A Golden Argosy - Fred M. White - ebook

A Golden Argosy ebook

Fred M White

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Opis

A Front of Brass is more of a detective story. The author invites readers to be real detectives. Hubert Grant bought a manor near the cliff and married Mary. It seems strange that Grant’s partner Paul offered an estate for a very modest price. Paul received a telegram, a message because of which his hands shook.

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Liczba stron: 153

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER I

Eleven o’clock! Before the vibration of the nearest chimes had died away, the rain–which had long been threatening over London–poured down for some five minutes in a fierce gust, and then, as if exhausted by its efforts, subsided into a steady drizzle. The waves of light, cast on the glistening pavement from the gas lamps flickering in the wind, shone on the stones; but the unstable shadows were cast back by the stronger, refulgence of the electric light at Covent Garden. Back into the gathered mist of Long Acre the pallid gleam receded; while, on the opposite side, the darkness of Russell Street seemed darker still. By Tavistock Street was a gin-shop, whose gilded front, points of flame, and dazzling glass seemed to smile a smile of crafty welcome to the wayfarer. A few yards away from the knot of loafers clustering with hungry eyes round the door, stood a woman. There were others of her sex close by, but not like her, and though her dress was poor and dilapidated to the last degree, the others saw instinctively she was not as they. She was young, presumably not more than five-and-twenty years, and on her face she bore the shadow of great care. Gazing, half sullenly, half wistfully, into the temptingly arrayed window, her profile strongly marked by the great blaze of light farther up the street, the proud carriage of the head formed a painful contrast to her scanty garb and sorrow-stricken face. She was a handsome, poorly dressed woman, with a haughty bearing, a look of ever-present care, and she had twopence in her pocket.

If you will consider what it is to have such a meagre sum standing between you and starvation, you may realise the position of this woman. To be alone, unfriended, penniless, in a city of four million souls, is indeed a low depth of human misery. Perhaps she thought so, for her mind was quickly formed. Pushing back the door with steady hand, she entered the noisy bar. She had half expected to be an object of interest, perhaps suspicion; but, alas, too many of us in this world carry our life’s history written in our faces, to cause any feelings of surprise. The barman served her with the cordial she ordered, and with a business-like ‘chink,’ swept away her last two coppers. Even had he known they were her last, the man would have evinced no undue emotion. He was not gifted with much imagination, and besides, it was a common thing there to receive the last pittance that bridges over the gulf between a human being and starvation. There she sat, resting her tired limbs, deriving a fictitious strength from the cordial, dimly conscious that the struggle against fate was past, and nothing remained for it but–a speedy exit from further trouble–one plunge from the bridges! Slowly and meditatively she sipped at her tumbler, wondering–strange thought–why those old-fashioned glasses had never been broken. Slowly, but surely, the liquid decreased, till only a few drops remained. The time had come, then! She finished it, drew her scanty shawl closer about her shoulders, and went out again into the London night.

Only half-past eleven, and the streets filled with people. Lower down, in Wellington Street, the theatre-goers were pouring out of the Lyceum. The portico was one dazzling blaze of beauty and color; men in evening dress, and dainty ladies waiting for their luxurious carriages. The outcast wandered on, wondering vaguely whether there was any sorrow, any ruin, any disgrace, remorse, or dishonor in the brilliant crowd, and so she drifted into the Strand, heedlessly and aimlessly. Along the great street as far as St. Clement’s Danes, unnoticed and unheeded, her feet dragging painfully, she knew not where. Then back again to watch the last few people leaving the Lyceum, and then unconsciously she turned towards the river, down Wellington Street, to Waterloo Bridge. On that Bridge of Sighs she stopped, waiting, had she but known it, for her fate.

It was quiet there on that wet night–few foot-passengers about, and she was quite alone as she stood in one of the buttresses, looking into the shining flood beneath. Down the river, as far as her eye could reach, were the golden points of light flickering and swaying in the fast-rushing water. The lap of the tide on the soft oozing mud on the Surrey side mingled almost pleasantly with the swirl and swish of the churning waves under the bridge. The dull thud of the cabs and omnibuses in the Strand came quietly and subdued; but she heard them not. The gas lamps had changed to the light of day, the heavy winter sky was of the purest blue, and the hoarse murmur of the distant Strand was the rustling of the summer wind in the trees. The far-off voices of the multitude softened and melted into the accents of one she used to love; and this is what she saw like a silent picture, the memories ringing in her head like the loud sea a child hears in a shell. A long old house of grey stone, with a green veranda covered with ivy and flowering creepers; a rambling lawn, sloping away to a tiny lake, all golden with yellow iris and water-lilies. In the centre of the lawn, a statue of Niobe; and seated by that statue was herself, and with her a girl some few years younger–a girl with golden hair surrounding an oval face, fair as the face of an angel, and lighted by truthful velvety violet eyes. This was the picture mirrored in the swift water. She climbed the parapet, looked, steadily around: the lovely face in the water was so near, and she longed to hear the beautiful vision speak. And lo! at that moment the voice of her darling spoke, and a hand was laid about her waist, and the voice said: ‘Not that way, I implore you–not that way.’

The woman paused, slowly regained her position on the bridge, and gazed into the face of her companion with dilated eyes. But the other girl had her back to the light, and she could not see.

‘A voice from the grave. Have I been dreaming?’ she said, passing her hand wearily across her brow.

‘A voice of providence. Can you have reflected on what you were doing? Another moment, and think of it–oh, think of it!’

‘A voice from the grave,’ repeated the would-be suicide slowly. ‘Surely this must be a good omen. Her voice!–how like her voice.’

The rescuing angel paused a minute, struggling with a dim memory. Where had she in her turn heard that voice before? With a sudden impulse, they seized each other, and bore towards the nearest gaslight, and there gazed intently in each other’s face. The guardian angel looked a look of glad surprise; the pale face of the hapless woman was glorified, as she seized her rescuer round her neck and sobbed on her breast piteously.

‘Nelly, Miss Nelly, my darling; don’t you know me?’

‘Madge, why Madge! O Madge! to think of it–to think of it.’

Presently they grew calmer. The girl called Nelly placed the other woman’s arm within her own and walked quietly away from the hated bridge; and, thoroughly conquered, the hapless one accompanied her. No word was spoken as they walked on for a mile or so, across the Strand, towards Holborn, and there disappeared.

The night-traffic of London went on. The great thoroughfares plied their business, unheedful of tragedy and sorrow. A life had been saved; but what is one unit in the greatest city in the universe? The hand of fate was in it. It was only one of those airy trifles of which life is composed, and yet the one minute that saved a life, unravelled the first tiny thread of a tangled skein that bound up a great wrong.

CHAPTER II

Two years earlier. It was afternoon, and the sun, climbing over the house, shone into a sick-room at Eastwood–a comfortable, cheerful, old room; from floor to ceiling was panelled oak, and the walls decorated with artist proofs of famous pictures. The two large mullioned windows were open to the summer air, and from the outside came the delicate scent of mignonette and heliotrope in the tiled jardinieres on the ledges. The soft Persian carpet of pale blue deadened the sound of footsteps; rugs of various harmonious hues were scattered about; and the articles of virtù and costly bric-à-brac were more suitable to a drawing-room than a bed-chamber.

On the bed reclined the figure of a man, evidently in the last stage of consumption. His cheek was flushed and feverish, and his fine blue eyes were unnaturally bright with the disease which was sapping his vital energy. An old man undoubtedly, in spite of his large frame and finely moulded chest, which, though hollow and wasted, showed signs of a powerful physique at some remote period. His forehead was high and broad and powerful; his features finely chiselled; but the mouth, though benevolent-looking, was shifty and uneasy. He looked like a kind man and a good friend; but his face was haunted by a constant fear. With a pencil, he was engaged in tracing some characters on a sheet of paper; and ever and anon, at the slightest movement, even the trembling of a leaf, he looked up in agitation. The task was no light one, for his hand trembled, and his breath came and went with what was to him a violent exertion. Slowly and painfully the work went on; and as it approached completion, a smile of satisfaction shot across his sensitive mouth, at the same time a look of remorseful sorrow filled his whole face. It was only a few words on a piece of paper he was writing, but he seemed to realise the importance of his work. It was only a farewell letter; but in these few valedictory lines the happiness of two young lives were bound up. At last the task was finished, and he lay back with an air of great content.

At that moment, a woman entered the room. The sick man hid the paper hastily beneath the pillow with a look of fear on his face, pitiable to see. But the woman who entered did not look capable of inspiring any such sentiment. She was young and pretty, a trifle vain, perhaps, of her good looks and attractive appearance, but the model of what a ‘neat-handed Phillis’ should be.

Directly the dying man saw her, his expression changed to one of intense eagerness. Beckoning her to come close to him, he drew her head close to his face and said: ‘She is not about, is she? Do you think she can hear what I am saying? Sometimes I fancy she hears my very thoughts.’

‘No, sir,’ replied the maid. ‘Miss Wakefield is not in the house just now; she has gone into the village.’

‘Very good. Listen, and answer me truly. Do you ever hear from–from Nelly now? Poor child, poor child!’

The woman’s face changed from one of interest to that of shame and remorse. She looked into the old man’s face, and then burst into a fit of hot passionate tears.

‘Hush, hush!’ he cried, terrified by her vehemence. ‘For God’s sake, stop, or it will be too late, too late!’

‘O sir, I must tell you,’ sobbed the contrite woman, burying her face in the bedclothes. ‘Letters came from Miss Nelly to you, time after time; but I destroyed them all.’

‘Why?’ The voice was stern, and the girl looked up affrighted.

‘O sir, forgive me. Surely you know. Is it possible to get an order from Miss Wakefield, and not obey? Indeed, I have tried to speak, but I was afraid to do anything. Even you, sir––’

‘Ah,’ said the invalid, with a sigh of ineffable sadness, ‘I know how hard it is. The influence she has over one is wonderful, wonderful. But I am forgetting. Margaret Boulton, look me in the face. Do you love Miss Nelly as you used to do, and would you do something for her if I asked you?’

‘God be my witness, I would, sir,’ replied the girl solemnly.

‘Do you know where she is?’

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