulated treasures, she did not seem at all happy in the prospect of Mr Perkins' occupation, and feared he would be a grimy "colliery-viewer" addicted to smoking cutty pipes. She was therefore glad to hear her mother object to the arrangement in decided terms and suggest, that Mr Perkins could find accommodation at the village inn.
"This is a dreadfully cold house," she said," and we have had to keep up large fires in every room."
"Yes, it's a draughty place, no doubt," said Tobias, rubbing the end of his excoriated nose, which was still troubling him, and reminded him of the cold night he had passed in the crypt, "but please the Lord," he added more cheerfully, "we will soon find coal enough, under the house to warm it. That's wot we are here for -- to win the coal, in spite of the Devil and his works."
A dwarfish man, with a large head and prominent eyes, opened the iron gates at the end of a long-avenue of elm trees, and looked sourly at them as they passed, then retreated to his lodge shrugging his shoulders. Ruth noticed that he was clad in the same kind of dark woollen garments as the driver and footman seated on the carriage, and on arriving at the porch of the house an individual similarly attired opened the hall door and gravely saluted them, but did not look particularly pleased at their advent. He pointed to a door at the side of the large hall they had entered and said, "You will find Mr Paul in there," but he did not offer to open the door, and straightway resumed his seat in a leather covered chair, with a hood over it, close to a good fire, and took up a magazine he had been reading.
Ruth noticed that he had deformed feet, as he drew a shawl over them when he sat down, taking no further notice of her, but silently resuming the perusal of the serial.
The door which this strange hall-porter had indicated was opened from the inside at this moment, and Mrs Weston deemed it best to enter. As she did so a young man in the same kind of dress, and wearing spectacles with thick convex lenses, confronted them and pointed to an arm-chair near the fireplace, where they were glad to see Paul seated, with his wounded leg on a surgical rest.
"I can't go to meet you, ladies," he said ; "please to come here. I am still crippled, as you see, and quite in character with most of the inmates of this house. You will find that nearly everyone here has something or other the matter with him; that is one of the best qualifications for admittance." Paul raised his hands as he concluded, and began to indicate rapidly, in the deaf and dumb alphabet, on his fingers some direction to the young man with the odd-looking spectacles, who straightway placed two chairs close to the arm-chair in which Paul sat.
He is deaf and dumb and has miopic eyes," he said, indicating the attendant, who had retired to the other end of the room. He is our librarian, and most useful. He knows were to find any book one wants out of all those volumes you see round the walls, and he delights in hunting them up -- just as dogs do who are taught to fetch and carry. He is especially useful to me now that I cannot move about."
Mrs Weston hastened to make inquiries as to the state of his wounded limb.
"Well, it has been paining a little during the last few days," he said. "Mr Taylor thinks there are some minute splinters of bone to come away yet, and when that is over I shall begin to mend more rapidly, I miss my excellent nurses, especially this one," he added, taking Ruth's hand. "I hope," he said to her, "you have resumed possession of your bedroom. I have made a mental inventory of all the pretty things therein. It must have been a great privation to find yourself displaced by this selfish invalid."
"No, Dr Ferrier, we have only regretted that you went away before you were quite well; but in this beautiful large room, and with all those books to read, you ought to be much better off."
"And with no one to talk to or to talk to me," he said, "unless on one's fingers, which is slow work. Now you will understand why I'm such a talker whenever I get the chance of a good listener."
"Could anyone read all those books in a long lifetime?" inquired Ruth, as she looked round on the shelves filled with volumes in rich and varied bindings.
"Well, I scarcely think they could read them all; but the average student would only want the greater part of them for reference. My deaf and dumb friend over there knows the titles of every one of them by heart, and I think that's the most of what he does know about them. He is very particular to have them put back in their places when they are taken down to be read in the evenings by our --domestics. " Paul hesitated a little before he used the last word.
"Do you permit the men-servants to make use of this splendid library?" inquired Mrs Weston in surprise.
"We have really no men-servants here," said Paul; "all the people you see, or will see, in or about the house are 'gentlemen-companions,' rendering certain services, when required of them, mainly on condition that they are fed and clothed and have the free use of this library at certain hours. You will find the rules posted up on cards in various places in the room."
"And the quiet-looking coachman who drove us, does he come here to read with his companion when he puts his horses up?"
"The 'quiet-looking coachman,' as you term him, is a Cambridge scholar. His companion was educated at Oxford for the Church, but threw up the pursuit because he could not swallow the Thirty-nine Articles, or any one of them. He suffers from a weak digestion, which is an unusual thing with clerical candidates who have fair chances of good livings. Such prospects act as marvellous tonics, so that in time the plastic neophyte can enter into competition with a full-grown ostrich in swallowing strange things. Faith feeds on a curious diet, sanctified by age and seasoned with supernatural elements. By-the-way, Mrs Weston, our cook here is a wrangler, who was crossed in love, and had differences on religious questions with the heads of his college. He is a great reader, but squints horribly. Your good cook can beat him hollow at his present vocation. I think my friend Betsy would snap her fingers at him -- how is she? I have had no good soup since I lost sight of her."
"Betsy is quite well," said Ruth, laughing, "and desires to be remembered to you. She told me to tell you that Mr Jocko will soon be at Dudley, and she is to have some holidays to go and see him with her father and sisters."
"Ah! how. I wish I could go too with you all. I have found out, I think, the true species Jocko belongs to, or rather is descended from. I will show you a picture of his great-great-greatest grandfather, who lived with his sportive kindred in the forests of Germany and the south of France in the middle Miocene period, before England was separated from the continent. Jocko's ancestors are called Dryopithecas, and were undoubtedly highly organised creatures of a stature equal to man. Size is not, however, of much consequence in considering the question, and depends on climatic and other conditions. I will show you Jocko's portrait side by side with a constructed portrait of his tailless ancestor, founded on a fossil skeleton by a clever Frenchman. They do such things wonderfully well in France -- I suppose because they have more of the monkey in them than any other race of people. We all like portraits of our ancestors, you know, if we have any with tails -- I mean titles to their names. I believe two of mine were hung for high treason in the Jacobite times, and I think they richly deserved it for trying to bring back greater superstitions than we are plagues with at present. But I forget, I must show you the Dryopithecas."
Paul clapped his hands above his head and straightway the deaf librarian rose and came to him. Paul engaged in manual conversation with him for a little space, and then the young man hurried away in search of the volume required.
"I thought he was quite deaf?" said Mrs Weston.
So he is, but he can feel the sound waves on his face. He could not hear the report of a cannon, but he would feel the concussion of the air if he were a mile off. If he lived in the moon I think he would know when a battle was being fought down here, but he'd have to take a supply of air with him or manufacture some chemically."
"I could do that," said Ruth. "Do you think, Dr Ferrier, that people live in the planets which appear to have atmospheres?"
"Most probably there is some kind of organic life in them, but it may be totally different from our life. For instance, if people exist in Mercury they must be like the fabled Salamanders to bear the intense heat; and in Mars there are apparently 'ice-caps' on both hemispheres at present, such as we had over this country during two vast Cycles or oftener. Men like us would probably be all right in our sister planet Venus. You must both come here some fine night to look for them through our large telescope. I'll try to hobble out and show it to you, as our astronomer is away just now with my father."
"Do all your -- 'gentlemen-companions' do some kind of work?" inquired Mrs Weston.
"Yes, all of them, when they can; but there are only half-a-dozen in residence just now. They go away at this season to travel in couples, or to see their friends and satisfy them as to their sanity. The only man who I think is really mad is the dwarfish lodge-keeper. He sees the outer world oftener than the rest from the gateway, and grows vicious in consequence. He is a violent woman-hater. Did he look crossly at you as you drove in? I warned him not to show his fearful teeth."
"Yes, he did look cross," said Ruth, "and I think particularly so at me."
"Ah! that's because you are young and good-looking. He has only been seen to smile at a female on one occasion since he came here, and she was an old wrinkled hag as ugly as himself. I'll tell him to leave the gates open and keep in his den when next you are coming."
"Do they all obey you " asked Ruth, who began to wonder how the singular establishment was managed.
"Yes, tolerably, in my father's absence, if they are on duty at the time. When he comes home, I have to take my turn in 'obeying' with the rest, but I can go away whenever I please and return when I like."
"Are there any serious quarrels among the members of your association?" inquired Mrs Weston.
"Well, not often; there are little private squabbles now and then, no doubt. A serious quarrel might lead to expulsion of the man who made the quarrel, or of both persons engaged in it, if needful. They all value their places so much that they seem to avoid quarrelling, and take to absolute silence if they fall out until they recover composure -- perhaps you have noticed our people are rather silent. When, a vacancy occurs, by resignation or death, we always have several applicants for the place within a short time. In the large foreign establishments similar to this, such as the Hernhutters, there is a religious test, but here there is none. We are 'Secularists,' and take no vows."
"I fancied you were under a vow of celibacy," said Mrs Weston; "Mr Taylor said so."
"Not exactly," said Paul, growing red; "if anyone here desires to marry he can go forth and do so, but then he never can return. Perhaps he would not want to."
Here the deaf and dumb librarian brought a folio volume, with Paul's sketch of Jocko, and the discussion on the manners and customs of the inmates of Madeley Hall ended for the time being. The ladies saw considerable resemblance between the great ape as depicted by the scientific Frenchman and Jocko, and asked how it was possible to delineate an animal which existed on the earth at such a remote period from its fossil skeleton.
"It's quite possible, within certain limits of accuracy," said Paul. "Professor Owen is said to be able to perfectly reconstruct more complicated creatures from a few bones. It is admitted that these apes shown here correspond in their anatomical structure, bone for bone and muscle for muscle, with man; they must have descended from a common ancestor. I regret that I did not make a higher bid for Jocko. I have plenty of leisure to study him just now, and he would have been good company."
"Better than the deaf and dumb gentleman yonder?" asked Mrs Weston. "Perhaps Jocko would have taken to pulling down the books, and I fear would not replace them properly."
"Even so, it would have been interesting to watch him, and he could hear me remonstrate, and would no doubt argue the point in the language of his tribe, whereas our poor librarian here can neither hear nor speak, but has been trained by some benevolent person to obey like an automaton. Now I should like to train Jocko to think a little for himself; that will be the first step upward. You see I have missed a great chance. It might have been as important in results, from a scientific point of view, as the recent discovery of Neptune, which I take to be the most wonderful thing that has ever happened in astronomy. Fancy, two men -- Adams and Le Verrier -- reasoning it out by mathematical analysis, at almost the same moment and quite apart, that a planet, six times as big as our earth, would be found out there in space, nearly three thousand millions of miles off, and fxing the spot within a degree. I would rather have done that than have won the battle of Waterloo or made the fortunes of all the Rothschilds combined. The men who could do that are god whom I could worship, and yet they are descended from the same ancestor as Jocko.
"I cannot quite think so," said Mrs Weston. "It appears to me to be probable that during the long period of descent or ascent a spirit was breathed into man which is wanting in the ape."
"That is, no doubt, one of the forms of dealing with the difficulty created by Mr Darwin's discovery, and of subduing it to agreement with the story of creation. But you must not forget the vast extent of time that has elapsed since the separation imperceptibly took place, and the slow accretion of intelligence in man during ages of experience, and gradual survival of the fittest. One branch of the great human family, now represented by the apes, seems to have suffered in some way from retarded development. The other slowly forged ahead under more favourable conditions, and developed into homo sapiens -- an animal which in its highest state can discover planets by means of its faith in an inflexible law, even without the aid of telescopes, and an animal who in a lower stage of mental development thinks that the laws and order of Nature could be and were often interfered with in response to the prayers of individuals."
"I am afraid you are going beyond me, Dr Ferrier," said Mrs Weston, who saw in Paul's flushed cheek and knitted brow how deeply he felt when discussing his favourite hobby, which so often ran away with him. "I think," she added, smiling at his enthusiasm, "that Ruth would like to walk round and read some of the titles on the backs of the books. I see her looking wistfully at them, and I have no doubt there are some interesting objects under those microscopes yonder."
"Oh, I am so sorry 1 cannot go round with you," said Paul, turning to Ruth. "If I had the two princes of Midian here to lean on I would try to get about and show you many interesting books. I hope you will come often to make their acquaintance."
"Dr Ferrier," said Mrs Weston earnestly, when Ruth had departed, "it would give us both great pleasure to come here to see you, but do you think your father would be pleased? It appeared to me that the few 'gentlemen-companions' we have yet seen, seemed surprised at our invasion of the establishment, into which, I understand, no women are permitted to enter. You know, if your father has laid down this rule, we are trespassers, therefore -- although I am sorry to say so -- I am afraid we cannot come again, but we hope soon to see you able to visit us."
"I have written to my father," said Paul, "explaining that I had met with an accident, and that you kindly took me in and nursed me, also that I had invited you to call here. All rules must have exceptions."
"Excepting those laws yon were speaking of just now," said Mrs Weston. "But really, Dr Ferrier, unless your father should willingly endorse your invitation, I think we must be content to hear of your progress by messenger or letter until you are well enough to come and see us. I am glad we came to-day to see what a splendid library you have to spend the weary hours in. I am afraid when your father hears of the cause of this sad accident he will be very angry, and forbid all intercourse with us, which will be to me a matter of deep regret, and a great trial in addition to what I have already to endure."
Paul knew she referred to Tobias Miles, and hastened to assure her that his father should never know of the share the latter had had in his misfortune.
"It will surely be known some day, Dr Ferrier, and I think he ought to know the truth. I hope he will be merciful when he hears it."
"He is always just," said Paul, "and he has never refused me anything reasonable as yet. Indeed, he has been indulgent regarding many fanciful whims of mine. He has many fanciful whims of his own. This institution, for the benefit of people who are either crippled in some way, or who are what the Americans call 'cranks,' is one of them. I am rather tired of it since my visit to you."
"Our house is a desolate place compared with this, Dr Ferrier, and I think our occupation of it just now is due to a whim of my brother-in-law's; but I am glad we came there when we did, to have had the opportunity of succouring you a little and trying to atone for his wickedness."
"What made him think of purchasing the queer old place?" inquired Paul.
"He fancies, and indeed seems certain, that there is coal beneath the land. He is busy to-day with an expert examining into the question."
"I never heard there was coal underground in this neighbourhood, Mrs Weston. I fancy Mr Miles will be disappointed in his search, and in any case I would not care to have colliers and collieries in the vicinity. I know it would annoy my father dreadfully. Sometimes he fancies, when the wind blows for a time from Dudley over here, that he can see and smell the smoke, and the fancy sets him coughing. He is weak in the chest, and will probably have always to spend the winters abroad."
"I think I shall go abroad in the spring with Ruth, Dr Ferrier, if they begin to sink coal pits and erect steam engines over there. I dislike noise and smoke -- also the old house is, as you are aware, very cold."
"I was very comfortable over there," said Paul, "but I suppose I had the snuggest room in the house, to the exclusion of your daughter. I must try to make amends to her, with your permission. I wish to give her one of those microscopes she is looking through. It is mine, and more modern in construction than hers. I have several others."
"You are very good, Dr Ferrier, but she could not accept so valuable a thing."
"Then you must try to strain a point and come here often, so that she can use it here. I have a lot of interesting prepared specimens to show her."
"If your father writes in answer to your letter approving of our visits then we will come sometimes. Perhaps if he does you will kindly show me the passage in his letter."
"He writes but seldom," said Paul, who felt doubtful as to having any such passage to exhibit.
At this Mrs Weston shook her head sadly. "I hope you will write now and then, Dr Ferrier, wherever you are, and let us know how you get on," she said, as she rose from her seat and made a little signal to Ruth to leave the neighbourhood of the microscopes and come to her.
"This will be a red-letter day with me," said Paul to Ruth. "I have had a good talk, and now if you do not come soon again you will find I shall lose the use of my tongue and become unable to articulate words, like Jocko. Then the finger alphabet will be my only resource, and perhaps you do not know it."
"Oh, yes, I know it," said Ruth. "I have spoken with your librarian when you were not looking. He tells me there are over fifty thousand volumes here, and he has shown me the catalogue he has made."
"Then you must be a highly favoured person. He never volunteers any information. When you come again I will tell you his history, and the story of this queer place as far as I know it. The readers will come in presently, and seat themselves about the room in silence, and I shall fall asleep and dream I am back at Madeley Court, and that it is Christmas Eve again. You can see the little conical roof over that circular staircase to the chapel from here, above the fir trees where you found me lying in the snow. There is an arrow-slit, which I can easily see with a glass, in that little tower, high up -- perhaps when you are at home and disengaged you would tell Betsy to go up the stairs -- it goes to the top -- and hang out a piece of red cloth through the opening, then I would know, and if I can would drive over to see you both. It would save your mother the trouble of writing and sending messengers. But try to persuade her to come while I am a prissoner here. It does me good to see you."
Paul had resumed his old habit of taking and holdling Ruth's hand as he spoke. "I shall try to persuade her, Dr Ferrier," she said quietly, "and I hope soon to see you much better. I wish you had stayed with us longer."
"I wish now that I had. Tell Betsy to bring back all the information she can about Jocko, and kindly translate it from her dialect for me. She is not to give him too many nuts, nor too many kisses; she may spoil him and make him conceited. Farewell."
Paul lightly pressed Ruth's hand as he concluded, and indicated to the librarian that he was to see the ladies into the carriage, which was waiting. Ruth thanked the deaf man on her fingers for doing so; he bowed gravely, but made no reply, and then remained standing bare-headed, looking after them from the doorstep, until the club-footed porter came and tapped him on the shoulder and told him, with rapid gesture, that he was chilling the hall by keeping the door open in such freezing weather, pointing at the same time to several of the "gentlemen-companions" who were standing listlessly about waiting to enter the library. The dumb librarian re-entered the room, followed by his companions, and busied himself in selecting the volumes they required, in which they all speedily became absorbed, seated at tables far apart. One of them sat down near a large globe and slowly turned it round, referring now and then to a book of travels; another glanced occasionally at an object under one of the microscopes whilst he turned over the leaves of a folio filled with botanical plates.
Paul was seemingly asleep in his chair, dreaming perhaps that he was in livelier company and that Christmas Eve had come round again. The book he had been reading had fallen from his hand on the floor. The librarian approached and picked it up, and placed it on a table beside Paul, who looked pale and worn, but opened his eyes for an instant and indicated to the young man that he might replace the volume on its proper shelf. Just then the hall-porter, who seemed to do his reading outside in his comfortable chair by the fire, opened the door and shuffled across the room to Paul with some letters on a tray, which had just been delivered by the postman. He handed Paul several, amongst which latter recognised one addressed in his father's handwriting, which he opened and read as follows: --
DEAR PAUL, -- I am very sorry to hear of your accident, and hope it is not so serious as you imagined at first. It was well that you called in Clement. There is no humbug about him as there is with many medical men who make mountains out of mole-hills, but I cannot understand what made him insist on your being treated out of your own house for so many days. If Dr Taylor had ordered you to remain with strangers it would not have surprised me, but I thought Clement had more sense. You must invent some way to compensate the ladies mentioned by you as having been so kind, for all the trouble you have given them; but I must impress on you the fact that your inviting them to call at the Hall is a breach of our strict rule which must on no account be repeated. Probably they have common sense enough not to avail themselves of your hasty invitation; but if it is otherwise, I regret it, and request you to drop your new acquaintance, and politely inform the ladies, in whatever way yon wish, that the visit must not be repeated. I rely on you not to disobey me in this. The weather here has been unusually severe, and I am sorry that your accident has prevented you from coming to Algeria with me at an earlier date. I think there will be a chance of my getting there in a steamer now lying off here, and if so I shall leave immediately. Send me a report regarding yourself and companions to care of the Consul at Algiers, and believe me, yours faithfully,
"How many steps down here was it we counted?" he asks.
"An 'under'd and sixty steps, and each of 'em nine inches in thickness," Tobias answers readily. "That is an 'under'd and twenty feet, Mr Perkins. I've counted 'em a-many times, and the seam is on an average fifteen inches thick, like the top seam of the Dudley collieries, as I believe they don't work much, 'aving thicker seams below."
"No, they don't work it at all -- fifteen inches of coal isn't worth winning -- but the upper seam at Dudley is thicker, and has fireclay on top of it, whereas here the rock lies tight on the coal, which would be a good thing if the seam was a yard thick. This does not correspond with the top seam of 'Dudley main,' Mr Miles, this is something new, and wants thinking on; but it's evident the old monks didn't work it at all, unless that adit leads into workings."
"It leads into the open air, about two 'under'd yards off," said Tobias; "I've bin down in't, and it's in sandstone all the way."
"Then this small shaft was never sunk for coal," said Perkins decidedly. "It seems to me it was a way of escape the old abbot made in case of siege, else why did he form a moat round the house and build in stone steps in the shaft, which is a thing I never saw done before."
"They had no steam ingins to lift the coal in them days," said Tobias. "Perhaps the shaft was deeper at the time and they worked the coal below our feet."
"That's just the whole question, Mr Miles. Is there any coal worth winning beneath our feet, have you ever tried?"
"No; I have never had anyone down but yourself. I saw the seam here and thought that was enough."
"Well, it isn't quite enough; it strikes me you had better have a boring made to see what's below. This thin seam isn't worth much. I never heard of any thick coal out here west of the great fault, but there may be some far down, below the sandstone rocks, and if so it crops out beyond the river and is probably at a great depth just here. Why did you not have it reported on before you bought the place?"
"I was afraid someone would forestall me," said Tobias, whose heart began to sink within him on hearing the foregoing dubious utterances of the surveyor.
"Well, don't be too down-hearted yet. I've seen all that there is to see here, and I shall work it out carefully, with the aid of the maps in my office, and send you a written report. I'll take this sample with me and see what it's like under the microscope; it looks like soft coal, and is probably a later formation than the top seam at Dudley. I'll find out its specific gravity, and then let you know positively in a few days."
With this, Mr Perkins began to reascend the shaft. "This old iron handrail is nearly rusted away in places," he said. "You should have it looked to or someone may fall over and be killed. These steps are evidently mortised into the solid rock, and so they must have begun to fix them from the bottom and worked upwards. They were good masons, those old monks, but they took plenty of time over their work -- the fault of modern work is that it's run up in a hurry."
Tobias was moodily silent, and made no reply; he was regretting now that he had not called in Perkins at the outset, before he concluded the purchase, and especially before he ordered the costly steam engine. But that, he said to himself, was all because Paul Ferrier was in the house, and because he could not venture home whilst he was there.
Mr Perkins seemed to take great interest in the crypt and in the chapel overhead, and wondered how it was he had never heard of this old place. "I have visited the ruins of the abbey over the river," he said, "but no one ever spoke to me of Madeley Court. The people round about are agricultural 'chaw-bacons,' and believe the moon is made of green cheese. Their forefathers had evidently used the abbey as a quarry, to find hewn stone to build their barns with."
"And a good thing too. Wot's the use of abbeys or monks either?" said Tobias, who was in a bad humour, and inclined to argue and quarrel with Perkins when he thought of that fifty guineas he had agreed to pay as a fee for a satisfactory report, which he now feared might not be satisfactory at all.
"What's the use of anything, you may as well ask," said Perkins curtly. "I suppose the monks weren't fit to be anything but monks, like the parsons now-a-days, who were cut out for parsons with their first pair of trousers. Your son Zeeb would never have made a parson, or a Methodist preacher either, but I think he will make a good colliery surveyor."
"I 'opes so," said Tobias; "but if the coal isn't here underground, I've thrown away two 'under'd guineas on you, Mr Perkins; pr'a'ps after we've 'ad our lunch you'll think better of it? It seems to me you are in too great a hurry in deciding on't."
"I've not decided at all yet, Mr Miles, but I confess I am not hopeful, and it's better to tell you the truth than to recommend you to throw good money after bad. In any case, I'll write you fully what my further investigation will lead me to think is the fact, then you may do as you please. Call in some one else to advise you if you think fit. Now, let's see this luncheon; I want to catch the next train."
Mr Perkins met Mrs Weston and Ruth, for the first time, at lunch in the old house, and told them of Zeeb and his diligence at his work. "I am going down with him in one of the deepest pits yet sunk in this part of England, -- over near Shifnal," he said, "to see what chance there is of finding the thick coal seams again, which it is thought were dropped down about a thousand feet by the 'great fault.' It may throw some light on this case here. They are almost in despair about ever seeing the coal again, and inclined to stop sinking. They have spent a fortune there already, but I think they will come on it soon, from the indications sent up by the boring tool." Then he explained to Ruth, who questioned him with much interest, how such borings in rock were made with a large revolving hollow drill, in the lower edges of which black diamonds were set, so that long cylinders of the strata passed through could be brought to the surface.
"If the coal is made of vegetable growth, as you say," said Tobias, "I can't understand 'ow it got under the rock."
"Well, Mr Miles, it wasn't rock when it got on top of the coal, but sand or mud deposited at the mouth of some large river at the bottom of the sea that submerged the forest and its undergrowth, which is now a coal seam. The sand and mud have hardened into rocks during thousands, -- perhaps millions of years, and compressed the seam like a pancake between two iron plates."
Tobias shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "From the time of Adam to Moses was about two thousand five 'under'd years," he said, "and from Moses 'till now a little over three thousand three 'under'd and fifty, -- so it's about five thousand eight 'under'd and fifty years since the world was made, according to the WORD. Brother Ramsbottom and I have worked it out."
Perkins here shrugged his shoulders in imitation of Tobias. "I think I've told you already my opinion of the wisdom of Mr Ramsbottom," he said; "he is fit to run tandem with Balaam's ass as his leader, and one of your ranting preachers, like Hosea Howler, driving 'em both to kingdom come. That might wake 'em up a bit, but the ass would be the first to learn anything new."
"It's just blasphemous the way you talks of Scripture," said Tobias angrily. "I'm sorry I ever 'prenticed Zeeb to you, although 'twas Ramsbottom advised me to do so, -- 'my own familiar friend in whom I trusted,' -- and he also recommended me to have your opinion about the coal."
"Well, I'm much obliged to him for his good opinion, and you shall have mine in a few days, in exchange for the fee we agreed on. I meant no offence, especially before these ladies, who seem to me well capable of judging if any offence ought to be taken, and p'r'aps also whether you should spend your money in sinking pits to try and find coal that may not be there, or is too far down to be worth winning. Now, I must be off to catch my train."
With this, Mr Perkins hurriedly took leave of Tobias, and told Mrs Weston and Ruth that whenever they wished to come over to see Zeeb, they would be very welcome at his house in Dudley.
"I'm sorry I alluded to that wonderful quadruped," he said, when Tobias was out of hearing for a moment, "but really Ramsbottom is one of the most ignorant men in the world, and may lead Mr Miles astray in this matter."
"Unfortunately he has done so in another matter already," said Mrs Weston. "Please, Mr Perkins, let Zeeb know the gist of your report, and ask him to write of it to me."
"Yes, I will; he shall make a copy for you. I've seen so much money squandered in useless collieries, for want of a little knowledge, that I think plain speaking is best at the outset. Pray forgive me if I have spoken too plainly, but Mr Miles is very obstinate, and pins his faith too much on miracles, like those worked with divining rods. I suspect some impostor in that line may have got hold of him?"
"Not yet, so far as I know," said Mrs Weston.
"Well, don't allow any of them to do so -- if you can help it. Their track is strewn with wrecked fortunes; now, good-bye, madam. Miss Weston, when you come over to see your cousin, I will show you some strange fossils brought up by one of those boring tools; they are the testimony of the rocks as to the truth of what I have been telling Mr Miles."
For more than a week after this visit of Mr Perkins, Tobias, remained moody and silent, occasionally relieving his anxiety by descending into the shaft, from which he brought up one day a small basket of coal which he had dug out of the thin seam. He shot it into the grate in the sitting-room, and smiled grimly as he saw it burn.
"P'r'aps Perkins will tell us that isn't coal at all," he said.
"I don't think it is good coal, Tobias," said Mrs Weston; "it smells of sulphur -- like smith's coal."
"So does all the thin top seams -- that is what satisfies me there is better coal below. Sulphur and brimstone is the same thing, as these scientific gentlemen who mock at the words of Balaam's ass will find out some day. I wonder where the smiths that the prophet Isaiah speaks of got their coal from? They don't seem to have 'ad any colliery surveyors about in those days, wanting fifty shekels of silver, or fifty guineas for telling 'em to let it alone. 'Behold!' he says, 'I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work,' which I suppose was an 'ammer. I came on that verse last night, and it encouraged me to persevere. I wish Perkins would keep his report in his pocket. He's 'ad the impudence to write and say that it's ready, and can be 'ad at his office on payment of fifty guineas, or in exchange for my cheque for the amount."
"I should send the cheque, Tobias. You know you agreed with him for that sum, and it may be worth the money."
"He only spent a day here. I never earned fifty guineas nor fifty shillings in a day in my life -- it's just a robbery."
"You would not like anyone to say so to Zeeb when he grows up and is asked to report on something of the kind."
"That's true, Mary. I hope Zeeb will spend more time over the job when he gets it. Has he written to you or to Ruth to say how they got on inspecting those deep pits that Perkins spoke of?"
"Yes; he has written to Ruth and told her it was very interesting, but Mr Perkins thinks the coal is a long way off yet."
"Does Zeeb give any 'int about the coal here?"
"No, certainly not; that would be a breach of confidence -- even if he knew what his master has written, which it is not likely he does yet."
"Then I suppose I'd better send the money," said Tobias with a sigh, as he rose to get his cheque book. "A fool and his money are soon parted," he muttered. "I was a born fool to call in a man like Perkins. St Paul says: 'Be ye not yoked with unbelievers,' and I've gone against the teaching of Scripture in yoking with Perkins. Ramsbottom was wrong in recommending 'im, and I'll tell him so plainly. He has led me into a norrible pit, as he did about the gins."
"Tobias," said Mrs Weston seriously, "Dr Ferrier, who was so badly injured by one of those gins, is coming over here to see us in a few days, and it is right that you should express your sorrow to him about the unfortunate accident; it nearly cost him his life, and he has suffered a great deal. I am sorry to say he is still lame, and perhaps may be always so."
Tobias stroked his chin for half-a-minute before reply. "I am inclined to think it's better for me not to meet him just yet," he said. "I'm afraid I have not heard the last of that unlucky business. I'm told his father is a vindictive lawyer, and I'd better not make any admissions to the son."
"It will be good for you to see the kind of young man the son is, Tobias; he is incapable of vindictiveness, and will never speak to his father of your part in the matter. You owe him a very humble apology, and you should make it, as a Christian man."
"A Christian man isn't bound to make much of an apology to heathens as is reprobate," said Tobias. "The Jews were told to exterminate the 'Ivites and 'Ittites and Perizzites and other 'eathen 'ites -- and to put 'em to the sword -- old and young -- women and children -- as idolaters."
At this Mrs Weston rose and left the room, feeling that all argument was thrown away on Tobias, and not inclined to follow him into Asiatic mysteries. Ruth remained for a moment longer and said: "I think Dr Ferrier would help you to understand Mr Perkins' report, uncle. He is a very clever man, and seems to know a good deal about the geology of this district. He is always ready to give information."
"Has he 'ad much to say to you, Ruth, whiles he has been here?"
"Naturally he has; mother and I talked very often with him during his illness; he is fond of conversation, and said 'it made him forget his pain.'"
"I'm sorry for it," said Tobias, meaning no doubt that he was sorry Dr Ferrier had such opportunities for converse, but as Ruth probably misunderstood him, she also rose and departed in silence.
A few days after, Perkins' report arrived, with some extracts from same made by Zeeb for his aunt. The gist of the matter being that the seam in sight did not correspond in any way with the known coal seams in the Dudley district, but was probably the same as one of the thin seams to be seen cropping out at the other side of the river, belonging to a different coal-field, in which nothing worth working had yet been found, although it was surmised by geologists that thick coal might be discovered by boring to a great depth. Such a boring, Mr Perkins wrote, would probably occupy a year or even two years, and would cost a considerable sum, and might result in nothing. He suggested that perhaps one of the adjoining landowners, such as Mr Ferrier, would join in the experiment and divide the risk and cost. Tobias gnashed his teeth when he read this innocent suggestion.
Paul Ferrier had driven over that day, and remained some time talking to Mrs Weston and Ruth. The mute librarian had accompanied him, and with the aid of one of the "gentleman-companions" who sat beside the coachman, had helped Paul, who was still unable to walk freely, into the sitting-room, from which Tobias instantly retreated to the old chapel, to re-peruse the report. Mrs Weston showed her copy to Paul, who read it attentively and said: "Mr Perkins is quite right; I think I could have told Mr Miles all this if he had asked me, and about the old shaft also. It is supposed that Abbot Anselm built the chapel over a well which someone had sunk and abandoned long before, as the water was bad, and there was very little of it. The Abbot meant at first to fill the moat from the well, but afterwards deemed it best to make it serve for another purpose -- as a way of escape. I have been down in it by the steps inside, but as it is rather dangerous, my father had the large outer door, which formerly existed, built up. We have a record at home telling all about it, taken from an old deed which granted the Abbey and this house and lands to some courtier. If Mr Miles comes over to see me, I'll show it to him."
"I wish he had known it in time," said Mrs Weston, "then he would never have come here, and you would not have been injured. He is at home just now, but is afraid to see you on that account. I shall go and beg him to come in."
When Mrs Weston had departed in search of Tobias, Paul said to Ruth: "You did not invite me to call, Miss Weston? I looked for the signal every day, and at last I mustered courage to come and see you, to tell you that my father has telegraphed to me to join him as soon as possible. I think I shall go at the end of this week, and it may be a long time before I have the pleasure of seeing you again, but I shall never forget you, and will write to your mother often, to tell her how I get on."
Ruth turned pale, and said: "We shall be so anxious to hear of your complete recovery, Dr Ferrier; it will be hard for you to travel alone so soon."
"I shall not be altogether alone; I shall take with me the young man who helped me upstairs just now. He is a classical scholar, and we can converse about scholastic things. I wish you and your mother were going with me."
"I think we shall soon go abroad too," said Ruth, "but in the opposite direction -- to Dresden, mother dislikes this old chilly place, and I doubt if we shall ever return here."
"Shall you take Betsy with you?"
"No, Dr Ferrier; my mother thought of obtaining another place for her and her friend, our cook, to whom she ismuch attached, but the cook desires to go home to her own people for a time. Betsy will not remain here if we go abroad. We hope she will get a better situation; she is now clever at her work, and willing. I have no doubt she would like to see you before you leave. I will call her in."
Betsy came with her hands clasped together beneath her apron, and told Paul how glad she was to see him able to drive out. She looked wistfully from him to Ruth when she heard he was going to Algeria.
"Everyone seems flittin' -- 'ceptin' Mr Miles,"she said; "p'r'aps he will not stop long by hisself, but I'd not like to be the one to keep 'im company. I'm goin' to Dudley to-morrow to see my fam'ly and Jocko and Muster Dixon again. P'r'aps, if Miss Ruth don't mind, I could arrange with Mrs Dixon to go to her when Mrs Weston leaves this. They told me to come to them whenever I wanted a place, but I'm sorry to leave Miss Ruth, as has bin so good to me. I'd never leave her if she wasn't going away."
Paul gave her three sovereigns, telling her to be sure to let him know all about Jocko through Ruth; and then, as Tobias entered the room with Mrs Weston, Betsy retired, sobbing audibly.
Mrs Weston, had had much difficulty in finding Tobias, and then in persuading him to come in to see Paul, who addressed him in friendly terms, as if nothing serious had ever happened to cause restraint between them.
Tobias slowly said he was deeply sorry for the mishap, and stood gazing at Paul's injured foot with downcast eyes.
Paul turned the conversation to the subject of the old shaft, and said he had no doubt it had been deeper at one time and had been filled up, so that the floor should be level with the adit, which had been driven from the dingle to meet it, as evidenced by the waste "tip-mound"outside.
"I'll 'ave a boring made at the bottom of the shaft," said Tobias; "it was much deeper, no doubt, 'cause there was some coal lying on the floor of the vault above when I saw the place first, which never came out of the soft seam in sight; it was much better coal, and harder."
"That came from Dudley," said Paul. "The crypt was used as a coal vault by a former tenant, a farmer, and no doubt a little was left behind when he departed."
It suddenly occurred to Tobias that it was a piece of this coal he had originally submitted to Perkins. Now, one of the difficulties in the case was clear to him. Jem Ritson could have told him this long ago, but, in his parsimony, he feared to let Jem know there was any coal there. He groaned audibly, forgetful of his visitor. "It has fallen on my own pate," he said sorrowfully; "Satan threw dust in my eyes from the beginning."
Paul was surprised at these strange utterances, and wishing to say something likely to interest Tobias, he continued: "I have often heard that some of the old Abbot's treasures would be found concealed down there, below the present bottom; perhaps not far down. He was suddenly ejected with the remnant of the monks by a troop of soldiers, and it appears to me to be a place in which they would be likely to conceal any valuables they possessed. I used to explore this curious shaft when younger, and saw that some rubbish had been put back into the adit; probably they filled up the bottom of the old well in that way, and may have brought in too much, or been disturbed at work. The water leaks away to the river through some natural cleft in the rock below."
Tobias groaned again. This talkative young man was making all things clear to him. Why had he not met him sooner? Satan had, no doubt, prevented such a meeting, and wanted to keep the treasures, if there were any, for some friend of his.
"I am much obliged for what you have told me, sir," he said. "I am sorry I did not know you sooner; it might have saved me a great loss in money."
"But I think the land will become more valuable every day, since the railway is opened," said Paul; "perhaps you may not lose anything if it pleases you to re-sell the place."
"It wasn't land I wanted -- nor silver vessels that 'as been defiled by idolaters -- 'twas coal -- and coal I'll find, if it's below there -- in time -- in spite of Perkins' opinion, or that of any other unbeliever like him. I wish you good mornin', Mr Ferrier; I am busy, and a little put-out to-day. I 'ope soon to hear that your leg is quite well again. I didn't mean to do you any injury, I assure you." With this Tobias stalked back into the chapel, where he remained, moodily pacing up and down, until he saw Paul's carriage driving away.
Before Paul rose to go, he spoke a few words to Mrs Weston concerning Tobias. "He seems a strange man, and I think he ought not to be left alone in this old place. I fear I should go mad here by myself. The best thing he can do will be to marry, if he can find some suitable person who will have him."
"One of his religious opinions is that second marriages are sinful in members of the sect he belongs to, Mr Ferrier. I am not altogether sorry, for the sake of some poor woman who might be induced to marry him."
"What was it induced your sister to marry him?" Paul asked. "You have nothing in common with him."
"A religious craze, during a great so-called 'revival' in our neighbourhood, which seemed to seize on people of all classes like an epidemic, and caught her in i`ts whirlwind. She had a sad awakening from the strange hallucination."
"I understand," said Paul. "I am glad you have told me. I have seen several such cases in asylums. I think the rabid preachers who drive people mad in that way should be exterminated as fanatical quacks or dangerous practitioners in a kind of fatal mesmerism."
Tobias busied himself in erecting a small steam engine, of what is known as the "coffee-pot"type, in the old chapel, and carried the iron funnel of the boiler through the roof. He wrought vigorously at this with his own hands, and seemed to enjoy the task, as he was more cheerful than usual. He also established a small forge in a corner of the crypt, at which he often worked late into the night with his old skill as a blacksmith, singing snatches of hymns to himself as the sparks flew out to the beat of his hammer on the anvil.
Tobias caused the external doorway, from the crypt into the moat, to be re-opened, and the windows in the chapel to be roughly boarded up. He forged a new iron hook in place of the old worn one attached to the oak beam over the shaft, which, singularly, had first caused him to imagine that it led down to a colliery, and attached a large pulley to the hook, with a strong wire rope running from a winding-barrel on the engine. Then he removed the circular stone in the pavement of the chapel, and ran the rope through and secured it to a large iron bucket, which he lowered into the shaft. Next, he unfixed the greater part of the rusted iron rod, which served as a hand-rail, and replaced it with a new bar, secured to the rock with strong stanchions. He had several men assisting him, but did all the iron work with his own hands, and rejoiced to think that his right hand bad not lost its cunning.
Tobias set some of his workmen to dig in the bottom of the shaft, and began to haul up the excavated rock-rubbish in the iron bucket, managing the engine himself with much dexterity. When the bucket reached the level of the crypt, it was seized by fresh hands and tipped over on the floor, from whence the contents were harrowed out into the newly-opened doorway.
As Tobias saw the first load pass through the opening, he rubbed his grimy hands together with evident pleasure -- standing with his legs apart, and his shirt sleeves rolled up above his elbows. His face was blackened with smoke, and from his practice of rubbing his chin with his coal-stained hand; but he had not looked so happy since he wrought at the anvil many years before.
"A good beginning, lads," he said cheerfully. "Please the Lord we shall see a good ending some day in the thick coal as is below. Here's five shillings among ye for beer; there's ten of you, and it's sixpence a piece."
As if by instinct, Tobias began to search in the pocket of the blacksmith's apron he wore for a tract in which to wrap up the money; but on this occasion he found he was without one. He had been so occupied of late that he had forgotten to replenish his usual stock, and instead of a tract he found a short clay pipe and some tobacco in a pocket of the apron. He mechanically filled the pipe and asked one of the workmen for a light, then sat down on his anvil and smoked contentedly for five minutes. He had given up smoking many years before, because it had been denounced as an "idle and sinful practice" by brother Ramsbottom, when holding forth on the pomps and vanities of life; now Tobias enjoyed his pipe thoroughly, and watched the curling wreaths of smoke as they rose in rings to the roof of the chapel -- like the incense of the monks. He had had a hard day's work, and felt soothed by the tobacco, and in a better frame of mind than he had ever been in since he discarded the old apron many years ago.
"The labourer is worthy of his ire," he said to himself contentedly; "and I think I may afford myself a pipe of tobacco now and then, when I've done a good day's work. Ramsbottom may go to -- Jericho. I'm thinkin' he's wan of those niggardly men as is inclined to muzzle the ox wot treadeth out the corn."
Tobias here looked up at the iron hook he had fashioned to carry the pulley, and noticed, with keen satisfaction, how well he had forged it. Then he looked down at the discarded hook, which lay on the floor beside him, and spat on it with contempt.
"Them old friars may 'ave bin good masons, but they were duffers as smiths,"he said. "I'd lay an 'arf-crown to work round any two on 'em. Most of the old monks I've seen in pictures had pot-bellies and bald crowns -- like Ramsbottom, and seem to 'ave bin fond o' good living and laziness. He's a lazy man 'ithout a doubt, and likes his beer, w'ich is a thing only fit for 'ard-working men to drink."
Just then the man who had been sent for the beer returned from the village with a large can full, and a pint pot, and after the manner of workmen when their employer is present, came first to Tobias and offered him some, which he graciously accepted, and quaffed a pint of the strong ale, smacking his lips.
"Thank you kindly, mate," he said, "it's a good tap. When you are passing the public 'ouse this evening, tell 'em to send me a cask on't down here; it 'ull save your losing time going for't every day." He passed the back of his hand over his mouth, as workmen do, and sat looking on with satisfaction whilst the men drank their beer, until the pot passed round for the last time. Then he strode to the valve-handle of the engine, and sang out cheerfully, "All in, men, -- all in," whilst the pulley sang merrily overhead as the rope ran over it, lowering the iron bucket for another haul. "The dust of work purifies the soul," Auerbach says. Tobias' soul had felt the first touch of this purification. Let us leave him for a while to further undergo the process in company with the steam engine and his anvil.
That evening, when his elderly housekeeper ventured to quote some pious fragment of brother Ramsbottom's eloquence, which she thought appropriate to the occasion, she was startled to see Tobias filling his pipe and stretching out his legs before the fire, as preparatory to enjoying a smoke, and still more astonished to hear him say, -- "Brother Rams-bottom is a windbag; let me hear no more on 'im."
About this time there was great excitement at Dudley in the family of Clinker. A large card with a brilliantly coloured border, representing the procession of the great Mogul, and headed "Dixon's Unrivalled Circus," had been delivered on the previous day by Tom Jones, who was dressed in the circus livery. The card was signed by "Sammil" himself, and admitted six persons to front seats to witness Betsy make her début as an "Ethiopian princess on her way to be married at the mosque of Omar," -- whereabouts not mentioned, but stated by Jones to be in Bagdad, -- "attended by Emirs, Caliphs and Eunuchs." The princess was, it appeared, to ride on a magnificently caparisoned white elephant in a howdah, with her celebrated ape Jocko as "mahout," seated on the elephant's neck, and guiding the huge beast with skill and dignity -- so stated the long bill of the performance, printed on flimsy paper in solid, sticky black letters, and enclosed in a large whitey-brown envelope, which Betsy had directed herself to "Mr Jonas Clinker, Esq., and dauters, with Betsy's best respecks." The "Mr" being written at one corner, at the left, on top, and the other words meandering with steady inclination downwards to the opposite corner at bottom, -- relieved by many star-like blots, on account of the pen spluttering over the rough surface of the envelope; but still, with all its defects, dear to the eyes of poor old Clinker, which were now waxing dim.
"To think," he said with sobs, "of Betsy writing it herself, as nivver could be got to any school for three days runnin'."
Jones had been commissioned to say that the elaborate address was all Betsy's handiwork, but on no account to intimate who it was that would represent the Ethiopian princess.
"Let my old dad guess that of his own self," Betsy said. "If he can mak me out through the blackin' as you are to put on my face, Tummas, 'ithout pokin' any in my eyes and mouth, for if yer does, I'll --" Betsy here paused, remembering certain lessons she had had from Ruth on the subject of using fisticuffs. "Or I'll let Butty Tubbs do't instead o' yer," she said, which threat apparently had more weight with Jones than the fear of violent measures at the hands of Betsy.
"Tubbs ain't no good at blackin' faces," he said. "I've often done Miss Rorke wi' a rabbit's tail, so as there warn't a speck o' white left on her face and 'ands, she said I was a good 'un at blackamoorin'. She is to be done light brown, as the prince, your 'usband -- being a Turcoman, as Muster Dixon says is always of lighter colour, with big moustaches 'anging down, as she'll gum on herself, and mustn't be kissed by you, Betsy, or p'r'aps they'd fall off, or maybe get on your upper lip instead o' hers, and cause a ruction in the gallery wi' larfin."
"There's no kissin' in the direchshuns," said Betsy. "Princesses as is taken to be married don't let their sweet'arts kiss 'em till it's over, and they're comin' out o' church; and I'm to wear a gauzy veil, as you can see through, wi' lots o' spangles on't; and Jocko is to 'ave a new scarlet coat, wi' gilt buttons, 'made by a Lunnon tailor,' Muster Dixon says, and a gold lace cap, wi' a red cock's feather in't, as Mrs Dixon and me made up. Oh I 'twill be just splendacious, and 'ow I wish Miss Ruth could see it. She told me to be very steady, and not to gossip much wi' you, Tummas, and here I am a-gossipin' whilst Jocko's waitin' for his dinner."
With this Betsy hurried away to feed the only sweetheart she liked, who, she knew well, loved her for herself alone, and never inquired about her salary, the greater part of which she had given to her poor father, to enable him to buy decent clothes in which to come and see her, with Jocko, mounted on a whitewashed elephant, led by turbanned Turks to the tent of the handsome prince -- enacted by Kitty Rorke, in a white muslin robe and loose trousers, fringed with gold.
All this was seen by old Clinker, and, with flashing eyes, by old Clinker's daughters, who guessed the secret of the dark veiled princess seated in the howdah, and whispered it in Clinker's ear. The old man was engaged at the moment in rubbing his hands over his new clothes, as if to assure himself of their reality. He blinked up at Betsy and Jocko on the whitened elephant, as if he were not sure which of the curious figures represented his daughter, and which was the wonderful monkey, of whom he had heard so much from Betsy and others.
"It's her, dad, as is sitting in that splendid coach 'ithout w'eels, and is noddin' at yer," said Betsy's sister. "She's med all over black, and covered wi' gauze and pearls and dimons."
Clinker shook his white head in evidence that he could not recognise Betsy in her Eastern disguise. "Who is the little chap in front as is eatin' a small passnip?" he asked.
"That's Jocko, father; it ain't a passnip as he's peelin' for to eat, but summat nice as Betsy's give'd 'im to mak 'im good."
Jocko was really dexterously peeling a banana, which Betsy had handed him, and which was a kind of fruit he was very partial to. The elephant, observing that the husks of something edible were falling from above, turned up his trunk, and trumpeted as of old, but Jocko no longer seemed alarmed; he and the elephant were now on good terms, and understood one another, so he broke off a small piece, and placed it in the prehensile end of the elephant's trunk, which in a little while was again presented in the same direction.
Betsy dexterously tossed an apple from beneath her veil, which, falling in sight of numerous small boys, suggested that similar offerings to the white elephant would be acceptable, and so relieved Jocko from further importunity, and left him to enjoy his banana in peace.
Sam Dixon stood at one of the entrances, controlling the egress of the other animals, who, on this occasion, were not permitted to follow the elephant until the latter had borne Betsy several times round the ring, in order that proper respect should be paid to the dark princess, and the audience given full opportunity to view her charms. Then the camel entered on the scene, carrying Kitty Rorke, splendidly dressed as the prince, and seated cross-legged between the animal's two humps. The giraffe followed, with a corded bale, supposed to contain "jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and raiment," as presents for the princess -- the female heart being generally believed to be susceptible to such gifts, ever since the time of Rebekah at the well.
Close behind the giraffe came a cavalcade formed of the other members of the company mounted on the circus steeds, and lastly, some small ponies, on one of which was strapped an unhappy female monkey, recently purchased, and intended as a wife for Jocko, who, we are sorry to say, looked down on her with disdain from his elevated post, and, it was said, had pulled her fur, and pinched her so much when she entered his cage, that she had to be provided with a separate establishment of her own, and entirely divorced a mensa et thoro. She seemed very uneasy on her little steed, and made such outcries that Butty Tubbs, who had charge of her and her pony, was ordered by Sammil to take them both out of the ring, and release her from the saddle. Meantime the prince had alighted from his camel, which had been made to kneel, and entered a gorgeous tent in the centre of the ring, with a gilt crescent and star over the entrance, round which the cavalcade formed up in close order.
Tom Jones, in his red livery, now entered with a small ladder and placed it against the elephant's side. Betsy descended with dignity, and was enclosed in a palanquin, and borne on the shoulders of the Emirs and Caliphs once more round the ring, followed by Jocko, who held Jones by the hand as he trotted along, and was allowed to stop and shake hands with Betsy's sisters as he passed.
"It's Betsy as has made 'im so tame," Jones said; "but she can't manage t'other 'un so well, 'cos it's a female, yer see, and female monkeys is jealous critturs, as bites when they gits a chance."
"Don't Jocko ever bite?" old Clinker asked.
"Yes; Jocko'ud bite Tubbs, but nivvur me nor Betsy -- nor Miss Rorke, as is the prince. Ain't she stunnin'?"
Just then the prince reappeared at the door of the tent, before which the palanquin had been deposited, and much pantomimic gesture went on, indicating his anxiety to behold the face of the bride. The presents were unpacked and publicly displayed. Betsy was liberated from her palanquin and unveiled by two grey-bearded old men in white robes, with gilt pasteboard mitres on their heads, representing priests of the Mosque of Omar. A quantity of tow was burnt on a tripod, whilst the priests joined the hands of the prince and princess, who now mounted the howdah together -- and then came the crowning glory of the performance. Jocko was led up to the elephant, who gently coiled the end of his trunk round his little waist and lifted him to his seat on his neck. The great beast marched round again several times with the happy pair and their mahout, and turbanned Eastern attendants, followed by the cavalcade of horsemen in Turkish uniforms. Sammil assisted Miss Rorke and Betsy in their descent, whilst Jocko climbed down by himself, and was petted and caressed by everybody, in testimony to his recent exemplary conduct.
When the performance was over, Tom Jones reappeared in the ring, in search of the Clinker family, and told them he was sent by Betsy to bring them to see the beasts, He helped old Clinker over the fence of the ring, and led the party by way of the stables to the menagerie, in which the gas-lights were still burning. Betsy came to meet the old man in her ordinary attire, but with her face and hands still blackened, and conducted them all round the cages -- stopping longest at Jocko's cage, where the late mahout appeared in a basket-cradle covered with a blanket, from under which his amber-coloured eyes peered out watchfully at Betsy, who said, --
"He has a cold, poor chap, and a little cough -- so I've made him up a nice warm bed, as he know'd the use on when he see'd it, and draw'd his blanket over his 'ead of his own self, like a small child as is afraid o' ghostes; now we must go away and let 'im sleep. Come across, old dad, and see our two young lions, as I'm goin' to mak tame like Jocko."
"But they may eat you up, Betsy!" said old Clinker in alarm, as he stood with his children before the cage, in which two sleek young lions were rambling restlessly about, or rolling over each other in play at intervals.
"Not a bit, dad; they was born and bred 'ere, and isn't wicked, like lions as comes over full-grown in ships. Muster Dixon says I'm to 'ave five pounds a week when I've got 'em to perform and jump through 'oops. I'm feedin' on 'em every day to mak 'em friends wi' me, and givin' 'em little balls to coax 'em, as our vet maks up, wi' sugar and sweet-smelling lavender, as all wild beastes likes."
"Oh! Betsy, I'm fearin' for yer, if ever yer goes inter cage wi' them savage beastes -- like Daniel in the lions' den, as was on'y saved by miracles."
"Was he a lion-tamer, dad?"
"No, Betsy, he was an 'oly man, as I've seen a picture on in a Christmas piece, when I was small, but I nivvur could afford to buy yer wan, and yer nivvur took to writin' until lately, so 'twarn't no good to give yer such things to copy from."
"Did yer read yer name on the paper cover the card was in?" asked Betsy.
"Yes, lass, I did, and Tummas Jones said yer wrote it all yerself. How did yer iver learn to write?"
"Our Miss Ruth, -- she taught me, dad, --that and everything else, -- on'y I'm fearin' she won't like to hear I'm thinkin' on the lion-taming; but five pounds a week is a lot o' money, and dad, 'tis for to keep yer fro' talkin' o' the work'us, as yer used to say you'd end yer days in."
"Betsy, I'd rather go to work'us than 'ave yer come to 'arm -- lions and tigers is fearsome beastes when they're 'ungry."
"Our beastes nivvur is 'low'd to be 'ungry," said Betsy: "they feeds 'em reg'lar -- better than children's fed. These lions 'ere gets oatmeal wi' quarts o' milk, and big cakes o' summat as is made for beastes, then they don't care for eatin' folks, -- only to play wi' 'em like cats."
"They has 'orrid teeth and claws, Betsy, and p'r'aps 'ud forget 'twas play. Think on't lass; you're gettin' good wages a'ready, and I'm thankful for all yer does for us. I'll not speak o' work'us any more; p'r'aps they'd tak me in a blind 'sylum or an alms'us?"
"Be yer eyes no better, dad?"
"No, Betsy; I'm fearin' it's no use my keepin' on at makin' nails. I spoils more iron than I gits for 'em. Nellie is takin' to the 'ammer now, -- 'twas she that med the last lot for Reynolds, and he didn't grumble much at 'em like Toby Miles. She's a clever lass, -- is Nellie, -- but I'd rather see her in service. D'ye think Mrs Dixon 'ud find her a place in her kitchen if you as't her? Jones says she's werry fond o' yer."
"Ah! that's 'cause o' Jocko and Miss Ruth, dad. If Miss Ruth was 'ere, I'd ask her to tak Nellie 'sted o' me, but I'm fearin' Mrs Dixon 'ud not trubbel to teach her to be useful in the 'ouse -- it's not like it is at home; still I'll ask her, when next she comes to talk to Jocko. Dad, 'eres a little money for yer baccer. Yer mus'n't kiss me 'cause my face is black'd, and I've got to keep it so till Sunday, then I'll come and see yer and talk to Nellie."
Poor half-blind Clinker was led home by his daughters to his little forge, and somehow seemed depressed instead of being elated, as his children were, at the sight of the performance he had just witnessed. He sat him down on a low stool and rocked his body to and fro, holding his hands clasped round his head.
"It's along o' me that she's goin' 'mongst wild beastes," he said sorrowfully, "riskin' her life to keep us all fro' work'us -- and I used to beat her -- my poor lass, that nivvur 'ad no 'arm in her, and is so like her mother, -- allus thinkin' o' someone 'sides herself. It's them as is often taken fust to mak angels on. Nellie, you must talk to Betsy when she comes o' Sunday, and coax her to promise she won't go inter cages wi' them lions. Tell her if she does, -- I'll go straight to work'us and nivvur see her more, then 'twon't be no use to be devower'd."
Next Sunday morning, Betsy, under the supervision, and with much assistance from Mrs Dixon, who was always kind to her, laboriously indited a letter to Ruth at Dresden, and enclosed it in one of the addressed envelopes Ruth had left her. She described in detail all Jocko's new accomplishments and her own success at the circus, and how her father and sisters had witnessed the recent performance, which was drawing great crowds of spectators. She begged Ruth to write, and tell Paul about Jocko, and to ask him what would be good for his cold? She mentioned the female monkey, only to point out that the long-haired lady in question had a temper of her own, and was good at biting and scratching -- the latter accomplishment being personal, whereas Butty Tubbs had had most experience of the former, and had darkly intimated his intention of giving her "summat as 'ud do her good" if she didn't mend her ways. The "summat" being understood to mean a certain powder, known to be efficacious with rats, -- whereupon Betsy had threatened to denounce him to Sammil, and had requested Tom Jones to keep an eye on the depraved Butty, and report to her at once if he were seen in the possession of white powders.
Betsy did not mention this in her letter, because if she had done so, Tubbs would have been immediately discharged, inasmuch as Mrs Dixon was overlooking her as she wrote; it would have been better, as it turned out, had she done so, as Tubbs had no sympathy with the animal creation, nor much with human beings, and was rather morose. He was cunning enough to conceal his proclivities, but Betsy distrusted him, and was far more friendly with her quondam opponent, Tom Jones, who had a kind of regard for her, although she did not encourage him in any way.
Mrs Dixon's chief delight was to hear Betsy speak of Jocko and of Ruth, or "Our Miss Ruth," as Betsy called her. The good lady had heard all about Paul's mishap and subsequent events, and had smiled and nodded her head in a mysterious way.
"I always said, Betsy," she remarked, "that your young missus was a angel, from the looks of her out o' them large brown eyes of hers; and to think of her preventin' them surgeons from cutting off his leg, as must 'ave been a disappointment to 'em. Sammil sprained his ankle once, and our doctor wanted to stick on a dozen 'orrid leeches to reduce the swelling. I just put on a lot of brown paper and vinegar, and he was 'opping about as usual in a week."
"Dr Ferrier wasn't able to walk when he went away in his carriage," said Betsy, "but he kept on lookin' up at the room where he left Miss Ruth as he drove off, and shaking his white 'ankercher out o' carriage winder; and I'm thinkin' that some day he'll bring her back in the same carriage, sitting alongside 'im -- like Miss Rorke in the howdy wi' me, on'y better, as being a young man -- and then he'll be 'appy for ever, and better off than if he married a princess, as p'r'aps 'ud 'ave a temper, and be as proud as lucifers."
Betsy retired to post her letter, and then proceeded to see her father and sisters. Tom Jones waylaid her near the nailer's cottage, and begged to be allowed to accompany her.
"You remember, Tummas," she said, "as 'ow I fought wi' yer just 'ere. I'm sorry for't, 'cos you're a better chap than Butty Tubbs, as is by hisself to-day wi' Jocko and my vixen namesake, 'Miss Betsy,' at the circus. I'm thinkin' he's doin' 'arm to one on 'em -- so you be off and catch 'im -- and if he is, just give it 'im for me. I'm goin' to my old dad, and will be engaged partickler, so yer needn't come along."
Tom Jones retired at this rebuff, and made his way to the menagerie, where Tubbs was on duty that Sunday. He looked in Jocko's cage, and saw that food and water had been supplied him. Jocko had retired to bed beneath his blanket, and was breathing peacefully. Close by the female monkey, lately christened "Betsy,"was whimpering, and looked unhappy.
"You've bin annoyin' of her, Tubbs," said Jones; "and she ain't got no warter; wot's yer thinkin' on? ""I'm thinkin' you're a bloomin' liar, Tummas. I know it's Betsy sent yer 'ere to spy about."
Jones, for reply, smote Tubbs between the eyes, and felled him to the ground. "Don't yer speak o' Betsy ag'in," he said, as he walked off, "or next time I'll kill yer outright."
We are sorry to observe, when first we see him in the quaint wooden gallery of the old Moorish inn, selected by Mr Ferrier in order that he may study the habits of the Algerians, that Paul is still lame, and leans on the arm of one of the "gentlemen-companions," who has just then been sent to seek him by his father, to whom our readers have not yet been introduced, and who is at this moment holding a letter in his hand, which he is reading with knitted brows.
Mr Robert Ferrier is a handsome, elderly man, with features of acute intelligence and a dignified presence. He is dressed with extreme neatness, but in rather a stiff, antiquated style, much affected by lawyers of his time, and, as he sits in a shady corner of the old gallery, in a comfortable cane arm-chair, with one of his long legs dangling over the other and oscillating vigorously up and down, it is easy to see that he is a very decided and rather irritable old gentleman, who has all his faculties about him.
"Please to sit down here, Paul," he commences, as soon as his son is within hearing. "You need not wait, Mr Bennet; luncheon, or whatever they call it, will be ready in an hour, and then I propose to take a drive with my son up the mountain road in the direction of Tizzi Ozou. I am told that a band of picturesque Kabyles is encamped there. If you like to come with us, there is a seat for you in the carriage."
Mr Bennet says he is going with a friend into the Moorish quarter of the town, and speedily retires. He thinks the old gentleman is vexed about something, and deems it wiser to leave him with Paul, who has the reputation of being the only person who can manage him on such occasions, which of late have been rather frequent.
"Paul, I have a letter here from Clement," Mr Ferrier recommences. "I wrote to him insisting on having full particulars about this accident, as you continue so lame. I am annoyed to hear that it was a far more serious thing than you led me to believe, and that you escaped losing your life or your limb by a miracle."
"I thought you did not believe in miracles, father; you know that I don't."
"Nor do I, Paul, but I wish you to tell me all about this accident. Clement refers me to you, and says that if the ankle joint is stiffening it will be better for you to return as far as Paris. He would come over there to see you, and consult with Nelaton. I want to know what caused this injury and all about it. I am satisfied it was no ordinary sprain."
"Sprains are often very serious things, father; worse than broken bones."
"Come, come, Paul, no more of this beating about the bush; I know this was not a sprain, nor was it due to your own carelessness, as you wrote. Where did it happen?"
"On your own land, in the little copse by the railway, as I walked home from the station one afternoon."
"That was the place in which that nailer fellow cut down one of the fir trees, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I believe so, father; he thought at the time the copse was his. It appears he was misled by the company's agent."
"I know all about that; that's why I let him off so easily; but it appears he is likely to be a nuisance in our neighbourhood, and I want to know distinctly what he had to do with this injury you have received?"
"I suppose Clement has told you all he knows, father? I was taken excellent care of at Mr Miles' house, otherwise I think I would not be here."
"Yes, yes," said Mr Ferrier impatiently; "so you wrote to me at the time, and I thought it strange that you did not go to your own house at once. See here, Paul," he continued with heat, "I want to know the actual facts, and if you will not tell me the whole truth, straight out, I'll telegraph to Clement, and also send a detective to the neighbourhood to investigate the matter and report to me fully. What in the name of wonder is there to conceal?"
"Nothing of much consequence, or worth worrying yourself about father; only I have promised I would not speak of it to you. It really was an accident, and Mr Miles was away in London when it happened."
"To whom did you make this promise?"
"To one of the two ladies who took so much care of me; she did not ask me to make any such promise, but I thought it right to do so."
Mr Ferrier looked steadily at Paul for a few moments, and then reperused his letter for the third time.
"Clement says," he resumed, reading aloud from the letter, "that 'the laceration was exceptionally severe, and extended through the ligaments and the lining membrane of the bone, also that several splinters of bone had to be removed.' There is only one thing that would cause such an accident, Paul, and that's a 'gin,' or 'mantrap.' You must allow me to see your ankle."
"I've got a starch bandage on it just now." said Paul, "and it is better not to disturb it. You shall see it this evening, if you want to do so. I will go to Paris to see Clement and Nelaton if you wish."
"Yes, I do wish, and I shall go with you; then I will get at the true story from Clement; I can guess all about it pretty closely now. I presume the ladies contrived to bind him to secrecy also?"
"No, father, neither Mrs Weston nor her daughter wished for anything of the kind. I asked Clement to say as little as possible on the subject, lest it should vex you."
"You were very considerate for me, Paul, and no doubt for someone else more especially, but I insist on knowing all about this unlucky business. How old is this nailer's niece who, you say, nursed you so well?"
"I think Miss Weston is a little under twenty, father. I am under a deep obligation to her; she found me in the copse, and in one way or other I believe saved my life. Indeed, but for her, I think Clement would have been persuaded to cut my leg off, although, to give him his due, he objected at first."
"So that's it," said Mr Ferrier cynically. "A new version of the 'Babes in the Wood,' with only one villain in the background, up in London. I need scarcely take the trouble to go with you to Paris now. I know enough, and I shall act on what I know before many days are over."
"Please, father, let this unlucky business rest where it is; it has caused those two ladies great mental suffering already; indeed, it has been the chief reason for their giving up their residence with Mr Miles, and going abroad. He is a stupid, ignorant man, and a kind of a fanatic; but they are well-educated gentlewomen."
"Where are they gone to?" the old man asked, with a frown.
"To Dresden, to complete Miss Weston's education."
"Then, I suppose, that's why you spoke of visiting your old friends in Saxony in the summer time; perhaps you promised the young lady to do that also. I prefer that you should visit some other place, if you ever get your ankle well."
"I have made no promise of the kind," said Paul gravely, "nor was I asked to do so; but I confess I shall be glad to see her and her mother again. I respect them both so much, that to hear you speak cynically of them deeply grieves me. You have no right to do so, father, as you do not know them, even by repute, as you may know Mr Miles. If you did know them, you would, I think, alter your ideas about women in general, or, at all events admit that they are remarkable exceptions."
"My ideas on that subject are unalterable," said Mr Ferrier sternly. "They have been burnt in too deeply in my brain. I would contentedly see every female on this earth exterminated."
"That would mean the extermination of the human race, father; surely you do not wish to see that?"
"Better so, than that men should continue to suffer, as I believe the great majority of them do, from the caprices of women, who, in one way or another, render life unendurable."
"Did you always think in this way, father?" Paul ventured to ask.
"No; never until I married your mother, then I was rudely awakened to the truth. It is on that account that I have so strongly advised you, Paul, never to marry, or to think of marrying. I thought you were fully satisfied with the career I had marked out for you, and for which you are so well adapted. 'Knowledge is power;' it is also a compensation for the inevitable ills of life. A man who acquires knowledge, such as you have gained, and were gaining before this wretched accident, should be self-centered, and look on women as mere toys or butterflies of the hour, not worth serious notice, and sure to be a hindrance to his pursuits if he associates with them. In nine cases out of ten, they drag men down to their own level. The tenth man probably cannot sink any lower than he is already."
Paul listened in silence to these pessimistic utterances. He had often heard his father express such views, but never so forcibly or so bitterly as just now. He had seen such women as his father indicated at home and abroad, -- also women whom, be fancied, were the reverse of the picture, and there were two at least, who, although he had only known them for a short time, he felt certain were a living contradiction of his father's theory. Paul thought of that Christmas eve at Madeley Court, and of the ready intelligence with which Ruth entered into the subjects that were most interesting to him, -- of her evident mental capacity, and of the gentle sincerity in the glance from her brown eyes, into which he seemed to be able to look as into windows of her brain. He sighed heavily, and rose up to limp away in silence to his own room. His father rose to his feet at the same time, and said, in milder tones, --
"Paul, I will tell you all some day if there is necessity for telling you, and if I think you can bear it; then you will understand me better, and know that it is for your own sake I have not told you before. See, there is a snake-charmer in the court below. The handsomest of the cobras in his bag are the most dangerous. All of them cast their skins sooner or later, and then become repulsive to the sight, and all of them have had their poison fangs drawn, or he could not handle them as he does; they make me shudder, because they remind me of women I have known."
Paul hurried away, sick at heart, to his room, which opened directly on the gallery, and flung himself on a couch, pressing his open palms over his eyes to shut out the light of day from his throbbing eyeballs, in which he still seemed to see the reptiles in the courtyard, writhing and twisting as the Arab boy who owned them played on his pipe. He could hear the shrill pipe through the open casement, and it seemed to pierce his brain, so in a few moments he sprang up and closed the heavy shutters, lying down again in total darkness and silence to think. Could these things be true, or were they but distorted creations of his father's brain? The old man, he knew well, was sometimes very odd, and occasionally in the habit of muttering anathemas to himself. On certain days in the year he remained alone in his room with the windows darkened, and no one was allowed to disturb him. When he came out again he looked sad and subdued, but soon recovered his usual keen spirits and energy, and then, generally went away on some journey of pleasure or business.
Paul gradually grew calmer in the darkness, and presently his thoughts turned to the young girl, the mention of whose name had caused all this perturbation. Thinking of Ruth he dozed off into sleep, and dreamt he was back at Madeley Court again, holding her hand and asking her to inquire from her guardian Angel if these things which his father had spoken of were true. He fancied he heard again, in clear, decided tones, her emphatic, "No! no! no!" He awoke and started to his feet to hear someone rapping loudly at the casement and calling him by name. He recognised his father's voice, and hastened to admit him.
"What in the name of wonder are you thinking of, Paul?" he said impatiently, "locking yourself up, sleeping at this hour of day? It is no wonder that you cannot sleep well at night. The carriage is ready, and you have had no lunch yet. Here, take my arm and come along, I want to see these KabylEs before they are driven away by the French soldiers."
Paul took his father's arm and said: "They are well worth seeing. I spent some weeks at one time in their villages, up among the Jurjura hills. The men are hardy, wiry-looking fellows, and brave, although when they fight with one another they claw like wild cats. The women are industrious and peaceable, and generally good-looking. Probably you will not see them at all, as they are kept prisoners inside their rough tents when near towns. Up in the hills they have more liberty, and the young ones appear graceful when carrying their water pitchers to the wells; but they make a great deal of clatter, and seem to enjoy their free lives."
"I don't want to see the women, or to hear them clatter either, Paul. Get your lunch over quickly, and let us be off. What do these fellows live upon?"
"Chiefly on kouskous, with figs and goats' milk and pure fresh air ad libidum. They are the most temperate race in the world, and almost vegetarians; but sometimes, I am sorry to say, they are fanatical and treacherous -- provided you have not eaten of their salt, -- then you are safe. I have often gone unarmed amongst them. It is always safer to go unarmed, unless you mean to make them presents of your weapons; then you may get into trouble with the French officers."
In a few minutes they were seated behind two wretched mules in a shaky old carriage, whose springs seemed to have stiffened with age, driving by the white dusty road to the Kabyles' camp. The band had approached the town to lay some political grievance regarding forfeiture of land and taxation before the governor of the province. When this was settled, they would probably vanish as suddenly as they had appeared, and retire to their village beyond the mountains.
Paul's father was eager to obtain from his sson all the information he could give about the Kabyles, so the journey passed pleasantly in converse, until they came in view of the encampment, which consisted of about a dozen flat brown tents scattered amongst the rocks. A cordon of Zouaves had been drawn round the camp, but after a little parley they were allowed to proceed towards a group of men in coloured woollen burnouses, standing with folded arms, gravely listening to two gesticulating French officers, one of whom frequently pointed to the tents and waved his hand towards the blue hills in the distance, intimating that it was desired that the tribe should return homewards.
The Kabyles seemed displeased, and shook their heads. One of them remonstrated in tolerable French with the officers, whilst his companions spoke amongst themselves in their own tongue.
Paul listened attentively and said to his father: "There is some trouble about a little girl, who, the officers say, is ill with small-pox. The Kabyles insist they are mistaken. It ought not to be difficult to decide the question if a medical man examines the child." With this he alighted and spoke to the officers, who explained that the two medical men in their corps were absent on an excursion.
Paul volunteered to examine the child, and spoke a few words to the Kabyles, who drew closer. One of them suddenly exclaimed: "It is the English doctor Ferrier," and took Paul's hand and kissed it, mentioning his own name at the same time.
Paul recognised him as an old friend of the Beni Jenni tribe, and then the leading Kabyles eagerly accepted his offer to examine the child, to which the French officers assented.
At this, Paul's father intervened and said: "Surely you will not go into one of those dirty-looking tents. Paul, if it is a case of small-pox?"
"I believe the Kabyles are right," said Paul, "or I should not have volunteered my services, as I have to drive back with you. They would be afraid of any infectious disease themselves, and would isolate the sufferer. I have no fear, as I have been frequently vaccinated; but, if I am mistaken, I shall find means of returning alone, or you can send the carriage back for me. It would be a pity if these unfortunate people should be driven away through a mistake."
"Well then, go, Paul, and if there is nothing serious the matter, tell them I should like to look into their queer tents."
"That I cannot ask of them." said Paul; "their tents are their castles. The Amine here may invite you to visit him and his family, but you must wait to be invited."
With this Paul limped off. leaving his father in the vehicle.
When Paul's old acquaintance noticed that he was lame, he hastened to aid him with his arm, expressing much concern, and eagerly inquiring as to the cause of his lameness. They entered one of the low tents together, and saw a woman seated therein, holding a little girl in her arms, and singing some monotonous song like an incantation. There was no one else in the tent, which was a small one. Paul's friend explained to the woman the nature of the visit, whereupon she readily submitted her child for examination, bringing her forward in her arms to the light. The child seemed heavy with sickness, and paid no attention to the visitors. Paul raised one of her eyelids and examined her arms and neck and then pronounced the disease to be "simple measles," at which, when translated from French, the woman nodded affirmatively with evident pleasure, and resumed her seat and her crooning song, at same time drawing a warm covering over her child, and passively remarking that in a few days she would be quite well again.
Paul gladly explained to the French officers that their fears were groundless, and gave them his card, offering to go to the health bureau in Algiers, and give the authorities there a certificate to that effect, as a medical man, upon which there was much congratulation all round.
The French, officers straightway mounted their horses and rode away. The head man of the tribe then approached the carriage, and bowing with grave dignity, invited Paul and his father to visit him in his tent, and suggested that they should drive, close to the entrance thereto, on account of Paul's lameness. When they arrived at the largest of the tents, two of the leading men insisted on lifting Paul out of the carriage, and tenderly carried him into the tent, which was one reserved for ceremonial meetings.
Around the margin of the bait a number of high peaked mule saddles were arranged on the ground, covered with sheep and goat skins. The Amine seated himself on one of the saddles at the end opposite the entrance, and pointed to two vacant seats, one on either side of him, reserved for Paul and his father. Then little cups of black coffee were brought in on a brass tray, and some small cakes of darra flour, which, Paul said, contained "the traditional salt of friendship," and advised his father to nibble one. Long-stemmed pipes and cigarettes were produced, but were made little use of, as Mr Ferrier did not smoke. The Amine thanked Paul for the trouble he had taken on account of the tribe, and regretted that he saw him lame. He had seen him before, he said, "as active as a young antelope," and strongly recommended him to apply to a celebrated Arab "healer of sprains and bonesetter," then present in Algiers, who would without doubt do him good. He said he would cause this man to wait on Paul, if permitted, at his hotel next morning. To this proposal Paul readily agreed, being curious to see the Arab practitioner.
Mr Ferrier examined with interest some old flintlock guns with long, brass-bound barrels and inlaid stocks, and invited the Kabyle chief to come and see him at his hotel when next he came into Algiers.
When they emerged from the tent, they saw the heads and the dark eyes of several young girls peering out of the doors of adjacent tents, but they were instantly withdrawn. The dignified chief took a courteous leave of them, and invited them to come again, promising that next time the female members of his family would be present, if the close supervision of the French sentinels were withdrawn, as he now expected it would be.
Mr Ferrier was delighted with his visit, and loud in praise of the fine old Kabyle chief, who, he thought, resembled the pictures of the patriarch Abraham.
"Children of nature, Paul," he said, with lively satisfaction; "they evidently know the wisdom of keeping their womankind in order, and at their distaff. I suppose the wives are held in proper subjection -- out of sight?"
Paul laughed, and said he believed the women were treated kindly, but not compelled to wear veils, or secluded like Mahommedan women in general. They were kept pretty closely at work, he said, weaving, and grinding corn, in addition to the hourly task of looking after their lively children. They had no books to read, he explained, but knew long ballads by heart, which they sang at their looms.
"That's right, Paul; our women in the upper and middle classes have been demoralised by reading trash? French novels, and by having no really useful work to do at home. Our refined civilisation has been destructive to the frivolous minds of women. They invariably abuse the liberty which has been granted them, and go gadding about after pet parsons. I think the existence of females might be tolerated if they were brought back to proper subjection like these eastern women. I suppose there is a loom in every house in the villages of these Kabyles?"
"Yes, I think so, father, or something like a loom, which is generally only a few sticks and cords. They do not use any shuttle, but draw their coloured threads through with their fingers, producing very artistic patterns. There is little else in their houses, excepting a few cooking and water vessels, which the women fashion and colour themselves, like Greek amphorae, You could easily pack all their household effects in this carriage, but as a rule they are nor migratory, being an agricultural people, living in rude stone houses, in which the cattle are also accommodated at one end of the general living-room. This visit here is an exceptional affair, connected with political disturbance, hence the use of tent coverings."
"All rich idle women in England should be set to work at the mangle for a couple of hours every day," said Mr Ferrier, still pursuing the subject with gusto -- "the mangle, or something equivalent. It is the want of work of that kind that causes so much trouble in domestic life. It was much better in the old-fashioned days, when the highest ladies in every English county were not ashamed to have spinning wheels in their drawing-rooms, and could show you chests of homemade linen. Now they torture one's ears ears playing badly on the piano, or are out of their houses half the day, indulging in some kind of religious dissipation -- parson-hunting."
Mr Ferrier had worked himself into a white heat, and wound up with an impressive stamp of his foot, which touched Paul's injured limb and made him wince.
"Oh! I beg your pardon, Paul" he said, with evident concern, "I am very sorry. I always lose my head on that accursed subject. My great trouble in life began that way, so pray forgive me."
Paul moved his leg into a position of greater safety, and said: "It is nothing, father; I was thinking of what a strange thing it would be if this Arab 'bone-setter' managed to put me right."
"He is probably an ignorant quack, Paul; it will be better for you to start for Paris at once, and meet Clement with this eminent French surgeon."
"There was such a man as this 'bone-setter' in London, named Hutton, who was also called a 'quack,' and no doubt was ignorant of anatomy," said Paul, "yet he effected marvellous cures by his acute sense of feeling and large experience; so do the German cattle doctors, like Preissnitz, who reduce sprains and contusions with cold water bandages and rubbing."
"Well, you ought to know better than I do, Paul, but be cautious of experiments. You know that our cook, at home, had his eyes made worse by allowing a quack oculist to operate on him for strabismus, now I wonder how he can see anything, unless it's round the corner."
"That's where these long guns you were admiring just now are said to he fatal," said Paul. "I wish our wrangler cook would try his hand at some other occupation. I have been quite spoiled by the dainty dishes prepared for me at Madeley Court whilst I was ill."
"Has this nailer fellow a good cook?" asked Mr Ferrier, in surprise.
"Yes, an excellent female cook, who was well looked after by his sister-in-law and niece. I wish you wouldn't call the poor man a' nailer,' father; he really was a foreman blacksmith, like Nasmyth and that, is, I believe, the work he is best fitted for. I am told he has erected a forge in the chapel, and works at it with delight. He is going to sink for coal down the old shaft, and has an engine at work already."
"He has no right to win coal under the land, Paul. I have never parted with the mining rights to the railway company; but I don't believe there's any coal worth getting down below, --there's a little thin patch near the bottom of the shaft."
"Then he is under a huge mistake," said Paul -- "and you ought to let him know in time."
"I can't prevent him from deepening the present shaft if he likes, but if he finds coal and begins to bring it to the surface, I can stop him by an injunction. The man must be mad."
"He is not mad, father, -- he is a fanatical believer in miracles, and in every line of Scripture, and thinks he has found a text that warrants him in sinking coal pits against the advice of an intelligent expert whom he called in."
"Then let him go on and break his neck," said Mr Ferrier, with a grim smile. "Here we are at the French quarantine office. You must go in, Paul, and satisfy the officials about the little girl, or our poor Kabyle friends will be driven forth into the wilderness, like their ancestor Ishmael."
Paul contrived to satisfy the officials, after some parley, that the child's disease was not infectious, and that he was duly qualified to certify to that fact, and then he drove back to the hotel to dine, with more appetite than he had displayed of late.
Next day two French army surgeons attached to the corps of Zouaves called early, to thank Paul for having undertaken a duty of theirs during their absence, and to make his acquaintance as a medical man. They examined his stiffened ankle-joint in the presence of Paul's father, and shook their heads over it, recommending embrocations and perfect rest. They strongly deprecated any such thing as the proposed journey to Paris.
Whilst they talked with Paul, the Kabyle chief entered the court-yard, accompanied by a lithe looking Arab, wearing a fez, who at first sight appeared to resemble one of the jugglers who frequented the court of the inn.
The Amine introduced him as "Dr Hafiz," and asked that he might be allowed to examine Paul's ankle, which, being uncovered at the moment, was immediately permitted. The Arab doctor seated himself on a low stool and took Paul's foot on his knee, passing his slender fingers many times over the ankle joint, whilst he scrutinised Paul's face now and then, with his piercing black eyes, to see if he winced under pressure. Then he inquired in excellent French how the injury had arisen, and how long it was since it had happened. Paul was obliged to narrate the circumstances shortly, whilst his father stood by, listening with compressed lips, as if in wrath.
The Arab doctor had up to this time taken no notice of the French surgeons, who looked down on him with some curiosity. It was evident he knew them, as he presently asked Paul if they were then treating him, and was told that they had only just called as visitors, and had prescribed complete rest. Dr Hafiz shook his head, and said he feared that rest would not relax the joint, but would tend to stiffen it still more. As he spoke, his restless hands kept on a kind of continuous gliding motion round the ankle, but his eyes were steadily fixed on Paul's, who began to find himself strangely fascinated by the man's gaze.
"It is the 'massage treatment,'" said one of the French doctors to his colleague.
"Massage and mesmerism combined," was the reply. "I have heard of this man and his cures. I should permit him to try his hand for a few days; it can do no harm."
The Kabyle chief had remained standing like a statue in his usual attitude, with his arms crossed. He had not saluted or noticed the French surgeons, but he evidently heard what they said, as he spoke some words in his own language to the Arab doctor, who desired him to communicate his reply to Paul's father in private.
The Amine pointed to the other side of the gallery, and thither Mr Ferrier accompanied him.
"Hafiz says he thinks he can make the young man's foot quite well, so that he can easily walk again, if he is allowed to come twice a day for a month or six weeks with his wife, and is not interfered with in his treatment." The Amine slowly delivered this message in French, repeating the statement until he was satisfied that Mr Ferrier understood him.
"What is the man's wife to do?" Mr Ferrier asked.
"To assist her husband, and to amuse the young man, so that he will forget the pain. You may trust Hafiz, and remain here to witness the treatment yourself. I will answer for him that he speaks truth."
Mr Ferrier returned to Paul and explained the proposal in English. "I think it's all 'hanky-panky'" he said. "We must make the man a present and let him go. He is a quack."
"These gentlemen recommend me to give him a trial," said Paul. "I am inclined to do so; his manipulation is painless."
"Well, well, you were always fond of trying nonsensical experiments; let him come for a week, but tell him he need not bring his wife along to amuse you. You can read whilst he does his rubbing. Her incantations will do you no good."
"It will be better to let him do as he thinks best, father. I am rather tired of reading, and can take lessons in colloquial Arabic. The wife is sure to talk to her husband, or to tell interminable stories, which these people can listen to for ever, and over and over again, like children."
Paul turned to the Kabyle chief, and told him he would submit to Dr Hafiz' treatment for a week at least, and warmly thanked the chief for bringing him. The army surgeons retired, promising to call again in a week to learn the result.
Mr Ferrier desired to know how the Arab doctor was to be remunerated for such constant attendance, and as the latter stood quietly aside waiting the decision, Paul applied to the Amine to inquire from him, which he readily did.
Hafiz smiled, and said promptly: "Whatever the Englishman thinks fit to give when he is cured."
Dr Hafiz returned that afternoon, accompanied by his wife, whose throat and the greater part of her face were concealed by a muslin band, so that her dark eyes alone were visible through a narrow horizontal aperture in her white head-gear. She carried a long-handled guitar, having only three strings, and at once sat down by her husband's side. Paul was seated in one of the tall cane easy-chairs, with a pillow beneath his head, his naked foot extended and resting on the Arab doctor's knee, who proceeded steadily to manipulate the ankle as before, fixing his eyes with an upward gaze on Paul's, whom he desired to observe him closely.
Presently the woman began to play very sweetly, and to sing or chant a low accompaniment, seemingly keeping time with the gliding movements of her husband's hands. Paul attempted to open a conversation, but was asked by Dr Hafiz to remain silent for a time.
Paul had no recollection of what subsequently occurred, as when his father came to see him later on, he was surprised to find his son sound asleep, while Dr Hafiz still kept on chafing the ankle with his pliant fingers, and his wife thrummed on her guitar, and sang the same monotonous rhythm. In half-an-hour Dr Hafiz ceased chafing, and moved Paul's foot up and down with his hands to test its flexibility. The woman ceased to play at a slight signal from her husband. Then Paul awoke with a start, and said :
"You are hurting me slightly, doctor! -- I think I have been asleep."
"Yes, Paul, sound asleep for half-an-hour," said his father. "I have nearly been sent to sleep myself by this mysterious pair, with their tinkling hurdy-gurdy."
"Did you dream about your foot?" Dr Hafiz asked.
"No," said Paul; "I thought I had only dropped off for half a minute."
"That is good; time is not when we sleep well, and pain is not -- now you are to walk with me once round this gallery."
"But those French surgeons warned me against walking," said Paul.
"I am treating you, and not the French doctors. I wish you to walk a little, leaning on my shoulder."
Paul complied with a grimace, and limped round to his seat again, supported and assisted by the Arab doctor. To his surprise, the woman now took the low seat in front of him, in her husband's place, and raised his foot with one hand whilst she poured some aromatic oil over the ankle joint, from a little porcelain flask with the other. Then she, too commenced the chafing process anew, without any musical accompaniment this time.
"Now, you may talk if you wish," said Dr Hafiz. "In fifteen minutes we shall have done, until next time."
Paul availed himself of the permission, and inquired how long Dr Hafiz had practised in this fashion.
"Since I was a boy," he replied readily; "my father and grandfather and ancestors, for several generations, were physicians, and used the same process, -- sometimes during a year in obstinate cases, such as with patients who will not go to sleep, or who have waited too long before coming to us. You are more fortunate, and you will soon be cured."
Paul then asked the nature and name of the oil the doctor's wife was rubbing in.
"Ah!" said Dr Hafiz, smiling, "that is my wife's secret, -- no doubt she will give you some if you wish, when you go away, to take with you. I cannot use it, because the massage must be made with the naked clean hand, and so you will understand why my wife has to come with me. Her hands are saturated through and through with the oil. Now we will just take another little walk round. The ankle will pain you less this time, and in a week probably not at all."
Paul was glad to find he could now walk with greater ease, and when seated again, asked Dr Hafiz if he had studied anatomy.
"Yes, of course. Doctors of my religion are not permitted to dissect a dead body themselves, but they may look on while it is done, and in that way I have studied at Paris. I am not a 'quack,' as your father thinks," he said, smiling. "I have the proper French diplomas to practise medicine and surgery. When you call to see me, I will show them to you. I wish also to show you this." He drew from his pocket a silk bag, and from the bag the white skeleton of a small human foot, with the bones carefully articulated. "This foot has had the same trouble in the joint that you suffer from," he said; and then explained to Paul precisely, in French surgical terms, the exact nature of his case, whilst the wife looked on and listened with keen interest.
Paul warmly thanked them both for their skilful treatment, and when Dr Hafiz and the lady had left, he turned to his father and said cheerfully: "I believe that man and his wife will cure me. I have, had a great lesson into the bargain. We English are the most self-opinionated people in the world."
"Excepting the French, Paul, -- the French doctors said he was a quack at first."
"Yes, but they altered their opinion speedily, and recommended me to try him, which English surgeons never would have done, and I might not have done myself in another's case. You may write to Clement, father, and tell him I am in good hands at present."
"Do not be over-sanguine yet, Paul, -- but I confess I like that Dr Hafiz and his wife. I think I like the wife the better of the two; she never spoke a word, but did her work quietly, like a machine."
"Perhaps she can't talk French," said Paul; "that would account for her silence."
"Perhaps, -- but all the same, I respect that woman; she obeyed her husband implicitly, and I never saw one of 'em do that before, although they all take a solemn vow to do so."
As yet Tobias had neither seen nor heard of any buried treasures or further seams of coal -- so he often rubbed his chin in deep cogitation; -- then at length he dismissed his workmen for the present, and set out to consult Mr Perkins at Dudley.
On arriving there one evening, he found the colliery surveyor was absent from his office. Zeeb told him his master would be back next day, and was invited to dine with his father at his inn. After dinner Zeeb ventured to remark that just then there was great excitement in Dudley regarding the performances at Dixon's circus, and said that Mr Perkins had taken him there with two other pupils. Tobias listened gloomily, without taking much interest in the matter; he was rather put out by the delay caused by Perkins' absence.
"There is a wonderful monkey at the circus, father," Zeeb said, -- "almost as intelligent as a human being; and you can't guess who performs with him?"
"No, -- I can't guess, nor don't care to guess," said Tobias, who was thinking of something else; "some mountebank, I suppose," he added -- "as is 'arf a monkey himself."
"No, father, guess again, -- it isn't a he at all, nor a mountebank either."
"There's female mountebanks as well as men," said Tobias; "wot do I know of such people? -- I 'aven't bin in a circus since I was a lad."
"It's our Betsy that performs with the monkey," said Zeeb; "just think of that, father, -- she makes him do whatever she likes, and rides with him on a white elephant, dressed up as a black princess. Betsy is called 'Miss Bettina' in the bills, and I'm told she is earning a lot of money. You ought to go and see her. You will find it dull sitting here. There are some beautiful horses and ponies, and a camel and a dromedary, -- all walking in procession, like the beasts coming out of a Noah's Ark, -- only with riders on 'em instead of Shem, Ham and Japhet standing by in long coats and looking foolish, as if they had got wrong in counting the animals, which I dare say 'twas easy to do, -- there being so many of 'em, male and female."
"Yes -- there must 'ave bin a many on 'em, Zeeb, and I'm thinkin' the ark must 'ave bin as big as the whole British Navy rolled into wan. I see no authority in Scripture for what Ramsbottom says about the beasts being reduced to the size of mice before they went in. Rats and mice isn't mentioned, though in course they must 'ave 'ad a few on 'em to breed from when the waters abated from off the earth."
"It would have been just as well if Noah had left 'em out to get drowned," said Zeeb, "and packed off the lions and tigers also when they came to beg for admission, with their tails between their legs. They have got two fine lions in the menagerie attached to the circus. Do come along and see 'em, father; it will do you good."
"I'd like to see the lions and the white elephant," said Tobias. "I thought elephants was always black?"
"This one is white at present," said Zeeb, "excepting the end of his trunk, where the friction comes in. But Betsy is as black as your hat, except her red lips and white teeth. She hit me on the nose with an apple as she went round, or I'd not have guessed who she was. Ruth always said Betsy was ambitious, but she never dreamt of her rising so high in the world, and being married to a handsome prince every night in the week except Sunday night. The prince is a young lady in baggy trousers and a turban, with stunning moustachios, and a jewelled scimitar to cut off Betsy's head when he gets tired of her, like Blue Beard in the story book."
"Let's go and see 'em," said Tobias, whose sluggish imagination was now excited to the proper pitch by Zeeb's graphic description. "I suppose, Zeeb," he said later on, "they'd let you in for 'arf price?"
"I'm not a child," said Zeeb, with some warmth. "The bills say, 'Children under twelve at half-price.' I am near eighteen, and look older. The pit is only a shilling, with sixpence extra to see the beasts feeding in the menagerie. I think you can afford that, father?"
"Yes, I can afford it, Zeeb, but it's well to save sixpence when you can; that's 'ow I came to be able to spend eighteenpence."
"It wouldn't be honest," said Zeeb stoutly; "and Mrs Dixon, who takes the money, knows us both. I have heard she has kindly taken Betsy to live with her, at Ruth's request."
"Then Mrs Dixon will 'ave a lively time of it now and then, I'm thinkin', Zeeb; but Betsy was always an 'onest lass, although a vixen." Tobias was thinking just then of his interview with Betsy when he was disguised as a tinker, and wondering whether he would ever hear of Jem Ritson and his notes again. He had stopped the notes at the banks in and around Dudley and Birmingham, and in London, but as yet he had not heard that any of them had been presented.
There must be some subtle influence over men's minds to call up strange coincidences. That very night, whilst Tobias was thinking of Ritson and his last unpleasant interview with the one-legged ruffian in the crypt, Jem was again at the door of the small tower in the courtyard, endeavouring to unlock it with the key he had retained, but to his chagrin found that Tobias had changed the lock -- of this more anon. We must follow Tobias and Zeeb into the circus and menagerie.
Mrs Dixon smiled on them graciously from her elevated seat, and told them where they were likely to find good places. The performance had already begun, and the procession was in motion. The only new feature being that Jocko, having been supplied with several bananas, now liberally shared them with the elephant, and accidentally dropping one, made an excursion on his own account to the ground, by means of one of the elephant's huge ears, and recovered it before the latter saw it. Then he as rapidly climbed on Tom Jones' shoulder, and sprang back to his proper position, holding up the banana in triumph.
The Ethiopian princess was heard to say, "Jocko! Jocko!" in a tone of remonstrance at this unauthorised introduction of novel effects, whereupon Jocko appeared to become suddenly penitent, and surrendered the fruit of his own accord to the elephant as a kind of voluntary atonement for his levity of conduct. He then slyly looked round at Betsy over his shoulder, as if to know if she were appeased by the sacrifice, and seeing her smile at him through the "gauzy veil" in token of forgiveness, gravely resumed his function of Mahout,
Mrs Dixon, hearing the applause of the spectators, had turned to witness this little episode through a sliding shutter behind her seat in the porch, and said: "I don't believe he is an ordinary bred monkey at all, the precious pet; he's just been dropped down out of the 'evings, where I suppose the cherubims has well-trained monkeys to amuse 'em."
Tobias Miles, on the other hand, attributed all Jocko's cleverness to another source, and still upheld the theory that the intelligent animal was an emissary of Satan. It is singular how people will differ on the question of the "Origin of Species," notwithstanding the evidence produced by Mr Darwin.
Tobias seemed to enjoy the feats of horsemanship better than the sight of the procession. Kitty Rorke was now first equestrienne, as Madame Cerigo had retired abroad; her place being taken by younger stars of lesser magnitude, over whom the lively Kitty reigned supreme. She had taken kindly to Betsy when she heard that the girl was mainly supporting her old father and her family from her earnings, and had offered to give her lessons in riding, although she felt doubtful of making much of her in that direction, on account of her age and the fact that she had carried heavy weights on her shoulders when a mere child, and so developed strength of muscle at the expense of grace and suppleness. Kitty took good care that none of the company should look down on Betsy because of her lowly origin and rough mode of speech, and if they ventured, ever so little, in that direction in her hearing, she said a word in season that made their ears to tingle; telling them that Betsy, in her plain attire, was better looking than any of them with their faces tinged with rouge, and knew how to keep impertinent admirers in their proper place much better than they did; moreover, if provoked, could fight her own battle in a fashion that would astonish some of them, although she was always ready to oblige those that were civil to her.
In the menagerie Betsy was absolute queen, and had acquired great influence over the animals. She had not as yet entered the cage of the lions, but she went fearlessly inside the outer guard rail, and patted them on their heads through the bars, giving them little delicacies, and gradually accustoming them to her voice and presence. The place was now always open during an interval in the circus performance outside, and thither Tobias Miles and Zeeb adjourned to see Betsy in her fancy costume as an Ethiopian princess, divested of the glistening veil, and promenading with the "Mahout" on her shoulder, who shook hands with all the females and children desiring that honour, and even allowed some of them to touch his fine fur, although he was rather particular in that respect, and disinclined to allow too great liberties to be taken with his sealskin jacket, whimpering a little when the children were too attentive, but never attempting to bite them, and never accepting gifts of nuts until Betsy had first experimented on them with her own teeth, and ascertained if they were wholesome.
Now and then Jocko laid his cheek close to Betsy's, and murmured low, plaintive sounds, as if to explain his feelings of affection for his mistress, whose keen eyes were ever watchful to protect him from harm. This public promenade was made at "Sammil's" request, and served to draw numbers of children to the exhibition; but Mrs Dixon was doubtful of its utility, as it interfered with Jocko's sleep, and endangered his health from overfeeding.
When Betsy passed Tobias and Zeeb in her triumphant march, she immediately stopped and said: "Muster Miles, it's odd to see yer 'ere. D'ye remember Jocko, as gived yer such a fright? Won't yer shake 'ands wi' 'im ? -- he'll not bite yer."
"I'm sorry, Betsy, to see you here," said Tobias. "Wot for do you carry that cunning beast on your shoulder?"
"He isn't as 'eavy as sacks o' nails, Muster Miles, and I'm ten times better paid for carryin' 'im than I was for luggin' nails to your old shop, as yer always said 'ad summat wrong wi' 'em. Jocko's not a beast at all. He's a beauteous creature, as everyone who sees 'im says oughter be christened in a Baptist Chapel wi' holy warter, as 'udnt be too good for 'im. Won't yer shake 'ands wi' 'im? on'y yer musn't give 'im tracks as ain't digestible. Tracks is for nailers, when you pays 'em short, and not for precious pets like Jocko."
Here Zeeb intervened, and tendered his open hand to the ape.
"You may take it, Jocko," said Betsy. "Mr Zeeb is cousin to our Miss Ruth, as I've often told you on, who said you was so 'andsome. "On this Jocko straightway presented his cold little hand.
"I believe the monkey understands all Betsy says," said Zeeb.
"Oh yes, he knows a lot, Mr Zeeb, and sometimes he tries to talk, but he's tongue-tied, poor old chap. Have you 'eard lately from Miss Ruth and Dr Ferrier? He sent me a prescipshun for Jocko, w'ich our vet made up, to cure his cold, but he's very delicate, and now mun go to his little bed, as is stuffed wi' cotton-wool to keep 'im warm."
"Miss Ruth is quite well," said Zeeb, "and will be glad to hear of you and Jocko. My aunt says that Dr Ferrier is still lame, and writes often to her. He is in the country where Jocko's parents came from. It's a warm place."
"Yes, no doubt it's warm," said Tobias grimly. "I should say it's 'ot, decidedly 'ot, and there's plenty more of 'em there. Adam Clarke says 'the devil must 'ave bin a monkey, as goes upon his belly.'"
"Jocko walks on his two legs just as you do, Muster Miles," said Betsy indignantly. "Miss Betsy -- my namesake over there -- goes sometimes on her feet and 'ands; p'r'aps that's why Jocko don't like 'er. She is of another family o' monkeys, our vet says, and never will be quite good like Jocko, but I think she's improvin', w'ich some folks never will, not if you was to boil 'em in a copper wi' lots o' soda in't." With this parting shot and an angry glance from her grey eyes at Tobias, Betsy moved off through a little crowd of amused listeners, to consign Jocko to his warm bed.
Later on she appeared again in front of the lions' cage, and called them to her by their names, Nep and Leo, handing them their food and caressing them. "There's a new cage bein' med for 'em, as is bigger, and has an iron railing across one end, as I'm to sit inside and talk to 'em closer every day, so as they'll know me well," said Betsy to Zeeb, who was admiring the handsome lions with his father. "Then in a short time," Betsy continued, "I'll go among 'em and teach 'em tricks; I'm not a bit afeared on 'em now, Mr Zeeb, and I'm to 'ave a big whip made wi' wire in't, so as I can cut 'em across the mouth if they growls and shows their teeth; 'sides, there's always to be 'ot irons ready if they tries to bite me, but it's not likely."
"Betsy," said Zeeb gravely, "you never can depend on lions or tigers, and no money will be of use to you if they kill you,"
"These were never wild beastes in woods, and they plays like kittens," said Betsy. "Muster Dixon says he'd go inside hisself and mak 'em jump over his whip by smacking it against the side of the cage."
"Then I'd let 'im do it, Betsy," said Tobias. "His life is his own to play tricks with if he likes; he has no right to encourage a young girl like you in such a tempting of Providence for the sake of money. Ask Miss Ruth what she'd think of it."
Betsy remained silent, thinking of something Ruth had said to her on the subject of being too ambitious, and over anxious to make money. Just then a gentleman who had come up recognised Tobias Miles and spoke to him. He was the manager of a bank at Dudley, where Tobias kept an account. "Three of your notes have been presented for payment in London at the Bank of England," he said, "by a respectable maker of surgical instruments. They have given us notice, and will pay them to the bearer, as he appears to have taken them in exchange for goods supplied."
"What did he sell to the man who paid him the notes?" asked Tobias.
"A second-hand artificial leg, which he altered to suit the purchaser, who was dressed like a sailor."
"That's the villain that robbed me," said Tobias. "He was a sailor, I'm told, before he turned poacher, and used to pretend his leg was shot off in a battle at sea. He had a wooden leg, and I don't know why he wanted another."
"Well, you can't object to the bank paying gold for the notes to the holder," said the bank manager; "he has given clear particulars, and produced his books. He paid the sailor three pounds ten in gold, out of the fifteen pounds, as the balance of the account. You may have a better chance of identifying the fellow who robbed you later on."
With this hope Tobias had to be contented just then. Next day Mr Perkins returned, and recommended Tobias to have the water pumped out of the bottom of the shaft, promising to come and look at the exposed rock when this was done, whereupon Tobias returned home with the necessary appliances which were to be attached to his steam engine. He then sent for some of the men who had been previously engaged in the shaft, but was surprised to find that none of them would return to work. The men gave no reason for declining, but one of them mysteriously recommended Tobias to abandon the job as an unlucky venture, darkly hinting that the ghosts of the deceased abbot and of some of his monks had appeared and threatened them with pains and penalties for the sacrilege they were committing in the chapel. Tobias remembered the ghosts he fancied he had seen at one time, and the London lawyer's remark regarding the cause of such aberrations of vision.
"You fellows has bin drinking something stronger than beer whiles you've bin at play," he said.
"Ef I was you," replied the man addressed, "I'd not drink any of the warter in that ode well until it's cleaned out; there's summat in't as isn't 'olesome. We've 'ad on'y the beer at the 'Cock and Bottle' to drink on credit, as you knocked us off our pay, but none on us is goin' down that 'ere well again at any price."
Tobias was puzzled at this sudden announcement, and decided that he would have fresh men from Dudley to fix his pump and help him in attaching it by long iron rods to the engine in the crypt.
We must now endeavour to account for the strike amongst the local workmen, most of whom soon drifted away to other places.
On the evening when Tobias and Zeeb visited the circus, there was assembled a little festive party of his former workmen in the back parlour of the "Cock and Bottle" at the village of Madeley. They came together on this occasion to celebrate the temporary return of an old crony of theirs, who was no other than Jem Ritson, although bearing-little resemblance in outward appearance to the rough-looking poacher we are acquainted with.
Jem had previously worn a bushy grizzled beard, with tangled masses of hair falling over his low forehead; now he was clean shaved from his large ears to his throat, and as close cropped as a convict. He formerly wore a faded velveteen shooting jacket with metal buttons, a rabbit skin vest, and shabby cord trousers, from one leg of which protruded the ferule of his wooden leg. Now he had apparently recovered his missing limb, and prominently exhibited two new boots, inside which he had tucked the ends of his loose trousers. Jem was clad in a new suit of blue pilot cloth, surmounted by a low-crowned glazed hat, and but for his rasping voice and square figure, it would be impossible to detect the quondam poacher. The attraction which had drawn him back to Madeley at the risk of his liberty was a stout damsel with her sleeves rolled up, who served the little party with beer. Jem had always professed great admiration for this girl, but hitherto had not met with much encouragement. Wooden-legged men seldom do from the fickle sex, but now that he had obtained a substitute for his lost limb, which almost defied detection, he was more hopeful and anxious to induce the plump Hebe with bare arms to become Mrs Ritson, and accompany him to America, which seems to be the refuge, at least for a time, of the ne'er-do-weels and rogues of every country.
Jem was entertaining his old chums, and at same-time urging his suit by nods and winks and occasional pinches slily administered to Miss Molly whenever an opportunity occurred. A reward had been offered by Tobias Miles for his apprehension, but he felt safe, at least for one night, in the back parlour of the "Cock and Bottle," which he had retained for his sole use on this occasion.
There were only two policemen stationed at Madeley, and they were known to be rather inactive. Jem intended to shift away to safer quarters; by the first train next morning, as soon as he learned his fate at the hands of the stout barmaid. Meantime, he meant to have a jolly evening amongst boon companions upon whose secrecy he thought he might rely.
"When I sot eyes on yer fust, Jem," said one of the men, who was now in a semi-maudlin state, "I sez to myself, I sez, 'ere's a sailor chap as is lookin' arter an ode sweet'art. 'E's just coom'd inter a lot o' prize money, or buried a rich relashun, and I wur partly right, I wur, but I niver tho'rt it wur our ode Jem as was in them blue togs, and 'ad grow'd a new leg wi' a boot on't. 'Owever did yer manage it, Jem? Let's 'ave it out from under the table to look at."
"That 'ull keep till daylight, Ned," growled Jem, who was desirous that no reference should be made to his leg in the present company.
"I heerd it go 'crick, crick' when yer sot down jest now," said Ned Styles, returning to the unpleasant subject of the missing member. "Do it go by steam, like the Dutchman's leg, or wind up wi' a big key, like our church clock? I'm sartain sure that Molly 'ere is dyin' for to know ef yer takes it to bed wi' yer to keep it warm?"
"Don't yer talk any of yer ondecency, Ned, before a respeckable young female," said Jem, with warmth.
"Wot's ondecent, I'd like to know?" hotly replied Ned Styles, who had private designs of his own on Molly, and was anxious to discredit Jem's rejuvenated appearance. "It's ondecent for a man as has on'y wan good leg as 'e can stand on, if he's sober, to be lettin' on as 'ow he grow'd another in a few weeks whiles 'e was underground, cos p'leecemen was lookin' for 'im over'ead. No p'leeceman has any call to look for me, or to paste moy name up in big print on p'leece-stashuns, wi' twenty pounds reward agin it for robbing Toby Miles."
"'Pears to me, Ned Styles, as 'ow yer wants yer 'ead punched," said Jem, bringing down his clenched fist on the table with violence, at which suggestion of the likelihood of combat between rival swains, Molly hastily withdrew in search of the landlord.
The three other men who were present now noisily interfered, with the view to restoring peace at the festive board. Two of them were already stupid with drink, and scarcely intelligible; the third man, having a stronger head, insisted loudly on the withdrawal of all offensive observations on both sides.
"Wot's Jem's wooden leg to you, Ned Styles?" he said, "or p'leecemen either. Ef yer talks o' p'leece, mebbe Jem 'ere might 'ave a word ter say to 'em concernin' yer as 'ud putt t'other boot on yer fut. And you, Jem Ritson, has no call to speak o' punchin' 'eads o' folks as you've ast to a friendly lead. Yer both out o' order, and you've frightened Molly out o' room atween yer. 'Ere's the landlord, as 'ull say ef wot I sez is right or wrong. P'r'aps he'll be sendin' for p'leece hisself to settle the rights on't."
The landlord informed the men that he would have no disturbance on his premises, and suggested that they all had had quite enough to drink, and might now terminate the festive gathering, and go their ways. Molly had refused to come in to serve any more beer, he said, and wished it to be publicly known that she favoured neither of her rival admirers, but had recently become engaged to the butcher over the way, who had lost his wife three months before, and was a steady man worth listening to, whose ways of gaining a livelihood were open to public view, and required no police supervision.
With this Ned Styles sullenly withdrew, without wishing anyone "Good-night," and was speedily followed by two of the men, who, finding the supply of beer cut off, deemed it time to stagger home, but had the grace to thank Jem Ritson for his entertainment. The fourth man remained behind, and being tolerably sober, induced the landlord to supply two tumblers of hot punch with his own hands, and to allow him to remain a little longer with Jem, who was smoking in sulky silence.
"I've summat partickler to say to Jem, Mr Buggins," he said, "and then we'll go quite quietly; "upon which the landlord withdrew, to make up the score and put his shutters up.
"D'ye know wot Toby Miles 'as bin doin' in the ode shaft since you was away, Jem?" he inquired.
"'Ow could I know?" said Jem, with an air of extreme depression, as if the doings of Toby Miles or any other man were immaterial to him after that communication about the butcher.
"He's bin sinkin' for buried treasures, and pretendin' 'twas for coal," said the man, whose name was William Earl -- generally pronounced "Billerl" by his associates in wickedness. "He 'asn't found the silver and gold, nor seen it, but others has. Ned Styles put a pick in't, and he'll nobble it, bit by bit, when no one's lookin' on, unless some other chap's afore 'im. Ned's thinkin' that no one knows on't but hisself, but there's two on us as has seen it likewise, and the ode oak cask it's packed in, as is as rotten as pears, so as you might shove yer 'and through it."
Jem pricked up his ears at this, and for the moment forgot his amatory disappointment. "Wot d'yer want me to do?" he asked. It is singular how concise and direct is the speech of your common-class conspirator. It is a thing to be commended to some of our leading politicians, whose statements regarding similar conferences are generally so hazy as to require innumerable explanations, which leave the matter in a greater fog than before.
"Yer 'ad keys for most o' the doors in Toby Miles' place," Mr William Earl remarked, with a knowing wink.
"Wot ef I 'ad?"
"Got 'em 'andy?"
"Ef you can open the doors as leads inter that wault under the chapel, we'll divide the swag fairly. Toby's away at Dudley, and the big outside gate is nivvur locked."
"Any pardners?" inquired Jem; which meant that he desired to know if the treasure, when found, was to be shared with others.
"Well, not exactly, but Ned Styles fust found the place where the ode cask is, in a little cave as was med for't in the rock just below the steps, and was built up again so as you'd never suspect, on'y Ned 'appened to knock an 'ole in't wi' a pick, and putt his 'and in, and p'r'aps he oughter share."
"Damn the share," said Jem emphatically," Ned's bin hinsultin' o' me. Halves I sez, or nowt."
"Well, be it 'alves. Ned 'ull think Toby's found it; he's always goin' up and down them steps wi' a lantern -- pokin' about. There's lantern's 'andy in the ode wault, and I can go down wi' wan on 'em and do the trick ef yer can let me in, so as yer needn't run no extry risk wi' the steps as is worn in places."
"Better tak a couple o' candles and matches, as the lanterns may 'ave none in 'em 'cos o' the rats," said Jem.
"All right, let's be jogging. I'll git the candles at 'ome, and be ready for yer when yer comes along. Tell the landlord you'll sleep at moy place. He's waitin' for yer in the bar to settle up and go to bed."
In half-an-hour after Jem Ritson was in the copse where the gins had been formerly placed, groping in a rabbit-burrow for the key of the outer door to the tower leading to the crypt, which he had concealed there on the night when he locked Tobias in. Later on he was to be seen in the courtyard ineffectually endeavouring to open the door, and there he discovered that a new lock had been put on.
"It's 'ard to beat Toby Miles," he said, scratching his head. "Ef we was to try to force the door wi' the pick, old Mother Brimstone, as is livin' 'ere, might hear us. There's another way inter bottom o' shaft as Toby Miles got out by on an occasion. I once sent a dog o' mine in there arter a stoat, and he com'd up in the wault by the steps in no time, so it can't be fur."
With this Jem stumped away out of the courtyard and down the Dingle, his new leg making audible creakings as he strode along unsteadily, the mixture of brandy and beer causing singular aberrations in his mode of progress. He climbed up the mound at the entrance to the adit with some difficulty, followed by his co-conspirator in silence, and lit a candle which he secured in the band of his hat, then proceeded slowly to pull himself on all fours over the rubbish in the adit, dragging his artificial limb after him. This mode of locomotion did not seem to agree with the mechanism of the "second-hand" leg. In a little while Jem was heard to swear, and seemed to have fallen over the rubbish, as his light suddenly disappeared.
When Bill Earl got close to him, he found Jem in darkness, scratching his head and cursing, with his artificial limb doubled up under him.
"Drat the darn'd thing," he said; "summat's busted in't."
Earl now offered to proceed the rest of the way alone, but this Jem objected to.
"I'd like to see where the swag is stowed, and wot it is," he said; "and I can crawl the rest o' the way ef I can on'y keep the candle lightin'. We oughter 'ad lanterns, there's such a draught. I'm sorry I bought this cursed creakin' thing, -- along o' that 'ere Molly, who sed she'd be ashamed to walk out wi' me wi' the old 'un. I 'opes the butcher 'ull teach her to keep a civil tongue in 'er 'ed, blast 'im."
After this outburst Jem painfully proceeded on all fours, still dragging his dislocated artificial limb, and muttering curses. He had frequently to stop to relight his candle, and at last gave it up as hopeless in the strong air current. Earl here ventured to warn Jern that the shaft had been deepened considerably by the late excavation, so that the old adit now opened into it at some distance from the bottom. A wooden ladder had been recently placed in the shaft, in continuation of the stone steps, downwards, he said, but it would require some dexterity to get hold of it and draw it over to the mouth of the adit which they were approaching. Earl offered to proceed in front to effect this operation. The brandy had now flown to Jem's head, and made him cross and contradictory. He sulkily refused to allow Earl to pass him in the narrow space, alleging that there was no room, and intimating that it was time enough when they reached the shaft to see to the ladder.
Both men were now in total darkness, struggling painfully through the rough passage, Jem upon all fours like a savage wounded animal, snarling and swearing, his companion, with head bent and hands outstretched, cautiously feeling his way, as his bald crown had frequently come into rough contact with projections in the rock-roof, and so extinguished the candle he carried on his hat in the fashion of miners.
Suddenly there was a loud snap of something metallic, instantly followed by a yell and a frightful oath from Jem Ritson, who seemed to have risen to his feet and plunged forward.
"It's got me, blast it!" he cried; then there was a clatter, as of a heavy body falling over the edge of a rock, followed by a loud splash down below in the shaft, and for a little while the gurgling noises of a man struggling in water ---- then silence in the darkness.
"Now, perhaps, you can come to my house for treatment each day,"said Dr Hafiz; "it will do you good to get about, and will save my time. I shall also be glad to see your father."
So, one day, Paul drove with his father through the narrow streets of the old town of Algiers, where in some places there was scarcely room for the carriage to pass, until they arrived at a blank white wall, with a single latticed door therein; entering which, they saw the doctor seated in a room to the right of the passage in which they stood, gravely listening to a poor woman who held a brown urchin by the hand, who was suffering from ophthalmia.
In an open courtyard beyond, they saw some other patients standing listlessly about, or squatting under the stone arcade which ran round the whitewashed walls.
Dr Hafiz wrote rapidly in a small book which he held on his knees, then pointed to an opening at the other side of the passage, and handed the woman the leaf which he had torn out. He spoke a few words to her in Arabic, and gently pushed her towards the doorway he had indicated. Then he came forward to meet his visitors.
"You are here earlier than I expected," he said. "To-day it happens that I have had many sick people, and some of them have been tedious. Please come with me into my inner house."
Dr Hafiz led the way through the little courtyard to a door in the wall at the opposite side, which he opened and politely motioned them to enter, using some Arabic phrase of welcome. Inside they saw a larger courtyard, with a deep verandah running round it, supported on carved wooden columns. In the centre of the court there was a fountain, the water from which fell into a shallow marble basin, which seemed embedded in soft verdure. There were shady palm trees overhanging the fountain, and the whole place had about it an air of refreshing coolness.
Dr Hafiz pointed to a wooden bench, and requested them to be seated and to occupy themselves with some French journals which lay about until he had dismissed his patients in the outer court.
In a little while a negro boy, in snowy white clothing, brought them coffee and tiny biscuits, seeing which a" number of fawn-coloured doves, who had been watching from the eaves of the tiled roof, flew down and paraded up and down, cooing and ducking their necks in a manner indicative of a desire to participate in the biscuits. When Paul threw them some fragments, several of them instantly perched on his wrists and shoulders in their eagerness, and seemed devoid of fear.
"This place is like a dream, Paul," said the old gentleman. "This Dr Hafiz must be a man of taste, and yet at first I thought him a mountebank and a quack."
"I have seen patios like this in houses in Seville and Granada," said Paul. "The Moors introduced them there from this country. Hafiz has probably inherited this place from Moorish ancestors, along, with his skill in curing diseases, and novel methods in surgery. He tells me he uses very few drugs, and that his wife dispenses his simple medicines. I saw her engaged in compounding them at the other side of the arched passage by which we entered."
"He must be making a lot of money, Paul."
"I doubt it, father. The people he treats are mostly poor people. The French doctors say, 'He gets nothing but thanks from some of them, and only a few copper coins from others.' They have been making inquiries about him. He is a strict Mohammedan, but has only one wife."
"He appears to be fortunate in his wife," said his father abstractedly. "I wonder what she is like when she takes off those muslin face coverings she wears?" Mr Ferrier had not long to wonder. Presently Dr Hafiz returned, leading in his wife, no longer veiled, by the hand. She was now dressed in a delicately tinted silk tunic, and appeared to be a beautiful young woman of marked Eastern type.
Dr Hafiz brought her a richly embroidered cushion, on which she subsided rather than sat down, and then addressed Mr Ferrier in excellent French, speaking slowly. The doves came flying down and perched lightly on her head and shoulders, circling round her when she motioned them away.
"They are spoiled pets," she said, "but they are company for our children when we have to go into the town. Do you allow such birds to come in your great houses in England?"
"They come, madame, but are not so tame or so pretty," said Mr Ferrier. "We keep ringed doves like these in cages."
"I should think they would grow sad and stupid in cages. These birds are free and happy. Sometimes they all fly away beyond the town, but they come back again. So do many of our people. They go away to the mountains and dwell in tents, where all things are clean and there is no crowding and the doctor need not come. But here I can forget that we are in a crowded city, amongst sick and wounded, when I hear my doves making love to each other so." Madame Hafiz here perfectly imitated the cooing of the doves, and brought on a fresh attack from her feathered pets.
Meanwhile Dr Hafiz had been engaged manipulating Paul's ankle as usual. When he had finished, he said: "We must dispense with my wife's part to-day; she is a little tired, because there have been many troublesome patients to see to. Let us walk round, and leave her to talk with your father. Later on I would recommend you to take a boat and sail out to the Mole. There you can sit with your foot in the sea for half-an-hour, and it will do you good otherwise. You are pale and sad looking. You have probably some mental trouble depressing you."
Paul's mental trouble was one of association. He had seen a curious likeness between Madame Hafiz and Ruth, and noticed how happy his father appeared to be in the society of the Eastern lady who was such a helpmeet to her husband. Paul wondered if it would ever happen that the old gentleman would throw aside his prejudices and take a fancy to the intelligent English girl in the same way. Ruth was far better educated, and of his own race, and from what he had seen of her he felt sure she would be as ready to assist him in needful work as this amiable foreigner, with whom he saw his father was just then holding an animated conversation in French.
Presently Madame Hafiz went away for a while, and then returned with her two children, a boy and girl, both with dark eyes like their parents. They only spoke Arabic, so their mother had to interpret between them and Mr Ferrier. The children were by no means shy, indeed were rather curious regarding the old gentleman's repeating watch, which he showed them and made to strike the hour. Then he produced a pocket compass, a gold pencil case, and other interesting things for their amusement, and endeavoured to explain their uses through the maternal interpreter.
Paul, leaning on Dr Hafiz's arm, frequently passed and repassed the little group, and paused now and then to listen to the excited exclamations of the children.
"Your father appears to be fond of children," Dr Hafiz said.
"I have never seen him much interested in children before," said Paul, "nor happy in ladies' society. He is prejudiced against women, and peculiar in some ways."
"Then he has suffered in his heart. Your father is not, I think, naturally cynical -- something has occurred in his life to make him unhappy."
"Yes, something happened long ago about which I know nothing."
"Then never seek to know, but try to teach him to forget. Take him with you in the boat to-day, and let him talk of the children. Do not interrupt him if he talks much, and bring him with you every day to learn some Arabic words from the little girl. She is the most fluent, and pronounces them clearly."
"Then we shall both be your patients, Dr Hafiz. I am afraid his is a chronic malady of long standing, and now incurable."
"You never can tell; there are remedies for all diseases if we could only find them. Sometimes when I have almost given a patient up he has suddenly decided he will get well, and made it easier for me to cure him. The thing is first to bring about the determination on his part. To cure mental trouble the patient must be made to forget. If he cannot forget, he will never be cured."
Mr Ferrier talked to an alarming extent to Paul, in a sailing boat in the bay of Algiers, that evening, first of Dr Hafiz's interesting house, with its peaceful inner court and plashing fountain, and palm trees and doves; next of Madame Hafiz, who had astonished him so much when she began to speak French, and who was so amiable, and had such gentle simplicity of manners and such wonderful eyes; then of her dark-eyed children, for whom he purposed to order all manner of amusing toys direct from Paris.
Paul assumed great interest in these subjects, and allowed his father to talk on freely. They were alone on the sea with an Algerine boatman who looked like a pirate, and understood no word of English, but attended closely to the management of his boat.
"This is really a discovery, Paul," Mr.Ferrier said, "this interesting Eastern family, in their little fairy Moorish palace amidst such slums as we had to go through to get to them; that model wife, who is so refined in manner, and those lively children. It is like something out of the Arabian Nights. I never should have known those people but for your accident. There are no such interesting people in England."
"Perhaps not," said Paul; "but I think I have seen some near home. One, at all events, who is very like Madame Hafiz."
"That is quite impossible, Paul. Our English women have degenerated into frivolous creatures, who only think of dress and superstition. They go to church chiefly to show their bonnets, and fancy they are performing a religious function when they turn up their eyes to worship some idiot in a glazed surplice, who is worshipping his ideal self all the time"
"I have never met any of those singular females," said Paul; "but you know, father, I have seldom been in an English church, and so am rather ignorant on the subject. I only went now and then, out of curiosity, to hear the music or some specially eloquent preacher."
"Yes, Paul, the music is sometimes excellent, and is the chief thing. I don't think much of the eloquence I've heard. The man in the pulpit always talks as if the world had learned nothing; during eighteen hundred years or more, consequently the great majority of his hearers are women, or men who want to gain a character for respectability and good conduct which they might not be otherwise entitled to."
"They may have beliefs and convictions," said Paul, "just as Dr Hafiz is a believer in Mahomet and in all the absurdities of the Koran. He is convinced that his prophet's coffin was suspended for a time between earth and Heaven. Time alone will eradicate belief in such curious legends, when they are recognised as of no importance. If you oppose them you will only solidify them. Opposition has always been the strengthener of credulity. I begin to think, that beliefs of some kind are necessary to certain classes of minds. If the Hindoos had no faith in a Nirvana of dreamy happiness, with nothing to do but look on at a perpetual kaleidoscope of changing pleasures, they would have revolted against our rule in India long ago, and then retroverted into slavery under some despot. Climate has much to do with beliefs. You yourself, father, I have no doubt, feel the softening influence of this delicious climate and are more tolerant. It is a pity that we cannot always have it with us. I hear there are bitter east winds in Europe just now, which are decimating the elderly people. Later on this place will be unbearable with heat and dust and flies."
"And bad smells, Paul. Some of those narrow streets we went through to-day smelt infernally. I wonder how an intelligent man like Dr Hafiz and a refined woman like his wife can bear to walk through such places, and yet they must have walked to see you every day."
"Nurses and physicians have to put up with such things, father. Do you ever think what hospital nurses have to go through, chiefly supported by a sense of duty, devoting their lives to the needs of suffering humanity. Madame Hafiz had probably to apply some lotion to the fearful eyes of that Arab child we saw this morning, whose ignorant mother allowed the disease to progress from want of care and cleanliness. Ignorance regarding such things is after all the great demon to be combated, the real Shitan. If the persons would preach more of the gospel of cleanliness, and less about miracles, they would be useful members of society."
Paul knew that sanitation in dwellings was one of his father's hobbies, and had purposely led him off on this line, and for the rest of the sail the old gentleman revelled in the subject, conjuring up pictures of a world without disease, in which Turkish baths were to be the great panacea for life's troubles. He had erected a private one at Madeley Hall, in which the "gentlemen-companions" spent many dreamy hours.
Just then these gentlemen were rather troublesome, because of a special grievance which had arisen during Mr Ferrier's absence. The principle on which the singular association was supposed to be conducted was that each of its members should perform daily some necessary service for himself and the others. So far as practicable the service allotted to each one was suitable to his predilections and acquirements, limited, of course, in cases, by the fact that several of the members were labouring under some physical disability. For instance, the surly hall-porter was lame, consequently a place requiring but little locomotion was allotted to him. The librarian was deaf and dumb, and so was fortunate in filling a post where but little converse was required. The external gatekeeper was an ugly dwarf, and therefore well placed in a situation requiring vigilance to guard against the entrance of male or female tramps or curious interlopers. The gentleman in charge of the great telescope and the observatory had partly lost the use of his lower limbs, but could sit comfortably at the eye-piece of his instrument, or at his desk making interminable calculations, the results of which were never published. The unhappy and very learned, but aggressively unorthodox, gentleman who discharged the duties of cook, and squinted so horribly, alone possessed a serious personal defect which did not appear to qualify him for any particular position in the household, but, as he was fond of good living and as no other place was vacant, the position of cook was offered to him on the compulsory retirement of a previous functionary of that class who had been addicted to experimenting on the edible properties of toads and fungi, and so endangering the lives of his associates. Unfortunately the wrangler with the extreme obliquity of vision accepted the post at first as a temporary one, and had lived in hope that the partially paralysed astronomer would soon give up star-gazing and visit celestial worlds in the spirit, leaving his mantle for the man who could easily keep one eye on the astronomical clock and the other at the telescope. As this expectation was not speedily satisfied, or likely to be, Woodcock grew morose and careless in cooking, so causing heartburnings and indignation amongst his aggrieved colleagues.
There is no subject on which old bachelors and monks are so sensitive as gastronomy. The "gentlemen-companions " were no exception to the rule. Mr Ferrier had always allowed a liberal but simple scale of diet, and all that was required was good cooking to produce contentment, but when joints were frequently presented either burnt to cinders or red raw throughout, angry feelings began to rise, and curses not loud but deep assailed the careless cook, who was discovered one day preparing savoury cutlets for his own private sustenance whilst a sirloin of beef, intended for his companions, was being cremated in the oven, the burning smell whereof, ascending aloft, had attracted the attention of the outraged commoners.
A round robin, composed by the poet of the establishment, was straightway addressed to the head of the consortium, at Algiers, begging permission to hold a special convocation in his absence with the view to the expulsion of the refractory wrangler, with whom repeated and violent remonstrances had proved ineffectual.
The hall-porter added a footnote of his own to the document sent out to Mr Ferrier, testifying that the last half-dozen indigestible dinners he had consumed had consolidated into something which he said "felt like a cannon ball in his stomach,"from whence he believed it could only be dislodged by a surgical operation. He prayed Mr Ferrier to issue his fiat forthwith, in order that a formal meeting might be held to expel the offender and elect a fitting successor, otherwise he, the hall-porter, an ex-scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, must succumb to indigestion, and would never be able to complete a commentary on Von Ranke's History of the Popes he had been pondering on ever since he took possession of his comfortable chair, which had now thoroughly adapted itself to his portly person.
Mr Ferrier read this joint remonstrance and post-scriptum to Paul, in the sailing boat, during one of their excursions, with some cynical comments on the folly of having admitted a man with such obliquity of vision, who was well known to be of a morose disposition, to the confraternity. He forgot at the moment that the position of head cook had always been very difficult to fill on the usual terms, as it involved so much extra labour. It had been proposed at one time to abolish the office altogether and employ some experienced outsider, or to arrange that those "gentleman-companions" who had full use of their limbs and eyes should obtain lessons in cookery and take the duty in rotation.
"What's to be done, Paul?" Mr Ferrier asked, when he had read out the sad tale told in graphic numbers by the poet, who was gardener at Madeley Hall and responsible for the supply of vegetables which Mr Woodcock so often spoiled in cooking.
"I think, father, the poor man must go and find some more congenial occupation, such as keeping a turnpike, like Mr Weller. When I left Madeley Court I found the difference in the style of cooking affect me at once, but I did not like to grumble. Still, it's unfair to the other men. I think it must be done by rotation in the end or you must break through your rule and hire a man cook. You know that the washing has to be given out already. What made you think at all, father, of this association of men with a taste for reading and a horror of matrimony?" Paul ventured to ask. "I am satisfied it will never work well, unless you are always on the spot to smooth over difficulties."
"It seems not, Paul. This is the third case of a similar difficulty arising in my absence. Yet the association was a good idea, and ought to be taken up elsewhere, wherever there are men desirous to devote themselves to culture and mutual help apart from the squabbles which women are sure to bring in their train. I do not grudge the expense of the experiment, but I should like to see the advantages I have secured to our companions more appreciated. We started with a dozen, and there are just now only eight on the roll, one of whom is here with us, and one has gone on a voyage with the deep-sea sounding expedition. It is absurd that Woodcock can't manage to satisfy his five associates, one of whom has his rations sent down to the gate lodge uncooked."256
"He appears to be the best off," said Paul, "and may survive. The man with the cannon ball in his stomach has probably died by this time, or has made away with himself. The commentary on Von Ranke's sixty volumes will never be written. I fear it never was even begun. He was always reading magazines when I saw him. But you have not told me yet, father, how you came to initiate this odd association? It was begun whilst I was abroad."
"Well, Paul, it is a kind of sacred trust. A rich client of mine, who was called mad by his relations and eccentric by people who did not understand his lofty aims, left his large library to me on condition that it was to be made available during six hours in each day for twelve poor scholars, who should be freethinkers -- such men as were sufferers from physical defects which would tend to hinder their prospects in life to have preference. There is also a condition that they shall render mutual services -- like the lay monks of old -- and there is a moderate fund invested for their support, of which I am sole trustee, and which I have had largely to supplement.
You will be trustee after me, Paul, and perhaps you will succeed better than I have done in giving effect to the bequest."
"I do not quite approve of some of the conditions," said Paul, "and I think I shall turn my attention to a more active life of usefulness. Every man should have a calling, and try to earn his own living. I am afraid I have been a fanciful dilettante too long. I am thinking of devoting myself to the practice of medicine and surgery in England, like our friend Dr Hafiz here. It is the profession I know most about. In a short time I can pass the necessary examinations and obtain the proper English diplomas enabling me to practise there. I hold a foreign one already."
"Tush! tush! Paul," said Mr Ferrier impatiently. "There is no necessity for you to adopt a profession. You will have plenty of means, probably more than you dream of."
Paul remained silent, and said quietly at length: "That is what I have decided on, father. I am not fit to be a secularist, and I think I have just missed the necessary qualification of being lame by reason of the skilful treatment of Dr Hafiz and his wife, I have also learned from him the best way to secure happiness in this life is to engage earnestly in some occupation that will tend to benefit others. Selfishness is after all the ruling passion amongst the inmates at Madeley Hall. They do not seek to do the least good in the world, and only hope to pass through life in a Nirvana of cultured ease. They are not much better, if anything better, than the monks who lived at Madeley Court, where Mr Miles has set up his steam engine and smith's forge. Men who are lame or deformed are no doubt handicapped in the struggle for existence, but may in general overcome the difficulty. I have seen a poor fellow without arms, in the gallery at Antwerp, painting well with his brush and palette grasped between his toes, which had become prehensile. The only man of the 'companions' at home whom I respect is our librarian: he has fought with and overcome his afflictions and retained his amiability. You must find another trustee and head of your institution, father. As for me, I prefer to take my part in among the throngs of men."'
"There is evidently a woman in the case," said Mr Ferrier cynically to himself. "I have seen it ever since he came here. It is the nailer's niece, I suppose, who he fancies will be a second Madame Hafiz."
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